Then he saluted the closed door

THE one pure thing in that little chapel, Tiphaïne, stood there on the
altar steps, looking down on Bertrand, the swan of silver in her hands.
Behind her burned the candles, above rose the eastern window with its
painted glass: azure, purple, and green. She seemed strangely high above
them all, a being apart, one in whom no selfish cowardice dimmed the
glow of her woman’s scorn. For the common herd, the mere pawns in the
game of plunder and of war, she had no remembrance for the moment. It
was at Bertrand that she looked, sternly, wonderingly, yet with a
sadness that shadowed her whole face.

As for Bertrand, he stood with his sword held crosswise in his hands,
his head bowed down a little, his brows contracted like a man facing a
cloud of dust. He looked at Tiphaïne as though confident that he had no
cause for shame, but failed in the deceit, as a man who was not utterly
a blackguard should. The girl’s eyes made him feel hot from head to
heel. She was so calm, so proud, so uncompromising, so pure. To Bertrand
she was as a being who had stepped by magic out of a golden past. He
found himself shuddering at the thought of what might have befallen her
had Hopart and the rest laid their rough hands upon her body.

“Messire Bertrand du Guesclin, have you nothing to say to me?”

Bertrand was squaring his shoulders and trying to look her frankly in
the face.

“We took this for the Sieur de Rohan’s place,” he said.

Tiphaïne’s eyes held his.

“How much honor is there in the excuse, messire?”

“Honor?”

“To take the castles of one’s friends, castles that have no garrisons,
where the Black Death conquered before you came?”

The men and women were crowding the far end of the chapel, grinning and
giggling, and not a little astonished at the way that Bertrand had his
tail between his legs. It was a new thing for them to see their captain
bearded, and bearded successfully, by a mere woman.

The truth was plain to Tiphaïne as she looked at the man’s sullen and
silent face, and at the rough plunderers who called him leader. She had
no fear either of Bertrand or his men. The plague had taught her to look
on death without a tremor.

“Then you are no longer of the Blois party, Messire Bertrand du
Guesclin.”

“I—madame?”

“Yes.”

He gnawed his lip, with the air of a man wishing himself saved from some
merciless scourging.

“The Sieur de Rohan is for the Count of Blois.”

“It is so.”

“Therefore, messire”—and she looked down at him from her full
height—“therefore—I do not understand.”

The woman Gwen, who had torn her skirts on the trunk of the tree, began
to laugh and declaim:

“Lord help us, what has come to the captain? Did ye ever see such a meek
gentleman?”

The men chuckled. Bertrand whipped round with a devil’s look in his
eyes, and made at them, making mighty sweeps with his sword.

“Out! out!”

His wrath sobered them. There was something terrible in it, something so
grim that they quailed and went back before him, pushing one against
another. Few of the men were cowards, but none wished to tempt the
whistling fierceness of Bertrand’s sword.

“Out! out!”

They crowded through the doorway, flinching, and covering their faces
with their arms. In a minute the chapel was empty, but Bertrand still
followed them. He drove them through the solar and down the stairway
into the hall, thrusting Arletta out last, and barring the door.
Huddling together like a flock of silly sheep, they stood gaping at the
blank wall and the closed door.

Bertrand lingered a moment in the solar, listening, one hand gripping
the handle of his sword, the other stroking his strong chin. It was even
as though this great, grim-faced fellow, who had driven twenty men
before him by sheer strength of will, shrank from facing the woman
waiting for him in the chapel. After pacing the solar, he shook himself
and recrossed the threshold. Tiphaïne was standing where he had left
her. Her eyes looked straight at Bertrand as he moved towards her,
trying not to slouch or shirk her gaze.

“Well, messire?”

She challenged him curtly with those two words. It was no mere question,
but the call to an ordeal that he could not shirk.

“I am sorry—” he began.

“Sorry! That is generous—indeed! See, there lies my best friend, my dog
Brunet, slashed to death by the swords of your men. My castle gate has
been broken by you, my father’s house pillaged!”

Her words came quickly, yet with the clear ring of an armorer’s hammer
upon steel. She was still wroth with him, and, with good reason, grieved
also by the falling of his manhood into such a life.

Bertrand could not meet her eyes.

“What can I say to you, madame?”

She dropped her arm and looked at him in silence, her face aglow, her
breath drawn deeply.

“Messire Bertrand! Messire Bertrand!”

The change of tone was wonderful, piercing through to the man’s heart.
He hung his head, knowing too well what was passing in her mind.

“I am what I am,” he said, sullenly.

“Yet—you remember Rennes?”

“What good is it, madame, to remember what one cannot keep.”

“What good, messire! Have you, then, fallen so much from your own
heart?”

He flung back his head suddenly and looked her in the face.

“Why should I shirk it?” he said. “I am what I am—a captain of free
companions, a beast, a ruffian—God knows what! Where is my honor? Ask
those great lords who made me what I am.”

He seemed to recover his dignity of a sudden, a dignity that, though
bitter and rebellious, boasted sincerity and truth. He rested his
sword-point on the floor, crossed his two hands on the pommel, and
waited like a man who has thrown down the gage.

Tiphaïne stood above him on the altar steps.

“Then you have forgotten Rennes?” she said.

“I—madame?”

“How, then, should Bertrand du Guesclin have fallen to leading these
poor fools to the plunder of Breton homes? I should not have dreamed it
when—I was a child—at Rennes.”

Her words moved him, and he bent his head.

“Men fail—sometimes,” he said, sullenly.

“Sometimes; but you—”

“I?”

“You—who were so strong, messire; you—who feared nothing!”

He stretched out his arms before her, the sword sweeping the air.

“Before God—the whole fault was not mine!”

“And why not yours, Bertrand du Guesclin?”

“They were against me—those great captains; what was I to them?—a dog
to be kicked when the meat scorched on the spit.”

“And then?”

“They took my honor from me. Was not that enough?”

“No man need lose his honor, even though the whole world calls him
liar.”

He looked at her steadfastly a moment, noting her queenliness and the
sadness of her eyes.

“I am what I am; the how, or why, neither mends—nor matters. Give me
your commands.”

She turned to the altar, and, lifting the silver swan, held it out to
him with both her hands.

“Take it, messire.”

He glanced up at her and frowned.

“Not that!”

“And yet you remember Rennes?”

He caught her meaning, and understood—to his own cost—the significance
of the thing she wished.

“You strike hard, but the blows are true,” he said. “I have lost what
once was mine; I acknowledge it; a man can do no more.”

He sheathed his sword and took the swan from Tiphaïne, looking at her
hands and nothing else. For Bertrand there was a bitter symbolism in the
scene. The few pure memories he had given to the past were flung back to
him like the dry petals of a cherished flower.

He thrust the silver swan under his surcoat, so that it was held there
by his belt.

“And now?”

She stood silent a moment, as though considering.

“Am I to be obeyed?”

He crossed himself.

“Before God, yes.”

He looked up at her and waited.

“These are my commands,” she said: “return your plunder; bury the two
dead men—in the hall. Mend the gate that you have broken; then leave us
to our liberty.”

“Here—alone?”

“I have said it.”

“But—madame!”

“Madness—you would say?”

“Only command me, and I will see you safe to Rennes, or Josselin, or
Dinan.”

She was calm and determined, for she had made her plans.

“Messire, I have said it. I am not alone,” and she drew back the
hangings and showed him Jehanot, cowering against the wall.

Bertrand looked at her, baffled, yet realizing that she wished to be
obeyed.

“I would have had it otherwise, madame.”

“And I—had it been different.”

He turned and pointed towards Brunet’s body.

“And the hound?”

“Ah, poor Brunet, leave him; Jehanot and I will bury him. But for the
rest—”

“You shall be obeyed.”

She turned suddenly, as though she had ended her meeting with him, and
knelt down before the altar, her hands folded over her bosom. Jehanot
was kneeling also, while from poor Brunet’s body the blood still curled
across the stones. Bertrand stood motionless for a moment at the chapel
door, looking at Tiphaïne as though he were being banished from light
and warmth into the night. Perhaps she did not trust him. Why should
she? Had he not broken the child’s faith she had kept for him from the
past?

He went out into the solar and closed the chapel door. A fierce gloom
had fallen on him, the gloom of a proud man who has had the cold truth
flung in his face. Great God, was he so vile a fellow that Tiphaïne held
the Black Death’s terror to be more merciful than his kindness? Yes, he
was a beast, a bully, a common thief. Bertrand humbled himself with all
the passionate thoroughness of his nature.

