Thither in the murk of night came Montferrat in a black cloak, holding his nose, but made feverish through his ears by the veiled chorus of the flies. By the starshine and glow of the putrid water he saw a tall man in a white robe, who stood at the extreme edge of the spit and looked at the sharks. Montferrat hid his guards behind the Tower, crossed himself, drew his sword to hack a way through the monstrous flies, and so came swishing forward, like a man who mows a swathe.
The tall man saw him, but did not move. The Marquess came quite close.
'What are you looking at, my friend?' he asked, in the Arabian tongue.
'I am looking at the sharks, which have a new corpse in there,' said the man. 'See what a turmoil there is in the water. There must be six monsters together in that swirl. See, see, there speeds another!'
The Marquess turned sick. 'God help, I cannot look,' he said.
'Why,' said the Arabian, 'It is a dead man they fight over.'
'May be, may be,' said the Marquess. 'You, my friend, are very familiar with death. So am I; nor do I fear living man. But these great fish terrify me.'
'You are a fool,' returned the other. 'They seek only their meat. But you and I, and our like, seek nicer things than that. We have our souls to feed; and the soul of a man is a free eater, of stranger appetite than a shark.'
The Marquess looked at the flies. 'O God, Arabian, let us go away from this place! Is there no rest from the flies?
'None at all,' said the Arabian; 'for thousands have been slain here; and the flies also must be fed.'
'Pah, horrible!' said the Marquess, all in a sweat. The Arabian turned; but his face was hidden, with a horrible appearance, as if a hooded cloak stood up by itself and a voice proceeded from a fleshless garb. 'You, Marquess of Montferrat,' it said, 'what do you want with me by the Tower of Flies?'
The Marquess remembered his needs. 'I want the death of a man,' he said; 'but not here, O Christ.'
'Who sent you?' asked the Arabian.
'The Sheik Moffadin, a captive, in the name of Ali, and of Abdallah, servant of Ali.' So the Marquess, and would have kissed the man, but that he saw no face under the hood, and dared not kiss emptiness.
'Come with me,' said the Arabian.
* * * * *
An hour later the Marquess came into the Tower of Flies, shaking. He found Saint-Pol there, the Archduke of Austria, and Gilles de Gurdun. There were no greetings.
'Where is your man, Marquess?' asked Saint-Pol of the pale Italian.
'He is out yonder looking at the sharks,' said the Marquess, in a whisper; 'but he will serve us if we dare use him.' He struck at the flies weaving about his head. 'This is a horrible place, Saint-Pol,' he said, staring. Saint-Pol shrugged.
'The deed we compass, dear Marquess, is none of the choicest, remember,' said he. The Marquess then saw that Austria's broad leather back was covered with flies. This quickened his loathing.
'By our Saviour,' he said, 'one must hate a man very much to talk against him here.'
'Do you hate enough?' asked Saint-Pol.
The Marquess stared about him. He saw the Archduke peacefully twiddle his thumbs. He saw De Gurdun, who stood moodily, looking at the floor.
'Oh, content you,' Saint-Pol answered him. 'That man hates more than you or I. And with more reason.'
'What are your reasons, Eustace?' asked Montferrat, still in a whisper.
'I hate him,' said Saint-Pol, 'for my brother's sake, whose back he broke; for my sister's sake, whose heart he must break before he has done with her; for my house's sake, to which (in Eudo's person) he gave the lie; because he is of Anjou, cruel as a cat and savage as a dog; because he is a ruthless, swift, treacherous, secret, unconscionable beast. Are these enough reasons for you?'
'By God, Eustace,' said the breathless Montferrat, 'I cannot think it. Not here!'
'Then,' said Saint-Pol, 'I hate him for Berengere's sweet sake. That is a good and clean hatred, I believe. That wasted lady, writhing white on a bed, moved me to pure pity. If I loved her before I will love her now with whole service, not daring belie my knighthood. I love that queen and intend to serve her. I have never seen such pitiful beauty before. What! Is the man insatiate? Shall he have everything? He shall have nothing. That will serve for me, I hope. Now, Marquess, it is your turn.'
The Marquess struck out at the flies. 'I hate him,' he said, 'because, before the King of France, he called me a liar and threatened me with ignominious death.' He gasped here, and looked round him to see what effect he had made. Saint-Pol's eyes (green-grey like his sister's) were upon him, rather coldly; Gurdun's on the floor still. The Archduke was scratching in his beard; and the chorus of flies swelled and shrilled. The Marquess needed alliances.
'Eh, my friends,' he said, almost praying, 'will this not serve me?'
Said Saint-Pol, 'Marquess, listen to this man. Speak, Gilles.'
Gilles looked up. 'I have tried to kill him. I had my chance fair. I could not do it. I shall try again, for the law is on my side. To you, lords, I shall say nothing, for I am a man ashamed to speak of what I desire to do, not yet certain whether I can accomplish it. This I say, the man is my liege lord, but a thief for all that. I loved my Lady Jehane when she was twelve years old and I a page in her father's house. I have never loved any other woman, and never shall. There are no other women. She gave herself to me for good reason, and he himself gave her into my hand for good reason. And then he robbed me of her on my wedding day, and has slain my father and young brother to keep her. He has given her a child: enough of this. Dastard! I will follow and follow until I dare to strike. Then I will kill him. Let me alone.' Gilles, red and gloomy, had to jerk the words out: he was no speaker. The Marquess had a fierce eye.
'Ha, De Gurdun,' he said, 'we need thee, good knight. But come out of this accursed fly-roost, and we shall show thee a better way than thine. It is the flies that make thee afraid.'
'Eh, damn the flies,' said Gilles. 'They will never disturb me. They do but seek their meat.'
'They disturb me horribly,' said the Marquess, with Italian candour.
Saint-Pol laughed. 'I told you that I could bring you in a man,' he said. 'Now, Marquess, you have our two clean reasons. What is yours?'
'I have given you mine,' said Montferrat, shifting his feet. 'He called me a liar.'
'It lacks cogency,' said Saint-Pol. 'One must have clean reasons in an unclean place.' The Marquess broke out into blasphemy.
'May hell scorch us all if I have no reasons! What! Has he not kept me from my kingdom? Guy of Lusignan will be king by his means. What is Philip against Richard? What am I? What is the Archduke?' He had forgotten that the Archduke was there.
'By Beelzebub, the god of this place,' said that deep-voiced hairy man, 'you shall see what the Archduke is when you want him. But I am no murderer. I am going home. I know what is due to a prince, and from a prince.'
'Do as you please, my lord,' said Saint-Pol; 'but our schemes are like to be endangered by such goings.'
'I have so little liking for your schemes, to be plain with you,' replied the Archduke, 'that they may fail and fail again for me. How I deal with the King of England, who has insulted me beyond hope, is a matter for him and me to determine.'
'Cousin,' said Montferrat, 'you desert me.'
'Cousin again,' said the Archduke, 'do you wonder?' And so he walked out.
'Punctilious boar!' cried Saint-Pol in a fume, 'who can only get his tushes in one way! Now, Marquess, what are we to do?'
The Marquess smiled darkly, and tapped his nose. 'I have my business in good train. I have an ancient friend on Lebanon. Stand in with me, the pair of you, and I have all done smoothly.'
'You hire?' asked Saint-Pol, drily. Then he shrugged—'Oh, but we may trust you!'
'Per la Madonna!' said the Marquess.
'What will you do, Gilles?' Saint-Pol asked the Norman. 'Will you leave it to the Marquess of Montferrat?'
'I will not,' said Gilles. 'I follow King Richard from point to point. I hire nobody.'
The Marquess's hands went up, desperate of such folly. 'You only with me, my Eustace!' he said.
Saint-Pol looked up. 'I differ from either. I have a finer plan than either. You are satisfied with a sword-stroke in the back—'
'By my soul, it shall not be in the back!' cried De Gurdun. Saint-Pol shrugged again.
'That is the Marquess's way. But what matter? You want to see him down. So do I, by heaven, but in hell, not on the earth. I will see him tormented. I will see him ashamed. I will wreck his hopes. I will make him a mockery of all kings, drag his high spirit through the mud of disastrousness. Pouf! Do you think him all flesh? He is finer stuff than that. What he makes others I seek to make him-soiled, defiled, a blown rag. There is work to be done in that kind here and at home. King Philip will see to one; I stay with the host.'
'It is a good plan,' said the Marquess; 'I admire it exceedingly. But steel is safer for a common man. I go to Lebanon, for my part, to my friends there. But I think we are in agreement.'
Before they went away, they cut their arms with a dagger, and mingled their blood. The Marquess wrapped his wound deep in his cloak to keep the flies from it. Across the silence of the night, as they made their way into the city, came the cry of the watchman from a belfry: 'Save us, Holy Sepulchre!' It floated from tower to tower, from land far out to sea. Jehane, dry in her hot bed, heard it; Richard, on his knees in an oratory, heard it, crossed himself, and repeated the words. Queen Berengere moaned in her sleep; the Duke of Burgundy snored; and the Arabian spat into the lagoon.
THE CHAPTER OF FORBIDDING: HOW DE GURDUN LOOKED, AND KING RICHARD HID HIS FACE
Since the Soldan broke his pledges, King Richard swore that he would keep his. So he had all the two thousand hostages killed, except the Sheik Moffadin, whom the Marquess had enlarged. He has been blamed for this, and I (if it were my business) should blame him too. He asked no counsel, and allowed no comment: by this time he was absolute over the armies in Acre. If I am to say anything upon the red business it shall be this, that he knew very well where his danger lay. It was his friends, not his enemies, he had reason to fear; and upon these the effect of what he did was instantaneous, and perhaps well-timed. The Count of Flanders had died of the camp-sickness; King Philip was stricken to the bones with the same crawling disease. Nothing now could keep Philip away from France. Acre was full of rumours, meetings of kings and princes, spies, racing messengers. Who should stay and who go was the matter of debate. Philip meant to go: his friend, Prince John of England, had been writing to him. Flanders must be occupied, and Flanders, near England, was nearer yet to Normandy. The Marquess also meant to go—to Sidon for Lebanon. He had things to do up there on Richard's and his own account, as you shall hear. But the Archduke chose to stay in Acre—and so on.
King Richard heard of each of these hasty discussions with a shrug, and only put his hand down when they were all concluded. He said that unless French hostages were left in his keeping for the fulfilment of covenants, he should know what to do.
