THE LINE OF LOVE
JAMES BRANCH CABELL
ROBERT GAMBLE CABELL I
"He loved chivalrye, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye. And of his port as meek as is a mayde, He never yet no vileinye ne sayde In al his lyf, unto no maner wight. He was a verray parfit gentil knyght."
The Cabell case belongs to comedy in the grand manner. For fifteen years or more the man wrote and wrote—good stuff, sound stuff, extremely original stuff, often superbly fine stuff—and yet no one in the whole of this vast and incomparable Republic arose to his merit—no one, that is, save a few encapsulated enthusiasts, chiefly somewhat dubious. It would be difficult to imagine a first-rate artist cloaked in greater obscurity, even in the remotest lands of Ghengis Khan. The newspapers, reviewing him, dismissed him with a sort of inspired ill-nature; the critics of a more austere kidney—the Paul Elmer Mores, Brander Matthewses, Hamilton Wright Mabies, and other such brummagem dons—were utterly unaware of him. Then, of a sudden, the imbeciles who operate the Comstock Society raided and suppressed his "Jurgen," and at once he was a made man. Old book-shops began to be ransacked for his romances and extravaganzas—many of them stored, I daresay, as "picture-books," and under the name of the artist who illustrated them, Howard Pyle. And simultaneously, a great gabble about him set up in the newspapers, and then in the literary weeklies, and finally even in the learned reviews. An Englishman, Hugh Walpole, magnified the excitement with some startling hochs; a single hoch from the Motherland brings down the professors like firemen sliding down a pole. To-day every literate American has heard of Cabell, including even those presidents of women's clubs who lately confessed that they had never heard of Lizette Woodworth Reese. More of his books are sold in a week than used to be sold in a year. Every flapper in the land has read "Jurgen" behind the door; two-thirds of the grandmothers east of the Mississippi have tried to borrow it from me. Solemn Privat Dozenten lecture upon the author; he is invited to take to the chautauqua himself; if the donkeys who manage the National Institute of Arts and Letters were not afraid of his reply he would be offered its gilt-edged ribbon, vice Sylvanus Cobb, deceased. And all because a few pornographic old fellows thrust their ever-hopeful snouts into the man's tenth (or was it eleventh or twelfth?) book!
Certainly, the farce must appeal to Cabell himself—a sardonic mocker, not incapable of making himself a character in his own revues. But I doubt that he enjoys the actual pawing that he has been getting—any more than he resented the neglect that he got for so long. Very lately, in the midst of the carnival, he announced his own literary death and burial, and even preached a burlesque funeral sermon upon his life and times. Such an artist, by the very nature of his endeavors, must needs stand above all public-clapper-clawing, pro or con. He writes, not to please his customers in general, nor even to please his partisans in particular, but to please himself. He is his own criterion, his own audience, his own judge and hangman. When he does bad work, he suffers for it as no holy clerk ever suffered from a gnawing conscience or Freudian suppressions; when he does good work he gets his pay in a form of joy that only artists know. One could no more think of him exposing himself to the stealthy, uneasy admiration of a women's club—he is a man of agreeable exterior, with handsome manners and an eye for this and that—than one could imagine him taking to the stump for some political mountebank or getting converted at a camp-meeting. What moves such a man to write is the obscure, inner necessity that Joseph Conrad has told us of, and what rewards him when he has done is his own searching and accurate judgment, his own pride and delight in a beautiful piece of work.
At once, I suppose, you visualize a somewhat smug fellow, loftily complacent and superior—in brief, the bogus artist of Greenwich Village, posturing in a pot-hat before a cellar full of visiting schoolmarms, all dreaming of being betrayed. If so, you see a ghost. It is the curse of the true artist that his work never stands before him in all its imagined completeness—that he can never look at it without feeling an impulse to add to it here or take away from it there—that the beautiful, to him, is not a state of being, but an eternal becoming. Satisfaction, like the praise of dolts, is the compensation of the aesthetic cheese-monger—the popular novelist, the Broadway dramatist, the Massenet and Kipling, the Maeterlinck and Augustus Thomas. Cabell, in fact, is forever fussing over his books, trying to make them one degree better. He rewrites almost as pertinaciously as Joseph Conrad, Henry James, or Brahms. Compare "Domnei" in its present state to "The Soul of Melicent," its first state, circa 1913. The obvious change is the change in title, but of far more importance are a multitude of little changes—a phrase made more musical, a word moved from one place to another, some small banality tracked down and excised, a brilliant adjective inserted, the plan altered in small ways, the rhythm of it made more delicate and agreeable. Here, in "The Line of Love," there is another curious example of his high capacity for revision. It is not only that the book, once standing isolated, has been brought into the Cabellian canon, and so related to "Jurgen" and "Figures of Earth" at one end, and to the tales of latter-day Virginia at the other; it is that the whole texture has been worked over, and the colors made more harmonious, and the inner life of the thing given a fresh energy. Once a flavor of the rococo hung about it; now it breathes and moves. For Cabell knows a good deal more than he knew in 1905. He is an artist whose work shows constant progress toward the goals he aims at—principally the goal of a perfect style. Content, with him, is always secondary. He has ideas, and they are often of much charm and plausibility, but his main concern is with the manner of stating them. It is surely not ideas that make "Jurgen" stand out so saliently from the dreadful prairie of modern American literature; it is the magnificent writing that is visible on every page of it—writing apparently simple and spontaneous, and yet extraordinarily cunning and painstaking. The current notoriety of "Jurgen" will pass. The Comstocks will turn to new imbecilities, and the followers of literary parades to new marvels. But it will remain an author's book for many a year.
By author, of course, I mean artist—not mere artisan. It was certainly not surprising to hear that Maurice Hewlett found "Jurgen" exasperating. So, too, there is exasperation in Richard Strauss for plodding music-masters. Hewlett is simply a British Civil Servant turned author, which is not unsuggestive of an American Congressman turned philosopher. He has a pretty eye for color, and all the gusto that goes with beefiness, but like all the men of his class and race and time he can think only within the range of a few elemental ideas, chiefly of a sentimental variety, and when he finds those ideas flouted he is horrified. The bray, in fact, revealed the ass. It is Cabell's skepticism that saves him from an Americanism as crushing as Hewlett's Briticism, and so sets him free as an artist. Unhampered by a mission, happily ignorant of what is commended by all good men, disdainful of the petty certainties of pedagogues and green-grocers, not caring a damn what becomes of the Republic, or the Family, or even snivelization itself, he is at liberty to disport himself pleasantly with his nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions and pronouns, arranging them with the same free hand, the same innocent joy, the same superb skill and discretion with which the late Jahveh arranged carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, hydrogen, oxygen and phosphorus in the sublime form of the human carcass. He, too, has his jokes. He knows the arch effect of a strange touch; his elaborate pedantries correspond almost exactly to the hook noses, cock eyes, outstanding ears and undulating Adam's apples which give so sinister and Rabelaisian a touch to the human scene. But in the main he sticks to more seemly materials and designs. His achievement, in fact, consists precisely in the success with which he gives those materials a striking newness, and gets a novel vitality into those designs. He takes the ancient and mouldy parts of speech—the liver and lights of harangues by Dr. Harding, of editorials in the New York Times, of "Science and Health, with a Key to the Scriptures," of department-store advertisements, of college yells, of chautauqual oratory, of smoke-room anecdote—and arranges them in mosaics that glitter with an almost fabulous light. He knows where a red noun should go, and where a peacock-blue verb, and where an adjective as darkly purple as a grape. He is an imagist in prose. You may like his story and you may not like it, but if you don't like the way he tells it then there is something the matter with your ears. As for me, his experiments with words caress me as I am caressed by the tunes of old Johannes Brahms. How simple it seems to manage them—and how infernally difficult it actually is!
H. L. MENCKEN.
Baltimore, October 1st, 1921.
THE EPISTLE DEDICATORY
I THE EPISODE CALLED THE WEDDING JEST
II THE EPISODE CALLED ADHELMAR AT PUYSANGE
III THE EPISODE CALLED LOVE-LETTERS OF FALSTAFF
IV THE EPISODE CALLED "SWEET ADELAIS"
V THE EPISODE CALLED IN NECESSITY'S MORTAR
VI THE EPISODE CALLED THE CONSPIRACY OF ARNAYE
VII THE EPISODE CALLED THE CASTLE OF CONTENT
VIII THE EPISODE CALLED IN URSULA'S GARDEN
IX THE EPISODE CALLED PORCELAIN CUPS
X THE ENVOI CALLED SEMPER IDEM
THE EPISTLE DEDICATORY
"In elect utteraunce to make memoriall, To thee for souccour, to thee for helpe I call, Mine homely rudeness and dryghness to expell With the freshe waters of Elyconys well."
MY DEAR MRS. GRUNDY: You may have observed that nowadays we rank the love-story among the comfits of literature; and we do this for the excellent reason that man is a thinking animal by courtesy rather than usage.
Rightly considered, the most trivial love-affair is of staggering import. Who are we to question this, when nine-tenths of us owe our existence to a summer flirtation? And while our graver economic and social and psychic "problems" (to settle some one of which is nowadays the object of all ponderable fiction) are doubtless worthy of most serious consideration, you will find, my dear madam, that frivolous love-affairs, little and big, were shaping history and playing spillikins with sceptres long before any of these delectable matters were thought of.
