THE LIFE AND DEATH OF RICHARD YEA-AND-NAY
BY MAURICE HEWLETT
AUTHOR OF "THE FOREST LOVERS," "LITTLE NOVELS OF ITALY," ETC.
Si che a bene sperar mi era cagione Di quella fera alla gaietta pelle. Inf. i. 41.
NEW YORK THE MACMILLAN COMPANY LONDON; MACMILLAN & CO., LTD. 1901
Set up and electrotyped October, 1900. Reprinted November, December, twice, 1900; January, February, twice, 1901
Norwood Press J.B. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Norwood Mass. U.S.A.
TO HIS FRIEND EDMUND GOSSE (ALWAYS BENEVOLENT TO HIS INVENTION)
THIS CHRONICLE OF ANJOU AND A NOBLE LADY IS DEDICATED BY M.H.
BOOK I—THE BOOK OF YEA
The Abbot Milo urbi el orbi, concerning the Nature of the Leopard 3
Of Count Richard, and the Fires by Night 5
How the Fair Jehane bestowed herself 18
In what Harbour they found the Old Lion 29
How Jehane stroked what Alois had made Fierce 41
How Bertran de Born and Count Richard strove in a Tenzon 56
Fruits of the Tenzon: the Back of Saint-Pol, and the Front of Montferrat 69
Of the Crackling of Thorns under Pots 84
How they held Richard off from his Father's Throat 93
Wild Work in the Church of Gisors 102
Night-work by the Dark Tower 111
Of Prophecy; and Jehane in the Perilous Bed 123
How they bayed the Old Lion 134
How they met at Fontevrault 145
Of what King Richard said to the Bowing Rood; and what Jehane to King Richard 156
Last Tenzon of Bertran de Born 168
Conversation in England of Jehane the Fair 179
Frozen Heart and Red Heart: Cahors 193
* * * * *
BOOK II—THE BOOK OF NAY
The Chapter called Mate-Grifon 209
Of what Jehane looked for, and what Berengere had 220
Who Fought at Acre 235
Concerning the Tower of Flies, Saint-Pol, and the Marquess of Montferrat 248
The Chapter of Forbidding: how De Gurdun looked, and King Richard hid his Face 262
The Chapter called Clytemnestra 282
The Chapter of the Sacrifice on Lebanon; also called Cassandra 293
Of the Going-up and Going-down of the Marquess 302
How King Richard reaped what Jehane had sowed, and the Soldan was Gleaner 311
The Chapter called Bonds 327
The Chapter called A Latere 338
The Chapter of Strife in the Dark 350
Of the Love of Women 362
How the Leopard was loosed 369
Oeconomic Reflections of the Old Man of Musse 380
The Chapter called Chaluz 386
The Keening 396
EPILOGUE OF THE ABBOT MILO 408
THE BOOK OF YEA
THE ABBOT MILO URBI ET ORBI, CONCERNING THE NATURE OF THE LEOPARD
I like this good man's account of leopards, and find it more pertinent to my matter than you might think. Milo was a Carthusian monk, abbot of the cloister of Saint Mary-of-the-Pine by Poictiers; it was his distinction to be the life-long friend of a man whose friendships were few: certainly it may be said of him that he knew as much of leopards as any one of his time and nation, and that his knowledge was better grounded.
'Your leopard,' he writes, 'is alleged in the books to be offspring of the Lioness and the Pard; and his name, if the Realists have any truth on their side, establishes the fact. But I think he should be called Leolupe, which is to say, got by lion out of bitch-wolf, since two essences burn in him as well as two sorts. This is the nature of the leopard: it is a spotted beast, having two souls, a bright soul and a dark soul. It is black and golden, slim and strong, cat and dog. Hunger drives a dog to hunt, so the leopard; passion the cat, so the leopard. A cat is sufficient unto himself, and a leopard is so; but a dog hangs on a man's nod, and a leopard can so be beguiled. A leopard is sleek as a cat and pleased by stroking; like a cat he will scratch his friend on occasion. Yet again, he has a dog's intrepidity, knows no fear, is single-purposed, not to be called off, longanimous. But the cat in him makes him wary, tempts him to treacherous dealing, keeps him apart from counsels, advises him to keep his own. So the leopard is a lonely beast.' This is interesting, and may be true. But mark him as he goes on.
'I knew the man, my dear master and a great king, who brought the leopards into the shield of England, more proper to do it than his father, being more the thing he signified. Of him, therefore, torn by two natures, cast in two moulds, sport of two fates; the hymned and reviled, the loved and loathed, spendthrift and a miser, king and a beggar, the bond and the free, god and man; of King Richard Yea-and-Nay, so made, so called, and by that unmade, I thus prepare my account.'
So far the abbot with much learning and no little verbosity casts his net. He has the weakness of his age, you observe, and must begin at the beginning; but this is not our custom. Something of Time is behind us; we are conscious of a world replete, and may assume that we have digested part of it. Milo, indeed, like all candid chroniclers, has his value. He is excellent upon himself, a good relish with your meal. However, as we are concerned with King Richard, you shall dip into his bag for refreshment, but must leave the victualling to me.
OF COUNT RICHARD, AND THE FIRES BY NIGHT
I choose to record how Richard Count of Poictou rode all through one smouldering night to see Jehane Saint-Pol a last time. It had so been named by the lady; but he rode in his hottest mood of Nay to that, yet careless of first or last so he could see her again. Nominally to remit his master's sins, though actually (as he thought) to pay for his own, the Abbot Milo bore him company, if company you can call it which left the good man, in pitchy dark, some hundred yards behind. The way, which was long, led over Saint Andrew's Plain, the bleakest stretch of the Norman march; the pace, being Richard's, was furious, a pounding gallop; the prize, Richard's again, showed fitfully and afar, a twinkling point of light. Count Richard knew it for Jehane's torch, and saw no other spark; but Milo, faintly curious on the lady's account, was more concerned with the throbbing glow which now and again shuddered in the northern sky. Nature had no lamps that night, and made no sign by cry of night-bird or rustle of scared beast: there was no wind, no rain, no dew; she offered nothing but heat, dark, and dense oppression. Topping the ridge of sand, where was the Fosse des Noyees, place of shameful death, the solitary torch showed a steady beam; and there also, ahead, could be seen on the northern horizon that rim of throbbing light.
'God pity the poor!' said Count Richard, and scourged forward.
'God pity me!' said gasping Milo; 'I believe my stomach is in my head.' So at last they crossed the pebbly ford and found the pines, then cantered up the path of light which streamed from the Dark Tower. As core of this they saw the lady stand with a torch above her head; when they drew rein she did not move. Her face, moon-shaped, was as pale as a moon; her loose hair, catching light, framed it with gold. She was all white against the dark, seemed to loom in it taller than she was or could have been. She was Jehane Saint-Pol, Jehane 'of the Fair Girdle,' so called by her lovers and friends, to whom for a matter of two years this hot-coloured, tallest, and coldest of the Angevins had been light of the world.
The check upon their greeting was the most curious part of a curious business, that one should have travelled and the other watched so long, and neither urge the end of desire. The Count sat still upon his horse, so for duty's sake did the aching abbot; the girl stood still in the entry-way, holding up her dripping torch. Then, 'Child, child,' cried the Count, 'how is it with thee?' His voice trembled, and so did he.
She looked at him, slow to answer, though the hand upon her bosom swayed up and down.
'Do you see the fires?' she said. 'They have been there six nights.' He was watching them then through the pine-woods, how they shot into the sky great ribbons of light, flickered, fainted out, again glowed steadily as if gathering volume, again leaped, again died, ebbing and flowing like a tide of fire.
'The King will be at Louviers,' said Richard. He gave a short laugh. 'Well, he shall light us to bed. Heart of a man, I am sick of all this. Let me in.'
She stood aside, and he rode boldly into the tower, stooping as he passed her to touch her cheek. She looked up quickly, then let in the abbot, who, with much ceremony, came bowing, his horse led by the bridle. She shut the door behind them and drove home the great bolts. Servants came tumbling out to take the horses and do their duty; Count Eustace, a brother of Jehane's, got up from the hearth, where he had been asleep on a bearskin, rubbed his eyes, gulped a yawn, knelt, and was kissed by Richard. Jehane stood apart, mistress of herself as it seemed, but conscious, perhaps, that she was being watched. So she was. In the bustle of salutation the Abbot Milo found eyes to see what manner of sulky, beautiful girl this was.
He watched shrewdly, and has described her for us with the meticulous particularity of his time and temper. He runs over her parts like a virtuoso. The iris of her eyes, for instance, was wet grey, but ringed with black and shot with yellow, giving so the effect of hot green; her mouth was of an extraordinary dark red colour, very firm in texture, close-grained, 'like the darker sort of strawberries,' says he. The upper lip had the sulky curve; she looked discontented, and had reason to be, under such a scrutiny of the microscope. Her hair was colour of raw silk, eyebrows set rather high, face a thinnish oval, complexion like a pink rose's, neck thinnish again, feet, hands, long and nervous, 'good working members,' etc. etc. None of this helps very much; too detailed. But he noticed how tall she was and how slim, save for a very beautiful bosom, too full for Dian's (he tells us), whom else she resembled; how she was straight as a birch-tree; how in walking it seemed as if her skirts clung about her knees. There was an air of mingled surprise and defiance about her; she was a silent girl. 'Fronted like Juno,' he appears to cry, 'shaped like Hebe, and like Demeter in stature; sullen with most, but with one most sweetly apt, she looked watchful but was really timid, looked cold but was secretly afire. I knew soon enough how her case stood, how hope and doubt strove in her and choked her to silence. I guessed how within those reticent members swift love ran like wine; but because of this proud, brave mask of hers I was slow to understand her worth. God help me, I thought her a thing of snow!'
He records her dress at this time, remarkable if becoming. It was all white, and cut wedge-shaped in front, very deep; but an undervest of crimson crossed the V in the midst and saved her modesty, and his. Her hair, which was long, was plaited in two plaits with seed-pearls, brought round her neck like a scarf and the two ends joined between her breasts, thus defining a great beauty of hers and making a gold collar to her gown. Round her smooth throat was a little chain with a red jewel; on her head another jewel (a carbuncle) set in a flower, with three heron's plumes falling back from it. She had a broad belt of gold and sapphire stones, and slippers of vair. 'Oh, a fine straight maid,' says Milo in conclusion, 'golden and delicate, with strangely shaded eyes. They knew her as Jehane of the Fair Girdle.'
