So saying, and being assisted by Malise, he rose to his feet.
“Will they come again?” he asked, as with an intense disgust he surveyed the battle-field in the intermittent light from over the marshes.
“Listen,” said Malise.
The low howling of the wolves had retreated farther, but seemed to retain more and more of its strange human character.
“La Meffraye! La Meff—raye!” they seemed to wail, with a curious swelling upon the last syllable.
“I hear only the yelling of the infernal brutes,” said the Lord James; “they seem to be calling on their patron saint—the woman whom we saw in the house of the poor cripple. I am sure I saw her going to and fro among the devils and encouraging them to the assault.”
“’Tis black work at the best,” answered Malise; “these are no common wolves who would dare to attack armed men—demons of the nethermost pit rather, driven on by their hellish hunt-mistress. There will be many dead warlocks to-morrow throughout the lands of France.”
“Stand to your arms,” cried Sholto, from the other side of the tree. And indeed the howling seemed suddenly to grow nearer and louder. The noise circled about them, and they could again perceive dusky forms which glided to and fro in the faint light among the arches of the forest.
In the midst of the turmoil Malise took off his bonnet and stood reverently at prayer.
“Aid us, Thy true men,” he cried in a loud and solemn voice, “against all the powers of evil. In the name of God—Amen!”
The howling stopped and there fell a silence. Lord James would have spoken.
“Hush!” said Malise, yet more solemnly.
And far off, like an echo from another world, thin and sweet and silver clear, a cock crew.
The blue leaping flame of the wild-fire abruptly ceased. The dawn arose red and broad in the east. The piles of dead beasts shone out black on the grey plain of the forest glade, and on the topmost bough of a pine tree a thrush began to sing.
THE ALTAR OF IRON
And now what of Master Laurence, lately clerk in the Abbey of Dulce Cor, presently in service with the great Lord of Retz, Messire Gilles de Laval, Marshal and Chamberlain of the King of France?
Laurence had been a month at Machecoul and had not yet worn out his welcome. He was sunning himself with certain young clerks and choristers of the marshal’s privy chapel of the Holy Innocents. Suddenly Clerk Henriet appeared under the arches at the upper end of the pretty cloisters, in the aisles of which the youths were seated. Henriet regarded them silently for a moment, looking with special approval upon the blonde curls and pink cheeks of the young Scottish lad.
Machecoul was a vast feudal castle with one great central square tower and many smaller ones about it. The circuit of its walls enclosed gardens and pleasaunces, and included within its limits the new and beautiful chapel which has been recently finished by that good Catholic and ardent religionary, the Marshal de Retz.