'And what is that, King of England?' asked Philip.
'What becomes me,' was the short answer, given in full hail before the magnates. They looked at each other and askance at the sanguine-hued King, who drove them all huddling before him by mere magnanimity. What could they do but leave hostages? They left Burgundy, Beauvais, and Henry of Champagne—one friend, one enemy, and one blockhead. Now you see a reason for drawing the sword upon the wretched Turks. If Richard had planted, they, poor devils, had to water.
So King Philip went home, and the Marquess to Sidon for Lebanon; and Richard, knowing full well that they meant him ill here and at home, turned his face towards Jerusalem.
* * * * *
When the time came for ordering the goings of his host, he grew very nervous about what he must leave behind him in Acre. Whether he was a good man or not, a good husband, a good lover or not, he was passionately a father. In every surge and cry of his wild heart he showed this. The heart is a generous inn, keeps open house, grows wide to meet all corners. The company is divers. In King Richard's heart sat three guests: Christ and His lost Cross, Jehane and her lost honour, and little Fulke upon her breast. Christ was a dumb guest, but the most eloquent still. There had been no nods from Him since the great day of Fontevrault; but Richard watched Him daily and held himself bound to be His footboy. See these desperate shifts of the great-hearted man! Here were his two other guests: little Fulke, who claimed everything, and still Jehane, who claimed nothing; and outside the door stood Berengere, crisping and uncrisping her small hands. To serve Christ he had married the Queen; to serve the Queen he had put away Jehane; to honour Jehane (who had given him her honour) he had abjured the Queen. Now lastly, he prayed Christ to save him Fulke, his first and only son. 'My Saviour Christ,' he prayed on his last night at Acre, 'let Thine honour be the first end of this adventure. But if honour come to Thee, my Lord, through me, let honour stay with me and my son through Thee. I cannot think I do amiss to ask so much. One other thing I ask before I go out. Watch over these treasures of mine that I leave in pawn, for I know very well that I shall get no more of them.' Then he kissed the mother and the child, comforting them, and went out, not trusting himself to look back at the house.
He had made the defences of Acre as good as he knew, which was very good indeed. He had bettered the harbour; he left ships in it, established a post between it and Beyrout, between Beyrout and Cyprus. He sent Guy of Lusignan to be his regent in that island, Emperor if he chose. He left Abbot Milo to comfort Jehane, the Viscount of Beziers to rule the town and garrison. Shriven, fortified with the Sacrament, he spent his last night in Acre on the 21st of August. Next morning, as soon as it was day, he led his army out on its march to Jerusalem.
Joppa was his immediate object, to which place a road ran between the mountains and the sea, never far from either. He had little or no transport, nor could expect food by the way, for Saladin had seen to that. The ships had to work down level with him, with reserves of men and stores; and even so the thing had an ugly look. The mountains of Ephraim, not very lofty, were covered with a thick growth of holm-oak: excellent cover, wherein, as he knew quite well, the Saracens could move as he moved, choose their time, and attack him on front, rear, or left flank, wherever chance offered. It was a journey of peril, harassing, slow, and without glory.
For six weeks he led and held a running battle, wherein the powers of earth and air, the powers of Mahomet, and dark forces within his own lines all strove against him. He met them alone, with a blank face, eyes bare, teeth hard-set. Whatever provocation was offered from without or within, he would not attack, nor let his friends attack, until the enemy was in his hand. You, who know what longanimity may be and how hard a thing to come at, may admire him for this.
Directly the Christians were over the brook Belus, their difficulties were upon them. The way was through a pebbly waste of beach and salt-grass, and a sea-scrub of grey bushes. A mile to their left the rocks began, spurs of the mountains; the shrubs became stunted trees; the rocks climbed, the trees with them; then the forest rose, first sparsely, then thick and dark; lastly, into the deep blue of the sky soared the toothed ridges, grey, scarred, and splintry. Scurrying horsemen, on beasts incredibly sure of foot, hung on the edge of these fastnesses, yelling, whirling their lances, white-clad, swarthy and hoarse. They came by fifties, or in clouds they came, swept by like a windstorm, and were gone. And in each shrill and terrible rush some stragglers, be sure, would call upon Christ in vain. Or sometimes great companies of Mamelukes in mail, massed companies in blocks of men, stood covered by their bowmen as if offering battle. If the Christians opened out to attack (as at first they did), or some party of knights, more adventurous than another, pricked forward at a canter, and hastening as their hearts grew high cried at last the charge, 'Passavant!' or 'Sauve Anjou!' out of the wood with cries would come the black cavalry, sweep up behind our men, and cut off one company or another. And if so by day, by night there was no long peace under the large stars. Desperate stampedes, the scattering of camp-fires, trampling, grunting in the dark; ghostly horsemen looming and vanishing suddenly in the half-light; and in the lull the querulous howling of wild beasts disappointed.
To their full days succeeded their empty days, when they were alone with the desert and the sun. Then hunger and thirst assailed them, serpents bit them, stinging flies drove men mad, the sand burnt their feet through steel and leather. They lost more this way than by Saracen ambush, and lost more hearts than men. This was a time for private grudges to awaken. Hatred feeds on such dry meat. In the empty watches of the night, in the blistering daytime, under the white sky or the deep violet, Des Barres remembered his struck face, De Gurdun his stolen wife, Saint-Pol his dead brother, and the Duke of Burgundy his forty pounds.
It must be said that Richard stretched his authority as far as it would go. His direct aim was to reach Joppa with speed, and thence to strike inward over the hills to the Holy City. It was against sense to attack this enemy hugging the woody heights; but as time went on, as he lost men and heard the muttering of those who saw them go, he understood that if he could tempt Saladin into close battle upon chosen ground it would be well. This was a difficult matter, for though (as he knew) the Saracen army followed him in the woods, it kept well out of sight. None but the light horsemen showed near at hand, and their tactics were to sting like wasps, and fly—never to join battle. At last, in the swamp of Arsuf, where the Dead River splays over broad marshes, and goes in a swamp to the sea-edge, he saw his chance, and took it.
Here a feint, carried out by Gaston of Bearn with great spirit, brought Saladin into the open. The Christians continued their toilsome march, Saladin attacked their rear; and for six hours or more that rearguard fought a retreating battle, meeting shock after shock, striking no blow, while the centre and the van watched them. This was one of the tensest days of Richard's iron rule. De Charron, commanding the rear, sent imploring messengers—'For Christ's love let us charge, sire, we can bear no more of this.' He was answered, 'Let them come on again.' Then Saint-Pol, seeing one of the chances of his life, was in open mutiny of the tongue. 'Are we sheep, then?' Thus he to the French with Burgundy. 'Is the King a drover of cattle? Where is the chivalry of France?' Even Richard's friends grew fretful: Champagne tossing his head, muttering curses to himself, Gaston of Bearn pale and serious, chewing his beard. Two more wild assaults the rearguard took stiffly, at the third they broke in two places, but repelled the Turks. Richard, watching like a hawk, saw his opportunity. He sent down a message to the Duke of Burgundy, to Saint-Pol and De Charron—'Hold them yet once more; at six blasts of my trumpet, charge.' The Duke of Burgundy, block though he was, was prepared to obey. About him came buzzing Saint-Pol and his friends: 'Impossible, my lord Duke, we cannot keep in our men. Attack, attack.' Saladin was then coming on, one of his thunderous charges. 'God strike blind those French mules!' cried Richard. 'They are out!' This was true: from left to centre the Christian bowmen were out, the knights pricking after them to the charge. Richard cursed them from his heart. 'Sound trumpets!' he shouted, 'we must let go.' They sounded; they ran forward: the English first, then the Normans, Poictevins, men of Anjou and Pisa, black Genoese—but the left had moved before them, and made doubtful Richard's echelon. They knelt, pulled bowstrings to the ear. The sky grew dun as the long shafts flew; the oncoming tide of men flickered and tossed like a broken sea, and the Soldan's green banner dipped like a reed in it. A second time the blast of arrows, like a gust of death, smote them flat: Richard's voice rang sharply out—'Passavant, chivalers! Sauve Anjou!'—and a young Poictevin knight, stooping low in his saddle, went rocking down the line with words for Henry of Champagne, who ruled the centre. The archers ran back and crouched; Richard and his chivalry on the extreme right moved out, the next company after him, and the next, and the next, company following company, until, in echelon, all the long fluttering array galloped over the marsh, overlapped and enfolded the Saracen hordes in their bright embrace. A frenzied cry from some emir by the standard gave notice of the danger; the bodyguard about the Soldan were seen urging him. Saladin gave some hasty order as he rode off; Richard saw it, and tasted the bitterness of folly. 'By God, we shall lose him—oh, bemused hog of Burgundy!' He sent a man flying to the Duke; but it was too late. Saladin gained the woods, and with him his bodyguard, the flower of his state.
The Mamelukes also turned to fly. To right, to left, the mad horsemen drove—the black, the plumed, the Nubians in yellow, the Turcomans with spotted skins over their mail, the men of Syria, knighthood of Egypt—trampling underfoot their own kind. But the steel chain held most of these; the knights had bound horse to horse: wide on the left the Templars and Hospitallers fanned out and swept all stragglers into the net. So within hoops of iron, as it were, the slaughter began, silent, breathless, wet work. Here James d'Avesnes was killed, a good knight; and here Des Barres went down in a huddle of black men, and had infallibly perished but that King Richard himself with his axe dug him out. 'Your pardon, King of the World,' sobbed Des Barres, kissing his enemy's knee. 'Pooh,' says Richard, 'we are all kings here. Take my sword and get crowns'; and so he turned again into battle, and Des Barres pressed after him. That was the beginning of a firm friendship between the two. Des Barres eschewed the counsels of Saint-Pol from that day.
But there was treachery still awake and about. When the rout was begun Richard reined up for a minute, to breathe his horse and watch the way of the field. He sat apart from his friends, seeing the lines ride by. All in a moment inexplicably, as when in a race of the tide comes a sudden thwart gust of wind and changes the face of the day, there was a scurry, a babble of voices, the stampede of men fighting to kill: the Turks with Christians on their backs came trampling, struggling together. A sword glinted close to Richard—'Death to the Angevin devil!' he heard, and turning received in mid shield De Gurdun's sword. At the same moment a knight ran full tilt into the assailant, knocked him off his horse, and himself reeled, powerless to strike. This was Des Barres, paying his debts. The King smiled grimly to see the wholesome treachery, and Gurdun's dismay at it. 'Gilles, Gilles,' says he, 'be sure you get me alone in the world when next you strike at my back. Now get you up, Norman, and fight a flying enemy, if you please. I will await your return.' De Gurdun saluted, but avoided his lord's face, and rode after the Turks. Des Barres stood, deep-breathing, by the King.