Yes, even the most talked-about "questions of the day" are sometimes worthy of consideration; but were it not for the kisses of remote years and the high gropings of hearts no longer animate, there would be none to accord them this same consideration, and a void world would teeter about the sun, silent and naked as an orange. Love is an illusion, if you will; but always through this illusion, alone, has the next generation been rendered possible, and all endearing human idiocies, including "questions of the day," have been maintained.
Love, then, is no trifle. And literature, mimicking life at a respectful distance, may very reasonably be permitted an occasional reference to the corner-stone of all that exists. For in life "a trivial little love-story" is a matter more frequently aspersed than found. Viewed in the light of its consequences, any love-affair is of gigantic signification, inasmuch as the most trivial is a part of Nature's unending and, some say, her only labor, toward the peopling of the worlds.
She is uninventive, if you will, this Nature, but she is tireless. Generation by generation she brings it about that for a period weak men may stalk as demigods, while to every woman is granted at least one hour wherein to spurn the earth, a warm, breathing angel. Generation by generation does Nature thus betrick humanity, that humanity may endure.
Here for a little—with the gracious connivance of Mr. R. E. Townsend, to whom all lyrics hereinafter should be accredited—I have followed Nature, the arch-trickster. Through her monstrous tapestry I have traced out for you the windings of a single thread. It is parti-colored, this thread—now black for a mourning sign, and now scarlet where blood has stained it, and now brilliancy itself—for the tinsel of young love (if, as wise men tell us, it be but tinsel), at least makes a prodigiously fine appearance until time tarnish it. I entreat you, dear lady, to accept this traced-out thread with assurances of my most distinguished regard.
The gift is not great. Hereinafter is recorded nothing more weighty than the follies of young persons, perpetrated in a lost world which when compared with your ladyship's present planet seems rather callow. Hereinafter are only love-stories, and nowadays nobody takes love-making very seriously....
And truly, my dear madam, I dare say the Pompeiians did not take Vesuvius very seriously; it was merely an eligible spot for a fete champetre. And when gaunt fishermen first preached Christ about the highways, depend upon it, that was not taken very seriously, either. Credat Judaeus; but all sensible folk—such as you and I, my dear madam—passed on with a tolerant shrug, knowing "their doctrine could be held of no sane man."
* * * * *
APRIL 30, 1293—MAY 1, 1323
"Pus vezem de novelh florir pratz, e vergiers reverdezir rius e fontanas esclarzir, ben deu quascus lo joy jauzir don es jauzens."
It would in ordinary circumstances be my endeavor to tell you, first of all, just whom the following tale concerns. Yet to do this is not expedient, since any such attempt could not but revive the question as to whose son was Florian de Puysange?
No gain is to be had by resuscitating the mouldy scandal: and, indeed, it does not matter a button, nowadays, that in Poictesme, toward the end of the thirteenth century, there were elderly persons who considered the young Vicomte de Puysange to exhibit an indiscreet resemblance to Jurgen the pawnbroker. In the wild youth of Jurgen, when Jurgen was a practising poet (declared these persons), Jurgen had been very intimate with the former Vicomte de Puysange, now dead, for the two men had much in common. Oh, a great deal more in common, said these gossips, than the poor vicomte ever suspected, as you can see for yourself. That was the extent of the scandal, now happily forgotten, which we must at outset agree to ignore.
All this was in Poictesme, whither the young vicomte had come a-wooing the oldest daughter of the Comte de la Foret. The whispering and the nods did not much trouble Messire Jurgen, who merely observed that he was used to the buffets of a censorious world; young Florian never heard of this furtive chatter; and certainly what people said in Poictesme did not at all perturb the vicomte's mother, that elderly and pious lady, Madame Felise de Puysange, at her remote home in Normandy. The principals taking the affair thus quietly, we may with profit emulate them. So I let lapse this delicate matter of young Florian's paternity, and begin with his wedding._
The Episode Called The Wedding Jest
1. Concerning Several Compacts
It is a tale which they narrate in Poictesme, telling how love began between Florian de Puysange and Adelaide de la Foret. They tell also how young Florian had earlier fancied other women for one reason or another; but that this, he knew, was the great love of his life, and a love which would endure unchanged as long as his life lasted.
And the tale tells how the Comte de la Foret stroked a gray beard, and said, "Well, after all, Puysange is a good fief—"
"As if that mattered!" cried his daughter, indignantly. "My father, you are a deplorably sordid person."
"My dear," replied the old gentleman, "it does matter. Fiefs last."
So he gave his consent to the match, and the two young people were married on Walburga's Eve, on the day that ends April.
And they narrate how Florian de Puysange was vexed by a thought that was in his mind. He did not know what this thought was. But something he had overlooked; something there was he had meant to do, and had not done: and a troubling consciousness of this lurked at the back of his mind like a small formless cloud. All day, while bustling about other matters, he had groped toward this unapprehended thought.
Now he had it: Tiburce.
The young Vicomte de Puysange stood in the doorway, looking back into the bright hall where they of Storisende were dancing at his marriage feast. His wife, for a whole half-hour his wife, was dancing with handsome Etienne de Nerac. Her glance met Florian's, and Adelaide flashed him an especial smile. Her hand went out as though to touch him, for all that the width of the hall severed them.
Florian remembered presently to smile back at her. Then he went out of the castle into a starless night that was as quiet as an unvoiced menace. A small and hard and gnarled-looking moon ruled over the dusk's secrecy. The moon this night, afloat in a luminous gray void, somehow reminded Florian of a glistening and unripe huge apple.
The foliage about him moved at most as a sleeper breathes, while Florian descended eastward through walled gardens, and so came to the graveyard. White mists were rising, such mists as the witches of Amneran notoriously evoked in these parts on each Walburga's Eve to purchase recreations which squeamishness leaves undescribed.
For five years now Tiburce d'Arnaye had lain there. Florian thought of his dead comrade and of the love which had been between them—a love more perfect and deeper and higher than commonly exists between men—and the thought came to Florian, and was petulantly thrust away, that Adelaide loved ignorantly where Tiburce d'Arnaye had loved with comprehension. Yes, he had known almost the worst of Florian de Puysange, this dear lad who, none the less, had flung himself between Black Torrismond's sword and the breast of Florian de Puysange. And it seemed to Florian unfair that all should prosper with him, and Tiburce lie there imprisoned in dirt which shut away the color and variousness of things and the drollness of things, wherein Tiburce d'Arnaye had taken such joy. And Tiburce, it seemed to Florian—for this was a strange night—was struggling futilely under all that dirt, which shut out movement, and clogged the mouth of Tiburce, and would not let him speak; and was struggling to voice a desire which was unsatisfied and hopeless.
"O comrade dear," said Florian, "you who loved merriment, there is a feast afoot on this strange night, and my heart is sad that you are not here to share in the feasting. Come, come, Tiburce, a right trusty friend you were to me; and, living or dead, you should not fail to make merry at my wedding."
Thus he spoke. White mists were rising, and it was Walburga's Eve.
So a queer thing happened, and it was that the earth upon the grave began to heave and to break in fissures, as when a mole passes through the ground. And other queer things happened after that, and presently Tiburce d'Arnaye was standing there, gray and vague in the moonlight as he stood there brushing the mold from his brows, and as he stood there blinking bright wild eyes. And he was not greatly changed, it seemed to Florian; only the brows and nose of Tiburce cast no shadows upon his face, nor did his moving hand cast any shadow there, either, though the moon was naked overhead.
"You had forgotten the promise that was between us," said Tiburce; and his voice had not changed much, though it was smaller.
"It is true. I had forgotten. I remember now." And Florian shivered a little, not with fear, but with distaste.
"A man prefers to forget these things when he marries. It is natural enough. But are you not afraid of me who come from yonder?"
"Why should I be afraid of you, Tiburce, who gave your life for mine?"
"I do not say. But we change yonder."
"And does love change, Tiburce? For surely love is immortal."
"Living or dead, love changes. I do not say love dies in us who may hope to gain nothing more from love. Still, lying alone in the dark clay, there is nothing to do, as yet, save to think of what life was, and of what sunlight was, and of what we sang and whispered in dark places when we had lips; and of how young grass and murmuring waters and the high stars beget fine follies even now; and to think of how merry our loved ones still contrive to be, even now, with their new playfellows. Such reflections are not always conducive to philanthropy."
"Tell me," said Florian then, "and is there no way in which we who are still alive may aid you to be happier yonder?"
"Oh, but assuredly," replied Tiburce d'Arnaye, and he discoursed of curious matters; and as he talked, the mists about the graveyard thickened. "And so," Tiburce said, in concluding his tale, "it is not permitted that I make merry at your wedding after the fashion of those who are still in the warm flesh. But now that you recall our ancient compact, it is permitted I have my peculiar share in the merriment, and I may drink with you to the bride's welfare."
"I drink," said Florian, as he took the proffered cup, "to the welfare of my beloved Adelaide, whom alone of women I have really loved, and whom I shall love always."
