In the midst stood the strange Squire, superintending a horse-boy who was rubbing down the Knight’s tall war-horse, and at the same time ordering, giving directions, answering inquiries, or granting permission to the men to return home with their relations. Ralph Penrose was near, his countenance, as Eustace could plainly perceive, expressing little satisfaction at finding another authority in the court of Lynwood Keep; the references to himself short, brief, and rapid, and only made when ignorance of the locality compelled the stranger to apply for information. The French accent and occasional French phrases with which the Squire spoke, made him contract his brow more and more, and at last, just as Eustace came up, he walked slowly away, grumbling to himself, “Well, have it e’en your own way, I am too old for your gay French fashions. It was not so in Humfrey Harwood’s time, when— But the world has gone after the French now! Sir Reginald has brought home as many Gascon thieves as kindly Englishmen!”
Eustace listened for a moment to his mutterings, but without answering them, and coming within a few steps of the stranger, stood waiting to offer him any courtesy in his power, though at the same time he felt abashed by the consciousness of his inferiority in accomplishments and experience.
It was the Squire who was the first to speak. “So this is Sir Reginald’s old Keep! A fine old fortalice—would stand at least a fortnight’s siege. Ha! Is not yonder a weak point? I would undertake to scale that tower, so the battering-rams made a diversion on the other side.”
“I trust it will never be tried,” said Eustace.
“It would be as fair a feat of arms as ever you beheld! But I crave your pardon,” added he, displaying his white teeth with a merry laugh; “the state of my own land has taught me to look on every castle with eyes for attack and defence, and your brother tells me I am not behind my countrymen in what you English call gasconades.”
“You have seen many sieges and passages of arms?” asked Eustace, looking up in his face with an expression at once puzzled and respectful.
“Since our castle of Albricorte was sacked and burnt by the Count de Bearn, I have seen little else—three stricken fields—two towns stormed—castles more than I can remember.”
“Alas!” said Eustace, “I have seen nothing but the muster of arms at Taunton!”
D’Aubricour laughed. “Look not downcast on it,” said he; “you have time before you and one year at Bordeaux is worth four elsewhere. But I forget, you are the young clerk; and yet that scarcely accords with that bright eye of yours, and the weapon at your side.”
“They spoke once of making me a clerk,” said Eustace; “but I hope to show my brother that I am fit for his own way of life. Sir Squire, do but tell me, do you think I look unfit to sustain the honour of my name?”
“Mere strength is little,” said the Squire, “else were that comely giant John Ingram, the best warrior in the army. Nor does height reckon for much; Du Guesclin himself is of the shortest. Nor do you look like the boy over whose weakly timid nature I have heard Sir Reginald lament,” he proceeded, surveying him with a critical eye.