JAMES BRANCH CABELL
TO ANNE BRANCH CABELL
"AINSI A VOUS, MADAME, A MA TRES HAULTE ET TRES NOBLE DAME, A QUI J'AYME A DEVOIR ATTACHEMENT ET OBEISSANCE, J'ENVOYE CE LIVRET."
Few of the more astute critics who have appraised the work of James Branch Cabell have failed to call attention to that extraordinary cohesion which makes his very latest novel a further flowering of the seed of his very earliest literary work. Especially among his later books does the scheme of each seem to dovetail into the scheme of the other and the whole of his writing take on the character of an uninterrupted discourse. To this phenomenon, which is at once a fact and an illusion of continuity, Mr. Cabell himself has consciously contributed, not only by a subtly elaborate use of conjunctions, by repetition, and by reintroducing characters from his other books, but by actually setting his expertness in genealogy to the genial task of devising a family tree for his figures of fiction.
If this were an actual continuity, more tangible than that fluid abstraction we call the life force; if it were merely a tireless reiteration and recasting of characters, Mr. Cabell's work would have an unbearable monotony. But at bottom this apparent continuity has no more material existence than has the thread of lineal descent. To insist upon its importance is to obscure, as has been obscured, the epic range of Mr. Cabell's creative genius. It is to fail to observe that he has treated in his many books every mainspring of human action and that his themes have been the cardinal dreams and impulses which have in them heroic qualities. Each separate volume has a unity and harmony of a complete and separate life, for the excellent reason that with the consummate skill of an artist he is concerned exclusively in each book with one definite heroic impulse and its frustrations.
It is true, of course, that like the fruit of the tree of life, Mr. Cabell's artistic progeny sprang from a first conceptual germ—"In the beginning was the Word." That animating idea is the assumption that if life may be said to have an aim it must be an aim to terminate in success and splendor. It postulates the high, fine importance of excess, the choice or discovery of an overwhelming impulse in life and a conscientious dedication to its fullest realization. It is the quality and intensity of the dream only which raises men above the biological norm; and it is fidelity to the dream which differentiates the exceptional figure, the man of heroic stature, from the muddling, aimless mediocrities about him. What the dream is, matters not at all—it may be a dream of sainthood, kingship, love, art, asceticism or sensual pleasure—so long as it is fully expressed with all the resources of self. It is this sort of completion which Mr. Cabell has elected to depict in all his work: the complete sensualist in Demetrios, the complete phrase-maker in Felix Kennaston, the complete poet in Marlowe, the complete lover in Perion. In each he has shown that this complete self-expression is achieved at the expense of all other possible selves, and that herein lies the tragedy of the ideal. Perfection is a costly flower and is cultured only by an uncompromising, strict husbandry.
All this is, we see, the ideational gonfalon under which surge the romanticists; but from the evidence at hand it is the banner to which life also bears allegiance. It is in humanity's records that it has reserved its honors for its romantic figures. It remembers its Caesars, its saints, its sinners. It applauds, with a complete suspension of moral judgment, its heroines and its heroes who achieve the greatest self-realization. And from the splendid triumphs and tragic defeats of humanity's individual strivings have come our heritage of wisdom and of poetry.
Once we understand the fundamentals of Mr. Cabell's artistic aims, it is not easy to escape the fact that in Figures of Earth he undertook the staggering and almost unsuspected task of rewriting humanity's sacred books, just as in Jurgen he gave us a stupendous analogue of the ceaseless quest for beauty. For we must accept the truth that Mr. Cabell is not a novelist at all in the common acceptance of the term, but a historian of the human soul. His books are neither documentary nor representational; his characters are symbols of human desires and motives. By the not at all simple process of recording faithfully the projections of his rich and varied imagination, he has written thirteen books, which he accurately terms biography, wherein is the bitter-sweet truth about human life.
Among the scant certainties vouchsafed us is that every age lives by its special catchwords. Whether from rebellion against the irking monotony of its inherited creeds or from compulsions generated by its own complexities, each age develops its code of convenient illusions which minimize cerebration in dilemmas of conduct by postulating an unequivocal cleavage between the current right and the current wrong. It works until men tire of it or challenge the cleavage, or until conditions render the code obsolete. It has in it, happily, a certain poetic merit always; it presents an ideal to be lived up to; it gives direction to the uncertain, stray impulses of life.
The Chivalric code is no worse than most and certainly it is prettier than some. It is a code peculiar to an age, or at least it flourishes best in an age wherein sentiment and the stuff of dreams are easily translatable into action. Its requirements are less of the intellect than of the heart. It puts God, honor, and mistress above all else, and stipulates that a knight shall serve these three without any reservation. It requires of its secular practitioners the holy virtues of an active piety, a modified chastity, and an unqualified obedience, at all events, to the categorical imperative. The obligation of poverty it omits, for the code arose at a time when the spiritual snobbery of the meek and lowly was not pressing the simile about the camel and the eye of the needle. It leads to charming manners and to delicate amenities. It is the opposite of the code of Gallantry, for while the code of Chivalry takes everything with a becoming seriousness, the code of Gallantry takes everything with a wink. If one should stoop to pick flaws with the Chivalric ideal, it would be to point out a certain priggishness and intolerance. For, while it is all very well for one to cherish the delusion that he is God's vicar on earth and to go about his Father's business armed with a shining rectitude, yet the unhallowed may be moved to deprecate the enterprise when they recall, with discomfort, the zealous vicarship of, say, the late Anthony J. Comstock.
But here I blunder into Mr. Cabell's province. For he has joined many graceful words in delectable and poignant proof of just that lamentable tendency of man to make a mess of even his most immaculate conceivings. When he wrote Chivalry, Mr. Cabell was yet young enough to view the code less with the appraising eye of a pawnbroker than with the ardent eye of an amateur. He knew its value, but he did not know its price. So he made of it the thesis for a dizain of beautiful happenings that are almost flawless in their verbal beauty.
It is perhaps of historical interest here to record the esteem in which Mark Twain held the genius of Mr. Cabell as it was manifested as early as a dozen years ago. Mr. Cabell wrote The Soul of Melicent, or, as it was rechristened on revision, Domnei, at the great humorist's request, and during the long days and nights of his last illness it was Mr. Cabell's books which gave Mark Twain his greatest joy. This knowledge mitigates the pleasure, no doubt, of those who still, after his fifteen years of writing, encounter him intermittently with a feeling of having made a great literary discovery. The truth is that Mr. Cabell has been discovered over and over with each succeeding book from that first fine enthusiasm with which Percival Pollard reviewed The Eagle's Shadow to that generous acknowledgment by Hugh Walpole that no one in England, save perhaps Conrad and Hardy, was so sure of literary permanence as James Branch Cabell.
With The Cream of the Jest, Beyond Life, and Figures of Earth before him, it is not easy for the perceptive critic to doubt this permanence. One might as sensibly deny a future to Ecclesiastes, The Golden Ass, Gulliver's Travels, and the works of Rabelais as to predict oblivion for such a thesaurus of ironic wit and fine fantasy, mellow wisdom and strange beauty as Jurgen. But to appreciate the tales of Chivalry is, it seems, a gift more frequently reserved for the general reader than for the professional literary evaluator. Certainly years before discussion of Cabell was artificially augmented by the suppression of Jurgen there were many genuine lovers of romance who had read these tales with pure enjoyment. That they did not analyse and articulate their enjoyment for the edification of others does not lessen the quality of their appreciation. Even in those years they found in Cabell's early tales what we find who have since been directed to them by the curiosity engendered by his later work, namely, a superb craftsmanship in recreating a vanished age, an atmosphere in keeping with the themes, a fluid, graceful, personal style, a poetic ecstasy, a fine sense of drama, and a unity and symmetry which are the hall-marks of literary genius.
BURTON RASCOE. New York City, September, 1921.
I THE STORY OF THE SESTINA
II THE STORY OF THE TENSON
III THE STORY OF THE RAT-TRAP
IV THE STORY OF THE CHOICES
V THE STORY OF THE HOUSEWIFE
VI THE STORY OF THE SATRAPS
VII THE STORY OF THE HERITAGE
VIII THE STORY OF THE SCABBARD
IX THE STORY OF THE NAVARRESE
X THE STORY OF THE FOX-BRUSH
Imprimis, as concerns the authenticity of these tales perhaps the less debate may be the higher wisdom, if only because this Nicolas de Caen, by common report, was never a Gradgrindian. And in this volume in particular, writing it (as Nicolas is supposed to have done) in 1470, as a dependant on the Duke of Burgundy, it were but human nature should he, in dealing with the putative descendants of Dom Manuel and Alianora of Provence, be niggardly in his ascription of praiseworthy traits to any member of the house of Lancaster or of Valois. Rather must one in common reason accept old Nicolas as confessedly a partisan writer, who upon occasion will recolor an event with such nuances as will be least inconvenient to a Yorkist and Burgundian bias.
The reteller of these stories needs in addition to plead guilty of having abridged the tales with a free hand. Item, these tales have been a trifle pulled about, most notably in "The Story of the Satraps," where it seemed advantageous, on reflection, to put into Gloucester's mouth a history which in the original version was related ab ovo, and as a sort of bungling prologue to the story proper.
Item, the re-teller of these stories desires hereby to tender appropriate acknowledgment to Mr. R.E. Townsend for his assistance in making an English version of the lyrics included hereinafter; and to avoid discussion as to how freely, in these lyrics, Nicolas has plagiarized from Raimbaut de Vaqueiras and other elder poets.
