Sir Nigel, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter xxi.

How the Second Messenger Went to Cosford

Under cover of night the wounded men were lifted from the ditch and carried back, whilst pickets of archers were advanced to the very gate so that none should rebuild it. Nigel, sick at heart over his own failure, the death of his prisoner and his fears for Aylward, crept back into the camp, but his cup was not yet full, for Knolles was waiting for him with a tongue which cut like a whip-lash. Who was he, a raw squire, that he should lead an attack without orders? See what his crazy knight errantry had brought about. Twenty men had been destroyed by it and nothing gained. Their blood was on his head. Chandos should hear of his conduct. He should be sent back to England when the castle had fallen.

Such were the bitter words of Knolles, the more bitter because Nigel felt in his heart that he had indeed done wrong, and that Chandos would have said the same though, perchance, in kinder words. He listened in silent respect, as his duty was, and then having saluted his leader he withdrew apart, threw himself down amongst the bushes, and wept the hottest tears of his life, sobbing bitterly with his face between his hands. He had striven hard, and yet everything had gone wrong with him. He was bruised, burned and aching from head to foot. Yet so high is the spirit above the body that all was nothing compared to the sorrow and shame which racked his soul.

But a little thing changed the current of his thoughts and brought some peace to his mind. He had slipped off his mail gauntlets, and as he did so his fingers lighted upon the tiny bangle which Mary had fastened there when they stood together upon St. Catharine’s Hill on the Guildford Road. He remembered the motto curiously worked in filigree of gold. It ran: “Fais ce que dois, adviegne que pourra — c’est commandé au chevalier.”

The words rang in his weary brain. He had done what seemed right, come what might. It had gone awry, it is true; but all things human may do that. If he had carried the castle, he felt that Knolles would have forgiven and forgotten all else. If he had not carried it, it was no fault of his. No man could have done more. If Mary could see she would surely have approved. Dropping into sleep, he saw her dark face, shining with pride and with pity, stooping over him as he lay. She stretched out her hand in his dream and touched him on the shoulder. He sprang up and rubbed his eyes, for fact had woven itself into dream in the strange way that it does, and some one was indeed leaning over him in the gloom, and shaking him from his slumbers. But the gentle voice and soft touch of the Lady Mary had changed suddenly to the harsh accents and rough grip of Black Simon, the fierce Norfolk man-at-arms.

“Surely you are the Squire Loring,” he said, peering close to his face in the darkness.

“I am he. What then?”

“I have searched through the camp for you, but when I saw the great horse tethered near these bushes, I thought you would be found hard by. I would have a word with you.”

“Speak on.”

“This man Aylward the bowman was my friend, and it is the nature that God has given me to love my friends even as I hate my foes. He is also thy servant, and it has seemed to me that you love him also.”

“I have good cause so to do.”

“Then you and I, Squire Loring, have more reason to strive on his behalf than any of these others, who think more of taking the castle than of saving those who are captives within. Do you not see that such a man as this robber lord would, when all else had failed him, most surely cut the throats of his prisoners at the last instant before the castle fell, knowing well that come what might he would have short shrift himself? Is that not certain?”

“By Saint Paul! I had not thought of it.”

“I was with you, hammering at the inner gate,” said Simon, “and yet once when I thought that it was giving way I said in my heart: ‘Good-by, Samkin! I shall never see you more.’ This Baron has gall in his soul, even as I have myself, and do you think that I would give up my prisoners alive, if I were constrained so to do? No, no; had we won our way this day it would have been the death-stroke for them all.”

“It may be that you are right, Simon,” said Nigel, “and the thought of it should assuage our grief. But if we cannot save them by taking the castle, then surely they are lost indeed.”

“It may be so, or it may not,” Simon answered slowly. “It is in my mind that if the castle were taken very suddenly, and in such a fashion that they could not foresee it, then perchance we might get the prisoners before they could do them scathe.”

Nigel bent forward eagerly, his hand on the soldier’s arm.

“You have some plan in your mind, Simon. Tell me what it is.”

“I had wished to tell Sir Robert, but he is preparing the assault for to-morrow and will not be turned from his purpose. I have indeed a plan, but whether it be good or not I cannot say until I have tried it. But first I will tell you what put it into my thoughts. Know then that this morning when I was in yonder ditch I marked one of their men upon the wall. He was a big man with a white face, red hair and a touch of Saint Anthony’s fire upon the cheek.”

“But what has this to do with Aylward?”

