Gaston came delicately last, drawing his beard through his fist, to see Bertran de Born lie helpless in a lemon-bush hard by the wall. Richard, quite beyond himself, exploded with his story, and so was sobered. While Gaston made his comments, he, instead of listening, made comments of his own.
'Dear Lord Richard,' said Gaston reasonably, 'if you do not know Bertran by this time it is a strange thing and a pitiful thing. For it shows you without any wit. He was appointed, it would seem, to be the thorn in your rosebed of Anjou. What has he done since he was let be made but set you all by the ears? What did he do by the young King but miserably? What by Geoffrey? Is there a man in the world he hates more than the old King? Yes, there is one: you. Take a token. The last time they two met was in this very castle; and then the King your father kissed him, and forgiving him Henry's death, gave him back his Autafort; and Bertran too gave a kiss, that love might abound. Judas, Judas! And what did Judas next? Dear Richard, let us think awhile, but not here. Let us go to Limoges and think with the Viscount. But let us by all means kill Bertran de Born first.'
During this speech, which had much to recommend it, Richard, as I have told you, did his thinking by himself. He always cooled as suddenly as he boiled over; and now, warily regarding the right hand and the left of this monstrous fable, he saw that, though Saint-Pol might have played fox in it, another must have played goat. He could not fail to remember Louviers, and certain horrid mysteries which had offended him then with only vague disgust, as for matters which were outside his own care. Now they all took shape satyric, like hideous heads thrust out of the dark to loll their tongues at him. To the shock of his first dismay succeeded the onset of rage, white and cold and deadly as a night frost. Eh, but he would meet his teeth in some throat! But he would go slowly to work, clear the ground and stalk his prey. The leopard devises creeping death. He made up his mind. Gaston he sent to the South, to Angoulesme, to Perigord, to Auvergne, to Cahors. The horn must be heard at the head of every brown valley, the armed men shadow every white road. He himself went to his city of Poietiers.
Bertran de Born saw him go, and rubbed his hair till it stood like reeds shaken by the wind. Whether he loved mischief or not (and some say he breathed it); whether he had a grudge against Anjou not yet assuaged; whether he was in league with Prince John, or had indeed thought to do Prince Richard a service, let philosophers, experts of mankind, determine. If he had a turn for dramatics he had certainly indulged it now, and given himself strong meat for a new Sirvente of Kings. At least he was very busy after Richard's departure, himself preparing for a long journey to the South.
FRUITS OF THE TENZON: THE BACK OF SAINT-POL, AND THE FRONT OF MONTFERRAT
Count Richard found time, while he was at Poietiers awaiting the Aquitanian levies, to write six letters to Jehane Saint-Pol. Of these some, with their bearers, fell by the wayside. As luck would have it, Jehane received but two, the first and the last. The first said: 'I am in the way of liberty, but by a red road. Have hopes of me.' Jehane was long in answering. One may picture the poor soul taking the dear and wicked thing into the little chapel, laying it on the altar-stone warm from her vest, restoring it after office done to that haven whence she must banish its writer. Fortified, she replied with, 'Alas, my lord, the way of liberty leads not to me; nor can I serve you otherwise than in bonds. I pray you, make my yoke no heavier.—Your servant, in little ease, Jehane.' This wistful unhappy letter gave him heartache; he could scarcely keep himself at home. Yet he must, being as yet sure of nothing. He replied in a second and third, a fourth and a fifth letter, which never reached her. The last was sent when he had begun what he thought fit to do at Tours, saying, 'I make war, but the cause is righteous. Never misjudge me, Jehane.' There were many reasons why she should not answer this.
Returning to his deeds at Poietiers, I pick up the story from the Abbot Milo, whom he found there. The Count, you may judge, kept his own counsel. Milo was his confessor, but at this time Richard was not in a confessing humour; therefore Milo had to gather scandal as he could. There was very little difficulty about this. 'In the city of Tours,' he writes, 'in those middle days of Advent, it appears that rumour, still gadding, was adrift with names almost too high for the writing. There were many there who had no business; the Count of Blois, for instance, the Baron of Chateaudun, the fighting Bishop of Durham (I fear, a hireling shepherd), Geoffrey Talebot, Hugh of Saint-Circ. One reason of this was that King Henry was in England, not yet come to an agreement with the French King, nor likely to it if what we heard was true, yea, or a tenth part of it. God forbid that I should write what these ears heard; but this I will say. It was I who told the shocking tale to my lord Richard, adding also this hint, that his former friend was involved in it, Eudo Count of Saint-Pol. If you will believe me, not the tale of iniquity moved him; but he received it with shut mouth, and eyes fixed upon mine. But at the name of the Count of Saint-Pol he took a breath, at the mention of his part in the business he took a deep breath, and when he heard that this man was yet at Tours, he got up from his chair and struck the table with his closed fist. Knowing him as I did, I considered that the weather looked black for Saint-Pol.
'Next day Count Richard moved his hosts out of the fields by Poietiers to the very borders of his country, and calling a halt at Saint-Gilles and making snug against alarms, himself, with my lord Gaston of Bearn, with the Dauphin of Auvergne also, and the Viscount of Beziers, crossed the march into Touraine, and so came to Tours about a week before Christmas, the weather being bright and frosty.'
It seems he did not take the abbot with him, for the rest of the good man's record is full of morality, a certain sign that facts failed him. There may have been reasons; at any rate the Count went into Tours in a trenchant humour, with ears keen and wide for all shreds of report. And he got enough and to spare. In the wet market-place, on the flags of the great churchyard, by the pillars of the nave, in the hall, in the chambers, in the inn-galleries; wherever men met or women whispered in each other's necks, there flew the names of Alois, King Philip's sister, and of King Henry, Count Richard's father. Richard made short work, short and dry. It was in mid-hall in the Bishop's palace, one day after dinner, that he met and stopped the Count of Saint-Pol.
'What now, beau sire?' says the Count, out of breath. Richard's eyes were alight. 'This,' says he, 'that you lie in your throat.'
Count Eudo looked about him, and everywhere saw the faces of men risen from the board intent on him. 'Strange words, beau sire,' says he, very white. Richard raised his voice till the metal rang in it.
'But not strange doing, I think, on your part. This has been going on, how long?'
Saint-Pol was stung. 'Ah, it becomes you very ill to reproach me, my lord.'
'I think it becomes me excellently,' said Richard. 'You have lied for a vile purpose; you have disgraced your name. You seek to drive me by slander whither I may not go in honour. You lie like a broker. You are a shameful liar.'
No man could stand this from another, however great that other; and Saint-Pol was not a coward. He looked up at his adversary, still white, but steady.
'How then?' he asked him, 'how then if I lie not, Count of Poictou? And how if you know that I lie not?'
'Then,' said Richard, 'you use insult, which is worse.'
Saint-Pol took off his glove of mail and flung it with a clatter on the floor.
'Since it has come to this, my lord—' Richard spiked the glove with his sword, tossed it to the hammer-beams of the roof, and caught it as it fell.
'It shall come nearer, Count, I take it.' Thus he finished the other's phrase, then stalked out of the Bishop's house. It was then and there that he wrote to Jehane that sixth letter, which she received: 'I make war, but the cause is righteous. Never misjudge me, Jehane.'
The end of it was a combat a outrance in the meads by the Loire, with all Tours on the walls to behold it. Richard was quite frank about the part he proposed to himself. 'The man must die,' he told the Dauphin of Auvergne, 'even though he have spoken the truth. As to that I am not sure, I am not yet informed. But he is not fit to live on any ground. By these slanders of his he has disgraced the name and outraged the honour of the most lovely lady in the world, whose truest misfortune is to be his sister; by the same token I must punish him for the dignity of the lady I am (at present) designed to wed. She is always the daughter of his liege-lord. What!'—he threw his head up—'Is not a daughter of France worth a broken back?'
'Tu-dieu, yes,' says the Dauphin; 'but it is a stoutish back, Richard. It is a back which ranks high. Kings clap it familiarly. Conrad of Montferrat calls it a cousin's back. The Emperor has embraced it at an Easter fair.'
'I would as soon break Conrad's back as his, Dauphin, believe me,' Richard replied; 'but Conrad has said nothing. And there is another reason.'
'I have thought myself of a reason against it,' the Dauphin said quickly, yet with a flutter of timidity. 'This man's name is Saint-Pol.'
Richard grew bleak in a moment. 'That,' he said, 'is why I shall kill him. He seeks to drive us to marriage. Injurious beast! His name is Pandarus.' Then he left the Dauphin and shut himself up until the day of battle.
They had formed lists in the Loire meads: a red pavilion with leopards upon it for the Count of Poictou, a blue pavilion streaked with basilisks in silver for the Count of Saint-Pol. The crowd was very great, for the city was full of people; in the tribune the King of England's throne was left empty save for a drawn sword; but one sat beside it as arbiter for the day of life and death, and that was Prince John, Richard's brother, by Richard summoned from Paris, and most unwillingly there. Bishop Hugh of Durham sat next him, and marvelled to see the sweat glisten on his forehead on a day when all the world else felt the north wind to their bones. 'Are you suffering, dear lord?' 'Eh, Bishop Hugh, Bishop Hugh, this is a mad day for me!' 'By God,' thought Hugh of Durham, 'and so it might prove, my man!'
