HotFreeBooks.com
Via Crucis
by F. Marion Crawford
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

VIA CRUCIS

A Romance of the Second Crusade

BY

F. MARION CRAWFORD



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

"So Gilbert first met the Queen"

"Perhaps that is one reason why I like you"

"Crosses! Give us Crosses!"

Beatrix and Gilbert

"He ... held, while earth and sky whirled with him"

The Knighting of Gilbert

"For a space Gilbert answered nothing"

The Way of the Cross



CHAPTER I

The sun was setting on the fifth day of May, in the year of our Lord's grace eleven hundred and forty-five. In the little garden between the outer wall of the manor and the moat of Stoke Regis Manor, a lady slowly walked along the narrow path between high rose bushes trained upon the masonry, and a low flower-bed, divided into many little squares, planted alternately with flowers and sweet herbs on one side, and bordered with budding violets on the other. From the line where the flowers ended, spiked rushes grew in sharp disorder to the edge of the deep green water in the moat. Beyond the water stretched the close- cropped sward; then came great oak trees, shadowy still in their spring foliage; and then, corn-land and meadow-land, in long, green waves of rising tilth and pasture, as far as a man could see.

The sun was setting, and the level rays reddened the lady's golden hair, and fired the softness of her clear blue eyes. She walked with a certain easy undulation, in which there were both strength and grace; and though she could barely have been called young, none would have dared to say that she was past maturity. Features which had been coldly perfect and hard in early youth, and which might grow sharp in old age, were smoothed and rounded in the full fruit-time of life's summer. As the gold deepened in the mellow air, and tinged the lady's hair and eyes, it wrought in her face changes of which she knew nothing. The beauty of a white marble statue suddenly changed to burnished gold might be beauty still, but of different expression and meaning. There is always something devilish in the too great profusion of precious metal—something that suggests greed, spoil, gain, and all that he lives for who strives for wealth; and sometimes, by the mere absence of gold or silver, there is dignity, simplicity, even solemnity.

Above the setting sun, tens of thousands of little clouds, as light and fleecy as swan's-down, some dazzling bright, some rosy-coloured, some, far to eastward, already purple, streamed across the pale sky in the mystic figure of a vast wing, as if some great archangel hovered below the horizon, pointing one jewelled pinion to the firmament, the other down and unseen in his low flight. Just above the feathery oak trees, behind which the sun had dipped, long streamers of red and yellow and more imperial purple shot out to right and left. Above the moat's broad water, the quick dark May-flies chased one another, in dashes of straight lines, through the rosy haze, and as the sinking sun shot a last farewell glance between the oak trees on the knoll, the lady stood still and turned her smooth features to the light. There was curiosity in her look, expectation, and some anxiety, but there was no longing. A month, had passed since Raymond Warde had ridden away with his half- dozen squires and servants to do homage to the Empress Maud. Her court was, indeed, little more than a show, and Stephen ruled in wrongful possession of the land; but here and there a sturdy and honest knight was still to be found, who might, perhaps, be brought to do homage for his lands to King Stephen, but who would have felt that he was a traitor, and no true man, had he not rendered the homage of fealty to the unhappy lady who was his rightful sovereign. And one of these was Raymond Warde, whose great-grandfather had ridden with Robert the Devil to Jerusalem, and had been with him when he died in Nicaea; and his grandsire had been in the thick of the press at Hastings, with William of Normandy, wherefore he had received the lands and lordship of Stoke Regis in Hertfordshire; and his name is on Battle Abbey Roll to this day.

During ten years Stephen of Blois had reigned over England with varying fortune, alternately victor and vanquished, now holding his great enemy, Robert of Gloucester, a prisoner and hostage, now himself in the Empress's power, loaded with chains and languishing in the keep of Bristol Castle. Yet of late the tide had turned in his favour; and though Gloucester still kept up the show of warfare for his half- sister's sake,—as indeed he fought for her so long as he had breath,— the worst of the civil war was over; the partisans of the Empress had lost faith in her sovereignty, and her cause was but lingering in the shadow of death. The nobles of England had judged Stephen's character from the hour in which King Henry died, and they knew him to be a brave soldier, a desperate fighter, an indulgent man, and a weak ruler.

Finding themselves confronted by a usurper who had no great talent to recommend him, nor much political strength behind his brilliant personal courage, their first instinct was to refuse submission to his authority, and to drive him out as an impostor. It was not until they had been chilled and disappointed by the scornful coldness of the Empress Queen's imperious bearing that they saw how much pleasanter it would be to rule Stephen than to serve Maud. Yet Gloucester was powerful, and with his feudal retainers and devoted followers and a handful of loyal independent knights, he was still able to hold Oxford, Gloucester, and the northernmost part of Berkshire for his sister.

Now, in the early spring of this present year, the great earl had gone forth, with his followers and a host of masons and labouring men, to build a new castle on the height by Faringdon, where good King Alfred had carved the great white horse by tearing the turf from the gravel hill, for an everlasting record of victory. Broadly and boldly Gloucester had traced the outer wall and bastions, the second wall within that, and the vast fortress which was to be thus trebly protected. The building was to be the work of weeks, not months, and, if it were possible, of days rather than of weeks. The whole was to be a strong outpost for a fresh advance, and neither gold nor labour was to be spared in the execution of the plan. Gloucester pitched his sister's camp and his own tent upon the grassy eminence that faced the castle. Thence he himself directed and commanded, and thence the Empress Maud, sitting beneath the lifted awning of her imperial tent, could see the grey stones rising, course upon course, string upon string, block upon block, at a rate that reminded her of that Eastern trick which she had seen at the Emperor's court, performed by a turbaned juggler from the East, who made a tree grow from the seed to the leafy branch and full ripe fruit while the dazed courtiers who looked on could count fivescore.

Thither, as to a general trysting-place, the few loyal knights and barons went up to do homage to their sovereign lady, and to grasp the hand of the bravest and gentlest man who trod English ground; and thither, with the rest, Raymond Warde was gone, with his only son, Gilbert, then but eighteen years of age, whom this chronicle chiefly concerns; and Raymond's wife, the Lady Goda, was left in the manor house of Stoke Regis under the guard of a dozen men-at-arms, mostly stiff-jointed veterans of King Henry's wars, and under the more effectual protection of several hundred sturdy bondsmen and yeomen, devoted, body and soul, to their master and ready to die for his blood or kin. For throughout Hertfordshire and Essex and Kent there dwelt no Norman baron nor any earl who was beloved of his Saxon people as was the Lord of Stoke; wherefore his lady felt herself safe in his absence, though she knew well enough that only a small part of that devotion was for herself.

There are people who seem able to go through life, with profit to themselves, if not to others, by a sort of vicarious grace arising out of the devotion wasted on them by their nearest and dearest, and dependent upon the success, the honour, and the reputation of those who cherish them. The Lady Goda set down to her own full credit the faithful attachment which her husband's Saxon swains not only felt for him, but owed him in return for his unchanging kindness and impartial justice; and she took the desert to herself, as such people will, with a whole-souled determination to believe that it was all her due though she knew that she deserved none of it.

She had married Raymond Warde without loving him, being ambitious of his name and honours, when his future had seemed brilliant in the days of good King Henry. She had borne him an only son, who worshipped her with a chivalric devotion that was almost childlike in its blindness; but the most that she could feel, in return, was a sort of motherly vanity in his outward being; and this he accepted as love, though it was as far from that as devotion to self is from devotion to another— as greed is far from generosity. She had not been more than sixteen years of age when she had married, being the youngest of many sisters, left almost dowerless when their father had departed on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, from which he had never returned. Raymond Warde had loved her for her beauty, which was real, and for her character, which was entirely the creation of his own imagination; and with the calm, unconscious fatuity which so often underlies the characters of honest and simple men, he had continued throughout his married life to believe that his wife's affection, if neither very deep nor very high, was centred upon himself and upon Gilbert. Any man a whit less true and straightforward would have found out the utter emptiness of such belief within a year. Goda had been bitterly disappointed by the result of her marriage, so far as her real tastes and ambitions were concerned. She had dreamt of a court; she was condemned to the country. She loved gayety; she was relegated to dulness. Moreover the Lord of Stoke was strong rather than attractive, imposing rather than seductive, and he had never dreamed of that small coin of flattery which greedy and dissatisfied natures require at all costs when their real longings are unfed. It is their nature to give little; it is their nature and their delight to ask much, and to take all that is within their reach. So it came to pass that Goda took her husband's loving generosity and her son's devotion as matters foregone and of course, which were her due, and which might stay hunger, though they could not satisfy her vanity's large appetite; and she took, besides, such other things, both good and bad, as she found in her path, especially and notably the heart of Arnold de Curboil, a widowed knight, cousin to that Archbishop of Canterbury who had crowned Stephen king, after swearing allegiance to Maud. This Arnold, who had followed his great cousin in supporting King Stephen's cause, had received for his service broad lands, both farm and forest, in Hertfordshire, bordering upon the hereditary estates of the Wardes; and in the turmoil and chaos of the long civil war, his word, at first without Raymond's knowledge, had more than once saved the latter's little castle from siege and probable destruction. Warde, in his loyalty to the rightful sovereign, had, indeed, rather drawn back from the newcomer's friendship than made advances to win it; but Raymond had yielded in the end to his wife's sarcasms and to his own sense of obligation, as he began to find out how, again and again, in the turning tides of civil strife, his neighbour, though of opposite conviction, served him by protecting his bondsmen, his neat cattle, and his growing crops from pillage and destruction. Raymond did not trace such acts of neighbourly kindness to the day when, hawking with his lady and little Gilbert, then hardly big enough to sit upon a horse, they had been overtaken by a winter storm not far from Arnold's lands, and when Arnold himself, returning from a journey, had bidden them take shelter in a small outlying manor house, where he was to spend the night, and whither his servants had brought his little daughter Beatrix to meet her father. Raymond had accepted the offer for his wife's sake, and the two families had made acquaintance on that evening, by the blazing fire in the little hall.