And—"sixth and lastly"—should confession be made that in the present rendering a purely arbitrary title has been assigned this little book; chiefly for commercial reasons, since the word "dizain" has been adjudged both untranslatable and, in its pristine form, repellantly outre.
You are to give my titular makeshift, then, a wide interpretation; and are always to remember that in the bleak, florid age these tales commemorate this Chivalry was much the rarelier significant of any personal trait than of a world-wide code in consonance with which all estimable people lived and died. Its root was the assumption (uncontested then) that a gentleman will always serve his God, his honor and his lady without any reservation; nor did the many emanating by-laws ever deal with special cases as concerns this triple, fixed, and fundamental homage.
Such is the trinity served hereinafter. Now about lady-service, or domnei, I have written elsewhere. Elsewhere also I find it recorded that "the cornerstone of Chivalry is the idea of vicarship: for the chivalrous person is, in his own eyes at least, the child of God, and goes about this world as his Father's representative in an alien country."
I believe the definition holds: it certainly tends to explain the otherwise puzzling pertinacity with which the characters in these tales talk about God and act upon an assured knowledge as to Heaven's private intentions and preferences. These people are the members of one family engrossed, as all of us are apt to be when in the society of our kin, by family matters and traditions and by-words. It is not merely that they are all large children consciously dependent in all things upon a not foolishly indulgent Father, Who keeps an interested eye upon the least of their doings, and punishes at need,—not merely that they know themselves to act under surveillance and to speak within ear-shot of a divine eavesdropper. The point is, rather, that they know this observation to be as tender, the punishment to be as unwilling, as that which they themselves extend to their own children's pranks and misdemeanors. The point is that to them Heaven is a place as actual and tangible as we consider Alaska or Algiers to be, and that their living is a conscious journeying toward this actual place. The point is that the Father is a real father, and not a word spelt with capital letters in the Church Service; not an abstraction, not a sort of a something vaguely describable as "the Life Force," but a very famous kinsman, of whom one is naively proud, and whom one is on the way to visit.... The point, in brief, is that His honor and yours are inextricably blended, and are both implicated in your behavior on the journey.
We nowadays can just cloudily imagine this viewing of life as a sort of boarding-school from which one eventually goes home, with an official report as to progress and deportment: and in retaliation for being debarred from the comforts of this view, the psychoanalysts have no doubt invented for it some opprobrious explanation. At all events, this Chivalry was a pragmatic hypothesis: it "worked," and served society for a long while, not faultlessly of course, but by creating, like all the other codes of human conduct which men have yet tried, a tragi-comic melee wherein contended "courtesy and humanity, friendliness, hardihood, love and friendship, and murder, hate, and virtue, and sin."
For the rest, since good wine needs no bush, and an inferior beverage is not likely to be bettered by arboreal adornment, I elect to piece out my exordium (however lamely) with "The Printer's Preface." And it runs in this fashion:
"Here begins the volume called and entitled the Dizain of Queens, composed and extracted from divers chronicles and other sources of information, by that extremely venerable person and worshipful man, Messire Nicolas de Caen, priest and chaplain to the right noble, glorious and mighty prince in his time, Philippe, Duke of Burgundy, of Brabant, etc., in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord God a thousand four hundred and seventy: and imprinted by me, Colard Mansion, at Bruges, in the year of our said Lord God a thousand four hundred and seventy-one; at the commandment of the right high, mighty and virtuous Princess, my redoubted Lady, Isabella of Portugal, by the grace of God Duchess of Burgundy and Lotharingia, of Brabant and Limbourg, of Luxembourg and of Gueldres, Countess of Flanders, of Artois, and of Burgundy, Palatine of Hainault, of Holland, of Zealand and of Namur, Marquesse of the Holy Empire, and Lady of Frisia, of Salins and of Mechlin; whom I beseech Almighty God less to increase than to continue in her virtuous disposition in this world, and after our poor fleet existence to receive eternally. Amen."
"Afin que les entreprises honorables et les nobles aventures et faicts d'armes soyent noblement enregistres et conserves, je vais traiter et raconter et inventer ung galimatias."
THE DIZAIN OF QUEENS OF THAT NOBLE MAKER IN THE FRENCH TONGUE, MESSIRE NICOLAS DE CAEN, DEDICATED TO THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS ISABELLA OF PORTUGAL, OF THE HOUSE OF THE INDOMITABLE ALFONSO HENRIQUES, AND DUCHESS DOWAGER OF BURGUNDY. HERE BEGINS IN AUSPICIOUS WISE THE PROLOGUE.
A Sa Dame
Inasmuch as it was by your command, illustrious and exalted lady, that I have gathered together these stories to form the present little book, you should the less readily suppose I have presumed to dedicate to your Serenity this trivial offering because of my esteeming it to be not undeserving of your acceptance. The truth is otherwise: your postulant approaches not spurred toward you by vainglory, but rather by equity, and equity's plain need to acknowledge that he who seeks to write of noble ladies must necessarily implore at outset the patronage of her who is the light and mainstay of our age. I humbly bring my book to you as Phidyle approached another and less sacred shrine, farre pio et saliente mica, and lay before you this my valueless mean tribute not as appropriate to you but as the best I have to offer.
It is a little book wherein I treat of divers queens and of their love-business; and with necessitated candor I concede my chosen field to have been harvested, and scrupulously gleaned, by many writers of innumerable conditions. Since Dares Phrygius wrote of Queen Heleine, and Virgil (that shrewd necromancer) of Queen Dido, a preponderating mass of clerks, in casting about for high and serious matter, have chosen, as though it were by common instinct, to dilate upon the amours of royal women. Even in romance we scribblers must contrive it so that the fair Nicolete shall be discovered in the end to be no less than the King's daughter of Carthage, and that Sir Dooen of Mayence shall never sink in his love affairs beneath the degree of a Saracen princess; and we are backed in this old procedure not only by the authority of Aristotle but, oddly enough, by that of reason.
Kings have their policies and wars wherewith to drug each human appetite. But their consorts are denied these makeshifts; and love may rationally be defined as the pivot of each normal woman's life, and in consequence as the arbiter of that ensuing life which is eternal. Because—as anciently Propertius demanded, though not, to speak the truth, of any woman—
Quo fugis? ah demens! nulla est fuga, tu licet usque Ad Tanaim fugias, usque sequetur amor.
And a dairymaid, let us say, may love whom she will, and nobody else be a penny the worse for her mistaking of the preferable nail whereon to hang her affections; whereas with a queen this choice is more portentous. She plays the game of life upon a loftier table, ruthlessly illuminated, she stakes by her least movement a tall pile of counters, some of which are, of necessity, the lives and happiness of persons whom she knows not, unless it be by vague report. Grandeur sells itself at this hard price, and at no other. A queen must always play, in fine, as the vicar of destiny, free to choose but very certainly compelled in the ensuing action to justify that choice: as is strikingly manifested by the authentic histories of Brunhalt, and of Guenevere, and of swart Cleopatra, and of many others that were born to the barbaric queenhoods of extinct and dusty times.
All royal persons are (I take it) the immediate and the responsible stewards of Heaven; and since the nature of each man is like a troubled stream, now muddied and now clear, their prayer must ever be, Defenda me, Dios, de me! Yes, of exalted people, and even of their near associates, life, because it aims more high than the aforementioned Aristotle, demands upon occasion a more great catharsis, which would purge any audience of unmanliness, through pity and through terror, because, by a quaint paradox, the players have been purged of humanity. For a moment Destiny has thrust her scepter into the hands of a human being and Chance has exalted a human being to decide the issue of many human lives. These two—with what immortal chucklings one may facilely imagine—have left the weakling thus enthroned, free to direct the heavy outcome, free to choose, and free to evoke much happiness or age-long weeping, but with no intermediate course unbarred. Now prove thyself! saith Destiny; and Chance appends: Now prove thyself to be at bottom a god or else a beast, and now eternally abide that choice. And now (O crowning irony!) we may not tell thee clearly by which choice thou mayst prove either.
In this little book about the women who intermarried, not very enviably, with an unhuman race (a race predestinate to the red ending which I have chronicled elsewhere, in The Red Cuckold), it is of ten such moments that I treat.
You alone, I think, of all persons living, have learned, as you have settled by so many instances, to rise above mortality in such a testing, and unfailingly to merit by your conduct the plaudits and the adoration of our otherwise dissentient world. You have often spoken in the stead of Destiny, with nations to abide your verdict; and in so doing have both graced and hallowed your high vicarship. If I forbear to speak of this at greater length, it is because I dare not couple your well-known perfection with any imperfect encomium. Upon no plea, however, can any one forbear to acknowledge that he who seeks to write of noble ladies must necessarily implore at outset the patronage of her who is the light and mainstay of our age.
Therefore to you, madame—most excellent and noble lady, to whom I love to owe both loyalty and love—I dedicate this little book.
THE STORY OF THE SESTINA
"Armatz de fust e de fer e d'acier, Mos ostal seran bosc, fregz, e semdier, E mas cansos sestinas e descortz, E mantenrai los frevols contra 'ls fortz."
THE FIRST NOVEL.—ALIANORA OF PROVENCE, COMING IN DISGUISE AND IN ADVERSITY TO A CERTAIN CLERK, IS BY HIM CONDUCTED ACROSS A HOSTILE COUNTRY; AND IN THAT TROUBLED JOURNEY ARE MADE MANIFEST TO EACH THE SNARES WHICH HAD BEGUILED THEM AFORETIME.