They blew trumpets; and at the second sounding Saint-Pol, the challenger, rode out on a big grey horse, himself in a hauberk of chain mail with a coif of the same, and a casque wherein three grey heron's feathers. This was the badge of the house: Jehane wore heron's feathers. He had a blue surcoat and blue housings for his horse. Behind him, esquire of honour, rode the young Amadeus of Savoy, carrying his banner, a white basilisk on a blue field. Saint-Pol was a burly man, bearing his honours squarely on breast and back.
They sounded for the Count of Poictou, who came presently out of his tent and lightly swung himself into the saddle—a feat open to very few men armed in mail. As he came cantering down the long lists no man could fail to mark the size and splendid ease he had; but some said, 'He is younger by five years than Saint-Pol, and not so stout a man.' He had a red plume above his leopard crest, a white surcoat over his hauberk, with three red leopards upon it. His shield was of the same blazon, so also the housings of his horse. The Dauphin of Auvergne carried his banner. The two men came together, saluted with ceremony, then turned with spears uplift to the tribune, the throned sword, the sweating prince beside it.
This one now rose up and caught at his chair, to give the signal. 'Oh, Richard of Anjou, do thou on the body of Saint-Pol what thy faith requires of thee; and do thou, Eudo, uphold the right thou hast, in the name of God in Trinity and of our Lady.' The Bishop of Tours blessed them both and the issue, they wheeled apart, and the battle began. It was short, three careers long. At the first shock Richard unhorsed his man; at the second he unhelmed him with a deep flesh-furrow in the cheek; at the third he drove down horse and man together and broke the Count's back. Saint-Pol never moved again.
The moment it was over, in the silence of all, Prince John came down from the tribune and fell upon Richard's neck. 'Oh, dearest brother,' cried he, 'what should I have done if the worst had befallen you? I cannot bear to think of it.'
'Oh, brother,' Richard said very quietly, 'I think you would have borne it very well. You would have married Madame Alois, and paid for a mass or two for me out of the dowry.'
This raking shot was heard by everybody. John grew red as fire. 'Why, what do you mean, Richard?' he stammered.
And Richard, 'Are my words so encumbered? Think them over, get them by heart. So doing, be pleased to ride with me to Paris.' At this the colour left John's face.
'Ah! To Paris?' He looked as if he saw death under a bush.
'That is where we must go,' said Richard, 'so soon as we have prayed for that poor blind worm on the ground, who now haply sees wherein he has offended.'
'Conrad of Montferrat, cousin of this dead, is there, Richard,' said the other with intention; but Richard laughed.
'In a very good hour we shall find him. I have to give him news of his cousin Saint-Pol. What is he there for?'
'It is in the matter of the kingdom of Jerusalem. He seeks Sibylla and that crown, and is like to get them.'
'I think not, John, I think not. We will fill his head with other thoughts; we will set it wanting mine. Your chance is a fair one yet, brother.'
Prince John laughed, but not comfortably. 'Your tongue bites, Richard.'
'Pooh,' says Richard, 'what else are you worth? I save my teeth'; and went his ways.
In Paris Richard repaired to the tower of his kinsman the Count of Angoulesme, but his brother to the Abbey of Saint-Germain. The Poictevin herald bore word to King Philip-Augustus on Richard's part; Prince John, as I suppose, bore his own word whither he had most need for it to go. It is believed that he contrived to see Madame Alois in private; and if that great purple cape that held him in talk for nearly an hour by a windy corner of the Pre-aux-Clercs did not cover the back of Montferrat, then Gossip is a liar, Richard, for his part, took no account of John and his shifts; a wave of disgust for the creeping youth had filled the stronger man, and having got him into Paris there seemed nothing better to do with him than to let him alone. But that sensitive gorge of Richard's was one of his worst enemies: if he did not mean to hold the snake in the stick, he had better not have cleft the stick. As for John and his writhing, I am only half concerned with them; but let me tell you this. Whatever he did or did not sprang not from hatred of this or that man, but from fear, or from love of his own belly. Every prince of the house of Anjou loved inordinately some member of himself, some a noble member nobly, and others basely a base member. If John loved his belly, Richard loved his royal head: but enough. To be done with all this, Richard was summoned to the French King hot-foot, within a day or two of his coming; went immediately with his chaplain Anselm and other one or two, and was immediately received. He had, in fact, obeyed in such haste that he found two in the audience-chamber instead of one. With Philip of France was Conrad of Montferrat, a large, pale, ruminating Italian, full of bluster and thick blood. The French King was a youth, just the age of Jehane, of the thin, sharp, black-and-white mould into which had run the dregs of Capet. He was smooth-faced like a girl, and had no need to shave; his lips were very thin, set crooked in his face. So far as he was boy he loved and admired Richard, so far as he was Capet he distrusted him with all the rest of the world.
Richard knelt to his suzerain and was by him caught up and kissed. Philip made him sit at his side on the throne. This put Montferrat, who was standing, sadly out of countenance, for he considered himself (as perhaps he was) the superior of any man uncrowned.
It seems that some news had drifted in on the west wind. 'Richard, oh, Richard!' the King began, half whimsical and half vexed, 'What have you been doing in Touraine?'
'Fair sire,' answered Richard, 'I have been doing what will, I fear, give pain to our cousin Montferrat. I have been breaking the back of the Count of Saint-Pol.' At this the Marquess, suffused with dark blood till he was colour of lead, broke out, pointing his finger as well as his words. As the bilge-water jets from a ketch when the hold is surcharged, so did the Marquess jet his expletives.
'Ha, sire! Ha, King of France! Now give me leave to break this brigand's back, who robs and reviles in one breath. Touch of the Gospel, is it to be borne?' Foaming with rage, he lunged forward a step or two, his hand upon his long sword. Richard slowly got up from the throne and stood his full height.
'Marquess, you use words I will not hear—'
King Philip broke in—'Fair lords, sweet lords—'; but Richard put his hand up, having a kingly way with him which even kings observed.
'Dear sire,'—his voice was level and cool—'let me say my whole mind before the Marquess recovers his. The Count of Saint-Pol, for beastly reasons, spoke in my hearing either true things or false things concerning Madame Alois. If they were true I was ready to die; if they were false I hope he was. Believing them false, I had punished one man for them before; but he had them from Saint-Pol. Therefore I called Saint-Pol a liar, and other proper things. This gave him occasion to save his credit at the risk of his back. He broke the one and I the other. Now I will hear the Marquess.'
The Marquess tugged at his sword. 'And I, Count of Poictou—'; but King Philip held out his sceptre, he too very much a king.
'And we, Count of Poictou,' he said, 'command you by your loyalty to tell us what Saint-Pol dared say of our sister Dame Alois.' Although his thin boy's voice quavered, he seemed the more royal for the human weakness. Richard was greatly moved, thawed in a moment.
'God forgive me, Philip, but I cannot tell thee—' Pity broke up his tones.
The young king almost whimpered: 'Oh, Richard, what is this?' But Richard turned away his face. It was now the chance of the great Italian.
'Now listen, King Philip,' he said, grim and square, 'and listen you, Count of Poictou, whose account is to be quieted presently. Of this business I happen to know something. If it serve not your honour I cannot help it. It serves my murdered cousin's honour—therefore listen.'
Richard's head was up. 'Peace, hound,' he said, and the Marquess snarled like an old dog; but Philip, with a quivering lip, put out his hand till it touched Richard's shoulder. 'I must hear it, Richard,' he said. Richard put his arm round the lad's neck: so the Marquess told his story. At the end of it Richard dared look down into Philip's marred eyes. Then he kissed his forehead, and 'Oh, Philip,' says he, 'let him who is hardy enough to tell this tale believe it, and let us who hear it do as we must. But now you understand why I made an end of Saint-Pol, and why, by heaven and earth, I will make an end of this brass pot.' He turned upon Montferrat with his teeth bare. 'Conrad, Conrad, Conrad!' he cried terribly, 'mark your goings about this slippery world; for if when I get you alone I do not send you quick into hell, may I go down myself beyond redemption of the Church!'
'That you will surely do, my lord,' says the Marquess of Montferrat, greatly disturbed.
'If I get you there also I shall be reasonably entertained for a short time,' Richard answered, already cooled and ashamed of his heat. Then King Philip dismissed the Marquess, and as soon as he was rid of him jumped into Richard's arms, and cried his heart away.
Richard, who was fond of the youth, comforted him as well as he was able, but on one point was a rock. He would not hear the word 'marriage' until he had seen the lady. 'Oh, Richard, marry her quick, marry her quick! So we can face the world,' the young King had blubbered, thinking that course the simplest answer to the affront upon his house. It did not seem so simple to the Count, or (rather) it seemed too simple by half. In his private mind he knew perfectly well that he could not marry Madame Alois. So, for that matter, did King Philip by this time. 'I must see Alois, Philip, I must see her alone,' was all Richard had to say; and really it could not be gainsaid.