'Will he come back, sire?' asked the French knight.
'Not he,' said Richard; 'he is ashamed of himself.' He added, 'That is a very honest man, to whom I have done a wrong. But listen to this, Des Barres; if I had not wronged him, I was so placed that I should have injured a most holy innocent soul. Let be. I shall meet De Gurdun again. He may have me yet if he do not tire.'
He had been speaking as if to himself so far, but now turned his hawk-eyes upon Des Barres. 'Tell me now,' he said, 'who gave the order to the rear to charge, against my order?'
'Sire,' replied Des Barres, 'it was the Duke of Burgundy.'
'You do not understand me,' said Richard. 'It came through the Duke of Burgundy's windpipe. But who put it into his thick head?'
Des Barres looked troubled. 'Ah, sire, must I answer you?'
Considering him, King Richard said, 'No, Des Barres, you need not. For now I know who it was. Well, he has lost me my game, and won a part of his, I doubt.' Then he rode off, bidding Des Barres sound the recall.
'Of the pagans that day,' writes Milo by hearsay, 'we made hecatombs two score five: yet the King my master took no pleasure of that, as I gather, deeming that he should have had Saladin's head in a bag. Also we gained a clear road to Joppa.' So they did; but Joppa was a heap of stones.
* * * * *
They held a great council there. Richard put out his views. There were two things to be done: repair Joppa and march at once on Jerusalem, there to find and have again at Saladin; or pursue the coast road to Ascalon and raise the siege of that city. 'I, my lords, am for Ascalon,' Richard said. 'It is the key of Egypt. While the Soldan holds us cooped up in Ascalon he can get his pack-mules through. If we relieve it, after the battery we have done him we can hold Jerusalem at our whim. What do you say to this, Duke of Burgundy?'
In the natural order of things the Duke would have said nothing. But he had been filled to the neck by Saint-Pol. Richard being for Ascalon, the key of Egypt, the Duke declared himself for Jerusalem, 'the key,' as he rather flatly said, 'of the world.' To this Richard contented himself with replying, that a key was little worth unless you could open the door with it. All the French stood by their leader, except Des Barres. He, with Richard's party, leaned to the King's side. But the Duke of Burgundy would not budge, sat like a lump. He would not go to Ascalon, and none of his battle should go. Richard cursed all Frenchmen, but gave in. The truth was, he dared not leave Saint-Pol behind him.
They repaired the walls and towers of Joppa, garrisoned the place. Then late in the autumn (truthfully, too late) they struck inland over a rolling grass country towards Blanchegarde, a white castle on a green hill. Moving slowly and cautiously, they pushed on to Ramleh, thence to Betenoble, which is actually within two days' march of Jerusalem. The month was October, mellow autumn weather. King Richard, moved by the sacred influences, the level peace of the fair land, filled day and night with the thought that he was on the threshold of that soil which bore the very footmarks of our blessed Saviour—King Richard, I say, was in great heart. He had been against the enterprise thus to do; he would have approached from Ascalon; the enterprise was folly. But it was glorious folly, for which a man might well die. He was ready to die, though he hoped and believed that he should not. Saladin, once bitten, would be shy: he had been badly bitten at Arsuf. Then came the Bishop of Beauvais with Burgundy to his tent—Saint-Pol stayed behind—with speeches, saying that the winter season was at hand; that it would be more prudent to withdraw to Joppa, or even to go down to Ascalon. Ascalon needed succours, it seemed. Richard's heart stood still at this treachery; then he blazed out in fury. 'Are we hare or hounds, by heaven? Do you presume—?' He mastered himself. 'What part, pray, does Almighty God take in these pastimes of yours?'
The Duke of Burgundy looked heavily at the Bishop. The Bishop said, 'Sire, Ascalon is besieged.'
Said Richard, 'You old fool, do you not know the Soldan better than that? Or do you put him on a parity with this Duke? It was under siege three weeks ago, as you remember perfectly well.'
The Duke still looked at the Bishop. Driven again to say something, the latter began—'Sire, your words are injurious; but I have spoken advisedly. The Count of Saint-Pol—'
'Ah,' said Richard, 'the Count of Saint-Pol? Now I begin to understand you. Please to fetch in your Count of Saint-Pol.'
Saint-Pol was sent for, and he came, darkly smiling, respectful, but aware. King Richard held his voice, but not his hand, on the curb. The hand shook a little.
'Saint-Pol,' he said, 'the Duke of Burgundy refers me to the Bishop, the Bishop to you. This seems the order of command in King Philip's host. Between the three of you I conceive to lie the honour of France. Now observe me. Three weeks ago I was for Ascalon, and you for Jerusalem. Now that I have brought you within two days of your desire—two days, observe—you are for Ascalon, and I for Jerusalem. What is the meaning of this?'
'Sire,' said Saint-Pol, reasonably, 'it means that we believe the Holy City impregnable at this season, or untenable; and Ascalon still pregnable.'
The King put a hand to the table. 'It means nothing of the sort, man. You do not believe Ascalon can be taken. It is eight days' journey, and was in straits a month ago. You make me ashamed of the men I am forced to lead. What faith have you? What religion? The faith of your sick master the Runagate! The religion of your white Marquess of Montferrat! And I had taken you for men. Foh! you are rats.'
This was dreadful hearing: Saint-Pol bit his lip, but made no other answer.
'Sire,' said the Bishop with heat, 'my manhood has never been reproached before. When you carried war into my country in the King your father's time, I met you in a hauberk of mail. If I met your Grace, judge if I should fear the Soldan. It is my devout hope to kiss the Holy Sepulchre and touch the Holy Cross, but before I die, not afterwards.'
'Pish!' said King Richard.
'Sire,' Beauvais ventured again, 'our master King Philip set us over his host as foster-fathers of his children. We dare not imperil so many lives unadvisedly.'
'Unadvisedly!' the King thundered at him, red to the roots of his hair.
'I withdraw the word, sire,' said the Bishop in a hurry; 'yet it is the mature opinion of us all that we should seek the coast for winter-quarters, not the high lands. We claim, at least, the duty of choosing for those whose guardians we are.'
If Richard had been himself of two years earlier he would have killed then and there a second Count of Saint-Pol; and for a pulse or two the young man saw his death bright in the King's eyes. That the angry man commanded himself is, I think, to his credit. As it was, he did what he had certainly never done before: he tried to reason with the Duke of Burgundy.
'Duke of Burgundy,' he said, leaning over his chair and talking low, 'you are no Frenchman, and the more of a man on that account. You and I have had our differences. I have blamed you, and you me. But I have never found you a laggard when there was work for the sword or adventure for the heart. Now, of all adventures in the world the highest in which a man may engage is here. Across those hills lies the city of God, of which (I suppose) no soul among us might, unhelped, dare hope the sight, much less the touch, least of all the redemption. I tell you, Duke of Burgundy, there is that within me (not my own) which will lead you thither with profit, glory and honour. Will you trust me? So far as I have gone along with you I have done reasonably well. Did I scatter the heathen at Arsuf? No thanks to you, Burgundy, but I did. Did I hold a safe course to Joppa? Have I then brought you so near, and myself so near, for nothing at all? If I have been a fool in my day, I am not a fool now. I speak what I know. With this host I can save the city. Without the best of it, I can do nothing. What do you say, my lord? Will you let Beauvais take his Frenchmen to dishonour, and you and your Burgundians play for honour with me? The prize is great, the reward sure, here or in heaven. What do you say, Duke of Burgundy?'
His voice shook by now, and all the bystanders watched without breath the heavy, brooding, mottled man over against him. He, faithful to his nature, looked at the Bishop of Beauvais. But Beauvais was looking at his ring.
'What do you say, my lord?' again asked King Richard.
The Duke of Burgundy was troubled: he blinked, looking at Saint-Pol. But Saint-Pol was looking at the tent-roof.
'Be pleased to look at me,' said Richard; and the man did look, working under his wrongs.
'By God, Richard,' said the Duke of Burgundy, 'you owe me forty pound!'
King Richard laughed till he was helpless.
'It may be, it may well be,' he gasped between the throes of his mirth. 'O lump of clay! O wonderful half-man! O most expressive river-horse! You shall be paid and sent about your business. Archbishop, be pleased to pay this man his bill. I will content you, Burgundy, with money; but I will be damned before I take you to Jerusalem. My lords,' he said, altering voice and look in a moment, 'I will conduct you to the ships. Since I am not strong enough for Jerusalem I will go to Ascalon. But you! By the living God, you shall go back to France.' He dismissed them all, and next day broke up his camp.
But before that, very early in the morning, after a night spent with his head in his hands, he rode out with Gaston and Des Barres to a hill which they call Montjoy, because from there the pilgrims, tending south, see first among the folded hills Jerusalem itself lie like a dove in a nest. The moon was low and cold, the sun not up; but the heavens and earth were full of shadowless light; every hill-top, every black rock upon it stood sharply cut out, as with a knife. King Richard rode silently, his face covered in a great hood; neither man with him dared speak, but kept the distance due. So they skirted hill after hill, wound in and out of the deep valleys, until at last Gaston pricked forward and touched his master on the arm. Richard started, not turned.
'Montjoy, dear master,' said Gaston.
There before them, as out of a cup, rose a dark conical hill with streamers of white light behind and, as might be, leaping from it. 'The light shines on Jerusalem,' said Gaston: Richard, looking up at the glory, uncovered his head. Sharp against the light stood a single man on Montjoy, who faced the full sun. They who saw him there were still deep in shade.
'Gaston and Des Barres,' said King Richard, when they had reached the foot of the wet hill, 'stay you here. Let me go on alone.'
Gaston demurred. 'The hill is manned, sire. Beware an ambush. You have enemies close by.' He hinted at Saint-Pol.
'I have only one enemy that I fear, Gaston,' said the King; 'and he rides my horse. Do as I tell you.'