Before supper, the men had talked together with that sort of cheery confidence which exists almost before the first meeting between men who are neighbours and of the same rank, and the Lady Goda had put in a word now and then, as she sat in the high-backed chair, drying the bright blue cloth skirt of her gown before the crackling logs; and meanwhile, too, young Gilbert, who had his mother's hair and his father's deep-set eyes, walked round and round the solemn little dark- faced girl, who sat upon a settle by herself, clad in a green cloth dress which was cut in the fashion for grown-up women, and having two short stiff plaits of black hair hanging down behind the small coverchief that was tied under her fat chin. And as the boy in his scarlet doublet and green cloth hose walked backward and forward, stopping, moving away, then standing still to show off his small hunting-knife, drawing it half out of its sheath, and driving it home again with a smart push of the palm of his hand, the little girl's round black eyes followed all his movements with silent and grave curiosity. She was brotherless, he had no sisters, and both had been brought up without companions, so that each was an absolute novelty to the other; and when Gilbert threw his round cap, spinning on itself, up to the brown rafters of the dim fire-lit chamber and caught it upon one finger as it came down again, the little Beatrix laughed aloud. This seemed to him nothing less than an invitation, and he immediately sat down beside her on the settle, holding his cap in his hand, and began to ask her how she was called, and whether she lived in that place all the year round; and before long they were good friends, and were talking of plovers' eggs and kingfishers' nests, and of the time when they should each have a hawk of their own, and a horse, and each a hound and a footman.

When supper was over and a serving-woman had taken the little Beatrix away to sleep in the women's upper chamber, and when the steward of the manor farm, and his wife and the retainers and servants, who had eaten and drunk their fill at the lower end of the hall, were all gone to their quarters in the outbuildings,—and when a bed had been made for Gilbert, in a corner near the great chimney-piece, by filling with fresh straw a large linen sack which was laid upon the chest in which the bag was kept during the daytime, and was then covered with a fine Holland sheet and two thick woollen blankets, under which the boy was asleep in five minutes,—then the two knights and the lady were left to themselves in their great carved chairs before the fire. But the Lord of Stoke, who was a strong man and heavy, and had eaten well and had drunk both ale and Gascony wine at supper, stretched out his feet to the fire-dogs, and rested his elbows upon the arms of his chair, and matched his hands together by the thumbs and by the forefingers, and by the other fingers, one by one; and little by little the musical, false voice of his lady, and the singularly gentle and unctuous tones of his host, Arnold de Curboil, blended together and lost themselves, just as the gates of dreamland softly closed behind him.

The Lady Goda, who had been far too tired to think of riding home that night, was not in the least sleepy, and, moreover, she was profoundly interested in what Sir Arnold had to say, while he was much too witty to say anything which should not interest her. He talked of the court, and of the fashions, and of great people whom he knew intimately and whom the Lady Goda longed to know; and from time to time he managed to convey to her the idea that the beauties of King Stephen's court would stand in a poor comparison with her, if her husband could be induced to give up his old-fashioned prejudices and his allegiance to the Empress Maud. Lady Goda had once been presented to the Empress, who had paid very little attention to her, compared with the interest she showed in Sir Raymond himself. At the feast which had followed the formal audience, she had been placed between a stout German widow lady and an Italian abbot from Normandy, who had talked to each other across her, in dog-Latin, in a way which had seemed to her very unmannerly; and the German lady had eaten pieces of game-pie with her knife, instead of using her fingers, as a lady should, before forks were invented. On the following morning the Lady Goda had been taken away again by her husband, and her experiences of court life had been brought to an abrupt close. If the great Earl Robert of Gloucester had deigned to bestow a word upon her, instead of looking through her with his beautiful calm blue eyes at an imaginary landscape beyond, her impressions of life at the Empress's court might have been very different, and she might ever afterwards have approved her husband's loyalty. But although she had bestowed unusual pains upon the arrangement of her splendid golden hair, and had boxed the ears of a clumsy tirewoman with so much vivacity that her own hand ached perceptibly three hours afterwards, yet the great earl paid no more attention to her than if she had been a Saxon dairy-maid. These things, combined with the fact that she unexpectedly found the ladies of the Empress's court wearing pocket sleeves, shaped like overgrown mandolins, and almost dragging on the rushes as they walked, whereas her own were of the old-fashioned open cut, had filled her soul with bitterness against the legitimate heir to King Henry's throne and had made the one-sided barrier between herself and her husband—which she could see so plainly, but which was quite invisible to him—finally and utterly impassable. He not only bored her himself, but he had given her over to be bored by others, and from that day no such thing as even the mildest affection for him was to be thought of on her side.

It was no wonder that she listened with breathless interest to all Sir Arnold told her, and watched with delight the changing expression of his smooth face, contrasted at every point with the bold, grave features of the Lord of Stoke, solemnly asleep beside her. And Curboil, on his side, was not only flattered, as every man is when a beautiful woman listens to him long and intently, but he saw also that her beauty was of an unusual and very striking kind. Too straight, too cold, too much like marble, yet with hair almost too golden and a mouth like a small red wound; too much of every quality to be natural, and yet without fault or flaw, and too vivid not to delight the tired taste of the man of pleasure of that day, who had seen the world from London to Rome and from Rome to the imperial court of Henry the Fifth.

And she, on her side, saw in him the type to which she would naturally have been attracted had she been perfectly free to make her choice of a husband. Contrasted with the man of action, of few words, of few feelings and strong ones, she saw the many-sided man of the world, whose mere versatility was a charm, and the thought of whose manifold experiences had in it a sort of mysterious fascination. Arnold de Curboil was above all a man of tact and light touch, accustomed to the society of women and skilled in the art of appealing to that unsatisfied vanity which is the basis of most imperfect feminine characters. There was nothing weak about him, and he was at least as brave as most men, besides being more skilful than the majority in the use of weapons. His small, well-shaped, olive-tinted hand could drive a sword with a quicker thrust than Raymond Warde's, and with as sure an aim, though there might not be the same massive strength behind it. In the saddle he had not the terrible grip of the knee which could make a strong horse shrink and quiver and groan aloud; but few riders of his day were more profoundly skilled in the art of showing a poor mount to good advantage, and of teaching a good one to use his own powers to the utmost. When Warde had ridden a horse six months, the beast was generally gone in the fore quarters, and broken-winded, if not dead outright; but in the same time Curboil would have ridden the same horse twice as far, and would have doubled his value. And so in many other ways, with equal chances, the one seemed to squander where the other turned everything to his own advantage. Standing Sir Arnold was scarcely of medium height, but seated, he was not noticeably small; and, like many men of short stature, he bestowed a constant and thoughtful care upon his person and appearance, which resulted in a sort of permanent compensation. His dark beard was cut to a point, and so carefully trimmed as to remind one of those smoothly clipped trees representing peacocks and dragons, which have been the delight of the Italian gardener ever since the days of Pliny. He wore his hair neither long nor short, but the silky locks were carefully parted in the middle and smoothed back in rich dark waves. There was something almost irritating in their unnatural smoothness, in the perfect transparency of the man's healthy olive complexion, in the mouselike sleekness of his long arching eyebrows, and in the perfect self-satisfaction and confidence of his rather insolent reddish-brown eyes. His straight round throat, well proportioned, well set upon his shoulders, and transparently smooth as his own forehead, was thrown into relief by the exquisite gold embroidery that edged the shirt of finest Flemish linen. He wore a close-fitting tunic of fine scarlet cloth, with tight sleeves slightly turned back to display his shapely wrists; it was gathered to his waist by a splendid sword-belt, made of linked and enamelled plates of silver, the work of a skilled Byzantine artist, each plate representing in rich colours a little scene from the life and passion of Christ. The straight cross-hilted sword stood leaning against the wall near the great chimney-piece, but the dagger was still at the belt, a marvel of workmanship, a wonder of temper, a triumph of Eastern art, when almost all art was Eastern. The hilt of solid gold, eight- sided and notched, was cross-chiselled in a delicate but deep design, picked out with rough gems, set with cunning irregularity; the guard, a hollowed disk of steel, graven and inlaid in gold with Kufic characters; the blade, as long as a man's arm from the elbow to the wrist-joint, forged of steel and silver by a smith of Damascus, well balanced, slender, with deep blood-channels scored on each side to within four fingers of the thrice-hardened point, that could prick as delicately as a needle or pierce fine mail like a spike driven by a sledge-hammer. The tunic fell in folds to the knee, and the close- fitted cloth hose were of a rich dark brown. Sir Arnold wore short riding-boots of dark purple leather, having the tops worked round with a fine scarlet lacing; but the spur-leathers were of the same colour as the boot and the spurs themselves of steel, small, sharp, unornamented, and workmanlike.