He went to her after proper warning, and saw the truth the moment he had view of her. Then also he knew that he had really seen it before. That white, furtive, creeping girl, from whose loose hair peered out a pair of haunted eyes; that drooped thing backing against the wall, feeling for it, flat against it, with open shocked mouth, astare but seeing nothing: the whole truth flared before him monstrously naked. He loathed the sight of her, but had to speak her smoothly.
'Princess—' he said, and came forward to touch her hand; but she slipped away from him, crouching to the wall. The torment of breath in her bosom was bad to see.
'Touch me not, Count of Poictou;' she whispered the words, and then moaned, 'O God, what will become of me?'
'Madame,' said Richard, rather dry, 'God may answer your question, since He knows all things, but certainly I cannot, unless you first tell me what has hitherto become of you.'
She steadied herself by the wall, her palms flat upon it, and leaned her body forward like one who searches in a dark place. Then, shaking her head, she let it fall to her breast. 'Is there any sorrow like my sorrow?' says she to herself, as though he had not been there.
Richard grew stern. 'So asked in His agony the Son of high God,' he reproved her. 'If you dare ask Him that in His own words your sorrow must be deep.'
She said, 'It is most deep.'
'But His,' said Richard, 'was bitter shame.' She said, 'And mine is bitter.'
'But His was undeserved.' He spoke scorn; so then she lifted up her head, and with eyes most piteous searched his face. 'But mine, Richard,' she said, 'but mine is deserved.'
'The hearing is pertinent,' said Richard. 'As a son and man affianced it touches me pretty close.'
Out of the hot and desperate struggle for breath, sounds came from her, but no words. But she ran forward blindly, and kneeling, caught him by the knees; he could not but find pity in his heart for the witless poor wretch, who seemed to be fighting, not with regret nor for need of his pity, but with some maggot in the brain which drove her deeper into the fiery centre of the storm. Richard did what he could. A religious man himself, he pointed her to the Christ on the wall; but she waved it out of sight, shook her wild hair back, and clung to him still, asking some unguessed mercy with her eyes and sobbing breath. 'God help this tormented soul, for I cannot,' he prayed; and said aloud, 'I will call your women; let me go.' So he tried to undo her hands, but she clenched her teeth together and held on with frenzy, whining, grunting, like some pounded animal. Dumbly they strove together for a little panting space of time.
'Ah, but you shall let me go,' he said then, much distressed, and forcibly unknotted her mad hands. She fell back upon her heels, and looked up at him. Such hopeless, grinning misery he had never seen on a face before. He was certain now that she was out of her wits.
Yet once again she brushed her hands over her face, as he had seen her do before, like one who sweeps gossamers away on autumn mornings; and though she was all in a shiver and shake with the fever she had, she found her voice at last. 'Ah, thanks! Ah, my thanks, O Christ my Saviour!' she sighed. 'O sweet Saviour Christ, now I will tell him all the truth.'
If he had listened to her then it had been well for him. But he did not. The struggle had fretted him likewise; if she was mad he was maddened. He got angry where he should have been most patient. 'The truth, by heaven!' he snapped. 'Ah, if I have not had enough of this truth!' And so he left her shuddering. As he went down the long corridor he heard shriek after shriek, and then the scurrying of many feet. Turning, he saw carried lights, women running. The sounds were muffled, they had her safe. Richard went to his house over the river, and slept for ten hours.
OF THE CRACKLING OF THORNS UNDER POTS
Just as no two pots will boil alike, so with men; they seethe in trouble with a difference. With one the grief is taken inly: this was Richard's kind. The French King was feverish, the Marquess explosive, John of England all eyes and alarms. So Richard's remedy for trouble was action, Philip's counsel, the Marquess's a glut of hatred, and John's plotting. The consequence is, that in the present vexed state of things Richard threw off his discontent with his bedclothes, and at once took the lead of the others, because it could be done at once. He declared open war against the King his father, despatching heralds with the cartel the same day; he gave King Philip to understand that the French power might be for him or against him as seemed fitting, but that no power in heaven or on earth would engage him to marry Dame Alois. King Philip, still clinging to his friend, made a treaty of alliance with him against Henry of England. That done, sealed and delivered, Richard sent for his brother John. 'Brother,' he said, 'I have declared war against my father, and Philip is to be of our party. In his name and my own I am to tell you that one of two things you must do. You may stay in our lands or leave them; but if you stay you must sign our treaty of alliance.' Too definite for John, all this: he asked for time, and Richard gave him till nightfall. At dusk he sent for him again. John chose to stay in Paris. Then Richard thought he would go home to Poictou. The moment his back was turned began various closetings of the magnates left behind, with which I mean to fatigue the reader as little as possible.
One such chamber-business I must record. To Paris in the black February weather came pelting the young Count Eustace, now by his brother's death Count of Saint-Pol. Misfortune, they say, makes of one a man or a saint. Of Eustace Saint-Pol it had made a man. After his homage done, this youth still kneeling, his hands still between Philip's hands, looked fixedly into his sovereign's face, and 'A boon, fair sire!' he said. 'A boon to your new man!'
'What now, Saint-Pol?' asked King Philip.
'Sire,' he said, 'my sister's marriage is in you. I beg you to give her to Messire Gilles de Gurdun, a good knight of Normandy.'
'That is a poor marriage for her, Saint-Pol,' said the King, considering, 'and a poor marriage for me, by Saint Mary. Why should I enrich the King of England, with whom I am at war? You must give me reason for that.'
'I will give you this reason,' said young Saint-Pol; 'it is because that devil who slew my brother will have her else.'
King Philip said, 'Why, I can give her to one who will hold her fast. Your Gurdun is a Norman, you say? Well, but Count Richard in a little while will have him under his hand; and how are you served then?'
'I doubt, sire,' replied Saint-Pol. 'Moreover, there is this, if it please you to hear it. When the Count of Poictou repudiated (as he most villainously did) my sister, he himself gave her to Gurdun. But I fear him, lest seeing her any other's he should take her again.'
'What is this, man?' asked King Philip.
'Sire, he writes letters to my sister that he is a free man, and she keeps them by her and often reads them in secret. So she was caught but lately by my lady aunt, reading one in bed.'
The King's brow grew very black, for though he knew that Richard would never marry Madame, he did not choose (but resented) that any other should know it. At this moment Montferrat came in, and stood by his kinsman.
'Ah, sire,' said he, in those bloodhound tones of his, 'give us leave to deal in this business with free hands.'
'What would you do in it, Marquess?' asked the King fretfully.
'Kill him, by God,' said the Marquess; and young Saint-Pol added, 'Give us his life, O lord King.'
King Philip thought. He was fresh from making a treaty with Richard; but that was in a war of requital only, and would be ended so soon as the last drop had been drained from the old King. What would follow the war? He was by this time cooler towards Richard, very much vexed at what he had just heard; he could not help remembering that marriage with Alois would have been the proper reply to scandalous report. Should he be able, when the war was done, to squeeze Richard into marriage or an equivalent in lands? He wondered, he doubted greatly. On the other hand, if he and Richard could crush old Henry, and Saint-Pol afterwards bruise Richard—why, what was Philip but a gainer?
Chewing the fringe of his mantle as he considered this and that,'If I give Madame Jehane in marriage to your Gurdun,' he said dubiously, 'what will Gurdun do?'
Saint-Pol named the sum, a fair one.
'But what part will he take in the quarrel?' asked the King.
'He will take my part, as he is bound, sire.'
'Pest!' cried Philip, 'let us get at it. What is this part of yours?'
'The part of him who has a blood-feud, my lord,' said young Saint-Pol; and the Marquess said, 'That is my part also.'
'Have it according to your desires, my lords,' then said King Philip. 'I give you this marriage. Make it as speedily as may be, but let not Count Richard have news until it is done. There is a fire, I tell you, hidden in that tall man. Remember this too, Saint-Pol. You shall not make war on the side of England against Richard, for that will be against me. Your feud must wait its turn. For this present I have an account to settle in which Poictou is on my side. Marquess, you likewise are in my debt. See to it that you give my enemies no advantage.'
The Marquess and his cousin gave their words, holding up the hilts of their swords before their faces.
Richard, in his city of Poictiers, was calmly forwarding his plans. His first act, since he now considered himself perfectly free, had been to send Gaston of Bearn with letters to Saint-Pol-la-Marche; his second, seeing no reason why he should wait for King Philip or any possible ally, to cross the frontier of Touraine in force. He took castle after castle in that rich land, clearing the way for the investiture of Tours, which was his first great objective.
I leave him at this employment and follow Gaston on his way to the North. It was early in March when that young man started, squally, dusty weather; but perfect trobador as he was, the nature of his errand warmed him; he composed a whole nosegay of scented songs in honour of Richard and the crocus-haired lady of the March who wore the broad girdle. Riding as he did through the realm of France, by Chateaudun, Chartres, and Pontoise, he narrowly missed Eustace of Saint-Pol, who was galloping the opposite way upon an errand dead opposed to his own. Gaston would have fought him, of course, but would have been killed to a certainty; for Saint-Pol rode as became his lordship, with a company, and the other was alone. He was spared any such mischance, however, and arrived in the highest spirits, with an alba (song of the dawn) for what he supposed to be Jehane's window. It shows what an eye he had for a lady's chamber that he was very nearly right. A lady did put her head out; not Jehane, but a rock-faced matron of vast proportions with grey hair plastered to her cheeks.