"I perceive," replied the other, "that you must still be having your joke."
Then Florian drank, and after him Tiburce. And Florian said, "But it is a strange drink, Tiburce, and now that you have tasted it you are changed."
"You have not changed, at least," Tiburce answered; and for the first time he smiled, a little perturbingly by reason of the change in him.
"Tell me," said Florian, "of how you fare yonder."
So Tiburce told him of yet more curious matters. Now the augmenting mists had shut off all the rest of the world. Florian could see only vague rolling graynesses and a gray and changed Tiburce sitting there, with bright wild eyes, and discoursing in a small chill voice. The appearance of a woman came, and sat beside him on the right. She, too, was gray, as became Eve's senior: and she made a sign which Florian remembered, and it troubled him.
Tiburce said then, "And now, young Florian, you who were once so dear to me, it is to your welfare I drink."
"I drink to yours, Tiburce."
Tiburce drank first: and Florian, having drunk in turn, cried out, "You have changed beyond recognition!"
"You have not changed," Tiburce d'Arnaye replied again. "Now let me tell you of our pastimes yonder."
With that he talked of exceedingly curious matters. And Florian began to grow dissatisfied, for Tiburce was no longer recognizable, and Tiburce whispered things uncomfortable to believe; and other eyes, as wild as his, but lit with red flarings from behind, like a beast's eyes, showed in the mists to this side and to that side, for unhappy beings were passing through the mists upon secret errands which they discharged unwillingly. Then, too, the appearance of a gray man now sat to the left of that which had been Tiburce d'Arnaye, and this newcomer was marked so that all might know who he was: and Florian's heart was troubled to note how handsome and how admirable was that desecrated face even now.
"But I must go," said Florian, "lest they miss me at Storisende, and Adelaide be worried."
"Surely it will not take long to toss off a third cup. Nay, comrade, who were once so dear, let us two now drink our last toast together. Then go, in Sclaug's name, and celebrate your marriage. But before that let us drink to the continuance of human mirth-making everywhere."
Florian drank first. Then Tiburce took his turn, looking at Florian as Tiburce drank slowly. As he drank, Tiburce d'Arnaye was changed even more, and the shape of him altered, and the shape of him trickled as though Tiburce were builded of sliding fine white sand. So Tiburce d'Arnaye returned to his own place. The appearances that had sat to his left and to his right were no longer there to trouble Florian with memories. And Florian saw that the mists of Walburga's Eve had departed, and that the sun was rising, and that the graveyard was all overgrown with nettles and tall grass.
He had not remembered the place being thus, and it seemed to him the night had passed with unnatural quickness. But he thought more of the fact that he had been beguiled into spending his wedding-night in a graveyard, in such questionable company, and of what explanation he could make to Adelaide.
2. Of Young Persons in May
The tale tells how Florian de Puysange came in the dawn through flowering gardens, and heard young people from afar, already about their maying. Two by two he saw them from afar as they went with romping and laughter into the tall woods behind Storisende to fetch back the May-pole with dubious old rites. And as they went they sang, as was customary, that song which Raimbaut de Vaqueiras made in the ancient time in honor of May's ageless triumph.
"May shows with godlike showing To-day for each that sees May's magic overthrowing All musty memories In him whom May decrees To be love's own. He saith, 'I wear love's liveries Until released by death.'
"_Thus all we laud May's sowing, Nor heed how harvests please When nowhere grain worth growing Greets autumn's questing breeze, And garnerers garner these— Vain words and wasted breath And spilth and tasteless lees— Until released by death.
"Unwillingly foreknowing That love with May-time flees, We take this day's bestowing, And feed on fantasies Such as love lends for ease Where none but travaileth, With lean infrequent fees, Until released by death_."
And Florian shook his sleek black head. "A very foolish and pessimistical old song, a superfluous song, and a song that is particularly out of place in the loveliest spot in the loveliest of all possible worlds."
Yet Florian took no inventory of the gardens. There was but a happy sense of green and gold, with blue topping all; of twinkling, fluent, tossing leaves and of the gray under side of elongated, straining leaves; a sense of pert bird noises, and of a longer shadow than usual slanting before him, and a sense of youth and well-being everywhere. Certainly it was not a morning wherein pessimism might hope to flourish.
Instead, it was of Adelaide that Florian thought: of the tall, impulsive, and yet timid, fair girl who was both shrewd and innocent, and of her tenderly colored loveliness, and of his abysmally unmerited felicity in having won her. Why, but what, he reflected, grimacing—what if he had too hastily married somebody else? For he had earlier fancied other women for one reason or another: but this, he knew, was the great love of his life, and a love which would endure unchanged as long as his life lasted.
3. What Comes of Marrying Happily
The tale tells how Florian de Puysange found Adelaide in the company of two ladies who were unknown to him. One of these was very old, the other an imposing matron in middle life. The three were pleasantly shaded by young oak-trees; beyond was a tall hedge of clipped yew. The older women were at chess, while Adelaide bent her meek golden head to some of that fine needlework in which the girl delighted. And beside them rippled a small sunlit stream, which babbled and gurgled with silver flashes. Florian hastily noted these things as he ran laughing to his wife.
"Heart's dearest—!" he cried. And he saw, perplexed, that Adelaide had risen with a faint wordless cry, and was gazing at him as though she were puzzled and alarmed a very little.
"Such an adventure as I have to tell you of!" says Florian then.
"But, hey, young man, who are you that would seem to know my daughter so well?" demands the lady in middle life, and she rose majestically from her chess-game.
Florian stared, as he well might. "Your daughter, madame! But certainly you are not Dame Melicent."
At this the old, old woman raised her nodding head. "Dame Melicent? And was it I you were seeking, sir?"
Now Florian looked from one to the other of these incomprehensible strangers, bewildered: and his eyes came back to his lovely wife, and his lips smiled irresolutely. "Is this some jest to punish me, my dear?"
But then a new and graver trouble kindled in his face, and his eyes narrowed, for there was something odd about his wife also.
"I have been drinking in queer company," he said. "It must be that my head is not yet clear. Now certainly it seems to me that you are Adelaide de la Foret, and certainly it seems to me that you are not Adelaide."
The girl replied, "Why, no, messire; I am Sylvie de Nointel."
"Come, come," says the middle-aged lady, briskly, "let us make an end to this play-acting, and, young fellow, let us have a sniff at you. No, you are not tipsy, after all. Well, I am glad of that. So let us get to the bottom of this business. What do they call you when you are at home?"
"Florian de Puysange," he answered, speaking meekly enough. This capable large person was to the young man rather intimidating.
"La!" said she. She looked at him very hard. She nodded gravely two or three times, so that her double chin opened and shut. "Yes, and you favor him. How old are you?"
He told her twenty-four.
She said, inconsequently: "So I was a fool, after all. Well, young man, you will never be as good-looking as your father, but I trust you have an honester nature. However, bygones are bygones. Is the old rascal still living? and was it he that had the impudence to send you to me?"
"My father, madame, was slain at the battle of Marchfeld—"
"Some fifty years ago! And you are twenty-four. Young man, your parentage had unusual features, or else we are at cross-purposes. Let us start at the beginning of this. You tell us you are called Florian de Puysange and that you have been drinking in queer company. Now let us have the whole story."
Florian told of last night's happenings, with no more omissions than seemed desirable with feminine auditors.
Then the old woman said: "I think this is a true tale, my daughter, for the witches of Amneran contrive strange things, with mists to aid them, and with Lilith and Sclaug to abet. Yes, and this fate has fallen before to men that were over-friendly with the dead."
"Stuff and nonsense!" said the stout lady.
"But, no, my daughter. Thus seven persons slept at Ephesus, from the time of Decius to the time of Theodosius—"
"—And the proof of it is that they were called Constantine and Dionysius and John and Malchus and Marcian and Maximian and Serapion. They were duly canonized. You cannot deny that this thing happened without asserting no less than seven blessed saints to have been unprincipled liars, and that would be a very horrible heresy—"
"Yet, Mother, you know as well as I do—"
"—And thus Epimenides, another excellently spoken-of saint, slept at Athens for fifty-seven years. Thus Charlemagne slept in the Untersberg, and will sleep until the ravens of Miramon Lluagor have left his mountains. Thus Rhyming Thomas in the Eildon Hills, thus Ogier in Avalon, thus Oisin—"
The old lady bade fair to go on interminably in her gentle resolute piping old voice, but the other interrupted.
"Well, Mother, do not excite yourself about it, for it only makes your asthma worse, and does no especial good to anybody. Things may be as you say. Certainly I intended nothing irreligious. Yet these extended naps, appropriate enough for saints and emperors, are out of place in one's own family. So, if it is not stuff and nonsense, it ought to be. And that I stick to."
"But we forget the boy, my dear," said the old lady. "Now listen, Florian de Puysange. Thirty years ago last night, to the month and the day, it was that you vanished from our knowledge, leaving my daughter a forsaken bride. For I am what the years have made of Dame Melicent, and this is my daughter Adelaide, and yonder is her daughter Sylvie de Nointel."
