Some months passed, during which the English worked at varying tasks— brickmaking, the hauling of brick and cut stone, the building of walls. Then a merchant called Mustafa came seeking slaves for his galley. After much crafty bargaining he secured Nicholas and his companions for about two-thirds the original price asked. But the Khawadji refused to part with Stephen Giffard.
The galley was a rackety, noisome trading-ship that plied along the coast. On board were already some rowers of various races, accustomed to the work, but the bulk of the labor was to be done by the new men. It was killing toil. Fed on black beans and coarse bread and unclean water, they worked the ship from one filthy white-walled port to another, never seeing more than the dock where the galley anchored or some mean street where their barracks might be. There were times when Nicholas seemed to himself hardly more human than the rats that gnawed and scrabbled in the dark at night. He began to see how a galley-slave is made—molded and tainted through and through by that of which he is a part.
The clean comradeship of the little group of Northern exiles did not count for so much in this work. The pace of the ship was the average pace of the whole crew. They became too weary to think or feel, too ravenous to disdain the most unwholesome rations. Nicholas found himself mysteriously aware of the moods of those about him, as men are when herded together in silent multitudes. In the free world one feels this only now and then—in an army, a mob, a church. Among slaves the dog-like instinct is common. They know more of their masters than their masters can ever know of them.
Nicholas had been carefully trained by wise parents to the habit of self- control, but he found that he was moved nevertheless by the mad unreasoning impulses of the half-barbarous people about him, ridden fiercely by their black thoughts of hate and fear. That it was the same with his comrades he knew from little things they said—and even more from what they did not say. They grew dulled to beauty and suffering alike. There were glorious dawns, that flushed the white walls of a seaport rose- red, above waters of mingled ink and blood that changed as by magic to blue like lapis-lazuli. Then the sky turned saffron and the minarets were of a fleeting gold above the deep blue shadows of the streets. There were velvet nights when the stars blazed like a king's ransom, and white-robed desert men moved in the moist chill air like phantoms. But all this was as little to them as to the lizards that crept along the walls or the sweeps they handled with their hardening hands. Years after, Nicholas recalled those nights and those mornings and knew that something that sat within his deadened brain had been alive and had stored the memories for him. But he did not know it then.
Mustafa bragged among his friends, from Jebel el Tarik to Iskanderia, of his fine ship and his unparalleled crew. The listeners would smile and stroke their beards and exclaim at intervals, "Ma sh'Allah!"—believing perhaps one tenth of what they heard. Oftenest he boasted of the Feringhi rowers whom he had purchased from the sheikh's own steward in the slave- market of Lundra—a city of mist and wealth and pigs and fair maidens. Thus it came about that Ahmed ibn Said, the host, and Abu Selim, the letter-writer of the bazaar, devised a jest for a supper at the khan. They would send for one of these Frankish slaves and see what he would say. The flattered Mustafa agreed, and the messenger returned with Nicholas Gay, whose gray eyes and yellow hair caused a mild sensation.
The guests began to ask questions, first in Levantine, then in Arabic. Were there bazaars in Lundra? Did the people drink coffee? Had they camels? Did the muezzin call them to prayer? Did the women sleep upon the housetops? Was the city most like Aleppo the White, or Istamboul, or Damasc-ush-Shah? How many Muslimun were there? How many of the idolaters?
To these inquiries Nicholas replied, at first with faint amusement at the mingled shrewdness and ignorance of these men, then with a fierce pride in his city which made his words, as the letter-writer expressed it, shine like rubies and sing like a fountain. The merchants listened, and munched their sticky baclawi, ripe olives and dates and figs, and drank many tiny cups of coffee, more entertained than they had ever been by Mustafa. Finally the host sent for a basket of fruit—great pale Egyptian melons, pomegranates, oranges, figs—and graciously bestowed it upon the gifted galley-slave. He meant to come next day, he said, and with Mustafa's permission behold the prowess of the English in swimming.
To every one's surprise, Ahmed really came. Those who could swim were had out of their stifling quarters and allowed to do so. Nicholas could swim like an eel, and all were amazed when, after swimming farther out than any of the others, he flung up his arms, uttered a loud cry, and vanished. They watched and searched, but nothing more was seen of him, and there was mourning among the English.
But there was a Genoese galley in the harbor, and Nicholas had seen it. He had dived, swum under water as far as he could inshore, and come up with his head inside the scooped-out rind of a large melon. During the search the seeming melon quietly bobbed away toward a reedy shallow, and the swimmer hid among the reeds until dark, and then swam across to the Genoese ship. The captain knew Gilbert Gay and listened with interest to the youth's story.
The Genoese captain did not care to interfere with' Mustafa in a town full of his Moslem countrymen. He waited until the crazy trading-galley was well out to sea and rammed her with the beak of his own ship. Crossbowmen lined the rail, grappling irons were thrown out, and the captain, with Nicholas and some soldiers, went and unearthed Mustafa among bales of striped cotton. When he understood that they merely wanted all of his Feringhi slaves, he thankfully surrendered them.
"Shall we put this fellow to death?" inquired the captain. Mustafa understood the tone and gesture though not the words, and turned a dirty yellow-gray. "No," said Nicholas Gay. "He was a good master—for an Arab."
Mustafa took heart. He would never reach port, he complained, being so short-handed.
"You can work your ship under sail for that distance," said the Genoese, twisting his mustachios, "if you dare loose your other slaves." At that Mustafa had an ague. When they saw the last of him he was making slow and crooked progress.
"And after all," said Edrupt one day, as they sighted the cliffs of Dover, "you bore witness among the heathen, as the fat old monk directed."
"Stupid pig!" David grumbled. "I'd like fine to have him bearing witness in a Barbary brick-yard, sweating and whaizling over his tale o' brick. He'd throw his six hundred a day or I'd have his hide."
"All the same," said Edrupt thoughtfully, "a Londoner beats a Turk even for a galley-slave—eh, Nicholas?"
"We were never slaves," said Nicholas. "We were free men doing the work of slaves for a time. We had memory and hope left us. There is nothing to be learned at such work. Stick together and give them the slip if you can— that's all the wisdom of the galleys."
Sails in the mist-gray morning, wide wings alert for flight, Outward you fare with the sea-wind, seeking your ancient right To range with your foster-brethren, the sleepless waves of the sea, And come at the end of your wandering home again to me. By the bright Antares, the Shield of Sobieski, By the Southern Cross ablaze above the hot black sea, You shall seek the Pole-Star below the far horizon,— Steer by Arthur's Wain, lads, and home again to me!
Caravel, sloop and galleon follow the salt sea gale That whispers ever of treasure, the ancient maddening tale,— Round the world he leads ye, the sorcerer of the sea, Battered and patched and bleeding ye come again to me. By the spice and sendal, beads and trumpery trinkets, By the weight of ingots that cost a thousand dead, You shall seek your fortune under hawthorn hedges,— Come to know your birthright in the land you fled.
Sails of my sons and my lovers, I watch for ye through the night, My lamps are trimmed and burning, my hearth is clear and bright. With every sough of the trade-wind that blows across the sea I wake and wait and listen for the call of your hearts to me. By Saint Malo's lanterns, by Medusa-fires Rolling round your plunging prows in midnight tropic sea, You shall sight the beacon on my headlands lifting— All sail set, lads, and home again to me!