The brother, Count Eustace as they called him (to distinguish him from an elder brother, Eudo Count of Saint-Pol), was a blunt copy of his sister, redder than she was, lighter in the hair, much lighter in the eyes. He seemed an affectionate youth, and clung to the great Count Richard like ivy to a tree. Richard gave him the sort of scornful affection one has for a little dog, between patting and slapping; but clearly wanted to be rid of him. No reference was made to the journey, much was taken for granted; Eustace talked of his hawks, Richard ate and drank, Jehane sat up stiffly, looking into the fire; Milo watched her between his mouthfuls. The moment supper was done, up jumps Richard and claps hands on the two shoulders of young Eustace. 'To bed, to bed, my falconer! It grows late,' cries he. Eustace pushed his chair back, rose, kissed the Count's hand and his sister's forehead, saluted Milo, and went out humming a tune. Milo withdrew, the servants bowed themselves away. Richard stood up, a loose-limbed young giant, and narrowed his eyes.
'Nest thee, nest thee, my bird,' he said low; and Jehane's lips parted. Slowly she left her stool by the fire, but quickened as she went; and at last ran tumbling into his arms.
His right hand embraced her, his left at her chin held her face at discretion. Like a woman, she reproached him for what she dearly loved.
'Lord, lord, how shall I serve the cup and platter if you hold me so fast?'
'Thou art my cup, thou art my supper.'
'Thin fare, poor soul,' she said; but was glad of his foolishness.
Later, they sat by the hearth, Jehane on Richard's knee, but doubtfully his, being troubled by many things. He had no retrospects nor afterthoughts; he tried to coax her into pliancy. It was the fires in the north that distressed her. Richard made light of them.
'Dear,' he said, 'the King my father is come up with a host to drive the Count his son to bed. Now the Count his son is master of a good bed, to which he will presently go; but it is not the bed of the King his father. That, as you know, is of French make, neither good Norman, nor good Angevin, nor seethed in the English mists. By Saint Maclou and the astonishing works he did, I should be bad Norman, and worse Angevin, and less English than I am, if I loved the French.'
He tried to draw her in; but she, rather, strained away from him, elbowed her knee, and rested her chin upon her hand. She looked gravely down to the whitening logs, where the ashes were gaining on the red.
'My lord loves not the French,' she said, 'but he loves honour. He is the King's son, loving his father.'
'By my soul, I do not,' he assured her, with perfect truth, then he caught her round the waist and turned her bodily to face him. After he had kissed her well he began to speak more seriously.
'Jehane,' he said, 'I have thought all this stifling night upon the heath, Homing to her I am seeking my best. My best? You are all I have in the world. If honour is in my hand, do I not owe it to you? Or shall a man use women like dogs, to play with them in idle moods, toss them bones under the table, afterwards kick them out of doors? Child, you know me better. What!' he cried out, with his head very high, 'Shall a man not choose his own wife?'
'No,' said Jehane, ready for him; 'no, Richard, unless the people shall choose their own king.'
'God chooses the king,' says Richard, 'or so we choose to believe.'
'Then God must appoint the wife,' Jehane said, and tried to get free. But this could not be allowed, as she knew.
She was gentle with him, reasoning. 'The King your father is an old man, Richard. Old men love their way.'
'God knows, he is old, and passionate, and indifferent wicked,' said Richard, and kissed Jehane. 'Look, my girl, there were four of us: Henry, and me, and Geoffrey, and John, whom he sought to drive in team by a sop to-day and a stick to-morrow. A good way, done by a judging hand. What then? I will tell you how the team served the teamster. Henry gave sop for sop, and it was found well. Might he not give stick for stick? He thought so: God rest him, he is dead of that. There was much simplicity in Henry. I got no sop at all. Why should I have stick then? I saw no reason; but I took what came. If I cried out, it is a more harmless vent than many. Let me alone. Geoffrey, I think, was a villain. God help him if He can: he is dead too. He took sop and gave stick: ungentle in Geoffrey, but he paid for it. He was a cross-bred dog with much of the devil in him; he bit himself and died barking. Last, there is John. I desire to speak reasonably of John; but he is too snug, he gets all sop. This is not fair. He should have some stick, that we may judge what mettle he has. There, my Jehane, you have the four of us, a fretful team; whereof one has rushed his hills and broken his heart; and one, kicking his yoke-fellows, squealing, playing the jade, has broken his back; and one, poor Richard, does collar-work and gets whip; and one, young Master John, eases his neck and is cajoled with, "So then, so then, boy!" Then comes pretty Jehane to the ear of the collar-horse, whispering, "Good Richard, get thee to stall, but not here. Stable thee snug with the King of France his sister." 'Hey!' laughed Richard, 'what a word for a chosen bride!' He pinched her cheek and looked gaily at her, triumphant in his own eloquence. He was most dangerous when that devil was awake, so she dared not look at him back. Eagerly and low she replied.
'Yes, Richard, yes, yes, my king! The king must have the king's sister, and Jehane go back to the byre. Eagles do not mate with buzzards.' Hereupon he snatched her up altogether and hid her face in his breast.
'Never, never, never!' he swore to the rafters. 'As God lives and reigns, so live thou and so reign, queen of me, my Picardy rose.'
She tried no more that night, fearing that his love so keen-edged might make his will ride rough. The watch-fires at Louviers trembled and streamed up in the north. There was no need for candles in the Dark Tower.
They rose up early to a fair dawn. The cloud-wrack was blown off, leaving the sky a lake of burnt yellow, pure, sweet, and cool. Thus the world entered upon the summer of Saint Luke, to a new-risen sun, to thin mists stealing off the moor, to wet flowers hearted anew, to blue air, and hope left for those who would go gleaning. While Eustace Saint-Pol was snoring abed and the Abbot Milo at his Sursum Corda, Richard had Jehane by the hand. 'Come forth, my love; we have the broad day before us and an empty kingdom to roam in. Come, my red rose, let me set you among the flowers.' What could she do but harbour up her thoughts?
He took her afield, where flowers made the earth still a singing-place, and gathered of these to deck her bosom and hair. Of the harebells he made knots, the ground-colour of her eyes; but autumn loves the yellow, so she was stuck with gold like a princess. She sat enthroned by his command, this young girl in a high place, with downcast eyes and a face all fire-colour, while he worshipped her to his fancy. I believe he had no after-thought; but she saw the dun smoke of the fires at Louviers, and knew they would make the night shudder again. Yet her sweetness, patience, staid courtesy, humility, never failed her; out of the deep wells of her soul she drew them forth in a stream. Richard adored. 'Queen Jehane, Queen Jehane!' he cried out, with his arms straightly round her—'Was ever man in the world blest so high since God said, "Behold thy mother"? And so art thou mother to me, O bride. Bride and queen as thou shalt be.'
This was great invention. She put her hand upon his head. 'My Richard, my Richard Yea-and-Nay,' she said, as if pitying his wild heart. The nickname jarred.
'Never call me that,' he told her. 'Leave that to Bertran de Born, a fool's word to the fool who made it.'
'If I could, if I could!' thought Jehane, and sighed. There were tears in her eyes, also, as she remembered what generosity in him must be frozen up, and what glory of her own. But she did not falter in what she had to do, while he, too exalted to be pitied, began to sing a Southern song—
Al' entrada del tems clair, eya!
When their hair commingled in their love, when they were close together, there was little distinguishing between them; he was more her pair than Eustace her blood-brother, in stature and shape, in hue and tincture of gold. Jehane you know, but not Richard. Of him, son of a king, heir of a king, if you wish some bodily sign, I will say shortly that he was a very tall young man, high-coloured and calm in the face, straight-nosed, blue-eyed, spare of flesh, lithe, swift in movement. He was at once bold and sleek, eager and cold as ice—an odd combination, but not more odd than the blend of Norman dog and Angevin cat which had made him so. Furtive he was not, yet seeming to crouch for a spring; not savage, yet primed for savagery; not cruel, yet quick on the affront, and on the watch for it. He was neither a rogue nor a madman; and yet he was as cunning as the one and as heedless as the other, if that is a possible thing. He was arrogant, but his smile veiled the fault; you saw it best in a sleepy look he had. His blemishes were many, his weaknesses two. He trusted to his own force too much, and despised everybody else in the world. Not that he thought them knaves; he was certain they were fools. And so most of them were, no doubt, but not all. The first flush of him moved your admiration: great height, great colour, the red and the yellow; his beard which ran jutting to a point and gave his jaw the clubbed look of a big cat's; his shut mouth, and cold considering eyes; the eager set of his head, his soft, padding motions—a leopard, a hunting leopard, quick to strike, but quick to change purpose. This, then, was Richard Yea-and-Nay, whom all women loved, and very few men. These require to be trusted before they love; and full trust Richard gave to no man, because he could not believe him worth it. Women are more generous givers, expecting not again.
Here was Jehane Saint-Pol, a girl of two-and-twenty to his two-and-thirty, well born, well formed, greatly desired among her peers, who, having let her soul be stolen, was prepared to cut it out of herself for his sake who took it, and let it die. She was the creature of his love, in and out by now the work of his hands. God had given her a magnificent body, but Richard had made it glow. God had made her soul a fair room; but his love had filled it with light, decked it with flowers and such artful furniture. He, in fact, as she very well knew, had given her the grace to deal queenly with herself. She knew that she would have strength to deny him, having learned the hardihood to give him her soul. Fate had carried her too young into the arms of the most glorious prince in the world. Her brother, Eudo the Count, built castles on that in his head. Now she was to tumble them down. Her younger brother, Eustace, loved this splendid Richard. Now she was to hurt him. What was to become of herself? Mercy upon her, I believe she never thought of that. His honour was her necessity: the watch-fires in the north told her the hour was at hand. The old King was come up with a host to drive his son to bed. Richard must go, and she woo him out. Son of a king, heir of a king, he must go to the king his father; and he knew he must go. Two days' maddening delight, two nights' biting of nails, miserable entreaty from Jehane, grown newly pinched and grey in the face, and he owned it.
