HOW NEWS CAME TO WARBLINGTON CASTLE

It was shortly after dawn, on the morning of March 21, 1413, that a
grizzled man-at-arms climbed the spiral staircase in the south-west
angle of the keep of Warblington Castle.

He was dressed in a leathern suit, much soiled and frayed by the
frequent wearing of armour, while on his head was a close-fitting cap,
quilted and padded to ease the weight of a steel headpiece. He was
unarmed, save for a long knife that was counterbalanced by a horn slung
from a shoulder-strap of undressed hide.

Under his left arm he bore a flag, its folds gathered closely to his
side, as if he feared to injure the cherished fabric by contact with the
rough stone walls of the staircase; for the flag he had charge of was
the banner of the renowned knight, Sir Oliver Lysle, of the Castle of
Warblington, in the county of Southampton, and of the Château of
Taillemartel, in the Duchy of Normandy.

At the one hundred and eleventh step the man-at-arms paused, and,
raising his arm, thrust with all his might against an oaken trap-door,
sheeted on the outside with lead. With a dull thud the door was flung
backwards, and the old soldier gained the summit of the turret, which
stood ten feet above the rest of the battlemented keep.

Sheltering from the strong north-westerly breeze that whistled over the
machicolated battlements, the man-at-arms gazed steadily—not in a
landward direction, where an almost uninterrupted view extends as far as
the rolling South Downs, neither to the east, where the tall,
needle-like shaft of Chichester Cathedral spire was gradually rearing
itself heavenwards, nor to the west, where the sea and land blended in
the dreary mud banks of Langstone Harbour—but southwards, where,
partially hidden in wreaths of fleecy vapour, the almost landlocked
waters of Chichester Harbour met the open expanse of the English
Channel.

The sound of footsteps on the stone stairs caused the watcher to turn
his attention to the newcomer.

“Good morning, fair sir,” he exclaimed, as a lad of about fourteen years
of age climbed actively through the trap-door.

“And to thee, Arnold Gripwell. But how goes it? Dost see aught of the
ship?”

“Nay, Master Geoffrey; this wind, which is most unseasonable for the
time o’ year, hath stirred up much mist, so that the sea cannot be
clearly discerned.”

“‘Tis passing strange. Sir Oliver, my father, hath sent word that, God
willing, he would cross the seas from Harfleur on the eve of the Feast
of St. Perpetua. Already fourteen days are spent, and yet he cometh
not.”

“The reason is not far to seek,” replied Gripwell, pointing towards the
distant Portsdown Hills. “So long as this wind holdeth the ship is bound
to tarry.”

“But how long, think you, will it blow thus? Thou art a man skilled in
such matters.”

“Nay, I cannot forecast, fair sir. For now, when the husbandman looketh
for the east wind to break the ground, this most unwholesome air doth
hold. Mark my words, Master Geoffrey, when it turneth we shall have
another winter. But the sun is rising. I must display my lord’s banner.”

So saying, he bent the flag to the halyards, and soon the emblem of the
Lysles was fluttering bravely in the breeze—azure, a turbot argent,
surmounted by an estoile of the last—in other words, a silver turbot,
with a silver star above, both on a field of blue.

Geoffrey knew well the meaning of this device. The first denoted that
the Lord of Warblington was one of the coastwise guardians of the
Channel; the star was in recognition of a former Lysle’s service under
Edward I, on the occasion of a desperate night attack upon the Scots.

Always ready on the first summons, the Lysles placed duty to their king
as the highest of their earthly devoirs, and it was their proud boast
that no important expedition had crossed the Channel without the head of
the Manor of Warblington in its ranks.

Like many an English knight of that period, Sir Oliver Lysle had
interests in France. Through his mother he inherited the seigneurie of
Taillemartel in Normandy.

France was in a deplorable condition. The country was torn by a fierce
strife betwixt the Orleanists—or Armagnacs, as they were oft-times
termed—and the Burgundians. Every baron and knight did as he might,
trade was paralyzed, the poor were oppressed, and from Picardy to
Provence, and from Brittany to Dauphiné, chaos prevailed.

In his own interest Sir Oliver had frequently to cross to France, for
his turbulent neighbours, coveting the fair fields surrounding the
feudal castle of Taillemartel, did not hesitate to encroach upon his
lands. Thus, much to the English knight’s regret, he found himself
embroiled in the affairs of a foreign country.