“I will show you. This evening after the assault I chanced to walk with some of my fellows, round yonder small fort upon the knoll to see if we could spy a weak spot in it. Some of them came to the wall to curse us, and among them whom should I see but a big man with a white face, red hair and a touch of Anthony’s fire upon his cheek? What make you of that, Squire Nigel?”

“That this man had crossed from the castle to the fort.”

“In good sooth, it must indeed be so. There are not two such ken-speckled men in the world. But if he crossed from the castle to the fort, it was not above the ground, for our own people were between.”

“By Saint Paul! I see your meaning!” cried Nigel. “It is in your mind that there is a passage under the earth from one to the other.”

“I am well sure of it.”

“Then if we should take the small fort we may pass down this tunnel, and so carry the great castle also.”

“Such a thing might happen,” said Simon, “and yet it is dangerous also, for surely those in the castle would hear our assault upon the fort and so be warned to bar the passage against us, and to slay the prisoners before we could come.”

“What then is your rede?”

“Could we find where the tunnel lay, Squire Nigel, I know not what is to prevent us from digging down upon it and breaking into it so that both fort and castle are at our mercy before either knows that we are there.”

Nigel clapped his hands with joy. “‘Fore God!” he cried. “It is a most noble plan! But alas! Simon, I see not how we can tell the course of this passage or where we should dig.”

“I have peasants yonder with spades,” said Simon. “There are two of my friends, Harding of Barnstable and West-country John who are waiting for us with their gear. If you will come to lead us, Squire Nigel, we are ready to venture our bodies in the attempt.”

What would Knolles say in case they failed? The thought flashed through Nigel’s mind, but another came swiftly behind it. He would not venture further unless he found hopes of success. And if he did venture further he would put his life upon it. Giving that, he made amends for all errors. And if on the other hand success crowned their efforts, then Knolles would forgive his failure at the gateway. A minute later, every doubt banished from his mind, he was making his way through the darkness under the guidance of Black Simon.

Outside the camp the two other men-at-arms were waiting for them, and the four advanced together. Presently a little group of figures loomed up in the darkness. It was a cloudy night, and a thin rain was falling which obscured both the castle and the fort; but a stone had been placed by Simon in the daytime which assured that they were between the two.

“Is blind Andreas there?” asked Simon.

“Yes, kind sir, I am here,” said a voice.

“This man,” said Simon, “was once rich and of good repute, but he was beggared by this robber lord, who afterwards put out his eyes so that he has lived for many years in darkness at the charity of others.”

“How can he help us in our enterprise if he be indeed blind?” asked Nigel.

“It is for that very reason, fair lord, that he can be of greater service than any other man,” Simon answered; “for it often happens that when a man has lost a sense the good God will strengthen those that remain. Hence it is that Andreas has such ears that he can hear the sap in the trees or the cheep of the mouse in its burrow. He has come to help us to find the tunnel.”

“And I have found it,” said the blind man proudly. “Here I have placed my staff upon the line of it. Twice as I lay there with my ear to the ground I have heard footsteps pass beneath me.”

“I trust you make no mistake, old man,” said Nigel.

For answer the blind man raised his staff and smote twice upon the ground, once to the right and once to the left. The one gave a dull thud, the other a hollow boom.

“Can you not hear that?” he asked. “Will you ask me now if I make a mistake?”

“Indeed, we are much beholden to you!” cried Nigel. “Let the peasants dig then, and as silently as they may. Do you keep your ear upon the ground, Andreas, so that if anyone pass beneath us we shall be warned.”

So, amid the driving rain, the little group toiled in the darkness. The blind man lay silent, flat upon his face, and twice they heard his warning hiss and stopped their work, whilst some one passed beneath. In an hour they had dug down to a stone arch which was clearly the outer side of the tunnel roof. Here was a sad obstacle, for it might take long to loosen a stone, and if their work was not done by the break of day then their enterprise was indeed hopeless. They loosened the mortar with a dagger, and at last dislodged one small stone which enabled them to get at the others. Presently a dark hole blacker than the night around them yawned at their feet, and their swords could touch no bottom to it. They had opened the tunnel.

“I would fain enter it first,” said Nigel. “I pray you to lower me down.” They held him to the full length of their arms and then letting him drop they heard him land safely beneath them. An instant later the blind man started up with a low cry of alarm.

“I hear steps coming,” said he. “They are far off, but they draw nearer.”