'Behold, behold the dawn, my tender heart!' breathed Gaston.
'Out, you cockerel,' said the old lady, and Gaston wooed her in vain. It appeared that she was an aunt, sworn to the service of the Count, and had Jehane safe in a tower under lock and key. Gaston retired into the woods to meditate. There he wrote five identic notes to the prisoner. The first he gave to a boy whom he found birds'-nesting. 'Take a turtle's nest, sweet boy,' said Gaston, 'to my lady Jehane; say it is first-fruits of the year, and win a silver piece. Beware of an old lady with a jaw like a flat-iron.' The second he gave to a woodman tying billets for the Castle ovens; the third a maid put in her placket, and he taught her the fourth by heart in a manner quite his own and very much to her taste. With the fifth he was most adroit. He demanded an interview with the duenna, whose name was Dame Gudule. She accorded. Gaston spilled his very soul out before her; he knelt to her, he kissed her large velvet feet. The lady was touched, I mean literally, for Gaston as he stooped fitted his fifth note into the braid of her ample skirt. The only one to arrive was the boy's in the bird's nest. The boy wanted his silver piece, and got it. So Jehane had another note to cherish.
But she had to answer it first. It said, 'Vera Copia. Ma mye, I set on to the burden you gave me, but it failed of breaking my back. I have punished some of the wicked, and have some still to punish. When this is done I shall come to you. Wait for me. I regret your brother's death. He deserved it. The fight was fair. Learn of me from Gaston.—Richard of Anjou.' Her answer was leaping in her heart; she led the boy to the window.
'Look down, boy, and tell me what you can see.'
'Dame!' said the boy, 'I see the moat, and ducks on it.'
'Look again, dear, and tell me what you see.'
'I see an old fish on his back. He is dead.'
Jehane laughed quietly. 'He has been there many days. Tell the knight who sent you to stand thereabout, looking up. Tell him not to be there at any hour save that of mass, or vespers. Will you do this, dear boy?'
'Certain sure,' said the boy. Jehane gave him money and a kiss, then fastened herself to the window.
Gaston excelled in pantomime. Every day for a week he saw Jehane at her window, and enacted many strange plays. He showed her the old King stormy in his tent, the meagre white unrest of Alois, the outburst at Autafort and Bertran de Born with his tongue out; the meeting at Tours, the battle, the death of the Count her brother. He was admirable on Richard's love-desires. There could be no doubt at all about them. Pricked by his feats in this sort, Jehane overcame her reserve and turned her members into marionettes. She puffed her cheeks, hung her head, scowled upwards: there was Gilles de Gurdun to the life. She looped finger and thumb of the right hand and pierced them with the ring finger: ohe! her fate. Gaston in reply to this drew his sword and ran a cypress-tree through the body. Jehane shook a sorrowful head, but he waved all such denials away with a hand so expressive that Jehane broke the window and leaned her body out. Gaston uttered a cheerful cry.
Have no fear, lovely prisoner. If that is his intention he is gone. I kill him. It is arranged.'
'My brother Eustace is in Paris,' says Jehane in a low but carrying voice, 'to get my marriage from the King.'
'Again I say, fear nothing,' Gaston cried; but Jehane strained out as far as she could.
'You must go away from here. The window is broken now, and they will find me out. Take a message to my lord. If he is free indeed, he knows me his in life or death. I seek to do him service. Wed or unwed, what is that to me? I am still Jehane.'
'Your name is Red Heart, and Golden Rose, and Loiale Amye! Farewell, Star of the North,' said Gaston on his knees. 'I seek this Gurdun of yours.'
He found him after some days' perilous prowling of the Norman march. Gilles had received the summons of his Duke to be vi et armis at Rouen; a little later Gaston might have met him in the field of broad battle, but such delay was not to his mind. He met him instead in a woodland glade near Gisors, alone (by a great chance), sword on thigh.
'Beef, thou diest,' said the Bearnais, peaking his beard. Gilles made no reply that can be written, for what letters can shape a Norman grunt? Perhaps 'Wauch!' comes nearest. They fought on horseback, with swords, from noon to sunset, and having hacked one another out of the similitude of men, there was nothing left them to do but swoon side by side on the sodden leaves. In the morning Gaston, unclogging one eye, perceived that his enemy had gone. 'No matter,' said the spent hero to himself. 'I will wait till he comes back, and have at him again.'
He waited an unconscionable time, a month in fact, during which he delighted to watch the shy oncoming of a Northern spring, so different from the sudden flooding of the South. He found the wood-sorrel, he measured the crosiers of the brake, and saw the blue mist of the hyacinth carpet the glades. All this charmed him quite, until he learned, by hazard, that the Sieur de Gurdun was to be married to Dame Jehane Saint-Pol on Palm Sunday in the church of Saint Sulpice of Gisors. 'God ha' mercy!' he thought, with a stab at the heart; 'there is merely time.' He rode South on the wind's wings.
HOW THEY HELD RICHARD OFF FROM HIS FATHER'S THROAT
Long before the pink flush on the almond announced the earth a bride, on all Gaulish roads had been heard the tramp of armed men, the ring of steel on steel. This new war splintered Gaul. Aquitaine held for Richard, who, though he had quelled and afterwards governed that great duchy with an iron whip, had made himself respected there. So the Count of Provence sent him a company, the Count of Toulouse and Dauphin of Auvergne each brought a company; from Perigord, from Bertram Count of Roussillon, from Bearn, and (for reasons) from the wise King of Navarre, came pikemen and slingers, and long-bowmen, and knights with their esquires and banner-bearers. The Duke of Burgundy and Count of Champagne came from the east to fill the battles of King Philip; in the west the Countess of Brittany sent about the war-torch. All the extremes of Gaul were in arms against the red old Angevin who sat at her heart, who was now still snarling in England, and sending message after secret message to his son John. That same John, alone in Paris, headed no spears, partly because he had none of his own, partly because he dared not declare himself openly. He had taken a side, driven by his vehement brother; for the first time in his life he had put pen to parchment. God knew (he thought) that was committal enough. So he stayed in Paris, shifting his body about to get comfort as the winds veered. Nobody inquired of him, least of all his brother Richard, who, beyond requiring his signature, cared little what he did with his person. This was characteristic of Richard. He would drive a man into a high place and then forget him. Reminded of his neglect, he would shrug and say, 'Yes. But he is a fool.' Insufficient answer: he did not see or did not choose to see that there are two sorts of fools. Stranded on his peak, one man might be fool enough to stop there, another to try a descent. Prince John (no fool either) was of this second quality. How he tried to get down, and where else he tried to go, will be made clear in time. You and I must go to the war in the west.
War showed Count Richard entered into his birthright. As a strategist he was superb, the best of his time. What his eye took in his mind snapped up—like a steel gin. And his eye was the true soldier's eye, comprehending by signs, investing with life what was tongueless else. Over great stretches of barren country—that limitless land of France—he could see massed men on the move; creeping forward in snaky columns, spread fanwise from clump to woody clump; here camping snugly under the hill, there lining the river bluffs with winged death; checked here, helped there by a moraine—as well as you or I may foresee the conduct of a chess-board. He omitted nothing, judged times and seasons, reckoned defences at their worth, knew all the fordable places by the lie of the land, timed cavalry and infantry to rendezvous, forestalled communications, provided not only for his own base, but against the enemy's. All this, of course, without maps, and very much against the systems of his neighbours. It was thus he had outwitted the heady barons of Aquitaine when little more than a lad, and had turned the hill forts into death-traps against their tenants. He had the secret of swift marching by night, of delivering assault upon assault, so that while you staggered under one blow you received another full. He could be as patient as Death, that inchmeal stalker of his prey; he could be as ruthless as the sea, and incredibly generous upon occasion. To the men he led he was a father, known and beloved as such; it was as a ruler they found him too lonely to be loved. In war he was the very footboy's friend. Personally, when the battles joined, he was rash to a fault; but so blithe, so ready, and so gracefully strong, that to think of wounds upon so bright a surface was an impiety. No one did think of them: he seemed to play with danger as a cat with whirling leaves. 'I have seen him,' Milo writes somewhere, 'ride into a serry of knights, singing, throwing up and catching again his great sword Gaynpayn; then, all of a sudden, stiffen as with a gush of sap in his veins, dart his head forward, gather his horse together under him, and fling into the midst of them like a tiger into a herd of bulls. One saw nothing but tossing steel; yet Richard ever emerged, red but scatheless, on the further side.
