It was not long after this that the fleet put out to sea, shaping course for Acre. Message after message came in from beleaguered Joppa; but King Richard paid little heed to them, pending the issue of new treating with Saladin. He certainly sailed with a single eye on Acre. But Joppa lay on his course, and it is probable, he being what he was, that the sight of no means to do great deeds made great deeds done. When his red galley sighted Joppa, standing in for the purpose, all seemed over with the doomed city. This, no doubt (since his mood was hot), urged him to one of those impossible acts, 'incredible deeds of valour,' as Milo calls them, for which his name lives, while those of many better kings are forgotten.
The country about Joppa slopes sharply to the sea, and gives little or no shelter for ships; but so quick is the slope that a galley may ride under the very walls of the town and take in provision from the seaward windows. On the landward side it is dangerously placed, seeing that the stoop of the country runs from the mountains to it. The few outlying forts, the stone bridge over the river, cannot be held against a resolute foe. When King Richard's fleet drew near enough to see, it was plain what had been done. The Saracens had carried the outworks; they held the bridge. At leisure they had broached the walls and swarmed in. The flag on the citadel still flew; battle or carnage was raging in the streets all about it. Its fall was a matter of hours.
Now King Richard stood on the poop of his galley, watching all this. He saw a man come running down the mole chased by half a dozen horsemen in yellow, a priest by the look of him; you could see the gleam of his tonsure as he plunged. For so he did, plunged into the sea and swam for his life. The pursuers drew up on the verge and shot at him with their long bows. They were of Saladin's bodyguard, fine marksmen who should never have missed him. But the priest swam like a fish, and they did miss him. King Richard himself hooked him out by the gown, and then clipped him in his arms like a lover. 'Oh, brave priest! Oh, hardy heart!' he cried, full of the man's bravery. 'Give him room there. Let him cough up the salt. By my soul, barons, I wish that any draught of wine may be so glorious sweet.'
The priest sat up and told his tale. The city was a shambles; every man, woman, or child had been put to the sword. Only the citadel held out; there was no time to lose. No time was lost; for King Richard, in his tunic and breeches as he was, in his deck shoes, without a helm, unmailed in any part, snatched up shield and axe. 'Who follows Anjou?' he called out, then plunged into the sea. Des Barres immediately followed him, then Gaston of Bearn (with a yell) and the Earl of Leicester neck and neck; then the Bishop of Salisbury, a stout-hearted prince, Auvergne, Limoges, and Mercadet. These eight were all the men in authority that Trenchemer held, except some clerks, fat men who loved not water. But as soon as the other ships saw what was afoot, a man here and there followed his King. The rest rowed closer to the shore and engaged the Saracen horsemen with their archers. Long before any men could be got off the eight were on dry land, and had found a way into the sacked city.
How they did what they did the God of Battles knows best; but that they did it is certain. All accounts of the fray agree, Bohadin with Vinsauf, Moslem and Christian alike. What pent rage, what storm curbed up short, what gall, what mortification, what smoulder of resentment, bit into King Richard, we may guess who know him. Such it was as to nerve his arm, nerve his following to be his lovers, make him unassailable, make a devil of him. Not a devil of blind fury, but a cold devil who could devise a scope for his malice, choose how to do his stabbing work wiseliest. Inside the town gate they took up close order, wedgewise, linked and riveted; a shield before, shields beside, Richard with his double-axe for the wedge's beak. They took the steep street at a brisk pace, turning neither right nor left, but heading always for the citadel, boring through and trampling down what met them. This at first was not very much, only at one corner a company of Nubian spears came pelting down a lane, hoping to cut them off by a flank movement. Richard stopped his wedge; the blacks buffeted into their shields with a shock that scattered and tossed them up like spray. The wedge held firm; red work for axe and swords while it lasted. They killed most of the Nubians, drove bodily through the rabble at their heels; then into the square of the citadel they came. It was packed with a shrieking horde, whose drums made the day a hell, whose great banners wagged and rocked like osiers in a flood-water. They were trying to fire the citadel, and some were swarming the walls from others' backs. The square was like a whirlpool in the sea, a sea of tense faces whose waves were surging men and the flying wrack their gonfanons.
King Richard saw how matters lay in this horrible hive; these men could not fight so close. Cavalry can do nothing in a dense mass of foot, bowmen cannot shoot confined; spearmen against swords are little worth, javelins sped once. So much he saw, and also the straining crowd, the lifted, threatening arms, the stretched necks about the citadel. 'O Lord, the heathen are come into Thine inheritance. At the word, sirs, cleave a way.' And then he cried above the infernal riot, 'Save, Holy Sepulchre! Save, Saint George!' and the wedge drove into the thick of them.
This work was butcher's work, like sawing through live flesh. Too much blood in the business: after a while the haft of the King's axe got rotten with it, and at a certain last blow gave way and bent like a pulpy stock. He helped himself to a beheaded Mameluke's scimitar, and did his affair with that. Once, twice, thrice, and four times they furrowed that swarm of men; nothing broke their line. Richard himself was only cut in the feet, where he trod on mailed bodies or broken swords; the others (being themselves in mail) were without scathe. They held the square until the Count of Champagne came up with knights and Pisan arbalestiers, and then the day was won. They drove out the invaders; on the Templars' house they ran up the English dragon-flag. King Richard rested himself.
Two days later a pitched battle was fought on the slopes above Joppa. Saladin met Richard for the last time, and the Melek worsted him. Our King with fifteen knights played the wedge again when his enemy was packed to his taste; and this time (being known) with less carnage. But the left wing of the invading army re-entered the town, the garrison had a panic. Richard wheeled and scoured them out at the other end; so they perished in the sea. Men say, who saw him, that he did it alone. So terrible a name he had with the Saracens, this may very well be. There had never been seen, said they, such a fighter before. Like sheep they huddled at his sight, and like sheep his onset scattered them. 'Let God arise,' says Milo with a shaking pen: 'and lo! He arose. O lion in the path, who shall stand up against thee?'
He drove Saladin into the hills, and set him manning once more the watch-towers of Jerusalem. But he had reached his limit; sickness fastened on him, and on the ebb of his fury came lagging old despair. For a week he lay in his bed delirious, babbling breathless foolish things of Jehane and the Dark Tower, of the broomy downs by Poictiers, the hills of Languedoc, of Henry his handsome brother, of Bertran de Born and the falcon at Le Puy. Then followed a pleasant thing. Saladin, the noble foe, heard of it, and sent Saphadin his brother to visit him. They brought the great Emir into the tent of his great enemy.
'O God of the Christians!' cried he with tears, 'what is this work of thine, to make such a mirror of thy might, and then to shatter the glass?' He kissed King Richard's burning forehead, then stood facing the standers-by.
'I tell you, my lords, there has been no such king as this in our country. My brother the Sultan would rather lose Jerusalem than have such a man to die.'
At this Richard opened his eyes. 'Eh, Saphadin, my friend,' he says, 'death is not mine yet, nor Jerusalem either. Make me a truce with my brother Saladin for three years. Then with the grace of God I will come and fight him again. But for this time I am spent.'
'Are you wounded, dear sire?' asked Saphadin.
'Wounded?' said the King in a whisper. 'Yes, wounded in the soul, and in the heart—sick, sick, sick.'
Saphadin, kneeling down, kissed his ring. 'May the God whom in secret we both worship, the God of Gods, do well by you, my brother.' So he said, and Richard nodded and smiled at him kindly.
When peace was made they carried him to his ship. The fleet went to Acre.
THE CHAPTER CALLED BONDS
King Richard sent for his sister Joan of Sicily on the morrow of his coming to Acre, and thus addressed her: 'Let me hear now, sister, the truth of what passed when the Queen saw Madame d'Anjou.'
'Madame d'Anjou!' cried Joan, who (as you know) had plenty of spirit; 'I think you rob the Queen of a title there.'
'I cannot rob her of what she never had,' said King Richard; 'but I will repeat my question if you do not remember it.'
'No need, sire,' replied the lady, and told him all she knew. She added, 'Sire and my brother, if I may dare to say so, I think the Queen has a grief. Madame Jehane made no pretensions—I hope I do her full justice—but remember that the Queen made none either. You took her of your royal will; she was conscious of the honour. But of what you gave you took away more than half. The Queen loves you, Richard; she is a most miserable lady, yet there is time still. Make a wife of your queen, brother Richard, and all will be well. For what other reason in the world did Madame Jehane what she did? For love of an old man whom she had never seen, do you think?'
The King's brow grew dark red. He spoke deliberately. 'I will never make her my wife. I will never willingly see her again. I should sin against religion or honour if I did either. I will never do that. Let her go to her own country.'
'Sire, sire,' said Joan, 'how is she to do that?'
'As she will,' says the King; 'but, for my part of it, with every proper accompaniment.'
'Sire, the dowry—'
'I return it, every groat.'
'The affront is offered. I prevent a greater affront.'
'Is this fixed, Richard?'
'She loves you, sire!'
'She loves ill. Get up on your feet.'
'Sire, I beseech you pity her.'
'I pity her deeply. I think I pity everybody with whom I have had to deal. I do not choose to have any more pitiful persons about me. Fare you well, sister. Go, lest I pity you.' She pleaded.
'The audience is at an end,' said the King; and the Queen of Sicily rose to take leave.
* * * * *
He kept his word, never saw Berengere again but once, and that was not yet. What remained for him to do in Syria he did, patched up a truce with Saladin, saw to Henry of Champagne's election, to Guy of Lusignan's establishment; dealt out such rewards and punishments as lay in his power, sent the two queens with a convoy to Marseilles. Then, two years from his hopeful entry into Acre as a conqueror, he left it a defeated man. He had won every battle he had fought and taken every city he had invested. His allies had beaten him, not the heathen.
They were to beat him again, with help. The very skies took their part. He was beset by storms from the day he launched on the deep, separated from his convoy, driven from one shore to another, fatally delayed. His enemies had time to gather at home: Eustace of Saint-Pol, Beauvais, Philip of France; and behind all these was John of Mortain, moving heaven and earth and them to get him a realm. By a providence, as he thought it, Richard put into Corsica under stress of weather, and there heard how the land lay in Gaul. Philip had won over Raymond of Toulouse, Saint-Pol heading a joint-army of theirs was near Marseilles, ready to destroy him. King Richard was to walk into a trap. By this time, you must know, he had no more to his power than the galley he rode in, and three others. He had no Des Barres, no Gaston, no Beziers; he had not even Mercadet his captain, and no thought where they might be. The trap would have caught him fast.