Six years had passed since that evening, and still, when the Lady Goda closed her eyes and thought of Sir Arnold, she saw him as she had seen him then, with every line of his expression, every detail of his dress, sitting beside her in the warm firelight, leaning forward a little in his chair, and talking to her in a tone of voice that was meant to be monotonous to the sleeper's ear, but not by any means to her own. Between Warde and Curboil the acquaintance had matured—had been in a measure forced in its growth by circumstances and mutual obligations; but it had never ripened into the confidence of friendship on Warde's side, while on Sir Arnold's it had been but a well-played comedy to hide his rising hatred for the Lady Goda's husband. And she, on her side, played her part as well. An alliance in which ambition had held the place of heart could not remain an alliance at all when ambition had been altogether disappointed. She hated her husband for having disappointed her; she despised him for having made nothing of his many gifts and chances, for clinging to an old cause, for being old- fashioned, for having seen much and taken nothing—which makes 'rich eyes and poor hands'—for being slow, good-natured, kind-hearted, and a prey to all who wished to get anything from him. She reflected with bitterness that for a matter of seven or eight years of waiting, and a turn of chance which would have meant happiness instead of misery, she might have had the widowed Sir Arnold for a husband and have been the Archbishop of Canterbury's cousin, high in favour with the winning side in the civil war and united to a man who would have known how to flatter her cold nature into a fiction of feeling, instead of wasting on her the almost exaggerated respect with which a noble passion envelops its object, but which, to most women, becomes in the end unspeakably wearisome.

Many a time during those six years had she and Sir Arnold met and talked as on the first night. Once, when the Empress Maud had taken King Stephen prisoner, and things looked ill for his followers, Warde had insisted that his neighbour should come over to Stoke Regis, as being a safer place than his own castle; and once again, when Stephen had the upper hand, and Sir Raymond was fighting desperately under Gloucester, his wife had taken her son, and the priest, and some of her women, and had ridden over to ask protection of Sir Arnold, leaving the manor to take care of itself.

At first Curboil had constantly professed admiration for Warde's mental and physical gifts; but little by little, tactfully feeling his distance, he had made the lady meet his real intention half way by confiding to him all that she suffered, or fancied that she suffered— which with some women is the same thing—in being bound for life to a man who had failed to give her what her ambition craved. Then, one day, the key-word had been spoken. After that, they never ceased to hope that Raymond Warde might come to an untimely end.

During these years Gilbert had grown from a boy to a man, unsuspicious, worshipping his mother as a kind of superior being, but loving his father with all that profound instinct of mutual understanding which makes both love and hatred terrible within the closer degrees of consanguinity. As time went by and the little Beatrix grew tall and straight and pale, Gilbert loved her quite naturally, as she loved him—two young people of one class, without other companions, and very often brought together for days at a time in the isolated existence of mediaeval castles. Perhaps Gilbert never realized just how much of his affection for his mother was the result of her willingness to let him fall in love with Beatrix. But the possibility of discussing the marriage was another excuse for those long conversations with Sir Arnold, which had now become a necessary part of Goda's life, and it made the frequent visits and meetings in the hawking season seem quite natural to the unsuspecting Sir Raymond. In hunting with Sir Arnold, he had more than one narrow escape. Once, when almost at close quarters with an old boar, he was stooping down to meet the tusker with a low thrust. His wife and Sir Arnold were some twenty paces behind him, and all three had become separated from the huntsmen. Seeing the position and the solitude, the Lady Goda turned her meaning eyes to her companion. An instant later Sir Arnold's boar-spear flew like a cloth- yard arrow, straight at Sir Raymond's back. But in that very instant, too, as the boar rushed upon him, Warde sprang to one side, and, almost dropping to his knee, ran the wild beast through with his hunting sword. The spear flew harmless over his head, unseen and unheard, and lost itself in the dead leaves twenty yards beyond him. On another day, Raymond, riding along, hawk on wrist, ten lengths before the others, as was his wont, did not notice that they gradually fell behind, until he halted in a narrow path of the forest, looked round, and found himself alone. He turned his horse's head and rode back a few yards, when suddenly three masked men, whom he took for robbers, sprang up in his path and fell upon him with long knives. But they had misreckoned their distance by a single yard, and their time by one second, and when they were near enough to strike, his sword was already in his hand. The first man fell dead; the second turned and fled, with a deep flesh wound in his shoulder; the third followed without striking a blow; and Sir Raymond rode on unhurt, meditating upon the uncertainty of the times. When he rejoined his wife and friend, he found them dismounted and sitting side by side on a fallen tree, talking low and earnestly, while the footmen and falconers were gathered together in a little knot at some distance. As they heard his voice, Goda started with a little cry, and Arnold's dark face turned white; but by the time he was beside them, they were calm again, and smiled, and they asked him whether he had lost his way. Raymond said nothing of what had happened to him, fearing to startle the delicate nerves of his lady; but late on the following night, when Sir Arnold was alone in his bedchamber, a man ghastly white from loss of blood lifted the heavy curtain and told his story in a low voice.



CHAPTER II

Now Raymond and his son had gone over into Berkshire, to the building of the great castle at Faringdon, as has been said; and for a while Sir Arnold remained in his hold, and very often he rode over alone to Stoke, and spent many hours with the Lady Goda, both in the hall and in the small garden by the moat. The priest, and the steward, and the men- at-arms, and the porter, were all used to see him there often enough, when Sir Raymond was at home, and they thought no evil because he came now to bear the lonely lady company; for the manners of those days were simple.

But on a morning at the end of April, there came a messenger from King Stephen, bidding all earls, barons, bannerets, and knights, upon their oath of fealty, join him with their fighting men in Oxford. For form's sake, the messenger came to Stoke Regis, as not admitting that any Norman knight should not be on the king's side; and the drawbridge being down, he rode under the gateway, and when the trumpeter who was with him had blown three blasts, he delivered his message. Then the steward, bowing deeply, answered that his lord was absent on a journey; and the messenger turned and rode away, without bite or sup. But, riding on to Stortford Castle, he found Sir Arnold, and delivered the king's bidding with more effect, and was hospitably treated with meat and drink. Sir Arnold armed himself slowly in full mail, saving his head, for the weather was strangely warm, and he would ride in his hat rather than wear the heavy steel cap with the broad nose-guard. Before an hour had passed he was mounted, with his men, and his footmen were marching before and behind him on the broad Hertford road. But he had sent a messenger secretly to the Lady Goda, to tell her that he was gone; and after that she heard nothing for many days.

In the morning, and after dinner, and before sunset, she came every day to the little garden under the west wall of the manor, and looked long toward the road—not that she wished Sir Raymond back, nor that she cared when Gilbert came, but she well knew that the return of either would mean that the fighting was over, and that Sir Arnold, too, would be at leisure to go home.

On that fifth of May, as the sun was going down, she stood still and looked out toward the road for the tenth time since Curboil had gone to join the king. The sun sank lower, and still she saw nothing; and she felt the chill of the damp evening air, and would have turned to go in, but something held her. Far up the road, on the brow of the rising ground, she saw a tiny spark, a little dancing flame like the corpse- candles that run along the graves on a summer's night—first one, then all at once three, then, as it seemed to her, a score at least, swaying a little above a compact dark mass against the red sky. The lights were like little stars rising and falling on the horizon, and always just above a low, black cloud. A moment more, and the evening breeze out of the west brought a long-drawn harmony of chanting to the Lady Goda's ear, the high sweet notes of youthful voices sustained by the rich counterpoint of many grown men's tones. She started, and held her breath, shivered a little, and snatched at the rose bush beside her, so that the thorns struck through the soft green gauntlet and pricked her, though she felt nothing. There was death in the air; there was death in the moving lights; there was death in the minor wail of the monks' voices. In the first moment of imperfect understanding, it was Arnold whom they were bringing home to her, slain in battle by her lawful husband, or by Gilbert, her son; it was Arnold whom they were bringing back to her who loved him, that she might wash his wounds with her tears, and dry his damp brow with her glorious hair. Wide-eyed and silent, as the train came near, she moved along by the moat to meet the procession at the drawbridge, not understanding yet, but not letting one movement of the men, one flicker of the lights, one quaver of the deep chant, escape her reeling senses. Then all at once she was aware that Gilbert walked bareheaded before the bier, half wrapped in a long black cloak that swept the greensward behind him. As she turned the last bastion before reaching the drawbridge, the funeral was moving along by the outer edge of the moat, and between the procession and her there was only the broad water, reflecting the lights of the moving tapers, the dark cowls of the monks, the white surplices of the song- boys. They moved slowly, and she, as in a dream, followed them on the other side with little steps, wondering, fearing, starting now with a wild thrill of liberty at last, now struggling with a half conventional, half hysterical sob that rose in her throat at the thought of death so near. She had lived with him, she had played the long comedy of love with him, she had loathed him in her heart, she had smiled at him with well-trained eyes; and now she was free to choose, free to love, free to be Arnold's wife. And yet she had lived with the dead man; and in the far-off past there were little tender lights of happiness, half real, half played, but never forgotten, upon which she had once taught her thoughts to dwell tenderly and sadly. She had loved the dead man in the first days of marriage, as well as her cold and unawakened nature could love at all—if not for himself, at least for the hopes of vanity built on his name. She had hated him in secret, but she could not have hated him so heartily had there not once been a little love to turn so fiercely sour. She could not have trained her eyes to smile at him so gently had she not once smiled for his own sake. And so, when they brought him dead to the gate of his own house, his wife had still some shreds of memories for weeds to eke out a show of sorrow.