The Story of the Sestina
In this place we have to do with the opening tale of the Dizain of Queens. I abridge, as afterward, at discretion; and an initial account of the Barons' War, among other superfluities, I amputate as more remarkable for veracity than interest. The result, we will agree at outset, is that to the Norman cleric appertains whatever these tales may have of merit, whereas what you find distasteful in them you must impute to my delinquencies in skill rather than in volition.
Within the half hour after de Giars' death (here one overtakes Nicolas mid-course in narrative) Dame Alianora thus stood alone in the corridor of a strange house. Beyond the arras the steward and his lord were at irritable converse.
First, "If the woman be hungry," spoke a high and peevish voice, "feed her. If she need money, give it to her. But do not annoy me."
"This woman demands to see the master of the house," the steward then retorted.
"O incredible Boeotian, inform her that the master of the house has no time to waste upon vagabonds who select the middle of the night as an eligible time to pop out of nowhere. Why did you not do so in the beginning, you dolt?" The speaker got for answer only a deferential cough, and very shortly continued: "This is remarkably vexatious. Vox et praeterea nihil—which signifies, Yeck, that to converse with women is always delightful. Admit her." This was done, and Dame Alianora came into an apartment littered with papers, where a neat and shriveled gentleman of fifty-odd sat at a desk and scowled.
He presently said, "You may go, Yeck." He had risen, the magisterial attitude with which he had awaited her entrance cast aside. "Oh, God!" he said; "you, madame!" His thin hands, scholarly hands, were plucking at the air.
Dame Alianora had paused, greatly astonished, and there was an interval before she said, "I do not recognize you, messire."
"And yet, madame, I recall very clearly that some thirty years ago the King-Count Raymond Berenger, then reigning in Provence, had about his court four daughters, each one of whom was afterward wedded to a king. First, Meregrett, the eldest, now regnant in France; then Alianora, the second and most beautiful of these daughters, whom troubadours hymned as the Unattainable Princess. She was married a long while ago, madame, to the King of England, Lord Henry, third of that name to reign in these islands."
Dame Alianora's eyes were narrowing. "There is something in your voice," she said, "which I recall."
He answered: "Madame and Queen, that is very likely, for it is a voice which sang a deal in Provence when both of us were younger. I concede with the Roman that I have somewhat deteriorated since the reign of Cynara. Yet have you quite forgotten the Englishman who made so many songs of you? They called him Osmund Heleigh."
"He made the Sestina of Spring which won the violet crown at my betrothal," the Queen said; and then, with eagerness: "Messire, can it be that you are Osmund Heleigh?" He shrugged assent. She looked at him for a long time, rather sadly, and demanded if he were the King's man or of the barons' party.
The nervous hands were raised in deprecation. "I have no politics," Messire Heleigh began, and altered it, gallantly enough, to, "I am the Queen's man, madame."
"Then aid me, Osmund," she said.
He answered with a gravity which singularly became him, "You have reason to understand that to my fullest power I will aid you."
"You know that at Lewes these swine overcame us." He nodded assent. "Now they hold the King, my husband, captive at Kenilworth. I am content that he remain there, for he is of all the King's enemies the most dangerous. But, at Wallingford, Leicester has imprisoned my son, Prince Edward. The Prince must be freed, my Osmund. Warren de Basingbourne commands what is left of the royal army, now entrenched at Bristol, and it is he who must liberate my son. Get me to Bristol, then. Afterward we will take Wallingford." The Queen issued these orders in cheery, practical fashion, and did not admit opposition into the account, for she was a capable woman.
"But you, madame?" he stammered. "You came alone?"
"I come from France, where I have been entreating—and vainly entreating—succor from yet another monkish king, the holy Lewis of that realm. Eh, what is God about when He enthrones these whining pieties! Were I a king, were I even a man, I would drive these smug English out of their foggy isle in three days' space! I would leave alive not one of these curs that dare yelp at me! I would—" She paused, anger veering into amusement. "See how I enrage myself when I think of what your people have made me suffer," the Queen said, and shrugged her shoulders. "In effect, I skulked back in disguise to this detestable island, accompanied by Avenel de Giars and Hubert Fitz-Herveis. To-night some half-dozen fellows—robbers, thorough knaves, like all you English,—attacked us on the common yonder and slew the men of our party. While they were cutting de Giars' throat I slipped away in the dark and tumbled through many ditches till I spied your light. There you have my story. Now get me an escort to Bristol."
It was a long while before Messire Heleigh spoke. Then, "These men," he said—"this de Giars and this Fitz-Herveis—they gave their lives for yours, as I understand it,—pro caris amicis. And yet you do not grieve for them."
"I shall regret de Giars," the Queen acknowledged, "for he made excellent songs. But Fitz-Herveis?—foh! the man had a face like a horse." Again her mood changed. "Many persons have died for me, my friend. At first I wept for them, but now I am dry of tears."
He shook his head. "Cato very wisely says, 'If thou hast need of help, ask it of thy friends.' But the sweet friend that I remember was a clean eyed girl, joyous and exceedingly beautiful. Now you appear to me one of those ladies of remoter times—Faustina, or Jael, or Artemis, the King's wife of Tauris,—they that slew men, laughing. I am somewhat afraid of you, madame."
She was angry at first; then her face softened. "You English!" she said, only half mirthful. "Eh, my God! you remember me when I was a high hearted young sorceress. Now the powers of the Apsarasas have departed from me, and time has thrust that Alianora, who was once the Unattainable Princess, chin deep in misery. Yet even now I am your Queen, messire, and it is not yours to pass judgment upon me." "I do not judge you," he returned. "Rather I cry with him of old, Omnia incerta ratione! and I cry with Salomon that he who meddles with the strife of another man is like to him that takes a hound by the ears. Yet listen, madame and Queen. I cannot afford you an escort to Bristol. This house, of which I am in temporary charge, is Longaville, my brother's manor. Lord Brudenel, as you doubtless know, is of the barons' party and—scant cause for grief!—is with Leicester at this moment. I can trust none of my brother's people, for I believe them to be of much the same opinion as those Londoners who not long ago stoned you and would have sunk your barge in Thames River. Oh, let us not blink the fact that you are not overbeloved in England. So an escort is out of the question. Yet I, madame, if you so elect, will see you safe to Bristol."
"You? Singly?" the Queen demanded.
"My plan is this: Singing folk alone travel whither they will. We will go as jongleurs, then. I can yet manage a song to the viol, I dare affirm. And you must pass as my wife."
He said this with simplicity. The plan seemed unreasonable, and at first Dame Alianora waved it aside. Out of the question! But reflection suggested nothing better; it was impossible to remain at Longaville, and the man spoke sober truth when he declared any escort other than himself to be unprocurable. Besides, the lunar madness of the scheme was its strength; that the Queen would venture to cross half England unprotected—and Messire Heleigh on the face of him was a paste-board buckler—was an event which Leicester would neither anticipate nor on report credit. There you were! these English had no imagination. The Queen snapped her fingers and said: "Very willingly will I be your wife, my Osmund. But how do I know that I can trust you? Leicester would give a deal for me; he would pay any price for the pious joy of burning the Sorceress of Provence. And you are not wealthy, I suspect."
"You may trust me, mon bel esper,"—his eyes here were those of a beaten child—"because my memory is better than yours." Messire Osmund Heleigh gathered his papers into a neat pile. "This room is mine. To-night I keep guard in the corridor, madame. We will start at dawn."
When he had gone, Dame Alianora laughed contentedly. "Mon bel esper! my fairest hope! The man called me that in his verses—thirty years ago! Yes, I may trust you, my poor Osmund."
So they set out at cockcrow. He had procured for himself a viol and a long falchion, and had somewhere got suitable clothes for the Queen; and in their aging but decent garb the two approached near enough to the appearance of what they desired to be thought. In the courtyard a knot of servants gaped, nudged one another, but openly said nothing. Messire Heleigh, as they interpreted it, was brazening out an affair of gallantry before the countryside; and they esteemed his casual observation that they would find a couple of dead men on the common exceedingly diverting.
When the Queen asked him the same morning, "And what will you sing, my Osmund? Shall we begin the practise of our new profession with the Sestina of Spring?"—old Osmund Heleigh grunted out: "I have forgotten that rubbish long ago. Omnis amans, amens, saith the satirist of Rome town, and with reason."
One sees them thus trudging the brown, naked plains under a sky of steel. In a pageant the woman, full-veined and comely, her russet gown girded up like a harvester's might not inaptly have prefigured October; and for less comfortable November you could nowhere have found a symbol more precise than her lank companion, humorously peevish under his white thatch of hair, and constantly fretted by the sword tapping at his ankles.
They made Hurlburt prosperously and found it vacant, for the news of Falmouth's advance had driven the villagers hillward. There was in this place a child, a naked boy of some two years, lying on a doorstep, overlooked in his elders' gross terror. As the Queen with a sob lifted this boy the child died.
"Starved!" said Osmund Heleigh; "and within a stone's throw of my snug home!"
The Queen laid down the tiny corpse, and, stooping, lightly caressed its sparse flaxen hair. She answered nothing, though her lips moved.
Past Vachel, scene of a recent skirmish, with many dead in the gutters, they were overtaken by Falmouth himself, and stood at the roadside to afford his troop passage. The Marquess, as he went by, flung the Queen a coin, with a jest sufficiently high flavored. She knew the man her inveterate enemy, knew that on recognition he would have killed her as he would a wolf; she smiled at him and dropped a curtsey.