Upon this man the brunt of war fell naturally: having begun, he did not hold his hand. By the beginning of February he had laid his plans, by the end of it he had taken Saumur, cut Angers off from Tours, and turned all the valley of the Loire into a scorched cinder-bed. In the early days of March he sat down before Tours with his siege-engines, petraries, mangonels, and towers, and daily battered at the walls, with intent to reduce it before the war was really afloat. The city of Saint Martin was doomed; no help from Anjou could save it, for none could come that way. Meantime the King his father had landed at Honfleur, assembled his Normans at Rouen, and was working his way warily down through the duchy, feeling for the French on his left, and for the Bretons on his right. He never found the French; they were far south of him, pushing through Orleans to join Richard at Le Mans. But the Countess of Brittany's men, under Hugh of Dinan, were sacking Avranches when old Henry heard the bad news from Touraine. That country and Maine were as the apple of his eye; yet he dared not leave Avranches fated behind him. All he could do was to send William the Marshal with a small force into Anjou, while he himself spread out westward to give Hugh of Dinan battle and save Avranches, if that might be. So it was that King Philip slipped in between him and Le Mans. By this time Richard was master of Tours, and himself on the way to Le Mans, nosing the air for William the Marshal. This was in the beginning of April. Then on one and the same day he risked all he had won for the sake of a girl's proud face, and nearly lost his life into the bargain.
He had to cross the river Aune above La Fleche. That river, a sluggish but deep little stream, moves placidly among osiers on its way to swell the Loire. On either side the water-meadows stretch for three-quarters of a mile; low chalk-hills, fringed at the top, are ramparts to the sleepy valley. Creeping along the eastern spurs at dawn, Richard came in touch with his enemy, William the Marshal and his force of Normans and English. These had crossed the bridge at La Fleche, and came pricking now up the valley to save Le Mans. Heading them boldly, Richard threw out his archers like a waterspray over the flats, and while these checked the advance and had the van in confusion, thundered down the slopes with his knights, caught the Marshal on the flank, smote him hip and thigh, and swept the core of his army into the river. The Marshal's battle was thus destroyed; but the wedge had made too clean a cleft. Front and rear joined up and held; so Richard found himself in danger. The Viscount of Beziers, who led the rearguard, engaged the enemy, and pushed them slowly back towards the Aune; Richard wheeled his men and charged, to take them in the rear. His horse, stumbling on the rotten ground, fell badly and threw him: there were cries, 'Hola! Count Richard is down!' and some stayed to rescue and some pushed on. William the Marshal, on a white horse, came suddenly upon him as he lay. 'Mort de dieu!' shrilled this good soldier, and threw up his spear arm. 'God's feet, Marshal, kill one or other of us!' said Richard lightly: he was pinned down by his struggling beast. 'I leave you to the devil, my lord Richard,' said the Marshal, and drove his spear into the horse's chest. The beast's death-plunge freed his master. Richard jumped up: even on foot his head was level with the rider's shield. 'Have at you now!' he cried; but the Marshal shook his head, and rode after his flying men. The day was with Poictou, Le Mans must fall.
It fell, but not yet; nor did Richard see it fall. Gaston of Bearn joined his master the next day. 'Hasten, hasten, fair lord!' he cried out as soon as he saw him. Richard looked as if he had never known the word.
'What news of Normandy, Gaston?'
'The English are through, Richard. The country swarms with them. They hold Avranches, and now are moving south.'
'They are too late,' said Richard. 'Tell me what message you have from the Fair-Girdled.'
'Wed or unwed, she is yours. But she is kept in a tower until Palm Sunday. Then they bring her out and marry her to what remains of a black Normandy pig. Not very much remains, but (they tell me) enough for the purpose.'
'Spine of God,' said Richard, examining his finger-nails.
'Swear by His heart, rather, my Count,' Gaston said, 'for you have a red heart in your keeping. Eh, eh, what a beautiful person is there! She leaned her body out of the window—what a shape that girdle confines! Bowered roses! Dian and the Nymphs! Bosomed familiars of old Pan! And what emerald fires! What molten hair! The words came shortly from her, and brokenly, as if her carved lips disdained such coarse uses! Richard, her words were so: "Take a message to my lord," quoth she. "I am his in life or death. I seek to do him service. Wed or unwed, what is that to me? I am still Jehane." Thus she—but I? Well, well, my sword spake for me when I carved that beef-bone bare.' The Bearnais pulled his goatee, and looked at the ends of it for split hairs. But Richard sat very still.
'Do you know, Gaston, whom you have seen?' he said presently, in a trembling whisper.
'Perfectly well,' said the other. 'I have seen a pale flower ripe for the sun.'
'You have seen the Countess of Poictou, Gaston,' said Richard, and took to his prayers.
Through these means, for the time, he was held off his father's throat. But for Jehane and her urgent affairs these two had grappled at Le Mans. As it was, not Richard's hand was to fire the cradle-city which had seen King Henry at the breast. Before nightfall he had made his dispositions for a very risky business. He set aside the Viscount of Beziers, Bertram Count of Roussillon, Gaston of Bearn, to go with him, not because they were the best men by any means, but so that he might leave the best men in charge. These were certainly the Dauphin, the Viscount of Limoges, and the Count of Angoulesme, each of whom he had proved as an enemy in his day. 'Gentlemen,' he said to these three, 'I am about to go upon a journey. Of you I shall require a little attention, certain patience, exact obedience. It will be necessary that you be before the walls of Le Mans in three days. Invest them, my lords, keep up your communications, and wait for the French King. Give no battle, offer no provocation, let hunger do your affair. I know where the King of England is, and shall be with you before him.' He went on to be more precise, but I omit the details. It was difficult for them to go wrong, but if the truth is to be known, he was in a mood which made him careless about that. He was free. He was going on insensate adventure; but he saw his road before him once again, like a long avenue of light, which Jehane made for him with a torch uplifted. Before it was day, armed from head to foot in chain mail, with a plain shield, and a double-bladed Norman axe in his saddle-bucket, he and his three companions set out on their journey. They rode leisurely, with loose reins and much turning in the saddle to talk, as if for a meet of the hounds.
Now was that vernal season of the year when winds are boon, the gentle rain never far off, the stars in heaven (like the flowers on earth) washed momently to a freshness which urges men to be pure. Riding day and night through the green breadth of France, though he had been plucked from the roaring pit of war, Richard (I know) went with a single aim before him—to see Jehane again. Nothing else in his heart, I say. Whatever purpose may have lurked in his mind, in heart he went clean, single in desire, chanting the canticles of Mary and the Virgin Saints. It was so. He had been seethed in wicked doings from his boyhood—I give him you no better than he was: wild work in Poictou, the scour of hot blood; devil's work in Touraine, riotous work in Paris, tyrannous in Aquitaine. He had been blown upon by every ill report; hatred against blood, blasphemy against God's appointment, violence, clamour, scandal against charitable dealing: all these were laid to his name. He had behind him a file of dead ancestors, cut-throats and worse. He had faced unnameable sin and not blenched, laughed where he should have wept, promised and broken his promise; to be short, he had been a creature of his house and time, too young acquainted with pride and too proud himself to deny it. But now, with eyes alight like a boy's because his heart was uplift, he was riding between the new-budded woods, the melodies of a singing-boy on his lips, and swaying before his heart's eye the figure of a tall girl with green eyes and a sulky, beautiful mouth. 'Lord, what is man?' cried the Psalmist in dejection. 'Lord, what is man not?' cry we, who know more of him.
His traverse took him four days and nights. He rested at La Ferte, at Nogent-le-Rotrou, outside Dreux, and at Rosny. Here he stayed a day, the Vigil of the Feast of Palms. He had it in his mind not to see Jehane again until the very moment when he might lose her.
WILD WORK IN THE CHURCH OF GISORS
When in March the chase is up, and the hunting wind searches out the fallow places of the earth, love also comes questing, desire is awake; man seeks maid, and maid seeks to be sought. If man or maid have loved already the case is worse; we hear love crying, but cannot tell where he is, how or with what honesty to let him in. All those ranging days Jehane—whether in bed cuddling her letters, or at the window of her tower, watching with brimmed eyes the pairing of the birds—showed a proud front of sufferance, while inly her heart played a wild tune. Not a crying girl, nor one capable of any easy utterance, she could do no more than stand still, and wonder why she was most glad when most wretched. She ought to have felt the taint, to love the man who had slain her brother; she might have known despair: she did neither. She sat or stood, or lay in her bed, and pressed to her heart with both hands the words that said, 'Never doubt me, Jehane,' or 'Ma mye, I shall come to you.' When he came, as he surely would, he would find her a wife—ah, let him come, let him come in his time, so only she saw him again!
March went out in dusty squalls, and April came in to the sound of the young lamb's bleat. Willow-palm was golden in the hedges when the King of England's men filled Normandy, and Gilles de Gurdun, having been healed of his wounds, rode towards Rouen at the head of his levy. He went not without an understanding with Saint-Pol that he should have his sister on Palm Sunday in the church of Gisors. They could not marry at Saint-Pol-la-Marche, because Gilles was on his service and might not win so far; nor could they have married before he went, because of his ill-treatment at the hands of the Bearnais. Of this Gilles had made light. 'He got worse than he gave,' he told Saint-Pol. 'I left him dead in the wood.'
'Would you see Jehane, Gilles?' Saint-Pol had asked him before he went out. 'She is in her turret as meek as a mouse.'