Where the moor met the woodland beyond the Fairies' Hill, old Izan went painfully searching for the herbs she had been wont to find there. The woodcutters had opened clearings that gave an unaccustomed look to the place. Fumiter, mercury, gilt-cups, four-leaved grass and the delicate blossoms of herb-robert came out to meet the sun with a half-scared look, and wished they had stayed underground. The old wife was in a bad humor, and she was not the better pleased when her donkey, moved by some eccentric donkeyish idea, gave a loud bray and went trotting gleefully off down the hill.
"Saints save us!" muttered the old woman, shaking a vain crutch after him. "I can never walk all that distance."
But the donkey was not to get his holiday so easily. There came a shout from the forest, and a boy on a brown moor pony went racing off after the truant beast, while a lady and a young girl looked on laughing. It was a very pretty chase, but at last Roger came back in triumph and tethered the donkey, repentant and lop-eared, to a wind-warped oak.
"O Mother Izan!" cried Eleanor, "we've found a great parcel of herbs. I never saw this before, but mother thinks it's what they called polygonec in France and used for bruises and wounds."
The old woman seized eagerly on the plant. It was a long curved stalk with a knotted root and oval leaves almost concealing the narrow greenish bells that hung from the joints of the stem. "Aye," she said, "that's Solomon's Seal, and 'tis master good for ointment. The women," she added dryly, "mostly comes for it after their men ha' made holiday."
Eleanor was already off her pony, and Roger followed her. "We'll get you all you want, Mother Izan," she called back; "there's ever so much of it up here among the rocks."
"I should like to know," queried Roger as they pulled and pried at the queer twisted roots, "why they call this Solomon's Seal. I don't believe Solomon ever came here."
"Maybe it was because he was so wise," said Eleanor sagely. "Mother said it was good to seal wounds. We'll ask David."
In those days a knowledge of herbs and medicines was part of a lady's education. Physicians were few, and in remote places the ladies of the castle were called upon not only to nurse but to prescribe for cases of accident, fever, wounds or pestilence. Rarely did a week go by without Lady Philippa being consulted about some illness among her husband's people. She had begun to teach Eleanor the use of herbs, especially the nature of those to be found in the neighborhood, and here Mother Izan was of great service. In her younger days she had ranged the country for miles in every direction, in search of healing plants, and she knew what grew in every swamp, glen, meadow and thicket.
"Mother Izan must have been uncommonly anxious to get that Solomon's Seal," said Roger as they rode home in the purple dusk. "I believe Howel has been beating Gwillym again."
Almost as well-informed as Mother Izan was David Saumond, the stone-mason, who was rebuilding the village church. He had come to the castle one day with news of Sir Stephen Giffard, Eleanor's uncle, who had been a prisoner among the infidels but had now been ransomed and was on his way home. Finding that David understood his business, the lord and lady of the castle had decided to give into his hands the work to be done on the church. Masons were scarce in England at that time, and most of those who had skill were at work on half-built cathedrals. David was a wise and thorough builder, but he had the reputation of being rather crotchety. Sir Walter Giffard suspected that this was due to his absolute honesty. He would rather pick up a job here and there which he could do as it should be done, than to have steady employment where scamped building was winked at. This suited the knight very well. He wanted a man whom he need not watch.
"An unfaithful mason's like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint," observed the Scot when he saw some haphazard masonry he was to replace with proper stonework. "That wall's a bit o' baith."
David would take all the pains in the world with a well-meaning but slow workman, but he disposed of shirkers and double-dealers without needless words. Neither did he encourage discussion and idle talk about the work.
"A true mason's no sae glib-gabbet," he observed one day. "There's no need o' speechmaking to make an adder bite or a gude man work."
David confirmed Mother Izan's opinion of the virtues of Solomon's Seal. The Turks, he said, used to eat the young shoots, cooked. The children already knew that Solomon was the Grand Worshipful Master of all the masons of the world. About his majestic and mystical figure centered legends and traditions innumerable. Solomon's Knot was a curious intricate combination of curving lines. Solomon's signet was a stone of magical virtues. The temple of Solomon was the most wonderful building ever seen, and the secrets of its masonry were still treasured by master masons everywhere. No sound of building was heard within its walls; the stones were so perfectly cut and fitted that they slid into their places without noise. And Solomon himself was the wisest man who ever lived. He could understand the talk of the martins under the eaves, the mice in the meal- tub and the beasts of burden in the stables, when they conversed among themselves.
"Aiblins that's what gar'd him grow sae unco wise," David ended. "You bear in mind, Master Roger, that every leevin' thing ye see, frae baukie-bird tae blackfish, kens some bit cantrip he doesna tell, and ye'll be a Solomon—if ye live."
David was eating his bread and cheese on the lee side of the wall when Eleanor came by with a gray lump of clay in her hands.
"See what Gwillym has made," she said.
David stopped with the cheese half way to his mouth. "Who's Gwillym?" he asked.
"He's a boy we've known ever since he was very little—he's only eight now—and he does make the most alive looking things out of clay. He heard you telling about Solomon talking with the birds and beasts, and he made this."
The clay group was really an unusual piece of modelling for an untrained hand. That a child should have made it was more than remarkable. The thin bent figure of the wise King was seated on a throne formed of gnarled tree-roots. On his wrist a raven perched; on his shoulder crouched a squirrel, with tail alert for flight; two rabbits sat upright at his feet; a lamb huddled against his knee on one side and a goat on the other. The figures all had a curiously lifelike appearance. As Eleanor said, one felt that if they heard a noise they would go away. Moreover she saw with wonder that the head of King Solomon and his lifted hand made him a fair portrait of David.
David took the clay group in his hand, turned it about, whistled softly. "Wha owns this bairn?" he inquired.
"Howel's his father," said Roger. "He's quite good to him—unless he's drunk. Then he pounds him. He hates to have Gwillym make images; he thinks it's witch-craft. Gwillym made an image of him once and the leg broke off, and that very same day Howel's donkey kicked him and made him lame for a week."
"There's ower mony gowks in the land for a' the mills to grind," said David, and that was all they could get out of him. They knew he was interested or he would not have been so Scotch. David could speak very good English, and did as a rule, but with Eleanor and Roger he often returned to the speech of his boyhood because they liked it so much.
They liked David exceedingly. He had seen more interesting things than any one else they knew. He showed Roger how to make a fish-pond, and he told Eleanor how the Saracen city in her tapestry ought to look. He had himself been a slave among the infidels, and the children heard his adventures with awe and delight. Eleanor loved the story of the bath-pavilion like a tiny palace, built by the emir for the lady Halima, and the turning of the course of a river to fill her baths and her fountains, and water her gardens. Roger's hero was the young English merchant who had escaped by swimming, under his master's very nose. If one could have such exciting experiences it seemed almost worth while to be a captive of the Moslems. But when Roger said so, David smiled a dry smile and said nothing.
But it was of King Solomon that he spoke most, and he seemed to have the sayings of the wise king all by heart. A Hebrew physician whom he had once known used, he said, to write one of Solomon's proverbs on the lid of every box of salve he sent out.
"You follow his wisdom, Master Roger," David said one day, "and you'll see how to build ye a house or a kingdom. 'Envy thou not the oppressor and choose none of his ways,' he says. 'Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of man to do it,' he says. 'God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.'
"I tell ye," David added, glancing from the trim gray wall of the lychgate up to the castle on the hill, "every day's judgment day wi' a builder—or the head of a house."
Thus the stonemason was touched more deeply perhaps than he would have owned, by the likening of his face to that of Solomon in the clay figures of little Gwillym ap Howel.