"La, Mother," observed the stout lady, "but are you certain it was the last of April? I had been thinking it was some time in June. And I protest it could not have been all of thirty years. Let me see now, Sylvie, how old is your brother Richard? Twenty-eight, you say. Well, Mother, I always said you had a marvelous memory for things like that, and I often envy you. But how time does fly, to be sure!"
And Florian was perturbed. "For this is an awkward thing, and Tiburce has played me an unworthy trick. He never did know when to leave off joking; but such posthumous frivolity is past endurance. For, see now, in what a pickle it has landed me! I have outlived my friends, I may encounter difficulty in regaining my fiefs, and certainly I have lost the fairest wife man ever had. Oh, can it be, madame, that you are indeed my Adelaide!"
"Yes, every pound of me, poor boy, and that says much."
"—And that you have been untrue to the eternal fidelity which you vowed to me here by this very stream! Oh, but I cannot believe it was thirty years ago, for not a grass-blade or a pebble has been altered; and I perfectly remember the lapping of water under those lichened rocks, and that continuous file of ripples yonder, which are shaped like arrowheads."
Adelaide rubbed her nose. "Did I promise eternal fidelity? I can hardly remember that far back. But I remember I wept a great deal, and my parents assured me you were either dead or a rascal, so that tears could not help either way. Then Ralph de Nointel came along, good man, and made me a fair husband, as husbands go—"
"As for that stream," then said Dame Melicent, "it is often I have thought of that stream, sitting here with my grandchildren where I once sat with gay young men whom nobody remembers now save me. Yes, it is strange to think that instantly, and within the speaking of any simple word, no drop of water retains the place it had before the word was spoken: and yet the stream remains unchanged, and stays as it was when I sat here with those young men who are gone. Yes, that is a strange thought, and it is a sad thought, too, for those of us who are old."
"But, Mother, of course the stream remains unchanged," agreed Dame Adelaide. "Streams always do except after heavy rains. Everybody knows that, and I can see nothing very remarkable about it. As for you, Florian, if you stickle for love's being an immortal affair," she added, with a large twinkle, "I would have you know I have been a widow for three years. So the matter could be arranged."
Florian looked at her sadly. To him the situation was incongruous with the terrible archness of a fat woman. "But, madame, you are no longer the same person."
She patted him upon the shoulder. "Come, Florian, there is some sense in you, after all. Console yourself, lad, with the reflection that if you had stuck manfully by your wife instead of mooning about graveyards, I would still be just as I am to-day, and you would be tied to me. Your friend probably knew what he was about when he drank to our welfare, for we would never have suited each other, as you can see for yourself. Well, Mother, many things fall out queerly in this world, but with age we learn to accept what happens without flustering too much over it. What are we to do with this resurrected old lover of mine?"
It was horrible to Florian to see how prosaically these women dealt with his unusual misadventure. Here was a miracle occurring virtually before their eyes, and these women accepted it with maddening tranquillity as an affair for which they were not responsible. Florian began to reflect that elderly persons were always more or less unsympathetic and inadequate.
"First of all," says Dame Melicent, "I would give him some breakfast. He must be hungry after all these years. And you could put him in Adhelmar's room—"
"But," Florian said wildly, to Dame Adelaide, "you have committed the crime of bigamy, and you are, after all, my wife!"
She replied, herself not untroubled: "Yes, but, Mother, both the cook and the butler are somewhere in the bushes yonder, up to some nonsense that I prefer to know nothing about. You know how servants are, particularly on holidays. I could scramble him some eggs, though, with a rasher. And Adhelmar's room it had better be, I suppose, though I had meant to have it turned out. But as for bigamy and being your wife," she concluded more cheerfully, "it seems to me the least said the soonest mended. It is to nobody's interest to rake up those foolish bygones, so far as I can see."
"Adelaide, you profane equally love, which is divine, and marriage, which is a holy sacrament."
"Florian, do you really love Adelaide de Nointel?" asked this terrible woman. "And now that I am free to listen to your proposals, do you wish to marry me?"
"Well, no," said Florian: "for, as I have just said; you are no longer the same person."
"Why, then, you see for yourself. So do you quit talking nonsense about immortality and sacraments."
"But, still," cried Florian, "love is immortal. Yes, I repeat to you, precisely as I told Tiburce, love is immortal."
Then says Dame Melicent, nodding her shriveled old head: "When I was young, and was served by nimbler senses and desires, and was housed in brightly colored flesh, there were a host of men to love me. Minstrels yet tell of the men that loved me, and of how many tall men were slain because of their love for me, and of how in the end it was Perion who won me. For the noblest and the most faithful of all my lovers was Perion of the Forest, and through tempestuous years he sought me with a love that conquered time and chance: and so he won me. Thereafter he made me a fair husband, as husbands go. But I might not stay the girl he had loved, nor might he remain the lad that Melicent had dreamed of, with dreams be-drugging the long years in which Demetrios held Melicent a prisoner, and youth went away from her. No, Perion and I could not do that, any more than might two drops of water there retain their place in the stream's flowing. So Perion and I grew old together, friendly enough; and our senses and desires began to serve us more drowsily, so that we did not greatly mind the falling away of youth, nor greatly mind to note what shriveled hands now moved before us, performing common tasks; and we were content enough. But of the high passion that had wedded us there was no trace, and of little senseless human bickerings there were a great many. For one thing"—and the old lady's voice was changed—"for one thing, he was foolishly particular about what he would eat and what he would not eat, and that upset my housekeeping, and I had never any patience with such nonsense."
"Well, none the less," said Florian, "it is not quite nice of you to acknowledge it."
Then said Dame Adelaide: "That is a true word, Mother. All men get finicky about their food, and think they are the only persons to be considered, and there is no end to it if once you begin to humor them. So there has to be a stand made. Well, and indeed my poor Ralph, too, was all for kissing and pretty talk at first, and I accepted it willingly enough. You know how girls are. They like to be made much of, and it is perfectly natural. But that leads to children. And when the children began to come, I had not much time to bother with him: and Ralph had his farming and his warfaring to keep him busy. A man with a growing family cannot afford to neglect his affairs. And certainly, being no fool, he began to notice that girls here and there had brighter eyes and trimmer waists than I. I do not know what such observations may have led to when he was away from me: I never inquired into it, because in such matters all men are fools. But I put up with no nonsense at home, and he made me a fair husband, as husbands go. That much I will say for him gladly: and if any widow says more than that, Florian, do you beware of her, for she is an untruthful woman."
"Be that as it may," replied Florian, "it is not quite becoming to speak thus of your dead husband. No doubt you speak the truth: there is no telling what sort of person you may have married in what still seems to me unseemly haste to provide me with a successor: but even so, a little charitable prevarication would be far more edifying."
He spoke with such earnestness that there fell a silence. The women seemed to pity him. And in the silence Florian heard from afar young persons returning from the woods behind Storisende, and bringing with them the May-pole. They were still singing.
"Unwillingly foreknowing That love with May-time flees, We take this day's bestowing, And feed on fantasies—"
4. Youth Solves It
The tale tells how lightly and sweetly, and compassionately, too, then spoke young Sylvie de Nointel.
"Ah, but, assuredly, Messire Florian, you do not argue with my pets quite seriously! Old people always have some such queer notions. Of course love all depends upon what sort of person you are. Now, as I see it, Mama and Grandmama are not the sort of persons who have real love-affairs. Devoted as I am to both of them, I cannot but perceive they are lacking in real depth of sentiment. They simply do not understand or care about such matters. They are fine, straightforward, practical persons, poor dears, and always have been, of course, for in things like that one does not change, as I have often noticed. And Father, and Grandfather Perion, too, as I remember him, was kind-hearted and admirable and all that, but nobody could ever have expected him to be a satisfactory lover. Why, he was bald as an egg, the poor pet!"
And Sylvie laughed again at the preposterous notions of old people. She flashed an especial smile at Florian. Her hand went out as though to touch him, in an unforgotten gesture. "Old people do not understand," said Sylvie de Nointel, in tones which took this handsome young fellow ineffably into confidence.
"Mademoiselle," said Florian, with a sigh that was part relief and all approval, "it is you who speak the truth, and your elders have fallen victims to the cynicism of a crassly material age. Love is immortal when it is really love and when one is the right sort of person. There is the love—known to how few, alas! and a passion of which I regret to find your mother incapable—that endures unchanged until the end of life."
"I am so glad you think so, Messire Florian," she answered demurely.
"And do you not think so, mademoiselle?"
"How should I know," she asked him, "as yet?" He noted she had incredibly long lashes.
"Thrice happy is he that convinces you!" says Florian. And about them, who were young in the world's recaptured youth, spring triumphed with an ageless rural pageant, and birds cried to their mates. He noted the red brevity of her lips and their probable softness.
Meanwhile the elder women regarded each other.
"It is the season of May. They are young and they are together. Poor children!" said Dame Melicent. "Youth cries to youth for the toys of youth, and saying, 'Lo, I cry with the voice of a great god!'"
"Still," said Madame Adelaide, "Puysange is a good fief—"
But Florian heeded neither of them as he stood there by the sunlit stream, in which no drop of water retained its place for a moment, and which yet did not alter in appearance at all. He did not heed his elders for the excellent reason that Sylvie de Nointel was about to speak, and he preferred to listen to her. For this girl, he knew, was lovelier than any other person had ever been since Eve first raised just such admiring, innocent, and venturesome eyes to inspect what must have seemed to her the quaintest of all animals, called man. So it was with a shrug that Florian remembered how he had earlier fancied other women for one reason or another; since this, he knew, was the great love of his life, and a love which would endure unchanged as long as his life lasted.
