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Historical Tales, Vol. 4 (of 15) by Charles Morris

Illustration THE PORT OF CALAIS


A

letter was now sent to the French king, Philip de Valois, imploring succor. They had eaten, said the governor, their horses, their dogs, even the rats and mice; nothing remained but to eat one another. Unluckily, the English, not the French, king received this letter, and the English host grew more watchful than ever. But Philip de Valois needed not letters to tell him of the extremity of the garrison; he knew it well, and knew as well that haste alone could save him one of his fairest towns.

[Illustration: THE PORT OF CALAIS.]

But he had suffered a frightful defeat at Crecy only five days before the siege of Calais began. Twelve hundred of his knights and thirty thousand of his foot-soldiers--a number equal to the whole English force--had been slain on the field; thousands of others had been taken prisoner; a new army was not easily to be raised. Months passed before Philip was able to come to the relief of the beleaguered stronghold. The Oriflamme, the sacred banner of the realm, never displayed but in times of dire extremity, was at length unfurled to the winds, and from every side the great vassels of the kingdom hastened to its support. France, ever prolific of men, poured forth her sons until she had another large army in the field. In July of 1347, eleven months after the siege began, the garrison, weary with long waiting, saw afar from their lookout towers the floating banners of France, and beneath

them the faintly-seen forms of a mighty host.

The glad news spread through the town. The king was coming with a great army at his back! Their sufferings had not been in vain; they would soon be relieved, and those obstinate English be driven into the sea! Had a fleet of bread-ships broken through the blockade, and sailed with waving pennons into the harbor, the souls of the garrison could not have been more uplifted with joy.

Alas! it was a short-lived joy. Not many days elapsed before that great host faded before their eyes like a mist under the sun-rays, its banners lifting and falling as they slowly vanished into the distance, the gleam of its many steel-headed weapons dying out until not a point of light remained. Their gladness turned into redoubled misery as they saw themselves thus left to their fate; their king, who had marched up with such a gallant show of banners and arms, marching away without striking a blow. It was hard to believe it; but there they went, and there the English lay.

The soil of France had never seen anything quite so ludicrous--but for its tragic side--as this march of Philip the king. Two roads led to the town, but these King Edward, who was well advised of what was coming, had taken care to intrench and guard so strongly that it would prove no light nor safe matter to force a way through. Philip sent out his spies, learned what was before him, and, full of the memory of Crecy, decided that it would be too costly an experiment to attack those works. But were not those the days of chivalry? was not Edward famed for his chivalrous spirit? Surely he, as a noble and puissant knight, would not take an unfair advantage of his adversary. As a knight of renown he could not refuse to march into the open field, and trust to God and St. George of England for his defence, as against God and St. Denys of France.


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