'Pretty work,' he said, 'pretty work. But I will better it.' He put about, and steered round Sicily for the coast of Dalmatia; here was caught again by furious gales, lost three ships out of the four he had, and finally sought haven at Gazara, a little fishing village on that empty shore. His intention was to travel home by way of Germany and the Low Countries, and so land in England while his brother John was still in France. Either he had forgotten, or did not care to remember, that all this country was a fief of the Archduke Luitpold's. He knew, of course, that Luitpold hated him, but not that he held him guilty of Montferrat's murder. Suspecting no great difficulty, he sent up messengers to the lord of Gazara for a safe-conduct for certain merchants, pilgrims. This man was an Austrian knight called Gunther.
'Who are your pilgrims?' Gunther asked; and was told, Master Hugh, a merchant of Alost, he and his servants.
'What manner of a merchant?' was Gunther's next question.
'My lord,' they said, who had seen him, 'a fine man, tall as a tree, and strong and straight, having keen blue eyes, and a reddish beard on his chin, as the men of Flanders do not use.'
Gunther said, 'Let me see this merchant,' and went down to the inn where King Richard was.
Now Richard was sitting by the fire, warming himself. When Gunther came in, furred and portly, he did not rise up; which was unfortunate in a pretended merchant.
'Are you Master Hugh of Alost?' Gunther asked, looking him over.
'That is the name I bear,' said Richard. 'And who are you, my friend?'
The Austrian stammered. 'Hey, thou dear God, I am Lord Gunther of this castle and town!' he said, raising his voice. Then the King got up to make a reverence, and in so doing betrayed his stature.
'I should have guessed it, sir, by your gentleness in coming to visit me here. I ask your pardon.' Thus the King, while Gunther wondered.
'You are a very tall merchant, Hugh,' says he. 'Do they make your sort in Alost?' King Richard laughed.
'It is the only advantage I have of your lordship. For the rest, my countrywomen make straight men, I think.'
'Were you bred in Alost, Master Hugh?' asked Gunther suspiciously; and again Richard laughed as he said, 'Ah, you must ask my mother, Lord Gunther.'
'Lightning!' was the Austrian's thought; 'here is a pretty easy merchant.'
He raised some little difficulties, vexations of routine, which King Richard persistently laughed at, while doing his best to fulfil them. Gunther did not relish this. He named the Archduke as his overlord, hard upon strangers. Richard let it slip that he did not greatly esteem the Archduke. However, in the end he got his safe-conduct, and all would have been well if, on leaving Gazara, he had not overpaid the bill.
Overpay is not the word: he drowned the bill. In a hurry for the road, the innkeeper fretted him. 'Reckoning, landlord!' he cried, with one foot in the stirrup: 'how the devil am I to reckon half-way up a horse? Here, reckon yourself, my man, and content you with these.' He threw a fistful of gold besants on the flags, turned his horse sharply and cantered out of the yard. 'Colossal man!' gasped the innkeeper. 'King or devil, but no merchant under the sun.' So the news spread abroad, and Gunther puffed his cheeks over it. A six-foot-two man, a monstrous leisurely merchant, who rose not to the lord of a castle and town, who did not wait for his lordship's humour, but found laughable matter in his own; who was taller than the Archduke and thought his Grace a dull dog; who made a Danae of his landlord! Was this man Jove? Who could think the Archduke a dull dog except an Emperor, or, perhaps, a great king? A king: stay now. There were wandering kings abroad. How if Richard of England had lost his way? Here he slapped his thigh: but this must be Richard of England—what other king was so tall? And in that case, O thunder in the sky, he had let slip his Archduke's deadly enemy! He howled for his lanzknechts, his boots, helmet, great sword; he set off at once, and riding by forest ways, cut off the merchant in a day and a night. He ran him to earth in the small wooden inn of a small wooden village high up in the Carinthian Alps, Blomau by name, which lies in a forest clearing on the road to Gratz.
King Richard was drinking sour beer in the kitchen, and not liking it. The lanzknechts surrounded the house; Gunther with two of them behind him came clattering in. Glad of the diversion, Richard looked up.
'Ha, here is Lord Gunther again,' said he. 'Better than beer.'
'King Richard of England,' said the Austrian, white by nature, heat, and his feelings, 'I make you my prisoner.'
'So it seems,' replied the King; 'sit down, Gunther. I offer you beer and a most indifferent cheese.'
But Gunther would by no means sit down in the presence of an anointed king for one bidding.
'Ah, sire, it is proper that I should stand before you,' he said huskily, greatly excited.
'It is not at all proper when I tell you to be seated,' returned King Richard. So Gunther sat down and wiped his head, Richard finished his beer; and then they went to sleep on the floor. Early in the morning the prisoner woke up his gaoler.
'Come, Gunther,' he says, 'we had better take the road.'
'I am ready, sire,' says Gunther, manifestly unready. He rose and shook himself.
'Lead, then,' Richard said.
'I follow you, sire.'
'Lead, you white dog,' said the King, and showed his teeth for a moment. The Austrian obeyed. One of Richard's few attendants, a Norman called Martin Vaux, adopted for his own salvation the simple expedient of staying behind; and Gunther was in far too exalted a mood to notice such a trifle. When he and his troop had rounded the forest road, Martin Vaux rounded it also, but in the opposite direction. He was rather a fool, though not fool enough to go to prison if he could help it. Being a seaman by grace, he smelt for his element, and by grace found it after not many days. More of him presently.
Archduke Luitpold was in his good town of Gratz when news was brought him, and the man. 'Du lieber Gott!' he crowed. 'Ach, mein Gunther!' and embraced his vassal.
His fiery little eyes burned red, as Mars when he flickers; but he was a gentleman. He took Richard's proffered hand, and after some fumbling about, kissed it.
'Ha, sire!' came the words, deeply exultant, from his big throat. 'Now we are on more equal terms, it appears.'
'I agree with you, Luitpold,' said the King; and then, even as the Archduke was wetting his lips for the purpose, he added, 'But I hope you will not stretch your privilege so far as to make me a speech.'
Austria swallowed hard. 'Sire, it would take many speeches to wipe out the provocations I have received at your hands. All the speeches in the councils of the world could not excuse the deaths of my second cousin the Count of Saint-Pol and of my first cousin the Marquess of Montferrat.'
'That is true,' replied Richard, 'but neither could they restore them to life.'
'Sire, sire!' cried the Archduke, 'upon my soul I believe you guilty of the Marquess's death.'
'I assumed that you did,' was the King's answer; 'and your protestation adds no weight to my theory, but otherwise.'
'Do you admit it, King Richard?' The Archduke, an amazed man, looked foolish. His mouth fell open and his hair stuck out; this gave him the appearance of a perturbed eagle in a bush.
'I am far from denying it,' says Richard. 'I never deny any charges, and never make any unless I am prepared to pursue them; which is not the case at present.'
'I must keep you in safe hold, sire,' the Archduke said. 'I must communicate with my lord the Roman Emperor.'
'You are in your right, Luitpold,' said King Richard.
The end of the day's work was that the King of England was lodged in a high tower, some sixty feet above the town wall.
* * * * *
Now consider the acts of Martin Vaux, smelling for the sea. In a little time he did better than that, for he saw it from the top of a high mountain, shining far off in the haze, and then had nothing to do but follow down a river-bed, which brought him duly to Trieste. Thence he got a passage to Venice, where the wineshops were too good or too many for him. He talked of his misfortunes, of his broken shoes, of Austrian beer, of his exalted master, of his extreme ingenuity and capacity for all kinds of faithful service. Now Venice was, as it is now, a place colluvies gentium. Gaunt, lonely Arabs stalked the narrow streets, or dreamed motionless by the walls of the quay. The city was full of strayed Crusaders, disastrous broken blades, of renegade Christians, renegade Moslems, adaptable Jews, of pilgrims, and chafferers of relics from the holy places. Martin's story spread like the plague, but not (unhappily) to any advantage of King Richard imperturbable in his tower. Martin Vaux then, having drunk up the charity of Venice, shipped for Ancona. There too he met with attentions, for there he met a countryman of his, the Sieur Gilles de Gurdun, a Norman knight.
When Sir Gilles heard that King Richard was in prison, but that Jehane was not with him, he grew very red. That he had never learned of her deeds at Acre need not surprise you. He had not heard because he had not been to Acre with the French host, but instead had gone pilgrim to Jerusalem, and thence with Lusignan to Cyprus. So now he took Martin Vaux by the windpipe and shook him till his eyes stared like agate balls. 'Tell me where Madame Jehane is, you clot, or I finish what I have begun,' he said terribly. But Martin could tell him no more, for he was quite dead. It was proper, even in Ancona, to be moving after that; and Gilles was very ready to move. The hunger and thirst for Jehane, which had never left him for long, came aching back to such a pitch that he felt he must now find her, see her, touch her, or die. The King was her only clue; he must hunt him out wherever he might be. One of two things had occurred: either Richard had tired of her, or he had lost her by mischance of travel. There was a third possible thing, that the Queen had had her murdered. He put that from him, being sure she was not dead. 'Death,' said Gilles, 'is great, but not great enough to have Jehane in her beauty.' He really believed this. So he came back to his two positions. If the King had tired of her, he would not scruple (being as he was) to admit as much to Gilles. If he had lost her, he was safe in prison; and Gilles knew that with time he could find her. But he must be sure. He thought of another thing. 'If he is in prison, in chains, he might be stabbed with certain ease.' His heart exulted at the hot thought.
It was not hard to follow back on Martin's dallying footsteps. He traced him to Venice, to Trieste, up the mountains as far as Blomau. There he lost him, and shot very wide of the mark. In fact, the slow-witted young man went to Vienna on a false rumour—but it boots not recount his wanderings. Six months after he left Ancona, ragged, hatless, unkempt, hungry, he came within sight of the strong towers of Gratz; and as he went limping by the town ditch he heard a clear, high voice singing—
Li dous consire Quem don' Ainors soven—
and knew that he had run down his man.
One other, crouching under the wall, most intent watcher, saw him stop as if hit, clap his hand to his shock-head, then listen, brooding, working his jaws from side to side. The voice stayed; Gilles turned and slowly went his way back. He limped under the gateway into the town, and the croucher by the wall peered at him between the meshes of her dishevelled hair.