As the work on the church progressed three friends of David's journeyed from Salisbury to see him. They had come from Lombardy a long time ago, when they were Piero, Andrea and Gianbattista. At Avignon they were known as Pierre, Jean-Baptiste and Andre, and in Spain they were rechristened Pedro, Juan and Andres. Now they were called Peter, Andrew and John,—and sometimes the Apostles. Peter understood vaulting; Andrew could carve a stone image of anything he saw, and John had great skill in the laying of pavements. They talked of cathedrals and palaces with a familiarity that took one's breath away.
The building of a cathedral seemed to be full of a kind of fairy lore. The plan was that of a crucifix, the chancel being the head, the transept the arms and the nave representing body and legs. The two western towers stood for Adam and Eve. There was a magic in numbers; three, seven and nine were better than six, eleven or thirteen. Certain flowers were marked for use in sacred sculpture as they were for other purposes. Euphrasy or eyebright with its little bright eye was a medicine for sore eyes. The four-petaled flowers,—the cross-bearers,—were never poisonous, and many of them, as mustard and cabbage, were valuable for food or medicine. But when Roger took this lore to Mother Izan for her opinion she remarked that if that was doctors' learning it was no wonder they killed more folk than they cured.
In fact the three Lombard builders, while each man was a master of his own especial art, had done most of their work in cities, and when it came to matters of the fields and woods they were not to be trusted. But when David found Roger a little inclined to vaunt his superior woodcraft he set him a riddle to answer:
"The baldmouse and the chauve-souri, The baukie-bird and bat, The barbastel and flittermouse,— How many birds be that?"
And the masons were all grinning at him before Roger found out that these were half a dozen names for the bat, from as many different places.
The vaulting of the roof of the church was now under consideration. For so small a building the "barrel vault," a row of round arches, was often used; but David's voice was for the pointed arch throughout. "The soarin' curve lifts the eye," he said, "like the mountains yonder." He drew with a bit of charcoal a line so beautiful that it was like music. It was not merely the meeting of two arcs of a circle, but the meeting of two mysteriously curved perfect lines. Sir Walter Giffard saw at a glance that here was the arch he had dreamed of.
He saw more than that. David was that rare builder, a man who can work with his hands and see all the time inside his soul the completed work. He could no more endure slipshod work or graceless lines in his building than the knight himself could do a cowardly or dishonest thing. David would have done his task faithfully in any case, but it rejoiced his soul to find that the knight and his lady would know not only that their village church was beautiful, but why it was so.
Andrew was at work upon the decorative carving of the arches of the doorway. The outer was done in broad severe lines heavily undercut; the next inner arch in a simple pattern of alternating bosses and short lines- -Andrew called it the egg and dart pattern—and the inner arch in a delicate vine rather like the ivy that grew over the keep. Andrew said it was a vine found in the ruins of the Coliseum at Rome.
When it came to the carving of the animals and birds and figures for the inside of the church, Andrew's designs did not quite suit Lady Philippa. They were either too classical or too grotesque; they were better fitted to the elaborate richness of a great cathedral than to a little stone church in the mountains. She would have liked figures which would seem familiar to the people, of the birds and beasts they knew, but Andrew did not know anything about this countryside.
"Mother," said Eleanor one night after this had been talked over, "what if Roger and I were to ask Andrew to go with us to Mother Izan's and see her tame birds and animals, and Gwillym's squirrel? And we could explain what he wants of them."
Like many children in such remote places, Eleanor and Roger had picked up dialects as they did rhymes or games, and often interpreted for a peasant who knew neither Norman nor Saxon and wished to make himself understood at the castle.
The idea met with approval, and the next day Lady Philippa, Eleanor, Roger and Andrew went to the cottage by the Fairies' Well. They found that David had been there before them.
"He's a knowledgeable man, that," the old woman said with a shrewd smile. "He's even talked Howel into letting the clay images alone, he has. Gwillym's down by the claybank now, a-making Saint Blaise and little Merlin."
The cottage evidently was a new sort of place to Andrew, and his dark eyes were full of kindly interest as he looked about. The old dame sat humped in her doorway among her chirping, fluttering, barking and squeaking pets. An ancient raven cocked his eye wisely at the visitors, a tame hare hopped about the floor, a cat with three kittens, all as black as soot, occupied a basket, and there were also a fox cub rescued from a trap, a cosset lamb and a tiny hedgehog. Birds nested in the thatch; a squirrel barked from the lintel, and all the four-footed things of the neighborhood seemed at home there,
The stone-carver readily made friends with Gwillym, who seemed to understand by some instinct his broken talk and lively gestures. When Andrew wished to know what some bird or animal was like, the boy would mold it in clay, or perhaps take him to some haunt of the woodlands where they could lie motionless for a half-hour watching the live creature itself.
But there was one among Gwillym's clay figures which they never saw in the forest, and to which the boy never would give a name. It was a shaggy half-human imp with stubby horns, goat-legs and little hoofed feet. He modeled it, bent under a huge bundle, perched on a point of rock, dancing, playing on an oaten pipe. Andrew was so taken with the seated figure that he copied it in stone to hold up the font.
"What's that for?" asked David when he saw it. "Are ye askin' Auld Hornie ben the kirk, man?"
Andrew laughed and dusted his pointed brown fingers. "One of Pan's people, David. They will not stay away from us. If you sprinkle the threshold with holy water they come through the window."
That figure puzzled David, but Gwillym would say nothing. At last the church was finished, and the village girls went gathering fresh rushes, fragrant herbs and flowers to strew the floor. David went fishing with Roger in Roger's own particular trout-stream. Coming back in the twilight they beheld Gwillym dancing upon the moss, to the piping of a strange little hairy man sitting on a rock. An instant later the stranger vanished, and the boy came toward them searching their faces with his solemn black eyes.
"That was my playfellow," he said. "I have not seen him for a long time. He and his people lived here once, but they ran away when there came to be so many houses. I used to hide in the woods when father came seeking me at Mother Izan's, and my playfellow gave me nuts and berries and wild honey. He said that if father beat me I was to go and live with his people. I think I should if you had not come."
Howel, the mason, was a bewildered man that night. He agreed, before he fairly knew what he was about, to David's adopting Gwillym as his own son, to go with him to the house of a good woman in London and be taught all that a lad should learn. In time he might be able to carve stone saints and angels, kings and queens, gargoyles and griffins, for great cathedrals. And all this had come of the forbidden clay toys.
"I beat him week after week," he muttered, "for melling wi' mud images and running away to the forest to play wi' devils. 'Twas no good to him, being reared by an old witch."
David's mouth set in a grim line and he rubbed the little black head with his crooked, skillful, weatherworn hand.
"Even a child is known by his doings, whether his heart be pure, and whether it be right," he said half aloud as he led Gwillym away toward his own lodgings. "But the fool hates knowledge. The hearing ear and the seeing eye are the gifts of the Lord—and if a man was meant to be a bat or a donkey he'd ha' been made so. When Solomon said that a wise son maketh a glad father he didna reckon on a father being a fule. Ye'll say yer farewells to Auld Hornie, laddie, and then we'll gang awa' to London and leave Solomon's Seal i' the wilderness."
And that was how the little wild cave-man of the forest came to be inside a village church, under the font for the christening.
Terence he was a harper tall, and served the King o' Kildare, And lords and lodies free-handed all gave largesse to him there, And once when he followed the crescent moon to the rose of a summer dawn, Wandering down the mountain-side, he met the Leprechaun.