He said to her the last night, 'When I saw you first, my Queen of Snows, in the tribune at Vezelay, when the knights rode by for the melee, the green light from your eyes shot me, and wounded I cried out, "That maid or none!"'
She bowed her head; but he went on. 'When they throned you queen of them all because you were so proud and still, and had such a high untroubled head; and when your sleeve was in my helm, and my heart in your lap, and men fallen to my spear were sent to kneel before you—what caused your cheek to burn and your eyes to shine so bright?'
She hid her face. 'Homage of the knights! The love of me!' he cried; and then, 'Ah, Jehane of the Fair Girdle, when I took you from the pastures of Gisors, when I taught you love and learned from your young mouth what love might be, I was made man. But now you ask me to become dog.' And he swore yet again he could never leave her. But she smiled proudly, being in pain. 'Nay, my lord, but the man in you is awake, and not to leave you. You shall go because you are the king's son, and I shall pray for the new king.' So she beat him, and had him weeping terribly, his face in her lap. She wept no more, but dry-eyed kissed him, and dry-lipped went to bed. 'He said Yea that time,' records the Abbot Milo, 'but I never knew then what she paid for it. That was later.' He went next morning, and she saw him go.
HOW THE FAIR JEHANE BESTOWED HERSELF
Betimes is best for an ugly business; your man of spirit will always rush what he loathes but yet must do. Count Richard of Poictou, having made up his mind and confessed himself overnight, must leave with the first cock of the morning, yet must take the sacrament. Before it was grey in the east he did so, fully armed in mail, with his red surcoat of leopards upon him, his sword girt, his spurs strapped on. Outside the chapel in the weeping mirk a squire held his shield, another his helm, a groom walked his horse. Milo the Abbot was celebrant, a snuffling boy served; the Count knelt before the housel-cloth haloed by the light of two thin candles. Hardly had the priest begun his introibo when Jehane Saint-Pol, who had been awake all night, stole in with a hood on her head, and holding herself very stiffly, knelt on the floor. She joined her hands and stuck them up before her, so that the tips of her fingers, pointing upwards as her thoughts would fly, were nearly level with her chin. Thus frozen in prayer she remained throughout the office; nor did she relax when at the elevation of the Host Richard bowed himself to the earth. It seemed as if she too, bearing between her hands her own heart, was lifting it up for sacrifice and for worship.
The Count was communicated. He was a very religious man, who would sooner have gone without his sword than his Saviour upon any affairs. Jehane saw him fed without a twitch of the lips. She was in a great mood, a rapt and pillared saint; but when mass was over and his thanksgiving to make, she got up and hid herself away from him in the shades. There she lurked darkling, and he, lunging out, swept with his sword's point the very edge of her gown. She did not hear him go, for he trod like a cat; but she felt him touch her with the sword, and shuddered once or twice. He went out of the courtyard at a gallop.
While the abbot was reciting his own thanksgiving Jehane came out of her corner, minded to speak with him. So much he divined, needing not the beckoning look she sent him from her guarded eyes. He sat himself down by the altar of Saint Remy, and she knelt beside him.
'Well, my daughter?' says Milo.
'I think it is well,' she took him up.
The Abbot Milo, a red-faced, watery-eyed old man, rheumy and weathered well, then opened his mouth and spake such wisdom as he knew. He held up his forefinger like a claw, and used it as if describing signs and wonders in the air.
'Hearken, Madame Jehane,' he said. 'I say that you have done well, and will maintain it. That great prince, whom I love like my own son, is not for you, nor for another. No, no. He is married already.'
He hoped to startle her, the old rhetorician; but he failed. Jehane was too dreary.
'He is married, my daughter,' he repeated; 'and to whom? Why, to himself. That man from the birth has been a lonely soul. He can never wed, as you understand it. You think him your lover! Believe me, he is not. He is his own lover. He is called. He has a destiny. And what is that? you ask me.'
She did not, but rhetoric bade him suppose it. 'Salem is his destiny; Salem is his bride, the elect lady in bonds. He will not wed Madame Alois of France, nor you, nor any virgin in Christendom until that spiritual wedlock is consummate. I should not love him as I do if I did not believe it. For why? Shall I call my own son apostate? He is signed with the Cross, a married man, by our Saviour!'
He leaned back in his chair, peering down at her to see how she took it. She took it stilly, and turned him a marble, storm-purged face, a pair of eyes which seemed all black.
'What shall I do to be safe?' Her voice sounded worn.
'Safe, my child?' He wondered. 'Bless me, is not the Cross safety?'
'Not with him, father.'
This was perfectly true, though tainted with scandal, he thought. The abbot, who was trained to blink all such facts, had to learn that this girl blinked none. True to his guidance, he blinked.
'Go home to your brother, my daughter; go home to Saint-Pol-la-Marche. At the worst, remember that there are always two arks for a woman in flood-time, a convent and a bed.'
'I shall never choose a convent,' said Jehane.
'I think,' said the abbot, 'that you are perfectly wise.'
I suppose the alternative struck a sudden terror into her; for the abbot abruptly records in his book that 'here her spirit seemed to flit out of her, and she began to tremble very much, and in vain to contend with tears. I had her all dissolved at my feet within a few moments. She was very young, and seemed lost.'
'Come, come,' he said, 'you have shown yourself a brave girl these two days. It is not every maid can sacrifice herself for a Count of Poictou, the eldest son of a king. Come, come, let us have no more of this.' He hoped, no doubt, to brace her by a roughness which was far from his nature; and it is possible that he succeeded in heading off a mutiny of the nerves. She was not violent under her despair, but went on crying very miserably, saying, 'Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do?'
'God knoweth,' says the abbot, 'this was a bad case; but I had a good thought for it.' He began to speak of Richard, of what he had done and what would live to do. 'They say that the strain of the fiend is in that race, my dear,' he told her. 'They say that Geoffrey Grey-Gown had intercourse with a demon. And certain it is that in Richard, as in all his brothers, that stinging grain lives in the blood. For testimony look at their cognisance of leopards, and advise yourself, whether any house in Christendom ever took that device but had known familiarly the devil in some shape? And look again at the deeds of these princes. What turned the young king to riot and death, and Geoffrey to rapine and death? What else will turn John Sansterre to treachery and death, or our tall Richard to violence and death? Nothing else, nothing else. But before he dies you shall see him glorious—'
'He is glorious already,' said Jehane, wiping her eyes.
'Keep him so, then,' said the abbot testily, who did not love to have his periods truncated.
'If I go back to Saint-Pol,' said Jehane, 'I shall fall in with Gilles de Gurdun, who has sworn to have me.'
'Well,' replied the abbot, 'why should he not? Does he receive the assurance of your brother the Count?'
Jehane shook her head. 'No, no. My brother wished me to be my lord Richard's. But Gilles needs no assurance. He will buy my marriage from the King of France. He is very sufficient.'
'Hath he substance? Hath he lands? Is he noble, then, Jehane?'
'He hath knighthood, a Church fief—oh, enough!'
'God forgive me if I did amiss,' writes the abbot here; 'but seeing her in a melting mood, dewy, soft, and adorable, I kissed that beautiful person, and she left the Chapel of Saint Remy somewhat comforted.'
Not only so, but the same day she left the Dark Tower with her brother Count Eustace, and rode towards Gisors and Saint-Pol-la-Marche. Nothing she could do could be shamefully done, because of her silence, and the high head upon which she carried it; yet the Count of Saint-Pol, when he heard her story, sitting bulky in his chair (like a stalled red bull), did his best to put shame upon her, that so he might cover his own bitterness. It was Eustace, a generous ardent youth in those days, who saved her from most of Eudo's wrath by drawing it upon himself.
The Count of Saint-Pol swore a great oath.
'By the teeth of God, Jehane,' he roared, 'I see how it is. He hath made thee a piece of ruin, and now runs wasting elsewhere.'
'You shall never say that of my sister, my lord,' cries Eustace, very red in the face, 'nor yet of the greatest knight in the world.'
'Why, you egg,' says the Count, 'what have you to do in this? Tell me the rights of it before you put me in the wrong. Is my house to be the sport of Anjou? Is that long son of pirates and the devil to batten on our pastures, tread underfoot, bruise and blacken, rout as he will, break hedge and away? By my father's soul, Eustace, I shall see her righted.' He turned to the still girl. 'You tell me that you sent him away? Where did you send him? Where did he go?'
'He went to the King of England at Louviers, and to the camp,' said Jehane. 'The King sent for him. I sent him not.'
'Who is there beside the King of England?'
'Madame Alois of France is there.'
The Count of Saint-Pol put his tongue in his cheek.
'Oho!' he said, 'Oho! That is how it stands? So she is to be cuckoo, hey?' He sat square and intent for a moment or two, working his mouth like a man who chews a straw. Then he slapped his big hand on his knee, and rose up. 'If I cannot spike this wheel of vice, trust me never. By my soul, a plot indeed. Oh, horrible, horrible thief!' He turned gnashing upon his brother. 'Now, Eustace, what do you say to your greatest knight in the world? And what now of your sister, hey? Little fool, do you not catch the measure of it now? Two honey years of Jehane Saint-Pol, gossamer pledges of mouth and mouth, of stealing fingers, kiss and clasp; but for the French King's daughter—pish! the thing of naught they have made her—the sacrament of marriage, the treaty, the dowry-fee. Oh, heaven and earth, Eustace, answer me if you can.'
All three were moved in their several ways: the Count red and blinking, Eustace red and trembling, Jehane white as a cloth, trembling also, but very silent. The word was with the younger man.
'I know nothing of all this, upon my word, my lord,' he said, confused. 'I love Count Richard, I love my sister. There may have been that which, had I loved but one, I had condemned in the other. I know not, but'—he saw Jehane's marble face, and lifted his hand up—'by my hope, I will never believe it. In love they came together, my lord; in love, says Jehane, they have parted. I have heard little of Madame Alois, but my thought is, that kings and the sons of kings may marry kings' daughters, yet not in the way of love.'