* * * * *
APRIL 14, 1355—OCTOBER 23, 1356
"D'aquest segle flac, plen de marrimen, S'amor s'en vai, son jot teinh mensongier."
_So Florian married Sylvie, and made her, they relate, a fair husband, as husbands go. And children came to them, and then old age, and, lastly, that which comes to all.
Which reminds me that it was an uncomfortable number of years ago, in an out-of-the-way corner of the library at Allonby Shaw, that I first came upon Les Aventures d'Adhelmar de Nointel. This manuscript dates from the early part of the fifteenth century and is attributed—though on no very conclusive evidence, says Hinsauf,—to the facile pen of Nicolas de Caen (circa 1450), until lately better known as a lyric poet and satirist.
The story, told in decasyllabic couplets, interspersed after a rather unusual fashion with innumerable lyrics, seems in the main authentic. Sir Adhelmar de Nointel, born about 1332, was once a real and stalwart personage, a younger brother to that Henri de Nointel, the fighting Bishop of Mantes, whose unsavory part in the murder of Jacques van Arteveldt history has recorded at length; and it is with the exploits of this Adhelmar that the romance deals, not, it may be, without exaggeration.
In any event, the following is, with certain compressions and omissions that have seemed desirable, the last episode of the Aventures. The tale concerns the children of Florian and Sylvie: and for it I may claim, at least, the same merit that old Nicolas does at the very outset; since as he veraciously declares—yet with a smack of pride:
Cette bonne ystoire n'est pas usee, Ni guere de lieux jadis trouvee, Ni ecrite par clercz ne fut encore._
The Episode Called Adhelmar at Puysange
When Adhelmar had ended the tale of Dame Venus and the love which she bore the knight Tannhaeuser (here one overtakes Nicolas midcourse in narrative), Adhelmar put away the book and sighed. The Demoiselle Melite laughed a little—her laughter, as I have told you, was high and delicate, with the resonance of thin glass—and demanded the reason of his sudden grief.
"I sigh," he answered, "for sorrow that this Dame Venus is dead."
"Surely," said she, wondering at his glum face, "that is no great matter."
"By Saint Vulfran, yes!" Adhelmar protested; "for the same Lady Venus was the fairest of women, as all learned clerks avow; and she is dead these many years, and now there is no woman left alive so beautiful as she—saving one alone, and she will have none of me. And therefore," he added, very slowly, "I sigh for desire of Dame Venus and for envy of the knight Tannhaeuser."
Again Melite laughed, but she forbore—discreetly enough—to question him concerning the lady who was of equal beauty with Dame Venus.
It was an April morning, and they set in the hedged garden of Puysange. Adhelmar read to her of divers ancient queens and of the love-business wherein each took part, relating the histories of the Lady Heleine and of her sweethearting with Duke Paris, the Emperor of Troy's son, and of the Lady Melior that loved Parthenopex of Blois, and of the Lady Aude, for love of whom Sieur Roland slew the pagan Angoulaffre, and of the Lady Cresseide that betrayed love, and of the Lady Morgaine la Fee, whose Danish lover should yet come from Avalon to save France in her black hour of need. All these he read aloud, suavely, with bland modulations, for he was a man of letters, as letters went in those days. Originally, he had been bred for the Church; but this vocation he had happily forsaken long since, protesting with some show of reason that France at this particular time had a greater need of spears than of aves.
For the rest, Sir Adhelmar de Nointel was known as a valiant knight, who had won glory in the wars with the English. He had lodged for a fortnight at Puysange, of which castle the master, Sire Reinault (son to the late Vicomte Florian) was Adhelmar's cousin: and on the next day Adhelmar proposed to set forth for Paris, where the French King—Jehan the Luckless—was gathering his lieges about him to withstand his kinsman, Edward of England.
Now, as I have said, Adhelmar was cousin to Reinault, and, in consequence, to Reinault's sister, the Demoiselle Melite; and the latter Adhelmar loved, at least, as much as a cousin should. That was well known; and Reinault de Puysange had sworn very heartily that this was a great pity when he affianced her to Hugues d'Arques. Both Hugues and Adhelmar had loved Melite since boyhood,—so far their claims ran equally. But while Adhelmar had busied himself in the acquisition of some scant fame and a vast number of scars, Hugues had sensibly inherited the fief of Arques, a snug property with fertile lands and a stout fortress. How, then, should Reinault hesitate between them?
He did not. For the Chateau d'Arques, you must understand, was builded in Lower Normandy, on the fringe of the hill-country, just where the peninsula of Cotentin juts out into the sea; Puysange stood not far north, among the level lands of Upper Normandy: and these two being the strongest castles in those parts, what more natural and desirable than that the families should be united by marriage? Reinault informed his sister of his decision; she wept a little, but did not refuse to comply.
So Adhelmar, come again to Puysange after five years' absence, found Melite troth-plighted, fast and safe, to Hugues. Reinault told him. Adhelmar grumbled and bit his nails in a corner, for a time; then laughed shortly.
"I have loved Melite," he said. "It may be that I love her still. Hah, Saint Vulfran! why should I not? Why should a man not love his cousin?"
Adhelmar grinned, while the vicomte twitched his beard and wished Adhelmar at the devil.
But the young knight stuck fast at Puysange, for all that, and he and Melite were much together. Daily they made parties to dance, and to hunt the deer, and to fish, but most often to rehearse songs. For Adhelmar made good songs.
[Footnote: Nicolas indeed declares of Adhelmar, earlier in the tale, in such high terms as are not uncommon to this chronicle:
Hardi estait et fier comme lions, Et si faisait balades et chancons, Rondeaulx et laiz, tres bans et pleins de grace, Comme Orpheus, cet menestrier de Thrace.]
To-day, the summer already stirring in the womb of the year, they sat, as I have said, in the hedged garden; and about them the birds piped and wrangled over their nest-building, and daffodils danced in spring's honor with lively saltations, and overhead the sky was colored like a robin's egg. It was very perilous weather for young folk. By reason of this, when he had ended his reading about the lady of the hollow hill, Sir Adhelmar sighed again, and stared at his companion with hungry eyes, wherein desire strained like a hound at the leash.
Said Melite, "Was this Lady Venus, then, exceedingly beautiful?"
Adhelmar swore an oath of sufficient magnitude that she was.
Whereupon Melite, twisting her fingers idly and evincing a sudden interest in her own feet, demanded if this Venus were more beautiful than the Lady Ermengarde of Arnaye or the Lady Ysabeau of Brieuc.
"Holy Ouen!" scoffed Adhelmar; "these ladies, while well enough, I grant you, would seem to be callow howlets blinking about that Arabian Phoenix which Plinius tells of, in comparison with this Lady Venus that is dead!"
"But how," asked Melite, "was this lady fashioned that you commend so highly?—and how can you know of her beauty who have never seen her?"
Said Adhelmar: "I have read of her fairness in the chronicles of Messire Stace of Thebes, and of Dares, who was her husband's bishop. And she was very comely, neither too little nor too big; she was fairer and whiter and more lovely than any flower of the lily or snow upon the branch, but her eyebrows had the mischance of meeting. She had wide-open, beautiful eyes, and her wit was quick and ready. She was graceful and of demure countenance. She was well-beloved, and could herself love well, but her heart was changeable—"
"Cousin Adhelmar," declared Melite, flushing somewhat, for the portrait was like enough, "I think that you tell of a woman, not of a goddess of heathenry."
"Her eyes," said Adhelmar, and his voice shook, and his hands, lifting a little, trembled,—"her eyes were large and very bright and of a color like that of the June sunlight falling upon deep waters. Her hair was of a curious gold color like the Fleece that the knight Jason sought, and it curled marvellously about her temples. For mouth she had but a small red wound; and her throat was a tower builded of ivory."
But now, still staring at her feet and glowing with the even complexion of a rose, (though not ill-pleased), the Demoiselle Melite bade him desist and make her a song. Moreover, she added, beauty was but a fleeting thing, and she considered it of little importance; and then she laughed again.
Adhelmar took up the lute that lay beside them and fingered it for a moment, as though wondering of what he would rhyme. Afterward he sang for her as they sat in the gardens.
_"It is in vain I mirror forth the praise In pondered virelais Of her that is the lady of my love; Far-sought and curious phrases fail to tell The tender miracle Of her white body and the grace thereof.
"Thus many and many an artful-artless strain Is fashioned all in vain: Sound proves unsound; and even her name, that is To me more glorious than the glow of fire Or dawn or love's desire Or opals interlinked with turquoises, Mocks utterance.
"So, lacking skill to praise That perfect bodily beauty which is hers, Even as those worshippers Who bore rude offerings of honey and maize, Their all, into the gold-paved ministers Of Aphrodite, I have given her these My faltering melodies, That are Love's lean and ragged messengers."_
When he had ended, Adhelmar cast aside the lute, and caught up both of Melite's hands, and strained them to his lips. There needed no wizard to read the message in his eyes.
