"What manner of soldiers are the Welsh?"
"They are very valiant men of war," said Chandos, splashing about in his tub. "There is good skirmishing to be had in their valleys if you ride with a small following. They flare up like a furzebush in the flames, but if for a short space you may abide the heat of it, then there is a chance that it may be cooler."
"And the Scotch?" asked Nigel. "You have made war upon them also, as I understand."
"The Scotch knights have no masters in the world, and he who can hold his own with the best of them, be it a Douglas, a Murray or a Seaton, has nothing more to learn. Though you be a hard man, you will always meet as hard a one if you ride northward. If the Welsh be like the furze fire, then, padieu! the Scotch are the peat, for they will smolder and you will never come to the end of them. I have had many happy hours on the marches of Scotland, for even if there be no war the Percies of Alnwick or the Governor of Carlisle can still raise a little bickering with the border clans."
"I bear in mind that my father was wont to say that they were very stout spearmen."
"No better in the world, for the spears are twelve foot long and they hold them in very thick array; but their archers are weak, save only the men of Ettrick and Selkirk who come from the forest. I pray you to open the lattice, Nigel, for the steam is overthick. Now in Wales it is the spearmen who are weak, and there are no archers in these islands like the men of Gwent with their bows of elm, which shoot with such power that I have known a cavalier to have his horse killed when the shaft had passed through his mail breeches, his thigh and his saddle. And yet, what is the most strongly shot arrow to these new balls of iron driven by the fire- powder which will crush a man's armor as an egg is crushed by a stone? Our fathers knew them not."
"Then the better for us," cried Nigel, "since there is at least one honorable venture which is all our own."
Chandos chuckled and turned upon the flushed youth a twinkling and sympathetic eye. "You have a fashion of speech which carries me back to the old men whom I met in my boyhood," said he. "There were some of the real old knight-errants left in those days, and they spoke as you do. Young as you are, you belong to another age. Where got you that trick of thought and word?"
"I have had only one to teach me, the Lady Ermyntrude."
"Pardieu! she has trained a proper young hawk ready to stoop at a lordly quarry," said Chandos. "I would that I had the first unhooding of you. Will you not ride with me to the wars?"
The tears brimmed over from Nigel's eyes, and he wrung the gaunt hand extended from the bath. "By Saint Paul! what could I ask better in the world? I fear to leave her, for she has none other to care for her. But if it can in any way be arranged - "
"The King's hand may smooth it out. Say no more until he is here. But if you wish to ride with me - "
"What could man wish for more? Is there a Squire in England who would not serve under the banner of Chandos! Whither do you go, fair sir? And when do you go? Is it to Scotland? Is it to Ireland? Is it to France? But alas, alas!"
The eager face had clouded. For the instant he had forgotten that a suit of armor was as much beyond his means as a service of gold plate. Down in a twinkling came all his high hopes to the ground. Oh, these sordid material things, which come between our dreams and their fulfilment! The Squire of such a knight must dress with the best. Yet all the fee simple of Tilford would scarce suffice for one suit of plate.
Chandos, with his quick wit and knowledge of the world, had guessed the cause of this sudden change. " If you fight under my banner it is for me to find the weapons," said he. "Nay, I will not be denied."
But Nigel shook his head sadly. " It may not be. The Lady Ermyntrude would sell this old house and every acre round it, ere she would permit me to accept this gracious bounty which you offer.