The Count fumed. 'You are a fool, I see, and therefore not to my purpose. I must talk with men. Stay you here, Eustace, and watch over her till I return. Let none get at her, on your dear life. There are those who—sniffing rogues, climbers, boilers of their pots—keep them out, Eustace, keep them out. As for you'—he turned hectoring to the proud girl—'As for you, mistress, keep the house. You are not in the market, you are spoilt goods. You shall go where you should be. I am still lord of these lands; there shall be no rebellion here. Keep the house, I say. I return ere many days.' He stamped out of the hall; they heard him next rating the grooms at the gate.
Saint-Pol was a great house, a noble house, no doubt of it. Its counts drew no limits in the way of pedigree, but built themselves a fair temple in that kind, with the Twelfth Apostle himself for head of the corner. So far as estate went, seeing their country was fruitful, compact, snugly bounded between France and Normandy (owing fealty to the first), they might have been sovereign counts, like the house of Blois, like that of Aquitaine, like that even of Anjou, which, from nothing, had risen to be so high. More: by marriage, by robbery on that great plan where it ceases to be robbery and is called warfare, by treaty and nice use of the balances, there was no reason why kingship should not have been theirs, or in their blood. Kingship, even now, was not far off. They called the Marquess of Montferrat cousin, and he (it was understood) intended to be throned at Jerusalem. The Emperor himself might call, and once (being in liquor) did call Count Eudo of Saint-Pol 'cousin'; for the fact was so. You must understand that in the Gaul of that day things were in this ticklish state, that a man (as they say) was worth the scope of his sword: reiver yesterday, warrior to-morrow; yesterday wearing a hemp collar, to-day a count's belt, and to-morrow, may be, a king's crown. You climbed in various ways, by the field, by the board, by the bed. A handsome daughter was nearly worth a stout son. Count Eudo reckoned himself stout enough, and reckoned Eustace was so; but the beauty of Jehane, that stately maid who might uphold a cornice, that still wonder of ivory and gold, was an emblement which he, the tenant, meant to profit by; and so for an hour (two years by the clock) he saw his profit fair. The infatuation of the girl for this man or that man was nothing; but the infatuation of the great Count of Poictou for her set Eudo's heart ablaze. God willing, Saint Maclou assisting, he might live to call Jehane 'My Lady Queen.' He shut his ears to report; there were those who called Richard a rake, and others who called him 'Yea-and-Nay'; that was Bertran de Born's name for him, and all Paris knew it. He shut his eyes to Richard's galling unconcern with himself and his dignity. Dignity of Saint-Pol! He would wait for his dignity. He shut his mind to Jehane's blown fame, to the threatenings of his dreadful Norman neighbour, Henry the old king, who had had an archbishop pole-axed like a steer; he dared the anger of his suzerain, in whose hands lay Jehane's marriage; a heady gambler, he staked the fortunes of his house upon this clinging of a girl to a wild prince. And now to tell himself that he deserved what he had got was but to feed his rage. Again he swore by God's teeth that he would have his way; and when he left his castle of Saint-Pol-la-Marche it was for Paris.
The head of his house, under the Emperor Henry, was there, Conrad of Montferrat, trying to negotiate the crown of Jerusalem. There must be a conference before the house of Saint-Pol could be let to fall. Surely the Marquess would never allow it! He must spike the wheel. Was not Alois of France within the degrees? She was sister to the French King: well, but what was Richard's mother? She had been wife to Louis, wife to Alois' father. Was this decency? What would the Pope say—an Italian? Was the Marquess Conrad an Italian for nothing? Was 'our cousin' the Emperor of no account, King of the Romans? The Pope Italian, the Marquess Italian, the Emperor on his throne, and God in His heaven—eh, eh! there should be a conference of these high powers. So, and with such whirl of question and answer, did the Count of Saint-Pol beat out to Paris.
But Jehane remained at Saint-Pol-la-Marche, praying much, going little abroad, seeing few persons. Then came (since rumour is a gadabout) Sir Gilles de Gurdun, as she knew he would, and knelt before her, and kissed her hand. Gilles was a square-shouldered, thick-set youth of the black Norman sort, ruddy, strong-jawed, small-eyed, low in the brow, bullet-headed. He was no taller than she, looked shorter, and had nothing to say. He had loved her since the time when she was an overgrown girl of twelve years, and he a squire about her father's house learning mannishness. The King of England had dubbed him a knight, but she had made him a man. She knew him to be a good one; as dull as a mud-flat, but honest, wholesome, and of decent estate. In a moment, when he was come again, she saw that he was a long lover who would treat her well.
'God help me, and him also,' she thought; 'it may be that I shall need him before long.'
IN WHAT HARBOUR THEY FOUND THE OLD LION
At Evreux, across the heath, Count Richard found his company: the Viscount Adhemar of Limoges (called for the present the Good Viscount), the Count of Perigord, Sir Gaston of Bearn (who really loved him), the Bishop of Castres, and the Monk of Montauban (a singing-bird); some dozen of knights with their esquires, pages, and men-at-arms. He waited two days there for Abbot Milo to come up with last news of Jehane; then at the head of sixty spears he rode fleetly over the marshes towards Louviers. After his first, 'You are well met, my lords,' he had said very little, showing a cold humour; after a colloquy with Milo, which he had before he left his bed, he said nothing at all. Alone, as became one of his race, he rode ahead of his force; not even the chirping Monk (who remembered his brother Henry and often sighed for him) cared to risk a shot from his strong eyes. They were like blue stones, full of the cold glitter of their fire. It was at times like this, when a man stands naked confronting his purpose, that one saw the hag riding on the back of Anjou.
He was not thinking of it now, but the truth is that there had hardly been a time in his short life when he had not been his father's open enemy. He could have told you that it had not been always his fault, though he would never have told you. But I say that what he, a youth of thirty, had made of his inheritance was as nothing to that elder's wasting of his. In moments of hot rage Richard knew this, and justified himself; but the melting hour came again when he heaped all reproach upon himself, believing that but for such and such he might have loved this rooted, terrible old man who assuredly loved not him. Richard was neither mule nor jade; he was open to persuasion on two sides. Compunction was one: you could touch him on the heart and bring him weeping to his knees; affection was another: if he loved the petitioner he yielded handsomely. Now, this time it was Jehane and not his conscience which had sent him to Louviers. First of all Jehane had pleaded the Sepulchre, his old father, filial obedience, and he had laughed at the sweet fool. But when she, grown wiser, urged him to pleasure her by treading on the heart she had given him, he could not deny her. He was converted, not convinced. So he rode alone, three hundred yards from his lieges, reasoning out how he could preserve his honour and yet yield. The more he thought the less he liked it, but all the more he felt necessity at his throat. And, as always with him, when he thought he seemed as if turned to stone. 'One way or another,' Milo tells us, 'every man of the House of Anjou had his unapproachable side, so accustomed were they to the fortress-life.'
A broad plain, watered by many rivers, showed the towers of Louviers and red roofs cinctured by the greatest of them; short of the walls were the ranked white tents, columned smoke, waggons, with men and horses, as purposeless, little, and busy as a swarm of bees. In the midst of this array was a red pavilion with a standard at the side, too heavy for the wind. All was set in the clear sunless air of an autumn day in Normandy; the hour, one short of noon. Richard reined up for his company, on a little hill.
'The powers of England, my lords,' he said, pointing with his hand. All stayed beside him. Gaston of Bearn tweaked his black beard.
'Let us be done with the business, Richard,' said this knight, 'before the irons can get out.'
'What!' cried the Count, 'shall a father smite his son?' No one answered: in a moment he was ashamed of himself. 'Before God,' he said, 'I mean no impiety. I will do what I have undertaken as gently as may be. Come, gentlemen.' He rode on.
The camp was defended by fosse and bridge. At the barbican all the Aquitanians except Richard dismounted, and all stayed about him while a herald went forward to tell the King who was come in. The King knew very well who it was, but chose not to know it; he kept the herald long enough to make his visitors chafe, then sent word that the Count of Poictou would be received, but alone. Claiming his right to ride in, Richard followed the heralds at a foot's pace, alone, ungreeted by any. At the mount of the standard he got off his horse, found the ushers of the King's door, and went swiftly to the entry of the pavilion (which they held open for him), as though, like some forest beast, he saw his prey. There in the entry he stiffened suddenly, and stiffly went down on his two knees. Midway of the great tent, square and rugged before him, with working jaws and restless little fired eyes, sat the old King his father, hands on knees, between them a long bare sword. Beside him was his son John, thin and flushed, and about, a circle of peers: two bishops in purple, a pock-marked monk of Cluny, Bohun, Grantmesnil, Drago de Merlou, and a few more. On the ground was a secretary biting his pen.
The King looked his best on a throne, for his upper part was his best. It was, at least, the mannish part. With scanty red hair much rubbed into disorder, a seamed red face, blotched and shining; with a square jaw awry, the neck and shoulders of a bull; with gnarled gross hands at the end of arms long out of measure, a cruel mouth and a nose like a bird's beak—his features seemed to have been hacked coarsely out of wood and as coarsely painted; but what might have passed by such means for a man was transformed by his burning eyes, with their fuel of pain, into the similitude of a fallen angel. The devil of Anjou sat eating King Henry's eyes, and you saw him at his meal. It gave the man the look of a wild boar easing his tusks against a tree, horrible, yet content to be abhorred, splendid, because so strong and lonely. But the prospect was not comfortable. Little as he knew of his father, Richard could make no mistake here. The old King was in a picksome mood, fretted by rage: angry that his son should kneel there, more than angry that he had not knelt before.
The play began, like a farce. The King affected not to see him, let him kneel on. Richard did kneel on, as stiff as a rod. The King talked with obscene jocosity, every snap betraying his humour, to Prince John; he scandalised even his bishops, he abashed even his barons. He infinitely degraded himself, yet seemed to wallow in disgrace. So Richard's gorge (a tender organ) rose to hear him. 'God, what wast Thou about, to let such a hog be made?' he muttered, loud enough for at least three people to hear. The King heard it and was pleased; the Prince heard it, and with a scared eye perceived that Bohun had heard it. The King went grating on, John fidgeted; Bohun, greatly daring, whispered in his master's ear.
The King replied with a roar which all the camp might have heard. 'Ha! Sacred Face, let him kneel, Bohun. That is a new custom for him, useful science for a man of his trade. All men of the sword come to it sooner or later—sooner or later, by God!'