“There is a boat coming up the rithe,” exclaimed Geoffrey, pointing to a
small, indistinct object slowly moving against the strong tide that
ebbed through the many channels by which Chichester Harbour is
intersected.

“Methinks thou’rt right,” replied the man-at-arms, shading his eyes with
his hand, for the sun had broken through the mist and its rays were
dazzling on the water. “Yea, ’tis a craft of sorts. Would my sight were
as good as in the time of the affray of Otterburn.”

“‘Tis but a fisherman,” replied the lad, after some minutes had elapsed.
“Yet he roweth as if he bore tidings.”

“Ay; I wot when first I saw him that ’twas not thy father’s cog,”
replied Gripwell, unwilling to admit the inferiority of his sense of
vision, although he had recently confessed it. “But, certes, he is not
one of the men of Warblington, and since he cometh herewards methinks
his errand is no idle one,” he added.

“Then let us hasten to the wharf and learn his tidings,” said Geoffrey,
as he turned towards the stairway.

With the rising of the sun the portcullis had been drawn up and the
drawbridge lowered. So, passing the vigilant sentinel who kept watch and
ward at the gate of the outer bailey, the lad and his companion made
their way across the mead, past the church that, by a strange
strategical blunder, stood betwixt the castle and the sea, and at length
reached the little stone quay which, at all but the lowest tides,
permitted the approach of the largest vessels of that period.

“‘Tis Wat, of Sinah,” exclaimed Geoffrey, as the rower turned his head
to make sure of his sinuous course ‘twixt the mud banks that were
already showing above the ebbing waters.

“How now, Wat?” quoth the man-at-arms, as the boat rubbed sides with the
landing-place, and the fisherman, well-nigh breathless with his
exertions, tossed his oars into the little craft and scrambled up a
rough wooden ladder.

“Sir Oliver!” he gasped.

“And what of him? Stand not babbling like a child. Out with it, gossip.”

“The _Grâce à Dieu_ lies off the Poles yonder,” continued Wat, pointing
towards the invisible sandbanks that encumbered the mouth of the
harbour. “She hath come in betimes this morning, and even now is
anchored beyond the bar.”

Geoffrey gave a cry of delight at the glad news; but Gripwell was far
from satisfied.

“And why has not the cog stood in? And how goeth it with Sir Oliver?”

“The ebb maketh strongly,” replied the fisherman. “‘Twas only with much
ado that I gained the harbour, my craft being but light. As thou
knowest, gossip, there be none to touch her, not even at Bosham or
Emsworth. And then concerning Sir Oliver. I saw him not, neither was I
able to draw nigh to the _Grâce_. It served my purpose but to come
hither and claim the guerdon that my lady hath promised to him who
brought the news of Sir Oliver’s return.”

“Then get thee to the castle, Wat. As for thy craft, it must needs take
ground, since the rithe dries within an hour. But that will pass, I’ll
warrant, for thy welcome will not be a hasty one.”

Already Geoffrey had sped to bear the news to his mother, the Lady
Bertha, while the fisherman and the man-at-arms followed, Wat inwardly
chafing at the measured stride of the old warrior.

Sir Oliver’s wife was a tall, dignified matron of forty years; stern,
almost masculine in manner, yet devoted to her husband and son. During
Sir Oliver’s frequent absences the care and maintenance of the castle
were entirely in her hands, and, from the merest detail concerning the
domestic ordering of the numerous household to the weighty questions
appertaining to its defence, the Lady Bertha ruled with firmness and
discretion.

Nor was she backward in maintaining her authority. Once, and once only,
did the youthful Geoffrey take upon himself to give certain orders to
the warriors of the outer bailey.

“Geoffrey, my son,” quoth his mother, “when thou dost attain the age of
sixteen it is thy father’s purpose to entrust thee with the care of this
castle during his sojournings overseas. When that time cometh I shall
willingly give place to thee in the matter, but so long as my lord
thinketh fit to make me châtelaine of Warblington I, and I only, must
have the ordering o’ it.”

The Lady Bertha was not slow to act on hearing the good tidings that
were now brought to her. In a few minutes the castle was in a state of
bustle. The nineteen men-at-arms donned their plates and headpieces, and
stood to their arms, ready to prove to the Lord of Warblington that they
kept good watch and ward; the two score archers, putting on their
quilted coats and iron caps, in addition to their everyday dress, rushed
hither and thither, gathering evergreens, heaping piles of faggots in
the centre of the courtyard, and bedecking the gateway with the arms and
pennons of bygone days. Old Giles, the cellarer, hied him to his
subterranean retreat, there to broach casks of the best vintages that
Gascony and Burgundy could produce, while the kitchen staff were busy
with two whole oxen.