'Time enough for that,' said Gilles quietly. 'She loves me not. But I, Eustace, love her so hot that I have fear of myself. I think I will not see her.'
'As you will,' said Saint-Pol. 'Farewell.'
In Gisors, then a walled town, trembling like a captive at the knees of a huge castle, there was a long grey church which called Saint Sulpice lord. It stood in a little square midway between the South Gate and the citadel, a narrow oblong place where they held the cattle market on Tuesdays, flagged and planted with pollard-limes. The west door of Saint Sulpice, resting on a stepped foundation, formed a solemn end to this humble space, and the great gable flanked by turrets threatened the huddled tenements of the craftsmen. On this morning of Palm Sunday the shaven crowns of the limes were budded gold and pink, the sky a fair sea-blue over Gisors, with a scurrying fleece of clouds like foam; the poplars about the meadows were in their first flush, all the quicksets veiled in green. The town was early afoot, for the wedding party of the Sieur de Gurdun was to come in; and Gurdun belonged to the Archbishop, and the Archbishop to the Duke. The bride also was reported unwilling, which added zest to the public appetite for her known beauty. Some knew for truth that she was the cast-off mistress of a very great man, driven into Gurdun's arms to dispose of scandal and of her. 'Eh, the minion!' said certain sniggering old women to whom this was told, 'she'll not find so soft a lap at Gurdun!' But others said, 'Gurdun is the Duke's, and will one day be the Duke's son's. What will Sieur Gilles do then with his straining wife? You cannot keep your hawk on the cadge for ever—ah, nor hood her for ever!' And so on.
All this points to some public excitement. The town gate was opened full early, the booths about it did a great trade; at a quarter before seven Sir Gilles de Gurdun rode in, with his father on his right hand, the prior of Rouen on his left, and half a dozen of his kindred, fair and solid men all. They were lightly armed, clothed in soft leather, without shields or any heavy war-furniture: old Gurdun a squarely built, red-faced man like his son, but with a bush of white hair all about his face, and eyebrows like curved snowdrifts; the prior (old Gurdun's brother's son) with a big nose, long and pendulous; Gilles' brother Bartholomew, and others whom it would be tedious to mention. Gilles himself looked well knit for the business in hand; all the old women agreed that he would make a masterful husband. They stabled their horses in the inn-yard, and went into the church porch to await the bride's party.
A trumpet at the gate announced her coming. She rode on a little ambling horse beside her brother Saint-Pol. With them were the portentous old lady, Dame Gudule, William des Barres, a very fine French knight, Nicholas d'Eu, and a young boy called Eloy de Mont-Luc, a cousin of Jehane's, to bear her train. The gossips at the gate called her a wooden bride; others said she was like a doll, a big doll; and others that they read in her eyes the scorn of death. She took no notice of anything or anybody, but looked straight before her and followed where she was led. This was straightway into the church by her brother, who had her by the hand and seemed in a great hurry. The marriage was to be made in the Lady Chapel, behind the high altar.
Twenty minutes later yet, or maybe a little less, there was another surging to the gate about the arrival of four knights, who came posting in, spattered with mud and the sweat and lather of their horses. They were quite unknown to the people of Gisors, but seen for great men, as indeed they were. Richard of Anjou was the first of them, a young man of inches incredible to Gisors. 'He had a face like King Arthur's of Britain,' says one: 'A red face, a tawny beard, eyes like stones.' Behind him were three abreast: Roussillon, a grim, dark, heavy-eyed man, bearded like a Turk; Beziers, sanguine and loose-limbed, a man with a sharp tongue; Gaston of Bearn, airy hunter of fine phrases, looking now like the prince of a fairy-tale, with roving eyes all a-scare for adventure. The warders of the gate received them with a flourish. They knew nothing of them, but were certain of their degree.
By preconcerted action they separated there. Roussillon and Beziers sat like statues within the gate, one on each side of the way, actually upon the bridge; and so remained, the admired of all the booths. Gaston, like a yeoman-pricker in this hunting of the roe, went with Richard to the edge of the covert, that is, to the steps of Saint Sulpice, and stood there holding his master's horse. What remained to be done was done with extreme swiftness. Richard alone, craning his head forward, stooping a little, swaying his scabbarded sword in his hand, went with long soft strides into the church.
At the entry he kneeled on one knee, and looked about him from under his brows. Three or four masses were proceeding; out of the semi-darkness shone the little twinkling lights, and illuminated faintly the kneeling people, a priest's vestment, a silver chalice. But here was neither marriage nor Jehane. He got up presently, and padded down the nave, kneeling to every altar as he went. Many an eye followed him as he pushed on and past the curtain of the ambulatory. They guessed him for the wedding, and so (God knows) he was. In the shadow of a great pillar he stopped short, and again went down on his knee; from here he could see the business in train.
He saw Jehane at prayer, in green and white, kneeling at her faldstool like a painted lady on an altar tomb; he just saw the pure curve of her cheek, the coiled masses of her hair, which seemed to burn it. All the world with the lords thereof was at his feet, but this treasure which he had held and put away was denied him. By his own act she was denied. He had said Yea, when Nay had been the voice of heart and head, of honour and love and reason at once; and now (close up against her) he knew that he was to forbid his own grant. He knew it, I say; but until he saw her there he had not clearly known it. Go on, I will show you the deeps of the man for good or bad. Not lust of flesh, but of dominion, ravened in him. This woman, this Jehane Saint-Pol, this hot-haired slip of a girl was his. The leopard had laid his paw upon her shoulder, the mark was still there; he could not suffer any other beast of the forest to touch that which he had printed with his own mark, for himself.
Twi-form is the leopard; twi-natured was Richard of Anjou, dog and cat. Now here was all cat. Not the wolf's lust, but the lion's jealous rage spurred him to the act. He could see this beautiful thing of flesh without any longing to lick or tear; he could have seen the frail soul of it, but half-born, sink back into the earth out of sight; he could have killed Jehane or made her as his mother to him. But he could not see one other get that which was his. His by all heaven she was. When Gurdun squared himself and puffed his cheeks, and stood up; when Jehane, touched by Saint-Pol on the shoulder, shivered and left staring, and stood up in turn, swaying a little, and held out her thin hand; when the priest had the ring on his book, and the two hands, the red and the white, trembled to the touch—Richard rose from his knee and stole forward with his long, soft, crouching stride.
So softly he trod that the priest, old and blear-eyed as he was, saw him first: the others had heard nothing. With Jehane's hand in his own, the priest stopped and blinked. Who was this prowler, afoot when all else were on their knees? His jaw dropped; you saw that he was toothless. Inarticulate sounds, crackling and dry, came from his throat. Richard had stopped too, tense, quivering for a spring. The priest gave a prodigious sniff, turned to his book, looked up again: the crouching man was still there—but imminent. 'Wine of Jesus!' said the priest, and dropped Jehane's hand. Then she turned. She gave a short cry; the whole assembly started and huddled together as the mailed man made his spring.
It was done in a flash. From his crouched attitude he went, as it seemed, at one bound. That same shock drove Gilles de Gurdun back among his people, and the same found Jehane caged in a hoop of steel. So he affronting and she caught up stood together, for a moment. With one mailed hand he held her fast under the armpit, with the other he held a fidgety sword. His head was thrown back; through glimmering eyelids he watched them—as one who says, What next?—breathing short through his nose. It was the attitude of the snatching lion, sudden, arrogant, shockingly swift; a gross deed, done in a flash which was its wonderful beauty. While the company was panting at the shock—for barely a minute—he stood thus; and Jehane, quiet under so fierce a hold, leaned not upon him, but stood her own feet fairly, her calm brows upon a level with his chin. Shameful if it was, at that moment of rude conquest she had no shame, and he no thought of shame.
Nor was there much time for thought at all. Gurdun cried on the name of God and started forward; at the same instant Saint-Pol made a rush, and with him Des Barres. Richard, with Jehane held close, went backwards on the way he had come in. His long arm and long sword kept his distance; he worked them like a scythe. None tackled him there, though they followed him up as dogs a boar in the forest; but old Gurdun, the father, ran round the other way to hold the west door. Richard, having gained the nave and open country (as it were), went swiftly down it, carrying Jehane with ease; he found the strenuous old man before the door. 'Out of my way, De Gurdun,' he cried in a high singing voice, 'or I shall do that which I shall be sorry for.'
'Bloody thief,' shouted old Gurdun, 'add murder to the rest!' Richard stretched his sword arm stiffly and swept him aside. He tumbled back; the crowd received him—priests, choristers, peasants, knights, all huddled together, baying like dogs. Count Richard strode down the steps.
'Alavi! Alavia!' sang Gaston, 'this is a swift marriage!' Richard, cooler than circumstances warranted, set Jehane on his saddle, vaulted up behind her, and as his pursuers were tumbling down the steps, cantered over the flags into the street. Roussillon and Beziers, holding the bridge, saw him come. 'He has snatched his Sabine woman,' said Beziers. 'Humph,' said Roussillon; 'now for beastly war.' Richard rode straight between them at a hand-gallop; Gaston followed close, cheering his beast like a maniac. Then the iron pair turned inwards and rode out together, taking the way he led them, the way of the Dark Tower.