Melite sat silent for a moment. Presently, "Ah, cousin, cousin!" she sighed, "I cannot love you as you would have me love. God alone knows why, true heart, for I revere you as a strong man and a proven knight and a faithful lover; but I do not love you. There are many women who would love you, Adhelmar, for the world praises you, and you have done brave deeds and made good songs and have served your King potently; and yet"—she drew her hands away and laughed a little wearily—"yet I, poor maid, must needs love Hugues, who has done nothing. This love is a strange, unreasoning thing, my cousin."
"But do you in truth love Hugues?" asked Adhelmar, in a harsh voice.
"Yes," said Melite, very softly, and afterward flushed and wondered dimly if she had spoken the truth. Then, somehow, her arms clasped about Adhelmar's neck, and she kissed him, from pure pity, as she told herself; for Melite's heart was tender, and she could not endure the anguish in his face.
This was all very well. But Hugues d'Arques, coming suddenly out of a pleached walk, at this juncture, stumbled upon them and found their postures distasteful. He bent black brows upon the two.
"Adhelmar," said he, at length, "this world is a small place."
Adhelmar rose. "Indeed," he assented, with a wried smile, "I think there is scarce room in it for both of us, Hugues."
"That was my meaning," said the Sieur d'Arques.
"Only," Adhelmar pursued, somewhat wistfully, "my sword just now, Hugues, is vowed to my King's quarrel. There are some of us who hope to save France yet, if our blood may avail. In a year, God willing, I shall come again to Puysange; and till then you must wait."
Hugues conceded that, perforce, he must wait, since a vow was sacred; and Adhelmar, who suspected Hugues' natural appetite for battle to be lamentably squeamish, grinned. After that, in a sick rage, Adhelmar struck Hugues in the face, and turned about.
The Sieur d'Arques rubbed his cheek ruefully. Then he and Melite stood silent for a moment, and heard Adhelmar in the court-yard calling his men to ride forth; and Melite laughed; and Hugues scowled.
2. Nicolas as Chorus
The year passed, and Adhelmar did not return; and there was much fighting during that interval, and Hugues began to think the knight was slain and would never return to fight with him. The reflection was borne with equanimity.
So Adhelmar was half-forgot, and the Sieur d'Arques turned his mind to other matters. He was still a bachelor, for Reinault considered the burden of the times in ill-accord with the chinking of marriage-bells. They were grim times for Frenchmen: right and left the English pillaged and killed and sacked and guzzled and drank, as if they would never have done; and Edward of England began, to subscribe himself Rex Franciae with some show of excuse.
In Normandy men acted according to their natures. Reinault swore lustily and looked to his defences; Hugues, seeing the English everywhere triumphant, drew a long face and doubted, when the will of God was made thus apparent, were it the part of a Christian to withstand it? Then he began to write letters, but to whom no man at either Arques or Puysange knew, saving One-eyed Peire, who carried them.
3. Treats of Huckstering
It was in the dusk of a rain-sodden October day that Adhelmar rode to the gates of Puysange, with some score men-at-arms behind him. They came from Poictiers, where again the English had conquered, and Adhelmar rode with difficulty, for in that disastrous business in the field of Maupertuis he had been run through the chest, and his wound was scarce healed. Nevertheless, he came to finish his debate with the Sieur d'Arques, wound or no wound.
But at Puysange he heard a strange tale of Hugues. Reinault, whom Adhelmar found in a fine rage, told the story as they sat over their supper.
It had happened, somehow, (Reinault said), that the Marshal Arnold d'Andreghen—newly escaped from prison and with his disposition unameliorated by Lord Audley's gaolership,—had heard of these letters that Hugues wrote so constantly; and the Marshal, being no scholar, had frowned at such doings, and waited presently, with a company of horse, on the road to Arques. Into their midst, on the day before Adhelmar came, rode Peire, the one-eyed messenger; and it was not an unconscionable while before Peire was bound hand and foot, and d'Andreghen was reading the letter they had found in Peire's jerkin. "Hang the carrier on that oak," said d'Andreghen, when he had ended, "but leave that largest branch yonder for the writer. For by the Blood of Christ, our common salvation! I will hang him there on Monday!"
So Peire swung in the air ere long and stuck out a black tongue at the crows, who cawed and waited for supper; and presently they feasted while d'Andreghen rode to Arques, carrying a rope for Hugues.
For the Marshal, you must understand, was a man of sudden action. Only two months ago, he had taken the Comte de Harcourt with other gentlemen from the Dauphin's own table to behead them that afternoon in a field behind Rouen. It was true they had planned to resist the gabelle, the King's immemorial right to impose a tax on salt; but Harcourt was Hugues' cousin, and the Sieur d'Arques, being somewhat of an epicurean disposition, esteemed the dessert accorded his kinsman unpalatable.
There was no cause for great surprise to d'Andreghen, then, to find that the letter Hugues had written was meant for Edward, the Black Prince of England, now at Bordeaux, where he held the French King, whom the Prince had captured at Poictiers, as a prisoner; for this prince, though he had no particular love for a rogue, yet knew how to make use of one when kingcraft demanded it,—and, as he afterward made use of Pedro the Castilian, he was now prepared to make use of Hugues, who hung like a ripe pear ready to drop into Prince Edward's mouth. "For," as the Sieur d'Arques pointed out in his letter, "I am by nature inclined to favor you brave English, and so, beyond doubt, is the good God. And I will deliver Arques to you; and thus and thus you may take Normandy and the major portion of France; and thus and thus will I do, and thus and thus must you reward me."
Said d'Andreghen, "I will hang him at dawn; and thus and thus may the devil do with his soul!"
Then with his company d'Andreghen rode to Arques. A herald declared to the men of that place how the matter stood, and bade Hugues come forth and dance upon nothing. The Sieur d'Arques spat curses, like a cat driven into a corner, and wished to fight, but the greater part of his garrison were not willing to do so in such a cause: and so d'Andreghen took him and carried him off.
In anger having sworn by the Blood of Christ to hang Hugues d'Arques to a certain tree, d'Andreghen had no choice in calm but to abide by his oath. This day being the Sabbath, he deferred the matter; but the Marshal promised to see to it that when morning broke the Sieur d'Arques should dangle side by side with his messenger.
Thus far the Vicomte de Puysange. He concluded his narrative with a dry chuckle. "And I think we are very well rid of him, Adhelmar. Holy Maclou! that I should have taken the traitor for a true man, though! He would sell France, you observe,—chaffered, they tell me, like a pedlar over the price of Normandy. Heh, the huckster, the triple-damned Jew!"
"And Melite?" asked Adhelmar, after a little.
Again Reinault shrugged. "In the White Turret," he said; then, with a short laugh: "Oy Dieus, yes! The girl has been caterwauling for this shabby rogue all day. She would have me—me, the King's man, look you!—save Hugues at the peril of my seignory! And I protest to you, by the most high and pious Saint Nicolas the Confessor," Reinault swore, "that sooner than see this huckster go unpunished, I would lock Hell's gate on him with my own hands!"
For a moment Adhelmar stood with his jaws puffed out, as if in thought, and then he laughed like a wolf. Afterward he went to the White Turret, leaving Reinault smiling over his wine.
4. Folly Diversely Attested
He found Melite alone. She had robed herself in black, and had gathered her gold hair about her face like a heavy veil, and sat weeping into it for the plight of Hugues d'Arques.
"Melite!" cried Adhelmar; "Melite!" The Demoiselle de Puysange rose with a start, and, seeing him standing in the doorway, ran to him, incompetent little hands fluttering before her like frightened doves. She was very tired, by that day-long arguing with her brother's notions about honor and knightly faith and such foolish matters, and to her weariness Adhelmar seemed strength incarnate; surely he, if any one, could aid Hugues and bring him safe out of the grim marshal's claws. For the moment, perhaps, she had forgotten the feud which existed between Adhelmar and the Sieur d'Arques; but in any event, I am convinced, she knew that Adhelmar could refuse her nothing. So she ran toward him, her cheeks flushing arbutus-like, and she was smiling through her tears.
Oh, thought Adhelmar, were it not very easy to leave Hugues to the dog's death he merits and to take this woman for my own? For I know that she loves me a little. And thinking of this, he kissed her, quietly, as one might comfort a sobbing child; afterward he held her in his arms for a moment, wondering vaguely at the pliant thickness of her hair and the sweet scent of it. Then he put her from him gently, and swore in his soul that Hugues must die, so that this woman might be Adhelmar's.
"You will save him?" Melite asked, and raised her face to his. There was that in her eyes which caused Adhelmar to muse for a little on the nature of women's love, and, subsequently, to laugh harshly and make vehement utterance.
"Yes!" said Adhelmar.
He demanded how many of Hugues' men were about. Some twenty of them had come to Puysange, Melite said, in the hope that Reinault might aid them to save their master. She protested that her brother was a coward for not doing so; but Adhelmar, having his own opinion on this subject, and thinking in his heart that Hugues' skin might easily be ripped off him without spilling a pint of honest blood, said, simply: "Twenty and twenty is two-score. It is not a large armament, but it may serve."