They obeyed; so he went under their anxious eyes. Slowly he toiled up the bridle-path which the feet of many pilgrims had worn into the turf; slowly they saw him dip from the head downwards into the splendour of the dawn. But when horse and man were bathed full in light, those two below touched each other and held hands; for they saw him hoist his great shield from his shoulder and hold it before his face. So as he stayed, screening himself from what he sought but dared not touch, the solitary watcher turned, and came near him, and spoke.
'Why does the great King cover his face?' said Gilles de Gurdun; 'and why does he, of his own will, keep the light of God from him? Is he at the edge of his dominion? Hath he touched the limit of his power? Then I am stronger than my Duke; for I see the towers shine in the sun; I see the Mount of Olives, Calvary also, and the holy temple of God. I see the Church of the Sepulchre, the battlements and great gates of the city. Look, my lord King. See that which you desire, that you may take it. Fulke of Anjou was King of Jerusalem; and shall not Richard be a king? What is lacking? What is amiss? For kings may desire that which they see, and take that which they desire, though other men go cursing and naked.'
Said King Richard from behind his shield, 'Is that you, Gurdun, my enemy?'
'I am that man,' said Gilles, 'and bolder than you are, since I can look unoffended upon the place where our Lord God suffered as a man. Suffering, it seems, maketh me sib with God.'
'I will never look upon the city, though I have risked all for the sake of it,' said Richard; 'for now I know that it was no design of God's to allow me to take it, although it was certainly His desire that I should come into this country. Perhaps He thought me other than now I am. I will not look. For if I look upon it I shall lead my men up against it; and then they will be cut off and destroyed, since we are too few. I will never see what I cannot save.'
Said Gilles between his teeth, 'You robber, you have seen my wife, and cannot save her now' Richard laughed softly.
'God bless her,' he said, 'she is my true wife, and will be saved sure enough. Yet I will tell you this, Gurdun. If she was not mine she should be yours; and what is more, she may be so yet.'
'You speak idly,' said Gurdun, 'of things which no man knows.'
'Ah,' said the King, 'but I do know them. Leave me: I wish to pray.'
Gilles moved off, and sat himself on the edge of the hill looking towards Jerusalem. If Richard prayed, it was with the heart, for his lips never opened. But I believe that his heart, in this hour of clear defeat, was turned to stone. He took his joys with riot, his triumphs calmly; his griefs he shut in a trap. Such a nature as his, I suppose, respects no persons. Whether God beat him, or his enemy, he would take it the same way. All that Gilles heard him say aloud was this: 'What I have done I have done: deliver us from evil.' He bade no farewell to his hope, he asked no greeting for his altered way. When he had turned his back upon the sacred places he lowered his shield; and then rode down the hill into the cold shadow of the valley.
If he was changed, or if his soul, naked of hope, was stricken bleak, so was the road he had to go. That day he broke up his camp and fared for Ascalon and the sea. Stormy weather set in, the rains overtook him; he was quagged, blighted with fever, lost his way, his men, his men's love. Camp-sickness came and spread like a fungus. Men, rotten through to the brain, died shrieking, and as they shrieked they cursed his name. One, a Poictevin named Rolf, whom he knew well, turned away his blackened face when Richard came to visit him.
'Ah, Rolf,' said the King, 'dost thou turn away from me, man?'
'I do that, by our Lord,' said Rolf, 'since by these deeds of thine my wife and children will starve, or she become a whore.'
'As God lives,' said Richard, 'I will see to it.'
'I do not think He can be living any more,' said Rolf, 'if He lets thee live, King Richard.' Richard went away. The time dragged, the rain fell pitilessly, without end. He found rivers in floods, fords roaring torrents, all ways choked. At every turn the Duke of Burgundy and Saint-Pol worked against him.
Also he found Ascalon in ruins, but grimly set about rebuilding it. This took him all the winter, because the French (judging, perhaps, that they had done their affair) took to the ships and sailed back to Acre. There they heard, what came more slowly to King Richard, strange news of the Marquess of Montferrat, and terrible news of Jehane Saint-Pol.
THE CHAPTER CALLED CLYTEMNESTRA
At Acre, by the time September was set, the sun had put all the air to the sword, so that the city lay stifled, stinking in its own vice; and the nights were worse than the days. Then was the great harvest of the flies, when men died so quickly that there was no time to bury them. So also mothers saw their children flag or felt their force grow thin: one or another swooned suddenly and woke no more; or a woman found a dead child at the breast, or a child whimpered to find his mother so cold. At this time, while Jehane lay panting in bed, awake hour by hour and fretting over what she should do when the fountains of her milk should be dry, and this little Fulke, royal glutton, crave without getting of her—she heard the women set there to fan her talking to each other in drowsy murmurs, believing that she slept. By now she knew their speech.
Said one between the slow passes of the fans, 'Giafar ibn Mulk hath come into the city secretly.' And the other, 'Then we have a thief the more.'
'Peace,' said the first, 'thou grudger. He is one of my lovers, and telleth me whatsoever I seek to know. He is come in from Lebanon; so much, and more, I know already.'
'What ill report doth he bring of his master?' asked the second, a lazy girl, whose name was Misra, as the first was called Fanoum.
Fanoum answered, 'Very ill report of the Melek'—that was King Richard's name here—'but it is according to the desires of the Marquess.'
'Ohe!' said Misra, 'we must tell this sleeper. She is moon of the Melek.'
'Thou art a fool to think me a fool,' said Fanoum. 'Why, then, shall I be one to turn the horn of a mad cow, to pierce my own thigh? Let the Franks kill each other, what have we but gain? They are dogs alike.'
Misra said, 'Hearken thou, O Fanoum, the Melek is no dog. Nay, he is more than a man. He is the yellow-haired King of the West, riding a white horse, who was foretold by various prophets, that he should come up against the Sultan. That I know.'
'Then he will have more than a man's death,' said Fanoum. 'The Marquess goeth with Giafar to Lebanon, to see the Old Man of Musse, whom he serveth. The Melek must die, for of all men living or dead the Marquess hateth him.'
'Oh, King of Kings!' said Misra, with a little sob, 'and thou wilt stand by, thou sorrowful, while the Marquess kills the Melek!'
Fanoum answered, 'Certainly I will; for any of our lord's people can kill the Marquess; but it needeth the guile of the Old Man to kill the Melek. Let the wolf slay the lion while he sleepeth: anon cometh the shepherd and slayeth the gorged wolf. That is good sense.'
'Well,' said Misra, 'it may be so. But I am sorry for his favourite here. There are no daughters of Au so goodly as this one. The Melek is a wise lover of women.'
'Let be for that,' replied Fanoum comfortably; 'the Old Man of Musse is a wiser. He will come and have her, and we do well enough in Lebanon.'
They would have said more, had Jehane needed any more. But it seemed to her that she knew enough. There was danger brewing for King Richard, whom she, faithless wretch, had let go without her. As she thought of the leper, of her promise to the Queen-Mother, of Richard towering but to fall, her heart grew cold in her bosom, then filled with fire and throbbed as if to burst. It is extraordinary, however, how soon she saw her way clear, and on how small a knowledge. Who this Old Man might be, who lived on Lebanon and was most wise in the matter of women, she could have no guess; but she was quite sure of him, was certain that he was wise. She knew something of the Marquess, her cousin. Any ally of his must be a murdermonger. A wise lover of women, the Old Man of Musse, who dwelt on Lebanon! Wiser than Richard! And she more goodly than the daughters of Au! Who were the daughters of Ali? Beautiful women? What did it matter if she excelled them? God knew these things; but Jehane knew that she must go to market with the Old Man of Musse. So much she calmly revolved in her mind as she lay her length, with shut eyes, in her bed.
With the first cranny of light she had herself dressed by her sulky, sleepy women, and went abroad. There were very few to see her, none to dare her any harm, so well as she was known. Two eunuchs at a wicked door spat as she passed; she saw the feet of a murdered man sticking out of a drain, the scurry of a little troop of rats. Mostly, the dogs of the city had it to themselves. No women were about, but here and there a guarded light betrayed sin still awake, and here and there a bell, calling the faithful to church, sounded a homely note of peace. The morning was desperately close, without a waft of air. She found the Abbot Milo at his lodging, in the act of setting off to mass at the church of Saint Martha. The sight of her wild face stopped him.
'No time to lose, my child,' he said, when he had heard her. 'We must go to the Queen: it is due to her. Saviour of mankind!' he cried with flacking arms, 'for what wast Thou content to lay down Thy life!' They hurried out together just as the sun broke upon the tiles of the domed churches, and Acre began to creep out of bed.
The Queen was not yet risen, but sent them word that she would receive the abbot, 'but on no account Madame de Saint-Pol.' Jehane pushed off the insult just as she pushed her hot hair from her face. She had no thoughts to spare for herself. The abbot went into the Queen's house.
Berengere looked very drowned, he thought, in her great bed. One saw a sharp white oval floating in the black clouds which were her hair. She looked younger than any bride could be, childish, a child ill of a fever, wilful, querulous, miserable. All the time she listened to what Milo had to say her lips twitched, and her fingers plucked gold threads out of the cherubim on the coverlet.
'Kill the King of England? Kill my lord' Montferrat? Eh, they cannot kill him! Oh, oh, oh!'—she moaned shudderingly—'I would that they could! Then perhaps I should sleep o' nights.' Her strained eyes pierced him for an answer. What answer could he give?
'My news is authentic, Madame. I came at once, as my duty was, to your Grace, as to the proper person—' Here she sat right up in her bed, wide-eyed, all alight.
'Yes, yes, I am the proper person. I will do it, if no other can. Virgin Mary!'—she stretched her arms out, like one crucified—'Look at me. Am I worthy of this?' If she addressed the Virgin Mary her invitation was pointedly to the abbot, a less proper spectator. He did look, however, and pitied her deeply; at her lips dry with hatred, which should have been freshly kissed, at her drawn cheeks, into her amazed young heart: eh, God, he knew her loveworthy once, and now most pitiful. He had nothing to say; she went on breathless, gathering speed.