The wonder of Gisors was all dismay when it was learned who this tall stranger was. The Count of Poictou had ridden into his father's country and robbed his father's man of his wife. We are ruled by devils in Normandy, then! There was no immediate pursuit. Saint-Pol knew where to find him; but (as he told William des Barres) it was useless to go there without some force.
NIGHT-WORK BY THE DARK TOWER
I chronicle wild doings in this place, and have no time for the sweets of love long denied. But strange as the bridal had been, so the nuptials were strange, one like the other played to a steel undertone. When Richard had his Jehane, at first he could not enjoy her. He rode away with her like a storm; the way was long, the pace furious. Not a word had passed between them, at least not a reasoned word. Once or twice at first he leaned forward over her shoulder and set his cheek to her glowing cheek. Then she, as if swayed by a tide, strained back to him, and felt his kisses hot and eager, his few and pelting words, 'My bride—at last—my bride!' and the pressure of his hand upon her heart. That hand knows what tune the heart drummed out. Mostly she sat up before him stiff as a sapling, with eyes and ears wide for any hint of pursuit. But he felt her tremble, and knew she would be glad of him yet.
After all, they had six burning days for a honeymoon, days which made those three who with them held the tower wonder how such a match could continue. Richard's love rushed through him like a river in flood, that brims its banks and carries down bridges by its turbid mass; but hers was like the sea, unresting, ebbing, flowing, without aim or sure direction. As is usual with reserved persons, Jehane's transports, far from assuaging, tormented her, or seemed a torment. She loved uneasily, by hot and cold fits; now melting, now dry, now fierce in demand, next passionate in refusal. To snatch of love succeeded repulsion of love. She would fling herself headlong into Richard's arms, and sob there, feverish; then, as suddenly, struggle for release, as one who longs to hide herself, and finding that refused, lie motionless like a woman of wax. Whether embraced or not, out of touch with him she was desperate. She could not bear that, but sought (unknown to him) to have hold of some part of him—the edge of his tunic, the tip of his sword, his glove—something she must have. Without it she sat quivering, throbbing all over, looking at him from under her brows and biting her dumb lips. If at such a time as this some other addressed her the word (as, to free her from her anguish, one would sometimes do), she would perhaps answer him, Yes or No, but nothing more. Usually she would shake her head impatiently, as if all the world and its affairs (like a cloud of flies) were buzzing about her, shutting out sound or sight of her Richard. Love like this, so deep, outwardly still, inwardly ravening (because insatiable), is a dreadful thing. No one who saw Jehane with Richard in those days could hope for the poor girl's happiness. As for him, he was more expansive, not at all tortured by love, master of that as of everything else. He teased her after the first day, pinched her ear, held her by the chin. He used his strange powers against her; stole up on his noiseless feet, caught her hands behind her, held her fast, and pulled her back to be kissed. Once he lifted her up, a sure prisoner, to the top shelf of a cupboard, whence there was no escape but by the way she had gone. She stayed there quite silent, and when he opened the cupboard doors was found in the same tremulous, expectant state, her eyes still fixed upon him. Neither he nor she, publicly at least, discussed the past, the present or future; but it was known that he meant to make her his Countess as soon as he could reach Poictiers. To the onlookers, at any rate to one of them, it seemed that this could never be, and that she knew very well that the hours of this sharp, sweet, piercing intercourse were numbered. How could it last? How could she find either reason or courage to hope it? It seemed to Beziers, on the watch, that she was awaiting the end already. One is fretted to a rag by waiting. So Jehane dared not lose a moment of Richard, yet could enjoy not one, knowing that she must soon lose all.
Those six clear days of theirs had been wiselier spent upon the west road; but Richard's desire outmastered every thought. Having snatched Jehane from the very horns of the altar, he must hold her, make her his irrevocably at the first breathing place. Dealing with any but Normans, he had never had his six days. But the Norman people, as Abbot Milo says, 'slime-blooded, slow-bellies, are withal great eaters of beef, which breeds in them, as well as a heaviness of motion, a certain slumbrous rage very dangerous to mankind. They crop grief after grief, chewing the cud of grievance; for when they are full of it they disgorge and regorge the abhorred sum, and have stuff for their spleens for many a year.' Even more than this smouldering nursed hate they love a punctilio; they walk by forms, whether the road is to a lady's heart or an enemy's throat. And so Saint-Pol found, and so Des Barres, Frenchmen both and fiery young men, who shook their fists in the faces of the Gurduns and the dust of such blockish hospitallers off their feet, when they saw the course affairs were to run. Gilles de Gurdun, if you will believe it, with the advice of his father and the countenance of his young brother Bartholomew, would not budge an inch towards the recovery of his wife or her ravisher's punishment until he had drawn out his injury fair on parchment. This he then proposed to carry to his Duke, old King Henry. 'Thus,' said the swart youth, 'I shall be within the law of my land, and gain the engines of the law on my side.' He seemed to think this important.
'With your accursed scruples,' cried Saint-Pol, smiting the table, 'you will gain nothing else. Within your country's law, blockhead! Why, my sister is within the Count's country by this time!'
'Oh, leave him, leave him, Eustace,' said Des Barres, 'and come with me. We shall meet him in the fair way yet, you and I together.' So the Frenchmen rode away, and Gilles, with his father and his parchments and his square forehead, went to Evreux, where King Henry then was. Kneeling before their Duke, expounding their gravamens as if they were suing out a writ of Mort d'Ancestor, they very soon found out that he was no more a Norman than Saint-Pol. The old King made short work of their 'ut predictum ests' and 'Quaesumus igiturs.'
'Good sirs,' says he, knitting his brows, 'where is this lord who has done you so much injury?'
'My lord,' they report, 'he has her in his strong tower on the plain of Saint-Andre, some ten leagues from here.'
Then cries the old King, 'Smoke him out, you fools! What! a badger. Draw the thief.'
Then Gilles the elder flattened his lips together and afterwards pursed them. 'Lord,' he said, 'that we dare not do without your express commandment.'
'Why, why,' snaps the King, 'if I give it you, my solemn fools?'
Young Gilles stood up, a weighty youth. 'Lord Duke,' he said, 'this lord is the Count of Poictou, your son.' It had been a fine sight for sinful men to see the eyes of the old King strike fire at this word. His speech, they tell me, was terrible, glutted with rage.
'Ha, God!' he spluttered, cracking his fingers, 'so my Richard is the badger, ha? So then I have him, ha? If I do not draw him myself, by the Face!'
It is said that Longespee (a son of his by Madame Rosamund) and Geoffrey (another bastard), with Bohun and De Lacy and some more, tried to hinder him in this design, wherein (said they) he set out to be a second Thyestes; but they might as well have bandied words with destiny. 'War is war,' said the foaming old man, 'whether with a son or a grandmother you make it. Shall my enemy range the field and I sit at home and lap caudle? That is not the way of my house.' He would by all means go that night, and called for volunteers. His English barons, to their credit, flatly refused either to entrap the son of their master or to abandon the city at a time so critical. 'What, sire!' cried they, 'are private resentments, like threadworms, to fret the dams of the state? The floods are out, my lord King, and brimming at the sluices. Be advised therefore.'
No wearer of the cap of Anjou was ever advised yet. I can hear in fancy the gnashing of the old lion's fangs, in fancy see the foam he churned at the corners of his mouth. He went out with such men as he could gather in his haste, nineteen of them in all. There were old Gilles and young Gilles with their men; eight of the King's own choosing, namely, Drago de Merlou, Armand Taillefer, the Count of Ponthieu, Fulk Perceforest, Fulk D'Oilly, Gilbert FitzReinfrid, Ponce the bastard of Caen, and a butcher called Rolf, to whom the King, mocking all chivalry, gave the gilt spurs before he started. He did not wear them long. The nineteenth was that great king, bad man, and worse father, Henry Curtmantle himself.
It was a very dark night, without moon or stars, a hot and still night wherein a man weather-wise might smell the rain. The going upon the moor was none too good in a good light; yet they tell me that the old King went spurring over brush and scrub, over tufted roots, through ridge and hollow, with as much cheer as if the hunt was up in Venvil Wood and himself a young man. When his followers besought him to take heed, all he would do was snap his fingers, the reins dangling loose, and cry to the empty night, 'Hue, Brock, hue!' as if he was baiting a badger. This badger was the heir to his crown and dignity.
In the Dark Tower they heard him coming three miles away. Roussillon was on the battlements, and came down to report horsemen on the plain. 'Lights out,' said Richard, and gave Jehane a kiss as he set her down. They blew out all the lights, and stood two to each door; no one spoke any more. Jehane sat by the darkened fire with a torch in her hand, ready to light it when she was bid.
Thus when the Normans drew near they found the tower true to its name, without a glimmer of light. 'Let alone for that,' said the King, whose grating voice they heard above all the others; 'very soon we will have a fire.' He sent some of his men to gather brushwood, ling, and dead bracken; meantime he began to beat at the door with his axe, crying like a madman, 'Richard! Richard! Thou graceless wretch, come out of thy hold.'