Simon thrust his head and neck down the hole. “Squire Nigel,” he whispered, “can you hear me?”

“I can hear you, Simon.”

“Andreas says that some one comes.”

“Then cover over the hole,” came the answer. “Quick, I pray you, cover it over!”

A mantle was stretched across it, so that no glimmer of light should warn the new-comer. The fear was that he might have heard, the sound of Nigel’s descent. But soon it was clear that he had not done so, for Andreas announced that he was still advancing. Presently Nigel could hear the distant thud of his feet. If he bore a lantern all was lost. But no gleam of light appeared in the black tunnel, and still the footsteps drew nearer.

Nigel breathed a prayer of thanks to all his guardian saints as he crouched close to the slimy wall and waited breathless, his dagger in his hand. Nearer yet and nearer came the steps. He could hear the stranger’s coarse breathing in the darkness. Then as he brushed past Nigel bounded upon him with a tiger spring. There was one gasp of astonishment, and not a sound more, for the Squire’s grip was on the man’s throat and his body was pinned motionless against the wall.

“Simon! Simon!” cried Nigel loudly.

The mantle was moved from the hole.

“Have you a cord? Or your belts linked together may serve.”

One of the peasants had a rope, and Nigel soon felt it dangling against his hand. He listened and there was no sound in the passage. For an instant he released his captive’s throat. A torrent of prayers and entreaties came forth. The man was shaking like a leaf in the wind. Nigel pressed the point of his dagger against his face and dared him to open his lips. Then he slipped the rope beneath his arms and tied it.

“Pull him up!” he whispered, and for an instant the gray glimmer above him was obscured.

“We have him, fair sir,” said Simon.

“Then drop me the rope and hold it fast.”

A moment later Nigel stood among the group of men who had gathered round their captive. It was too dark to see him, and they dare not strike flint and steel.

Simon passed his hand roughly over him and felt a fat clean-shaven face, and a cloth gabardine which hung to the ankles. “Who are you?” he whispered. “Speak the truth and speak it low, if you would ever speak again.”

The man’s teeth chattered in his head with cold and fright. “I speak no English,” he murmured.

“French, then,” said Nigel.

“I am a holy priest of God. You court the ban of holy Church when you lay hands upon me. I pray you let me go upon my way, for there are those whom I would shrive and housel. If they should die in sin, their damnation is upon you.”

“How are you called then?”

“I am Dom Peter de Cervolles.”

“De Cervolles, the arch-priest, he who heated the brazier when they burned out my eyes,” cried old Andreas. “Of all the devils in hell there is none fouler than this one. Friends, friends, if I have done aught for you this night, I ask but one reward, that ye let me have my will of this man.”

But Nigel pushed the old man back. “There is no time for this,” he said. “Now hark you, priest — if priest indeed you be — your gown and tonsure will not save you if you play us false, for we are here of a set purpose and we will go forward with it, come what may. Answer me and answer me truly or it will be an ill night for you. In what part of the Castle does this tunnel enter?”

“In the lower cellar.”

“What is at the end?”

“An oaken door.”

“Is it barred?”

“Yes, it is barred.”

“How would you have entered?”

“I would have given the password.”

“Who then would have opened?”

“There is a guard within.”

“And beyond him?”

“Beyond him are the prison cells and the jailers.”

“Who else would be afoot?”

“No one save a guard at the gate and another on the battlement.”

“What then is the password?”

The man was silent.

“The password, fellow!”

The cold points of two daggers pricked his throat; but still he would not speak.

“Where is the blind man?” asked Nigel. “Here, Andreas, you can have him and do what you will with him.”

“Nay, nay,” the priest whimpered. “Keep him off me. Save me from blind Andreas! I will tell you everything.”

“The password then, this instant?”

“It is ‘Benedicite!’”

“We have the password, Simon,” cried Nigel. “Come then, let us on to the farther end. These peasants will guard the priest, and they will remain here lest we wish to send a message.”

“Nay, fair sir, it is in my mind that we can do better,” said Simon. “Let us take the priest with us, so that he who is within may know his voice.”

“It is well thought of,” said Nigel, “and first let us pray together, for indeed this night may well be our last.”

He and the three men-at-arms knelt in the rain and sent up their simple orisons, Simon still clutching tight to his prisoner’s wrist.

The priest fumbled in his breast and drew something forth. “It is the heart of the blessed confessor Saint Enogat,” said he. “It may be that it will ease and assoil your souls if you would wish to handle it.”

