As this occurred at the time when the rattling of the swords engaged the whole attention of the spectators, no one noticed what was going forward except Nicholas, and, before he could get up to the young man, the two miscreants were gone, nor could any one tell what had become of them.
“Have the wretches done you a mischief?” asked the squire, in a low tone, of Richard.
“They have stolen the King’s ring, which I meant to use in Alizon’s behalf,” replied the young man, who by this time had recovered his speech.
“That is unlucky, indeed,” said Nicholas. “But we can defeat any ill design they may intend, by acquainting Sir John Finett with the circumstance.”
“Let them be,” said a voice in his ear. “The time is not yet come.” The squire did not look round, for he well knew that the caution proceeded from Nance Redferne.
And, accordingly, he observed to Richard—“Tarry awhile, and you will be amply avenged.”
And with this assurance the young man was fain to be content.
Just then a trumpet was sounded, and a herald stationed on the summit of the broad flight of steps leading to the great hall, proclaimed in a loud voice that a tilting-match was about to take place between Archie Armstrong, jester to his most gracious Majesty, and Davy Droman, who filled the same honourable office to his Grace the Duke of Buckingham, and that a pair of gilt-heel’d chopines would be the reward of the successful combatant. This announcement was received with cheers, and preparations were instantly made for the mock tourney. A large circle being formed by the yeomen of the guard, with an alley leading to it on either side, the two combatants, mounted on gaudy-caparisoned hobby-horses, rode into the ring. Both were armed to the teeth, each having a dish-cover braced around him in lieu of a breastplate, a newly-scoured brass porringer on his head, a large pewter platter instead of a buckler, and a spit with a bung at the point, to prevent mischief, in place of a lance. The Duke’s jester was an obese little fellow, and his appearance in this warlike gear was so eminently ridiculous, that it provoked roars of laughter, while Archie was scarcely less ridiculous. After curveting round the arena in imitation of knights of chivalry, and performing “their careers, their prankers, their false trots, their smooth ambles, and Canterbury paces,” the two champions took up a position opposite each other, with difficulty, as it seemed, reining in their pawing chargers, and awaiting the signal of attack to be given by Sir John Finett, the judge of the tournament. This was not long delayed, and the “laissez aller” being pronounced, the preux chevaliers started forward with so much fury, and so little discretion, that meeting half-way with a tremendous shock, and butting against each other like two rams, both were thrown violently backwards, exhibiting, amid the shouts of the spectators, their heels, no longer hidden by the trappings of their