THE CHAPTER CALLED A LATERE
The Old Man of Musse, Lord of all the Assassins, descendant of Ali, Fulness of Light, Master of them that eat hemp, and many things beside, wedded Jehane and made her his principal wife. He valued in her, apart from her bodily perfections, her discretion, obedience, good sense, and that extraordinary sort of pride which makes its possessor humble, so inset it is; too proud, you may say, to give pride a thought. Esteeming her at this price, it is not remarkable if she came to be his only wife.
This was the manner of her life. When her husband left her, which was very early in the morning, she generally slept for an hour, then rose and went to the bath. Her boy was brought to her in the pavilion of the Garden of Fountains; she spent two hours or more with him, teaching him his prayers, the honour of his father, love and duty to his mother, respect for the long purposes of God. At ten o'clock she broke her fast, and afterwards her women sat with her at needlework; and one would sing, or one tell a good tale; or, leave being given, they would gossip among themselves, with a look ever at her for approval or (what rarely happened) disapproval. There was not a soul among her slaves who did not love her, nor one who did not fear her. She talked no more than she had ever done, but she judged no less. Many times a day the Old Man sent for her, or sometimes came to her room, to discuss his affairs. He never found her out of humour, dull, perverse, or otherwise than well-disposed to all his desires. Far from that, every Friday he gave thanks in the mosque for the gift of such an admirable wife—grave, discreet, pious, amorous, chaste, obedient, nimble, complaisant, and most beautiful, as he hereby declared that he found her. Being a man of the greatest possible experience, this was high praise; nor had he been slow in making up his mind that she was to be trusted. He was about to prove his deed as good as his opinion.
Word was brought her on a day, as she sat in the harem with her boy on her knee, singing to herself and him some winding song of France, that this redoubtable lord of hers was waiting to see her in her chamber. She put the child down and followed the eunuch. Entering the room where the Old Man sat, she knelt down, as was customary, and kissed his knee. He touched her bent head. 'Rise up, my child,' says he, 'sit with me for a little. I have matters of concernment for you.' She sat at once by his side; he took her hand and began to talk to her in this manner.
'It appears, Jehane, that I am something of a prophet. Your late master, the Melek Richard, has fallen into the power of his enemies; he is now a prisoner of the Archduke's on many charges: first, the killing of your brother Eudo, Count of Saint-Pol; but that is a very trifling affair, which occurred, moreover, in fair battle. Next, they accuse him—falsely, as you know—of the death of Montferrat. We may have our own opinion about that. But the prime matter, as I guess, is ransom, and whether those who wish him ill (not for what he has done to them, but for what he has not allowed them to do to him) will suffer him to be ransomed. Now, what have you to say, my child? I see that it affects you.'
Jehane was affected, but not as you might expect. With great self-possession she had a very practical mind. There were neither tears nor heart-beatings, neither panic nor flying of colours. Her eyes sought the Old Man's and remained steadily on them; her lips were firm and red.
'What are you willing to do, sire?' she asked him. Sinan stroked his fine beard.
'I can dispose of the business of Montferrat in a few lines,' he said, considering. 'More, I can reach the Melek and assure him of comfort. What I cannot do so easily, though I admit no failure, mind, is to induce his enemies at home to allow of a ransom.'
'I can do that,' said Jehane, 'if you will do the rest.' The Old Man patted her cheek.
'It is not the custom of my nation to allow wives abroad. You, moreover, are not of that nation. How can I trust the Melek, who (I know) loves you? How can I trust you, who (I know) love the Melek?'
'Oh, sire,' says Jehane, looking him full in the face, 'I came here because I loved my lord Richard; and when I have assured his safety I shall return here.' She looked down, as she added—'For the same reason, and for no other.'
'I quite understand you, child,' said the Old Man, and put his hand under her chin. This made her blush, and brought up her face again quickly.
'Dear sire,' she said shyly, 'you are very kind to me. If I had another reason for returning it would be that.' Sinan kissed her.
'And so it shall be, my dear,' he assured her. 'There is time enough. You shall certainly go, due regard being had to my dignity, and your health, which is delicate just now.'
'Have no fear for me, my lord,' she said. 'I am very strong.' He kissed her again, saying, 'I have never known a woman at once so beautiful and so strong.'
He wrote two letters, sealing them with his own signet and that of King Solomon. To the Archduke he said curtly—
'To the Archduke Luitpold, Vetus de Monte sends greeting. If the Melek Richard be any way let in the matter of his life and renown, I bid you take heed that as I served the Marquess of Montferrat, so also I shall serve your Serenity.'
But the Emperor demanded more civil advertisement: he got a remarkably fine letter.
'To the most exalted man, Henry, by the grace of God Emperor of the Romans, happy, pious, ever august, the invincible Conqueror, Vetus de Monte, by the same great Chief of the Assassins, sends greeting with the kiss of peace. Let your Celsitude make certain acquaintance with error in regard to the most illustrious person whom you have in hold. Not that Melek Richard caused the death of the Marquess Conrad; but I, the Ancient, the Lord of Assassins, Fulness of Light, for good cause, namely to save my friend the same Melek from injurious death at the hands of the Marquess. And him, the said Melek, I am resolved at all hazards to defend by means of the silent smiters who serve me. So farewell; and may He protect your Celsitude whom we diversely worship.'
As with every business of the Old Man's, preparations were soon and silently made. In three or four days' time Jehane strained the young Fulke to her bosom, took affectionate humble leave of her master, and left the green valley of Lebanon on her embassy.
She was sent down to the coast in the manner becoming the estate of a Sultan's favourite wife. She never set foot on the ground, never even saw it. She was in a close-curtained litter, herself veiled to the eyes. Sitting with her was a vast old Turkish woman, whom in the harem they called the Mother of Flowers. Mules bore the litter, eunuchs on mules surrounded it. On all sides, a third line of defence, rode the janissaries, hooded in white, on white Arabian horses. So they came swiftly to Tortosa, whose lord, in strict alliance with him of Musse, little knew that in paying homage to the shrouded cage he was cap-in-hand to Jehane of Picardy. Long galleys took up the burden of the mountain roads, dipped and furrowed across the AEgean, and touched land at Salonika. Hence by relays of bearers Jehane was carried darkly to Marburg in Styria, where at last she saw the face of the sky.
They took her to the inn and unveiled her. Then the chief of the eunuchs handed her a paper which he had written himself, being deprived of a tongue:—'Madame, Fragrance of the Harem, Gulzareen (which is to say, Golden Rose), thus I am commanded by my dreadful master. From this hour and place you are free to do what seems best to your wisdom. The letters of our lord will be sent forward by the proper bearers of them, one to Gratz, where the Archduke watches the Melek, and one to the Emperor of the Romans, wherever he may be found. In Gratz is he whom you seek. This day six months I shall be here to attend your Sufficiency.' He bowed three times, and went away.
'Now, mother,' said Jehane to the old duenna, 'do for me what I bid you, and quickly. Get me brown juice for my skin, and a ragged kirtle and bodice, such as the Egyptians wear. Give me money to line it, and then let me go.' All this was done. Jehane put on vile raiment which barely covered her, stained her fair face, neck, and arms brown, and let her hair droop all about her. Then she went barefoot out, hugging herself against the cold, being three months gone with child, and took the road over barren moorland to Gratz.
She had not seen King Richard for nearly two years, at the thought of which thing and of him the hot blood leapt up, to thrust and tingle in her face. She did not mean to see him now if she could help it, for she knew just how far she could withstand him; she would save him and then go back. Thus she reasoned with herself as she trudged: 'Jehane, ma mye, thou art wife now to a wise old man, who is good to thee, and has exalted thee above all his women. Thou must have no lovers now. Only save him, save him, save him, Lord Jesus, Lady Mary!' She treated this as a prayer, and kept it very near her lips all the way to Gratz, except when she felt herself flush all over with the thought, 'School of God! Is so great a king to be prayed for, as if he were a sick monk?' Nevertheless, she prayed more than she flushed. Nothing disturbed her; she slept in woods, in byres, in stackyards; bought what she needed for food, attracted no attention, and got no annoyance worthy the name. At the closing in of the fifth day she saw the walls of the city rise above the black moors into the sky, and the towers above them. The dome of a church, gilded, caught the dying sun's eye; its towers were monstrous tall, round, and peaked with caps of green copper. On the walls she counted seven other towers, heavy, squat, flat-roofed fortresses with huge battlements. A great flag hung in folds, motionless about a staff. All was a uniform dun, muffled in stormy sky, lowering, remote from knowledge, and alien.
But Jehane herself was of the North, and not impressionable. Grey skies were familiar tents to her, moorlands roomy places, one heap of stones much like another. But her heart beat high to know Richard half a league away; all her trouble was how she should find him in such a great town. It was dusk when she reached it; they were about to shut the gates. She let them, having seen that there were booths and hovels at the barriers, even a little church. It was there she spent the night, huddled in a corner by the altar.
Dawn is a laggard in Styria. She awoke before it was really light, and crept out, munching a crust. The suburb was dead asleep, a little breeze ruffled the poplars, and blew wrinkles on the town ditch. About and about the walls she went, peering up at their ragged edge, at the huge crumbling towers, at the storks on steep roofs. 'Eh, Lord God, here lies in torment my lovely king!' she cried to herself. The keen breeze freshened, the cloud-wrack went racing westward; it left the sky clean and bare. Out of the east came the red sun, and struck fire upon the dome of Saint Stanislas. Out of a high window then came the sound of a man singing, a sharp strong voice, tremulous in the open notes. She held her bosom as she heard—
Al entrada del tems clar, eya! Per joja recomencar, eya! Vol la regina mostrar Qu'el' es si amoroza.
The sun kindled her lifted face, filled her wet eyes with light, and glistened on her praying lips.
After that her duty was clear, as she conceived it. She dared not attempt the tower: that would reveal her to him. But she could not leave it. She must wait to learn the effect of her lord's letter, wait to see the bearer of it: here she would wait, where she could press the stones which bore up the stones pressed by Richard. So she did, crouching on the earth by the wall, sheltered against the wind or the wet by either side of a buttress, getting her food sparingly from the booths at the gate, or of charity. The townsmen of Gratz, hoarse-voiced touzleheads mostly, divined her to be an anchoress, a saint, or an unfortunate. She was not of their country, for her hair was burnt yellow like a Lombard's, and her eyes green; her face, tanned and searching, was like a Hungarian's; they thought that she wove spells with her long hands. On this account at first she was driven away on to the moors; but she always returned to her place in the angle, and counted that a day gained when she knew by Richard's strong singing that he yet lived. His songs told her more than that: they were all of love, and if her name came not in her image did. She knew by the mere pitch of his voice—who so well?—when he was occupied with her and when not. Mostly he sang all the morning from the moment the sun struck his window. Thus she judged him a light sleeper. From noon to four there was no sound; surely then he slept. He sang fitfully in the evening, not so saliently; more at night, if there was a moon; and generally he closed his eyes with a stave of Li dous consire, that song which he had made of and for her.