The four Englishmen passed the flat silver case from hand to hand, each pressing his lips devoutly upon it. Then they rose to their feet. Nigel was the first to lower himself down the hole; then Simon; then the priest, who was instantly seized by the other two. The men-at-arms followed them. They had scarcely moved away from the hole when Nigel stopped.

“Surely some one else came after us,” said he.

They listened, but no whisper or rustle came from behind them. For a minute they paused and then resumed their journey through the dark. It seemed a long, long way, though in truth it was but a few hundred yards before they came to a door with a glimmer of yellow light around it, which barred their passage. Nigel struck upon it with his hand.

There was the rasping of a bolt and then a loud voice “Is that you, priest?”

“Yes, it is I,” said the prisoner in a quavering voice. “Open, Arnold!”

The voice was enough. There was no question of passwords. The door swung inward, and in an instant the janitor was cut down by Nigel and Simon. So sudden and so fierce was the attack that save for the thud of his body no sound was heard. A flood of light burst outward into the passage, and the Englishmen stood with blinking eyes in its glare.

In front of them lay a stone-flagged corridor, across which lay the dead body of the janitor. It had doors on either side of it, and another grated door at the farther end. A strange hubbub, a kind of low droning and whining filled the air. The four men were standing listening, full of wonder as to what this might mean, when a sharp cry came from behind them. The priest lay in a shapeless heap upon the ground, and the blood was rushing from his gaping throat. Down the passage, a black shadow in the yellow light, there fled a crouching man, who clattered with a stick as he went.

“It is Andreas,” cried West-country Will. “He has slain him.”

“Then it was he that I heard behind us,” said Nigel. “Doubtless he was at our very heels in the darkness. I fear that the priest’s cry has been heard.”

“Nay,” said Simon, “there are so many cries that one more may well pass. Let us take this lamp from the wall and see what sort of devil’s den we have around us.”

They opened the door upon the right, and so horrible a smell issued from it that they were driven back from it. The lamp which Simon held forward showed a monkeylike creature mowing and grimacing in the corner, man or woman none could tell, but driven crazy by loneliness and horror. In the other cell was a graybearded man fettered to the wall, looking blankly before him, a body without a soul, yet with life still in him, for his dull eyes turned slowly in their direction. But it was from behind the central door at the end of the passage that the chorus of sad cries came which filled the air.

“Simon,” said Nigel, “before we go farther we will take this outer door from its hinges. With it we will block this passage so that at the worst we may hold our ground here until help comes. Do you back to the camp as fast as your feet can bear you. The peasants will draw you upward through the hole. Give my greetings to Sir Robert and tell him that the castle is taken without fail if he comes this way with fifty men. Say that we have made a lodgment within the walls. And tell him also, Simon, that I would counsel him to make a stir before the gateway so that the guard may be held there whilst we make good our footing behind them. Go, good Simon, and lose not a moment!”

But the man-at-arms shook his head. “It is I who have brought you here, fair sir, and here I bide through fair and foul. But you speak wisely and well, for Sir Robert should indeed be told what is going forward now that we have gone so far. Harding, do you go with all speed and bear the gentle Nigel’s message.”

Reluctantly the man-at-arms sped upon his errand. They could hear the racing of his feet and the low jingle of his harness until they died away in the tunnel. Then the three companions approached the door at the end. It was their intention to wait where they were until help should come, but suddenly amid the babel of cries within there broke forth an English voice, shouting in torment.

“My God!” it cried, “I pray you, comrades, for a cup of water, as you hope for Christ’s mercy!”

A shout of laughter and the thud of a heavy blow followed the appeal.

All the hot blood rushed to Nigel’s head at the sound, buzzing in his ears and throbbing in his temples. There are times when the fiery heart of a man must overbear the cold brain of a soldier. With one bound he was at the door, with another he was through it, the men-at-arms at his heels. So strange was the scene before them that for an instant all three stood motionless with horror and surprise.

It was a great vaulted chamber, brightly lit by many torches. At the farther end roared a great fire. In front of it three naked men were chained to posts in such a way that flinch as they might they could never get beyond the range of its scorching heat. Yet they were so far from it that no actual burn would be inflicted if they could but keep turning and shifting so as continually to present some fresh portion of their flesh to the flames. Hence they danced and whirled in front of the fire, tossing ceaselessly this way and that within the compass of their chains, wearied to death, their protruding tongues cracked and blackened with thirst, but unable for one instant to rest from their writhings and contortions.