She passed through the postern in the small round tower beside the gateway, knowing that when she came out under the portcullis, the funeral train would be just reaching the other end of the bridge. The little vaulted room in the lower story of the tower was not four steps in width across, from door to door; but it was almost dark, and there the Lady Goda stopped one moment before she went out to meet the mourners. Standing still in the dimness, she pressed her gloved hands to her eyes with all her might, as though to concentrate her thoughts and her strength. Then she threw back her arms, and looked up through the gloom, and almost laughed; and she felt something just below her heart that stifled her like a great joy. Then all at once she was calm, and touched her eyes again with her gloved hands, but gently now, as though smoothing them and preparing them to look upon what they must see presently. She opened the little door, and was suddenly standing in the midst of the frightened herd of retainers and servants, while the last strains of the dirge came echoing under the deep archway. At that instant another sound startled the air—the deep bell-note of the great bloodhounds, chained in the courtyard from sunrise to sunset; and it sank to a wail, and the wail broke to a howl, dismal, ear-rending, wild. Before it had died away, one of the Saxon bondwomen shrieked aloud, and the next took up the cry, and then another, as a likewake dirge, till every stone in the shadowy manor seemed to have a voice, and every voice was weeping for the dead lord. And many of the women fell upon their knees, and some of the men, too, while others drew up their hoods, and stood with bent heads and folded hands against the rough walls.

Slowly and solemnly they bore him in and set the bier down under the mid-arch. Then Gilbert Warde looked up and faced his mother; but he stood aside, that she might see her husband; and the monks and song- boys stood back also, with their wax torches, which cast a dancing glare through the dim twilight. Gilbert's face was white and stern; but the Lady Goda was pale, too, and her heart fluttered, for she had to play the last act of her married life before many who would watch her narrowly. For one moment she hesitated whether to scream or to faint in honour of her dead husband. Then, with the instinct of the born and perfect actress, she looked wildly from her son's face to the straight, still length that lay beneath the pall. She raised one hand to her forehead, pressing back her golden hair with a gesture half mad, half dazed, then seemed to stagger forward two steps, and fell upon the body, in a storm of tears.

Gilbert went to the bier, and lifted one of his mother's gloved hands from the covered face, and it dropped from his fingers as if lifeless. He lifted the black cloth pall, and turned it back as far as he could without disturbing the woman's prostrate figure; and there lay the Lord of Stoke, in his mail, as he had fallen in fight, in his peaked steel helmet, the straight, fine, ring-mail close-drawn round his face and chin, the silky brown hair looking terribly alive against the dead face. But across the eyes and the forehead below the helmet there was laid a straight black band, and upon his breast the great mailed hands clasped the cross-hilted sword that lay lengthwise with his body. Gilbert, bareheaded and unarmed, gazed down into his father's face for a while, then suddenly looked up and spoke to all the people who thronged the gateway.

"Men of Stoke," he said, "here lies the body of Sir Raymond Warde, your liege lord, my father. He fell in the fight before Faringdon Castle, and this is the third day since he was slain; for the way was long, and we were not suffered to pass unmolested. The castle was but half built, and we were encamped about it with the Earl of Gloucester, when the king came suddenly from Oxford with a great host; and they fell upon us unawares at early morning, when we had but just heard the mass and most of us were but half armed, or not at all. So we fought as we could, and many fell, and not a few we killed with our hands. And I, with a helmet on my head and a gambison but half buckled upon my body, and my hands bare, was fighting with a full-armed Frenchman and was hard pressed. But I smote him in the neck, so that he fell upon one knee and reeled. And even in that moment I saw this sight. A score of paces from me, my father and Sir Arnold de Curboil met face to face, suddenly and without warning, their swords lifted in the act to strike; but when my father saw his friend before him, he dropped his sword-arm and smiled, and would have turned away to fight another; but Sir Arnold smiled also, and lowered not his hand, but smote my father by the point, unguarded, and thrust his sword through head and hood of mail at one stroke, treacherously. And so my father, your liege lord, fell dead unshriven, by his friend's hand; and may the curse of man and the damnation of Almighty God be upon his murderer's head, now and after I shall have killed him. For, as I would have sprung forward, the Frenchman, who was but stunned, sprang to his feet and grappled with me; and by the time he had no breath left, and the light broke in his eyes, Sir Arnold was gone, and our fight was lost. So we made a truce to bury our dead, and brought them away, each his own."

When he had spoken there was silence for many moments, broken only by the Lady Goda's unceasing sobs. In the court within, and on the bridge without, the air grew purple, and dark, and misty; for the sun had long gone down, and the light from the wax torches, leaping, flaming and flickering in the evening breeze, grew stronger and yellower under the gateway than the twilight without. The dark-robed monks looked gravely on, waiting till they should be told to pass into the chapel—men of all ages and looks, red and pale, thin and stout, dark and fair, but all having that something in their faces that marks the churchman from century to century. Between them and the dead knight, Gilbert stood still with bent head and downcast eyes, with pale face and set lips, looking at his mother's bright hair, and at her clutching hands, and listening to the painfully drawn breath, broken continually by her agonized weeping. Suddenly the bloodhounds' bay broke out again, fierce and deep; and on the instant a high young voice rang from the court through the deep arch.

"Burn the murderer! To Stortford, and burn him out!"

Gilbert looked up quickly, peering into the gloom whence the voice had spoken. He did not see how, at the words, his mother started back from the corpse, steadied herself with one hand, and fixed her eyes in the same direction; but before he could answer, the cry was taken up by a hundred throats.

"Burn the traitor! burn the murderer! To Stortford! Fagots! Fagots and pitch!"

High, low, hoarse, clear, the words followed one another in savage yells; and here and there among the rough men there were eyes that gleamed in the dark like a dog's.

Then through the din came a rattling of bolts and a creaking of hinges, as the grooms tore open the stable doors to bring out the horses and saddle them for the raid; and one called for a light and another warned men from his horse's heels. The Lady Goda was on her feet, her hands stretched out imploringly to her son, turning to him instinctively and for the first time, as to the head of the house. She spoke to him, too; but he neither heard nor saw, for in his own heart a new horror had possession, beside which what had gone before was as nothing. He thought of Beatrix.

"Hold!" he cried. "Let no man stir, for no man shall pass out who would burn Stortford. Sir Arnold de Curboil is the king's man, and the king has the power in England; so that if we should burn down Stortford Castle to-night, he would burn Stoke Manor to-morrow over my mother's head. Between Arnold de Curboil and me there is death. To-morrow I shall ride out to find him, and kill him in fair fight. But let there be no raiding, no harrying, and no burning, as if we were Stephen's French robbers, or King David's red-haired Scots. Take up the bier; and you," he said, turning to the monks and song-men, "take up your chant, that we may lay him in the chapel and say prayers for his unshriven soul."

The Lady Goda's left hand had been pressed to her heart as though she were in fear and pain; but as her son spoke, it fell by her side, and her face grew calm before she remembered that it should grow sad. Until to-day her son had been in her eyes but a child, subject to his father, subject to herself, subject to the old manor-priest who had taught him the little he knew. Now, on a sudden, he was full-grown and strong; more than that, he was master in his father's place, and at a word from him, men-at-arms and bondsmen would have gone forth on the instant to slay the man she loved, and to burn and to harry all that was his. She was grateful to him for not having spoken that word; and since Gilbert meant to meet Curboil in a single combat, she felt no fear for her lover, the most skilled man at fence in all Essex and Hertfordshire, and she felt sure, likewise, that for his reputation as a knight he would not kill a youth but half his age.

While she was thinking of these things, the monks had begun to chant again; the confusion was ended in the courtyard; the squires took up the bier, and the procession moved slowly across the broad paved space to the chapel opposite the main gate.

An hour later Sir Raymond's dead body lay before the altar, whereon burned many waxen tapers. Alone, upon the lowest step, Gilbert was kneeling, with joined hands and uplifted eyes, motionless as a statue. He had taken the long sword from the dead man's breast, and had set it up against the altar, straight and bare. It was hacked at the edges, and there were dark stains upon it from its master's last day's work. In the simple faith of a bloody age, Gilbert Warde was vowing, by all that he and his held sacred, before God's altar, upon God's Sacred Body, upon his father's unburied corpse, that before the blade should be polished again, it should be black with the blood of his father's murderer.

And as he knelt there, his lady mother, now clad all in black, entered the chapel and moved slowly towards the altar-steps. She meant to kneel beside her son; but when she was yet three paces from him, a great terror at her own falseness descended into her heart, and she sank upon her knees in the aisle.



CHAPTER III

Very early in the morning, Gilbert Warde was riding along the straight road between Sheering Abbey and Stortford Castle. He rode in his tunic and hose and russet boots, with his father's sword by his side; for he meant not to do murder, but to fight his enemy to death, in all the honour of even chance. He judged that Sir Arnold must have returned from Faringdon; and if Gilbert met him now, riding over his own lands in the May morning, he would be unmailed and unsuspecting of attack. And should they not meet, Gilbert meant to ride up to the castle gate, and ask for the baron, and courteously propose to him that they should ride together into the wood. And, indeed, Gilbert hoped that it might turn out so; for, once under the gateway, he might hope to see Beatrix for a moment; and two weeks had passed, and terrible things had happened, since he had last set eyes upon her face.

He met no one in the road; but in the meadow before the castle half a dozen Saxon grooms, in loose hose and short homespun tunics, were exercising some of Curboil's great Normandy horses. The baron himself was not in sight, and the grooms told Gilbert that he was within. The drawbridge was down, and Gilbert halted just before entering the gate, calling loudly for the porter. But instead of the latter, Sir Arnold himself appeared at that moment within the courtyard, feeding a brace of huge mastiffs with gobbets of red raw meat from a wooden bowl, carried by a bare-legged stable-boy with a shock of almost colourless flaxen hair, and a round, red face, pierced by two little round blue eyes. Gilbert called again, and the knight instantly turned and came towards him, beating down with his hands the huge dogs that sprang up at him in play and seemed trying to drive him back. Sir Arnold was smooth, spotless and carefully dressed as ever, and came forward with a well-composed smile in which hospitality was skilfully blended with sympathy and concern. Gilbert, who was as thorough a Norman in every instinct and thought as any whose fathers had held lands from the Conqueror, did his best to be suave and courteous on his side. Dismounting, he said quietly that he desired to speak with Sir Arnold alone upon a matter of weight, and as the day was fair, he proposed that they should ride together for a little way into the greenwood. Sir Arnold barely showed a slight surprise, and readily assented. Gilbert, intent upon his purpose, noticed that the knight had no weapon.

