Meantime all his companions had ridden straight to their bridge, believing that the Good Knight was amongst them, but of a sudden a certain gentleman from Dauphine exclaimed: “We have lost all, my friends! The Captain Bayard is dead or taken, for he is not in our company. I vow to God that if I am to go alone I will return and seek him....” On hearing this the whole troop turned their horses and set off at full gallop after the Spaniards, who were bearing away with them the flower of all chivalry. But they did not know it, for Bayard was aware that if they heard his name he should never escape alive, and to all their inquiries he only made answer that he was a gentleman. They had not even taken the trouble to disarm him.
Of a sudden he heard his companions arrive in pursuit, shouting: “France! France! Turn, turn, ye Spaniards; not thus shall you carry away the flower of chivalry.” Taken by surprise, the enemy received the French charge with some disorder, and as men and horses gave way, the Good Knight saw his opportunity, and without putting his foot in the stirrup, sprang upon a fine horse whose rider was thrown, and as soon as he was mounted, cried: “France! France! Bayard! Bayard! whom you have let go!” When the Spaniards heard the name and saw what a mistake they had made to leave him his arms (without requiring his parole, which he would certainly have kept), they lost heart and turned back towards their camp, while the French, overjoyed at having recovered their “Good Knight without Fear and without Reproach”—their one ideal of chivalry and honour—galloped home over the famous bridge. We do not wonder that for many days after they could talk of nothing but this thrilling adventure and the gallant exploits of Bayard.
[Illustration: The Page presents his Prisoner.]
[Illustration: The Emperor Maximilian from the portrait by Albert Durer.]
The wars of Italy had a wonderful fascination for Louis XII., and he eagerly united with the Emperor, the King of Spain, and the Pope in the League of Cambray against Venice, hated for her great wealth and success.
In the spring of 1509 the King collected another army, in which he made a great point of the foot-soldiers, whose importance he fully appreciated, and for the first time he chose captains of high renown to command them. He sent for Bayard and said to him: “You know that I am crossing the mountains to fight the Venetians, who have taken Cremona from me, and other places. I am giving you the command of a company of men-at-arms ... but that can be led by your lieutenant, Captain Pierre du Pont, while I wish you to take charge of a number of foot-soldiers.”
“Sire,” replied the Good Knight, “I will do what you wish; but how many foot-soldiers do you propose to give me?”
“One thousand,” said the King; “no man has more.”