And a wondrous power of heart and voice came over Terence then, For a secret in his harp-strings lay, to call to the hearts of men, That he could make magic of common songs, and none might understand The words he said nor the dreams they bred—for he had them of Fairyland.
Eily she was a colleen fair, the light of the harper's eyes, And he won by the aid of the Leprechaun his long-desired prize. The wedding-feast was but just begun,—when 'twixt the dark and the day, Quick as the water that runs to earth the Leprechaun slipped away!
So the daylight came, and the dreams were past, and the wild harp sang no more, And Terence looked at the cold black hearth and the silent open door, And he cried, "I have sold my life this night, ye have my heart in pawn,— Take wife and gold, but come ye back, ye little Leprechaun!"
BLACK MAGIC IN THE TEMPLE
No one could say just how it came to be whispered that the Templars of Temple Assheton dealt in black magic. Travelers told strange tales of France, where the Order was stronger than it was in England—tales of unhallowed processionals and midnight incantations learned from the infidels of Syria. A Preceptor, Gregory of Hildesheim, was said to possess writings of a wizard who had suffered death some years before, and to have used them for the profit of the Order.
Swart the drover, who had sold many good horses to the Templars and expected to sell more, laughed at these uncanny rumors. Wealthy the Order was, to be sure, but that was no miracle. Its vaults, being protected not only by the consecration of the building but by its trained body of military monks, often held the treasure of princes. Moreover, this powerful military Order attracted many men of high birth. Their estates became part of the common fund, since no individual Templar could own anything.
Unfortunately, Swart's facts were so much less romantic than the tales of enchantment that they made very little impression. The grasping arrogance of the Templars caused them to be hated and feared, and if they were really wizards it was just as well not to investigate them too closely. And if they had in truth learned the art of making gold, it was only another proof of that old and well-tried rule, "He who has, gets."
Gregory had not, however, discovered that secret as yet. He had had great hopes of certain formulae bought at a large price of a clerk named Simon, who stole them from the reputed wizard; but when he tried them, there was always some little thing which would not work. At last he bethought him of one Tomaso of Padua, who had been a friend of the dead man and might possibly have some some valuable knowledge. The physician was at the time in a market-town about twelve miles off, resting for a few days before proceeding to London. He was an old man and journeys were fatiguing to him. Gregory sent a company of men-at-arms to invite him to come to Temple Assheton. The request was made on a lonely path in a forest, along which Tomaso was riding to visit a sick child on a remote farm. It would have been impossible for him to refuse it.
Rain was dripping from the drenched bare boughs of half-fledged trees, clouds hung purple-gray over the bleak moors; the river had overflowed the meadows, and the horses floundered flank-deep over the paved ford. Few travelers were abroad. Those who saw the black and white livery of the Temple, and the old man in the long dark cloak who rode beside the leader, looked at one another, and wondered.
When the cavalcade rode in at the great gate, where the round Temple crouched half-hidden among its grim and stately halls, the physician was taken at once to Gregory's private chamber. The Preceptor greeted him urbanely. "Master Tomaso," he said, "men say that you have learned to make gold."
"They say many things impossible to prove, as you are doubtless aware," Tomaso answered.
"Do you then deny that it is possible?" persisted Gregory.
"He is foolish," Tomaso returned, "who denies that a thing may happen, because he finds it extraordinary."
"Under certain conditions, you would say, it can be done?"
"When the donkey climbs the ladder he may find carrots on the tiles," was the Paduan's reply. The weasel-like face of the Templar contorted in a wry grin.
"You bandy words like an Aristotelian, sir alchemist," he said sharply, "therefore we will be plain with you. You shall be lodged here with suitable means for your experiments until such time as your pretensions are justified—if they are. Should you prove yourself a wizard, a dabbler in the black art and a deceiver of the people, you shall be so punished that all men may know we share not in your guilt. Reflection hereupon may perchance quicken your understanding. Until you have news of importance for our hearing, farewell."
With what he could summon of dignity, the Preceptor turned from the calm gaze of the physician and left the guards to conduct him to his lodging. There was really nothing else to do. It was a risk, of course. Tomaso was well known. He had the confidence of the King himself. But the situation was difficult. Prince John, who was usually in straits despite his father's generosity, had hinted to Gregory lately that he meant to inquire in person about the reported making of gold in the Temple. Could he have guessed somehow that two chests of ingots from a Cadiz galley had come to Temple Assheton instead of to the King's treasury? Or did he believe the story of the making of gold?
Gregory was but too certain that if John found any treasure of doubtful title he would seize it, and he was acutely unhappy. However, if Tomaso possessed the secret—or some other secret of value—there was yet a chance to save the Cadiz ingots. If this plan failed the scapegoat would not be a Templar.
Tomaso knew what was passing in his enemy's mind, not through any supernatural means, but by his knowledge of human nature. He was aware, as he lay on his narrow straw bed, that his life was in imminent danger. No one knew where he was; no message could reach his friends. A discredited wizard could count on no popular sympathy. The record of his studies for many years would vanish like the wind-blown candle-flame. Yet after some hours of wakefulness he slept, as tranquilly as a child.
A red-headed youth in the dress of a clerk, who was to have met Tomaso on the morrow, waited for him in vain. On the second day he started in search of his old friend, and weary and mud-bespattered, came at last to Temple Assheton. On the road he fell in with Swart the drover, who told him of the reported alchemy. "Gold would be common as fodder if any man could make it," Swart growled, "and when a man's wise beyond others in the art of healing, 'tis wicked folly to burn him alive for't."
Padraig's face lost every trace of color. "W-who says that?"
"The crows and herons, I suppose," said the drover coolly. "Anyhow none of the folk in the village know where the story started, and nobody but a bird on the wing could see over those walls. 'Tis said that ten days hence, if the old doctor don't make gold for them, they'll burn him for a wizard. Now that's no sense, for if he could make gold he'd be a wizard no bounds, and they'd not burn him then, I reckon."
Padraig looked down the valley at the tender gold-green grass and the snowdrift apple-boughs of spring, It seemed impossible that those grim gray walls held within them this cruel and implacable spirit. "Can I get a trustworthy messenger?" he asked. "I would send a letter to the Master's friends."
With the ready understanding of men who see and judge strange faces constantly, Swart and Padraig had taken each other's measure and been satisfied. "My nephew Hod will go," Swart answered. Hod was the son of the farmer whose house Tomaso had visited.
Padraig was busy with tablets and inkhorn. He folded and sealed his note, written in the clear stubbed hand of the monasteries. "I am Padraig," he said, "a scribe of the Irish Benedictines. If the Master comes to harm there will be a heavy reckoning, but that will come too late. I will rescue him or die with him—are you with me?"
Swart pulled at his huge beard. "The Swarts of Aschenrugge," he said, "have dwelt too long in these parts to bow neck to a Templar. Hod shall ride with the letter, and if it be thy choice to risk thine own life for thy master's I've no call to betray thee."
A dark-browed yokel came to the door with the bridle of Swart's best horse over his arm. "Take this," Padraig directed, "to Robert Edrupt, the wool merchant at Long Lea near Stratton. If he be from home give it to his wife Barbara and tell her to open and read it. She is wise and will do what is right. Here is money—all I have—but you shall be paid well when the errand is done; I have asked Edrupt to see to that."
Hod stuck his thumbs in his belt. "Put up thy money," he muttered. "The old doctor he cured our Cicely, he did."