Hereupon Richard, very deliberately, rose to his feet and stepped forward to the throne. His great height was a crowning abomination. The King blinked up at him, showing his tushes.
'What now, sir?' he said.
'Later for me, sire, if kneeling is to be done by soldiers,' said Richard. The King controlled himself by swallowing.
'And yet, Richard,' he said, dry as dust, 'And yet, Richard, you have knelt to the French lad soon enough.'
'To my liege-lord, sire? Yes, it is true.'
'He is not your liege-lord, man,' roared the King. 'I am your liege-lord, by heaven. I gave and I can take away. Heed me now.'
'Fair sire,' says Richard, 'observe that I have knelt to you. I am not here for any other reason, and least of all to try conclusions of the voice. I have come out of my lands with my company to give you obedience. Be sure that they, on their part, will pay you proper honour (as I do) if you will let them.'
'You come from lands I have given you, as Henry came, as Geoffrey came, to defy me,' said the old man, trembling in his chair. 'What is your obedience worth when I have measured theirs: Henry's obedience! Geoffrey's obedience! Pish, man, what words you use.' He got up and stamped about the tent like an irritable dwarf, crook-legged and long-armed, pricked, maddened at every point. 'And you tell me of your men, your lands, your company! Good men all, a fair company, by the Rood of Grace! Tell me now, Richard, have you Raimon of Toulouse in that company? Have you Beziers?'
'No, sire,' said Richard, looking serenely down at the working face.
'Nor ever will have,' snarled the King. 'Have you the Knight of Bearn?'
'I have, sire.'
'Ill company, Richard. It is a white-faced, lying beast, with a most goatish beard. Have you your singing monk?'
'I have, sire.'
'Shameful company. Have you Adhemar of Limoges?'
'Silly company. Leave him with his women. Have you your Abbot Milo?'
'Sick company.' His head sank into his breast; he found himself suddenly tired, even of reviling, and had to sit down again. Richard felt a tide of pity; looking down at the huddled old man, he held out his hand.
'Let us not quarrel, father,' he said; but that brought up the King's head, like a call to arms.
'A last question, Richard. Have you dared bring here Bertran de Born?' He was on his feet again for the reply, and the two men faced each other. Everybody knew how serious the question was. It sobered the Count, but drove the pity out of him.
'Dare is not a word for Anjou, sire,' he replied, picking his phrases; 'but Bertran is not with me.' Before the old man could break again into savagery he went on to his main purpose. 'Sire, short speeches are best. You seek to draw my ill-humours, but you shall not draw them. As son and servant of your Grace I came in, and so will go out. As a son I have knelt to the King my father, as servant I am ready to obey him. Let that marriage, designed in the cradle by the French King and you, go on. I will do my part if Madame Alois will do hers.'
Richard folded his arms; the King sat down again. A queer exchange of glances had passed between his father and brother at the mention of that lady's name. Richard, who saw it, got the feeling of some secret between them, the feeling of being in a trap; but he said nothing. The King began his old harping.
'Attend to me now, Richard,' he said, with much work of the eyebrows; 'if that ill-gotten beast Bertran had been of your meinie our last words had been said. Beast! He is a toothed snake, that crawled into my boy's bed and bit passion into him. Lord Jesus, if ever again I meet Bertran, help Thou me to redden his face! But as it is, I am content. Rest you here with me, if so rough a lodging may content your nobility. As for Madame Alois, she shall be sent for; but I think I will not meet your bevy of joglars from the south. I have a proud stomach o' these days; I doubt pastry from Languedoc would turn me sour; and liking monks little enough as it is, your throstle-cock of Montauban might cause me to blaspheme. See them entertained, Drago; or better, let them entertain each other—with singing games, holy God! Go you, Bohun'—and he turned—'fetch in Madame Alois.' Bohun went through a curtain behind him, and the King sat in thought, biting his thumbs.
Madame Alois of France came out of the inner tent, a slinking, thin girl, with the white and tragic face of the fool in a comedy set in black hair. Richard thought she was mad by the way she stared about her from one man to another; but he went down on his knee in a moment. Prince John turned stiff, the old King bent his brows to watch Richard. The lady, who was dressed in black, and looked to be half fainting, shrank in an odd way towards the wall, as if to avoid a whip. 'Too long in England, poor soul,' Richard thought; 'but why did she come from the King's tent?'
It was not a cheerful meeting, nor did the King show any desire to make it better. When by roundabout and furtive ways Madame Alois at last stood drooping by his chair, he began to talk to her in English, a language unknown to Richard, though familiar enough, he saw, to his father and brother. 'It seems to be his Grace's desire to make me ridiculous,' he went on to say to himself: 'what a dead-level of grim words! In English, it appears, you do not talk. You stab with the tongue.' In truth, there was no conversation. The King or the Prince spoke, and Madame Alois moistened her lips; she looked nowhere but at the old tyrant, not at his eyes, but above them, at his forehead, and with a trepitant gaze, like a watched hare's. 'The King has her in thrall, soul and body,' Richard considered. Then his knee began to ache, and he released it. 'Fair sire,' he began in his own tongue. Madame Alois gave a start, and 'Ha, Richard,' says the King, 'art thou still there, man?'
'Where else, my lord?' asked the son. The father looked at Alois.
'Deign to recognise in this baron, Madame,' he said, 'my son the Count of Poictou. Let him salute, Madame, that which he has sought from so far, and with such humility, pardieu; your white hand, Alois.' The strange girl quivered, then put her hand out. Richard, kissing it, found it horribly cold.
'Lady,' he said, 'I pray we may be better acquainted; but I must tell you that I have no English. Let me hope that in this good land you may recover your French.' He got no answer from the lady, but, by heaven, he made his father angry.
'We hope, Richard, that you will teach Madame better things than that,' sniffed the old man, nosing about for battle.
'I pray that I may teach her no worse, my lord,' replied the other. 'You will perhaps allow that for a daughter of France the tongue may have its uses.'
'As English, Count, for the son of England!' cried his father; 'or for his wife, by the mass, if he is fit to have one.'
'Of that, sire, we must talk at your Grace's leisure,' said Richard slowly. 'Jesus!' he asked himself, 'will he put me to a block of ice? What is the matter with this woman?' The King put an end to his questions by dismissing Madame Alois, breaking up the assembly, and himself retiring. He was dreadfully fatigued, quite white and breathless. Richard saw him follow the lady through the inner curtain, and again was uncomfortably suspicious. But when his brother John made to slip in also he thought there must be an end of it. He tapped the young man on the shoulder.
'Brother, a word with you,' says he; and John came twittering back. The two were alone in the tent.
This John—Sansterre, Landlos, Lackland, so they variously called him—was a timid copy of his brother, a wry-necked reedy Richard with a sniff. Not so tall, yet more spare, with blue eyes more pallid than his brother's, and protruding where Richard's were inset, the difference lay more in degree than kind. Richard was of heroic build, but a well-knit, well-shaped hero; in John the arms were too long, the head too small, the brow too narrow. Richard's eyes were perhaps too wide apart; no doubt John's were too near together. Richard twitched his fingers when he was moved, John bit his cheek. Richard stooped from the neck, John from the shoulders. When Richard threw up his head you saw the lion; John at bay reminded you of a wolf in a corner. John snarled at such times, Richard breathed through his nose. John showed his teeth when he was crossed, Richard when he was merry. So many thousand points of unlikeness might be named, all small: the Lord knows here are enough. The Angevin cat-and-dog nature was fairly divided between these two. Richard had the sufficiency of the cat, John the dependence of a dog; John had the cat's secretiveness, Richard the dog's dash. At heart John was a thief.
He feared and hated his brother; so when Richard said, 'Brother, a word with you,' John tried to disguise apprehension in disgust. The result was a very sick smile.
'Willingly, dear brother, and the more so—' he began; but Richard cut him short.
'What under the light of the sky is the matter with that lady?' he asked him.
John had been preparing for that. He raised his eyebrows and splayed out both his hands. 'Can you ask? Eh, our Lord! Emotion—a stranger in a strange land—an access of the shudders—who knows women? So long from France-dreadful of her brother—dreadful of you—so many things! a silly mind—ah, my brother!'
Richard checked him testily. 'Put a point, put a point, you drown me in phrases; your explanations explain nothing. One more word. What in the devil's name is she doing in there?' He had a short way. John began to stammer.
'A second father—a tender guardian—'
'Pish!' said Count Richard, and turned to leave the pavilion. Prince John slipped through the curtains, and at that moment Richard heard a little fretful cry within, not the cry of mortal lady. 'What under heaven have they got in there, this family?' he asked himself. Shrugging, he went out into the fresh air.
The abbot notes that his lord and master came running into his quarters, 'and tumbled upon me, like a lover who finds his mistress after many days. "Milo, Milo, Milo," he began to cry, three times over, as if the name helped him, "Thou wilt live to see a puddock upon the throne of England!" Thus he strangely said.'
HOW JEHANE STROKED WHAT ALOIS HAD MADE FIERCE
When the Count of Saint-Pol came to Paris he found the going very delicate. For it is a delicate matter to confer in a king's capital, with a king's allies, how best to throw obstacles in that king's way. As a matter of fact he found that he could do little or nothing in the business. King Philip was in great feather concerning his sister's arrival; the heralds were preparing to go out to meet her. Nicholas d'Eu and the Baron of Quercy were to accompany them; King Philip thought Saint-Pol the very man to make a third, but this did not suit the Count at all. He sought out his kinsman the Marquess of Montferrat, a heavy Italian, who gave him very little comfort. All he could suggest was that his 'good cousin' would do better to help him to the certain throne of Jerusalem. 'What do you want with more than one king in a family?' asked the Marquess. Saint-Pol grew rather dry as he assured him that one king would suffice, and that Anjou was nearer than Jerusalem. He went on to hint at various strange speculations rife concerning the history of Madame Alois. 'If you want garbage, Eudo,' said Montferrat to this, 'come not to me. But I know a rat who might be of service.'
'The name of your rat, Marquess! It is all I ask.'