He told her his plan was to fall suddenly upon d'Andreghen and his men that night, and in the tumult to steal Hugues away; whereafter, as Adhelmar pointed out, Hugues might readily take ship for England, and leave the marshal to blaspheme Fortune in Normandy, and the French King to gnaw at his chains in Bordeaux, while Hugues toasts his shins in comfort at London. Adhelmar admitted that the plan was a mad one, but added, reasonably enough, that needs must when the devil drives. And so firm was his confidence, so cheery his laugh—he managed to laugh somehow, though it was a stiff piece of work,—that Melite began to be comforted somewhat, and bade him go and Godspeed.
So then Adhelmar left her. In the main hall he found the vicomte still sitting over his wine of Anjou.
"Cousin," said Adhelmar, "I must ride hence to-night."
Reinault stared at him: a mastering wonder woke in Reinault's face. "Ta, ta, ta!" he clicked his tongue, very softly. Afterward he sprang to his feet and clutched Adhelmar by both arms. "No, no!" Reinault cried. "No, Adhelmar, you must not try that! It is death, lad,—sure death! It means hanging, boy!" the vicomte pleaded, for, hard man that he was, he loved Adhelmar.
"That is likely enough," Adhelmar conceded.
"They will hang you,"' Reinault said again: "d'Andreghen and the Count Dauphin of Vienna will hang you as blithely as they would Iscariot."
"That, too," said Adhelmar, "is likely enough, if I remain in France."
"Oy Dieus! will you flee to England, then?" the vicomte scoffed, bitterly. "Has King Edward not sworn to hang you these eight years past? Was it not you, then, cousin, who took Almerigo di Pavia, that Lombard knave whom he made governor of Calais,—was it not you, then, who delivered Edward's loved Almerigo to Geoffrey de Chargny, who had him broken on the wheel? Eh, holy Maclou! but you will get hearty welcome and a chaplain and a rope in England."
Adhelmar admitted that this was true. "Still," said he, "I must ride hence to-night."
"For her?" Reinault asked, and jerked his thumb upward.
"Yes," said Adhelmar,—"for her."
Reinault stared in his face for a while. "You are a fool, Adhelmar," said he, at last, "but you are a brave man, and you love as becomes a chevalier. It is a great pity that a flibbertigibbet wench with a tow-head should be the death of you. For my part, I am the King's vassal; I shall not break faith with him; but you are my guest and my kinsman. For that reason I am going to bed, and I shall sleep very soundly. It is likely I shall hear nothing of the night's doings,—ohime, no! not if you murder d'Andreghen in the court-yard!" Reinault ended, and smiled, somewhat sadly.
Afterward he took Adhelmar's hand and said: "Farewell, lord Adhelmar! O true knight, sturdy and bold! terrible and merciless toward your enemies, gentle and simple toward your friends, farewell!"
He kissed Adhelmar on either cheek and left him. In those days men encountered death with very little ado.
Then Adhelmar rode off in the rain with thirty-four armed followers. Riding thus, he reflected upon the nature of women and upon his love for the Demoiselle de Puysange; and, to himself, he swore gloomily that if she had a mind to Hugues she must have Hugues, come what might. Having reached this conclusion, Adhelmar wheeled upon his men, and cursed them for tavern-idlers and laggards and flea-hearted snails, and bade them spur.
Melite, at her window, heard them depart, and heard the noise of their going lapse into the bland monotony of the rain's noise. This dank night now divulged no more, and she turned back into the room. Adhelmar's glove, which he had forgotten in his haste, lay upon the floor, and Melite lifted it and twisted it idly.
"I wonder—?" said she.
She lighted four wax candles and set them before a mirror that was in the room. Melite stood among them and looked into the mirror. She seemed very tall and very slender, and her loosened hair hung heavily about her beautiful shallow face and fell like a cloak around her black-robed body, showing against the black gown like melting gold; and about her were the tall, white candles tipped with still flames of gold. Melite laughed—her laughter was high and delicate, with the resonance of thin glass,—and raised her arms above her, head, stretching tensely like a cat before a fire, and laughed yet again.
"After all," said she, "I do not wonder."
Melite sat before the mirror, and braided her hair, and sang to herself in a sweet, low voice, brooding with unfathomable eyes upon her image in the glass, while the October rain beat about Puysange, and Adhelmar rode forth to save Hugues that must else be hanged.
"_Rustling leaves of the willow-tree Peering downward at you and me, And no man else in the world to see,
"Only the birds, whose dusty coats Show dark in the green,—whose throbbing throats Turn joy to music and love to notes_.
"Lean your body against the tree, Lifting your red lips up to me, Melite, and kiss, with no man to see!
"And let us laugh for a little:—Yea, Let love and laughter herald the day When laughter and love will be put away.
"Then you will remember the willow-tree And this very hour, and remember me, Melite,—whose face you will no more see!
"So swift, so swift the glad time goes, And Eld and Death with their countless woes Draw near, and the end thereof no man knows,
"Lean your body against the tree, Lifting your red lips up to me, Melite, and kiss, with no man to see!"_
Melite smiled as she sang; for this was a song that Adhelmar had made for her upon a May morning at Nointel, before he was a knight, when both were very young. So now she smiled to remember the making of the verses which she sang while the October rain was beating about Puysange.
It was not long before they came upon d'Andreghen and his men camped about a great oak, with One-eyed Peire a-swing over their heads for a lamentable banner. A shrill sentinel, somewhere in the dark, demanded the newcomers' business, but without receiving any adequate answer, for at that moment Adhelmar gave the word to charge.
Then it was as if all the devils in Pandemonium had chosen Normandy for their playground; and what took place in the night no man saw for the darkness, so that I cannot tell you of it. Let it suffice that Adhelmar rode away before d'Andreghen had rubbed sleep well out of his eyes; and with Adhelmar were Hugues d'Arques and some half of Adhelmar's men. The rest were dead, and Adhelmar was badly hurt, for he had burst open his old wound and it was bleeding under his armor. Of this he said nothing.
"Hugues," said he, "do you and these fellows ride to the coast; thence take ship for England."
He would have none of Hugues' thanks; instead, he turned and left Hugues to whimper out his gratitude to the skies, which spat a warm, gusty rain at him. Adhelmar rode again to Puysange, and as he went he sang.
"D'Andreghen in Normandy Went forth to slay mine enemy; But as he went Lord God for me wrought marvellously;
"Wherefore, I may call and cry That am now about to die, 'I am content!'
"Domine! Domine! Gratias accipe! Et meum animum Recipe in coelum_!"
6. They Kiss at Parting
When he had come to Puysange, Adhelmar climbed the stairs of the White Turret,—slowly, for he was growing very feeble now,—and so came again to Melite crouching among the burned-out candles in the slate-colored twilight which heralded dawn.
"He is safe," said Adhelmar. He told Melite how Hugues was rescued and shipped to England, and how, if she would, she might straightway follow him in a fishing-boat. "For there is likely to be ugly work at Puysange," Adhelmar said, "when the marshal comes. And he will come."
"But what will you do now, my cousin?" asked Melite.
"Holy Ouen!" said Adhelmar; "since I needs must die, I will die in France, not in the cold land of England."
"Die!" cried Melite. "Are you hurt so sorely, then?"
He grinned like a death's-head. "My injuries are not incurable," said he, "yet must I die very quickly, for all that. The English King will hang me if I go thither, as he has sworn to do these eight years, because of that matter of Almerigo di Pavia: and if I stay in France, I must hang because of this night's work."
Melite wept. "O God! O God!" she quavered, two or three times, like one hurt in the throat. "And you have done this for me! Is there no way to save you, Adhelmar?" she pleaded, with wide, frightened eyes that were like a child's.
"None," said Adhelmar. He took both her hands in his, very tenderly. "Ah, my sweet," said he, "must I, whose grave is already digged, waste breath upon this idle talk of kingdoms and the squabbling men who rule them? I have but a brief while to live, and I wish to forget that there is aught else in the world save you, and that I love you. Do not weep, Melite! In a little time you will forget me and be happy with this Hugues whom you love; and I?—ah, my sweet, I think that even in my grave I shall dream of you and of your great beauty and of the exceeding love that I bore you in the old days."
"Ah, no, I shall not ever forget, O true and faithful lover! And, indeed, indeed, Adhelmar, I would give my life right willingly that yours might be saved!"
She had almost forgotten Hugues. Her heart was sad as she thought of Adhelmar, who must die a shameful death for her sake, and of the love which she had cast away. Beside it, the Sieur d'Arques' affection showed somewhat tawdry, and Melite began to reflect that, after all, she had liked Adhelmar almost as well.
"Sweet," said Adhelmar, "do I not know you to the marrow? You will forget me utterly, for your heart is very changeable. Ah, Mother of God!" Adhelmar cried, with a quick lift of speech; "I am afraid to die, for the harsh dust will shut out the glory of your face, and you will forget!"
"No; ah, no!" Melite whispered, and drew near to him. Adhelmar smiled, a little wistfully, for he did not believe that she spoke the truth; but it was good to feel her body close to his, even though he was dying, and he was content.
But by this time the dawn had come completely, flooding the room with its first thin radiance, and Melite saw the pallor of his face and so knew that he was wounded.