Even stranger was the sight at each side of the room, whence came that chorus of groans which had first struck upon the ears of Nigel and his companions. A line of great hogsheads were placed alongside the walls, and within each sat a man, his head protruding from the top. As they moved within there was a constant splashing and washing of water. The white wan faces all turned together as the door flew open, and a cry of amazement and of hope took the place of those long-drawn moans of despair.

At the same instant two fellows clad in black, who had been seated with a flagon of wine between them at a table near the fire, sprang wildly to their feet, staring with blank amazement at this sudden inrush. That instant of delay deprived them of their last chance of safety. Midway down the room was a flight of stone steps which led to the main door.

Swift as a wildcat Nigel bounded toward it and gained the steps a stride or two before the jailers. They turned and made for the other which led to the passage, but Simon and his comrades were nearer to it than they. Two sweeping blows, two dagger thrusts into writhing figures, and the ruffians who worked the will of the Butcher lay dead upon the floor of their slaughter-house.

Oh, the buzz of joy and of prayer from all those white lips! Oh, the light of returning hope in all those sunken weary eyes! One wild shout would have gone up had not Nigel’s outstretched hands and warning voice hushed them to silence.

He opened the door behind him. A curving newel staircase wound upward into the darkness. He listened, but no sound came down. There was a key in the outer lock of the iron door. He whipped it out and turned it on the inner side. The ground that they had gained was safe. Now they could turn to the relief of these poor fellows beside them. A few strong blows struck off the irons and freed the three dancers before the fire. With a husky croak of joy, they rushed across to their comrades’ water-barrels, plunged their heads in like horses, and drank and drank and drank. Then in turn the poor shivering wretches were taken out of the barrels, their skins bleached and wrinkled with long soaking. Their bonds were torn from them; but, cramped and fixed, their limbs refused to act, and they tumbled and twisted upon the floor in their efforts to reach Nigel and to kiss his hand.

In a corner lay Aylward, dripping from his barrel and exhausted with cold and hunger. Nigel ran to his side and raised his head. The jug of wine from which the two jailers had drunk still stood upon their table. The Squire placed it to the archer’s lips and he took a hearty pull at it.

“How is it with you now, Aylward?”

“Better, Squire, better, but may I never touch water again as long as I live! Alas! poor Dicon has gone, and Stephen also — the life chilled out of them. The cold is in the very marrow of my bones. I pray you, let me lean upon your arm as far as the fire, that I may warm the frozen blood and set it running in my veins once more.”

A strange sight it was to see these twenty naked men crouching in a half-circle round the fire with their trembling hands extended to the blaze. Soon their tongues at least were thawed, and they poured out the story of their troubles with many a prayer and ejaculation to the saints for their safe delivery. No food had crossed their lips since they had been taken. The Butcher had commanded them to join his garrison and to shoot upon their comrades from the wall. When they refused he had set aside three of them for execution.

The others had been dragged to the cellar, whither the leering tyrant had followed them. Only one question he had asked them, whether they were of a hot-blooded nature or of a cold. Blows were showered upon them until they answered. Three had said cold, and had been condemned to the torment of the fire. The rest who had said hot were delivered up to the torture of the water-cask. Every few hours this man or fiend had come down to exult over their sufferings and to ask them whether they were ready yet to enter his service. Three had consented and were gone. But the others had all of them stood firm, two of them even to their death.

Such was the tale to which Nigel and his comrades listened whilst they waited impatiently for the coming of Knolles and his men. Many an anxious look did they cast down the black tunnel, but no glimmer of light and no clash of steel came from its depths. Suddenly, however, a loud and measured sound broke upon their ears. It was a dull metallic clang, ponderous and slow, growing louder and ever louder — the tread of an armored man. The poor wretches round the fire, all unnerved by hunger and suffering, huddled together with wan, scared faces, their eyes fixed in terror on the door.

“It is he!” they whispered. “It is the Butcher himself!”

Nigel had darted to the door and listened intently. There were no footfalls save those of one man. Once sure of that, he softly turned the key in the lock. At the same instant there came a bull’s bellow from without.

“Ives! Bertrand!” cried the voice. “Can you not hear me coming, you drunken varlets? You shall cool your own heads in the water-casks, you lazy rascals! What, not even now! Open, you dogs. Open, I say!”