'He has spurned me whom he chose. He has left me on my wedding day. I have never seen him alone—do you heed me? never, never once. Ah, now, he has chosen for his minion: let her save him if she can. What have I to do with him? I am the daughter of a king; and what is he to me, who treats me so? If I am not to be mother of England, I am still daughter of Navarre. Let him die, let them kill him: what else can serve me now?' She fell back, and lay staring up at him. In every word she said there was sickening justice: what could Milo do? In his private mind he confirmed a suspicion—being still loyal to his King—that one and the same thing may be at one and the same time all black and all white. He did his best to put this strange case.
'Madame,' he said, 'I cannot excuse our lord the King, nor will I; but I can defend that noble lady whose only faults are her beauty and strong heart.' Mentioning Jehane's beauty, he saw the Queen look quickly at him, her first intelligent look. 'Yes, Madame, her beauty, and the love she has been taught to give our lord. The King married her, uncanonically, it is true; but who was she to hold up church law before his face? Well, then she, by her own pure act, caused herself to be put away by the King, abjuring thus his kingly seat. Hey, but it is so, that by her own prayers, her proper pleading, her proper tears, she worked against her proper honour, and against the child in her womb. What more could she do? What more could any wife, any mother, than that? Ah, say that you hate her without stint, would you have her die? Why, no! for what pain can be worse than to live as she lives? My lady, she prevailed against the King; but she could not prevail against her own holy nature working upon the King's great heart. No! When the King found out that she was to be mother of his child, he loved her so well that, though he must respect her prayers, he must needs respect her person also. The King thought within himself, "I have promised Madame de Saint-Pol that I will never strive with her in love; and I will not. Now must I promise Almighty God that, in her life, I will not strive so at all." Alas, Madame, and alas! Here the King was too strong for the girl; here her own nobility rose up against her. Pity her, not blame her; and for the King—I dare to say it—find pity as well as blame. All those who love his high heart, his crowned head, find pity for him in theirs. For many there are who do better, having no occasion to do as ill; but there can be none who mean better, for none have such great motions.'
Milo might have spared his breath. The Queen had heard one phrase of all his speech, and during the rest had pondered that. When he had done, she said, 'Fetch me in this lady. I would speak with her.'
'Breast shall touch breast here,' said Milo to himself, full of hope, 'and mouth meet mouth. Courage, old heart.'
When the tall girl was brought in Queen Berengere did not look at her, nor make any response to her deep reverence; but bade her fetch a mirror from the table. In this she looked at herself steadily for some time, smoothing and coiling back her hair, arranging her neck-covering so as to show something of her bosom, and so on. She sent Jehane for boxes of unguent, her colour-boxes, brush for the eyebrows, powder for the face. Finally she had brought to her a little crown of diamonds, and set it in her hair. After patting her head and turning it about and about, she put the glass down and made a long survey of Jehane.
'They do well,' she said, 'who call you sulky: you have a sulky mouth. I allow your shape; but there are reasons for that. You are very tall; you have a long throat. Green eyes are my detestation—fie, turn them from me. Your hair is wonderful, and your skin. I suppose women of the North are so commonly. Come nearer.' Jehane obeying, the Queen touched her neck, then her cheek. 'Show me your teeth,' she said. 'They are strong and good, but much larger than mine. Your hands are big, and so are your ears; you do well to cover them. Let me see your foot.' She peeped over the edge of the bed; Jehane put her foot out. 'It is not so large as I expected,' said the Queen, 'but much larger than mine.' Then she sighed and threw herself back. 'You are certainly a very tall girl. And twenty-three years old? I am not twenty yet, and have had fifty lovers. The Abbot of Poictiers said you were beautiful. Do you think yourself so?'
'It is not my part to think of it, Madame,' said Jehane, holding herself rather stiffly.
'You mean that you know it too well,' said Berengere. 'I suppose it is true. You have a fine colour and a fine person—but that is a woman's. Now look at me carefully, and say how you find me. Put your hand here, and here, and here. Touch my hair; look well at my eyes. My hair reaches to my knees when I stand up, to the floor when I sit down. I am a king's daughter. Do you not think me beautiful?'
'Yes, Madame. Oh, Madame—!' Jehane, trembling before her visions, could hardly stand still; but the Queen (who had no visions now the mirror was put by) went plaining on.
'When I was in my father's court his poets called me Frozen Heart, because I was cold in loving. Messire Bertran de Born loved me, and so did my cousin the Count of Provence, and the Count of Orange, and Raimbaut, and Gaucelm, and Ebles of Ventadorn. Now I have found one colder than ever I was, and I am burning. Are you a great lover of the King?'
At this question, put so quietly, Jehane grew grave. It took her above her sense of dangers, being in itself a dignity. 'I love the King so well, Queen Berengere,' she said, 'that I think I shall make him hate me in time.'
'Folly,' snapped the Queen, 'or guile. You would spur him. Is it true what the Abbot Milo told me?'
'I know not what he has told you,' said Jehane; 'but it is true that I have not dared let the King love me, and now dare least of all.'
The Queen clenched her hands and teeth. 'You devil,' she said, 'how I hate you. You reject what I long for, and he loathes me for your sake. You a creature of nought, and I a king's daughter.'
From the nostrils of Jehane the breath came fluttering and quick; in her splendid bosom stirred a storm that, if she had chosen to let it loose, could have shrivelled this little prickly leaf: but she replied nothing to the Queen's hatred. Instead, with eyes fixed in vacancy, and one hand upon her neck, she spoke her own purpose and lifted the talk to high matters.
'I touch not again your King and mine, O Queen. But I go to save him.'
'Woman,' said Berengere, 'do you dare tell me this? Are my miseries nothing to you? Have you not worked woe enough?'
Jehane suddenly threw her hair back, fell upon her knees, lifted her chin. 'Madame, Madame, Madame! I must save him if I die. I implore your pardon—I must go!'
'Why, what can you do against Montferrat?' The Queen shivered a little: Jehane looked fixedly at her, solemn as a dying nun.
'You say that I am handsome,' she said, then stopped. Then in a very low voice—'Well, I will do what I can.' She hung her golden head.
The Queen, after a moment of shock, laughed cruelly. 'I suppose I could not wish you anything worse than that. I hate you above all people in the world, mother of a bastard. Oh, it will be enough punishment. Go, you hot snake; leave me.'
Jehane rose to her feet, bowed her head and went out. Next moment the Queen must have whipped out of bed, for she caught her before she could shut the door, and clung to her neck, sobbing desperately. 'O God, Jehane, save Richard! Have mercy on me, I am most wretched.' Now the other seemed to be queen.
'My girl,' said Jehane, 'I will do what I promised.' She kissed the scorching forehead, and went away with Milo to find Giafar ibn Mulk.
To get at him it was necessary to put the girl Fanoum to the question. This was done. Giafar ibn Mulk, enticed into the house, proved to be a young man of prudence and resource. He could not, he said, conduct them to his master, because he had been told to conduct the Marquess; but an equally sure guide could be found, and there were no objections to his delaying his own illustrious convoy for a week or more. Further than that he could not go, nor did the near prospect of death, which the abbot exhibited to him, prove any inducement to the alteration of his mind. 'Death?' he said, when the implements of that were before him. 'If I am to die, I am to die: not twice it happens to a man. But I recommend to these priests the expediency of first finding El Safy.' As this was to be their guide up Lebanon, those priests agreed. El Safy also agreed, when they had him. A galley was got ready for sea; the provisional Grand Master of the Temple wrote a commendatory letter to his 'beloved friend in the one God, Sinan, Lord of the Assassins, Vetus de Monte'; and then, in two days' time, Milo the abbot, Jehane with her little Fulke, a few women, and El Safy (their master in the affair), left Acre for Tortosa, whence they must climb on mule-back to Lebanon.
THE CHAPTER OF THE SACRIFICE ON LEBANON; ALSO CALLED CASSANDRA
From the haven at Acre to the bill of Tortosa is two days' sailing with a fair wind. Thence, climbing the mountains, you reach Musse in four days more, if the passes are open. If they are shut you do not reach it at all. High on Lebanon, above the frozen gorge where Orontes and Leontes, rivers of Syria, separate in their courses; above the terrace of cedars, above Shurky the clouded mountain, lies a deep green valley sentinelled on all sides by snow peaks and by the fortresses upon their tops. In the midst of that, among cedars and lines of cypress trees, is the white palace of the Lord of the Assassins, as big as a town. A man may climb from pass to pass of Lebanon without striking upon the place; sighting it from some dangerous crag, he may yet never approach it. None visit the Old Man of Musse but those who court Death in one of his shapes; and to such he never denies it. Dazzling snow-curtains, black hanging-woods, sheer walls of granite, frame it in: looking up on all sides you see the soaring pikes; and deep under a coffer-lid of blue it lies, greener than an emerald, a valley of easy sleep. There in the great chambers young men lie dreaming of women, and sleek boys stand about the doorways with cups of madness held close to their breasts. They are eaters and drinkers of hemp, these people, which causes them to sleep much and wake up mad. Then, when the Old Man calls one or another and says, Go down the mountains into the cities of the seaboard, and when thou seest such-a-one, kiss him and strike deep—he goes out then and there with fixed eyeballs, and never turns them about until he finds whom he seeks, nor ever shuts them until his work is done. This is the custom of Musse in the enclosed valley of Lebanon.
Thither on mules from Tortosa came El Safy, leading the Abbot Milo and Jehane, and brought them easily through all the defiles to that castle on a spur which is called Mont-Ferrand, but in the language of the Saracens, Barin. From that height they looked down upon the domes and gardens of Musse, and knew that half their work was done.
What immediately followed was due to the insistence of El Safy, who said that if Jehane was not suitably attired and veiled she would fail of her mission. Jehane did not like this.
'It is not the custom of our women to be veiled, El Safy,' she said, 'except at the hour when they are to be married.'
'And it is not the custom of our men,' replied the Assassin, 'to choose unveiled women. And this for obvious reasons.'
'What are your reasons, my son?' asked the abbot.
'I will tell you,' said El Safy. 'If a man should come to our master with a veiled woman, saying, My lord, I have here a woman faced like the moon, and more melting than the peach that drops from the wall, the Old Man would straightway conceive what manner of beauty this was, and picture it more glorious than the truth could ever be; and then the reality would climb up to meet his imagining. But otherwise if he saw her barefaced before him; for eyesight is destructive to mind-sight if it precede it. The eye must be servant. So then he, dreaming of the veiled treasure, weds her and finds that she is just what was predicted of her by the merchant. For women and other delights, as we understand the affair, are according to our zest; and our zest is a thing of the mind's devising, added unto desire as the edge of a sword is superadded to the sword. So the fair woman must certainly be veiled.'