'Bertran de Born: who else?' said Montferrat. Now, Bertran de Born was the thorn in the flesh of Anjou, a rankling addition to their state whom they were never without. Saint-Pol knew his value very well, and decided to go down to see the man in his own country. So he would have gone, no doubt, had not his sovereign judged otherwise. Saint-Pol received commands to accompany the heralds to Louviers, so had to content himself with a messenger to the trobador and a letter which announced the extreme happiness of the great Count of Poictou. This, he knew, would draw the poison-bag.
The Frenchmen arrived at Louviers none too soon. As well mix fire and ice as Poictevin with Norman or Angevin with Angevin. The princes stalked about with claws out of velvet, the nobles bickered fiercely, and the men-at-arms did after their kind. There was open fighting. Gaston of Bearn picked a quarrel with John Botetort, and they fought it out with daggers in the fosse. Then Count Richard took one of his brother's goshawks and would not give it up. Over the long body of that bird half a score noblemen engaged with swords; the Count of Poictou himself accounted for six, and ended by pommelling his brother into a red jelly. There was a week or more of this, during which the old King hunted like a madman all day and revelled in gloomy vices all night. Richard saw little of him and little of the lady of France. She, a pale shade, flitted dismally out when evoked by the King, dismally in again at a nod from him. Whenever she did appear Prince John hovered about, looking tormented; afterwards the pock-marked Cluniac might be heard lecturing her on theology and the soul's business in passionless monologue. It was very far from gay. As for her, Richard believed her melancholy mad; he himself grew fretful, irritable, most quarrelsome. Thus it was that he first plundered and then punched his brother.
After that Prince John disappeared for a little to nurse his sores, and Richard got within fair speaking distance of Madame Alois. In fact, she sent for him late one night when the King, as he knew, was away, munching the ashes of charred pleasure in some stews or other. He obeyed the summons with a half-shrug.
They received him with consternation. The distracted lady was in a chair, hugging herself; the Cluniac stood by, a mortified emblem; a scared woman or two fled behind the throne. Madame Alois, when she saw who the visitor was, began to shake.
'Oh, oh!' she said in a whisper, 'have you come to murder me, my lord?'
'Why, Madame,' Richard made haste to say, 'I would serve you any other way but that, and supposed I had the right. But I came because you sent for me.'
She passed her hand once or twice over her face, as if to brush cobwebs away; one of the women made a piteous appeal of the eyes to Richard, who took no notice of it; the monk said something to himself in a low voice, then to the Count, 'Madame is overwrought, my lord.'
'Yes, you rascal,' thought Richard; 'your work.' Aloud he said, 'I hope her Grace will give you leave to retire, sir.' Madame hereupon waved her people away, and went on waving long after they had gone. Thus she was alone with her future lord. There was the wreck of fine beauty about her drawn race, beauty of the black-and-white, sheeted sort; but she looked as if she walked with ghosts. Richard was very gentle with her. He drew near, saying, 'I grieve to see you thus, Madame'; but she stopped him with a question—
'They seek to have you marry me?'
He smiled: 'Our masters desire it, Madame.'
'Are you very sure of that?'
'I am here,' he explained, 'because I am so sure.'
'And you desire—'
'I, Madame,' he said quickly and shortly, 'desire two things—the good of my country and your good. If I desire anything else, God knows it is to keep my promise.'
'What is your promise?'
'Madame,' said Richard, 'I bear the Cross on my shoulder, as you see.'
'Why,' she said, fearfully regarding it, 'that is God's work!'
She began to walk about the room quickly, and to talk to herself. He could not catch properly what she said. Religion came into it, and a question of time. 'Now it should be done, now it should be done!' and then, 'Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel!' and then with a wild look into Richard's face—'That was a strange thing to do to a lady. They can never lay that to me!' Afterwards she began to wring her hands, with a cry of 'Fie, poison, poison, poison!' looking at Richard all the time.
'This poor lady,' he told himself, 'is possessed by a devil, therefore no wife for me, who have devil enough and to spare.'
'What ails you, Madame?' he asked her. 'Tell me your grief, and upon my life I will amend it if I can.'
'You cannot,' she said. 'Nothing can mend it.'
'Then, with leave'—he went to the curtains—'I will call your Grace's people. Our discussions can be later; there is time enough.'
She would have stopped him had she dared, or had the force; but literally she was spent. There was just time to get the women in before she tumbled. Richard, in his perplexity, determined to wrangle out the matter with the King on the morrow, cost what it might. So he did; and to his high surprise the King reasoned instead of railing. Madame Alois, he said, was weakly, un-wholesome indeed. In his opinion she wanted, what all young women want, a husband. She was too much given to the cloister, she had visions, she was feared to use the discipline, she ate nothing, was more often on her knees than on her feet. 'All this, my son,' said King Henry, 'you shall correct at your discretion. Humours, vapours, qualms, fantasies—pouf! You can blow them away with a kiss. Have you tried it? No? Too cold? Nay, but you should.' And so on, and so on. That day, none too soon, the French ambassadors arrived, and Richard saw the Count of Saint-Pol among them.
He had never liked the Count of Saint-Pol; or perhaps it would be truer to say that he disliked him more than ordinary. But he belonged to, had even a tinge of, Jehane; some of her secret fragrance hung about him, he walked in some ray of her glory. It seemed to Richard, bothered, sick, fretted, a little disconcerted as he was now, that the Count of Saint-Pol had an air which none other of this people had. He greeted him therefore with more than usual affability, very much to Saint-Pol's concern. Richard observed this, and suddenly remembered that he was doing the man what the man must certainly believe to be a cruel wrong. 'Mort de Dieu! What am I about?' his heart cried. 'I ought to be ashamed to look this fellow in the face, and here I am making a brother of him.'
'Saint-Pol,' he said immediately, 'I should like to speak with you. I owe you that.'
'Your Grace's servant,' said Eudo, with a stiff reverence, 'when and where you will.'
'Follow me,' said Richard, 'as soon as you have done with all this foppery.'
In about an hour's time he was obeyed. After his fashion he took a straight plunge.
'Saint-Pol,' he said, 'I think you know where my heart is, whether here or elsewhere. I desire you to understand that in this case I am acting against my own will and judgment.'
The frankness of this lordly creature was unmistakable, even to Saint-Pol.
'Hey, sire—,' he began spluttering, honesty in arms with rage. Richard took him up.
'If you doubt that, as you have my leave to do, I am ready to convince you. I will ride with you wherever you choose, and place myself at your discretion. Subject to this, mind you, that the award is final. Once more I will do it. Will you abide by that? Will you come with me?'
Saint-Pol cursed his fate. Here he was, tied to the French girl.
'My lord,' he said, 'I cannot obey you. My duty is to take Madame to Paris. That is my master's command.'
'Well,' said Richard, 'then I shall go alone. Once more I shall go. I am sick to death of this business.'
'My lord Richard,' cried Saint-Pol, 'I am no man to command you. Yet I say, Go. I know not what has passed between your Grace and my sister Jehane; but this I know very well. It will be a strange thing'—he laughed, not pleasantly—'a strange thing, I say, if you cannot bend that arbiter to your own way of thinking.' Richard looked at him coldly.
'If I could do that, my friend,' he said, 'I should not suffer arbitration at all.'
'The proposition was not mine, my lord,' urged Saint-Pol.
'It could not be, sir,' Richard said sharply. 'I proposed it myself, because I consider that a lady has the right to dispose of her own person. She loved me once.'
'I believe that she is yours at this hour, sire.'
'That is what I propose to find out,' said Richard. 'Enough. What news have they in Paris?'
Saint-Pol could not help himself; he was bursting with a budget he had received from the south. 'They greatly admire a sirvente of Bertran de Born's, sire.'
'What is the stuff of the sirvente?'
'It is a scandalous subject, sire. He calls it the Sirvente of Kings, and speaks much evil of your Order.' Richard laughed.
'I will warrant him to do that better than any man alive, and allow him some reason for it. I think I will go to see Bertran.'
'Ha, sire,' said Saint-Pol with meaning, 'he will tell you many things, some good, and some not so good.'
'Be sure he will,' said Richard. 'That is Bertran's way.'
He would trust no one with his present reflections, and seek no outside strength against his present temptations. He had always had his way; it had seemed to come to him by right, by the droit de seigneur, the natural law which puts the necks of fools under the heels of strong men. No need to consider of all that: he knew that the thing desired lay to his hand; he could make Jehane his again if he would, and neither King of England nor King of France, nor Council of Westminster nor Diet of the Empire could stop him—if he would. But that, he felt now, was just what he would not. To beat her down with torrents of love-cries; to have her trembling, cowed, drummed out of her wits by her own heart-beats; to compel, to dominate, to tame, when her young pride and young strength were the things most beautiful in her: never, by the Cross of Christ! That, I suppose, is as near to true love as a man can get, to reverence in a girl that which holds her apart. Richard got so near precisely because he was less lover than poet. You may doubt, if you choose (with Abbot Milo), whether he had love in him. I doubt. But certainly he was a poet. He saw Jehane all glorious, and gave thanks for the sight. He felt to touch heaven when he neared her; but he did not covet her possession, at the moment. Perhaps he felt that he did possess her: it is a poet's way. So little, at any rate, did he covet, that, having made up his mind what he would do, he sent Gaston of Bearn to Saint-Pol-la-Marche with a letter for Jehane, in which he said: 'In two days I shall see you for the last or for all time, as you will'—and then possessed himself in patience the appointed number of hours.
Gaston of Bearn, romantic figure in those grey latitudes, pale, black-eyed, freakishly bearded, dressed in bright green, rode his way singing, announced himself to the lady as the Child of Love; and when he saw her kissed her foot.
'Starry Wonder of the North,' he said, kneeling, 'I bring fuel to your ineffable fires. Our King of Lovers and Lover among Kings is all at your feet, sighing in this paper.' He seemed to talk in capitals, with a flourish handed her the scroll. He had the gratification to see her clap a hand to her side directly she touched it; but no more. She perused it with unwavering eyes in a stiff head.
'Farewell, sir,' she said then; 'I will prepare for my lord.'
'And I, lady,' said Gaston, 'in consequence of a vow I have vowed my saint, will await his coming in the forest, neither sleeping nor eating until he has his enormous desires. Farewell, lady.'