Tiphaïne had given him her commands. Good! He would at least show her
that he could obey. Striding through the solar and down the stairs, he
found his fellows still loitering in the hall. They were whispering
together with the restless air of men vaguely afraid of the days before
them. Some were counting money on one of the long tables, others
gloating over the spoil they had taken, and making coarse jests at
Bertrand’s lingering in the chapel.

Bertrand came down into the hall, his naked sword over one shoulder, his
mouth set. He looked the men over with that searching stare that seemed
to fix itself on every one in turn. Bertrand was in one of his silent,
tight-lipped moods. The men waited, watching him and wondering what was
to follow.

“Guicheaux, hither!”

The words were sharp and vicious. Guicheaux started, colored, and came
forward nimbly.

“You have a silver mug under your surcoat.”

The quipster would have lied had he dared, but Bertrand’s eyes were on
him.

“Come, do you hear me? Disgorge, all of you. Guicheaux, put your mug
down on the floor at my feet.”

They began to murmur, to grumble, to nudge one another. Guicheaux
hesitated. Bertrand’s lion’s roar set the rafters ringing.

“Come, all of you; let me have no grumbling! Hopart, you have money on
you. Bring it here, I say, or, by God, I will break your neck!”

The men had seen him fierce, but never in such a mood as this before.
They obeyed, grudgingly, sullenly, each man knowing Bertrand for his
master, and fearing to be the first to feel his wrath. Cups, money,
ewers, a silver “ship,” a rich girdle or two were lying in a heap at
Bertrand’s feet. His face softened as he took the swan of silver from
under his surcoat and added it to the pile of spoil.

“Men,” he said, with a keen look.

They stood watching him; no grumbling was to be heard.

“I have sought a favor from you, and you have obeyed me. I give you
thanks.”

Guicheaux grinned at the coolness of the speech. He had an inveterate
love of insolent address, and he could have licked Bertrand’s shoes for
homage at that moment.

“Men, I have some share of plunder on the pack-horses. Divide it among
yourselves. I make a gift of it.”

The change that swept over the rough faces was significant. Satisfaction
succeeded surliness, and they cheered him as though he had won some
great fight and driven the English into the sea.

Bertrand, who knew their hearts, held up his sword for silence. How
different the applause of the fellows seemed to him from what it would
have seemed an hour ago.

“Guicheaux, take ten men, find tools and timber, and repair the gate.”

Guicheaux grimaced, but prepared to see the whim obeyed.

“The rest of you go out over the moat and pile your arms in the aspen
wood. We shall march as soon as the gate is mended.”

Never had Bertrand’s free companions met with such strange strategy
before. To take plunder—only to return it; to break down a gate—only
to rear it up again! They could make nothing of the riddle, save that
the lady in the chapel had bearded Bertrand as though she had been a
queen of France. They poured out from the hall, leaving Bertrand
standing before the pile of metal, the silver swan glistening in the
sunlight that slanted from one of the narrow windows. He stood there a
long while, leaning on his sword, his face dark and expressionless, his
eyes sad. At last he turned to the penance he had taken upon himself,
the burying of the bodies that lay stiff under the straw.

Alone he buried them, digging a shallow grave in the orchard, while
Guicheaux and his comrades hammered at the gate. There was heroism in
the deed, but Bertrand hardly felt it at the moment. The responsibility
was his, and he took it, lest his men should suffer.

The gate was patched and firm upon its hinges, Richard and the lad
Berart stretched in their last resting-place under the apple-trees. The
“free companions” had built a fire in the aspen wood, and were cooking
meat and making a meal. They had joined their sagacities in unravelling
the mystery of their captain’s orders, but none save the women came near
discovering the truth.

“I will tell ye how it is,” and fat Gwen wiped her mouth and looked at
Arletta, of whom she was jealous: “madame, yonder, was once the
captain’s lady love; that is why the brave fellow looked so meek.”

Meanwhile Bertrand had passed once more into the empty hall, and was
standing staring at the swan of silver crowning the untaken spoil. No
sound came from the chapel, where Tiphaïne and old Jehanot kept
sanctuary till the troop had gone. Bertrand was smiling sorrowfully and
fingering his chin. Suddenly he took his poniard from its sheath and
went to the high table on the dais. Bending over it, he carved a rude
cross thereon, and, taking the swan of silver, set it on the board
beside the cross.

Then he saluted the closed door of the solar and went out of the Aspen
Tower to join his men.

A WIND had risen when Bertrand and his men rode forward into the
woodways of Broceliande. Falling leaves were flickering everywhere,
drifting in showers, dyeing the green grass bronze and gold. The forest
was full of the murmuring of the crisp foliage of autumn. Deep in the
inner gloom the rust-red masses of the dead beech leaves glowed like
metal at dull heat. The western sky had taken its winter tones, that
flush of orange and of maroon that backs the purple of the misty hills.

Bertrand loitered behind his men, slouching in the saddle and looking
straight before him into the forest. The emotions in him were complex
for the moment, so much so that they might have taken their temper from
Broceliande itself. The rustling of leaves, for falling memories; the
shrill piping of the wind, all human in its infinite anxiousness and
dread. Humiliation and gloom were heavy on Bertrand’s soul. He had been
shown his own likeness in the mirror of Tiphaïne’s honor, and the
ugliness thereof had made him consider what manner of man he was.

He awoke at last to find Arletta watching him as she trotted beside him
on her half-starved nag. There was a jealous look in the girl’s black
eyes, a sharp petulance about her face. Bertrand’s quixotry had puzzled
her not a little, and Gwen’s words were still sounding in her ears.

“Lording,” she said, “is the black dog back upon your shoulders?”

Bertrand frowned, and swore at his horse as the beast stumbled over a
piece of dead-wood. He was in no mood for Arletta’s questions.

“Mind your business, wench,” he said, “and I will mind my own.”

Arletta’s curiosity was aroused; moreover, it was not in her woman’s
nature to be driven from the truth with a snub.

“You have had these moods and whimsies of late, lording.”

“Ah, have I?”

“Yes, often and often, and to-night you look blacker than a Moor. Who is
the lady who scolded you in the chapel?”

She affected innocence, but the pretence could not hide the hardness of
her voice.

“What is that to you?” quoth Bertrand, digging his knees into his
horse’s flanks.

“Nothing, lording, nothing.”

“Nothing, eh? Then leave well alone.”

“Ah—ah—”

“What ails you now?”

“To-day you kissed me and were gay. What has happened?—what have I
done? Dear Heaven, I am always vexing you!”

Bertrand lost patience, and was turning on her with a snarl and a curse,
when something seemed to stay his temper. Tiphaïne’s face had risen
before him. She had told him the truth? Yes, he was a rough beast and a
bully.

“Let me be, child,” he said, even gently.

Arletta’s lips quivered, but she took his kindness into her heart and
looked less peevish and jealous about the eyes.

“Lording, maybe you are tired and hungry.”

She rummaged in the bag that hung on her saddle, and brought out a piece
of bread and a few olives.

“Take them, lording,” she said, holding out her hands.

Bertrand was touched. He took the food and ate it.

“Thanks, child,” he said, “you must put up with my rough temper, and
close your ears when I take to growling.”

* * * * *

In the Aspen Tower, Tiphaïne had come from the chapel, after covering
Brunet’s body with the cloth from the altar. She had made Jehanot sit by
the solar fire, for the pain of his broken jaw and the terror he had
borne had brought the old man near to a collapse. The pillaged chest,
the rifled ambreys, the scanty furniture, tossed pellmell into the
corners, made Tiphaïne wonder whether Bertrand had kept his vow.

She left Jehanot in the solar, and, going down into the hall, found the
pelf piled on the floor, even as Bertrand had promised. The straw had
been thrown aside, and the bodies of Richard and the lad Berart were no
longer there. Then Tiphaïne’s eyes fell upon the swan of silver,
swimming beside the rough cross cut by Bertrand on the high table.

However proud a woman may be, she can rarely cast past kindness wholly
from her heart. Her sweetness, if she be a good woman, persists in
trying to sanctify a friendship threatened by all the influences of
fate. Tiphaïne had tried her power on Bertrand that day. Her courage,
like a bold haggard, had flown at the man’s rough pride and brought it
tumbling out of the blue. Bertrand had obeyed her, save in one respect.
He had left the prize he had won for her at Rennes, and had cut a cross
beside it, to symbolize some thought that had been working in his heart.