Then from the adjacent church tower the bells rang out a merry peal.
Almost at the first note the toilers in the fields dropped their hoes
and unyoked the horses from the ploughs. They knew the meaning of the
peal; to them it meant, as it did on each and every occasion that Sir
Oliver returned in safety from the troublous Duchy of Normandy, that the
day was to be given up to feasting and merrymaking.

In the thatch-roofed houses of the little hamlet housewives left their
hearths, tarrying only to thrust a bough from their upper windows as a
sign of welcome, and trooped towards the castle to share with their
husbands the joys of their feudal lord’s homecoming.

And now from the summit of the keep a keen-eyed sentinel espied the
bluff, black bows of the _Grâce à Dieu_, as, labouring slowly under
oars, she crept up the tedious Emsworth channel with the young
flood-tide.

The gunners, with port fires lighted and linstocks ready to hand, were
clustering round their cumbersome, iron-hooped bombards, gazing the
while towards the steadily-approaching vessel. The minstrels, with harp,
pipe, and lute, foregathered on the green within the outer bailey, while
the Lady Bertha—who, in order to show that she held the castle,
refrained from leaving the shelter of the battlements—awaited her
husband at the barbican.

Everything was ready for Sir Oliver Lysle’s welcome home.

So intent upon the approach of the expected vessel were the crowds that
thronged the castle that none perceived a horseman riding from the
direction of the city of Chichester. In hot haste, he spared not spur,
and, scorning to keep to the road that led from the highway to the
castle, he urged his steed across the newly-ploughed fields, while a
bowshot in the rear a group of mounted men-at-arms followed at a more
leisurely pace.

Skirting the moat, he gained the barbican, then, drawing in his horse,
he looked, with an expression of mingled anger and surprise, upon the
preparations of welcome.

The newcomer was attired in a blue doublet, amber cloak with fur
trimmings, slashed trunks, and long pointed buskins of undressed
leather, while from elbow to wrist his arms were swathed in black cloth.
That he had ridden far and fast was evident by the exhausted state of
his steed and the numerous splashes of mud and chalk that clung
tenaciously to man and beast. By his left side he wore a long, straight
sword, with a plain cross-hilt and a black leather scabbard, while from
the right side of his belt hung a short dagger and a large leather
wallet.

Geoffrey recognized the newcomer as the seneschal of the Castle of
Arundel. Nor was he long in ignorance of the rider’s errand, for, in a
loud voice, the officer exclaimed—

“To the Châtelaine of Warblington greeting; but methinks ’tis neither
time nor place for expressions of gladness.”

“How so, Sir Scudamour?” asked the Lady Bertha haughtily, for she took
the seneschal’s mien with disfavour.

“By this, fair dame,” and, pointing to one of the men-at-arms who had
meanwhile arrived at the barbican, he called attention to a shield-like
object the soldier was bearing. It was a hatchment, or escutcheon of a
deceased noble, and the arms were those of King Henry IV—three lions
passant quartered with fleurs-de-lys.

Drawing a soiled parchment from his pouch the seneschal presented it to
the Lady Bertha with a courteous bow, then, giving a meaning look of
displeasure at the preparations for Sir Oliver’s return, he wheeled his
horse and galloped away.

Slowly the châtelaine broke the seals and drew out the missive. Silence
had fallen upon the crowd. Instinctively soldier and peasant knew that
King Henry was no more.

The men-at-arms and archers doffed their steel caps, the peasants,
bareheaded and with mouths agape, crowded silently around the stately
figure of the Lady Bertha, as in a loud voice she began to read the
momentous news—

“To all to whom these present letters shall come: Whereas God hath been
pleased to call unto Himself the soul of Henry, King of England,
France——”

“An empty title,” muttered a voice. Geoffrey turned; it was Gripwell who
had uttered these words. Fortunately for him the châtelaine heard him
not, and went on reading.

“——Lord of Ireland, and Suzerain of the Kingdom of Scotland, it is
hereby ordained that on the day following his most lamented decease his
worthy son, Henry, Prince of Wales, Earl of Cornwall and Carnarvon, and
Governor of Calais, be proclaimed King of England, France, Lord of
Ireland, and Suzerain of Scotland. Oyez, oyez, oyez. God save King Henry
the Fifth!”