Presently a little window-casement opened above him; Gaston of Bearn poked out his head.
'Beau sire,' he says, 'what entertainment is this for the Count your son?'
'No son of mine, by the Face!' cried the King. 'Let that woman I have caged at home answer for him, who defies me for ever. Let me in, thou sickly dog.'
Gaston said, 'Beau sire, you shall come in if you will, and if you come in peace.'
Says the King, 'I will come in, by God, and as I will.'
'Foul request, King,' said Gaston, and shut the window.
'Have it as you will; it shall be foul by and by,' the King shouted to the night. He bid them fire the place.
To be short, they heaped a wood-stack before the door and set it ablaze. The crackling, the tossed flames, the leaping light, made the King drunk. He and his companions began capering about the fire with linked arms, hounding each other on with the cries of countrymen who draw a badger—'Loo, loo, Vixen! Slip in, lass! Hue, Brock, hue, hue!' and similar gross noises, until for very shame Gilles and his kindred drew apart, saying to each other, 'We have let all hell loose, Legion and his minions.' So the two companies, the grievous and the aggrieved, were separate; and Richard, seeing this state of the case, took Roussillon and Beziers out by the other door, got behind the dancers, attacked suddenly, and drove three of them into the fire. 'There,' says the chronicler, 'the butcher Sir Rolf got a taste of his everlasting torments, there FitzReinfrid lay and charred; there Ponce of Caen, ill born, made a foul smoke as became him.' Turning to go in again, the three were confronted with the Norman segregates. Great work ensued by the light of the fire. Gilles the elder was slain with an axe, and if with an axe, then Richard slew him, for he alone was so armed. Gilles the younger was wounded in the thigh, but that was Roussillon's work; his brother Bartholomew was killed by the same terrific hitter; Beziers lost a finger of his sword hand, and indeed the three barely got in with their lives. The old King set up howling like a wolf in famine at this loss; what comforted him was that the fire had eaten up the southern door and disclosed the entry of the tower—Jehane holding up a torch, and before her Gaston, Richard, and Bertram of Roussillon, their shields hiding their breasts.
'Lords,' said Richard, 'we await your leisures.' None cared to attack: there was the fire to cross, and in that narrow entry three desperate blades. What could the old King do? He threatened hell and death, he cursed his son more dreadfully, and (you may take it) with far less reason, than Almighty God cursed Sodom and Gomorrah, cities of the plain; but Richard made no answer, and when, quite beside himself, the old man leaped the fire and came hideously on to the swords, the points dropped at his son's direction. Almost crying, the King turned to his followers. 'Taillefer, will you see me dishonoured? Where is Ponthieu? Where is Drago?' So at last they all attacked together, coming on with their shields before them, in a phalanx. This was a device that needs must fail; they could not drive a wedge where they could not get in the point. The three defending shields were locked in the entry. Two men fell at the first assault, and Richard's terrible axe crashed into Perceforest's skull and scattered his brains wide. Red and breathless work as it was, it was not long adoing. The King was dismayed at the killing of Perceforest, and dared risk no more lives at such long odds. 'Fire the other door, Drago,' he said grimly. 'We'll have the place down upon them.' The Normans were set to engage the three while others went to find fuel.
The Viscount of Beziers had had his hand dressed by Jehane, and was now able to take his turn. It was by a ruse of his that Richard got away without a life lost. With Jehane to help him, he got the horses trapped and housed. 'Now, Richard,' he said, 'listen to my proposals. I am going to open the north door and make away before they fire it. I shall have half of them after me as I reckon; but whereas I shall have a good start on a fresh horse, I doubt not of escape. Do you manage the rest: there will be three of you.'
Richard approved. 'Go, Raimon,' he said. 'We will join you on the edge of the plain.'
This was done. Jehane, when Beziers was ready, flung open the door. Out he shot like a bolt, and she shut it behind him. The old King got wind of him, spurred off with five or six at his heels, such as happened to be mounted. Richard fell back from the entry, got out his horse, and came forward. As he came he stooped and picked up Jehane, who, with a quick nestling movement, settled into his shield arm. Roussillon and Gaston in like manner got their horses; then at a signal they drove out of the tower into the midst of the Normans. There was a wild scuffle. Richard got a side blow on the knee, but in return he caught Drago de Merlou under the armpit and well-nigh cut him in half. Taillefer and Gilles de Gurdun set upon him together, and one of them wounded him in the shoulder. But Taillefer got more than he gave, for he fell almost as he delivered his blow, and broke his jaw against a rock. As for Gurdun, Richard hurtled full into him, bore him backwards, and threw him also. Jehane safe in arms, he rode over him where he lay. But lastly, pounding through the tussocks in the faint grey light, he met his father charging full upon him, intent to cut him off. 'Avoid me, father,' he cried out. 'By God,' said the King, 'I will not. I am for you, traitorous beast.' They came together, and Richard heard the old man's breath roaring like a foundered horse's. He held his sword arm out stiffly to parry the blow. The King's sword shivered and fell harmless as Richard shot by him. Turning as he rode (to be sure he had done him no more hurt), he saw the wicked grey face of his father cursing him beyond redemption; and that was the last living sight of it he had.
They got clean away without the loss of a man of theirs, reached the lands of the Count of Perche, and there found a company of sixty knights come out to look for Richard. With them he rode down through Maine to Le Mans, which had fallen, and now held the French King. Richard's triumphant humour carried him strange lengths. As they came near to the gates of Le Mans, 'Now,' he said, 'they shall see me, like a pious knight, bear my holy banner before me.' He made Jehane stand up in the saddle in front of him; he held her there firmly by one long arm. So he rode in the midst of his knights through the thronged streets to the church of Saint-Julien, Jehane Saint-Pol pillared before him like a saint. The French king made much of him, and to Jehane was respectful. Prince John was there, the Duke of Burgundy, the Dauphin of Auvergne, all the great men. To Richard was given the Bishop's house; Jehane stayed with the Canonesses of Premonstre. But he saw her every day.
OF PROPHECY; AND JEHANE IN THE PERILOUS BED
Well may the respectable Abbot Milo despond over this affair. Hear him, and conceive how he shook his head. 'O too great power of princes,' he writes, 'lodged in a room too frail! O wagging bladder that serves as cushion for a crown! O swayed by idle breath, seeming god that yet is a man, man driven by windy passion, that has yet to ape the god's estate! Because Richard craved this French girl, therefore he must take her, as it were, from the lap of her mother. Because he taught her his nobility, which is the mere wind in a prince's nose, she taught him nobility again. Then because a prince must not be less noble than his nobles (but always primus inter pares), he, seeing her nobly disposed, gave her over to a man of her own choosing; and immediately after, unable to bear it that a common person should have what he had touched, took her away again, doing slaughter to get her, to say nothing of outrage in the church. Last of all, as you are now to hear, thinking that too much handling was dishonour to the thin vessel of her body, touched on the generous spot, he made bad worse; he added folly to force; he made a marriage where none could be; he made immortal enmities, blocked up appointed roads, and set himself to walk others with a clog on his leg. Better far had she been a wanton of no account, a piece of dalliance, a pastime, a common delight! She was very much other than that. Dame Jehane was a good girl, a noble girl, a handsome girl of inches and bright blood; but by the Lord God of Israel (Who died on the Tree), these virtues cost her dear.'
All this, we may take it, is true; the pity is that the thing promised so fair. Those who had not known Jehane before were astonished at her capacity, discretion, and dignity. She had a part to play at Le Mans, where Richard kept his Easter, which would have taxed a wiser head. She moved warily, a poor thing of gauze, amid those great lights. King Philip had a tender nose; a very whiff of offence might have drawn blood. Prince John had a shrewd eye and an evil way of using it; he stroked women, but they seldom liked it, and never found good come of it. The Duke of Burgundy ate and drank too much. He resembled a sponge, when empty too rough a customer, when full too juicy. It was on one of the days when he was very full that, tilting at the ring, he won, or said he won, forty pounds of Richard. Empty, he claimed them, but Richard discerned a rasp in his manner of asking, and laughed at him. The Duke of Burgundy took this ill. He was never quite the same to Richard again; but he made great friends with Prince John.
With all these, and with their courtiers, who took complexion from their masters, Jehane had to hold the fair way. As a mistress who was to be a wife, the veiled familiarity with which she was treated was always preaching to her. How dare she be a Countess who was of so little account already? The poor girl felt herself doomed beforehand. What king's mistress had ever been his wife? And how could she be Richard's wife, betrothed to Gilles de Gurdun? Richard was much afield in these days, making military dispositions against his coming absence in Poictou. She saw him rarely; but in return she saw his peers, and had to keep her head high among the women of the French court. And so she did until one day, as she was walking back from mass with her ladies, she saw her brother Saint-Pol on horseback, him and William des Barres. Timidly she would have slipped by; but Saint-Pol saw her, reined up his horse in the middle of the street, and stared at her as if she had been less than nothing to him. She felt her knees fail her, she grew vividly red, but she kept her way. After this terrible meeting she dared not leave the convent.