Tiphaïne’s face softened as she stood looking at the swan. She was not
without vanity, the true vanity of the soul that cries out with joy when
some great deed has been inspired; some evil pass prevented. Bertrand
had disobeyed her in one thing, and she grasped the thought that had
made him carve the cross upon the table. Her words had gone home to the
man’s heart; he was not dead to scorn; he could react still to the cry
of his own conscience.

Would the mood last? Tiphaïne hung her head and wondered. There were so
many powers behind the man, dragging him back from the prouder life. He
had been wronged, perhaps treated unjustly, driven to recklessness by
some undeserved disgrace. She remembered Bertrand’s passionate nature as
a child. He was quickly wounded, and stubborn over the smart thereof.

“Ah, Bertrand du Guesclin,” she thought, “how long will my words ring
within your ears? Will you hate me when your humbleness has gone? Will
you hold to the old life, or break from it like a brave man, turning
shame to good account? Who knows?—who knows? Yet I will keep this gift
of yours, to prove or condemn you as the days may show. Will it be the
smelting-pot for the silver swan, messire, or God’s altar again, towards
which the hearts of true men turn?”

* * * * *

Bertrand was fighting out the same question in his heart as he rode with
Arletta through the darkening woodways of Broceliande. Dusk was falling,
and the heavy silence of the forest was broken only by the trampling of
hoofs and the voices of his men. Mist and gloom were everywhere. The
falling of the leaves was very ghostly in the twilight, and the piping
of the wind grew more plaintive as the red flush dwindled in the west.

A sense of loneliness and of nothingness had fallen on Bertrand, a
savage spirit of self-abasement that took him by the shoulders and
thrust him down into the deeps. Of what use were Tiphaïne’s words to
him? Defeat was heavy on him, fate against him, and wherefore should he
swim against the tide? How could a mere freebooter, a beggarly captain
among thieves, hope to retrieve the failures of the past? He had chosen
his part in life, and he must abide by it, without clutching at the
golden fruit that hung above his reach. The past was beyond him, with
its memories. Nothing could flush his soul once more with the boyish
ardor he had felt at Rennes.

It is strange to what poltroonery even a brave man will fall, and how
the stoutest heart can flag, the most strenuous spirit fall into the
mopes. Men are not demi-gods, and their very fibres are fashioned out of
clay. Physical starvation can bring the strutting hero low, while soul
hunger is the most paralytic misery of all. The truest courage is that
which meets fate in the mists of twilight, and passes the valley of
shadows with set mouth and dogged will. It is easy to be brave when
trumpets scream and the flush of fame burns upon the clouds. To defeat
defeat, alone, and with the bitterness of failure in the heart—then is
it that the iron in the man must prove its temper. As yet Bertrand had
not learned the highest courage. He was as a petulant boy who cries
“Shame! Shame!” when the world baffles his first venture.

The man Guicheaux came cantering back from the main company, for it was
growing dark, and they would have to lodge as best they might under the
autumn shelter of Broceliande.

“Shall I call a halt, captain?”

Bertrand glanced at him like a man waking unwillingly from sleep, and
nodded.

“Make me a fire apart, Guicheaux,” he said.

The quipster grinned, and glanced at Arletta.

“There are some big beeches yonder, lording,” he said, flourishing his
hand as a signal to the men to halt.

“The leaves are dry as shavings, and there is bracken waiting to be cut.
We shall find plenty of dead wood about, and a good beech-tree will make
Dame Arletta a fine bower.”

Guicheaux trotted away, and the men were seen off-saddling under the
trees—huge spreading beeches that stood on a low ridge between two
valleys. The free companions piled their arms about the tree-trunks, and
used the boughs as pegs to hang their harness on. Some of them picketed
the horses, after watering them at a stagnant pool, some fifty yards
down the slope. Others cut down bracken with their swords, and gathered
dead-wood to make a fire. The two women, Gwen and Barbe, chattered and
bandied their coarse jests with the men as they looked to the serving of
the evening meal.

Bertrand had unsaddled his horse, tethered the beast, and sat himself
down at the foot of one of the trees with his shoulders resting against
the trunk. He let Arletta look to her own nag, and did not rouse himself
to give her a helping hand. His morose mood was selfish in its obstinate
self-pity. He hardly heeded the girl as she came and knelt beside him on
the beech leaves and began to search her wallet for food.

Presently Guicheaux approached with an armful of sticks. He kicked the
dry leaves together and began to build a fire, looking curiously at
Bertrand from time to time, and smiling mischievously at Arletta.
Crouching, he struck sparks with his flint and steel, and blew on the
tinder till it flared up and set the dry leaves blazing. Guicheaux
rubbed his hands before the flames with comfortable unction, and looked
at the two women who were slinging a cooking-pot over the other fire.
The men were trooping in with bundles of bracken, which they began to
spread as bedding for the night.

Guicheaux glanced round at Bertrand moping against the tree. “Some of
Gaston’s pig is to fatten us, lording,” he said.

Bertrand did not seem to hear him.

“Bread, boiled pork, and a mug of cider. Consult your stomach, messire,
whether it be not hungry.”

Arletta darted an impatient look at the quipster, and ordered him away
with a wave of the hand. The captain had the black-dog on his shoulders,
and it was better for all that he should be left alone.

Presently she crept close to Bertrand and offered to unlace his
bassinet. Her brown hands were quickly at their work, Bertrand letting
her disarm him, piece by piece, staring sullenly into the fire, and not
guessing how much he resembled a sour and surly child. Arletta gave him
all her patience, keeping her lips shut and pestering him with no more
questions. She took the rusty bassinet and laid it amid the beech
leaves, and soon shoulder-plates, demi-brassarts, and greaves were lying
beside it.

Arletta’s fingers were on the buckle of his sword-belt.

“Ha! what are you at? Let it be!”

He pushed her hands away, looking at her searchingly.

“Lording!”

“I trust no one with my sword; no one shall play tricks with it. Are you
for treachery?”

The taunt was a mean one, and Arletta winced.

“Your sword is a true sword,” she said, “and do you not trust me also?”

She put her hands out to him as she knelt with a pleading tenderness on
her face. Bertrand looked in her eyes, and hated his own soul. Poor,
honorless wench that she was, she shamed him, and gave him a loyalty
that he did not deserve.

“I trust you, Letta,” he said, touching her cheek.

Her sharp face mellowed, and seemed to catch warmth and color from the
fire. Her black eyes glistened, and she looked handsome and desirable,
with her nut-brown skin and raven hair, red lips pouting over her small
teeth.

“Lording, I am only a woman.”

Guicheaux approached them again, carrying a slice of steaming pork on
his poniard, a loaf of bread, and a stone flask of cider. Arletta took
the food from him and nodded him back towards the fire, where the free
companions were making a brave battle over their meal. She knelt down
again beside Bertrand, and pressed him to eat, coaxing him
half-playfully, half-wistfully, till she won her way. Food, drink, and
the cheerfulness of the fire worked their spell on Bertrand’s spirits.
He began to feel comforted in the inner man, warmer about the body, less
befogged about the brain. Life had its satisfactions, after all, and
what were glory and the frail fancies of chivalry compared with good
food and a hale hunger? He began to smile at Arletta as she lay curled
in the beech leaves, her green tunic tight about her figure, and held
the stone bottle in her brown and rough-skinned hands.

“Drink deep, lording,” and she laughed; “it will keep the damp out. See
how bravely the fire burns.”

She began to eat in turn, now that Bertrand had taken his fill, cutting
the meat and bread with the knife she carried at her girdle. Her eyes
caught the light from the fire, and her black hair enhanced the pale
charm of her peevish face. Bertrand slouched lazily against the tree. He
was content for the moment with Arletta’s comeliness.

Night had settled over Broceliande; leagues of darkness and of mystery
wrapped them round, while the flames tongued the gloom and Guicheaux and
his gossips drank and laughed about their fire.

Bertrand stretched his arms and yawned.

“Food puts new courage into a man.”

She bent towards him with a sinuous gliding of the body, pouted out her
lips, and put her face close to his.

“You are yourself again, lording.”

