"But we must on, if we are to be there before the drawbridge rises at the vespers bugle; for it is likely that sir Nigel, being so renowned a soldier, may keep hard discipline within the walls, and let no man enter after sundown." So saying, he quickened his pace, and the three comrades were soon close to the straggling and broad-spread town which centered round the noble church and the frowning castle.
It chanced on that very evening that Sir Nigel Loring, having supped before sunset, as was his custom, and having himself seen that Pommers and Cadsand, his two war-horses, with the thirteen hacks, the five jennets, my lady's three palfreys, and the great dapple-gray roussin, had all their needs supplied, had taken his dogs for an evening breather.
Sir Nigel was a slight man of poor stature, with soft lisping voice and gentle ways.
There were men who said that of all the stern passages and daring deeds by which Sir Nigel Loring had proved the true temper of his courage, not the least was his wooing and winning of so forbidding a dame.
He looked keenly at Sir Nigel as he approached, and then, plunging his hand under his breastplate, he stepped up to him with a rough, uncouth bow to the lady.
"Pardieu!" said Sir Nigel, "if they are all like their messenger, they are indeed men of whom a leader may be proud.
"Good lack!" cried Sir Nigel, and "Good lack!" cried his lady, while John stood laughing and wiping the caked dirt from his fingers.
"Young man," quoth Sir Nigel, sternly, "if you are of the same way of thought as your brother, you may not pass under portcullis of mine."
"And are you, too, of the White Company?" asked Sir Nigel. "Hast had small experience of war, if I may judge by your looks and bearing."
"It is well to have a learned clerk in every troop," said Sir Nigel. "By St.
Sir Nigel alone, unconscious to all appearance of the universal panic, walked with unfaltering step up the centre of the road, a silken handkerchief in one hand and his gold comfit-box in the other.
Yet, when he came with bowed head and humble entreaty for forgiveness, he was met with a handful of small silver from Sir Nigel, whose dame, however, was less charitably disposed, being much ruffled in her dignity by the manner in which she had been hustled from her lord's side.