"It were as well that you took your sword with you, Sir Arnold," he said, somewhat emphatically. "No one is safe from highwaymen in these times."

The knight met Gilbert's eyes, and the two looked at each other steadily for a moment; then Curboil sent the stable-boy to fetch his sword from the hall, and himself went out upon the drawbridge and called to one of the grooms to bring in a horse. In less than half an hour from the time when Gilbert had reached the castle, he and his enemy were riding quietly side by side in a little glade in Stortford wood. Gilbert drew rein and walked his horse, and Sir Arnold instantly did the same. Then Gilbert spoke.

"Sir Arnold de Curboil, it is now full three days since I saw you treacherously kill my father."

Sir Arnold started and turned half round in the saddle, his olive skin suddenly white with anger; but the soft fresh colour in Gilbert's cheek never changed.

"Treacherously!" cried the knight, with indignation and with a questioning tone.

"Foully," answered Gilbert, with perfect calm. "I was not twenty paces from you when you met, and had I not been hampered by a Frenchman of your side, who was unreasonably slow in dying, I should have either saved my father's life or ended yours, as I mean to now."

Thereupon Gilbert brought his horse to a stand and prepared to dismount, for the sward was smooth and hard and there was room enough to fight. Sir Arnold laughed aloud as he sat still in the saddle, watching the younger man.

"So you have brought me here to kill me!" he said as his mirth subsided.

Gilbert's foot was already on the ground, but he paused in the act of dismounting.

"If you do not like the spot," he answered coolly, "we can ride farther."

"No, I am satisfied," answered the knight; but before he had spoken the last word he broke into a laugh again.

They tied up their horses to trees at a little distance, out of reach of one another, and Gilbert was the first to return to the ring of open ground. As he walked, he drew his father's sword from its sheath, slipped the scabbard from the belt, and threw it to the edge of the grass. Sir Arnold was before him a moment later; but his left hand only rested on the pommel of his sheathed weapon, and he was still smiling as he stopped before his young adversary.

"I should by no means object to fighting you," he said, "if I had killed your father in treachery. But I did not. I saw you as well as you saw me. Your Frenchman, as you call him, hindered your sight. Your father was either beside himself with rage, or did not know me in my mail. He dropped his point one instant, and then flew at me like a bloodhound, so that I barely saved myself by slaying him against my will. I will not fight you unless you force me to it; and you had better not, for if you do, I shall lay you by the heels in two passes."

"Bragging and lying are well coupled," answered Gilbert, falling into guard. "Draw before I shall have counted three, or I will skewer you like a trussed fowl. One—two—"

Before the next word could pass his lips, Sir Arnold's sword was out, keen and bright as if it had just left the armourer's hands, clashing upon Gilbert's hacked and blood-rusted blade.

Sir Arnold was a brave man, but he was also cautious. He expected to find in Gilbert a beginner of small skill and reckless bravery, who would expose himself for the sake of bringing in a sweeping blow in carte, or attempting a desperate thrust. Consequently he did not attempt to put his bragging threat into practice, for Gilbert was taller than he, stronger, and more than twenty years younger. Unmailed, as he stood in his tunic and hose, one vigorous sword-stroke of the furious boy might break down his guard and cut him half in two. But in one respect Curboil was mistaken. Gilbert, though young, was one of those naturally gifted fencers in whom the movements of wrist and arm are absolutely simultaneous with the perception of the eye, and not divided by any act of reasoning or thought. In less than half a minute Sir Arnold knew that he was fighting for his life; the full minute had not passed before he felt Gilbert's jagged blade deep in the big muscles of his sword arm, and his own weapon, running past his adversary, fell from his powerless hand.

In those days it was no shame to strike a disarmed foe, in a duel to the death. As Sir Arnold felt the rough steel wrenched from the flesh- wound, he knew that the next stroke would kill him. Quick as light, his left hand snatched the long dagger from its sheath at his left side, and Gilbert, raising his blade to strike, felt as if an icicle had pierced his breast; his arm trembled in the air, and lost its hold upon the hilt; a scarlet veil descended before his eyes, and the bright blood gushed from his mouth as he fell straight backward upon the green turf.

Sir Arnold stepped back and stood looking at the fallen figure curiously, drawing his lids down, as some short-sighted men do. Then, as the sobbing breast ceased to heave and the white hands lay quite still upon the sward, he shrugged his shoulders, and began to take care of his own wound by twisting a leathern thong from Gilbert's saddle very tight upon his upper arm, using a stout oak twig for a lever. Then he plucked a handful of grass with his left hand and tried to hold his dagger in his right in order to clean the reddened steel. But his right hand was useless; so he knelt on one knee beside the body, and ran the poniard two or three times through the skirt of Gilbert's dark tunic, and returned it to its sheath. He picked up his sword, too, and succeeded in sheathing it. He mounted his horse, leaving Gilbert's tethered to the tree, cast one more glance at the motionless figure on the grass, and rode away towards Stortford Castle.



CHAPTER IV

Two months after Sir Arnold de Curboil had left Gilbert Warde in the forest, believing him to be dead, the ghostly figure of a tall, wafer- thin youth, leaning on the shoulders of two grey brothers, was led out into the warm shadows of the cloister in Sheering Abbey. One of the friars carried a brown leathern cushion, the other a piece of stiff parchment for a fan, and when they reached the first stone seat, they installed the sick man as comfortably as they could.

Three travelling monks, tramping homeward by the short forest path from Harlow to Sheering, had found Gilbert lying in his blood, not ten minutes after the knight had ridden away. Not knowing who he was, they had brought him to the abbey, where he was at once recognized by the monks who had formed the funeral procession on the previous evening, and by others who had seen him. The brother whose duty it was to tend the sick, an old soldier with the scars of a dozen deep wounds in him, and by no means a despicable surgeon, pronounced Gilbert's condition almost hopeless, and assured the abbot that it would be certain death to the young Lord of Stoke to send him back to his home. He was therefore laid upon a new bed in an upper chamber that had fair arched windows to the west, and there the brothers expected that Gilbert Warde would before long breathe his last and end his race and name. The abbot sent a messenger to Stoke Regis to inform the Lady Goda of her son's condition, and on the following day she came to see him, but he did not know her, for he was in a fever; and three days passed, and she came again, but he was asleep, and the nursing brother would not disturb him. After that she sent messengers to inquire about his state, but she herself did not come again, whereat the abbot and many of the monks marvelled for a while, but afterwards they understood.

Gilbert lived, and the desperate wound slowly healed, for he was strong and young, and his blood was untainted; but when at last he was allowed to stand upon his feet, he seemed to be little more than a fine-drawn shadow. They dressed him first in a novice's frock, because it was easier for him to wear, and at last he was well enough to be carried down from his room, and to sit for an hour upon the stone bench in the cloister. One of the brothers sat down beside him and slowly fanned his face with a stiff sheet of yellow parchment, such as the monks used for binding their books; the other went away to his work. Gilbert leaned back and closed his eyes, drinking in the sun-sweetened air and the scent of the flowers that grew in the cloister garden; and the indescribable sense of peace descended upon his body and soul which comes to men wrested from death, when danger is passed and their strength is slowly growing again within them.

It is impossible for any young man of sensitive and believing mind to spend two months in a great religious institution of his own faith without feeling himself drawn to the religious life. Lying in his room, alone for many hours of the day, alone in waking watches of the night, though a brother was always within call, Gilbert had followed with a sick man's second sight the lives of the two hundred monks who dwelt in Sheering Abbey. By asking questions, he knew how they rose at dawn, and trooped into the dim abbey church to early mass, and went to their daily work, the lay-brethren and novices in the field, the learned fathers in the library and the writing-room. He could follow their daily round of prayer and work, and his heart was with them in both. Bloodless and emaciated as he lay there, the life of love and war which had once seemed to him the only one worth living, faded away into the dimness of an undesired impossibility. He had failed, too, in his first great deed of arms; his father's murderer was alive, and he himself had most narrowly escaped death. It seemed to him that his thin white hands, which could hardly pull the blanket to his chin when he felt cold, could never again have strength to grasp sword-hilt or hold bridle, and in the blank collapse of his physical existence the image of himself as a monk, young, ascetic and holy in his life, presented itself with a marvellous and luring attraction. He made the nursing brother teach him prayers from the offices of the night and day, and he repeated them at the right hours, feeling that he was taking a real part in the monastic existence. Gradually, too, as he caught the spirit of the place, the gospel of forgiveness, ever the stumbling-block of fighting men, appeared to him as something that could be practised without dishonour, and the determination to kill Sir Arnold gave way to a sort of attempt at repentance for having even wished to be revenged upon him.