"Indeed, yes," said Adhelmar, when she had questioned him, "for my breast is quite cloven through." And when she disarmed him, Melite found a great cut in his chest which had bled so much that it was apparent he must die, whether d'Andreghen and Edward of England would or no.
Melite wept again, and cried, "Why had you not told me of this?"
"To have you heal me, perchance?" said Adhelmar. "Ah, love, is hanging, then, so sweet a death that I should choose it, rather than to die very peacefully in your arms? Indeed, I would not live if I might; for I have proven traitor to my King, and it is right that traitors should die; and, chief of all, I know that life can bring me naught more desirable than I have known this night. What need, then, have I to live?"
Melite bent over him; for as he spoke he had lain back in a tall carven chair by the east window. She was past speech. But now, for a moment, her lips clung to his, and her warm tears fell upon his face. What better death for a lover? thought Adhelmar.
Yet he murmured somewhat. "Pity, always pity!" he said, wearily. "I shall never win aught else of you, Melite. For before this you have kissed me, pitying me because you could not love me. And you have kissed me now, pitying me because I may not live."
But Melite, clasping her arms about his neck, whispered into his ear the meaning of this last kiss, and at the honeyed sound of her whispering his strength came back for a moment, and he strove to rise. The level sunlight through the open window smote full upon his face, which was very glad. Melite was conscious of her nobility in causing him such delight at the last.
"God, God!" cried Adhelmar, and he spread out his arms toward the dear, familiar world that was slowly taking form beneath them,—a world now infinitely dear to him; "all, my God, have pity and let me live a little longer!"
As Melite, half frightened, drew back from him, he crept out of his chair and fell prone at her feet. Afterward his hands stretched forward toward her, clutching, and then trembled and were still.
Melite stood looking downward, wondering vaguely when she would next know either joy or sorrow again. She was now conscious of no emotion whatever. It seemed to her she ought to be more greatly moved. So the new day found them.
* * * * *
MARCH 2, 1414
"Jack, how agrees the devil and thee about thy soul, that thou soldest him for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon's leg?"
_In the chapel at Puysange you may still see the tomb of Adhelmar; but Melite's bones lie otherwhere. "Her heart was changeable," as old Nicolas says, justly enough; and so in due time it was comforted.
For Hugues d'Arques—or Hugh Darke, as his name was Anglicized—presently stood high in the favor of King Edward. A fief was granted to Messire Darke, in Norfolk, where Hugues shortly built for himself a residence at Yaxham, and began to look about for a wife: it was not long before he found one.
This befell at Bretigny when, in 1360, the Great Peace was signed between France and England, and Hugues, as one of the English embassy, came face to face with Reinault and Melite. History does not detail the meeting; but, inasmuch as the Sieur d'Arques and Melite de Puysange were married at Rouen the following October, doubtless it passed off pleasantly enough.
The couple had sufficient in common to have qualified them for several decades of mutual toleration. But by ill luck, Melite died in child-birth three years after her marriage. She had borne, in 1361, twin daughters, of whom Adelais died a spinster; the other daughter, Sylvia, circa 1378, figured in an unfortunate love-affair with one of Sir Thomas Mowbray's attendants, but subsequently married Robert Vernon of Winstead. Melite left also a son, Hugh, born in 1363, who succeeded to his father's estate of Yaxham in 1387, in which year Hugues fell at the battle of Radcot Bridge, fighting in behalf of the ill-fated Richard of Bordeaux.
Now we turn to certain happenings in Eastcheap, at the Boar's Head Tavern._
The Episode Called Love-Letters of Falstaff
I. "That Gray Iniquity"
There was a sound of scuffling within as Sir John Falstaff—much broken since his loss of the King's favor, and now equally decayed in wit and health and reputation—stood fumbling at the door of the Angel room. He was particularly shaky this morning after a night of particularly hard drinking.
But he came into the apartment singing, and, whatever the scuffling had meant, found Bardolph in one corner employed in sorting garments from a clothes-chest, while at the extreme end of the room Mistress Quickly demurely stirred the fire; which winked at the old knight rather knowingly.
"Then came the bold Sir Caradoc," carolled Sir John. "Ah, mistress, what news?—And eke Sir Pellinore.—Did I rage last night, Bardolph? Was I a Bedlamite?"
"As mine own bruises can testify," Bardolph assented. "Had each one of them a tongue, they would raise a clamor beside which Babel were as an heir weeping for his rich uncle's death; their testimony would qualify you for any mad-house in England. And if their evidence go against the doctor's stomach, the watchman at the corner hath three teeth—or, rather, hath them no longer, since you knocked them out last night—that will, right willingly, aid him to digest it."
"Three, say you?" asked the knight, rather stiffly lowering his great body into his great chair set ready for him beside the fire. "I would have my valor in all men's mouths, but not in this fashion, for it is too biting a jest. Three, say you? Well, I am glad it was no worse; I have a tender conscience, and that mad fellow of the north, Hotspur, sits heavily upon it, so that thus this Percy, being slain by my valor, is per se avenged, a plague on him! Three, say you? I would to God my name were not so terrible to the enemy as it is; I would I had 'bated my natural inclination somewhat, and had slain less tall fellows by some threescore. I doubt Agamemnon slept not well o' nights. Three, say you? Give the fellow a crown apiece for his mouldy teeth, if thou hast them; if thou hast them not, bid him eschew this vice of drunkenness, whereby his misfortune hath befallen him, and thus win him heavenly crowns."
"Indeed, sir," began Bardolph, "I doubt—"
"Doubt not, sirrah!" cried Sir John, testily; and continued, in a virtuous manner: "Was not the apostle reproved for that same sin? Thou art a Didymus, Bardolph;—an incredulous paynim, a most unspeculative rogue! Have I carracks trading in the Indies? Have I robbed the exchequer of late? Have I the Golden Fleece for a cloak? Nay, it is paltry gimlet, and that augurs badly. Why, does this knavish watchman take me for a raven to feed him in the wilderness? Tell him there are no such ravens hereabout; else had I ravenously limed the house-tops and set springes in the gutters. Inform him that my purse is no better lined than his own broken skull: it is void as a beggar's protestations, or a butcher's stall in Lent; light as a famished gnat, or the sighing of a new-made widower; more empty than a last year's bird-nest, than a madman's eye, or, in fine, than the friendship of a king."
"But you have wealthy friends, Sir John," suggested the hostess of the Boar's Head Tavern, whose impatience had but very hardly waited for this opportunity to join in the talk. "Yes, I warrant you, Sir John. Sir John, you have a many wealthy friends; you cannot deny that, Sir John."
"Friends, dame?" asked the knight, and cowered closer to the fire, as though he were a little cold. "I have no friends since Hal is King. I had, I grant you, a few score of acquaintances whom I taught to play at dice; paltry young blades of the City, very unfledged juvenals! Setting my knighthood and my valor aside, if I did swear friendship with these, I did swear to a lie. But this is a censorious and muddy-minded world, so that, look you, even these sprouting aldermen, these foul bacon-fed rogues, have fled my friendship of late, and my reputation hath grown somewhat more murky than Erebus. No matter! I walk alone, as one that hath the pestilence. No matter! But I grow old; I am not in the vaward of my youth, mistress."
He nodded his head with extreme gravity; then reached for a cup of sack that Bardolph held at the knight's elbow.
"Indeed, I know not what your worship will do," said Mistress Quickly, rather sadly.
"Faith!" answered Sir John, finishing the sack and grinning in a somewhat ghastly fashion; "unless the Providence that watches over the fall of a sparrow hath an eye to the career of Sir John Falstaff, Knight, and so comes to my aid shortly, I must needs convert my last doublet into a mask, and turn highwayman in my shirt. I can take purses yet, ye Uzzite comforters, as gaily as I did at Gadshill, where that scurvy Poins, and he that is now King, and some twoscore other knaves did afterward assault me in the dark; yet I peppered some of them, I warrant you!"
"You must be rid of me, then, master," Bardolph interpolated. "I for one have no need of a hempen collar."
"Ah, well!" said the knight, stretching himself in his chair as the warmth of the liquor coursed through his inert blood; "I, too, would be loth to break the gallows' back! For fear of halters, we must alter our way of living; we must live close, Bardolph, till the wars make us Croesuses or food for crows. And if Hal but hold to his bias, there will be wars: I will eat a piece of my sword, if he have not need of it shortly. Ah, go thy ways, tall Jack; there live not three good men unhanged in England, and one of them is fat and grows old. We must live close, Bardolph; we must forswear drinking and wenching! But there is lime in this sack, you rogue; give me another cup."
The old knight drained this second cup, and unctuously sucked at and licked his lips. Thereafter,
"I pray you, hostess," he continued, "remember that Doll Tearsheet sups with me to-night; have a capon of the best, and be not sparing of the wine. I will repay you, upon honor, when we young fellows return from France, all laden with rings and brooches and such trumperies like your Norfolkshire pedlars at Christmas-tide. We will sack a town for you, and bring you back the Lord Mayor's beard to stuff you a cushion; the Dauphin shall be your tapster yet; we will walk on lilies, I warrant you, to the tune of Hey, then up go we!"