"This is remarkable," Messire Heleigh observed. "I was hideously afraid, and am yet shaking. But you, madame, laughed."
The Queen replied: "I laughed because I know that some day I shall have Lord Falmouth's head. It will be very sweet to see it roll in the dust, my Osmund."
Messire Heleigh somewhat dryly observed that tastes differed.
At Jessop Minor befell a more threatening adventure. Seeking food at the Cat and Hautbois in that village, they blundered upon the same troop at dinner in the square about the inn. Falmouth and his lieutenants were somewhere inside the house. The men greeted the supposed purveyors of amusement with a shout; and one of these soldiers—a swarthy rascal with his head tied in a napkin—demanded that the jongleurs grace their meal with a song.
Osmund tried to put him off with a tale of a broken viol.
But, "Haro!" the fellow blustered; "by blood and by nails! you will sing more sweetly with a broken viol than with a broken head. I would have you understand, you hedge thief, that we gentlemen of the sword are not partial to wordy argument." Messire Heleigh fluttered inefficient hands as the men-at-arms gathered about them, scenting some genial piece of cruelty. "Oh, you rabbit!" the trooper jeered, and caught at Osmund's throat, shaking him. In the act this rascal tore open Messire Heleigh's tunic, disclosing a thin chain about his neck and a handsome locket, which the fellow wrested from its fastening. "Ahoi!" he continued. "Ahoi, my comrades, what sort of minstrel is this, who goes about England all hung with gold like a Cathedral Virgin! He and his sweetheart"—the actual word was grosser—"will be none the worse for an interview with the Marquess."
The situation smacked of awkwardness, because Lord Falmouth was familiar with the Queen, and to be brought specifically to his attention meant death for two detected masqueraders. Hastily Osmund Heleigh said:
"Messire, the locket contains the portrait of a lady whom in my youth I loved very greatly. Save to me, it is valueless. I pray you, do not rob me of it."
But the trooper shook his head with drunken solemnity. "I do not like the looks of this. Yet I will sell it to you, as the saying is, for a song."
"It shall be the king of songs," said Osmund,—"the song that Arnaut Daniel first made. I will sing for you a Sestina, messieurs,—a Sestina in salutation of Spring."
The men disposed themselves about the dying grass, and presently he sang.
Sang Messire Heleigh:
"Awaken! for the servitors of Spring Proclaim his triumph! ah, make haste to see With what tempestuous pageantry they bring The victor homeward! haste, for this is he That cast out Winter and all woes that cling To Winter's garments, and bade April be!
"And now that Spring is master, let us be Content, and laugh, as anciently in spring The battle-wearied Tristan laughed, when he Was come again Tintagel-ward, to bring Glad news of Arthur's victory—and see Ysoude, with parted lips, that waver and cling.
"Not yet in Brittany must Tristan cling To this or that sad memory, and be Alone, as she in Cornwall; for in spring Love sows against far harvestings,—and he Is blind, and scatters baleful seed that bring Such fruitage as blind Love lacks eyes to see!"
Osmund paused here for an appreciable interval, staring at the Queen. You saw his flabby throat a-quiver, his eyes melting, saw his cheeks kindle, and youth seeping into the lean man like water over a crumbling dam. His voice was now big and desirous.
Sang Messire Heleigh:
"Love sows, but lovers reap; and ye will see The loved eyes lighten, feel the loved lips cling, Never again when in the grave ye be Incurious of your happiness in spring, And get no grace of Love there, whither he That bartered life for love no love may bring.
"No braggart Heracles avails to bring Alcestis hence; nor here may Roland see The eyes of Aude; nor here the wakening spring Vex any man with memories: for there be No memories that cling as cerements cling, No force that baffles Death, more strong than he.
"Us hath he noted, and for us hath he An hour appointed; and that hour will bring Oblivion.—Then, laugh! Laugh, dear, and see The tyrant mocked, while yet our bosoms cling, While yet our lips obey us, and we be Untrammeled in our little hour of spring!
"Thus in the spring we jeer at Death, though he Will see our children perish and will briny Asunder all that cling while love may be."
Then Osmund put the viol aside and sat quite silent. The soldiery judged, and with cordial frankness stated, that the difficulty of his rhyming scheme did not atone for his lack of indecency, but when the Queen of England went among them with Messire Heleigh's faded green hat she found them liberal. Even the fellow with the broken head admitted that a bargain was proverbially a bargain, and returned the locket with the addition of a coin. So for the present these two went safe, and quitted the Cat and Hautbois fed and unmolested.
"My Osmund," Dame Alianora said, presently, "your memory is better than I had thought."
"I remembered a boy and a girl," he returned. "And I grieved that they were dead."
Afterward they plodded on toward Bowater, and the ensuing night rested in Chantrell Wood. They had the good fortune there to encounter dry and windless weather and a sufficiency of brushwood, with which Osmund constructed an agreeable fire. In its glow these two sat, eating bread and cheese.
But talk languished at the outset. The Queen had complained of an ague, and Messire Heleigh was sedately suggesting three spiders hung about the neck as an infallible corrective for this ailment, when Dame Alianora rose to her feet. "Eh, my God!" she said; "I am wearied of such ungracious aid! Not an inch of the way but you have been thinking of your filthy books and longing to be back at them! No; I except the moments when you were frightened into forgetfulness—first by Falmouth, then by the trooper. O Eternal Father! afraid of a single dirty soldier!"
"Indeed, I was very much afraid," said Messire Heleigh, with perfect simplicity; "timidus perire, madame."
"You have not even the grace to be ashamed! Yet I am shamed, messire, that Osmund Heleigh should have become the book-muddled pedant you are. For I loved young Osmund Heleigh."
He also had risen in the firelight, and now its convulsive shadows marred two dogged faces. "I think it best not to recall that boy and girl who are so long dead. And, frankly, madame and Queen, the merit of the business I have in hand is questionable. It is you who have set all England by the ears, and I am guiding you toward opportunities for further mischief. I must serve you. Understand, madame, that ancient folly in Provence yonder has nothing to do with the affair. Count Manuel left you: and between his evasion and your marriage you were pleased to amuse yourself with me—"
"You were more civil then, my Osmund—"
"I am not uncivil, I merely point out that this old folly constitutes no overwhelming obligation, either way. I cry nihil ad Andromachen! For the rest, I must serve you because you are a woman and helpless; yet I cannot forget that he who spares the wolf is the sheep's murderer. It would be better for all England if you were dead. Hey, your gorgeous follies, madame! Silver peacocks set with sapphires! Cloth of fine gold—"
"Would you have me go unclothed?" Dame Alianora demanded, pettishly.
"Not so," Osmund retorted; "again I say to you with Tertullian, 'Let women paint their eyes with the tints of chastity, insert into their ears the Word of God, tie the yoke of Christ about their necks, and adorn their whole person with the silk of sanctity and the damask of devotion.' I say to you that the boy you wish to rescue from Wallingford, and make King of England, is freely rumored to be not verily the son of Sire Henry but the child of tall Manuel of Poictesme. I say to you that from the first you have made mischief in England. And I say to you—"
But Dame Alianora was yawning quite frankly. "You will say to me that I brought foreigners into England, that I misguided the King, that I stirred up strife between the King and his barons. Eh, my God! I am sufficiently familiar with the harangue. Yet listen, my Osmund: They sold me like a bullock to a man I had never seen. I found him a man of wax, and I remoulded him. They asked of me an heir for England: I provided that heir. They gave me England as a toy; I played with it. I was the Queen, the source of honor, the source of wealth—the trough, in effect, about which swine gathered. Never since I came into England, Osmund, has any man or woman loved me; never in all my English life have I loved man or woman. Do you understand, my Osmund?—the Queen has many flatterers, but no friends. Not a friend in the world, my Osmund! And so the Queen made the best of it and amused herself."
Somewhat he seemed to understand, for he answered without asperity:
"Mon bel esper, I do not find it anywhere in Holy Writ that God requires it of us to amuse ourselves; but upon many occasions we have been commanded to live righteously. We are tempted in divers and insidious ways. And we cry with the Psalmist, 'My strength is dried up like a potsherd.' But God intends this, since, until we have here demonstrated our valor upon Satan, we are manifestly unworthy to be enregistered in God's army. The great Captain must be served by proven soldiers. We may be tempted, but we may not yield. O daughter of the South! we must not yield!"
"Again you preach," Dame Alianora said. "That is a venerable truism."
"Ho, madame," he returned, "is it on that account the less true?"
Pensively the Queen considered this. "You are a good man, my Osmund," she said, at last, "though you are very droll. Ohime! it is a pity that I was born a princess! Had it been possible for me to be your wife, I would have been a better woman. I shall sleep now and dream of that good and stupid and contented woman I might have been." So presently these two slept in Chantrell Wood.
Followed four days of journeying. As Messer Dante had not yet surveyed Malebolge, Osmund Heleigh and Dame Alianora lacked a parallel for that which they encountered; their traverse discovered England razed, charred, and depopulate—picked bones of an island, a vast and absolute ruin about which passion-wasted men skulked like rats. Messire Heleigh and the Queen traveled without molestation; malice and death had journeyed before them on this road, and had swept it clear.
At every trace of these hideous precessors Osmund Heleigh would say, "By a day's ride I might have prevented this." Or, "By a day's ride I might have saved this woman." Or, "By two days' riding I might have fed this child."