Bertrand kissed her, thinking of Tiphaïne, and swearing stoutly in his
heart that he was beyond her scorn and pity. Arletta, red and happy,
started up, and began to pile leaves and bracken into a bed beneath the
tree. She made a pillow by rolling leaves up in an old tunic, and threw
more wood upon the fire.

“There, lording, I have made a bed.”

She took him by the hands and dragged him playfully from the tree.

The free companions were rolling themselves in their cloaks about their
fire and half burying their bodies in the litter of bracken. Only one
man stood to his arms, to take his watch while the others slept. One by
one the voices died down and surrendered to the silence of the forest.
The clouds had broken overhead, and a young moon was shining through and
through, a patch of celestial silver above the black and half-leafless
branches of the trees. The sentinel, after yawning for an hour, and
rubbing his heavy eyes with his knuckles, looked cautiously at Bertrand,
and slunk from his post to crawl into the bracken about the fire. Under
the beech-trees there was naught but a tangle of bodies, arms, legs, and
snoring faces crowded close about the flames. Broceliande’s stillness
was supreme. Like some forest of dreams, she seemed to hold these
sleepers in her magic power.

Three hours or more had passed when Arletta started awake with a low cry
and sat up in terror, her hands on Bertrand’s chest. She had been
dreaming, and had thought that in her sleep strange shapes had been
crowding round her in the dark. She shivered, and crouched rigid and
motionless, staring as though bewitched into the depths of the gloom
about the fire.

“Bertrand, lording, wake—wake!”

She tugged in terror at Bertrand’s arms as he lay beside her on the
leaves and bracken. The horses were whinnying, stamping, and snorting
under the trees where the men had tethered them. Arletta’s eyes were
fixed on two dots of light that stared eerily at her out of the dark.

Bertrand awoke, grumbling and yawning, and clutching at Arletta with his
arms.

“What, the dawn already?”

“No, no! Look yonder; see—in the dark—there!”

Bertrand heard the horses screaming, started up, and found Arletta
quivering beside him, her face white as linen, her eyes great with fear.
The moon was behind a cloud, and as Bertrand followed the pointing of
Arletta’s hand he understood in an instant the meaning of her terror.
Out of the blackness of the forest circles of red crystal were shining
on them, two by two. There was a padding and rustling of feet in the
dead leaves, the vague flitting of dark figures to and fro, a forward
movement of the blood-red eyes.

“Wolves, by God!”

There was a great plunging and screaming amid the horses as Bertrand
sprang up, kicked the fire into a blaze, and, snatching a burning branch
from it, made at the circle of eyes, roaring like a roused lion. The
dark shapes swerved and scampered over the leaves, snarling and snapping
their jaws, but flinching from Bertrand and his burning brand. The free
companions were scrambling up from the litter of bracken. They saw
Bertrand beating the darkness with his fiery flail, vague shadows flying
before him like the evil spirits of the forest.

The moon came from behind the cloud at the same instant, showing the
struggling, sweating horses, squealing and kicking, and ready to break
loose.

“Wolves! wolves!”

They picked up brands from the fire, and charged this way and that, the
beasts scattering before them and slinking away into the darkness.
Hopart, Guicheaux, and several others ran to quiet the horses and to
prevent them from breaking loose. The tumult ceased in due course, and
the men came crowding back about the fire.

Bertrand strode towards them, carrying his burning branch.

“Guicheaux, Hopart, Simon, whose watch was it? Who the devil let these
brutes up so near the fires?”

The free companions were jostling one another, trying to discover in the
dusk the fellow who had stood on guard when they had lain down to sleep.
It was the Poitevin lad who had shown such terror when the Black Death
had startled them in the hall of the Aspen Tower. He was skulking behind
a tree, ready to take to his heels had he not feared the wolves and the
darkness. Hopart discovered him, and dragged him towards Bertrand before
the fire.

“Pierre, is it? So, lad, you fell asleep. We’ll read thee a lesson.”

The Poitevin, scared to death, cringed as his comrades hustled and
cuffed him. They were furious with the lad for having deserted his post
and left them unguarded against the perils of the night.

“Mercy! Mercy! Messire Bertrand, Messire Bertrand, they are tearing my
arms off!”

Hopart smote Pierre on the mouth with the back of his hand.

“Scullion! Crybaby! Jackass!”

“Let him be, men.”

They left him grudgingly, as though they had caught some of the savagery
of Broceliande’s wolves. Pierre stood shaking before Bertrand. Then he
dropped on his knees and began to snivel, his poltrooning drawing
laughter and taunts from Hopart and the rest.

“Get up, man, get up!”

By way of being wisely foolish, the Poitevin grovelled the more, and
tried to take Bertrand by the knees.

“Mercy, lording, mercy! I was tired, devilish tired—”

Bertrand looked at him, and then rolled the fellow backward with a
thrust of the foot.

“Stand up, fool!” he said, sharply. “Stand up—like a man! Guicheaux,
give him twenty cuts with your belt. We will let him off easily. Next
time it shall be the rope.”

They took Pierre, stripped his back, and trounced him till the blood
flowed. It was Arletta who pleaded with Bertrand for the lad, and saved
him ten strokes out of the twenty, for Guicheaux would have beaten him
till he fainted. They piled wood on the fires and retethered the horses,
for there would be no more sleep for the free companions that night.
Squatting round the fire, they talked and gossiped together, and shouted
songs to frighten the wolves.

As for Bertrand, he lay his head on Arletta’s knees, staring at the
flames, and listening to the howling of the beasts as they still padded
round them in the darkness. He was thinking again of Tiphaïne, of the
counsel she had given him, and of the cross he had cut on the high table
with his poniard. What would she make of his remorse if she could see
him lying with his head in Arletta’s lap? And yet the girl was as loyal
as a dog, patient and gentle when her jealousy had no prick of passion.

Bertrand, as he lay, felt her hands upon his forehead.

“Sleep, lording,” she said, as she bent over him. “Nothing can harm you
while I am watching.”

THEY had been on the march an hour next morning, following the winding
forest ways under Guicheaux’s guidance, when Hopart and several others
who held the van came plump upon a couple of peasants squatting beside a
miserable fire. In the centre of a clearing stood a rude hut built of
logs and thatched with whin and heather. The grass was all trampled and
muddy about the place, as though a number of horses had been tethered
for the night.

At the first glimpse of the free lances and Hopart’s red face under its
iron war-hat, the men by the fire skipped up like rabbits and bolted for
the woods. The free companions gave chase, hallooing to the peasants to
stop, and spattering them with maledictions as they still continued to
run. The slimmer of the two gained the undergrowth and dived into it
like a bird into a bush. Hopart, however, came thundering down on the
other, who was lumbering along on a lame leg, toppled him over by
thrusting his spear between his knees, and, rolling from the saddle, had
the gentleman in hand. He was a stupid, hairy-faced clod, with a
pendulous lower lip and a scar across one cheek. They brought him to
Bertrand, who had ridden in with Arletta, and set him in the midst
before the captain’s horse.

Bertrand, who had been struggling with his conscience since the rising
of the sun, looked round the clearing, noticed the trampled grass, and
promptly fell to questioning the lame boor Hopart had brought to earth.

“Hallo, Jacques Bonhomme, whose hut is that?”

The peasant indicated his own person with his thumb.

“Yours, eh? And who have you been lodging? A large party by the look of
the grass. Speak up! We are Breton men, and we are not here to steal.”

The man’s face brightened a little as he scratched his chin and looked
cunning.

“Maybe you are of the Montfort party, lording?”

“Maybe we are, maybe we are not. Who have you had camped here for the
night?”

“Monk Hanotin, Croquart’s bully.”

“Who? Say that again.”

“Monk Hanotin, lording, and twenty men. They’ve thove my old sow, bad
blood to them, burned my sticks of furniture, and taken all the meal I
had in the tub.”

Bertrand was frowning at the man, while Hopart and the rest listened in
silence.

“Thank the saints, Jacques, that they took nothing else. Croquart’s men!
The devil! And how long have they been gone?”

The man pulled the hairs in his shaggy beard.

“Maybe an hour, maybe less.”

“We saw nothing of them. They are ahead of us, eh?”

“No, lording, they went west.”

“And we rode east. Well, what do you know, anything?”

There was more hair-pulling, more screwing up of the peasant’s sleepy
but cunning eyes, as though he were trying to tune his wits to
Bertrand’s temper.