When she had been sitting there for upwards of a month, and still no sign from the bearer of the letter, she saw Gilles de Gurdun come halting up the poplar avenue and pry about the walls, much as she herself had done. She knew him at once for all his tatters, this square-faced, low-browed Norman. How he came there, if not as a slot-hound comes, she could not guess; but she knew perfectly well what he was about. The blood-instinct had led him, inflexible man, from far Acre across the seas, over the sharp mountains and enormous plains; the blood-instinct had brought him as truly as ever love led her—more truly, indeed. Here he was, with murder still in his heart.
Watching him through the meshes of her hair, elbowing her arms on her knees, she thought, What should she do? Plead? Nay, dare she plead for so royal a head, for so great a heart, so great a king, for one so nearly god that, for a sacrifice, she could have yielded up no more to very God? This strife tore her to pieces, while Gurdun snuffled round the walls, actually round the buttress where she crouched, spying out the entries. On one side she feared Gilles, on the other scorned what he could do. There was the leper! He made Gilles terrible; even her sacrifice on Lebanon might not avail against such as he. But King Richard! But this strong singer! But this god of war! Gilles came round the walls for a second time, nosing here and there, stopping, shaking his head, limping on. Then she heard the King's voice singing, high and sharp and spiring; his glorious voice, keener than any man's, as pure as any boy's, singing with astounding gaiety, 'Al entrada del tems clar, eya!'
Gilles stopped as one struck, and gaped up at the tower. To see his stupid mouth open, Jehane's bosom heaved with pride well-nigh insufferable. Had any woman, since Mary conceived, such a lover as hers! 'Oh, Gilles, Gilles, go you on with your knife in your vest. What can you do, little oaf, against King Richard?' Gilles went in by the gate, and she let him go. He was away two days, by which time she had cause to alter her mind. The prisoner sang nothing; and presently a man dressed like a Bohemian came out of the town and spoke to her. This was Cogia, the Assassin, bearer of the letter.
'Well, Cogia?' said Jehane, holding herself.
'Mistress, the letter of our lord has been delivered. I think it may go hard with the Melek.'
'What, Cogia? Does the Archduke dare?'
'The Archduke, mistress, desires not the Melek's death. He is a worthy man. But many do desire it—kings of the West, kinsmen of the Marquess, above all the Melek's blood-brother. One of that prince's men, as I judge him, is with him now—one of your country, mistress.'
In a vision she saw the leper again, a dull smear in the sunny waste, scratching himself on a white stone. She saw him come hopping from rock to rock, his wagging finger, shapeless face, tongueless voice.
'Mistress—' said Cogia. She turned blank eyes upon him. 'I pray,' she said; 'I pray. Has God no pity?'
Cogia shrugged. 'What has God to do with pity? The end of the world is in His hand already. The Melek is a king, and the Norman dung in his sight. Who knows the end but God, and how shall He pity what He hath decreed for wisdom? This I say, if the King dies the man dies.'
Jehane threw up her head. 'The King will not die, Cogia. Yet to-morrow, if the man comes not out, I will go to seek him.'
* * * * *
Early in the morning Gilles did come out, turned the angle of the ditch, and shuffled towards her, his head hung. Jehane moved swiftly out from the shadow of the buttress and confronted him. She folded her arms over her breast; and at that moment the shadow of Richard's tower was capped with the shadow of Richard himself. But she saw nothing of this. 'Halt there, Sir Gilles,' she said. The Norman gave a squeal, like a hog startled at his trough, and went dead-fire colour.
'Ha, Heart of Jesus!' said Gilles de Gurdun.
THE CHAPTER OF STRIFE IN THE DARK
One very great power of King Richard's had never served him better than now, the power of immense quiescence, whereunder he could sit by day or by night as inert as a stone, a block hewn into shape of a man, neither to be moved by outside fret nor by the workings of his own mind. Into this rapt state he fell when the prison doors shut on him, and so remained for three or four weeks, alone while the Fates were spinning. The Archduke came daily to him with speeches, injuries to relate, injuries to impart. King Richard hardly winked an eyelid. The Archduke hinted at ransom, and Richard watched the wall behind his head; he spoke of letters received from this great man or that, which made ransom not to be thought of; and Richard went to sleep. What are you to do with a man who meets your offers and threats with the same vast unconcern? If it is matter for resentment, Richard gave it; if it is a matter which money may leaven, it is to be observed that while Richard offered no money his enemies offered much.
These letters to the Archduke were not of the sort which fill the austere folios of the Codex Diplomaticus as bins with bran, or make Rymer's book as dry as Ezekiel's valley. They were pungent, pertinent, allusive, succinct, supplementing, as with meat, those others. The Count of Saint-Pol wrote, for instance, 'Kinsman, kill the killer of your kin,' and could hardly have expressed himself better under the circumstances. King Philip of France sent two letters: one by a herald, very long, and chiefly in the language of the Epistle of Saint James, designed for the Codex. The other lay in the vest of a Savigniac monk, and was to this effect: 'In a ridded acre the husbandman can sow with hopes of good harvesting. When the corn is garnered he calleth about him his friends and fellow-labourers, and cheer abounds. Labour and pray. I pray.' Last came a limping pilgrim from Aquitaine, whose hat was covered with metal saints, and in his left shoe a wad of parchment, which had made him limp. This proved to be a letter from John Count of Mortain, which said, 'Now I see in secret. But when I am come into my kingdom I will reward openly.' The Archduke was by no means a wise man; but it was not easy to know something of European politics and mistake the meaning of letters like these. If it was a question of money, here was money. And imagine now the Archduke, bursting with the urgent secrets of so many princes, making speeches about them—through all of which King Richard slumbered! 'Damn it, he flouts me, does he?' said Austria at last; and left him alone. From that moment Richard began to sing.
Let us do no wrong to Luitpold: it was not merely a question of money, but money turned the scale. Not only had Richard mortally affronted his gaoler; he had innumerably offended him. The Archduke was punctilious; Richard with his petulant foot stamped on every little point he laboured, or else, like a buttress, let him labour them in vain. He did not for a moment disguise his fatigue in Luitpold's presence, his relief at his absence, or his unconcern with his properties. This galled the man. He could not, for the life of him, affect indifference to Richard's indifference. When the messenger, therefore, arrived from the Old Man of Musse, the insolence of the message was most unfortunate. The Archduke, angry as he was, could afford to be cool. He played on the Old Man the very part which Richard had played on him—that is, treated him and his letter as though they were not.
Then he broke with Richard altogether; and then came Gilles de Gurdun with secret words and offers.
The Archduke drained his beer-horn, and with his big hand wrung his beard dry. He winked hard at Gilles, whom he thought to be a hired assassin of deplorable address sent, probably, by Count John.
'Are you angry enough to do what you propose?' he asked him. 'I am not, let me tell you.'
'I have been trying to kill him for four years,' said Gilles.
'And are you man enough, my fellow?' Gilles cast down his eyes.
'I have not been man enough yet, since he still lives. I think I am now.' Then there was a pause.
'What is your price?' asked Luitpold after this.
Gilles said, 'I have no price'; and the Archduke, 'You suit my humour exactly.'
* * * * *
Richard, I say, had begun to sing from the day he was sure that the Archduke had given him up. Physical relief may have had something to do with that, but moral certainty had more. What made him fume or freeze was doubt. There was very little room for doubt just now but that his enemies would prove too many for Austria's scruples. His friends? He was not aware that he had any friends. Des Barres, Gaston, Auvergne, Milo? What did they amount to? His sister Joan, his mother, his brothers? Here he shrugged, knowing his own race too well. He had never heard of the Angevin who helped any Angevin but himself. Lastly, Jehane. He had lost her by his own fault and her extreme nobility. Let her go, glorious among women! He was alone. Odd creature, he began to sing.
Singing like a genius to the broad splash of sunlight on brickwork, Gilles de Gurdun found him. Richard was sitting on a bench against the wall, one knee clasped in his hands, his head thrown back, his throat rippling with the tide of his music. He looked as fresh and gallant a figure as ever in his life; his beard trimmed sharply, his strong hair brushed back, his doublet green, his trunks of fine leather, his shoes of yet finer. The song he was upon was Li Chastel d' Amors, which runs—
Las portas son de parlar Al eissir e al entrar: Qui gen non sab razonar,
Defors li ven a estar. E las claus son de prejar: Ab cel obron li cortes—
and so on through many verses, made continuous by the fact that the end of each sixth line forms the rhyme of the next five. Now, Gilles knew nothing of Southern minstrelsy, and if he had, the pitch he was screwed to would have shrilled such knowledge out of him. At 'Defors li ven a estar,' he came in, and sturdily forward. Richard saw him and put up his hand: on went the hammered rhymes—
E las claus son de prejar: Ab cel obron li cortes.
Here was a little break. Gilles, very dark, took a step; up shot Richard's warning hand—
Dedinz la clauson qu'i es Son las mazos dels borges . . .
On went the exulting voice after the new rhymes, gayer and yet more gay. Li Chastel d'Amors has twelve linked verses, and King Richard, wound up in their music, sang them all. When at last he had stopped, he said, 'Now, Gurdun, what do you want here?'
Gilles came a step or two of his way, and so again a step or two, and so again, by jerks. When he was so near that it was to be seen what he had in his right hand, the King got up. Gilles saw that he had light fetters on his ankles which could not stop his walking. Richard folded his arms.
'Oh, Gurdun,' he said, 'what a fool you are.'
Gurdun vented a sob of rage, and flung himself forward at his enemy. He was a shorter man, but very thickset, with arms like steel. He had a knife, rage like a thirst, he was free. Richard, as he came on, hit him full on the chin, and sent him flying. Gurdun picked himself up again, his mouth twitching, his eyes so small as to be like slits. Knife in hand he leaned against the wall to fetch up his breath.
'Well,' said Richard, 'Have you had enough?'
'Yes, you wolf,' said Gurdun, 'I shall wait till it is dark.'