He had thrust down the latch, and with a kick he flung the door wide and rushed inward. For an instant he stood motionless, a statue of dull yellow metal, his eyes fixed upon the empty casks and the huddle of naked men. Then with the roar of a trapped lion, he turned, but the door had slammed behind him, and Black Simon, with grim figure and sardonic face, stood between.

The Butcher looked round him helplessly, for he was unarmed save for his dagger. Then his eyes fell upon Nigel’s roses.

“You are a gentleman of coat-armor,” he cried. “I surrender myself to you.”

“I will not take your surrender, you black villain,” said Nigel. “Draw and defend yourself. Simon, give him your sword.”

“Nay, this is madness,” said the blunt man-at-arms. “Why should I give the wasp a sting?”

“Give it him, I say. I cannot kill him in cold blood.”

“But I can!” yelled Aylward, who had crept up from the fire. “Come, comrades! By these ten finger-bones! has he not taught us how cold blood should be warmed?”

Like a pack of wolves they were on him, and he clanged upon the floor with a dozen frenzied naked figures clutching and clinging above him. In vain Nigel tried to pull them off. They were mad with rage, these tortured starving men, their eyes fixed and glaring, their hair on end, their teeth gnashing with fury, while they tore at the howling, writhing man. Then with a rattle and clatter they pulled him across the room by his two ankles and dragged him into the fire.

Nigel shuddered and turned away his eyes as he saw the brazen figure roll out and stagger to his knees, only to be hurled once more into the heart of the blaze. His prisoners screamed with joy and clapped their hands as they pushed him back with their feet until the armor was too hot for them to touch. Then at last he lay still and glowed darkly red, whilst the naked men danced in a wild half-circle round the fire.

But now at last the supports had come. Lights flashed and armor gleamed down the tunnel. The cellar filled with armed men, while from above came the cries and turmoil of the feigned assault upon the gate. Led by Knolles and Nigel, the storming party rushed upward and seized the courtyard. The guard of the gate taken in the rear threw down their weapons and cried for mercy. The gate was thrown open and the assailants rushed in, with hundreds of furious peasants at their heels. Some of the robbers died in hot blood, many in cold; but all died, for Knolles had vowed to give no quarter. Day was just breaking when the last fugitive had been hunted out and slain. From all sides came the yells and whoops of the soldiers with the rending and riving of doors as they burst into the store-rooms and treasure-chambers. There was a joyous scramble amongst them, for the plunder of eleven years, gold and jewels, satins and velvets, rich plate and noble hangings were all to be had for the taking.

The rescued prisoners, their hunger appeased and their clothes restored, led the search for booty. Nigel, leaning on his sword by the gateway, saw Aylward totter past, a huge bundle under each arm, another slung over his back and a smaller packet hanging from his mouth. He dropped it for a moment as he passed his young master.

“By these ten finger-bones! I am right glad that I came to the war, and no man could ask for a more goodly life,” said he. “I have a present here for every girl in Tilford, and my father need never fear the frown of the sacrist of Waverley again. But how of you, Squire Loring? It standeth not aright that we should gather the harvest whilst you, who sowed it, go forth empty-handed. Come, gentle sir, take these things that I have gathered, and I will go back and find more.”

But Nigel smiled and shook his head. “You have gained what your heart desired, and perchance I have done so also,” said he.

An instant later Knolles strode up to him with outstretched hand. “I ask your pardon, Nigel,” said he. “I have spoken too hotly in my wrath.”

“Nay, fair sir, I was at fault.”

“If we stand here now within this castle, it is to you that I owe it. The King shall know of it, and Chandos also. Can I do aught else, Nigel, to prove to you the high esteem in which I hold you?”

The Squire flushed with pleasure. “Do you send a messenger home to England, fair sir, with news of these doings?”

“Surely, I must do so. But do not tell me, Nigel, that you would be that messenger. Ask me some other favor, for indeed I cannot let you go.”

“Now God forbid!” cried Nigel. “By Saint Paul! I would not be so caitiff and so thrall as to leave you, when some small deed might still be done. But I would fain send a message by your messenger.”

“To whom?”

“It is to the Lady Mary, daughter of old Sir John Buttesthorn who dwells near Guildford.”

“But you will write the message, Nigel. Such greetings as a cavalier sends to his lady-love should be under seal.”

“Nay, he can carry my message by word of mouth.”

“Then I shall tell him for he goes this morning. What message, then, shall he say to the lady?”

“He will give her my very humble greeting, and he will say to her that for the second time Saint Catharine has been our friend.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:33