“I heard something, lording, of the business they have in hand.”

“You did! Tell us.”

“When they were kicking me and making me burn my own stools and table I
heard Monk Hanotin talking. They are for the Vicomte de Bellière’s
tower, the Aspen Tower we call it in these parts. I reckon they mean to
pluck it as they plucked my poor hens.”

Bertrand straightened in the saddle, a flash of fierceness crossing his
face, as though one of his men had called him a coward. Bending forward,
he held his poniard at the peasant’s throat, while Hopart and another
gripped him by the arms and shoulders.

“Swear, Jacques Bonhomme! Swear, swear!”

The man looked stupidly into Bertrand’s eyes as though fascinated.

“Swear, lording?”

“That you have spoken the truth.”

The fellow shook off Hopart’s grip and crossed himself.

“By Holy Jesu, Our Lady, and St. Ives,” he said, “I swear!”

Bertrand clapped his poniard back into its sheath.

“Good,” he said. “God see to it, for your throat’s sake, that you are
not a liar. How many men had Hanotin with him?”

“Twenty, I should say, lording—English, Flemings, Gascons—cut-purses
enough.”

Bertrand’s upper lip tightened. He was alive again to the last sinew.

“Jacques, you know the forest ways?”

“Yes, lording.”

“Bring us to the Vicomte de Bellière’s tower before Hanotin and his
rogues break in.”

“Lording, I will do my best if you will bring back my old sow.”

Bertrand stood in the stirrups and called his men round him.

“Come, who is for robbing a brother thief? Shout, all of you, for
Bertrand du Guesclin and Brittany!”

And shout they did, ready as Bertrand to strike a blow at Hanotin,
Croquart the Fleming’s man. Guicheaux gave tongue to the common will.

“Lead on, lording, we will follow.”

“Well said, comrade,” quoth Hopart, “I’d give a knight’s ransom to stick
my poniard in Hanotin’s belly.”

There was stir and ardor everywhere. The men were down tightening up
girths and looking to each other’s armor. Guicheaux and Hopart were
unlading one of the pack-horses and hoisting up the peasant onto the
beast’s back. Bertrand had drawn his sword and was feeling the edge
thereof. Of a truth, God had given him his opportunity. He would save
Tiphaïne—yes, or lose his life in the adventure.

A hand touched his bridle. It was Arletta’s. She was looking up
wistfully, jealously, into Bertrand’s face.

“Take me with you, lording.”

“No, no, Letta, this is no woman’s business.”

“I can ride with the best—”

“Yes, you have spirit, child; but we shall have our stomachs full of
fighting before night. Stay with Gwen and Barbe. You will be safe here.”

Arletta went white under her black hair, and then red as fire. Her eyes
flashed, her bosom heaved.

“Lording, I will go with you—yes, yes, though you ride to save madame.
I know your heart, I know your heart!”

A wave of color swept over Bertrand’s face. He looked hard at Arletta,
who was clinging to his bridle with both hands.

“What! Jealous, Letta? For shame, for shame!”

She burst out weeping of a sudden, all her woman’s nature rushing out in
tears.

“Take me, lording, I am your servant. No, I’ll not stay while you are
fighting. Lording, lording!”

She leaned against his horse’s shoulder, and tried to clasp him with her
arms. Bertrand was frowning and gnawing at his lip. His mood had
changed; the sullen repinings of the night were past. He felt his sword
sharp, his arm mighty.

“Well, you shall come,” he said.

“Lording, I am your servant.”

She kissed his hands and sprang away, smiling dimly through her tears.
Yet her heart was not quiet despite her victory. Why was Bertrand so
fierce and eager to fly at Hanotin’s throat? Was it because he was of
the English party, or because—And Arletta clinched her fists and
shivered.

So Bertrand and his men turned back towards the Aspen Tower, leaving the
two women in the hut, with Simon and the Poitevin to guard them and the
baggage-cattle. Bertrand took the lead once more, and loitered no longer
like a sick stag behind the herd. Guicheaux had Jacques Bonhomme on a
horse beside him, keeping a fast hold on the bridle, and improving the
fellow’s loyalty by grimly reminding him that some one’s back would be
the worse for their stirrup-straps if the Aspen Tower were not reached
before night. The men were blithe and full of fettle. Monk Hanotin and
his free lances were gentlemen of parts—brilliant rogues, so far as
devilry could carry them. They did not ride with empty saddles. The
peasant swore that they had the spoil of half a dozen castles and manors
on their pack-horses.

As for Bertrand, the whole tone of life was changed in him since he had
turned back from that patch of open land in Broceliande’s heart. The
mopes had fallen away; he had a deed in view; the day was justified by
its endeavor. Some strange stroke of chance had beaten him back towards
the woman who had shown him his own soul. He was riding to save
Tiphaïne—Tiphaïne, the child who had made a man of him at Rennes. He
recalled her as he had known her then—sweet, winsome, passionate,
generous in her championing of his ugliness. He saw her as she had stood
but yesterday on the altar steps, brave, scornful, haloed round with a
lustre of gold. All the deep pathos of the scene smote home to him—dead
Brunet’s body, the pest-stricken home, old Jehanot shivering behind the
hangings. Why, he had been no better then than this bully of Croquart’s,
this Hanotin whom he was thirsting to slay! Great God, how a man might
discover his true self in the likeness of another!

Bertrand awoke over the peril of the child he had loved of old. He was
as hot to save her as though he were still her champion at Rennes.
Tiphaïne in Hanotin’s ruffian hands! Bertrand set his teeth and raged at
the thought of it. He must reach the Aspen Tower before the patched gate
fell.

Arletta rode at Bertrand’s side that morning, biting her red lips, and
tasting the bitterness of her own reflections. A woman is quick in the
telling of a man’s moods, and his actions speak for him in lieu of
words. With Arletta jealousy was an ever-smouldering passion. It lurked
at all times behind her pale and sinful face, and in the restless deeps
of her troubled eyes. She had been known to stab fat Gwen in the arm
because the woman had dared to laugh at Bertrand before his men. Arletta
could brook no rivalry in this poor, honorless conceit of hers. She
loved Bertrand, loved him like a mother, a mistress, and a slave—was
proud of his great strength and of the truth that he belonged to her.

Yet Arletta had kept a vision of madame of the Aspen Tower, concerning
whom her lord had been so glum and silent. She hated Tiphaïne with her
whole soul. A woman soon grasps the character of a sister woman, and to
Arletta Tiphaïne stood for every contrast that could make Bertrand see
her as she was. Untarnished pride and haughty purity! The thin,
white-faced light of love, with her jet-black hair and sinuous ways,
knew how steep was the slope between Tiphaïne and herself. She had seen
her but for a moment, but that moment was sufficient. Bertrand, her
master, had humbled himself before this lady of the tower, and to
Arletta there had been a reflected bitterness in Bertrand’s homage. She
was but a poor sparrow-hawk compared to this gerfalcon, whose splendid
pinions had never been imped by the hand of man.

About noon they halted by a stream to water the horses and make a meal.
Arletta could see how Bertrand chafed and fretted at the delay, how hot
and fierce he was to come up with Hanotin and his free lances, whose
tracks showed in the wet grass. Arletta would have rejoiced if half the
horses had fallen lame; but no, there was to be no slackening of the
chase that day. Bertrand was in the saddle, inexorably eager, and
shouting to his men:

“Forward! forward!”

The brown thickets swam by them as they cantered on through shadow and
through sunlight. The sun sank low, hurling his slanting showers of gold
over the bosom of Broceliande. Every forest monarch seemed afire,
touched with a glory that was not of earth. The pungent scent of the
rotting leaves rose up like invisible incense before the reddening altar
of the west. Another league and they would be on the brink of the
valley, and near the tower that Arletta hated.

Bertrand called a halt. He was a man who never racked his wits for
strategy or battle craft. Like a good hawk, he “waited on” till the
quarry rose in view; courage and strength of pinion did the rest. The
horses steamed in the frosty air. The men sat silent, images in steel,
listening for any sound that might break the silence. They were close on
the valley, close on Monk Hanotin and his scum of Gascons, English, and
Flemings.

From afar came the faint crying of a horn, wild and wailing, like the
voice of the dying day.

“Hear them, hear them, brave dogs!”

Hopart was biting at his beard and setting back his shoulders, as though
to feel their weight.