'I think it may suit you better,' was the King's comment as he sat down on the bed. Gurdun squatted by the wall, watching him. After about an hour of humming airs to himself Richard lay full length, and in a short time Gilles ascertained that he was asleep. This brought tears into the man's eyes; he began to cry freely. Virgin Mary! Virgin Mary! why could he not kill this frozen devil of a king? Was there a race in the world which bred such men, to sleep with the knife at the throat? He rose to his feet, went to look at the sleeper; but he knew he could not do his work. He ranged the room incessantly, and at every second or third turn brought up short by the bed. Sometimes he flashed up his long knife; it always stayed the length of his arm, then flapped down to his flank in dejection. 'If he wakes not I must go away. I cannot do it so,' he told himself, as finally he sat down by the wall. It grew dusk. He was tired, sick, giddy; his head dropped, he slept. When he woke up, as with a snort he did, it was inky dark. Now was the time, not even God could see him now. He turned himself about; inch by inch he crept forward, edging along by the bed's edge. Painfully he got on his knees, threw up his head. 'Jehane, my robbed lost soul!' he howled, and stabbed with all his might. King Richard, cat-like behind him, caught him by the hair, and cuffed his ears till they sang.
'Ah, dastard cur! Ah, mongrel! Ah, white-galled Norman eft! God's feet, if I pommel you for this!' Pommel him he did; and, having drawn blood at his ears, he turned him over his knee as if he had been a schoolboy, and lathered his rump with a chair-leg. This humiliating punishment had humiliating effects. Gilles believed himself a boy in the cloister-school again, with his smock up. 'Mea culpa, mea culpa! Hey, reverend father, have pity!' he began to roar. Dropping him at last, Richard tumbled him on to the bed. 'Blubber yourself to sleep, clown,' he told him. 'Blessed ass, I have heard you snoring these two hours, snoring and rootling over your jack-knife. Sleep, man. But if you rootle again I flog again: mind you that.' Gilles slept long, and was awoken in full light by the sound of King Richard calling for his breakfast.
The gaoler came pale-faced in. 'A thousand pardons, sire, a thousand pardons—'
'Bring my food, Dietrich,' says Richard, 'and send the barber. Also, the next time the Archduke desires murder done let him find a fellow who knows his trade. This one is a bungler. Here's the third time to my knowledge he has missed. Off with you.'
Gilles lay face downwards, abject on the bed. In came the King's breakfast, a jug of wine, some white bread. The King's beard was trimmed, his hair brushed, fresh clothes put on. He dismissed his attendants, crossed over the room like a stalking cat, and gave Gilles a clap behind which made him leap in the air.
'Get up, Gurdun,' said Richard. 'Tell me that you are ashamed of yourself, and then listen to me.'
Gilles went down on one knee. 'God knows, my lord King,' he mumbled, 'that I have done shamefully by you.' He got up, his face clouded, his jaw went square. 'But not more shamefully, by the same God, than you have done by me.'
The King looked at him. 'I have never justified myself to any man,' he said quietly, 'nor shall I now to you. I take the consequences of all my deeds when and as they come. But from the like of you none will ever come. I speak of men. Now I will tell you this very plainly. The next time you cross my path adversely, I shall kill you. You are a nuisance, not because you desire my life, but because you never get it. Try no more, Gurdun.'
'Where is Jehane, my lord?' said Gurdun, very black.
'I cannot tell you where the Countess of Anjou may be,' he was answered. 'She is not here, and is not in France. I believe she is in Palestine.'
'Palestine! Palestine! Lord Christ, have you turned her away?' Gilles cried, beside himself. Again King Richard looked at him, but afterwards shrugged.
'You speak after your kind. Now, Gurdun, get you home. Go to my friends in Normandy, to my brother Mortain, to my brother of Rouen; bid them raise a ransom. I must go back. You have disturbed me, sickened me of assassination, reminded me of what I intended to forget. If I get any more assassins I shall break prison and the Archduke's head, and I should be sorry to do that, as I have no grudge against him. Find Des Barres, Gurdun, raise all Normandy. Find above all Mercadet, and set him to work in Poictou. As for England, my brother Geoffrey will see to it. Aquitaine I leave to the Lord of Bearn. Off now, Gurdun, do as I bid you. But if you speak another word to me of Madame d'Anjou, by God's death I will wring your neck. You are not fit to speak of me: how should you dare speak of her? You! A stab-i'-the-dark, a black-entry cutter of throats, a hedgerow knifer! Foh, you had better speak nothing, but be off. Stay, I will call the castellan.' And so he did, roaring through the key-hole. The gaoler came up flying.
'Conduct this animal into the fresh air, Dietrich,' said King Richard; 'send him about his business. Tell your master he will now do better. And when that is done, let me go on to the leads that I may walk a little.'
Gurdun followed his guide speechless; but the Archduke was very vexed, and declined to see him. 'I decide to be a villain, and he makes me a vain villain,' said the great man. 'Bid him go to the devil.' So then Gilles with head hanging came out of the gate, and Jehane leaped from her angle to confront him.
To say that he dropped like a shot bird is to say wrong; for a bird drops compact, but Gilles went down disjunct. His jaw dropped, his hands dropped, his knees, last his head. 'Ha, Heart of Jesus!' he said, and covered his eyes. She began to talk like a hissing snake.
'What have you done with the King? What have you done?' King Richard on the roof peered down and saw her. He turned quite grey.
'I could do nothing, Jehane,' Gilles whimpered; 'I went to kill him.'
'You fool, I know it. I saw you go. I could have stayed you as I do now. But I would not.'
'Why not, Jehane?'
She spurned him with a look. 'Because I love King Richard, and know you, Gilles, what you can do and what not. Pshutt! You are a rat.'
'Rat,' says Gilles, 'I may be, but a rat may be offended. This king robbed me of you, and slew my father and brothers. Therefore I hated him. Is it not enough reason?'
Her eyes grew cold with scorn. 'Your father? Your brothers?' she echoed him. 'Pooh, I have given him more than that. I have burned my heart quite dry. I have accepted shame, I have sold my body and counted as nothing my soul. Robbed you? Nay, but I robbed myself, and robbed him also, when I cut him out of my own flesh. From the day when, through my prayers against blood, he was affianced to the Spanish woman, I held him off me, though I drained more blood to do it. Then, that not sufficing to save him, I gave myself to the Old Man of Musse; to be his wife, one of his women, do you understand? His wife, I say. And you talk now of father and brothers and your robbery, to me who am become an old man's toy, one of many? What are they to my soul, and my heart's blood, to my life and light, and the glory that I had from Richard? Oh, you fool, you fool, what do you know of love? You think it is embracing, clipping, playing with a chin: you fool, it is scorching your heart black, it is welling blood by drops, it is fasting in sight of food, death where sweet life offers, shame held more honourable than honour. Oh, Saint Mary, star of women, what do men know of love?' Dry-eyed and pinched, she looked about her as if to find an answer in the sullen moors. If she had looked up to the heavy skies she might have had one; for on the tower's top stood King Richard like a ghost.
'Listen now to me, Jehane,' said Gilles, red as fire. 'I have hated your King for four years, and three times sought his life. But now he has beaten me altogether. Too strong, too much king, for a man to dare anything singly against him. What! he slept, and I could not do it; and then I slept, and he awoke and let me lie. Then once again I woke and thought him still sleeping, and stabbed the bed; and he came behind me, stealthy as a cat, and trounced me over his knee like a child. Oh, oh, Jehane, he is more than man, and I by so much less. And now, and now, he sends me out to win his ransom as if I were an old lover of his, and I am going to do it! Why, God in glory look down upon us, what is the force that he hath?'
Gilles now shivered and looked about him; but Jehane, having mastered her breath, smiled.
'He is King,' she said. 'Come, Gilles, I will go with you. You shall find the Abbot Milo, and I the Queen-Mother. I have the ear of her.'
'I will do as I am bid, Jehane,' said the cowed man, 'because I needs must.'
As they went away together, King Richard on the roof threw up his arms to the sky, howling like a night wolf. 'Now, God, Thou hast stricken me enough. Now listen Thou, I shall strike if I can.'
* * * * *
After a while came Cogia the Assassin; to whom Jehane said, 'Cogia, I must take a journey with this man. You shall put us on the way, and wait for me until I come again.'
'Mistress,' replied Cogia, 'I am your slave. Do as you will.'
She put on the dress of a religious, Gilles the weeds of a pilgrim from Jerusalem. Then Cogia bought them asses in Gratz and led them down to Trieste. They found a ship going to Bordeaux, went on board, had a fair passage, passed the Pillars of Hercules on their tenth day out, and were in the Gironde in five more. At Bordeaux they separated. Gilles went to Poictiers in a company of pilgrims; Jehane, having learned that Queen Berengere was at Cahors, turned her face to the Gascon hills. But she had left behind her a prisoner to whom death could bring the only ransom worth a thought.
OF THE LOVE OF WOMEN
'Ask me no more how I did in those days,' writes Abbot Milo. 'Mercy smile upon me in the article of death, but I worked for the ransom of King Richard as (I hope) I should for that of King Christ. Many an abbey of Touraine goes lean now because of me; many a mass is wrought in a pewter chalice that Richard might come home. Yet I soberly believe that Madame Alois, King Philip's sister, was precious above rubies in the work.'
I think he is right. That stricken lady, in the habit of a grey nun of Fontevrault, came by night to Paris, and found her brother with John of Mortain. They had been upon the very business. Philip, not all knave, had been moved by the news of Richard's immobility. He had had some of De Gurdun's report.
'Christ-dieu,' he said, 'a great king calm in chains! And my brother Richard. Yet God knows I hate him.' So he went muttering on. The Count edged in his words as he could.
'He hates you, indeed, sire. He hates me. He hates all of us.'
'I think we could find him reasons for that, my friend, if he lacked them,' said Philip shrewdly. 'Do you know that De Gurdun is in Poictou come from Styria?'
Count John said nothing; but he did know it very well. When they announced Madame Alois the King started, and the Count went sick white.
'We will receive her Grace,' said Philip, and advanced towards the door for the purpose. In she came in her old eager, stumbling, secret way, knelt in a hurry to kiss her brother's hand, then rose and looked intently at John of Mortain.
The King said, 'You visit us late, sister; but your occasions may drive you.'
'They do drive me, sire. I have seen the Sieur Gilles de Gurdun. King Richard is in hold at Gratz, and must be delivered.'
'By you, sister?'
'By me, sire.'
'You grow Christian, Madame.'
'It is my need, sire. I have done King Richard a great wrong. This is not tolerable to me.'
'Eh,' says Philip, 'not so fast. Was no wrong done to you?'
'Wrong was done me,' said the white girl, 'but not by him.'