The Queen kept Spartan silence, but daily you saw the fine woman age. In their slow advance every inch of misery was thrust before her for inspection; meticulously she observed and evaluated her handiwork. Enthroned, she had appraised from a distance the righteous wars she set afoot; trudging thus among the debris of these wars, she found they had unsuspected aspects. Bastling the royal army had recently sacked. There remained of this village the skeletons of two houses, and for the rest a jumble of bricks, rafters half-burned, many calcined fragments of humanity, and ashes. At Bastling, Messire Heleigh turned to the Queen toiling behind.
"Oh, madame!" he said, in a dry whisper, "this was the home of so many men!"
"I burned it," Dame Alianora replied. "That man we passed just now I killed. Those other men and women—my folly slew them all. And little children, my Osmund! The hair like flax, blood-dabbled!"
"Oh, madame!" he wailed, in the extremity of his pity.
For she stood with eyes shut, all gray. The Queen demanded: "Why have they not slain me? Was there no man in England to strangle the proud wanton? Are you all cowards here?"
He said: "I detect only one coward in the affair. Your men and Leicester's men also ride about the world, and draw sword and slay and die for the right as they see it. And you and Leicester contend for the right as ye see it. But I, madame! I! I, who sat snug at home spilling ink and trimming rose-bushes! God's world, madame, and I in it afraid to speak a word for Him! God's world, and a curmudgeon in it grudging God the life He gave!" The man flung out his soft hands and snarled: "We are tempted in divers and insidious ways. But I, who rebuked you! behold, now, with how gross a snare was I entrapped!" "I do not understand, my Osmund."
"I was afraid, madame," he returned, dully. "Everywhere men fight, and I am afraid to die."
So they stood silent in the ruins of Bastling.
"Of a piece with our lives," Dame Alianora said at last. "All ruin, my Osmund."
But Messire Heleigh threw back his head and laughed, new color in his face. "Presently men will build here, my Queen. Presently, as in legend was re-born the Arabian bird, arises from these ashes a lordlier and more spacious town."
They went forward. The next day chance loosed upon them Gui Camoys, lord of Bozon, Foliot, and Thwenge, who, riding alone through Poges Copse, found there a man and a woman over their limited supper. The woman had thrown back her hood, and Camoys drew rein to stare at her. Lispingly he spoke the true court dialect.
"Ma belle," said this Camoys, in friendly condescension, "n'estez vous pas jongleurs?"
Dame Alianora smiled up at him. "Ouais, messire; mon mary faict les chancons—" She paused, with dilatory caution, for Camoys had leaped from his horse, giving a great laugh.
"A prize! ho, an imperial prize!" Camoys shouted. "A peasant woman with the Queen's face, who speaks French! And who, madame, is this? Have you by any chance brought pious Lewis from oversea? Have I bagged a brace of monarchs?"
Here was imminent danger, for Camoys had known the Queen some fifteen years. Messire Heleigh rose, his five days' beard glinting like hoar-frost as his mouth twitched.
"I am Osmund Heleigh, messire, younger brother to the Earl of Brudenel."
"I have heard of you, I believe—the fellow who spoils parchment. This is odd company, however, Messire Osmund, for Brudenel's brother."
"A gentleman must serve his Queen, messire. As Cicero very justly observes—"
"I am inclined to think that his political opinions are scarcely to our immediate purpose. This is a high matter, Messire Heleigh. To let the sorceress pass is, of course, out of the question; upon the other hand, I observe that you lack weapons of defence. Yet if you will have the kindness to assist me in unarming, your courtesy will place our commerce on more equal footing."
Osmund had turned very white. "I am no swordsman, messire—"
"Now, this is not handsome of you," Camoys began. "I warn you that people will speak harshly of us if we lose this opportunity of gaining honor. And besides, the woman will be burned at the stake. Plainly, you owe it to all three of us to fight."
"—But I refer my cause to God. I am quite at your service." "No, my Osmund!" Dame Alianora then cried. "It means your death."
He spread out his hands. "That is God's affair, madame."
"Are you not afraid?" she breathed.
"Of course I am afraid," said Messire Heleigh, irritably.
After that he unarmed Camoys, and presently they faced each other in their tunics. So for the first time in the journey Osmund's long falchion saw daylight. He had thrown away his dagger, as Camoys had none.
The combat was sufficiently curious. Camoys raised his left hand. "So help me God and His saints, I have upon me neither bone, stone, nor witchcraft wherethrough the power and the word of God might be diminished or the devil's power increased."
Osmund made similar oath. "Judge Thou this woman's cause!" he cried, likewise.
Then Gui Camoys shouted, as a herald might have done, "Laissez les aller, laissez les aller, laissez les aller, les bons combatants!" and warily each moved toward the other.
On a sudden Osmund attacked, desperately apprehensive of his own cowardice. Camoys lightly eluded him and slashed at Osmund's undefended thigh, drawing much blood. Osmund gasped. He flung away his sword, and in the instant catching Camoys under the arms, threw him to the ground. Messire Heleigh fell with his opponent, who in stumbling had lost his sword, and thus the two struggled unarmed, Osmund atop. But Camoys was the younger man, and Osmund's strength was ebbing rapidly by reason of his wound. Now Camoys' tethered horse, rearing with nervousness, tumbled his master's flat-topped helmet into the road. Osmund caught up this helmet and with it battered Camoys in the face, dealing severe blows.
"God!" Camoys cried, his face all blood.
"Do you acknowledge my quarrel just?" said Osmund, between horrid sobs.
"What choice have I?" said Gui Camoys, very sensibly.
So Osmund rose, blind with tears and shivering. The Queen bound up their wounds as best she might, but Camoys was much dissatisfied.
"For private purposes of His own, madame," he observed, "and doubtless for sufficient reasons, God has singularly favored your cause. I am neither a fool nor a pagan to question His decision, and you two may go your way unhampered. But I have had my head broken with my own helmet, and this I consider to be a proceeding very little conducive toward enhancing my reputation. Of your courtesy, messire, I must entreat another meeting."
Osmund shrank as if from a blow. Then, with a short laugh, he conceded that this was Camoys' right, and they fixed upon the following Saturday, with Poges Copse as the rendezvous.
"I would suggest that the combat be to the death," Gui Camoys said, "in consideration of the fact it was my own helmet. You must undoubtedly be aware, Messire Osmund, that such an affront is practically without any parallel."
This, too, was agreed upon.
Then, after asking if they needed money, which was courteously declined, Gui Camoys rode away, and sang as he went. Osmund Heleigh remained motionless. He raised quivering hands to the sky.
"Thou hast judged!" he cried. "Thou hast judged, O puissant Emperor of Heaven! Now pardon! Pardon us twain! Pardon for unjust stewards of Thy gifts! Thou hast loaned this woman dominion over England, with all instruments to aid Thy cause, and this trust she has abused. Thou hast loaned me life and manhood, agility and wit and strength, all instruments to aid Thy cause. Talents in a napkin, O God! Repentant we cry to Thee. Pardon for unjust stewards! Pardon for the ungirt loin, for the service shirked, for all good deeds undone! Pardon and grace, O King of kings!"
Thus he prayed, while Gui Camoys sang, riding deeper into the tattered, yellowing forest. By an odd chance Camoys had lighted on that song made by Thibaut of Champagne, beginning Signor, saciez, ki or ne s'en ira, which denounces all half-hearted servitors of Heaven; and this he sang with a lilt gayer than his matter countenanced. Faintly there now came to Osmund and the Queen the sound of Camoys' singing, and they found it, in the circumstances, ominously apt.
"Et vos, par qui je n'ci onques aie, Descendez luit en infer le parfont."
Dame Alianora shivered. But she was a capable woman, and so she said: "I may have made mistakes. But I am sure I never meant any harm, and I am sure, too, that God will be more sensible about it than are you poets."
They slept that night in Ousley Meadow, and the next afternoon came safely to Bristol. You may learn elsewhere with what rejoicing the royal army welcomed the Queen's arrival, how courage quickened at sight of the generous virago. In the ebullition Messire Heleigh was submerged, and Dame Alianora saw nothing more of him that day. Friday there were counsels, requisitions, orders signed, a memorial despatched to Pope Urban, chief of all a letter (this in the Queen's hand throughout) privily conveyed to the Lady Maude de Mortemer, who shortly afterward contrived Prince Edward's escape from her husband's gaolership. There was much sowing of a seed, in fine, that eventually flowered victory. There was, however, no sign of Osmund Heleigh, though by Dame Alianora's order he was sought.
On Saturday at seven in the morning he came to her lodging, in complete armor. From the open helmet his wrinkled face, showing like a wizened nut in a shell, smiled upon her questionings.
"I go to fight Gui Camoys, madame and Queen."
Dame Alianora wrung her hands. "You go to your death."
He answered: "That is true. Therefore I am come to bid you farewell."
The Queen stared at him for a while; on a sudden she broke into a curious fit of deep but tearless sobbing, which bordered upon laughter, too.
"Mon bel esper," said Osmund Heleigh, gently, "what is there in all this worthy of your sorrow? The man will kill me; granted, for he is my junior by some fifteen years, and is in addition a skilled swordsman. I fail to see that this is lamentable. Back to Longaville I cannot go after recent happenings; there a rope's end awaits me. Here I must in any event shortly take to the sword, since a beleaguered army has very little need of ink-pots; and shortly I must be slain in some skirmish, dug under the ribs perhaps by a greasy fellow I have never seen. I prefer a clean death at a gentleman's hands."