“Blow, brother Hanotin!” he growled. “We will be with thee before dark.”

They drew together under the trees, their eyes on Bertrand, who was
holding his breath and listening. The rough fellows had confidence in
him. There would be no bungling where Bertrand led.

“Ready, sirs?”

A growl and a loosening of swords came in response.

“Good. Keep your tongues quiet. We must hold to the trees till we have
the tower in sight.”

He was spurring on his horse when he remembered Arletta, and drew rein
again with an impatient frown.

“Here, one of you look after the girl. Keep her safe in the woods till
we have finished.”

Arletta, jealous and very miserable, held out her hands to him with a
sharp cry.

“Lording, I am not afraid—”

“What devil’s nonsense now! Back, I say! Am I to be obeyed?”

Arletta looked at Bertrand’s face, and slunk away as though he had
smitten her. Tiphaïne of the tower had all his tenderness. She only
cumbered him, and his passionate impatience hurt her heart.

“Off! I can look to myself,” she said, as one of the men came to take
her bridle. “Go forward and fight; I’ll be a clog on none of you.”

Another furlong and they neared the valley, pushing on cautiously under
the trees. Bertrand and Guicheaux rode ahead, speaking not a word, but
keeping their eyes fixed on the woodways before them. Soon the sky
broadened into a pillared arch of gold. The great trees gave back,
showing the valley and the aspens glimmering about the tower.

“Yonder are their horses.”

Guicheaux was pointing with his spear, his thin face working with
excitement.

“We have them, lording! We have them on the hip!”

Bertrand peered down the valley under his hand. He saw some thirty
horses picketed on the edge of the aspen wood. Only two men were
guarding them. Where were the rest?

He gave a shout, and drew his sword.

“Listen, they are breaking in!”

From the valley came the confused cries of men hurrying to the assault,
and Bertrand could hear the dull crash of blows given upon the gate. A
confused shimmer of steel showed under the black bulk of the tower as
Hanotin’s men thronged across the causeway.

“On—on!”

Bertrand was already galloping down the slope into the gold mist that
drowned the meadows.

HANOTIN’S men had already broken down the gate when Bertrand came
galloping through the aspen wood. He had halted but a moment to cut down
the two fellows who had been left to guard the horses, and who had drawn
their swords on him and tried to give the alarm to their comrades on the
causeway. Thanks to the din his own men were making, Hanotin had no
warning of the rescue that was at hand.

Tiphaïne, who had climbed the tower with Jehanot when Hanotin’s horn had
blown the first challenge, stood looking down in a species of stupor
through the machicolations of the battlements at the mob of men
struggling through the wreck of the twice-broken gate. They had forced
up the portcullis, and were shouting with savage triumph, their shouts
coming up to Tiphaïne like the snarling of wild beasts. She could see
their bassinets and shoulder-plates and their thrust-out heels as they
struggled to be first in through the entry.

The last men were still in view when she saw one of them clap his hand
to the back of his neck, turn, and stare in astonishment across the
moat. Tiphaïne, vividly receptive of all details in her dull terror,
noticed a red patch of blood between the rim of the man’s steel cap and
the edge of his gorget. He had been hit in the neck by a cross-bow bolt,
and was shouting and gesticulating, calling back his comrades, who were
crowding through the gate.

Tiphaïne was startled by a cry from old Jehanot. He was hopping from
foot to foot, brandishing his cross-bow, his eyes shining out curiously
above the bandage over his mouth and chin.

“Look! look!”

Tiphaïne followed the pointing of his hand, and understood whence the
cross-bow bolt had flown. Through the aspen wood, with its last yellow
leaves flickering in the sunlight, came Bertrand’s men, pressing forward
on foot behind their captain, whose sword flashed as he cantered down on
his great black horse. They came on in good order with their shields up,
spears bristling, steady and silent.

Tiphaïne recognized the blue surcoat.

“It is Bertrand!” she said—“Bertrand du Guesclin!”

Jehanot was waving his cross-bow above his head.

“A rescue! a rescue! To the chapel, madame. There will be bloody work.
Shut yourself in. I’ll bide here and watch.”

Hanotin’s men were crowding back under the arch of the gate, jostling
each other, taken by surprise. Some were for meeting Bertrand upon the
causeway, others for holding the tower and letting the portcullis fall.
Hanotin, a giant with a face like raw meat, came pushing through the
press, cursing his men, and shouldering them aside as a ship shoulders
the waves.

“Out of the way! Out of the way! Let me get a glimpse at these
gentlemen.”

He pushed through and had his desire—a vision of a wedge of shields and
spears thrusting forward across the causeway.

Hanotin sprang back, brandishing his mace.

“Down with the grid! Curse these foul trees, the bridge is jammed.”

He swept his men back, and stood alone to hold the entry till they
should have time to lower the portcullis. Bertrand saw that the need was
imminent.

“St. Ives!—Du Guesclin!”

Hanotin snarled and swung his mace.

“Out, fools, out!”

There was a squeal of delight from the battlements above. Old Jehanot
had toppled a loose stone over. It brushed Hanotin’s body, made him
stagger, and broke in fragments at his feet. Before the free lance could
recover Bertrand rushed on him, and knocked him over with a blow of the
fist. Shouting, cursing, heaving, the whole rout went in over Hanotin as
he struggled to rise. They drove the Monk’s men through the tower arch
by sheer weight of numbers, burst into the court, and stood shouting and
cheering as though gone mad.

Hanotin had picked himself up and was rallying his men. Furious at the
way he had been wrested and trampled under foot, he stormed at his
fellows, taunting them with having given way before a mob of footpads
and boys. Bertrand’s free companions in their rush had carried the
court-yard, but they had left the tower gate and guard-room in Hanotin’s
hands.

The Monk, who was an inspired bully, and knew how to make the most of a
situation, ordered the portcullis to be lowered—a piece of ostentatious
bravado that he was soon to regret. The great grid came jerking down;
they were to fight it out like cats in a cage. Hanotin bluffed beyond
his powers when he thought to frighten Bertrand into a surrender.

“Steady, steady. Keep close together, and follow when I give the word.
Let them drop the grid. They are stopping their own bolting-hole.”

Bertrand’s coolness heartened his men on the instant. They could see
that he was smiling—smiling one of those grim and quiet smiles they had
learned to treasure. Messire Bertrand knew his business. Guicheaux and
Hopart watched him in silence, ready for the spring they knew was
coming.

“Good-evening, brother. How is it to be—your mace against my sword?”

Hanotin ran his eyes over Bertrand’s figure, and shirked the challenge.

“Not so fast, sir,” he said; “I am too big for thee, and the game is
ours. Throw down your arms, or—” And he drew the edge of his hand
across his throat.

Bertrand laughed. His men were grinning and nudging one another,
gloating at the way the free lance had shirked the challenge. Bertrand
spoke a few words to them over his shoulder.

“As you will, brother,” he said, setting his sword swinging. “In, sirs,
in! Notre Dame du Guesclin! Follow me!”

Hanotin’s men were the better armed, but Bertrand, who had the advantage
of numbers, kept his fellows together, and broke Hanotin’s ranks at the
first charge. It was rough-and-ready scrimmaging enough in the gathering
darkness of the narrow court. Men shortened their swords, used poniards
and gadded fists, grappling together, squirming and wriggling on the
stones. Bertrand hunted out Hanotin, and hammered him while the sparks
flew. The bully labored with his mace, puffing and grunting as he gave
each blow. Twice wounded, he closed with Bertrand and tried to bear him
down beneath his weight. Hanotin would have been wiser had he shirked
the bear’s grip that had given Bertrand many a victory over the Breton
wrestlers as a lad. The Monk went down with a crash that startled even
the men who were struggling in the death grips round him. He lay still a
moment, and then, heaving himself upon his hands and knees, wriggled
away like a huge lizard into the thick of the press.

Bertrand sprang after him, but a sudden rush of his own men and a
weakening of the Montfort party threw him sideways against the wall.
Hopart, who was close at hand, helped Bertrand to his feet.

“Hurt, lording?”

“Hurt? Not a bit of it! On; they are losing heart!”

They were losing ground also, and had been driven back under the tower
gateway. With the grid down there was no escape save into the
guard-room, or up the newel stairway leading to the lesser solar, and by
the gallery to the lord’s solar and the chapel. Hanotin, who had
recovered his feet and picked up a fallen sword, shouted to his men to
take to the stairway. There was a rush for the narrow entry, Hanotin and
three others holding their ground while the rest tumbled pellmell up the
stairs.