One thing troubled him constantly and was altogether beyond his comprehension. His mother seemed to have forgotten his very existence, and he had not consciously seen her since he had been wounded. He asked questions every day, and begged the abbot himself to send word to the Lady Goda asking her to ride over to the abbey. The abbot smiled, nodded, and seemed to promise; but if the message was ever sent, it elicited no answer, and after a time, as Gilbert grew steadily better, not even a messenger came from Stoke Regis to ask about him. Now Gilbert had worshipped his mother as a sort of superior being, and, like his father, had deceived himself with the belief that she was devoted to him; so that, as time went on, and he was utterly neglected by her, the conviction was forced upon him that something terrible and unforeseen had happened. Yet the abbot would tell him nothing, nor the brothers who tended him; to the best of their knowledge, they said, the Lady of Stoke was well.

"Before long," Gilbert would answer, "I shall be able to go home and see for myself."

And at this the abbot smiled and nodded, and began to talk of the weather, which was hot.

But to-day, since he had been allowed to leave his room, Gilbert was determined to force an explanation. It lacked yet an hour of midday and dinner-time when the abbot came sauntering along the cloister, followed at a respectful distance by a couple of monks, who walked side by side with downcast eyes and hands hidden in their sleeves, their cord girdles bobbing and swinging rhythmically as they walked. As he came up to Gilbert, the nursing brother rose and hid his hands in his grey woollen sleeves.

Gilbert opened his eyes at the sound of the abbot's footsteps, and made a movement as though he would have risen to greet the lordly churchman, who had so often visited him in his room, and for whom he felt a natural sympathy, as for a man of his own race and breeding; for Lambert, Abbot of Sheering, came of the great Norman house of Clare, which had taken Stephen's side in the Civil War, a fact which did not prevent the aristocratic abbot from talking with gentle satire and occasional bitter sarcasm about the emptiness of Stephen's claims.

He laid his hand on Gilbert's sleeve to make him keep his seat, and sat down beside him on the bench. He waved the monks away, and they retired to the other end of the cloister, where they all three sat down together in silence. The abbot, a delicately made man, with high Norman features, a colourless beard, once fair, and very bright blue eyes, laid one of his beautiful hands kindly upon Gilbert's.

"You are saved," he said cheerfully. "We have done our part; youth and sunshine will do the rest; you will grow strong very quickly, now, and in a week you will be asking for your horse. They found him beside you, and he has been well cared for."

"Next week, then," said Gilbert, "I will ride over to Stoke and see my mother. But I think I shall come back and stay with you again—if you will have me."

Gilbert smiled as he spoke the last words; but the abbot's face was grave and his brows were drawn together, as though he were in some trouble.

"Better stay with us altogether," he said, shaking his head and looking away.

Gilbert sat motionless for a few seconds, as if the remark had made no impression upon him; then, realizing that the words contained some special meaning, he started slightly and turned his hollow eyes to the speaker's face.

"And not go to see my mother?" His voice expressed the utmost surprise.

"Not—not at present," answered the abbot, taken off his guard by the directness of the question.

Weak as he was, Gilbert half rose from his seat, and his thin fingers nervously grasped his companion's arm. He would have spoken, but a sort of confusion came over him, as if he could not decide which of many questions to ask first, and before words could form themselves, the abbot was speaking to him with gentle authority.

"Listen to me," he said; "sit quietly beside me and hear what I have to say, for you are a man, now, and it is better that you should know it all at once, and from me, than get it distorted, in miserable morsels, from the gossip of the brothers within the next day or two."

He paused a moment, holding the young man's hand soothingly while keeping him in his seat and making him feel that he must stay there.

"What is it?" asked Gilbert, nervously, with half closed eyes. "Tell me quickly."

"An evil thing," answered the churchman, "—a sad thing, and one of those that change men's lives."

Again Gilbert started in his seat, more violently this time than before, and there was the broken ring of genuine fear in his voice.

"My mother is dead!" he cried.

"No, not that. She is in no danger. She is well. She is more than well; she is happy."

Gilbert was staring almost stupidly at his companion, not in the least understanding that there could be any evil news about his mother if all these things were true.

And yet it seemed strange that the abbot should lay stress upon the Lady Goda's happiness, when Gilbert had been at death's door for many weeks, and when, as he well knew, she was without news of him.

"Happy!" he echoed, half dazed.

"Too happy," answered the prelate. "Your mother was married when you had been scarcely a month here with us."

Gilbert stared into the older man's face for one moment after he had ceased speaking, and then sank back against the wall behind him with something between a groan and a sigh. One word had struck the ground from under his feet; the next was to pierce his soul.

"Who is her husband?" he asked under his breath.

Before the abbot answered, his grasp tightened upon Gilbert's hands with a friendly grip that was meant to inspire courage.

"Your mother has married Sir Arnold de Curboil."

Gilbert sprang to his feet, as though he had been struck in the face by an enemy. A moment earlier he could not have risen without help; a moment later he fell backward into the abbot's arms.

Nothing that he had felt in his whole short life—not all the joys and fears of childhood, which, after all, contains the greatest joys and fears in life, compounded with the clash of his first fighting day and the shock of seeing his father killed before his eyes—not all these together could be compared with what he felt at that plain statement of the dishonour done upon his house and upon his father's memory. Yet he was not unconscious.

"Now, by the Sacred Blood—"

Before he could pronounce the solemn vow of revenge that was on his lips, the abbot's delicate hand was almost crushing his mouth with open palm to stop the words.

"Arnold de Curboil, perjured to God, false to his king, the murderer of his friend, the seducer of his friend's wife, is fit for my prayers," said the abbot, "not for your steel. Swear no great oaths that you will kill him; still less swear that you will be avenged upon your mother; but if you must needs swear something, vow rather that you will leave them to their fate and never willingly cross their path again. And indeed, whether you promise that or not, you must needs keep away from them until you can claim your own with the chance of getting it back."

"My own!" exclaimed Gilbert. "Is Stoke not mine? Am I not my father's son?"

"Curboil has got Stoke Regis by treachery, as he got your mother. As soon as he had married her he took her with him to London, and they two did homage to King Stephen, and the Lady Goda made apology before the king's court because her former husband had been faithful to the Empress Maud; and she besought the king to bestow the lordship of Stoke Regis, with the manor house and all things thereto appertaining, upon their present lord, Sir Arnold de Curboil, disinheriting you, her son, both because you are true to the Empress, and because, as she did swear, you tried to slay Sir Arnold by stealth in Stortford woods. So you have neither kith nor kin, nor lands nor goods, beyond your horse and your sword; wherefore I say, it were as well for you to stay with us altogether."

Gilbert was silent for some time after the abbot had ceased speaking. He seemed to be utterly overcome by the news that he was disinherited, and his hands lay upon his knees, loosely weak and expressive of utter hopelessness. Very slowly he raised his face at last and turned his eyes upon the only friend that seemed left to him in his destitution.

"So I am an outcast," he said, "an exile, a beggar—"

"Or a monk," suggested the churchman, with a smile.

"Or an adventurer," said Gilbert, smiling also, but more bitterly.

"Most of our ancestors were that," retorted the abbot, "and they have picked up a fair living by it," he added. "Let me see: Normandy, Maine, Aquitaine, Gascony—and England. Not a bad inheritance for a handful of pirates matched against the world."

"Yes, but the handful of pirates were Normans," said Gilbert, as if that statement alone should have explained the conquest of the universe. "But the world is half won," he concluded, with a rather hopeless sigh.

"There is enough to fight for yet," answered the abbot, gravely. "The Holy Land is not half conquered, and until all Palestine and Syria shall be one Christian kingdom under one Christian king, there is earth for Norman feet to tread, and flesh for Norman swords to hack."

Gilbert's expression changed a little, and a light came into his eyes.

"The Holy Land—Jerusalem!" The words came slowly, each with its dream. "But the times are too old. Who should preach another crusade in our day?"

"The man whose word is a lash, a sword, and a crown—the man who rules the world to-day."

"And who is that?" asked Gilbert.

"A Frenchman," answered the abbot—"Bernard of Clairvaux, the greatest man, the greatest thinker, the greatest preacher, and the greatest saint of these late days."

"I have heard of him," Gilbert answered, with a sick man's disappointment at not learning anything new. Then he smiled faintly. "If he is a miracle-worker, he might find me a good subject."

"You have a home here, Gilbert Warde, and friends," said the abbot, gravely. "Stay while you will, and when you are ready for the world again you shall not lack for a coat of mail, a spare mount, and a purse of gold with which to begin your life."

"I thank you," said Gilbert, feebly, but very gratefully. "I feel as if my life were not beginning, but ending. I have lost my inheritance, my home, and my mother in one hour. It is enough, for it is all, and with it is taken love also."

"Love?" The abbot seemed surprised.

"Can a man marry his mother's husband's child?" asked Gilbert bitterly, almost contemptuously.

"No," answered the abbot; "that would be within the forbidden degrees of affinity."

For a long time Gilbert sat still in mournful silence. Then, seeing that he was very tired, the abbot beckoned to the brothers, who came and led him back to the stairs, and carried him up to his room. But, when he was gone, the Abbot of Sheering walked thoughtfully up and down the cloister for a long time, even until the refectory bell began to ring for dinner, and he could hear the shuffling steps of the two hundred hungry monks hurrying to their food, through the distant staircases and corridors.



