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sketch of a cock's head and comb, with a legend expressing this hieroglyphic to be the sign-manual of Wamba, son of Witless. Under this respectable emblem stood a cross, stated to be the mark of Gurth, the son of Beowulph. Then were written, in rough bold characters, the words, Le Noir Faincant. And, to conclude the whole, an arrow, neatly enough drawn, was described as the mark of the yeoman Locksley.
The knights heard this uncommon document read from end to end, and then gazed upon each other in silent amazement, as being utterly at a loss to know what it could portend. De Bracy was the first to break silence by an uncontrollable fit of laughter, wherein he was joined, though with more moderation, by the Templar. Front-de-Beuf, on the contrary, seemed impatient of their ill-timed jocularity.
“I give you plain warning," he said, “ fair sirs, that you had better consult how to bear yourselves under these circumstances, than give way to such misplaced merriment."
“Front-de-Bouf has not recovered his temper since his late overthrow," said De Bracy to the Templar; "he is cowed at the very idea of a cartel, though it come but from a fool and a swineherd."
“By St. Michael," answered Front-de-Boeuf; “I would thou couldst stand the whole brunt of this adventure thyself, De Bracy. These fellows dared not have acted with such inconceivable impudence, had they not been supported by some strong bands. There are enough of outlaws in this forest to resent my protecting the deer. I did but tie one fellow, who was taken redhanded and in the fact, to the horns of a wild stag, which gored him to death in five minutes, and I had as many arrows shot at me as there were launched at yonder target at Ashby.--Here, fellow," he added, to one of his attendants, "hast thou sent out to see by what force this precious challenge is to be supported ?'
“There are at least two hundred men assembled in the woods,” answered a squire who was in attendance.
" Here is a proper matter !” said Front-de-Beuf ; " this comes of lending you the use of my castle, that cannot manage your undertaking quietly, but you must bring this nest of hornets about my ears !"
“Of hornets ?” said De Bracy; "of stingless drones rather ; a band of lazy knaves, who take to the wood, and destroy the venison rather than labour for their maintenance."
“Stingless !" replied Front-de-Bauf ; " fork-headed shafts of a clothyard in length, and these shot within the breadth of a French crown, are sting enough.
"For shame, Sir Knight !” said the Templar. “Let us summon our people, and sally forth upon them. One knight-ay, one man-at-arms, were enough for twenty such peasants."
“Enough, and too much," said De Bracy ; " I should only be ashamed to couch lance against them."
" True," answered Front-de-Beuf; were they black Turks or Moors, Sir Templar, or the craven peasants of France, most valiant De Bracy ; but these are English yeomen, over whom we shall have no advantage, save what we may derive from our arms and horses, which will avail us little in the glades of the forest. Sally, saidst thou ? we have scarce men enough to defend the castle. The best of mine are at York; so is all your band, De Bracy; and we have scarcely twenty, besides thé handful that were engaged in this mad business.”
“Thou dost not fear," said the Templar, " that they can assemble in force sufficient to attempt the castle ?”.
“Not so, Sir Brian," answered Front-de-Boeuf. "These outlaws have indeed a daring captain ; but without machines, scaling ladders, and experienced leaders, my castle may defy them."
Send to thy neighbours," said the Templar ; “let them assemble their people, and come to the rescue of three knights, besieged by a jester and a swineherd in the baronial castle of Reginald Front-de-Bour.'
“You jest, Sir Knight,” answered the baron ; "but to whom should I send ?-Malvoisin is by this time at York with his retainers, and so are my other allies; and so should I have been but for this infernal enterprise.'
“Then send to York, and recall our people,” said De Bracy. "If they abide the shaking of my standard, or the sight of my Free Companions, I will give them credit for the boldest outlaws ever bent bow in greenwood.'
“And who shall bear such a message ?” said Front-de-Bouf ; "they will beset every path, and rip the errand out of his bosom.-I have it,” he added, after pausing for a moment. -"Sir Templar, thou canst write as well as read, and if we can but find the writing materials of my chaplain, who died a twelvemonth since in the midst of his Christmas carousals
"So please ye,” said the squire, who was still in attendance, “I think old Urfried has them somewhere in keeping, for love of the confessor. He was the last man, I have heard her tell, who ever said aught to her, which man ought in courtesy to address to maid or matron.'