This was the very move Bertrand had dreaded, for he knew that Tiphaïne
must be hidden somewhere in the rooms above. He had seen her head on the
tower for an instant when he and his men had first charged for the gate.
Hanotin’s free lances would be like wild beasts brought to bay in the
place. They might kill the girl, or harm might come to her with men
hunting one another through the darkening rooms. Calling off ten of his
own fellows, he left Hopart and the rest to force the stairs, and
doubled across the court-yard for the hall.

It had grown so dark that the great room was like a cavern. Bertrand
groped through it, and climbed the stairs towards the solar. The door
was slammed against him from within, and his shout of “Tiphaïne!”
answered with curses. Setting his teeth, he threw his weight against the
door, broke it, and went sprawling, with rattling harness, into the
blackness of the room.

In an instant two of Hanotin’s men were on him, trying to stab him in
the dark. Bertrand kicked out right and left, caught one gentleman by
the ankle and brought him down backward with a crash. There was a rush
and a great shouting of “Lights!—lights!” The room seemed full of
tumbling, struggling shapes. Furniture was overturned, whirled away, and
broken. Men were grappling and stabbing haphazard in the gloom, cursing
the darkness and calling to one another.

Light streamed in suddenly. The chapel door had been burst open by two
men who had fallen against it, and were now wrestling together on the
floor. Bertrand, scrambling up, with a poniard wound in his forearm,
stood back against the wall and looked round him. Three men were
struggling on the bed, a confused tangle of arms and legs, while at the
far end of the solar Guicheaux and several more were holding back the
fellows whom they had driven into the gallery leading to the tower.
Bertrand could hear Hopart and the rest fighting their way up the
stairway to the lesser solar above the gate.

A den of horror, brute force, and death the place seemed as Bertrand
leaned against the wall and recovered his breath. He turned and saw the
two men struggling by the chapel door. The bigger of the pair had the
other under him, and was driving his dagger into the agonized wretch’s
throat. The victor scrambled up from the body, shook himself, and looked
round with his teeth a-gleam like a dog at bay. Bertrand recognized
Hanotin by the beard.

“Hallo, brother—you are there! Good!”

Hanotin snarled and darted through the chapel doorway, swinging the door
to after him. Bertrand dashed it open, and stepped over the body of the
man the Monk had stabbed. A woman’s cry rang out through the chapel.
Before the altar stood Hanotin, holding Tiphaïne by the bosom with one
great paw, and brandishing his poniard with the other.

“Off, dog, off!”

Hanotin spat like a cat, and forced Tiphaïne down across his thigh.

“A truce, or the knife goes home.”

Bertrand faltered in his fury and stood looking at Tiphaïne, Hanotin’s
hand gripping her bosom, her hair falling down in disorder as he held
her across his knee. Bertrand could not see her face. She was struggling
a little, her bosom heaving under the man’s paw, her hands stretched out
to catch the blow.

“Loose your hold!”

Hanotin showed his teeth and grinned. The ruse was a desperate one, but
he had Bertrand baffled for the moment.

“No, no, messire. You see my terms. Curse you!—she-dog—”

Tiphaïne had seized her chance and twisted herself free from Hanotin’s
grip. She slipped and fell upon the altar steps, and rolled down them to
the floor. Hanotin sprang forward, but Bertrand was too quick for him.
There was the whistling of a sword, the clang of a helmet, and the
Monk’s bassinet ran blood. He staggered and fell, with Tiphaïne beneath
him, and in his blind death agony tried to stab her as he lay. Bertrand,
throwing down his sword, seized Hanotin by the sword-belt. He lifted him
from Tiphaïne and swung him away upon the floor, and in the fury of his
vengeance dashed his mailed heel again and again into the man’s face.
Life was over for Hanotin. He had given his last blow.

Bertrand turned towards Tiphaïne, who was half lying below the steps,
supporting herself upon her hands. She was dazed, shocked out of her
senses for the moment, with the Monk’s blood dyeing her hair and
clothes. She looked at Bertrand and gave a little gasp of pain.

He was bending over her on the instant, the distorting anger gone from
his face. He took her in his arms and felt the quivering of her body.
She clung to him for a moment like a frightened child, staring in his
face, her eyes full of the horror of Hanotin’s death.

“Bertrand, my God! oh—let me breathe—air, air—”

He let her lean against the altar, all the savagery gone out of him, his
face twitching.

“Are you hurt? Tiphaïne—”

She shook her head, and then pressed her hands over her ears as though
to shut out the brutal babel that came from the dark rooms and
passage-ways. Bertrand could hear Hopart shouting in the solar, “Kill!
Kill!”

“Bertrand, Bertrand, for God’s sake, tell them to spare the wretches!”

She sank to her knees and laid her head against the cold stone-work of
the altar, pressing her hands in horror over her ears.

Bertrand lifted a strand of her hair, kissed it, and then turned to end
the slaughter.

A SUNNY morning, with white clouds banding the blue of the autumn sky,
Broceliande, a sea of gold, glimmering over the silent hills. A sparkle
of frost in the air, rime on the grass, brown leaves falling everywhere,
the aspen leaves murmuring feebly about the black waters of the moat.

Grimness and horror still lingered about the place, despite the blue sky
and the golden woods. Even the water in the moat seemed to hide within
its depths dim visions of death that would make the eyes that gazed
thereon dilate and harden. Memories haunted the Aspen Tower—memories of
men hunting one another through dark passage-ways and chambers. Every
black squint and window seemed to gape and whisper as though trying to
tell of what had passed within.

Fires were burning in the aspen wood, horses cropping the grass, men
building rude huts with boughs cut from the forest. Southward of the
moat, in a hollow, where thorn-trees grew, three fellows, stripped half
naked, were shovelling earth back into a long and shallow trench. Ever
and again there was a splashing of something into the moat and a rush of
water from the stone shoots draining the hall and tower. The guard-room
door was barred, and two men with grounded spears were standing on duty
under the arch of the gate. In the court lay piles of broken or
blood-stained furniture, scraps of armor, trampled rushes. Men were
going to and fro, carrying buckets which they filled at the moat.

Water in a miniature cascade was running down the stairway leading to
the lord’s solar, to be sluiced about the hall with mops and brooms and
swept out again into the court. In the solar itself, Bertrand,
barelegged, his tunic turned up over his belt, was throwing water
against the walls and swilling the floor. The whole place had a damp and
sodden smell, like a house that has lain empty long after the masons and
plasterers have done their work. From the gallery and the lesser solar
above the gate came the sound of voices, the plash of water, the
swishing of brooms.

Perched on the bed, that had been dragged into the middle of the room
and stripped of coverlet and sheets, sat Arletta watching Bertrand with
her restless eyes. She had her cloak over her shoulders, because of the
cold, and her fingers were picking at the gaudy embroidery on her gown,
as though she were brooding over some hidden grievance. There was
something forlorn and pathetic in the bright colors of her clothes, the
reds and greens, their superficial brilliancy. She was very miserable,
was Arletta. Her heart ached as dully as her head, and her hands were
blue and numb with cold. Bertrand paid no heed to her presence as he
used his broom, strange weapon for his hands, and took the buckets
Guicheaux and Hopart brought him.

He sluiced the last ripple of water down the stairs, stood up and
stretched himself, as though cramped in the back. A strip of
blood-stained linen was wrapped round his left forearm. Beside Arletta,
on the bed, lay piled his armor, his shield, sword, and surcoat hanging
from a peg near to the window.

Arletta opened her mouth and yawned.

“Lording,” she said.

She spoke almost in a whisper, her face pinched, her teeth ready to
chatter.

“Lording!”

The appeal was a little louder, bringing Bertrand round upon his heel,
to stare at her vacantly, as though his thoughts were far away.

“Yes, child, yes.”

“May I make a fire?”

Bertrand glanced at the wet hearth and the gloom of the great chimney.

“It would be as well,” he said; “the place is damp as a cellar. It is
not fit—” and he halted, stroking his chin.

Arletta gave a little shiver, and a twinge of pain swept across her
face. She shook her black hair, climbed down from the bed, and went and
stood close by Bertrand.

“Lording, you are tired.”

