We hear the stories of many brave knights, but not all of the knights were as good as they were brave. Some of them were cruel, and some very wicked, especially in dealing with their enemies. We are now to tell the story of Pierre du Terrail, Chevalier de Bayard, who was known as "The knight without fear and without reproach."
There are many stories of his courage, his daring and valiant leadership in war; of his justice and honor in dealing with his own men; of his kindliness and humanity in the treatment of his foes. Altogether he seems to be one of the noblest characters whose history has come down to us from olden times.
The town of Brescia had been captured by the French army, and according to the practices of the day, had been given up to pillage by the troops. It was a day of license and inhumanity. Bayard had taken part in the capture of the town, though he was never one to take part in the horrors of destruction.
Bayard had been wounded in the assault, and severely so. He thought his time had come. He said to his fellow-captain, "Comrade, march your men forward, for the town is ours. Spare the women and children. Leave me here, for I am a dead man within the hour."
But Bayard had yet many years before him. While the town was being looted by the soldiers, two of his own archers bore him on a stretcher to a house that had some appearance of size and com- fort. It turned out to be the residence of a rich citizen, who, in a panic of fear, had fled for his own safety, leaving his wife and two daughters to hide themselves as best they might in the hay with which the granary was filled.
The archers thundered at the door, "Open for the good Knight Bayard, who is wounded, and needs the comfort of a house." The trembling woman opened the door, afraid lest she be deceived and fall into the hands of the marauding soldiers.
She was surprised when she saw a wounded knight, and unbarred her door to admit the bearers of the litter upon which he lay. Bayard, in his courteous manner, said, "I pray you have no fear of me or of these men. They shall guard your doors," and he gave orders for them to stand outside and admit no one.
"Let no one enter here," he directed them, "on your lives, except it be my own people. Tell them these are the quarters of the Knight Bayard, who lies wounded and does not wish to be annoyed. If by doing this you lose your portion of the rich merchandise of this town, I shall amply repay you."
The archers did as they were bid, and stood guard before the doors of the house. Bayard was borne to a rich chamber and laid gently upon a sumptuous bed, with silk curtains and a canopy overhead. The lady threw herself on her knees before the bed whereon lay the knight, and in tears said pleadingly, "Sir, this house and all that is in it is yours and your men's. I know by the rules of warfare that I and my two daughters may be slain by your soldiers before the day is over. I beg you to spare our lives, for we are gentle folks and are helpless."
"Madam," replied Bayard in weak tones, for he had lost much blood, "I know not whether I shall survive these wounds, but so long as I am in your house, or alive anywhere, no harm shall come to you or to your daughters. Keep them in their rooms, so that they be not seen. I pray you, now, send for a surgeon that my wounds may be attended to."
The lady heard those words with great joy. Under the escort of one of the archers she set out to find a surgeon. Finding one at last, she took him back to her house and made him attend her guest so carefully that there was no longer danger of his wound proving mortal. Shortly afterward, his own surgeon took charge of him and the knight was on a fair way to recovery.
In a few days the town became quiet, the soldiers having settled themselves comfortably in the houses of the citizens. Still there was great danger for anyone to be on the streets. Bayard then said to his hostess, "Madam, I see you are sad and weep occasionally. Pray tell me if you have news of your husband."
To this his hostess replied, "I know not, my lord, whether he be alive or dead. If he be alive anywhere he will be in some monastery where he has taken refuge and where he is well known."
"Let him return to his own home," answered Bayard. "I shall give him escort so that no harm shall come to him."
The joyful wife soon discovered where her husband was hidden. Bayard's steward and two archers were sent to the monastery, and the husband was conducted safely through the streets back to his own home.
"I cannot commend you for your bravery, for you are more prudent than valiant," said Bayard to the husband, "but your wife has saved my life by her ministrations and I gladly assure you that you are as safe here as in your monastery. You shall not suffer in person or in estate."
Needless to state, the reunited family was made happy by the generosity of the knight, whose wound was slowly healing, though at times he was in much pain. At the end of the month he was able to rise from his couch and walk about the room. He became restless for action as his strength slowly returned.