"It is I who bring about your death!" she said. "You gave me gallant service, and I have requited you with death, and it is a great pity."
"Indeed the debt is on the other side. The trivial services I rendered you were such as any gentleman must render a woman in distress. Naught else have I afforded you, madame, save very anciently a Sestina. Ho, a Sestina! And in return you have given me a Sestina of fairer make,—a Sestina of days, six days of manly common living." His eyes were fervent.
She kissed him on either cheek. "Farewell, my champion!"
"Ay, your champion. In the twilight of life old Osmund Heleigh rides forth to defend the quarrel of Alianora of Provence. Reign wisely, my Queen, so that hereafter men may not say I was slain in an evil cause. Do not, I pray you, shame my maiden venture at a man's work."
"I will not shame you," the Queen proudly said; and then, with a change of voice: "O my Osmund! My Osmund, you have a folly that is divine, and I lack it."
He caught her by each wrist, and stood crushing both her hands to his lips, with fierce staring. "Wife of my King! wife of my King!" he babbled; and then put her from him, crying, "I have not failed you! Praise God, I have not failed you!"
From her window she saw him ride away, a rich flush of glitter and color. In new armor with a smart emblazoned surcoat the lean pedant sat conspicuously erect; and as he went he sang defiantly, taunting the weakness of his flesh.
Sang Osmund Heleigh:
"Love sows, but lovers reap; and ye will see The loved eyes lighten, feel the loved lips cling Never again when in the grave ye be Incurious of your happiness in spring, And get no grace of Love, there, whither he That bartered life for love no love may bring."
So he rode away and thus out of our history. But in the evening Gui Camoys came into Bristol under a flag of truce, and behind him heaved a litter wherein lay Osmund Heleigh's body.
"For this man was frank and courteous," Camoys said to the Queen, "and in the matter of the reparation he owed me acted very handsomely. It is fitting that he should have honorable interment."
"That he shall not lack," the Queen said, and gently unclasped from Osmund's wrinkled neck the thin gold chain, now locketless. "There was a portrait here," she said; "the portrait of a woman whom he loved in his youth, Messire Camoys. And all his life it lay above his heart."
Camoys answered stiffly: "I imagine this same locket to have been the object which Messire Heleigh flung into the river, shortly before we began our combat. I do not rob the dead, madame."
"Well," the Queen said, "he always did queer things, and so, I shall always wonder what sort of lady he picked out to love, but it is none of my affair."
Afterward she set to work on requisitions in the King's name. But Osmund Heleigh she had interred at Ambresbury, commanding it to be written on his tomb that he died in the Queen's cause.
How the same cause prospered (Nicolas concludes), how presently Dame Alianora reigned again in England and with what wisdom, and how in the end this great Queen died a nun at Ambresbury and all England wept therefor—this you may learn elsewhere. I have chosen to record six days of a long and eventful life; and (as Messire Heleigh might have done) I say modestly with him of old, Majores majora sonent. Nevertheless, I assert that many a forest was once a pocketful of acorns.
THE END OF THE FIRST NOVEL
THE STORY OF THE TENSON
"Plagues a Dieu ja la nueitz non falhis, Ni'l mieus amicx lone de mi nos partis, Ni la gayta jorn ni alba ne vis. Oy Dieus! oy Dieus! de l'alba tan tost we!"
THE SECOND NOVEL.—ELLINOR OF CASTILE, BEING ENAMORED OF A HANDSOME PERSON, IS IN HER FLIGHT FROM MARITAL OBLIGATIONS ASSISTED BY HER HUSBAND, AND IS IN THE END BY HIM CONVINCED OF THE RATIONALITY OF ALL ATTENDANT CIRCUMSTANCES.
The Story of the Tenson
In the year of grace 1265 (Nicolas begins), about the festival of Saint Peter ad Vincula, the Prince de Gatinais came to Burgos. Before this he had lodged for three months in the district of Ponthieu; and the object of his southern journey was to assure the tenth Alphonso, then ruling in Castile, that the latter's sister Ellinor, now resident at Entrechat, was beyond any reasonable doubt the transcendent lady whose existence old romancers had anticipated, however cloudily, when they fabled in remote time concerning Queen Heleine of Sparta.
There was a postscript to this news. The world knew that the King of Leon and Castile desired to be King of Germany as well, and that at present a single vote in the Diet would decide between his claims and those of his competitor, Earl Richard of Cornwall. De Gatinais chaffered fairly; he had a vote, Alphonso had a sister. So that, in effect—ohe, in effect, he made no question that his Majesty understood!
The Astronomer twitched his beard and demanded if the fact that Ellinor had been a married woman these ten years past was not an obstacle to the plan which his fair cousin had proposed?
Here the Prince was accoutred cap-a-pie, and hauled out a paper. Dating from Viterbo, Clement, Bishop of Rome, servant to the servants of God, desirous of all health and apostolical blessing for his well-beloved son in Christ, stated that a compact between a boy of fifteen and a girl of ten was an affair of no particular moment; and that in consideration of the covenantors never having clapped eyes upon each other since the wedding-day,—even had not the precontract of marriage between the groom's father and the bride's mother rendered a consummation of the childish oath an obvious and a most heinous enormity,—why, that, in a sentence, and for all his coy verbosity, the new pontiff was perfectly amenable to reason.
So in a month it was settled. Alphonso would give his sister to de Gatinais, and in exchange get the latter's vote to make Alphonso King of Germany; and Gui Foulques of Sabionetta—now Clement, fourth Pope to assume that name—would annul the previous marriage, and in exchange get an armament to serve him against Manfred, the late and troublesome tyrant of Sicily and Apulia. The scheme promised to each one of them that which he in particular desired, and messengers were presently sent into Ponthieu.
It is now time we put aside these Castilian matters and speak of other things. In England, Prince Edward had fought, and won, a shrewd battle at Evesham. People said, of course, that such behavior was less in the manner of his nominal father, King Henry, than reminiscent of Count Manuel of Poictesme, whose portraits certainly the Prince resembled to an embarrassing extent. Either way, the barons' power was demolished, there would be no more internecine war; and spurred by the unaccustomed idleness, Prince Edward began to think of the foreign girl he had not seen since the day he wedded her. She would be a woman by this, and it was befitting that he claim his wife. He rode with Hawise Bulmer and her baby to Ambresbury, and at the gate of the nunnery they parted, with what agonies are immaterial to this history's progression; the tale merely tells that, having thus decorously rid himself of his mistress, the Prince went into Lower Picardy alone, riding at adventure as he loved to do, and thus came to Entrechat, where his wife resided with her mother, the Countess Johane.
In a wood near the castle he approached a company of Spaniards, four in number, their horses tethered while these men (Oviedans, as they told him) drank about a great stone which served them for a table. Being thirsty, he asked and was readily accorded hospitality, and these five fell into amicable discourse. One fellow asked his name and business in those parts, and the Prince gave each without hesitancy as he reached for the bottle, and afterward dropped it just in time to catch, cannily, with his naked left hand, the knife-blade with which the rascal had dug at the unguarded ribs. The Prince was astounded, but he was never a subtle man: here were four knaves who, for reasons unexplained—but to them of undoubted cogency—desired his death: manifestly there was here an actionable difference of opinion; so he had his sword out and killed the four of them.
Presently came to him an apple-cheeked boy, habited as a page, who, riding jauntily through the forest, lighted upon the Prince, now in bottomless vexation. The lad drew rein, and his lips outlined a whistle. At his feet were several dead men in various conditions of dismemberment. And seated among them, as if throned upon this boulder, was a gigantic and florid person, so tall that the heads of few men reached to his shoulder; a person of handsome exterior, high-featured and blond, having a narrow, small head, and vivid light blue eyes, and the chest of a stallion; a person whose left eyebrow had an odd oblique droop, so that the stupendous man appeared to be winking the information that he was in jest.
"Fair friend," said the page. "God give you joy! and why have you converted this forest into a shambles?"
The Prince told him as much of the half-hour's action as has been narrated. "I have perhaps been rather hasty," he considered, by way of peroration, "and it vexes me that I did not spare, say, one of these lank Spaniards, if only long enough to ascertain why, in the name of Termagaunt, they should have desired my destruction."
But midway in his tale the boy had dismounted with a gasp, and he was now inspecting the features of one carcass. "Felons, my Prince! You have slain some eight yards of felony which might have cheated the gallows had they got the Princess Ellinor safe to Burgos. Only two days ago this chalk-eyed fellow conveyed to her a letter."
Prince Edward said, "You appear, lad, to be somewhat overheels in the confidence of my wife."
Now the boy arose and defiantly flung back his head in shrill laughter. "Your wife! Oh, God have mercy! Your wife, and for ten years left to her own devices! Why, look you, to-day you and your wife would not know each other were you two brought face to face."
Prince Edward said, "That is very near the truth." But, indeed, it was the absolute truth, and as it concerned him was already attested.
"Sire Edward," the boy then said, "your wife has wearied of this long waiting till you chose to whistle for her. Last summer the young Prince de Gatinais came a-wooing—and he is a handsome man." The page made known all which de Gatinais and King Alphonso planned, the words jostling as they came in torrents, but so that one might understand. "I am her page, my lord. I was to follow her. These fellows were to be my escort, were to ward off possible pursuit. Cry haro, beau sire! Cry haro, and shout it lustily, for your wife in company with six other knaves is at large between here and Burgos,—that unreasonable wife who grew dissatisfied after a mere ten years of neglect."