The messenger gone, Padraig went straight to the Temple and asked to see the Preceptor. Gregory listened at first with suspicion, then with wonder, to what the stranger told. It seemed that, hearing that a famous alchemist was at work in the Temple, he had come to crave the privilege of acting as his servant. It was, he said, absolutely necessary that such a master should have a disciple at hand for the actual work, and be left undisturbed in meditation meanwhile."
"Is this necessary to the making of gold?" asked Gregory.
"Surely," Padraig assured him. "The pupil cannot do the work of the master, the master must not be compelled to labor as the pupil. It is written in our books—Feliciter is sapit, qui periculo alieno sapit—Those are fortunate who learn at the risk of another,—and again, He is wise who profits by others' folly."
Gregory eyed the stranger warily, but in Padraig's blue eyes he saw only childlike innocence and fanatical zeal. If a madman, he was a useful one. By his help the experiments could be carried on without imperiling any Templar. He directed a page to show Padraig the way to Tomaso's chamber.
"My son!" said the physician as he lifted his eyes from his writing and saw who was in the doorway, "how came you here?"
"I came to be with you, Master," Padraig answered with a glance behind him to make sure the page was gone, "to rescue you if I can. What else could I have done?"
Then he related his conversation with Gregory. "Through a drover of this place who is our friend," he ended, "I have sent word to Robert Edrupt asking him to get word of this to the King or to the Bishop. But if help does not come in time—"
"Che sara sara (What will be, will be)," said Tomaso coolly. "I have made a fair copy of these writings in the hope that I might send them to Brother Basil."
Padraig knelt at the physician's feet, his beseeching eyes raised to the kindly, serene old face. "Master Tomaso," he stammered, "they shall not do this thing—I cannot b-bear it! We have—we have the formula for the Apples of Sodom, and—and other things. They would give more than gold for that knowledge."
Tomaso laid a gentle hand upon the young shoulder. "My dear son," he said, "when we learned the secrets of Archiater—those secrets which mean death- -we promised one another, all of us, never to use them save to the glory of God and the honor of our land. Which of these, think you, would be served by lending them to the evil plots of a traitor?"
Padraig caught the hand of his master in both his own. "It is beyond endurance!" he cried piteously.
"I have knowledge," Tomaso went on, "that this Gregory is partly pledged to the faction of Prince John. The Templars have no country, but they think, with some reason, that they can bend John to their purposes. What would they do, with the power these fires of Tophet would give them? Padraig, there is no safety in the breaking of a pledge."
A thought came into the boy's mind, and a wild hope with it. "Master Tomaso," he cried, "if I can find a way to use our knowledge without breaking the pledge, will you give me my way?"
The Paduan looked long into the uplifted eager face. "It is good to be so loved," he said. "I will trust you. Yet grieve not, whatever comes,—the stars are my fortress, God is my lamp. The bridge to eternal life is very short."
Padraig's cell was the one just below, and the window looked out across the moors. Chin on his crossed arms, he pondered long under the stars. The next day he informed the Preceptor that the alchemist was ready to begin the making of Spanish gold, and must on no account be disturbed.
He showed Gregory the formula. It was not very easy to understand, but it was impressive. Cockatrice eggs were to be placed carefully in a nest in a stone walled underground chamber, which must be sealed from the outer air when all was ready. Snakes and toads brooding thereon would in time hatch out baby monsters—creatures with cocks' heads and the tails and wings of dragons. Their look was sure death, but they could be poisoned by a draught compounded of agrimony, dill and vervain. This must be prepared beforehand and left in a bason where the cockatrice when hatched would find and drink of it. When all were dead they were to be brayed in a mortar with other necessary ingredients. When the stars indicated that the fortunate hour was at hand, the compound was to be heated in a crucible over a large brazier, covered with a layer of chaff to absorb the poisonous gases that arose. That which remained in the crucible would be pure gold.
"'Tis a fearsome business," said Padraig naively, "for men hate wizards."
"Let them hate, if they fear us as well," muttered Gregory poring over the mysterious phrases. Visions arose in his mind of a Grand Master whose power should have no limit, whom Kings must serve and Sultans fear. Nay, not only should the Holy Temple be recovered, but it should be built anew, overlaid with gold as in Solomon's day. He called a steward and ordered him to fit up a cellar, formerly a passage into the vaults of the oldest part of the building, with all needful utensils. Braziers, crucibles, retorts and all the usual materials in the way of metals and powders were there, but of course, no cockatrice eggs.
"He brought these from Andalusia," said Padraig, showing seven small eggs mottled with crimson and black in a medicine box. Gregory touched one very gingerly. They were in fact waxen shells filled with volatile liquids, and Padraig had spent most of the night preparing them. He explained that they were no larger than frogs' eggs when he first had them,—which was perfectly true, the wax having been carried in the form of balls.
Sulphurous odors came from the cellar where the eggs were supposed to be hatching in their nest. An unwary hound sniffing about the door got a throatful of the stinging smoke and fled yowling. Hydrochloric acid, vitriol and nitre-glycerine are kittle things to meddle with, and the place was religiously avoided.
From the too free tongue of a cellarer one night Padraig learned that this chamber adjoined the treasure-vaults of the Temple, but the communicating door had been walled up. When the gold should be ready it could be conveyed into the treasury direct, by reopening this doorway.
One evening Prince John rode up to the gate with a company of Norman men- at-arms and a few courtiers. It was understood that he had come to investigate the reputed sorceries. On the same day three strangers came into the village and tarried at Swart's house on Aschenrugge. He often lodged travelers for a night, being near the highway. Padraig, spying a white signal on the giant ash which gave the ridge its name, told the impatient Preceptor that the hour was at hand.
Among the villagers it was said that the physician and his disciple were guarded closely night and day, and that the Paduan certainly would be burned at the stake if he did not succeed in making gold. Country folk had seen the stake set up and the faggots piled. In case the wizard proved a false prophet Gregory meant to make the execution as public as possible.
Padraig explained that the final trial must take place inter canis et lupus—between dog and wolf—in that hour which is neither daylight nor dark. As dusk fell the knights and esquires of the Temple ranged themselves in orderly ranks along the walls, at some distance from the door of the underground chamber. The low archway was now open; the glow of a brazier showed red against the rear wall. Torches lighted the stone- paved yard, and beyond the open gate the white faces of peasants crowded, awe-stricken and expectant. When the physician was brought out by the guards to a seat near the stake, the sobs of a woman were heard in the outer darkness. Padraig, following, cast a swift glance through the gate and saw the dim shapes of horsemen outlined against the sky.
Last of all appeared the Preceptor and Prince John with their immediate followers, and took their seats midway in the ranks of onlookers, directly opposite the door, where they could see every stage of the proceedings. Gregory, furtively scanning the face of the physician, saw therein not a sign of fear. Padraig advanced into the open space before the cellar, and bowed to Prince John and the Preceptor. Then from a niche within the door of the chamber he lifted a large crucible, and a siffle of indrawn breath was heard in the crowd as he carried it toward the fire. Gathering pitchy twigs and chaff from a heap of fuel he packed them deftly into the open top, and set the jar on the brazier, returning then to the side of Tomaso.