He went out backwards, to keep his promise. The brown woodland was gay with him for a day and a night; for he sang nearly all the time with unflagging spirits. But Jehane spent part of the interval in the chapel, with her hands crossed upon her fine bosom. The God in her heart fought with Him on the altar. She said no prayers; but when she left the place she sent a messenger for Gilles de Gurdun, the blunt-nosed Norman knight who loved her so much that he said nothing about it.
This Gurdun, pricking through the woods, came upon Gaston of Bearn, dazzling as a spring tree and singing like an inspired machine. He pulled up at the wonderful sight, and scowled. It is the proper Norman greeting. Gaston treated him as part of the landscape, like the rest of it mournful, but provocative of song.
'Give you good-day, beau sire,' said Gilles; Gaston waved his hand and went on singing at the top of his voice. Then Gilles, who was pressed, tried to pass; and Gaston folded his arms.
'Ha, beef,' said he, 'none pass here but the brave.'
'Out, parrot,' quoth Gilles, and plunged through the wood.
Because of Gaston's vow there was no blood shed at the moment, but he had hopes that he might be released in time. 'There goes a dead man,' was therefore his comment before he resumed.
But Jehane, when she heard the horse, ran out to meet his rider. Her face was alight. 'Come in, come in,' she said, and took him by the hand. He followed her with a beating heart, neither daring nor knowing how to say anything. She led him into the little dark chapel.
'Gilles, Gilles,' she said panting, 'do you love me, Gilles?'
He was hoarse, could hardly speak for the crack in his throat. 'O God,' he said under his breath, 'O God, Jehane, how I love you!'
Here, because of a certain flicker in her eyes, he made forward; but she put out her two hands the length of her arms and fenced him off. 'No, no, Gilles, not yet.' Pain sharpened her voice. 'Listen first to me. I do not love you; but I am frightened. Some one is coming; you must be here to help me. I give myself to you—I will be yours—I must—there is no other way.'
She stopped; you could have heard the thudding of her heart.
'Give then,' said Gilles with a croak, and took her.
She felt herself engulfed in a sea of fire, but set her teeth and endured the burning of that death. The poor fellow did but kiss her once or twice, and kissed no closer than the Angevin; but the grace is one that goes by favour. Gilles, nevertheless, took primer seisin and was content. Afterwards, hand in hand, trembling each, the possessed and the possessing, they stood before the twinkling lamp which hinted at the Son of God, and waited what must happen.
In about half an hour's time Jehane heard the long padding tread she knew so well, and took a deep breath. Next Gilles heard something.
'One comes. Who comes?' he said whispering.
'Richard of Anjou. I need you now.'
'Do you want me to—?' Gilles honestly thought he was to kill the Count. She undeceived him soon.
'To kill Richard, Gilles? Nay, man, he is not for your killing.' She gave a short laugh, not very pleasant for her lover to hear. But Gilles, for all that, put hand to hilt. The Count of Poictou stooped at the entry and saw them together.
It wanted but that to blow the embers. Something tigerish surged in him, some gust of jealousy, some arrogant tide in the blood not all clean. He moved forward like a wind and caught the girl up in his arms, lifted her off her feet, smothered her cry. 'My Jehane, my Jehane, who dares—?' Gilles touched him on the shoulder, and he turned like lightning with Jehane held fast. His breath came quick and short through his nose: Gilles believed his last hour at hand, but made the most of it.
'What now, dog?' thus the lean Richard.
'Set down the lady, my lord,' said doughty Gilles. 'She is promised to me.'
'Heart of God, what is this?' He held back his head, like a snake, that he might see what he would strike at. 'Is it true, girl?' Jehane looked up from his shoulder, where she had been hiding her face. She could not speak, but she nodded.
'It is true? Thou art promised?'
'I am promised, my lord,' said Jehane. 'Let me go.'
He put her down at once, between himself and Gurdun. Gurdun went to take up her hand again, but at a look from Richard forbore. The Count went on with his interrogatories, outwardly as calm as a field of snow.
'In whose name art thou promised to this knight, Jehane? In thy brother's?'
'No, lord. In my own.'
'Am I nothing?' She began to cry.
'Oh, oh!' she wailed, 'You are everything, everything in the world.'
He turned away from her, and stood facing the altar, with folded arms, considering. Gilles had the wit to be silent; the girl fought for breath. Richard, in fact, was touched to the heart, and capable of any sacrifice which could seem the equivalent of this. He must always lead, even in magnanimity; but it was a better thing than emulation moved him now. When he next turned with a calm, true face to Jehane there was not a shred of the Angevin in him; all was burnt away.
'What is the name of this knight, Jehane?' She told him, Gilles de Gurdun.
Then he said, 'Come hither, De Gurdun,' and Gilles knelt down before the son of his overlord. Jehane would have knelt to him too, but that he held her by the hand and would not suffer it.
'Now, Gilles, listen to what I shall tell you,' said Richard. 'There is no lady in the world more noble than this one, and no man living who means more faithfully by her than I. I will do her will this day, and that speedily, lest the devil be served. Are you a true man, Gilles?'
'Lord,' said Gurdun, 'I try to be so. Your father made me a knight. I have loved this lady since she was twelve years old.'
'Are you a man of substance, my friend?'
'We have a good fief, my lord. My father holds of the Church of Rouen, and the Church of the Duke. I serve with a hundred spears where I may, a routier if nothing better offer.'
'If I give you Jehane, what do you give me?'
'Thanks, my good lord, and faith, and long service.'
'Get up, Gilles,' said Richard.
Gilles kissed his knee, and rose. Richard put Jehane's hand into his and held the two together.
'God serve me as I shall serve you, Gilles, if any harm come of this,' he said shrewdly, with words that whistled in the air; and as Gilles looked him squarely in the face, Richard ran an eye over him. Gilles was found honest. Richard kissed Jehane on the forehead, and went out without a look back. At the edge of the wood he found Gaston of Bearn sucking his fingers.
'There went by here,' said the gay youth, 'a black knight with a face of a raw meat colour, and the most villainous scowl ever you saw. I consider him to be dead already.'
'I have given him something which should cure him of the scowl and justify his colour,' answered him the Count. 'Moreover, I have given him the chance of eternal life.' Then with a cry—'Oh, Gaston, let us get to the South, see the sun fleck the roads, smell the oranges! Let us get to the South, man! It seems I have entertained an angel. And now that I have given her wings, and now that she is gone, I know how much I love her. Speed, Gaston! We will go to the South, see Bertran, and make some songs of good women and men in want!'
'Pardieu,' said Gaston. 'I am with you, Richard, for I am in want. I have eaten nothing for two days.'
So they rode out of the woods of Saint-Pol-la-Marche, and Richard began to sing songs of Jehane the Fair-Girdled; never truly her lover until he might love her no more.
HOW BERTRAN DE BORN AND COUNT RICHARD STROVE IN A TENZON
Day-long and night-long he sang of her, being now in the poetic mood, highly exalted, out of himself. The country took tints of Jehane, her shape, her fine nobility. The thrust hills of the Vexin were her breasts; the woods, being hot gold, her russet hair; in still green water he read the secrets of her eyes; in the milk of October dawns her calm brows had been dipped. The level light of the Beauce, so beneficent yet so austere, figured her soul. Fair-girdled was Touraine by Vienne and Loire; fair-girdled Jehane, who wore virgin candour about her loins and over her heart a shield of blue ice. As far southwards as Tours the dithyrambic prevailed; Richard was untiring in the hunt for analogues. Thence on to Poictiers, where the country (being his own) was perhaps more familiar; indeed, while he was climbing the grey peaks of Montagrier with his goal almost in sight, he turned scholiast and glossed his former raptures.
'You are not to tell me, Gaston,' he declared, 'that my Jehane has been untrue. She was never more wholly mine than when she gave herself to that other, never loved me more dearly. Such power is given to women to lead this world. It is the power of the Word, who cut Himself off and made us His butchers in pure love. I shall do my part. I shall wed the French girl, who in my transports will never guess that in reality Jehane will be in my arms.' Tears filled his eyes. 'For we shall be wedded in the sight of heaven,' he said sighing.
'Deus!' cried Gaston here, 'Such marriages may be more to the taste of heaven than of men, Richard. Man is a creature of sense.'
'He hath a spiritual part,' said Richard, 'so rarely hidden that only the thin fingers of a girl may get in to touch it. Then, being touched, he knows that it is quick. Let me alone; I am not all mud nor all devil. I shall do my duty, marry the French girl, and love my golden Jehane until I die.'
'That is the saying of a poet and king at once, said Gaston, and really believed it.
So they came at dusk to Autafort, a rock castle on the confines of Perigord, held by Bertran de Born.
It looked, and was, a robber's hold, although it had a poet for castellan. Its walls merely prolonged the precipices on which they were founded, its towers but lifted the mountain spurs more sharply to the sky. It dominated two watersheds, was accessible only on one side, and then by a ridgeway; from it the valley roads and rockstrewn hillsides could be seen for many leagues. Long before Richard was at the gate the Lord of Autafort had had warning, and had peered down upon his suzerain at his clambering. 'The crows shall have Richard before Richard me,' said Bertran de Born; so he had his bridge pulled up and portcullis let down, and Autafort showed a bald face to the newcomers.
Gaston grinned. 'Hospitality of Aquitaine! Hospitality of your duchy, Richard.'
'By my head,' said the Count, 'if I sleep under the stars I sleep at Autafort this night. But hear me charm this plotter.' He called at the top of his voice, 'Ha, Bertran! Come you down, man.' The surrounding hills echoed his cries, the jackdaws wheeled about the turrets; but presently came one and put his eye to the grille. Richard saw him.
'Is that you, then, Bertran?' he shouted. There was no answer, but the spyer was heard breathing hard at his vent.
'Come out of your earth, red fox,' Richard chid him. 'Show your grievous snout to the hills; do your snuffling abroad to the clear sky. I have whipped off the hounds; my father is not here. Will you let starve your liege-lord?'
At this the bolts were drawn, the bridge went down with a clatter, and Bertran de Born came out—a fine stout man, all in a pother, with a red, perplexed face, angry eyes, hair and beard cut in blocks, a body too big for his clothes—a man of hot blood, fumes and rages. Richard at sight of him, this unquiet sniffer of offences, this whirled about with stratagems, threw back his head and laughed long and loud.