News came one day that a great battle was shortly to be fought between the French and the Spaniards. Calling his surgeon to him, Bayard said, "My friend, is there any danger in my setting out on the march to join my commander? I feel well, or nearly so, and my wound seems to be healing. I feel sorely fretted here at this idleness when I am needed in battle. It will do me more harm to remain here than to take up my armor and sword and get astride my good horse."
"Your wound is not yet healed entirely, but a few more dressings will help it greatly. In a few days you may go hence and join your comrades, only I warn you be careful of your strength," was the advice of his physician.
Bayard heard these words with gladness and gave orders for his armor to be brightened, his horse to be made ready, and for his attendants to prepare for the march. The fact that he was to move made his strength return more rapidly than ever.
His host and hostess became anxious to know what the knight would demand of them before his departure. They knew too well the habits of soldiers, and how they were accustomed to be well paid for any service they rendered. They realized that after all they were the prisoners of Bayard and his men, who could force them to ransom themselves with the full value of their estate.
On the day of the departure of their guest, Bayard, who had been walking up and down, trying his leg, and who had thrown himself on a couch for a moment, was approached by his hostess, who knelt before him, holding out a small steel box.
"My lord," she said in a trembling voice, "I am thankful that the grace of God directed you to this house at the taking of our town. We owe our lives and all that we cherish to you. While others have suffered great misery and have had much loss, we have not endured a single insult, nor lost a farthing of our property. We are aware that we are your prisoners and that you can do with us as you will, in person and in property, but I beg you to have pity on us yet and extend to us your generosity. Here is a little gift we make you, and we pray that you may be pleased to accept it."
The box was opened by a servant and Bayard saw that it contained gold coins to the brim. Bayard had never bothered about money and cared nothing for the coins. He burst out laughing and said, "Madam, of what value are the coins in this box?"
The lady was frightened, thinking the knight was ill-satisfied with the sum she had brought.
"My lord, there are but two thousand five hundred ducats. If these are not enough I pray you name the sum you will demand and it shall be found."
The knight, still laughing, replied, "Madam, a hundred thousand crowns would not repay me for the kindness and good cheer which I have had in your house. Such attention as you and your daughters have given me cannot be paid for in coin. In whatever position I may happen to be, remember that I am a gentleman and a knight at your bidding. As for your ducats, I am leaving them, for I shall have none of them. All my life I have loved people more than I have loved crowns."
The lady listened to him with astonishment, for she did not know that any knight could be so generous. She had never heard of one who did not crave money, nor of one who would refuse it when it was offered to him. Therefore she said to him, "My lord, you will leave me much distressed if you do not accept this little present from me."
She was so firm in her purpose that at last the knight said with a smile, "Well, I shall take it in remembrance of you, but fetch your two daughters, for I should like to bid them farewell."
In a short while the two girls appeared. The knight knew them well, for they had solaced many of his weary hours with their music and with their cheerful conversation.
When they entered they knelt before him, and the elder one said, "My lord, we owe much to your kindness and have come humbly to thank you for your goodness to us. We pray God to spare your life that you may ever be kind to those in distress."
Bayard took the girls by their hands and raised them from their knees. Going to the table on which the ducats were spread, he counted out three piles. Then approaching the girls, he said to them, "Some of these days you will get married and a poor knight has not much money to give as a marriage portion to those he loves, but each of you hold out your aprons while I give you a marriage portion."
The delighted girls held out their aprons and into each one the knight counted a thousand crowns and told them to keep it until the day they were married, as a present from him.
Then turning to the madam, he said, "I would keep these other coins to distribute among the good sisters of this town, which I know has been plundered. They will need it for the distressed whom they doubtless desire to succor and who have suffered at the hands of my soldiers."
The next day the good knight rode away, leaving tears of joy and grateful hearts behind.
It was such deeds as this that won for Bayard the renown which has come down in history of being a knight of good deeds and great bravery, living without fear and without reproach.