The minutes passed but slowly. The nerves of all the spectators were strung to the snapping-point. Gregory finally began to explain to Prince John, who looked half curious and half skeptical,—
"This crucible, your Grace, is now throwing off the vapors generated by fervent heat. When these have been absorbed by the chaff above, the gold will be found beneath. The possibilities of this priceless formula are not as yet altogether known. We do not know what may come to light. You may be astounded—"
The chaff in the crucible caught fire from a wisp that thrust up into it from the brazier, flared up of a sudden and lighted every corner of the old cellar. It revealed the craning neck and slack jaw of Gregory, the covetous glittering eyes and incredulous smile of Prince John, the scared faces of the huddling peasants. Then there was a crash that shook the earth. Battlements rocked, pavements cracked, blocks of stone leaped into the air like a fountain of masonry. When fire encounters high explosives in a tunnel the results are remarkable. Torches dropped or were blown out, and stumbling, cursing men ran right and left—anywhere to escape the pelting stones. Padraig, holding to his master's arm, guided him out of the gate and toward the sound of trampling hoofs upon a little hillock. There they found Edrupt, Guy and Alan struggling with their frantic horses. Swart came up with two more horses, and soon the party was beyond all danger of pursuit.
When the stunned and bewildered Templars recovered their breath, they saw nothing of the alchemist or of his disciple. It was felt to be just and right if they had been carried off bodily by the foul fiend. No one else was missing, though broken heads and bruises were everywhere. Only when dawn paled the heavens did the boldest of John's mercenaries venture back to the place of terror.
There was a great hole in the rear wall of the cellar, and among the ruins lay shining heaps of gold—not bezants or zecchins, but wedges and bars of a strange reddish hue. They touched it warily; it was not red-hot. They filled their pouches, and others came and did likewise. The hard-riding veterans had had no opportunity to plunder for more than a year, and John had little money for himself and none for them. When Gregory came on the scene, white and shaking with rage, and somewhat damaged about the face from flying stones, it was too late to hide his ingots. Gold of Spain or of Beelzebub, it was all one to John Sansterre. What little the troopers had left went into the gaping leather bags of their master, while Gregory looked on, grinding his teeth.
It was not in the nature of Prince John to believe much in miracles, but it suited him to accept this one, whole. With a jesting compliment upon the success of the formula and an intimation that he would like more such entertainment, John departed next day well pleased with his perquisition.
All this came duly to the ears of Swart the drover, and was told by him when he came by Edrupt's house a few days later.
"How did it happen so suitably, Padraig of my heart?" asked Tomaso, his deep eyes twinkling.
Padraig chuckled in pure delight. "I guessed that if our Apples of Sodom were properly ripe they'd blow a hole in the treasury wall. Those Norman thieves are not the men to balk at a little brimstone, and I figured that Master Gregory would be too busy to think of us for awhile. He took that formula for himself. Much good may he get of it. In place o' the copper and sulphur and nitre and the like I set down our cipher—snakes and toads and scorpions, Maltese cocks, unicorn's blood and so on. The cellarer said there was a lot o' foreign gold locked up in there, and that must ha' been what was heaved out. I warrant there'll be no more Black Magic in Temple Assheton."
THE EBBING TIDE
The sun has gone from the heights of heaven, The knights a-tilting no longer ride, The sails are vanished, the beaches empty— There is nothing left but the ebbing tide.
At dawn we sounded our heady challenge, At noon our blood beat high i' the sun, At eve we rode where the wolf-pack follow— The night is falling, our course is run.
But the tide runs out through the gates of sunset, And the living fires of Atlantis glow Between the clouds and the long sea-level, Beyond the waters we used to know.
Hy-Brasail gleams with its towers of beryl, Tourmaline, hyacinth, topaz and pearl, Free to the King if he have but the pass-word, Free to the veriest low-born churl.
For Earth levels all who have known her and loved her, And the soul fares forth where the great stars guide On the viewless path of the calling waters— Out to Hy-Brasail upon the tide!
THE END OF A PILGRIMAGE
Eleanor and Roger sat together in their own especial loop-hole window. When that window was new and they were little, the great stone hall with its massive arches was unfamiliar and lonely to them, and they liked to sit apart in this nook that seemed made for them. Four steps led up to it, a stone seat was within it, and it was at a comfortable distance from the warmth of the fire. Sitting there, they could look out upon the changeful beautiful landscape, or down upon the doings in the hall.
Now all the land was blanketed with heavy snow. The tree-trunks were charcoal-black under the stars; lights twinkled in the huts at the foot of the hill; the frozen river made no sound beneath the castle wall. Cattle and sheep were snug and safe in the byres, guarded by the wise watch-dogs. Very far away in the woods an owl hooted.
It was the beginning of Yule, in that breathing-time before the holiday begins, when one gets the fine aroma of its pleasure. The festivities this year would be greater than ever before, for a new banquet-hall was to be opened with the Christmas feast. This hall was the realized dream of years. Thus far the only place for entertainments had been the hall of the keep, which was also the living-room of the household. The new hall was a separate one-story building, not unlike a barn in shape, spacious enough for thirty or forty guests with their retainers and servants. Its red tiled roof, raised upon seasoned beams two or three feet thick, made an imposing show. The doorway took in almost half of one end and was lofty enough for a standard-bearer to come in without dipping his banner. There was a fireplace near the middle of one side, with a hooded stone arch to draw the smoke upward and outward. Opposite was a musicians' gallery of paneled oak, supported by corbels of stone placed about eight feet above the floor. A dais was built at the other end of the building from the entrance, for the master's table, and from this a smaller door opened into a stone passageway leading to the castle, while near it another door, leading to the kitchens, was placed. The stone walls were wainscoted about halfway up, and plastered above, the plaster being first painted a golden brown and then decorated with a pattern of stiff small flowers and leaves in green, red, bright blue and a little gilding. The floor was of stone blocks laid in a pattern of black and gray, and two steps led from the dais to the lower part of the hall. At intervals along the upper part of the walls were cressets of wrought iron in which to set torches, and above the dais were silver sconces for large wax candles. At intervals also were hooks of ornamental iron-work, from which to hang tapestries by their metal rings.
Eleanor had spent the greater part of the afternoon helping her mother get out the sets of tapestries reserved for holiday occasions, among them some which had been kept for this very hall. Not all were the work of the lady herself. Some were woven and embroidered by her maids under her direction, others were gifts from friends, and the superb piece which hung above the dais and represented the marriage of Ulysses and Penelope had been woven in Saumur and was the gift of the King. The chairs of state with their ebony or ivory footstools were placed, the candles in the sconces, the rushes and sweet herbs had been strewn upon the floor. Even the holiday meats and pastries were cooked or made ready for cooking. Until after Twelfth Night the only work done would be the necessary duties of each day.
There was shouting and laughter in the courtyard. In came most of the boys and young men of the place, bearing the great Yule log into the hall. Collet the maid, who had just come in with her mistress, bearing the Yule candle, was sent to get the charred remnant of last year's log. Both log and candle would burn through the twelve holidays without being quite consumed, and the bit that was left would be saved to light next year's fires. These familiar homely ceremonies were not for the stately untouched newness of the banquet-room.
Supper was but just over, and the roasted crab-apples were spluttering in the bowls of brown ale, when the mummers came, capering in their very best fashion and habited in antic robes whose pattern—if not the costume itself—had come down from past generations. These actors were village clowns who had seen such pageants in their boyhood, and they played their rude drama as they had seen it then, with perhaps a new song or two and a few speeches to tickle the ears of the new audience. All the household and many of the villagers crowded in after them to look and laugh and make remarks more or less humorous about the performance. The lord of the castle and his family disposed themselves to give their countenance to the merrymaking, and Sir Walter ordered the steward to see that the players had a good supper. He himself would distribute some money among them when the time came. Then they would go on to give the play wherever else they could hope for an audience.