She touched his arm and tried to slip her hand in his. Almost
imperceptibly Bertrand shrank from her, yet with an instinctiveness she
could not miss. He was listening, and glancing restlessly towards the
chapel door.

“You will find wood in the shed by the kitchen.”

“Yes, lording.”

“Hopart will light a fire in the room over the gate. Gwen and Barbe can
share it with you when they return. This is madame’s chamber—”

“Yes, lording,” she said, sullenly, ready to weep.

“And, Letta”—he looked guiltily shy of her, despite his
courage—“madame is much troubled; she would see no one—as yet. The men
will camp in the aspen wood, because of the Black Death. If you are
afraid—”

“Afraid, lording?”

“Yes, of the plague.”

She flashed an indescribable look at him, her mouth quivering.

“No, lording, I am not afraid.”

Bertrand frowned, but said no more to her. The girl’s strained face
troubled him. Everything was coming to Arletta, slowly, and by degrees.
Bertrand was beginning to be ashamed of her; he would have her away
while Tiphaïne was near.

She went out from the solar and stood shivering on the stairs, leaning
her weight against the wall. Her knees felt weak under her, dread heavy
on her shoulders, dread of this great lady and of the slipping away of
her one poor pride. She beat her hand across her mouth, and went slowly
and unsteadily down the stairway into the hall. Pools of water still
covered the floor, and the damp emptiness of the place seemed to echo
the beatings of her heart. Crossing the court in the quivering sunlight,
and threading her way between dead men’s armor and broken wood, she came
to the kitchen, where Hopart had already built a fire. He looked at
Arletta and grinned, gave her the stuff she asked for, but held his
banter, for the girl’s face sobered him. Returning, she climbed slowly
to the solar and found it empty, Bertrand gone.

Throwing the wood down petulantly upon the hearth, she looked round the
room, pressing her face between her hands. Bertrand’s surcoat had been
taken from the peg beside his shield and sword. She guessed what drew
him, and why he had wished to be rid of her for a while. Sullenly and
with effort she knelt down and began to build a fire. There would be no
warmth for her in its red, prophetic blaze. Her heart was cold—cold as
the stone hearth she knelt upon.

When Arletta had left him, Bertrand had taken down his blue surcoat from
the peg where his sword and shield were hanging, the blue surcoat that
had once been blazoned over with eagles of gold, but was now wofully dim
and threadbare. He had slipped into it, pulled on his hose and shoes,
and felt the stubble on his chin, that had not been barbered for two
days. Opening the chapel door, he found the place empty and the sun
making a glorious mosaic of light of the eastern window above the altar.
The Virgin’s robes gleamed like amber wine; the greens and purples were
richer than the colors of the sea. Bertrand closed the chapel door, and,
leaning against it, stood looking towards the altar and at the steps
where Hanotin had fallen the night before.

It was here that Tiphaïne prayed, and yonder stood her prie-dieu, with a
missal on the book-ledge. How quiet the chapel seemed, how full of
sunlight and of peace after the brutal violence of yesterday! Bertrand
went and stood by the prayer-desk, and, looking like a boy half fearful
of being caught in mischief, opened the missal and turned over the
pages. The book was beautifully illuminated, the vermilions, golds, and
greens glowing with the freshness of young flowers, the quaint pictures
and grotesque letters making the book a thing of beauty and of
strangeness. Bertrand knew naught of Latin, save the few prayers he had
been taught by Father Isidore at Motte Broon. In truth, he hardly knew
his letters, and it was curious to see him running his finger under a
word and trying to come to grips with the profundities of a pronoun.

But if Bertrand could not read its Latin, the missal itself spoke to him
in a language of the heart that he could understand. How often had
Tiphaïne’s hands turned these pages! How pure she was, how utterly
unlike the poor drabs upon whom he had wasted his manhood! Bertrand
stood fingering his unshaven chin and staring at the missal, with his
brows wrinkled up in thought. He had come face to face with one of those
barriers in life that mark off beauty from ugliness and deformity. Was
character worth the building, worth every careful chisel-mark on the
stone? Bertrand looked round the chapel; it was oracular to him that
morning, eloquent of those higher truths he had lost in the rough
petulance of his distemper. He felt himself a prodigal, an interloper, a
foolish boy who had thrown away his birthright in a moment of peevish
irritation.

There was much boyish simplicity in Bertrand still. He touched
Tiphaïne’s missal with his great hands, and then knelt at the prie-dieu
as though trying to experience some new sensation. He crossed himself,
fixed his eyes on the book, and, great, broad-backed sworder that he
was, tried to imagine how Tiphaïne felt when she knelt to pray before
the Virgin. It seemed quite natural to Bertrand that Tiphaïne should
pray. He would like to watch her fair, strong face turned up in
adoration to the cross. It would do him good to look at her, drive the
evil out of his heart, and perhaps teach him to pray in turn. What,
Bertrand du Guesclin praying! He stumbled up with a rough and ingenuous
burst of self-contempt. He was a fool to be kneeling at Tiphaïne’s
prie-dieu. He had forgotten how to pray, and his one religious
inspiration was the dread of ever playing the hypocrite.

“Bertrand!”

He started as though one of his own rough fellows had caught him on his
knees. The door of Tiphaïne’s bedchamber had opened while Bertrand was
kneeling before the missal. She was standing on the threshold, wearing
her wine-red gown.

Bertrand faced her sheepishly.

“I was only looking at the missal,” he explained, bent on thoroughness
and sincerity.

They stood considering each other, with something of the cautious
coyness of a couple of strange children brought suddenly face to face.
Both were embarrassed, both conscious of a sense of antagonism and
discomfort, as though troubled by the thoughts imagined in the heart of
the other.

“Bertrand, I have not thanked you—yet.”

He glanced at her keenly a moment, and rested one hand on the prie-dieu.

“It is nothing. We crossed Hanotin’s tracks, that was all. Besides, we
owed them a grudge.”

Tiphaïne was struck by his dogged air of self-restraint, and yet there
was something in his voice that touched her. The long, wakeful hours of
the night had changed her mood towards him. She seemed to have been
given sudden insight into the heart of this strong and rebellious man,
whose arm had saved her from a thing that she dared not picture.

“We each have something to forgive,” she said.

“I disobeyed you in that one thing.”

“Yes.”

“I did it that I might still have the memory of Rennes.”

She was gazing at the altar steps, as though recalling how Hanotin had
held her across his knee. She shuddered a little. It was something,
after all, for a man to be grim and mighty in battle.

Bertrand stood by the prie-dieu, watching her.

“Do you remember, Tiphaïne, that night when you came to us at Motte
Broon?”

She looked up at him and smiled.

“I was just such a rough dog then; it was sympathy I wanted, and the
sympathy you gave me won me the prize at Rennes.”

If he had read her thoughts his words could not have touched the woman
in her more.

“You are right in reproaching me,” she said.

“I? What reproach have I to make? You showed me my true self two days
ago. I have learned to take hard blows—when they are given honestly.”

Their eyes met.

“Yet—there is the other self.”

He steadied himself against the prie-dieu.

“Let me tell you the whole truth, as I blurted it out to you at Motte
Broon. I’ll not spare myself; it would do me good.”

She met him bravely with her eyes.

“Tell me everything,” she said.

And she knelt at the prayer-desk, her chin upon her hands, while
Bertrand, leaning against the wall, told her the whole tale—all that
had befallen him since the siege of Vannes.

There was silence between them when he had finished. Tiphaïne’s eyes
were turned towards the altar, with no self-righteous pride upon her
face.

“I can understand, Bertrand,” she said.

“Be rough with me.”

“Rough!”

He flushed and spread his arms.

“I am what I am; but, before God, I believe that there is something in
me—yet. Do not flatter me; flattery did no man any good.”

She set herself to match his sincerity with equal truth.

“What right have I to preach to you? And yet—”

“Say what you will.”

“There is a courage above the mere courage of a man swinging a
sword—the courage to suffer, to be patient, and to bide by one’s true
self.”

He looked at her steadfastly, and bent his head.

“That is where I failed,” he said, slowly; “I see it now as plainly as I
see your face.”

At the chapel door Arletta stood listening, her mouth twisted with
jealousy and hate. She had heard all that had passed between the two.
The great lady was taking away her one poor pride, her love. And Arletta
shivered, gripping her bosom till her nails bruised the skin.