"I have been remiss," the Prince said, and one huge hand strained at his chin; "yes, perhaps I have been remiss. Yet it had appeared to me—But as it is, I bid you mount, my lad!"
The boy demanded, "And to what end?"
"Oy Dieus, messire! have I not slain your escort? Why, in common reason, equity demands that I afford you my protection so far as Burgos, messire, just as plainly as equity demands I slay de Gatinais and fetch back my wife to England."
The page wrung exquisite hands with a gesture which was but partially tinged with anguish, and presently began to laugh. Afterward these two rode southerly, in the direction of Castile.
For it appeared to the intriguing little woman a diverting jest that in this fashion her husband should be the promoter of her evasion. It appeared to her more diverting when in two days' space she had become fond of him. She found him rather slow of comprehension, and she was humiliated by the discovery that not an eyelash of the man was irritated by his wife's decampment; he considered, to all appearances, that some property of his had been stolen, and he intended, quite without passion, to repossess himself of it, after, of course, punishing the thief.
This troubled the Princess somewhat; and often, riding by her stolid husband's side, the girl's heart raged at memory of the decade so newly overpast which had kept her always dependent on the charity of this or that ungracious patron—on any one who would take charge of her while the truant husband fought out his endless squabbles in England. Slights enough she had borne during the period, and squalor, and physical hunger also she had known, who was the child of a king and a saint. But now she rode toward the dear southland; and presently she would be rid of this big man, when he had served her purpose; and afterward she meant to wheedle Alphonso, just as she had always wheedled him, and later still, she and Etienne would be very happy: in fine, to-morrow was to be a new day.
So these two rode southward, and always Prince Edward found this new page of his—this Miguel de Rueda,—a jolly lad, who whistled and sang inapposite snatches of balladry, without any formal ending or beginning, descanting always with the delicate irrelevancy of a bird-trill.
Sang Miguel de Rueda:
"Man's Love, that leads me day by day Through many a screened and scented way, Finds to assuage my thirst.
"No love that may the old love slay, None sweeter than the first.
"Fond heart of mine, that beats so fast As this or that fair maid trips past, Once, and with lesser stir We viewed the grace of love, at last, And turned idolater.
"Lad's Love it was, that in the spring When all things woke to blossoming Was as a child that came Laughing, and filled with wondering, Nor knowing his own name—"
"And still I would prefer to think," the big man interrupted, heavily, "that Sicily is not the only allure. I would prefer to think my wife so beautiful.—And yet, as I remember her, she was nothing extraordinary."
The page a little tartly said that people might forget a deal within a decade.
The Prince continued his unriddling of the scheme hatched in Castile. "When Manfred is driven out of Sicily they will give the throne to de Gatinais. He intends to get both a kingdom and a handsome wife by this neat affair. And in reason, England must support my Uncle Richard's claim to the German crown, against El Sabio—Why, my lad, I ride southward to prevent a war that would devastate half Europe."
"You ride southward in the attempt to rob a miserable woman of her sole chance of happiness," Miguel de Rueda estimated.
"That is undeniable, if she loves this thrifty Prince, as indeed I do not question my wife does. Yet our happiness here is a trivial matter, whereas war is a great disaster. You have not seen—as I, my little Miguel, have often seen—a man viewing his death-wound with a face of stupid wonder, a bewildered wretch in point to die in his lord's quarrel and understanding never a word of it. Or a woman, say—a woman's twisted and naked body, the breasts yet horribly heaving, in the red ashes of some village, or the already dripping hoofs which will presently crush this body. Well, it is to prevent many such ugly spectacles hereabout that I ride southward."
Miguel de Rueda shuddered. But, "She has her right to happiness," the page stubbornly said.
"She has only one right," the Prince retorted; "because it has pleased the Emperor of Heaven to appoint us twain to lofty stations, to entrust to us the five talents of the parable; whence is our debt to Him, being fivefold, so much the greater than that of common persons. Therefore the more is it our sole right, being fivefold, to serve God without faltering, and therefore is our happiness, or our unhappiness, the more an inconsiderable matter. For, as I have read in the Annals of the Romans—" He launched upon the story of King Pompey and his daughter, whom a certain duke regarded with impure and improper emotions. "My little Miguel, that ancient king is our Heavenly Father, that only daughter is the rational soul of us, which is here delivered for protection to five soldiers—that is, to the five senses,—to preserve it from the devil, the world, and the flesh. But, alas! the too-credulous soul, desirous of gazing upon the gaudy vapors of this world—"
"You whine like a canting friar," the page complained; "and I can assure you that the Lady Ellinor was prompted rather than hindered by her God-given faculties of sight and hearing and so on when she fell in love with de Gatinais. Of you two, he is, beyond any question, the handsomer and the more intelligent man, and it was God who bestowed on her sufficient wit to perceive the superiority of de Gatinais. And what am I to deduce from this?"
The Prince reflected. At last he said: "I have also read in these same Gestes how Seneca mentions that in poisoned bodies, on account of the malignancy and the coldness of the poison, no worm will engender; but if the body be smitten by lightning, in a few days the carcass will abound with vermin. My little Miguel, both men and women are at birth empoisoned by sin, and then they produce no worm—that is, no virtue. But once they are struck with lightning—that is, by the grace of God,—they are astonishingly fruitful in good works."
The page began to laugh. "You are hopelessly absurd, my Prince, though you will never know it,—and I hate you a little,—and I envy you a great deal."
"Ah, but," Prince Edward said, in misapprehension, for the man was never quick-witted,—"but it is not for my own happiness that I ride southward."
The page then said, "What is her name?"
Prince Edward answered, very fondly, "Hawise."
"I hate her, too," said Miguel de Rueda; "and I think that the holy angels alone know how profoundly I envy her."
In the afternoon of the same day they neared Ruffec, and at the ford found three brigands ready, two of whom the Prince slew, and the other fled.
Next night they supped at Manneville, and sat afterward in the little square, tree-chequered, that lay before their inn. Miguel had procured a lute from the innkeeper, and he strummed idly as these two debated together of great matters; about them was an immeasurable twilight, moonless, but tempered by many stars, and everywhere they could hear an agreeable whispering of leaves.
"Listen, my Prince," the boy said: "here is one view of the affair." And he began to chant, without rhyming, without raising his voice above the pitch of talk, while the lute monotonously accompanied his chanting.
"Passeth a little while, and Irus the beggar and Menephtah the high king are at sorry unison, and Guenevere is a skull. Multitudinously we tread toward oblivion, as ants hasten toward sugar, and presently Time cometh with his broom. Multitudinously we tread a dusty road toward oblivion; but yonder the sun shines upon a grass-plot, converting it into an emerald; and I am aweary of the trodden path.
"Vine-crowned is the fair peril that guards the grasses yonder, and her breasts are naked. 'Vanity of Vanities!' saith the beloved. But she whom I love seems very far away to-night, though I might be with her if I would. And she may not aid me now, for not even love is all-powerful. She is most dear of created women, and very wise, but she may never understand that at any time one grows aweary of the trodden path.
"At sight of my beloved, love closes over my heart like a flood. For the sake of my beloved I have striven, with a good endeavor, to my tiny uttermost. Pardie, I am not Priam at the head of his army! A little while and I will repent; to-night I cannot but remember that there are women whose lips are of a livelier tint, that life is short at best, that wine evokes in me some admiration for myself, and that I am aweary of the trodden path.
"She is very far from me to-night. Yonder in the Hoerselberg they exult and make sweet songs, songs which are sweeter, immeasurably sweeter, than this song of mine, but in the trodden path I falter, for I am tired, tired in every fibre of me, and I am aweary of the trodden path"
Followed a silence. "Ignorance spoke there," the Prince said. "It is the song of a woman, or else of a boy who is very young. Give me the lute, my little Miguel." And presently the Prince, too, sang.
Sang the Prince:
"I was in a path, and I trod toward the citadel of the land's Seigneur, and on either side were pleasant and forbidden meadows, having various names. And one trod with me who babbled of the brooding mountains and of the low-lying and adjacent clouds; of the west wind and of the budding fruit-trees. He debated the significance of these things, and he went astray to gather violets, while I walked in the trodden path."
"He babbled of genial wine and of the alert lips of women, of swinging censers and of the serene countenances of priests, and of the clear, lovely colors of bread and butter, and his heart was troubled by a world profuse in beauty. And he leaped a stile to share his allotted provision with a dying dog, and afterward, being hungry, a wall to pilfer apples, while I walked in the trodden path.
"He babbled of Autumn's bankruptcy and of the age-long lying promises of Spring; and of his own desire to be at rest; and of running waters and of decaying leaves. He babbled of the far-off stars; and he debated whether they were the eyes of God or gases which burned, and he demonstrated, with logic, that neither existed. At times he stumbled as he stared about him and munched his apples, so that he was all bemired, but I walked in the trodden path.
"And the path led to the gateway of a citadel, and through the gateway. 'Let us not enter,' he said, 'for the citadel is vacant, and, moreover, I am in profound terror, and, besides, I have not as yet eaten all my apples.' And he wept aloud, but I was not afraid, for I had walked in the trodden path."
Again there was a silence. "You paint a dreary world, my Prince."