'The wrong lies in his blood. What though the wrong-doer is dead? His blood must answer it.'
Alois shivered, and so, for that matter, did one other there. She answered, 'I pray for his death. Dying or dead, his blood shall answer it.'
'You speak darkly, sister.'
'I live in the dark,' said Alois.
'King Richard has affronted my house in you sister.'
But she said, 'I have affronted King Richard through his house.'
'Is this all you have to say, Alois?'
'No, sire,' she told him, with a fierce and biting look at Mortain; 'but it is all I need say now.'
It was. A cry broke strangling from the Count. 'Ha, Jesus! Sire! Save my brother!' The wretch could bear no more. The woman's eyes were like swords.
King Philip marvelled. 'You!' he said, 'you!' John put out his hands. Oh, sire, Madame is in the right. I am a wicked man. I must make my brother amends. He must be saved.'
King Philip scratched his head. 'Who is in the dark if not I? I will deal with you presently, Mortain. But you, Madame,' he turned hotly on the lady, 'you must be plainer. What is your zeal for the King of England? He is your cousin, and might have been your husband.' Alois flinched, but Philip went roughly on. 'Do you owe him thanks that he is not? Is this what spurs you?'
She looked doubtfully. 'I owe him honour, Philip,' she said slowly. 'He is a great king.'
'Great king, great king!' Philip broke out; 'pest! and great rascal. There is no truth in him, no bottom, no thanks, no esteem. He counts me as nothing.'
'To him,' said Alois, 'you are nothing.'
'Madame,' said Philip, 'I am King of France, your brother and lord. He is my vassal; owes fealty and breaks it, signs treaties and levies war; hectors me and laughs, kills my servants and laughs. He is my cousin, but I am his suzerain. I do not choose to be mocked. There will be no rest for this kingdom while he is in it.' He stopped, then turned to the shaking man. 'As for you, Count of Mortain, I must have an explanation. My sister loves her enemies: it is a Christian virtue. I have not found it one of yours. You, perhaps, fear your enemies, even caged. Is this your thought? You have made yourself snug in Aquitaine, Count; you are not unknown in Anjou, I think. Do you begin to wish that you might be? Are you, by chance, a little oversnug? I candidly say that I prefer you for my neighbour in those parts. I can deal with you. Do me the obedience to speak.'
'Sire,' said the Count, spreading out his hands, 'Madame Alois has turned me. I am a sinner, but I can restore. My brother is my lord, a clement prince—'
'Pish!' said King Philip, and gave him his back.
'Madame, go to bed,' he said to his sister. 'I shall pay dear for it, but I will not oppose my cousin's ransom. Be content with that.' Alois slipped out. Then he turned upon John like a flash of flame.
'Now, Mortain,' he said, 'what proof is there of that old business of my sister's?'
John showed him a scared eye—the milky eye of a drowned man. 'Ah, God, sire, there is none at all—none—none!' He had no breath. Philip raised his voice.
'Look to yourself; I shall not help you. Leave my lands, go where you will, hide, bury your head, drown yourself. If I spoke what lies bottomed in my heart I should kill you with mere words. But there is worse for you in store. There will be war in France, if I know Richard; but mark what I say, after that there shall be war in England.' The thought of Richard overwhelmed him: he gave a queer little sigh. 'See, now, how much love and what lives of women are spent for one tall man, who gives nothing, and asks nothing, but waits, looking lordly, while they give and give and give. Let Richard come, since women cry for wounds. But you!' He flamed again. 'Get you to hell: you are all a liar. Avoid me, lest I learn more of you.'
'Dear sire,' John began. Philip loathed him. 'Ah, get you gone, snake, or I tread upon you,' he said; and the prince avoided. So much was wrought by Alois of France.
* * * * *
No visitation of a dead woman could have shocked Queen Berengere more suddenly than the apparition of a tall nun, when she saw it was Jehane. She put her hand upon her heart.
'Ah,' she said, 'you trouble me again, Jehane? Am I never to rest from you?'
jehane did not falter. 'Do I have any rest? The King is chained in Styria; he must be redeemed. It is your turn. I saved his life for you once by selling my own. Now I am the wife of an old man, with nothing more to sell. Do you sell something.'
'Sell? Sell? What can I sell that he will buy?' whined Berengere. 'He loves me not.'
'Well,' said Jehane, 'what has that to do with it? Do you not love him?'
'I am his miserable wife. I have nothing to sell.
'Sell your pride, Berengere,' says Jehane. Berengere bit her lip.
'You speak strangely to me, woman.'
Says Jehane, 'I am grown strange. Once I was a girl dishonoured because I loved. Now I am a wife greatly honoured because I do not love.'
'You do not love your husband?'
'How should I,' said Jehane, 'when I love yours? But I honour my husband, and watch over his honour: he is good to me.'
'You dare to tell me that you love the King? Ah, you have been with him again!' Jehane looked critically at her.
'I have not seen him, nor ever shall till he is dead. But we must save him, you and I, Berengere.'
Berengere, the little toy woman, when she saw how noble the other stood, and how inflexible, came wheedling to her, with hands to touch her chin.
'Jehane, sister, let it be my part to save Richard. Indeed I love him. You have done so much, to you now he should be nothing. Let me do it, let me do it, please, Jehane!' So she stroked and coaxed. The tall nun smiled.
'Must I always be giving, and my well never be dry? Yes, yes, I will trust you. No; you shall not kiss me yet; I have not done. Go to the Queen-Mother, go to the King your brother. Go not to the French King, nor to Count John. He is more cruel than hyaenas, and more a coward. Find the Abbot Milo, find the Lord of Bearn, find the Sieur des Barres, find Mercadet. Raise England, sell your jewels, your crown; eh, God of Gods, sell your pretty self. The Queen-Mother is a fierce woman, but she will help you. Do these things faithfully, and I leave King Richard's life in your hands. May I trust you?' The other girl looked up at her, wistfully, still touching her chin.
'Kiss me, Jehane!'
'Yes, yes, I will kiss you now, Frozen Heart. You are thawed.'
Jehane, going back to Bordeaux, found Cogia with a ship, wherein she sailed for Tortosa. But Berengere, Queen of England, played a queen's part.
HOW THE LEOPARD WAS LOOSED
The burning thought of Jehane cut off, sixty feet below him, yet far as she could ever be, swept across Richard's mind like a roaring wind, and ridded the room for wilder guests. In came stalking Might-have-been and No-more, holding each by a shrinking shoulder the delicate maid of his first delight, Jehane, lissom in a thin gown; Jehane like a bud, with her long hair alight. Her hair was loose, her face aflame; she was very young, very much to be kissed, fresh and tall—Oh, God, the mere loveliness of her! In came the scent of wet stubbles, the fresh salt air of Normandy, the pale gold of the shaws, the pale sky, the mild October sun. He felt again the stoop, again the lift of her to his horse, again the stern ride together; saw again the Dark Tower, and all the love and sweet pleasure that they made. The bride in the church turning her proud shy head, the bride in his arm, clinging as they flew, the bride in the tower, the crowned Countess, the nestling mate—oh, impossibly lost! Inconceivably put away! Eternally his lover and bride!
Pity, if you can, this lonely heart, this king in chains, this hot Angevin, son of Henry, son of Geoffrey, son of Fulke, this Yea-and-Nay. He who dared not look upon the city, lest, seeing, he should risk all to take it, had now looked upon the bride unaware, and could not touch her. The fragrance of her, the sacred air in which a loved woman moves, had floated up to him: his by all the laws of hell, in spite of heaven; but his no more. Such nearness and such deprivation—to see, to desire, and not to seize—flung his wits abroad; from that hour his was a lost soul. Hungry, empty-eyed, ranging, feverish, he lashed up and down his prison-room, with bare teeth gleaming, and desperate soft strides. No thought he had but mere despair, no hope but the mere ravin of a beast. He was across the room in four; he turned, he lunged back; at the wall he threw up his head, turned and lunged, turned and lunged again. He was always at it, or rocking on his bed. No hope, nor thought, nor reckoning had he, but to say Yea against God, Who said him Nay.
So, many times, had he stood, fatal enemy of himself. His Yea would hold fast while none accepted it, his Nay while no one obeyed. But the supple knees of men sickened him of his own decree. 'These fools accept my bidding: the bidding then is foolishness.' So when Fate, so when God, underwrote his bill, Le Roy le veult, he scorned himself and the bill, and risked wide heaven to make either nought.
If Austria had murdered him then, it had perhaps been well; but his enemies being silenced, his friends did enemies' work unknowing, by giving him scope to mar himself. The ransom was raised at the price of blood and prayers, the ransom was paid. The Earl of Leicester and Bishop of Salisbury brought it; so the Leopard was loosed. With a quick shake of the head, as if doing violence to himself, he turned his face westward and pushed through the Low Countries to the sea. There he was met by his English peers, by Longchamp, by his brother of Rouen, by men who loved and men who feared; but he had no word for any. Grim and hungry he stalked through the lane they made him, on to the galley; folded in his cloak there, lonely he paced the bridge. He was rowed to the west with his eyes fixed always on the east, away from his kingdom to where he supposed his longing to be. His mother met him at Dunwich: it seemed he knew her not. 'My son, my son Richard,' she said as she knelt to him. 'Get up, Madame,' he bid her; 'I have work to do.' He rode savagely to London through the grey Essex flats; had himself crowned anew; went north with a force to lay Lincolnshire waste; levelled castles, exacted relentless punishment, exorbitant tribute, the last acquittance. He set a red smudge over the middle of England, being altogether in that country three months, a total to his name and reign of a poor six. Then he left it for good and all, carrying away with him grudging men and grudged money, and leaving behind the memory of a stone face which always looked east, a sword, a heart aloof, the myth of a giant knight who spoke no English and did no charity, but was without fear, cruelly just, and as cold as an outland grave. If you ask an Englishman what he thinks of Richard Yea-and-Nay, he will tell you:—That was a king without pity or fear or love, considering neither God, nor the enemy of God, nor unhappy men. If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, the love of Him is the end of it. How could King Richard love God, who did not fear enough; or we, who feared too much?