'The saying hath meat in it,' said the abbot; 'but here is no question of merchants, nor of marriage, pardieu.'
'If there is no question of marriage, of what is there question in this company?' asked El Safy. 'Let me tell you that two questions only concern the Old Man of Musse.'
Jehane, who had stood pouting, with a very high head, throughout this little colloquy, said nothing; but now she allowed El Safy his way. So she was dressed.
They put on her a purple vest, thickly embroidered with gold and pearls, underdrawers of scarlet silk, and gauze trousers (such as Eastern women wear) of many folds. Her hair was plaited and braided with pearls, a broad silk girdle tied about her waist. Over all was put a thick white veil, heavily fringed with gold. Round her ankles they put anklets of gold, with little bells on them which tinkled as she walked; last, scarlet slippers. They would have painted her face and eyebrows, but that El Safy decided that this was not at all necessary. When all was done she turned to one of her women and demanded her baby. El Safy, to Milo's surprise, made no demur. Then they put her in a gold cage on a mule's back, and so let her down by a steep path into the region of birds and flowering trees. There was very little conversation, except when the abbot hit his foot against a rock. In the valley they passed through a thick cedar grove, and so came to the first of four gates of approach.
Half a score handsome boys, bare-legged and in very short white tunics, led them from hall to hall, even to the innermost, where the Old Man kept his state. The first hall was of cedar painted red; the second was of green wood, with a fountain in the middle; the third was deep blue, and the fourth colour of fire. But the next hall, which was long and very lofty, was white like snow, except for the floor, which had a blood-red carpet; and there, on a white throne, sat the Old Man of Musse, himself as blanched as a swan, robed all in white, white-bearded; and about him his Assassins as colourless as he.
The ten boys knelt down and crossed their arms upon their bosoms; El Safy fell flat upon his face, and crawling so, like a worm, came at length to the steps of the throne. The Old Man let him lie while he blinked solemnly before him. Not the Pope himself, as Milo had once seen him, hoar with sanctity, looked more remotely, more awfully pure than this king of murder, snowy upon his blood-red field. What gave closer mystery was that the light came strange and milky through agate windows, and that when the Old Man spoke it was in a dry, whispering voice which, with the sound of a murmur in the forest, was in tune with the silence of all the rest. El Safy stood up, and was rigid. There ensued a passionless flow of question and answer. The Old Man murmured to the roof, scarcely moving his lips; El Safy answered by rote, not moving any other muscles but his jaw's. As for the Assassins, they stayed squat against the walls, as if they had been dead men, buried sitting.
At a sign from El Safy the abbot with veiled Jehane came down the hail, and stood before the white spectre on his throne. Jehane saw that this was really a man. There was a faint tinge of red at his nostrils, his eyes were yellowish and very bright, his nails coloured red. The shape of his head was that of an old bird. She judged him bald under his high cap; but his beard came below his breast-bone. When he opened his mouth to speak she observed that his teeth were the whitest part of him, and his lips rather grey. He did not seem to look at her, but said to the abbot, 'Tell me why you have come into my country, being a Frank and a Christian dog; and why you have brought with you this fair woman.'
'My lord,' said the abbot, after clearing his throat, 'we are lovers and servants of the great king whom you call the Melek Richard, a lion indeed in the paths of the Moslems, who makes bitter war upon your enemy the Soldan; and in defence of him we are come. For it appears that a servant of your lordship's, called Giafaribn Mulk, is now in Acre, which is King Richard's good town, conspiring with the Marquess the death of our lord.'
'It is the first I have heard of it,' said the Old Man. 'He was sent for a different purpose, but his hand is otherwise free. What else have you to say?'
'Why, this, my lord,' said the abbot, 'that our lord the King has too many enemies not declared, who compass his destruction while he compasses their soul's health. This is so shameful that we think it no time for the King's lovers to be asleep. Therefore I, with this woman, who, of all persons living in the world, is most dear to him (as he to her), have come to warn your lordship of the Marquess his abominable design, in the sure hope that your lordship will lend it no favour. King Richard, we believe, is besieging the Holy City, and therefore (no doubt) hath the countenance of Almighty God. But if the devil (who loves the Marquess, and is sure to have him) may reckon your lordship also upon his side, we doubt that he may prevail.'
'And do you also think,' asked the Old Man, scarcely audible, 'That the Melek Richard will thank you for these precautions of yours?'
'My lord,' said Milo, 'we seek not his thanks, nor his good opinion, but his safety.
'It is one thing to seek safety,' said the Old Man, 'but another thing to find or keep it. Get you back to the doorway.'
So they did, and the lord of the place sat for a long time in a stare, not moving hand or foot. Now it happened that the child in Jehane's arm woke up, and began to stretch itself, and whimper, and nozzle about for food. Jehane tried to hush it by rocking herself to and fro gently on one foot. The abbot, horrified, frowned and shook his head; but Jehane, who knew but one lord now Richard was away, took no notice. Presently young Fulke set up a howl which sounded piercing in that still place. Milo began to say his prayers; but no one moved except Jehane, whose course, to her own mind, was clear. She put the great veil back over her head, and bared her beauty; she unfastened the purple vest, and bared her bosom. This she gave to the child's searching mouth. The free gesture, the bent head, the unconscious doing, made the act as lovely as the person. Fulke murmured his joy, and Jehane looking presently up saw the Old Man's solemn eyes blinking at her. This did not disconcert her very much, for she thought, 'If he is correctly reported he has seen a mother before now.'
It might seem that he had or had not: his action reads either way. After three minutes' blinking he sent an old Assassin (not El Safy) down the hall to the door.
'Thus,' he reported, 'saith the Old Man of Musse, Lord of the Assassins. Tell the Sheik of the Nazarenes that the Marquess of Montferrat shall come up and go down, and after that come up no more. Also, let the Sheik depart in peace and with all speed, lest I repent and put him suddenly to death. As for the fair woman, she must remain among my ladies, and become my dutiful wife, as a ransom price.'
The abbot, as one thunderstruck, raised his hands on high. 'O sack of sin!' he groaned, 'O dross for the melting-pot! O unspeakable sacrifice!' But Jehane, gravely smiling, checked him. 'Why, Lord Abbot, is any sacrifice too great for King Richard?' she asked, gently reproving him. 'Nay, go, my father; I shall do very well. I am not at all afraid. Now do what I shall tell you. Kiss the hand of my lord Richard from me when you see him, bidding him remember the vows we made to each other on the day at Fontevrault when he took up the Cross, and again before the lifted Host at Cahors. And to my lady Queen Berengere say this, that from this day forth I am wife of a man, and stand not between her bed and the King, as God knows I have never meant to stand. Kiss me now, my father, and pray diligently for me.' He tells us that he did, and records the day long ago when he had first kissed the poor girl in the chapel of the Dark Tower, the day when, as she hoped, she had taught her great lover to tread upon her heart.
At this time a great black, the chief of the eunuchs, came and touched her on the shoulder. 'Whither now, friend?' said Jehane. He pointed the way, being a deaf-mute. 'Lead,' said she; 'I will follow.' And so she did.
She turned no more her head, nor did she go with it lowered, but carried it cheerfully, as if her business was good. The black led her by many winding ways to a garden filled with orange-trees, and across this to a bronze door. There stood two more blacks on guard, with naked swords in their hands. The eunuch struck twice on the lintel. The door was opened from within, and they entered. An old lady dressed in black came to meet them; to her the eunuch handed Jehane, made a reverence, and retired. They shut the bronze doors. What more? After the bath, and putting on of habits more sumptuous than she had ever heard tell of, she was taken by slaves into the Hall of Felicity. There, among the heavy-eyed languid women, Jehane sat herself staidly down, and suckled her child.
OF THE GOING-UP AND GOING-DOWN OF THE MARQUESS
The Marquess of Montferrat travelled splendidly from Acre to Sidon with six galleys in his convoy. So many, indeed, did not suffice him; for at Sidon he took off his favourite wife with her women, eunuchs and janissaries, and thus with twelve ships came to Tripolis. Thence by the Aleppo road he went to Karak of the Knights, thence again, after a rest of two days, he started—he, the knights and esquires of his body in cloth of gold, with scarlet housings for the mules, litters for his womenkind; with his poets, his jongleurs, his priest, his Turcopoles and favourites; all this gaudy company, for the great ascent of Mont-Ferrand.
His mind was to impress the Old Man of Musse, but it fell out otherwise. The Old Man was not easily impressed, because he was so accustomed to impressing. You do not prophesy to prophets, or shake priests with miracles. When he reached the top of Mont-Ferrand he was met by a grave old Sheik, who informed him quietly that he must remain there. The Marquess was very angry, the Sheik very grave. The Marquess stormed, and talked of armed hosts. 'Look up, my lord,' said the Sheik. The mountain-ridges were lined with bowmen; in the hanging-woods he saw the gleam of spears; between them and the sky, on all sides as far as one could see, gloomed the frozen peaks. The Marquess felt a sinking. He arose chastened on the morrow, and negotiations were resumed on the altered footing. Finally, he begged for but three persons, without whose company he said he could not do. He must have his chaplain, his fool, and his barber. Impossible, the Sheik said; adding that if they were so necessary to the Marquess he might 'for the present' remain with them at Mont-Ferrand. In that case, however, he would not see the Lord of the Assassins.
'But that, very honourable sir,' said the Marquess, with ill-concealed impatience, 'is the simple object of my journey.'
'So it was reported,' the Sheik observed. 'It is for you to consider. For my own part I should say that these persons cannot be indispensable for a short visit.'
'I can give his lordship a week,' said the Marquess.
'My master,' replied the Sheik, 'may give you an hour, but considers that half that time should be ample. To be sure, there is the waiting for audience, which is always wearisome.'
'My friend,' the Marquess said, opening his eyes, 'I am the King-elect of Jerusalem.'
'I know nothing of such things,' replied the Sheik. 'I think we had better go down.' Three only went down: the Sheik, the Marquess, and Giafar ibn Mulk.