CHAPTER V

An autumn morning at dawn, the beach at Dover, the tide at flood, and a hundred half naked sailors launching a long, black Norman sea-boat bows on, over chocks through the low surf to the grey swell beyond. The little vessel had been beached by the stern, with a slack chain hooked to her sides at the water-line, and a long hawser rove through a rough fiddle-block of enormous size, and leading to a capstan set far above high-water mark and made fast by the bight of a chain to an anchor buried in the sand up to the heavy wooden stock. And now a big old man with streaming grey beard, and a skin like a salted ox-hide, was slacking the turns of the hawser from the capstan-drum as the boat moved slowly down over the well-greased chocks, stopping short now and then of her own accord, and refusing to move on till twenty stout sailors on each side, their legs half buried in the sand, their broad shoulders flattened under the planking, their thick brown hands planted upon their thighs, like so many Atlases, each bearing a world, had succeeded, by alternately straining and yielding, in making the little vessel rock on her keel, and start again toward the water's edge. On board, the master stood at the stern, ready to ship the long rudder as soon as she had taken the water. Two men in the bows took in the slack of the cable, by which the anchor had been dropped some fifty yards out, so as to keep her head straight when she should leave the temporary ways. By the mast, for the vessel had but one, stood Gilbert Warde, watching all that was done, with the profoundly ignorant interest which landsmen always show in nautical matters. It seemed very slow to him, and he wondered why the man with the long beard, far up the beach, did not let go, so that the boat might launch herself. And while he was trying to solve the problem, something happened which he could not understand: a chorus of wild yells went up from the sailors under the sides, the master in the stern threw up one hand and shouted, the old man let go and yelled back an answer, Gilbert heard a rattling of chains, and then all at once the boat gathered way, and shot like an arrow through the low curling surf, far out upon the heaving grey water beyond, while the two men in the bows got in the slack of the cable, hand over hand, like madmen, panting audibly, till at last the vessel swung off by her head and rode quietly at her anchor. An hour later, with twenty sweeps swinging rhythmically in the tholes, and a fair southwesterly breeze, the sharp-cut boat was far out in the English Channel, and before night, the wind holding fair and freshening, the master dropped anchor almost under the shadow of the Count of Flanders' castle at Calais. So Gilbert Warde left England, a wanderer, disinherited of all that should have been his, owing all that he had to Lambert de Clare, Abbot of Sheering, in the shape of mail and other armour, with such fine clothes as a young nobleman should have with him on a journey, two horses, and a purse of which the contents should last him several months on his travels. For attendants he had with him a fair-haired Saxon lad who had run away from Stoke to Sheering, and had refused to leave Gilbert, whom he looked upon as his lawful master; and there was with him, too, a dark-skinned youth of his own age, a foundling, christened Dunstan by the monks after a saint of their order, brought up and taught at the abbey, who seemed to know neither whose child he was nor whence he came, but could by no means be induced to enter the novitiate so long as the world had room for wanderers and adventurers. He was a gifted fellow, quick to learn and tenacious to remember, speaking Latin and Norman French and English Saxon as well as any monk in the abbey, quick of hand and light of foot, with daring black eyes in which the pupils could hardly be found, while the whites were of a cold, blue grey and often bloodshot; and he had short, straight black hair, and a face that made one think of a young falcon. He had begged so hard to be allowed to go with Gilbert, and it was so evident that he was not born to wear out a church pavement with his knees, that the abbot had given his consent. During the last weeks before Gilbert's departure, when he was hourly gaining strength and could no longer bear to be shut up within the walls of the convent, he had made a companion of Dunstan, walking and riding with him, for the fellow could ride, and sometimes entering into long arguments with him about matters of belief and conscience and honour, and the two had become attached to each other by their unlikeness; not precisely as friends and equals, yet by no means as master and man; it was rather the sort of relation which often existed between knight and squire, though the two were of the same age, and though Gilbert had no immediate prospect of winning knightly spurs.

It would have been hard, however, to admit that Dunstan could ever develop into a knight himself. There were strange little blanks in his ideas of chivalry, curious, unfeeling spots in his moral organization, which indicated another race, another inheritance of thought, the traditions of a world older and less simple than the one in which Gilbert had been brought up.

For Gilbert was the type of noble youth in the days when the light of chivalry had dawned upon an age of violence, but was not yet fully risen. God, honour, woman—these made up the simple trinity of a knight's belief and reverence, from the moment when the Church began to make an order of fighting men, with ceremonies and obligations of their own, thereby forever binding together the great conceptions of true Christianity and true nobility.

In the absence of anything like real learning among the laymen of those days, education in its simplest and most original sense played a very large part in life, and Gilbert had acquired that sort of culture in its highest and best form. The object of mere instruction is to impart learning for some distinct purpose, but most chiefly, perhaps, in order that it may be a means of earning a livelihood. The object of education is to make men, to produce the character of the man of honour, to give men the inward grace of the gentleman, which cannot manifest itself outwardly save in good manners, modesty of bearing, and fearlessness; and such things in earlier days were profoundly associated in the minds of men with the inward principles and the outward rites of Christianity. It was the perfect simplicity, and in a measure the ample harmony, of beliefs, principles, and rules of action that made life possible at all at a time when the modern art of government was in its earliest infancy, when the idea of a constitution had been lost in the chaos of the dark ages, and when the direction of kingdoms, principalities, and societies was a purely personal matter, wholly dependent upon individual talent or caprice, virtue or vice, charity or greed. Without some such foundation in the character of the times, society, the world, and the Church must have fallen a prey to the devouring ambitions of that most horrible of human monsters, the princely unbeliever of the middle ages, who flourished again and again, sporadically, from England to Constantinople, from Paris to Rome, but who almost invariably ended in disastrous failure, overcome and trodden down by the steadily advancing morality of mankind. Such men were John the Twelfth, of the evil race of Theodora in Rome, and the Jewish Pierleone who lived a hundred years later, and King John of England, and last and greatest of all, perhaps, as he was most certainly the worst, Caesar Borgia.

To be a gentleman when Henry Plantagenet was a boy of twelve, and Gilbert Warde was going to the Duke of Normandy's court, implied not many gifts, few principles, and two or three accomplishments at most; but it meant the possession of those simple requirements in their very best accepted form, and that species of thoroughness in a few matters which has been at the root of social superiority in all ages. We have heard of amateur artists, amateur soldiers, amateur statesmen; but no one has ever heard of an amateur gentleman. Gilbert Warde knew little Latin beyond the few prayers taught him by the manor priest at Stoke; but in the efficacy of those prayers he believed with all his heart and soul. The Norman French language of the nobles in England was no longer that of their more refined cousins over the water; but though his tongue betrayed him for an Englishman, Gilbert had the something which was of more worth among his equals than a French accent—the grace, the unaffected ease, the straightforward courtesy, which are bred in bone and blood, like talent or genius, but which reach perfection only in the atmosphere to which they belong, and among men and women who have them in the same degree. Possessing belief and good manners, the third essential was skill in arms, and, as has been seen, Gilbert was a match for a swordsman of considerable reputation. The only absolutely necessary accomplishment for a gentleman in his day was a thorough knowledge of the chase as a fine art in all its branches, from falconry to boar-hunting, and in this respect Gilbert was at least the equal of the average young noble. In spite of his youth, he was therefore thoroughly equipped for the world; and besides the advantages here set forth, he had the very great one of feeling that, although he might be going among strangers, he was going to meet men all brought up to act and think like himself, in the belief that their ways of acting and thinking were very much better than those of other people.

But as he rode along the dunes, he was not reflecting upon his own gifts or prospects. His life was strange to him by its sudden and complete change, from an existence of more or less peaceful enjoyment, in which the certainty of fortune, local dignity, and unthwarted love made the idea of ambition look empty and foolish, to the state of possessing only a pair of good horses, good weapons, and a little ready money, with which to lay siege to the universe. Yet even that wide difference of conditions was insignificant beside the deeper and sadder misfortunes upon which the young man brooded as he rode, and which had already embittered his young existence by the destruction of his highest and most beautiful illusion and of his dearest and happiest hope.

In the fall of his mother's image from the altar upon which he had set it, there was the absolute destruction of his own past childhood as it had always appeared to him. In the fearful illumination of her true nature, in the broad glare of evil, the little good there might have been had faded to nothing. It was not possible that she who had married her husband's murderer within the month could ever have felt one sincere impulse of love for Raymond Warde, nor that she could ever have known the slightest real affection for the son whom she had first left to his fate, and then treacherously cheated of his birthright. The temple where she had been was still in his heart and mourned her in emptiness. For nothing else had taken the place of her there; she was not transformed, she was gone, and had taken with her a lifetime of tender and gentle memories. When his inward eyes sought her they found nothing, and their light was quenched in her darkness. She was not as his father was, dead in fact, but dead in honour. There he lay, as Gilbert had last looked upon his white face and stiff, mailed form, himself still, himself as he had been in life and as he was thereafter, in that place of peace and refreshment where brave men rest. In the quiet features was reflected forever the truth whereby his life had been lived; in the crossed hands upon the breast was the last outward symbol and sign of the simple faith that had been life's guide; in the strong, straight outlines of a strength splendid in death was the record of strong deeds well done. Alive, he had been to his son the man of all others; dead, he was still the man of men, without peer and without like. It mattered not that he was silent, for he had spoken the truth; that he was as motionless as a stone, for the cold hand had been swift to thrust and smite, and had dealt unforgotten blows in a good cause; that he was deaf, for he had heard the cry of the weak, and had forborne; that he was blind, for his eyes had seen the light of victory and had looked unflinching upon an honourable death. Loyal, true, brave, strong, he lay in his son's heart, still at all points himself. And Gilbert turned his mind's eyes to the darkness on the other side, and many a time, as the unwept tears burned in his brain, he wished that his mother were lying there too, beside his father, dead in the body but alive forever to him in that which is undying in woman; to be cherished still, still honoured; to be loved, and still obeyed in the memory of precept and teaching; to be his mother always, and he to be in thought her child, even until the grey years should be upon him, and the Bridge of Fear in sight.