The drama was supposed to be founded on the life of Saint George, but no one could say with truth that it was very much like the legend. First came a herald tooting on a cow-horn, to proclaim the entrance of the champion, who was Clement the carpenter mounted on a hobby-horse and armed with wooden sword and painted buckler. There was much giggling and whispering among the maids, directed at the demure black-eyed Madelon, of the still- room. This may have been a reason why Saint George stumbled so desperately over his rather long speech. His challenge was at last finished, and then was heard a discordant clashing of tambourines and horse-bells, supposed to indicate Saracen music. In cantered a turbaned Turk on another hobby,— black this time—and in another long speech very smoothly delivered defied the saint to mortal combat. There was more tittering, for Tom the blacksmith was also an admirer of that minx Madelon. The fight was a very lively one, and Saint George had some trouble in holding his own.
When the Saracen lay gasping for breath (very naturally, the victor having placed his foot upon his breast) the saint somewhat awkwardly expressed sorrow for his deed and sighed for a doctor. There was a burst of laughter and applause as Ralph the bowyer, the comedian of the company, came limping in, got up in the character of an old quack who had physicked half the spectators. He bled and bandaged and salved and dosed the fallen warrior, keeping up a running fire of remarks the while, until the wounded man arose and went prancing off as good as new. There was no dragon, but Giles the miller appeared as Beelzebub to avenge the defeat of the paynim, and was routed in fine style. At the end a company of waits sang carols while the performers got their breath and repaired damages. The cream of the comedy, to the friends of the wicked Madelon, lay in the fact that she had the day before given her promise to Ralph, binding him to say naught to his rivals until the mumming was safely over.
While the players were drinking the health of their lord in his own good brew, the horn sounded at the gate, and the old porter, who had been watching the mummery, elbowed his way out with some grumbling to see who could be there. In a few minutes a tall man entered the hall, wearing the garb of a Palmer or pilgrim from the Holy Land—a long cloak with a cape and a hood that shadowed the face, a staff, a scrip and sandals. At sight of him a surprised hush fell upon the company. The common folk drew apart to let him pass, not quite sure but this was a new figure in the play. But Sir Walter Giffard rose to his feet after one swift glance at the newcomer, and as the latter threw back his cowl, the host quickly advanced to embrace him, crying, "Stephen! We feared that you were dead!"
Lady Philippa came forward also, with shining eyes and parted lips, beckoning to the children to join in the welcome of the stranger. Eleanor scarcely remembered this uncle of hers, whom she had not seen since leaving Normandy. His eyes were so sad that she felt very sorry for him, but his smile was so kind that no one could help loving him. He reminded her of Saint Christopher, who had always been a favorite of hers because he kept away bad dreams.
Stephen Giffard had been ransomed by John de Matha, the Provencal monk who had given himself to the work of rescuing and befriending prisoners. Hearing from his rescuers that Lady Adelicia, his wife, had gone with rich gifts to the Holy Land in the hope that her prayers might bring him home, he took ship to Jaffa and there learned that she had died in Jerusalem. Now he had settled his affairs and come in the guise of a pilgrim to spend the Christmas season with his kinfolk in England.
The two brothers sat and talked by the smoldering fire until late that night, speaking of divers things. It was no wish of Sir Stephen's that his unexpected coming should interrupt or change the holiday plans. Indeed, many of the guests were his friends as well as his brother's. Eleanor wondered a little next day, why this recovered kinsman made in one way so little difference in the life of the household, and yet made so deep an impression. He was not himself merry, and still he seemed to enter into the joy of others and make it more satisfying. She tried to express this thought to her mother. The lady smiled, and sighed.
"He is a very good man," she said. "He was always good, and although he has had great troubles they have not made him hard or bitter—which is not a common thing. We must do all that we can for him while he is here, for that will not be long. He is going back among the paynim."
"But why, mother?" asked Eleanor, bewildered.
Lady Philippa shook her head. "I think because he is almost—or quite—a saint. Perhaps he will tell you by-and-by."
It seemed passing strange that Sir Stephen should wish to return to the Moslems after suffering as he had suffered among them, but there was no time for further discussion then.
Later in the day, when Sir Walter was talking with his steward and Lady Philippa was giving final directions to maids and cooks and dapifers, Eleanor and Roger found Sir Stephen seated alone by the flickering, purring Yule-log. Before they quite knew it they were telling him of all their favorite occupations and plays. He seemed as much interested as if they had been his own children.
"This Yule," he said musingly after a little, "might be in another world from the last. And once I spent the day in Bethlehem of Judea."
It sounded almost as if he had said he had been to heaven. They had never seen any one who had actually been in Bethlehem.
"There was a company of us," he went on, "some twenty in all, who landed after a rough voyage, very sea-weary and thankful to the saints. Glad were we to find the Knights Templars ready to guard us through the desert. Since our people have built churches and shrines in the Holy Land, and pilgrims who visit these places bring with them gold and gems for the decking thereof, there be many bands of robbers who infest the desert in the hope of plunder. Often finding no spoil, they maltreat or murder their victims. For this cause were the Templars and the Hospitallers established. The Templars may have grown proud and arrogant as some say, but I must give them this credit, that their black and white banner is mightily respected by the heathen.
"Having come safely through the wilderness, we entered Bethlehem as it chanced upon Christmas Eve, and the town was full of pilgrims and travelers, so that we had to find shelter where we could. The inns there are builded in a very old fashion. I think they have not changed since the time of our Lord. A large open space is walled in with mud or brick or stone, and hath a well in the middle. Around the inside of the walls are shelters for horses and pack animals, and sometimes—not always—there is a house where rooms are let to those who can pay. The one at our inn was already crowded, so that we had to make shift with fresh straw in the stalls with our beasts. They gave us flat unleavened cakes of bread, dried dates, and something like frumenty, with kebobs of mutton roasted, and water to drink. When we had supped we sat about on our baggage and watched the people still coming in,
"You have never seen a camel? No? They be marvelous beasts. They stand taller than the tallest charger, and travel like the wind on four feet. I saw three humps like mountains against the sky, coming in at the gate, and the beasts kneeled down at the word of command and were unloaded. Their masters came from the East, somewhere beyond Arabia, and were wise in the lore of the stars. How know I that? Wait and I will tell.
"Shepherds came also with their sheep, softly bleating and huddling in their cramped quarters. Last of all came a poor man and his wife with a very small babe, and they and their donkey took the last bit of space in our corner.
"I tell you it is surprising what men will do for a tiny child and its tender mother. There was a grumpy old Flanders merchant in our company, who thought only of his own comfort, but now he sent his servant to take a mantle to the mother because she looked like his daughter at home, who had named her boy for him. And there was a peevish clerk who had paid for the last bowl of pottage they had, who gave it to the little family and supped on bread.
"Weary as we were, and much as our bones ached, we found solace in looking at the child as it slept and thinking of the children we had known at home. I think," the knight added with a half smile, "that if it had wakened and cried out, the spell might have broken. But it was a sweet small thing, and it slumbered as if it had been cradled in down.