He crossed into Normandy, and at Honfleur was met by them who loved him well; but he repaid them ill. Here also they seemed remote from his acquaintance. Gaston of Bearn, with eyes alight, came dancing down the quay, to be the first to kiss him. Richard, shaking with fever (or what was like fever), gave him a burning dry hand, but looked away from him, always hungrily to the east. Des Barres, who had thrown off allegiance for his love, got no thanks for it. He may have known Abbot Milo again, or Mercadet, his lean good captain: he said nothing to either of them. His friends were confounded: here was the gallant shell of King Richard with a new insatiable tenant. So indeed they found it. There was great business to be done: war, the holding of Assise, the redressing of wrongs from the sea to the Pyrenees. He did it, but in a terrible, hasty way. It appeared that every formal act required fretted him to waste, that every violent act allowed gave him little solace. It appeared that he was living desperately fast, straining to fill up time, rather than use it, towards some unknown, but (to him) certain end. His first act in Normandy, after new coronation, was to besiege the border castles which the French had filched in his absence. One of these was Gisors. He would not go near Gisors; but conducted the leaguer from Rouen, as a blindfold man plays chess; and from Rouen he reduced the great castle in six weeks. One thing more he did there, which gave Gaston a clue to his mood. He sent a present of money, a great sum, to an old priest, curate of Saint-Sulpice; and when they told him that the man was dead, and a great part of the church he had served burnt out by King Philip, his face grew bleak and withered, and he said, 'Then I will burn Philip out.' He had Gisors, castle, churches, burgher-holds, the whole town, burned level with the ground. There was not to be a stone on a stone: and it was so. Gaston of Bearn slapped his thigh when he heard of this: 'Now,' he said, 'now at last I know what ails my King. He has seen his lost mistress.'
He did so ruthlessly in Normandy that he went far to make his power a standing dread to the fair duchy. On the rock at Les Andelys he built a huge castle, to hang there like a thunder-cloud scowling over the flats of the Seine. He called it, what his temper gave no hint of (so dry with fever he was), the galliard hold. 'Let me see Chastel-Gaillard stand ready in a year,' he said. 'Put on every living man in Normandy if need be.' He planned it all himself; rock of the rock it was to be, making the sheer yet more sheer. He called it again his daughter, daughter of his conception of Death. 'Build,' said he, 'my daughter Gaillarda. As I have conceived her let the great birth be.' And it was so. For a bitter christening, when all was done, he had his French prisoners thrown down into the fosse; and they say that it rained blood upon him and his artificers as they stood by that accursed font. The man was mad. Nothing stayed him: for the first time since they who still loved him had had him back, they heard him laugh, when his daughter Gaillarda was brought forth. And, 'Spine of God,' he cried, 'this is a saucy child of mine, and saucily shall she do by the French power.' Then his face was wrenched by pain, as with a sob he said, 'I had a son Fulke.' Gaillarda did saucily enough, to tyrannise over ten years of Philip's life; in the end, as all know, she played the strumpet, and served the enemies of her father's house, but not while Richard lived to rule her.
He drove Philip into a truce of years, pushed down into Touraine, and thence went to Anjou, but not to sit still. He was never still, never seemed to sleep, or get any of the solace of a man. He ate voraciously, but was not nourished, drank long, but was never drunken, revelled without mirth, hunted, fought, but got no joy. He utterly refused to see the Queen, who was at Cahors in the south. 'She is no wife of mine,' he said; 'let her go home.' Tentative messages were brought by very tentative messengers from his brother John. Good service, such and such, had been done in Languedoc; so and so had been hanged, or gibbeted, so and so rewarded: what had our dear and royal brother to say? To each he said the same thing: 'Let my good brother come.' But John never came.
No one knew what to make of him; he spoke to none of his affairs, none dared speak to him. Milo writes in his book, 'The King came back from Styria as one who should arise from the grave with all the secrets of the chattering ghosts to brood upon. Some worm gnawed his vitals, some maggot had drilled a hole in his brain. I know not what possessed him or what could possess him beside a devil. This I know, he never sent to me for direction in spiritual affairs, nor (so far as I could learn) to any other religious man. He never took the Sacrament, nor seemed to want it. But be sure he wanted it most grievously.' So, insanely ridden, he lived for three years, one of which would have worn a common man to the bones. But the fire still crackled, freely fed; his eyes were burning bright, his mind (when he gave it) was keen, his head (when he lent it) seemed cool. What was he living for? Did Death himself look askance at such a man? Or find him a good customer who sent him so many souls? Two things only were clear: he sent messenger after messenger to Rome, and he returned his wife's dowry. Those must mean divorce or repudiation of marriage. Certainly the Queen's party took it so, though the Queen herself clung pitifully to her throne; and the Queen's party grew the larger for the belief.
Such as it was, the Queen's party nested in Aquitaine and the Limousin, with all the turbulent lords of that duchy under its flag. Prince John himself was with Berengere at Cahors, biting his nails as was usual with him, one eye watching for Richard's vengeance, one eye wide for any peace-offering from the French King. He dared not act overtly against Richard, nor dared to take up arms for him. So he waited. The end was not very far off.
Count Eustace of Saint-Pol was the moving spirit in these parts, grown to be an astute, unscrupulous man of near thirty years. His spies kept him well informed of Richard's intolerable state; he knew of the embassies to Rome, of the fierce murdering moods, of the black moods, of the cheerless revelry and fruitless energy of this great stricken Angevin. 'In some such hag-ridden day my enemy may be led to overtax himself,' he considered. To that end he laid a trap. He seized and fortified two hill-castles in the Limousin, between which lay straggling a village called Chaluz. 'Let us get Richard down here,' was his plan. 'He will think the job a light one, and we shall nip him in the hills.' The Bishop of Beauvais lent a hand, so did Adhemar Viscount of Limoges, and Achard the lord of Chaluz, not because he desired, but because he was forced by Limoges his suzerain. Another forced labourer was Sir Gilles de Gurdun, who had been found by Saint-Pol doing work in Poictou and won over after a few trials.
Now, when King Richard had been some four, nearly five, years at home, neither nearer to his rest nor fitter for it than he had been when he landed, he got word from the south that a great treasure had been found in the Limousin. A man driving the plough on a hillside by Chaluz had upturned a gold table, at which sat an emperor, Charles or another, with his wife and children and the lords of his council, all wrought in fine gold. 'I will have that golden emperor,' said Richard, 'having just made one out of clay. Let him be sent to me.' He spoke carelessly, as they all thought, simply to get in his gibe at the new Emperor of the Romans, his nephew, whom he had caused to be chosen; and seeing that that was not the treasure he craved, it is like enough. But somebody took his word into Languedoc, and somebody brought back word (Saint-Pol's word) that the Viscount of Limoges, as suzerain of Chaluz, claimed treasure-trove in it. 'Then I will have the Viscount of Limoges as well,' said Richard. 'Let him be sent to me, and the table with him.'
The Viscount did not go. 'We have him, eh, we have him!' cheered Saint-Pol, rubbing his hands together.
But the Viscount, 'Be not so very sure. He may send Gaston or Mercadet. Or if the fit is on him he may come in force. We cannot support that. I believe that you have played a fool's part, Saint-Pol.'
'I am playing a gentleman's part,' replied the other, 'to entrap a villain.'
'Your villain is six foot two inches, and hath arms to agree,' said the Viscount, a dry man.
'We will lay him by the heels, Viscount; we will lop those long arms, cold-blooded, desperate tyrant. He has brought two lovely ladies to misery. Now let him know misery.' Thus Saint-Pol, feeling very sure of himself.
* * * * *
The Queen was at Cahors all this time, living in a convent of white nuns, probably happier than she had ever been in her life before. Count John kept her informed of all Richard's offences; Saint-Pol, you may take my word for it, was so exuberantly on her side that it must be almost an offence in her to refuse him. But she, in a pure mood of abnegation, would hear nothing against King Richard. Even when she was told, with proof positive, that he was in treaty with Rome, she said not a word to her friends. Secretly she hugged herself, beginning (like most women) to find pleasure in pain. 'Let him deny me, let him deny me thrice, even as Thou wert denied, sweet Lord Jesus!' she prayed to Christ on the wall. 'So denied, Thou didst not cease from loving. I think the woman in Thee outcried the man.' She got a piercing bliss out of each new knife stuck in her little jumping heart. Once or twice she wrote to Alois of France, who was at Fontevrault, in her King's country. 'Dear lady,' she wrote, 'they seek to enrage my lord against me. If you see him, tell him that I believe nothing that I hear until I receive the word from his own glorious mouth.' Alois, chilly in her cell, took no steps to get speech with King Richard. 'Let her suffer: I suffer,' she would say. And then, curiously jealous lest more pain should be Berengere's than was hers, a daughter's of France, she made haste to send assuring messages to Cahors. Still Berengere sweetly agonised. Saint-Pol sent her letters full of love and duty, enthusiastic, breathing full arms against her wrongs. But she always replied, 'Count of Saint-Pol, you do me injury in seeking to redress your own. I admit nothing against my lord the King. Many hate him, but I love him. My will is to be meek. Meekness would become you very well also.' Saint-Pol could not think so.
Lastly came the intelligence that King Richard in person was moving south with a great force to win the treasure of Chaluz. The news was true. Not only did he dwell with the nervous persistency of the afflicted upon the wretched gold Caesar, but with clearer political vision saw a chance of subduing all Aquitaine. 'Any stick will do, even Adhemar of Limoges,' he said, not suspecting Saint-Pol's finger in the dish; and told Mercadet to summon the knights, and the knights their array. Before he set out he sent two messengers more—one to Rome, and one much further east. Then he began his warlike preparations with great heart.
OECONOMIC REFLECTIONS OF THE OLD MAN OF MUSSE
Jehane, called Gulzareen, the Golden Rose, had borne three children to the Old Man of Musse. She was suckling the third, and teaching her eldest, the young Fulke of Anjou, his Creed, or as much of it as she could remember, when there came up a herald from Tortosa who bore upon his tabard the three leopards of England. He delivered a sealed letter thus superscribed—
'La tres-haulte et ma tres chere dame, Madame Jehane, Comtesse d'Anjou, de la part le Roy Richard. Hastez tousjours.'
The letter was brought to the Old Man as he sat in his white hail among his mutes.
'Fulness of Light,' said the Vizier, after prostrations, 'here is come a letter from the Melek Richard, sealed, for her Highness the Golden Rose.'
'Give it to me, Vizier,' said the Old Man, and broke the seal, and read—
'Madame, most dear lady, in a very little while I shall be free from my desperate nets; and then you shall be freed from yours. Keep a great heart. After five years of endeavour at last I come quickly.—Richard of Anjou.'
The Old Man sat stroking his fine beard for some time after he had dismissed his Vizier. Looking straight before him down the length of his hail, no sound broke the immense quiet under which he accomplished his meditations of life and death. The Assassins dreaming by the walls breathed freely through their noses.