When at last they were in the garden-valley, and better still had reached the third of the halls of degree, they were met by the chief of the eunuchs, who told them his master was in the harem, and could not be disturbed. The Marquess, who so far had been all smiles and interest, was now greatly annoyed; but there was no help for that. In the blue court he must needs wait for nearly three hours. By the time he was ushered into the milky light of the audience chamber he was faint with rage and apprehension; he was dazzled, he stumbled over the blood-red carpet, arrived fainting at the throne. There he stayed, tongue-cloven, while the colourless Lord of Assassins blinked inscrutably upon him, with eyes so narrow that he could not tell whether he so much as saw him; and the adepts, rigid by the tribune-wall, stared at their own knees.
'What do you need of me, Marquess of Montferrat? 'asked the old hierarch in his most remote voice. The Marquess gulped some dignity into himself.
'Excellent sir,' he said, 'I seek the amity of one king to another, alliance in a common good cause, the giving and receiving of benefits, and similar courtesies.'
These propositions were written down on tablets, and carefully scrutinized by the Old Man of Musse, who said at last—
'Let us take these considerations in order. Of what kings do you propound the amity?'
'Of yourself, sir,' replied the Marquess, 'and of myself.'
'I am not a king,' said Sinan, 'and had not heard that you were one either.'
'I am King-elect of Jerusalem,' the Marquess replied with stiffness. The Old Man raised his wrinkled forehead.
'Well,' he said, 'let us get on. What is your common good cause?'
'Eh, eh,' said the Marquess, brightening, 'it is the cause of righteous punishment. I strike at your enemy the Soldan through his friend King Richard.' The Old Man pondered him.
'Do you strike, Marquess?' he asked at length.
'Sir,' the Marquess made haste to answer, 'your question is just. It so happens that I cannot strike King Richard because I cannot reach him. I admit it: I am quite frank. But you can strike him, I believe. In so doing, let me observe, you will deal a mortal blow at Saladin, who loves him, and makes treaties with him to your detriment and the scandal of Christendom.'
'Do you speak of the scandal of Christendom?' asked Sinan, twinkling.
'Alas, I must,' said the Marquess, very mournful.
'The cause is near to your heart, I see, Marquess.'
'It is in it,' replied the Marquess. The Old Man considered him afresh; then inquired where the Melek might be found.
The Marquess told him. 'We believe he is at Ascalon, separate from the Duke of Burgundy.'
'Giafar ibn Mulk and Cogia Hassan,' said the Old Man, as if talking in his sleep, 'come hither.' The two young men rose from the wall and fell upon their faces before the throne. Their master spoke to them in the tone of one ordering a meal.
Return with the Marquess to the coast by the way of Emesa and Baalbek; and when you are within sight of Sidon, strike. One of you will be burned alive. I think it will be Giafar. Let the other return speedily with a token. The audience is finished.'
The Old Man closed his eyes. At a touch from another the two prostrate Assassins crept up and kissed his foot, then rose, waiting for the Marquess. He, pale as death, saw, felt, heard nothing. At another sign a man put his hand on either shoulder.
'Ha, Jesus-God!' grunted the Marquess, as the sweat dripped off him.
'Stop bleating, silly sheep, you will awaken the Master,' said Giafar in a quick whisper. They led him away, and the Old Man slept in peace.
* * * * *
The Marquess saw nothing of his people at Mont-Ferrand, for (to begin with) they were not there, and (secondly) he was led another way. By the desolate crag of Masyaf, where a fortress, hung (as it seems) in mid-air, watches the valleys like a little cloud; through fields of snow, by terraces cut in the ice where the sheer rises and drops a thousand feet either way; so to Emesa, a mountain village huddled in perpetual shadows; thence down to Baalbek, and by foaming river-gorges into the sun and sight of the dimpling sea: thus they led the doomed Italian. He by this time knew the end was coming, and had braced himself to meet it stolidly.
The towers of Sidon rose chastely white above the violet; they saw the golden sands rimmed with foam; they saw the ships. Going down a lane, luxuriant with flowers and scented shrubs, where steep cactus hedges shut out the furrowed fields and olive gardens, and the cicalas made hissing music, Giafar ibn Mulk broke the silence of the three men.
'Is it time?' he asked of his brother, without turning his head.
'Not yet,' Cogia replied. The Marquess prayed vehemently, but with shut lips.
They reached an open moor, where there were rocks covered with cistus and wild vine. Here the air was very sweet and pure, the sun pleasant. The Marquess's ass grew frisky, pricked up his ears and brayed. Giafar ibn Mulk edged up close, and put his arm round the Marquess's neck.
'The signal is a good one,' he said. 'Strike, Cogia.'
Cogia drove his knife in up to the heft. The Marquess coughed. Giafar lifted him from his ass, quite dead.
'Now,' says he, 'go thou back, Cogia. I will stay here. For so the Old Man plainly desired.'
'I think with you,' said Cogia. 'Give me the token.' So they cut off the Marquess's right hand, and Cogia, after shaking it, put it in his vest. When he was well upon his way to the mountain road, Giafar sat down on a bank of violets, ate some bread and dates, then went to sleep in the sun. So afterwards he was found by a picket of soldiers from Sidon, who also found all of their lord but his right hand. They took Giafar ibn Mulk and burned him alive.
The Old Man of Musse was extremely kind to Jehane, who pleased him so well that he was seldom out of her company. He thought Fulke a fine little boy, as he could hardly fail to be, owning such parents. All the liberty that was possible to the favourite of such a great prince she had. One day, about six weeks after she had first come into the valley, he sent for her. When she had come in and made her reverence he drew her near to his throne, put his arm round her, and kissed her. He observed with satisfaction that she was looking very well.
'My child,' he said kindly, 'I have news which I am sure will please you. Very much of the Marquess of Montferrat is by this time lying disintegrate in a vault.'
Jehane's green eyes faltered for a moment as she gazed into his wise old face.
'Sir,' she asked, by habit, 'is this true?' 'It is quite true,' said the Old Man. 'In proof of it regard his hand, which one of my Assassins, the survivor, has brought me.' He drew from his bosom a pale hand, and would have laid it in Jehane's lap if she had let him. As she would not, he placed it beside him on the floor. Pursuing his discourse, he said—
'I might fairly claim my reward for that. And so I should if I had not got it already.'
Again Jehane pondered him gravely. 'What reward more have you, sire?'
The Old Man, smiling very wisely, pressed her waist. Jehane thought.
'Why, what will you do with me now, sire?' she inquired. 'Will you kill me?'
'Can you ask?' said the Old Man. Then he went on more seriously to say that he supposed the life of King Richard to be safe for the immediate future, but that he foresaw great difficulties in his way before he could be snug at home. 'The Marquess of Montferrat was by no means his only enemy,' he told her. 'The Melek suffers, what all great men suffer, from the envy of others who are too obviously fools for him to suppose them human creatures. But there is nothing a fool dislikes so much as to behold his own folly; and as your Melek is a looking-glass for these kind, you may depend upon it they will smudge him if they can. He is the bravest man in the world, and one of the best rulers; but he has no discretion. He is too absolute and loves too little.'
Jehane opened her eyes very wide. 'Why, do you know my lord, sire?' she asked. The Old Man took her hand.
'There are very few personages in the world of whom I do not know something,' he said; 'and I tell you that there are terms to the Melek's government. A man cannot say Yea and Nay as he chooses without paying the price. The debt on either hand mounts up. He may choose with whom he will settle—those he has favoured or those he has denied. As a rule one finds the former more insatiable. Let him then beware of his brother.'
Jehane leaned towards him, pleading with eyes and mouth. 'Oh, sire,' she said, trembling at the lips, 'if you have any regard for me, tell me when any danger threatens King Richard. For then I must leave you.'
'Why, that is as it may be,' said her master; 'but I will let you know what I think good for you to know, and that must content you.'
Jehane's beauty, enhanced as it was now by the sumptuous attire which she loved and by her bodily well-being, was great, and her modesty greater; but her heart was the greatest thing she had. She raised her eyes again to the twinkling eyes of her possessor, and kept them there for a few steady seconds, while she turned over his words in her mind. Then she looked down, saying, 'I will certainly stay with you till my lord's danger is at hand. It is a good air for my baby.'
'It is good for all manner of things,' said the Old Man; 'and remarkably good for you, my Garden of Exhaustless Pleasure. And I will see to it that it continues to water the roses in your cheeks, beautiful child.' Jehane folded her hands.
'You will do as you choose, my lord,' said she, 'I doubt not.'
'Be quite sure of it, dear child,' said the Old Man.
Then he sent her back into the harem.
HOW KING RICHARD REAPED WHAT JEHANE HAD SOWED, AND THE SOLDAN WAS GLEANER
'Consider with anxious care the marrow of your master when he is fortunate,' writes Milo of Poictiers: 'if it lasts him, he is a slow spender of his force; but on that account all the more dangerous in adversity, having the deeper funds. By this I would be understood to imply that the devil of Anjou, turned to fighting uses in King Richard's latter years, found him a habitable fortalice.' With the best reasons in life for the reflection, he might have said it more simply; for it is simply true. Deserted by his allies, balked of his great aspiration, within a day's march of the temple of God, yet as far from that as from his castle of Chinon; eaten with fever; having death, lost purpose, murmurings, fed envy reproach, upon his conscience—he yet fought his way through sullen leagues of mud to Ascalon; besieged it, drove his enemy out, regained it. Thence, pushing quickly south, he surprised Darum, and put the garrison to the sword. By this act he cut Saladin in two, and drove such a wedge into the body of his empire as might leave either lung of it at his mercy. The time seemed, indeed, ripe for negotiation. Saladin sent his brother down from Jerusalem with presents of hawks; Richard, sitting in armed state at Darum, received him affably. There was still a chance that treaty might win for Jesus Christ what the sword had not won.
Then, as if in mockery of the greatness of men, came ill news apace. The Frenchmen, back in Acre, heard tell of Montferrat's doings and undoing. Pretty work of this sort perturbed the allies. The Duke of Burgundy charged Saladin with the murder; Saint-Pol loudly charged King Richard, and the Duke's death, coming timely, left him in the field. He made the most of his chance, wrote to the Emperor, to King Philip, to his cousin the Archduke of Austria (at home by now), of this last shameful deed of the red Angevin. He even sent messengers to Richard himself with open letters of accusal. Richard laughed, but for all that broke off negotiations with Saladin until he could prove Saint-Pol as great a liar as he himself knew him to be. Then rose up again the question of the Crown of Jerusalem. The Count of Champagne took ship and came to Darum to beg it of Richard. He too brought news with him. The Duke of Burgundy was dead of an apoplexy. 'It seems that God is still faintly on my side,' said Richard, 'There went out a sooty candle.'