"Through the still air we heard the bells calling the monks to prayer. And then the baby woke, and looked about with wondering innocent eyes, and stretched out its little hands and laughed. I would you could have seen that grave company then. Every man of them sought a share in that sweet sudden laughter. The merchant dangled his gold chain, the clerk made clownish gestures, the merchant put a golden zecchin into the tiny fingers for a toy. And when it slept again we slept also, or watched the stars and thought of that star which long ago stood over Bethlehem.
"There was a learned doctor in our company who understood Eastern languages and could converse in Arabic with the wise men from the East. They told him that in their country there is a tradition that their astrologers, reading the heavens as is their wont, saw Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury foregather in the House of the Fishes that rules Judea, and knew by this that at such a time and in such a place a prophet should be born. Therefore came they to visit the child with rich gifts, and gained from the parents a promise that when he was of an age to learn, he should be brought to their country to learn of their wisdom, even as Moses was skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. I know not whether there can be any truth in the legend, but that is their belief. And yet they are not Christians, but heathen."
Sir Stephen smiled at the two puzzled young faces.
"Nay, more," he went on, "even the followers of Mahound revere Christ as a prophet. Their name for Him is Ruh' Allah. I have seen a Moslem beat his Christian slave for using an oath that dishonored the name of Christ. In truth, I have come to think that there are very few unbelievers in the world. Much wickedness there is—but not unbelief."
"Mother says," Eleanor ventured shyly, "that you are going away to live among the paynim."
"Aye." The knight smiled his fleeting, tender smile. "It is a grief to her, sweet lady, that I cannot dwell in comfort among you and think no more of voyages. But there is a work laid upon me, which I must do."
"A Crusade?" The word was just inside Roger's lips, and it slipped out before he thought. Sir Stephen smiled again.
"Nay. My fighting days are over. But I believe that even a broken man may serve if he be honestly so minded. I must tell you that for many years I had been troubled, and found no peace, because even among churchmen there was sloth and selfish greed, and the desire to rule, and the pilgrims whom I met seemed often moved rather by vanity and love of change than from any true fear of God. But as you know, I had but begun my homeward journey when our ship was taken by pirates and the few who were left alive were sold as slaves.
"It is not needful to tell all that befell me as a bondman among the Moors of Barbary. My master was a renegade knight who had forsworn the Cross and risen to some preferment among the Almohades. His hate was upon me day and night, and I knew that my lady and my kindred must believe me dead. And in that black horror of loneliness and despair I found my faith.
"God speaks to us not always in books, nor in words, nor in one place more than another. His ways are as the wind that blows where it will. It is not what men do to us that kills—it is what they make of us. They cannot make a soul cruel or foul or treacherous, that hath not lost God. What is the power of a multitude? Christ died. And His life is the light of men.
"Knighthood is a fair and noble thing, but its vows have no magic—no more than the oaths of the guilds, or the monastic orders, or the allegiance of the vassal to his lord. It is the living spirit that keeps the vows—and when that is gone their power is less than nothing. Once I could not see how it was possible for a man to renounce his knighthood and his Lord. I have lived with such a man, and I know that it came of his losing faith. He lost the power to believe in good. I think that he hated me because I reminded him of his own land and all that he no longer wished to remember.
"Now having known the scourge and the fetters, I may speak to the bondman as a brother. I am alone, with none to need me. Therefore I go hence to join the brethren who are giving their lives to this ministry."
The Palmer rose to his feet as if in haste to be gone. "I weary you perchance with talk too serious for holiday-time," he said with that quick smile of his, "but when you come to your own work you will know how close to the heart that lies. Now be glad and make others glad—it was never God's will, I am right sure, that this world should be a doleful place for the young."
The piercing silvery notes of the trumpets in the chill air, the trampling of horses in the bailey, gave notice of the arrival of guests. There was no more leisure that day.
In the glitter and glow and splendor of the banquet hall, with its music and gayety, the tall gray figure of the Palmer moved like a spirit. As the guests came one after another to speak with him of his experiences and his plans, their kindling faces proved his rare power of making them see what he saw. To Stephen Giffard the presence of God was as real as the sunrise. In the light of his utter self-sacrifice the loyalty, sweetness and courage of other lives seemed to shine out more brightly. It was all one with the immortal world of Christendom—ruled by the living spirit of the child cradled in Bethlehem centuries ago.
Daily we waited word or sign— They were our children, these Who held the unsleeping battle-line Beyond the haunted seas, Who gave their golden unlived years And that clear pathway trod Lifting through sunset gates of fire To the far tents of God.
Through trackless realms of unknown space They wander, unafraid, For nothing do they fear to face In worlds that God has made. Freed from the shattered bonds of earth They meet their comrades free, To share the service of the Lord In truth and loyalty.
Elizabeth's wise admirals guard Their dear-loved England's coast. From Somme and Meuse no cannon barred The Maid's undaunted host. And still the Foreign Legion hears In every desperate chance Her children's crashing battle-cry— "For France! For France! For France!"
The captains of the hosts of God Know every man by name, When from the torn and bleeding sod Their spirits pass like flame. The maid must wait her lover still, The mother wait her son,— For very love they may not leave The task they have begun.
If secret plot of greed or fear Shall bid the trumpets cease, And bind the lands they held so dear To base dishonored peace, How shall their white battalions rest Or sheathe the sword of light,— The unbroken armies of our dead, Who have not ceased to fight!
PEIROL OF THE PIGEONS
The troubadour, minstrel and jongleur or joglar, were not the same in dignity. A troubadour or trouvere was a poet who sang his own compositions to his own music. A jongleur was a singer who was not a poet, though he might make songs. He corresponded more nearly to the modern vaudeville performer. The minstrel was something between the two.
THE TAPESTRY CHAMBER
Saint George was not formally adopted as the patron saint of England until some time after this.
LULLABY OF THE PICT MOTHER
This song may be sung to a very old Scotch air called "O can ye sew cushions."
THE WOLVES OF OSSORY
The werewolf superstition is very persistent, and has been held in many countries until quite recent times.
ST. HUGH AND THE BIRDS
The reference is to St. Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, who is represented with his pet swan in most of his portraits. He founded a Carthusian monastery by the invitation of Henry II., at Witham in Somerset, and built the choir and a considerable part of Lincoln Cathedral. The stories of his love for birds are found in old chronicles.
THE SWORD OF DAMASCUS
An armorer's shop very like the one described has been brought from Abbeville and set up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in one of the rooms devoted to armor.
THE WISDOM OF THE GALLEYS
"Y'Allah!" (O God!) is a common exclamation, often used as meaning "Make Haste!" Abu Hassan is "the father of Hassan," In Moslem countries a father often uses his son's name in this way, allowing his own to be almost forgotten.
Khawaja, Khawadji or Howadji is a title of respect given exclusively to unbelievers.
The Breach of Roland—Roncesvalles.
Jebel el Tarik—Gibraltar.
"Ma sh' Allah!" (What does God mean!) the commonest exclamation of surprise.
Kafir—Infidel, heathen, a term of extreme contempt.
Ahmed ibn Said—Ahmed the son of Said.
THE EBBING TIDE
Hy-Brasail is the Celtic name for the Fortunate Islands, the Isles of Avilion, said to be situated somewhere west of Europe. The dead were said to go westward to these islands, which were a paradise.
THE END OF A PILGRIMAGE
John de Matha founded the Order of the Holy Trinity, sometimes known as the Redemptorist Fathers, sometimes as the Mathurins. He was afterward made a saint. He was the first to make any serious effort to alleviate the condition of prisoners, especially slaves among the Moslems.
The legend of the Star of Bethlehem referred to is one which is still current in India.