As a small voice heard from far off in these dreams of theirs, the voice of one calling from a distant height, came his words, 'Cogia ibn Hassan ibn Alnouk, come and hearken.' A slim young man rose, ran forward and fell upon his face before the throne. Once more the faint far cry came floating, 'Bohadin son of Falmy of Balsora, come and hearken'; and another white-robed youth followed Cogia.
'My sons,' said the Old Man, 'the word is upon you. Go to the West for forty days. In the country of the Franks, in the south parts thereof, but north of the great mountains, you shall find the Melek Richard, admirable man, whom Allah longs for. Strike, my sons, but from afar (for not otherwise shall ye dare him), and gain the gates of Paradise and the soft-bosomed women of your dreams. Go quickly, prepare yourselves.' The two young men crawled to kiss his foot; then they went out, and silence folded the hail of audience once more like a wrapping.
Later in the day a slave-girl told Jehane that her master was waiting for her. The baby was asleep in the cradle under a muslin veil; she kissed Fulke, a fine tall boy, six and a half years old, and followed the messenger.
The Old Man embraced her very affectionately, kissed her forehead and raised her from her knees. 'Come and sit with me, beautiful and pious wife, mother of my sons,' said he. 'I have many things to say to you.'
When they were close together on the cushions of the window, Sinan put his arm round her waist, and said, 'For a good and happy marriage, my Gulzareen, it is well that the woman should not love her husband too much, but rather be meek, show obedience to his desires, and alacrity, and give courtesy. The man must love her, and honour that in her which makes her worth, her beauty, to wit, the bounty of her fruitfulness, and her discretion. But for her it is enough that she suffer herself to be loved, and give him her duty in return. The love that seeds in her she shall bestow upon her children. That is how peace of mind grows in the world, and happiness, for without the first there can never be the second. You, my child, have a peaceful mind: is it not so?'
'My lord,' Jehane replied, with no sign of the old discontent upon her red mouth, 'I am at peace. For I have your affection; you tell me that I deserve it. And I give my children love.'
'And you are happy, Jehane?'
She sighed, ever so lightly. 'I should be happy, my lord. But sometimes, even now, I think of King Richard, and pray for him.'
'I believe that you do,' said the Old Man. 'And because I desire your happiness in all things, I desire you to see him again.'
A bright blush flooded Jehane, whose breath also became a trouble. By a quick movement she drew her veil about her, lest he should see her unquiet breast. So the mother of Proserpine might have been startled into new maidenhood when, in her wanderings, some herd had claimed her in love. Her husband watched her keenly, not unkindly. Jehane's trouble increased; he left her alone to fight it. So at last she did; then touched his hand, looking deeply into his face. He, loving her greatly, held her close.
'Well, Joy of my Joy?'
'Lord,' she said, speaking hurriedly and low, 'let me not see him, ask it not of me. It is more than I dare. It is more than would be right; I ask it for his sake, not for mine. For he has a great heart, the greatest heart that ever man had in the world; also he is sudden to change, as I know very well; and the sight of me denied him might move him to a desperate act, as once before it did.' She lowered her head lest he should see all she had to show. He smiled gravely, stroking her hand and playing with it, up and down.
'No, child, no,' he said, 'it will do you no harm now. The harm, I take it, has been done: soon it will be ended. You shall hear from his own lips that he will not hurt you.'
Jehane looked at him in wonder, startled out of confusion of face.
'Do you know more of him than I do, sire?' she asked, with a quick heart.
'I believe that I do,' replied the Old Man; 'and take my word for it, dear child, that I wish him no ill. I wish him,' he continued very deliberately, 'less ill than he has sought to do himself. I wish him most heartily well. And you, my girl, whom I have grown wisely and tenderly to love; you, my Golden Rose, Moon of the Caliph, my stem, my vine, my holy vase, my garden of endless delight—for you I wish, above all things, rest after labour, refreshment and peace. Well, I believe that I shall gain them for you. Go, therefore, since I bid you, and take with you your son Fulke, that his father may see and bless him, and (if he think fit) provide for him after the custom of his own country. And when you have learned, as learn you will, from his mouth what I am sure he will tell you, come back to me, my Pleasant Joy, and rest upon my heart.'
Jehane sighed, and wrought with her fingers in her lap. 'If it must be, sire—'
'Why, of course it must be,' said the Old Man briskly.
He sent her away to the harem with a kiss on her mouth, and had in Cogia, and Bohadin son of Falmy of Balsora. To these two rapt Assassins he gave careful instructions, which there was no mistaking. The Golden Rose, properly attended, would accompany them as far as Marseilles. She would journey on to Pampluna and abide in the court of the King of Navarre (who loved Arabians, as his father before him) until such time as word was brought her by one of them, the survivor, that they had found King Richard, and that he would see her. Then she would set out, attended by the Vizier, the chief of the eunuchs, and the Mother of Flowers, and act as she saw proper.
Very soon after this the galley left the marble quay of Tortosa upon a prosperous voyage through blue water. Jehane, her son Fulke of Anjou, and the other persons named, were in a great green pavilion on the poop. But she saw nothing, and knew nothing, of Cogia ibn Hassan ibn Alnouk or of Bohadin son of Falmy of Balsora.
THE CHAPTER CALLED CHALUZ
When King Richard said, without any confirmatory oath, that he should hang Adhemar of Limoges and the Count of Saint-Pol, all who heard him believed it. The Abbot Milo believed it for one. Figuratively, you can see his hands up as you read him. 'To hang two knights of such eminent degree and parts,' he writes, 'were surely a great scandal in any Christian king. Not that the punishment were undeserved or the executioner insufficient, God knoweth! But very often true policy points out the wisdom of the mean; and this is its deliberative, that to hang a bad man when another vengeance is open—such as burning in his castle, killing on his walls, or stabbing by apparent mistake for a common person—to hang him, I say, suggests to the yet unhanged a way of treating his betters. There are more ways of killing a dog than choking him with butter; and so it is with lords and other rebels against kings. In this particular case King Richard only thought to follow his great father (whom at this time he much resembled): what in the end he did was very different from any act of that monarch's that I ever heard tell of, to remember which makes me weep tears of blood. But so he fully purposed at that time, being in his hottest temper of Yea.'
He said Yea to the hanging of Saint-Pol and Limoges, and made ready a host which must infallibly crush Chaluz were it twenty times prepared. But he said Nay to the sacrifice of Jehane on Lebanon, and to that end increased his arms to overawe all the kingdoms of the South which had sanctioned it. Vanguard, battle and rear, he mustered fifteen thousand men. Des Barres led the van, English bowmen, Norman knights. Battle was his, all arms from Anjou, Poictou, and Touraine. Rearguard the Earl of Leicester took, his viceroy in Aquitaine. When the garrison of Chaluz saw the forested spears on the northern heights, the great engines piled against the sky-line, the train of followers, pennons of the knights, Dragon of England, Leopards of Anjou, the single Lion of Normandy, the wise among them were for instant surrender.
'Here is an empery come out against us!' cried Adhemar. 'If I was not right when I told you that I knew King Richard.'
'The filched empery of a thief,' said Saint-Pol. 'Honesty is ours. I fight for my lady Berengere, the glory of two realms, my sovereign mistress till I die.'
'Vastly well,' returned the other; 'but I do not fight for this lady, but for a gold table with gold dolls sitting at it.' Such also was the reflection of Achard, castellan of Chaluz, looking ruefully at his crazy walls.
* * * * *
Two grassy hills rise, like breasts, out of a rolling plain of grass. Each is crowned with a tower; between them are the church and village of Chaluz, which form a straggling street. Wall and ditch pen in these buildings and tie tower to tower: as Richard saw, it was the easiest thing in the world to cut the line in the middle, isolate, then reduce the towers at leisure. Adhemar saw that too, and got no comfort from it, until it occurred to him that if he occupied one tower and left the other to Saint-Pol, he would be free to act at his own discretion, that is, not act at all against the massed power of England and Anjou. Saint-Pol, you see, fought for the life of Richard, and Adhemar for a gold table, which makes a great difference. He effected this separation of garrisons; however, some show of resistance was made by manning the walls and daring the day with banners.
King Richard went softly to work, as he always ways did when actually hand in hand with war. Warfare was an art to him, neither a sport nor a counter-irritant; he was never impetuous over it. For a week he satisfied himself with a close investiture of the town on all sides. No supplies could get in nor fugitives out. Then, when everything was according to his liking, he advanced his engines, brought forward his towers, set sappers to work, and delivered assault in due form and at the weakest point. He succeeded exquisitely. There was no real defence. The two hill-towers were stranded, Chaluz was his.
He put the garrison to the sword, and set the village on fire. At once Viscount Adhemar and his men surrendered. Richard took the treasure—it was found that the golden Caeesar had no head—and kept his word with the finders, hanging the Viscount and castellan on one gibbet within sight of the other tower. 'Oh, frozen villain,' swore Saint-Pol between his teeth, 'so shalt thou never hang me.' But when he looked about him at his dozen of thin-faced men he believed that if Richard was not to hang him it might be necessary for him to hang himself. More, it came into his mind that there was a hand or two under him which might be anxious to save him the trouble. Being, however, a man of abundant spirit, he laughed at the summons to surrender so long as there was a horse to eat, man to shoot, or arrow for the shooting. As for fire, he believed himself impregnable by that arm; and any day succour might come from the South. Surely his Queen would not throw him to the dogs! Where was Count John if not hastening to win a realm; where King Philip if not hopeful to chastise a vassal? Daily King Richard, in no hurry, but desperately reckless, rode close to the tower and met the hardy eyes of Saint-Pol watching him from the top. Richard was a galliard fighter, as he had always been.
'Come down, Saint-Pol,' he would say, 'and dance with Limoges.'
'When I come down, sire,' the answer would be, 'there will be no dancing in your host.'
Richard took his time, and also intolerable liberties with his life. Milo lost his hair with anxiety, not daring to speak; Gaston of Bearn did dare, but was shaken off by his mad master. Des Barres, who loved him, perhaps, as well as any, never left him for long together, and wore his brain out devising shifts which might keep him away from the walls. But Richard, for this present whim of his, chose out a companion devil as heedless as himself, Mercadet namely, his brown Gascon captain, of like proportions, like mettle, like foolhardiness; and with him made the daily round, never omitting an exchange of grim banter with Saint-Pol. It was terrible to see him, without helm on his head, or reason in it, canter within range of the bow.