"Go, search them out, Engelred,” said Front-de-Beuf ; "and then, Sir Templar, thou shalt return an answer to this bold challenge.” "I
would rather do it at the sword's point than at that of the pen,” said Bois-Guilbert; “but be it as you will.'
He sat down accordingly, and indited, in the French language, an epistle of the following tenor :
"Sir Reginald Front-de-Beuf, with his noble and knightly allies and confederates, receive no defiances at the hands of slaves, bondsmen, or fugitives. If the person calling himself the Black Knight have indeed a claim to the honours of chivalry, he ought to know that he stands degraded by his present association, and has no right to ask reckoning at the
hands of good men of noble blood. Touching the prisoners we have made, we do in Christian charity require you to send a man of religion, to receive their confession, and reconcise them with God; since it is our fixed intention to execute them this morning before noon, so that their heads being placed on the battlements, shall shew to all men how lightly we esteem those who have bestirred themselves in their rescue. Wherefore, as above, we require you to send a priest to reconcile them to God, in doing which you shall render them the last earthly service."
This letter being folded, was delivered to the squire, and by him to the messenger who waited without, as the answer to that which he had brought.
The yeoman having thus accomplished his mission, returned to the headquarters of the allies, which were for the present established under a venerable oak-tree, about three arrow-flights distant from the castle. Here Wamba and Gurth, with their allies, the Black Knight and Locksley, and the jovial hermit, awaited with impatience an answer to their summons. Around, and at a distance from them, were seen many a bold yeoman, whose sylvan dress and weather-beaten countenances showed the ordinary nature of their occupation. More than two hundred had already assembled, and others were fast coming in. Those whom they obeyed as leaders were only distinguished from the others by a feather in the cap, their dress, arms, and equipments being in all other respects the same.
Besides these bands, a less orderly and a worse armed force, consisting of the Saxon inhabitants of the neighbouring township, as well as many bondsmen and servants from Cedric's
extensive estate, had already arrived for the purpose of assisting in his rescue. Few of these were armed otherwise than with such rustic weapons as necessity sometimes converts to military purposes.
Boar spears, scythes, flails, and the like, were their chief arms ; for the Normans, with the usual policy of conquerors, were jealous of permitting to the vanquished Saxons the possession or the use of swords and spears. These circumstances rendered the assistance of the Saxons far from being so formidable to the besieged as the strength of the men themselves, their superior numbers, and the animation inspired by a just cause, might otherwise well have made them. It was to the leaders of this motley army that the letter of the Templar was now delivered.
Reference was at first made to the chaplain for an exposition of its contents.
"By the crook of $t. Dunstan," said that worthy ecclesiastic, “which hath brought more sheep within the sheepfold than the crook of e'er another saint in Paradise, I swear that I cannot expound unto you this jargon, which, whether it be French or Arabic, is beyond my guess.
He then gave the letter to Gurth, who shook his head gruffly, and passed it to Wamba. The Jester looked at each of the four corners of the paper with such a grin of affected intelligence as a monkey is apt to assume upon similar occasions, then cut a caper, and gave the letter to Locksley.
“If the long letters were bows, and the short letters broad arrows, I might know something of the matter," said the honest yeoman ; the matter stands, the meaning is as safe, for me, as the stag that's at twelve miles' distance.'
“I must be clerk, then," said the Black Knight; and taking the letter from Locksley, he first read it over to himself, and then explained the meaning in Saxon to his confederates.
“Execute the noble Cedric !” exclaimed Wamba ; "by the rood, thou must be mistaken, Sir Knight.
"Not I, my worthy friend,” replied the Knight, “I have explained the words as they are here set down.'
“Then, by St. Thomas of Canterbury,” replied Gurth, "we will have the castle, should we tear it down with our hands !”
“We have nothing else to tear it with," replied Wamba, "but mine are scarce fit to make mammocks of freestone and mortar.”
“ 'Tis but a contrivance to gain time," said Locksley ; "they dare not do a deed for which I could exact a fearful penalty.
“I would,” said the Black Knight, "there were some one among us who could obtain admission into the castle, and discover how the case stands with the besieged. Methinks, as they require a confessor to be sent, this holy hermit might at once exercise his pious vocation, and procure us tho information we desire."
“A plague on thee and thy advice !” said the good hermit; “I tell iliee, Sir Slothful Knight, that when I doff my friar's frock, ny priest