The next words gave his boast the lie. 'Beau sire,' said Count Henry, 'I grieve to tell you something more. Before I left Acre I saw the Abbot Milo.'
Richard had grey streaks in his face. 'Ah,' he says hoarsely, 'go on, cousin.' The young man stammered.
'Beau sire, God strikes in divers places, but always finds out the joints of our harness.'
'Go on,' says King Richard, sitting very still.
'Dear sire, my cousin, the Abbot Milo went out of Acre three weeks before the death of the Marquess. With him also went Madame Jehane; but he returned without her. This is all I know, though it is not all that the abbot knows.'
At the mention of her name the King took a sharp breath, as you or I do when quick pain strikes us. To the rest he listened without a sign; and asked at the end, 'Where is Milo?'
'He is at Acre, sire,' says the Count; 'and in prison.'
'Who put him there?'
'You did wrong, Count. Get you back to Acre and bring him to me.' Champagne went away.
* * * * *
Great trouble, as you know, always made Richard dumb; the grief struck inwards and congealed. He became more than ever his own councillor, the worst in the world. Lucky for the Abbot Milo that he was in bonds; but now you see why he penned the aphorism with which I began this chapter.
After that short, stabbing flash across his face, he shut down misery in a vice. The rest of his talk with the Count might have been held with a groom. Henry of Champagne, knowing the man, left him the moment he got the word; and King Richard sat down by the table, and for three hours never stirred. He was literally motionless. Straightly rigid, a little grey about the face, white at the cheek-bones; his clenched hand stiff on the board, white also at the knuckles; his eyes fixed on the door—men came in, knelt and said their say, then encountering his blank eyes bent their heads and backed out quietly. If he thought, none may learn his thought; if he felt, none may touch the place; if he prayed, let those who are able imagine his prayers. What Jehane had been to him this book may have shadowed out: this only I say, that he knew, from the very first hint of the fact, why she had gone out with Milo and sent Milo home alone. The Queen knew, because Jehane had told her; but he knew with no telling at all. She had gone away to save him from herself. Needing him not, because she so loved him, it was her beauty which was hungry for his desire. Not daring to mar her beauty, she had sought to hide it. Greater love hath none than this. If he thought of that it should have softened him. He did not think of it: he knew it.
At the end of his grim vigil he got up and went out of his house. He was served with his horse, his esquires came at call to the routine of garrison days and nights. He rode round the walls, out at one of the gates, on a sharp canter of reconnaissance in the hills. Perhaps he spoke more shortly than usual, and more drily; there may have been a dead quality in his voice, usually so salient. There was no other sign. At supper he sat before them all, ate and drank at his wont. Once only he startled the hallful of them. He dropped his great gold cup, and it split.
But as day followed night, all men saw the change in him, Christians and Saracens alike. A spirit of quiet savagery seemed to possess him; the cunning, with the mad interludes, of a devil. He set patient traps for the Saracens in the hills, and slaughtered all he took. One day he fell upon a great caravan of camels coming from Babylon to Jerusalem, and having cut the escort to pieces, slew also the merchants and travellers. He seemed to give the sword the more heartily in that he sought it for himself, but could never get it. No doubt he deserved to get it. He performed deeds of impossible foolhardy gallantry, the deeds of a knight-errant; rode solitary, made single-handed rescues, suffered himself to be cut off from his posts, and then with a handful of knights, or alone, indeed, carved his way back to Darum. Des Barres, the Earl of Leicester and the Grand Master, never left his side; Gaston of Bearn used to sleep at the foot of his bed and creep about after him like a cat; but this terrible mood of his wore them out. Then, at last, the Count of Champagne came back with Milo and more bad news. Joppa was in sore straits, again besieged; the Bishop of Sarum was returned from the West, having a branch of dead broom in his hand and stories of a throttled kingdom on his lips.
Before any other Richard had Milo alone. The good abbot is very reticent about the interview in his book. What he omits is more significant than what he says. 'I found my master,' he writes, 'sitting up in his bed in his hauberk of mail. They told me he had eaten nothing for two days, yet vomited continually. He had killed five hundred Saracens meantime. I suppose he knew who I was. "Tell me, my good man," he said (strange address!), "the name of the person to whom Madame d'Anjou took you."
'I said, "Sire, we went to the Lord of the Assassins, whom they call Old Man of Musse."
'"Why did you go, monk?" he asked, and felt about for his sword, but could not find it. Yet it was close by. I said, "Sire, because of a report which had reached the ears of Madame that the Marquess and the Old Man were in league to have you murdered." To this he made no reply, except to call me a fool. Later he asked, "How died the Marquess?"
'"Sire," I answered, "most miserably. He went up Lebanon to see the Old Man, and came presently down again with two of the Assassins in his company, but none of his train. These persons, being near his city of Sidon, at a signal agreed upon stabbed him with their long knives, then cut off his right hand and despatched it to the Old Man by one of them. The other stayed by the corpse, and was so found peacefully sleeping, and burned."
'The King said nothing, but gave me money and a little jewel he used to wear, as if I had done him a service. Then he nodded a dismissal, and I, wondering, left him. He did not speak to me again for many weeks.'
* * * * *
You may collect that Richard was very ill. He was. The disease of his mind fed fat upon the disease of his body, and from the spoils of the feast savagery reared its clotted head. Syrian mothers still quell their children with the name of Melek Richard, a reminiscence of the dreadful time when he was without ruth or rest. He spoke of his purposes to none, listened to none. The Bishop of Sarum had come in with a budget of disastrous news: Count John had England under his heel, Philip of France had entered Normandy in force, the lords of Aquitaine were in revolt. If God had no use for him in the East, here was work to do in the West. But had He none? What of Joppa, shuddering under the sword? What of Acre, where the French army wallowed in sloth, with two queens at its mercy and Saint-Pol in the mercy-seat? What, indeed, of Jehane?
Nobody breathed her name; yet night and day the image of her floated, half-hid in scarlet clouds, before King Richard. These clouds, a torn regiment, raced across his vision, like cavalry broken, in mad retreat. Out of the tumbled mass two hands would throw up, white, long, thin hands, Jehane's hands drowned in frothy blood. Then, in his waking dream, when he drove in the spurs and started to save, the colours changed, black swam over the blood; and one hand only would stay, held up warningly, saying, 'Forbear, I am separate, fenced, set apart.' Thus it was always: menace, wicked endeavour, shipwreck, ruin; always so, her agony and denial, his wrath and defeat.
But this was wholesome torment. There was other not so purgatorial—damned torment. That was when the sudden thought of her possession by another man, of his own robbery, his own impotence to regain, came upon him in a surging flood and made his neck swell with the rage of a beast. And no crouching to spring, no flash through the air, no snatching here. Here was no Gilles de Gurdun to deal with. Only the beast's resource was his, who had the beast's desire without his power. At such times of obsession he lashed up and down his chamber or the flat roof of his house, all the tragic quest of a leopard in a cage making blank his desperate hunting eyes. 'Lord, Lord, Lord, how long can this endure?' Alas, the cage was wider than any room, and stronger by virtue of his own fashioning of the locks. But to do him justice, Jehane's grave face would sail like a moon among the storm-clouds sooner or later, and humble him to the dust.
Sometimes, mostly at dawn, when a cool wind stole through the trees, he saw the trail of events more clearly, and knew whom to blame and whom to praise. Generous as he was through and through, at these times he did not spare the whip. But the image he set up before whom to scourge himself was Jehane Saint-Pol, that pure cold saint, offering up her proud body for his needs; and so sure as he did that he desired her, and so sure as he desired he raged that he had been robbed. Robber as he owned himself, now he had been robbed. So the old black strife began again. Many and many a dawn, as he thought of these things, he went out alone into the shadowless places of the land, to the quiet lapping sea, to the gardens, or to the housetop fronting the new-born day, with prayer throbbing for utterance, but a tongue too dry to pray. Despair seized on him, and he led his men out to death-dealing, that so haply he might find death for himself. The time wore to early summer, while he was nightly visited by the thought of his sin, and daily winning more stuff for repentance. Then, one morning, instead of going out singly to battle with his own soul, he went in to the Abbot Milo. What follows shall be told in his own words.
'The King came to me very early in the morning of Saints Primus and Felician, while I yet lay in my bed. "Milo, Milo," said he, "what must I do to be saved?" He was very white and wild, shaking all over. I said, "Dear Master, save thy people. On all sides they cry to thee—from England, from Normandy, from Anjou, from Joppa also, and Acre. There is no lack of entreaty." He shook his head. "Here," he said, "I can do no more. God is against me, the work too holy for such a wretch." "Lord," I said, "we are all wretches, Heaven save us! If your Grace is held off God's inheritance, you can at least hold others from your own. Here, may be, you took a charge too heavy; but there, at home, the charge was laid upon you. Renouncing here, you shall gain there. It cannot be otherwise." I believed in what I said; but he gripped the caps of his knees and rocked himself about. "They have beaten me, Milo. Saint-Pol, Burgundy, Beauvais—I am bayed by curs. What am I, Milo?" "Sire," I said, "your father's son. As they bayed the old lion, so they bay the young." He gaped at me, open-mouthed. "By God. Milo," he said, "I bayed him myself, and believed that he deserved it." "Lord," I answered, "who am I to judge a great king? For my part I never believed that monstrous sin was upon him." Here he jumped up. "I am going home, Milo," he said; "I am going home. I am going to my father's tomb. I will do penance there, and serve my people, and live clean. Look now, Milo, shrive me if thou hast the power, for my need is great." The thought was blessed to him. He confessed his sins then and there, all a huddle of them, weeping so bitterly that I should have wept myself had I not been ready rather to laugh and crack my fingers to see the breaking up of his long and deadly frost. Before I shrived him, moreover, I dared to speak of Madame Jehane, how he had now lost her for ever, and why; how she was now at last a man's wife, and that by her own deliberate will; and how also he must do his duty by the Queen. To all of which he gave heed and promises of quiet endurance. Then I shrived him, and that very morning gave him the Lord's sacred body in the Church of the Sepulchre. I believed him sane; and so for a long time he was, as he testified by deeds of incredible valour.'