"My little Miguel, I paint the world as the Eternal Father made it. The laws of the place are written large, so that all may read them; and we know that every road, whether it be my trodden path or some byway through your gayer meadows, yet leads in the end to God. We have our choice,—or to come to Him as a laborer comes at evening for the day's wages fairly earned, or to come as a roisterer haled before the magistrate."
"I consider you to be in the right," the boy said, after a lengthy interval, "although I decline—and decline emphatically—to believe you."
The Prince laughed. "There spoke Youth," he said, and he sighed as though he were a patriarch. "But we have sung, we two, the Eternal Tenson of God's will and of man's desires. And I claim the prize, my Little Miguel."
Suddenly the page kissed one huge hand. "You have conquered, my very dull and very glorious Prince. Concerning that Hawise—" But Miguel de Rueda choked. "Oh, I do not understand! and yet in part I understand!" the boy wailed in the darkness.
And the Prince laid one hand upon his page's hair, and smiled in the darkness to note how soft was this hair, since the man was less a fool than at first view you might have taken him to be; and he said:
"One must play the game out fairly, my lad. We are no little people, she and I, the children of many kings, of God's regents here on earth; and it was never reasonable, my Miguel, that gentlefolk should cheat at their dicing."
The same night Miguel de Rueda repeated the prayer which Saint Theophilus made long ago to the Mother of God:
"Dame, je n'ose, Flors d'aiglentier et lis et rose, En qui li filz Diex se repose,"
and so on. Or, in other wording: "Hearken, O gracious Lady! thou that art more fair than any flower of the eglantine, more comely than the blossoming of the rose or of the lily! thou to whom was confided the very Son of God! Harken, for I am afraid! afford counsel to me that am ensnared by Satan and know not what to do! Never will I make an end of praying. O Virgin debonnaire! O honored Lady! Thou that wast once a woman—!"
So he prayed, and upon the next day as these two rode southward, he sang half as if in defiance.
"And still,—whatever years impend To witness Time a fickle friend, And Youth a dwindling fire,— I must adore till all years end My first love, Heart's Desire.
"I may not hear men speak of her Unmoved, and vagrant pulses stir To greet her passing-by, And I, in all her worshipper Must serve her till I die.
"For I remember: this is she That reigns in one man's memory Immune to age and fret, And stays the maid I may not see Nor win to, nor forget."
It was on the following day, near Bazas, that these two encountered Adam de Gourdon, a Provencal knight, with whom the Prince fought for a long while, without either contestant giving way; in consequence a rendezvous was fixed for the November of that year, and afterward the Prince and de Gourdon parted, highly pleased with each other.
Thus the Prince and his attendant came, in late September, to Mauleon, on the Castilian frontier, and dined there at the Fir Cone. Three or four lackeys were about—some exalted person's retinue? Prince Edward hazarded to the swart little landlord, as the Prince and Miguel lingered over the remnants of their meal.
Yes, the fellow informed them: the Prince de Gatinais had lodged there for a whole week, watching the north road, as circumspect of all passage as a cat over a mouse-hole. Eh, monseigneur expected some one, doubtless—a lady, it might be,—the gentlefolk had their escapades like every one else. The innkeeper babbled vaguely, for on a sudden he was very much afraid of his gigantic patron.
"You will show me to his room," Prince Edward said, with a politeness that was ingratiating.
The host shuddered and obeyed.
Miguel de Rueda, left alone, sat quite silent, his finger-tips drumming upon the table. He rose suddenly and flung back his shoulders, all resolution. On the stairway he passed the black little landlord, who was now in a sad twitter, foreseeing bloodshed. But Miguel de Rueda went on to the room above. The door was ajar. He paused there.
De Gatinais had risen from his dinner and stood facing the door. He, too, was a blond man and the comeliest of his day. And at sight of him awoke in the woman's heart all the old tenderness; handsome and brave and witty she knew him to be, as indeed the whole world knew him to be distinguished by every namable grace; and the innate weakness of de Gatinais, which she alone suspected, made him now seem doubly dear. Fiercely she wanted to shield him, less from bodily hurt than from that self-degradation which she cloudily apprehended to be at hand; the test was come, and Etienne would fail. Thus much she knew with a sick, illimitable surety, and she loved de Gatinais with a passion which dwarfed comprehension.
"O Madame the Virgin!" prayed Miguel de Rueda, "thou that wast once a woman, even as I am now a woman! grant that the man may slay him quickly! grant that he may slay Etienne very quickly, honored Lady, so that my Etienne may die unshamed!"
"I must question, messire," de Gatinais was saying, "whether you have been well inspired. Yes, quite frankly, I do await the arrival of her who is your nominal wife; and your intervention at this late stage, I take it, can have no outcome save to render you absurd. So, come now! be advised by me, messire—"
Prince Edward said, "I am not here to talk."
"—For, messire, I grant you that in ordinary disputation the cutting of one gentleman's throat by another gentleman is well enough, since the argument is unanswerable. Yet in this case we have each of us too much to live for; you to govern your reconquered England, and I—you perceive that I am candid—to achieve in turn the kingship of another realm. Now to secure this realm, possession of the Lady Ellinor is to me essential; to you she is nothing."
"She is a woman whom I have deeply wronged," Prince Edward said, "and to whom, God willing, I mean to make atonement. Ten years ago they wedded us, willy-nilly, to avert the impending war between Spain and England; to-day El Sabio intends to purchase Germany with her body as the price; you to get Sicily as her husband. Mort de Dieu! is a woman thus to be bought and sold like hog's flesh! We have other and cleaner customs, we of England."
"Eh, and who purchased the woman first?" de Gatinais spat at him, viciously, for the Frenchman now saw his air-castle shaken to the corner-stone.
"They wedded me to the child in order that a great war might be averted. I acquiesced, since it appeared preferable that two people suffer inconvenience rather than many thousands be slain. And still this is my view of the matter. Yet afterward I failed her. Love had no clause in our agreement; but I owed her more protection than I have afforded. England has long been no place for women. I thought she would comprehend that much. But I know very little of women. Battle and death are more wholesome companions, I now perceive, than such folk as you and Alphonso. Woman is the weaker vessel—the negligence was mine—I may not blame her." The big and simple man was in an agony of repentance.
On a sudden he strode forward, his sword now shifted to his left hand and his right hand outstretched. "One and all, we are weaklings in the net of circumstance. Shall one herring, then, blame his fellow if his fellow jostle him? We walk as in a mist of error, and Belial is fertile in allurements; yet always it is granted us to behold that sin is sin. I have perhaps sinned through anger, Messire de Gatinais, more deeply than you have planned to sin through luxury and through ambition. Let us then cry quits, Messire de Gatinais, and afterward part in peace, and in common repentance."
"And yield you Ellinor?" de Gatinais said. "Oh no, messire, I reply to you with Arnaud de Marveil, that marvellous singer of eld, 'They may bear her from my presence, but they can never untie the knot which unites my heart to her; for that heart, so tender and so constant, God alone divides with my lady, and the portion which God possesses He holds but as a part of her domain, and as her vassal.'" "This is blasphemy," Prince Edward now retorted, "and for such observations alone you merit death. Will you always talk and talk and talk? I perceive that the devil is far more subtle than you, messire, and leads you, like a pig with a ring in his nose, toward gross iniquity. Messire, I tell you that for your soul's health I doubly mean to kill you now. So let us make an end of this."
De Gatinais turned and took up his sword. "Since you will have it," he rather regretfully said; "yet I reiterate that you play an absurd part. Your wife has deserted you, has fled in abhorrence of you. For three weeks she has been tramping God knows whither or in what company—"
He was here interrupted. "What the Lady Ellinor has done," Prince Edward crisply said, "was at my request. We were wedded at Burgos; it was natural that we should desire our reunion to take place at Burgos; and she came to Burgos with an escort which I provided."
De Gatinais sneered. "So that is the tale you will deliver to the world?"
"After I have slain you," the Prince said, "yes."
"The reservation is wise. For if I were dead, Messire Edward, there would be none to know that you risk all for a drained goblet, for an orange already squeezed—quite dry, messire."
"Face of God!" the Prince said.
But de Gatinais flung back both arms in a great gesture, so that he knocked a flask of claret from the table at his rear. "I am candid, my Prince. I would not see any brave gentleman slain in a cause so foolish. In consequence I kiss and tell. In effect, I was eloquent, I was magnificent, so that in the end her reserve was shattered like the wooden flask yonder at our feet. Is it worth while, think you, that our blood flow like this flagon's contents?"
"Liar!" Prince Edward said, very softly. "O hideous liar! Already your eyes shift!" He drew near and struck the Frenchman. "Talk and talk and talk! and lying talk! I am ashamed while I share the world with a thing as base as you."
De Gatinais hurled upon him, cursing, sobbing in an abandoned fury. In an instant the place resounded like a smithy, for there were no better swordsmen living than these two. The eavesdropper could see nothing clearly. Round and round they veered in a whirl of turmoil. Presently Prince Edward trod upon the broken flask, smashing it. His foot slipped in the spilth of wine, and the huge body went down like an oak, his head striking one leg of the table.
"A candle!" de Gatinais cried, and he panted now—"a hundred candles to the Virgin of Beaujolais!" He shortened his sword to stab the Prince of England.
The eavesdropper came through the doorway, and flung herself between Prince Edward and the descending sword. The sword dug deep into her shoulder, so that she shrieked once with the cold pain of this wound. Then she rose, ashen. "Liar!" she said. "Oh, I am shamed while I share the world with a thing as base as you!"