'O thou plotter of thine own dis-ease! O rider of nightmares, what harm can I do thee? Not, believe me, a tithe of thy desert. Come thou here straightly, Master Bertran, and take what I shall give thee.'
'By God, Lord Richard—' said Bertran, and boggled horribly; but the better man waited, and in the end he came up sideways. Richard swung from his horse, took his host by the shoulders, shook him well, and kissed him on both cheeks. 'Spinner of mischief, red robber, singer of the thoughts of God!' he said, 'I swear I love thee through it all, Bertran, though I should do better to wring thy neck. Now give us food and drink and clean beds, for Gaston at least is a dead man without them. Afterwards we will sing songs.'
'Come in, come in, Richard,' said Bertran de Born.
* * * * *
For a day or two Richard was bathed in golden calm, hugging his darling thought, full of Jehane, fearful to share her. Often he remembered it in later life; it held a place and commanded a mood which no hour of his wildest possession could outvie. The mountain air, still, but latently nimble, the great mountains themselves dreaming in the sunlight, the sailing birds, hinted a peace to his soul whither his last conquest of his baser part assured him he might soar. Now he could guess (thought he) that quality in love which it borrows from God and shares with the angels, ministers of God, the steady burning of a flame keen and hard. So on an afternoon of weather serene beyond all belief of the North, mild, tired, softly radiant, still as a summer noon; as he sat with Bertran in a courtyard where were lemon-trees and a fountain, and above the old white walls, and above the strutting pigeons, a square of blue, he began to speak of his affairs, of what he had done and of what was to do.
Bertran's was a grudging spirit: you shall hear the Abbot Milo upon that matter anon, than whom there are few better qualified to speak. He grudged Richard everything—his beauty, his knit and graceful body, his brain like a sword, his past exploits, his present content. What it was contented him he knew not altogether, though a letter from Saint-Pol had in part advised him; but he was sure he had wherewithal to discontent him. 'Foh! a juicy orange indeed,' he said to himself, 'but I can wring him dry.' If Richard hugged one thought, Bertran hugged another, and took it to bed with him o' nights. Now, therefore, when Richard spoke of Jehane, Bertran said nothing, waiting his time; but when he went on to Madame Alois and his duty (which really coloured all the former thought) Bertran made a grimace.
'Rascal,' says Richard, shamming rough, 'why do you make faces at me?'
Bertran began jerking about like the lid of a boiling pot, and presently sends a boy for his viol. At this, when it came, he snatched, and set to plucking a chord here and a chord there, grinning fearfully all the time.
'A tenzon! A tenzon! beau sire!' cries he. 'Now a tenzon between you and me!'
'Let it be so,' says Richard; 'have at you. I sing of the calm day, of the sweets of true love.'
'Accorded,' says the other. 'And I sing of the sours of false love. Do you set the mode, prince of blood royal as you are.'
Richard took the viol without after-thought and struck a few chords. A great tenderness was in his heart; he saw Duty and himself hand in hand walking a long road by night; two large stars beaconed the way; these were Jehane's eyes. A watcher or two stole into the upper gallery, leaned on the parapet and listened, for both men were renowned singers. Richard began to sing of green-eyed Jehane, who wore the gold girdle, whose hair was red gold. His song was—
Li dous consire Quem don' Amors soven—
but I English it thus—
'That gentle thought which love will give sometimes is like a plait of silk and gold, and so is this song of mine to be; wherein you shall find a red deep cry which cometh from the heart, and a thin blue cry which is the cry of what is virgin in my soul, and a golden long cry, the cry of the King, and a cry clear as crystal and colder than a white moon: and that is the cry of Jehane.'
Bertran, trembling, snatched at the viol. 'Mine to sing, Richard, mine to sing! Ha, love me no more!'
Cantar d' Amors non voilh,
'Your strands are warped and will not accord, for love will warp any song. It turneth the heart of a man black, and the soul it eateth up. At fourteen goes the virgin first a-wallowing; and soon the King croaks like a hog. A plait! Love is a fetter of hot iron; so my song shall be iron-cruel like the bidding of Jehane. Say now, shall I set the song? The love-cry is the cry of a man who drags his way with his side torn; and the colour of it is dry red, like old blood; and the sound thereof maketh the hearers ache, so it quavers and shrills. For it cries only two things: sorrow and shame.'
He misconceived his adversary who thought to quell him by such vapours. Richard took the viol.
'Bertran, it is well seen that thou art pinched and have a torn side; but ask of thy itching fingers who graved the wound. Dry thou art, Bertran, for thy trough is dry; the husks prick thy gums, but there is no other meat. Well may the hearers' ears go aching; for thy cry, man, proceedeth from thy aching belly. But now I will set the song again, and tell thee of a lady girdled with fine gold. Beneath the girdle beats a red heart; but her spirit is like a spire of blue smoke, that comes from a fire, indeed, but strains up to heaven. Warmed by that fire, like that smoke I fly up; and so I lie among the stars with Jehane.'
Bertran's jaw was at work, mashing his tongue. 'Ah, Richard, is it so with thee? Wait now while I strike a blow.' He made the viol scream.
'What if I twist the song awry, and give thee good cause to limp the sorrowful way? What if for my aching belly I give thee an aching heart? Eh, if my fingers scratch my side, there are worse talons at thine. Watch for the Lion's claw, Richard, which tears not flesh but honour, and gives more pain than any knife. Pain! He is King of Pain! Mend that, then face sorrow and shame.'
Ending with a snap, he grinned more knowledge out of his red eyes than he pronounced with his mouth. His terrible excitement, the labour and sweat of it, set Richard's brows knitting. He stretched out his hand for the viol slowly; and his eyes were cold on Bertran, and never off him for a moment as he sang to this enemy, and judged him while he sang. The note was changed.
'The Lion is a royal beast, a king, whose son am I. We maul not each other in Anjou, save when the jackal from the South cometh snarling between. Then, when we see the unclean beast, saith one, "Faugh! is this your friend?" and the other, "Thou dost ill to say so." Then the blood may flow and the jackal get a meal. But here there is none to come licking blood. The prize is the White Roe of France, fed on the French lilies, and now in safe harbour. She shall lie by the Leopard, and the Lion rule the forest in peace because of the peace about him; and like a harvest moon above us, clear of the trees, will be Jehane.'
'Listen, Richard, I will be clearer yet,' came from between Bertran's teeth. He fairly ground them together. Having the viol, he struck but one note upon it, with such rudeness that the string broke. He threw the thing away and sang without it, leaning his hands on his knees, and craning forward that he might spit the words.
'This is the bite of the song: she is forsworn. Harbour? She kept harbour too long; she is mangled, she is torn. Touch not the Lion's prey, Leopard. You go hunting too late—for all but sorrow and shame.'
Richard stretched not his hand again; his jaw dropped and most of the strong colour died down in his face. Turned to stone, stiff and immovable, he sat staring at the singer, while Bertran, biting his lip, still grinning and twitching with his late effort, watched him.
'Give me the truth, thou.' His voice was like an old man's, hollow.
'As God is in heaven that is the truth, Richard,' said Bertran de Born.
The Count's head went up, as when a hound yelps to the sky: laughter ensued, barking laughter—not mirth, not grief disguised, but mockery, the worst of all. One on the gallery nudged his fellow; that other shrugged him off. Richard stretched his long arms, his clenched fists to the dumb sky. 'Have I bent the knee to good issues or not? Have I abased my head? O clement prince! O judge in Israel! O father of kings! Hear now a parable of the Prodigal: Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and thou art no more worthy to be called my father. O glutton! O filching dog!'
'By the torch of the Gospel, Count Richard, what I sang is true,' said Bertran, still tensely grinning, and now also wringing at his hang-nails. Richard, checked by the voice, turned blazing upon him.
'Why, thou school-boy rhymester, that is the only merit thou hast, and that not thine own! Thy japes are nought, thy tragics the mewing of cats; but thy news, fellow, thy news is too rich matter for thy sewer of a throat. Tragic? No, it is worse: it is comic, O heaven! Heed you now—' In his bitter shame he began pantomiming with his fingers:—'Here are two persons, father by the Grace of God, son by the grace of the father. Saith father, "Son, thou art sprung from kings; take this woman that is sprung from kings, for I have no further use for her." Anon cometh a white rag thinly from the inner tent—mark her provenance. Son kneeleth down. "Wilt thou have my son, cony?" saith father. "Yea, dear heart," saith she. "'Tis my counterpart, mark you," saith father. "Better than nothing at all," saith she. Benevolent father, supple-kneed son, convenient lady. Here is agreement. And thus it ends.' Again he laughed outright at the steel-blue face of the sky, then jumped in a flash from his seat to the throat of Bertran. Bertran tumbled backwards with a strangled cry, and Richard pegged him to the ground.
'Thou yapping cur, Bertran,' he grated, 'thou sick dog of my kennel, if this snarl of thine goes true thou hast done a service to me and mine thou knowest not of. There is little to do before I am the richest man in Christendom. Why, dull rogue, thou hast set me free!' He looked up exulting from his work at the man's throat to shout this word. 'But if it is not true, Bertran'—he shook him like a rat—'if it is not true, I return, O Bertran, and tear this false gullet out of its case, and with thy speckled heart feed the crows of Perigord.' Bertran had foam on his lips, but Richard showed him no mercy. 'As it is, Bertran,' he went on with his teeth on edge, 'I am minded to finish thee. But that I need something from thee I think I should do it. Tell me now whence came thy news. Tell me, Bertran, or thou art in hell in a moment.'
He had to let him up to win from him after a time that his informant was the Count of Saint-Pol. Little matter that this was untrue, the bringing in of his name set wild alarums clanging in Richard's head. It was only too likely to have been Saint-Pol's doing; there was obvious reason; but by the same token Saint-Pol might be a liar. He saw that he must by all means find Saint-Pol, and find him at once. He began to shout for Gaston. 'To horse, to horse, Gaston!' The court rang with his voice; to the clamour he made, which might betoken murder, arson, pillage, or the sin against the Holy Ghost, out came the vassals in a swarm. 'To horse, to horse, Bearnais! Where out of hell is Gaston of Bearn?' The devil of Anjou was loose in Autafort that day.