Instead, as his thoughts went back to his home, the woman herself faced him, not as he had always seen her, but as she had been sometimes seen by others. The deed she had done—the greatest, the worst, the most irrevocable—was in her face, and Gilbert's unconscious memory brought back the details his love of her had once rejected. The cold face was as hard as flint, the deep blue eyes were untrue and unbelieving, the small red lips were scornfully parted to show the cruel little teeth, and there were dashes of flame in the russet hair. Better she had been dead, better a thousand times that she had come to the sharp end before her time, than that such a face should be her son's only memory of his mother.

The lines of the image had been etched in the weak places of his heart with the keen point of his first grief, and the biting acid of a new and unnatural hate was eating them deeper day by day. And when, in spite of himself, his mind dwelt upon her and understood that he was cursing her who had borne him, he turned back in sheer despair to the thought of a religious life.

But though it drew him and appealed to all in his nature which had been uppermost when death had almost tripped him into his grave, it spoke but half a language now, and was less than half convincing. He could understand well enough that the monastery might hold the only life for men who had fought through many failures, from light to darkness, from happiness to sorrow—men who loved nothing, hoped nothing, hated nothing any longer, in the great democracy of despair. They sought peace as the only earthly good they might enjoy, and there was peace in the cloister. Hope being dead in life, they tasted refreshment in the hope of a life to come. The convent was good enough for the bankrupt of love and war. But there must be another rule for those in whom youth was wounded but not dead, whose hearts were offended but not slain, whose blood was still strong and hot for good and evil, for men whose battles were before them still. There must be a remedy against fate which should not be an offence to God, a struggle against God's will which should not be a revolt, a life in which virtue should not mean a prison for soul and body, nor the hope of salvation a friar's cell.

Like many enthusiasts, knowing nothing of the world save by guesswork, and full of an inborn belief in the existence of perfection, Gilbert dreamed of realizing the harmony of two opposites—the religious life and the life of the world. Such dreams seemed not so wild in those days, when the very idea of knighthood was based upon them, and when many brave and true men came near to making them seem anything but fanciful, and practised virtue in a rough-and-ready fashion which would not pass muster in modern society, though it might in heaven. The religious idea had taken hold of Gilbert strongly, and before he had left the abbey he had fallen into the habit of attending most of the offices in the choir, still wearing the novice's frock which had been at first but an invalid's robe. And now that he was out in the world to seek his fortunes, tunic and hose, spur and glove, seemed strange to him, and he would have felt more at home in a friar's hood. So he felt that in his life he should never again quite lose the monastic instinct, and that it was well for him that he could not. He stood on that perilous thin ridge between past and future to which almost every man of heart is sooner or later led by fate, where every step may mean a fall, and where to fall is almost to be lost. The things he had lived for, the things he had hoped, the things he had loved, had been taken from him violently, and all at once. There was neither clue, nor guide, nor hope, and on each side of him yawned the hideous attraction of despair. Even the recollections of a first love were veiled by what he understood to be the irrevocable interdiction of the Church, and, in his strongly spiritual mood, to think of Beatrix appeared to him like a temptation to mortal sin.

In leaving England, without any definite aim, but with a vague intention of making his way to Jerusalem, he had obeyed the Abbot of Sheering rather than followed friendly advice, and his obedience had savoured strongly of the monastic rule. Lambert de Clare, a man of the world before he had become a churchman, and a man of heart before he was a ruler of monks, had understood Gilbert's state well enough, and had forced the best remedy upon him. The cure for a broken heart, if there be any, is not in solitude and prayer, but in facing the wounds and stings of the world's life; and the abbot had almost forcibly thrust his young friend out to live like other men of his order, while suggesting a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a means of satisfying his religious cravings. As for the material help which Gilbert had received, it was no shame, in an age not sordid, for a penniless gentleman to accept both gifts and money from a rich and powerful person like the Abbot of Sheering, in the certainty of carving out such fortune with his own hands as should enable him amply to repay the loan. So far as his immediate destination was concerned, the abbot, who considered his house to be vastly superior to political dissension, and secretly laughed at his cousins for supporting King Stephen's upstart cause, had advised Gilbert to make his way directly to the court of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Duke of Normandy, and Grand Seneschal of France, the husband of the Empress Maud, rightful Queen of England. Thither he was riding, therefore, with Dunstan on his left hand, mounted upon his second horse, while Alric, the sturdy little Saxon groom and archer, rode behind them on a stout mule laden with Gilbert's possessions.



CHAPTER VI

Those were the early days of Geoffrey's lordship in Normandy. Twice and three times he came up from Anjou with his men-at-arms and his footmen to take possession of his wife's lawful inheritance. Again and again he was repulsed and driven back to his own dominions, but at the last he prevailed, and the iron will of the man whose royal race was to give England fourteen kings, forced Normandy to submission, and thereafter he ruled in peace. Yet he was not so strongly established but that he desired sound friendships and strong alliances to support him, and at the same time he was anxious to obtain help for his wife in her prolonged struggle for the English crown. In his office of Grand Seneschal of France he generally caused himself to be represented by a deputy; but he had lately determined to make a journey to Paris, in the hope of winning over the young King Louis, and perhaps the beautiful Queen Eleanor, who was feudal sovereign, in her own right, of Guienne, Poitou and Aquitaine, and in reality a more powerful personage than the King himself.

So it fell out that before Gilbert reached his destination he met a great and splendid train riding toward him on the highroad, two hundred horse, at the very least, and as many footmen, followed by a long line of sumpter mules. The road was narrow at that place, so that Gilbert, with his two men, saw that it would be impossible to pass, and though it was not natural to him to cede the right of way to any one, he understood that, in the face of what was a little army, it would be the part of wisdom to draw aside. A thick growth of thorn bushes made a natural hedge at that part of the road, and Gilbert and his companions were obliged almost to back into the briers, as four handsomely dressed outriders trotted past abreast, not without a glance of rather supercilious inquiry, for they did not fail to see that Gilbert was a stranger in their country; and, for a traveller, his retinue was anything but imposing. He, however, barely glanced at them as they passed him, for his eyes were fixed upon the advancing cavalcade, a river of rich and splendid colour flowing toward him between soft green banks. They were men who rode in peace; for though a standard rose in the middle rank, it was furled and cased in leather, and the horsemen who surrounded it were dressed in tunic and hose—crimson, green, rich dark brown, with the glint of gold, the sheen of silver, the lightning of steel, relieving the deep hues of dark cloth and velvet here and there.

A length behind the furled flag rode a man and a boy, side by side, and the next riders followed two or three lengths behind them. The man, mounted on a huge white Norman weight-carrier, kept the off side of the road, his great beast trotting leisurely with a long pounding step, and an occasional lazy shake of the big white head with the iron-grey forelock and the well-combed mane. The rider sat square and upright in the saddle, the plain leathern bridle neither too short nor too long in the light strong hand, that just moved perceptibly with the horse's step. He was a man evidently of good height, but not over tall, of surpassing beauty of form, young in figure, but past middle age if one judged by his hard features and already furrowed brow; his deep grey eyes looked steadily ahead from beneath black eyebrows which contrasted oddly with hair that was already iron-grey. There was something immovable and fateful about the clean-shaven jaw, the broad flat chin, the wide strong mouth—something strangely durable that contrasted with the rich softness of his splendid dress, as though the man, and what the man meant, were to outlive the fashions of the world.

The boy who rode by his near side, a lad of little more than twelve years, was both like him and unlike. Sturdy, broad, short-legged, square beyond his age, any one could see that he was never to inherit his father's beauty of proportion and grace of bearing; but there was something in his face that promised all his father's strength and an even greater independence. The grey eyes were the same, but nearer together, and almost sinister in their gaze, even at that age; the nose was already long and rather flat than sharp, and the large straight lips, even and close set, would have seemed strong even in a grown man's face. The boy sat upon his small grey Andalusian horse as if he had lived a lifetime in the saddle, but his twelve-year-old hand was heavier on the bridle than ever his father's had been.

There was something in the bearing of the two, father and son, so kingly and high that Gilbert, who had been brought up in Norman courtesy, involuntarily rose in the saddle as much as his long stirrups would allow, and lifted his cap from his head, supposing, as was natural, that he was saluting the lord of the lands through which he was travelling. The other returned the salutation with a wave of the hand, looked sharply at Gilbert, and then, to the latter's surprise, drew rein, the lad beside him ranging back half a length so as not to be in the way between the other two. For a few seconds neither said a word. Then the elder man, as though expecting something of which the younger was not aware, smiled kindly and spoke. His voice was strong and manly, but clear and sweet.

"You are strange here, sir," he said, with something more like an assertion than a question in his turn.

"From England, sir," answered Gilbert, bowing slightly in the saddle.

The elder man looked hard at him and knit his brows. Few English gentlemen had refused allegiance to King Stephen.

"From England? And what may you be doing in Normandy, young sir? Stephen's friends find little friendship here."

"I am not of them, sir," answered Gilbert, drawing himself up somewhat haughtily. "I am rather of those who would shorten Stephen's reign by the length of his life, and his body by a head."

The broad, handsome face of the man with whom he was speaking relaxed into a smile, and his son, who had at first eyed Gilbert with distrust, threw back his head and laughed.

"Then I suppose that you are for the Empress," said the man. "But if you are, why are you not in Gloucester?"

"Sir," answered Gilbert, "being made homeless and landless by Stephen, I chose rather to cut a fortune out of the world than to beg one of the Queen, who has none left to give."

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse