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Title: The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician

Author: Edwin Lester Arnold

Author of introduction, etc.: Sir Edwin Arnold

Illustrator: H. M. Paget

Release date: February 6, 2022 [eBook #67345]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1917

Credits: Tim Lindell, SF2001, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This book was produced from images made available by the HathiTrust Digital Library.)

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES OF PHRA THE PHOENICIAN ***

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1)

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (2)

I unsheathed my Saxon sword

See Page 140

Retold by
Edwin Lester Arnold

With an Introduction by
Sir Edwin Arnold, K. C. I. E.

With Fifteen Illustrations by
H. M. Paget

G. P. Putnam’s Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1917

Publisher’s Note.

This is a new edition of an extraordinary and original book, firstpublished many years ago.

The Knickerbocker Press, New York

ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE
I unsheathed my Saxon sword Frontispiece
Slipped a length of twisted cloth over his wicked neck and tightened it with a jerk 12
I gave him the spear as he lowered his head 62
“Die, then!” she yelled; “and may a thousand curses weigh down your souls!” 84
The Princes stood hesitating as I towered before them 110
Stern, inflexible, I frowned upon them 154
“By Abraham! noble Sir, those greaves become your legs!” 182
“I will not trust you!” she screamed 234
Five hundred of us charged boldly ten thousand Frenchmen! 270
Flamaucœur had taken it full in his side 276
Looking gently in the dead girl’s face, was Blodwen—Blodwen—my thousand-years-dead wife288
She proffered it to me 318
He kept those yellow orbs turned upon the garden 364
The great bird was dropping his ivory beak into the sweet chalice 372
Then came the scoundrel Spaniard, his lean, hungry face all drawn and puckered with his wicked passions 446

The Wonderful Adventures
of
Phra the Phoenician

INTRODUCTION

BY SIR EDWIN ARNOLD, K.C.I.E.

In the garden of my Japanese home in Tokyo I havejust perused the last sheets of my son’s philosophicaland historical romance, “Phra the Phœnician.”

Amid other scenes I might be led to analyze, to criticize,perhaps a little to argue about the singular hypothesisupon which he builds his story. Here, witha Buddhist temple at my gate, and with JapaneseBuddhists around me, nothing seems more naturalthan that an author, sufficiently gifted with imaginationand study, should follow his hero beyond the narrowlimits of one little existence, down the chain ofmany lives, taken up link by link, after each longinterval of rest and reward in the Paradise of Jô-Dô.I have read several chapters to my Asiatic friends, andthey say, “Oh, yes! It is ingwa! it is Karma! Thatis all quite true. We, also, have lived many times,and shall live many times more on this earth.” Oneof them opens the shoji to let a purple and silver butterflyescape into the sunshine. She thinks some dayit will thank her—perhaps a million years hence.

Moreover, here is a passage which I lately noted,suggestive enough to serve as preface, even by itself,to the present book. Commenting on a line in my“Song Celestial,” the writer thus remarks: “The humansoul should, therefore, be regarded as alreadyin the present life connected at the same time withtwo worlds, of which, so far as it is confined to personalunity to a body, the material only is clearly felt.It is, therefore, as good as proved, or, to be diffuse,it could easily be proved, or, better still, it will hereafterbe proved (I know not where or when), that thehuman soul, even in this life, stands in indissolublecommunity with all immaterial natures of the spirit-world;that it mutually acts upon them and receivesfrom them impressions, of which, however, as man itis unconscious, as long as all goes well. It is, therefore,truly one and the same subject, which belongs atthe same time to the visible and to the invisible world,but not just the same person, since the representationsof the one world, by reason of its different quality,are not associated with ideas of the other, and,therefore, what I think as spirit is not remembered byme as man.”

I, myself, have consequently taken the stupendouspostulates of Phra’s narrative with equanimity, if notacceptance, and derived from it a pleasure and entertainmenttoo great to express, since the critic, in thiscase, is a well-pleased father.

The author of “Phra” has claimed for Romance theancient license accorded to Poetry and to Painting—

Pictoribus atque poetis

Quidlibet audendi semper fuit æqua potestas.

He has supposed a young Phœnician merchant, fullof the love of adventure, and endowed with a largeand observant if very mystic philosophy—such aswould serve for no bad standpoint whence to witnessthe rise and fall of religions and peoples. The Adventurersets out for the “tin islands,” or Cassiterides,at a date before the Roman conquest of England. Hedies and lives anew many times, but preserves hispersonal identity under the garb of half a dozen transmigrations.And yet, while renewing in each existence[Pg 10]the characteristic passions and sentiments whichconstitute his individuality and preserve the unityof the narrative, the author seems to me to haveadapted him to varying times and places with a vraisemblanceand absence of effort which are extremelyeffective.

A Briton in British days, the slave-consort of hisDruid wife, he passes, by daring but convenient inventiveness,into the person of a Centurion in thehousehold of a noble Roman lady who illustrates inher surroundings the luxurious vices of the latterempire with some relics still of the older Republicanvirtues. Hence he glides again into oblivion, yetwakes from the mystical slumber in time to take partin King Harold’s gallant but fatal stand against theNormans.

He enjoys the repose, as a Saxon thane, which thepolicy of the Conqueror granted to the vanquished;but after some startling adventures in the vast oakwoods of the South kingdom is rudely ousted from hishomestead by the “foreigners,” and in a neighboringmonastery sinks into secular forgetfulness once moreof wife and children, lands and life.

On the return of consciousness he finds himself enshrinedas a saint, thanks to the strange physical phenomenaof his suspended animation, and learns fromthe Abbot that he has lain there in the odor of sanctity,according to indisputable church records, during300 years.

He wanders off again, finding everything new andstrange, and becomes an English knight under KingEdward III. He is followed to Crecy by a damsel,who, from act to act of his long life-drama, similarlyrenews an existence linked with his own, and whoconstantly seeks his love. She wears the armor ofa brother knight, and on the field of battle she sacrificesher life for his.

Yet once more, a long spell of sleep, which is notdeath, brings this much-wandering Phra to the reignof Queen Elizabeth, and it is there, after many andstrange vicissitudes, he writes his experiences, and thecurtain finally falls over the last passage of this remarkablerecord.

Such, briefly, is the framework of the creation which,while it has certainly proved to me extremely seductiveas a story, is full, I think, of philosophical suggestiveness.As long as men count mournfully theyears of that human life which M. Renan has declaredto be so ridiculously short, so long their fancies willhover about the possibility of an elixir vitæ, of splendidlyextended spans like those ascribed to the oldpatriarchs, and meditate with fascination the mysticaldoctrines of Buddhism and the Vedantes. In sucha spirit the Egyptians wrapped their dead in carefulfashion, after filling the body with preservatives; andif ancient tomes have the “Seven Sleepers” of theKoran, the Danish King who dozes under the Castleof Elsinore, and our own undying King Arthur, do wenot go to see “Rip Van Winkle” at the play, and isnot hibernation one among the problems of modernscience which whispers that we might, if we liked, indefinitelyadjourn the waste of corporeal tissue, andspread our seventy or eighty years over ever so manycenturies?

But to be charming, an author is not obliged tobe credible, or what would become of the “ArabianNights,” of “Gulliver,” and of the best books in thelibrary? Personally, I admire and I like “Phra” enormously,and, being asked to pen these few lines byway of introduction, I counsel everybody to read it,forgetting who it is that respectfully offers this adviceuntil the end of the book, when I shall be no longerafraid if they remember.

Tokyo, Japan: April 14, 1890.

The Wonderful Adventures ofPhra the Phœnician

PROLOGUE

Well and truly an inspired mind has written, “Oneman in his time plays many parts,” but surely no otherman ever played so many parts in the course of a singleexistence as I have.

My own narrative seems incredible to me, yet I ammyself a witness of its truth. When I say that I havelived in this England more than one thousand years,and have seen her bud from the callowest barbarityto the height of a prosperity and honor with whichthe world is full, I shall at once be branded as a liar.Let it pass! The accusation is familiar to my ears.I tired of resenting it before your fathers’ fathers wereborn, and the scorn of your offended sense of veracityis less to me than the lisping of a child.

I was, in the very distance of the beginning, a citizenof that ancient city whose dominion once stretchedfrom the blue waters of the Ægean round to and beyondthe broad stream of the Nile herself. Your antiquitieswere then my household gods, your mythswere my beliefs; those facts and fancies on the veryfringe of records about which you marvel were thecommonplace things of my commencement. Yes! andthose dusty relics of humanity that you take withunholy zeal from the silent chambers of sarcophagiand pyramids were my boon companions, the jollyrevelers I knew long ago—the good fellows who drankand sang with me through warm, long-forgotten nights—theywere the great princes to whom I bent an alwaysduteous knee, and the fair damsels who trippedour sunny streets when Sidon existed, and Tyre wasnot a matter of speculation, or laughed at their owndainty reflections, in the golden leisure of that forgottenage, where the black-legged ibis stood sentinelamong the blue lotus-flowers of the temple ponds.

Since then, what have I not done! I have traveledto the corners of the world, and forgotten my ownland in the love of another. I have sat here in Britainat the tables of Roman Centurions, and the last of herSaxon Kings died in my arms. I have sworn hatredof foreign tyrants in the wassail bowls of serfs, andbestrode Norman chargers in tiltyards and battlefields.The kingdoms of the misty western islands which itwas my wonderful fortune to see submerged by alternatetides of conquest, I have seen emerge triumphant,with all their conquerors welded into one. I haveseen more battles than I can easily recall, and war inevery shape; I have enjoyed all sorts of peace, fromthe rudest to the most cultivated.

I have lived, in fact, more than one thousand yearsin this seagirt island of yours; and so strange andgrim and varied have been my experiences that I amtempted to set them down with a melancholy faith inmy own uniqueness. Though it is more than probablefew will believe me, yet for this I care nothing, nordo I especially seek your approval of my labors. I,who have tasted a thousand pleasures, and am hoarywith disappointments, can afford to hold your censureas lightly as I should your commendation.

Here, then, are my adventures, and this is how theycommenced.

CHAPTER I

Regarding the exact particulars of my earliest wanderingsI do confess I am somewhat uncertain. Thismay tempt you to reply that one whose memory is sofar-reaching and capacious as mine will presentlyprove might well have stored up everything that befellhim from his very beginning. All I can say is, thingsare as I set them down; and those facts which you cannotbelieve you must continue to doubt. The firstthirty years of my life, it will be guessed in extenuation,were full of the frailties and shortcomings of anordinary mortal; while those years which followedhave impressed themselves indelibly upon my mind byright of being curious past experience and credibility.

Looking back, then, into the very remote past islike looking upon a country which a low sun at onceilluminates and blurs. I dimly perceive in the goldenhaze of the ancient time a fair city rising, tier upontier, out of the blue waters of the midland sea. Asplendid harbor frames itself out of the mellow uncertainty—aharbor whereof the long white arms arestretched out to welcome the commerce of all theknown world; and under the white fronts, and at thetemple steps of that ancient city, Commerce pouredinto the lap of Luxury every commodity that couldgratify cupidity or minister to human pleasure.

I was young then, no doubt, nor need I say a fool;and very likely the sight of a thousand strange sailsat my father’s door excited my daily wonder, whilethe avarice which recognizes no good fortune in apresent having was excited by the silks and gems, therich stuffs and the gums, the quaint curiosities ofhuman ingenuity and the frolic things of nature, whichwere piled up there. More than all, my imaginationmust have been fired by the sea captains’ tales ofwonder or romance, and, be the cause what it may, Imade up my mind to adventure like them, and carriedout my wilful fancy.

It is a fitting preface to all I have learned since thatmy first real remembrance should be one of vanity.Yet so it was. More than a thousand years ago—I willnot lower my record by a single luster to propitiateyour utmost unbelief—I set out on a first voyage. Itmight be yesterday, so well it comes before me—withmy youthful pride as the spirit of a man was bornwithin, and I felt the strong beat of the fresh saltwaves of the open sea upon my trading vessel’s prow,and knew, as I stood there by her steering-oar, thatshe was stuffed with a hundred bales of purple clothfrom my father’s vats along the shore, and boundwhither I listed. Who could have been prouder thanI?—who could have heard finer songs of freedom inthe merry hum of the warm southern air in the browncordage overhead, or the frothy prattle of the busywater alongside, as we danced that day out of thewhite arms of Tyre, the queenly city of the ancientseas, and saw the young world unfurl before us, fullof magnificent possibilities?

It is not my wish or intention to write of my earlytravels, were it possible. On this voyage (or it maybe on some others that followed, now merged into theassociations of the first) we traded east and west, withadventure and success. The adventure was sureenough, for the great midland sea was then the centerof the world, and what between white-winged argosiesof commerce, the freebooters of a dozen nationswho patroled its bays and corners, and rows of royalgalleys sailing to the conquest of empires, it was alively and perilous place enough. As for the profit,it came quickly to those who opened a hundred virginmarkets in the olden days.

We sailed into the great Egyptian river up to Heliopolis,bartering stuffs for gold-dust and ivory; atanother time we took Trinacrian wine and orangesinto Ostia—a truly magnificent port, with incrediblecapacities for all the fair and pleasant things of life.Then we sailed among the beautiful Achaian islandswith corn and olives; and so, profiting everywhere, welived, for long, a jolly, uncertain life, full of hardshipand pleasure.

For the most part, we hugged the coasts and avoidedthe open sea. It was from the little bays, whosemouths we thus crossed, that the pirates we greatlydreaded dropped down upon merchantmen, like falconsfrom their perches. When they took a vessel that resisted,the crew, at those rough hands, got scant mercy.I have come across a galley drifting idly before thewind, with all her crew, a grim row of skeletons, hangingin a row along her yard, and swinging this wayand that, and rattling drearily against the sail andeach other in melancholy unison with the listless wallowof their vessel. At another time, a Roman triremefell upon a big pirate of Melita and stormed and capturedher. The three hundred men on board were toougly and wicked to sell, so the Romans drove themoverboard like sheep, and burned the boat. When wesailed over the spot at sundown the next day she wasstill spluttering and hissing, with the water lappingover the edge of her charred side, and round amongthe curls of yellow smoke overhead a thousand gullswere screeching, while a thousand more sat, gorgedand stupid, upon the dead pirates. Not for manynights did we forget the evil picture of retribution,and how the setting sun flooded the sea with blood,and how the dead villains, in all their horror, swirledabout in twos and threes in that crimson light, andfell into our wake, drawn by the current, and camejostling and grinning, and nodding after us, thoughwe made all sail to outpace them, in a gloomy processionfor a mile or so.

It often seemed to me in those days there were morefreebooters afloat than honest men. At times we ranfrom these, at times we fought them, and again wewould give a big marauder a share of cargo to save theship from his kindred who threatened us. It was adangerous game, and one never knew, on rising, wherehis couch would be at night, nor whether the prosperousmerchant of the morning might not be the nakedslave of the evening, storing his own wealth in a robbercave under the lash of some savage sea tyrant.

Yet even these cruel rovers did me a good turn. Wewere short of water, and had run down along a lonelycoast to a green spring we knew of to fill water-buttsand skins. When we let go in the little inlet where thewell was to be found, another vessel, and, moreover,a pirate, lay anchored before us. However, we wereconsciously virtuous, and, what was of more consideration,a larger vessel and crew than the other, sowe went ashore and made acquaintance round thefresh water with as villainous a gang of sea-robbersas ever caused the blood of an honest trader to runcold in his veins. The very air of their neighborhoodsmelled so of treachery and cruelty we soon had butone thought—to load up and be gone.

But this was a somewhat longer process than wewished, as our friends had baled the little spring dry,and we had to wait its refilling. While we did so, Istrolled over to a group of miserable slaves turnedout for an airing, and cowering on the black and shadelessrocks. There were in that abject group captivesfrom every country that fared upon those seas, andsome others besides. The dusky peasant of Bœotia,that fronts the narrow straits, wrung her hands bythe fair-cheeked girl snapped up from the wide Gulfof Narbo; the dark Numidian pearl-fisher cursed hispatron god; and the tall Achaian from the manyislands of Peloponnesian waters gritted his teeth as hecowered beneath his rags and bemoaned the fate thatthrew him into the talons of the sea-hawks.

I looked upon them with small interest, for new-takenslaves were no great sight to me, until I chanced,a little way from the others, upon such a captive asI had rarely or never seen. She struck me at onceas being the fiercest and most beautiful creature thatmortal eyes had ever lit upon. Never was Umbrianor Iberian girl like that; never was Cyprian Aphroditeserved by a maid so pink and white. Her hair wasfiery red gold, gleaming in the sunshine like the locksof the young goddess Medusa. Her face was of ruddyivory, and her native comeliness gleamed through theunwashed dust and tears of many long days andnights. Her eyes were as blue under her shaggy wildhair as the sky overhead, and her body—grimy underits sorrow-stains—was still as fair as that of somedainty princess.

Knowing the pirate captain would seek a long pricefor his property, I determined to use a little persuasionwith him. I went back to my men, and sent oneof them, proficient in the art of the bowstring, to lookat the slaves. Then I drew the unsuspecting scoundrelup there for a bargain, and, well out of sight of hisgang, we faced the red-haired girl and discussed herprice. The rascal’s first figure was three hundred ofyour modern pounds, a sum which would then havefetched the younger daughter of a sultan, full of virtueand accomplishments. As this girl very likely hadneither one nor the other, I did not see why it wasnecessary to pay so much, and, stroking my beard, inan agreed signal, with my hand, as my man was passingbehind the old pirate, he slipped a length of twistedcloth over his wicked neck and tightened it with ajerk that nearly started the eyes from his head, andbrought him quickly to his knees.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (3)

Slipped a length of twisted cloth over his wicked neck and tightenedit with a jerk

“Now, delicately-minded one,” I said, “I don’t wantto fight you and your crew for this maid here, onwhom I have set my heart, but you know we arenumerous and well armed, so let us have a peacefuland honest bargain. Give me a fairer price,” and, obedientto my signal, the band was loosened.

“Not a sesterce will I take off,” spluttered thewretch, “not a drachma, not an ounce!”

“Come! come! think again,” I said, persuasively,“and the cloth shall help you.” Thereon, another turnwas taken, and my henchman turned his knucklesinto the nape of the swarthy villain’s neck until theveins on his forehead stood out like cordage and theblood ran from his nose and eyes.

In a minute the rover threw up his hands and signedhe had enough, and when he got his breath we foundhe had knocked off a hundred pounds. We gave himthe cord again, and brought him down, twist by twist,to fifty. By this time he was almost at his last gasp,and I was contented, paying the coins out on a rockand leaving them there, with the rogue well bound.I was always honest, though, as became the times, atrifle hard at bargains.

Then I cut the red maid loose and took her by theelbow and led her down to the beach, where we weresecretly picked up by my fellows, and shortly afterwardwe set sail again for the open main.

Thus was acquired the figure-head of my subsequentadventures—the Siren who lured me to thatcoast where I have lived a thousand years and more.

It was the inscrutable will of Destiny that thoseshining coins I paid down on the bare, hot Africanrock should cost me all my wealth, my cash and creditat many ports, and that that fair slave, who I deemedwould serve but to lighten a voyage or two, shouldmock my forethought, and lead my fate into the strangestpaths that ever were trodden by mortal foot.

In truth, that sunny virago bewitched me. She combinedsuch ferocity with her grace, and was so patheticin her reckless grief at times, that I, the immovable,was moved, and softened the rigor of her mischanceas time went on so much as might be. At once, onthis, like some caged wild creature, which forgivesto one master alone the sorrows of captivity, she softenedto me; and before many days were over she hadbathed, and, discarding her rags for a length or twoof cloth, had tied up her hair with a strand of ribbonshe found, and, looking down at her reflection in avessel of water (her only mirror, for we carried womenbut seldom), she smiled for the first time.

After this, progress was rapid, and, though at firstwe could only with difficulty make ourselves understood,yet she soon picked up something of the Southerntongue from me, while I very fairly acquired theBritish language of this comely tutoress. Of her Ilearned she was of that latter country, where her fatherwas a chief; how their coast village had been surprisedby a Southern rover’s foray; she knew not how manyof the people slain, or made captive, and herself carriedoff. Afterward she had fallen into the hands ofother pirates by an act of sea barter, and they weretaking her to Alexandria, hoping, as I guessed, inthat luxurious city to obtain a higher price than inthe ordinary markets of Gaul or Italy.

What I heard of Britain from these warm lipsgreatly fired my curiosity, and, after touching at severalports and finding trade but dull, chance clenchedmy resolution.

We had sailed northward with a cargo of dates,and on the sixth day ran in under the high promontoryof Massilia, which you moderns call Marseilles. HereI rid myself of my fruit at a very good profit, and,after talking to a brother merchant I met by chanceupon the quay, fully determined to load up with oil,wine, stuffs, and such other things as he recommended,and sail at once for Britain.

Little did I think how momentous this hasty decisionwould be! It was brought about partly as Ihave explained, and partly by the interest which justthen that country was attracting. All the weaponsand things of Britain were then in good demand: notin and gold, the smiths roundly swore, were like theBritish; no furs in winter, the Roman ladies vowed,were so warm as those; while no patrician from Tarentumto the Tiber held his house well furnished unlessa red-haired slave-girl or two from that remote placeidled, sad and listlessly, in his painted porticoes.

In these slaves there was a brisk and increasingtraffic. I went into the market that ran just alongthe inner harbor one day, and saw there an amplesupply of such curious goods suitable for every need.

All down the middle of a wide street rough boothsof sailcloth had been run up, and about and beforethese crouched slaves of every age and condition.There were old men and young men—fierce and wild-lookingbarbarians, in all truth—some with the raw,red scars on chest and limbs they had taken a fewweeks before in a last stand for liberty, and somegroaning in the sickness that attended the slaver’slash and their condition.

There were lank-haired girls, submitting with sullenhate to the appraising fingers of purchasers laughingand chatting in Latin or Gaulish, as they dealt withthem no more gently than a buyer deals with sheepwhen mutton is cheap. Mothers again—sick and travel-stainedthemselves—were soothing the unkempt littleones who cowered behind them and shrank from everyRoman footstep as the quails shrink from a kestrel’sshadow. Some of these children were very flowersof comeliness, though trodden into the mire of misfortune.I bought a little girl to attend upon herupon my ship, who, though she wore at the time butone sorry cloth, and was streaked with dirt and dust,had eyes clear as the southern sky overhead, and hairthat glistened in uncared-for brightness upon hershoulders like a tissue of golden threads. Her motherwas loth to part with her, and fought like a tigerwhen we separated them. It was only after the dealer’slash had cut a dozen red furrows into her back,and a bystander had beat her on the head with theflat of his sword, that she gave in and swooned, and Iled the weeping little one away.

So we loaded up again with Easter nothings, suchas the barbarians might be supposed to like, and ina few weeks started once more. We sailed down thegreen coast of Hispania, through the narrow watersof Herculis Fretum, and then, leaving the undulatinghills of that pleasant strait behind, turned northwardthrough the long waves of the black outer sea.

For many days we rolled up a sullen and dangerouscoast, but one morning our pilot called me from mybreakfast of fruit and millet cakes, and, pointing overthe green expanse, told me yonder white surf on theright was breaking on the steep rocks of Armorica,while the misty British shore lay ahead.

So I called out Blodwen the slave, and told her tosnuff the wind and find what it had to say. She knewonly too well, and was vastly delighted, wistfullyscanning the long gray horizon ahead, and being besideherself with eagerness.

We steered westwardly toward the outer islands,called Cassiterides, where most of our people collectedand bought their tin, but we were fated not to reachthem. On the morrow so fierce a gale sprang out ofthe deep we could by no means stand against it, butturned and fled through the storm, and over such aterrible expanse of mighty billows as I never saw thelike of.

To my surprise, my girl thought naught of the windand sea, but came constantly to the groaning bulwarks,where the angry green water swirled andgleamed like a caldron, and, holding on by a shroud,looked with longing but familiar eyes at the ruggedshore we were running down. At one time I saw hersmile to recognize, close in shore, and plunging heavilytoward some unknown haven, half a dozen of her ownnative fisher-boats. Later on, Blodwen brightened upeven more as the savage cliffs of the west gave wayto rolling downs of grass, and when these, as we fledwith the sea-spume, grew lower, and were here andthere clothed with woods, and little specks amongthem of cornfields, she shouted with joy, and, leapingdown from the tall prow, where she had stood, indifferentto the angry thunder of the bursting surgesupon our counter, and the sting and rattle of the whitespray that flew up to the swinging yard every timewe dropped into the bosom of the angry sea, she saidexultingly, with her face red and gleaming in a saltwet glaze, she could guide us to a harbor if we would.

I was by this time a little sick at heart for the safetyof all my precious things in bales and boxes below,and something like the long invoice of them I knewso well rose in my throat every time we sank with ahorrible sinking into one of those shadowy valleysbetween the hissing crests—so I nodded. Blodwenat once made the helmsman draw nearer the coast.By the time we had approached the shore within amile or so the white squalls were following each otherfast, while heavy columns of western rain were careeringalong the green sea in many tall, spectralforms. But nothing cared that purchase of mine. Shehad gone to the tiller, and, like some wild goddess ofthe foam, stood there, her long hair flying on the wetsea wind, and her fierce, bright eyes aglow with pleasureand excitement as she scanned the white rampartsof the coast down which we were hurtling. She wasoblivious of the swarthy seamen, who eyed her withwonder and awe; oblivious of the white bed of frothwhich boiled and flashed all down the rim of our dippinggunwale; and equally indifferent to the heavyrain that smoked upon our decks, and made our strainingsails as hard and stiff as wood.

Just as the great shore began to loom over us, andI sorely doubted my wisdom in sailing these unknownwaters with such a pilot, she gave a scream of pleasure—anexulting, triumphant note that roused a sympatheticchorus in the piping wild fowl overhead—and,following the point of her finger, we saw the solidrampart of cliffs had divided, and a little estuary wasopening before us.

Round went our felucca to the imperious gestureof that girl, and, gripping the throbbing tiller overthe hands of the strong steersman, aglow with excitement,yet noting everything, while the swart brownsailors shouted at the humming cordage, she took usdown through an angry caldron of sea and over afoaming bar (where I cursed, in my haste, every ounceI had spent upon her) into the quieter waters beyond;and when, a few minutes later—reeking with saltspray, but safe and sound—we slowly rolled in withthe making tide to a secure, landlocked haven, thatbrave girl left the rudder, and, going forward, gaveone look at the opening valley, which I afterward knewwas her strangely recovered home, and then her fairhead fell upon her arms, and, leaning against the mast,under the tent of her red hair, she burst into a passionatestorm of tears.

She soon recovered, and stealing a glance at me asshe wiped her lids with the back of her hands, to noteif I were angry, her feminine perception found my eyesgave the lie to the frown upon my forehead, so sheput on some extra importance (as though the air ofthe place suited her dignity), and resumed commandof the ship.

Well! There is much to tell, so it must be toldbriefly. We sailed into a fair green estuary, withwoods on either hand dipping into the water and noddingtheir own glistening reflections, until we turneda bend and came upon a British village down by theedge. There were, perhaps, two hundred huts scatteredround the slope of a grassy mound, upon topof which was a stockade of logs and mud walls encompassinga few better-built houses. Canoes andbigger boats were drawn up on the beach, and nakedchildren and dogs were at play along the margin;while women and some few men were grinding cornand fashioning boat-gear.

As our sails came round the headland, with onesingle accord the population took to flight, flung downtheir meal-bags and tools, tumbling over each otherin their haste, and, yelling and scrambling, theystreamed away to the hill.

This amused Blodwen greatly, and she let themrun until the fat old women of the crowd had sortedthemselves out into a panting rear guard halfway up,and the long-legged youngsters were already scramblingover the barrier; then, with her hand over hermouth, she exerted her powerful voice in a long, wailingsignal cry. The effect was instantaneous. Thecrowd stopped, hesitated, and finally came scramblingdown again to the beach; and, after a little parley,being assured of their good-will, and greatly urgedby Blodwen, we landed, and were soon overwhelmedin a throng of wondering, jostling, excited British.

But it was not me to whom they thronged, but ratherher; and such wonder and surprise, broadening slowlyin joy as she, with her nimble woman’s tongue, answeredtheir countless questions, I never witnessed.At last they set up yelling and shouting, and, seizingher, dragged and carried her in a tumultuous processionup the zigzag into the fortalice.

Blodwen had come home—that was all; and froma slave girl had blossomed into a Princess!

Never before was there such a yelling and chatteringand blowing of horns and beating of shields. Whilemessengers rushed off down the woodland paths torouse the country, the villagers crowded round meand my men, and, having by the advice of one of theirelders, relinquished their first intention of cutting allour throats in the excess of their pleasure, treated usvery handsomely, feeding and feasting the crew tothe utmost of their capacity.

I, as you will suppose, was ill at ease for my fairbarbarian who had thus turned the tables upon me,and in whose power it was impossible not to recognizethat we now lay. How would the slave Princess treather captive master? I was not long in doubt. Hermessenger presently touched me on the shoulder asI sat, a little rueful, on a stone apart from my rollickingmen, and led me through that prehistoric villagestreet up the gentle slope and between the oak-logbarrier into the long, low dwelling that was atonce the palace and the citadel of the place.

Entering, I found myself in a very spacious hall,effective in its gloomy dignity. All round the threestraight sides the massive walls were hidden in draperyof the skins and furs of bear, wolf, and deer, andover these were hung in rude profusion light roundshields embossed with shining metal knobs, javelins,and boar spears, with a hundred other implements ofwar or woodcraft. Below them stood along the wallsrough settles, and benches with rougher tables, enoughto seat, perhaps, a hundred men. At the crescent-shapedend of the hall, facing the entrance door, wasa daïs—a raised platform of solid logs closely placedtogether and covered with skins—upon which a massiveand ample chair stood, also of oak, and wonderfullyfashioned and carved by the patient labor ofmany hands.

Nigh it were a group of women, and one or twowhite-robed Druids, as these people call their priests.But chief among them was she who stepped forthto meet me, clad (for her first idea had been to changeher dress) in fine linen and fair furs—how, I scarcelyknow, save that they suited her marvelously. Finechains of hammered gold were about her neck, ashining gorget belt set with a great boss of nativepearls upon her middle, and her two bare white armsgleamed like ivory under their load of bracelets ofyellow metal and prismatic pearl shell that clankedharmoniously to her every movement. But the airshe put on along with these fine things was equallybecoming, and she took me by the hand with an affectionatecondescension, while, turning to her people,she briefly harangued them, running glibly over myvirtues, and bestowing praise upon the way in whichI had “rescued and restored her to her kindred,” until,so gracefully did she pervert the truth, I felt a blushof unwonted virtue under my callous skin; and whenthey acclaimed me friend and ally, I stood an inchtaller among them to find myself of such unexpectedworth—one tall Druid alone scowling on me evilly.

For long that pleasant village by the shallow watersremembered the coming of Blodwen to her own. Herkinsmen had all been slain in the raid of the sea-roverswhich brought about her captivity, and thus—thesuccession to headship and rule being very strictlyobserved among the Britons—she was elected, afteran absence of six months, to the oak throne and theheadship of the clan with an almost unbroken accord.But that priest, Dhuwallon, her cousin, and next belowher in birth, scowled again to see her seated there,and hated me, I saw, as the unconscious thwarter ofhis ambition.

Those were fine times, and the Princess bought mycargo of wine and oil and Southern things, distributingit to all that came to pay her homage, so that for dayswe were drunk and jolly. Fires gleamed on twentyhilltops round about, and the little becks ran red downto the river with the blood of sheep and bullocksslaughtered in sacrifice; and the foot-tracks in thewoods were stamped into highways; and the fordsran muddy to the ocean; and the grass was worn away;and birds and beasts fled to quieter thickets; andfishes swam out to the blue sea; and everything waseaten up, far and wide; that time my fair slave girlfirst put her foot upon the daïs and prayed to themanes of her ancestors among the oak trees.

CHAPTER II

Nothing whatever have I to say against Blodwen,the beautiful British Princess, and many months wespent there happily in her town: and she bore a son,for whom the black priest, at the accursed inspirationof his own jealous heart and thwarted hopes, readout an evil destiny, to her great sorrow.

Going down one morning to the shore, somewhatsad and sorry, for the inevitable time of parting wasnear, my ship lying ready loaded by the beach, Irubbed my eyes again and again to see that the feluccahad gone from the little inlet where she had lain solong. Nor was comfort at hand when, rushing to apromontory commanding a better view, to my horrorthere shone the golden speck of her sail in the morningsunlight on the blue rim of the most distant sea.

I have often thought, since, the crafty Princess hada hand in this desertion. She was so ready with hercondolence, so persuasive that I should “bide the winterand leave her in the spring” (the which was saidwith her most detaining smile), that I could not thinkthe catastrophe took my gentle savage much by surprise.

I yielded, and the long black winter was wornthrough among the British, until, when the yellowlight came back again, I had married Blodwen beforeall the tribe and was rich by her constant favor, nor,need it be said, more loth than ever to leave her. Intruth, she was a good Princess, but very variable.Blodwen the chieftainess urging her clansmen to atribal fight, red hot with the strong drink of war, orreeking with the fumes and cruelty of a bloody sacrificeto Baal, was one thing; and, on the other hand,Blodwen tending with the rude skill of the day herkinsmen’s wounds, Blodwen the daughter, weepinggracious, silent tears in the hall of her fathers as theminstrels chanted their praises, or humming a dittyto the listening, blue-eyed little one upon her knee—hischeek to hers—was all another sight; and I lovedher better than I have ever loved any of those otherwomen who have loved me since.

But sterner things were coming my erratic way. Theproud Roman Eagle, having in these years long tyrannizedover fertile Gaul, must needs swoop down onour brothers along that rocky coast of Armorica thatfaces our white shore, carrying death and destructionamong our kinsmen as the peregrines in the cliffs harrythe frightened seamews.

Forthwith the narrow waters were black with ourhide-sailed boats rushing to succor. But it was useless.Who could stand against the Roman? Our mencame back presently—few, wounded, and crestfallen,with long tales of the foeman’s deadly might by seaand shore.

Then, a little later on, we had to fight for ourselves,through scantily we had expected it. Early one autumna friendly Veneti came over from Gaul and warned theSouthern Princes the stern Roman Consul Cæsar wascollecting boats and men to invade us. At once onthis news were we all torn by diverse counsels andjealousies, and Blodwen hung in my arms for a tearfulspace, and then sent me eastward with a few men—allshe could spare from watching her own dangerousneighbors—to oppose the Roman landing; while thepriest Dhuwallon, though exempt by his order frommilitary service, followed, sullen, behind my warlikeclansmen.

We joined other bodies of British, until by the beginningof the harvest month we had encamped alongthe Kentish downs in very good force, though disunited.Three days later, at dawn, came in a runnerwho said that Cæsar was landing to the westward—howI wished that traitor lie would stick in his falsethroat and choke him!—and thither, bitterly againstmy advice, went nearly all our men.

Even now it irks me to tell this story. While thenext young morning was still but a yellow streak uponthe sea, our keen watchers saw sails coming from thepale Gaulish coast, and by the time the primrose portalsof the day were fully open, the water was coveredwith them from one hand to the other.

In vain our recalling signal-fires smoked. A thousandscythed chariots and four thousand men wereaway, and by noon the great Consul’s foremost galleytook the British ground where the beach shelved upto the marshy flats, which again rose, through coppicesand dingles, to our camp on the overhanginghills. Another and another followed, all throngedwith tawny stalwart men in brass and leather. Whatcould we do against this mighty fleet that came headlongupon us, rank behind rank, the white water flashingin tangled ribbons from their innumerable prows,and the dreaded symbols of Roman power gleamingfrom every high-built stern?

We rushed down, disorderly, to meet them, theDruids urging us on with song and sacrifice, andwaded into the water to our waists, for we were ascourageous as we were undisciplined, and they hesitatedfor some seconds to leave their lurching boats.I remember at this moment, when the fate of a kingdomhung in the balance, down there jumped a Centurion,and waving a golden eagle over his head, drewhis short sword, and calling out that “he at least woulddo his duty to the Republic,” made straight for me.

Brave youth! As he rushed impetuous through thewater my ready javelin took him true under the gildedplate that hung upon his chest, and the next waverolled in to my feet a lifeless body lapped in a shroudof crimson foam.

But now the legionaries were springing out far andnear, and fighting hand to hand with the skin-cladBritish, who gave way before them slowly and stubbornly.Many were they who died, and the floatingcorpses jostled and rolled about among us as weplunged and fought and screamed in the shallow tide,and beat on the swarming, impervious golden shieldsof the invaders.

Back to the beach they drove us, hand to hand andfoot to foot, and then, with a long shout of triumphthat startled the seafowl on the distant cliffs, theypushed us back over the shingles ever farther fromthe sea, that idly sported with our dead—back, in spiteof all we could do, to the marshland.

There they formed, after a breathing space, in thelong, stern line that had overwhelmed a hundred nations,and charged us like a living rampart of steel.And as the angry waves rush upon the immovablerocks, so rushed we upon them. For a moment or twothe sun shone upon a wild uproar, the fierce contentionof two peoples breast to breast, a glitter of capsand javelins, splintered spears and riven shields, allflashing in the wild dust of war that the RomanEagle loved so well. And then the Britons parted intoa thousand fragments and reeled back, and were trampledunder foot, and broke and fled!

Britain was lost!

Soon after this all the coppices and pathways werethronged with our flying footmen. Yet Dhuwallonand I, being mounted, had lingered behind the rest,galloping hither and thither over the green levels, tryingto get some few British to stand again; but presentlyit was time to be gone. The Romans, in fullpossession of the beach, had found a channel, anddrawn some boats up to the shelving shore. They haddropped the hinged bulwarks, and, with the help of aplank or two, had already got out some of their twentyor thirty chargers. On to these half a dozen eageryoung patricians had vaulted, and, I and Dhuwallonbeing conspicuous figures, they came galloping downat us. We, on our lighter steeds, knowing every pathand gully in the marshlands, should have got awayfrom them like starlings from a prowling sheepdog;but treachery was in the black heart of that highpriest at my elbow, and a ravening hatred which knewneither time nor circ*mstance.

It was just at the scraggy foothills, and the shoutingCenturions were close behind us; the last of ourfighters had dashed into the shelter ahead, and I wasgalloping down a grassy hollow, when the cowardshearer of mistletoe came up alongside. I looked notat him, but over my other shoulder at the red plumesof the pursuers dancing on the sky-line. All in aninstant something sped by me, and, shrieking in pain,my horse plunged forward, missed his footing, androlled over into the long autumn grass, with the scoundrelpriest’s last javelin quivering in his throat. Iheard that villain laugh as he turned for a momentto look back, and then he vanished into the screen ofleaves.

Amazed and dizzy, I staggered to my feet, pushedback the long hair and the warm running blood frommy eyes, and, grasping my sword, waited the onsetof the Romans. They rode over me as though I werea shock of ripe barley in August, and one of them,springing down, put his foot to my throat and madeto kill me.

“No, no, Fabrius!” said another Centurion from theback of a white steed. “Don’t kill him! He will bemore useful alive.”

“You were always tender-hearted, Sempronius Faunus,”grumbled the first one, reluctantly taking hisheel from me and giving permission to rise with a kickin the side. “What are you going to do with him?Make him native Prefect of these marshes, eh?”

“Or, perhaps,” put in another gilded youth, whosesword itched to think it was as yet as innocent of bloodas when it came from its Tuscany smithy—“perhapsSempronius is going to have a private procession ofhis own when he gets back to the Tiber, and wishesearly to collect prisoners for his chariot-tail.”

Disregarding their banter, the Centurion Sempronius,who was a comely young fellow, and seemed justthen extremely admirable in person and principles tome, mounted again, and, pointing with his short swordto the shore, bid me march, speaking the Gallic tongue,and in a manner there was no gainsaying.

So I was a prisoner to the Romans, and they boundme, and left me lying for ten hours under the sideof one of their stranded ships, down by the melancholyafternoon sea, still playing with its dead men, androlling and jostling together in its long green fingersthe raven-haired Etrurian and the pale, white-facedCelt. Then, when it was evening, they picked me up,and a low plebeian, in leather and brass, struck mein the face when, husky and spent with fighting, Iasked for a cup of water. They took me away throughtheir camp, and a mile down the dingles, where theRoman legionaries were digging fosses and makingtheir camp in the ruddy flicker of watch-fires, underthe British oaks, to a rising knoll.

Here the main body of the invaders were lying ina great crescent toward the inland, and crowning thehillock was a scarp, where a rough pavilion of skins,and sails from the vessels on the beach, had beenerected.

As we approached this all the noise and laughterdied out of my guard, who now moved in perfect silence.A bowshot away we halted, and presently Semproniuswas seen backing out of the tent with an airof the greatest diffidence. Seizing me by my manacledarms, he led me to it. At the very threshold he whisperedin my ear:

“Briton, if you value that tawny skin of yours Isaved this morning, speak true and straight to himwho sits within,” and without another word he thrustme into the rough pavilion. At a little table, darkwith usage, and scarred with campaigning, a man wassitting, an ample toga partly hiding the close-fittingleather vest he wore beneath it. His long and nervousfingers were urging over the tablets before him astylus with a speed few in those days commanded,while a little earthenware lamp, with a flickering wickburning in the turned-up spout, cast a wavering lightupon his thin, sharp-cut features—the imperiousmouth that was shut so tight, and the strong lines ofhis dark, commanding face.

He went on writing as I entered, without lookingup; and my gaze wandered round the poor walls of histent, his piled-up arms in one place, his truckle bedin another, there a heap of choice British spoil, flags,and symbols, and weapons, and there a foreign case,half opened, stocked with bags of coins and vellumrolls. All was martial confusion in the black andyellow light of that strange little chamber, and as Iturned back to him I felt a shock run through me tofind the blackest and most piercing pair of eyes thatever shone from a mortal head fixed upon my face.

He rose, and, with the lamp in his hand, surveyedme from top to toe.

“Of the Veneti?” he said, in allusion to my dark un-Britishhair, and I answered “No.”

“What, then?”

I told him I was a knight just now in the serviceof the British King.

“How many of your men opposed us to-day?” wasthe next question.

“A third as many as you brought with you whereyou were not invited.”

“And how many are there in arms behind the downsand in this southern country?”

“How many pebbles are there on yonder beach?How many ears of corn did we pull last harvest?” Ianswered, for I thought I should die in the morning,and this made me brave and surly.

He frowned very blackly at my defiance, but curbing,I could see, his wrath, he put the lamp on thetable, and, after a minute of communing with himself,he said, in a voice over which policy threw a thinveil of amiability:

“Perhaps, as a British knight and a good soldier,I have no doubt you could speak better with yourhands untied?”

I thanked him, replying that it was so; and he cameup, freeing, with a beautiful little golden stiletto hewore in his girdle, my wrists. This kindly, slight actof soldierly trust obliged me to the Roman general,and I answered his quick, incisive questions in theGaulish tongue as far as honestly might be. He gotlittle about our forces, finding his prisoner more effusivein this quarter than communicative. Once ortwice, when my answers verged on the scornful, I sawthe imperious temper and haughty nature at strifewith his will in that stern, masterful face and thosekeen black eyes.

But when we spoke of the British people I couldsatisfy his curious and many questions about themmore frankly. Every now and then, as some answerinterested him, he would take a quick glance at me,as though to read in my face whether it were the truthor not, and, stopping by his little table, he would jotdown a passage on the wax, scan it over, and inquireof something else. Our life and living, wars, religions,friendships, all seemed interesting to this acute gentlemanso plainly clad, and it was only when we hadbeen an hour together, and after he had clearly gotfrom me all he wished, that he called the guard anddismissed me, bidding Sempronius, in Latin, whichthe General thought I knew not, to give me food anddrink, but keep me fast for the present.

Sempronius showed the utmost deference to the littleman in the toga and leather jerkin, listening withbent head, and backing from his presence; while Ibut roughly gave him thanks for my free hands, andstalked out after my jailer with small ceremony.

Once in the starlight, and out of earshot, the Centurionsaid to me, with a frown:

“Briton, I feel somewhat responsible for you, andI beg, the next time you leave that presence, not tocarry your head so high or turn that wolf-skinned backof yours on him so readily, or I am confident I shallhave orders to teach you manners. Did you cast yourselfdown when you entered?”

“Not I.”

“Jove! And did not kneel while you spoke to him?”

“Not once,” I said.

“Now, by the Sacred Flame! do you mean to sayyou stood the whole time as I found you, towering inyour ragged skins, your bare, braceleted arms uponyour chest, and giving Cæsar back stare for stare inhis very tent?”

“Who?”

“Cæsar himself. Why, who else? Cæsar, whoseword is life and death from here to the Apennines;who is going to lick up this country of yours as a hungrybeggar licks out a porringer. Surely you knewthat he to whom you spoke so freely was our master,the great Prætor himself!”

Here was an oversight. I might have guessed somuch; but, full of other things, I had never supposedthe little man was anything but a Roman generalsent out to harry and pursue us. Strange ideasrose at once, and while the Tyrian in me was awe-struckby the closeness of my approach to a famousand dreaded person, the Briton moaned at a goldenopportunity lost to unravel, by one bold stroke—astroke of poniard, of burning brand from the fire,of anything—the net that was closing over this unfortunateisland.

So strong rose these latter regrets at having hadCæsar, the unwelcome, the relentless, within arms’length, and having let him go forth with his indomitableblood still flowing in his lordly veins, that Istopped short, clapped my hand upon my swordlessscabbard, and made a hasty stride back to the tent.

At once the ready Sempronius was on me like awild cat, and with two strong legionaries bore me tothe ground and tied me hand and foot. They carriedme down to the camp, and there pitched me under arock, to reflect until dawn on the things of a disastrousday.

But by earliest twilight the bird had flown! Atmidnight, when the tired soldiers slept, I chafed myhempen bonds against a rugged angle of earth-embeddedstone, and in four hours was free, risingsilently among the snoring warriors and passing intothe forest as noiselessly as one of those weird blackshadows that the last flashes of their expiring camp-firesmade at play on the background of the woods.

I stole past their outmost pickets while the firstflush of day was in the east, and, then, in the open,turned me to my own people and ran, like a hind toher little one, over the dewy grasslands and throughthe spangled thickets, scaring the conies at their earliestmeal, and frightening the merles and mavis erethey had done a bar of their matin songs, throwingmyself down in the tents of my kinsmen just as theround sun shone through the close-packed oak trunks.

But, curse the caitiff fools who welcomed me there!It would have been far better had I abided Cæsar’sanger, or trusted to that martial boy, SemproniusFaunus!

The British churls, angry and sullen at their defeatof yesterday, were looking for a victim to bear theburden of their wrongs. Now the priest Dhuwallon,who had turned livid with fear and anger when I hadcome back unharmed from the hands of the enemy,with a ready wit which was surely lent him from hell,saw he might propitiate the Britons and gratify hisown ends by one more coward trick to be played atmy expense. I do not deny his readiness, or grudgehim aught, yet I hate him, even now, from the bottomof my heart, with all that fierce old anger whichthen would have filled me with delight and pride ifI could have had his anointed blood smoking in therunnels of my sword.

Well. It was his turn again. He procured falsewitnesses—not a difficult thing for a high priest inthat discontented camp—and by midday I was boundonce more, and before the priests and chiefs as atraitor and Roman spy.

What good was it for me to stand up and tell thetruth to that gloomy circle while the angry crowdoutside hungered for a propitiary sacrifice? In vainI lied with all the resources I could muster, and invain, when this was fruitless, denounced that pale villain,my accuser. When I came to tell of his treacheryin killing my horse the day before, and leavingme to be slain by the enemy, I saw I was but addingslander, in the judges’ eyes, to my other crimes. WhenI declared I was no Roman, but a Briton—an agedfool, his long, white locks fileted with oak leaves, rosesilently and held a polished brass mirror before me,and by every deity in the Northern skies I must ownmy black hair and dusky face were far more Romanthan native.

So they found me guilty, and sentenced me to beoffered up to Baal next morning, before the army, asa detected spy.

When that silvery dawn came it brought no reliefor respite, for the laws of the Druids, which enjoinedslow and deliberate judgments, forbade the alteringof a sentence once pronounced. It was as fine a dayas could be wished for their infernal ceremonial, withthe mellow autumn mist lying wide and flat along theendless vistas of oak and hazel that then hid almostall the valleys, and over the mist the golden rays ofthe sun spread far and near, kissing with crimsonradiance the green knobs of upland that shone abovethat pearly ocean, and shining on the bare summitsof the lonely grass hills around us, and gleaming inrosy brilliancy upon the sea that flashed and sparkledin gray and gold between the downs to the southward.Here in this fairy realm, while the thickets were stillbeaded with the million jewels of the morning, andthe earth breathed of repose and peace, they carriedout that detestable orgie of which I was the center.

My memory is a little hazy. Perhaps, at the time,I was thinking of other things—a red-haired girl, forinstance, playing with her little ones outside her porchin a distant glen; my shekels of brass and tin and silver;my kine, my dogs, and my horses, mayhap; suchthings will be—and thus I know little of how it came.But presently I was on the fatal spot.

A wide circle of green grass, kept short and close,in the heart of a dense thicket of oak. Round thiscircle a ring of great stone columns, crowned bymighty slabs of the same kind, and hung, to-day, withall the skins and robes and weapons of the assembledtribesmen; so that the mighty enclosure was a rudeamphitheater, walled by the wealth of the spectators,and in the center an oblong rock, some eight feet long,with a gutter down it for the blood to run into a pitat its feet. This was the fatal slip from which theDruids launched that poor vessel, the soul, upon theendless ocean of eternity.

All round the great circle, when its presence andsignificance suddenly burst upon me, were the British,to the number of many hundreds, squatting on theground in the front rows, or standing behind againstthe gray pillars, an uncouth ring of motley barbarians,shaggy with wolf and bear skins, gleaming in brassand golden links that glistened in the morning lightagainst the naked limbs and shoulders, traced andpictured in blue woad with a hundred designs of warand woodcraft.

They forced me and two other miserable wretchesto the altar, and then, while our guards stood by us,and the mounted men clustered among the monolithsbehind, a deadly silence fell upon the assembly. Itwas so still we could hear the beat of our own hearts,and so intolerable that one of us three fell forwardin a swoon ere it had lasted many minutes. The dinof battle was like the murmur of a pleasant brookbefore that expectant hush; and when the white processionof executioners came chanting up the fartheravenue of stones, into the arena, I breathed again, asthough it was a nuptial procession, and they werebringing me a bride less grim than the golden adzewhich shone at their head.

They sang round the circle their mystic song, andthen halted before the rude stone altar. Mixing upreligion and justice, as was their wont, the chief Druidrecited the crimes of the two culprits beside me, withtheir punishment, and immediately the first one, tightlybound, was pitched upon the stone altar; and whilethe Druids chanted their hymns to Baal the assembledmultitude joined in, and, clanging their shields in aninfernal tumult which effectually drowned his yellsfor mercy, the sacred adze fell, and first his head, andthen his body, rolled into the hollow, while twenty littlestreams of crimson blood trickled down the sidesof the altar stone. The next one was treated in thesame way, and tumbled off into the hollow below, andI was hoisted up to that reeking slab.

While they arranged me, that black priest stole upand hissed in my ear: “Is it of Blodwen you thinkwhen you shut your eyes? Take this, then, for yourfinal comfort,” he said, with a malicious leer—“I,even I, the despised and thwarted, will see to Blodwen,and answer for her happiness. Ah!—you writhe—Ithought that would interest you. Let your lastthought, accursed stranger, be I and she: let yourlast conception be my near revenge! Villain! I spitupon and deride you!” And he was as good as hisword, glowering down upon me, helpless, with insatiaterage and hatred in his eyes, and then, steppingback, signed to the executioner.

I heard the wild hymn to their savage gods go ringingup again through the green leaves of the oaks; Iheard the clatter of the weapons upon the round, brass-boundtargets, the voices of the priests, and the cryof a startled kite circling in the pleasant autumn mistoverhead. I saw the great crescent of the sacredgolden adze swing into the sky, and then, while it wasjust checking to the fall which should extinguish me,there came a hush upon the people, followed by awild shout of fear and anger, and I turned my headhalf over as I lay, bound, upon the stone.

I saw the British multitude seethe in confusion,and then burst and fly, like the foam strands beforethe wind, as, out of the green thickets, at the run,their cold, brave faces all emotionless over their longbrass shields, came rank upon rank of Roman legionaries.I saw Sempronius, on his white charger, attheir head, glittering in brass and scarlet, and, findingmy tongue in my extremity, “Sempronius!” I yelled,“Sempronius to the rescue!” But too late!

With a wavering, aimless fall, the adze descendedbetween my neck and my shoulder, the black curtainof dissolution fell over the painted picture of theworld, there was a noise of a thousand rivers tumblinginto a bottomless cavern, and I expired.

CHAPTER III

I do confess I can offer no justification for the continuationof my story. Once so fairly sped as I was onthat long-distant day, thus recalled in such detail asI can remember, the natural and regular thing wouldbe that there should be an end of me, with, perhaps,a page or two added by some kindly scribe to recallmy too quickly smothered virtues. Nevertheless, Iwrite again, not a whit the worse for a mischancewhich would have silenced many a man, and in amood to tell you of things wonderful enough to strainthe sides of your shallow modern skepticism, as newwine stretches a goat-skin bottle.

All the period between my death on the Druid altarand my reawakening was a void, whereof I can saybut little. The only facts pointing to a faint clue tothe wonderful lapse of life are the brief phenomenaof my reawakening, which came to hand in sequenceas they are here set down.

My first consciousness was little better than a realizationof the fact that practically I was extinct. Tothis pointless knowledge there came a dawning strugglewith the powers of mortality, until very slowly,inch by inch, the negativeness was driven back, andthe spark of life began to brighten within me. Tothis moment I cannot say how long the process took.It may have been days, or weeks, or months, or ages,as likely as not; but when the vital flame was kindledthe life and self-possession spread more quickly, untilat last, with little fluttering breaths like a new-bornbaby’s, and a tingling trickle of warm blood down myshrunken veins, in one strange minute, four hundredyears after the close of my last spell of living (as Iafterward learned), I feebly opened my eyes, and recognizedwith dull contentment that I was alive again.

But, oh! the sorrows attendant on it! Every boneand muscle in me ached to that awakening, and myvery fiber shook to the stress of the making tide ofvitality. You who have lain upon an arm for a sleepyhour or two, and suffered as a result ingenious tormentsfrom the new-moving blood, think of the likesorrows of four hundred years’ stagnation! It wasscarcely to be borne, and yet, like many other thingsof which the like might be said, I bore it in bitternessof spirit, until life had trickled into all the unfamiliarpathways of my clay, and then at length the pain decreased,and I could think and move.

In that strange and lonely hour of temporal resurrectionalmost complete darkness surrounded me, andmy mind (with one certain consciousness that I hadbeen very long where I lay) was a chaos of speculationand fancy and long-forgotten scenes. But as myfaculties came more completely under control, and myeyes accepted the dim twilight as sufficient and convenientto them, they made out overhead a dull, massyroof of rock, rough with the strong masonry of motherearth, and descending in rugged sides to an unevenfloor. In fact, there could be no doubt I was underground,but how far down, and where, and why, couldnot be said. All around me were cavernous hollowsand midnight shadows, round which the weird gleamof rude pillars and irregular walls made a heavy, mysteriouscoast to a black, uncertain sea. I sat up andrubbed my eyes—and as I did so I felt every rag ofclothing drop in dust and shreds from my person—andpeered into the almost impenetrable gloom. Myoutstretched hands on one side touched the roughrocks of what was apparently the arch of a niche inthis chamber of the nether world, and under me theydiscovered a sandy shelf, upon which I lay, some eightor ten feet from the ground, as near as could be judged.Not a sound broke the stillness but the gentle monotonyof falling water, whereof one unseen drop, twicea minute, fell with a faint silver cadence on to thesurface of an unknown pool. I did not fear, I wasnot frightened, and soon I noticed as a set-off to thegloom of my sullen surroundings the marvelous purityof the atmosphere. It was a preservative itself. Suchan ambient, limpid element could surely have existednowhere else. It was soft as velvet in its absolutestillness, and pure beyond suspicion. It was like somethin, sunless vintage that had mellowed, endless years,in the great vat of the earth, and it now ran with theeffect of a delicate tonic through my inert frame. Norwas its sister and ally—the temperature—less conduciveto my cure. In that subterranean place summerand winter were alike unknown. The trivialchanges that vex the cuticle of the world were herereduced to an unalterable average of gentle warmththat assimilated with the soulless air to my huge contentment.You cannot wonder, therefore, that I throveapace, and explored with increasing strength the limitsof my strange imprisonment.

All about me was fine, deep dust, and shreds, whicheven then smelt in my palm like remnants of fur andskins. At my elbow was a shallow British eating-dish,with a little dust at the bottom, and by it abroken earthenware pitcher such as they used forwine. On my other side, as I felt with inquisitive fingers,lay a handleless sword, one of my own, I knew,but thin with age, the point all gone, rusty and useless.By it, again, reposed a small jar, heavy to lift,and rattling suggestively when shaken. My two fingers,thrust into the neck, told me it was full of coins,and I could not but feel a flush of gratitude in thatgrim place at the abortive kindness which had putfood and drink, weapons and money, by my side, witha sweet ignorance, yet certainty, of my future awakening.

But now budding curiosity suggested wider search,and, rising with difficulty, I cautiously dropped frommy lofty shelf on to the ground. Then a wish to gainthe outer air took possession of me, and, peering thisway and that, a tiny point of light far away on theright attracted my attention. On approaching, itturned out to be a small hole in the cave, out of reachoverhead; but, feeling about below this little star ofcomfort, the walls appeared soft and peaty to thetouch, so at once I was at work digging hard, with apointed stone; and the farther I went the more leafyand rough became the material, while hope sent myheart thumping against my ribs in tune to my labor.

At last, impulsive, after half an hour’s work, a fancyseized me that I could heave a way out with my shoulder.No sooner said than done. I took ten steps back,and then plunged fiercely in the darkness of the greatcavern into the moldy screen.

How can I describe the result! It gave way, andI shot, in a whirlwind of dust, into a sparkling, goldenworld! I rolled over and over down a spangled firmament,clutching in my bewilderment, my hands fullof blue and yellow gems at every turn, and slippingand plunging, with a sirocco of color—red, green,sapphire, and gold—flying round before my bewilderedface. I finally came to a stop, and sat up. Youwill not wonder that I glared round me, when I say Iwas seated at the foot of all the new marvels of abeautiful limestone knoll, clothed from top to bottomwith bluebells and primroses, spangled with the youngspring greenery of hazel and beech overhead, andbacked by the cloudless blue of an April sky!

On top of this fairy mountain, at the roots of thetrees that crowned it, hidden by bracken and undergrowth,was the round hole from which I had plunged;nor need I tell you how, remembering what had happenedin there, I rubbed my eyes, and laughed, andmarveled greatly at the will of the Inscrutable, whichhad given me so wonderful a rebirth.

To you must be left to fill up the picture of my sensationsand slowly recurring faculties. How I lay andbasked in the warmth, and slowly remembered everything:to me belongs but the strange and simple narrative.

One of my first active desires was for breakfast—nor,as my previous meal had been four centuries earlier,will I apologize for this weakness. But whereand how should it be had? This question soon answereditself. Sauntering hither and thither, the lowshoulder of the ridge was presently crossed, and anarrow footway in the woods leading to some pleasantpastures entered upon. Before I had gone far up thisshady track, a pail of milk in her hand, and whistling aditty to herself, came tripping toward me as pretty amaid as had ever twisted a bit of white hawthorn intoher amber hair.

I let her approach, and then, stepping out, made themost respectful salutation within the knowledge ofancient British courtesy. But, alas! my appearancewas against me, and Roman fancies had peopled thehills with jolly satyrs, for one of which, no doubt, thedamsel took me. As I bowed low the dust of centuriescracked all down my back. I was tawny and grim,and unshaved, and completely naked—though I hadforgotten it—and even my excellent manners couldnot warrant my disingenuousness against such a damningappearance. She screamed with fear, and, lettinggo her milk-jar, turned and fled, with a nimblenesswhich would have left even the hot old wood-god himselffar in the rear.

However, the milk remained, and peering into thepitcher, here seemed the very thing to recuperate meby easy stages. So I retired to a cozy dell, and, betweencopious draughts of that fine natural liquor,overwhelmed with blessings the sleek kine and thecomely maid who milked them. Indeed, the stuff raninto my withered processes like a freshet stream intoa long-dry country; it consoled and satisfied me; andafterward I slept as an infant all that night and farinto another sun.

The next day brought several needs with it. Thechief of these were more food, more clothes, and aprofession (since fate seemed determined to make metake another space of existence upon the world). Allthree were satisfied eventually. As for the first two,I was not particular as to fashion or diet, and easilysupplied them. In the course of a morning stroll ashepherd’s hut was discovered, and on approaching itcautiously the little shed turned out to be empty.However, the owner had left several sheepskin mantlesand rough homespun clothes on pegs round thewalls, and to these I helped myself sufficiently to convertan unclothed caveman into a passable yeoman.Also, I made free with his store of oat-cakes andcoarse cheese, putting all not needed back upon hisshelf.

Here I was again, fed and clothed, but what to donext was the question. To consider the knotty matter,after spending most of the day in purposeless wandering,I went up to the top of my own hill—the one that,unknown to every one, had the cavern in it—and therepondered the subject long. The whole face of thecountry perplexed me. It was certainly Britain, butBritain so amplified and altered as to be hardly recognizable.Wide fields were everywhere, broad roadstraversed the hills and valleys with impartial straightness,the great woodlands of the earlier times weregone, or much curtailed, while wonderful white buildingsshone here and there among the foliage, anddown away in the west, by a river, the sunbeams glintedon the roofs and temple fronts of a fine, unknowntown. That was the place, it seemed to me at length,to refit for another voyage on the strange sea ofchance; but I was too experienced in the ways of theworld to travel cityward with an empty wallet. Whilemeditating upon the manner in which this deficiencymight be met, the golden store of coins left in the cavebelow suddenly presented themselves. The very thing!And, as heavy purple clouds were piling up round thepresently sinking sun, earth and sky alike presaging astorm that evening, the cavern would be a convenientplace to sleep in.

Finding the entrance with some difficulty, and noticing,but with no special attention, that it looked alittle larger than when last seen, my first need wasfire. This I had to make for myself. In the pouch ofthe shepherd’s jerkin was a length of rough twine; thiswould do for matches, while as a torch a resinous pinebranch, bruised and split, served well enough. Fixingone end of the string to a bush, I took a turn rounda dry stick, and then began laboriously rubbing backwardand forward. In half an hour the string fumedpleasantly, and, something under the hour—one wasnothing if not patient in that age—it charred and burstinto flame.

Just as the evening set in, and the earth opened itspores to the first round drops of the warm-smellingrain that pattered on the young forest leaves, and thethunder began to murmur distantly under the purplemantle of the coming storm, my torch spluttering andhissing, I entered the vast gloomy chamber of mysleep, and, not without a sense of awe, stole up alongthe walls a hundred yards or more, to my strangecouch.

The coins were safe, and shining greenly in theirearthen jar; so, sticking the light into a cleft, I pouredthem on to the sand, and then commenced to tuck thestuff away, as fast as might be, into my girdle. Itwas strange, wild work, the only company my owncontorted shadow on the distant rocks and such wildforms of cruel British superstition as my excited imaginationcalled up; the only sound the rumble of thestorm, now overhead, and the hissing drip of the redresin gleaming on the wealth, all stamped with imagesof long-dead Kings and Consuls, that I was cramminginto my pouch!

By the time the task was nearly finished, I was ina state of nerves equal to seeing or hearing anything—nodoubt long fasting had shaken a mind usuallycalm and callous enough—and therefore you will understandhow the blood fled from my limbs and thecold perspiration burst out upon my forehead, when,having scarified myself with traditions of ghouls andcave devils, I turned to listen for a moment to thedull rumble of the thunder and the melancholy wave-likesough of the wind in the trees, even here audible,and beheld, twenty paces from me, in the shadows, avast, shaggy black form, grim and broad as no mortalever was, and red and wavering in the uncertain light,seven feet high, and possessed of two fiery, gleamingeyes that were bent upon my own with a horriblefixity!

I and that monstrous shadow glared at each otheruntil my breath came back, when, leaning a momentmore against the side of the cavern, I suddenlysnatched the torch from its cleft with a yell of consternationthat was multiplied a thousand times by theechoes until it was like the battle-cry of a legion ofbad spirits, and started off in the supposed directionof the entrance. But before ten yards had been coveredin that headlong rush, I tripped over a loose stone,and in another moment had fallen prone, plungingthereby the spluttering torch into one of the manylittle pools of water with which the floor was pitted.With a hiss and a splutter the light went out, andabsolute darkness enveloped everything!

Just where I had fallen stood a round boulder, acouple of yards broad, it had seemed, and some fivefeet high. I sprang to this, instinctively clutching itwith my hands, just as those abominable green eyes,brighter than ever in the vortex, got to the other side,and hesitated there in doubt. Then began the mostdreadful game I ever played, with a forfeit attachingto it not to be thought of. You will understand thecave was absolute sterile blackness to me, a dim worldin which the only animated points were the twin greenstars of the cruel ghoul, my unknown enemy. Asthose glided round to one side of the little rock, I ascautiously edged off to the other. Then back theywould come, and back I went, now this way and nowthat—sometimes only an inch or two, and sometimesmaking a complete circle—with every nerve at fulleststretch, and every sense on tiptoe.

Why, all this time, it may be asked, did I not runfor the entrance? But, in reply, the first frightenedturn or two round the boulder had made chaos of mygeography, and a start in any direction then mighthave dashed me into the side of the cave prone, at themercy of the horrible thing whose hot, coarse breathfanned me quicker and quicker, as the game grewwarm and more exciting. So near was it that I couldhave stretched out my hands, if I had dared, andtouched the monstrous being that I knew stood underthose baleful planets that glistened in the black firmament,now here and now there.

How long, exactly, we dodged and shuffled and pantedround that stone in the darkness cannot be said—itwas certainly an hour or more; but it went on solong that even in my panting stress and excitementit grew dull after a time, so monotonous was it, andI found myself speculating on the weather while Idanced vis-à-vis to my grim partner in that frightfulpastime.

“Yes,” I said, “a very bad storm indeed [once tothe left], and nearly overhead now [right]. It is agood thing [twice round and back again] to be so [asharp spin round and round—he nearly had me] convenientlyunder cover [twice to the left and then backby the opposite side]!”

Well, it could not have lasted forever, and I wasnearly spent. The boulder seemed hot and throbbingto my touch, and the floor was undulating gently, as itdoes when you land from a voyage; already fifty orsixty green eyes seemed circling in fiery orbits beforeme, when an extraordinary thing befell.

The thunder and lightning had been playing wildlyoverhead for some minutes, and the rain was comingdown in torrents (even the noise of rushing hill streamsbeing quite audible in that clear, resonant space),when, all of a sudden, there came a pause, and then thefall of a Titanian hammer on the dome of the hill, arending, resounding crash that shook mother earthright down to her innermost ribs.

At the same instant, before we could catch ourbreath, the whole side of the cave opposite to us, somehundred paces of rugged wall, was deluged with aliving, oscillating drapery of blue flame! That magnificentrefulgence came down from above, a glowingcascade of light. It overran the rocks like a beautifulgauze, clinging lovingly to their sinuousness, andwrapping their roughness in a tender, palpitating mantleof its own winsome brightness. It ran its nimble,fiery tendrils down the veins and crevices, and leapedin fierce playfulness from point to point, spinning itselectric gossamers in that vacuum air like some enchantedtissue spread between the crags; it ran to theledges and trickled off in ambient, sparkling cascades,it overflowed the sandy bottom in tender sheets ofblue and mauve, feeling here and there with a millionfingers for the way it sought, and then it found it, andsank, as silent, as ghostly, as wonderful as it hadcome!

All this was but the work of an instant, but an instantof such concentrated brightness that I saw everydetail, as I have told you, of that beautiful thing.More; in that second of glowing visibility, while theblue torch of the storm still shone in the chamber ofthe underground, I saw the stone by me, and beyondit, towering amazed and stupid, with his bulkystrength outlined against the light, a great cave bearin all his native ruggedness! Better still, a bowshoton my right was the narrow approach of the entrance—andas the gleam sank into the nether world, almostas quick as that gleam itself, with a heart of wonderand fear, and a foot like the foot of the night windoverhead, I was gone, and down the sandy floor, andthrough the gap, and into the outer world and midnightrain I plunged once more, grateful and glad!

After such hairbreadth escapes there was little needto bemoan a wet coat and an evening under the leeof a heathery scar.

When the morning arrived, clear and bright, as itoften does after a storm, I felt in no mood to hangabout the locality, but shook the rain from my fleece,and breakfasting on a little water from the brook, astaff in my hand, and my dear-bought wealth in mybelt, set out for the unknown town, whose wet roofsshone like molten silver over the dark and dewy oakwoods.

Five hours’ tramping brought me there; and trulythe city astonished me greatly. Could this, indeed, beBritain, was the constant question on my tongue as Itrod fair white streets, with innumerable others openingdown from them on either hand, and noticed theevidence of such art and luxury as, hitherto, I haddreamed the exclusive prerogative of the capital ofthe older empires. Here were baths before which theRoman youth dawdled; stately theaters with endlesstiers of seats, from whose rostra degenerate sons ofthe soil, aping their masters in dress and speech, recitedverse and dialogue trimmed to the latest oratorin fashion by the Tiber. Mansions and palaces therewere, outside which the sleek steeds of Consuls andPrætors champed gilded bits while waiting to carrytheir owners to gay procession and ceremonial; templesto Apollo, and shrines to Venus, dotted the ways,forums, market places, and the like, in bewilderingprofusion.

And among all these evidences of the new agethronged a motley mixture of people. The thoughtfulsenator, coming from conclave, with his toga andparchments, elbowed the callow British rustic in therude raiment of his fathers. The wild, blue-eyed WelshPrince, upon his rough mountain pony, would scarcegive right of way to the bronzed Roman mercenaryfrom the Rhine: Umbrians and Franks, pale-hairedGermans, and olive Tuscans, laughed and chafferedround the booths and fountains, while here and therelegionaries stood on guard before great houses, ordrank on the tressels of wayside wine-shops. Nowand again two or three soldiers came marching downthe street with a gang of slaves, or a shock-headedchieftain from the wild north, fierce and sullen, on hisway to Rome; and over all the varied throng the crowsand kites circled in the blue sky, and the little sparrowsperched themselves under the lintel and in thetwisted column tops of their mistress’s fane.

Half the day I stared, and then, having eaten somedry Etrurian grapes—the first for four hundred years—Iwent to the bath and threw down a golden coin inthe doorkeeper’s marble slab.

“Why, my son,” said that juvenile official of sometrivial fifty summers, “where in the name of Mercurydid you pick up this antique thing?” and he handledit curiously. But being in no mind to tell my tale justthen, I put him off lightly, and passed on into the greatbathing place itself. Stage by stage, “balneum,” “con-camerata,”“sudatio,” “tepidarium,” “frigidarium,” andall their other chambers, I went through, until in thelast a mighty slave, who had rubbed me with thestrength of Hercules himself for half an hour, suddenlystopped, and, surveying me intently, exclaimed:

“Master! I have scrubbed many a strange thing frommany a Roman body, but I will swallow all my owntowels if I can get this extraordinary dirt from you,”and he pointed to my bare and glowing chest.

There, to my astonishment, revealed for the firsttime, was a great serpent-like mark of tattoo and woadcircling my body in two wide zones! What it meant,how it came, was past my comprehension. Shrunkand shriveled as I was with long abstemiousness, itseemed but like a gigantic smudge meandering downmy person—a smudge, however, that with a little goodlyliving might stretch out into an elaborate designof some nature. Of course, I knew it was thus theBritish warriors were accustomed to adorn themselves,but who had been thus purposely decorating one thathad never knowingly submitted to the operation, andto what end, was past my guessing.

“Never mind, sir, don’t despond,” said the slave.“We will have another essay.” And hitching me onto the rubbing couch, he knelt upon my stomach—thesebath attendants were no more deferential thanthey are now—and exerted his magnificent strength,armed with the stiffest towel that ever came off a loom,upon me, until I fairly thought that not only wouldhe have the tattoo off, but also all the skin upon whichit was engrossed. But it was to no purpose. Herose presently and sulkily declared I had had mymoney’s worth. “The more he rubbed, the bluer thoseaccursed marks became.” This might well be, so Itossed him an extra coin, and, dressing hastily, coveredmy uninvited tattoo and went forth, fully determinedto examine and read it—for those thingswere nearly always readable—more closely on a betterand more private opportunity.

My next visit was to an Etruscan barber, who wasshaving all and sundry under a green-white awning,in a pleasant little piazza. To him I sat, and whilehe reaped my antique stubble, with many an exclamationof surprise and disgust at its toughness, mythoughts wandered away to the train of remembrancesthe bath slave’s discovery had started. Again I thoughtof Blodwen and my little one; the seaport, with itsgolden beaches, and the quiet pools where the troutand salmon of an evening now and again shatteredthe crystal mirror of the surface in their sport as sheand I sat upon some grassy bank and talked of villagestatecraft, of conquests over petty princelings, of cropsand harvests, of love and war. Then, again, I thoughtof the Roman galleys, and Cæsar the penman autocrat;of the British camp, and, lastly, the great mischancewhich had, and yet had not, ended me.

“Ah, that was a bad slash, indeed, sir, wasn’t it?”queried the barber in my ear. “May I ask in whatwar you took it?”

This very echo of my fancy came so startlingly true,I sprang to my feet and glowered upon him.

“O culler of herbs,” I said, “O trespasser along theverge of mystery and medicine”—pointing to the driedthings and electuaries with which, in common thenwith his kind, his booth was stocked—“where got youthe power of reading minds?”

He shook his head vaguely, as though he did notunderstand, pointing to my neck, and replying he knewnaught of what my thoughts might have been, butthere, on my shoulder, was obvious evidence of the“slash” he had alluded to.

I took the steel mirror he offered me, and, sureenough, I saw a monstrous white seam upon my tawnyskin, healed and well, but very obvious after the bathand shaving.

“Why, sir, I have dressed many a wound in my time,but that must have been about as bad a one as a mancould get and live. How did it happen?”

“Oh, I forget just now.”

“Forget! Then you must have a marvelously badmemory. Why, a thing like that one might rememberfor four hundred years!” said the sagacious little barber,bending his keen eyes on me in a way that wasuncomfortable. In fact, he soon made me so ill atease, being very reluctant that my secret should passinto possession of the town through his garruloustongue, that I hastily paid him another of those antiquegreen coins of mine, and passed on again downthe great wide street.

Even he who lives two thousand years is still theserf of time, therefore I cannot describe all the strangethings I saw in that beautiful foreign city set downon the native English land. But presently I tired, and,having become a Roman by exchanging my sheepskinsfor a fine scarlet toga, over a military cuirass of close-fittingsteel, inlaid, after the fashion, with turquoiseand gold enamel, sandals upon my feet, and a shortsword at my side, I sought somewhere to sleep. First,I chanced upon a little house set back from the mainthoroughfare, and over the door a withered bush, andunderneath it, on a label, was written thus:

Hic Habitat Felicitas

“Ah!” I said, as I hammered at the portal with thebrass knob of my weapon, “if, indeed, happiness islandlord here, then Phra the Phœnician is the man tobe his tenant!” But it would not do. Bacchus wastoo bibulous in that little abode, and Cupid too blindand indiscriminate. So it was left behind, and presentlyan open villa was reached where travelers mightrest, and here I took a chamber on one side of thesquare marble courtyard, facing on a garden and fountain,and looking over a fair stretch of country.

No sooner had I eaten, than, very curious to understandthe nature of the bath slave’s discoveries uponmy skin, I went to the disrobing-room of the privatebaths, and, discarding my gorgeous cuirass, and pilingthe gilded arms and silken wrappings with which anew-born vanity had swathed me, in a corner, I stoodpresently revealed in the common integument—the oneimmutable fashion of humanity. But rarely beforehad the naked human body presented so much diversityas mine did. I was mottled and pictured, from mywaist upward, in the most bewildering manner, allin blue and purple tints, just as the slave had said.There were more pictures on me than there are onan astrologer’s celestial globe; and as I turned hitherand thither, before my great burnished metal mirror,a whole constellation, of dim, uncertain meaning, roseand set upon my sphere! Now this was the more curious,because, as I have said, I had never in my lifesubmitted me for a moment to the needle and unguentsof those who in British times made a practice of theart of tattooing. I had seen young warriors underthat painful process, and had stood by as they yelledin pain and reluctant patience while the most elaboratedesigns grew up, under the stolid draftsman’shands, upon their quivering cuticle. But, to Blodwen’sgrief, who would have had me equal to any of hertribesmen in pattern as in place, I had ever scornedto be made a mosaic of superstition and flourishes.How, then, had this mighty maze, this pictorial webof blue myth and marvel, grown upon me during thenight time of my sleep? On studying it closely itevolved itself into some order, and, though that nightI made not very much of it, yet, as time went on, andmy body grew sleek and fair with good living, thedesign came up with constantly increasing vigor. Indeed,the narrative I translated from it was so absorbinglyinteresting to one in my melancholy circ*mstancesthat again and again I would hurry away tomy closet and mirror to see what new detail, whatsubtle deduction of stroke or line, had come into viewupon the scroll of the strangest diary that ever waswritten.

For, indeed, it was Blodwen’s diary that circled methus. It began in the small of my back with the yearof my demise upon the Druid altar, and ever as shewrote it she must have rolled, with tender industry,her journal over and over, and so worked up from myback, in a splendid widening zone of token and hieroglyphic,for twenty changing seasons, until my chestwas reached, and there the tale ran out in a thin andtremulous way, which it made my heart ache to understand.

There is no need to describe exactly the mode ofdeduction, or how I came to comprehend, without keyor help, the sense of the things before me, but you willunderstand my wits were sharp in the quest, and oncethe main scheme of the idea was understood the restcame easily enough. The Princess, then, had taken asheaf of corn as her symbol of the year. There weretwenty of them upon me, and I judged their veryvarying sizes were intended to indicate good or badharvest seasons in the territories of my careful chieftainess.Round these central signs she had groupedsuch other marks or outlines as served to hint thechanging fortunes of the times. There were headsof oxen by each sheaf, varying in size according to theconditions of her herds; and fishes, big or small, toindicate what luck her salmon spearsmen had metwith by the tuneful rapids of that ancient stream Iknew so well.

Following these early designs was one that interestedme greatly. The gentle chieftainess had, whenI left her, expectation of another member to her tribeof her own providing. I had thought when we shouldhave beaten the Romans to hurry back, and mayhapbe in time to welcome this little one; but you knowhow I was prevented; and now here upon my skin, nighover to my heart, was the sketch and outline of whatseemed a small, new-born maid, all beswaddled inthe British fashion, and very lovingly limned. Butwhat was more curious, was that its wraps were turnedback from its baby shoulder, and there, to my astonishedinterpretation, in that silent maternal narrative,was just the likeness, broad, lasting, indelible,of the frightful scar I wore myself! Long I ponderedupon this. Had that red-haired slave-princess by somechance received me back—perhaps at Sempronius’scompassionate hands—all hurt as I was, and had thatportentous wound set its seal during anxious vigilsupon the unborn babe? I could not guess—I couldbut wonder—and, wondering still, pass on to whatcame next.

Here was a graphic picture, no bigger than the palmof my hand, and not hard to unriddle. An eagle—nodoubt the Roman one—engaged in fierce conflictwith a beaver—that being Blodwen’s favorite tribalsign, for there were many of those animals upon herriver. Jove! how well ’twas done! There were theflying feathers, and the fur, and the turmoil and thelitter of the fight, and well I guessed the proud Romanbird—that day he brought my gallant tribe underthe yoke—had lost many a stalwart quill, and damagedmany a lordly pinion!

And besides these main records of this fair andcareful chancelloress of her State, there were othersthat moved me none the less. Yes! by every gloomyspirit that dwelt in the misty shadows of the Britishoaks, it gave me a hot flush of gratified revenge to see—thereby the symbol of the first year—a severed,bleeding head, still crowned with the Druid oak.

“Oh! oh! Dhuwallon, my friend,” I laughed, as Iguessed the meaning of that bloody sign, “so theytripped you up at last, my crafty villain. By all thefiends of your abominable worship, I should like tohave seen the stroke that made that grisly trophy!Well, I can guess how it came about! Some slightedtribesman who saw me die peached upon you. Liarand traitor! I can see you stand in that old Britishhall, strong in your sanctity and cunning, making yourwicked version of the fight and my undoing, and then,methinks, I see Blodwen leap to her feet, red andfiery with her anger. Accursed priest! how you musthave sickened and shrunk from her fierce invective,the headlong damnation of her bitter accusation, withall the ready evidence with which she supported it.Mayhap your cheeks were as pale that day, goodfriend, as your infernal vestments, and first youfrowned, and pointed to the signs and symbols of youroffice, and pleaded your high appointment before theassembled people against the answering of the charge.And then, when that would not do, you whined andcringed, and called her kinswoman. Oh, but I canfancy it, and how my pretty Princess—there upon herfather’s steps—scorned and cursed you before themall, and how some ready, faithful hand struck youdown, and how they tore your holy linen from youand dragged you, screaming, to the gateway, and thereupon the threshold log struck your wicked head fromyour abominable shoulders! By the sacred mistletoe,I can read my Blodwen’s noble anger in every punctureof that revenge-commemorating outline!”

Here again, in the years that followed, it pleasuredme to see her little State grow strong and wide. Atone time she typified the coming and destruction oftwo peak-sailed southern pirates, and then the buildingof a new stockade. She also made (perhaps tothe worship of my manes!) a mighty circle. It beganwith a single upright on my side. The next year therewere two. In the summer that followed she crossedthem by a third great slab, and so on for ten yearsthe tribesmen seemed to have toiled and labored untilthey had such a temple of the sun as must have givenmy sweet heathen vast pleasure to look upon! Shefeared comments and portents much, and puncturedme with them most exactly; she kept her memorandaof corn-pots and stores of hides upon me, like theclever, frugal mother of her tribe she was; and nowand then she acquired territory, or made new alliances—printingthe special tokens of their heads in a circlewith her own, until I was illustrated from waist toshoulder—a living lexicon of history.

Many were the details of that strange blue recordI have not mentioned; many are the strokes and flourishesthat still expand and contract to the pulsationsof my mighty life—undeciphered, unintelligible. ButI have said enough to show you how ingenious it was—howsufficient in its variety, how disappointing inits pointless end. For, indeed, it stopped suddenlyat the twentieth season, and the cause thereof I couldguess only too well!

There, in that Roman hotel, I stayed, reflecting. Itwas in this rest-house, from the idle gossip of theloungers and chatter of Roman politicians, that I cameto comprehend the extent of my sleep in the cave, andas the truth dawned upon me, with a consciousnessof the infinite vacuity of my world, I went into thegarden, and there was no light in the sunshine, and nocolor in the flowers, and no music in the fountain, andI threw my toga over my head and grieved for my loneliness,with the hum of the crowd outside in my ears,and mourned my fair Princess and all the ancienttimes so young in memory, yet so old in fact.

Many days I sorrowed purposeless, and then mygrief was purged by the good medicine of hardshipand more adventure.

CHAPTER IV

One day I was sitting, in gloomy abstraction, in thesunny garden, when, looking up suddenly, a little maidstood by, demurely, and somewhat compassionately,regarding me. Grateful then for any sort of sympathy,I led her to talk, and presently found, as wethawed into good-fellowship, drawn together by somemutual attraction, that she was of British birth, andmore—from my old village! This was bond enoughin my then state; but think how moved and pleasedI was when the comely little damsel laughingly said,“Oh, yes! it is only you Roman lords who come andgo more often than these flowers. We British seldommove; I and my people have lived yonder on the coastfor ages!” So I let my lonely fancy fill in the blanks,and took the little maid for a kinswoman, and wasright glad to know some one in the void world intowhich four hundred years’ sleep had plunged me.

Strange, too, as you will take it, Numidea, who,now and then, to my mind, was so like the ancestressshe knew naught of: Numidea, the slave-girl who hadstood before me by predestined chance in that hour ofsorrow—it was she who directed my destiny and savedand ruined me in this chapter, just as her mother haddone distant lifetimes before!

Between this fair little friend and my inexhaustiblewallet I dried up my grief and turned idle and recklessin that fascinating town of extravagance and debauchery.It was not a time to boast much of. Thedegenerate Romans had lost all their valor and mostof their skill in the arts of government. All theirhardihood and strength had sunk under the evil exampleof the debased capital by the Tiber; and, thoughsome few unpopular ones among them railed againstthe effeminate luxury of the times, few heeded, andnone were warned. It shamed me to find that all theselatter-day Romans thought of was silks and linens,front seats at the theater, pageantry and spectacles,trinkets and scents. It roused my disdain to see thesenators go by with gilded trains of servitors and theyoung Centurions swagger down the streets in theirmock armor—their toy, peace-time swords hanging ingolden chains from their tender sides, and the windwarning one of their perfumed presence even beforethey came in sight. Such were not the men to winan empire, I thought, or to hold it!

As for the native British, a modicum of them haddropped the sagum for the toga, and had put on withit all its vices, but few of its virtues. Such a witless,vain, incapable medley of arrogant fools never beforewas seen. To their countrymen they represented themselvesas possessed of all the keys of statecraft andgovernment, stirring them up as far as they durstto discontent and rebellion, while to their masters theystood acknowledged sycophants and apes of all themeannesses of a degenerate time. All this was themore the pity, for magnificent and wide were the evidencesof what Rome had done for Britain during thelong years she had held it. When I slept, it was achaotic wild, peopled by brave but scattered tribes;when I awoke, it was a fair, united realm—a beautifulterritory of fertility, rich in corn and apple-yards,arteried by smooth, white-paved roads, and ruled byhalf a dozen wonderful capitals, with countless lessercities, camps, and villas, wherein modern luxury, likea rampant, beautiful-flowered parasite, had overgrown,and choked and killed the sturdy stuff on which itgrew.

Well, it is not my province to tell you of thesethings. The gilded fops who thronged the city ways,I soon found, were good enough for drinking boutsand revelry, and, by all Olympus! my sleep had mademe thirsty, and my sorrow full of a moroseness whichhad to be constantly battened down under the hatchesof an artificial pleasure. All the old, cautious, frugal,merchant spirit had gone, and the Roman Phra, in hisgold and turquoise cincture, his belt full of his outlandish,never-failing coins, was soon the talk of thetown, the life and soul of every reckless bout or folly,the terror of all lictors and honest, benighted citizens.

And, like many another good young man of like inclinations,his exit was as sudden as his entry! WellI remember that day, when my ivory tablets werecrowded with suggestions for new idleness and vanities,and bore a dozen or two of merry engagementsto plays and processions and carnivals, and all mynew-found world looked like a summer sea of pleasure.Under these circ*mstances, I went to my hoard oneevening, as I had done very often of late, and wassomewhat chagrined to discover only five pieces ofmoney left. However, they were big plump ones,larger than any I had used before, and, as all thosehad been good gold, these still might mean a long spellof frolic for me—when they were nearly spent it wouldbe time to turn serious.

I at once sat down to rub the general green tint ofa*ge from one, noticing it was more verdant than anyof its comrades had been, and rubbed with increasingconsternation and alarm, moment after moment, untilI had reduced it at last to an ancient British coppertoken, a base, abominable thing, not good enough topitch to a starving beggar!

Another and another was snatched up and chafed,and, as I toiled on by my little flickering earthen lampin my bachelor cell, every one of those traitor coins inan hour had shed its coating of time and turned out,under my disgusted fingers, common plebeian metal.There they lay before me at length, a contemptiblefive pence, wherewith to carry on a week’s carousing.Five pence! Why, it was not enough to toss to a noisybeggar outside the circus—hardly enough for a drinkof detestable British wine, let alone a draught of thegood Italian vintages that I had lately come to lookupon as my prerogative! Horrible! and as I gazed atthem stolidly, that melancholy evening, the airy castleof my pleasure crumbled from base to battlement.

As the result of long cogitation—knowing the measureof my friends too well to think of borrowing ofthem—I finally decided to make a retreat, and leavemy acquaintance my still unblemished reputation inpawn for the various little items owing by me. Takinga look round, to assure myself every one in the housewas asleep, I argued that to-night, though a pauper, Iwas still of good account, whereas with daylight Ishould be a discredited beggar; so that it was, in fact,a meritorious action to leave my host an old pair ofsandals in lieu of a month’s expenses, and dropthrough the little window into the garden, on theway to the open world once more. Necessity is evera sophist.

It is needless to say the gray dawn was not particularlycheerful as I sprang into the city fosse and struckout for the woods beyond. The fortune which makesa man one day a gentleman of means and the next amendicant is more pleasant to hear of when it hasbefallen one’s friends than to feel at first hand. Itwas only the fear of the detestable city jail, and theabominable provender there, added to the ridicule ofmy friends, perhaps, that sent me, scripless, thusafield. Gray as the prospect ahead might be, behindit was black: so I plodded on, with my spear for astaff and Melancholy for a companion.

The leafy shades reached in an hour or so invitedrest, and in their seclusion an idle spell was spentwatching, through the green frame of branches, thefair, careless city below wake to new luxurious life;watching the blue smoke rise from the temple courtyards,and the pigeons circling up into the sky, andthe glitter of the sun on the legionaries’ arms as theywheeled and formed and re-formed in the open groundbeyond the Prefect’s house. Oh, yes! I knew it all!And how pleasantly the water spluttered in the marblebaths after those dusty exercises; and how heavythe lightest armor was after such nights as I andthose jolly ones down there were accustomed to spend!As I, breakfastless, leaned upon the top of my staff,I recalled the good red wine from my host’s coolestcellars, and the hot bread from slaves’ ovens in thestreet, and how pleasant it was to lie in silk and sandals,and drink and laugh in the shade, and stare afterthe comely British maids, and lay out in those idlesunny hours the fabrics of fun and mirth.

On again, and by midday a valley opened before me,and at the head, a mile or so from the river, was avery stately white villa. Thither, out of curiosity, mysteps were turned, and I descended upon that lordlyabode by coppices, ferny brakes, and pastures, untilone brambly field alone separated us. An ordinarybeing, whom the Fates had not set themselves tobandy forever in their immortal hands, would havegone round this enclosure, and so taken the uneventfulpathway, but not so I; I must needs cross the brambles,and thus bring down fresh ventures on my head.In the midst of the enclosure was an oak, and underthe oak five or six white cows, with a massive bull ofthe fierce old British breed. This animal resentedmy trespass, and, shaking his head angrily as I advanced,he came after me at a trot when half wayacross. Now, a good soldier knows when to run, noless than when to stand, and so my best foot was putforth in the direction of the house, and I presentlyslipped through a hole in the fence directly into thetrim gay garden of the villa itself.

So hasty was my entry that I nearly ran into astately procession approaching down one of the well-keptterraces intersecting the grounds: a seneschaland a butler, a gorgeously arrayed mercenary or two,men and damsels in waiting, all this lordly array attendinga litter borne by two negro slaves, whereon,with a languidness like that of convalescence, belied,however, by the bloom of excellent health and the tokensof robust grace in the every limb, reclined a handsomeRoman lady. There was hardly time to takeall this in at a glance, when the gorgeous attendantsset up a shout of consternation and alarm, and, glancingover my shoulder to see the cause, there was thatresentful bull bursting the hedge, a scanty twentypaces away, with vindictive purpose in his widespreadnostrils and angry eyes.

Down went the seneschal’s staff of office, down wentthe base mercenaries’ gilded shields; the butler threwthe dish of grapes he was carrying for his lady’s refreshmentinto the bushes; the waiting-maids droppedtheir fans, and, shrieking, joined the general rout.Worse than all, those base villains, the littermen,slipped their leather straps, and in the general panicdropped the litter, and left to her fate that mistresswho, with her sandaled feet wrapped in silks and spangledlinens, struggled in vain to rise. There was notime for fear. I turned, and as the bull came downupon us two in a snorting avalanche of white hide andsinew, I gave him the spear, driving it home with allmy strength just in front of the ample shoulder, as helowered his head. The strong seven-foot haft of ash,as thick as a man’s wrist, bent between us like a greenhazel wand, and then burst into splinters right up tomy grasp. The next moment I was hurled backward,crashing into the flowers and trim parterres as thoughit were by the fist of Jove himself I had been struck.Hardly touching the ground, I was up again, my shortsword drawn, and ready as ever—though the gayworld swam before me—to kill or to be killed.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (4)

I gave him the spear as he lowered his head

It was not necessary. There had been few truer ormore forceful spears than mine in the old times; andthere lay the great white monster on his side in acrimson pool of blood, essaying in vain to lift his head,and dying in mighty tremors all among the prettythings the servants had thrown down. The gush ofred blood from his chest was wetting even the silkenfringes of the comely dame’s skirts and wrappings,while she, now at last on her feet, frowned down onhim, with angry triumph rather than fear in her countenance.

Though there was hardly a change of color on herface or a tremor in the voice with which she thankedme, yet I somehow felt her ladyship was in a fine passionbehind that disdainful mask. But whether itwere so or not, she was civil enough to me, personallyevincing a condescending interest in a trifling woundthat was staining my bare right arm with crimson,and sending her “good youth” away in a minute ortwo to the house to get it bound. As I turned to go,the stately lady gathered up tunic folds and skirt inher white fist and moved down upon the group oftrembling servants, who were gathering their wits togetherslowly under the nervous encouragement of theseneschal. What she said to them I know not, butif ever the countenances of men truly reflected theirsensations, her brief whispers must have been exceedinglyunpleasant to listen to.

The damsel who bound the scratch upon my shouldertold me something of this beautiful and wealthydame. But, in truth, when she called her Lady Electra,I needed to hear little more. It was a name thathad circulated freely in the city yonder, and especiallywhen wine was sparkling best and tongues atlightest! I knew, without asking, the lady was nieceto an emperor, and was reputed as haughty and cruelas though she had been one of the worst herself; Iknew her lawful spouse was away, like most Romans,from his duty just then, and she stood in his place totyrannize over the British peasants and sweep thetaxes into his insatiate coffers. I knew, too, why Romewas forbidden for a time to the vivacious lady, aswell as some stories, best untold, of how she enlivenedthe tedium of her exile in these “savage” places.

In fact, I knew I had fallen into the gilded holdof a magnificent outlaw, one of the worst productionsof a debased and sinking State, and, being waywardby predestination, I determined to play with the she-wolfin her own den.

No fancy of mine is so rash but that Fate will countersignit. When Electra sent for me presently inthe great hall, where the fountains played into basinsof rosy marble, it was to inform me that the destructionof the bull, and my bearing thereat, had caughther fancy, and I was to “consider myself for the presentin her private service, and attached to the body-guard.”This decision was announced with an easyimperialness which seemed to ignore all suggestionof opposition—a suavity such as Juno might use indirecting the most timorous of servitors—so, as mywishes ran in unison, I bowed my thanks, and kissedthe fringe of my ladyship’s cloak, and thought, as shelay there before me on her silken couch in the tessellatedhall of her stately home, that I had never beforeseen so beautiful or dangerous-looking a creature.

Nor had I long to wait for a sight of the Vice-Prefect’stalons. While she asked me of my history,the which I made up as I told it (and, having oncebalked the truth, never afterward told her the realfacts), a messenger came, and, standing at a respectfuldistance, saluted his mistress.

“Ah!” she said, with a pretty look of interest inher face, and rising on her elbow, “are they dead?”

“One is, madam,” the man responded: “one of yourbearers fled, but the other we secured. We took himinto the field and tied him, as your ladyship directed,to the horns of the strongest white cow. She draggedhim here and there, and gored him for full ten minutesbefore he died—and now all that remains of him,”with a wave of the hand toward the vestibule, “mostrespectfully awaits your ladyship’s inspection in theporch!” And the messenger bowed low.

“It is well. Fling the dog into a ditch! And, myfriend, let my brave henchmen know if they do not layhands on the other villain before sunset to-morrow,I shall come to them for a substitute.”

The successful termination of this episode seemedto relieve my new mistress.

“Ah! my excellent soldier,” she said, with a prettysigh, “you cannot conceive what a vexation my servantsare to me, or how rebellious and unruly! Wouldthere were but a man here, such as yourself, for instance,to protect and soften a lonely matron’s exile.”

This was very flattering to my vanity, more especiallyas it was accompanied by a gracious look, withmore of condescension in it than I fancied usuallyfell to the lot of those who met her handsome eyes.In such circ*mstances, under a lordly roof, and carelessagain of to-morrow, a new spell of experience wascommenced in the Roman villa, and I learned much ofthe ways of corrupt Roman government and a luxurioussociety there which might amuse you were it notall too long to set down. For a time, when her ladyshipgave, as was her frequent pleasure, gorgeous dinners,and all the statesmen and soldiers of the neighboringtowns came in to sup with her, I pleaded onething and another in excuse for absence from theplaces where I must have met many too well knownbefore. But Electra, as the time went on, was proudof her handsome, stalwart Centurion, and advanced mequicker than my modest ambition could demand,clothed me in the gorgeous livery of her householdtroops, raised me to the chief command, and finally,one evening, sat me at her side on her own silkencouch, before all the lords and senators, and, deridingtheir surprise and covert sarcasm, proclaimed mefirst favorite there with royal effrontery.

Did I but say Electra was proud of her new find?Much better had it been simply so; but she was notaccustomed to moderation in any matters, and perhapsmy cold indifference to her overwhelming attractions,when all else fawned for an indulgent look, excitedher fiery thirst of dominion. Be this as it may, novery long time after my arrival it was palpable hermanner was changing; and as the days went by, andshe would have me sit on the tiger-skin at her knee,a second Antony to this British Cleopatra, telling wonderfultales of war and woodcraft, I presently foundthe unmistakable light of awakening love shiningthrough her ladyship’s half-shut lids. Many and manya time, before and since, has that beacon been litfor me in eyes of every complexion—it makes mesad to think how well I know that gentle gleam—butnever in all my life did I experience anything likethe concentrated fire that burned silently but morestrongly, day by day, in those black Roman eyes.

I would not be warned. More; I took a lawless delightin covertly piling on material and leading thatreckless dame, who had used and spurned a score ofgallant soldiers or great senators, according to heridle fancy, to pour out her over-ample affection on me,the penniless adventurer. And, like one who fans aspark among combustible material, the blaze that resultedwas near my undoing.

The more dense I was to her increasing love, themore she suffered. Truly, it was pitiful to see her,who was so little accustomed to know any other will,thwarted by so fine an agency—to see her imperialnessstrain and fret at the silken meshes of love, and fumeto have me know and answer to her meaning, yetfear to tell it, and at times be timorous to speak, andat others start up, palely wrathful, that she could notorder in this case as elsewhere. Indeed, my lady wasin a bad way, and now she would be fierce and sullen,and anon gracious and melancholy. In the latter moodshe said one day, as I sat by her bisellium:

“I am ill and pale, my Centurion. I wonder youhave not noticed it.”

“Perhaps, madam,” I said, with the distant respectthat galled her so, “perhaps your ladyship’s supperlast night was over-large and late—and those lampreys,I warned you against them that third time.”

“Gross! Material!” exclaimed Electra, frowningblackly. “Guess again—a finer malady—a subtlerpain.”

“Then, maybe the valley air affects my lady’s liver,or rheumatism, perhaps, exacts a penalty for sometwilight rambles.”

Such banter as this, and more, was all the harderto bear since she could not revenge it. I was sorryfor the tyrantess, for she was wonderfully attractivethus pensivewise, and wofully in earnest as she turnedaway to the painted walls and sighed to herself.

“Fie! to be thus withstood by a fameless mercenary.Why thus must I, unaccustomed, sue this one—theleast worthy of them all—and lavish on his dullplebeian ears the sighs that many another would givea province or two to hear?—I, who have slighted thehomage of silk and scarlet, and Imperial purple, even!Lucullus was not half so dull—or Palladius, or Decius;and that last of many others, my witty Publius Torquatus,would have diagnosed my disease and prescribedfor it all in one whisper.”

Poor lady! It was not within me—though she didnot know it—to hold out for long against the sunshineand storm of her impetuous nature. Neither her abominablecruelties nor her reckless rapacity could sufficeto dim her attractions—many a time since, when thatcomely personage has been as clearly wiped from thepage of life, as utterly obliterated from the earth asthe very mound of her final resting-place, have I regrettedthat she was not born to better days, and then,perchance, her fine material might have been run intoa nobler mold.

She was jealous, too; and it came about in thisway. Very soon after I had taken service with her,whom should I espy, one morning, feeding the goldenpheasants outside the veranda, but my little friend,Numidea. Often I had thought of that maid, and determinedto discover that “big house” where she hadtold me she was bondwoman, and the “great lady”who sent her tripping long journeys into the townfor the powders and silk stuffs none could betterchoose. And now here she was on my path again, aroofmate by strange chance, with her graceful, tenderfigure, and her dainty ways, and that chronic friendlysmile upon her mouth that brought such strange fanciesto my mind every time I looked upon it. Ofcourse, I befriended the maid as though she were myown little one, not so many times removed, and equally,of course, Lady Electra noticed and misread ourfriendship. Poor Numidea! She had a hard life beforeI came, and a harder, perhaps, afterward. Youcompassionate moderns will wonder when I tell youthat Numidea has shown me her white silk shoulderslaced with the red scars of old floggings laid on byElectra herself, and the blood-spotted dimples hereand there, where that imperious dame had thrust, forsome trivial offense, a golden bodkin from her hairdeep into that innocent flesh. No one knew betterthan my noble mistress how to give acute tortureto a slave without depreciating the market price ofher property.

But when I became of more weight—when, in brief,my comely tigress was too fast bound to be dangerous—Ispoke up, and Electra grew to be jealous and tohate the small Christian slave-girl with all the unrulystrength that marked her other passions.

Thus, one day having discovered Numidea weepingover a new-made wound, I sought out the offender,and as she sauntered up and down her tessellatedpavements I shook my fist at her Queenship, and said:

“By the bright flame of Vesta, Lady Electra, andby every deity, old or new, in the endless capacity ofthe skies, if you get out your abominable flail for thatgirl again, or draw but once upon her one of youraccursed bodkins, I will—marry her among the smokingruins of this white sty of yours!”

When I spoke to her thus under the lash of my anger,she would uprise to the topmost reach of herheight, and thence, frowning down upon me, her shapelyhead tossed back, and her draperies falling from hercrossed arms and ample shoulders to the marble floor,she would regard me with an imperious start thatmight have withered an ordinary mortal. So beautifuland statuesque was her ladyship on these occasions,towering there in her own white hall like an image ofan offended Juno in the first flush of her queenly wrath,that even I would involuntarily step back a pace. ButI did not cower or drop my eyes, and when we hadglowered at each other so for a minute or two theroyal instinct within her was no match for traitorLove. Slowly then the woman would come wellinginto her proud face, and the glow of anger gave wayupon her cheeks; her arms dropped by her sides; sheshrank to mortal proportions, and lastly sank on theebony and ivory couch in a wild gust of weeping,wofully asking to know, as I turned upon my heels,why the slave’s trivial scars were more to me thanthe mistress’s tears.

My Vice-Prefect was avaricious, too. There wasstored in the spacious hollows below her villa I knownot how much bronze and gold squeezed from thosereluctant British hinds whose old-world huts clusteredtogether in the oak clumps dotting the fertile vales asfar as the eye could see from our roof-ledges on everyhand. Had all the offices of the Imperial Governmentbeen kept as she kept her duties of tax collecting, thegreat empire would have been further by many a longyear from its ruin. And the closer Electra made heraccounts, the more deadly became her exactions, themore angry and rebellious grew the natives around us.

Already they had heard whispers of how hard barbarianswere pressing upon Rome, day by day they sawBritain depleted of the stalwart legionaries who hadoccupied the land four hundred years, and as phalanxafter phalanx went south through Gaul to protect themother city on the Tiber, their demagogues secretlystirred the people up to ambition and discontent.

Nor can it be denied the villains had something togrumble for. Society was dissolute and debased, whilethe country was full of those who made the goodRoman name a byword. The British peasant had totoil and sweat that a hundred tyrants, the rank productionof social decay, might squander and paradein the luxury and finery his labor purchased. Addedto this, the pressing needs of the Emperor himself demandedthe services of those who had taken uponthemselves for centuries the protection of the country.As they retired, Northern rovers, at first fitfully, butafterward with increasing rigor, came down upon theunguarded coasts, and sailing up the estuaries, harriedthe rich English vales on either side, and rioted amidthe accumulated splendor and plenty of the lucklessland to their heart’s content.

Saddled thus with the weight of luxurious conquerorswho had lost nearly every art but that of extortion,miserable at home, and devastated from abroad,who can wonder that the British longed to throw offthe Roman yoke and breathe the fresher air of a wholesomelife again? And as the shadow of the Imperialwings was withdrawn from them their hopes ripened;they thought they were strong and ruleworthy. Fatalmistake! I saw it bud, and I saw it bitterly fruitful!

If you turn back the pages of history you will findthese hinds did indeed make a stand for a moment,and when Honorius had withdrawn his last legionaries,and given the islanders their liberty, for a fewbrief years there was a shepherd government here—theBritish ruled again in Britain. Then came thenext strong tide of Northern invasion, and anotherconquest.

I well remember how, in the throes of the first greatchange that heralded a new era in Britain, the herdsmenand serfs were crushed between waning Romanterrors, such as Electra wielded, and the growing horrorsof the Northmen.

Of these latter I saw something. On one occasionwhen the storm was brewing, I was away down inthe coast provinces hunting wolves, and thus bychance fell in with a “sea king’s” foray and a Britishreprisal. On that occasion the spoilers were spoiled,and we taught the Northern ravishers a lesson which,had they been more united so that such a blow mighthave been better felt by the whole, would have dampedtheir ardor for a long time. As it was, to rout and destroytheir scattered parties was but like moppingup the advancing tide of those salt waves that broughtthem on us.

Those down there by the Kentish shore had beenunmolested for some years; they had lived at theirleisure, had got their harvests in, had rebuilt theirvillages out in the open, and set up forges, and hammeredspearheads and bosses, rings for the women, ofsilver and brass, and chains and furniture for theirhorses, of gold; shearing their flocks, and living asthough such things as Norsem*n were not—when oneday the infliction came upon them again.

It was a gusty morning in early summer—I rememberit well—and most of the men were from the villages,hunting, when away toward the coast went upto the brightening sky a thin curl of smoke, followedby another and another. The sight was understoodonly too well. Line after line crept up in the silenceof the morning over the green tree tops and againstthe gray of the sea, while groups of black figures (flyingvillagers we knew them to be) went now and thenover the sky-line of the wolds into the security of thevalleys to right and left. As the wail went up fromthe huts where I rested, a mounted chief, his toes inthe iron rings of his stirrups, and his wolf skins flyingfrom his bare shoulders, came pounding through thewoods with the bad news the raiders were close behind.

Rapid packing was a great feminine accomplishmentin those days, and, while the women swept their childrenand more portable valuables into their clothesand disappeared into the forest, we sent the quickest-footedyouths that were with us to call back thehunters, and made our first stand there round the hutsand mounds of the old village of Caen Edron.

And we kept its thatch and chattels inviolate, for,by this time, the countryside was all in arms, and, asthe sea was far behind them, the despoilers but showedthemselves on the fringe of the open, exchanged ajavelin or two, and turned.

Hot on their track that morning of vengeance wewent after them; over the scrubby open ground anddown through the tangles of oak and hazel. We pressedthem back past the charred and smoking remnants ofthe villages they had burned, back by the streams thatstill ran streaky in quiet places with blood, back downthe red path of ruin and savagery they had trodden,back by the cruel finger-posts of dead women, backby the halting places of the ravishers—ever drawingnew recruits and courage, till we outnumbered themby six to one—and thus we trampled that day onthe heels of those laden pirates from the valley-headdown to the shore.

It was a time of vengeance, and our women andchildren crowded, singing and screaming, after us,to kill and torture the wounded. Every now and thenthose surly spoilers turned, and we fled before themas the dogs fly from a big boar who goes to bay; buteach time we came on again, and their standing placesby the coverts and under the lichened rocks were litteredwith dead, and all bestrewn amid the ferns inthe pink morning light was the glittering spoil theydisgorged. Truly that was an hour of victory, andthe Britons were drunk with success. They followedlike starving wolves after a herd of deer, leaping fromrock to rock, crowding every point of vantage, andrunning and yelling through the underwood untilsurely the Northmen must have thought the place inpossession of a legion of devils.

But all this noise was as nothing to the frightfulyell of savage joy which went up from us when wesaw the raiders draw together on the shingle ridgeof the beach, and knew instinctively by their pale, tidewardfaces and hesitation, that they were trapped—thesea was out, and their ships were high and dry!

Somehow, I scarcely know how it was, when thosem*n turned grimly and prepared to make their laststand under their ships, a strange silence fell uponboth bands, and for a minute or two the long, wildrank of our warriors halted at the bottom of the slope,every man silent and dumb by a strange accord, whileopposite, against the sky-line, were the mighty Norsem*n,clustered together, and looking down with fierce,sullen brows, equally silent and expectant, while thesun glinted on their rustling arms and tall, peakedcasques.

We stood thus a minute or two, and I heard thethumpings of my own heart, like an echo of the lowwash of the far-away sea—a plover piping overhead,and a raven croaking on the distant hills, but notanother sound until—suddenly some British womenwho had come red-handed to a mound behind brokeout into a wild war song. Then the spell was loosed,and we were again at them, sweeping the sea kingsfrom the ridge into the tangle of long grass and sandand stunted bushes that led to the shore, and there,separated, but dying stubbornly, powerless againstour numbers, we pulled them down, and killed themone by one, lopping their armor from them and strippingtheir cloths, till the pleasant lichened valleys ofthe seashore wood and the green footways of the mosswere stamped full of crimson puddles and litteredwith the naked bodies of those tawny giants.

The last man to fall was a chief. Twice I had seenhim hard pressed, and had lifted my javelin to slayhim, but a touch of silly compunction had each timeheld my hand, and now he stood with his back to hisship, like some fierce, beautiful thing of the sea. Hisplated brass and steel cuirass was hacked and dented,his white linen hung in shreds about him; his armswere bare, and blood ran down them, while his longfair hair lifted to the salt wind that was coming infreshly with the tide, and the sun shone on his coldblue eyes, and his polished harness, and his tall andcomely proportions, standing out there against thedark side of his high-sterned vessel.

But what cared the Britons for flaxen locks or thegoodliness of a young Thor? He had in his handsa broken spear, his own sword being snapped in two;and with this weapon he lay about fiercely every nowand then as the men edged in upon him. LucklessViking! there is no retreat or rescue! He was bleedingheavily, and, even as I watched, his chin sankupon his chest. At once the Britons ran in upon him,but the life flared up again, and the gallant robbercrushed in a pair of heads with his stave and sentthe others flying back, still glaring upon the widecircle of his enemies with death and defiance strugglingfor mastery in his eyes in a way wonderful tobehold. Again and again the yellow head of the youngThor nodded and sank, and again and again he startedup and scowled upon them, as each savage cry of joy,to see him thus bleeding to death, fell upon his ears.Presently he wavered for a moment and leaned hisshoulder against the black side of his ship, and hislids dropped wearily; at once the Britons rushed, and,when I turned my face there again, they were hackingand stripping the armor from a mutilated butstill quivering corpse!

A few such episodes as this repulse of the Northmen,magnified and circulated with all the lying exaggerationthat a coward race ever wraps about hisfeats of arms, made the Britons bold, and their boldnessbrings me to the end of my chapter.

Many a pleasant week and month did I live andenjoy all the best things life has to give: the masterof my Roman mistress; the foremost spearman wherethe boar went to bay among the rocks on the hillside;the jolliest fellow that was ever invited to a lordlybanquet; the penniless adventurer whose fortune everyone envied—and then fate put me by again, and wipedmy tablets clean for another frolic epoch.

It came about this way. The British grew moreand more unruly as time went on, and legion afterlegion left us. At length, when the last of the Romanswere down to the coast, about to embark, Electramade up her mind to go, too—and with all her hoards.But in this latter particular the new authorities inthe neighboring town could not concur, and they senttwo brand-new civilian senators to expostulate anddetain her, the last representative of the old rule.Electra had those gentlemen stripped in the vestibule,and flogged within an ace of their lives, and then sentthem home, bound, in a mean country cart.

All that afternoon we were busy sewing up the goldand bronze in bags, and by dusk a long train ofmules set out for the coast, in charge of a score ofour mercenaries, who, having served a long apprenticeshipto cruelty and extortion, had more to fearfrom the natives than even we. Nor was it too soon.As the last of the convoy went into the evening darkness,Electra and I ascended the flat, wide roof ofher home, and there we saw, westward, under thestormy red of the setting sun, the flashing of armsand the dust-wreaths against the glow which hungabove the bands of people moving out and bearingdown on us in a mood one well could guess.

Her ladyship, having safely packed, was disdainfuland angry. Her fine lips curled as she watched thegray column of citizens swarming out to the assault;but when her gaze wandered over the fair valleysshe had ruled and bled so long, she was, perhaps, alittle regretful and softened.

“My good and stalwart Captain,” she said, comingnear to me, “yonder sun, I fear, will never rise againon a Roman Briton! We must obey the Fates. Youknow what I would do, had I the power, to yonderscum; but, since we must desert this house to them(as I see too clearly we must), how can we best ensurethe safety of the treasure?”

We arranged there and then, with small time forparley, that I should stay with a handful of her mercenariesand make a stand about the villa, while she,with the last of her servants, should go on and hurryup by every means in her power the slow caravan ofher wealth. In truth, my mistress was as brave asshe was overbearing, and but for those endless shiningbags of gold, I do believe she would have stayedand fought the place with me.

As it was, she reluctantly consented to the plan,and bid me adieu (which I returned but coldly), andcame back again for another kiss, and said anothergood-by, and hung about me, and enjoined caution,and held my hands, and looked first into my eyes andthen back into the darkness where the laden muleswere, as much in love as a rustic maid, as anxious asa usurer, and torn and distracted between these contendingfeelings.

At last she and all the women were gone, whereonwith a lighter mind we set ourselves down to covertheir retreat. Here must it be confessed that for myselfI was ill at ease; treachery lurked within me.I had grown somewhat weary of her ladyship, nor hadlonger a special wish to be dragged in her goldenchains, the restless spirit chance had bred withinmoved, and I had determined to see my enamoredVice-Prefect safe to her ships, and then—if I could—ifI dared—break with her! I well knew the wildtornado of indignation and love this would call up,and hence had not confessed my intentions earlier,but had been cold and distant. The dame, you willsee presently, had been sharper in guessing than Isupposed.

We made such preparation as we could, with thesmall time at our disposal, barricading the white façadeof the villa and closing all approaches. Thenwe pulled the winter stacks to pieces in the yard,making two great mounds of fa*gots in front of theporch, pouring oil upon each, and stationing a manto fire them, by way of torches, at a given signal. Myhope was that, as the wide Roman way ran just belowthe villa, the avengers of the Ambassadors would notthink of passing on until they had demolished thehouse and us.

Of the loyalty of the few men with me I had littlefear. They were brave and stubborn, all their paywas on Electra’s mules, and the British hated themwithout compunction. There were in our little companythat black evening, seven wild Welshmen, undera shaggy-haired, blue-eyed princeling: Gwallon of theBow, he called himself—fifteen swarthy Iberians, allteeth and scimitar—a handful of Belgic mercenaries,with great double-headed axes—but never a Romanamong them all in this last stand of Roman power inBritain!

Was I a Roman, I wondered, as I stood on the terrace,waiting the onset of the liberated slaves? Whatwas I? Who was I? How came it that he who wasfirst in repelling the stalwart Roman adventurers ofendless years before was the last to lift a sword intheir defense? And, more personally, was this nightto be, as it greatly seemed, the last of all my wildadventures; or had fate infinite others in store for herbantling?

You will guess how I wondered and speculated asmy golden Roman armor clanked to my gloomy stridein Electra’s empty corridors, and the wet, fleecy cloudsdrifted fitfully across the face of a broad, full moon,and a thousand things of love or sorrow crowded onmy busy mind.

We had not long to wait, however. In an hour themob came scuffling round the bend, shouting disorderly,with innumerable torches borne aloft, and theyset up a yell when they caught sight of our shiningwhite walls silently agleam in the moonlight.

There could be no parley with such a leaderlessrush, and we attempted none. Without a thought ofdiscipline they stormed the pastures and swarmedinto the garden, a motley, angry crowd, armed withscythes and hooks and axes, and apparently all thetown pressing on behind.

Well, we fired our fa*gots, and they gleamed upfiercely to welcome the scullion levies to their doom.Never did you see such a ruddy, wild scene—sucha motley parody of noble war! The bright flamesleaped into the tranquil sky in volcanoes of spark andhissing tongues, the British rushed at us between thefires like imps of darkness, and we met them faceto face and slew them like the dogs they were. In afew minutes we were hemmed in the veranda, underwhose columns we had some shelter, and then mybrave Welshmen showed me how they could pull theirlong bows, which indeed they did in right good earnest,until all the trim terraces were littered withwrithing, howling foemen.

But again they drove us back, this time into thehouse, and there we soon had a better light to fightby, for the sparks had caught the roof, and sooneverything far and near was ablaze. Every man withme that night fought like a patrician, and Electra’swalls, with their endless painted garlands of oak andmyrtle, their cooing doves and tender Cupids, werehorribly besmeared and smudged; and her marble pillarswere chipped by flying javelins and gashed byrandom axe-strokes.

Ten times we hurled ourselves upon the invadersand drove them staggering backward over the slipperypavements into the passages—sixteen men hadfallen to my own arm alone, and we crammed theirbodies into the doorways for barricade. But it wouldnot do. The sheer weight of those without made themen within brave against their will. Nothing availedthe stinging shafts of my Welshmen, the Iberianscimitars played hopelessly (like summer lightning inthe glare) upon a solid wall of humanity, and the Germanaxes could make no pathway through that impenetrablecivilian tangle.

Overhead and among us the smoke curled andeddied, and the flames behind it made it like a hotnoonday in our fighting-place. And in the wreaths ofthat pungent vapor, circling thick and yellow in thegreat open-roofed hall of the noble Roman villa, herladyship’s statues of faun and satyr still fluted andgrinned imbecilely as though they liked the turmoil.Niobe wept for new griefs as the marble little ones ather feet were calcined before her eyes, and the Gorgonhead wore a hundred frightful snakes of flame;the pale, proud Pallas Athene of the Greeks lookeddisdainfully on the dying barbarians at her feet, andPan, himself in bronze, leered on us through the reekuntil his lower limbs grew white hot—and gave way,and down he came—whereon a mighty Briton heavedhim up by his head, and with this hissing, glowing flailcarried destruction and confusion among us.

It was so hot in that flaming marble battle-placethat foreigner and Briton broke off fighting now andthen to kneel together for a moment at the red fountainbasins where the jets still played (for the fugitiveshad forgotten to turn them off), and quenchedtheir thirst in hurried gasps, ere flying again at eachother’s throats, and so wild the confusion and uproar,and so dense the smoke and flame, so red and slipperywere the pavements, and so thick the dead anddying, that hardly one could tell which were friendsand which foes.

For an hour we kept them at bay, and then, whenmy arms ached with killing, all of a sudden the faceof a man unknown to me, whom I never had seen before,shone in the gleam at my shoulder.

“Phra the Phœnician,” he said, calling me by anappellation no living man then knew, “I am bidden toget you hence. Come to the inner doorway—quick!”

I hardly knew what he meant, but there was thatabout him which I could not but obey, so I turnedand followed his retreating figure.

I ran with him across the courtyard, under thewhite marble pillars all aglow, through the silent banquet-hallthat had echoed so often to the haughtylaughter of my mistress, and then when we reachedthe cool, damp outer air—like a wreath of mist inNovember, like an eddy among the dead leaves—myguide vanished and left me!

Angry and surprised, but with no time for wonder,I turned back.

Even as I did so there was a mighty crack, a groaningof a thousand timbers, and there before my veryface, with a resounding roar, Electra’s lordly mansion,and all the wings, and buttresses, and basem*nts, therooms, and colonnades, and corridors of that splendidhome of luxury and power, lurched forward, andheaved, and collapsed in one mighty red ruin thattinctured the sky from east to west, and buried alikein one vast, glowing hecatomb besiegers and besieged!

It had fallen, the last stronghold of Roman authority,and there was nothing more to defend! Iturned, and took me to the quiet forest pathways,every nook and bend of which I knew. As I ran, thesweet, moist air of the evening was like an elixir tomy heated frame; now into the black shadows Iplunged, and anon brushing the silver moonlight dewfrom bramble and bracken, while a thousand fanciesof our stubborn fight danced around me.

In a little time the road went down to a river thatsparkled in flood under the moonbeams. Here theladen mules had crossed into comparative safety, andnow I had to follow them with a single guide-rope tofeel my way alone across the dangerous ford. I struggledthrough the swollen stream safely, though it rosehigh above my waist, and then who should loom outof the dark on the far side but Electra, standing aloneand expectant at the brink.

Faithful, stately matron! She was so glad to seeme again I was really sorry I did not love her more.I told her something of the fight, and she a little ofthe retreat. Some time before the long train of mulesand slaves had gone on up the steep slowing bank,and into the coppice beyond, and now I and the Romandame lingered a minute or so by the brink of theturgid stream to see the last flickers of her burninghome. We were on the point of turning; indeed, LadyElectra seemed anxious to be gone, when, steppingout of the dark pathway into a patch of moonlight onthe farther shore, a little silver casket in her duteoushands, and those dainty skirts in which she took somuch pride muddy and soiled, appeared the poor littleslave Numidea.

She tripped fearfully forth from the shadows anddown to the brink, where the water was swirlingagainst the stones in an ivory and silver inlay; andwhen she saw (not perceiving us in the shadow) thatall the people had gone on and she was deserted tothe tender mercies of the foemen behind, she droppedher burden, and threw up her white, clasped hands inthe moonlight, and wailed upon us in a way that mademy steel cuirass too small for my swelling heart.

Surely such a pitiful sight ought to have moved anyone, yet Electra only cursed those nimble feet underher breath, and from this, though I may do her heavyinjustice, I have since feared she had planned thedesertion and sent the maid back to be killed or takenon some false errand which for her jealous purposewas too quickly executed.

That noble Roman lady pulled me by the hand, andwould have had me leave the girl to her fate, scoldingand entreating; and when I angrily shook myself free,turning her wild, untutored passions into the channelsof love, told me she had guessed my project of leavingher “for Numidea,” and clung to me, and endeared me,and promised me “the tallest porch on Palatina” (as Ithrew off my buckler and broadsword to be lighter inthe stream) and “the whitest arms for welcome therethat ever a Roman matron spread” (as I pitched mygilded helmet into the bushes and strode down to thetorrent), if I would but turn my back once for all uponmy little kinswoman.

Three times the white arms of that magnificentwanton closed round me, and three times I wrenchedthem apart and hurled her back, three times she cameanew to the struggle, squandering her wild, queenlylove upon me, while, under the white light overhead,the tears shone in her wonderful upturned eyes likevery diamonds; three times she invoked every deityin the hierarchy of the southern skies to witness herperjured love, and cursed, for my sake, all those absentyouths who had fallen before her. Three timesshe knelt there on the black and white turf, andwrung her fair hands and shook out her long, thickhair, and came imploring and begging down to thevery lapping of the water. And there I stood—for Itoo was a Southern, and could be hot and fierce—andspoke such words as she had never heard before—abusedand scoffed and derided her: laughed at hersorrow and mocked her grief, and then turned andplunged into the torrent.

The ford was not long: in a minute or two I struggledout on the farther shore, and Numidea, with acry of pleasure and trustfulness, came to my drippingarms.

The British, hot on the track, were shouting to oneanother in the dark pursuit, so the little maid waspicked up securely, and, with her in my left arm uponmy hip, her warm wrists about my neck, and my otherhand on the guide-rope, we went back into the streamagain. By the sacred fane of Vesta, it ran strongerthan a mill sluice, and tugged and worried at my limbslike the fingers of a fury! I felt the pebbly gravelsifting and rolling beneath my feet, and the stronglift of the water, as it swirled, flying by in the moonlight,hissing and bubbling at my heaving chest in away that frightened me—even me. At last, withevery muscle on fire with the strain and turmoil, andmy head giddy with the dancing torrent all about it,I saw the farther bank loom over us once more, and,heaving a heavy sigh of fatigue, collected myself forone more crowning effort.

But I had forgotten that royal harpy, my mistress;and, even as I gathered my last strength in the swirlof the black water below, she sprang to the verge ofthe bank overhead, vengeance and hatred flashing inthe eyes that I had left full of gentleness and tears,and gleaming there in her wrath, her white robes shiningin the moonlight against the ebony setting of thenight, and glowered down upon us.

“Down with the maid!” she screamed, with all thetyrant in her voice. “Down with her, Centurion, oryou die together!”

“Never! never!” I shouted, for my blood was boilingfiercely, and I could have laughed at a hundred suchas she. But while I shouted my heart sank, for Electrawas terrible to behold—an incarnation of beautifulcruelty, hot, reckless hatred ruling the features thathad never turned upon me before but in sweetnessand love. For one minute the passion gathered head,and then, while I stood in the current with dread ofthe coming deed, she snatched my own naked swordfrom the ground. “Die, then!” she yelled; “and maya thousand curses weigh down your souls!” As shesaid it the blade whirled into the moonlight, descendingon the guide-rope just where it ran taut and hardover the posts, severing it clean to the last strandswith one blow of those effective white arms, and thenext minute the hempen cord was torn out of mygrasp, and over and over in a drowning, bewilderedcascade of foam we were swept away down the stream.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (5)

“Die, then!” she yelled; “and may a thousand curses weigh downyour souls!”

It was the wildest swim that ever a mortal took.So fiercely did we spin and fly that heaven and earthseemed mixed together, and the white clouds overheadwere not whiter than the sheets of foam thatran down seaward with us. I am a good swimmer,but who could make the bank in such a caldron ofangry waters? and now Numidea was on top, and nowI. It went to my heart to hear the poor little Christiangasp out on “Good St. Christopher!” and to feelthe flutter of her breast against my leather jerkin,and then presently I did not feel it at all. Many anisland of wreckage passed us, but none that I couldlay hold on, until presently a mighty log came foamingdown upon us, laboring through that torrent surf likea full-sailed ship. As it passed I threw an arm overa strong root, and thus, for an hour, behind that blackmidnight javelin we flew downward, I knew notwhither. Then it presently left the strong stream,and towing me toward a soft alluvial beach, just asdawn was breaking in the east, deposited me there,and slowly disappeared again into the void.

This is all I know of Roman Britain; this is the endof the chapter.

As I reeled ashore with my burden some friendlyfisherfolk came forward to help, but I saw them not.Numidea was dead! my poor little slave-girl—the onespeck of virtue in that tyrant world—and I bent overher, and shut her kindly eyes, and spread on the sandher long wet braids, and smoothed the modest whitegown she was so careful of, with a heart that washeavier than it ever felt yet in storm or battle!

Then all my grief and exertions came upon me in aflood, and the last thing I remember was stoopingdown in the morning starlight to kiss the fair littlemaid upon that pallid face that looked so wan andstrange amid the wild-spread tangles of her twistedhair.

CHAPTER V

When consciousness came to my eyes again, everythingaround me was altered and strange. The veryair I drew in with my faint breaths had a taste of theunknown about it, an impalpable something that wasnot before, speaking of change and novelty. As forsurroundings, it was only dimly that any fashionedthemselves before those dull and sleepy eyes of minethat hesitated, as they drowsily turned about, whetherto pronounce this object and that true material substance,or still the idle fantasy of dreams.

As time went on certainty developed out of doubt,and I found myself speculating on as strangely furnisheda chamber as any one was ever in. All roundthe wall hung the implements of many occupations inbunches and knots. Here the rude tools of husbandrywere laid aside, the mattock and the flail; the woodman’saxe and the neatherd’s goad, just as though theyhad been suspended on the wall by some invisiblelaborer after a good day’s work. Yonder were a sheafof arrows and a stout bow strangely shaped, a huntinghorn, and there again a long withy peeled for fishing,and a broad, rusty iron sword (that truly looked asif it had not been used for some time) over against aleash for dogs, and a herdsman’s cowl, with otherstrange things festooning the walls of this dim littleplace.

Among these possessions of some many-minded menwere shelves I noted with clay vessels of sorts uponthem, and bunches of dried herbs and roots and applesput by for the winter, and, more curious still, in thesafest niche away in the quietest corner were storedup in many tiers more than a score of vellums andmanuscripts, all neatly rolled and tagged with coloredribbons, and wound in parchments and embroideredgold and colored leathers, forming such a library oflearning as only the very studious could possess inthose days. Beyond them were flasks and essences,and dried herbs, and ink-horns, and sheafs of uncutreeds for writing, with such other various items asastonished me by their incongruous complexity andnovelty.

All these lay in the shadows most commendable tomy weakly eyes. As for the center of the room, I nowbegan to notice it was a brilliant golden haze, a nebulouscloud of yellow light, to my enfeebled sensewithout form or meaning, whence emerged constantlya thin metallic hammering, as though it might be somekindly invisible spirit were forging a golden idea intoa human hope behind that shining veil.

I shut my eyes for a minute or two to rest them,and then looked again. The haze had now concentrateditself into a circle of light, radiating, as I perceived,[Pg 100]from a lamp hung from the low roof, and under thatpale, modest radiance, seated at a trestle table, wasa venerable white-bearded old man. Never, so far,perhaps, in long centuries of intercourse with bravebut licentious peoples, had a face like his been beforeme. It was restful to look at, a new page in historyit seemed, full of a peace which had hitherto passedall understanding and a dignity beyond descriptionor definition. Before him, on the board, was a brilliantmass of shining white metal, and, as he eagerlybent over it, absorbed in his work, his thin andscholarly hands, wielding a chisel and a mallet andobeying the art that was in his soul, caused therhythmed hammering I had noticed, while they forcedwith loving zeal the bright chips and spiral flakesfrom the splendid dazzling crucifix he was shaping.

And all behind that lean and kindly anchorite theblack shadows flickered on the walls of his lonely cell,and his little fire of sticks burned dimly on the openhearth, and the shining dust of his labor sparkled inhis grizzly beard as brightly as the reverent pleasurein his eyes while the symbol before him took form andshape.

So pleasant was he to look upon, I could have lefthim long undisturbed, but presently a sigh involuntarilyescaped me. Thereon, looking up for the firsttime from his work, the recluse peered all round himinto the recesses, and, seeing nothing, fell to his taskonce more. Again I sighed, and then he arose withoutemotion or fear, and stared intently into theshadows where I lay. In vain I essayed to speak—mytongue clove to my mouth, and naught but a huskyrattle broke the stillness. At that sound he took downthe lamp and came forward, wonder and astonishmentworking in his face; and when, as the light shone onme, with a great effort my head was turned to oneside, even that placid monk started back and stoodtrembling a little by the table.

But he soon mastered his weakness and advancedagain, muttering, as he did so, excitedly to himself,“He was right! He was right!” And when at lastmy tongue was loosened I said:

“Who was right, thou gray-bearded chiseler?”

“Who? Why, Alfred. Alfred, the son of Ethelwulf,the son of Egbert—Alfred the great Thane ofEngland!”

“One of your British Princelings, I suppose,” I mutteredhuskily. “And wherein was he so right?”

“He was right, O marvelous returner from the dimseas of the past, in that he prophesied your return!To him you owe this shelter and preservation.”

“All this may be so, my host,” I replied, beginningto feel more myself again; “but it matters not. Ifought a stubborn fight last night, and I was carriedaway by a midnight torrent. If you have shelteredand dried me, and”—with a sudden sinking of myvoice—“if you have protected the little maid I hadwith me, then I am grateful to you, Alfred or noAlfred,” and I threw off a mountain of moldy-seemingrags and coverlets, and staggered up.

But that worthy monk was absolutely dumb withastonishment, and as I tottered to my feet, holdingout to him a gaunt, trembling hand, brown with thedust of ages, and drunkenly reeled across his floor,he edged away, while the long hair of his silvery headbristled with wonder.

“My son, my son!” he gasped at length, over the shiningcrucifix; “this is not so; none of us know the beginningof that sleep you have slept; that night ofyours is of immeasurable antiquity. History has forgottenyour very battles, and your maid, I fear, haslong since passed into common, immaterial dust.”

This was too much, and suddenly, overwhelmed bythe tide of hot Phœnician passion, I shook my fist inhis face, and swearing in my bitter Roman that helied, that he was a grizzle-bearded villain with a heartas black as his tongue, I staggered to the doorway,and pushing wide the hinges tottered out on to agrassy promontory just as the primrose flush of daywas breaking over the hilltops. There, holding on toa post, for my legs were very weak and frail, andpeering into the purple shadows, I lifted my voice inanger and fear, and shouted in that green loneliness,“Numidea! Numidea!” then waited with a beating,beating heart until—thin, sullen, derisive—from thehills across the ravine came back the soulless response:

“Numidea! Numidea!”

I could not believe it. I would not think theycould not hear, and stamping in my impatience, “Electra!”I shouted, “Numidea! ’tis Phra—Phra the friendlesswho calls to you!” then again bent an ear tolisten, until, from the void shadows of the purple hills,through the pale vapors of the morning mist, therecame again in melancholy-wise the answer:

“’Tis Phra, Phra the friendless who calls to you!”—andI dropped my face into my hands and bent myhead and dimly knew then that I was jettisoned oncemore on the shore of some unknown and distant time!

It was of no use to grieve; and when the kindly handof the monk was placed upon my shoulder I submittedto his will, and was led back to the cell, and there hegave me to drink of a sweet, thin decoction thatgreatly soothed these high-strung nerves.

Then many were the questions that studious manwould have me answer, and busy his wonder and aweat my assertions.

“What Emperor rules here now?” I said, lying melancholyon my elbow on the couch.

“None, my son. There are no Emperors but theSovereign Pontiff now—may St. Peter be his guide!”

“No Emperor! Why, old man, Honorius held swayin Rome that night I went to sleep!”

“Honorius!” said the monk, incredulously stoppinghis excited pacings to stare at me; and he took downa portly tome of history and ran his fingers over theleaves, until, about midway through that volume, theysettled on a passage.

“Look! look! you marvelous man!” he cried; “allthis was history before you slumbered; and all this,nigh as much again, has been added while you slept!Five hundred years of solid life!—a thousand changingseasons has the germ of existence been dormant inthat mighty bulk of yours! Oh! ’tis past belief, andhad you not been my lodger for so long a time, thoughall so short in comparison, I would not hear of it.”

“And how has the world spun all this period?” Isaid, with dense persistence. “Who is Consul now inGaul? And are all my jolly friends of the TenthLegion still quartered where I left them?”—and Imentioned the name of the town by which Electralived.

“I tell thee, youth,” the priest replied quite hotly,“there is no Consul, there are no legions. All yourbarbarous Romans are long since swept to hell, andthe noble Harold is here anointed King of Saxon England.”

“I never heard of him,” I said coldly.

“Perhaps not, but, by the cowl of St. Dunstan! heflourishes nevertheless,” responded my saintly entertainer.

“And is this Harold of yours successor to the otherThane, Alfred, whom you describe as taking such akindly interest in me?”

“Yes; but many generations separate them. It wasthe great Bretwalda you have mentioned who, traditionsays, once found you inanimate, yet living, in afisherman’s hut where he sheltered one day from astorm, and, struck by the marvel and the tale of thepoor folk that their ancestors had long ago draggedyou from a swollen river in their nets, and that youslumbered on without alteration or change from yearto year, from father to son, there on your dusty shelfin their peat smoke and broken gear, he bought andgave you to the holy Prelate at the blessed Cathedralof Canterbury, whence you came a few months agointo my hands. All else there is to know, my strangelygifted son,” the monk went on, “is locked in the darknessof that long slumber, and such acts of your otherlife as your vacant mind may recall.”

This seemed a wonderful thing, very briefly told,but it was obviously all there was to hear, and sufficientafter a style. The old man said that, having amind for curiosities, and observing me once in dangerof being broken up as rubbish by careless hands, hehad claimed me, and brought the strange livingmummy here to his cell “on the hill Senlac, by thenarrow English straits.”

“That, inscrutable one,” he added with a twinkle inhis eye, “was only some months ago, and the mess Imade my hut in cleaning and wiping you down waswonderful. Yonder little stream you hear prattlingin the valley ran dusty for hours with your washings,and your form was one shapeless bulk of cobwebs anddishonored wrappings. Many a time as I peeled fromyou the alternate layers of peat smoke and rags withwhich generations of neglect had shrouded that body,did I think to roll you into the valley as you were, andsee what proportions the weather and the crows wouldmake of it. But better counsels prevailed, and forseven days you have been free and daily rubbed withscented oils!”

I thanked him meetly, and hoped I had not been areluctant patient?

“A more docile never breathed.”

“Not an expensive lodger afterward?”

“Never was there one more frugal, nor one who lesscriticized his entertainment!”

Then it was the good monk’s turn, and his wise andkindly eyes sparkled with pleasure and astonishmentas I told him in gratitude such tales of the early times—drewfor him such brilliant, fiery pictures on thedark background of the past—illumined and vivifiedhis dry histories with the colors of my awakeningmemory, and set all the withered puppets of his chroniclesa-dancing in the tinsel and the glitter of theiractual lives; until, over the lintel of his doorway andunder the lappets of his roof, there came the first thin,fine fingers of the morning sunshine, trickling into ourdim arena thronged thus with shadowy imagery, andplaying lovingly, about the great silver crucifix thatlay thus ablaze under it in the gloom! Then I sleptagain for two days and two nights as lightly and happilyas a child.

When I awoke I was both hungry and well. Indeed,it was the scent of breakfast that roused me.But, alas! the meal was none of mine. The littletable had been cleared, and at it, on clean white napkins,were places for three or four people. There werewooden platters with steel knives upon them, oatenloaves, great wooden tankards of wine and mead, withfish and fowl flesh in abundance. Surely my entertainerwas going to turn out a jolly fellow, now thenight’s vigils were over! But as I speculated in myretired couch there fell the beat of marching men, aclatter of arms outside and a shouting of many voicesin clamorous welcome, the ringing of stirrup-ironsand the champing of bits, and then, to my infiniteastonishment, in stalked as comely a man as I had everseen, and leading by the hand a fair, pale, black-hairedgirl, who looked jaded and red in her eyes.

“There, my Adeliza,” he said; “now dry those lashesof yours and cheer up. What! A Norman girl likeyou, and weeping because two hosts stand faced forbattle! What will our Saxon maids say to these shiningdrops?”

“Oh, Harold!” the girl exclaimed, “it is not conflictI fear, or I would not have come hither to you, bravingyour anger; but think of the luckless chance thatbrings my father from Normandy in arms against mySaxon love! Think of my fears, think how I dreadthat either side should win—surely grief so complicatedshould claim pardon for these simple tears.”

“Well, well,” said he—whom I, unobserved in theshadows, now recognized as the English monarch himself—“ifwe are bound to die, we can do so but once,and at least we will breakfast first,” and down he sat,signing the girl to get herself another stool in roughSaxon manner.

And a very good meal he made of it, putting awaythe toasted ortolans and cheese, and waging war withhis fingers and dagger upon all the viands, washingthem down with constant mighty draughts from thewooden flagons, and this all in a jolly, light-heartedway that was very captivating. Ever and anon hecalled to the “churls” outside, or gave a hasty orderto his captains with his mouth full of meat and bread,or put some dainty morsel into the idle fingers of hisdamsel, as though breakfasting was the chief thingin life, and his kingdom were not tottering to themartial tread of an invader.

But even gallant Harold, the last King of theSaxons, had finished presently, and then donning hispointed casque and his flowing silken-filigreed cloak,thrusting his whinger into his jeweled girdle, he threwhis round steel target on his back—then held out bothhis arms. Whether or not his Norman love, the reluctantseal of a broken promise, had always lovedhim, it is not for me to say, but, woman-like, she lovedhim at the losing, and flew to him and was enfoldedtight into his ample chest, and mixed her raven tresseswith his yellow English hair, and sobbed and clungto him, and took and gave a hundred kisses, and wasso sweet and tearful that my inmost heart was moved.

When Harold had gone out, and when presently theclatter of arms and shouting proved he was movingoff to the field of eventful battle, Adeliza the proudbowed her head upon the table, and abandoned herselfto so wild a grief that I was greatly impelled torise and comfort her. But she would not be consoled,even by the ministrations of two of her waitingmaidens, who soon entered the place; and seeing thisI took an opportunity when all three were blendingtheir tears to slip out into the open air.

There I found my friendly Saxon monk in greattribulation, with a fragment of vellum in his hand.

“Ah, my son,” he said—“the very man. Look here,the air is heavy with event. Yonder, under the sheenof the sun, William of Normandy is encamped withsixty thousand of his cruel adventurers, and there,down there among the trees, you see the gallant Haroldand his straggling array, sorry and muddy withlong marching, on the way to oppose them. But theKing has not half his force with him, nor a fourth asmany as he needs! Take this vellum, and, if you everput a buskin in speed to the grass, run now for thecredit of England and for the sake of history—runfor that ridge away there behind us, where you willfind the good Earl of Mercia and several thousandmen encamped—and, if not asleep, most probablystuffing themselves with food and drink,” he addedbitterly under his breath. “Give him this, and sayHarold will not be persuaded, say that unless thereserves march at once the fight will be fought withoutthem—and then I think Dane and Saxon will bechaff before the wind of retribution. Run! my son—runfor the good cause, and for Saxon England!”

Without a word I took the vellum and crammed itinto my bosom and spun round on my heels and fleddown the hillside, and breasted the dewy tangles offern and brambles, and glided through the thickets,and flying from ridge to ridge, and leaping and runningas though the silver wings of Mercury were onmy heels, in an hour I dashed up the far hillside, and,panting and exhausted, threw down the missive underthe tawny beard of the great Earl himself.

That scion of Saxon royalty was, as the monk hadforeseen, absorbed in the first meal of the day, buthe was too much of a soldier, though, like all his race,a desperate good trencherman, to let such a matteras my errand grow cold, and no sooner had he readthe scroll and put me a shrewd question or two thanthe order went forth for his detachments to arm andmarch at once. But only a captain of many fightsknows how slow reluctant troops can be in such case.Surely, I thought, as I stood by with crossed armswatching the preparations it was none of my businessto help—surely a nation, though gallant enough,which quits its breakfast board so tardily, and takessuch a perilous time to cross-garter its legs, andbuckle on its blades, and peak its beard, and tag outit* baldric so nicely, when the invader is on foot—surelysuch a nation is ripe to the fall! And thesecomely English troops were doubly weary this morning,for they were fresh, as one of them told me, froma hard fight in the far north of the kingdom, whereHarold had just overthrown and slain Hardrada, Kingof Norway, and the unduteous Tosti, Harold’s ownbrother. Less wonder, then, I found them travel-stainedand weary, no marvel for the once they wereso slow to my fatal invitation.

It was noon before the English Earl led off the vanof his men, and an hour later before I had seen the lastof them out of the camp and followed reflective in therear—a place that never yet sorted with my mood—wondering,with the happy impartiality of my circ*mstances,whether it were best this morning to be invaderor invaded.

When we had gone a mile or two through the leafytangles, a hush fell upon the troop with which I rode,and then with a shout we burst into a run, for upfrom the valley beyond came the unmistakable soundof conflict and turmoil. We breasted the last ridge, Iand two hundred men, and there, suddenly emerginginto the open, was the bloody valley of Senlac beneathus, and the sunny autumn sea beyond, and at ourfeet right and left the wail and glitter and dust ofnearly finished battle—Harold had fought without us,and we saw the quick-coming forfeit he had to pay.

The unhappy Saxons down there on the pleasantgrassy undulations and among the yellow gorse andling stood to it like warriors of good mettle, butalready the day was lost. The Earl and his tardytroops had been merged into the general catastrophe,and my handful would have been of naught avail.The English array was broken and formless, galled bythe swarming Norman bowmen, the twang of whosestrings we could mark even up here, and fiercely assailedby foot and horsem*n. In the center alone theEnglish stood stubbornly shoulder to shoulder aroundthe peaked flag, at whose foot Harold himself wasgrimly repelling the ceaseless onset of the foeman.

But alas for Harold, alas for the curly-headed sonof Ethelwulf, and all the Princes and Peers with him!

We saw a mighty mass of foreign cavalry creepinground the shoulder of the hill, like the shadow of araincloud upon a sunny landscape: we saw the thousandgonfalons of the spoilers fluttering in the wind:we saw the glitter on the great throng of northernchivalry that crowded after the black charger of Williamof Normandy and the sacred flag—accursed ensign—thatToustain held aloft: we saw their sweepingcharge, and then when it was passed, the battle wasgone and done, the Saxon power was a hundred littlegroups dying bravely in different corners of the field.

The men with me that luckless afternoon meltedaway into the woods, and I turned my steps once moreto the little hill above Senlac and my hermit’s cell.

There the ill news had been brought by a woundedsoldier, and the women were filling the evening airwith cries and weeping. All that night they weptand wailed, Harold’s wife leading them, and whendawning came nothing would serve but she must goand find her husband’s body. Much the good monktried to dissuade her, but to no purpose, and swathingherself in a man’s long cloak, with one fair maidenlikewise disguised, and me for a guide, before therewas yet any light in the sky the brave Norman girlset out.

And sorry was our errand and grim our success.The field of battle was deserted, save of dead anddying men. On the dark wind of the night went upto heaven from it a great fitful groan, as all thewounded groaned in unison to their unseen miseries.Alas! those tender charges of mine had never seentill now the harvest field of war laid out with itsswaths of dead and dying! Often they hesitated onthat gloomy walk and hid their faces as the fitfulclouds drifted over the scene, and the changing lightand shadows seemed to put a struggling ghastly lifeinto the heaps of mangled corpses. Everywhere, aswe threaded the mazes of destruction or stepped unwittingin the darkness into pools of blood and mire,were dead warriors in every shape and contortion,lying all asprawl, or piled up one on top of another,or sleeping pleasantly in dreamless dissolution againstthe red sides of stricken horses. And many were thepale, blood-besmeared faces of Princes and chiefs mywhite-faced ladies turned up to the starlight, andmany were the sodden yellow curls they lifted withicy fingers from the dead faces of thanes and franklins,until in an hour the Norman girl, who had gonea little apart from us, suddenly stood still, and thenup to the clear, black vault of heaven there went sucha clear, piercing shriek as hushed even the very midnightsorrows of the battlefield itself.

The King was found!

And Editha, the handmaiden, too, made her findpresently, for there, over the dead Prince’s feet, theirleft hands still clasping each as when they had died,were her father and her two stalwart brothers.

Never did silenter courtiers than we six sit at amonarch’s feet until the day should break; and thenwe who lived covered the comely faces with the hemsof their Saxon tunics, and were away as fast as wecould go to the Norman camp, that the poor Princess-girlmight beg a trophy of her victorious father.

We entered the camp without harm, but had tostand by until the Conqueror should leave his tentand enter the rough shelter that had already beenerected for him. Here, while we waited, a youngknight, guessing Editha’s sex through her long cloak,roughly pulled down the kerchief she was holdingacross her face. Whereupon I struck him so heavilywith my fist that, for a minute, he reeled back againstthe horse he was leading, and then out came hisfalchion, and out came mine, and we fell upon eachother most heartily.

But before a dozen passes had been made the bystandersseparated us, and at the same moment theNormans set up a shout, and the brand-new Englishtyrant strode out of his tent, and, encircled by a glitteringthrong, entered the open audience-hall. Adelizadropped her white veil as he sat himself down, andcalled to him, and ran to the foot of his chair, andwept and knelt, so that even the stern son of Robertthe Devil was moved, and took her to him, and strokedher hair, and soothed and called her, in Norman-French,his pretty daughter, and promised her thefirst boon she could think of.

And that boon was the body of Harold Infelix.

Turn back the pages of history, and you will seethat she had her wish, and Waltham Abbey its kinglypatron.[1]

[1] Exact historians say it was Harold’s mother who found his body uponthe field of battle, and offered William its weight in gold for it. But ournarrator ought to know the truth better than any of them.

Meanwhile, a knight led the weeping Princess awayto her father’s tent, but when I and Editha wouldhave followed two iron-coated rogues crossed theirhalberds in our path.

“Not so fast there, my bulky champion!” calledWilliam the Bastard to me. “What is this I heardabout your striking a Norman for glancing at yondersilly Saxon wench? By St. Denis! your girls willhave to learn to be more lenient! Whence come you?What was your father’s name?”

“I hardly know,” I said, without thinking.

“Ah! a too common ignorance nowadays!” sneeredthe Conqueror, turning to his laughing knights.

Whereon wrathfully I replied: “At least, my fathernever mistook, under cover of the night, a serving-wenchfor a Princess!”

The shaft took the soldier in a very tender spot, andhis naturally sallow countenance blanched slowly toa hideous yellow as a smile went round the steel circleof his martial courtiers at my too telling answer. Yeteven then I could not but do his iron will justice forthe stern resolution with which the passion was restrainedin that cold and cruel face, and when heturned and spoke in the ear of his marshal standingnear there was no tremor of anger or compassion inthe inflexible voice with which he ordered me to betaken outside and hanged “to the nearest tree thatwill bear him” in ten minutes.

“As for the Saxon wench——Here, Des Ormeux”—turningto a grim villain in steel harness at his side—“thisgirl has a good fief, they say: she and it areyours for the asking!”

“My mighty liege,” said the Norman, dropping onone knee, “never was a gift more generously given. Iwill hold the land to your eternal service, and makethe maid free of my tent to-day, and to-morrow we willlook up a priest for the easing of her conscience.”

Loudly the assembled soldiers laughed as DesOrmeux pounced upon the shrieking Editha and boreher out of one door, while, in spite of my fierce strugglesto get at him, I was hustled into the open fromanother.

They dragged me into a green avenue between thehuts of the invader’s camp while they went for a ropeto hang me with. And as I stood thus loosely guardedand waiting among them, down the Norman ravishercame pacing toward us on his war-horse, boundtoward his tent, with my white Saxon flower fastgripped in front of him.

Oh, but he was proud to think himself possessed ofa slice of fair English soil so easily, and to have hiscourtship made so simple for him, and he looked thisway and that, with an accursed grin upon his face,no more heeding the tears and struggles of his victimthan the falcon cares for the stricken pigeon’s throes.When they came opposite to us Editha saw me andthrew out her hands and shrieked to me, and, when Iturned away my eyes and did not move, surely itseemed as though her heart would have broken.

Three more paces the war-horse made, and then,with the spring of a leopard thirsting for blood, I wasalongside of him, another bound and I was on thecrupper behind, and there, quicker than thought,quicker than the lightning strikes down the pine-tree,I had lifted the Norman’s steel shoulder-plate, andstabbed him with my long, keen dagger so fiercely inthe back that the point came out under his mid-rib,and the red blood spurted to his horse’s ears. Quicker,too, than it takes to tell I had gripped the maidenfrom the spoiler’s dying hands, and, pushing hisbloody body from the saddle, had thrown my own legsover the crescent peak, and before the gaping scullionsoldiers comprehended my bold stroke for freedom Ihad turned the horse’s head and was thunderingthrough the camp toward the free green woods beyond.

And we reached them safely; a rascal or two let flytheir cross-bows at us as we fled by, and I heard thebolts hum merrily past my ears, but they did no harm;and there was mounting and galloping and shouting,but the mailed Normans were wonderfully slow intheir stirrups! I laughed to see them scrambling andstruggling into their seats, two or three men to everywarrior who got safely up, and we soon left them farbehind. Down into the dip we rode, my good horsespurning in his stride the still fresh bodies of yesterday’sfighters, and spinning the empty helmets, andclattering through all the broken litter of the bittercontest, until we swept up the inland slopes into thestunted birch and hazels, and then—turning for amoment to shake my fist at the nearest of the distantNormans—I headed into the leafy shelter, and wasspeedily free from all chance of pursuit.

Then, and not before, was there time to take aglance at my beautiful prize, lying so gentle and lightupon my breast. Alas! every tint of color had gonefrom her fair features, and she lay there in my arms,fainting and pulseless. I loosened her neckscarf. “So!”I said, “fair Saxon blossom, this is destiny, and youand I are henceforth to be joined together by thewondrous links of fate”—and, stooping down as wepaced through the pleasant green and white flicker ofthe silent wood, I endorsed the immutable will ofchance with a kiss upon her forehead.

Presently she recovered, and all that day we rodeforward through the endless vistas of the southernwoods by bridle tracks and swine paths, until at nightfall,far from other shelters, we halted among therocks and hollows of a little eminence. No doubt mygentle comrade would have preferred a more peopledhabitation, but there was none in all that mighty wilderness,so she, like a wise girl, submitted withoutcomplaint to that which she could not avoid.

There was naught much to tell you of this evening,but it lives forever in my memory for one particularwhich consorted strangely with the thoughts the flightwith and rescue of Editha had aroused. I had foundher a roomy hollow in the rocks, and there had cutwith my dagger and made a bed of rushes, built a fire,and got her some roots to eat, and when darkness fellwe talked for a time by the cheerful blaze.

Without surprise I heard that though true Saxonin name and face, there was some British blood in herveins—a fact, indeed, of which I had been certainwithout her assurance. Then she went on to tell,with tearful pauses, of the home and broad lands ofwhich she was now lady paramount, as well as of thegallant kinsman lying out yonder dead in the nightdew, and wept and sighed in gentle melancholy, yetwithout the wild, inconsolable grief latter times havetaught to women, until presently those tearful blueeyes grew heavier and heavier, and the shapely chindropped in grief and weariness upon her white breast,and Editha of Voewood slept in the hands of thestranger.

Then I went out and looked at the blackness of thenight. Over the somber forest the shadowy pall ofthe evening was spread, and a thousand stars gleamedbrightly on every hand. Very still and strange wasthat unbroken fastness after the red turmoil of yesterday,with nothing disturbing the silence but the cry ofan owl to its mate across the coppices, the tinkle ofa falling streamlet, and now and then the long, hungryhowling of a wolf, or, nearer by, the sharp barkingof the foxes. I fed my horse, then went in and pulledthe fire together, and fell a-ruminating, my chin onmy hands, upon a hundred episodes of happiness andfear.

“Oh, strange eternal powers who set the goings andcomings of humanity, what is the meaning of thiswild riddle you are reading me?” I said presentlyaloud to myself. “Oh! Hapi and Amenti, dark goddessesof the Egyptians—oh! Atropos, Lachesis,Clotho, fatal sisters whom the Romans dread—Mista,Skogula, Zernebock, of these dark Saxon shadows—whyam I thus chosen for this uncertain immortality,when will this long drama, this changeful history ofmy being, end?”

As I muttered thus to myself I glanced at the whitegirl sleeping in the ruddy blaze, and saw her chestheave, and then—strange to tell, stranger to hear—witha sound like the whisper of a distant sea her lipsparted, and there came unmistakably the word:

“Never!”

Perhaps she was but dreaming of that amorousNorman’s fierce proposals, and so again I mused.

“Is it possible some unfinished spell of that red highpriestess of the Druids plays this sport with me? Isit possible Blodwen’s abiding affection—stronger thantime and changes—accompanies me from age to agein these her sweet ambassadors forever crossing mypath? Tell me, you comely sleeper, tell me your embassy,which is it that lasts longest, life or love?”

Slowly again, to my surprise, those lips were parted,and across the silent cavern came, beyond mistake orquestion, the word—“Love!”

At this very echo of my thoughts I stared hard ather who answered so appropriately, but there couldbe no doubt Editha was asleep with an unusually deepand perfect forgetfulness, and when I had assuredmyself of this it was only possible for me to supposethose whispered words were some delusion, the echoof my questioning.

Again I brooded, and then presently looked up, andthere—by Thor and Odin! ’twas as I write it—betweenme and the bare earth and tangled rootlets of thecavern side, over against the fitful sparkle of the fire,was a thin impalpable form that oscillated gently tothe draughts creeping along the floor, and grew tallerand taller, and took mortal air and shape, and roseout of nebulous indistinctness into a fine ethereal substance,and was clothed and visaged by the concentrationof its impalpable material, and there at last, smilingand gentle, in the flicker of the camp-fire, the grayshadow of my British Princess stood before me!

That man was never brave who has not feared, andthen for a moment I feared, leaping to my feet andstaggering back against the wall under the terriblesweetness of those eyes that burned into my being witha relentless fire that I could not have shunned if Iwould, and would not if I could. For some time Iwas thus motionless and fascinated, and then the gentleshadow, who had been regarding me intently, appearedto perceive the cause of my enthrallment, andlifting a shapely arm of lavender-colored essence fora minute veiled the terrible bewitchment of her face.Shrewd, observant shadow! As she did so I wasmyself again—my blood welled into my empty veins,my heart knocked fiercely at my ribs, and when Blodwenlowered her hand there seemed to me endlessenchantment but nothing dreadful in the glance ofkindly wonder with which her eyes met mine.

Surely it was as strange an encounter as ever therehad been—the little rocky recess all ruddy andshadowy in the dancing flames; the silent white Saxongirl there on the heaped-up rushes, her breast heavinglike a summer sea with a long, smooth undulation;and I against the stones, one hand on my dagger andthe other outspread fearful on the wall, scarce knowingwhether I were brave or not, while over againstthe eddying smoke—calm, passive, happy, immutable,was that winsome presence, shining in our duskyshelter with a tender violet light, such as was neverkindled by mortal means.

When I found voice to speak I poured forth mylongings and pent-up spirit in many a reckless question,but to all of them the Princess made no answer.Then I spread my arms and thought to grasp her, andever as they nearly closed upon her she moved backward,now here and now there, mocking my foolishhope and passing impalpable over the floor, alwaysgentle and compassionate, until the uselessness of thepursuit at last dawned upon me, and I stood irresolute.

I little doubt that immaterial immortal would havemustered courage or strength to speak to me presently,but the sleeping girl sighed heavily at thismoment and seemed so ill at ease that, without athought, I turned to look at her. When my eyessought the opposite side of the fire again the presencewas not half herself: under my very glance she wasbeing absorbed once more by the dusky air. To lether go like that was all against my will, and, leapingto those printless feet, “Princess! Wife!” I called,“stay another moment!” and as I said it I swept myarms round the last vestige of her airy kirtle, anddrew into my bosom an armful of empty air!

She had gone, and not a sign was left—not a palm’sbreadth of that lovely sheen shone against the wallas I arose ashamed from my knee and noticed Edithawas awaking.

“My kind protector,” said that damsel, “I have beenfeeling so strange—not dreaming quite, but feeling asthough some one were borrowing existence of me, yetleaving in my body the blood and pulse of life. Now,how can this be? I must surely have been very tiredyesterday.”

“No doubt you were, fair franklin,” I answered.“Yesterday was such a day as well excuses your weariness.Sleep again, and when the sun rises in anhour you shall rise with it as fresh as any of the littlebirds that already preen themselves.” So she slept—andpresently I too.

All the next day we rode on through endless gladesand briery paths toward Editha’s home, and as wewent, I afoot and she meekly perched upon our mightyNorman charger, I wooed her with a brevity which thetimes excused, and poured my nimble lover wit intoears accustomed only to the sluggish flattery of woodlandthanes and princely swineherds. And first sheblushed and would not listen, and then she sighed andswitched the low wet boughs of oak and hazel as wepassed along, and then she let me say my say withdowncast, averted eyes, and a sweet reluctance whichtold me I might stoutly push the siege.

As we went we picked up now and then a stragglingsoldier or two from the fight behind us, and now andthen a petty chieftain joined us, until presently wewound through the bracken toward Voewood, a verygoodly train.

Editha had got a palfrey and I my horse again; butas she neared her home the thought of its desolationweighed heavier and heavier upon her tender nature.She would not eat and would not speak, and at lasttook her to crying, and so cried until we saw, aglintthrough the oak-stems, a very fair homestead andample, with broad lands around, and kine and deerabout it, and all that could make it fair and pleasant.This was her Voewood; and when the servants camerunning to meet us (knowing nothing of the fight orits results, and thinking we were their master and hissons come again) with waving caps and shouts ofpleasure, it was too much for the overwrought girl.She threw up her white hands, and, with a cry of painand grief, slipped fainting from her palfrey beforeus all.

Then might you have seen a score of saddles featlyemptied to the service of the heiress! Down jumpedOffa the Dane, whose unchanged doublet was still redto his chin with mud and Norman gore. Down jumpedEdred and Egbert, those blue-eyed brothers who hadleft their lands by the northern sea a month ago tofollow Harold’s luckless banner; Torquil, the grim,and Wulfhere of the white beard, sprang to theground: and Clywin the fair Welsh princeling, and hisshadow, Idwal ap Cynan, the harper-warrior, vaultedto their feet—spent and battle-weary as they were,with many another. But, lighter and quicker thanany of them, Phra the Phœnician had leaped to earth,and stood there astride of the senseless girl, his handupon his dagger-hilt, and scowling round that soldiercircle wrathful to think that any other but he shouldtouch her!

Then he took her up, as if it were a mother with asleeping babe, and the serfs uncapped and stood backon either hand, and the grim warriors fell in behind,and so Editha came home, her loose arms hangingdown and her long bright hair all adrift over thebroad shoulders of the strangest, most many-adventuredsoldier in that motley band.

CHAPTER VI

When I come to look back upon that Saxon period,spent in the green shades of my sweet franklin’s homestead,it seems, perhaps, that never was there a timeso peaceful before in the experience of this passion-tossedexistence! We hunted and we hawked, wefeasted and we lay abask in the sunshine of a jolly,idle life all these luxurious months, drinking scornand confusion amid our nightly flagons to remote careand (as it seemed) remoter Normans.

But first to tell you how I won the right to lord itover these merry Saxon churls and dissolute thanes.Editha had hardly come to her home and dried, in aday or two, her weeping eyes, when all the noblevagrants from yonder battle were up in arms to wooher. Never was maid so sued! From morning tillnight there was no rest or peace. From the uppermostbower looking over the fair English glades, downinto the thickets of nut and hazel, the air reeked oflove and petitions. The mighty Dane, like a sick bear,slept upon her curtained threshold and growled amorousnessinto her timid ear before the sun was up.The Welsh Prince wooed her all her breakfast-time,and his tawny harper spent many a golden morningin outlining his noble patron’s genealogy. In faith—apTudor, ap Griffith, ap Morgan, ap Huge, and I knownot how many others, it seemed all had a hand in themaking of that paragon—but Editha blushed and saidshe feared one Saxon girl was all too few for so many.They besought her up and down, night and morning,full and empty, to wed them. The English Princelingsdogged her footsteps when she went afield, andTorquil and Wulfhere, those bandaged lovers, wereready for her with sighs and plaintive proposals whenshe came flitting, frightened and fearful, home throughthe bracken.

How could this end but in one way for the defenselessgirl? She was sued so much and sued so hot thatone day she came creeping like a hunted animal tothe turret nook where I sat brooding over my fortunes,and, timorous and shy, begged me to help her.I stood up and touched her yellow disheveled hair,and told her there was but one way—and Editha knewit as well as any one—and had made her choice andslipped into my arms and was happy.

That was as noisy a wedding as ever had been inVoewood. Editha freed a hundred serfs, and all daylong the noise of files on their iron collars echoedthrough her halls. She fed at the door every miscreantor beggar who could crawl or hobble there,and remitted her taxes to a score of poorer villains.

In the hall such noisy revelers as the rejectedsuitors surely never were seen. They began that weddingfeast in the morning, and it was not finished bynight. To me, who had so lately supped amid thecostly detail, the magnificent and cultivated licenseof a patrician Roman table, these Saxon riotersseemed scrambling, hungry dogs. Where Electrawould taunt her haughty courtiers over loaded tableswhich the art of three empires had furnished, firingher cruel, witty arrows of spite and arrogance fromher rose-strewn couches, these rough, uncivil woodlandPeers but wallowed in their ceaseless flow ofmuddy ale, gorged themselves to sleep with the grossflesh of their acorn-fed swine, and sang such songsand told such tales as made even me, indifferent, toscowl upon them and wonder that their kinswomanand her handmaids could sit and seem unwotting oftheir gross, obscene, and noisy revels.

And late that night blood was nearly spilled uponthe oaken floor of Voewood. The thanes had fairlypocketed their disappointment, but now, deep in drinkand stuffed with food and courage, they began to eyeme and my thin-hid scorn askance, and then presently,like the mutter of a quick-coming storm, came thewhisper, “Why should she fall to the stranger? Why?Why?” It flew round the tables like wildfire, andhalf-emptied beakers were set down, and untastedfood stopped on its way to the mouth, and then—allon a sudden, the drunken chiefs were on foot advancingto the upper table, where I sat by Editha’sright hand, their daggers agleam in the torchlightshining upon their red and angry faces as they cametumbling and shouting toward us, “Death to theblack-haired stranger! Voewood for a Saxon! Whyshould he win her?”

’Tis not my fashion to let the foeman come far toseek me, and I was up in an instant—overturning thetable with all its wines and meats—and, whippingout my sword, I leaped into the middle of the rushyspace before them.

“Why?” I shouted. “Why? you drunken, Norman-beatendogs! Why? Because, by Thor and Odin!by all the bones of Hengist and his brother! I canthrow a straighter javelin, and whirl a heavier sword,and sit a fiercer steed than any of you. Why? Becausemy heart is stronger than any that ever beatunder your dirty scullion doublets. Why? BecauseI scorn, and spit upon, and deride you!”

It was braggart boasting, but I noticed the Saxonsliked their talk of that complexion. And in this caseit was successful. The Princes stood hesitating andstaring as I towered before them, fiery and disdainful,in the red gleaming banquet lights; until presentlythe youngest there burst into a merry laugh to seethem all thus at bay, chewing the hilts of their angrydaggers, and each one waiting for his neighbor toprove himself the braver, by dying first upon myweapon. That laugh had hardly reached the ruddyoaken rafters overhead when it was joined by a scoreof others, and in a moment those wilful Saxon lordlingswere all laughing and jerking back their steels,and scrambling into their supper-places as if they hadnot broken their fast since morning, and I were theirmother’s son.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (6)

The Princes stood hesitating as I towered before them

Deep were their flagons that night, after the womenhad stolen away, and Idwal ap Howell filled the hallwith wild Welsh harping that stirred my soul like abattle-call; for it was in my dear British tongue, andfull of the color, light, and the life that had illuminatedthe first page of my long pilgrimage. And theSaxon gleemen, not to be outdone, each sang the songthat pleased him best; and the Welshman strove todrown them with his harping; and the thanes sang, allat once, whatever songs were noisiest and most licentious.Mighty was the fire that roared up the openhearthplace; deep was the breathing of vanquishedwarriors from under the tables; red was the spilledwine upon the floor—when presently they put me upona tressel, and, bearing me round the hall in discordanttriumph, finally bore me away to the inner corridors,and left me at a portal where I never yet had entered!

There is but little to say of that quiet Saxon restthat befell me in pleasant Voewood. Between eachline I pen you must suppose an episode of pleasure.In the springtime, when the woods were shot with acarpet of blue and yellow flowers, we lay a-baskingin the sunny angles or rode out to count our swineand fallow deer. In the summer, when all Editha’smighty woodlands were like fair endless colonnades,we basked amid the flickering shadows and watchedthe sunny sheen upon the treetops, to the orchestra oflittle birds. And autumn, that touched the vassals’corn-clearings with yellow, saw my proud Normancharger grow fat and gross with new grain. Septemberrains and mists rusted my silent weapon into itssheath; even winter, that heard the woodman’s axeupon the forest trees, and saw bird and beast and menand kine draw in to the gentle bounty of my white-handedlady, was but a long, inglorious holiday ofanother sort.

Many and many a time, in those merry months, didthis Phœnician laugh to his mirror to see how fitlyhe could wear upon his Eastern-British-Roman bodythe Danish-Saxon-English tunic! It was all of finelinen the franklin’s own fair fingers had spun, andpointed and tasseled and parti-color, and his legs werecross-gartered to his knees, and his little luncheon-daggerhung by his jeweled belt, and a fillet of pureEnglish gold bound down the long black locks thatfell upon his shoulders. Every morning Edithacombed them out with her silver comb, and double-peakedhis beard, kissing and saying it was the bestin all Voewood. He had more servants than necessitiesin those times, and almost his only grievance wasa lack of wants.

The Normans for long had left us wholly alone,partly through the usurper cunning which promptedour new tyrant to deal gently with those who hadstood in arms against him, but principally in our casesince the strong tide of invasion had swept northwardbeyond us, and Voewood slept unharmed, unnoticedamong its green solitudes—a Saxon homestead as ithad been since Hengist’s white horse first flauntedupon an English breeze and the seven kingdomssprang from the ashes of old Roman Britain.

So we lived light-hearted from day to day, forgettingall about the battle by Senlac, and drinking, as Ihave said, in our evening wassails confusion andscorn of the invaders who seemed so distant. It wasa good time, and I have little to note of it. Many werethe big boars which died upon my eager spear downin the morasses to the southward, and I came to lovemy casts of tiercelets and my hounds as though I hadbeen born to a woodman’s cape and had watched thefens for hernshaws and followed the slot of woundeddeers from my youth upward.

All these things led me into many a wild adventureand many a desperate strait; but one of them standsout from the rest upon the crowded pages of mymemory. I had, one day when Editha was with me,mounted as she would be upon her palfrey, slippedthe dogs upon a stag an arrow of mine had woundedin the foreleg, and, excited by the chase and reluctantas ever to turn back from an unaccomplished purpose,we followed far into the unknown distances, and allbeyond our reckonings. I had let fly that shaft atmidday, and at sundown the stag was still afoot, thedogs close behind him, and I, indomitable, muddy,and torn from head to foot, but with all the hunterinstinct hot within me, was pressing on by my Saxon’sbridle rein. Endless, rough, and tangled miles hadwe run and scrambled in that lengthy chase, andneither of us had noticed the way, or how angry thesun was setting in the west.

Thus it came about that when the noble hart atlength stood at bay in the lichened coverts under abushy crag, there was hardly breath in me to cheerthe weary dogs upon him, and hardly light enough toaim the swift thrust of my subduing javelin whichlaid him dead and bleeding at our feet. Yes, and beforeI could cut a hunter’s supper from that glossyhaunch the dome of the sky closed down from east towest, and the first heavy drops of the evening raincame pattering upon the leaves overhead. Thor! howblack it grew as the wind began to whistle through thebranches and the murky clouds to fly across the faceof the somber heaven, while neither east nor westcould any limit be seen to the interminable vastnessesof the endless woodlands! In vain was it we struggledfor a time back upon our footsteps, and then eventhose were lost; and, as the sky in the east burned anangry yellow for a moment before the remorselessnight set in, it gave us just light to see we were hopelesslymazed in the labyrinths of the huge and lonelyforest.

It was thus we turned to take such shelter as mightoffer, and that gleam shone for a moment pallid, yellow,and ghastly upon a cluster of gray stones standingon a grassy mound a quarter of a mile away.Thither we struggled through the black mazes of thestorm, the headlong rain whistling through the mistythickets like flights of innumerable arrows, the angrywind lashing the treetops into bitter complaining, andwaving abroad (in the sodden dismal twilight) all thelong beards of goblin lichens hanging in ghostly tapestryacross our path that dreary October evening.

Reeling and plunging to the shelter through a blackworld of tangled witnesses, with that mocking gleambehind shining like a window of the nether world,and overhead a gaunt, hurrying array of cloudyforms, we were presently upon the coppice outskirt,and there I stopped as though I had grown to theground.

I stopped before that great, gaunt amphitheater ofgray stones and stared and stared before me as thoughI were bereft of sense. I rubbed my eyes and pointedwith trembling, silent finger, and looked again andagain, while the Saxon girl crouched to my side, andmy hounds whined and shivered at my feet, for there,incredible! monstrous!—yellow and shining in thepallid derision of the twilight, stern, hoary, ruinous,mocking—overthrown and piled one upon another,clasped and knotted about their feet by the knottedfingers of the woodland growth, swathed in the rockingmists which gave a horrid life to their cruel, infernaldeadness, were the stones, the very stones ofthat Druid altar-place upon which I was sacrificednearly a thousand years before!

Here was a pretty welcome! Here was a cheerfulharborage! What man ever born of a woman whowould not have been dazed and dumfounded at thissudden confronting—this extraordinary reminiscenceof the long-forgotten? It overwhelmed for the momenteven me—me, Phra the Phœnician, to whom thered harvest-fields of war are pleasant places, who havedallied with the infinite, and have been a melancholycoadjutor of Time itself. Even me, who never soughtto live, yet live endlessly by my very negligence—whohave received from the gods that gift of existence thatothers ask for unanswered.

I might have stood there as stolid and grim as anyone of those ancient monoliths all through the stormbut for the dear one by my side. Her nestling presenceroused me, and, gulping down the last of myastonishment, and seeing no respite in the yellow eyeof the night over my shoulder, I took the hand thatlay in mine with such gentle trust and, with a strangefeeling of awe, led her into the magic circle of the oldreligion.

The very altar of my despatch was still there in thecenter, but time and forest creatures had worn outfrom under that mighty slab a little chamber, roofedwith that vast flagstone and sided by its three supports—aspace perhaps no bigger than the cabin ofmy first trading felucca, yet into this we crept, withthe reluctant hounds behind us, while the tempestthundered round, and, loth to lose us, sought hereand there, piping in strange keys among those time-wornrelics of cruelty, and singing uncouth chorusesdown every crevice of our wild retreat.

Pleasure and Pain are sisters, and the little needsof life must be fulfilled in every hour. I comfortedmy comrade, piling for her a rough couch of thebroken litter upon the floor, stuffing up the cranniesas well as might be with damp sods, and then makingher a fire. This latter I effected with some charcoaland burned ends of wood that lay upon an old shepherd’shearth in the center of the chamber, and wekept it going with a little store of wood which thesame absent wanderer had gathered in one corner buthad failed to use. More; not only did we mend ourcirc*mstances by a ruddy blaze that danced fantasticallyupon our rugged walls and set our reekingclothes steaming in its flicker, but I rolled a stoneto the opposite side of the hearth for Editha, andfound another for myself, and soon those venisonsteaks were hissing most invitingly upon the glowingembers, and filling every nook and corner of the Druidslaughter-place with the suggestive fragrance of oursupper.

Manners were rude and ready in that time. Wesupped as well and conveniently that night, carvingthe meat with the little weapons at our girdles, andeating with our fingers, as though we sat in state atthe high thane’s table of distant Voewood and lookeddown the great rushy hall upon three hundred feedingserfs and bondsmen. And Editha laughed andchattered—secure in my protection—and I echoed hermerriment, while now and then my thoughts wouldwander, and I heard again in the tempest’s whistlingthe scream of the hungry kites who had seen me die,and in the lashing of the branches the clamor and thebeating of the British tribesmen who many a longlifetime before had shouted around this very place todrown my dying yells.

The good food and the warmth and a long day’swork soon brought my fair mistress’s head upon herhand, and presently she was lying upon the witheredleaves in the corner, a fair white flower shut up forthe night-time. So I finished the steak and dividedthe remnants between the dogs, and lay back verywell contented. But here only commences the strangestpart of that evening!

I had warmed my cross-gartered, buskined Saxonlegs by the blaze for the best part of an hour, thinkingover all the strange episodes of my coming to theseancient isles, and seeing again, on the blank hitherwall, this very circle all aglow with the splendid colorof its barbarous purpose, the mighty concourse of theBritons set in the greenery of their reverent oaks—theonset of the Romans, the flash and glitter of theirclose-packed ranks, and the gallant Sempronius—alas!that so good a youth should be reduced to dust—andthus, I suppose, I dozed.

And then it seemed all on a sudden a mighty gustof wind swept down upon the flat roof overhead,shaking even that ponderous stone—those fierce andbrawny hounds of mine howled most fearfully—crouchingbehind with bristling hair and shakinglimbs—and, looking up, there—strange, incredible asyou will pronounce it—seated beyond the fire on thestone the Saxon had so lately left, drawing her wild,rain-wet British tresses through her supple fingers—calm,indifferent, happy—gazing upon me with thegentle wonder I had seen before, was Blodwen, onceagain herself!

Need it be said how wild and wonderful that winsomeapparition seemed in that uncouth place, howthe hot flush of wonder burned upon my swart andweathered cheeks as I sat there and glared throughthe leaping flame at that pallid outline? Absentlyshe went on with her rhythmical combing, bewitchingme with her unearthly grace and the tender substanceof her immaterial outline, and as I gloweredwith never a ready syllable upon my idle tongue, orany emotion but wonder in the heart beating tumultuouslyunder my hunter tunic, the dogs lay moaningbehind me, and the wild fantastic uproar of the tempestoutside forced through the clefts of our retreatthe rain-streaks that sparkled and hissed in the fire-heap.

That time I did not fear, and presently the Princesslooked up and said, in a faint, distant voice, that waslike the sound of the breeze among seashore pine-trees:

“Well done, my Phœnician! Your courage gives mestrength.” And as she spoke the words seemed graduallyclearer and stronger, until presently they camesweeter to me than the murmur of a sunny river—gentlerthan the whispers of the ripe corn and thesouth wind.

“Shade!” I said. “Wonderful, immaterial, immortal,whence came you?”

“Whence did I come?” she answered, with thepretty reflection of a smile upon her face. “Out ofthe storm, O son of Anak!—out of the wild, wet night-wind!”

“And why, and why—to stir me to my inmost soul,and then to leave me?”

“Phœnician,” she said, “I have not left you sincewe parted. I have been the unseen companion of yourgoings—I have been the shadowless watcher by yoursleep. Mine was the unfelt hand that bore your chinup when you swam with the Christian slave-girl—minewas the arm that has turned, invisibly, a hundredjavelins from you—and to-night I am come, byleave of circ*mstance, thus to see you.”

“I should have thought,” I said, becoming now betterat my ease, “that one like you might come or goin scorn of circ*mstances.”

“Wherein, my dear master, you argue with moresimplicity than knowledge. There are needs andnecessities to the very verge of the spheres.”

But when I questioned what these were, asking thesecret of her wayward visits, she looked at the sleepingEditha, and said I could not understand.

“Yes, by Wodin’s self! but I think I can. Yon fair-cheekedgirl helps you. There are a hundred turnsand touches in your ways and manners that speak ofher, and show whence you got that borrowed life.”

“You are astute, my Saxon thane, and I will notutterly refute you.”

“Then, if you can do this, how was it, Blodwen, younever came when I was Roman?”

“In truth, I often tried,” she said, with somethinglike a sigh, “but Numidea was not good to fit mysubtle needs, and the other one, Electra, was all beyondme.” And here that versatile shadow threwherself into an attitude, and there before me wasthe Roman lady, so sweet, so enticing, that my heartyearned for her—ah! for the queenly Electra!—all ina moment. But before I could stretch out my armsthe airy form had whisked her ethereal draperies toga-wiseacross her breast, and had risen, and there, toweringto the low roof, flashing down scorn and hatredon me, quaking at her feet, shone the very semblanceof Electra as I saw her last in the queenly glamourof her vengeance.

“Yes,” said Blodwen, resuming her own form withperfect calmness before I, astounded, could catch mybreath, and stroking out the tangles of her long redhair, “there was no doing anything with her, and so,Phœnician, I could not get translated to your materialeyes.”

All this was very wonderful, yet presently we werechatting as though there were naught to marvel at.Many were the things we spoke of, many were thewonders that she hinted at, and as she went mycuriosity blazed up apace.

“And, fair Princess,” I said presently, “turner ofjavelins, favorer of mortals, is it then within thepower of such as yourself to rule the destiny of usmaterial ones?”

“Not so; else, Phœnician, you were not here!”

This made me a little uncomfortable, but, nothingdaunted, I looked the strangest visitor that ever paida midnight visit full in the face, and persisted: “Tellme, then, you bright reflection of her I loved, howseems this tinsel show of life upon its over side? Isit destiny or man that is master? How looks theflow of circ*mstances to you?—to us, you will remember,it is vague, inexplicable.”

“You ask me more than I can say,” she answered,“but so far I will go—you, material, live substantially,and before you lies unchecked the illimitable spacesof existence. Of all these you are certain heir.”

“Speak on!” I cried, for now and then her voiceand attention flagged. “And is there any rule orsequence in this life of ours—is it for you to guideor mend our happenings?”

“No, Phœnician! You are yourselves the trueforgers of the chains that bind you, and that initial’prenticeship you serve there on your world is ruledby the aggregate of your actions. I tell you, Tyrian,”she exclaimed, with something as much like warmth ascould come from such a hazy air-stirred body—“I tellyou nothing was ever said or done but was quite immortal;all your little goings and comings, all yourdeeds and misdeeds, all the myriad leaves of spokenthings that have ever come upon the forests of speech,all the rain-drops of action that have gone to makethe boundless ocean of human history, are on record.You shake your head, and cannot understand? PerhapsI should not wonder at it.”

“And have all these things left a record upon thegreat books of life, and is it given to the beings ofthe air to refer to them, even as yonder hermit findssecreted on his yellow vellums the things of long ago?”

“It is so in some kind. The actions of that life ofyours leave spirit-prints behind them from the mostinfinitesimal to the largest. Now, see! I have butto wish, and there again is all the moving pantomimearound you of that unhappy day when you well-nighdied upon this spot,” and the chieftainess leaped toher feet and swept her arm around and looked intothe void and smiled and nodded as though all the wildspectacle she spoke of were enacting under her veryeyes. “Surely, you see it! Look at the priests and thepeople, and there the running foreigners and that tallyouth at their head—why, O trader in oils and dyes!it is not the remembrance of the thing, it is, I swearit, the thing itself——”

But never a line or color could I perceive, only thecurling smoke overhead looped and hung like tapestriesupon the gray lichened walls, and the blacknight-time through the crevices. And, discoveringthis, Blodwen suddenly stopped and looked upon mewith vexed compassion. “I am sorry, I am no goodteacher to so outrun my pupil. Ask me henceforthwhat simple questions you will, and they shall beanswered to the best I can.”

And so presently I went on: “If those things whichhave been are thus to you—and it does not seem impossible—howis it with those other things of to-day,or still unborn of the future? How far can you morefavored ones foresee or guide those things to whichwe, unhappy, but submit?”

“The strong tide of circ*mstance, Phœnician, is notto be turned by such hands as these”—and she heldher pallid wrists toward the blaze, until I saw theruddy gleam flash back from the rough gold bossesof her ancient bracelets. “There are laws outsideyour comprehension which are not framed for yournarrow understanding. We obey these as much asyou, but we perceive with infinitely clearer vision theinevitable logic of fate, the true sequence of events,and thus it is sometimes within our power to amendand guide the details of that brief episode which youcall your life.”

“Do you say that priceless span, my comrades, yondersleeping girl, and all the others set so high a valueon is but ‘an episode’?”

“Yes—a halting step upon a wondrous journey, halfa gradation upon the mighty spirals of existence!”

“And time?” I asked, full of a wonder that scarcefound leisure to comprehend one word of hers beforeit asked another question. “Is there time with you?Even I, reflective now and then upon this long journeyof mine, have thought that time must be a myth, animpossibility to larger experience.”

“Of what do you speak, my merchant? I do notremember the word.”

“Oh, yes; but you must. Is there period and changeyonder? Is Time—Time, the great braggart and bullyof life, also potent with you?”

“Ah! now I do recall your meaning; but, my Tyrian,we left our hour-glasses and our calendars behind uswhen we came away! There is, perhaps, time yonderto some extent, but no mortal eyes, not mine even,can tell the teaching of that prodigious dial thatrecords the hours of universes and of spaces.”

I bent my head and thought, for I dimly perceivedin all this a meaning appearing through its incomprehensibleness.Much else did we talk through the live-longnight, whereof all I may not tell, and somethingmight but weary you. At one time I asked her of thelittle one I had never seen, and then she, reflective,questioned whether I would wish to see him. “Asgladly,” was my reply, “as one looks for the sun inspringtime.” At this the comely chieftainess seemedto fall a-musing, and even while she did so an eddyin the curling smoke of the low red fire swung gentlyinto consistency there by her bare shoulder, andbrightened and grew into mortal likeness, and in amoment, by the summons of his mother’s will, fromwhere I knew not, and how I could not guess, a fair,young, ruddy boy was fashioned and stood there leaningupon the gentle breast that had so often rockedhim, and gazing upon me with a quiet wonder thatseemed to say, “How came you here?” But the littleone had not the substance of the other, and after amoment, during which I felt somehow that no slighteffort was being made to maintain him, he paled, andthen the same waft of air that had conspired to hiscreation shredded him out again into the fine thinwebs of disappearing haze.

Comely shadow! Dear British mistress! Great wasthy condescension, passing strange thy conversation,wonderful thy knowledge, perplexing, mysterious thyprofessed ignorance! And then, when the morningwas nigh, she bade me speak a word of comfort to therestless-sleeping Editha, and when I had done so Iturned again—and the cave was empty! I ran outinto the open air and whispered “Blodwen!” and thenlouder “Blodwen!” and all those gray, uncouth, sinfulold monoliths, standing there in the half-light up totheir waists in white mist, took up my word and mutteredout of their time-worn hollows one to another,“Blodwen, Blodwen!” but never again for many along year did she answer to that call.

CHAPTER VII

In the days that followed, it seemed the cruse ofcontentment would never run dry, and I, foolish I,thought angry destiny had misled me, and that thesegreen Saxon glades were to witness the final endingof my story. Vain hope! Illusive expectation! Thehand of fate was even then raised to strike!

In that pleasant harborage, outside the ken of ambition,and beyond the limits of avarice, surroundedby almost impenetrable mazes of forest land, life wasdelightful indeed. The sun shone yellow and big inthose early days upon our oak-crowned hillocks—sometimesI doubt if it is ever so warm and ruddy now—andDecember storms told mightily in praise of thegreat Yule fires wherewith we defied the winter cold.In the summer time, when the sunny Saxon orchardssheltered the herds of kine in their flickering shadows,and the great droves of black swine lay a-baskingamong the ferns on the distant hangers, we lived moreout of doors than in. Editha then would bring outunder the oaks the little ruddy-cheeked Gurth, andset him upon my knee, that I might cut him reedwhistles or bows and arrows, while the flaxen-hairedAgitha played about her mother, tuning her prettyprattle to the merry clatter of the distaff and thewheel.

In the winter the blaze that went leaping and cracklingfrom our hearthstone shone golden upon the hairof those little ones as they sat wide-eyed by me, andsaw among the ruddy embers the white horse ofHengist and the banner of his brother winning thesefertile vales for a noble Saxon realm. Never was therea better Saxon than I! And when I told of Harold,and softened to those tender ears the story of hisdying, the bright drops of sympathy stood in mysmall maiden’s eyes, while Gurth’s flashed hatred ofthe false Norman and scorn of foreign tyrants. Undersuch circ*mstances it will readily be understood thatI ought to have had little wish to draw weapons againor bestride the good charger growing so gross andsleek in his stall all this long peace time.

And yet the silken meshes of felicity were irksomeagainst all reason, and I would grow weary of somuch good fortune, finding my pretty deckings andraiment heavier—more burdensome wear—than everwas martial harness. My fair Saxon wife noticedthese moods, and strove to mend them. She wouldtake me out to the hawking, were I never so gloomy,and then I would envy the wild haggards of the rockswho got their living from day to day in the free midair, and asked no favor of either gods or men. Or,perhaps, she would make revelries upon the levelgreen before her homestead, and thither would comeall the fools and pedlers, all the bear-baiters, somersaulters,and wrestlers of the shire. But I was notto be pleasured so, and I slew the bear in single combat,and tossed, vindictive, the somersaulters over thehucksters’ stalls, and broke the ribs in the wrestlers’sides—till none would play with me, and all of thepeople murmured. Then, of a night, Editha got thebest gleemen in Mercia to sing to me, and when theysang of peace, and sheep and orchards, or each praisedhis leman’s moonlike eyes and slender middies, Iwould not listen. Nor was it better when they tunedtheir strings to martial ditties, for that doubled mymalady, since then their rhyming stirred my soul tonew unrest, making worse that which they sought tocure.

I sometimes think it was all this to-do whichbrought Voewood under Norman notice. But, perhaps,it was the slow and steady advance of the invaders’power percolating like a rising tide into allthe recesses of the land which drew us into the fatalcircle of the despoilers, and not my waywardness. Bethis as it may, the result was the same.

Over to the northward, a score of miles away, wherethe great road ran east, we heard from wanderingstrollers the Normans were passing daily. Then,later, there came in the news-budget of a Flemishpedler tidings that the hungry foreigners had lickedup all the fat meadows around the nearest town, hadhung its aldermen over the walls, and built a towerand dungeon (after their wont) in the middle of it.Yes! and these messengers of ill omen said there wereleft no men of note or Saxon blood to uphold theEnglish cause—there was no proper speech in Englandbut the Norman—there was no way of wearinga tunic but the Norman—nothing now to swear bybut by Our Lady of Tours and Holy St. Bridget—allSaxon wives were in danger of kissing—and all Saxonabbots were become barefooted monks!

Never was a country turned inside out so soon orquietly; and as I looked over our wide, fair meadows,and upon my sweet girl and her flaxen little ones,and thought how already for her I had risked my life,I could not help wondering how soon I might have toventure it again.

On apace came the outer conquest into our innerpeace. Towns and burghs went down, and the hungryflames of lust and avarice fed upon what they destroyed.All the vales and hills the swords of Hengistand Horsa had won, and baptized with foemen’sblood, in the mighty names of old Norsem*n andValhalla, were being christened anew to suit a mincing,latter tongue. Thane and franklin uncappedthem at the roadside to these steel-bound swarms ofruthless spoilers, and nothing was sacred, neither deednor covenant, neither having nor holding, which rancounter to the wishes of the western scourges of ourEnglish weakness.

When I thought of all this I was extraordinarily illat ease, and, before I could settle upon how best tomeet the danger, it came upon us, and we were overwhelmed.Briefly, it was thus: About twelve yearsafter the battle where Harold had died, the Normanleader had, we heard, taken it into his head to poll uslike cattle, to find the sum and total of our feus andlands, our serfs and orchards, and even of our veryselves! Now, few of us Saxons but felt this was acertain scheme to tax and oppress us even moreseverely than the people had been oppressed in thetime of St. Dunstan. Besides this, our free spiritsrose in scorn of being counted and weighed andmulcted by plebeian emissaries of the usurper, so wemurmured loud and long.

And those thanes who complained the bitterestwere hanged by the derisive Normans on their ownkitchen beams—on the very same hooks where theycured their mighty sides of pork—while those whocomplied but falsely with the assessor’s commandswere robbed of wife and heritage, children and lands,and shackled with the brass collar of serfdom, orturned out to beg their living on the wayside and suethe charity of their own dependants. Whether wewould thus be hanged or outcast, or whether we wouldhumble us to this hateful need, writing ourselves andour serfs down in the great “Doom’s Day” book, allhad to choose.

For my own part, after much debating, and for thesake of those who looked to me, I had determined todo what was required—and then, if it might be, tobring all the Saxon gentlemen together—to raise theseEnglish shires upon the Normans, and with fire andsword revoke our abominable indenture of thraldom.But, alas! my hasty temper and my inability to stomachan affront in any guise undid my good resolutions.

Well, this mighty book was being compiled far andwide, we heard, in every shire: there were some menof good standing base enough to countenance it, and,taking the name of the King’s justiciaries, they gottogether shorn monks—shaveling rascals who did thewriting and computing—with reeves hungry for theirmasters’ woodlands, and many other lean forswornvillains. This jury of miscreants went round fromhall to hall, from manor to manor, with their scripsand pens and parchment, until all the land was beinggathered into the avaricious Norman’s tax roll.

They cast their greedy eyes at last on sunny, sleepyVoewood, though, indeed, I had implored every deity,old or new, I could recall that they might overlookit; and one day their hireling train of two score pikemencame ambling down the glades with a fat Abbot—aNorman rascal—at their head, and pulled up atour doorway.

“Hullo!” says the monk. “Whose house is this?”

“Mine,” I said gruffly, with a secret fancy that therewould be some heads broken before the census wascompleted.

“And who are you?”

“The Master of Voewood.”

“What else?”

“Nothing else!”

“Well, you are not over-civil, anyhow, my Saxonchurl,” said the man of scrolls and goose-quills.

“Frankly,” I answered, “Sir Monk, the smaller civilityyou look for from me to-day the less likely youare to be disappointed. Out with that infernal catechismof yours, and have done, and move your blackshadows from my porch.”

At this the clerk shrugged his shoulders—no doubthe did not look to be a very welcome guest—andcoughed and spit, and then unfurled in our free sunshinea great roll of questions, and forthwith proceededto expound them in bastard Latin, smacking ofmoldy cathedral cells and cloister pedantry.

“Now, mark me, Sir Voewood, and afterwardanswer truly in everything. Here, first, I will readyou the declaration of your neighbor, the worthythane Sewin, in order that you may see how the mattershould go, and then afterward I will question youyourself,” and, taking a parchment from a junior, hebegan: “Here is what Sewin told us: Rex tenet in DominioSohurst; de firma Regis Edwardi fuit. Tunc se defendebatpro 17 Hidis; nihil geldaverunt. Terra est 16 Carucatæ;in Dominio sunt 2æ Carucatæ, et 24 Villani, et 10 Bordarijcum 20 Carucis. Ibi Ecclesia quam Willelmus tenet deRege cum dimidia Hida in Elemosina, Silva 40 Porcorumet ipsa est in parco Regis——

But hardly had my friend got so far as this in displayingthe domesticity of Sewin the thane, whenthere broke a loud uproar from the rear of Voewood,and the tripping Latin came to a sudden halt as thereemerged in sight a rabble of Saxon peasants and Normanprickers freely exchanging buffets. In the midstof them was our bailiff, a very stalwart fellow, haulingalong and beating as he came a luckless soldier in theforeign garb just then so detestable to our eyes.

“Why,” I said, “what may all this be about? Whathas the fellow done, Sven, that your Saxon cudgelmakes such friends with his Norman cape?”

“What? Why, the graceless yonker, not contentwith bursting open the buttery door and setting allthese scullion men-at-arms drinking my lady’s ale andrioting among her stores, must needs harry themaidens, scaring them out of their wits, and puttingthe whole place in an uproar! As I am an honestman, there has been more good ale spilled this half-hour,more pottery broken, more linen torn, moreroasts upset, more maids set screaming, than sincethe Danes last came round this way and pillaged usfrom roof to cellar!”

“Why, you fat Saxon porker!” cried the leader ofthe troops, pushing to the front, “what are you goodfor but for pillage? Drunken serf! And were it notfor the politic heart of yonder King, I and mine wouldmake you and yours sigh again for your Danish ravishers,looking back from our mastery to their redfury with sickly longing! Out on you! Unhand theyouth, or by St. Bridget, there will be a fat carcassfor your crows to peck at!” and he put his hand uponhis dagger.

Thereon I stepped between them, and, touching myjeweled belt, said: “Fair Sir, I think the youth hashad no less than his deserts, and as for the Voewoodcrows they like Norman carrion even better thanSaxon flesh.”

The soldier frowned, as well as he might, at myretort, but before we could draw, as assuredly wewould have done, the monk pushed in between us, andthe athelings of the commission, who had orders tocarry out their work with peace and despatch as longas that were possible, quieted their unruly rabble, andpresently a muttering, surly order was restored betweenthe glowering crowds.

“Now,” said the scribe propitiatingly, anxious toget through with his task, “you have heard howamiably Sewin answered. Of you I will ask a questionor two in Saxon, since, likely enough, you do notknow the blessed Latin.” (By the soul of Hengist,though, I knew it before the stones of that confessor’sancient monastery were hewn from their native rock!)“Answer truly, and all shall be well with you. First,then, how much land hast thou?”

But I could not stand it. My spleen was rousedagainst these braggart bullies, and, throwing discretionto the wind, I burst out, “Just so much as servesto keep me and mine in summer and winter!”

“And how many plows?”

“So many as need to till our cornlands.”

“Rude boar!” said the monk, backing off into thegroup of his friends, and frowning from that vantagein his turn. “How many serfs acknowledge your surlyleadership?”

“Just so many,” I said, boiling over, “as can workthe plows and reap the corn, and keep the land fromgreedy foreign clutches! There, put up your scrolland begone. I will not answer you! I will not sayhow many pigeons there are in our dovecotes—howmany fowls roost upon their perches—how manyearthen pots we have, or how many maids to scrubthem! Get you back to the Conqueror: tell him Ideride and laugh at him for the second time. Say Ihave lived a longish life, and never yet saw the lightof that day when I profited by humility. Say I, theswart stranger who stabbed his ruffian courtier andgalloped away with the white maid, Editha of Voewood—I,who plucked that flower from the very saddle-bowof his favorite, and thundered derisivethrough his first camp there on the eastern downs—say,even I will find a way to keep and wear her, inscorn of all that he can do! Out with you—begone!”

And they went, for I was clearly in no mood to bedallied with, while behind me the serfs and vassalswere now mustering strongly, an angry array armedwith such weapons as they could snatch up in theirhaste, and wanting but a word or look to fall uponthe little band of assessors and slay them as theystood. Thus we won that hour—and many a longday had we to regret the victory.

My luck was against me that time. I hoped, so faras there was any hope or reason in my thoughtlessanger, to have had a space to rouse the neighboringthanes and their vassals upon these our tyrants, andI had dreamed, so combustible was the country justthen, somehow perhaps the flame would have spreadfar and wide. I saw that abominable thing, Rebellion,for once linked hand in hand with her sweetrival, Patriotism, I saw the red flames of vengeancein the quarrel I had made my own sweeping throughthe land and lapping up with its hundred tonguesevery evidence of the spoilers! Yes! and even I hadfancied that, as there were no true Saxon Princes forour English throne, there was still Editha, my wife;and if there were no swords left to fence a throne sofilled, yet there was the sword of Phra the Phœnician!Vain fantasy! The faces of the Fates were averted.

Those hateful inquisitors had not gone many hours’journey northward, when, as ill-luck would have it,they fell in with a Norman Captain, Godfrey de Boville,and two hundred men-at-arms, marching to garrisona western city. To these they told their tale,and, ever ready for pillage and bloodshed, the bandhalted, and then turned into the woodlands where wehad our lair.

The sun was low that afternoon when an affrightedherdsman came running in to me with the news thathe knew not how many soldiers were in the gladesbeyond. And before he could get his breath or quitetell his hasty message their prickers came out of thewood—the gallant Norman array (whose glitter hassince grown dearer to me than the shine of a mistress’eyes) rode from under our oak-trees, the bannersand bannerets fluttered upon the evening wind—theirtrumpets brayed until our very rafters echoed tothat warlike sound—the level twilight rays flashedback from those serried ranks and the steel panoplyof the warriors in as goodly a martial show as ever,to that day, I had seen.

What need I tell you of the negotiations which followedwhile this silver cloud, charged with ruin andcruelty, hung on the dusky velvet side of the twilighthill above us? What need be said of how I sworebetween my teeth at the chance which had broughtthis swarm hither in a day rather than in the weekI had hoped for, or how my heart burned with smotheredanger and pride when we had to tamely answertheir haughty summons to unconditional surrender?

Yet by one saving clause they did not attack us atonce. Only to me was it clear how utterly impossiblewas it with the few rugged serfs at my command todefend even for one single onset that great stragglinghouse against their overwhelming force. To themour strength was quite unknown; this and the gatheringdarkness tempted the Norman to put off the attackuntil the daylight came again, and the respite wasour saving. It was not a saving upon which to dwelllong, for ’twas no more glorious than the retreat of awolf from his hiding-place when the shepherds fire thebrake behind him.

All along the edge of the hill their watch-fires presentlytwinkled out, and as Editha and Sven the Strongcame to me in gloomy conference upon the turret wecould see the soldiers pass now and again before theblaze, we could hear their laughter and the snatchesof their drinking-song, the hoarse cry of the wardens,and the champing and whinny of the chargers picketedunder the starlight in lines upon our free Saxon turf.And for Sven and all his good comrade hinds we knewto-morrow would bring the riveting of new and heaviercollars than any they had worn as yet. For meand my contumacy, though I feared it not, there couldbe naught but the swift absolution of a Normansword; while for her—for her, that gentle, stately ladyto whose pale sweetness my rough, unworthy pen cando no sort of justice—there was nameless degradationand half a wandering bully’s tent.

The serf suggested, with his rugged northern valor,we should set light to the hall and, with the womenand children in our midst, sally out and cut a way tofreedom, and I knew the path he would choose wouldhave been through the hostile camp. But his ladysuggested better. She proposed both hind and bondsmenshould steal away in the darkness, and, sincevalor here was hopeless, disperse over the countryside,and there, secure in their humbleness, await our futurereturning. We, on the other hand, would followthem through the friendly shadows that lay deep andnigh to the house on the unguarded side, and thenturn us to a monastery some few miles away, where,if we could reach it, in Sanctuary and the care of oneof the few remaining Saxon abbots, we might bideour chance, or at least make terms with our conquerors.

So it was settled, and soon I had all those kind,shaggy villains in the dining-hall standing there uncappedupon the rushes in the torchlight, and listeningin melancholy silence to the plan, and then presently,with the despatch our situation needed, theywere slipping in twos and threes out of the little rearwardportal and slinking off to the thickets.

Presently our turn came, and as I stood gloomy andstern in that voiceless, empty hall that was wont tobe so bright and noisy, fingering my itching daggerand scowling out of the lattice upon the red gleamin the night air hanging over the Norman camp-fires,there came the fall of my wife’s feet upon the stairway.In either hand she had a babe, swaddled closeup against the night air, and naught but their brightwonder-brimming eyes showing as she hugged themtight against her sides. For them, for them alone,the frown gave way, and I stooped to that escape.We crept away, and Editha’s heart was torn at leavingthus the hall where she had been born and reared,and when, presently, in the shadows of the crowdedoaks, she found all her slaves and bondsmen in a knotto wish her farewell, the tears that had been broodinglong overflowed unrestrainedly.

Even I, who had dwelt among them but a space onmy way from the further world of history toward theunknown future, could not but be moved by their uncouthlove and loyalty. There were men there whohad stood in arms with her father when the cruelDanes had ravished these valleys for a score of milesinland, and some who had grown with her in thegoodly love and faith of thane and servitor as long asshe herself had lived. These rugged fellows wept likechildren, called me father, klafod, “bread bestower,”and pressed upon her in silent sorrow, kissing herhands and the hem of her robe, and taking the littleones from her arms, and pressing their rude unshavenfaces to their rosebud cheeks until I feared that Gurthor Agitha might cry out, or some wail from that secretscene of sorrow would catch the ears of our watchfulfoemen.

So, as gently as might be, I parted the weeping mistressand her bondsmen, and set her upon a good horseSven had stolen from the paddock, and springing intothe saddle of my own strong charger, gave my broadjeweled belt to the Saxon that he might divide itamong his comrades, and, taking a long tough spearfrom his faithful hand, turned northward with Edithaupon our dangerous journey.

We stole along as quietly as might be for some distancein safety, riding where the moss was deepestand the shadows thick, and then, just when we wereat the nearest to the Norman camp in the curve wewere making toward the monastery beyond, those ill-conditionedinvaders set up their evening trumpet-call.As the shrill notes came down into the dim starlightglade, strong, clear, and martial in the evening quiet,they thrilled that gallant old charger I had borrowedfrom the camp at Hastings down to his inmost warlikefiber. He recognized the familiar sound—mayhapit was the very trumpet-call which had been fodderand stable to him for years—and, with earspricked forward and feet that beat the dewy turf inunion to his pleasure, he whinnied loud and long!

Nothing it availed me to smite my hand upon mybreast at this deadly betrayal, or lay a warning fingerupon his brave, unwitting, velvet nozzle—luckless,accursed horse, the mischief was done! But yet, Iwill not abuse him, for the grass grows green over hisstrong sleek limbs, and right well that night heamended his error! Hardly had his neigh gone intothe stillness when the chargers in the camp answeredit, and in a moment the men-at-arms and squires bythe nearest fire were all on foot, and in another theyhad espied us and set up a shout that woke the readycamp in a moment.

There was small time to think. I clapped my handupon Editha’s bridle rein and gave my own a shake,and away we went across the checkered moonlightglade. But so close had we been that a bow-string ortwo hummed in the Norman tents, and before we werefairly started I heard the rustle of the shafts in theleaves overhead. It was more than arrows we had todread, and, turning my head for a moment ere weplunged again into dark vistas of the forest road,there, sure enough, was the pursuit streaming outafter us, and gallant squires and knights tumblinginto their saddles and shouting and cheering as theycame galloping and glittering down behind us—a verypretty show, but a dangerous one.

By the souls of St. Dunstan and his forty monks!but I could have enjoyed that midnight ride had itnot been for the pale, brave rider at my side, and thelittle ones that lay fearfully a-nestling on our saddle-bows.For hours the swift, keen gallop of our horsesswallowed the unseen ground in tireless rhythm—allthrough the night field and coppice and hanger sweptby us as we passed from glade to glade and woodlandto woodland—now ’twas a lonely forester’s hut thatshone for a moment in ghostly whiteness between thetree-stems with the nightshine on its lifeless face, andanon we sped through droves of Saxon swine, sleepingupon the roadway under their oak-trees, round amuffled swineherd. And the great forest stags stayedthe fraying of their antlers against the tree-trunks inthe dark coppices as we flew by, and the startled wolfyelped and snarled upon our path as our fleetingshadows overtook him; and then, there, ever behind,low, remorseless, stern, came the murmuring hoofbeatsof our pursuers, now rising and now falling uponthe light breath of the night-wind, but ever, as ourpanting steeds strode shorter and shorter, comingnearer and nearer, clearer and clearer.

Had this somber race, whereof Death held thestakes, continued so as it began, straight on end, Ido not think we could have got away. But when wehad ridden many an hour, and the heavy streaks ofwhite foam were marking Editha’s horse with dreadfulsuggestion, and his breath was coming hot andhusky through his wide red nostrils, for a moment ortwo the sound of the pursuers stopped. Blessed respite.They had missed the woodland road—but forall too short a space. We had hardly made good fouror five hundred yards of advantage when, terribly nearto us, sounded the call of one of their horsem*n, andsoon all the others were in his footsteps again. Thisone, he who now led the pursuers by, perhaps, a quarterof a mile, gained on us stride by stride, until Icould stand the thud of his horsehoofs on the turfbehind no more. “Here!” I said fiercely to Editha,“take Gurth,” and put him with his sister in her arms,then, bidding them ride slowly forward, turned mygood charger and paced him slowly back toward theoncoming knight, with stern anger smoldering in myheart.

There was a smooth, wide bit of grassy road betweenus in that center, midnight Saxon forest. Andnever a gleam of light fell upon that ancient thoroughfare;never the faintest, thin white finger of a starpierced the black canopy of boughs overhead; it wasas black as the kennel of Cerberus, and as I sat mypanting war-horse I could not see my own handstretched out before me—yet there, in that grim blackness,I met the Norman lance to lance, and sent hisspirit whirling into the outer space!

I let him come within two hundred yards, then suddenlyrose in my stirrups and, shouting Harold’s war-cry,since I did not deign to fall upon him unawares,“Out! Out! England! England!” awaited his answer.It came in a moment, strange and inhuman in theblack stillness, “Rou! Ha Rou! Notre Dame!” and then—mutteringbetween my tight-set teeth that surelythat road was the road to hell for one of us—I bentmy head down almost to my horse’s ears, drove thespurs into him, and, gripping my long, keen spear,thundered back upon my unseen foeman. With ashock that startled the browsing hinds a mile away,we were together. The Norman spear broke intosplinters athwart my body—but mine, more truly held,struck him fair and full—I felt him like a great deadweight upon it, I felt his saddle-girths burst and fly,and then, as my own strong haft bent like a willowwand and snapped close by my hand, that midnightrider and his visionary steed went crashing to theground. Bitterly I laughed as I turned my horse northwardonce more, and from a black cavern-mouth onthe hillside an owl echoed my grim merriment withghastly glee.

Well, the night was all but done, yet were we notout of the toils. A little further on, Editha’s flounderingsteed gave out, and, just as we saw the pale turretsof the monastery shining in the open a mile aheadof us, the horse rolled over dead upon the grass andbracken.

“Quick, quick!” I said, “daughter of Hardicanute,”and the good Saxon girl had passed the little ones tothe pommel and put her own foot upon my toe andsprang on to my saddle crupper sooner than it takesto tell. Ah! and the nearer we came to our goal thecloser seemed to be the throb and beat of the pursuinghoofs behind. And many an anxious time did I turnmy head to watch the rogues closing with us, nowever and anon in sight, and many a word of encouragementdid I whisper to the gallant charger whosetireless courage was standing us in such good case.

Noble beast! right well had he atoned his mistakethat evening, and in a few minutes more we left thegreenwood, and now he swept us over the Abbot’s fatmeadows, where the white morning mist was lyingghostly in wreaths and wisps upon the tall wet grass,and then we staggered into the foss and spurned theshort turf, and so past the checkered cloisters, andpulled up finally at a low postern door I had espiedas we approached the nearest wall of the noble Saxonmonastery. Surely never was a traveler in such ahurry to be admitted as I, and I beat upon that iron-studdeddoor with the knob of my dagger in a waywhich must have been heard in every cell of thatsacred pile.

“My friend,” said a reverend head which soon appearedat a little window above, “is this not unseemlyhaste at such an hour, and my Lord Abbot not yetrisen to matins?”

“For the love of Heaven, father,” I said, “come downand let us in!” for by this time the Normans were nota bowshot away, and it still looked as if we might fallinto their hands.

“Why,” said the unwotting monk, “no doubt thehospitality of St. Olaf’s walls was never refused toweary strangers, but you must go round to the lodgeand rouse the porter there—truly he sleeps a littleheavy, but no doubt he will admit you eventually.”

“Sir Priest,” I shouted in my rage and fear as thegood old fellow went meandering on, “our need is pastall nicety of etiquette! Here is Editha of Voewood,the niece of your holy Abbot himself, and yonder arethey who would harry and take her. Come down,come down, or by the Holy Rood our blood will foreverstain your ungenerous lintel!”

By this time the horsem*n were breasting thesmooth green glacis that led up to the monastery walls—halfa dozen of them had outlived that wild race—thereins were upon their smoking chargers’ necks,their reeking spurs red and ruddy with their haste,the spattered clay and loam of many a woodland rivuletcheckering their horses to the shoulders, and eachrider as he came shouting and clapping his handsupon the foam-speckled neck of these panting steedsthat strained with thundering feet to the last hundredyards of green sward and the prize beyond.

Nearer and nearer they came, and my fair, tallSaxon wife put down her little ones by the openingof the door and covered them with her skirt as sheturned her pale, white, tearless face to the primroseflush of the morning. And I—with bitterness anddespair in my heart—unsheathed my Saxon swordand cast the scabbard fiercely to the ground, andstood out before them—my bare and heaving breasta fair target for those glittering oncoming Normanlances!

And then—just when that game was all but lost—therecame the sweet patter of sandaled feet within,bolt by bolt was drawn back; willing hands werestretched out; the mother and her babes were draggedfrom the steps—even my charger was swallowed bythe friendly shelter, and I myself was pulled backlastly—the postern slammed to, and, as the greatlocks turned again, and the iron bars fell into theirstony sockets, we heard the Norman chargers’ hoofsringing on the flagstones, and the angry spear-headsrattling on the outer studs of that friendly oakendoorway.

Thus was the gentle franklin saved; but little did Ithink in saving her how long I was to lose her. I hadbut stabled my noble beast down by the Abbot’s ownpalfrey, and fed and watered him with loving gratitude,and then had gone to Editha and my own supper(waited on by many a wondering, kindly one of thesecorded, russet Brothers), when that strange fate ofmine overtook me once again. I know not how it was,but all on a sudden the world melted away into ashadowy fantasy, my head sank upon the supper-board,and there—between the goodly Abbot and thefair Saxon lady—I fell into a pleasant, dreamlesssleep.

CHAPTER VIII

It was with indescribable sensations of mingledpain and satisfaction that life dawned again in mymind and body after the drowsy ending of the lastchapter. To me the process was robbed of wonder—noidea crossed my mind but that I had slept an ordinarysleep; but to you, knowing the strange fate towhich I am liable, will at once occur suspicion andexpectation. Both these feelings will be gratified, yetI must tell my story, in my simple fashion, as it occurred.

This time, then, wakefulness came upon me in aprolonged gray and crimson vision; and for a longspell—now I think of it closely—probably for days, Iwas wrestling to unravel a strange web of light andgloom, in which all sorts of dreamy colors shone alternatein a misty blending upon the blank field of mymind. These colors were now and again swallowedup by an episode of deep obscurity, and the longer Istudied them in an unwitting, listless way the morepronounced and definite they became, until at lastthey were no more a tinted haze of uncertain tone,but a checkered plan, silently passing over my shuteyelids at slow, measured intervals. Well, upon anafternoon—which, you will understand, I shall notreadily forget—my eyes were suddenly opened, and,with a deep sigh, like one who wakes after a goodnight’s repose, existence came back upon me, and, allmotionless and dull, but very consciously alive andobservant, I was myself again.

My first clear knowledge on that strange occasionwas of the strains of a merle singing somewhere near;and, as those seraphic notes thrilled into the dry,unused channels of my hearing, the melody wentthrough me to my utmost fiber. Next I felt, as astrong tonic elixir, a draught of cool spring air, fullof the taste of sunshine and rich with the scent of agrateful earth, blowing down upon me and dissipating,with its sweet breath, the last mists of mysleepfulness. While these soft ministrations of thegood nurse Nature put my blood into circulationagain, filling me with a gentle vegetable pleasure, mynewly opened eyes were astounded at the richness andvariety of their early discoverings.

To the inexperience of my long forgetfulness everythingaround was quaint and grotesque! Everything,too, was gray, and crimson, and green. As I staredand speculated, with the vapid artlessness of a babynovice, the new world into which I was thus bornslowly took form and shape. It opened out into unknowndepths, into aisles and corridors, into a woodenfirmament overhead, checkered with clouds of timber-workand endless mazes (to my poor untutored mind)of groins and buttresses. Long gray walls—the samethat had been the groundwork of my fancy—openedon either side, a great bare sweep of pavement wasbelow them, and a hundred windows letting in thecomely daylight above, but best of all was that longone by me which the crimson sun smote strongly uponits varied surface, and, gleaming through the gorgeouspatchwork of a dozen parables in coloredglasses, fell on the ground below in pools of many-coloredbrightness. As I, inertly, watched theseshifting beams, I perceived in them the cause of thosegay mosaics with which the outer light had amusedmy sleeping fancies!

All these things in time appeared distinct enoughto me, and tempted a trial of whether my physicalcondition equaled the apparent soundness of mysenses. I had hardly had leisure as yet to wonderhow I had come into this strange position, or to remember—sostrong were the demands of surroundingcirc*mstances on my attention—the last remote pagesof my adventures—remote, I now began to entertaina certain consciousness, they were—I was so fullytaken up with the matter of the moment, that it neveroccurred to me to speculate beyond, but the pressingquestion was in what sort of a body were those sparksof sight and sense burning.

It was pretty clear I was in a church, and a greaterone than I had ever entered before. My position, Icould tell, spoke of funeral rites, or rather the stiffcomfort of one of those marble effigies with whichsculptors have from the earliest times decoratedtombs. And yet I was not entombed, nor did I thinkI was marble, or even the plaster of more frugalmonumenters. My eyes served little purpose in thedeepening light, while as yet I had not moved amuscle. As I thought and speculated, the dreadfulfancy came across me that, if I were not stone, possiblyI was the other extreme—a thin tissue of dry dustheld together by the leniency of long silence and repose,and perhaps—dreadful consideration!—the sensationsof life and pleasure now felt were threadingthose thin wasted tissues, as I have seen the redsparks reluctantly wander in the black folds of acharred scroll, and finally drop out one by one forpure lack of fuel. Was I such a scroll? The ideawas not to be borne, and, pitting my will against thestiffness of I knew not what interval, I slowly liftedmy right arm and held it forth at length.

My chief sentiment at the moment was wondermentat the limb thus held out in the dim cathedral twilight,my next was a glow of triumph at this achievement,and then, as something of the stress of my willwas taken off and the arm flew back with a jerk to itsexact place by my side, a flood of pain rushed into it,and with the pain came slowly at first, but quicklydeepening and broadening, a remembrance of my previoussleeps and those other awakenings of mine attendedby just such thrills.

I will not weary you with repetitions or recountthe throes that I endured in attaining flexibility. Ihave, by Heaven’s mercy, a determination within meof which no one is fit to speak but he who knows theextent and number of its conquests. A dozen times,so keen were these griefs, I was tempted to relinquishthe struggle, and as many times I triumphed, the unquenchedfire of my mind but burning the brighterfor each opposition.

At last, when the painted shadows had crept upthe opposite wall inch by inch and lost themselves inthe upper colonnades, and the gloom around me haddeepened into blackness, I was victorious, and weak,and faint, and tingling; but, respirited and supple, Ilay back and slept like a child.

The rest did me good. When I opened my eyesagain it was with no special surprise (for the capacityof wonder is very volatile) that I saw the chancelwhere I lay had been lighted up, and that a portlyAbbot was standing near, clad in brown fustian,corded round his ample middle, and picking his teethwith a little splinter of wood as he paced up anddown muttering to himself something, of which I onlycaught such occasional fragments as “fat capons,”“spoiled roasts” (with a sniff in the direction of theside door of the abbey), and a malison on “unseemlyhours” (with a glance at an empty confessional nearme), until he presently halted opposite—whereon Iimmediately shut my eyes—and regarded me with dullcomplacency.

As he did so an acolyte, a pale, grave recluse onwhose face vigils and abnegation had already set thelines of age, stepped out from the shadow, and, standingjust behind his superior, also gazed upon me withsilent attention.

“That blessed saint, Ambrose,” said the fat Abbot,pointing at me with his toothpick, apparently for wantof something better to speak about, “is nearly as goodto us as the miraculous cruse was to the woman ofSarepta: what this holy foundation would do justnow, when all men’s minds are turned to war, withoutthe pence we draw from pilgrims who come to kneelto him, I cannot think!”

“Indeed, sir,” said the sad-eyed youth, “the good influenceof that holy man knows no limit: it is as strongin death as no doubt it was in life. ’Twas only thismorning that by leave of our Prior I brought out thegreat missals, and there found something, but notmuch, that concerned him.”

“Recite it, brother,” quoth the Abbot with a yawn,“and if you know anything of him beyond the pilgrimpence he draws you know more than I do.”

“Nay, my Lord, ’tis but little I learned. All theentries save the first in our journals are of slightvalue, for they but record from year to year how thissum and that were spent in due keeping and care ofthe sleeping wonder, and how many pilgrims visitedthis shrine, and by how much Mother Church benefitedby their dutiful generosity.”

“And the first entry? What said it?”

“All too briefly, sir, it recorded in a faded passagethat when the saintly Baldwin—may God assoil him!”quoth the friar, crossing himself—“when Baldwin, thefirst Norman Bishop in your Holiness’s place, camehere, he found yon martyr laid on a mean and paltryshelf among the brothers’ cells. All were gone whocould tell his life and history, but your predecessor,says the scroll, judging by the outward marvel ofhis suspended life, was certain of that wondrousbody’s holy beatitude, and, reflecting much, had himmeetly robed and washed, and placed him here. ’Twasa good deed,” sighed the studious boy.

“Ah! and it has told to the advantage of the monastery,”responded his senior, and he came close upand bent low over me, so that I heard him mutter,“Strange old relic! I wonder how it feels to go solong as that—if, indeed, he lives—without food. Itwas a clever thought of my predecessor to convert theold mummy-bundle of swaddles into a Norman saint!Baldwin was almost too good a man for the cloisters;with so much shrewdness, he should have been acourtier!”

“Oh!” I thought, “that is the way I came here, is it,my fat friend?” and I lay as still as any of my comrademonuments while the old Abbot bent over me,chuckling to himself a bibulous chuckle, and pressinghis short, thick thumb into my sides as thoughhe was sampling a plump pigeon or a gosling at avillage fair.

“By the forty saints that Augustine sent to this benightedisland, he takes his fasting wonderfully well!He is firm in gammon and brisket—and, by thatsaintly band, he has even a touch of color in hischeeks, unless these flickering lights play my eyes atrick!” whereupon his Reverence regarded me withlively admiration, little witting it was more than abreathless marvel, a senseless body, he was thus addressing.

In a moment he turned again: “Thou didst not tellme the date of this old fellow’s—Heaven forgive me!—ofthis blessed martyr’s sleep. How long ago saidthe chronicles since this wondrous trance began?”

“My Lord, I computed the matter, and here, by thatveracious, unquestionable record, he has lain threehundred years and more!”

At this extraordinary statement the portly Abbotwhistled as though he were on a country green, and I,so startling, so incredulous was it, involuntarilyturned my head toward them, and gathered mybreath to cast back that audacious lie. But neithermovement nor sign was seen, for at that very momentthe quiet novice laid a finger upon the monk’s fullsleeve and whispered hurriedly, “Father!—the Earl—theEarl!” and both looked down the chancel.

At the bottom the door swung open, giving a briefsight of the pale-blue evening beyond, and there entereda tall and martial figure who advanced in warlikeharness to the altar steps, and, placing down thehelm decked with plumes that danced black and visionaryin the dim cresset light, he fell upon one knee.

“Pax vobiscum, my son!” murmured the Abbot, extendinghis hands in blessing.

“Et vobis,” answered the gallant, “da mihi, dominereverendissime, misericordiam vestram!” And at thesound of their voices I raised me to my elbow, for theyoung warlike Earl, as he bent him there, wassheathed and armed in a way that I, though familiarwith many camps, had never seen before.

Over his fine gold hauberk was a wondrous tabard,a magnificent emblazoned surtout, and, as he knelt,the light of the waxen altar tapers twinkled upon hissteel vestments, they touched his yellow curls andsparkled upon the jeweled links of the chain he hadabout his neck; they gleamed from breast-plate andfrom belt; they illuminated the thick-sown pearls andsapphires of his sword-hilt, and glanced back in subduedradiance, as befited that holy place, from gauntletsand gorget, from warlike furniture and lordlygems, down to the great rowels of the golden spursthat decked his knightly heels.

The acolyte had shrunk into the shadows, and theEarl had had his blessing, when the Abbot drew himinto the recess where I lay in the moonbeams, thathe might speak him the more privately—that Churchmanlittle guessing what a good listener the stern,cold saint, so trim and prone upon his marble shrine,could be!

“Ah, noble Codrington,” quoth the monk, “truly wewill to the confessional at once, since thou art in somuch haste, and thou shalt certainly travel the lighterfor leaving thy load of transgressions to the holy forgivenessof Mother Church; but first, tell me true,dost thou really sail for France to-night?”

“Holy father, at this very moment our vessels arewaiting to be gone, and all my good companions chafeand vex them for this my absence!”

“What! and dost thou start for hostile shores andbloody feuds with half thy tithes and tolls unpaid tous? Noble Earl, wert thou to meet with any mischanceyonder—which Heaven prevent!—and didstthou stand ill with our exchequer in this particular,there were no hope for thee! I tell thee thou wert assurely damned if thou diedst owing this holy foundationaught of the poor contributions it asks of thoseto whom it ministers as if thy life were one long countof wickedness! I will not listen—I will not shrivethee until thou hast comported thyself duly in thismost important particular!”

“Good father, thy warmth is unnecessary,” repliedthe Earl. “My worldly matters are set straight, andmy steward has orders to pay thee in full all that maybe owing between us; ’twas spiritual settlement Icame to seek.”

“Oh!” quoth his Reverence, in an altered tone.“Then thou art free at once to follow the promptingsof thy noble instinct, and serve thy King and countryas thou listest. I fear this will be a bloody war yougo to.”

“’Tis like to be,” said the soldier, brightening upand speaking out boldly on a subject he loved, his fineeyes flashing with martial fire—“already the yellowsun of Picardy flaunts on Edward’s royal lilies!”

“Ah,” put in the monk, “and no doubt ripens manya butt of noble malmsey.”

“Already the red soil of Flanders is redder by thered blood of our gallant chivalry!”

“Yet even then not half so red, good Earl, as the ripebrew of Burgundy—a jolly mellow brew that hasstood in the back part of the cellar, secure in the lovingforbearance of twenty masters. Talk of renown—talkof thy leman—talk of honor and the breakingof spears—what are all these to such a vat of beadedpleasures? I tell thee, Codrington, not even thefabled pool wherein the rhymers say the cursed Paynimlooks to foretaste the delights of his sinfulheaven reflects more joy than such a cobwebbed tub.Would that I had more of them!” added the bibulousold priest after a pause, and sighing deeply. As hedid so an idea occurred to him, for he exclaimed,“Look thee, my gallant boy! Thou art bound whitherall this noble stuff doth come from, and ’tis quite possiblein the rough and tumble of bloody strife thoumay’st be at the turning inside out of many a fat roostand many a well-stocked cellar. Now, if this be so,and thou wilt remember me when thou seest the gallantdrink about to be squandered on the loose gulletsof base, scullion troopers, why then ’tis a bargain,and, in paternal acknowledgment of this thy filialduty, I will hear thy confession now, and thy penance,I promise, shall not be such as will inconveniencethine active life.”

The knight bent his head, somewhat coldly Ithought, and then they turned and went over to theoriel confessional, where the moonlight was throwingfrom the window above a pallid pearly transcript ofthe Mother and her sweet Nazarene Babe, all in silverand opal tints, upon the sacred woodwork, and as thepriest’s black shadow blotted the tender picture out Iheard him say:

“But mind, it must be good and ripe—’tis that vintagewith the two white crosses down by the vent thatI like best—an thou sendest me any sour Calais laymantipple, thou art a forsworn heretic, with all thysin afresh upon thee—so discriminate,” and the worthyChurchman entered to shrive and forgive, and asthe casem*nt closed upon him the sweet, silent, indifferentshadows from above blossomed again upon thedoorway.

Dreamy and drowsy I lay back and thought andwondered, for how long I know not, but for long—untilthe dim aisles had grown midnight-silent andthe moon had set, and then an owl hooted on theledges outside, and at that sound, with a start and asigh, I awoke once more.

“Fools!” I muttered, thinking over what I had heardwith dreamy insequence—“fools, liars, to set such adate upon this rest of mine! Drunken churls! I willgo at once to my fair Saxon, to my sweet nestlings—thatis, if they be not yet to bed—and to-morrow Iwill give that meager acolyte such a lesson in themisreading of his missal-margins as shall last himtill Doomsday. By St. Dunstan! he shall play nomore pranks with me—and yet, and yet, my heartmisgives me—my soul is loaded with foreboding, myspirit is sick within me. Where have I come to?Who am I? Gods! Hapi, Amenti of the goldenEgyptian past, Skogula, Mista of the Saxon hills andwoods, grant that this be not some new mischance—someother horrible lapse!” and I sat up there onthe white stone, and bowed my head and dangled myapostolic heels against my own commemorative marblesbelow, while gusts of alternate dread and indignationswept through the leafless thickets of remembrance.

Presently these meditations were disturbed by somevery different outward sensations. There came stealingover the consecrated pavements of that holy pilethe sound of singing, and it did not savor of angelicharmony; it was rough, and jolly, and warbled andtripped about the columns and altar steps in mostunseemly sprightliness. “Surely never did St. Gregorypen such a rousing chorus as that,” I thought tomyself, as, with ears pricked, I listened to the dulcetharmonies. And along with the music came such amerry odor as made me thirsty to smell of it. ’Twasnot incense—’twas much more like cinnamon and nutmegs—andnever did censer—never did myrrh andgalbanum smell so much of burnt sack and roastedcrab-apples as that unctuous, appetizing taint.

I got down at once off my slab, and, being mightyhungry, as I then discovered, I followed up that traillike a sleuth-hound on a slot. It was not reverent, itdid not suit my saintship, but down the steps I wenthot and hungry, and passed the reredos and crossedthe apse, and round the pulpit, and over the curicula,and through the aisles, and by many a shrine wherethe tapers dimly burned I pressed, and so, with thescent breast high, I flitted through an open archwayinto the checkered cloisters. Then, tripping heedlesslyover the lettered slabs that kept down the dustof many a roystering abbas, I—the latest hungry oneof the countless hungry children of time—followeddown that jolly trail, my apostolic linens tucked undermy arm, jeweled miter on a head more accustomed tosoldier wear, and golden crook carried, alas! like ahunter lance “at trail” in my other hand, till I broughtthe quest to bay. At the end of the cloisters was adoor set ajar, and along by the jamb a mellow streakof yellow light was streaming out, rich with thoseodors I had smelled and laden with laughter and thesound of wine-soaked voices noisy over the end, itmight be, of what seemed a goodly supper. I advancedto the light, listened a moment, and then inmy imperious way pushed wide the panel and entered.

It was the refectory of the monastery, and a rightnoble hall wherein ostentation and piety struggledfor dominion. Overhead the high peaked ceiling wasa maze of cunningly wrought and carved woodwork,dark with time and harmonized with the assimilatingtouches of age. Round by the ample walls right andleft ran a corridor into the dim far distance; and crucifixand golden ewer, cunning saintly image, and noble-branchingsilver candlesticks, gleamed in the duskagainst the ebony and polish of balustrade and paneling.Under the heavy glow of all these things theBrothers’ bare wooden table extended in long demurelines; but wooden platter and black leathern mugswere now all deserted and empty.

It was from the upper end came the light and jollity.Here a wider table was placed across the breadthof the hall, and upon it all was sumptuous magnificence—holypoverty here had capitulated to priestlyarrogance. Silver and gold, and rare glasses fromcunning Italian molds, enriched about with shiningenamels wherein were limned many an ancientheathen fancy, shone and sparkled on that monkishboard. On either side, in mighty candelabra, bequeathedby superstition and fear, there twinkled ahundred waxen candles, and up to the flames of thesesteamed, as I looked, many a costly dish uncovered,and many a mellow brew beaded and shining to thevery brim of those jeweled horns and beakers thatwere the chief accessories to that pleasant spread.

They who sat here seemed, if a layman might judge,right well able to do justice to these things. Half adozen of them, jolly, rosy priors and prelates, wereround that supper table, rubicund with wine and feeding,and in the high carved chair, coif thrown backfrom head, his round, ruddy face aflush with liquor,his fat red hand asprawl about his flagon, and hissmall eyes glazed and stupid in his drunkenness, satmy friend the latest Abbot of St. Olaf’s fane.

He had been singing, and, as I entered, the lastdistich died away upon his lips, his round, close-croppedhead, overwhelmed with the wine he lovedso much, sank down upon the table, the red vintageran from the overturned beaker in a crimson streak,and while his boon comrades laughed long and loudhis holiness slept unmindful. It was at this verymoment that I entered, and stood there in my ghostlylinen, stern and pale with fasting, and frowninggrimly upon those godless revelers. Jove! it was asight to see them blanch—to see the terror leap fromeye to eye as each in turn caught sight of me—to seetheir jolly jaws drop down, and watch the sicklypallor sweeping like icy wind across their countenances.So grim and silent did we face each otherin that stern moment that not a finger moved—nota pulse, I think, there beat in all their bodies, and inthat mighty hall not a sound was heard save the drip,drip of the Abbot’s malmsey upon the floor and hisown husky snoring as he lay asleep amid the costlylitter of his swinish meal.

Stern, inflexible, there by the black backing of theportal I frowned upon them—I, whom they onlydeemed of as a saint dead three hundred years before—I,whom lifeless they knew so well, now stood vengefulupon their threshold, scowling scorn and contemptfrom eyes where no life should have been—can youdoubt but they were sick at heart, with pallid cheeksanswering to coward consciences? For long we remainedso, and then, with a wild yell of terror theywere all on foot, and, like homing bats by a cavernmouth, were scrambling and struggling into the gloomof the opposite doorway. I let them escape, then,stalking over to the archway, thrust the wicket toupon the heels of the last flyer, and glad to be so ridof them, shot the bolt into the socket and barred thatentry.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (7)

Stern, inflexible, I frowned upon them

Then I went back to my friend the Abbot, and stood,reflective, behind him, wondering whether it were nota duty to humanity to rid it of such a knave even ashe slept there. But while I stood at his elbow contemplatinghim, the unwonted silence told upon hisdormant faculties, and presently the heavy head wasraised, and, after an inarticulate murmur or two, hesmiled imbecilely, and, picking up the thread of hisrevelry, hiccoughed out: “The chorus, good brothers!—thechorus—and all together!”

Die we must, but let us die drinking at an inn.

Hold the winecup to our lips sparkling from the bin!

So, when angels flutter down to take us from our sin,

“Ah! God have mercy on these sots!” the cherubs will begin.

“Why, you rogues!” he said, as his drunken melodyfound no echo in the great hall—“why, you sleepyvillains! am I a strolling troubadour that I shouldsing thus alone to you?” And then, as his blearedand dazzled eyes wandered round the empty places,the spilled wine and overturned trestles, he smiledagain with drunken cunning. “Ah!” he muttered;“then they must be all under the tables! I thoughtthat last round of sack would finish them! Hallo,there! Ambrose! De Vœux! Jervaulx! Jolly comrades!—sleepydogs! Come forth! Fie on ye!—to call yourselvesgood monks, and yet to leave thy simple, kindlyPrior thus to himself!” and he pulled up the tablelinen and peered below. Sorely was the Churchmanperplexed to see nothing; and first he glared up amongthe oaken rafters, as though by chance his fellowshad flown thither, and then he stared at the emptyplaces, and so his gaze wandered round, until, in aminute or two, it had made the complete circle of theplace, and finally rested on me, standing, immovable,a pace from his elbow.

At first he stared upon me with vapid amusem*nt,and then with stupid wonder. But it was not morethan a second or two before the truth dawned uponthat hazy intellect, and then I saw the thick, shorthands tighten upon the carving of his priestly throne,I saw the wine flush pale upon his cheeks, and thedrunken light in his eyes give place to the glare ofterror and consternation. Just as they had done beforehim, but with infinite more intensity, he blanchedand withered before my unrelenting gaze, he turnedin a moment before my grim, imperious frown, froma jolly, rubicund old bibber, rosy and quarrelsomewith his supper, into a cadaverous, sober-minded confessor,lantern-jawed and yellow—and then with ahideous cry he was on foot and flying for the doorwayby which his friends had gone! But I had need ofthat good confessor, and ere he could stagger a yardthe golden apostolic crook was about the ankle ofthe errant sheep, and the Prior of St. Olaf’s rolledover headlong upon the floor.

I sat down to supper, and as I helped myself tovenison pasty and malmsey I heard the beads runningthrough the recumbent Abbot’s fingers quicker thanwater runs from a spout after a summer thundershower. “Misericordia, Domine, nobis!” murmuredthe old sinner, and I let him grovel and pray in hisabject panic for a time, then bade him rise. Now,the fierceness of this command was somewhat marred,because my mouth was very full just then of pastycrust, and the accents appeared to carry less consternationinto my friend’s heart than I had intended.The paternoster began to run with more method andcoherence, and, soon finding he was not yet halfwayto that nether abyss he had seen opening before him,he plucked up a little heart of grace. Besides, theavenger was at supper, and making mighty inroadsinto the provender the Abbot loved so well: this tookoff the rough edge of terror, and was in itself socurious a phenomenon that little by little, with theutmost circ*mspection, the monk raised his head andlooked at me. I kept my baleful eyes turned away,and busied me with my loaded platter—which, by theway, was far the most interesting item of the two—andso by degrees he gained confidence, and came intoa sitting position, and gazed at the hungry saint, soactive with the victuals, wonder and awe playingacross his countenance. “I see, Sir Priest,” I said,“you have a good cook yonder in the buttery,” but theAbbot was as yet too dazed to answer, so I went on toput him more at his ease (for I designed to ask himsome questions later on), “now, where I come from,the great fault of the cooks is, they appreciate noneof your Norman niceties—they broil and roast forever,as though every one had a hunter appetite, andthus I have often been weary of their eternal messesof pork and kine.”

“Holy saints!” quoth the Abbot. “I did not dreamyou had any cooks at all.”

“No cooks! Thou fat wine-vat, what, didst thouthink we ate our viands raw?”

“Heaven forbid!” the Abbot gasped. “But, truly,your sanctity’s experiences astound me! ’Tis allagainst the canons. And if they be thus, as you say,at their trenchers, may I ask, in all humbleness andhumility, how your blessed friends are at theirflagons?”

“Ah! Sir, good fellows enough my jolly comrades,but caring little for thy red and purple vintages, likingbetter the merry ale that autumn sends, and thehoneyed mead, yet in their way as merry roysterersfor the most part as though they were all NormanAbbots,” I said, glancing askance at him.

By this time the Prior was on his feet, as sober ascould be, but apparently infinitely surprised and perplexedat what he saw and heard. He cogitated, andthen he diffidently asked: “An it were not too presumptive,might I ask if your saintship knows theblessed Oswald?”

“Not I.”

“Nor yet the holy Sewall de Monteign?” he queriedwith a sigh—“once head of these halls and cells.”

“Never heard of him in my life.”

“Nor yet of Grindal? or Gerard of Bayeux? or thesaintly Anselm, my predecessor in that chair you fill?”groaned the jolly confessor.

“I tell you, priest, I know none of them—neverheard their names or aught of them till now.”

“Alas! alas!” quoth the monk, “then if none of thesehave won to heaven, if none of these are known tothee so newly thence, there can be but small hope forme!” And his fat round chin sank upon his amplechest, and he heaved a sigh that set the candles alla-flickering halfway down the table.

“Why, priest, what art thou talking of?—Paradiseand long-dead saints? ’Twas of the Saxons—Harold’sSaxons—my jolly comrades and allies in armswhen last in life, I spoke.”

“Ho! ho! Was that so? Why, I thought thou werttalking of things celestial all this while, though, intruth, thy speech sorted astounding ill with all I hadheard before!”

“I think, Father,” I responded, “there is moreburnt sack under thy ample girdle than wit beneaththy cowl. But never mind, we will not quarrel. Sitdown, fill yon tankard (for dryness will not, I fancy,improve thy eloquence), and tell me soberly somethingof this nap of mine.”

“Ah, but, Sir, I was never very good at such studiouswork,” the monk replied, seating himself withuneasy obedience: “if I might but fetch in our Clerk—though,in truth, I cannot imagine why and whitherhe has gone—he is one who has by heart the thingsthou wouldst know.”

“Stir a foot, priest,” I said, with feigned anger, “andthou art but a dead Abbot! Tell me so much as yourmuddled brain can recall. Now, when I supped herebefore that yellow-skinned Norman William sat uponthe English throne——”

“Saints in Paradise! what, he who routed Harold,and founded yonder abbey of Battle—impossible!”

“What, dost thou bandy thy ‘impossible’ with me?Slave, if thou cast again but one atom of doubt, onesingle iota of thy heretic criticism here, thou shaltgo thyself to perdition and seek Sewall de Monteignand Gerard of Bayeux,” and I laid my hand upon mycrook.

“Misericordia! misericordia!” stammered the Abbot.“I meant no ill whatever, but the extent of thyHoliness’s astounding abstinence overwhelmed me.”

“Why, then to your story. But I am foolish to ask.You cannot, you dare not, tell me again that lie ofthy acolyte, that three hundred years have passedsince then. Look up, say ’twas false, and that singleword shall unburden here,” and I struck my breast,“a soul of a load of dread and fear heavier than everwas lifted by priestly absolution before.”

But still he hung his face, and I heard him mutterthat fifty white-boned Abbots lay in the cloisters, heelto head, and the first one was a kinsman of William’s,and the last was his own predecessor.

“Then, if thou darest not answer this question, whor*igns above us now? Has the Norman star set, asI once hoped it might, behind the red cloud of rebellion?or does it still shine to the shame of all Saxons?”

“Sir Saint,” answered the monk, with a little touchof the courage and pride of his race gleaming for amoment through his drunken humility, “rebellionnever scared the Norman power—so much I know forcertain; and Saxon and Norman are one by the graceof God, linked in brotherhood under the noble Edward.Expurgate thy divergences; erase ‘invadersand invaded’ from thy memory, and drink as I drink—if, indeed, all this be news to thee—for the first timeto ‘England and to the English!’”

“Waes hael, Sir Monk—‘England and the English!’”

“Drink hael, good saint!” he answered, giving methe right acceptance of my flagon challenge, “and I dohereby receive thee most paternally into the nationalfold! Nevertheless, thou art the most perplexingmartyr that ever honored this holy fane”—and heraised the great silver cup to his lips and took amighty pull. Then he gazed reflectively for a momentinto the capacious measure, as though the pageantryof history were passing across the shining bottom infantastic sequence, and looked up and said—“Mostwonderful—most wonderful! Why, then, you knownothing of William the Red?”

“The William I knew was red enough in the hands.”

“Ah! but this other one who followed him was redon the head as well, and an Anselm was Archbishopwhile he reigned.”

“Well, and who came next in thy preposteroustale?”

“Henry Plantagenet—unless all this sack confusesmy memory—I have told thee, good saint, I am betterat mass and breviar than at missals and scroll.”

“And better, no doubt, than either at thy cellarscore-book, priest! But what befell your Henry?”

“Frankly, I am not very certain; but he died eventually.”

“’Tis the wont of kings no less than of lesser folk.Pass me yon bread platter, and fill thy flagon. Somuch history, I see, makes thee husky and sad!”

“Well, then came Stephen de Blois, the son ofAdeliza, who was daughter to the Conqueror.”

“Forsworn priest!” I exclaimed at that familiarname, leaping to my feet and swinging the great goldflail into the air, “that is a falser lie than any yet.The noble Adeliza was troth to Harold, and had nochildren; unsay it, or——” and here the crook poisedominously over the shrieking Abbot’s head.

“I lied! I lied!” yelled the monk, cowering under theswing of my weapon like a partridge beneath a falcon’scirclings, and then, as the crook was throwndown on the table again, he added: “’Twas Adela,I meant; but what it should matter to thee whetherit were Adeliza or Adela passes my comprehension,”and the monk smoothed out his ruffled feathers.

“Proceed! It is not for thee to question. WroughtStephen anything more notable to thy mind thanHenry?”

“Well, Sir, I recall, now thou puttest me to it, thathe laid rough hands upon the sacred persons of ourBishops once or twice, yet he was much indebted tothem. Didst ever draw sword in a good quarrel, SirSaint?”

“Didst ever put thy fingers into a venison pasty, SirPriest? Because, if thou hast, as often, and oftener,have I done according to thy supposition.”

“Why, then, I wonder you lay still upon yonderwhite marble slab while all the northern Bishops wereup in arms for Stephen, and on bloody NorthallertonMoor broke the power of the cruel Northmen forever.That day, Sir, the sacred flags of St. Cuthbert ofDurham, St. Peter of York, St. John of Beverley, St.Wilfred of Ripon, not to mention the holy Thurstan’sruddy pennon, led the van of battle. ’Tis all set outin a pretty scroll that we have over the priory fireplace,else, as you will doubtless guess, I had neverremembered so much of detail.”

“Anyhow, it is well recalled. Who came next?”

“Another Henry, and he made the saintly ThomasBecket Archbishop in the year of grace 1162, andafterward the holy prelate was gathered to bliss.”

“Thy history is mostly exits and entries, but perhapsit is none the less accurate for all that. Andnow thou wilt say this Henry was no more lastingthan his kinsman—he too died.”

“Completely and wholly, Sir, so that the burly RichardCœur de Lion reigned in his stead; and then cameJohn, who was at best but a wayward vassal of St.Peter’s Chair.”

“Down with him, jolly Abbot! And mount anotheron the shaky throne of thy fantastic narrative. I amweary of the succession already, and since we havecome so far away from where I thought we were Icare for no great niceties of detail. Put thy Sovereignsto the amble, make them trot across the stageof thy hazy recollection, or thou wilt be asleep beforethou canst stall and stable half of them.”

“Well, then, a Henry came after John, and an Edwardfollowed him—then another of the name—andthen a third—that noble Edward in whose sway therealm now is, and in whom (save some certain exactionsof rent and taxes) Mother Church perceives aglorious and a warlike son. But it is a long musterroll from the time of thy Norman monarch to thisyear of grace 1346.”

“A long roll!” I muttered to myself, turning awayfrom my empty plate—“horrible, immense, and vast!Good Lord! what shadows are these men who comeand go like this! Wonderful and dreadful! that allthose tinseled puppets of history—those throbbingepitomes of passion and godlike hopes—should havebudded, and decayed, and passed out into the void,finding only their being, to my mind, in the shallowvehicle of this base Churchman’s wine-vault breath.Dreadful, quaint, abominable! to think that all theseflickering human things have paced across the sunnywhite screen of life—like the colored fantasies yonderstained windows threw upon my sleeping eyes—andyet I only but wake hungry and empty, unchanged,unmindful, careless!—Priest!” I said aloud, so suddenand fiercely that the monk leaped to his feet witha startled cry from the drunken sleep into which hehad fallen—“priest! dost fear the fires of thy purgatory?”

“Ah, glorious miracle! but—but surely thou wouldstnot——”

“Why, then, answer me truly, swear by that greatcrucified form there shining in the taper light abovethy throne, swear by Him to whom thou nightly offerestthe hyssop incense of thy beastly excesses—swear,I say!”

“I do—I do!” exclaimed St. Olaf’s priest in extravagantterror, as I towered before him with all my oldPhrygian fire emphasized by the sanctity of my extraordinaryrepute. “I swear!” he said; but, seeingme hesitate, he added, “What wouldst thou of thypoor, unworthy servant?”

’Twas not so easy to answer him, and I hung myhead for a moment; then said: “When I died—in theNorman time, thou rememberest—there was a womanhere, and two sunny little ones, blue in the eyes andcomely to look upon—— There, shut thy stupidmouth, and look not so astounded! I tell thee theywere here—here, in St. Olaf’s Hall—here, at this veryhigh table between me and St. Olaf’s Abbot—threetender flowers, old man, set in the black framing of ahundred of thy corded, wondering brotherhood. Now,tell me—tell me the very simple truth—is there sucha woman here, tall and fair, and melancholy gracious?Are there such babes in thy cloisters or cells?”

“It is against the canons of our order.”

“A malison on thee and thy order! Is there, then,no effigy in yon chancel, no tablet, no record of her—Imean of that noble lady and those comely little ones?”

“I know of none, Sir Saint.”

“Think again. She was a franklin, she had widelands; she reverenced thy Church, and in her grief,being woman, she would turn devout. Surely shebuilt some shrine, or made thee a portico, or blazoneda window to shame rough Fate with the evidence ofher gentleness?”

“There is none such in St. Olaf’s. But, now thouspeakest of shrines, I do remember one some hours’ride from here; unroofed and rotten, but, nevertheless,such as you suggest, and in it there is a cenotaph,and a woman laid out straight. She is cracked acrossthe middle and mossy, and there be two small kneelingfigures by her head, but I never looked nicely todetermine whether they were blessed cherubin or butcommon children. The shepherds who keep theirflocks there and shelter from the showers under thecrumbling walls call the place Voewood.”

“Enough, priest,” I said, as I paced hither andthither across the hall in gloomy grief, and then takingmy hasty resolution I turned to him sternly—“Makewhat capital thou list of to-night’s adventure,but remember the next time thou seest a saint mayHeaven pity thee if thou art not in better sort—turnthy face to the wall!”

The frightened Abbot obeyed; I shed in a whiteheap upon the floor my saintly vestments, my miterand crook on top, and then, stepping lightly down thehall, mounted upon a bench, unfastened and threwopen a lattice, and, placing my foot upon the sill,sprang out into the night and open world again!

I walked and ran until the day came, southwardconstantly, now and again asking my way of an astonishedhind, but for the most part guided by somestrange instinct, and before the following noon I wasat my old Saxon homestead.

But could it be Voewood? Not a vestige of a houseanywhere in that wide grassy glade where Voewoodstood, not a sign of life, not a sound to break thestillness! Near by there ran a little brook, and againstit, just as the monk had said, were the four gray wallsof a lonely roofless shrine. Over the shrine, on thevery spot where Voewood stood—alas! alas!—was along, grassy knoll, crowned with hawthorns and littleflowers shining in the sunlight. I went into the ruinedchapel, and there, stained and lichened and broken,in the thorny embrace of the brambles, lay the marblefigure of my sweet Saxon wife, and by the pillow—green-velvetedwith the tapestry of nature—knelt herlittle ones on either side. I dropped upon my kneeand buried my face in her crumbling bosom and wept.What mattered the eclipse while I slept of all thosekingly planets that had shone in the English firmamentcompared to the setting of this one white starof mine? I rushed outside to the mound that hidthe forgotten foundations of my home, and, as thepassion swept up and engulfed my heart, I buriedmy head in my arms and hurled myself upon theground and cursed that tender green moss that shouldhave been so hard—cursed that golden English sunlightthat suited so ill with my sorrows—and cursedagain and again in my bitterness those lying blossomsoverhead that showered down their petals on me, sayingit was spring, when it was the blackest winter ofdesolation, the night-time of my disappointment.

CHAPTER IX

I am not of a nature to be long overwhelmed. Allthat night and far into the next day I lay upon Voewood,alternately sleeping and bewailing the chancewhich tossed me to and fro upon the restless ocean oftime, and then I arose. I threw my arms round eachin turn of those dear, callous ones in the chapel, andpushed back the brambles from them, and wept a little,and told myself the pleasure-store of life was nowsurely spent to the very last coin—then, with a mightyeffort, tore myself away. Again and again, while thesmooth swell of the grassy mound under which thefoundations of the long-destroyed Saxon homesteadwith the little chapel by the rivulet were in sight, Iturned and turned, loth and sad. But no sooner hadthe leafy screen hid them than I set off and ran whitherI knew not, nor cared—indeed, I was so terribly drawnby that spot—so close in the meshes of its association,so thralled by the presence of the dust of all I had hadto lose or live for, that I feared, if the best haste werenot made, I should neither haste nor fly from that terriblysweet hillock of lamentations forever.

What could it matter where my wandering feet wereturned? All the world was void and vapid, east andwest alike indifferent, to one so homeless, and thus Istalked on through glades and coppices for hours anddays, with my chin upon my chest, and feeling marvelouslycheap and lonely. But enough of this.Never yet did I crave sympathy of any man: whyshould I seem to seek it of you—skeptical and remote?

There were those who appeared at that time to takecompassion on me unasked, and I remember the countrywomenat whose cottage doors I hesitated a moment—yearningwith pent-up affection over theircurly-headed little ones—added to the draught ofwater I begged such food as their slender stores provided.One of these gave me a solid green forester’scape and jerkin; another put shoes of leather uponmy feet; and a third robbed her husband’s pegs to findme headwear, and so through the gifts of their unspokengood-will I came by degrees into the raimentof the time.

But nothing seemed to hide the inexpressiblestrangeness I began to carry about with me. No sorryapparel, no woodman’s cap drawn down over mybrows, no rustic clogs upon my wandering feet,masked me for a moment from the awe and wonder ofthese good English people. None of them dared askme a question, how I came or where I went, but everywhereit was the same. They had but to look uponme, and up they rose, and in silence, and, drawn involuntarilyby that stern history of mine they knewnaught of, they ministered to me according to theirmeans. The women dropped their courtesies, and—unasked,unasking—fed the grim and ragged strangerfrom their cleanest platter, the men stood by and uncappedthem to my threadbare russet, and wholegroups would watch spellbound upon the villagemounds as I paced moodily away.

In course of time my grief began to mend, so that itwas presently possible to take a calmer view of thesituation, and to bend my thoughts upon what it werebest to do next. Though I love the greenwood, andam never so happy as when solitary, yet my naturewas not made, alas! for sylvan idleness. I felt I hadthe greatest admiration and brotherhood with thosewho are recluse and shun the noisy struggles of theworld; yet had I always been a leader of men, I nowremembered, as all the pages of my past history cameone by one before me and I meditated upon them dayand night. No, I was not made to walk these woodsalone, and, if another argument were wanting, it werefound in the fact that I was here exposed to everyweather, hungry and shelterless! I could not be foreverbegging from door to door, eternally throwing myawe-inspiring shadow across the lintels of these gentle-manneredwoodland folk, and my tastes, thoughnever gluttonous, rebelled most strongly against theperpetual dietary of herbs and roots and limpidbrooks.

Reflecting on these things one day, as I lay friendlessand ragged in the knotty elbow of a great oak’searth-bare roots, after some weeks of homeless wandering,I fell asleep, and dreamed all the fair shininglandscape were a tented field, and all the rustlingrushes down by the neighboring streamlet’s bankswere the serried spears of a great concourse of soldiersdefiling by, the sparkle of the sunlight on theripples seeming like the play of rays upon their manywarlike trappings, the yellow flags and water-flowersmaking no poor likeness of dancing banners and bannerets.

’Twas a simple dream, such as came of an emptystomach and a full head, yet somehow I woke fromthat sleep with more of my old pulse of pleasure andlife beating in my veins than had been there for along time. And with the wish for another spell ofbright existence, spent in the merry soldier mood thatsuited me so well, came the means to attain it.

In the first stage of these wanderings, while stillfresh from the cloister shrine, I had paid but the verysmallest heed to my attire and its details. I wasclad in clean, sufficient wraps, so much was certain,with a linen belt about me, and sandals upon my feet;yet even this was really more than I noticed with anycloseness. But as I ran and walked, and my fleshgrew hot and nervous with the fever of my sorrow, aconstant chafing of my feet and hands annoyed me.I had stopped by a woodside river bank, and there discoveredwith wrathful irritation that upon my bareapostolic toes and upon my sanctified thumbs—thosesoldier thumbs still flat and strong with years ofpressing sword-hilts and bridle-reins—there wereglistening in holy splendor such a set of gorgeousgems as had rarely been taken for a scramble throughthe woods before! There were beryls and sapphiresand pearls, and ruddy great rubies from the caftansof Paynim chiefs slain by long-dead Crusaders, andonyx and emerald from Cyprus and the remotest Eastset in rude red gold by the rough artificers of rearwardages, and all these put upon me, no doubt, afterthe manner in which at that time credulous piety waswont to bedeck the shrine and images of saints andmartyrs. I was indeed at that moment the wealthiestbeggar who ever sat forlorn and friendless on a grassylode. But what was all this glistening store to me,desolate and remorseful, with but one remembrancein my heart, with but one pitiful sight before my eyes?I pulled the shining gems angrily from my swollenfingers and toes and hurled them one by one, thoseprincely toys, into the muddy margin of the stream,and there, in that rude setting, ablazing, red, andgreen, and white, and hot and cool, with their wonderfulscintillations they mocked me. They mocked meas I sat there with my chin in my palms, and twinkledand shone among the sludge and scum so merrily tothe flickering sunshine, that presently I laughed alittle at those cheerful trinkets that could shine sobravely in the contumacy of chance, and after a timeI picked up one and rinsed it and held it out in thesunshine, and found it very fair—so fair, indeed, thata glimmer of listless avarice was kindled within me,and later on I broke a hawthorn spray and gropedamong the sedge and mire and hooked out thus, inbetter mood, the greater part of my strange inheritance.

Then, here I was, upon this other bank, waking upafter my dream, and, turning over the better to watchthe fair landscape stretching below, my waistclothcame unbound, and out upon the sand amid the oakroots rolled those ambient, glistening rings again. Atfirst I was surprised to see such jewels in such a place,staring in dull wonderment while I strove to imaginewhence they came, but soon I remembered piece bypiece their adventure as has been told to you, and now,with the warm blood in my veins again, I did notthrow them by, but lay back against the oak andchuckled to myself as my ambitious heart flutteredwith pleasure under my draughty rags, and crossedmy legs, and weighed upon my finger-tips, and inventoried,and valued, all in the old merchant spirit, thosefriendly treasures.

How unchanging are the passions of humanity! Itossed those radiant playthings up in the sunlight andcaught them, I counted and recounted them, I toreshreds from my clothing and cleaned and polishedeach in turn, I started up angry and suspicious as akite’s wheeling shadow fell athwart my hoard. Forgottenwas hunger and houselessness—I no longermourned so keenly the emptiness of the world or thebrevity of friendships: I, to whom these treasuresshould have been so light, overlooked nearly all mygriefs in them, and was as happy for the moment inthis unexpected richness as a child.

And then, after an hour or so of cheerful avarice,I sat up sage and reflective, and, having swathedand wrapped my store safely next my heart, I mustneeds climb the first grassy knoll showing above thewoodlands and search the horizon for some placewherein a beginning might be made of spending it.Nothing was to be seen thence but a goodly valleyspread out at a distance, and there my steps wereturned—for men, like streams, ever converge uponthe lowlands.

Now that I had the heart to fall into beaten tracks,coming out of the sheltering thicket byways for thefirst time since quitting the mounds over the ashes ofVoewood, I observed more of the new people andtimes among whom fate had thus thrown me. Andtruly it was a very strange meeting with these folk,who were they whom I had known when last I walkedthese woods, and yet were not. I would stare at themin perplexity, marveling at the wondrous blend ofnations I saw in face and hair and eyes. Their veryclothes were novel to me, and unaccountable, whiletheir speech seemed now the oddest union of manytongues—all foreign, yet upon these English lips mosttruly native—and wondrous to listen to. I would passa sturdy yokel leading out his teams to plowing,and when I spoke to him it made my ears tingle tohear how antique Roman went hand in hand withancient British, and good Norman was linked uponhis lips with better Saxon! That polyglot youth, knowingno tongue but one, was most scholarly in his ignorance.To him ’twas English that he spoke; butto me, who had lived through the making of thatnoble speech, who knew each separate individualquantity that made that admirable whole, his jargonwas most wonderful!

Nor was I yet fully reconciled to the unity of thesenew people and their mutual kinsmanship. I couldnot remember all feuds were ended. When down thepath would come a more than usually dusky wayfarer—atrooper, perhaps, with leather jerkin, shield onback, and sword by side—I would note his swart complexionand dark black hair, and then ’twas “Ho! ho!a Norman villain straying from his band!” And backI would step among the shadows, and, gripping thestaff that was my only weapon, scowl on him while hewhistled by, half mindful, in my forgetfulness, to helpthe Saxon cause by rapping the fellow over his head.On the other hand if one chanced upon me who hadthe flaxen hair and pleasant eyes of those who oncewere called my comrades—if he wore the rustic waistlesssmock, as many did still, of hind or churl—why,then, I was mighty glad to see that Saxon, and crossedover, friendly, to his pathway, bespeaking him in thepure tongue of his forefathers, asked him of garth andhomestead, and how fared his thane and heretoga—allof which, it grieved me afterward to notice, perplexedhim greatly.

Not only in these ways was there much for me tolearn, but, with speech and fashions, modes and meansof life had changed. At one time I met a strangepiebald creature, all tags and tassels, white and red,with a hundred little bells upon him, a cap with peakshanging down like asses’ ears, and a staff, with morebells, tucked away under his arm. He was ploddingalong dejected, so I called to him civilly:

“Why, friend! Who are you?”

“I am a fool, Sir!”

“Never mind,” I replied cheerfully, “there is the lesslikelihood of your ever treading this earth companionless.”

“Why, that is true enough,” he said, “for it was toomuch wisdom that sent me thus solitary afield,” andhe went on to tell me how he had been ejected thatmorning from a neighboring castle. “I had belaudedand admired my master for years—therein I had manyfriends, yet was a fool. Yesterday we quarreled aboutsome trifle—I called him beast and tyrant, and therein,being just and truthful, I lost my place and comradesover the first wise thing I said for years!—it isa most sorry, disorderly world.”[2]

[2] The Phœnician must have failed to recognize in the new finery of thetime the latest representative of a brotherhood that had long existed.

This strange individual, it seemed, lived by folly,and, though I had often noticed that wit was not a fatprofession, I could not help regarding him with wonder.He was, under his veneer of shallowness, a mostgentle and observant jester. Long study in the artsof pleasing had given him a very delicate discriminationof moods and men. He could fit a merriment tothe capacity of any man’s mind with extraordinaryacumen. He had stores of ill-assorted learning in theempty galleries of his head, and wherewithal a kindly,gentle heart, a whimsical companionship for sad-eyedhumanity which made him haste to laugh at everythingthrough fear of crying over it. We were companionsbefore we had gone a mile, and many were thethings I learned of him. When our way parted Ipressed one of my rings into his hand. “Good-by,fool!” I said.

“Good-by, friend!” he called. “You are the firstwise man with whom I ever felt akin”; and indeed, ashis poor buffoon’s coat went shining up the path, Ifelt bereft and lonely again for a spell.

Then I found another craftsman of this curious time.A little way farther on, near by to a lordly housestanding in wide stretches of meadow and park lands,a most plaintive sound came from a thicket lying opento the sun. Such a dismal moaning enlisted my compassion,for here, I thought, is some luckless wightjust dying or, at least, in bitterest extremity of sorrow:so I approached, stepping lightly round the blossomingthicket—peering this way and that, and nowdown on my hands and knees to look under the bushes,and now on tiptoe, craning my neck that I might seeover, and so, presently, I found the source of the sighsand moans. It was a young man of most dainty proportions,with soft, fine-combed hair upon his prettysloping shoulders, his sleeves so long they trailedupon the moss, his shoes laced with golden threadsand toed and tasseled in monstrous fashion. A mostdelicate perfume came from him: his clothes weregreener than grass in springtime, turned back, andpuffed with damask. In his hand he had a scrollwhereon now and again he looked, and groaned inmost plaintive sort.

“Why, man,” I asked, “what ails you? Why thatdreadful moaning? What are you, and what is yonscroll?” So absorbed was he, however, it was onlywhen I had walked all round him to spy the wound,if it might be, that he suffered from, and finally stooddirectly in his sunshine, repeating the question, thathe looked up.

“Interrupter of inspiration! Hast thou asked whatI am, and what this is?”

“Yes; and more than once.”

“Fie! not to see! I am a minstrel—a bard; myLord’s favorite poet up at yonder castle, and this isan ode to his mistress’s eyebrows. I was in travailof a rhyme when thy black shadow fell upon thepage.”

“Give me the leaf! Why, it is the sickliest stuffthat ever did dishonor to virgin paper! There, take itback,” I said, angry to find so many fools abroad, “andlisten to me! You may be a poet, for I have no experienceof them, but as I am a man thou art not abard! You a bard! You the likeness and descendantof Howell ap Griffith and a hundred other Saxongleemen! You one of the guild of Gryffith ap Conan—youa scop or a skald!—why, boy, they could writebetter stuff than thou canst though they had beendrunk for half a day! You a stirrer of passions—youa minstrel—you a tightener of the strong sinews ofwarrior hearts!—fie! for shame upon your silly trivialsonnets, your particolored suits and sweet insipidvaporings! Out, I say! Get home to thy lady’s footstool,or, by Thor and Odin, I will give thee a beatingout of pure respect for noble rhyming!”

The poet did not wait to argue. I was angry andrough, and the rudest-clad champion that ever swunga flail in the cause of the muses. So he took to hisheels, and as I watched that pretty butterfly aimingacross the sunny meadows for his master’s portals,and stopping not for hedge or ditch, “By Hoth,” I said,laughing scornfully, “we might have been friends ifhe could but have writ as well as he can run!”

Then I went on again, and had not gone far, whendown the road there came ambling on a mule a crafty-lookingChurchman, with big wallets hanging at hissaddle-bows, a portentous rosary round his neck, andbare, unwashed feet hanging stirrupless by his palfrey’sside.

“Now here’s another tradesman,” I muttered to myself,“of this most perplexing age. Heaven grant hiswares are superior to the last ones! Good-morning,Father!”

“Good-morning, Son! Art going into the town totake up arms for Christ and His servant Edward?”

“Yes,” I answered, “I am bound to the town, butI have not yet chosen a master.”

“Then you are all the more sure to go to the fighting,for every one, just now, who has no other calling,is apprentice to arms.”

“It will not be the first time I have taken that honorableindenture.”

“No, I guess not,” said the shrewd Friar, eyeing meunder his penthouse eyebrows, “for thou art a stoutand wiry-looking fellow, and may I never read anythingbetter than my breviary again if I cannot construein your face a good and varied knowledge ofcamps and cities. But there was something else I hadto say to you.” [“Here comes the point of the narrative,”I thought to myself.] “Now, so trim a soldieras you, and one wherewithal so reflective, would surelynot willingly go where hostile swords are waving andcruel French spears are thicker than yonder tall-bladedglass, unshriven—with all thy sins upon thyback?”

“Why then, monk, I must stay at home. Is thatwhat you would say?”

“Nay, not at all. There is a middle way. But soft!Hast any money with thee?”

“Enough to get a loaf of bread and a cup of ale.”

“Oh!” said the secret pardoner (for his calling wasthen under ban and fine), a little disappointedly, “thatis somewhat small, but yet, nevertheless,” he mutteredpartly to himself, “these are poor times, and when allplump partridges are abroad Mother Church’s falconsmust necessarily fly at smaller game. Look here!good youth. Forego thy mortal appetites, defer thybread and ale, and for that money saved thereby Iwill sell thee one of these priceless parchments herein my wallet—scrolls, young man, hot from the holyfootstool of our blessed father in Rome, and carryingcomplete unction and absolution to the soul of theirpossessor! Think, youth! is not eternal redemptionworth a cup of muddy ale? Fie to hesitate! Line thybosom with this blessed scroll, and go to war cleaner-heartedthan a new-born babe. There! I will not beexacting. For one of those silver groats I fancy I seetied in thy girdle I will give thee absolute admittanceinto the blessed company of saints and martyrs. Itell thee, man, for half a zecchin I will make theecomrade of Christ and endow thee with eternity! Isit a bargain?”

Silent and disdainful, I, who had seen a dozenhierarchies rise and set in the various peopled skiesof the world, took the parchment from him and turnedaway and read it. It was, as he said—more shameon human intellect!—a full pardon of the possessor’ssins wrote out in bad Norman Latin, and bearing thesign and benediction of St. Peter’s chair. I read itfrom top to bottom, then twisted its red tapes roundit again and threw it back to that purveyor of absolutions.Yes; and I turned upon that reverend travelerand scorned and scouted him and his contemptiblebaggage. I told him I had met two sad fools sincenoon, but he was worse than either. I scoffed him,just as my bitter mood suggested, until I had spentboth breath and invention, then turned contemptuous,and left him at bay, mumbling inarticulate maledictionsupon my biting tongue.

No more of these shallow panderers fell in my pathto vex and irritate me, and before the white eveningstar was shining through the brilliant tapestry of thesunset over the meadow-lands in the west, I had drawnnear to and entered the strong, shadowy, moated wallsof my first English city.

CHAPTER X

I took lodgings that evening with some rough soldierswho kept guard over the town gate, and sleptas soundly by their watch-fire as though my countryclothes were purple, and a stony bench in an angleof the walls were a princely couch. But when themorning came I determined to better my condition.

With this object in view one of the smallest of myrings was selected, and, with this conveniently hidden,I went down into the town to search for a jeweler’s.A strange town indeed it struck me as being. Narrowand many were the streets, and paved with stones;timber and plaster jutting out overhead so as to lessenthe fair, free sky to a narrow strip, and greatly tocompress my country spirit. At every lattice window,so amply provided with glass as I had never knownbefore, they were hanging out linen at that early hourto air; and the ’prentice lads came yawning andstretching to their masters’ shutter booths, and everynow and then down the quaint streets of that curiouscity which had sprung—peopled with a new race—fromthe earth during the long night of my sleep, thererumbled a country tumbril loaded with rustic things,whereat the women came out to chaffer and buy ofthe smocked cartsmen who spoke the glib Englishso novel to my ear and laughed and gossiped withthem. The early ware I noticed in his cart was stilldamp and sparkling with the morning dew, so closeupon the dawn had he come in, and there in the townwhere the deep street shadows still lay undisturbed,now and then a Jew, still ashamed, it seemed, to meetany of those sleepy Christian eyes, would steal by toan early bargain, wrapped to his chin in his gabardine—Iknew that garment a thousand years ago—andfearfully slinking, in that intolerant time, from houseto house and shadow to shadow.

Now and then as I sauntered along in a city of novelties,a couple of revelers in extraordinary variousclothes, their toes longer than their sleeves, their velvetcaps quaintly peaked, and slashed doublets showinggay vests below, came reeling and singing up theback ways, making the half-waked dogs dozing in thegutters snarl and snap at them, and disturbing themorning meal of the crows rooting in the litter-heaps.

As the sun came up, and the fresh, white light ofthat fair Plantagenet morning crept down the facesof the eastward walls, the city woke to its daily business.A page came tripping over the cobbles with amessage in his belt, the good wives were astir in thehouses, and the ’prentices fell to work manfully onbooth and bars as merchant and mendicant, early gallantand basketed maid, began the day in earnest.

All these things I saw from under the broad rim ofmy rustic hat—my ragged, sorrel-green cloak thrownover my shoulder and across my face, and, so disguised,silent, observant—now recognizing somethingof that yesterday that was so long ago, and anon sadand dubious, I went on until I found what I soughtfor, and came into a smooth, broad street, where thejewelers had their stalls. I chose one of those whoseemed in a fair way of business, and entered.

“Are you the master here?” I asked of a gray-beardedmerchant who was searching for the spectacleshe had put away overnight.

“My neighbors say so,” he answered gruffly.

“Then I would trade with you.”

Whereon—having found and adjusted his greathornglasses—he eyed me superciliously from head tofoot; then said, in a tone of derision:

“As you wish, friend countryman. But will youtrade in pearl and sapphire, or diamond pins andbrooches, perhaps—or is it only for broken victuals ofmy last night’s supper?”

“Keep thy victuals for thy lean and hungry lads!I will trade with you in pearl and sapphire.” Andthereon, from under my moldy rags, I brought a lordlyring that danced and sparkled in the clear sunlightstealing through the mullioned windows of his booth,and threw quivering rainbow hues upon the whitewalls of the little den, dazzling the blinking, delightedold man in front of me. “How much for that?” Iasked, throwing it down in front of him.

It was a better gem than he had seen for many aday, and, having turned it over loving and wistful,he whispered to me (for he thought I had surely stolenit) one-sixteenth of its value! Thereon I laughed athim, and threw down my cap, and took the ring, andgave him such a lecture on gems and jewels—all outof my old Phrygian merchant knowledge—so praisedand belauded the shine and water of each single shiningpoint in that golden circlet, that presently I hadsold it to him for near its value!

Then I bought a leather wallet and put the moneyin, and traded again lower down the street with anotherring. And then again at good prices—for competitionwas close among these goldsmiths, and noneliked me to sell the beautiful things I showed themone by one to their rivals—I sold two more.

“Surely! surely! good youth,” questioned one merchantto me, “these trinkets were made for some masterAbbot’s thumb, or some blessed saint.”

“And surely again, my friend,” I answered, “youhave just seen them drawn from a layman’s finger.”

“Well, well,” he said, “I will give you your price,”and then, as he turned away to pack them, he mutteredto himself, “A stout cudgel seems a good professionnowadays! If it were not through fear yonFlemish rascal over the road might take the gem, Iat least would never deal with such an obvious footpad.”

By this time I was rich, and my wallet purse hunglow and heavy at my girdle, so away I went to wheresome tailors lived, and accosted the best of them.Here the cross-legged sewers who sat on the sillamong shreds of hundred-colored stuffs and the bent,white-fingered embroiderers stopped their work andgaped to hear the ragged, wayworn loafer, whosebroad shadow darkened their doorway, ask for silksand satins, yepres and velvet. One youthful churl,under the master’s eyes, unbonneted, and in mockcivility asked me whether I would have my surtoutof crimson or silver—whether my jupons should bestrung with seedling pearls, or just plain sewn withgolden thread and lace. He said, that harmless scoffer,he knew a fine pattern a noble lord had latelyworn, of minever and silver, which would very neatlysuit me—but I, disdainful, not putting my hand to myloaded pouch as another might have done, only let theragged homespun fall from across my face, and, takingthe cap from my raven hair and grim, weather-beatenface, turned upon them.

The laughter died away in that little den as I didso, the embroiderer’s needle stuck halfway throughits golden fabric, the workers stared upon me open-mouthed.The cutter’s shears shut with a snap uponthe rustling webs, and then forgot to open, while’prentice lads stood, all with yardwands in their hand,most strangely spellbound by my presence. The conquestwas complete without a word, and no one moved,until presently down shuffled the master tailor fromhis dusky corner, and, waving back his foolish boys,bowed low with sudden reverence as he asked withmany epithets of respect in how he might serve me.

“Thanks,” I said, “my friend. What I need is onlythis—that you should express upon me some of thesetardy but courteous commendations. Translate mefrom these rags to the livery of gentility. Express ingood stuffs upon me some of that ‘nobility’ your quickperception has now discovered—in brief, suit me atonce as a not too fantastic knight of your time isclad; and have no doubt about my paying.” WhereonI quickened his willingness by a sight of my broadpieces.

Well, they had just such vests and tunics and hoseas I needed, and these, according to the fashion, beinglaced behind and drawn in at the middle by a loosesword-belt, fitted me without special making. My vestwas of the finest doeskin, scalloped round the edge,bound with golden tissue, and worked all up the frontwith the same in leaves and flowers. My hose wereas green as rushes, and my shoes pointed and upturnedhalfway to my knees. On my shoulders hunga loose cloak of green velvet of the same hue as myhose, lined and puffed with the finest grass-green satinthat ever came in merchant bales from over seas.Over my right arm it was held by a gold-and-emeraldbrooch—a “morse” that worthy clothier termed it—biggerthan my palm, and this tunic hung to mysmall-laced middle. My maunch-sleeves were lined byermine, and hung to my ankles a yard and more inlength. On my head, my cap, again, was all of ermineand velvet, bound with strings of seed-pearls. Thatsame kindly hosier got me a pretty playtime daggerof gold and sapphire for my hip, and green-satingloves, sewn thick upon the back with golden threads.This, he said, was a fair and knightly vestment, suchas became a goodly soldier when he did not wear hisharness, but with naught about it of the courtly sumptuousnesswhich so hard and warlike-seeming a lordas I no doubt despised.

From hence I went by many a cobble pavement towhere the noisy sound of hammers and anvils filledthe narrow streets. And mighty busy I discoveredthe armor-smiths. There was such a riveting andhammering, such a fitting and filing and brazing goingon, that it seemed as though every man in thetown were about to don steel and leather. There werelong-legged pages in garb of rainbow hue hurryingabout with orders to the armorers or carrying hometheir masters’ finished helms or warlike gear; therewere squires and men-at-arms idly watching at theforge doors the pulsing hammers weld rivets andchains; and ever and anon a man-at-arms would comepushing through these groups with sheaves of brokenarrows to be ground, or an armful of pikes to be rehandled,casting them down upon the cumbered floor;or perhaps it was a squire came along the way leadingover the cobbles a stately war-horse to the shoeing.

In truth, it was a sight to please a soldier’s eyes,and right pleasant was it to me to hear the proudneighing of the chargers, the laughing and the talk,the busy whirr of grindstone on sword and axes, theclangor of the hammers as the hot white spearheadswent to the noisy anvil, while forges beat in unison tothe singing of the smiths! Ah! and I walked slowlydown those streets, wondering and watching with vastpleasure in the busy scene, though every now andthen it came over me how solitary I was—I, the oneimpassive in this turmoil, to whom the very stakethey prepared to fight for was unknown!

A little way off were the booths where stores ofMilan armor were for sale. To them I went, and wasshown piles and stacks of harness such as never mansaw before, all of steel and golden inlay, coveringevery point of a warrior, and so rich and cumbersomethat it was only with great hesitation I submitted myfree Phrygian limbs to such a steel casem*nting. ButI was a gentleman now, whereof to witness came mygorgeous apparel, backing the grim authority of myface, and the bargaining was easy enough. Skogulaand Mista! but those swart, olive-skinned, hook-nosedJewish apprentices screwed me up and braced medown into that suit of Milan steel until I couldscarcely breathe—their black-eyed master all the timebelauding the sit and comfort of it.

“Gads! Sir,” quoth he, “many’s a hauberk I haveseen laced on knightly shoulders, but by the mailfrom the back of the Gittite, who fell in Shochoh, Inever saw a coat of links sit closer or truer than that!”and then again, “There’s a gorget for you, Sir! Why,if Ahab had but possessed such a one, as I am a miserablepoor merchant and your Valor’s humble servant,even the blessed arrows of Israel would haveglanced off harmlessly from his ungodly body!” Andthe cunning, sanctimonious old Jew went fawning andsmiling round while his helpers pent me up in myglittering hide until I was steel-and-gold inlay fromhead to heel.

“By Abraham! noble Sir, those greaves become yourlegs!—Pull them in a little more at the ankles, Isaac!—Andhere’s a tabard, Sir, of crimson velvet and emblazonedborderings a prince might gladly wear!”

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (8)

“By Abraham! noble Sir, those greaves become your legs!”

Then they put a helm upon me with a visor andbeaver, through which I frowned, as ill at ease as ayoung goshawk with his first hood, and girded me witha broad belt chosen from many, and a good Englishbroadsword, the dagger “misericordia” at my otherhip, and knightly spurs (they gave me that rank withoutquestion) upon my heels, so that I was completelyarmed at last, after the fantastic style of the time, andfit to take my place again in the red ranks of my oldprofession.

I will not weary you with many details of theprocess whereby I adapted myself to the times. Fromthat armorer’s shop I went—leaving my mail to be alittle altered—to a hostelry in the center square ofthe town, and there I fed and rested. There, too, Ichose a long-legged squire from among those whohung about every street corner, and he turned out amost accomplished knave. I never knew a villainwho could lie so sweetly in his master’s service asthat particolored, curly-headed henchman. He fetchedmy armor back the next day, cheating the armorer atone end of the errand and me at the other. He gotme a charger—filling the gray-stoned yard with caperingpalfreys that I might make my choice—and overthe price of my selection he cozened the dealers andhoodwinked me. He was the most accomplishedyouth in his station that ever thrust a vagrom leginto green-and-canary tights, or put a co*ck’s featherinto a borrowed cap. He would sit among the wallflowerson the inn-yard wall and pipe French dittiestill every lattice window round had its idle sewing-maid.He would swear, out in the market-place, whenhe lost at dice or skittles, until the bronzed trooperslooking on blushed under their tawny hides at hissupreme expurlatives. There was not such a ladwithin the town walls for strut, for brag, or bully, yetwhen he came in to render the service due to me heministered like a soft, white-fingered damsel. Hecombed my long black hair, anointing and washingit with wondrous scents, whereof he sold me phialsat usurious interest; he whispered into my sullen,unnoticing ear a constant stream of limpid, sparklingscandal; he cleaned my armor till it shone like a brookin May time, and stole my golden lace and a dozen ofthe sterling links from my dagger chain. He knewthe wittiest, most delicately licentious songs that everwere writ by a minstrel, and he could cook such dishesas might have made a dying anchorite sit up and feast.

Strange, incomprehensible! that wayward youthwent forth one day on his own affairs, and met in theyard two sturdy loafers who spoke of me, and callingme penniless, unknown, infamous—and French, perhaps—forthey doubted I was good English—whereonthat gallant youth of mine fell on them and foughtthem—there right under my window—and beat themboth, and flogged their dusty jackets all across themarket-place to the tune of their bellowings, and allthis for his master’s honor! Then, having done somuch, he proceeded with his private errand, whichwas to change, for his own advantage at a meanFleming’s shop, those pure golden spurs of mine,secreted in his bosom, into a pair of common brassones.

For five days I had lain in that town in magnificentidleness, and had spent nearly all my rings andmoney, when, one day, as I sat moody and alone bythe porch of the inn drinking in the sun, my idle valorrusting for service, and looking over the market squarewith its weather-worn central fountain, its cobblestonesmortared together with green moss and quaintsurroundings, there came cantering in and over tomy rest-house three goodly knights in complete armorwith squires behind them—their pennons flutteringin the wind, tall white feathers streaming from theirhelms, and their swords and maces rattling at thesaddle bows to the merriest of tunes. They pulled upby the open lattice, and, throwing their broad bridlesto the ready squires, came clattering up, dusty andthirsty, past where I lay, my inglorious silken legsoutstretched upon the window bench, and the sunlightall ashine upon the gorgeous raiment that irkedme so.

They were as jolly fellows as one could wish to see,and they tossed up their beavers and called for wineand poured it down their throats with a pleasurepleasant enough to watch. Then—for they could notunlace themselves—in came their lads and fell toupon them and unscrewed and lifted off the greathelms, and piece by piece all the glittering armor,and piling it on the benches—the knights the whilesighing with relief as each plate and buckle was relaxed—andso they got them at last down to theirquilted vests, and then the gallants sat to table andfell to laughing and talking until their dinner came.

From what I gathered, they were on their way towar, and war upon that fair, fertile country yonderover the narrow seas. Jove! how they did revile theFrenchman and drain their beakers to a merry meetingwith him, until ever as they chattered the feelinggrew within me that here was the chance I was waitingfor—I would join them—and, since it was the willof the Incomprehensible, draw my sword once morein the cause of this fair, many-mastered island.

Nor was there long to wait for an excuse. Theybegan talking of King Edward’s forces presently, andhow that every man who could spin a sword or sit awar-horse was needed for the coming onset, and howmore especially leaders were wanting for the hostgathering, so they said, away by the coast. Whereonat once I arose and went over, sitting down at theirtable, and told them that I had some knowledge ofwar, and though just then I lacked a quarrel I wouldwillingly espouse their cause if they would put me inthe way of it.

In my interest and sympathy I had forgot they hadnot known I was so close, and now the effect whichmy sudden appearance always had on strangers madethem all stare at me as though I were a being of anotherworld—as, indeed, I was—of many other worlds.And yet the comely, stalwart, raven-tressed, silk-swathedfellow who sat there before them at thewhite-scrubbed board, marking their fearful wonderwith regretful indifference, was solid and real, andpresently the eldest of them swallowed his surpriseand spoke out courteously for all, saying they wouldbe glad enough to help my wishes, and then—warmingwith good fellowship as the first effect of my entrywore off—he added they were that afternoon boundfor the rendezvous (as he termed it) at a near castle;“and if I could wear harness as fitly as I could wearsilk, and had a squire and a horse,” they would willinglytake me along with them. So it was settled,and in a great bumper they drank to me and I to them,and thus informally was I admitted into the ranks ofEnglish chivalry.

We ate and drank and laughed for an hour or two,and then settled with our host and got into our armor.This to them was customary enough, nor was it nowso difficult a thing to me, for I had donned and doffedmy gorgeous steel casings, by way of practice, so oftenin seclusion that, when it came to the actual test,assisted with the nimble fingers of that varlet of mine,I was in panoply from head to heel, helmeted andspurred, before the best of them. Ah! and I was notso old yet but that I could delight in what, after all,was a noble vestment! And as I looked round uponmy knightly comrades draining the last drops of theirflagons while their squires braced down their shiningplates, and girt their steel hips with noble brands,the while I knew in my heart that if they were strongand stalwart I was stronger and more stalwart—thatif they carried proud hearts and faces shining there,under their nodding plumes, of gentle birth and handsomesoldierliness—no less did I: knowing all this,I say, and feeling peer to these comely peers, I had aflush of pride and contentment again in my strangelyvaried lot. Then the grooms brought round our gay-ribbonedhorses to the cobbles in front, where, mounting,we presently set out, as goodly a four as everwent clanking down a sunny market-place, while themaids waved white handkerchiefs from the overhanginglattices and townsmen and ’prentices uncappedthem to our dancing pennons.

We rode some half-score miles through a fertilecountry toward the west, now cantering over greenundulations, and anon picking a way through woodlandcoppices, where the checkered light playeddaintily upon our polished furniture, and the spear-pointsrustling ever and anon against the greenboughs overhead.

“What of this good knight to whose keep we aregoing?” asked one of my companions presently. “Heis reputed rich, and, what is convenient in these penurioustimes, blessed only with daughters.”

“Why!” responded the fellow at his elbow, who setno small store by a head of curly chestnut hair and ahandsome face below it, “if that is so, in truth I amnot at all sure but that I will respectfully bespeakone of those fair maids. I am half convinced I wasnot born to die on some scoundrel Frenchman’s rustytoasting-iron. ’Tis a cursed perilous expedition thisof ours, and I never thought so highly of the advantagesof a peaceful and Christian life as I havethis last day or two. Now, which of these admirablemaids dost thou think most accessible, good Delafosse?”he asked, turning to the horseman who actedas our guide by right of previous knowledge here.

“Well,” quoth that youth, after a moment’s hesitation,“I must frankly tell you, Ralph, that I doubt ifthere are any two maids within a score of miles ofus who have been tried so often by such as you andproved more intractable. The knight, their father,is a rough old fellow, as rich as though he were anabbot, hale and frank with every one. You may comeor go about his halls, and (for they have no mother)lay what siege you like to his girls, nor will he say aword. So far so well, and many a pretty gallant asksno better opportunity. But, because you begin thuspropitious, it does not follow either fair citadel isyours! No! these virgin walls have stood unmoveda hundred assaults, and as much escalading as onlya country swarming with poor desperate youths canany way explain.”

“St. Denis!” exclaimed the other, “all this but fansthe spark of my desire.”

“Oh, desire by all means. If wishes would bringdown well-lined maidenhoods, those were a mightyscarce commodity. But, soberly, does thy comprehensivevalor intend to siege both these heiresses atonce, or will one of them suffice?”

“One, gentle Delafosse, and, when my exulting pennonflutters triumphant from that captured turret, Iwill in gratitude help thee to mount the other. Differencethem, beguile this all too tedious way withan account of their peculiar graces. Which maid dostthou think I might the most aptly sue?”

“Well, you may try, of course, but remember I holdout no hope, neither of the elder nor the younger.That one, the first, is as magnificent a shrew as everlaughed an honest lover to scorn. She is as blackand comely as any daughter of Zion. ’Tis to her nearevery Knight yields at first glance; but—gads!—itdoes them little good! She has a heart like the nethermillstone; and, as for pride, she is prouder than Lucifer!I know not what game it may be this swartCirce sees upon the skyline—some say ’tis even forthat bold boy the young Prince himself, now gone withhis father to France, she waits; and some others sayshe will look no lower than a Duke backed by thewealth of the grand Soldan himself. But whoever itbe, he has not yet come.”

“By the bones of St. Thomas à Becket,” the youngKnight laughed, “I have a mind that that Knight andI may cross the drawbridge together! Canst tell me,out of good comradeship, any weak place in this damsel’sharness?”

“There is none I know of. She is proof at every point.Indeed, I am nigh reluctant to let one like you, whoseheart has ripened in the sun of experience so muchfaster than his head, engage upon such a dangerousventure. They say one gallant was so stung by thecalm scorn with which she mocked his offer that hewent home and hung himself to a cellar beam; and another,blind in desperate love, leaped from her father’swalls, and fell in the courtyard, a horrid, shapelessmass! Young De Vipon, as you know, stabbed himselfat her feet, and ’tis told the maid’s wrath was allbecause his spurting heart’s-blood soiled her wimplea day before it was due to go to wash! How thrivesthy inclination?”

“Oh! well enough: ’twould take more than this tospoil my appetite! But, nevertheless, let us hearsomething of the other sister. This elder is obviouslya proud minx, who has set her heart on lordly game,and will not marry because her suitors seem too mean.How is it with the other girl?”

“Why,” said Delafosse, “it is even more hopelesswith her. She will not marry, for the cold sufficientreason that her suitors be all men!”

“A most abominable offense.”

“Ah! so she thinks it. Such a tender, shy and modestmaid there is not in the boast of the county. Whilethe elder will hear you out, arms crossed on pulselessbosom, cold, disdainful eyes fixed with haughty stareto yours, the other will not stop to listen—no, not somuch as to the first inkling of your passion! Breatheso little as half a sigh, or tint your speech with a rosyglint of dawning love, and she is away, lighter thanthistledown on the upland breeze. I know of but twomen—loose, worldly fellows both of them—who corneredher, and they came from her presence looking socrestfallen, so abashed at their hopes, so melancholyto think on their gross manliness as it had appearedagainst the white celibacy of that maid, that evensome previous suitors sorrowed for them. This is, Ithink, the safer venture, but even the least hopeful.”

“Is the maid all fallow like that? Has she nohuman faults to set against so much sterile virtue?”

“Of her faults I cannot speak, but you must not holdher altogether insipid and shallow. She is less approachablethan her sister, and contemns and fearsour kind, yet she is straight and tall in person, and,I have heard from a foster-brother of hers, can sit afiery charger, new from stall, like a groom or horseboy, she is the best shot with a crossbow of any onthe castle green, and in the women’s hall as merry aromp, as ready for fun or mischief, as any village girlthat ever kept a twilight tryst on a Saturday evening.”

“Gads! a most pleasant description. I will keep trystwith this one for a certainty, not only Saturdays, butsix other days out of the week. The black jade maywait for her princeling for a hundred years as far asI am concerned. How far is it to the castle?—I amhot impatience itself!”

“Nor need your patience cool! Look!” said Delafosse,and as he spoke we turned a bend in the woodlandroad, and there, a mile before us, flashing backthe level sun from towers and walls that seemed ofburnished copper, was the noble pile we sought.

Certes! when we came up to it, it was a fine placeindeed, cunningly built with fosses round about, longbarbican walls within them, turreted and towered,and below these again were other walls so shrewddesigned for defense as to move any soldier heart withwonder and delight. But if the walls did pleasureme, the great keep within, towering high into the skywith endless buttresses, and towers, and casem*nts,grim, massive, and stately, rearing its proud circumference,embattled and serrated far beyond the reachof rude assault or desperate onset, filled me with prideand awe. I scarce could take my eyes from those redwalls shining so molten in the setting sun, yet roundabout the country lay very fair to look at. All beyondthat noble pile the land dropped away—on twosides by sheer cliffs to the shining river underneath—andon the others in gentle, grassy undulations, dottedwith great trees, whereunder lay, encamped by tentand watchfire, the rear of King Edward’s army, andthen on again into the pleasant distance that laystretched away in hill and valley toward the yellowwest.

All over that wide campaign were scattered the villagesof serfs and vassals who grew corn for the lordlyowner in peace-time, and followed his banner in battle.And in that knightly stronghold up above therewere, I found when I came to know it better, manykinsmen and women who sheltered under my Lord’sliberality. Dowagers dwelt in the wings, and youngsquires of good name—a jolly, noisy, unruly crew—harboreddown in the great vaulted chambers by thesally-port. There were kinsmen of the left-hand degreein the warder’s lodge by the gates, and poorwearers of the same noble escutcheon up among thejackdaws and breezes of the highest battlements.And so generous was the Knight’s bounty, so amplethe sweep of his castellated walls and labyrinthine themazes of the palace keep they encircled, so abundantthe income of his tithes and tenure, dues and fees,that all these folk found living and harborage withhim; and not only did it not irk that Lord, but onlyto his steward and hall porter was it known howmany guests there were, or when a man came or went,or how many hundred horses stood in the stalls, orhow many score of vassals fed in the great kitchen.

On Sundays, after mass, the smooth green in thecenter of the castle would be thronged with men andmaids in all their finery; while the quintains spunmerrily under the mock onsets of the young knights,and dame and gallant trode the stony battlements,and down among the wide shadow of the cedar-treeson the slope (’twas a Crusader who brought the saplingsfrom Palestine) vassal and yeoman idled andmade love or frolicked with their merry little ones.Over all that gallant show my Lord’s great blazonsnapped and flaunted in the wind upon the highestdonjon; and in the halls beneath the lords and ladiessat in the deep-seated windows, and laughed and sangand jested in the mullion-tinted sunshine with all thecourtly extravagance of their brilliant day.

Ah! by old Isis! at that time the world, it seemedto me, was less complex, and the rules of life weresimpler. Kingcraft had found its mold and fashionin the courageous Edward, and the first duty of anoble was then nobility: the Knights swore by theiruntarnished chivalry, and the vassals by their loyalty.Yes! and it was priestly then to fear God and hell,and every woman was, or would be, lovely! So ranthe simple creed of those who sang or taught, whilenearly every one believed them.

But you who live in a time when there is no beliefbut that of Incredulence, when the creative skill andforethought of the great primeval Cause is open tothe criticism and cavil of every base human atom ithas brought about—you know better—you know howvain their dream was, how foolish their fidelity, howsimple their simplicity, how contemptible their courage,and how mean by the side of your love of mediocritytheir worship of ideals and heroes! By the brightTheban flames to which my fathers swore! by thegrim shadow of Osiris which dogged the track of myold Phœnician bark! I was soon more English thanany of them.

But while I thus tell you the thoughts that cameof experience, I keep you waiting at the castle-gate.They admitted us by drawbridge and portcullisedarch into the center space, and there we dismounted.Then down the steps, to greet guests of such good degree,came the gallant, grizzled old Lord himself inhis quilted under-armor vest. We made obeisance,and in a few words the host very courteously welcomedhis guests, leading us in state (after we hadgiven our helmets to the pages at the door) into thegreat hall of his castle, where we found a throng ofladies and gallants in every variety of dress fillingthose lofty walls with life and color.

In truth, it was a noble hall, the walls bedeckedwith antlers or spoils of woodcraft, with heads andhorns and bows and bills, and tapestry; and the ceilingwonderfully wrought with carved beams as far downthat ample corridor as one could see. The floor ofoak was dark with wear, yet as smooth and reflectiveto many-colored petticoats and rainbow-tinted shoesas the Parian marble of some fair Roman villa. Andon the other side there were fifty windows deep-set inthe wall, with gay stainings on them of parable andescutcheon; while on the benches, fingering ribbonedmandolins, whispering gentle murmurs under the tinseledlawn of fair ladies’ kerchiefs, or sauntering toand fro across the great chamber’s ample length, wereall these good and gentle folk, bedecked and tasseledand ribboned in a way that made that changing scenea very fairy show of color.

Strange, indeed, was it for me to walk among theglittering throng, all prattling that merry medley theycalled their native English, and to remember all Icould remember, to recall Briton, Roman, Norseman,Norman, Saxon, and to know each and all of thosevaried peoples were gone—gone forever—gone beyonda hope or chance of finding—and yet, again, to knowthat each and every one of those nations, whose stronglife in turn had given color to my life, was here—herebefore me, consummated in this people—oh, ’twasstrange, and almost past belief! And ever as I wentamong them in fairer silks and ermines than any,yet underneath that rustling show I laughed to knowthat I was nothing but the old Phœnician merchant,nothing but Electra’s petted paramour, the strong,unruly Saxon Thane!

And if I thought thus of them, in sooth, theythought no less strangely of me! Ever, as my goodhost led me here and there from group to group, thelaughter died away on cherry lips, and minstrel fingerswent all a-wandering down their music stringsas one and all broke off in mid pleasure to stare inmute perplexity and wonder at me. From group togroup we went, my host at each making me known tomany a glittering lord and lady, and to each of thosecourtly presences I made in return that good Saxonbow, which subsequently I found instable fashion hadmade exceeding rustic.

Presently in this way we came to a gay knot of mencollected round two fair women, the one of themseated in a great velvet chair, holding court as I couldguess by word and action over the bright constellationsthat played about her, the other within the circle,yet not of it, standing a little apart and turnedfrom us as we approached. Alianora, the first of thesenoble damsels, was the elder daughter of the masterof the house, and the second, Isobel, was his youngerchild. The first of these was a queen of beauty, andfrom that first moment when I stood in front of her,and came under the cold, proud shine of those blackeyes, I loved her! Jove! I felt the hot fire of loveleap through my veins on the instant as I bowed methere at her footstool and forgot everything else forthe moment, merging all the world against the inaccessibleheart of that beautiful girl. Indeed, she wasone who might well play the Queen among men. Herhair was black as night, and, after the fashion of thetime, worked up to either side of her head into agolden filigree crown, beaded with shining pearls,extraordinary regal. Black were her eyes as any sloe,and her smooth, calm face was wonderful and goddess-likein the perfect outline and color. Never a blushof shame or fear, never a sign of inward feeling,stirred that haughty damsel’s mood. By Venus! Iwonder why we loved her so. To whisper gentlethings into her ear was but like dropping a stone intosome deep well—the ripples on the dark, sullen waterwere not more cold, silent, intangible than her responsivesmile. She was too proud even to frown,that disdainful English peeress, but, instead, at slightor negligence she would turn those unwavering eyesof hers upon the luckless wight and look upon him sothat there was not a knight, though of twenty fights,there was not a gallant, though never so experiencedin gentle tourney with ladies’ eyes, who durst meetthem. To this maid I knelt—and rose in love againstall my better instinct—wildly, recklessly enamored ofher shining Circean queenliness—ah! so enthralledwas I by the black Alianora that my host had to pluckme by the sleeve ere he whispered to me, “Anotherdaughter, sir stranger! Divide your homage,” andhe led me to the younger girl.

Now, if the elder sister had won me at first sight,my feelings were still more wonderful to the other.If the elder had the placid sovereignty of the eveningstar, Isobel was like the planet of the morning. Fromhead to heel she was in white. Upon her forehead herfair brown hair was strained back under a coverchiefand wimple as colorless as the hawthorn flowers. Thissame fair linen, in the newest fashion of demurity,came down her cheeks and under her chin, framingher face in oval, in pretty mockery of the steel coif ofan armed knight. Her dress below was of the whitest,softest stuff, with long, hanging sleeves, a wondrousslender middle drawn in by a silk and silver cestusbelt made like a warrior’s sword-wear, and a skirtthat descended in pretty folds to her feet and layatwining about them in comely ampleness. She wasas supple as a willow wand, and tall and straight, andher face—when in a moment she turned it on me—waswondrous pleasant to look at—the very oppositeof her sister’s—all pink and white, and honestlyashine with demure fun and merriment, the whichconstantly twinkled in her downcast eyes, and keptthe pretty corners of her mouth a-twitching withcovert, ill-suppressed, unruly smiles. A fair and tenderyoung girl indeed, made for love and gentleness!

Unhappy Isobel!—luckless victim of an accursedfate! Wretched, perverse Phœnician! Ill-omenedAlianora! Between us three sprang up two fatal passions.Read on, and you shall see.

CHAPTER XI

Now, when that fair young English girl, at herfather’s voice, turned to acknowledge my presence—thinkingit was some other new knight of the manywho came there every hour, she lifted her eyes tomine—and then, all on a sudden, without rhyme orreason, she started back and blanched whiter thanher own wimple, and then flushed again, equally unaccountably,and fell a-trembling and staring at mein a wondrous fashion. She came a step forward, asthough she would greet some long-looked-for friend,and then withdrew—and half held out her hand, andtook it back, the while the color came and went uponher cheeks in quick flushes, and, stirred by somestrange emotion, her bosom rose and fell under thegolden cestus and the lawn with the stress of her feelings.The sudden storm, however invoked, shook thatsweet fabric most mightily. There, in that very minute,it seemed—there, in that merry, careless place insight of me, but a gaudy gallant a little more thoughtful-looking,perhaps, than those she often saw, yet, allthe same, naught but a stranger gallant, unknown andnameless to her—moved by some affinity within us,just as the alchemist’s magic touch converts betweentwo breaths one elixir in his crucibles to another, so,before my eyes, I saw in that fair girl’s pallid facelove flush through her veins and light her heart andeyes with a responding blush.

And I—I the unhappy, I the sorrow bestower, as Isaw her first, what of all things in this wide worldshould I think of—what should leap up in my mind asI perked my gilded scabbard and bowed low to thepolished floor in my glittering Plantagenet finery—whatvision should come to me in that latter-day hall,among those mandolin-fingering courtiers, before thatcostly raimented maiden, the fair heiress of a thousandyears of care and gentle living, that girl leaningfrightened and shy upon the arm of her strong fatherlike a soft white mist-cloud in the shadow of a mountain—whatthought, what idea, but a swift revision,of Blodwen, my wild, ruddy, untutored British wife!

All those gaudy butterflies of the new day, thatstately home and that fair flower herself, shrank intonothing; and as the white lightning leaps through thedull void of midnight, and shows for one dazzlingsecond some long-remembered country, ashine in everyleaf and detail, to the startled pilgrim, and then isgone with all the ghostly mirage of its passage, soin that surprising moment, so full of import, Blodwenrose to my mind against all reason and likelihood—Blodwenthe Briton, the ruddy-haired—Blodwen radiantwith her gentle motherhood—Blodwen whocould scream so fiercely to her clansmen in the forefrontof conflict, and drive her bloody chariot throughthe red mud of battle with wounded foemen writhingunder her remorseless wheels more blithely than alatter-day maid would trip through the spangledmeadow grass of springtime—Blodwen rose beforeme!

Oh! ’twas wild, ’twas foolish, past explaining, nonsense:and, angry with myself and that white maidwho stood and hung her head before me, I stroked myhand across my face to rid me of the fancy, and, gatheringmyself together, made my bow, murmuringsomething fiercely civil, and turned my back upon herto seek another group.

Yes; but if you think I conquered that fancy, youare wrong. For days and days it haunted me, eventhough I laughed it to scorn, and, what made the mattermore difficult, more perplexing, was that I hadnot guessed in error—the unhappy Isobel had lovedme from first sight, and, against every precedent hernature would have warranted, grew daily deeper inthe toils. And I, who never yet had turned from theeyes of suppliant maid, watched her color shift andfly as I came or went, and strode gloomy, unmindful,through all her pretty artifices of maiden tenderness,burning the meanwhile with love for her disdainfulsister. It was a strange medley, and in one phaseor another pursued me all the time I was in thatnoble keep. When I was not wooing I was beingwooed. Alas! and all the coldness I got from thatblack-browed lady with the goddess carriage and thefaultless skin I passed on to the poor, enamored girlwho dogged my idle footsteps for a word.

Thus, on one day we had a tournament. All roundthe great castle, under the oaks, were pitched thetents of the troopers, while the pennons and banneretsof knights and barons, as we saw them from theturret top, shone in the sunlight like a field of flowers.The soldier-yeomen had their sports and contests onthe greensward, and we went down to watch them.Thor! but I never saw such bronzed and stalwart fellows,or witnessed anything like the truth andstraightness of those stinging flights of shafts thearchers sent against their butts! Then the next day,following the sports of the common people, in the tiltyardinside the barbican, we held a tourney, a mockbattle and a breaking of spears, a very gorgeous showindeed, and near as exciting as an honest mêlée itself.

So tuneful in my ears proved the shivering of lancesand the clatter of swords on the steel panoply of theknights, that, though at first I held aloof, stern andgloomy with my futile passion, yet presently I itchedto take a spear, and, since those sparkling riders likedthe fun so much, to let them try whether my righthand had lost the cunning it learned before theirfathers were conceived. And as I thought so, standingamong the chief ones in that brilliant tourneyring, up came the white rose and tempted me to breaka lance, and sighed so softly and brushed against mewith her scented draperies, and tried with feeble self-commandto meet my eyes and could not, and was soobviously wishful that I should ride a course or two,and so prettily in love, that I was near relenting ofmy coldness.

I did unbend so much as to consent to mount. Apage fetched my armor and my mighty black chargerdraped in crimson-blazoned velvet and ribboned fromhead to tail, and then I went to the rear of the listsand put on the steel.

“Thanks, good squire!” I said to the youth whothrust my pointed toes into the stirrups when I wason my horse. “Now give me up my gauntlets andpost me in my principles.”

“Fie, Sir, not to know,” quoth he, “the worship ofweapons and the honor of fair ladies!”

“Thanks. That is not difficult to remember; andas to my practice?”

“Ah! there you confuse him,” put in a jester standingby. “No good knight likes to be bound too closelyas to that.”

As I rode round the lists, a white hand from underthe sister’s daïs—to whom belonging I well couldguess—threw me a flower, the which fell under mysleek charger’s hoofs and was stamped into the troddenmold. And then the trumpet sounded. “Avant!”called the glittering marshal—and we met in midcareer.

Seven strong knights did I jerk from their high-peakedsaddles that morning, and won a lady’s goldenhead-ring, and rode round about the circus with iton my lance-point. When I came under where Isobelsat, I saw her fair cheeks redder than my ribbons withmaiden expectation; but, as I passed without a sign,they grew whiter than her lawn. And then I reinedup and deposited that circlet at the footstool of hersister. The proud, cold maid accepted the homageas was her duty, but scarcely deigned to lower hereyes to the level of my helmet-plumes while her fatherput it on her forehead.

A merry time we had in that courtly place waitingfor the signal to start; and much did I learn and note—soonthe favorite gallant in that goodly company,the acknowledged strongest spearman in the lists, thebest teller of strange stories by an evening fire! Butnever an inch of way could I make with the impenetrablegirl on whom my wayward heart was set, whilethe other—the younger—made her sweet self thepointing stock of high and low, she was so blindly, soobviously in love.

One day it came to a climax. We met by chance ina glade of black shadows among the cedar branches,I and that damsel in white, and, finding I would notwoo her, she set to work and wooed me—so sweet, sostrong, so passionate, that to this day I cannot thinkhow I withstood it. Yes, and that fair, slim maid,renowned through all the district for her gentlereticence, when I would not answer love with love,and glance for glance, fired up with white-hot passion,threw hesitance to the wind, and besought and kneltto me, and asked no more than to be my slave, sosweet, so reckless in her passion, that it was not thehigh-born English lady who knelt there, but rather itseemed to me my dear, fiery, untutored British Princess!Fool I was not to see it then, witless after somuch not to guess the tameless spirit, the intrudersoul that poor girl at my feet held unwitting in herbosom!

She came to me, as I have said, all in a gust of feelingunlike herself, and, when I would not say thatwhich she longed to hear, she wrung her hands, andthen down she came upon her knees and clipped meround my jeweled belt and confessed her love for mein such a headlong rush of tearful eloquence I durstnot write it.

“Lady,” I said, lifting the supple girl to her feet. “Igrieve, but it is useless. Forget! forgive! I cannotanswer as you would.”

“Ah, but,” she answered, rushing again to the onset,sighing as now the hot, strange love that burnedwithin her, and now her sweet native spirit strove formastery—(“surely, I think, I am possessed), I will nottake ‘No’ for an answer. I am consumed (oh! fie tosay it) for thee. I am not first in thy dear affection—why,then, I will be second. Not second! then I willbe the hundredth from thy heart! My light, my lifeand fate, I cannot live without thee. Oh! as you wereborn by your mother’s consummated love, as thou hastever felt compunction for a white-cheeked maid, havepity on me! I tell thee I will follow thee to the endsof the earth (Lord! how my tongue runs on!). For onemoiety of that affection perhaps a happier woman hasI will serve thee through life. Thou hast no wife, ’tissaid, to hinder; thou art a soldier, and a score of them,ere I was touched with this strange infection, havesued hopeless for but a chance of that which is profferedthee so freely. Truth! they have told me I wasfair and tall, with a complexion that ridiculed thewater-lilies on the moat, and hair, one said, was likeripe corn with a harvest sun upon it (it makes meblush”—I heard her whisper to herself—“to apprisemyself like this), and yet you stand there averse andsullen, with eyes turned from me, and deaf ears! AmI a sight so dreadful to you?”

“Maid!” I cried, shutting out her suppliant beautyfrom my heart—overfull, as I thought it, of that otherone, her sister—“no man could look at you and notbe moved. The wayward Immortals have given youmore sweetness than near any other woman I ever saw—‘asight so dreadful to me?’—why, you are fairerthan an early morning in May when the new sun getsup over the wet-flowered hawthorns! And for thisvery reason, for pity on us both, stand up, and dryyour tears! Believe me, dear maid, where I go youcannot come. You tread the rough soldier’s path!Why, those pretty velvet buskins would wear out inthe first march. And turn those dainty hands to therough craft of war, to scouring harness and groomingchargers—oh! that were miserable indeed; thosecherry lips are worse suited than you know for thechance fare of camp and watchfire, and those roundarms would soon find a sword was heavier than abodkin—there, again forget, forgive—and, perhaps,when I come back——”

But why should I further follow that sad love-sceneunder the broad-spreading cedars? Let it be sufficientfor you that I soothed her as well as might be andstanched her tears and modified my coolness, takingher pretty hands and whispering to as dainty andgreedy an ear as ever was opened to hear, perhaps,a little more of lover friendliness than I truly meant,and so we parted.

Now see the shield turned. That very afternoondid the other sister unbend a point with cruel suavity,and set me joyous by promising to meet me at nightfall,whereat, as you will readily understand, everyother event of the day faded into nothingness. At theappointed hour, just as the white mist floated in thinfine wisps from the shadowed moat on the eastwardof the castle wall and the red setting sun was throwingthe strong black shadows of cedar branches uponthe copper-gleaming windows and walls of the sidethat faced him, I rose, and, making some jesting excuse,slipped away from my noisy comrades in the hallinto the shadows of the corridors. Yes! and, thoughyou may smile, he who thought this Phœnician hadplumbed the well of mortal love to the very depth, hadlearned all there was to learn, and left nothing thatcould stir him so much as a heart-beat in this fairfield of adventure, was now tripping through theruddy and black dust, anxious and alert, his pulsesbeating a quicker measure than his feet, the nativeboldness of his nature all overlaid with new-born diffidence,fingering his silken points as he went, andconning pretty speeches, now hoping in his lover hesitancethe tryst would not be kept, and then anonspurning himself for being so laggard and faint-hearted,and thus progressing in moods and minds asmany as the gentle shadows checkering his path frommany an oriel window and many a fluted casem*nt,he came at length within sight of the deep-set windowlooking down over the pale-shining water and theheavy woods beyond, where his own love-tale was tobe told.

And there as I plucked back the last tapestry thatbarred my passage and stood still for a moment onthe threshold—there before me sitting on the tresselsunder the mullions in the twilight, was the figure ofmy fair and haughty English girl.

She had her face turned away from the eveningglow, her ample white cap, peaked and laced withgold on either crescent point, further threw intoshadow the features I knew so well, while the fineshapely hands lay hidden in the folds of the ampledress which shone and glimmered in the dusk againstthe oak panelings of that ancient lobby in misty uncertainty.Gentle dame! My heart bounded with expectanttriumph to see how pensive and downcast washer look—how still she sat and how, methought, thewhite linen and the golden ceinture above her heartrose and fell even in that silent place with the tumultof maidenly passion within. My heart opened to her,I say, as though I were an enamored shepherd aboutto pour a brand-new virgin love into the frightenedears of some timid country maid, and within my veins,as the heavy arras fell from my hands behind me,there surged up the molten stream of Eastern love!I waited neither to see nor hear else, but strode swiftlyover the floor and cast myself down there at her feetupon one knee—gods! how it makes me smart to thinkof it!—I who had never bent a knee before in supplicationto earth or heaven, and poured out before herthe offering of my passion. Hot and swiftly I wooedher, saying I scarce know what, loosening my heartbefore that silent shrine, laying bare the keen, strongthrob of life and yearning that pulsed within me, persuading,entreating, cajoling, until both breath andfancy failed. And never under all that stream of lovehad the damsel given one sign, one single indication ofexistence.

Then on I went again, deeming the maid held herselfnot yet wooed enough, disporting myself before her,and pleading the simplicity of my love, saying howthat, if it brought no great riches with it, yet was itthe treasure of a truthful heart. Did she sigh to widenher father’s broad lands? I swore by Osiris I woulddo it for her love better than any petty lordling could.Did she desire to shine, honored above all women,where spears were broken or feasts were spread?Think of yon littered lists, I cried, and told her therewas not a champion in all the world I feared—nonewho should not come humbled to her footstool; while,as for honor and recognition—Jove! I would pluckthem from the King himself, even as I had pluckedthem from his betters. Yet never a sign that fairgirl gave.

Full of wonder and surprise, I waited for a momentfor some sign or show, if not of answering fire, at leastof reason; and then, as I checked in full course mypassionate pleadings, that wretched thing before meburst, not into the tears I expected of maidenly capitulation,nor into the proud anger of offended virgins,but into a silly, plebeian simper, which began in ludicroussmothered merriment under the folds of thelawn she held across her face, and ended amid whatappeared contending feelings in a rustic outburst ofsobs and exclamations.

I was on my feet in an instant, all my wild love-makingdammed back upon my heart by suspicion andsurprise, and as I frowned fiercely at that dim-seenform under the distorting shadow of the windows, itrose—to nothing like Alianora’s height—and steppedout where the evening light better illumined us. Andthere that poor traitress tore off in anger and remorsethe lace and linen of a well-born English maiden, andstood revealed before me the humblest, the meanest-seeming,and the most despised kitchen wench of anythat served in that baronial hall!

You will guess what my feelings were as this indignityI had been put to rushed upon me, how inmy wounded pride I crossed my arms savagely uponmy breast, and turned away from that poor, simpering,rustic fool, and clenched my teeth, and sworefierce oaths against that cruel girl who, in her prideand insolence, had played me this sorry trick. Wildand bitter were the gusts of passion that sweptthrough my heart, and all the more unruly since it wasby and for a woman I had fallen, and there was nonefor me to take vengeance on.

In a few minutes I turned to the wretched tool ofa vixen mistress. “Hast any explanation of this?” Isternly asked, pointing to the disordered finery thatlay glimmering upon the floor.

The unhappy kitchenmaid nodded behind her tearsand the thick red hands wherewith she was streakingtwo wet, round cheeks with alternate hues of griefand dinginess, and put a hand into her bosom andhanded me a folded missive. I tore it open and read,in prettily scrawled old Norman French, that cruelmessage:

This is to tell that nameless knight who has nothing todistinguish him but presumption, that although the daughterof an English peer must ever treat his suit with the contemptit deserved, yet will she go so far as to select himfrom among her father’s vassals one to whom she thinks hemight very fitly unburden his soul of its load of “love andfealty.”

Such was the missive, one surely penned by as ungentlea hand as ever ministered to a woman’s heart.I tore it into a hundred fragments, and then grimlypointed my traducer to the narrow wicket in the remotewall leading down by a hundred stony stairs tothe scullion places whence she had come. She turnedand went a little way toward it, then came sobbingback, and burst out into grief anew, and “Alas! alas!Sir,” she cried, “this is the very worst task that ever Iwas put to! Shame upon Lady Alianora, and doubleshame upon me for doing her behests. I am sorry,Sir! indeed I am! Until you began that wonderfultale I thought ’twas but a merry game; but, oh, Sir!to see you there upon your knee, to see your eyesburning in the dark with true love for my false mistress—why,Sir, it would have drawn tears from thehardest stone in the mill down yonder. And ever asyour talk went on just now, I kept saying to myself,Sure! but it must be a big heart which works a tonguelike that; and when you had done, Sir, ah! before youwere halfway through, though I could not stop you,yet I loathed my errand. I am sorry, Sir, indeed Iam! I cannot go until I be forgiven!”

“There, there, silly girl,” I said, my wrath quenchedby her red eyes and humble amendment, “you are fullyabsolved.”

She kissed my hands and dried her eyes, and swepttogether, with woman swiftness, the tattered thingsin which she had masqueraded, and then, as she wasabout to leave, I called her back.

“Stay one moment, damsel! How much had youfor thus betraying me?”

“Two zequins, Sir,” she answered with simplicity.

“Why, then, here’s three others to say naught aboutthis evening’s doings in the servants’ hall. You understand?There, go! and no more tears or thanks,”and, as the curtain fell upon her, I could not help mutteringto myself, “What! two zequins to undo you,Phra, and three to mend it? Why, Phœnician, thouhast not been so cheap for thirteen hundred years!”

CHAPTER XII

Grim and angry, all that night I chewed the bittercud of my rejection, and before the new day was anhour old determined life was no longer worth theliving in that place. I determined to leave thosewalls at once, to leave all my songs unsung, mytrysts unkept, to leave all my jolly comrades, the tiltyardsand banquets. But I could not do this so secretas I would. The very paying off of my score downin the buttery, the dismissing of my attendants, eachwith largess, the seriousness I could not but give tomy morning salutation of some of those I should neversee again, betrayed me. And thus a whisper, firstdown in the vaulted guard-room, and then a rumor,and anon a widening murmur the news was spread,until surely the very jackdaws on the battlementswere saying to themselves, “Phra is going! Phra!—Phrais going!”

Yes! and the tidings spread to that fair floor of ahundred corridors, where the Norman-arched windowslooked down four score feet upon the river windingamid its shining morning meadows, bringing a sighto more than one silken pillow. It reached the unhappy,red-eyed Isobel, and presently she trippeddown the twining stone staircase, the loose folds ofher skirt thrown over her arm to free her pretty feet,and in her hand a scrap of writing, a “cartel” shecalled it, seeming newly opened.

She came to the sunny empty corridor where I stoodalone, and touched me on the arm as I watched froma lattice my charger being armed and saddled in thecourtyard underneath, and when I turned held out herhand to me in frank and simple fashion. How couldI refuse the proffer of so fair a friendship? and, pullingmy velvet cap from my head, I put her whitefingers to my lips. And was it true, she asked witha sigh, I was really going that morning, and so suddenly?Only too true, I answered, and, saving herpresence, not so sudden as my inclination prompted.Much I saw she wished to question the why andwherefore, but of this, as of nothing touching herstern sister, would I tell her.

So presently she come to her point, and, fingeringthat scroll she had, very downcast and blushful, said:“You are a good knight, Sir Stranger, and strong andexperienced in arms.”

“Your Ladyship’s description wakes my ambition todeserve your words.”

“And generous, I have noticed, and as indulgent topage and squire of tender years as you are the contraryto stronger folk.”

“And if this were so, Madam,” I asked, “what then?”

“Oh! only,” she said, wondrous shy and frightened,“that I have here a cartel from a friend of mine, ayouth of noble family, who has heard of thee, andwould go to the wars in your company—as your comrade,I mean: that is, if you would take him.”

“Why, damsel, the wars are free to every one; but Iam in no mood just now to tutor a young gallant inslitting Frenchmen’s throats!”

“But this one, Sir, very particularly wishes to travelwith you, of whose prowess he is so convinced. Hehas, alas! quarreled with those at whose side he shouldmost naturally ride—he will be no trouble; for mysake you must take him. And,” said the cunning girl,standing on tiptoe to be the nearer to my ear, “he isrich, though friendless by a rash love—he will gladlysee to both your horses and disburse your passageover to France, even for the honor of rememberingthat he did it.”

Now, this touched me very nearly. One by one myrings had gone, and that morning, after paying scoresand largess, in truth I had found my wallet completelyempty once again! If this youth had money, eventhough it were but sufficient to buy corn for ourchargers on the way, and pay the ferry over to yonderfair field of adventure, why, there was no denyinghe would be a very convenient traveling companion,and it would go hard but that I could teach him somethingin return. Thinking this, I lifted my eyes, andfound those of Isobel watching the workings of myface with pretty cunning.

“In truth, maid, if thy friend has so much gold aswould safely land us with King Edward in Flanders,why, I must confess that just at present that doesgreatly commend him to me. What sort of a manis he?”

This question seemed to overwhelm the lady, whoblushed and hung her head like a poppy that has stooda week’s drought.

“In truth, Sir,” she murmured, “I do not know.”

“Not know! Why, but you said he was yourfriend.”

“Oh! so I did. And, now I come to think of it, he isa tall youth—about my size and make.”

“Gads! but he will be a shapely, if somewhat saplinggallant,” I laughed, letting my eye roam over the supplemaiden figure before me.

“But though he be so slim,” the girl hastened toadd, as if she feared she had been indiscreet, “you willfind the youth a rare good horseman, and clever inmany things. He can cook (if thou art ever belated)like a Frenchman, and can read missals to thee, andwrite like a monk—thy comrade, Sir knight, will beone in a thousand—he can sing like a mavis on a fir-top.”

“I like not these singing knights, fair maid: theirverses are both too smooth for soldier ears, and toolicentious for maidens’.”

“Ah! but my friend,” quoth Isobel, with a blush,“never sang an ungentle song in his life; you will findhim a most civil, most simple-spoken companion.”

“Well, then, I will have him—no doubt we shallgrow as close together as boon companions should.”

“Would that you might grow so close together as Icould wish!” said the English girl, with a sigh I didnot understand.

“And now, how am I to know this friend,” I asked,“this slim and gentle youth? What is his name, andwhat his face?”

“I had near forgotten that; and it was like a woman,for they say they ever keep the most important matterto the last! This boy, for good reasons that I knowbut may not mention, has sworn a vow, after the fashionof the chivalry he delights in, not to show hisface, not to wear his honorable name, until some happiertimes shall come for him. He is in love—likemany another—and does conceive his heart to be mostdesperately consumed thereby. Wherefore he hastaken the name of Flamaucœur, and bears upon hisshield a device to that effect. This alone will pointhim out to you, over and above the dropped visor,which no earthly power will make him lift until thiswar and quest of his be over. But you will know him,I feel in my heart, without consideration. Sir knight,you will know this youth when you meet him, somethingin my innermost heart does tell me, even as Ishould know one that I loved or that loved me behindtwenty thicknesses of steel. And now, good-by untilwe meet again!”

The fair maid gave me her hand as though to part,and then hesitated a moment. Presently she musteredup courage and said:

“Thou bear’st me no ill-will for yonder wild meetingof ours?”

“Maiden, it is forgotten!”

“Well, let it be so. I do not know what possessedme. I was hurried down the stream of feeling likea leaf on a tide. ’Twas I that met thee there by thecedars, and yet it was not me. Something so wildand fierce, such a hot intruder spirit burned withinthis poor circumference, that I think I was damnateand bewitched. Thou dost most clearly understandthat this hot fit is over now.”

“I clearly understand!”

“And that I love thee no longer,” quoth the lady,with a sigh, “or, at least, not near so much?”

“Madam, so I conceive it. Be at ease: it is sacredbetween us two, and I will forget.”

“Thanks! a thousand thanks, even for the relief thatcold forgetfulness does give me. And now again,good-by. Be gentle to Flamaucœur, and—and,”burst out the poor girl, as her control forsook her—“ifthere is an eye in the whole of wide heaven, oh,may it watch thee! if ever prayers of mine can pierceto the seat of the Eternal, oh, may they profit thee!Gods! that my wishes were iron bars for thy dearbody, and my salt tears could but rivet them! Good-by!good-by!” and, kissing my hands in a fierce outburstof weeping, that fair white girl turned and fled,and disappeared through the tapestries that screenedthe Norman archways.

Before nightfall I was down by the English coastand made many a long league from the castle.Thoughtful and alone, my partings made, I had pacedout from its gloomy archway, the gay feathers on myhelmet-top near brushing the iron teeth of the portcullislowering above, and my charger’s hoofs fallingas hollow on the echoing drawbridge as my heart beatempty to the sounds of happy life behind me. Awaysouth went the pathway, trodden day after day by contingentsof gallant troops from that knightly stronghold.Jove! one might have followed it at midnight:those jolly bands had made a trail through copse andgreen wood, through hamlet and through heather, likethe track of a storm-wind. They had beaten downgrass and herbage, they had robbed orchards andspinneys, and here their wayside fires were stilla-smoldering, and there waved rags upon the bushes,and broken shreds and baggage. Now and then, as Ipaced along, I saw in the hamlets the folk still lookingsouthward, and standing gossiping on the week’s wonders,the boys meanwhile careering in mock onset withbroken spear-shafts or discarded trappings. Oh! ’twaseasy enough to know which way my friends had gone!

So plain was the track, and so well did my goodhorse acknowledge it, that there was little for me todo but sit and chew the bitter cud of fancy. Allthrough the hot afternoon, all through the bright sunshineand shining green bracken, did we saunter, backtoward the gray sea I knew so well, back towardthat void beginning of my wanderings, and as my sadthoughts turned to when I last had sat a charger insuch woods as these, to my fair Saxon homestead,Editha, the abbey and its Abbot, my donning Englishmail and breaking spears for a smile from yon coldPeeress, with much more of like nature, went idly flittingthrough my head. But hardly a thought amongall that motley crowd was there for Isobel or hertears, and my promised meeting with her playmate.

Thus it happened that as evening fell and found mestill some two miles from where our troops lay campedalong the shore, waiting to-morrow’s ferrying acrossto France, I rode down the steep bank of a small riverto a ford, and slowly waded through. There be episodesof action that live in our minds, and incidentsof repose that recur with no less force. So, then—thatplacid evening stream has come before me again andagain—in the hot tumult of onset and mêlée, in courtand camp, in the cold of winter and in summer’swarmth, I have ridden that ford once more. I havegone down sad and thoughtful as I did, my loose reinson my charger’s arching neck, watching the purpleshine of the water where it fretted and broke in theevening light against his fetlocks; again and again Ihave listened to the soft lisp of the stream as he drankof that limpid trough, and I have seen in its cool,fresh mirror my own tall image, my waving crimsonplumes, and the one white star of the evening above,reflected upon it. And yet, if these things of a remoteyesterday are fresh in my mind, even more so is mymeeting with the slim gallant whose figure rose beforeme as I emerged from the ford.

As my good English charger bore me up from thehollow, on the brow of the opposite rise was amounted figure standing out clear and motionlessagainst the yellow glow of the sunset. At first Ithought it would be some wandering spearman boundon a like errand with myself, for more than one ortwo such had passed that day. But something in thesteadfast interest of that silent horseman roused mycuriosity even before I was near enough to see thecolor of his armor or the device upon his shield. Upwe scrambled up that sandy, heathery scar, the strongsinews of my war-horse playing like steel cordageunder my thighs as he lifted me and my armor up thegravelly path, and then, as we topped the rise andcame into the evening breeze, that strange warrioradvanced and held out a hand.

Never in all my experience had I known a knightextend the palm of friendship to another so demureand downcast. “Truth!” I thought to myself, “thisfriend of Isobel’s is, in fact, as she said, the mostmodest-mannered soldier who ever took a place inthe rough game of war!” But I was pledged to likehim, and therefore, in the most hearty manner possible,as we came up knee to knee, I slapped my heavyhand into his extended fingers and welcomed himloudly as a long-looked-for comrade. And in truth hewas a very pretty fellow, whose gentle presence grewupon me after that first meeting each hour we livedtogether. He seemed, as far as I could judge, nomore than twenty-five years of age, yet even thatwas but a guess, for his armor was complete from topto toe, his visor was down, and there was, indeed,naught to judge by but a certain slightness of limband suppleness that spoke of no more mature years.In height this gallant was very passable enough, andhis helmet, with its nodding plumes, added some graceand inches to his stature, while his pale-gray mail wasbeautifully fashioned and molded, and spoke throughevery close joint and cunning finished link of a youngbut well-proportioned soldier.

The arms this warrior carried were better suitedto his strength than to that of the man who rode besidehim. His lance was long and of polished inlay,while mine beside it was like the spear of Goliath toa fisher’s hazel wand. His dagger was better for cuttingthe love-knot on a budget of sonnets than fordisburdening foemen’s spirits of their mortal shackles.His cross-hilted sword was so light it made me sighto look at it. On his shield was a heart wrapped inflames, most cunningly painted, and expressive enoughin those days, when every man took a pride in beingas vulnerable to women as he was unapproachableamong men.

But who am I that I should judge that gentle knightby myself—by me, whose sinews countless fights havebut matured, who have been blessed by the gods withbulk and strength above other mortals? Why shouldI measure his brand-new lance, gleaming in the prideof virgin polish, against the stern long spear I carried;or that dainty brand of his, that mayhap histender maid had belted on him for the first time somehours before, with such a broad blade as long use hadmade lighter to my hand than a lady’s distaff?

Before we had paced a mile, Flamaucœur hadproved himself the sprightliest companion who everenlivened a dull road with wit and laughter. At first’twas I that spoke, for he had not one word in all theworld to say—he was so shy. But when I twittedhim for this, and laughed, and asked him of his lady-love,and how she had stood the parting—how manytears there had been, and whether they all were hers;and whose heart was that upon his shield, his own orthe damsel’s; and so on, in bantering playfulness, Igot down to the metal of that silent boy. He wincedbeneath my laughter for a little time, and fidgetedupon his saddle, and then the gentle blood in his veinsanswered, as I hoped it would, and he turned andgave me better than I offered. Such a pretty fellowin wordy fence I never saw: his tongue was like awoman’s, it was so hard to silence. When I thoughtI had him at disadvantage on a jest, he burked thepoint of my telling argument, and struck me belowmy guard; when I would have pinned him to somekeen inquiry regarding that which he did not wish totell, he turned questioner with swift adroitness, andmade—quicker than it takes to write—his inquisitorthe humble answerer to his playful malice. He wasbetter at that fence than I, there could be no doubt,and very speedily his nimble tongue, which soundedso strange and pleasant in the hollow of his helmet,had completely mastered mine. So, with a laugh, Idid acknowledge to the conquest.

Whereon that generous youth was pleased, I saw,and laid aside his coyness, and chattered like a millstreamamong the gravels on an idle Sunday. Heturned out both shrewd and witty, with a head stuffedfull of romance and legend, just such as one might havewho had spent a young life listening to troubadoursand minstrels. And I liked him none the less becausehe trimmed the gross fables of that time to such adecent shape. He told me one or two that I had heardbefore, although he knew it not. And as I had heardthem from the licentious lips of courtly minstrels theyare not fit to write or tell, but my worthy wayfarerclipped and purged them so adroitly, and turned themout so fair and seemly, all with such a nice unconsciousness,I scarce could recognize them. He was amost gentle-natured youth, and there was somethingin his presence, something in the half-frankness he putforth, and something in that there was strange abouthim which greatly drew me. Now you would think,to listen to him, he was all a babbling stream as shallowas could be, and then, anon, a turn of sad wisdomor a sigh set you wondering, as when that same streamruns deep into the shadows, and you hear it fret andfume with gathering strength far away in unknowndepths of mother Earth. A most enticing, a most perplexingcomrade.

Beguiling the way in this fashion, and liking mynew ally better and better as we went, we came a littleafter nightfall on a wet and windy evening to the hamletnear the sea where the rearguard of the Englishtroops were collected for ferrying over to France.Here we halted and sought food and shelter, butneither were to be had for the asking. That littlestreet of English dwellings was crowded with hungrytroopers. They were camping by their gleamingwatch-fires all along the grassy ways, so full was everylodgment, while every yellow window of the dimgabled alehouse in the midst shone into the wet, darknight, and every room within was replete with stamping,clanking, noisy gallants. Their chargers filledthe yard and were picketed a furlong down the muddyroad, that sloped to the murmuring, unseen sea, andthere was not space, it seemed, for one single otherhorse or rider in the whole friendly village.

But the insidious Flamaucœur found a way andplace. He sought out the master of the inn himself,and, unheeding of his curt refusals, made request socunning and used his money-pouch so liberal that thatstrong and surly yeoman, with much to do, found usa loft to sleep in, which was a bedroom better thanthe wayside, though still but a rough one. ThenFlamaucœur waylaid the buxom, hurrying housewife,and, on an evening when many a good gentleman wasgoing supperless to bed, got us a loaf of white breadand a wooden bowl of milk, the which we presentlyshared most comrade-like, my friend lifting his visorso much as might suffice to eat, but yet not enough toshow his face. He waylaid a lad, and, for a coin ortwo, and a little of his sweet-voiced cajoling, got oursteeds watered and sheltered, though many anotherlordly, sleek-limbed beast stood all night unwashed,unminded. A most persuasive youth was Flamaucœur!

And then, our frugal supper made and our horsesseen to, we went to bed. Diffident, ingenious youngknight! He made my couch (while I was not by) longand narrow—no bigger than for one—of all the softthings he could lay his hands on—as though, forsooth,I were some tender flower—and for himself hardlyspread a horsecloth on the bare floor!

Now, when I came up and found this done, withouta word I sent the boy to go and see what the nightwas like, and if the moon yet showed, or if it rained,and, when he went forthwith, pulled that couch tobits, respreading it so it was broad enough for twogood comrades side by side. Ah! And when Flamaucœurcame back, I rated him soundly, telling him that,though it was set in the laws of arms that a youngknight should show due deference to an older, yet allthat comrades had of hard or soft was equally dividable,both board and bed, and good luck and misfortune.And he was amenable, though still a littlestrange, and unbuckled his armor by our dim rushlight,and then—poor, tired youth!—with that ironmask upon his head, in his quilted underwear, threwhimself upon the couch, and slept almost before hecould straighten out those shapely limbs of his.

And I presently lay down by his side and slept,while all through my dreams went surging the wildestfancies of tilt and tourney and lady’s love. Andnow I heard in the uproar of the restless village streetand the neighing of the chargers at their pickets thenoise of battle and of onset. And then I thought Ihad, on some unknown field, five thousand spearmenoverset against a hundred times as many; and whilemy heart bounded proudly in answer to that disadvantage,and I rode up and down our glittering ranksspeaking words of strength and courage to thosescanty heroes, waving my shining sword in the sunthat shone for victory on us and curbing my frettingcharger’s restless valor, methought, somehow, thewords dried up upon my lips, and the proud murmurof my firm-set veterans turned to a low moaning wail,and a gray mist of tears put out the sun, and blackgrief drank up the warriors; and while I wrestledwith that melancholy, Blodwen, my Princess, was sittingby my side, cooling my hot forehead with hercalm, immortal hand, and calling me, with smilingaccent, “dull, unwitful, easily beguiled,” and all thetime that young gallant by me lay limp, supine, asleep,and soulless.

So passed the checkered fancies of the night, andthe earliest dawn found us up, in arms, and ready forsterner things.

Again I had to owe to Flamaucœur’s ready wit andliberal purse precedence for our needs above all therequirements of the many good knights who wouldhave crossed with the haste they could, but had, perforce,to wait. It was he who got us a vessel sufficientfor our needs when the fisher folk were swearingthere was not a ship to be hired for twenty miles upor down the coast. In this we embarked with ourhorses, and one or two other gentlemen we knew, andin a few hours’ sailing the English shore went downand the sunny cliffs of Normandy rose ahead of us.

Will you doubt but that I stood thoughtful andsilent as the green and silver waves were shivered byour dancing prow, and that strange, familiar land roseup before us? I, that British I, who had seen Cæsar’sgalleys, heavy with Umbrian and Etrurian, put outfrom that very shore: I, who had stood on the greencliffs of Harold’s kingdom and shaken a Saxon javelintoward that home of Norman tyranny: I, thisknightly, steel-bound I, stood and watched that countrygrow upon us, with thoughts locked in my heartthere were none to listen to and none to share.

Oh! it was passing strange, and I did not rouse meuntil our iron keel went gently grinding up the Normangravel, and our vessel was beached upon thehostile shore.

CHAPTER XIII

Strange, eventful, and bloody, were the incidentsthat followed. King Edward, burning for glory, hadlanded in Normandy a little time before, had knightedon these yellow beaches that gallant boy his son, andwith the young Prince and some fourteen thousandEnglish troops, ten thousand wild Welshmen, andsix thousand Irish, pillaging and destroying as hewent, he had marched straight into the heart of unreadyFrance. With that handful of men he hadburned all the ships in Hogue, Barfleur, and Cherbourg;he had stormed Montebourg, Carentan, St. Lo,and Valognes, sending a thousand sails laden withbooty back to England, and now, day by day, he waspressing southward through his fair rebellious territories,deriding the French King in his own country,and taking tithe and taxes in rough fashion with fireand sword.

Nor had we who came late far to seek for the Sovereign.His whereabouts was well enough to be told bythe rolling smoke that drifted heavily to leeward of hismarching columns and the broad trail of desolationthrough the smiling country that marked his sternprogress. To travel that sad road was to see nakedWar stripped of all her excusing pageantry, to seegray desolation and lean sorrow following in the gaytrain of victory.

Gods! it was a sad path. Here, as we rode along,would lie the still smoldering ashes of a burned village,black and gray in the smiling August sunshine.In such a hamlet, perhaps, across a threshold, hismouth agape and staring eyes fixed on the unmovedheavens, would lie a peasant herdsman, his right handstill grasping the humble weapon wherewith he hadsought to protect his home, and the black wound inhis breast showing whence his spirit had fled indignantto the dim Place of Explanations.

Neither women nor babes were exempt from thatfierce ruin. Once we passed a white and silent motherlying dead in mid-path, and the babe, still clasped inher stiff arms, was ruddy and hungry, and beat withtiny hands to wake her and crowed angry at its failure,and whimpered so pitiful and small, and was sounwotting of the merry game of war and all it meant,that the laughter and talk died away from the lips ofthose with me, as, one by one, we paced slowly pastthat melancholy thing.

At another time, I remember, we came to where alittle maid of some three tender years was sittingweaving flowers on the black pile of a ruined cottage,that, though her small mind did not grasp it, hid thecharred bodies of all her people. She twined thosewhite-and-yellow daisies with fair smooth hands, andwas so sunny in the face and trustful-eyed I couldnot leave her to marauding Irish spears, or the cruelwolfdogs who would come for her at sunset. I turnedmy impatient charger into the black ruin, and, maugrethat little maid’s consent, plucked her from the ashes,and rode with her upon my saddle-bow until we metan honest-seeming peasant woman. To her I gave thewaif, with a silver crown for patrimony.

Out in the open the broad stream of war had spreaditself. The yellow harvests were trodden under foot,and hedge and fence were broken. The plow stoodhalfway through the furrow, and the reaper was deadwith the sickle in his hand. Here, as we rode, wentup to heaven the smoke of coppice and homestead;and there, from the rocks hanging over our path, lucklessmaids and widowed matrons would hail and spitupon us in their wild grief, cursing us in going, incoming, in peace and in war, while they loaded thefrightened echoes with their shrieks and wailings.

Now and then, on grass and roadside, were darkpatches of new-dried blood, and by them, maybe, laycountry cloaks and caps and weapons. There weknew men had fallen singly, and had long lainwounded or dead, until their friends had taken themto grave or shelter. Out in the open again, whereskirmishes had happened and bill and bow or spearhad met their like, the dead lay thicker. Gods! howdrear those fair French fields did lie in the autumnmoonlight, with their scattered dead in twos andthrees and knots and clusters! There were some whosprawled upon the ground—still clutching in theirdread white fingers the grass and earth torn up in themoment of their agony. And here was he who scowledwith dead white eyes on the pale starlight, one handon his broken hilt and the other fast gripped upon thespear that pinned him to the earth. Near him was afair boy, dead, with the shriek still seeming upon hislivid lips, and the horrid rent in his bosom that had letout his soul looming black in the gloom. Yonder atall trooper still stared out grimly after the English,and smiled in death with a clothyard shaft buried tothe feather in his heart. Some there were of thesehorrid dead who still lay in grapple as they had fallen—thestalwart Saxon and the bronzed Gaul with ironfingers on each other’s throats, smiling their blackhatred into each other’s bloodless white faces. Others,again, lay about whose arms were fixed in air, seemingstill to implore with bloody fingers compassionfrom the placid sky.

One man I saw had died stroking the thin, pain-streakedmuzzle of his wounded charger—his friend,mayhap, for years in camp and march. Indeed, amongmany sorrowful things of that midnight field, thedead and dying horses were not least. It moved meto compassion to hear their pain-fraught whinnies onevery hand, and to see them lying so stiff and starkin the bloody hollows their hoofs had scooped throughhours of untempered anguish. What could I do forall those many? But before one I stopped, and regardedhim with stern compassion many a minute.He was a splendid black horse, of magnificent sizeand strength; and not even the coat of blood and mudwith which his sweating sides were covered could hide,here and there, the care that had but lately groomedand tended him. He lay dying on a great sheet ofhis own red blood, and as I looked I saw his tasseledmane had been plaited not long before by some soft,skilful fingers, and at every point was a bow of ribbon,such as might well have been taken from a lady’shair to honor the war-horse of her favorite knight.That great beast was moaning there, in the stillness,thinking himself forgotten, but when I came andstood over him he made a shift to lift his shapelyhead, and looked at me entreatingly, with black hangingtongue and thirst-fiery eyes, the while his doomedsides heaved and his hot, dry breath came hissingforth upon the quiet air. Well I knew what he askedfor, and, turning aside, I found a trooper’s empty helmet,and, filling it from the willowed brook that ranat the bottom of the slope, came back and knelt bythat good horse, and took his head upon my knee andlet him drink. Jove! how glad he was! Forgot forthe moment was the battle and his wounds, forgottenwas neglect and the long hours of pain and sorrow!The limpid water went gurgling down his thirstythroat, and every happy gasp he gave spoke of thattransient pleasure. And then, as the last bright dropsflashed in the moonlight about his velvet nozzle, I laidone hand across his eyes and with the other drew mykeen dagger—and, with gentle remorselessness,plunged it to the hilt into his broad neck, and with asingle shiver the great war-horse died!

In truth, ’twas a melancholy place. On the midnightwind came the wail of women seeking for theirkindred, and the howl and fighting of hungry dogsat ghastly meals, the smell of blood and war—ofsmoldering huts and black ruins! A stern pastime,this, and it is as well the soldier goes back upon histracks so seldom!

We passed two days through such sights as I havenoted, meeting many a heavy convoy of spoil on itsway to the coast, and not a few of our own woundedwending back, luckless and sad, to England; and thenon the following evening we came upon the Englishrear, and were shortly afterward part and parcel ofas desperate and glorious an enterprise as any thatwas ever entered in the red chronicles of war. Fromthe coast right up to the white walls of the fair capitalitself, King Edward’s stern orders were to pillageand kill and spoil the country, so that there shouldbe left no sustenance for an enemy behind. I havetold you how the cruel Irish mercenaries and the loosesoldiers of a baser sort accomplished the command.Our English archers and the light-armed Welsh, whoscoured the front, were mild in their methods comparedto them. They mayhap disturbed the quiet ofsome rustic villages, and in thirsty frolics broachedthe kegs of red vintage in captured inns, robbed hen-roosts,and kissed matrons and set maids screaming,but they, unlike the others, had some touch of ruthwithin their rugged bosoms. But, as for keeps andcastles, we stormed and sacked them as we went, andhe alone was rogue and rascal who was last into thebreach. Our wild kerns and escaladers rioting in thoselordly halls, many a sight of cruel pillage did I see,and many a time watched the red flame bursting fromthe embrasures and windows of these fair baronialhomes, and could not stay it. The Frenchmen in thesecases, such of them as were not away with the armywe hoped to find, fought brave and stubborn, and wepiled their dead bodies up in their own courtyards.Many a comely dame and damsel did I watch wringingwhite hands above these ghastly heaps, and tearingloose locks of raven hair in piteous appeal to unmovedskies, the while the yellow flames of theircomely halls went roaring from floor to floor, and inmockery of their sobs, crashing towers and staircasesmingled with the yells of the defenders and the shoutingof the pillage.

I fear long ages begin to sap my fiber! There wasa time when I would have sat my war-horse in thecourtyard and could have watched the red bloodstreaming down the gutters and listened to the shriekingas cold amid the ruin as any Viking on a hostileconquered strand. But, somehow, with this steelpanoply of mine I had put on softer moods; I amdegenerate by the pretty theories of what they calledtheir chivalry.

Far be it from me to say the English army was allone pack of bloodhounds. War is ever a rough game,the country was foreign, and the adventure we wereon was bold and desperate, therefore these thingswere done, and chiefly by the unruly regiments, andthe scullion Irish who followed in our rear, led byknights of ill-repute, or none. These hung like carrioncrows about our flanks and rear, and, after each fight,stole armor from dead warriors bolder hands hadslain, and burned, and thieved from high and low, andbutchered, like the beasts of prey they were.

On one occasion, I remember, a skirmish befellshortly after we joined the main army, and a Frenchnoble, in their charge, was unhorsed upon our front byan English archer. Now, I happened to be the onlymounted man just there, and as this silver shiningprize staggered to his feet, and went scampering backtoward his friends with all his rich sheathing safeupon his back, his gold chains rattling on his ironbosom, and his jeweled belt sparkling as he fled, asavage old English swashbuckler, whose horse washamstrung—Sir John Enkington they called him—fairlywrung his hands.

“After him, Sir Knight,” screamed that unchivalrousruffian to me, “after him, in the name of hell! Ifthou rid’st hard he cannot get away, and run thyspear in under his gorget so as not to spoil his armor—’tisworth, at least, a hundred shillings!”

I never moved a muscle, did not even deign to lookdown at that cruel churl. Whereon the grizzly oldboar-hound clapped his hand upon his dagger andturned on me—ah! by the light of heaven, he did.

“What! not going, you lazy braggart!” he shouted,beside himself with rage—“not going, for such aprize? Beast—scullion—coward!”

“Coward!” Had I lived more than a thousand yearsin a soldier-saddle to be cowarded by such a hoarywhelp of butchery—such a damnable old taint on thehonorable trade of arms? I spun my charger round,and with my gloved left hand seized that bully byhis ragged beard, and perked him here and there;lifted him fairly off his feet; stretched his corded,knotted throttle till his breath came thick and hard;jerked and pulled and twisted him—then cast the ruffianloose, and, drawing my square iron foot frommy burnished stirrup, spurned him here and there,and kicked and pommeled him, and so at last drovehim howling down the hill, all forgetful for the momentof prize and pillage!

These lawless soldiers were the disgrace of ourcamp, they did so rant and roar if all went well andwhen the battle was fairly won whereto they had notentered, they were so coward and cruel among theprisoners or helpless that we would gladly have beenrid of them if we could.

But, after the manner of the time, the war wasopen to all: behind the flower of English chivalry whorode round the Sovereign’s standard, and the gallantbill and bowmen who wore his livery and took hispay, observing the decencies of war, came hustlingand crowding after us a host of rude mercenaries, ahorde of ragged adventurers, who knew nothing ofhonor or chivalry, and had no canons but to plunder,ravish, and destroy.

They made a trade of every villainy just outside thecamp, where, with scoundrel hawkers who followedbehind us like lean vultures, they dealt in dead men’sgoods, bought maids and matrons, and sold armor orplunder under our marshal’s very eyes.

One day, I remember, I and my shadow Flamaucœurwere riding home after scouting some milesalong the French lines without adventure, when, enteringour camp by the pickets farthest removed fromthe Royal quarter, we saw a crowd of Irish kerns behindthe wood where the King had stocked his baggage,all laughing round some common object. Now, theseIrish were the most turbulent and dissolute fighters inthe army. Such shock-headed, fiery ruffians never beforecalled themselves Christian soldiers. They andthe Welsh were forever at feud; but, whereas theWelshmen were brave and submissive to their chiefs,keen in war, tender of honor, fond of wine-cups andminstrels—gallant, free soldiers, indeed, just as I hadknown their kin a thousand years before; these savagekerns, on the other hand, were remorseless villains,rude and wild in camp, and cutthroat rascals, withoutcompunction, when a fight was over. In ordinary circ*mstanceswe should have ridden by these noisyrogues, for they cared not a jot for any one less thanthe Camp Marshal with a string of billmen behindhim, and feuds between knights of King Edward’stable and these shock-haired kerns were unseemly.But on this occasion, over the hustling ring of roughsoldiers, as we sat high-perched upon our Flemishchargers, we saw a woman’s form, and craned ournecks and turned a little from our course to watchwhat new devilry they were up to.

There, in the midst of that lawless gang of ruffiansoldiers, their bronzed and grinning faces hedging aspace in with a leering, compassionless wall, was afair French girl, all wild and torn with misadventure,her smooth cheeks unwashed and scarred with tears,her black hair wild and tangled on her back, her skirtand bodice rent and muddy, fear and shame and angerflying alternate over the white field of her comely face,while her wistful eyes kept wandering here and thereamid that grinning crowd for a look of compunctionor a chance of rescue. The poor maid was standingupon an overturned box such as was used to carrycross-bow bolts in, her hands tied hard together infront, her captor by her side, and as we came nearunnoticed he put her up for sale.

“By Congal of the Bloody Fingers,” said that cruelkern in answer to the laughing questions of his comrades,interlarding his speech with many fiery andhorrid oaths, the which I spare you—“I found thisaccursed little witch this morning hiding among therubbish of yonder cottage our boys pulled to piecesin the valley; and, as I could not light on better ware,I dragged her here. But may I roast forever if I willhave anything more to do with her. She is a tigress,a little she-devil. I have thrashed and beat andkicked her, but I cannot get the spirit out. Let someother fellow try, and may Heaven wither him if heturns her loose near me again! Now then, what willthe best of you give? She is a little travel-stained,perhaps—that comes of our march hither, and oursubsequent disagreements—but all right otherwise,and, an some one could cure her of her spitfire natureand make her amenable to reason, she would be anornament to any tent. Now you, Borghil, for instance—itwas you, I think, who split the mother’s skull thismorning—give me a bid for the daughter: you are notoften bashful in such a case as this.”

“A penny then!” sang out Borghil of the Red Beard;“and, with maids as cheap as they be hereabouts,she’s dear at that,” and, while the laughter and jestwent round, those rude islanders bid point by pointfor the unhappy girl who writhed and crouched beforethem. What could I do? Well I knew the vowsmy golden spurs put upon me, and the policy my borrowedknighthood warranted—and yet, she was notof gentle birth—’twas but the fortune of war. If menrisked lives in that stern game, why should not maidsrisk something too? King Edward hated turmoil inthe camp, and here on desperate venture, far in ahostile country, my soldier instinct rose againstkindling such a blaze as would have burst out amongthese lawless, hot-tempered kerns, had I but drawnmy sword a foot from its scabbard. And, thinkingthus, I sat there with bent head scowling behind myvisor-bars, and turning my eyes now to my ready hiltthat shone so convenient at my thigh, and anon tothe tall Normandy maid, so fair, so pitiful, and in suchsorry straits.

While I sat thus uncertain, the girl’s price had goneup to fivepence, and, there being no one to give more,she was about to be handed over to an evil-lookingfellow with a scar destroying one eye, and dividinghis nose with a hideous yellow seam that went acrosshis face from temple to chin. This gross mercenaryhad almost told the five coins into the blood-smudgedhand of the other Irishman, and the bargain was nearcomplete, when, to my surprise, Flamaucœur, who hadbeen watching behind me, pushed his charger boldlyto the front, and cried out in that smooth voice of his:“Wait a spell, my friends! I think the maid is worthanother coin or two!” and he plunged his hand intothe wallet that hung beside his dagger.

This interruption surprised every one, and for a momentthere was a hush in the circle. Then he of theone eye, with a very wicked scowl, produced and bidanother penny, the which Flamaucœur immediatelycapped by yet another. Each put down two more, andthen the Celt came to the bottom of his store, and,with a monstrous oath, swept back his money, and,commending the maid and Flamaucœur to the bottom-mostpit of hell, backed off amid his laughing friends.

Not a whit disconcerted, my peaceful gallant rode upto the grim purveyor of that melancholy chattel, andhaving paid the silver, with a calm indifferencewhich it shocked me much to see, unwound a fewfeet of the halter-rope depending from his Fleming’scrupper. The loose end of this the man wound roundand tied upon the twisted withies wherewith themaid’s white wrists were fastened.

Such an escape from the difficulty had never occurredto my slower mind, and now, when my ladturned toward the quarter where his tent lay, and,apparently mighty content with himself, stepped hischarger out with the unhappy girl trailing along athis side, his lightness greatly pained me. Nor was Ipleasured by the laughter and gibes of English squiresand knights who met us.

“Hullo! you valorous two,” called out a mountedcaptain, “whose hen-roosts have you been robbing?”And then another said, “Faith! they’ve been recruiting,”and again, “’Tis a new page they’ve got to bucklethem up and smooth their soldier pillows.” All thiswas hard to bear, and I saw that even Flamaucœurhung his head a little and presently rode along by bywaysless frequented. At one time he turned to memost innocent-like and said:

“Such a friend as this is just what I have been needingever since I left the English shore.”

“Indeed!” I answered, sardonically, “I do confess Iam more surprised than perhaps I should be. It is ascharming a handmaid as any knight could wish. Shallyou send one of those long raven tresses home to thyabsent lady with thy next budget of sighs and true-lovetokens?”

But Flamaucœur shook his head, and said I misunderstoodhim bitterly. He was going on to say hemeant to free the maid “to-morrow or the next day,”when we turned a corner in our martial village street,and pulled up at our own tent doors.

Now, that Breton girl had submitted so far to bedragged along, in a manner of lethargy born of hersick heart and misery, but when we stayed our chargersthe very pause aroused her. She drew her poorfrightened wits together and glared first at us, andthen at our knightly pennons fluttering over the whitelintels of our lodgment; then, jumping to some dreadful,sad conclusion, she fired up as fierce and suddenas a trapped tigress when the last outlet is closedupon her. She stamped and raged, and twisted herfair white arms until the rough withies on her wristscut deep into the tender flesh and the red blood wenttwining down to her torn and open bodice; shescreamed and writhed, and struggled against theglossy side of that gentle and mighty war-horse, wholooked back wondering on her and sniffed her flagrantsorrow with wide velvet nostrils—no more movedthan a gray crag by the beating of the summer sea—andthen she turned on us.

Gads! she swore at us in such mellow Bisque asmight have made a hardened trooper envious! Cursedus and our chivalry, called us forsworn knights, stainsupon manhood, dogs and vampires!—then droppedupon her knee, and there suppliant, locked her swollenand bloody hands, and, with the hot white tearssparkling in her red and weary eyes, knelt to us, andin the wild, tearful grief of her people, “for the honorof our mothers, and for the sake of the bright distantmaid we loved,” begged mercy and freedom.

And all through that storm of wild, sweet grief thatcallous libertine, Flamaucœur, made no show of freeingher. He sat his prick-eared, wondering charger,stared at the maid, and fingered his dagger-chain asthough perplexed and doubtful. The hot torrent ofthat poor girl’s misery seemed to daze and tie histongue: he made no sign of commiseration and nomovement, until at last I could stand it no longer.Wheeling round my war-horse, so that I could shakemy mailed fist in the face of that sapling villain:

“By the light of day!” I burst out, half in wrathand half in amused bewilderment, “this goes too far.Why, Flamaucœur, can you not see this is a maid ina hundred, and one who well deserves to keep thatwhich she asks for? Jove! man, if you must have ahandmaiden, why, the country swarms with forlornones who will gladly compound with fate by acceptingthe protection of thy tent. But this one!—come!—letmy friendship go in pawn against her, and freethe maid. If you must have something more solid—still,set her free, unharmed, and I will give thee ahelmetful of pennies—that is to say, on the first timethat I own so many.”

But Flamaucœur laughed more scornfully than heoften did, and, muttering that we were “all fools together,”turned from me to the wild thing at his side.

“Look here,” he said, “you mad girl. Come into mytent and I will explain everything. You shall be allunharmed, I vow it, and free to leave me if you willnot stop—this is all mad folly, though out here I cannottell you why.”

“I will not trust you,” she screamed, in arms again,straining at those horrid red wrists of hers and glaringon us—“Mother of Christ!” she shouted, turningto a knot of squires and captains who had gatheredaround us—“for the dear Light of Heaven some ofyou free my wretched spirit with your maces, here—here—somefriendly spear for this friendless bosom—onedagger-thrust to rid me from these cursed tyrants,and I will take the memory of my slayer straight tothe seat of mercy and mix it forever with my gratefulprayers. Oh, in Christian charity unsheath a weapon!”

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (9)

“I will not trust you!” she screamed

I saw that slim soldier Flamaucœur groan withinhis helmet at this, then down he bent. “Mad, madgirl!” I heard him say, and then followed a whisperwhich was lost between his hollow helmet and hisprisoner’s ear. Whatever it was, the effect was instantaneousand wonderful.

“Impossible!” burst out the French girl, startingaway as far as the cords would let her, and eyeingher captor with surprise and amazement.

“’Tis truth, I swear it.”

“Oh, impossible!—thou a——”

“Hush, hush,” cried Flamaucœur, putting his handupon the girl’s mouth, and speaking again to her inhis soft low voice, and as he did so her eyes ran overhim, the fear and wonder slowly melted away, andthen, presently, with a delighted smile at length shiningbehind her undried tears, she clasped and kissedhis hand with a vast show of delight as ungovernedas her grief had been, and when he had freed her anddescended from his charger, to our amazement, ledrather than followed that knight most willing to histent, and there let fall the flap behind them.

“Now that,” said the King’s jester, who had come upwhile this matter was passing—“that is what I call atruly persuasive tongue. I would give half my silverbells to know what magic that gentleman has that willget reason so quickly into an angry woman’s head.”

“If you knew that,” quoth a stern old knightthrough the steel bars of his morion, “you might livea happy life, although you knew nothing else.”

“Poor De Burgh!” whispered a soldier near me.“He speaks with knowledge, for men say he owns avixen, and is more honored and feared here by theproud Frenchman than at his own fireside.”

“Perhaps,” suggested another to the laughinggroup, “he of the burning heart whispered that he hada double Indulgence in his tent. Women will go anywhereand do anything when it is the Church whichleads them by the nose.”

“Or, perhaps,” put in another, looking at the lastspeaker—“perhaps he hinted that if the maid escapedfrom his hated clutches she would fall into thine,St. Caen, and she chose the lesser evil. It were anargument that would well warrant so sudden a conversion!”

“Well! Well!” quoth the fool, “we will not quarrelover the remembrance of the meat which another doghas carried off. Good-by, fair Sirs, and may Godgive you all as efficient tongues as Sir Flamaucœur’swhen next you are bowered with your distant ladies!”and laughing and jesting among themselves the soldiersstrolled away, leaving me to seek my solitarytent in no good frame of mind.

CHAPTER XIV

Such sights and scenes as these will show thechivalrous army with whom I served in but an indifferentlight. And ill it would beseem me, who rememberthis time with pride, and the gloomy pleasureof my latter life, to stain the fair fame of Englishchivalry or to discredit with the foul life of its outerremnant our gallant army or that Royal person whoshone in the white light of his day, the bravest knightand the gentlest king of any then living.

This Sovereign was, above everything, a soldier. Heobserved all that passed in his camp with extraordinaryacumen. It was my chance, soon after wejoined the army, to catch his eye by some small deedof prowess in a mêlée near his standard, and thatshrewd Sovereign called me to him, and asked myname and fame—the which I answered plausiblyenough, for my tongue was never tied to the cold sterilityof truth—and then, pointing to where there lay onhis shield a famous dead English captain of mercenaries,asked me if I would do duty for that soldier.I knew the troops he had led. They were grizzledveterans, rough old dogs every one of them, who hadrode their close-packed chargers, shoulder to shoulder,through the thick tangles of a hundred fights. I hadseen them alone, those stern old fellows, put downtheir lances and, altogether, like the band of close-unitedbrothers that they were, go thundering overthe dusty French campagnas, and, to the music thatthey loved so well, of ringing bits and hollow-soundingscabbards, of steel martingale and harness—delightingin the dreadful odds—charge ten times theirnumber, and burst through the reeling enemy, andoverride and trample him down, and mow greatswathes from his seething ranks, and revel in thatthunderous carnage, as if the red dust of the mêléewere the sweetest air that had ever fanned their agedbeards!

“Ah! Prince!” I said, speaking out boldly as thatremembrance came before me, “by Thor! if those goodfellows will take so young a one as I for leader, inplace of a better, I will gladly let it be a compact.”

“They will have you readily enough,” replied theKing, “even if it were not mine by right to name theircaptain, according to their rules.” And, mounting thegray palfrey, he rode in camp, the better to spare hisroan war-horse, he took me to where the troops wereranged up after the charge that had cost them theirleader, and gave them over to me.

Thus was I provided with a lordly following, andthe King’s gratitude for my poor service expressed;but still I appeared strangely to haunt the Sovereign’smemory. He looked back at me once or twice asthough I were something most uncommon, and notlong afterward he would have me sup with him.

It happened as we fell back from the farthest limitof our raid, burning and plundering as we went alongthe Somme. One evening a fair French chateau ona hill, bending down by grassy slopes to the slowstream below, had fallen to our assault. In truth,that fair pile had found us rude visitors. Twice in thestorm the red flames had burst out of its broad uppercorridors, and twice had been subdued. Its doors andgateways were beaten in, its casem*nts burst andempty, the moat about it was full of dead men, theivy hung in unsightly tatters from its turrets, and onthe smooth grass glacis copingstone and battlements—hurledon us by the besieged as we swarmed up theladders—lay in crumbling ruins. Yet it was, as I say,a stately place, even in its new-made desolation; andI was standing at the close of a long, dusty autumnday by my tent door, watching the yellow harvestmoon come over the low French hills, and sheddingas it rose a pale light over the English camp and thatlordly place a little set back from it, when downthrough the twilight came a page who wore on sleeveand tunic-breast the royal cognizance. Was I, hequestioned, the stranger knight new come from England?and, that being answered, he gave his message:“King Edward would be glad if that knight wouldtake his evening meal with him.”

I went—how could I else?—and there in the greattorn and disordered hall of the castle we had takenwas a broad table spread and already laid with roughmagnificence. Page and squire were hurrying hereand there in that stately pillared chamber, spreadingon the tables white linens that contrasted moststrangely with the black, new-made smoke-stains onthe ceiling; piling on them gold and silver basins andewers and plates bent and broken, just as our men-at-armshad saved them from pillaged crypts or rifledtreasure-cells. Others were fixing a hundred gleamingtorches to the notched, scarred columns of thatbanquet-place, and while one would be wiping half-driedblood of French peer and peasant from floor anddoorway, or sprinkling rushes or sawdust on thosegory patches, another was decanting redder burgundy—thewhich babbled most pleasantly to thirsty soldierears as it passed in gushing streams from the cellarskins to supper flagon! It was an episode full ofquaint contradictions!

But it was not at the feast I looked—not at the gallanttable already flashing back the gleaming crimsonlights from its stored magnificence. There round thathall in groups and two and threes, chatting while theywaited, laughing and talking over the incidents of theday, were some hundred warlike English nobles. Andamid them, the most renowned warrior where all werefamous, the tallest and most resolute-looking in acircle of heroes, stood the King. His quick, restlesseye saw me enter, and he came toward me, slightingmy reverence, and taking my hand like one good soldierwelcoming another. He led me round that glitteringthrong, making me known to prince and captain,and knight and noble, and ever as we went a hushfell upon those gallant groups. Maybe ’twas all theKing’s presence, but I doubt it. It was not on himall eyes were fixed so hard, it was not for him thosestern soldiers were silent a spell and then fell towhisper and wondering among themselves as wepassed down the pillared corridor—ah! nor was it allon account of that familiar, knightly host that thepage-boys in gaping wonder upset the red wine, andthe glamoured servers forgot to set down their loadeddishes as they stood staring after us! No matter! Iwas getting accustomed to this silent awe, and littleregarded it. It was but the homage, I thought, theirlate-born essences paid unwitting to my older soul.

Well! we talked and laughed a spell, seeming towait for something, the while the meat grew cold,and then the arras over the great arch at the bottomof the hall lifted, and with hasty strides, like thoselate to a banquet, came in two knights. The first wasblack from top to toe—black was his dancing plume,black was his gleaming armor, black were his glovesand gyves, and never one touch of color on him butthe new golden spurs upon his heels and the broadjewel belt that held his cross-handled sword.

As this dusky champion entered a smile of pleasureshone over the King’s grave face. He ran to him andtook his hand, the while he put his other affectionatelyon his shoulder.

“My dear boy!” he said, forgetting monarch infather, “I have been thinking of thee for an hour. Youare working too hard; you must be weary. Are thereno tough captains in my host that you must be in thesaddle early and late, and do a hundred of the dutiesof those beneath you, trying with that young hand ofyours each new-set stake of our evening palisades,sampling the rude soldiers’ supper-rations, seeing thetroop go down to water, and counting and conning thelay of the Frenchman’s twinkling watch-fire? Mydear hungry lad, you are over-zealous—you will makeme grieve for that new knighthood I have put uponyou!”[3]

[3] The Black Prince, then sixteen years old, was knighted on the Normandybeach, where the expedition landed.

“Oh, ’tis all right, father! I am but trying to infusea little shame of their idle ways into this silken companyof thine. But I do confess I am as hungry aswell can be—hast saved a drink of wine and a loaffor me?”

“Saved a loaf for thee, my handsome boy! Why,thou shouldst have a loaf though it were the last inFrance and though the broad stream of England’streasure were run dry to buy it. We have waited—wehave not e’en uncovered.”

“Why, then, father, I will set the example. Here!some of you squires discover me; I have been platedmuch too long!” and the ready pages ran forward,and with willing fingers rid the young prince of hisraven harness. They unbuckled and unriveted him,until he stood before us in the close-fitting quiltedblack silk that he wore beneath, and I thought, as Istood back a little way and watched, that never hadI seen a body at once so strong and supple. Then heran his hands through his curly black hair, and tookhis place midway down the table; the King sat at thehead; and when the chaplain had muttered a Latingrace we fell to work.

It was a merry meal in that ample hall, still litteredunder the arches with the broken rubbish of the morning’sfight. The courteous English King sat smilingunder the stranger canopy, and overhead—rocking inthe breeze that came from broken casem*nts—werethe tattered flags our dead foeman’s hands had wonin many wars. Our table shone with heaped splendorshot out from the spoil-carts at the door; the King’sseneschal blazed behind his chair in cloth of gold;while honest rough troopers in weather-stainedleather and rusty trappings (pressed on the momentto do squires’ duty) waited upon us, and ministered,after the fashion of their stalwart inexperience, toour needs. Amid all those strange surroundings wetalked of wine, and love, and chivalry; we laughedand drank, tossing off our beakers of red burgundy tothe health of that soldier Sovereign under the daïs,and drank deep bumpers to the gray to-morrow thatwas crimsoning the eastern windows ere we had done.Indeed, we did that night as soldiers do who live inpawn to chance, and snatch hasty pleasures from thebrink of the unknown while the close foeman’s watch-firesshine upon their faces, and each forethinks, asthe full cups circle, how well he may take his nextmeal in Paradise. Of all the courtly badinage andwarrior-mirth that ran round the loaded table whileplates were emptied and tankards turned, but onething lives in my mind. Truth, ’twas a strangechance, a most quaint conjunction, that brought thattale about, and put me there to hear it!

I have said that when the Black Prince entered thebanquet hall there came another knight behind him,a strong, tall young soldier in glittering mail, somethingin whose presence set me wondering how orwhere we two had met before. Ere I could rememberwho this knight might be, the King and Prince werespeaking as I have set down, and then the trumpetsblew and we fell to meat and wine with soldier appetites,and the unknown warrior was forgotten, until—whenthe feast was well begun, looking over the rimof a circling silver goblet of malmsey I was lifting,at a youth who had just taken the empty place uponmy right—there—Jove! how it made me start!—unhelmeted,unharnessed, lightly nodding to his comradesand all unwotting of his wondrous neighborhood,was that same Lord Codrington, that curly-headedgallant who had leaned against me in thewhite moonlight of St. Olaf’s cloisters when I was ablessed relic, a silent, mitered, listening, long-deadmiracle!

Gods! you may guess how I did glare at him over thesculptured rim of that great beaker, the while the redwine stood stagnant at my lips—and then how mybreath did halt and flag as presently he turned slowand calm upon me, and there—a foot apart—the livingand the dead were face to face, and front to front!I scarce durst breathe as he took the heavy pledge-cupfrom my hand—would he know me? would heleap from his seat with a yell of fear and wonder, andthere, from some distant vantage-point among theshadowy pillars, with trembling finger impeach meto that startled table? Hoth! I saw in my mind’seye those superstitious warriors tumbling from theirplaces, the while I alone sat gloomy and remorsefulat the littered tressels, and huddling and crowding tothe shadows—as they would not for a thousandFrenchmen—while that brave boy with chatteringteeth and white fingers clutched upon the kingly armdid, incoherent, tell my tale, and with husky whispersay how ’twas no soldier of flesh and blood who satthere alone at the long white table, under the taperlights, self-damned by his solitude! I waited to seeall this, and then that soldier, nothing wotting,glanced heedlessly over me—he wiped his lips withhis napkin, and took a long draught of the wine withinthe cup. Then smiling as he handed it on, and turninglightly round as he laughed, “A very good tankard,indeed, Sir Stranger—such a one as is some solacefor eight hours in a Flemish saddle! But there wasjust a little too much nutmeg in the brew this time—didstthou not think so?”

I murmured some faint agreement, and sat back intomy place, watching the great beaker circle round thetable, while my thoughts idly hovered upon whatmight have chanced had I been known, and how Imight have vantaged or lost by recognition. Well!the chance had passed, and I would not take it back.And yet, surely fate was sporting with me! The cuphad scarcely made the circle and been drained to thelast few drops among the novices at the farther end,when I was again in that very same peril!

“You are new from England, Lord Worringham,”the young Earl said across me to a knight upon myother hand: “is there late news of interest to tell us?”

“Hardly one sentence. All the news we had wasstale reports of what you here have done. Men’sminds and eyes have been all upon you, and eachhomeward courier has been rifled of his budget atevery port and village on his way by a hundred hungryspeculators, as sharply as though he were a rich wandererbeset by footpads on a lonely heath. The commonpeople are wild to hear of a great victory, andwill think of nothing else. There is not one othervoice in England—saving, perhaps, that some sleekcity merchants do complain of new assessments, andcertain reverend abbots, ’tis said, of the havoc youhave played with this year’s vintage.”

“Yes,” answered the Earl with a laugh, “one canwell believe that last. Sanctity, I have had late causeto know, is thirsty work. Why, the very Abbot ofSt. Olaf’s himself, usually esteemed a right reverendprelate, did charge me at my last confessional to sendhim hence some vats of malmsey! No doubt heshrewdly foresaw this dearth that we are making.”

“What!” exclaimed the other Knight, staring acrossme. “Hast thou actually confessed to that bulkysaint? Mon Dieu! but you are in luck! Why, LordEarl, thou hast disburdened thyself to the wonder ofthe age—to the most favored son of Mother Church—theassociate of beatified beings—and the particularlyselected of the Apostles! Dost not know the wonderthat has happened to St. Olaf’s?”

“Not a whit. It was ordinary and peaceful when Iwas there a few weeks back.”

“Then, by my spurs, there is some news for you!You remember that wondrous thing they had, thatsleeping image that men swore was an actual livingman, and the holy brothers, who, no doubt, were right,declared was a blessed saint that died three hundredyears ago? You too must know him, Sir,” he said,turning to me, and looking me full in the face: “youmust know him, if you ever were at St. Olaf’s.”

“Yes,” I answered, calmly returning his gaze. “Ihave been at St. Olaf’s at one time or another, and Idoubt if any man living knows that form you speak ofbetter than I do myself.”

“And I,” put in the devout young Earl, “know himtoo. A holy and very wondrous body! Surely God’sbeneficence still shields him in his sleep?”

“Shields him! Why, Codrington, he has beentranslated; removed just as he was to celestial places;’tis on the very word of the Abbot himself we have it,and, where good men meet and talk in England, noother tale can compete for a moment with this one.”

“Out with it, bold Worringham! Surely such athing has not happened since the time of Elijah.”

“’Tis simple enough, and I had it from one whohad it from the Abbot’s lips. That saintly recluse hadspent a long day in fast and vigils amid the cloistersof his ancient abbey—so he said—and when the eveningcame had knelt after his wont an hour at theshrine, lost in holy thought and pious exercise. Nothingnew or strange appeared about the Wonder. Itlay as it had ever lain, silent, in the cathedral twilight,and the good man, full of gentle thoughts and celestialspeculations, if we may take his word for it—and Godforfend I should do otherwise!—the holy father evenbent over him in fraternal love and reverence thewhile, he says, the beads ran through his fingers asAve and Paternoster were told to the sleeping martyr’scredit by scores and hundreds. Not a sign oflife was on the dead man’s face. He slept and smiledup at the vaulted roof just as he had done year in andout beyond all memory, and therefore, as was natural,the Abbot thought he would sleep on while two stonesof the cathedral stood one upon another.

“He left him, and, pacing down the aisles, wendedto the refectory, where the brothers had near donetheir evening meal, and there, still in holy meditation,sat him down to break that crust of dry bread anddrink that cup of limpid water which (he told myfriend) was his invariable supper.”

“Hast thou ever seen the reverend father, good Worringham?”queried a young knight across the table asthe story-teller stopped for a moment to drink fromthe flagon by his elbow.

“Yes, I have seen him once or twice.”

“Why, so have I,” laughed the young soldier—“and,by all the Saints in Paradise, I do not believe he supson husks and water.”

“Believe or not as you will, it is a matter betweenthyself and conscience. The Abbot spoke, and I haverepeated just what he said.”

“On with the story, Lord Earl,” laughed another:“we are all open-mouthed to hear what came next, andeven if his Reverence—in holy abstraction, of course—dothsometime dip fingers into a venison pasty bymistake for a bread trencher, or gets hold of the wine-vesselinstead of the water-beaker—’tis nothing to us.Suppose the reverent meal was ended—as Jerome saysit should be—in humble gladness, what came then?”

“What came then?” cried Worringham. “Why, themonks were all away—the tapers burned low—theAbbot sat there by himself, his praying hands crossedbefore him—when wide the chancery door was flung,and there, in his grave-clothes, white and tall, wasthe saint himself!”

Every head was turned as the English knight thustold his story, and, while the younger soldiers smileddisdainfully, good Codrington at my side crossed himselfa*gain and again, and I saw his soldier lips tremblingas prayer and verse came quick across them.

“Ah! the saint was on foot without a doubt, andit might have chilled all the breath in a common manto see him stand there alive, and witful, who had solong been dead and mindless, to meet the light ofthose sockets where the eyes had so long been dull!But ’tis a blessed thing to be an abbot!—to have aheart whiter than one’s mother’s milk, and a soul oflimpid clearness. That holy friar, without one touchof mortal fear—it is his very own asseveration—roseand welcomed his noble guest, and sat him in thedaïs, and knelt before him, and adored, and, bold ingoodness, waited to be cursed or canonized—witheredby a glance of those eyes no man could safely look on,or hoist straight to St. Peter’s chair, just as chanceshould have it.”

“Wonderful and marvelous!” gasped Codrington,“I would have given all my lands to have knelt at thebottom of that hall whose top was sanctified by sucha presence.”

“And I,” cried another knight, “would have giventhis dinted suit of Milan that I sit in, and a tatteredtent somewhere on yonder dark hillside (the which isall I own of this world), to have been ten miles awaywhen that same thing happened. Surely it was mostdread and grim, and may Heaven protect all ordinarymen if the fashion spreads with saints!”

“They will not trouble you, no doubt, good comrade.This one rose in no stern spirit to rebuke, but as thepale commissioner of Heaven to reward virtue andbless merit. Ill would it beseem me to tell, or you,common, gross soldiers of the world, to listen to whatpassed between those two. ’Twere rank sacrilege tomock the new-risen’s words by retailing them over acamp table, even though the table be that of the Kinghimself; and who are we, rough, unruly sons of MotherChurch, that we should submit to repetition the converseof a prelate with one we scarce dare name!”Whereon Worringham drank silently from his goblet,and half a dozen knights crossed themselves devoutly.

“And there is another reason why I should besilent,” he continued. “The Abbot will not tell whatpassed between them. Only so much as this: he givesout with modest hesitance that his holy living andgreat attainments had gone straighter to Heaven thanthe smoke of Abel’s altar-fire, and thus, on thesecounts and others, he had been specially selected fordivine favors, and his ancient Church for miracle. Thepriest, so the Wonder vowed, must be made a cardinal,and have next reversion of the Papal chair. Meanwhilepilgrims were to hold the wonder-shrine of St.Olaf’s no less holy tenantless than tenanted, to bedevout, and above all things liberal, and pray for theconstant intercession of that Messenger who could nolonger stay. Whereon, quoth the Abbot, a wondrouslight did daze the watcher’s sight—unheard, unseen ofother men the walls and roof fell wide apart—andthen and there, amid a wondrous hum of voices andcountless shooting stars, that Presence mounted tothe sky, and the Abbot fell fainting on the floor!”

“Truly a strange story, and like to make St. Olaf’scoffers fuller than King Edward’s are.”

“And to do sterling service to the reverend Prior!What think you, Sir?” said one, turning to me, whohad kept silent all through this strange medley of factand cunning fiction. “Is it not a tale that greatly redoundsto the holy father’s credit, and like to do himmaterial service?”

“No doubt,” I answered, “it will serve the purposefor which ’twas told. But whether the adventure betruly narrated or not only the Abbot and he whosupped with him can know.”

“Ah!” they laughed, “and, by Our Lady! you maydepend upon it the priest will stick to his versionthrough thick and thin.”

“And by all oaths rolled in one,” I fiercely cried,striking my first upon the table till the foeman’ssilver leaped (for the lying Abbot’s story had movedmy wrath), “by Thor and Odin, by cruel Osiris, by thebones of Hengist and his brother, that saint will nevercontradict him!”

Shortly after we rose, and each on his rough palletsought the rest a long day’s work had made so grateful.

Yes! we sought it, but to one, at least, it wouldnot come for long! Hour after hour I paced in meditationabout my tent with folded arms and bent head,thinking of all that had been or might have been, and,after that supper of suggestions, the last few weeksrose up strongly before me. Again and again all thatI had seen and done in that crowded interval sweptby my eyes, but the one thing that stayed while allothers faded, the one ever-present shadow among somany, was the remembrance of the fair, unhappy girlIsobel. Full of rougher thoughts, I have not oncespoken of her, yet, since we landed on this shore, herwinning presence had grown on me every day I lived,and now to-night, here, close on the eve, as we knewit, of a desperate battle, wherefrom no man could seethe outcome, the very darkness all about me, afterthe flickering banquet lights, were full of Isobel. Ilaughed and frowned by turn to myself in my lonelywalk that evening, to find how the slighted girl wasgrowing upon me. Was I a silly squire at a trysting-place,decked out with love-knots and tokens, a greengallant in a summer wood, full of sighs and sonnets,to be so witched by the bare memory of a foolish whitewench who had fallen enamored of my swart countenance?It was idle nonsense; I would not yield. Iput it behind me, and thought of to-morrow—the goodKing and my jolly comrades—and then there againwas the outline of Isobel’s fair face in the yellow riftof the evening sky; there were Isobel’s clear eyesfixed, gentle and reproachful, on me, and the glimmerof her white draperies amid the shifting shadow ofthe tent, and even the evening wind outside was whisperingas it came sighing over the wild grass lands—“Isobel!”Ah! and there was something more behindall that thought of Isobel. There were eyes thatlooked from Isobel’s shadowy face, wherever in myfancy I saw it, that filled me with a strange unrest,and a whisper behind the whispers of that maidenvoice that was hers and yet was not—a fine thin musicthat played upon the fibers of my heart; a presencebehind a haunting presence; a meaning behind a meaningthat stirred me with the strangest fancies. Andbefore another night was over I understood them!

Well, in fact and in deed, I was in love like manyanother good soldier, and long did I strive to find aspecific for the gentle malady, but when this mightnot be—why, I laughed!—the thing itself must needsbe borne; ’twas a common complaint, and no greatharm; when the war was over, I would get back toEngland, and, if the maid were still of the same wayof thinking—had I not stood a good many knocks andbuffets in the world?—a little ease would do me good.Ah! a very fair maid—a fair maid, indeed! And herdower some of the fattest land you could find in adozen shires!

Thus, schooling myself to think a due entertainmentof the malady were better than a churlish cure, I presentlydecided to write to the lady; for, I argued, ifto-morrow ends as we hope it may, why, the letter willbe a good word for a homeward traveling herocrowned with new-plucked bays; and if to-morrowsees me stiff and stark, down in yon black valley,among to-morrow’s silent ones, still ’twill be a meetparting, and I owe the maid a word or two of gentleness.I determined, therefore, to write to her at oncea scroll, not of love—for I was not ripe for that—butof compassion—of just those feelings that one has toanother when the spark of love trembles to thekindling but is not yet ablaze. And because I didnot know my own mind to any certainty, and becausethat youth Flamaucœur was both shrewd and witty—asready-witted and as nimble, indeed, with tongueand pen as though he were a woman—I determinedit should be he who should indite that epistle and easemy conscience of this duty which had grown to be sonear a pleasure.

I sent forthwith for Flamaucœur, and he came atonce, as was his wont, sheathed in comely steel fromneck to heel, his close-shut helm upon his head, butall weaponless as usual, save for a toy dagger athis side.

“Good friend,” I said, “you carry neither sword normace. That is not wise in such a camp as this, andwhile the Frenchman’s watchfires smoke upon theeastern sky. But, never mind, I will arm thee myselffor the moment. Here”—passing him the thingsa writer needs—“here is a little weapon wherewiththey say much mischief has been done at one timeor another in the world, and some sore wounds takenand given; wield it now for me in kinder sort, andwrite me the prettiest epistle thou canst—not too fullof harebrained love or the nonsense that minstrelsdeal in—but friendly, suave and gentle, courteous tomy lady-love!”

“To whom?” gasped Flamaucœur, stepping back apace.

“Par Dieu, boy!” I laughed. “I spoke plain enough!Why, thou consumèd dog in the manger, while thyown heart is confessedly in condition of eternal combustion,may not another knight even warm himselfby a spark of love without your glowering at him sobetween the bars of thine iron muzzle? Come! Whyshould not I love a maid as well as you—ah! and writeto her a farewell on the eve of battle?”

“Oh! write to whom you will, but I cannot—will not—helpyou”; and the youth, who knew nothing of myaffections, and to whom I had never spoken of awoman before, walked away to the tent door andlifting the flap, looked out over the dim French hills,seeming marvelous perturbed.

Poor lad, I thought to myself, how soft he is! Mylove reminds him of his own, and hence he fears totouch a lover pen. And yet he must. He can writetwice as ingenious, shrewd as I, and no one else coulddo this letter half so well. “Come, Flamaucœur! indeed,you must help me. If you are so sorry over yourown reflections, why, the more reason for lending methy help. We are companions in this pretty grief,and should render to each the help due between truebrothers in misfortune. I do assure you I have nearbroken a maiden heart back in England.”

“Perhaps she was unworthy of thy love—whyshould you write?”

“Unworthy! Gods! She was unhappy, she was unfortunate—butunworthy, never! Why, Flamaucœur,here, as I have been chewing the cud of reflection allthese days, I have begun to think she was the whitest,sweetest maid that ever breathed.”

“Some pampered, sickly jade, surely, Sir Knight,”murmured the young man in strange jealous-soundingtones whereof I could not fail to heed the bitterness;“let her by, she has forgotten thee mayhap, and takena new love—those pink-and-white ones were ever shallow!”

“Shallow! you wayward boy! By Hoth! had youseen our parting you would not have said so. Why,she wept and clung to me, although no words of lovehad ever been between us——”

“A jade, a wanton!” sobbed that strange figurethere by the shadowy tent-flap, whereon, flaming up,“God’s death!” I shouted, “younker, that goes too far!Curb thy infernal tongue, or neither thy greenness norunweaponed state shall save thee from my sword!”

“And I,” quoth Flamaucœur, stepping out beforeme—“I deride thy weapon—I will not turn one hair’sbreadth from it—here! point it here, to this heart,dammed and choked with a cruel affection! Oh! Iam wretched and miserable, and eager against all myinstincts for to-morrow’s horrors!”

Whereat that soft and silly youth turned his gorgetback upon me and leaned against the tent-pole mostdejectedly. And I was grieved for him, and spunmy angry brand into the farthest corner, and clappedhim on the shoulder, and cheered him as I might, andthen, half mindful to renounce my letter, yet askedhim once again.

“Come! thou art steadier now. Wilt thou finallywrite for me to my leman?”

“By every saint in Paradise,” groaned the unhappyFlamaucœur, “I will not!”

“What! not do me a favor and please thy old friend,Isobel of Oswaldston, at one and the same time?”

“Please whom?” shrieked Flamaucœur, starting likea frightened roe.

“Why, you incomprehensible boy, Isobel of Oswaldston,thy old playmate, Isobel. Surely I hadtold thee before it was of her I was thus newly enamored?”

What passed then within that steel casque I did notknow, though now I well can guess, but that slimgallant turned from me, and never a word he spoke.A gentle tremor shook him from head to heel, and Isaw the steel plates of his harness quiver with thethroes of his pent emotion, while the blue plumes uponhis helmet-top shook like aspen-leaves in the firstbreath of a storm, and over the bars of his cruel visorthere rippled a sigh such as surely could only havecome from deep down in a human heart.

All this perplexed me very much and made methoughtful, but before I could fashion my suspicions,Flamaucœur mastered his feelings, and came slowlyto the little table, and, saying in a shy, humble voice,wondrously altered, “I will write to thy maid!” drewoff his steel gauntlet and took up the pen. Thatsmooth, fine hand of his trembled a little as he spreadthe paper on the table, and then we began.

OUR CAMP BY THE SOMME.

August 24, 1376.

To the Excellent Lady Isobel of Oswaldston thisbrings greeting and salutation.

Madam: May it please you to accept the homage ofthe humblest soldier who serves with King Edward?

“That,” said Flamaucœur, stopping for a momentto sharpen his pen, “is not a very amorous beginning.”

“No,” I answered, “and I have a mind first only totell her how we fare. You see, good youth, our partingwas such she weeps in solitude, I expect, hopingnothing from me, and therefore, I would wish to breakmy amendment to her gently. Faith! she may bedying of love for aught I know, and the shock of afrank avowal of my new-awakened passion might turnher head.”

“Why yes, Sir Knight,” quoth my comrade, takinga fresh dip of ink, “or, on the other hand, she maynow be footing it to some gay measure on those polishedfloors we wot of, or playing hide-and-seek amongthe tapestries with certain merry gallants!”

“Jove! If I thought so!”

“Well, never mind. Get on with thy missive, andI will not interrupt again.”

After leaving your father’s castle, Madam, I fell inabout nightfall with that excellent youth, Flamaucœur,according to your Ladyship’s supposition. Wecrossed the narrow sea; and since, have scarcely hadtime to dine or sleep, or wipe down our weary chargers,or once to scour our red and rusty armor. Wejoined King Edward, Madam, just as his Highnessunfurled the lions and fleur de lys upon the greenslopes of the Seine, and thence, right up to the wallsof Paris, we scoured the country. We turned then,Queen of Tournaments, northward, toward Flanders.

At this Flamaucœur lay down his pen for a moment,and, heaving a sigh, exclaimed, “That ‘Queen of Tournaments’does not come well from thee, Sir Knight!Thou slighted this very girl once in the lists when theprize was on thy spear-point.”

“Par Dieu! and so I did. I had clean forgotten it!But how, in Heaven’s name, came you to know of that,who were not there?”

“Some one told me of it,” replied the boy, lookingaway from me, as though he were lying.

“Well, cross it out!”

“Not I! The maid already knows, no doubt, thefickleness of men, and this will surprise her no morethan to see a weatherco*ck go round when the winddoth change. Proceed!”

Heavily laden with booty, we turned toward Flanders.We gained two days ago the swelling banks ofthe Somme, and down this sluggish stream, takingwhat we listed as we went with the red license of ourrevengeful errand, we have struggled until here, fairlady. But each hour of this adventurous march hasseen us closer and more closely beset. The broadstream runs to north of us, the burgher levies ofAmiens are mustering thick upon our right and behind,Gods! so close, that now as this is penned theblack canopy of the night is all ruddy where his countlesswatchfires glimmer on the southern sky; behindus comes the pale respondent in this bloody suit thatwe are trying—Philip, who says that France is his bySalic law, and no rod of it, no foot or inch on this sideof the salt sea, ever can or shall be Edward’s. Andfor jurors, Madam, to the assize that will be held soshortly he has gathered from every corner of his vassalrealm a hundred thousand footmen and twenty thousandhorse; a score of perjured Princes make his falsequarrel doubly false by bearing witness to it, and here,to-morrow at the farthest, we do think, they will arraignus, and put this matter to the sharp adjustmentof the sword. Against that great host that threatensus we are but a handful, four thousand men at arms allnative to the English shires, ten thousand archers,as many light-armed Welshmen, and four thousandwild Irish.

“There!” I said with pride, as Flamaucœur’s busypen came to a stop—“There! she will know now howit goes with King Edward’s gallant English.”

“Why, yes, no doubt she may,” responded my friend;“but maids are more apt to be interested in the particularthan in the general. You have addressed herso far like the presiding captain of a warlike council.Is there nothing more to come?”

“Gads! that’s true enough! I have left out all thelove!”

“Yet that is what her hungry eyes will look forwhen her fingers untie this silk.”

“Why, then, take up your pen again and write thus:

‘And, Madam, to-morrow’s battle, if it comes, willbe no light affair. He who sends this to thee may, ereit reaches thy hand, be numbered among the thingsthat are past. Therefore he would also that all negligenceof his were purged by such atonement as hecan make, and all crudeness likewise amended. Andin particular he offers to thee, whose virtues and condescensionlate reflection have brought lively to hismind, his most dutiful and appreciative homage. You,who have so good a knowledge of his poor taste, willpardon his ineloquence, but he would say to thee, infact, that thy gentleness and worth were never soconscious to him as here to-night, when the red gleamof coming battle plays along the evening sky, and, ifhe wears no token in his helmet in to-morrow’s fray,’tis because he has none of thine.’

“There, boy! ’tis not what I meant to say—and veryhalting, yet she will guess its meaning. Dost thounot think so?”

“Guess its meaning! Oh, dear comrade, she willlive again and feed upon it—wake and sleep upon it,and wear it next her heart, just as I should were Ishe and you were he.”

“But it is so beggarly and poor expressed,” I said,with pleased humility.

“She will not think so,” cried Flamaucœur. “If Iknow aught of maids, she will think it the mostblessed vellum that ever was engrossed, she will likeits style better than the wretched culprit likes thestyle of the reprieve the steaming horseman flauntsbefore him. She’ll con each line and letter, and puncturethem with tears and kisses—thou hast had smallken of maids, I think, sweet soldier!”

“Well! well! It may be so. Do up the letter, sinceit will read so well, and put it in the way to be takenby the first messenger who sails for England. Thenwe will ride round the posts and see how near theFrenchman’s watchfires be. And so to sleep, goodfriend, and may the many-named Powers which sit onhigh wake us to a happy to-morrow!”

CHAPTER XV

A volume might well be written on what I mustcompress into this chapter. On the narrow canvasof these few pages must be outlined the crowded incidentsof that noble fight above Crecy, whereof yourhistorians know but half the truth, and these samelines, charged with the note of victory, full of the joyfulexultation of the mêlée and dear delight of hard-foughtcombat—these lines must, too, record my ownillimitable grief.

If while I write you should hear through my poorwords aught of the loud sound of conflict, if you catchaught of the meeting of two great hosts led on bykingly captains, if the proud neighing of the war-steedsmeet you through these heavy lines and youdiscern aught of the thunder of charging squadrons,aught of the singing wind that plays above a sea ofwaving plumes as the chivalry of two great nationsrush, like meeting waves, upon each other, so shallyou hear, amid all that joyful tumult, one other sound,one piercing shriek, wherefrom not endless scores ofseasons have cleared my ears.

Listen, then, to the humming bow-strings on theCrecy slopes—to the stinging hiss of the black rain ofEnglish arrows that kept those heights inviolable—tothe rattle of unnumbered spears, breaking like dryNovember reeds under the wild hog’s charging feet,as rank behind rank of English gentlemen rush on thefoe! Listen, I say, with me to the thunderous roarof France’s baffled host, wrecked by its own mightinesson the sharp edge of English valor, listen to thewild scream of hireling fear as Doria’s crossbowmensee the English pikes sweep down upon them; listento the thunder of proud Alençon sweeping round ourlines with every glittering peer in France behind him,himself in gemmy armor—a delusive star of victory,riding, revengeful, on the foremost crest of that wide,sparkling tide! Hear, if you can, all this, and wheremy powers fail, lend me the help of your bold Englishfancy.

It was a hard-fought day indeed! Hotly pursuedby the French King, numbering ourselves scarce thirtythousand men, while those behind us were four timesas many, we had fallen back down the green banks ofthe Somme, seeking in vain for a ford by which wemight pass to the farther shore. On this morning ofwhich I write so near was Philip and his vast arraythat our rearguard, as we retreated slowly towardthe north, saw the sheen of the spear-tops and thecolor on whole fields of banners, scarce a mile behindus. And every soldier knew that, unless we wouldfight at disadvantage, with the river at our backs, wemust cross it before the sun was above our heads.Swiftly our prickers scoured up and down the banks,and many a strong yeoman waded out, only to findthe hostile water broad and deep; and thus, all thatmorning, with the blare of Philip’s trumpets in ourears, we hunted about for a passage and could notfind it, the while the great glittering host came closingup upon us like a mighty crescent stormcloud—avast somber shadow, limned and edged with goldengleams.

At noon we halted in a hollow, and the King’s darkface was as stern as stern could be. And first heturned and scowled like a lion at bay upon the oncomingFrenchmen, and then upon the broad tidalflood that shut us in that trap. Even the young Princeat his right side scarce knew what to say; while theclustering nobles stroked their beards and frowned,and looked now upon the King and now upon thewater. The archers sat in idle groups down by thewillows, and the scouts stood idle on the hills. Truth,’twas a pause such as no soldier likes, but when it wasat the worst in came two men-at-arms dragging alonga reluctant peasant between them. They hauled himto the Sovereign, and then it was:

“Please your Mightiness, but this fellow knows aford, and for a handful of silver says he’ll tell it.”

“A handful of silver!” laughed the joyful King.“God! let him show us a place where we can cross, andwe will smother him with silver! On, good fellow!—theford! the ford! and come to us to-morrow morningand you shall find him who has been friend to Englandmay laugh henceforth at sulky Fortune!”

Away we went down the sunburnt, grassy slopes,and ere the sun had gone a hand-breadth to the westof his meridian a little hamlet came in sight upon thefarther shore, and, behind it a mile, pleasant ridgestrending up to woods and trees. Down by the hamletthe river ran loose and wide, and the ebbing stream(for it was near the sea) had just then laid bare thenew-wet, shingly flats, and as we looked upon them,with a shout that went from line to line, we recognizeddeliverance. So swift had been our coming that whenthe first dancing English plumes shone on the Augusthill-tops the women were still out washing clothesupon the stones, and when the English bowmen, allin King Edward’s livery, came brushing through thecopses, the kine were standing knee-deep about theshallows, and the little urchins, with noise and frolic,were bathing in the stream that presently ran deepand red with blood. And small maids were weavingchaplets among those meadows where kings andprinces soon lay dying, and tumbling in their playabout the sunny meads, little wotting of the crop theirfields would bear by evening, or the stern harvest tobe reaped from them before the moon got up.

We crossed; but an army does not cross like one,and before our rearward troops were over the Frenchvanguard was on the hill-tops we had just quitted,while the tide was flowing in strong again from theouter sea.

“Now, God be praised for this!” said King Edward,as he sat his charger and saw the strong salt watercome gushing in as the last man toiled through. “Thekind heavens smile upon our arms—see! they havegiven us a breathing space! You, good Sir AndrewKirkaby, who live by pleasant Sherwood, with a thousandarchers stand here among the willow bushes andkeep the ford for those few minutes till it will remain.Then, while Philip watches the gentle sea fill up thisfamous channel, and waits, as he must wait, upon hisopportunity, we will inland, and on yonder hill, by thegrace of God and sweet St. George, we will lay a supper-placefor him and his!”

So spoke the bold King, and turned his war-horse,and, with all his troops—seeming wondrous few bycomparison of the dusky swarms gathering behind us—rodenorth four hundred yards from Crecy. Hepitched upon a gentle ridge sloping down to a littlebrook, while at top was woody cover for the baggagetrain, and near by, on the right, a corn-mill on a swell.’Twas from that granary floor, sitting stern and watchful,his sword upon his knees, his impatient chargerarmed and ready at the door below, that the King satand watched the long battle.

Meanwhile, we strengthened the slopes. We dug atrench along the front and sides, and, with the glitterof the close foeman’s steel in our eyes, lopped theCrecy thickets. And, working in silence (while theFrenchman’s song and laughter came to us on thebreeze), set the palisades, and bound them close asa strong fence against charging squadrons, and piledour spears where they were handy, and put out thearchers’ arrows in goodly heaps. Jove! we worked asthough each man’s life depended on it, the Princeamong us, sweating at spade and axe, and then—itwas near four o’clock on that August afternoon—ahush fell upon both hosts, and we lay about and onlyspoke in whispers. And you could hear the kine lowingin the valley a mile beyond, and the lapwing callingfrom the new-shorn stubble, and the whimbrels onthe hill-tops, and the river fast emptying once again,now prattling to the distant sea. ’Twas a strangepause, a sullen, heavy silence, no longer than a scoreof minutes. And then, all in a second, a little page inthe yellow fern in front of me leaped to his feet, and,screaming in shrill treble that scared the feeding linnetsfrom the brambles, tossed his velvet cap uponthe wind and cried:

“They come! they come, St. George! St. George formerry England!”

And up we all sprang to our feet, and, while theproud shout of defiance ran thundering from end toend of our triple lines, a wondrous sight unfoldedbefore us. The vast array of France, stretching farto right and left and far behind, was loosed from itsroots, and coming on down the slope—a mighty frowningavalanche—upon us, a flowing, angry sea, wavebehind wave, of chief and mercenary—countless linesof spear and bowmen and endless ranks of men-at-armsbehind—an overwhelming flood that hid thecountry as it marched shot with the lurid gleam oflight upon its billows, and crested with the flutteringof endless flags that crowned each of those long linesof cheering foemen.

That tawny fringe there in front a furlong deep anddriven on by the host behind like the yellow runningspume upon the lip of a flowing tide was Genoesecrossbowmen, selling their mean carcasses to manurethe good Picardy soil for hireling pay. Far on theleft rode the grim Doria, laughing to see the littleband set out to meet his serried vassals, and, on theright, Grimaldi’s olive face scowled hatred and maliceat the hill where the English lay.

There, behind these tawny mercenaries in endlesswaves of steel, D’Alençon rode, waving his princelybaton, and marshaled as he came rank upon rank ofglittering chivalry—a fuming, foamy sea of spearsand helmets that flashed and glittered in the sun, andtossed and chafed, impatient of ignoble hesitance, andflowed in stately pride toward us, the white foam-streaksof twenty thousand plumed horsem*n showinglike breakers on a shallow sea, as that great force, tothe blare of trumpets, swept down.

And, as though all these were not enough to smotherour desperate valor even with the shadow of theirnumbers, behind the French chivalry again advanceda winding forest of spearmen stooping to the lie ofthe ground, and now rising and now falling like water-reedswhen the west wind plays among them. Underthat innumerable host, that stretched in dust and turmoiltwo long miles back to where the gray spires ofAbbeville were misty on the sky, the rasp of countlessfeet sounded in the still air like the rain falling on aleafy forest.

Never did such a horde set out before to crush adesperate band of raiders. And, that all the warlikeshow might not lack its head and consummation, betweentheir rearguard ranks came Philip, the vassalmonarch who held the mighty fiefs that Edward coveted.Lord! how he and his did shine and glint in thesunshine! How their flags did flutter and their heraldsblow as the resplendent group—a deep, strongring of peers and princes curveting in the flickeringshade of a score of mighty blazons—came over the hillcrest and rode out to the foremost line of battle andtook places there to see the English lion flayed. Witha mighty shout—a portentous roar from rear to frontwhich thundered along their van and died awayamong the host behind—the French heralded the entryof their King upon the field, and, with one fatal accord,the whole vast baying pack broke loose fromorder and restraint and came at us.

We stood aghast to see them. Fools! Madmen!They swept down to the river—a hundred thousandhorse and footmen bent upon one narrow passage—andrushed in, every chief and captain scrambling withhis neighbor to be first—troops, squadrons, ranks, alllost in one seething crowd—disordered, unwarlike.And thus—quivering and chaotic, heaving with thestress of its own vast bulk—under a hundred jealousleaders, the great army rushed upon us.

While they struggled thus, out galloped King Edwardto our front, bareheaded, his jeweled wardenstaff held in his mailed fist, and, riding down ourranks, and checking the wanton fire of that graycharger, which curveted and proudly bent his glossyneck in answer to our cheering, proud, calm-eyed, andhappy, King Edward spoke:

“My dear comrades and lieges linked with me inthis adventure—you, my gallant English peers, whoseshiny bucklers are the bright bulwarks of our throne,whose bold spirits and matchless constancy have madethis just quarrel possible—oh! well I know I need noturge you to that valor which is your native breath.Right well I know how true your hearts do beat undertheir steely panoply; and there is false Philip watchingyou, and here am I! Yonder, behind us, the graysea lies, and if we fall or fail it will be no broader forthem than ’tis for us. Stand firm to-day, then, dearfriends and cousins! Remember, every blow that’sstruck is struck for England, every foot you give ofthis fair hillside presages the giving of an ell of England.Remember, Philip’s hungry hordes, like raggedlurchers in the slip, are lean with waiting for yourpatrimonies. Remember all this, and stand as strongto-day for me as I and mine shall stand for you. Andyou, my trusty English yeomen,” said the soldier King—“youwhose strong limbs were grown in pleasantEngland—oh! show me here the mettle of those samepastures! God! when I do turn from yonder hirelingsea of shiny steel and mark how square your sturdyvalor stands unto it—how your clear English eyesdo look unfaltering into that yeasty flood of treachery—why,I would not one single braggart yonder the lessfor you to lop and drive; I would not have that broadbutt that Philip sets for us to shoot at the narrowerby one single coward tunic! Yonder, I say, ride thelank, lusty Frenchmen who thirst to reeve your acresand father to-morrow, if so they may, your waitingwives and children. To it, then, dear comrades—uponthem, for King Edward and for fair England’shonor! Strike home upon these braggart bullies whowould heir the lion’s den even while the lion lives;strike for St. George and England! And may Godjudge now ’tween them and us!”

As the King finished, five thousand English archerswent forward in a long gray line, and, getting intoshot of the first ranks of the enemy, drew out theirlong bows from their cowhide cases and set the bow-feetto the ground and bent and strung them; andthen it would have done you good to see the glintof the sunshine on the hail of arrows that swept thehillside and plunged into those seething ranks below.The close-massed foemen writhed and winced underthat remorseless storm. The Genoese in front haltedand slung their crossbows, and fired whole sheaves ofbolts upon us, that fell as stingless as reed javelins ona village green, for a passing rainstorm had wet theirbowstrings and the slack sinews scarce sent a boltinside our fences, while every shaft we sped plungeddeep and fatal. Loud laughed the English archersat this, and plied their biting flights of arrows withfierce energy; and, all in wild confusion, the mercenariesyelled and screamed and pulled their ineffectualweapons, and, stern shut off from advanceby the flying rain of good gray shafts, and crushedfrom behind by the crowding throng, tossed in wildconfusion, and broke and fled.

Then did I see a sight to spoil a soldier’s dreams.As the coward bowmen fell back, the men-at-armsbehind them, wroth to be so long shut off the foe, andpressed in turn by the troops in rear, fell on them,and there, under our eyes, we saw the first rank ofPhilip’s splendid host at war with the second; we sawthe billmen of fair Bascquerard and Bruneval lopdown the olive mercenaries from Roquemaure and thecities of the midland sea; we saw the savage Genoesefalcons rip open the gay livery of Lyons and Bayonne,and all the while our shafts rained thick and fastamong them, and men fell dead by scores in thathideous turmoil—and none could tell whether ’twasfriends or foes that slew them.

A wonderful day, indeed; but hard was the fightingere it was done. My poor pen fails before all thecrowded incident that comes before me, all the splendidepisodes of a stirring combat, all the glitter andjoy and misery, the proud exultation of that Augustmorning and the black chagrin of its evening. Truth!But you must take as said a hundred times as muchas I can tell you, and line continually my bare suggestionswith your generous understanding.

Well, though our archers stood the first brunt, theday was not left all to them. Soon the French footmen,thirsting for vengeance, had overriden and trampledupon their Genoese allies, and came at us up theslope, driving back our skirmishers as the white squalldrives the wheeling seamews before it, and surgedagainst our palisades, and came tossing and glintingdown upon our halberdiers. The loud English cheerechoed the wild yelling of the Southerners: bill andpike, and sword and mace and dagger sent up a thunderousroar all down our front, while overhead thepennons gleamed in the dusty sunlight, and the carrioncrows wheeled and laughed with hungry pleasureabove that surging line. Gods! ’twas a good shock,and the crimson blood went smoking down to therivulets, and the savage scream of battle went upinto the sky as that long front of ours, locked fast inthe burnished arms of France, heaved and strove, andbent now this way and now that, like some strong,well-matched wrestlers.

A good shock indeed! A wild tremendous scene ofconfusion there on the long grass of that autumn hill,with the dark woods behind on the ridge, and, downin front, the babbling river and the smoking housesof the ruined village. So vast was the extent ofPhilip’s array that at times we saw it extend far toright and left of us; and so deep was it, that we whobattled amid the thunder of its front could hear amile back to their rear the angry hum of rage anddisappointment as the chaotic troops, in the bitternessof the spreading confusion, struggled blindly to comeat us. Their very number was our salvation. Thathalf of the great army which had safely crossed thestream lay along outside our palisades like some splendid,writhing, helpless monster, and the long swell oftheir dead-locked masses, the long writhe of their fatalconfusion, you could see heaving that glittering tidelike the golden pulse of a summer sea pent up in acrescent shore. And we were that shore! Allalong our front the stout, unblenching Englishyeomen stood to it—the white English tunic wasbreast to breast with the leathern kirtles ofGenoa and Turin. Before the frightful blowsof those stalwart pikemen the yellow mail of the gaytroopers of Châteauroux and Besaçon crackled likedry December leaves; the rugged boar-skins on thewide shoulders of Vosges peasants were less protectionagainst their fiery thrust than a thickness oflady’s lawn. Down they lopped them, one and all,those strong, good English hedgemen, till our bloodyfoss was full—full of olive mercenaries from Tarasconand Arles—full of writhing Bisc and hideous screamingGenoese. And still we slew them, shoulder toshoulder, foot to foot, and still they swarmed againstus, while we piled knight and vassal, serf and master,princeling and slave, all into that ditch in front. Thefair young boy and gray-bearded sire, the freeman andthe serf, the living and the dead, all went down together,till a broad rampart stretched along our swinging,shouting front, and the glittering might of Francesurged up to that human dam and broke upon it likethe futile waves, and went to pieces, and fell backunder the curling yellow stormcloud of mid-battle.

Meanwhile, on right and left, the day was fiercelyfought. Far upon the one hand the wild Irish kernswere repelling all the efforts of Beaupreau’s light footmen,and pulling down the gay horsem*n of fairBourges by the distant Loire. Three times thosesquadrons were all among them, and three timesthe wild red sons of Shannon and the dim Atlantichills fell on them like the wolves of their own ruggedglens, and hamstrung the sleek Southern chargers,and lopped the fallen riders, and repelled each desperateforay, making war doubly hideous with theirclamor and the bloody scenes of butchery that befellamong their prisoners after each onset.

And, on the other crescent of our battle, my dear,tuneful, licentious Welshmen were out upon the slope,driving off with their native ardor one and all thatcame against them, and, worked up to a fine fury bytheir chanting minstrels, whose shrill piping cameever and anon upon the wind, they pressed the Southernershard, and again and again drove them downthe hill—a good, a gallant crew that I have ever liked,with half a dozen vices and a score of virtues! Ihad charged by them one time in the day, and, canteringback with my troop behind their ranks, I saw ayoung Welsh chieftain on a rock beside himself withvalor and battle. He was leaping and shouting asnone but a Welshman could or would, and beatinghis sword upon his round Cymric shield, the while heyelled to his fighting vassals below a fierce old Britishbattle song. Oh! it was very strange for me, pent inthat shining Plantagenet mail, to listen to those wild,hot words of scorn and hatred—I who had heard thosewords so often when the ancestors of that chantingboy were not begotten—I who had heard those fieryverses sung in the red confusion of forgotten wars—Iwho could not help pulling a rein a moment as thatsong of exultation, full of words and phrases none butI could fully understand, swelled up through theeddying war-dust over the Welshmen’s reeling line.I, so strong and young; I, who yet was more ancientthan the singer’s vaguest traditions—I stopped a momentand listened to him, full of remembrance andsad wonder, while the pæan-dirge of victory and deathswelled to the sky over the clamor of the combat.And then—as a mavis drops into the covert when hismorning song is done—the Welshman finished, and,mad with the wine of battle, leaped straight into thetossing sea below, and was engulfed and swallowedup like a white spume-flake on the bosom of a wave.

For three long hours the battle raged from east towest, and men fought foot to foot and hand to hand,and ’twas stab and hack and thrust, and the poundingof ownerless horses and the wail of dying men,and the husky cries of captains, and the interminableclash of steel on steel, so that no man could see allthe fight at once, save the good King alone, who satback there at his vantage-point. It was all this, Isay; and then, about seven in the afternoon, when thesun was near his setting, it seemed, all in a second, asthough the whole west were in a glow, and there wasLord Alençon sweeping down upon our right with thesplendid array of Philip’s chivalry, their pennonsa-dance above and their endless ranks of spears inserried ranks below. There was no time to think, itseemed. A wild shout of fear and wonder went upfrom the English host. Our reserves were turned tomeet the new danger; the archers poured their gray-gooseshafts upon the thundering squadrons; princesand peers and knights were littered on the road thatbrilliant host was treading—and then they wereamong the English yeomen with a frightful crash offlesh and blood and horse and steel that drowned allother sound of battle with its cruel import! Jove!What strong stuff the English valor is! Those goodSaxon countrymen, sure in the confidence of our greatbrotherhood, kept their line under that hideous shockas though each fought for a crown, and, shoulder toshoulder and hand to hand, an impenetrable livingwall derided the terrors of the golden torrent thatburst upon them. Happy King to yield such stuff—thrice-happycountry that can rear it! In vain waveupon wave burst upon those hardy islanders, in vainthe stern voice of Alençon sent rank after rank ofproud lords and courtly gallants upon those ruggedEnglish husbandmen—they would not move, and whenthey would not the Frenchmen hesitated.

’Twas our moment! I had had my leave just thennew from the King, and did not need it twice. I sawthe great front of French cavalry heaving slow uponour hither face, galled by the arrow-rain that neverceased, and irresolute whether to come on once againor go back, and I turned to the cohort of my dear veterans.I do not know what I said, the voice camethick and husky in my throat, I could but wave myiron mace above my head and point to the Frenchmen.And then all those good gray spears went down asthough ’twere one hand that lowered them, and allthe chargers moved at once. I led them round theEnglish front, and there, clapping spurs to our readycoursers’ flanks, five hundred of us, knit close together,with one heart beating one measure, shot outinto array, and, sweeping across the slope, chargedboldly ten thousand Frenchmen!

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (10)

Five hundred of us charged boldly ten thousand Frenchmen!

We raced across the Crecy slope, drinking the fiercewine of expectant conflict with every breath, ourstraining chargers thundering in tumultuous rhythmover the short space between, and, in another minute,we broke upon the foemen. Bravely they met us.They turned when we were two hundred paces distant,and advancing with their silken fleur de lys, andpricking up their chargers, weary with pursuit andbattle, they came at us as you will see a rock-thwartedwave run angry back to meet another strong incomingsurge. And as those two waves meet, and toss andleap together, and dash their strength into each other,the while the white spume flies away behind them,and, with thunderous arrogance, the stronger burststhrough the other and goes streaming on triumphantthrough all the white boil and litter of the fight, sofell we on those princelings. ’Twas just a blindingcrash, the coming together of two great walls of steel!I felt I was being lifted like a dry leaf on the summitof that tremendous conjunction, and I could but plymy mace blindly on those glittering casques that shoneall round me, and, I now remember, cracked underits meteor sweep like ripe nuts under an urchin’shammer. So dense were the first moments of thatshock of chivalry that even our horses fought. I sawmy own charger rip open the glossy neck of anotherthat bore a Frenchman; and near by—though Ithought naught of it then—a great black Flemish stallion,mad with battle, had a wounded soldier in itsteeth, and was worrying and shaking him as a lurcherworries a screaming leveret. So dense was the throngwe scarce could ply our weapons, and one dead knightfell right athwart my saddle-bow; and a flying hand,lopped by some mighty blow, still grasping the hilt ofa broken blade, struck me on the helm; the warm redblood spurting from a headless trunk half blinded me—and,all the time, overhead the French lilies keptstooping at the English lion, and now one went downand then the other, and the roar of the host went upinto the sky, and the dust and turmoil, the savage uproar,the unheard, unpitied shriek of misery and thecruel exultation of the victor, and then—how soon Iknow not—we were traveling!

Ah! by the great God of battles, we were moving—andforward—the mottled ground was slipping by us—andthe French were giving! I rose in my stirrups,and, hoarse as any raven that ever dipped a blackwing in the crimson pools of battle, shouted to myveterans. It did not need! I had fought least wellof any in that grim company, and now, with one accord,we pushed the foeman hard. We saw the greatroan Flanders jennets slide back upon their haunches,and slip and plunge in the purple quagmire we hadmade, and then—each like a good ship well freighted—lurchand go down, and we stamped beribbonedhorse and jeweled rider alike into the red frothymarsh under our hoofs. And the fleur de lys sank,and the silver roe of Mayenne, proud Montereau’sazure falcon, and the white crescent of Donzenac wentdown, and Bernay’s yellow cornsheaf and Sarreburg’sgolden blazon, with many another gaudy pennon, andthen, somehow, the foemen broke and dissolved beforeour heavy, foam-streaked chargers, and, as we gaspedhot breath through our close helmet-bars, there camea clear space before us, with flying horsem*n scouringoff on every hand.

The day was wellnigh won, and I could see that farto left the English yeomen were driving the scatteredclouds of Philip’s footmen pell-mell down the hill, andthen we went again after his horsem*n, who weregathering sullenly upon the lower slopes. Over thegrass we scoured like a brown whirlwind, and in aminute were all among the French lordlings. Anddown they went, horse and foot, riders and banners,crowding and crushing each other in a confusion terribleto behold, now suffering even more from theirown chaos than from our lances. Jove! brother trodbrother down that day, and comrade lay heaped onliving comrade under that red confusion. The pennons—suchas had outlived the storm so far—wereall entangled sheaves, and sank, whole stocks at once,into the floundering sea below. And kings and princes,hinds and yeomen, gasped and choked and gloweredat us, so fast-locked in the deadly wedge that wentslowly roaring back before our fiery onsets, they couldnot move an arm or foot!

The tale is nearly told. Everywhere the Englishwere victorious, and the Frenchmen fell in wild dismaybefore them. Many a bold attempt they made toturn the tide, and many a desperate sally and gallantstand the fading daylight witnessed. The old King ofBohemia, to whom daylight and night were all as one,with fifty knights, their reins knotted fast together,charged us, and died, one and all, like the good soldiersthat they were. And Philip, over yonder, wrunghis white hands and pawned his revenue in vows tothe unmoved saints; and the soft, braggart peers thatcrowded round him gnawed their lips and frowned,and looked first at the ruined, smoldering fight, thenback—far back—to where, in the south, friendly eveningwas already holding out to them the dusky coverof the coming night. It was a good day indeed, andmay England at her need ever fight so well!

Would that I might in this truthful chronicle haveturned to other things while the long roar of exultationgoes up from famous Crecy and the strong wineof well-deserved victory filled my heart! Alas! thereis that to tell which mars the tale and dims the shineof conquest.

Already thirty thousand Frenchmen were slain, andthe long swathes lay all across the swelling groundlike the black rims of weed when the sea goes back.Only here and there the battle still went on, wheregroups and knots of men were fighting, and I, withmy good comrade Flamaucœur, now, at sunset, wasin such a mêlée on the right. All through the day hehad been like a shadow to me—and shame that I havesaid so little of it! Where I went there he was, flittingin his close gray armor close behind me; quick,watchful, faithful, all through the turmoil and dustywar-mist; escaping, Heaven knows how, a thousanddangers; riding his light war-horse down the bloodylanes of war as he ever rode it, as if they two wereone; gentle, retiring, more expert in parrying thrustand blow than in giving—that dear friend of mine,with a heart made stout by consuming love againstall its native fears, had followed me.

And now the spent battle went smoldering out, andwe there thought ’twas all extinguished, when, all ona sudden—I tell it less briefly than it happened—adesperate band of foemen bore down on us, and, aswe joined, my charger took a hurt, and went crashingover, and threw me full into the rank tangle of theunder fight. Thereon the yeomen, seeing me fall, setup a cry, and, with a rush, bore the Frenchmen fourspear-lengths back, and lifted me, unhurt, from thelittered ground. They gave me a sword, and, as Iturned, from the foemen’s ranks, waving a beamysword, plumed by a towering crest of nodding feathersand covered by a mighty shield, a gigantic warriorstepped out. Hoth! I can see him now, mad withdefeat and shame, striding on foot toward us—a giantin glittering, pearly armor, that shone and glitteredas the last rays of the level sun against the blackbacking of the evening sky, as though its wearer hadbeen the Archangel Gabriel himself! It did not needto look upon him twice: ’twas the Lord High Constableof France himself—the best swordsman, thesternest soldier, and the brightest star of chivalryin the whole French firmament. And if that noblepeer was hot for fight, no less was I. Stung by myfall, and glorying in such a foeman, I ran to meet him,and there, in a little open space, while our soldiersleaned idly on their weapons and watched, we fought.The first swoop of the great Constable’s hummingfalchion lit slanting on my shield and shore my crest.Then I let out, and the blow fell on his shield, andsent the giant staggering back, and chipped the prettyquarterings of a hundred ancestors from that gildedtarget. At it again we went, and round and round,raining our thunderous blows upon each other withnoise like boulders crashing down a mountain valley.I did not think there was a man within the four seaswho could have stood against me so long as that fierceand bulky Frenchman did. For a long time we foughtso hard and stubborn that the blood-miry soil wasstamped into a circle where we went round and round,raining our blows so strong, quick, and heavy that theair was full of tumult, and glaring at each other overour morion bars, while our burnished scales and linksflew from us at every deadly contact, and the hotbreath steamed into the air, and the warm, smartingblood crept from between our jointed harness. Yetneither would bate a jot, but, with fiery hearts andheaving breasts and pain-bursting muscles, kept to it,and stamped round and round those grimy, steaminglists, redoubtable, indomitable, and mad with the lustof killing.

And then—Jove! how near spent I was!—the greatConstable, on a sudden, threw away his many-quarteredshield, and, whirling up his sword with bothhands high above his head, aimed a frightful blow atme. No mortal blade or shield or helmet could havewithstood that mighty stroke! I did not try, but, asit fell, stepped nimbly back—’twas a good Saxon trick,learned in the distant time—and then, as the falchion-pointburied itself a foot deep in the ground, and thegiant staggered forward, I flew at him like a wild cat,and through the close helmet-bars, through teeth andskull and the three-fold solid brass behind, thrust mysword so straight and fiercely, the smoking point cametwo feet out beyond his nape, and, with a lurch andcry, the great peer tottered and fell dead before me.

Now comes that thing to which all other things arelittle, the fellest gleam of angry steel of all the steelthat had shone since noon, the cruelest stab of tenthousand stabs, the bitterest cry of any that hadmarred the full yellow circle of that August day! Ihad dropped on one knee by the champion, and, takinghis hand, had loosed his visor, and shouted to twomonks, who were pattering with bare feet about thefield (for, indeed, I was sorry, if perchance any sparkof life remained, so brave a knight should die unshrivento his contentment), and thus was forgottenfor the moment the fight, the confronting rows offoemen, and how near I was to those who had seentheir great captain fall by my hands. Miserable, accursedoversight! I had not knelt by my fallen enemya moment, when suddenly my men set up a cry behindme, there was a rush of hoofs, and, ere I could regainmy feet or snatch my sword or shield, a great blackFrench rider, like a shadowy fury dropped from thesullen evening sky, his plumes all streaming behindhim, his head low down between his horse’s ears, andhis long blue spear in rest, was thundering in midcareer against me not a dozen paces distant. As Iam a soldier, and have lived many ages by my sword,that charge must have been fatal. And would thatit had been! How can I write it? Even as I startedto my feet, before I could lift a brand or offer onelight parry to that swift, keen point, the horsemanwas upon me. And as he closed, as that great vengeance-driventower of steel and flesh loomed aboveme, there was a scream—a wild scream of fear andlove—(and I clap my hands to my ears now, centuriesafterward, to deaden the undying vibrations of thatsound)—and Flamaucœur had thrown himself ’tweenme and the spear-point, had taken it, fenceless, unwarded,full in his side, and I saw the cruel shaftbreak off short by his mail as those four, both horsesand both riders, went headlong to the ground.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (11)

Flamaucœur had taken it full in his side

Up rose the English with an angry shout, and sweptpast us, killing the black champion as they went, anddriving the French before them far down into thevalley. Then ran I to my dear comrade, and kneltand lifted him against my knee. He had swooned,and I groaned in bitterness and fear when I saw thestrong red tide that was pulsing from his wound andquilting his bright English armor. With quick, nervousfingers—bursting such rivets as would not yield,all forgetful of his secret, and that I had never seenhim unhelmed before—I unloosed his casque, and thengently drew it from his head.

With a cry I dropped the great helm, and wellnighlet even my fair burden fall, for there, against myknee, her white, sweet face against my iron bosom,her fair yellow hair, that had been coiled in theemptiness of her helmet, all adrift about us, those dearcurled lips that had smiled so tender and indulgent onme, her gentle life ebbing from her at every throe, wasnot Flamaucœur, the unknown knight, the foolish andlovesick boy, but that wayward, luckless girl Isobelof Oswaldston herself!

And if I had been sorry for my companion in arms,think how the pent grief and surprise filled my heart,as there, dying gently in my arms, was the fair girlwhom, by a tardy, late-born love, new sprung into myempty heart, I had come to look upon as the point ofmy lonely world, my fair heritage in an empty epoch,for the asking!

Soon she moved a little, and sighed, and looked upstraight into my eyes. As she did so the color burntfor a moment with a pale glow in her cheeks, and Ifelt the tremor of her body as she knew her secretwas a secret no longer. She lay there bleeding andgasping painfully upon my breast, and then she smiledand pulled my plumed head down to her and whispered:

“You are not angry?”

Angry? Gods! My heart was heavier than it hadbeen all that day of dint and carnage, and my eyeswere dim and my lips were dry with a knowledge ofthe coming grief as I bent and kissed her. She tookthe kiss unresisting, as though it were her right, andgasped again:

“And you understand now all—everything? Why Iransomed the French maiden? Why I would not writefor thee to thy unknown mistress?”

“I know—I know, sweet girl!”

“And you bear no ill-thought of me?”

“The great Heaven you believe in be my witness,sweet Isobel! I love you, and know of nothing else!”

She lay back upon me, seeming to sleep for a momentor two, then started up and clapped her handsto her ears, as if to shut out the sound of bygonebattle that no doubt was still thundering throughthem, then swooned again, while I bent in sorrowover her and tried in vain to soothe and stanch thegreat wound that was draining out her gentle life.

She lay so still and white that I thought she werealready dead; but presently, with a gasp, her eyesopened, and she looked wistfully to where the westernsky was hanging pale over the narrow English sea.

“How far to England, dear friend?”

“A few leagues of land and water, sweet maid!”

“Could I reach it, dost thou think?” But then, onan instant, shaking her head, she went on: “Nay, donot answer; I was foolish to ask. Oh! dearest, dearestsister Alianora! My father—my gentlest father!Oh! tell them, Sir, from me—and beg them to forgive!”And she lay back white upon my shoulder.

She lay, breathing slow, upon me for a spell, then,on a sudden, her fair fingers tightened in my mailedhand, and she signed that she would speak again.

“Remember that I loved thee!” whispered Isobel,and, with those last words, the yellow head fell backupon my shoulder, the blue eyes wavered and sank,and her spirit fled.

Back by the lines of gleeful shouting troops—backby where the laughing English knights, with visorsup, were talking of the day’s achievements—back bywhere the proud King, hand in hand with his braveboy, was thanking the south English yeomen for Crecyand another kingdom—back by where the champing,foamy chargers were picketed in rows—back by theknots of archers, all, like honest workmen, wipingdown their unstrung bows—back by groups of sullenprisoners and gaudy heaps of captured pennons, wepassed.

In front four good yeomen bore Isobel upon theirtrestled spears; then came I, bareheaded—I, kinsmanless,to her in all that camp the only kin; and thenour drooping chargers, empty-saddled, led by youngsquires behind, and seeming—good beasts!—to sniffand scent the sorrow of that fair burden on ahead.So we went through the victorious camp to our lodgment,and there they placed Isobel on her bare soldiercouch, her feet to the door of her soldier tent, andleft us.

CHAPTER XVI

Unwashed, unfed, my dinted armor on me still—battle-stainedand rent—unhelmeted, ungloved, my swordand scabbard cast by my hollow shield in a darkcorner of the tent, I watched, tearless and stern, allthat night by the bier of the pale white girl who hadgiven so much for me and taken so poor a reward. I,who, so fanciful and wayward, had thought I mightsafely toy with the sweet tender of her affection—sprunghow or why I knew not—and take or leaveit as seemed best to my convenience, brooded, all thelong black watch, over that gentle broken vessel thatlay there white and still before me, alike indifferentto gifts or giving. And now and then I would startup from the stool I had drawn near to her, and pace,with bent head and folded arms, the narrow space,remembering how warm the rising tide of love hadbeen flowing in my heart for that fair dead thing soshort a time before. “So short a time before!” Why,it was but yesterday that she wrote for me that missiveto herself: and I, fool and blind, could not readthe light that shone behind those gray visor-bars asshe penned the lines, or translate the tremor thatshook that sweet scribe’s fingers, or recognize theheave of the maiden bosom under its steel and silk!I groaned in shame and grief, and bent over her, thinkinghow dear things might have been had they beenotherwise, and loving her no whit the less becauseshe was so cold, immovable, saying I know not whatinto her listless ear, and nourishing in loneliness andsolitude, all those long hours, the black flower of thelove that was alight too late in my heart.

I would not eat or rest, though my dinted armorwas heavy as lead upon my spent and weary limbs—thoughthe leather jerkin under that was stiff withblood and sweat, and opened my bleeding woundseach time I moved. I would not be eased of one singlesmart, I thought—let the cursed seams and gashessting and bite, and my hot flesh burn beneath them!mayhap ’twould ease the bitter anger of my mind—andI repulsed all those who came with kind or curiouseyes to the tent door, and would not hear of ease orconsolation. Even the King came down, and, in respectto that which was within, dismounted and stoodlike a simple knight without, asking if he might seeme. But I would not share my sorrow with any one,and sent the page who brought me word that theKing was standing in the porch to tell him so; and,accomplished in courtesy as in war, the victoriousmonarch bent his head, and mounted, and rode silentlyback to his own lodging.

The gay gallants who had known me came on thewhisper of the camp one by one (though all werehungry and weary), and lifted the flap a little, andsaid something such as they could think of, and peeredat me, grimly repellent, in the shadows, and peepedcuriously at that fair white soldier lain on the trestlesin her knightly gear so straight and trim, and wentaway without daring to approach more nearly. Myveterans clipped their jolly soldier-songs, though theyhad well deserved them, and took their suppers silentlyby the flickering camp-fire. Once they sent himamong them that I was known to like the best withfood and wine and clean linen, but I would not haveit, and the good soldier put them down on one sideof the door and went back as gladly as he who retreatsskin-whole from the cave where a bear keepswatch and ward. Last of all there came the fall ofquieter feet upon the ground, and, in place of theclank of soldier harness, the rattle of the beads ofrosaries and cross; and, looking out, there was theKing’s own chaplain, bareheaded, and three grayfriars behind him. I needed ghostly comfort just thenas little as I needed temporal, and at first I thoughtto repulse them surlily; but, reflecting that the maidhad ever been devout and held such men as these inhigh esteem, I suffered them to enter, and stood backwhile they did by her the ceremonial of their office.They made all smooth and fair about, and lit candlesat her feet and gave her a crucifix, and sprinkledwater, and knelt, throwing their great black shadowsathwart the white shrine of my dear companion, thewhile they told their beads and the chaplain prayed.When they had done, the priest rose and touched meon the arm.

“Son,” he said, “the King has given an earl’s ransomto be expended in masses for thy leman’s soul.”

“Father,” I replied, “tender the King my thanks forwhat was well meant and as princely generous asbecomes him. But tell him all the prayers thy conventcould count from now till the great ending wouldnot bleach this white maid’s soul an atom whiter.Earn your ransom if you will, but not here; leave meto my sorrow.”

“I will give your answer, soldier; but these holybrothers—the King wished it—must stay and shareyour vigil until the morning. It is their profession;their prayerful presence can ward off the spirits ofdarkness; weariness never sits on their eyes as it sitsnow on thine. Let them stay with thee; it is onlyfit.”

“Not for another ransom, priest! I will not brooktheir confederate tears—I will not wing this fair girl’ssoul with their hireling prayers—out, good fellows,my mood is wondrous short, and I would not willingdo that which to-morrow I might repent of.”

“But, brother——” said one monk, gently.

“Hence—hence! I have no brothers—go! Can youlook on me here in this extremity, can you see myhacked and bleeding harness, and the shine of bittergrief in my eyes, and stand pattering there of prayersand sympathy? Out! Out! or by every lying relicin thy cloisters I add some other saints to thy chapterrolls!”

They went, and as the tent-flap dropped behindthem and the sound of their sandaled feet died softlyaway into the gathering night, I turned sorrowful andsad to my watch. I drew a stool to the maiden bier,and sat and took her hand, so white and smooth andcold, and looked at the fair young face that death hadmade so passionless—that sweet mirror upon which,the last time we had been together in happiness, therosy light of love was shining and sweet presumptionand maiden shame were striving. And as I lookedand held her hand the dim tent-walls fell away, andthe painted lists rose up before me, and the litteredflowers my quick, curveting charger stamped into theearth, and the blare of the heralds’ trumpets, the flutterof the ribbons and the gay tires of brave lords andfair ladies all centered round the daïs where thosetwo fair sisters sat. Gods! was that long sigh thenight-wind circling about my tent-flap or in truth thesigh of slighted Isobel, as I rode past her chair withthe victor’s circlet on my spear-point and laid it atthe footstool of her sister?

I bent over that fair white corpse, so sick in mindand body that all the real was unreal and all the unrealtrue. I saw the painted pageantry of her father’shall again and the colored reflections of the blazonedwindows on the polished corridors shine upon ourdim and sandy floor, and down the long vistas of myaching memory the groups of men and women movedin a motley harmony of color—a fair shifting mosaicof pattern and hue and light that radiated and cameback ever to those two fair English girls. I heard therippling laughter on courtly lips, the whispered jestof gallants, and the thoughtless glee of damsels. Iheard the hum and smooth praise that circled roundthe black elder sister’s chair, and at my elbow thefather, saying, “My daughter; my daughter Isobel!”and started up, to find myself alone, and that sweethorrid thing there in the low flickering taper-lightunmoved, unmovable.

I sat again, and presently the wavering shadowsspread out into the likeness of great cedar branchescasting their dusky shelter over the soft, sweet-scentedground; and, as the hushed air swayed to and frothose great velvet screens, Isobel stepped from them,all in white, and ran to me, and stopped, and clappedher hands before her eyes and on her throbbing bosom—thenstretched those trembling fingers, beseechinglyto me fresh from that sweet companionship—thendown upon her knees and clipped me round with herfair white arms and turned back her head and lookedupon me with wild, wet, yearning eyes and cheeks thatburned for love and shame. I would not have it; Ilaughed with the bitter mockingness of one possessedby another love, and unwound those ivory bonds andpushed the fair maid back, and there against thedusk of leaf and branch she stood and wrung herfingers and beat her breast and spoke so sweet andpassionate, that even my icy mood half thawed underthe white light of her reckless love, and I let hertake my hand and hold and rain hot kisses on it andwarm pattering tears, till all the strength was runningfrom me, and I half turned and my fingers closed onhers—but, gods! how cold they were! And with astifled cry I woke again in the little tent, to find myhand fast locked in the icy fingers of the dead.

It was a long, weary night, and, sad as was mywatch and hectic as the visions which swept throughmy heavy head, I would not quicken by one willinghour of sleep the sad duties of that gray to-morrowwhich I knew must come. At times I sat and staredinto the yellow tapers, living the brief spell of mylast life again—all the episode and change, all thehurry and glitter, and unrest that was forever myportion—and then, in spite of resolution, I would dozeto other visions, outlined more brightly on the blackbackground of oblivion; and then I started up, mywill all at war with tired Nature’s sweet insistence,and paced in weary round our canvas cell, solitary butfor those teeming thoughts and my own black shadow,which stalked, sullen and slow, ever beside me.

But who can deride the great mother for long?’Twas sleep I needed, and she would have it; and so itcame presently upon my heavy eyelids—strong, deepsleep as black and silent as the abyss of the netherworld. My head sank upon my arm, my arm uponthe foot of the velvet bier, and there, in my mail,under the thin taper-light, worn out with battle andgrief, I slept.

I know not how long it was, some hours most likely,but after a time the strangest feeling took possessionof me in that slumber, and a fine ethereal terror,purged of gross material fear, possessed my spirit. Iawoke—not with the pleasant drowsiness which marksrefreshment, but wide and staring, and my blackPhrygian hair, without the cause of sight or sound,stood stiff upon my head, for something was movingin the silent tent.

I glared around, yet nothing could be seen: thelights were low in their sockets, but all else was inorder: my piled shield and helmet lay there in theshadows, our warlike implements and gear were allas I had seen them last, no noise or vision broke theblank, and yet—and yet—a coward chill sat on me,for here and there was moving something unseen, unheard,unfelt by outer senses. I rose, and, fearful andyet angry to be cowed by a dreadful nothing, staredinto every corner and shadow, but naught was there.Then I lifted a dim taper, and held it over the face ofthe dead girl and stared amazed! Were it given tomortals to die twice, that girl had! But a short timebefore and her sweet face had worn the reflection ofthat dreadful day: there was a pallid fright and painupon it we could not smooth away, and now somewonderful strange thing had surely happened, andall the unrest was gone, all the pained dissatisfactionand frightened wonder. The maid was still andsmooth and happy-looking. Hoth! as I bent over hershe looked just as one might look who reads arightsome long enigma and finds relief with a sigh fromsome hard problem. She slept so wondrous still andquiet, and looked so marvelous fair now, and contented,that it purged my fear, and, strong in that fairpresence—how could I be else?—I sat, and after atime, though you may wonder at it, I slept again.

I dozed and dozed and dozed, in happy forgetfulnessof the present while the black night wore on to morning,and the last faint flushes of the priestly tapersplayed softly in their sockets; and then again I startedup with every nerve within me thrilling, my clenchedfists on my knees, and my wide eyes glaring into themid gloom, for that strange nothing was movinggently once more about us, fanning me, it seemed,with the rhythmed swing of unseen draperies, circlingin soft cadenced circles here and there, mute, voiceless,presenceless, and yet so real and tangible to someunknown inner sense that hailed it from within methat I could almost say that now ’twas here and now’twas there, and locate it with trembling finger,although, in truth, nothing moved or stirred.

I looked at the maid. She was as she had been;then into every dusky place and corner, but nothingshowed; then rose and walked to the tent-flap andlifted it and looked out. Down in the long valley belowthe somber shadows were seamed by the windingof the pale river; and all away on the low meadows,piled thick and deep with the black mounds of deadfoemen, the pale marsh lights were playing amid thecorpses—leaping in ghostly fantasy from rank to rank,and heap to heap, coalescing, separating, shining, vanishing,all in the unbroken twilight silence. Andthose somber fields below were tapestried with thethin wisps of white mist that lay in the hollows, andwere shredded out into weird shapes and forms overthe black bosom of the near-spent night. Up above,far away in the east, where the low hills lay flat in thedistance, the lappet fringe of the purple sky wasdipped in the pale saffron of the coming sun, andoverhead a few white stars were shining, and now andthen the swart, almost unseen wings of a raven wentgently beating through the star-lit void; and as Iwatched, I saw him and his brothers check over theCrecy ridges and with hungry croak, like black spirits,circle round and drop one after another through thethin white veils of vapor that shrouded prince, chiefs,and vassals, peer and peasant, in those deep longswathes of the black harvest we cut, but left ungarnered,yesterday. Near around me the English campwas all asleep, tired and heavy with the bygone battle,the listless pickets on the misty, distant moundshung drooping over their piled spears, the metaledchargers’ heads were all asag, they were so weary asthey stood among the shadows by their untouchedfodder, and the damp pennons and bannerets overthe knightly porches scarce lifted on the morning air!That air came cool and sad yonder from the Englishsea, and wandered melancholy down our lifeless,empty canvas streets, lifting the loose tent-flaps, andsighing as it strayed among the sleeping groups, stirringwith its unseen feet the white ashes of the deadcamp-fires, the only moving presence in all the place—sad,silent, and listless. I dropped the hangings overthe chill morning glimmer, the camp of sleeping warriorsand dusty valley of the dead, and turned againto my post. I was not sleepy now, nor afraid—eventhough as I entered a draught of misty outer air enteredwith me and the last atom of the priestly tapershone fitful and yellow for a moment upon the deadIsobel, and then went out.

I sat down by the maid in the chill dark, and lookedsadly on the ground, the while my spirits were as lowas you may well guess, and the wind went moaninground and round the tent. But I had not sat a moment—scarcelytwenty breathing spaces—when afaint, fine scent of herb-cured wolf-skins came uponthe air, and strange shadows began to stand out clearupon the floor. I saw my weapons shining with apale refulgence, and—by all the gods!—the walls ofthe tent were a-shimmer with pale luster! With ahalf-stifled cry I leaped to my feet, and there—thereacross the bier—though you tell me I lie a thousandtimes—there, calm, refulgent, looking gently in thedead girl’s face, splendid in her ruddy savage beauty,bending over that white marbled body, so ghostly thinand yet so real, so true in every line and limb, wasBlodwen—Blodwen, the British chieftainess—mythousand-years-dead wife.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (12)

Looking gently in the dead girl’s face, was Blodwen—Blodwen—mythousand-years-dead wife

Standing there serene and lovely, with that strangelavender glow about her, was that wonderful anddreadful shade—holding the dead girl’s hand andlooking at her closely with a face that spoke of neitherresentment nor sorrow. I stood and stared at them,every wit within me numb and cold by the suddennessof it, and then the apparition slowly lifted her eyesto mine, and I—the wildest sensations of the strongold love and brand-new fear possessed me. What!do you tell me that affection dies? Why, there in thatshadowed tent, so long after, so untimely, so strangeand useless—all the old stream of the love I had bornefor that beautiful slave-girl, though it had been coldand overlaid by other loves for a thousand years,welled up in my heart on a sudden. I made half apace toward her, I stretched a trembling, entreatinghand, yet drew it back, for I was mortal and I feared;and an ecstasy of pleasure filled my throbbing veins,and my love said: “On! she was thine once and mustbe now—down to thy knees and claim her!—whatmatters anything, if thou hast a lien upon such splendidloveliness!” and my coward flesh hung back coldand would not, and now back and now forward Iswayed with these contending feelings, while that fairshadow eyed me with the most impenetrable calm.At last she spoke, with never a tone in her voice toshow she remembered it was near three hundred yearssince she had spoken before.

“My Phœnician,” she said in soft monotone, lookingat the dead Isobel who lay pale in the soft-blue shineabout her, “this was a pity. You are more dull-wittedthan I thought.”

I bent my head but could not speak, and so sheasked:

“Didst really never guess who it was yonder steelarmor hid?”

“Not once,” I said, “O sweetly dreadful!”

“Nor who it was that stirred the white maid to loveover there in her home?”

“What!” I gasped. “Was that you?—was that yourface, then, in truth I saw, reflecting in this dead girl’swhen first I met her?”

“Why, yes, good merchant. And how you couldnot know it passes all comprehension.”

“And then it was you, dear and dreadful, whom*oved her? Jove! ’twas you who filled her beatingpulses there down by the cedars, it was you whoprompted her hot tongue to that passionate wooing?But why—why?”

That shadow looked away for a moment, and thenturned upon me one fierce, fleeting glance of suchstrange, concentrated, unquenchable, impatient lovethat it numbed my tongue and stupefied my senses,and I staggered back, scarce knowing whether I wereanswered or were not.

Presently she went on. “Then, again, you are alittle forgetful at times, my master—so full of yourpetty loves and wars it vexes me.”

“Vexes you! That were wonderful indeed; yet, ’tismore wonderful that you submit. One word to me—tocome but one moment and stand shining there asnow you do—and I should be at your feet, strange, incomparable.”

“It might be so, but that were supposing such momentsas these were always possible. Dost not notice,Phœnician, how seldom I have been to thee like this,and yet, remembering that I forget thee not, thatmayhap I love thee still, canst thou doubt but thatwayward circ*mstance fits to my constant wish butseldom?”

“Yet you are immortal; time and space seem nothing;barriers and distance—all those things thatshackle men—have no meaning for you. All thy beingformed on the structure of a wish and everyearthly law subservient to your fancy, how is it youcan do so much and yet so little, and be at once sodominant and yet so feeble?”

“I told you, dear friend, before, that with newcapacities new laws arise. I near forget how far Ionce could see—what was the edge of that shallowworld you live in—where exactly the confines of yourpowers and liberty are set. But this I know for certain,that, while with us the possible widens out intosplendid vagueness, the impossible still exists.”

“And do you really mean, then, that fate is still thestronger among you?—this fair girl, here, sweetshadow! Oh! with one of those terrible and shiningarms crossed there on thy bosom, couldst thou nothave guided into happy void that fatal spear thatkilled? Surely, surely, it were so easy!”

The priestess dropped her fair head, and over herdim-white shoulders, and her pleasant-scented, hazywolf-skins, her ruddy hair, all agleam in that strangerefulgence, shone like a cascade of sleeping fire. Thenshe looked up and replied, in low tones:

“The swimmer swims and the river runs, the wished-forpoint may be reached or it may not, the river isthe stronger.”

Somehow, I felt that my shadowy guest was lesspleased than before, so I thought a moment and thensaid: “Where is she now?” and glanced at Isobel.

“The novice,” smiled Blodwen, “is asleep.”

“Oh, wake her!” I cried, “for one moment, for half abreath, for one moiety of a pulse, and I will never askthee other questions.”

“Insatiable! incredulous! how far will thy recklesslove and wonder go? Must I lay out before thy commoneyes all the things of the unknown for you tosample as you did your bags of fig and olive?”

“I loved her before, and I love her still, even as Iloved and still love thee. Does she know this?”

“She knows as much as you know little. Look!”and the shadow spread out one violet hand over thatsilent face.

I looked, and then leaped back with a cry of fearand surprise. The dead girl was truly dead, not amuscle or a finger moved, yet, as at that bidding, Iturned my eyes upon her there under the tenderglowing shadow of that wondrous palm, a faint flushof colorless light rose up within her face, and on it Iread, for one fleeting moment, such inexplicableknowledge, such extraordinary felicity, such impenetrablecontentment, that I stood spellbound, all of atremble, while that wondrous radiance died away evenquicker than it had risen. Gods! ’twas like the shineof the herald dawn on a summer morning, it waslike the flush on the water of a coming sunrise—Idrew my hand across my face and looked up, expectingthe chieftainess would have gone, but she was stillthere.

“Are you satisfied for the moment, dear trader, orwould you catechize me as you did just now yonderby the fire under the altar in the circle?”

“Just now!” I exclaimed, as her words swept backto me the remembrance of the stormy night in the oldSaxon days when, with the fair Editha asleep at myknee, that shade had appeared before—“just now!Why, Shadow, that was three hundred years ago!”

“Three hundred what?”

“Three hundred years—full round circles, three hundredvarying seasons. Why, Blodwen, forests havebeen seeded, and grown venerable, and decayed aboutthose stones since we were there!”

“Well, maybe they have. I now remember thatinterval you call a year, and what strange store weset by it, and I dimly recollect,” said the dreamyspirit, “what wide-asunder episodes those were betweenthe green flush of your forests and the yellow.But now—why, the grains of sand here on thy tent-floorare not set more close together—do not seem moreone simple whole to you, than your trivial seasons doto me. Ah! dear merchant, and as you smile to seethe ripples of the sea sparkle a moment in frolic chaseof one another, and then be gone into the void fromwhence they came, so do we lie and watch thy pettyyears shine for a moment on the smooth bosom of theimmense.”

Deep, strange, and weird seemed her words to methat night, and much she said more than I have toldI could not understand, but sat with bent head andcrossed arms full of strange perplexity of feeling, nowglancing at the dead soldier-maid my body loved,and then looking at that comely column of bluewoman-vapor, that sat so placid on the foot of thebier and spoke so simply of such wondrous things.

For an hour we talked, and then on a sudden Blodwenstarted to her feet and stood in listening attitude.“They are coming, Phœnician,” she cried, andpointed to the door.

I arose with a strange, uneasy feeling and lookedout. The gray dawn had spread from sky to sky, andan angry flush was over all the air. The morningwind blew cold and melancholy, and the shroudedmists, like bands of pale specters, were trooping upthe bloody valley before it, but otherwise not a soulwas moving, not a sound broke the ghostly stillness.I dropped the awning, and shook my head at the fairpriestess, whereon she smiled superior, as one mightat a wayward child, and for a minute or two we spokeagain together. Then up she got once more, tall andstately, with dilated nostrils and the old proud, expectantlook I had seen on her sweet red face so oftenas we together, hand in hand, and heart to heart, hadgalloped out to tribal war. “They come, Phœnician,and I must go,” she whispered, and again she pointedto the tent-door, though never a sound or footfallbroke the stillness.

“You shall not, must not go, wife, priestess, Queen!”I cried, throwing myself on my knee at those shadowyfeet, and extending my longing arms. “Oh! you thatcan awake, put me to sleep—you, that can read to thefinish of every half-told tale, relieve me of the longrecord of my life! Oh, stay and mend my loneliness,or, if you go, let me come too—I ask not how orwhither.”

“Not yet,” she said, “not yet——” And then, whilemore seemed actually upon her lips, I did hear thesound of footfalls outside, and, wondering, I sprangto the curtain and lifted it.

There, outside, standing in the first glint of theyellow sunshine, were some half-dozen of my honestveterans, all with spades and picks and in their leatherndoublets.

“You see, Sir,” said the spokesman, sorrowfully, thewhile he scraped the half-dry clay from off his trenchingspade, “we have come round for our brave youngcaptain—for your good lady, Sir—the first. Presentlywe shall be very busy, and we thought mayhap youwould like this over as soon and quiet as might be.”

They had come for Isobel! I turned back into thetent, wondering what they would think of my strangeguest, and she was gone! Not one ray of light wasleft behind—not one thread of her lavender skirtshone against my black walls—only the cold, pale girlthere, stiff and white, with the shine of the dawn uponher dead face; and all my long pain and vigils toldupon me, and, with a cry of pain and grief I could notmaster, I dropped upon a seat and hid my face uponmy arm.

I had had enough of France with that night, andthree hours afterward went straight to the King andtold him so, begging him to relieve me from my dutyand let me get back to England, there to seek thedead maid’s kindred, and find in some new directionforgetfulness of everything about the victorious camp.And to this the King replied, by commending my poorservice far too highly, saying some fair kind thingsout of his smooth courtier tongue about her that wasno more, and in good part upbraiding me for bringing,as he supposed I had brought, one so gentle-nurturedso far afield; then he said: “In faith, good soldier,were to-day but yesterday, and Philip’s army still beforeus, we would not spare you even though oursympathy were yours as fully as ’tis now. But mymisguided cousin is away to Paris, and his followingare scattered to the four winds—for which God andall the saints be thanked! There is thus less needfor thy strong arm and brave presence in our camp,and if you really would—why then, go, and may kindtime heal those wounds which, believe me, I do mostthoroughly assess.”

“But stay a minute!” he cried after me. “Howsoon could you make a start?”

“I have no gear,” I said, “and all my prisoners havebeen set free unransomed. I could start here, evenas I stand.”

“Soldierly answered,” exclaimed the King; “a goodknight should have no baggage but his weapons, andno attachments but his duty. Now look! I can bothrelieve you of irksome charges here and excuse withreason both ample and honorable your going. Come tome as soon as you have put by your armor. I willhave ready for you a scrip sealed and signed—no messengerhas yet gone over to England with the newsof our glorious yesterday, and this charge shall bethine. Take the scrip straight to the Queen in England.There, no thanks, away! away! thou wilt bethe most popular man in all my realm before the sungoes down, I fear.”

I well knew how honorable was this business thatthe good King had planned for me, and made myutmost despatch. I gave my tent to one esquire andmy spare armor to another. I ran and gripped themany bronzed hands of my tough companions, andtold them (alas! unwittingly what a lie that were!)that I would come again; then I bestowed my charger(Jove! how reluctant was the gift!) upon the next inrank below me, and mounted Isobel’s light war-horse,and paid my debts, and settled all accounts, and wasback at our great captain’s tent just as his chaplainwas sanding the last lines upon that despatch whichwas to startle yonder fair country waiting so expectantacross the narrow sea.

They rolled it up in silk and leather and put it in ametal cylinder, and shut the lid and sealed it withthe King’s own seal, and then he gave it to me.

“Take this,” he said, “straight to the Queen, andgive it into her own hands. Be close and silent, foryou will know it were not meet to be robbed of thynews upon the road: but I need not tell you of whatbecomes a trusty messenger. There! so, strap it inthy girdle, and God speed thee—surely such big newswas never packed so small before.”

I left the Royal tent and vaulted into the ready saddlewithout. One hour, I thought, as the swift steed’shead was turned to the westward, may take me tothe shore, and two others may set me on foot in England.Then, if they have relays upon the road, threemore will see me kneeling at the lady’s feet, the whileher fingers burst these seals. Lord! how they shallshout this afternoon! how the ’prentices shall tosstheir caps, and the fat burghers crowd the narrowstreets, and every rustic hamlet green ring to the skywith gratitude! Ah! six hours I thought might do thejourney; but read, and you shall see how long it took.

Scouring over the low grassy plains as hard as thegood horse could gallop, with the gray sea broadeningout ahead with every mile we went, full of thoughtsof a busy past and uncertain future, I hardly noticedhow the wind was freshening. Yet, when we rodedown at last by a loose hill road to the beach, stronggusts were piping amid the treetops, and the King’sgalleys were lurching and rolling together at theiranchors by the landing-stage as the short waves camecrowding in, one close upon another, under the firstpressure of a coming storm.

But, wind or no wind, I would cross; and I spoke tothe captain of the galleys, showing him my pass withits Royal signet, and saying I must have a ship atonce, though all the cave of Eblis were let loose uponus. That worthy, weather-beaten fellow held the mandatemost respectfully in one hand, while he pulledhis grizzled beard with the other and stared out intothe north, where, under a black canopy of loweringsky, the sea was seamed with gray and hurryingsqualls, then turned to the cluster of sailors who werecrowded round us—guessing my imperious errand—toknow who would start upon it. And those roughsalts swore no man of sanity would venture out—noteven for a King’s generous bounty—not even to pleasevictorious Edward would they go—no, nor to ease theexpectant hearts of twenty thousand wives, or gladthe proud eyes of ten score hundred mothers. It wasimpossible, they said—see how the frothy spray wasflying already over the harbor bar, and how shrill thefrightened sea-mews were rising high above the land!—noship would hold together in such a wind as thatbrewing out over there, no man this side of hell couldface it—and yet, and yet, “Why!” laughed a leatheryfellow, slapping his mighty fist into his other palm,“as I was born by Sareham, and knew the taste ofsalt spray nearly as early as I knew my mother’s milk,it shall never be said I was frightened by a hollowsky and a Frenchman’s wind. I’ll be your pilot,Sir.”

“And I will go wherever old Harry dares,” put in astout young fellow. “And I,” “And I,” “And I,”was chorused on every side, as the brave Englishseamen caught the bold infection, and in a brief spacethere, under the lee of the gray harbor jetty, beforea motley cheering crowd, all in the blustering windand rain, I rode my palfrey up the sloping way, andon to the impatient tossing little bark that was tobear the great news to England.

We stabled the good steed safe under the half-deckforward, set the mizzen and cast off the hawser, andsoon the little vessel’s prow was bursting through thecrisp waves at the harbor mouth, her head for home,and behind, dim through the rainy gusts, the whitehouse-fronts of the beach village, and far away theuplands where the English army lay. We reefed andset the sails as we drew from the land, but truly thosefellows were right when they hung back from sharingthe peril and the glory with me! The strong bluewaters of the midland sea whereon I first sailed mymerchant bark were like the ripples of a shelteredpond to the roaring trench and furrows of this narrownorthern strait. All day long we fought to westward,and every hour we spent the wind came stronger andmore keenly out of the black funnel of the north, andthe waves swelled broader and more monstrous. Bynoon we saw the English shore gleam ghostly whitethrough the flying reek in front; but by then, so fiercewas the northeaster howling, that, though we wentto windward and off again, doing all that good seamencould, now stealing a spell ahead, and anon losingit amid a blinding squall, we could not near the Englishport for which we aimed, there, in the cleft ofthe dim white cliffs.

After a long time of this, our captain came to mewhere I leaned, watchful, against the mast, and said:

“The King has made an order, as you will know,all vessels from France are to sail for his town ofDover there, and nowhere else, on a pain of a fine thatwould go near to swamp such as we.”

“Good skipper,” I answered, “I know the law, butthere are exceptions to every rule, which, well taken,only cast the more honor on general stringency. KingEdward would have you make that port at all reasonabletimes; but if you cannot reach it, as you surelycannot now, you are not bound to sail me, his messenger,to Paradise in lieu thereof. I pray you, putdown your helm and run, and take the nearest harborthe wind will let us.” At this the captain turnedupon his heel well pleased, and our ship came round,and now, before the gale, sailed perhaps a little easier.

But it scarcely bettered our fortune. A short timebefore dusk, while we wallowed heavily in the longfurrows, my poor palfrey was thrown and broke herfore legs over her trestle bar, and between fear andpain screamed so loud and shrill, it chilled even mystalwart sailors. Then, later on, as we rode the frothysummit of a giant wave, our topmast snapped, andfell among us and the wild, loose ropes writhed andlashed about worse than a hundred biting serpents,and the bellowing sail, like a great bull, jerked andstrained for a moment so that I thought that it wouldunstep the mast itself, and then went all to tatterswith a hollow boom, while we, knee-deep in the swirlingsea that filled our hollow, deckless ship, gentleand simple, ’prentice and knight, whipped out ourknives and gave over to the hungry ocean all thatriven tackle.

It was enough to make the stoutest heart beat lowto ride in such a creaking, retching co*ckle-shell overthe hill and dale of that stupendous water. Now, outof the tumble and hiss, down we would go, careeringdown the glassy side of a mighty green slope, thecreamy white water boiling under our low-sunk bows,and there, in mid-hollow, with the tempest howlingoverhead, we would have for a breathing space ablessed spell of seeming calm. And then, ere we couldtaste that scant felicity, the reeling floor would swellbeneath us, and out of the watery glen, hurtled bysome unseen power, we rose again up, up to the spumeand spray, to the wild shouting wind that thrilledour humming cordage and lay heavy upon us, whilethe gleaming turmoil through which we staggered andrushed leaped at our fleeting sides like packs of whitesea-wolves, and all the heaving leaden distance of thestorm lay spread in turn before us—then down again.

Hour after hour we reeled down the English coastwith the wild mid-channel in fury on our left and thedim-seen ramparts of breakers at the cliff feet on ourright. Then, as we went, the light began to fail us.Our weather-beaten steersman’s face, which hadlooked from his place by the tiller so calm and steadfastover the war of wind and sea, became troubled,and long and anxiously he scanned the endless lineof surf that shut us from the many little villages andcreeks we were passing.

“You see, Sir Knight,” shouted the captain to me,as, wet through, we held fast to the same rope—“’tisa question with us whether we find a shelter beforethe light goes down, or whether we spend a night likethis out on the big waters yonder.”

“And does he,” I asked, “who pilots us know of anear harbor?”

“Ah! there is one somewhere hereabout, but with aperilous bar across the mouth, and the tide serves butpoorly for getting over. If we can cross it there is adry jacket and supper for all this evening, and if wedo not, may the saints in Paradise have mercy on us!”

“Try, good fellow, try!” I shouted; “many a dangerousthing comes easier by the venturing, and I amalready a laggard post!” So the word was passed foreach man to stand by his place, and through the gloomand storm, the beating spray and the wild peltingrain, just as the wet evening fell, we neared the land.

We swept in from the storm, and soon there wasthe bar plain enough—a shining, thunderous crescent—glimmeringpallid under the shadow of the land, afrantic hell of foam and breakers that heaved andbroke and surged with an infernal storm-deridingtumult, and tossed the fierce white fountains of itsrage mast-high into the air, and swirled and shoneand crashed in the gloom, sending the white litter ofits turmoil in broad ghostly sheets far into that blackstill water we could make out beyond under the veilof spume and foam hanging above that boiling caldron.Straight to it we went through the cold, fiercewind, with the howl of the black night behind us, andthe thunder of that shine before. We came to thebar, and I saw the white light on the strained bravefaces of my silent friends. I looked aft, and therewas the helmsman calm and strong, unflinchingly eyeingthe infernal belt before us. I saw all this in ascanty second, and then the white hell was under ourbows and towering high above our stern a mightycrested, foam-seamed breaker. With the speed of ajavelin thrown by a strong hand, we rushed into thewrack; one blinding moment of fury and turmoil, andthen I felt the vessel stagger as she touched the sand;the next instant her sides went all to splinters undermy very feet, and the great wave burst over us andrushed thundering on in conscious strength, and nottwo planks of that ill-fated ship, it seemed, were stilltogether.

Over and over through the swirl and hum I wasswept, the dying cries of my ship-fares sounding inmy ears like the wail of disembodied spirits—now,for a moment, I was high in the spume and ruck,gasping and striking out as even he who likes his lifethe least will gasp in like case, and then, with thunderouspower, the big wave hurled me down into thedepth, down, down, into the inky darkness with allthe noises of Inferno in my ears, and the great churningwaters pressing on me till the honest air seemedleagues above, and my strained, bursting chest wasdying for a gasp. Then again, the hideous, playfulwaters would tear asunder and toss me high into thekeen, strong air, with the yellow stars dancing above,and the long line of the black coast before my salttear-filled eyes, and propped me up just so long as Imight get half a gasping sigh, and hear the stormbeating wildly on the farther side of the bar; then themocking sea would laugh in savage frolic, and downagain. Gods! right into the abyss of the nether turmoil,fathoms deep, like a strand of worthless sea-wrack,scouring over the yellow sand-beds wherenever living man went before, all in the cruel fingersof the icy midnight sea, was I tossed here and there.

And when I did not die, when the savage sea, likea great beast of prey, let me live by gasps to spreadits enjoyment the more, and tossed and teased me,and shouted so hideous in my ears and weighed medown—why, the last spark of spirit in me burnt upon a sudden, fierce and angry. I set my teeth andstruck out hard and strong. Ah! and the sea grewsomewhat sleek when I grew resolute, and, after someminutes of this new struggle, rolled more gently andburied me less deep each time in its black foam-ribbedvortex, and, presently, in half an hour perhaps, thethunder of the bar was all behind me instead of roundabout, the stars were steadier in their places, the dimbarrier of the land frowned through the rain directabove, and a few minutes more, wondrous spent andweary, the black water flowing in at my low andswollen lips with every stroke, yet strong in heart andhopeful, I found myself floating up a narrow estuaryon a dim, foam-flecked but peaceful tide.

The strong but gentle current swept in with theflowing water under the dark shadows of the land,past what seemed, in the wet night-gloom, like ruggedbanks of tree and forest, and finally floated me towhere, among loose boulders and sand, the tamedwater was lapping on a smooth and level beach. Istaggered ashore, and sat down as wet and sorry aswell could be. Life ran so cold and numb within, itseemed scarce worth the cost spent in keeping. Myscrip was still at my side, but my sword was gone,my clothing torn to ribbons, and a more buffeted messengernever eyed askance the scroll that led him intosuch a plight. Where was I? The great gods wholive forever alone could tell, yet surely scores ofmiles from where I should be! I got to my feet, reekingwith wet and spray, the gusty wind tossing backthe black Phrygian locks from off my forehead, andglared around. Sigh, sigh, sigh went the gale in thepines above, while mournful pipings came about theshore like wandering voices, and the sea boomed sullenlyout yonder in the darkness! I stared and stared,and then started back a pace and stared again. Iturned round on my heel and glowered up the narrowinlet and out to sea; then at the beetling crags aboveand the dim-seen mounds inland; then all on a suddenburst into a scornful laugh—a wild, angry laugh thatthe rocks bandied about on the wet night-air and sentback to me blended with all the fitful sobs and moaningof the wind.

The lonely harbor, that of a thousand harbors I hadcome to, was the old British beach. It was my Druidpriestess’s village place that I was standing on!

I laughed long and loud as I, the old trader in wineand olives—I, the felucca captain, with cloth andwine below and a comely red-haired slave on deck—I,again, in other guise, Royal Edward’s chosen messenger—asgood a knight as ever jerked a victoriousbrand home into its scabbard—stood there with chatteringteeth and shaking knee, mocking fate andstrange chance in reckless spirit. I laughed until mymood changed on a sudden, and then, swearing bytwenty forgotten hierarchies I would not stand shiveringin the rain for any wild pranks that Fate mightplay me, I staggered off on to the hard ground.

Every trace of my old village had long since gone;yet though it were a thousand years ago I knew myway about with a strange certainty. I left the shore,and pushed into the overhanging woods, dark anddamp and somber, and presently I even found a well-knowntrack (for these things never change); and, halfglad and half afraid—a strange, tattered, dismal prodigalcome strangely home—I pushed by drippingbranch and shadowy coverts, out into the open grasshills beyond.

Here, on some ghostly tumuli near about, the grayshine of the night showed scattered piles of mightystones and broken circles that once had been ourtemples and the burial places for great captains. Iturned my steps to one of these on the elbow of a littleridge overlooking the harbor, and, perhaps, twohundred paces inland from it, and found a vast lichenedslab of stupendous bulk undermined by weather,and all on a slope with a single entrance underneathone end. Did ever man ask lodgment in like circ*mstances?It was the burial mound of an old Druidheadman, and I laughed a little again to think howwell I had known him—grim old Ufner of the ReekingAltars. Hoth! what a cruel, bloody old priest hewas!—never did a man before, I chuckled, combinesuch piety and savagery together. How that old fellow’scruel small eyes did sparkle with native pleasureas the thick, pungent smoke of the sacrificial fire wentroaring up, and the hiss and splutter half drownedthe screaming of men and women pent in their wickercages amid that blaze! Oh! Old Ufner liked thesmell of hot new blood, and there was no music to hisBritish ear like the wail of a captive’s anguish. Andthen for me to be pattering round his cell like thisin the gusty dark midnight, shivering and alone, pattingand feeling the mighty lid of that great crypt,and begging a friendly shelter in my stress and wearinessof that ghostly hostelry—it was surely strangeindeed.

Twice or thrice I walked round the great coffer—itwas near as big as a herdsman’s cottage—and then,finding no other crack or cranny, stopped and stoopedbefore the tiny portal at the lower end. I saw as Iknelt that that tremendous slab was resting wondrouslightly on a single point of upright stone set just likethe trigger of an urchin’s mouse-trap, but, nothingdaunted, pushing and squeezing, in I crept, and feltwith my hands all that I could not see.

The foxes and the weather had long since sent allthere was of Ufner to dust. All was bare and smooth,while round the sides were solid, deep earth-plantedslabs of rock—no one knew better than I how thickthey were and heavy!—and on the floor a soft couchof withered leaves and grasses.

Now one more sentence, and the chapter is ended.I had not coiled myself down on those leaves a minute,my weary head had nodded but once upon myarm, my eyelids drooped but twice, when, with asoundless start, undermined by the fierce storm, andmoved a fatal hair’s-breadth by my passage, the proppingkey-stone fell in, and all at once my giant roofbegan to slide. That vast and ponderous stone, thathad taken two tribes to move, was slipping slowlydown, and as it went, all along where it ground, a lineof glowing lambent fire, a smoking hissing band ofdust marked its silent, irresistible progress—a hissingbelt of dust, and glow that shone for a half-momentround the fringe of that stupendous portal—and then,too late as I tottered to my weary knees, and extendeda feeble hand toward the entrance, that mighty doorcame to a rest, that ponderous slab, that scarce athousand men could move, fell with a hollow clickthree inches into the mortises of the earth-boundwalls, and there in that mighty coffer I was locked—fast,deep, and safe!

I listened. Not a sound, not a breath of the stormwithout moved in that strange chamber. I staredabout, and not one cranny of light broke the smoothvelvet darkness. What mattered it? I was wearyand tired—to-morrow I would shout and some onemight hear, to-night I would rest; and, Jove! howdeep and warm and pleasant was that leafy bed thatchance had spread there on the floor for me!

CHAPTER XVII

I cannot say, distinctly, what roused me next morning.My faculties were all in a maze, my bodycramped and stiff as old leather—no doubt due tothe wetting of the previous evening, or my hard couch—whilethe darkness bewildered and numbed my mind.Yet, indeed, I awoke, and, after all, that was the greatthing. I awoke and yawned, and feebly stretched mydry and aching arms—good heavens! how the pain didfly and shoot about them!—and rolled my stiff andrusty eyeballs, and twisted that pulsing neck thatseemed in that first moment of returning life like aburning column of metal through which the hot riverof my starting blood was surging in a hissing, moltenstream. I stretched, and looked and listened asthough my faculties were helpless prisoners behindmy numb, useless senses; but, peer and crane forwardas I would, nothing stirred the black stillness of mystrange bed-chamber.

Nothing, did I say? Truly it was nothing for atime, and then I could have sworn, by all the richrepository of gods and saints that the wreck of twentyhierarchies had stranded in my mind, that I heard areal material sound, a click and rattle, like metalstriking stone, this being followed immediately by astar of light somewhere in the mid black void in front.Fie! ’twas but a freak of fancy, the stretching of mycramped and aching sinews, but a nucleus of thoseswimming lights that mocked my still sleepy eyes! Icovered them with my hands and groaned to be awake;I strove to make point or sense out of the wild floodof remembrance that ebbed and flooded in thunderoussequence through my head; and then again, obtrusiveand clear, came the click! click! of the unseen metal,and the shine of the great white planet that burnedin the black firmament of my prison behind it.

I staggered to my feet, stretching out eager handsin the void space to touch the walls, and tried tomove; and, as I did so, my knees gave way beneathme; I made a wild grasp in the darkness, and fell in aloose heap upon the littered, dusty floor. Lord! howmy joints did ache! how the hot, swift throes thatmonopolized my being shot here and there about mycramped and twitching limbs! I rolled upon the dust-dryearth of that gloomy chamber and cursed my lastnight’s wetting; cursed the salt-sea spray that couldbreed such fiery torments; and even sent to Hadesmy errand and my scrip of victory, the which, however,I was cheered to note, in its bronze case nowand then, with a movement or a spasm of pain,knocked against my bare ribs as though to upbraidme as a laggard embassy for lying sleeping here whileall men waked to know my tidings. I rose again, withrare difficulty but successfully this time, and peeredand listened till the dancing colors in my eyes filledthe empty air with giddy spinning suns and constellations,and the making tide of wakefulness, floodingthe channels of my veins, cheated my ears to fancysome hideous storm was raging up above, and thunderboltswere tearing shrieking furrows down the tremblingsides of mountains, and all the rivers of theworld (so hideous was that shocking sound) weretumbling headlong in wild confusion into the voidmiddle of the world.

I stuffed my ears and shut my eyes, and turned sickand faint at that infernal tumult. My head spun andthrobbed, and my light feet felt the world give underthem. I had nearly fallen, when once again, just asmy spinning brain was growing numb, and the close,thin air of that place failed to answer to the needs ofmy new vitality, there came that click! click!again, and the blessed white star that followed it.This time that gleam of hope was broad and strong.On either side as it shone, white zigzag rays flew outand stood so written upon the black tablet of myprison. Ah! and a draught of nectar, of real, divinenectar, of sweet white country air, came in from thatcelestial puncture!

I leaped to it and knelt, and put my thirsty lips tothat refulgence and drank the simple ambient airthat came through, as though I were some thirsty pilgrimat a gushing stream. And it revived me, coolingthe rising fever of my blood, and numbing, like thesweet sedative it was, the pains, that soon ran lesskeen and throbbed less strong, and, in a few moreminutes, went gently away into the distance under itsbeneficent touch. Mayhap I fainted or slept for somelittle time, overwhelmed by the stress of those fewwaking moments. When I looked up again all waschanged. I myself was new and fresh, and felt withevery pulse the strong life beating firm and gentlewithin me; and my prison cell—it was no more aprison!

There was a gap bigger than my fist where the starhad been, with great fissures marking the outline ofone of the stones that had supported the topmost slab,and through the gap a peep of countryside, of yellowgrass, and sapphire sea, of pearly waves lisping insummer playfulness around a golden shore, and overheada sky of delightful blue.

I was grateful, and understood it all. The stormhad gone down during the night and the sun hadrisen; these were good folk outside, who, by somechance, knew of my sheltering-place and had comeearly to release me—a happy chance indeed! And itwas their strong blows and crowbars working on mymassive walls that let in the light, and—none too soon—refreshedme with a draught of outer air. Fool thatI was to let an uneasy night and a salt-sea soakingcloud my wit!

I was so pleased at the prospect of speedy releasethat I was on the point of calling out to cheer mylusty friends at their work and show the prisonerlived. But had I done so this book had never beenwritten! That shout was all but uttered—my mouthwas close to the orifice through which came the pleasantgleam of daylight, when voices of men outsidespeaking one to another fell upon my ear.

“By St. George,” I heard one fellow say, “and everyfiend in hell! they who built this place surely meant itto last to Judgment! Here we have been heaving atit since near daylight and not moved a stone.”

“Ah! and if you stand gaping there,” chimed in another,“we’ll not have moved one by Tuesday week.On, you log! let’s see something of that strength youbrag of—why, even now I saw a shine and twinkle inthe opening there. This crib may prove the cradleof our fortunes, may make us richer men than anystrutting sheriffs, and recompense us for a dozen disappointments!To it again; and you, Harry, standready with the wedges to put them in when we dolift.”

I pricked my ears at this, as you will guess, for therewas no mention of me expectant, and only talk ofwealth and recompense. I listened, and heard thesulky workman take again his crowbar. I heard himcall for a drink, and the splash of the liquid into theleathern cup sounded wonderfully clear in my silentchamber; then, as though in no hurry to fall on, heasked, “What of the spoil we have already, mates?A sight of those baubles would greatly lighten ourlabor, I think.”

“Now, as I had a man for my father,” burst out thefirst speaker, “never did I see so small a heart in sobig a body! Show him the swag, Harry! rattle itunder his greedy nose! and when he has done gloatingon it perhaps he’ll turn to and do something for abreakfast!”

At this there was a pause and a moving of feet, asthough men were collecting round some common object.Then came the tinkle of metals, and, by Jove!I had not yet forgotten so much of merchant cunningin my soldiering but that I recognized the music ofgold and silver over the base clink of lesser stuff.They tried, and sampled, and rung those wares overmy head; and presently he who was best among themsaid:

“A very pretty haul, mates, and, wisely disposed of,enough to furnish us well, both inside and out, for along time. These circlets here are silver, I take it,and will run into a sweet ingot in the smelting-pot.Yon boss is a brooch, by the pin, and of gold; thoughsurely such a vile fashion was never forged sinceShem’s hammer last went silent.”

“What, gold, sir!”

“Ah! what else, old bullet-costard? Dost thou thinkI come round and prize cursed devil-haunted moundsfor lumps of clay? The brooch is gold, I say; andthe least of these trinkets” (whereon there came asound like one playing with bracelet and bangle)—“theworst of them white silver. To it, then, goodfellows, again! Burst me this stony crypt, and, if itprove such a coffer as I have right to hope, before theday is an hour older, you shall down to yonder townand there get drunk past expectation and your happiestimaginings.”

So, my friends, I mused, ’tis not pure neighborlinessthat brings you thus early to my rescue! Never mind;many a good deed has been done in search of a sordidobject, and whether you come for me or gold, it shallvantage me alike. I will lend a hand on my side,since it were a pity to keep this big fellow from hisbreakfast longer than need be.

While they plied spade and lever outside, I scrapedbelow, and put in, as well as I was able, a stone wedgenow and then, whenever their exertions canted thegreat stone a little to one side or the other. The interestof all this, and because I was never apt in deceit,made me somewhat reckless about showing toosoon at the narrow opening, and presently there camea guttural cry above, and a sound as though some onehad dropped a tool and sprung back.

“Hullo! stoutheart,” called the captain’s voice,“what now? Is it another swig of the flask you wantto swell your shallow courage, or has thy puissantcrowbar pierced through to hell?”

“Hell or not,” whined the fellow, “I do think thefiend himself is in there. I did but stoop on a suddento peer within, and may I never empty a flagon againbut there was something hideous moving in the crypt!something round and shaggy, that toiled as we toiled,and pushed and growled, and had two flaming yelloweyes——”

“Beast! coward! Oh, that I had brought a maninstead of thee! ’Twas gold you saw—bright, shiningmetal—think, thou swine, of all it will buy, and howthou may’st hereafter wallow in thy foul delights!And wilt thou forego the stuff so near? Gods! Iwould have a wrestle for it though it were with thedevil himself! Give me the crowbar.”

Apparently the captain’s avarice was of stouterkind than the yeoman’s, for soon after this the stoneupright began to give, and I saw the moment of mydeliverance was near. Now, I argued to myself, thesegentlemen outside are obvious rogues, and will muchrather crack me on the head than share their bootywith such a strange-found claimant, hence I must bewatchful. Of the two under-rogues I had small fear,but the captain seemed of bolder mold, and, unless histongue lied, had some sort of heart within him. SoI waited watchful, and before long a more thanusually stalwart blow set the stone off its balance.It slipped and leaned, then fell headlong outwardwith a heavy thud, and, turning over on its side, rolledto the edge of the slope, and there, revolving quickerand more quickly, went rumbling and crashing downthrough the brambles into the valley a quarter of amile below. As it fell outward, a blaze of daylightburst upon my prison, and, with a shout of joy, theforemost of the rogues dashed into my cell. At thesame moment, with such an old British battle yellas those monoliths had not heard for a thousand years,but sorely dazed, I sprang forward. We met in midcareer, and the big thief went floundering down. Hewas up again in a moment, and, yelling in his fearthat the devil was certainly there, rushed forth—Iclose behind him—and infected his timorous comrade,and away they both went toward the woods, racingin step and screaming in tune, as though they hadpractised it together for half a lifetime. The fellowsfled, but their leader stood, white and irresolute, ashe well might be, yet made bold by greed; and for amoment we faced each other—he in his greasy townsmanfinery, a strong, sullen thief from bonnet to shoe,and I, grim, gaunt, and ragged, haggard, wild, unshorn,standing there for a moment against the blackporch of the old Druid grave-place—and then, wipingthe sunshine from my dazzled eyes and stooping low,I ran at him! Many were the ribbons and trinkets Ihad taken long ago at that game. I ran at him, andthrew my arms round his leather-belted middle, and,with a good Saxon twist, tossed his heels fairly intothe air and threw him full length over my shoulder.He fell behind me like a tree on the greensward, whilehis head striking the buttress of a stone stunned him,and he lay there bleeding and insensible.

“Hoth! good fellow,” I laughed, bending over him,“I am sorry for that headache you will have to-morrow,but before you challenge so freely to the wrestleyou should know somewhat more of a foeman’sprowess!”

When I turned to the little heap of spoil the ravishersof the dead had gathered and laid out on acloth upon the stones, at once my mood softened.There in that curious pile of trinkets were things soancient and yet so fresh that I heaved a sigh as I bentover them, and a whiff of the old time came back—thejolly wild days when the world was young rose beforeme as I turned them tenderly one by one. There laythe bronze nobs from a British shield, and there, corrodedand thin, the long, flat blade that my ruggedcomrades once could use so well. There was thebroken haft of a wheel-scythe from a chief’s battle-car,and, near by, the green and dinted harness of awar-horse. Hoth! how it took me back! how it mademe hear again in the lap of the soft Plantagenet seaand all the insipid sounds of this degenerate countrysidethe rattle and hum of the chariots as we raced towar, the sparkle and clatter of the captains gallopingthrough the leafy British woods, and then the shoutand tumult as we wheeled into line in the open, and,our loose reins on the stallions’ necks and our tremblingjavelins quivering in our ready hands, sweptdown upon the ranks of the reeling foeman!

There again, in more peaceful wise, was a shoulder-broochsome British maid had worn, and the wristletand rings of some red-haired Helen of an unfamousTroy. There lay a few links of the neck-chains of adust-dead warrior, and there, again, the head of hisboar-spear. Here was the thin gold circlet he had onhis finger, the rude pin of brass that fastened hiscolored cloak and the buckle of his sandal. Jove! Icould nearly tell the names of the vanished wearers,I knew all these things so well!

But it was no use hanging over the pile like this.The ruffian I had felled was beginning to move, andit served no purpose to remain: therefore—and mutteringto myself that I was a nearer heir to the treasurethan any among those thieves—I selected somedozen of the fairest, most valuable trinkets, and putthem in my wallet. Then, feeling cold—for the freshmorning air was thin and cool here, above the sea—thebest coat from the ragged pile the rogues hadthrown aside, to be the lighter at their work, waschosen, and, with this on my back, and a stout stavein my hand, I turned to go. But ere I went I tooka last look round—as was only natural—at a placethat had given me such timely shelter overnight. Itwas strange, very strange; but my surroundings, asI saw them in the white daylight, matched wondrouspoorly with my remembrance of the evening before!The sea, to begin with, seemed much farther off thanit had done in the darkness. I have said that when Iswam ashore my well-remembered British harbor had,to my eyes, silted up wofully, so that the knoll onwhich Blodwen’s stockades once stood was some wayup the valley. But small as the estuary had shrunklast night, I had, it seemed, but poorly estimated itsshrinkage. ’Twas lesser than ever this morning, andsome kine were grazing among the yellow kingcupson the marshy flats at that very place where I couldhave sworn I came ashore on the top of a sturdybreaker! The greedy green and golden land wascozening the blue channel sea out of beach and foreshoreunder my very eyes; the meadow-larks wereplaying where the white surf should have been, andtall fern and mallow flaunted victorious in the breezewhere ancient British keels had never even grated ona sandy bottom. I could not make it out, and turnedto look at the tomb from which I had crept. Here,too, the turmoil of yestere’en and my sick and wearyhead had cheated me. In the gloom the pile had appeareda bare and lichened heap washed out from itsold mound by rains: but, Jove! it seemed it was notso. I rubbed my eyes and pulled my peaked beardand stared about me, for the crypt was a grassymound again, with one black gap framed by a fewrugged stones jutting from the green, as though theslope above it had slipped down at that leveler Nature’sprompting, and piled up earth and rubbishagainst the rocks, had escaladed them and marchedtriumphant up the green glacis, planting her conqueringpennons of bracken and bramble, mild daisy andnodding foxglove, on that very arch where, by all thegods! I thought last night the withering lightningwould have glanced harmless from a smooth and lichenedsurface. Well, it only showed how weary I hadbeen; so, shouldering my cudgel, and with a last sighcast back to that pregnant heap of rusty metal, Iturned, and with fair heart, but somewhat shakylimbs, marched off inland to give my wondrous news.

How pleasant and fair the country was, and afterthose hot scenes of battle, the noise and sheen ofwhich still floated confusedly in my head, how sweetlypeaceful! I trod the green, secluded country laneswith wondrous pleasure, remembering the bare Frenchcampagnas, and stood stock-still at every gap in theblooming hedges to drink the sweet breath of morning,coming, golden-laden with sunshine and thebreath of flowers, over the rippling meadow-grass! Intruth, I was more English than I had thought, mystep was more elastic to tread these dear domesticleas, and my spirits rose with every mile simply toknow I was in England! And I—a tough, stern soldier,with arms still red to the elbow in the horriddye of war, and on a hasty errand, pulled me a floweringspray from the coppices, and smiled and sang as Iwent along, now stopping in delighted trance to hearout the nightingale that, from a bramble athwart thethicket path, sang most enrapturedly, and then, forgetfulof my haste, standing amazed under the flushedsatin of the blooming apples. “Jove!” I laughed,“here is a sweeter pavilion than any victor prince dothsleep in! Fie! to fight and bleed as we do yonder,while the sweetness of such a tent as this goes all towaste upon the wind!” and I sat and stared andlaughed until the prick of conscience stirred me and,reluctant, I passed on again. Then over a flowerymead or two, where the banded bees swung in busyfashion at the lilac cuckoo-flowers, and the shiningdewdrops were charged with a hundred hues, downto a sunny, babbling brook that sparkled by a yellowford. There I would stand and watch the silver fingersof the stream toy and tug the great heads of noddingkingcup, watch the flash of the new-come swallow’swing, as he shot through the byways betweenthe mallows, and be so still that e’en the timid water-henled out her brood across the freckled play of sunshineon the water, and the mute kingfisher came tothe broken rail and did not fear me. “Surely a happystream,” I thought, “not to divide two princely neighbors!What a blessed current that can keep its nativecolor and chatter thus of flowers and sunshine, whileyon other torrent runs incarnadine to the sea—acorpse-choked sewer of red ambition!”

Then it was a homestead that, all unseen, I pausedby, watching the great sleek kine knee-deep in thescented yellow straw, the spangled co*ck defiant on thewall, the tender doves a-wooing on the roof-ridge, andpresently the swart herdsman, with flail and goad,come out from beneath his roses and stoop and kissthe pouting cherry lips of the sweet babe his comelymate held up to him. “Jove!” I meditated, “andhere’s a goodly kingdom. Oh that I had a realm withno politics in it but such as he has!” and so musing Iwent along from path to path and hill to hill.

At one time my feet were turned to a way-side rest-house,where a jug of wine was asked for and a loafof bread, for you will remember that saving a handfulof dry biscuit, which I broke in my gauntlet palm andate between two charges, I had not broken fast sincethe morning before Crecy. The master of the taverntook up the coin I tendered and eyed it critically. Heheld it in the sun, and rung it on a stone and spat uponit, then, taking a little dust from the road, rubbeddiligently until he came down through the green sea-slimeto the metal below. It was true-coined, plump,and full, though certainly a trifle rusty; and this andmy grim, commanding figure in his doorway carriedthe day. He brought me wine and cheese and bread,whereon I sat on a corner of the trestle table munchingthem outside in the sun under shadow of my broadfelt yokel hat, with the quaint inn sign gently creakingoverhead, and my moldy, sea-stained legs danglingunder me.

I was in a good mood, yet thoughtful somehow, forhad not the King especially warned me not to partlightly with the precious news wherewith I wasfreighted? And if so be that I must be reticent inthis particular, yet again my heart was surely too fullof my victorious errand to let me gossip lightly ontrivial matters; thus my bread was broken in abstractedsilence, and, when my beaker went now andagain into the shade of my hat-brim, I drank mutelyand proffered no sign of friendship to those othercountry wayfarers who stood about the honeysuckleddoorway eyeing me askance after the manner I wasso used to, and whispering now and then to one another.

I sat and thought how my errand was to be mostspeedily carried out, for you see I might trudge daysand days afoot like this before good luck or my ownlimbs brought me to the footstool of Edward’s Royalwife, and gave me leave to burst that green and rustycase that, with its precious scroll, still dangled at myside. I had no money to buy a horse—the banglestaken from the crypt-thieves would not stand againstthe value of the boniest palfrey that ever ambled betweena tinker’s legs—and last night’s infernal wettinghad made me into the sorriest, most moldy-lookingherald that ever did a kingly bidding. Surely, Ithought, as I glanced at my borrowed clay-stainedrustic cloak, my cracked and rotten leather doublet,my tarnished hose all frayed and colorless, my shoon,that only held together, methought, by their patchingof gray sea-slime and mud, surely no one will lend orloan me anything like this; they will laugh at myknightly gage of honorable return, and scout the faintestwhisper of my errand!

Thus ruefully reflecting, I had finished my frugalluncheon, yet still scarce knew what to do, and maybeI had sat dubious like that on the trestle edge fornear an hour, when, looking up on a sudden, therewas a blooming little maid of some three tender yearsstanding in the sun staring hard upon me, her fairblue eyes ashine with wonder, and the strands of hergolden hair lifting on the breeze like gossamers inJune. She had in one rosebud hand a flower of yellowdaffodil, and in fault of better introduction profferedit to me. My stern soldier heart was melted by thatmaid. I took her flower and put it in my belt, andlifted the little one on my knee, then asked her whyshe had looked so hard at the stranger.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (13)

She proffered it to me

“Oh!” she said, pointing to where some older childrenwere watching all this from a safe distance,“Johnnie and Andrew, my brothers, said you weresurely the devil, and, as they feared, I came myselfto see if it were true.”

“And am I? Is it true?”

“I do not know,” said the little damsel, fixing herclear blue eyes upon mine—“I do not know for certain,but I like you! I am sorry for you, because youare so dirty. If you were cleaner I could love you”—andvery cautiously, watching my eyes the while, thepretty babe put out a petal-soft hand and stroked mygrim and weathered face.

I could not withstand such gentle blandishment,and forgot all my musings and my haste, and kissedthose pink fingers under the shadow of my hat, andlaid myself out to win that soft little heart, and wonit, so that, when presently the wondering mother cameto claim her own, the little maiden burst into such aheadlong shower of silver April tears that I had toperjure myself with false promises to come again, andeven the gift of my last coin and another kiss or twoscarce set me free from the sweet investigator.

But now I was aroused, and stalked down the greencountry road full of speed and good intention. Iwould walk to the Royal city, since there were noother way, and these fair shires must have grown expansivesince the olden days if I could not see amarch or two while the sun was up. Eastward andnorth I knew the Court should lie, so bent my stepsthrough glades and commons with the midday sunbehind my better shoulder. But the journey was tobe shorter than seemed likely at the outset. Afterasking, to no purpose, my road of several rustics,a venerable wayfarer was chanced upon, amblingdown a shady gully.

This quaint old fellow sat a rough little steed, one,indeed, of the poorest-looking, most knock-kneedbeasts I had ever seen a gentleman of gentle qualityastride of. And, in truth, the rider was not betterkept. He wore a great widespreading cloak of threadbarestuff, falling from his shoulders to his knees insuch ample folds that it half hid the neck and quartersof his steed. Below this mantle, splashed withtwenty shades of mud and most quaintly patched, yousaw the pricks of rusty iron spurs on old and shabbyleather boots, and just the point of a frayed blackleather scabbard peeping under his stirrup-straps.The hat he wore was broad-brimmed and peaked, andlooked near as old as did its wearer. Under thatshapeless cover was a most strange face. I do notthink I ever saw so much and various writ upon solittle parchment as shone upon the dry and wrinkledsurface of that rider’s features. There were cunningand closeness on it, and yet they did not altogetherhide the openness of gentle birth and liberal thought.Now you would think to watch those shrewd, keeneyes a-glitter there under the penthouse of his shaggyeyebrows, he was some paltry trader with a visionbounded by his weekly till and the infruct of his lyingmeasures, and then anon, at some word or passingfancy, as you came to know him better, ’twas strangeto see how eagle-like those optics shone, and withwhat a clear, bright, prophetic gaze the old fellowwould stare, like a steersman through the dim-litgloom of a starry night, over the wide horizon of thevisionary and uncertain! He could look as small andmean about the mouth as a usurer on settling day; andthen, when his mood changed, and he fell thoughtful,the gentle melancholy of his face—the goodly soulthat spoke behind that changeful mask, the strangedissatisfaction, the incompleteness, the unhappy longingfor something unattainable there reflected, madeyou sad to look upon it!

I overtook this quaint rider as he rode alone, myactive feet being more than a match for the shakylimbs of that mean beast he sat upon, and, comingalongside, observed him unnoticed for a minute. Trulyas quaint a fellow-traveler as you could meet! Hishead was sunk, and his grizzled white beard fell overhis chest: his eyes were fixed in vacant stare on somevision of the future; and his lips moved tremulouslynow and again as the thoughts of his mind escapedunheeded from between them. Was he poet? Washe seer? Was it a black past or a red, rosy futurethe old fellow babbled of? Jove! I was not in verygood kind myself, and I fancy I had read now andagain, in the wonder of those who saw me, that myface had a tale to tell. But, by the great gods! I wasneat and pretty-pied beside this most rusty gentleman;my face was as void as a curd-fed bumpkin’s,compared to those eloquently absent eyes, that fine,mean profile, there, in the slouch of the big hat, andthose busy lips!

“Good-morning, Sir!” I said; and as the old manlooked up with a start and saw me, a stranger, walkingby his side, all the fervor and the fancy died fromoff his face, the fine features shut upon themselves;and there he was, the meanest, shallowest, most paltry-lookingof old rogues that had ever pulled off a capto his equal!

He returned my first light questionings with a sullensuspicion, which gradually thawed, however, ashis keen scrutiny took, apparently, reassuring stockof my face and figure, and we spoke, as fellow-travelerswill, for a few moments on the roads, the weather,and the prospect of the skies. Then I asked him, withsmall expectation of much advantage in his answer,“which was the best way to Court.”

“There are many ways, my son,” he said. “Youmay get there because of extreme virtue, or on the introductionof peculiar wickedness.”

“Ah! but I meant otherwise——”

“Shining wisdom, they say, brings a man to Court—orshould. And, God knows, there is no place likeCourt for folly! If thou art very beautiful thou maycome to it, and if thou art as ugly as hell they willhave thee for a laughing-stock and nine-days’ wonder.Anaximander went to Court because he was so wise,and Anaxippus because he was so foolish; Diphilusbecause he was so slow in penmanship, and Antimachusbecause he wrote so much and swift. Ah, friend!many are the ways. Polypemon lived by plunder,and, because he was the cruelest thief that everstripped a wanderer by green Cephisus, he cameunder the notice of kings and gods; ay, and Clytius isfamous because he was so faithful; and the patrioticCodrus because he bared his bosom to the foe, andSpendius for a hundred treacheries, and——”

“No! no!” I cried, “no more, Sir, I entreat. I didnot mean to play footpad to thy capacious memory,and rob your mind of all these just comparisons, butonly to ask, in ordinary material manner, which wasthe best way to the palace, which the nearest road,the safest footpath for a hasty stranger to our goodQueen’s footstool. I have a Royal script to deliverto her.”

“What, is it the Queen you want to see? Why, Iam bound that road myself, and in a few minutes Iwill show you the pennons glancing among the treeswhere they be camped.”

“Where they be camped?” I exclaimed in wonder.“I thought that was many a mile from here—in fact,Sir, in the great city itself, and yet you say a fewminutes will show us the Royal tents.”

“Oh, what a blessed thing are youthful legs! Andwere you off to distant Westminster like that, goodfellow, ‘to see the Queen,’ forsooth, with nothing inthy wallet, and as little in thy head?” And the oldman eyed me under his slouching cap with a mixtureof derision and strange curiosity.

“I tell you, Sir,” I answered, “I come on hasty business;I am a messenger of the utmost urgency, and ifI am afoot instead of mounted it is more misfortunethan inclination. What brings the Queen, if, indeed,we are so near her, thus far afield?”

“Praise Heaven, young man, there is no one whoknows less of the goings and comings of her and hersthan I do. I hate them,” he said sourly; “a lyingswarm of locusts round that yellow jade they call aQueen—a shallow, cruel, worthless crew who standin the way of light and learning, and laugh the poorscholar out of face and heart!” And, muttering tohimself, my companion relapsed into a moody silenceas we breasted the last rise. But on a sudden helooked up with something like a smile wrinkling hiswithered cheek, and went on: “But you do not laugh—youhave some bowels of compunction within you—youcan be as civil to a threadbare cloak as to asilken doublet. Gads! fellow, there is somethingabout thee that moves me very strangely. Art thouof gentle quality?”

“I have been of many qualities in my time, Sir.”

“So I guessed, and something tells me we shall seemore of one another. There is a presence about theethat makes me fear—that puts a dread upon me, whyI know not. And then, again, I feel drawn to theeby a strong, strange sense, as the Persian says oneplanet is drawn toward another.”

I let the old fellow ramble on, paying, indeed, butcold notice to his chatter, since all my thoughts wereon ahead, and when at last we came out of the hazeldingles, there, sure enough, down in the valley wasa white road winding among the trees, and a statelypark, a goodly house of many windows, and amid thefair meadows among the branches shone the whitegleam of tents, and overhead the flutter of silken tagsand gonfalons, and now and then there came the glintof steel and gold from out that goodly show, and theblare of trumpets, and more softly on the afternoonair the shout of busy marshals, the neighing of steeds,and the low murmur of many voices.

Oh, it was a pretty scene to see the tender countrysideso fresh and green, and the rolling meadows atour feet dusted thick with gold and silver flowers allblended in a splendid web of tissue under the shiningsun. And there the flush of blossom on the orchardsstreaked the fair valley like a sunset cloud, and herethe bronze of budding oaks lay soft in the hollows,while overhead the blue canopy of the sky was oneunbroken roof from verge to verge.

We two looked down upon that scene of peace withdifferent feeling for a space, then, making my friendlysalutation to the dreamy pedant, “Here, Sir,” I said,“I fear we part forever.”

“Not so,” he said: “we shall meet once more, andsoon.”

“Well! well! Soon or distant, we will meet againin friendship,” and, with a wave of the hand, off I set,delighted to think chance had so favored me, and allimpatient to tell my news. I did not stop to look toleft or right, but down the glen I ran into the valley,scaring the frightened sheep and oxen, and stoppingnot for fence or boundary until the broad road wasreached, and all among the groups of gaping countrymenand busy lackeys leading out the steeds to waterin the meadows round the Royal camp, I slackenedmy pace. The broad park gates were open, and inside,amid the oak-trees around the great house, gayconfusion reigned. There, on one hand, were the fairwhite tents bright with silk and golden trappings,and, while a hundred sturdy yeomen were busy settingup these cool pavilions, others spread costly rugsabout their porches, and displayed within them lordlyfurniture enough to dazzle such rough soldier eyesas mine. There in long rows beneath the brancheswere ranked a wondrous show of mighty gildedcoaches with empty shafts a-trail, all still dusty fromthe road, and hurrying grooms were covering theseover for the night, while others fed and tended asquadron of sleek, fat horses, whose beribbonedmanes and glistening hides so well filled out struckme amazed when I recalled those poor, ragged, muddychargers whereon we had borne down the hosts ofPhilip’s chivalry two days before. All about thegreen were groups of gallant gentlemen and ladies,and I overheard, as I brushed by, some of them speakingof a splendid show to be given that night in thecourt of the great house near by, and how the proudowner of it, thus honored by the great Queen’s presence,had beggared him and his for many a day inmaking preparation. It was most probable, for thewhite-haired seneschal was tearing his snowy locks,entreating, imploring, amid a surging, unruly mass ofporters, cooks, and scullions, while heaps of provender,vats of wine, and mighty piles of food for menand horses, littered all the rearward avenues.

But little I looked at all these things. Clad likemany another countryman come there to see the show(only a little more ragged and uncouth), I passed theouter wickets, and, skirting the groups of idlers,strode boldly out across the trim inner lawns andbreasted the wide sweep of steps that led to the greatscutcheoned doorway. All down these steps gildedfellows were lolling in splendid finery, who startedup and stared at me, as, nothing noticing their gentlepresence, now hot upon my errand, I bounded by. Attop were two strong yeomen, gay in crimson and blacklivery, of most quaint kind, with rampant lions workedin gold upon their breasts, and tall, broad-bladed halberdsin their hands. They made a show of barringthe way with those mighty weapons; but I came sounexpected, and showed so little hesitation, they faltered.Also, I had pulled off my cap, and better menthan they had stepped back in fear and wonder froma glance of that grim, stern face that I thus did showthem. Past these, and once inside, I found the Queenwas receiving the country-folk, and up the waitingavenue of these good rustic lieges I pushed, brushingthrough the feeble fence of stewards’ marshaling-rodsheld out to awe, and, nothing noticing a score of curlypages who threw themselves before me, I burst intothe presence chamber. Hoth! ’Twas a fine room, likethe mid-aisle of a great cathedral, and all around thewalls were banners and bannerets, antlers of deer, andgoodly shows of weapons, and suits of mail and harness.And this splendid lobby was thronged withcourtiers in silks and satins, while ruffs and stocksand mighty collarets, and pearls and gems, and clothof gold and sarsanet glittered everywhere, and a gentleincense of lovely scents mingled with a murmurof courtly talk went up to the fair carved oaken ceiling.Right ahead of me was a splendid crimson carpetof wondrous pile and softness, and at the far endof that stately way a daïs, and on it, lightly chattingamid a pause in the Royal business—the Queen!

She was not the least what I had looked for. I hadpictured Edward’s noble dame, the daughter of theknightly house of Hainault, as pale and proud anddark—the fit wife to her warlike husband, and a meetmother to her son. But this one was lank and yellow,comely enough no doubt and tall, with a mighty proudlight in her eyes when occasion served, and a rightroyal bearing, yet still somehow not quite that whichI expected. What did it matter? Was it not theQueen, and was not that enough? Gods! Whatshould it count what color was her hair, since my masterfound it good enough? And, in truth, but I hadsomething to say would bring the red into those lacklustercheeks, or Philippa were unlike all otherwomen. Therefore, with a shout of triumph thatshocked the mild courtiers, brandishing my preciousscript above my head, I leaped forward, and, dashingup that open crimson road, ran straight to the footstoolof the Royal lady, and there dropping on oneknee:

“Hail! Royal mother,” I cried.

“Thanks!” she said sardonically, as soon as she regainedher composure. “Thanks, gentle maid!”

“Madam,” I cried, “I come, a herald, charged withsplendid news of conquest! But one day since, overin famous France, thy loyal English troops have wonsuch a victory against mighty odds as lends a newluster even to the broad page of English valor. Butone day since, in your noble General’s tent——”

But by this time all the throng of courtiers hadfound their tongues, and some certain quantity ofthose senses whereof my sudden entry had bereftthem. While a few, who caught the meaning of myword, and, stopping not to argue, thought it was thenews indeed of a victory that glittering Court hadlong hoped for, broke out into tumultuous cheering—wavingscarf and handkerchief, and throwing widethe lattices, that the common folk without mightshare their noisy joy, those others who stood closeraround, and saw my ragged habiliments, could notbelieve it.

“You a herald!” exclaimed one grizzled veteran inslashed black velvet over pearly satin. “You a messengerchosen for such an errand! Madam,” he cried,drawing out a long rapier from its velvet case, “it issome madman, some brain-sick soldier. I do imploreyour Grace to let me call the guards.”

“An assassin! an assassin!” cried another. “Runhim through, Lord Fodringham! Give him no chanceor parley!”

“’Tis past belief!” exclaimed a dainty fellow, allperfumed lace and golden chains. “Such glad tidingsare not trusted to base country curs.”

“A fool!” “A rogue!” “A graceless villain!” theyshouted. “Stab him! drag him from the presence!Fie upon the billmen to let such scullions in uponus!” And thick these pretty peers came clusteringon me, the while their ladies screamed, and all wasstormy tumult.

Up, then, I jumped to my feet, and hot and wrathful,shaking my clenched fist in the faces of thoseglittering lords, broke out: “By the bright light ofday, Sirs, he who says I have a better here in thishall, lies—lies loud and flatly. Do you think, becauseI come clad like this, you may safely spend your shallowwit upon me? I tell you all, pretty silken spanielsthat you are! you, Fodringham, with the gildedtoothpick you miscall a sword! you there, Sir, whor*ek of musk and valor! and all you others, who keepso discreetly out of arm’s reach!—I tell you every onethat, in court or camp, in tilt or tourney, I am yourmate! Ah, Sirs, and this rusty country smock, blazonedby miry ways and hasty travel; this muddytabard here, because ’tis upon a herald’s breast, ismore honorable wear than any silken surtout that youboast of. Gods, gentlemen! if so there be that anyone here in truth misdoubts it, let me entreat his patience;let me humbly crave the boon that he will holdhis mettled valor in curb just so long as I may renderthat message which I surely have at this Royal footstool,and then, on horse or foot, with mace or sword,I will show him my credentials!” But none of thatglittering throng had aught to say. Those bold, silkenlordlings pushed back in a wide circle from where Istood, fierce and tall in my muddy rags, and fumbledtheir golden dagger-knobs, and studied with droopedheads the dainty silk rosettes upon their cork-heeledshoes.

After waiting a moment, to give their valor fairchance of answering, I turned disdainfully from them,and, bending again to fair Queen Philippa, “Madam,”I said, “these noisy boys make me forget the smoothreverence that I owe your Grace, yet surely the nobledaughter of Hainault will forgive a hasty word spokenin defense of soldier honor?”

“I know nothing, good fellow,” replied the Queen,eyeing her discomfited nobles with inward glee, “ofthy Hainault, but I like thy outspokenness extremely.By Heaven! you make me think it was some time sinceI last saw a man about me.”

“And have I leave to do my mission, noble lady?”

“Ay, Sir, to it at once! We care not how you come,or who you are, or for the exact condition of yoursmock, so that you bring news of victory.”

“But, Madam,” put in Fodringham, “it is not safe—hehas some desperate purpose——”

“Silence!” shouted the Queen, springing to her feetand stamping a pretty foot, cased in a dainty pearl-encrustedslipper—“silence, I say, Lord Fodringham,and all you other peers who make our presence-chamberlike a bear-pit: silence! or by my father’s heart Iwill cure him of insolence who speaks again for onceand all.” And the sallow virago, flushing like anangry yellow sunset, with her fierce gray eyes agleam,and her thin lips stern-set, one white hand clutchingthe high carved arm of her daïs, and the other set likewhite ivory on the jeweled handle of her fan, scowledround upon her courtiers.

They knew that proud termagant too well to meether eye, and having stared them all into meek silenceshe let the yellow flush die from her cheek, and turningto me she said: “Now, fellow, to thy errand.”

“Then, sovereign lady,” I began, “but two dayssince, in France, the English troops, fair set upon asunny hillside, were attacked by a vast array of foemen,and thanks to happy chance, to thy princely General’scaptainship, and to the incredible valor of thylieges, they were victorious!”

“Now may the dear God who rules these things acceptmy grateful and most humble thanks!” And theproud Queen, with bright moisture in her eye, lookedskyward for a moment, and was so moved with truejoy and pleasure in her country’s conquest thatthereon at once she went up most mightily in myesteem.

“Most welcome of all heralds,” she went on, “howfared the English leader in that desperate fight? Ifaught has happed to Lord Leicester, it will spoil allelse that you can say.”[4]

[4] The Earl of Leicester, in the spring of 1586, had command of theEnglish forces in Flanders, and news of the great victory which he constantlypromised but never achieved was daily expected.

I did not quite catch the name she mentioned underbreath, but I thought it was the Royal mother askinghow my noble young master had prospered, so I spokeout at once.

“Madam, he is unhurt and well! It is not for me, ahumble knight, to praise that shining star of honor,but he for whom thou art so naturally solicitous” (herethe Queen blushed a little and looked down, whilethere was a scarce-suppressed laugh among the fairdamsels behind me), “he, Madam, has done splendiddeeds of valor. Three times, noble Queen, right alongthe glittering front of France he charged, three timeshe pierced so deep into that sea of steel that he nearlay hands upon their golden lilies in mid-host. Theproud Count of Poligny fell before him, and the Lordof Lusigny was overthrown in single combat; Besançonand Arnay went down under his maiden spear;he pulled an ancient crest from the Bohemian eaglein mid-battle. In brief, Madam, a more valorousknight was never buckled into armor; he was theprop and pillar of our host, and to him this victory isas largely due as it is to any.”

“Herald,” said the Queen, with real gratitude andpleasure in her voice again, “indeed your news is welcome.There was nothing I had rather than such avictory, and because ’tis his, because it will stifle theenvious clamor of his enemies, and embolden me todo that which I hope to. Oh! your news fills up tooverflowing the measure of my joy and satisfaction!”And the fair lady bent her head and fell into a reverie,like a maid who cogitates upon the prowess of an absentlover.

So far the woman—then the Queen came back, andlifting her shapely head, with its high-piled yellowhair, laced with strings of amethyst and pearl, andwell set off by the great stiff-starched ruff behind, sheasked:

“And my dear English nobles, and my stout halberdiersand pikemen—God forgive me that I shouldforget them!—how told the fight upon them? Myheart bleeds to think of the odds you say they didwithstand.”

“Be comforted, fair Sovereign! The tide of warset strong against our enemies, our palisades andtrenches were well laid; the keen English arrows carrieddisaster far afield on their iron points ere thebattle joined; the great host of France fell by its ownmightiness; and victory, this time at least, shallwring but few tears from English maids or matrons.”

“Heaven be truly thanked for that!”

“Indeed, Madam”—so I went on—“none of greataccount fell those few hours since. Lord HarcourtI saw bear him like the bold soldier that he was, andwhen the battle faded into evening he it was whomarshaled our scattered ranks and set the order forthe night.”

“Who did you say?”

“Harcourt, lady, thy bold captain. And Codrington,too, was redoubtable, and came safe from thefight. Chandos dealt out death to all who crossed hispath, like an avenging fury, yet took no scratch. HotLord Walsingham swept like an avalanche in springthrough the close-packed Frenchmen, yet lives to tellof it, and old Sir John Fitzherbert, when I left thefield—his white beard all athwart his shredded brokenarmor—was cheering loudly for our victory, the whilethey lapped him up in linens, for a French axe hadshorn his left arm off at the shoulder. All have takendints, but near all are safe and well.”

“’Tis strange,” said the Queen, thoughtfully, “’tisstrange I know so few of these. I have a Harcourt,but he is not warlike; and cunning, cruel Walsinghamlives in the north, and sits better astride of a dinner-stoolthan a charger. Codrington and Fitzherbertleading my troops to war! Here, let me see thy script:it may explain.” And she held out her jeweled hand.

Thereon a strange uneasiness possessed me, andseemed to cloud my honest courage. What was it?What had I to fear? I did not know. And yet mystrong fingers, that never wearied upon a hilt thoughthe day were ne’er so long, trembled as I slung roundmy pouch, and my heart set off a-beating with cravenfear, as it had never beat before in sack or mêlée.It was too foolish; and, a little angry at the bloodthat ran so slowly in my veins, and the heavy senseof evil that sat on me all of a sudden, I pulled themetal letter-case from my wallet, and burst the sealand pressed the lid. The wallet split from side toside as though the stout leather were frail paper, andthe strong metal crumbled in my fingers like red, rottentouchwood.

I stared at it in amazement. What could it mean?Then shook the thin, rusty fragments from my hand,and, putting on a bold face I did not feel, drew out theparchment from the strangely frail casing, brushedoff the dust and litter, and handed it to the Sovereign.

“Lady,” I said in a voice I fain would have madetrue and clear, “there is the full account, and thoughseas have stained it, and rough travel spoiled thecasing, as you saw, yet have I made all diligence Icould. It was yesterday morning King Edward gaveme that, and ‘Take it,’ he said, ‘as fast as foot can goto sweet Queen Philippa, my wife. Say ’twas pennedon battlefield, and comes full charged with my dearand best affections.’ Thus, Madam, have I brought itstraight to thee from famous Crecy, and here placeit, the warrant of my truth, in Queen Philippa’s ownhand.” And then I gave her the scroll.

Jove! how yellow and tarnished it did look! Thefrail silk that bound it was all afray and colorless; andthe King’s great seal, that once had been so cherry-red,was bleached to sickly pallor! The Queen tookit, and while I held my breath in nameless terror sheturned it over and slowly round about, and stared firstat me, and then at that fatal thing. She begged adagger from a courtier at her side, and split the binding,and unfolded that tawny scroll that crackled inher fingers, it was so old and stiff, and read the addressand superscription; and then, all on a sudden,while a deathlike silence held the room, she turnedher stern, cold eyes, full of wrath and wonder, to mekneeling there, and burst out:

“Why, fellow! what mummery is all this? Philippaand Crecy? Why, thou incredible fool! Philippa ofHainault has been dust these twenty generations; andCrecy—thy ‘famous Crecy’—was fought near threehundred years ago! I am Elizabeth Tudor!”

Slowly I rose from my feet and stared at her—staredat her in the hush of that wondering room,while a cold chill of fear and consternation crept overmy body. Incredible! “Crecy fought three hundredyears ago!”—the hall seemed full of that horriblewhisper, and a score of echoes repeated, “Queen Philippahas been dust these twenty generations, andCrecy—thy famous Crecy—was fought near threehundred years ago!” Oh, impossible—cruel—ridiculous!—andyet—and yet! There, as I stood, glaringat the Queen with strained, set face, and clenchedhands, and heaving breath, gasping, wondering, waitingfor something to break that hideous silence orgive the lie to that accursed sentence that still floatedround on the ambient air, and took new strength fromthe disdainful light in those clustering courtier eyes,and their mocking, scornful smiles—while I waited Iremembered—by all the infernal powers I remembered—myawakening, and all the things I should havenoted and had not. I recalled the bitter throes thathad wracked my stiff joints in the old British graveas never mortal rheums yet twisted common sinewand muscle. I recalled the long labor of the cryptthieves, and the altered face of rocks and foreshorewhen my eyes first lit upon them after that long sleep.The very April season that sorted so ill with theAugust Crecy left behind took new meaning to menow all on an instant; and my ragged, crumbling raiment,in shreds and tatters, so ruinous as never saltspray yet made a good suit in one mortal evening, thestrange garb and speech of those I met, and then thistawny, handsome, yellow lioness on the throne whereshould have been a pale, black Norman girl. Oh! helland fiends! But she spoke the truth. I had lain threehundred years in Ufner’s stones, and with a wild,fierce cry of shame and anger, one long yell of painand disappointment, I tore the cursed wallet frommy neck and hurled it down there savagely at her feet,and turned and fled! Past the startled courtiers—pastthe screaming groups of laced and ruffled women—out!out! through the long line of feeble wardens;out between the glistening lowered halberds of theguards, down the white shining steps, an outcast anda scoffing-point, down into the road I ran, under athousand wondering eyes, as fast as foot could go—notlooking where or how, but seeking only thefriendly cover of solitude and the fast-coming evening,and then, at length, worn out and spent—so sick inmind and heart I could scarce put one limb before another,I sank down on a grassy bank, a mile out ofsight and sound of that fatal camp, and dropped myhead into my hands and let the fierce despair and theblack, swelling loneliness well up in my choked andaching heart.

CHAPTER XVIII

You—happy—across whose tablets a kind fatedraws the sponge of oblivion even while you write,who leave the cup half emptied, and the feast half finished;you, from whose thoughts ambition passes inwarm meridian glow, who nourish expectation andhope to the very verge of the unknown; you, who leavewarm with the sweet wine of living, your dim way litwith the shine of love, your fingers locked in the claspof friendship; you, to whom all these things gentlyminister and smooth the path of the inevitable; you,who die but once and die so easily, surely cannot comprehendthe full measure of my sufferings!

Oh! it was horrible and sickening to feel the oldworld reel and spin like this beneath my laggard feet;to see crowns and states and people flit by like idleshadows on a sunny wall; to espouse great quarrelsthat set men into wide-asunder camps, and to wakeand find the quarrel long since over and forgotten; toswear allegiance to a king and love and serve him,and then to find, in the beat of a pulse, that he hadgone and was forgotten; to be the bearer of proud newsthat should kindle joy in a thousand thousand hearts,and then to wake when even the meaning of that news,the very cause and purport of it, was long since pastand gone—it was surely bitter!

And for myself—I, who, as you know, link a readysympathy with any cause, who love and live and hopewith a fervor which no experience quenches and noadversity can dim—to be thus cut adrift from all Ilived and hoped for, to be cast like this on to the bleak,friendless shore of some age, remote, unknown, unvalued—surelyit was a mischance as heavy as anymischance could be!

I had not any friend in all that universe, I said tomyself as I lay and thought sad thoughts upon thegrassy mound—a friend!—not one kind human heartin this hive of human atoms set store by me—not onehad heard I lived—not one cared if I died! Therewas not in all the world one question of how I fared,one wish that ran in union with any wish of mine—onesingle link to join me to my kind. And whatlinks could I forge again? How could I set out tohope afresh or love, or fear or wish for? Hope! gods!had I not hopes yesterday? And what were theynow?—a tawdry, silly sheaf of tinseled fancies. Andlove!—how could I love, remembering the new-deadIsobel?—and fear and desire! neither touched theaccursed monotony of my desolation; either wouldhave been a boon from Heaven to break the miserablecalm of my despair!

It was thus I reasoned with myself for hours as thegathering darkness settled down; and, poor as I hadoften been, and comradeless, I do not think, in all along and varied life, I had ever felt more reft offriends or melancholy lonesome. In vain my mindwas racked to piece the evidence of that huge lapseof time which, there was no doubt, had passed sincethe great battle on the Crecy hills. I could recall asthey have been set down every incident of the voyage,my escape, and what had followed the awakening:but the sleep itself was to me even now just one long,soft, dreamless, well-earned slumber from point topoint. So absolutely natural had been that wondroustrance that to think on it would make me start upwith a cry, and shake my fist to where, in the valley,the lights of Elizabeth’s camp were faintly shiningamong the trees, and half persuade myself that thiswere the dream—that the yellow-haired Princess hadsomehow mocked me, that Edward indeed still lived,with my jolly comrades, and I might still hope to winrenown and smiles amid them, and see those that Iknew, and drink red wine from friendly flagons. ThenI would remember all the many signs that told thePrincess had not fooled me—had but spoke the cruel,naked truth—and down I would sink again on theturf under the deepening shadows, and bewail mylot.

Tossed fiercely about like this, time passed unnoticed;the day went out in the west behind thepale amber and green satin curtains of the sunset,and, while I sat and grieved, the yellow stars climbedinto the sky, all the sweet silent planets of the nightset out upon their unseen pathways and airy paraboles,and behind the thicket that sheltered me themoon got up and threw across the lonely road a traceryof black and silver shadows. The evening air blewstrong and cool upon my flushed, hot brow, and lulledthe teeming thoughts that crowded there. Soft velvetbats came down, and the faint lisp of their hollowwings brushing by me was kindly and sympathetic.Overhead, the sallows hung out a thousand goldenpoints to the small people of the twilight, and a faintperfume—an incense of hope—fell on me with the yellowdust of those gentle flowers. If I say these coolinfluences somewhat respirited me, you will deride mychanging mood. Yet why should I hesitate for that?I did grow calmer under the gentle caressing of theevening; it was all so fair and still about me presently,and there was this star that I knew and that; and thenight-owl churning overhead was surely the very samebird that had sung above my hunter-couch in theSaxon woodlands; and the lonely trumpet of theheron, flying homeward up the valley, brought back ascore of peaceful memories. After all, men mightchange and go—shallow, small puppets that theywere!—but this, at least, was the same old earth aboutme, and that was something. I would find a shelteredcorner and sleep. Mayhap, with to-morrow’s dawnthe world might look a little brighter!

Just as this wise resolution was on the point of beingput in force, the faint sound of horse-hoofs, demurelywalking up toward my lurking-place, camedown on the night wind, and, retiring a moment intothe deep shadows, I had not long to wait before thesame shaggy palfrey and the same dreamy old fellowmet earlier in the day came pacing along the road.The scholar—for so I guessed him—looked neither toright nor left; his strange thin face was turned fullup to the moonlight, and the bright rays shone uponhis vacant eyes and long white beard with a strangesepulchural luster. He was letting the reins hangloose upon his pony’s neck, and, as he came near,thinking himself alone, he stretched out his long,sinewy hands in front; and it was plain to see his lipsworked in the moonlight with unspoken thoughtsquicker than an abbot’s at unpaid-for mass. Utterlyoblivious to everything around, in the white shine ofthe great night planet, old, lunatic, and gaunt, helooked, methought, the strangest wayfarer that everrode down a woodland lane by nightfall. He was indeedso weird and unapproachable in his reverie that,though I had felt a small gleam of pleasure in firstrecognizing something which, if not friend, was atleast acquaintance, yet now as he drew nigh, remoteand visionary, with glassy eyes fixed on the twinklingstars, and thin white locks lifting about his broadand wrinkled forehead, I hesitated to greet him, andstood back.

But that palfrey he bestrode was more watchfulthan his rider. He saw me loom dark among thehazels, and came to so sudden a stop as threw the oldman forward upon his ears, and, whatever his fanciesmay have been, jerked them clean from sky to earthin less time than it takes to write.

The scholar pulled himself together, and, with someshow of valor, threw back his wide cloak from hisright shoulder, and uncovered on his other side thehilt of a tarnished, rusty sword. Then, peeping andpeering all about, he cried: “Ho! you there in theshadows! Be ye thieves or beggars, know that I havenothing to give and less to lose!”

“And he who stops your way, Sir,” I answered,stepping forward into the clear, “is exactly in like circ*mstance.”

“Oh! it is you, friend, is it?” cried the old man, seemingmuch relieved. “I thought I had fallen into anest of footpads, or at the least a camp of beggars.”

“Your open declaration, Sir, backed by certain evidencesof its obvious truth, ought to have taken yousafely through the worst infested thicket hereabouts.”

“No doubt, no doubt; but I am glad it is you andnot another—first, because desirable friendships arerarely made by moonlight; and secondly, because youhave been in my mind the few hours since we parted.”

“I am honored in that particular, and your courtesymoves me the more because I was only now thinkingthere were none upon the face of the earth who weredoing so much by me.”

“You are green, young man, and therefore apt to leta passing whim, a shadow of disappointment, lead tohasty generalizing. You fared not as you hoped atyonder Court?” And the old man bent his keen grayeyes upon me with a searching shrewdness there wasno gainsaying.

“No! in faith I fared badly beyond all expectation.”

“And what were you projecting just now when, likethe ass of Balaam, this most patient beast saw you inthe way and interrupted my reflection so roughly?”

“Why, at that very moment, Sir,” I said, “I waslooking for a likely place to pass the night.”

“What, on the moss? with no better hangings toyour couch than these lean, draughty, leaflessboughs?”

“’Tis an honorable bed, Sir, and I have fared worsewhen I have been far richer.”

“Oh! what a happy thing it is to be young and fullof choler and folly! Not but that I have done thesame myself,” chuckled the old man: “for thou knowestmandrake must be gathered only at the full moon,and hemlock roots are digged in the dark—many atwilight such as this I spent groping in the murkywoods, picking those things that witches love—andnot gone home with full wallet until the owls werehoming and the pale white stars were waxing sicklyin the morning light. Nevertheless, Sir, take an oldman’s word, and presume not too largely on the immunitiesof youth.”

“I have no drier bed.”

“No, but I have. Come back with me to-night, andI will lodge you safe and sound until the morning.”

“Thanks for the proffer! Yet this is surely extremecourtesy between two wayfarers so newly metas we are?”

“And do I, Sir,” he cried, holding out his thin andshaky palms there in the pallid light, a gaunt andragged-looking specter—a houseless, homeless, visionaryvagrant—“do I, Sir, seem some broiling spend-thrift—someloose hedge-companion—some shallow-patedswashbuckler—hail-fellow-well-met with oneand all? I have not said so much civility as I did justnow to any one this twenty years!”

“The more thanks are due from him in whose favoryou make so great and generous exception. Is it distantto your lodgment?”

“But a few miles straight ahead of us.”

“Then I will go with you, for it were churlish toslight so good an offer out of bare waywardness”;and I tightened my belt, and took the ragged, ungroomedlittle steed by the rusty, cord-mended bit,and with these two strange companions, set out Iknew not how or where, and cared but little.

At first that quaint old man seemed more elatedthan could reasonably be expected at having securedme for a guest. He did not openly avow it, but Iwas not so young or unread in men but that I coulddecipher his pleasure in voice and eye, even while hetalked on other subjects. How this interest came,what he could hope to get or have of me, however,was well past my comprehension. My dress and rusticgarb spoke me his inferior in place and station,while, certes! my rags and tatters made me seem pooreven after my humble kind. He was a gentleman,though the sorriest-looking one who ever put a legacross a saddle. And I? I was afoot, a gloomy,purseless, unweaponed loiterer in the shadows. Whatcould he need of me that lent such luster to his eyes,and caused him to chuckle so hoarsely far down inhis lean and withered throat? The morrow no doubtwould show, and in the meantime, being still moroseand sad, smarting to have unwittingly played the foolso much, and full of grief and sorrow, I responded butdully to his learned talk. Feeling this, and being onlyslenderly attached to mundane things at best, hismind wandered from me after a mile or two—his eyesgrew fixed and expressionless, his hands dropped,supine upon the pommel, his chin sank down upon thelimp, worn, yellow ruffles on his chest, and senseless,disconnected murmurs ran from his lips, like waterdripping from a leaky cask.

I let him babble as he liked, and trudged along insilence, leaving the road to that sagacious beast, who,with drooped head and stolid purpose, went pacing onwithout a look either to right or left. And you willguess my thoughts were melancholy. Yesterday Iwas an honored soldier, the confidant of a proud, victoriousking, the comrade of a shining band ofprincely brethren, as good a knight as any thatbreathed among a host of heroes, the clear-honoredleading star—the bright example to a horde of stalwartveterans—with all the fair wide fields of renownand reputation lying inviting before me!—all thepleasant lethe of struggle and ambition open to mysearch, and I had strong, true friends abroad, and lovingones at home—and now! and now! Oh! I beat myhand upon my bosom, and spent impotent curses onthe starlight sky, to think how all was changed—tothink how those splendid princely shadows were gone—howall those sweet, rough spearmen who had riddenwith me, fetlock deep, through the crimson mireof Crecy had passed out into the void, leaving me heredesolate, poor, accursed—this empty hand that trainedthe spear that had shot princes and paladins to earthunder the full gaze of crownèd Christendom, turned toa low horse-boy’s duty, my golden mail changed to ahedgeman’s muddy smock, on foot, degraded, friendless,and forlorn!

But it was no good grieving. My melancholy servedsomehow to pass the way, and when, presently, Ishook it off again with one fierce, final sigh, andpeered about, we were slowly winding down a darkroad between high banks into a deeply wooded glenlying straight ahead. I had noticed now and then,as we came along, a twinkling light or two standingoff from the white roadway, amid the deep blackshadows of the evening, and each time had slowedmy gloomy stride, thinking this were the place weaimed for. Now it was a shepherd’s lonely cot, high-perchedamid the open furze and ling, with a faintred beam of warmth and light coming from the glowinghearth within. “Ah! here we be!” I thought. “SoLearning is lodged with fleecy Simplicity, and conshis Ovid amid the things the sweet Latin loved, orreads bucolic Horace beneath a herdsman’s oak!”

But that glum palfrey did not stop, and his fantasticmaster made no sign. Then it would be a way-sidecottage, all criscross-faced with beam of wood,after the new fashion, and overgrown with rose andeglantine. “Then this is it,” I sighed—“a comely,peaceful harborage. One could surely lie safer fromthe winds of blustering fortune in this tiny shell thana small white maggot in a winter-hidden nut.” AndI put my hand upon the dim trestle-gate. But stamp—stamp!the steed went on; and the master nevertook his chin from off his bosom!

Well, we had passed in this way some few smallhomesteads, and seen the glow-worm lights of a fair,sleeping Tudor village or two shine remote in the starlightvalleys, and then we came all at the same solemnpace, the same gloomy silence, into that deep-shadoweddell I spoke of. We dipped down, out ofthe honest white radiance, between high banks oneither hand, so high that bush and scrub were lockedin tangles overhead and not a blink of light camethrough. Down that strange black zigzag we slippedand scrambled, the loose stones rattling beneath ourfeet, in pitchy darkness, with never a sound to breakthe stillness but the heavy breathing of the horse, andnow and then the gurgle of an unseen streamlet runningsomewhere in the void. We staggered down thishell-dark pathway for a lonely mile, and then thereloomed up from the blackness on my right hand amoldy, broken terrace wall, all loose and cracked, withfallen coping slabs and pedestals displaced, and hideous,stony, graven monsters here and there gloweringin the blackness at us who passed below. Two hundredpaces down this wall we went, and then came toan opening. At the same moment the pale moonshone out full overhead and showed me a gate, a garden,and beyond an empty mansion, so white, so ruinousand ghastly, so marvelously like a dead, expressionlessface suddenly gleaming over the blackpall of the night, that I tightened my hand upon thesnaffle strap I held, and bit my lip, and thanked myfate it was not there I had to sleep.

Yet could I not help staring at that place. Thewall turned in on either side to meet those gates. Theyhad once been noble and well wrought and gilded, forhere and there the better metal shone in spots amidthe wide expanse of rusty iron that formed them, butnow they were like the broken fangs, methought, ofsome old hag more than aught else. The left of thesetwo rotten portals never opened, the nettle and wildcreepers were twined thick about its shattered lowerbars, while its fellow stood ajar, with one hinge gone,and sagging over, desperately envious, it seemed, ofthe small footway that wound amid the rank wildherbage past it. And then that garden! Jove! Wasever such a ghostly wilderness, such a tangledlabyrinth of decay and neglect born out of the kind,fertile bosom of gentle Mother Earth? Never beforehad I seen black cypresses throw such funereal shadows;never had I known the winter-worn things ofsummer look so ghoul-like and horrible! But worstof all was the mansion beyond—a straggling pile, withmighty chimney stacks, from whence no pleasantsmoke curled up, and silent, grassy courtyards, andlonely flights of broken steps leading to lonely terraces,and a hundred empty windows staring empty-socketedback upon the dead white light that shoneso straight and cruel on them. Oh! it was all mostforlorn and melancholy, surely an unholy place,steeped deep with the indelible stain of some blackstory—and I turned me gladly from it!

I turned, and as I did so the horse came to a suddenstop!—stopped calm and resolute before that ill-omenedportal! This woke his master, who staredand looked up. He saw the house and gates in thefull stream of the moonlight, and then turned to me.

“Welcome!” he cried, “right welcome to my home!Ho! ho! you shall sleep snug enough to-night. Lookat the shine on it. They have lit up to welcome us!”and he pointed with a long, fleshless finger to thoseghostly windows! “Ho! ho! ho!” came, like a deadvoice, the echo of his laughter out of the blank courtyarddepth, and the old man, so strange and wild,struck his rusty spurs upon the bare sounding ribsof his beast and turned and rode through the portal.

For one minute I held back—’twas all so grim andtragic-looking, and I was weak, shaken with grief andfasting, unweaponed and alone—for one minute I heldback, and then the red flush of anger burned hot uponmy forehead to think I had been so near to fearing.I tossed back my black Phrygian locks, and with anangry stride—my spirit roused by that moment’sweakness—strode sternly across the threshold.

Down the white gravel way we twined, the loose,neglected path gleaming wet with night-dew; webrushed by thickets of dead garden things, such ashad once been tall and fair, but now tainted the nightair with their rottenness. We stepped over giantbrambles and great fallen hemlocks—little hedge-pigs,so forsaken was it all, trotting down the path beforeus—and bats flitting about our heads. In one placehad been a fountain, and Pan himself standing by it.The fountain was choked with giant dock and cress,wherefrom some frogs croaked with dismal glee, whilePan had fallen and lay in pieces on his face across theway. So we came in a moment or two to the house,and there my guide dismounted and pulled bit andbridle, saddle and saddle-cloth from his pony. Thatbeast turned and stepped back into the shadows ofthe desolate garden, vanishing with strange suddenness,but whither I could not guess. Then the oldman produced a green-rusty key from under his belt,and putting it to the lock of the door at top of thatflight of broken steps, which looked as though no foothad trodden them for fifty years, he turned the rustywards. The grind and wail of those stiff bolts hadalmost human sadness in it, and then we entered along, lonely chilly hall. Here my guide felt for flintand steel, and I own I heard the click of the stoneand metal, and saw the first sparks spring and dieupon the pavement, with reasonable satisfaction.

’Twould have made a good picture, had some onebeen by to limn it—that ghastly pale face that mighthave topped a skeleton, so bloodless was it, withsharp, keen eyes, a glint in the red glow that camepresently upon the tinder, that strange slouch hat,that ragged, sorrel, graveyard cloak, and all about thegleam, glancing off the crumbling finery, the worm-eatenfurniture, the broken tile-stones, the empty,voiceless corridors, the doors set half ajar, the greatcarved banisters of the stairway that mounted intothe black upper emptiness of that deserted hall. Andthen I myself, there by the porch, watchful and grim,in my sorry rags, the greatest wonder of it all, eyeingwith haughty speculation that old fellow, so ancientand yet so young, tottering and venerable under theweight of a poor eighty years, perhaps, while it wasthree times as much since strong-limbed, supple I hadeven sat to a meal! It was truly strange, and I waitedfor anything that might come next with calm resignation—alistless faith in the integrity of chance whichput me beyond all those gusty emotions of hope andfear which play through the fledgling hearts of lessermen.

The red train of sparks lit upon the tinder while Iglanced around, the old man’s breath blew them intoa flame, and this he set to a rushlight, then turnedthat pale flame in my direction as he surveyed hisguest from top to toe. I bore the inspection withfolded arms, and when he had done he said:

“Such thews and sinews, son, as show beneath thathempen shirt of yours, such breadth of shoulder andstalwartness can scarcely be nourished on eveningdew and sad reflections. Have you eaten lately?”

“In truth, Sir, it was some time ago I last sat tomeat,” was my response; “and, whether it be our walkor the night-air, I could almost fancy your father’sfather might have shared that meal with me.”

“Well, come, then, to the banquet-hall—the feastis spread, and, for guests, people these shadows withwhom you will!” and, taking the rushlight from itssocket and hobbling off in front, that strange hostof mine led down the corridor to where a great archwayled into the main chamber of the house.

It was as desolate and silent as every other place,vast, roomy, blank, and gloomy. All along one sidewere latticed windows looking out upon that dead garden,and the moonbeams coming through them threwfaint reflections of escutcheon and painted glass uponthe dusty floor. Here and there the panes werebroken, and draughts from these swayed the frayedand tattered hangings with ghostly undulations—ah!and at the top of the room an open door, leading intounknown blackness, kept softly opening and shuttingin the current, as though, with melancholy monotony,it was giving admittance to unseen, voiceless company.

But nothing said my friend to excuse all this. Heled up the long black table, with rows of seats andbenches fit to seat a hundred guests, until at thelonely top he found and lit the four branches of alittle oil lamp of green moldy bronze, such as onetakes from ancient crypts, and when the four littleflames grew up smoky and dim they shone upon anapkin ready laid, a flask, a pitcher, and a plate,flanked by a horn-handled knife and spoon, and anoaken salt-cellar. Then the old carl next went to acupboard in a niche, and brought out bread on atrencher, a cheese upon a round leaden dish, and acurious flask of old Italian wine. I stared at my hostin wonder, for I could have sworn a Saxon hand hadtrimmed his knife and spoon, his lamp was Etruscan,as truly as I lived, though Heaven only knew how hecame by it—and that pitcher—why, Jove! I knew thevery Roman pottery marks upon it, the maker’s signand name—the very kiln that glazed it.

He laid a plate for me, and cut the loaf and filledour tankards, and—“Eat!” he said. “The feast is small,but we have that sauce the wise have told us wouldmake a worse into a banquet.”

“Thanks!” I said. “I have, in truth, sat to widerspreads, yet this is more than I could, a few shorthours since, have reasonably hoped for.” And so Ibegan and broke his bread, and turned about thecheese, and poured the wine, and made a very goodrepast out of such modest provender. But, as youmay guess, between every mouthful I could not helplooking up and about me—at the wise-mad featuresof that quaint old man, now far away and visionary,again lost in thought and fantasy; and then outthrough the broken mullions into that pallid gardenof white spectral things and inky shadows lying sodeath-like in the moonshine; and so once more my eyewould wander to the long, somber hall—the statelyhigh-backed chairs all rickety and moth-eaten, andthe door that gently opened now and then to admitthe sighing of the night-wind, and nothing more!

Well! I will not weary you with experiences soempty. At last the most spectral meal that ever mortalsat to was over, and the old man roused himself,and, like one who comes reluctantly from deepthought, drained out his goblet to the dregs, andturned it down and swept the crumbs into his plate,and standing up, said in somewhat friendly tone:“You will be weary, stranger guest, and mayhap Iam to-night but a poor host. If it pleased you, I wouldshow you to a chamber, which, though mayhap somewhatmusty, like much else of mine, shall neverthelessbe drier than yon couch of yours out there by thehazel thicket.”

“Musty or not, good Sir, I do confess a bed will bewelcome. It must be near four hundred years at least—thatis to say, it must be very long, my sleepy eyessuggest—since I was lain on one.”

“Come, then!”

“Yet half a minute, Sir, before we go. This garbof mine—I do not deign to advert to its poorness, formy own sake, but it does such small credit to yourhonor and hospitality. Fortune, in other times, gaveme the right to wear the hose and surtout of a gentleman—ifyou had such a livery by you.”

The scholar thought a space, then bid me stay whereI was, and took the rushlight and went down the passage.In a few minutes he was back, with a swatheof faded raiment upon his arm, and threw them downupon the bench.

“There, choose!” he cried. “It was like a youngman to think of to-morrow’s clothing, between supper-timeand bed.”

The raiment was as mysterious as everything elsehereabout. It was all odds and ends, and quaint oldfashions and tags of finery, the faded panoply of stateand pride, the green vest of a forest ranger, the gaberdineof a marshal of the lists, suits for footmen withthe devices I had seen upon the ruined gates workedon the front in golden thread, and some few courtlythings, such as idle young lords will wear a day ortwo and then throw by to wear some newer.

Out of the latter I selected a suit that looked asthough it would fit me, and, though a little crumpled,was still in reasonable condition. This vestment,after the fashion of the time, consisted of tight hoseand much-puffed breeches, a fine silk waistcoat comingfar down, and a loose and ample coat upon it, withwide shoulders and long, tight sleeves. When I addthis suit was of amber velvet, lined and puffed withprimrose satin, you will understand that, saving thecertain moldiness about it I have mentioned, it wasas good as any reasonable man could desire. I rolledit up, and put it under my arm, then turned to myhost with something of a smile at the strangenessof it all.

“A supper, Sir,” I said, “and shelter; a suit of velvet;and then a bed! Why, surely, this is rare civilitybetween two chance companions met on a countryroad!”

“Ah!” answered the old man, “and if you were asold as I am, you would know it is rare, but that suchthings must, somehow, be paid for,” and he eyed mecuriously a moment from under those penthouse eyebrows.“Is there anything more you lack?” he continued.“To-night it is yours to ask, and mine togive.”

“Since you put it to me, worthy host,” I responded,“there is one other thing I need—something a soldierlikes, whether it be in court or camp, in peaceful halllike this or on the ridges of dank battlefield—astraight, white comrade that I could keep close to meall day, a dear companion who would lie nigh by myside at night—believe me, I have never been withoutsuch.”

“And believe me, young man, I cannot humor you.Fie! if that’s your fancy, why did you leave yon wantoncamp? Gads! but they would have lined youthere civilly enough, but I——What, do you thinkI can conjure you a pretty, painted leman for a playthingout of these black shadows all about us?”

Whereat I answered seriously: “You mistake mymeaning, Sir. It was no gentle damsel that I needed,but such a companion as I have ever had—in brief,a weapon, a sword. It was only this I thought of.”

I heard the old man mutter as he turned away—“Acurse on young men and their wants—new suits, supperand wine, leman, weapons—oh! it’s just the samewith all of them,” and he took the taper from the tableand signed to me to follow.

He led me down the hall with its bare, cold flagstonesand somber paneling dimly seen under thefeeble gleaming light he carried, and in a few pacesmy grim host stopped and held that shine aloft. Itshone redly on a tarnished trophy of arms, chain-mail,and helmets, whence he bid me choose whatever tookmy fancy, making the while small effort to hide hiscontempt for the obvious eagerness and pleasure withwhich I sampled that dusty hoard. After a minuteor two I selected a strong Spanish blade, a little lightand playful, perhaps, with golden arabesques all downit, and a pretty fluted hollow for the foeman’s blood,and a chased love-knot at the hilt; yet, nevertheless,a good blade, and serviceable, with an edge as keenas a lover’s eye, and a temper as true as ever was gotinto good steel, I thought, as I sprang it on the tiles,between hammer and anvil. This Toledo blade hada cover of black velvet, bound and hooped with silverbands, and a stout belt of like kind, nicely suitingthat livery I carried upon my arm. I bound the swordabout me, and, after being so long unweaponed, foundit wondrous comfortable and pleasant wear.

“Now then, Sir Host,” I cried, “lead on! If thischamber of thine were in the porch of paradise or inthe nethermost pit of hell, I am equally ready to exploreit.”

Up the gloomy stairs we went, now to right andthen to left, by corridors and passages, until the roadwe came was hopelessly mazed to me; and soon myhost led to a wider, gloomier avenue of silent doorwaysthan any we had passed.

“Choose!”—he laughed—“choose you a bed! Bettermen than you have lodged—and died—withinthese cheerful chambers.” And that wild oldman, with furrowed face and mad, sparkling eyes,seeming in that small, round globe of light like somespectral remnant of the fortunes of his lonely house,opened door after door for me to note the grim blacksolitudes within. In every chamber hung the samestaring portraits on the wall, cold, proud, dead eyesfixed hard upon you wherever you might look! onevery rotten cornice were tattered hangings, halfshrouding those dim cobwebbed windows that gazedso wistfully out upon the moonlit garden; and duskypanel doors and cupboard casem*nts that gentlycreaked and moved upon the sighing draught till youcould swear ghostly fingers played upon the latches;the same stern black furniture, crumbling and decayed,was in each set straight against the walls; thesame cenotaph four-posted bedsteads with ruinedtapestries and moldy coverlets—“Choose,” he laughed,with a horrid goblin laughter that rattled down theempty corridors—“my house is roomy, though theguests be few and silent.”

But, in truth, there was little to choose where allwas so alike. Therefore, and not to seem the leastbit moved by all this dreadfulness, I threw down myborrowed clothes and rapier upon the settle in one ofthe first rooms we happed upon, and said: “Here,then, good host—and thanks for courteous harborage!What time doth sound reveillé—what time, I mean,doth thy household wake?”

“My household, stranger, sleeps on forever. Theywill not wake for any mortal sunrise, and I spend thelong night-hours in work and vigil”—and he lookedat me with the gloomy fanaticism of an absent mind—“yetyou must wake again,” he went on after a minute.“I have something to ask thee to-morrow, perhapssomething to show——”

“Why, then, until we meet again, good-night andpleasant vigils, since it is to them you go.”

“Good-night, young man, and sober sleep! Rememberthis is no place to dream of tilts and tourneys, oflost causes or light leman love”; and, muttering tohimself as he shuffled down the bare, dusty floors, Iheard him pass away from corridor to corridor, andflight to flight, until even that faint sound was swallowedby the cavernous silence of the sepulchral mansion,and night and impenetrable stillness fell on thoseempty stairways and gaunt voiceless rooms.

CHAPTER XIX

I slept all that night a deep, unbroken slumber,waking with the first glimpse of morning, calm andrefreshed, but very sleepily perplexed at my surroundings.It was only after long cogitations that thethread of my coming hither took form and shape.When at last I had examined myself in my antecedents,and reduced them to the melancholy present,I got up and looked from the window. A fair tractof country lay outside, deep-wooded and undulating,with pastoral meadows in between the hangers, andbeyond, in the open, that streamlet whose prattle hadbeen heard the night before lay spread into a broad,rushy tarn overgrown with green weeds and waterthings, and then running on through the flat softmeadows of this hollow where the house was builtwound into the far distance, where it joined somethingthat shone in the low white light like the gleamof a broader river. It was not a cheerful morning,for it had rained much, and the chilly mist hung lowand still about these somber-wooded thickets, andthe long grass between them; the sleepy rooks in thenests upon the bare treetops were later to wing thanusual, cawing melancholy from the sodden boughs asthough loth to leave them; and down below nothingsang or moved but the dark black merle flutteringalong the covert side, and the mavis tuning a plaintiveand uncertain note from off the wet fir-tops.

When I had stared my full, and learned little fromthe outlook, I donned those clothes that I had borrowed,and they were a happy choice. They fitted melike a lady’s glove, and, as I laced and hooked andbelted them before a yellow mirror let into the blackpanel of my chamber door, I could not but feel theylooked a goodly fashion for one of my make and build.I had not seemed so stalwart and so sleek, so straightin limb and broad in shoulder, since I was a Saxonthane. Then I belted on that pretty sword round mynicely tapering middle, and ran my fingers throughmy black Eastern locks, arranging them trimly insidemy high-standing frill, and took another look or twointo the glass, and then with a derisive smile—a littlescornful at the secret pleasure those fine feathers gaveme—I went forth.

Surely never did mortal mason build such a housebefore! The deepest, densest forest path that evermy hunter’s foot had trodden was simple to thosemazes of curly stairs and dim passages and woodenalleys that led by tedious ways to nothing, and creaking,rotten steps that beguiled the wanderer by sinuousrepetitions from desolate wing to wing and flightto flight. And all the time that I wrestled with thoselabyrinthine mazes in the struggle to reach latitudesI knew, not a sign could I see of my host, not a whispercould I catch of human voice or familiar soundin that dusty, desolate wilderness. Such an impenetrablestagnation hung over that empty habitationthat the crow of a distant co*ck or the yelp of a villagecur would have been a blessed interruption, butneither broke the vault-like, solemn stillness. Fromroom to room I went, opening countless doors at random,all leading into spacious, moldy chambers, bareand tenantless, feeling my way by damp, neglectedwall and dangerous broken floorings to endless cobwebbedwindows, unbarring wooden casem*nts andletting in the watery light that only made the innerdesolation more ghostly conspicuous, but nothinghuman could I find, nor any prospect but that sameone I had seen before of damp woodlands and marshywater-meadows out beyond.

Perhaps for half an hour had I adventured thushopelessly, lost in the dusty bowels of that stupendousbuilding; and then—just as I was near despairing ofan exit and meditating a leap from a casem*nt on tothe stony terraces below—opening one final door, thatmight well have been but a household cupboard forthe storing of linen and raiment, there, at my feet,was the great main staircase leading, by many a turnand staging, to the central hall below! I put, withthe point of my sword, a cross upon the outside of thatcupboard-door, so that I might know it again if needbe, and then descended.

Had you seen me coming down those Tudor steps inthat Tudor finery—my hand upon the hilt of my longsteel rapier perked behind me, my great ruffle and mycurled mustache, my strong soldier limbs squeezed intothose sweet-fitting satin hose and sleeves, so stern andgrim, so lonely and silent in the white glimmer of themorning shine that came from distant lattice andpainted oriel—you well might have thought mescarcely flesh and blood—some old Tudor ancestor ofthat old Tudor hall stepped from a painter’s canvasjust as he was in life, and come with beatless feet tosee what cheer his gross descendants made of it wherehe had once lived so noisy and so jolly.

Down the steps I came, and into the banquet-hall,empty and deserted like all else, and so sauntered tothe table head where I had supped the evening before.Not one trace of humankind had I seen sincethe night, and yet—that little thing quite startled me—thesupper had been cleared away, another napkinspread, another plate, put out with fruit and bread,and a large beaker of good new milk stood by to flankthem. I stared hard at that simple-seeming meal, andcould not comprehend it. I was near sure the oldman had not set it—yet, if he had, why was there butone plate, one place, one chair, one beaker? Was itmeant for me or him? What fingers had pulled thatfruit, or drawn that milk still warm from its source?I would wait, I thought, and strolled off to the windows,and down them all slowly in turn, then backagain, to idly hum a favorite tune we had sung yesterdayat Crecy. But still nothing came or stirred. ThenI went into the hall and examined that trophy ofweapons and tried them all, and then unbarred thegreat door and went out upon the terrace, there todangle my satin legs over the balustrades during along interval of gloomy speculation; but not a leafwas moving, not a sign or whisper could I see of thatstrange old fellow who had brought me hitherto, andnow did his duty by his guest so quaintly.

At last I went back to the dining-place, and regardedthat mysterious meal with fixed attention.“Now this,” I thought, “is surely spread for me, and ifit is not then it should be. The master of a housemay get him food how and when he likes; but theguest’s share is put ready to his hand. I have waiteda long hour and more, the sun is high, surely thatlearned pedant could not mean to belay his courtesyby starving a stranger visitor! No, it were certainlyaffectation to wait longer: at the worst there mustbe more where these good things came from.” Andbeing hungry, and having thus appeased my conscience,I clapped my sword upon the table and fellto work, and in a short space had made a light thoughsufficient meal and cleared everything eatable completelyfrom the table.

I was the better for it, yet this strange solitudebegan to weigh upon me. But a few hours since—surelyit was no more—I had been in a busy camp,bright with all the panoply of war, active, bustling;and here—why, the white mists seemed creepingthrough me, it was so damp and melancholy, thetawny mildew of these walls seemed settling downupon my spirit. Jove! I felt, by comparison of whatI had been and was, already touched with the clammyrottenness of this place, and slowly turning into apiece of crumbling lumber, such as lay about on everyhand—a tarnished, faded monument to a life that wasbygone. Oh! I could not stand the house, and, takingmy cap and sword, strolled down the garden, full ofpensive thoughts, morose, uncaring, and so out intothe woods beyond, and over hill and dale, a long walkthat set the stagnant blood flowing in my sleepy veins,and did me tonic good.

Leaving the hall where so strange a night had beenspent, I strode out strongly over hill and dale for mileafter mile, without a thought of where the path mightlead. I stalked on all day, and came back in theevening; yet the only thing worthy of note upon thatround was a familiarness of scene, a certain feelingof old acquaintance with plain and valley, which possessedme when I had gone to the farthest limit of thewalk. At one hilltop I stopped and looked over awide, gently swelling plain of verdure, with a grassyknoll or two in sight, and woods and new wheat-fieldsshining emerald in the April sunlight, while far awaythe long clouds were lying steady over the dim shineof a distant sea. I thought to myself, “Surely I haveseen all this before. Yonder knoll, standing tallamong the lesser ones—why does it appeal so to me?And that distant flash of water there among themisty woodlands a few miles to westward of it? Jove!I could, somehow, have sworn there had been a riverthere even before I saw the shine. Some sense withinme knows each swell and hollow of this fair countryhere, and yet I know it not. They were not my Saxonglades that spread out beneath me, and the distantstream swept round no such steep as that castledmount wherefrom I had set out for Crecy.” I couldnot justify that spark of vague remembrance, and longI sat and wondered how or when in a wide life I hadseen that valley, but fruitlessly. Yet fancy did noterr, though it was not for many days I knew it.

Then, after a time, I turned homeward. Homeward,was it? Well, it was as much thitherward asany way I knew, though, indeed, I marveled as I wentwhy my feet should turn so naturally back to thatgloomy mansion peopled only by shadows and thesmell of sad suggestions. Perhaps my mind just thenwas too inert to seek new roads, and accepted theeasiest, after the manner of weak things, as the inevitable.Be this as it may, I went back that wet,misty afternoon, alone with my melancholy listlessnessthrough the damp dripping woods and coppices,where the dead ferns looked red as blood in the eveningglow. I was so heedless I lost my way once ortwice, and, when at length the dead front of the oldhouse glimmered out of the mist ahead, the early nightwas setting in, and that lank, dejected garden, thoseruined terraces, and hundred staring, empty windowsfrowning down on the grave-green courtyard stonesseemed more forsaken, more mournful-looking eventhan it had the night before.

I found the front door ajar, exactly as it was left,and, groping about, presently discovered the tinderand steel. I made a light, and laughed a little bitterlyto think how much indeed I was at home; then,in bravado and mockery, unsheathed my sword andwent from room to room, in the gathering dusk, stalkingsullen and watchful, with the gleam of light heldabove my head, down each clammy corridor and vault-likechamber; rapped with my hilt on casem*nt andpanels, and, listening to the gloomy echo that rumbleddown that ghoulish palace, I pricked with my rapier-pointeach swelling, rotting curtain; I punctured everyghostly, swinging arras, and stabbed the black shadowsin a score of dim recesses. But nothing I founduntil, in one of these, my sword-point struck somethingsoft and yielding, and sank in. Jove! it startled me.’Twas wondrous like a true, good stab through fleshand bone; and my fingers tightened upon the pommel,and I sent the blade home through that yielding, unseen“something,” and a span deep into the rottenwall beyond; then looked to see what I had got.Faugh! ’twas but a woman’s dress left on a rusty nail,a splendid raiment once—such as a noble girl mightwear, and a princess give—padded and quilted wondrously,with yards of stitching down the front, wherefromrude hands had torn gold filigree and pearl embroideries,and where the wearer’s heart had beatthose rough fingers had left a faded rose still tiedthere by a love-knot on a strand of amber silk—alovely gown once on a time, no doubt, but now mysword had run it through and through from back tobosom. Lord! how it smelled of dead rose, and must,and moth! I shook it angrily from my weapon, andleft it there upon the rotten boards, and went on withmy quest.

But neither high nor low, nor far nor near, was thereto be found the smallest trace of my host or any livingmortal. At last, weary and wet, and oppressed withthose vast echoing solitudes, I went back to the greathall—passed all the untouched litter I had made inthe morning—and so to the banquet-place. I walkedup the long black tables set solemn with double rowsof empty chairs, and lit the lamp that stood at top.It burned up brightly in a minute—and there beneathI saw the morning meal had been removed, the suppernapkin neatly laid, and bread, wine, and cheese laidout afresh for one!

So unexpected was that neat array, so quaint, soout of keeping with the desolate mansion, that Ilaughed aloud, then paused, for down in the greatvaulty interior of that house the echo took my laughterup, and the lone merriment sounded wicked andinfernal in those soulless corridors. Well! there wassupper, while I was tired and hungry I would not bebalked of it though all hell were laughing outside.In the vast empty grate I made a merry fire withsome old broken chairs, a jolly, roaring blaze thatcurled about the mighty iron dogs as though glad towarm the chilly hearth again, and went flaming andtwisting up the spacious chimney in right gallantkind. Then I lifted the stopper of the wine-jar, and,finding it full of a good Rhenish vintage, set to workto mull it. I fetched a steel gorget from the trophyin the hall, poured the liquor therein, and put it bythe blaze to warm. And to make the drink the morecomplete I spit an apple on my rapier point andtoasted the pippin by the embers, thus making a wassailbowl of most superior sort.

I ate, and drank, and supped very pleasantly thatevening, while the strong wind whistled among thechimney-stacks and rattled with unearthly persistenceupon the casem*nts, or opened and shut, now soft, nowfiercely, a score of creaking distant doors. The splutteringrain came down upon the fire by which I sat inmy quaint finery, warming my Tudor legs by thatTudor blaze; the tall, spectral things of the gardenbeyond the curtainless windows nodded and bent beforethe storm; loose strands of ivy beat gently uponthe panes like the wet long fingers of ghostly vagrantsimploring admission; the water fell with measuredbeat upon the empty courtyard stones from brokengargoyle and spout, like the fall of gently patteringfeet, and the strangest sobbing noises came from thehollow wainscoting of that strange old dwelling-place.But do you think I feared?—I, who had lived so longand known so much—I, who four times had seen thesubstantial world dissolve into nothing, and hadawoke to find a new earth, born from the dusty ashesof the past—I, who had stocked four times the voidair with all I loved—I, for whom the shadowy fields ofthe unknown were so thickly habited—I, to whom theteeming material world again was so unpeopled, sovisionary, and desolate? I mocked the wild gossipof the storm, and grimly wove the infernal whispersof that place into the thread of my fancies.

Hour by hour I sat and thought—thought of all therosy pictures of the past, of all the bright beams oflove I had seen shine for me in maiden eyes, all thewild glitter and delight of twenty fiery combats, allthe joy and success, all the sorrow and pleasure, ofmy wondrous life; and thus thought and thoughtuntil I wore out even the storm, that went sighingaway over the distant woodlands, and the fire, thatdied down to a handful of white ashes, and the wine-pot,that ran dry and empty with the last flames inthe grate; and then I took my sword and the taper,and, leaving the care of to-morrow to the coming sunrise,went up the solemn staircase and threw myselfupon the first dim couch in the first black chamberthat I met with.

I threw myself upon a bed dressed as I was, butcould not sleep as soon as I wished. Instead, a heavydrowsiness possessed me, and now I would dream fora minute or two, and then start up and listen as somedistant door was opened, or to the quaint gusts thatroamed about those corridors and seemed now andthen to hold whispered conclave outside my door.It was like a child, I knew, to be so restless; but yethe who lives near to the unknown grows by naturewatchful. It did not seem possible I had fathomedall the mystery there was in that gloomy mansion, andso I dozed, and waked, and wondered, waiting in spiteof myself for something more all in the deep shadowof my rotten bed-hangings; now speculating upon myhost, and why he tenanted such a life-forsaken cavern,and ate and drank from ancient crockery, and hadstore of moldy finery and rusty weapons; and thenidly guessing who had last slept on this creaking,somber bed, and why the pillows smelled so much ofmoldiness, and mildew; or again listening to the wailof the expiring wind among the chimneys overhead,and the dismal sodden drip of water falling somewhere.Perhaps I had amused myself like that anhour, and it was as near as might be midnight: thelow, white moon was just a-glimpse over the sighingtreetops in the wilderness outside. I had been dozinglightly, when, on a sudden, my soldier ear distinctlycaught a footfall in the passage without, and, startingup upon my elbow in the black shadow of the bed,I gripped the hilt of the sword that lay along underthe pillows and held my breath, as slowly the doorwas opened wide, and, before my astounded eyes, atall, dark figure entered!

It was all done so quietly that, beyond the first footfalland the soft click of the lifting latch, I do notthink a sound broke the heavy stillness that, betweentwo pauses of the wind, reigned throughout the emptyhouse. Very gently that dusky shadow by my portalshut the door behind, and it might have been only theouter air that entered with him, or something in thatpresence itself, but a cold, damp breath of air pervadedall the room as the latch fell back.

I did not fear, and yet my heart set off a-thumpingagainst my ribs, and my fingers tightened upon thefretted hilt of my Toledo blade as that thing cameslowly forward from the door, and, big and tall, and sofar indistinct, stalked slowly to the bed-foot, touchingthe posts like one who, in an uncertain light, reassureshim by the feel of well-known landmarks, andso went round toward the latticed window. I didnot stir, but held my breath and stared hard at thatblack form, that, all unconscious of my presence,slowly sauntered to the light and took form and shape.In a minute it was by the lattice and, to my stern,wondering awe, there, in the pale white moonshine,looking down into the desolate garden beyond withmelancholy steadfastness, was the figure of a tall,black Spanish gallant. In that white radiance, againstthe ebony setting of the room, he was limned with extraordinaryclearness. Indeed, he was a great silvercolumn now of stenciled brightness against the blackvoid beyond, and I could see every point and detailin his dress and features as though it were broad daylight.He was—or must I say, he had been?—a tall,slim man, long-jointed and sparse after the mannerof his nation, and to-night he wore something like thefashion of his time—black hose and shoes, a black-seemingwaistcoat, a loose outdoor hood above it, aslouch cap, a white ruffle, and a broad black-leatherbelt with a dagger dangling from it. So much wasordinary about him, but—Jove!—his face in that uncertaintwilight was frightful! It was cadaverousbeyond expression, and tawny and mean, and all theshadows on it were black and strong; and out of thatdreary parchment mask, making its lifelessness themore deadly by their glitter, shone two restless,sunken eyes. He kept those yellow orbs turned uponthe garden, and then presently put up a hand andbegan stroking his small pointed beard, still seeminglost in thought, and next, stretching out a finger—and,Hoth! what a wicked-looking talon it did seem!—theshape began drawing signs upon the mistiness ofthe diamond panes. At the same time he began tomutter, and there was something quaintly gruesomeabout those disconnected syllables in the midnightstillness; yet, though I leaned forward and peered andlistened, nothing could I learn of what he wrote orsaid. He fascinated me. I forgot to speak or act,and could only regard with dumb wonder that outlinedfigure in the moonlight and the long-dead faceso dreadfully ashine with life. So bewitched was Ithat had that vision turned and spoken I should havemade the best shift to answer that were possible;there was some tie, I felt, between him and me morethan showed upon the surface of this chance meetingof ours—something which even as I write I feel is notyet quite explained, though I and that shadow nowknow each other well. But, instead of speaking, thatpresence, man or spirit, from the outer spaces, left offhis scratching on the window, and, with a shrug of hisSpanish shoulders and a malediction in gutturalBisque, turned from the window-cell and walkedacross the room. As he did so I noticed—what hadbeen invisible before—in his left hand a canvas bag,and, by the shape and weight of it, that bag seemedfull of money. I watched him as he stalked acrossthe room, watched him disappear into the shadow,and then listened, with every sense alert, to the clickof the latch and the creak of the door as he left mychamber by the opposite side to that whereat he entered.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (14)

He kept those yellow orbs turned upon the garden

As those faint, ghostly footsteps died away slowlydown the corridor, my native sense came back, and, ina trice, I was on foot, dressed as I had lain me down,and, snatching my sword and cloak in a fever of expectation,I ran over to the window and looked uponthe writing. It was figures—figures and sums inancient Moorish Arabesque; and the long, sharp nail-marksof that hideous midnight mathematician werestill penciled clearly on the moonlit dew.

My blood was now coursing finely in my veins, and,hot and eager to see some more of this grim stranger,I strode across the room and stepped out into the passage.At first it seemed that he had gone completely,for all was so still and silent; but the white light outsidewas throwing squares of silver brightness frommany narrow windows on the dusty floor—and therehe was, in a moment, crossing the farthest patch, talland silvery in that radiance, with his long, slim, blacklegs, his great ruffle, and flapping cloak—looking mostwicked. I went forward, making as little noise asmight be, and seeing my ghostly friend every now andthen, until when we had traversed perhaps half thatdeserted mansion I lost him where three ways divided,and went plunging and tripping forward, striving tobe as silent as I could—though why I know not—andmaking instead at every false step a noise that shouldhave startled even ghostly ears. But I was now welloff the trail, and nothing showed or answered. It wasblack as hell in the shadows, and white as day wherethe moonbeams slanted in from the oriels, and throughthis chilly checker I went, feeling on by damp oldwalls and worm-eaten wainscoting; slipping downcrumbling stairs that were as rotten as the banisterswhich went to dust beneath my touch; opening sullenoaken doors and peering down the dreary wasteswithin; listening, prying, wondering—but nowherecould I find that shadowy form again.

I followed the chase for many minutes far into alonely desert wing of the old house, then paused irresolute.What was I to do? I had my cloak upon onehand, and my naked rapier was in the other; but nolight, or any means of making one. The vision hadgone, and I found, now that the chase had ended, andmy blood began to tread a sober measure, it was dank,chilly, and dismal in these black, draughty corridors.Worse still, I had lost all count and reckoning ofwhere my bed had been, and, though that were smallmatter in such a house, yet somehow I felt it were wellto reach the vantage-ground of more familiar placeswherein to wait the morning. So, as nearly as waspossible, I groped back upon my footsteps by tediousways and empty chambers, low in heart and angry;now stopping to listen to the fitful moaning of thewind or the pattering rain-spots on the grass, or somedistant panels creaking in distant chambers; halfthinking that, after all, I had been a fool, and cozenedby some sleepy fancy. And so I went back, dejectedand dispirited, until presently I came to a gloomyarch in a long corridor, tapestried across with heavyhangings. Unthinkingly I lifted them, and there—there,as the curtains parted—thirty paces off, a brightmoonlit doorway gently opened, and into the lightstepped that same black-browed foreigner again!

I did what any other would have done, though itwas not valiant—stepped back against the niche anddrew the tapestry folds about me, and so hiddenwaited. Down he sauntered leisurely straight for myhiding-place, and as he came there was full time tonote every wrinkle and furrow on that sullen, ashyface! Hoth! he might have been a decent gentlemanby daylight, but in the nightshine he looked more likea week-dead corpse than aught else, and, with eyesglued to those twinkling eyes of his, and bated breathand irresolute fingers hard-set upon my pommel-hilt,I waited. He came on without a pause or sign toshow he knew that he was watched, and, as he crossedthe last patch of light, I saw the bag of gold was gone,and the hand that had carried it was wrapped in abloody handkerchief. Another minute and we werenot a yard apart. What good was valor there, Ithought? What good were weapons or courageagainst the malignity of such an infernal shadow? Iheld back while he passed, and in a minute it was toolate to stop him. Yet, I could follow! And, halfashamed of that moment’s weakness, and with mycourage budding up again, I started from my hiding-place,and, brandishing my rapier, my cloak curledon my other arm as though I went to meet some famousfencer, I ran after the Spaniard. And now heheard me, and, with one swift look over his shoulderand a startled guttural cry, set off down the passage.From light to light he flashed, and shadow to shadow,I hot after him, my courage rampant now again, andall the bitterness and disappointment of the last fewdays nerving my heart, until I felt I could exchangea thrust or two with the black arch-fiend himself.’Twas a brief chase! At the bottom of the corridorstood a solid oak partition—I had him safe enough.I saw him come to that black barrier, and hesitate:whereon I shouted fiercely, and leaped forward, andin another minute I was there where he had been—andthe corridor was empty, and the paneled partitionwas doorless and unmoved, and not a sound broke thestillness of that old house save my own angry cry, thatthe hollow echoes were bandying about from ghostlyroom to room, and corridor to empty corridor!

CHAPTER XX

A bright dazzle of sunshine roused me with thefollowing sunrise. I rubbed my sleepy lids and satup, vaguely gazing round upon the tarnished hangings,the immovable white faces of the pictures on thewall, and the dusty floor whereon, in the grayness ofcountless years, was marked just the outlines of lastnight’s feet, and nothing more. However, it was trulya lovely morning, and, moved by that subtle tonicwhich comes with sunshine, I felt brighter and moreconfident.

Having dressed, I went down the old staircase againto the breakfast which would certainly be ready, unbarringas I passed the casem*nts and setting wide thegreat hall door, that the cool breath of that springmorning might sweep away the mustiness of the oldhouse, even humming a snatch of an old camp song,learned in Picardy, to myself the while. Thus, Igained the dining-hall in good spirits, and saw, as hadbeen expected, a new meal set with modest food anddrink for me, and me alone, but no other sign or traceof human presence.

I sat and ate, vowing as I did so this riddle hadgone far enough unanswered, and before that shiny,sparkling world outside (all tears and laughter like ayoung maid’s face) was a few hours older I wouldknow who was my host, who served me thus persistentand invisible, and what might be the service I waslooked to to pay for such quaint entertainment.Therefore, as soon as the meal was done, I belted onmy sword and straightened down my finery, the whichhad lost its creases and sat extremely well, and,smoothing the thick mass of my black Eastern hairunder my velvet Tudor cap, sallied forth.

There was nothing new about the garden save thesunshine, and, having intently regarded the broad-terracedand mullioned front of the house withoutlearning one single atom more than I knew before,I resolved to force a way round to the rear if it werepossible. But this was not so easy. On one handwere thickets of shrub and bramble laced into dense,impenetrable barriers, and on the other great yewhedges in solemn ranks, with vast masses of ivy andholly forbidding a passage. But, nothing daunted,I walked down to these yews, and peering about soonperceived a tangled pathway leading into their fastness.It was a narrow little way, begrudgingly left betweenthose sullen hedges, thick-grown with dankweeds below, and arched over by neglected growthso that the sun could not shine into these dusky alleys,and the paths were wet and chilly still.

Well, I pushed on, now to right and now to left,amid the tangles of one of those old mazes thatgardeners love to grow, and until only the tall smokelesschimney-stacks of the deserted house shone redunder the sunshine over the bough-tops in the distance,and then I paused. It was all so strangelyquiet, and so lonesome—I had been solitary so long, itseemed doubtful whether any one was alive in theworld but me—why, surely, I was thinking, there wereno human beings at least about this shadow-hauntedspot. It were idle to seek for them. I would give itup. And just as I was meditating that—had halfturned to go, and yet was standing irresolute—Jove!right from the air in front of me, right out from theblack bosom of the shadowy yew and ivies, there bursta wild elfin strain of laughter, a merry bubbling peal,a ringing cascade of fairy merriment, a sparklingavalanche of disembodied mirth, that, like some sweetessence, permeated on an instant all that gloomyplace, and thrilled down the damp alleys, and shookthe thousand colored drops of dew from bent andleaf, and vibrated in the misty prismatic sunshine upabove, and then was gone, leaving me rooted to theground with the suddenness of it, and half delightedand half amazed. But only for a moment, and then Ileaped forward and saw a turning, and found at bottomof it a gap, and plunged headlong through!

It was a pretty scene I staggered into. In front ofme spread the open center of the maze, a grassy spacesome twenty paces all about, and lying clear to thesunshine falling warm and strong upon it. In themidst of that fair opening, shut off from wind andouter barrenness, had once been a fountain with abasin, and, though the jet played no longer, yet thewhite marble pool below it, stained golden and greenwith moss and weather, held from brim to brim a littlelake of sparkling water. And about that fountain,bright in decay, the green ferns were unwinding, whilegreat clumps of gold narcissus hung trembling overtheir own reflection in the broken basin. Overhead,there was a blossoming almond-tree, a cloud of pale-pinkbuds wherefrom a constant cheerful hum of beescame forth, and a pale rain of petals fell on to theground beneath and tinted it like a rosy snow. Noother way existed in or out of that delightful circlesave where I had entered, but little paths ran hereand there among the grass, and industrious love hadmarked them out with pretty country flowers—paleprimroses all damp and cool among the shadows,broad bands of purple violets lining seductive alleys,splendid starlike saffron outshining even the gorgeoussun, and blushing daisies, with varnished kingcupswhere the fountain ran to waste. It was as pretty adominion—as sweet an oasis in that dank, dark desertbeyond—as you could wish to see, and the clear,strong breath of flowers, and the warm wine of thesunshine set my blood throbbing deep and swift to anew sense of love and pleasure as I stood there spellboundon the dewy threshold.

But, fair as earth and sky looked in that magiccircle, they were not all. Kneeling at the broken marblefountain, her dainty sleeves rolled to pearlyelbows, the strands of her loose brown hair dippingas she bent over the shining water, with white muslinsmock neatly bunched behind her, a milky kerchiefknotted across her bosom, and a great country hat ofstraw by her side, knelt a fair young English girl.She did not see me at once, her face was turned away,and on her other hand she was tending a noble peaco*ck,a splendid fowl indeed—as stately as thoughhe were the Suzerain of all Heaven’s chickens—ivorywhite from bill to spurs, crested with a coronet ofliving topaz, and with a mighty fan upreared behindhim of complete whiteness from quill to fringe, savingthe last outer row of gorgeous eyes that shone ingold and purple and amethyst refulgent in that spotlessfield!—a magnificent bird indeed, and fully wottingof it—and that kneeling maid was dipping waterfor him in her rosy palm, and the great bird wasperched upon the marble rim and dropping his ivorybeak into that sweet chalice and lifting his lovelythrottle and flashing coronet to the sky ever and anon,while the thrill of the girl’s light laughter echoedabout the place, and the almond-blossoms showereddown on them, and the bees hummed, and the sweetincense of the spring was drawn from the warm, buddingearth, flowers glittered, the sun shone, and thesky was blue, as I, the intruder, stood, silent and surprised,before that dainty picture.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (15)

The great bird was dropping his ivory beak into the sweet chalice

In a moment the girl looked up and saw me in myamber suit and ruffle, my rapier and cap, standing thereagainst the black framing of the maze; and then shedid as I had done—stared, and rubbed her eyes, andstared again! In a moment she seemed to understandI was something more than a fancy, whereat,with a little scream of fear, she sprang to her feet,and, crossing the kerchief closer on her bosom, pulleddown her sleeves and backed off toward the almond-tree.But I had that comely apparition fairly at bay,and, after so many hours without company, did notfeel a mind to let her go too easily, whether sheproved fay or fairy, nymph, naïad, or just plain countryflesh and blood.

I pulled off my cap, and, with a sweeping bow, advancedslowly toward her, whereon she screamedagain.

“Fair girl,” I said, “I grieve to interrupt so sweet apicture with my uninvited presence, but, wanderingdown these paths, your laughter burst upon the stillnessand drew me here.”

“And now, Sir,” quoth that fair material sprite, recoveringherself, and with a pretty air, “you would askthe shortest way to the public road. It lies there toyour left, beyond the hollybank you see over by themeadows.”

“Why, not exactly that,” I laughed. “I have anidle hour or two on hand, and, since you seem to havethe same, I would rather rest content with the goodfortune which brought me hither than try new pathsfor lesser pleasures. If you would sit, I think thisgrassy mound is broad enough for two.”

I meant it well, but the maid was timid, and farfrom rescue in the wilderness of that maze. The colormounted to her cheeks until they were pinker thanthe almond-buds overhead. She looked this way andthat, and gave one fleeting glance round the strong,close-set walls of that sunny garden among the yews,then just one other glance at me, that dangerousstranger in silk and satin, standing so gallant, cap inhand, and finally she was away, running like a hindtoward the only outlet, the gap by which I had comein. But was I to be robbed of a pretty comrade so?Was the lovely elf of the neglected garden to slip betweenmy fingers without answering one single questionof the many I would ask? I spun round uponmy heels, and, quick as that maiden’s feet were on theturf, mine were quicker. We got to the gap together,and, in another minute, her kirtle fluttering in thebreeze, her loose hair adrift, and the flush of fear andexertion on her youthful face, that comely lady wasstruggling in my grasp.

I held her just so long as she might recognize howstrong her bonds were, then set her free. If she hadbeen pink before, that maid was now ruddier thanthe windflowers in the grass. “Oh, fie, Sir!” she began,as soon as she could get her breath. “Oh, fie,and for shame! You wear the raiment of a gentleman,you carry courtly arms, you do not look at leasta rough, uncivil rogue, and yet you burst into a privygarden and fright and offend a harmless girl—oh! forshame, Sir!—if gentleness and courtesy are so poor barriers,we shall need to look the better to our hedges—letme by, Sir!” and, gathering her skirts in her handand tossing back her head with all the haughtinessshe could command, that damsel looked me boldly inthe eyes.

Fair, foolish girl! she thought to stare me down—I,who had eyed unmoved a thousand sights of dread andwonder—I, who had mocked the stare of cruel tyrantsand faced unblanching the worst that heaven or hellcould work—what! was I to be out of countenanceunder the feeble battery of such gentle orbs as those?’Twas boldly conceived, but it would not do, and in amoment she felt it, and her eyes fell from mine, thecolor rushed again from brow to chin, she let herflowered skirt fall from her grip, she turned awayfor a moment, and there and then burst out a-cryingbehind her hands as though the world were quite insideout.

Now, to stand the fair open assault of her eyes wasone thing, but such sap as this was more than my resolutioncould abide. “You do mistake me, maid, indeed,”I cried. “I swear there is no deed of courtesyor good-will in all the world I would not do for you.”

“Why, then, Sir, do the least and easiest of all—standfrom that gap and let me pass.”

“If you insist upon it, even that I must submit to.There!—there is your way free and unhampered!” andI stood back and left the passage clear—“and yet, beforeyou go, fair lady, let me crave of your courtesyone question or two, such as civility might ask, andcourtesy very reasonably answer.”

Now that maid had dried her tears, and had beenstealing some sundry glances at me under the fringeof her wet lashes while we spoke, and as a result shedid not seem quite so wishful to be gone as she hadbeen. She eyed the free gap in the tall wall of yewand holly, and then, demurely, me. The pretty cornersof her mouth began to unbend, and while her fingersplayed among her ribbons, and the color cameand went under her clear country skin, femininecuriosity got the better of timidity, and she hesitated.

“Oh!” she murmured, “if it were a civil questioncivilly asked, I could wait for that. What can I tellyou?”

“First then, are you of true material substance, notvagrant and spiritual, but, as you certainly look, ahealthy, plain planed mortal?”

“Had I been else, Sir,” the damsel answered, witha smile, “I had found a short way out of the trap yousaw fit to hold me in.”

“That is true, no doubt, and I accept this initialanswer with due thanks. I had not asked it, but lodgingso long amid shadows sets my prejudice againstthe truth, even of the sweetest substance.”

“And next, Sir?”

“Next, how came you in this lonely place, withthese pretty playthings about you? How came youin my garden here, where I thought nothing butsilence and sadness grew?”

“Your garden! What hole in our outer fences gaveyou that warrant, Sir?” queried the young lady, witha toss of her head. “How long user of trespass makesthat right presumptive? Faith! until you spoke Ithought the garden was mine and my father’s!” andthe young lady, for such I now acknowledged her tobe, looked extremely haughty.

“What! Hast thou, then, a father?”

“Yes, Sir. Is it so unusual with our kind that youshould be surprised?”

“And who is thy father?”

“A very learned man indeed, Sir; one who hathmore wit in his little finger than another brave gentlemanwill have in all his body. Of nature so courteousthat he instinctively would respect the privacyof a neighbor’s property and manners, so finished hewould never stay a maiden at her morning walk tobandy idle questions with her all out of vanity ofblack curled hair and a new, mayhap unpaid-for, yellowsuit. If you had no more to ask me, Sir, I think,I would wish you good-day.”

“But stay a minute. It seems to me I might knowthy father; and this is the very point and center ofmy inquisitiveness.”

“If you did, it were much to your advantage, but Idoubt it. He is recluse and grave, not given to chancecompanions, or, in fact, to friend with any but someone or two.”

“Ah! that may well be so,” I said thoughtlessly,speaking with small consideration and recalling thevision of my ancient host just as it came to me—“asour, wizened old carl, clad in rusty green, a-straddleof a spavined, ragged palfrey; mean-seeming, morose,and sullen—why, maid, is that thy father?”

“No, Sir!”

“Gads!” I laughed, “it was discourteously spoken.I should have said, now I come to reflect more closelyon it, a reverent gentleman, indeed, white-bearded andsage, with keen eyes shining severe, the portals of awell-filled mind. A carriage that bespoke good breedingand gentle blood; raiment that disdained the pompof silly, fickle fashion, and a general air of learningand of mildness.”

“My father, Sir, to the very letter, Master AdamFaulkener, the wisest man, they say, this side of theTrent, and greatly (I know he would have me add) atyour service.”

“And you?”

“I am Mistress Elizabeth Faulkener, daughter tothat same; and if, indeed, you know my father, then,as my father’s friend, I tender you my humble and respectfulduty,” and the young lady half mockingly,and half out of gay spirit, picked up her flowered muslinskirt, by two dainty fingers, on either side andmade me a long, sweeping curtesy.

A pretty flower indeed, for such a rugged stem!

“But this is only half the matter, fair girl,” I wenton, when my responding bow had been duly made.“If that venerable gentleman indeed be thy father,and this his house and thine, it is more strange thanever. I came here two evenings since by his explicitinvitation, but since that time I have not set eyesupon him. High and low have I hunted, I have prickedarras and rapped on hollow panels, trodden yonghostly corridors at every hour of the day and night,yet for all that time no sight or sound of host orhostess could I get. Now, out of thy generous natureand the civility due to a wondering guest, tell me howwas this.”

“Why, Sir! Do you mean to say since two nightspast you have been lodged back there?”

“Ah! three days, in yon grim, moldy mansion.”

“What! there, in that melancholy front of the manywindows—and all alone?”

“The very simple, native truth!—alone in yondertenement of faint, sad odors and mournful, sighingdraughts, alone save for a mind stocked with somewhatmelancholy fancies—mislaid by him, it seemed,who brought me thither—dull, solitary, and damp—why,damsel!”

And, in faith, when I had got so far as that, themaiden sank back upon a grassy heap and hid herface behind her hands, and gave way to a wild, tumultuousfit of laughter, a golden cascade of merrimentthat fell thick and sparkling from the sunny placesof her youthful joyance, as you see the heavy rain-dropsglint through a bright April sky; a wild, irresistibletorrent of frolic glee that wandered round the faroffalleys, and raised a hundred answering echoes ofpleasure in that enchanted garden.

Presently the maid recovered, and, putting down herhands, asked—“And your meals—how came you bythem?”

“They were laid for me twice each day in the greathall by unseen hands, most punctual and mysterious.’Twas simple fare, but sufficient to a soldier, and eachtime I cleared the table and went afield, when I cameback it was reset; yet no one could I see—no soundthere was to break the stillness——”

Again that lady burst into one of her merry trills,and, when it was over, signed me to sit beside her. Iwas not loth. She was fair and young and tender—aspretty an Amaryllis as ever a country Corydon didpipe to. So down I sat.

“Now,” said she, “imprimis, Sir, I do confess weowe you recompense for such scant courtesy; but Igather how it happened. This is, as I have said, myfather’s house, and mine; and time was, once, it hasbeen told me, when he had near as many servants asI have flowers here, with friends unending; and allthose blank windows, yonder, were full of lights bynight and faces in the day. Then this garden wastrim—not only here but everywhere—and great carriagesground upon the gravel drive, and the courtyardwas full of caparisoned palfreys. That was alljust so long ago, Sir, that I remember nothing of it.”

“I can picture it, damsel,” I said, as she sighed andhesitated; “and how came this difference?”

“I do not know for certain—I have often wonderedwhy, myself—but my father presently had spent allhis money, and perhaps that somehow explained it,”sighed my fair philosopher. “Then, too, he tookstudious, and let his estate shift for itself, while hepored over great tomes and learned things, and hidhimself away from light and pleasure. That mighthave scared off those gay acquaintances—might it not,Sir?” queried the lady so unlearned in worldly ways.

“It were a good recipe, indeed,” was my answer:“none better! To grow poor and wise is high offensewith such a gilded throng as you have mentioned.So then the house emptied, and the gates no longerstood wide open; the garden was forsaken, and grassgrew on thy steps; owls built in thy corridors—a dismalpicture, and sad for thee, but this does not explainthe strange entertainment I have had. Where is yourfather lodged? And you—how is it we have not metbefore?”

“Oh,” said the damsel, brightening up again, “thatis easily explained. When his friends left him, myfather dismissed all his servants but one—a Spanishsteward—and good old Mistress Margery, my nurse(and, saving my father, my only friend), then lodgedhimself back yonder in the far rear of our great house,and there I have grown up.”

“Like a fair flower in a neglected spot,” I hazarded.

“Ah! and secure from the shallow tongues of sillyflatterers, old Margery tells me. Now, my father, asyou may have noted, is at times somewhat visionaryand absent. It thus may well have happened that,bringing you here a guest, he would by old habit havetaken you, as he was so long accustomed, to the greatbarren front and lodged you so. Once lodged there,it is perfectly within his capacity to have utterly forgotyour very existence.”

“But the meals—for whom were they spread, if notfor me?”

“Why, simply for my father. He has, where heworks, a cupboard, wherein is kept brown bread andwine, and, sometimes, when studious studies keep himclose, he goes to it and will not look at better or moreordered meals. Then, again, when the fancy takeshim, he will have a place put for himself in the greatdeserted hall, and sups there all alone. Now, this hasbeen his mood of late, and I can only fancy that whenyou came the whim did change all on a sudden, andthus you inherited each day that which was laid forhim, who, too studious, came not, and old slow-wittedMargery, finding every time the provender was gone,laid and relaid with patient remembrance of herorders.”

“A very pretty coil indeed!—and I, no doubt, beingsadly wandering afield all day, just missed thy ancientservitor each time.”

“And had you ever come in upon her heels youwould have seen her hobble up one silent corridor anddown another, and press a button on a panel, and sopass through a doorway that you would never findalone, from your tenement to ours. Oh, it makes melaugh to think of you pent there! I would have givena round dozen of my whitest hen’s eggs to have beenby to see how you did look.”

“That had been a contingency, fair maid, which hadgreatly lightened my captivity,” I answered; and thelady went babbling on in the prettiest, simplest way,half rustic and half courtly in her tones, as might belooked for in one brought up as she had been.

For an hour, perhaps, we lay and basked in thepleasant warmth, while the rheums of melancholyand dampness were slowly drawn from me by the sunand that fair companionship, then she rose, and, shakinga shower of almond petals from her apron, re-knottedher kerchief, and, taking a look at the sky,said it was past midday and time for dinner. If Iliked, she would guide me to her father. Up I got,and, side by side with that fair Elizabethan girl, wentsauntering through her flowery walks, down pastshrubberies and along the warm red old wall of hergreat empty house, until we came into a quiet wayovergrown with giant weeds and smelling sweet ofgreen sheep’s parsley and cool, fair vegetable odors.Here the maid lifted a latch, and led me through awell-hidden gateway into the sunny rearward courtyard.

It showed as different as could be from the drearyfront. The ground was cobblestones all neatly weededround a square of close-cut grass. On one side thegreat black wall of the manor-place towered windowlessabove us, with red roofs, mighty piles of smokelesschimney-stacks and corbie steps far overhead;and, on the other hand, at an angle to that wall, werelesser buildings to left and right, enclosing the grassplot and shining in the sun, warm, lattice-windowed,quaint-gabled. The third side of the square was open,and sloped down to fair meadows, beyond which cameflowering orchards, bounded by a brook. Moreover,there was life here, plain, homely, honest country life.The wild, loose-hanging roses and eglantine wereswinging in the sunshine over the deep-seated porchesof these modest places; the lavender smoke was driftingamong the budding branches overhead, proud maternalhens were clucking to their broods about theopen doorways; there were blooming flowers growingby one deep-set window—ah! and fair Mistress Elizabeth’ssnowy linen was all out on cords across thatpretty sunny courtyard, struggling in sparkling, whiteconfusion against the loose caresses of the Aprilwind.

“And look you there,” cried Mistress Faulkener,when she saw it, pointing far down the distantmeadows, “’tis there we keep our milk and cows—oh!as you are courteous, as you would wish to deserveyour gentle livery, count those cattle for a minute,”and thereat, while I, obedient, turned my back andmustered the distant beasts grazing knee-deep amongthe yellow buttercups—she outflew upon those linens,and pulled them down and rolled them up in swathes,and set them on a bench; then tucked back some disheveledstrands of hair behind her ears, and, somewhatout of breath, turned to me again.

“Here,” she said, “on this side lives old Margery andour steward, black Emanuel Marcena; there, on theother, is my room—that one with the flowers belowand open lattices. Next is my father’s; below, again,is the room where we do eat; and all that yonder—thosemany windows alike above, and those steps goingdown beneath the ground—those half-hidden cobwebbedwindows ablink with the level of the turf—thatis where my father works.”

“By all the saints, fair girl!” I exclaimed impetuously,as she led me toward that place, “thy father’sworkshop is on fire! See the gray smoke curling fromthe lintel of the doorway, and the broken panes—andyonder I catch a glint of flame! Here, let me burstthe door!” and I sprang forward.

But the lady put her hand upon my arm, sayingwith a somewhat rueful smile, “No, not so bad as that—thereis fire there, but it is servant not master.Come in and you shall see.” She took me down sixdamp stone steps, then lifted the latch of a massy,weather-beaten, oaken doorway, and led me within.

It was a vast, dim, vaulted cellar. The rough blackroof of rugged masonry was hung by vistas of suchmighty tapestries of grimy cobwebs as never mortalsaw before. On the near side the row of little windows,dusty and neglected, let in thin streams of lightthat only made the general darkness the more visible.All the other wall was rough and bare; beset withgreat spikes and nails wherefrom depended a thousandforms of ironware, and ancient useless metalthings, the broken, rusty implements of peace andwar. The floor seemed, as I took in every detail ofthis subterranean chamber, to be bare earth, stampedhard and glossy with constant treading, while hereand there in hollows black water stood in pools, andgray ashes from a furnace-fire margined those miryplaces. It was a gloomy hall, without a doubt, andas my eyes wandered round the shadows they presentlydiscovered the presiding genius.

In the hollow of the great final arch was a cobwebbed,smoke-grimed blacksmith’s forge and bellows.The little heap of fuel on it was glowing white, andthe curling smoke ascended part up the rugged chimneyand part into the chamber. On one side of thisforge stood a heavy anvil, and by it, as we entered,a man was toiling on a molten bar of iron, plying hisblows so slow and heavy it was melancholy to watchthem. That man, it did not need another glance totell me, was my host! If he had looked gaunt andwild by night, the yellow flicker of the furnace andthe pale mockery of daylight which stole through hispoor panes did not improve him now. The bright fireof enthusiasm still burned in his keen old eyes, I saw,but they were red and heavy with long sleeplessness;his ragged, open shirt displayed his lean and hairychest, stained and smudged with the hue of toil; hisarms were bare to the elbow, and his knotted oldfingers clutched like the talons of a bird upon thehandle of the hammer that he wielded. Grim old fellow!He was near double with weariness and labor;the breath came quick and hectic as he toiled; thepainful sweat cut white furrows down his pallid, ash-stainedface; and his wild, gray elfin locks were dankand heavy with the foul fumes of that black hole ofhis. Yet he stopped not to look to left or to right, butstill kept at it, unmindful of aught else—hammer,hammer, hammer! and sigh, sigh, sigh!—with a fineinspired smile of misty, heroic pleasure about hismouth, and the light of prophecy and quenchless couragein his eyes!

It was very strange to watch him, and there wassomething about the unbroken rhythm of his blows,and the inflexible determination hanging about him,that held me spellbound, waiting I knew not for what,but half thinking to witness that red iron whereintohis soul was being welded spring into something wildand strange and fair—half thinking to witness thesesooty walls fall back into the wide arcades of shadowyrealm, and that old magician blossom out of his vilerags into some splendid flower of humankind. It wasfoolish, but it was an unlearned age, and I only arough soldier. That fair maid by my side, more familiarwith these strange sights and sounds, rousedme from my expectant watching in a minute.

She had come in after me, had paused as I did, andnow with pretty filial pity in her face, and outspreadhands, she ran to that old man and laid a tender fingerupon his yellow arm, and stayed its measured labor.At this he looked up for the first time since we entered,as dazed and sleepy as one newly waked, and,seeing that he scarce knew her, Elizabeth shook herhead at him, and took his grizzled cheeks between herrosy palms, and kissed him first on one side and thenon the other, kissed him sweet and tenderly upon hispallid unwashed cheeks, and then, with kind imperiousness,loosed his cramped fingers from the hammer-shaftand threw it away, and led him by gentleforce back from his forge and anvil. “Oh, father!”she said, bustling round him and fastening up hisshirt and pulling down his sleeves, and looking in hisface with real solicitude, “indeed I do think you arethe worst father that ever any maid did have,” andhere was another kiss. “Oh! how long have youworked down here? Two nights and days on end.Fie, for shame! And how much have you eaten?What? Nothing, nothing all that time? Did everchild have such a parent? Oh! would to Heaven youhad less wisdom and more wit—why, if you go on likethis, you will be thinner than any of these spidersoverhead in springtime—and weary—nay, do not tellme you are not—and, oh! so dirty, alack that I shouldlet a stranger see thee like this!” and, taking her ownwhite kerchief from her apron, that damsel wiped herfather’s face in love and gentleness, and stroked hisgritty beard and smoothed, as well as she was able,his ancient locks, then took him by the hand andpointed to me, standing a little way off in the gloom.

At first the old man gazed at the amber-suited gallantshining in the blackness of his workshop, stolidly,without a trace of recognition, but, when in a minuteor two by an effort he drew his wits together, he tookme for one of those gay fellows, who, no doubt, hadhaunted his courtyards and spent his money inbrighter times, and taxed me with it. But I laughedat that and shook my head, whereon he mused—“What!are thou, then, young John Eldrid of Beaulieu,come to pay those twenty crowns your fatherborrowed twelve years since?”

No! I was not John Eldrid, and there were nocrowns in my wallet. Then I must be Lord Fossedene’sreeve come to complain again of broken fencesand cattle straying, or, perhaps, a bailiff for theQueen’s dues, and, if that were so, it was little I wouldget from him.

Thereon his daughter burst out laughing and strokingthe old man’s hand. “Oh, father,” she said gently,“you were not always thus forgetful. This excellentgentleman I found trespassing among my flowers, anddid arrest him; he is your guest, and declares youbrought him here two nights since, lodging him in ourempty front, where he has subsisted all this time onmelancholy and stolen meals. Surely, father, you recallhim now?”

The old man was puzzled, but slowly a ray of recollectionpierced through the thick mists of forgetfulness.Indeed, he did remember, he muttered, somethingof the kind, but it was a sturdy, shrewd-lookingyeoman, tall, and bronzed under his wide cap, a rusticfellow in country cloth that he had brought along, andnot this yellow gentleman. So then I explained howhe had resuited me, and jogged his memory gently,lifting it down the trail of our brief acquaintance as agood huntsman lifts a hound over a cold scent, untilat last, when he had given him a cup of red wine fromhis cupboard in the niche, his eyes brightened up, thevacuity faded from his face, and, laughing in turn,he knew me; then, holding out two withered handsin very courteous wise, old Andrew Faulkener welcomedme, and in civil, courtly speech, that seemedstrange enough in that grim hole, and from that grizzly,bent, unwashed old fellow, made apology for theneglect and seeming slight which he feared I musthave suffered.

We spoke together for some minutes, and then Iventured to ask, “Was there not something, MasterFaulkener, you had to tell or ask of me? I do rememberyou mentioned such a wish that evening when weparted, and certain circ*mstances of our short friendshipmake me curious to know what service it is Ihave to pay you in return for the hospitality yourgoodness put upon me.”

“In truth there was something,” Faulkener answered,with a show of embarrassment, “but it was aservice better sought of frieze than silk.”

“Tell it, good Sir, tell it! It were detestable didsilk repudiate the debts that honest frieze incurred.”

“Why, then, I will, and chance your displeasure.Sweet Bess, get thee out and see to dinner. Thisgentleman will dine with me to-day!” And as MistressElizabeth picked up her pretty skirts and vanishedup the grass-grown steps the old recluse turnedto me.

CHAPTER XXI

“Now, look you here, Sir,” the old philosopher began,taking me by a tassel on my satin doublet, andworking himself up until his eyes shone with pleasure,as he unfolded his mad visions to me. “Look youhere, Sir! this bare and dingy dungeon that you rightlyfrown at is a cell more pregnant with ingenuity thanever was the forge of the lame smith of Lemnos. Vulcan!Vulcan never had such teeming fancies as Ihave harbored in my head for twenty years. Vulcannever coaxed into being such a lovely monster as Ihave hidden yonder. I tell you, young man,” gaspedthe old fellow, perspiring with enthusiasm, “Prometheuswas a tawdry charlatan in his service to mankind,compared with what I will be. He gave usfire, crude, rough, unruly fire!—unstable, dangerous—abare, naked gift, spoiled even in the giving byincompleteness; but I, Sir—I have tamed what thebold Son of Clymene only touched. Ah, by the blessedgods! I think I have tamed it—fire and water, I havewed them at yon black altar—deadly foes though somedo call them, I have made them work together, theone with the other. Oh, Sir, such servants were neveryet enlisted by our kind since the great day ofCyclops! And to think these feeble shaking handswhose poor sinews stand from the wasted flesh likeivy strands about a winter tree, have done it—andthis poor head has thought it, persistent and at lastsuccessful, through bitter months of toil and anguisheddisappointment!”

“But, Sir,” I said gently, as the old man checked hisincoherent speech for breath—“this monster, Sir, this‘lovely monster,’ what is it?”

“Ah! I was forgetting you did not know. Look,then! and though you had been unfamous all your life,this moment of precedent knowledge above your fellowsshall make you forever famous.” And the oldman, like a devotee walking to a shrine, like a loverwith hushed breath and brightly kindling eye stealingto his mistress’s hiding-place, led me up to a cavernousrecess near the forge, and there lay hands upon a rentand tattered drapery of rough sail-cloth, stained andold, and, making a gesture of silence, pulled it back.

In the dim, weird enchantment of that place, I hadbeen prepared for anything. It was a knightly fashionof the times to be credulous, and that black cobwebbedden, that mad philosopher, so eloquently raving,and all the late circ*mstance of my arrival fittedme to look for wonders. I had followed him acrossthe grimy floor, pitted with gray pools of furnace-water,through the reek and twining strands of smokethat filled that nether hall; and lastly, when he laida finger to his lip, and, so reverent and awful, drewback that ancient tattered screen, I frowned a little,stepping back a pace, and drew my ready sword sixinches from its scabbard, and watched expectant tosee some hideous, horrid, living form chained there—somefoul offspring of darkness and accursed ingenuity—somehateful spawn of wizard art and blackmother night—some squat, foul, misshapen Caliban—someloathsome thing—I scarce knew what, but strongand sullen and monstrous, for certain! And, instead,the screen ran rattling back, and there before me, ina neat-swept space, and on a platform of oaken planks—glossyin new forged metal, shiny with untarnishedfilings, gleaming in the pride of burnished brass andrivets—high, bulby, complicated, a maze of pistonsand levers and wheels, was a great machine!

Somehow, as I saw that ponderous monster, so fullof cunning although so lifeless, a tremor of wonderingappreciation ran through my mind, that soulless bodyfascinated me with a prophetic fear and awe which atanother time and in another place I should havelaughed at.

I put back my sword, smiling to think it had beenso nearly drawn, but yet stood expectant, half wondering,half hoping I knew not what, and gazing raptlyon that mighty iron carcass perched there like someblack incubus, almost fancying all the love and fearand hope that had gone to fashion its steel limbs oriron sinews might indeed have filled it with a soulthat should, as I looked, become articulate and manifestbeneath my eyes; half hoping, in my ignorance,that indeed the quintessence of human labor, here consummate,might have got on all that plastic, dull material,some wondrous firstling spirit of a new estate,some link between the worlds of substance and ofshadow! And if it so fascinated me, that old man,to whom it owed its being, was even more enthralled.He stood before the shrine with locked hands and benthead, apostrophizing the silent work. “Oh, child ofinfinitely painful conception,” he muttered, “surely—surelyyou cannot disappoint me now! Near twentyyears have I given to you—twenty years of toil andsweat and ungrudging hope. Long, hot summers haveI worked upon you, and dank, dull winters, makingand unmaking, building and taking down again, contriving,hoping, despairing, living with you by day anddreaming of you through nights of fitful slumber—surely,dear heir of all my hopes, the reward is athand, the consummation comes!

“See!” he cried, “how perfect it is! Here in thisgreat round cylinder is room for fire and water. Thefire lies all along in that gulley-trench that you cannote here through this open trap, and those curlingpipes take the hot flame up through that void thatwill be filled with the other element. Now, whenwater boils, the vapor that comes from off the top ischoleric and fiery past conception. This has beenknown for long, and John Homersham tried to utilizeit by letting the vapor on the spread digits of a wheel;Farinelli of Angoulême suffered it to escape behindhis engine—both ways so wasteful that no mortal furnacecould keep up power sufficient to be of usefulservice. But I have bettered these and many others;nothing is wasted here—the hot gases are stored andstocked as they rise above the boiling liquid untilthey are as strong as the blustering son of Astræusand Aurora, and then, by turning one single tap, Isuffer them to escape down yonder iron way, there tofall upon the head of that piston that with a mightysend gives before them and spins the great wheelabove, and comes back on the impetus, and takes anotherbuffet from the laboring vapor, and back it goesagain, now this way and now that, twirling with fieryzeal those notched wheels above, and working allthose bars and rods and pistons. Not one thing ofall this complicated structure but has its purpose; notone rivet in yonder thousands but means a month ofpatient, toilsome thought and labor. Moreover, becauseit is so strong and heavy, I have put the wholeupon that iron carriage, which took me a year toforge, and those solid back wheels are locked with thegear above, and from the axle of that front wheel twochains run up and turn upon a cylinder, so that mysweet one can move at such pace as yet I cannot eventhink of, and guide himself—in brief, is born and consummate!”

Then, presently, he turned from babbling to his“child,” and speaking louder, with frenzied gestures,the while he strode up and down before it, went wildupon the wondrous things it should do. “It will notfail, I know it! My head is fairly mazed when I forecastall that here with this begins as possible. Itshall run, Sir,” he cried, turning rapturously to me—“andfly, and walk, and haul, and pull, and hew woodand draw water, and be a giant stronger than a thousandmen, and a craftsman in a hundred crafts of suchsubtility and gentleness and cunning as no other mastercraftsman ever was. Down, into ages not yetformed in the void womb of the future, this knowledgeI have mastered shall extend, widening as it goes, andmen shall no longer strive or suffer; there stands thepatient beast on whose broad back another age shallput all its burdens. There is the true winged horseof some other time that shall mock the slow patterof our laggard feet, and knit together the most distantcorners of the world within its giant stride. Oh!I can see a happy age, when base material labor shallbe over, and men shall lie about and take their fill ofrestfulness as they have not done since the gates ofEden were shut upon their ancient father’s back! Ido see, down the long perspectives of the future, suchas yon achieving all things both by sea and shore,plowing their fields for unborn peoples and drawingnets, carrying, fetching, far and near, swift, patient,indomitable! Ah! and winging glorious argosies—mightyvessels such as no man dares dream of now;vast, noble bodies inspirited each with a soul as liesimpatient yonder; and those shall plow the greensea waves in scorn of storm and weather, pouring thewealth of far Cathay and Ind into our ready lap, makingthose things happy necessaries which now nonebut some few may dare to hope for; bringing the spicethe Persian picked this morning to our doors to-morrow,bringing the grape and olive unwithered on theirstems, bringing fair Eastern stuffs still wet from outtheir dye-vats——”

“Jove, old man! that moves me. I was a merchantonce. Your words do stir my blood down to the moststagnant corner of my veins!”

“—Bringing pearls from Oman still speckled withthe green sea-dew upon them, and sapphires fromrugged Ural mines still smelling of their fresh nativemother earth; bringing, in swift, tireless keels, NovaZemblan furs and costly feathered trophies from theSouth; bringing Biafra’s hoards of ivory and Benin’sstores of blood-red gold; bringing gems warm fromtepid sands of Arracan, and sandal-wood from seagirtNicobar. Ah! pouring the yellow-scented corn ofevery fertile flat from Manfalout to ancient Abbasiyeh;pouring the Tartar’s millet and the Hindu’srice into our hungry Western mouths; making thoserich who once were poor, and those noble who oncewere only rich; benefiting both great and little—benefitingboth near and far! And I shall have done this—I,poor Master Andrew Faulkener, a man so shabbyand so seeming mean, no one of worth or quality wouldwalk in the same side of the road with him!”

So spoke that good fanatic, and as he stopped therecame a gentle tap upon the door, and a fair face inthe sunlight, and there was Mistress Elizabeth saying,with a merry laugh: “Father! the cloth is laid, andthe meal is spread, and old Margery bids me add that,if to-day’s roast is spoiled by waiting, as the last onewas, she’ll never cook capon for thee again!” and comingdown the maid laid a hand of gentle insistenceupon her father’s sleeve, and led him sighing and oftenlooking back up the green stone steps, I followingclose behind.

We crossed the sunny courtyard, entering on thefarther side the other rambling buttress-wing of thatancient pile. Thence we went by clean white flagstonedpassages and open oaken doorways to whatwas once the long servants’ dining-hall. At the nearend of the middle table of well-scrubbed boards, sothick and heavy they might have come from the sideof some great ship, a clean white slip cloth was laid,with high-backed chairs, one at the head for AndrewFaulkener, and two on either side for me and her, andlower down again were put, below the great oakensalt-cellar, two other places. By one of these stoodDame Margery, fair Elizabeth’s old nurse, an ancientdame in black-velvet cap and spotless ruff and linen,with a comely honest old country face above them,wrinkled and colored like a rosy pippin that has mellowedthrough the winter on a kitchen cornice shelf.Such was Dame Margery, and, while she curtsied lowwith folded hands, I bowed as one of my quality mightbow in respect to her ancient faithfulness. At theother chair stood their Spanish steward, black EmanuelMarcena. Yes, and, as you may by this time haveguessed, that steward was, in flesh and blood, noneother but the midnight visitor who had disturbed myrest the night before. I could not doubt it. He worethe same clothes, his swarthy, sullen face was only alittle more lifelike now in the daylight, and, if moreevidence were wanting, one finger of his left hand—thathand that had held the bloody handkerchief—wasdone up with cobwebs and linen threads. I knewhim on the instant, and stopped and stared to see myvagrant shadow so prosaically standing there at hisdinner place, picking his yellow teeth and sniffing theready roast like a hungry dog. And when he saw mehe too started, for I also had been dreadful to him.I was the exact counterpart of that amber gallantthat had strode out upon his moonlit heels and scaredhim with a shout, where, no doubt, he fancied noshouters dwelt, and now here we were face to face,guests at the same table, surely it was strange enoughto make us stare!

But, over and above the prejudice of our eveningmeeting, I already distrusted and disliked EmanuelMarcena. Why it was I do not know, but so muchis certain, if one may love, no less surely may one hateat first sight, and as our eyes met, hatred was surelyborn in his, while mine, as like as not, told throughtheir steady stare, of aversion and dislike. He was asullen, yellow fellow, lean and tall, with black, craftyeyes set near together; a thin nose, shaped like avulture’s beak; a small peaked beard, and black hairclosely cropped, a crafty, cunning, cruel, ungenerous-lookingfellow, who had somehow, it afterward turnedout, grown rich as his master’s fortunes failed. Hehad come into Faulkener’s service when a boy, hadflourished while he flourished, and learned a hundredshifts of cruelty and pride from the gay company whoonce were proud to call his master comrade, and now,like the black fungus that he was, had swelled withconceit and avarice past all conscionable proportions.

Well, we exchanged grim salutations, and sat, andthe meal commenced. But all the while we ate andtalked I could not help turning to that crafty steward,and each time I did so I found his keen, restless blackeyes wandering fugitive about among us. Now hewould glance at me over his porringer, and then a half-unconsciousscowl dropped down over those dark Cordovianbrows. Then perhaps it was the old man helooked at, and a scarce-hid smile of contempt playedabout the corners of that Southern’s mouth to hearhis master babble or answer our talk at random.Lastly, my sleek Iberian would set his glance on sweetcountry Bess as she sat at her father’s side, and thenthere burned under his yellow skin such a flush ofpassion, such a shine of sickly love and aspiration asneeded no interpreting, and made me frown—smallas my stake was in that game I saw was playing—asblack as inky night. But what did it matter to mewho picked that English blossom? Why should shenot lie on that mean Spanish bosom forever if shewould?—’twas less than nothing to me, who would sosoon pass on to other ventures—and yet no man wasever born who was not jealous, and, remembering howwe had met, how sweet she was and simple, what nativecourtesy gilded her country manners, what musicthere was in her voice, and how black that villainlooked beside her, I, in spite of myself, resented thefirst knowledge of the love he bore as keenly as thoughI had myself a right to her.

Pious, sanctimonious Emanuel Marcena! He stoodup saying his grace for meat long after all of us wereseated, and crossed his doublet a score of times erehe fell on the viands like a hungry pike. And he wascruel too. A little thing may show how big thingsgo. He caught a fly while we waited between twocourses, and, thinking himself unnoticed, held it amoment nicely between his lean, long fingers, then,drawing a straight fine pin from his sleeve, slowlythrust it through the body of that buzzing thing. Hestuck the pin up before him, by his pewter mug, andwatched with lowering pleasure his victim gyrate.That amused him much, and when the creature’s painwas reduced to numbness he neatly tore one prismaticwing from off its shoulder, and smiled a sour smileto watch how that awoke it. Then, presently, theother wing was wrenched palpitating from the dampand quivering socket, and the victim spun round uponthe iron stake that pierced its body. And all thisunder cover of his dinner-mug, ingenious, light-fingeredEmanuel Marcena!

Such was the steward of that curious household.Over against him sat the excellent old country dame,whose mind wandered no further than to speculateupon the price of eggs next market-day, or how herbleaching linen fared; above was the wise-mad scholar,bent and visionary; and by him, ruddy in her countrybeauty, that wild hedge-rose of his. And as I lookedfrom one to other, and thought of what I was and hadbeen, all seemed strange, unreal, fantastic, and I couldonly wait with dull patience for what fortune mighthave next in store.

It was a pleasant, peaceful place, that manor hall!When we had finished our midday meal, and the servitorshad gone to their duties, Master Faulkener said awalk in the green fields might do him good—he wouldgo out and take the country air. It was a wise resolve,and he made a show of carrying it through, but he hadnot crossed the courtyard toward the sunny meadowswhen he got a sniff of his own smoldering furnacefires. That was too much for him. The scholar’srustic resolution melted, and, glancing fugitively behind,we saw him presently steal away toward hiscellar, and then drop down the stairs, and bar thedoor, and soon the curling smoke and dancing sparkstold that wondrous thing of his was growing onceagain.

Thus I and the maid were left alone, and for a littlespace we stood silent by the diamond-latticed window,scarce knowing what to say—I looking down uponthat virgin bosom, so smoothly heaving under its veilof country lawn, she thinking I know not what, butpulling a leaf or two to pieces from her window vine.And so we stood for a time, until the lady broke thesilence by asking if I would wish to see the house andgardens with her? It was a good suggestion and acomely guide, so we set out at once.

She led me first back through her garden again,naming every flower and bush by country names aswe went along, and this brought us to the emptyhouse-front, which we entered. She took me fromroom to room, and dusty corridor to corridor, chattingand laughing all the way, talking of great kinsmen,and noble, fickle guests who once had called her fatherfriend—all with such a light, contented heart itsounded more like fairy story than stern material fact.Then that tripping guide showed me the one door Ihad not found, which led through into the rearwardhouse. Here, again, I told her of how I had huntedin vain for such a passage, and she laughed until thoseancient corridors resounded to her glee. This dooradmitted to another region, which we entered, andsoon Elizabeth led on down a dusty flight of twilightwooden stairs, until a portal studded with iron barredour way. At this, putting a finger to her mouth inmysterious manner, the damsel asked if I dared enter,to which my answer was that, with sword in hand, andher to watch, I would not hesitate to prise the gates ofhell; so we pulled the heavy sullen bolts, and the doorturned slowly on its hinges. There before us was displayeda long, dusty corridor, lit by high narrow cobwebbedlattice windows down one side, and dim withmoss and stain of wind and weather. From end toend of that soundless vestibule were stacked and piledand hung such mighty stores of various lumber, rare,curious, dreadful, as never surely were brought togetherbefore.

It was Andrew Faulkener’s museum-room—theplace where he put by all the strange shreds of lifeand death he collected when the scholar’s fervor wasupon him, and now, as his sweet daughter laid onefinger on my arm and softly bid me listen, directlydown below and under us we heard him hammeringat his forge.

“Oh, Sir,” began that maid, whispering in my earand sweeping her expressive arm round in the directionof those mounds and shelves, “did ever child havesuch a father? This is the one room that is forbiddenme, and it is the one room of our hundreds that I takethe most fearful pleasure in. I do wrong to show it,and, indeed, I had not brought you here but thatsomething tells me you are good comrade, true andsilent both in great and little. Therefore step lightlyand speak small: there is nothing in all the world thatstirs my father’s choler but this—to hear a vagrantfoot overhead among his treasures.”

Softly, therefore, as any midnight thieves we trodthe dust-carpeted floor, and now here, now there, thedamsel led me. Now it was at one oriel recess wherestood a black oak table and open chests piled withvellum books, all clasped and bound with gold andiron, that we paused. And I opened some of thosegreat tomes, and read, in Norman-Latin, or old Frankish-French,the misty record of those things of long-agothat once had been so new to me. I spelled outhow the monkish scribe was stumbling through a passageof that diary that I had seen Cæsar write—sawhim repeat, as visionary and incredible, in quaint andcrabbed cloister scrawl, the story of the Saxon coming,and how King Harold died. I turned to anotherbook, a little newer, and read, ’mid gorgeous uncials,the story of that remote fight above Crecy, “whengood King Edward, with a scanty band of liegemen,was matched against two hundred thousand Frenchabou ye ville of Crecy, and by the Grace of God withstoodthem upon an August day”—and I could haveread on and on without stop or pause down thosemusty memory-rousing pages but for the gentle interrupterat my side, who laughed to see me so engrossed,and shut the covers to, little knowing of thethoughts that I was thinking, and took me on again.

Then she would halt at a pile of splendid stuffs,half heaped upon the floor, half nailed against thewall, the hangings of courtly rooms and thrones; and,as her sympathetic female fingers spread out the foldsof all those ruined webs, I read again upon them, intarnished gold and filigree, in silken stitching and patient,cunning embroidery, more stories of old Kingsand Queens I once was comrade to. On again, topiles and racks of weapons of every age and time:all these I knew, and poised the javelin some Saxonhand had borne in war, and shook, like a dry reed,the long Norman spear, and whirled a rusty piratescimitar above my head until it hummed again an oldforgotten tune of blood and lust and pillage, and, witha stifled shriek, the frightened girl cowered from me.

Oh! a very curious treasure-house indeed! And herethe scholar had laid up skins and furs of animals, andthere horns and hoofs and talons. Here, grim, melancholy,great birds were standing as though in life,and crumbling, as they waited, with neglect and age.There, in a twilight corner, glimmered the greenglassy eyes of an old Thebeian crocodile, and therethe shining ivory jaws of monstrous fishes, with wartyhides of toads, and shriveled forms of small beastsdried in the kiln of long-silent ages, and now black,shrunken, and ghastly. On the walls were pendentenough simples and electrices to stock twenty witches’dens, enough mandrake, hellebore, blue monkshood,purple-tinted nightshade to unpeople half a shire; andalong by them were withered twigs and leaves wouldbanish every kind of rheum; samples of wondrousshrubs and roots, all neatly docketed, would cure awife of scolding or a war-horse of a sprain, would curean adder’s bite, or by the same physic mend a brokenlimb; ah, and bring you certain luck in peace and war,or light, all out of the same virtue, the fires of love inicy, virgin bosoms.

In that quaint ante-room, dimly illumined by its cobwebbedwindows, were astrolabes and hemispheresfrom the cabin poops of sunken merchantmen; chartswhereon great beasts shared with pictured savageswhole continents of land, and dolphins and whalesdid sport where seas ran out into unknown vagueness.There were models of harmless things of foreign artand commerce, and cruel iron jaws and wheels withbloody spikes or beaks for breaking bones or tearingflesh, and teaching the ways of fair civility to heretics.That old man had got together twenty images of Baalfrom as many lands, and half a hundred bits of diverssaints. Here, tied with the strand of the rope thathanged him, was the skin of a dead felon, and nearwas the true shirt of a martyr whom the Church hadcanonized a thousand years before. In some way, too,the scholar had possessed him of a Pharaoh still swaddledwith his Memphian robes, and there he waspropped up against the wall, that kingly ash withmouth locked tight, whose lightest whisper once hadmade or marred in every court or camp from dustyAbabdah to green Euphrates, and brows set rigid,whose frown had once cost twenty thousand lives,made twenty thousand wives to widows, and eyes shutfast that seemed still to dream of shadowy empery—ofgolden afternoons in golden ages—a most ancient,a most curious fellow, and I stared hard at him, feelingwondrous neighborly.

But I cannot tell all there was in that strange place.From end to end it was stocked with learned lumber;from end to end my sweet guide led me, pointing,whispering, and shuddering, all on tiptoe and insilence; and then, ere I was nearly satisfied, or hadsampled one-quarter of that dusty treasure-hall, sheled me through a little wicket, down twenty stairs, andso once more into the fresh open air.

“There, Sir,” she said, “now I have laid bare myfather’s riches to you. Is it not a wonderful corridor?Oh! what a full place the world must be, if one mancan gather so much strange of it!”

I told her that indeed it was and had been full, rightback into the illimitable, of those hopes and fanciesto which all yonder shreds did hint of; and thus talking,I of infinite experience watching the sweet wonderand vague speculation dawning in those unruffledchild-eyes of hers, we sauntered about the gardensand pleasant paths, and spent a sunny afternoon in herambient fields.

CHAPTER XXII

He who has not left something sad behind him, andreawoke in the sunshine to feel the golden elixir ofhealth and happiness moving in his veins anew, maytake it that he has at least one pleasure yet unspent.

I opened my eyes the next morning in as sweet aframe of contentment as any one could wish for. Theyhad put me to sleep in a chamber in that same wingof the rearward buildings where slept Elizabeth andher father; thus, when I roused, the yellow sun waspouring in at my lattice, rich with sweet countryscents, and the April air was swaying the white curtains,hung by dainty female hands across the diamondpanes, with youth and sweetness in everybreath. I lay and basked in it, and lazily wonderedwhat all this changing fortune might mean. Wherehad I got to? Who was I? I turned about and staredupon the smooth white walls of the little room, patternedand tinseled with the dancing sunshine fromoutside, then gazed at the great carved columns of myfour-post bedstead, then to the head, where, in a widewooden field, were blazoned old Faulkener’s arms andcognizance. I turned to all the chairs, dusted so cleanand set back true and straight, to the ewer and thebasin, full of limpid water from the well that caughtthe morning shine and threw a dancing constellationof speckled light upon the ceiling; I wondered even atthe bare floor, scrubbed until there was no spot uponit, and the snowy furniture of my couch and thosedowny pillows upon which I presently sank back inluxurious indolence.

Was I indeed that rude, rough captain of a grizzledcohort, with sinews of steel and frame impervious tothe soft touch of pleasure, who only yesterday hadburst through all the glittering phalanxes of France,and cut a way with that arm that lay supine upon thecoverlet right down through the thickets of theirspears to where the white fleur de lys flashed in theirmidmost shelter? Could I be that same wandererwho, down the devious ways of chance, had trieda thousand ventures, and slept in palaces andditches, and drank from the same cup with kings andthe same trough with outlaws? I laughed andstretched, and presently gave over speculating, androse.

I washed and dressed, and went to the lattice, andlooked forth. It was as sweet a morning as you couldwish for. The tepid sunshine spread over everything,fleecy clouds were floating overhead upon the softestof winds, the sweet new-varnished leaves were glitteringin the dew upon every bush, the small birds singingfar and near, the kine lowing as they went tograss, the distant co*ck crowed proudly from his vantage-pointamong the straw, and everything seemedfair, fresh, and happy in that budding season.

I had not been luxuriating in that sweet leisuremany minutes when by below came Mistress Bess,with cheeks like roses, and kerchief whiter than snow,and brown unstranded hair that lifted on the breeze—avery fair vision indeed. That maid tripped acrossthe grass and down the cobblestones, rattling theshiny milk-pan she was carrying until she caught asight of me, and stopped below my window. Then,saucy, she began: “How looks the world from there,Sir? A little too young and chilly for your tenderness?Get back abed, it will presently be June, andthen, no doubt, more nicely suited to your valor’smind.”

“Nay, but lady,” I explained, “I was enjoying themorning air, and just coming to seek you——”

“That were a thousand pities,” she laughed, “thesun has not yet been up more than some poor hour ortwo and the world is not yet nicely warmed; you mighthave a chill, and that were much to be deplored; besides,a silken suit is rarely needed where work hasto be done. Back to thy nest, Sir ’Prentice! Back tothy nest, and I’ll send old Margery to tuck thee snuglyup!” And the young girl, laughing like a brook inspringtime, went on and left me there discomfited.

Nevertheless, I went down and took the plain butwholesome breakfast that they offered me, and afterwardwhiled away an hour or so upon the bench inwondering silently what all this meant, where it wasdrifting to, how it would end, whether it were, indeed,ending or beginning. And then came round the girlagain, and, railing me on my melancholy, took me outto see the herds and fields, and was all the time sosweetly insolent, after her nature, and yet so velvetsoft, that I was fairly glamoured by her.

This maid, with the quick woman tongue, that wasso pointed, and could at need hurt so much, and theblue, speaking eyes that were as tender and straightforwardas her speech was full of covert thorns, ledme out into the orchards. First she took me to wherethe milk was stored, a roomy open shed, smelling ofcool cleanliness, with white benches down the sidesand red-flagged floor, and great open pans of crimsonware full of frothy milk. Outside the low straw eavesthe swallows were chattering, while the emeraldmeadows, through the farther doorway, glistened andgleamed in the bright spring sunshine. Here we discoveredtwo country girls at work making curds andcheese and butter; ruddy, buxom damsels with stronground arms bare to the shoulder, with rattling clogsupon their feet, white gowns tucked up, and kerchiefson their heads. These curtsied as we entered, andrattled the pans about, and sent the strong streamsof warm new milk gushing from pail to pan. Andthen presently, when I had watched a time their busylabor, nothing would suit Mistress Faulkener but Ishould try! That saucy, laughing girl would have itso! and, glancing at the delighted milkmaids, draggedme to a churn, there bidding me roll a sleeve to theelbow, and take the long handle thus, and thus, and“put my strength into it,” and show I could do somethingto earn a luncheon. And I, ever strong andwilling, did her bidding, and rolled back my silk andlawn, and bared the thews that had made me dreadfuland victorious in a thousand combats, and seized thatwhite straight rod. But, Hoth! ’twas not my trade,I had more strength than art, and the first stroke thatI made upon the curdling stuff within the white fluidleaped in a glittering fountain to the roof above anddrenched the screaming maidens; the second strokefrom my stalwart shoulders started two iron hoopsbinding the strong ash ribs of that churn and madeit swirl upon the tiles, while at the third mighty fallthe rammer was shivered to the grasp, and the milkescaped and went in twenty meandering rivuletsacross the floor! At this uprose those fair confederatesand drove me forth with boisterous anger, sayingI had wasted more value in good milk than most likelyall my life so far had earned.

While they put right my amiss I sat upon a mossywall and wiped dry my hose and doublet. Nor wasthere long to sit before out came my comely hostesswith forgiveness in her smiling eyes. “Did I now see,”she queried, “how presumptuous it was to meddle withsuch things as were beyond one’s capacity?”

To which I answered that I truly saw. “And did Icrave forgiveness—would I make amends?” And tothat I said she had but to try me in some venturewhere my rough, unruly strength might tell, and sheshould see. So peace was made between us, and onwe went again to note how the crimson buds were settingon the sunny, red garden walls; to explore hersloping orchards, and count the frolic lambs that clusteredround the distant folds.

It was her kingdom, and here her knowledge betteredmine. This she soon found out; and when Ishowed at fault in the stratagems of husbandry, ortripped in politics of herds or flocks, she would glanceat me through her half-shut lids, and demurely ask:

“Are you of good learning, friend?”

And to that I answered that “I had so much asmight be picked up in a reasonably long life—notscholarly or well polished, but sufficient and readilyaccessible.”

“I am glad of it,” she said; “then you can tell thedifference between a codling and a pippin?”

“Nay, I fear I cannot.”

“Oh! Nor why one hen will lay white eggs andanother brown?”

“Sweet maid, my wonder never went as far asthat!”

“I do greatly doubt you and your wonder! Whatwould you do if butter would not come upon the churnmilk?”

“Faith! I would leave it as not worth asking for—apoor, white, laggard stuff no man should meddlewith.”

“Heigho! and what is rosemary good for, and whatrue?”

“By Heaven, I do not know.”

“How soon mayst wean a February lamb, and whatwouldst thou wean it on?”

“Hoth! I cannot tell!”

“Nor when to cut meadow grass or make ketchup?Nor how to cure bee-stings or where to look for saffron?Nor when to plant green barley or pull rushesfor winter candles?”

“Not one of these; but if you would show me, sucha tutor such a pupil never would have had——”

Whereon the lady burst out laughing. “Oh,” shesaid, “you are shallow and ignorant past all conceptionand precedent. Why, the rosiest urchin that everwent afield upon a plow-horse has better stock oflearning! In faith, I shall have to put you to schoolat the very beginning!”

I let the fair maid mock, for her gentle raillery wasall upon her lips, and in her eyes was dawning a lightit moved me much to see. We wandered away throughpleasant copses, where the yellow catkins and the redwere out upon the hazels, and late ivory blackthornbuds, like webs of pearls, were overhung upon thoseebony-fingered bushes, and fair pale primroses shonein starry carpets under the fresh green canopy of thenew-tented woods. And my fair Bess knew where themavis built; and when I began to speak warm, andclose into her ear, she would turn away her head andlaugh, and, to change the matter, play traitor to thelittle birds and point their mossy home, and makeme stoop and peer under the leaves, and in pretty excitement—butwas it all absent-mindedly?—would laya hand upon my own and be cheek to cheek with mefor a moment, and then, with country pleasure, takethe sapphire shells of future woodland singers in herrosy palm, and count and con them, and post me inthe lore of spots and specks and hues and colors, andall the fair, incomprehensible alchemy of nature—thenput those tender things back, and lead on againto more.

Pleasant is the sunshine in such circ*mstances!Fair Elizabeth knew all the flowers by name. Sheknew where the gorgeous celandine, like bright-blazonedheralds of the spring, was flashing down bythe stream that ran sparkling through the woods; theunderglow upon the frail anemone was not fairer thanher English skin, as she did bind a bunch into herbosom-knot. She could tell the reasons of affinity betweencuckoo-pint and cuckoo, and how it was thatorchid-leaves came spotted, and the virtue of the blue-eyedpimpernels, and why the gently rasping tonguesof the great meadow kine forswore the noddingclumps of buttercup. And she liked cowslips andmade me pick them—ah! swarthy, strong, and sad-eyedme—me, with the wild alarums of battle stillringing in the ambient country air—me, to whose eyesthe fleecy clouds, even as she babbled, were full ofpictures of purple ambition, of red mêlée, of the sweepingyellow war-dust that canopies contending hosts—me,who heard on every sigh of the valley wind theshouting of princes and paladins, the fierce deep cry ofcaptains and the struggling cheer that breaks fromswinging ranks fast locked in deadly conflict as thefoemen give.

But nothing she knew of that, and would lead fromcowslip-banks back to coppice, and from coppice-pathto orchard, and there mayhap, in the eye of the sun,secure from interruption we would sit—she meetlythroned upon the great stem of a fallen apple-tree,whose rind was tapestried betimes for that dear countrysovereign by green moss and tissued gold and silverlichens, and overhead the leaves, and at her feetthe velvet cushions of the turf, and me a solitary courtierthere.

A very pleasant wooing—and if you call me fickle,why should I argue it? Think of the vast years thatlapsed between my lovings; think how solitary wasthe lovely, loveless world I was born into anew eachtime; think how I longed to light it with the comradeshipthat shines in dear eyes and hearts, how Ithirsted to prejudice some sweet stranger to my favoragainst all others, and claim again kinship of passionfor a moment with one, at least, of those dear, fickle,mocking shadows that glanced through this fitfuldream of mine!

Besides, I was young—only some trivial fifteen hundredyears or so had gone by since they first swaddledme and dried my mother’s tears—my limbs were fulland round, my blood beat thick and fast, youth andsoldier spirit shone in my undimmed eyes; not a strandof silver glanced in that beard I peaked so carefully;and if my mind was full of ancient fancies—ah!crowded with the dust and glitter of bygone agesfuller than yonder old fellow’s strange museum—why,my heart was fresh. Jove! I think it was as youngas it had ever been; and that maid was fair and rosy,and kind and tender. All in the glow of her hat-brimher face shone like the ripe side of a peach; her smoothhands hung down convenient to my touch, and herhead, crowned with its sweet crown of sunlit hair, wasever bent indulgent to catch my courtier whispers.What? I argued, shall the river play with no moreblossoms because last year its envious fingers shooksome petals down into its depth? Must the lonelyhill forever frown in solitude and put by the whitemist’s clinging arms, because, forsooth, some otherearlier cloud once harbored on its rugged bosom?’Twas miserly and monstrous, said my youthfulness.So, nothing forgetting and nothing diminishing ofthose memories that I had, I plunged into the new.

And that kind country girl played Phyllis to mynew-tried Corydon as prettily as any one could wish.I will not weary you with all we did or said—themurmur of a summer brook is only good to go tosleep by—but picture us immersed in solitary conclave,or wandering about in the sweet green math ofApril meadows and finding the long days some sixhours all too short to say the nothing that we had to.Suppose this written, and I turn to other scenes which,perhaps, shall amuse you better.

It by no means followed that because Mistress Elizabethproved so charming, her father was neglected.That old fellow had taken me for his helper, had fedand harbored me, and something seemed owing him inreturn. His huge and bulky engine was growingapace; indeed, it was just upon the finishing. It wasthat my strong arms might second him in some finalparts he had brought me hither, and, being by naturesomething of a smith, I helped him readily.

Each day was spent in the sunshine and flowers,then, when evening came and my fair playmate wasgone to bed, I descended into old Faulkener’s crypt,and, adding one more character to the many alreadyplayed, turned Vulcan. Hard and long we worked.Had you looked upon us, you would have seen, by thesullen furnace glow, two men, bare-armed and leather-aproned,toiling in that black gallery until the sweatran trickling from them; forging, riveting, and hammeringbars of iron, plying the creaking bellows untilthe white heart of the fire-heap was whiter than aglowworm-lamp; hurrying here and there about thatglistening mountain of cunning-fashioned steel thatthey were building; filling their grimy den with flyingdust and smoke and sparks; and thus working on andon through the long midnight hours as though theirvery lives depended on it, until the black curtain ofthe night outside faded to pallid blue, and the chirrupof the homing bats coming to sleep upon the rafterssounded pleasantly; and the furnace gave out, andtired muscles flagged, and the night’s work was overwith the night!

Evening after evening we toiled upon the iron giantthat was to do such wondrous things, old Faulkenerdirecting, and I supplying with my thews and sinewsthe help he needed. Then one day it was finished—finishedin every point and part—complete, gigantic,wonderful! I do confess something of the old man’sspirit entered into me when our work was thus accomplished.I stood minute by minute before it overcomewith an awe and wonder inexplicable. And if the’prentice felt like that, the master was mad withexpectation and delight. Nothing now would do buthe must try it, and the next night we did so. We sentthe household early to their rest, and, as soon as itwas dark, I, carrying a spluttering torch, and Faulkenerthe great cellar key, stole like thieves across thecobbled courtyard to our workshop. The scholar’sfingers trembled till he scarce could fit the key into thewards, but presently the door was opened, and weentered.

“No strangers trespass here to-night,” the old manchuckled, while he closed and double-locked the iron-studdeddoor, and put the key into his belt and thetorch into a socket.

Well, all agog with excitement, we lit the fires inthe iron stomach of that finished monster; we filledhis gullet with kegs of water, slewed his guiding-wheelsround, laid heavy, sloping oaken planks for hishighness to leave his birthplace by, set back the litter,and, lastly, turned the tap that brought the fire andwater together, and put the blood of that iron beastin motion. He came down from off the pedestal forall the world like some black Gorgon issuing from aden! Resplendent in weight and strength, he camesliding down from off the platform of his cradle, andamid the crash of struts and stays, amid flying splintersand the dust of transit, rolled out majestic into thered furnace light; where, trembling in every fiber, andgently swaying like a young giant feeling his strengthfor the first time, with the strong breath within murmuring,and the great steel heart pulsating audibly,our iron toy was born and launched, and came forthmagnificent, huge, overpowering—then, checked by itsanchor-chains, swerving round to face the farther end,and halted.

Old Faulkener was possessed with joy, dancing andcapering round that huge carcass as though he werea ten-years’ urchin, his white beard all astream, hiselfin locks shaggy on his head, his black venerablerobes flapping like the wings of a great bat, his handsclasped fervidly as he leaped and skipped with pleasure,and his lips moving rapidly as he babbled incoherentadulation and love upon that firstling of hishopes. Even I, grave and thoughtful, was elated,and walked round and round the wondrous thing, pattingits iron sides as one might a charger’s just ledfrom stall, while, half in wonder and half in pleasure,catching a fraction of the old man’s fancies. So fareverything had happened as we wished for, andFaulkener, when he could get his breath, burst out inwild rhapsodies of all his bantling should do, and I putin a sentence here and there amid his pæans; and thenhe capped on a hope, and I again a fancy, and so, noddingand laughing to each other, we bandied wordsacross that carcass for twenty minutes, and felt itssinews, and marveled at its tractableness and grace.

And what was our sweet Cyclops doing all thatwhile? Oh! we were young in mechanics; and all thetime we talked and capered the glowing fires wereworking in that body, and presently the wheels beganto ramble and the bars to move; strange dull thundercame fitfully from under those steel ribs, and quaint,unaccountable knockings sounded deep within; thefurnace glowed white and hot as angry jets of steamcommenced to spit from every weak point in the monster’sharness. All this I noticed and pointed out tothe master; but he was stupid with gratification inthat moment of consummated labor, and now our vastmachine began to fret! It was impatient, I saw with apresage of coming evil, and the great circles abovebegan to grit their iron teeth and spin like distaffwheels under a busy housewife’s hand, the pistonswere shooting to and fro faster and ever faster, whilethat fifty tons of metal, glowing hot, now began toyank hungrily upon its chains, and start forward afoot and then come back, and sniff and snort and tremble,and strain in every part, and thunder and pant asthe hot life surged stronger and stronger into its veins,until it was rocking like a skiff at anchor, and bellowinglike a bull in agony.

“By every saint, old Andrew Faulkener!” I shoutedthrough the gathering roar—“by every saint in Paradise,have a care for this frightful beast of thine!”

And I think he saw at last our danger, for the hundredthrhapsody died unfinished upon his lips, and,dropping from the clouds at once, with an anxiouslook, he scanned the now flying wonders of his offspring,and then ran round and seized the handlewhich should have shut off the red-hot vapor whichwas the breath and being of the puissant thing he hadconjured into being. Twice and thrice he bore uponthat handle, then turned to me with a wild and frightenedlook. ’Twas as hot as hot could be, and couldnot move an inch! Hardly had I read that in his face,when with an angry plunge the engine started forward,and the philosopher missed his footing, rollingover headlong to the ground at my feet. And nowour beast was mad with waiting, and stronger thanfifty elephants, and fiercer than the nettled lion. Thechains that held him upon either side were as thickas a man’s arm, being fastened to mighty staples inthe forge. Our swaddling came back two yards uponthose chains—then started forward, and was broughtup all on a sudden with such a jerk as made theground tremble, and filled us with a sickly dread.Back came our splendid plaything again in no goodmood, and then forward once more, putting his mightyshoulders against his bonds until the great steelchains stretched and groaned beneath the strain, andAndrew Faulkener yelled in fear. The third time themonster did this the staples gave, and all the forgefell into one dusty smoking ruin, while the great enginetwirled up those heavy chains upon its thunderingaxles, and, laughing in savage joyfulness, recognizedthe fatal fact that it was free!

Then began a wild scene of chaos which brings thedampness of fear and exertion on my forehead evento remember. What mattered chains or bars or fettersto that splendid life that we could hear hummingthere under those iron ribs?—to that unruly devil-heartwhich knew its strength, and thundered in proudtumultuous rhythm to the consciousness? The wonderfulnew Titan was born, and there in his own den,in the black cradle of his nativity, would brook nomaster—he was born for strength and might, and,Hoth! they were running hot within him, and wecould but cower in the shadows waiting and watching.

And now that hideous monster, being free to dowhat he listed, set off for the far end of the stonycellar, and, like a great black ship floundering in achopping sea, went plunging and reeling over the unevenfloor. We held our breath. What would hedo when he reached the end? And in a minute he wasthere, and through the gloom we heard him crashinto the rocky walls and recoil; then, with a screamlike an angry devil-baby, charge the native masonryagain and again. But Faulkener’s wretched cunninghad put the guiding-wheels on pivots, and now theyslewed, and here he was coming down the wallstoward us.

We did not stop or wait to parley. We ran anddodged behind the pillars, whence we heard him thudinto the broken forge—ay, through the reek andcloudy steam we caught the sound of that fifty tonsof metal clambering over the fallen masonry, all thetime screeching in his anger like a peevish Fury atbeing so thwarted; then back we dodged again, andthe huge thing went lumbering by us full of a horridgiant life no valor availed against, no mortal handscould shackle.

The more he beat about the bounds of that narrowinfernal kingdom, the less our Cyclops seemed to likeit. His rage mounted at each turn he made andfound his prison-cell so narrow, and every rebuffswelled his budding choler. Therefore, seeing howhopeless it was to strive to tame him in this presentmood, I waited till Cyclops was exploring at the bottomof the hall; then, plunging through the dusty turmoil,found old Faulkener. That gray inventor wasreeling like a drunken man, and witless with terror.

“The key—the key!” I shouted in his ear. “To thedoor! We can do no good here. Let your infernalbeast burn out some of his accursed spleen—then we’llmake a shift to tame him. But ’tis no good now!Hear how he thunders! And—see—he is coming backagain!”

“Ah, the door, good friend, the door!” gasped Faulkener;and, clinging to my arm, hotly pursued by themonster behind—whose red-hot madness now seemedtinged with cruel purpose—we fled down the longblack cavern to the iron-studded postern. There wasnot a second to spare: the old man plunged his tremblinghands into his belt and felt all round it, thenturned to me with a horrid stare in his eyes and asickly smile upon his thin white lips—the key wasgone!

I dragged that old man back just as the great engine—rampinghot—lurched down and cut a long smokinggroove half a foot deep from the rocky wall wherebywe had been standing, then, disappointed of us, wenthowling on into the blackness. And now there wasnothing to do but to stay and fight it out, no exit forus, and none for our sweet bantling, and he seemedto know it! Round and round he drove us throughthe flickering gloom and shadows of that dismal co*ckpit,till the gushing sweat ran from us, and our chokingbreath came short and panting through our parchingthroats. Oh! it was a sight to see that shriekingmonster, spurting steam at every joint and howlinglike a pack of winter wolves, come careering throughthe darkness at us, with every plate of his mighty harnessquivering with the force within, and all his thunderingvitals glowing white and spawning goldentrails of molten embers as he lurched along. DownI would see him come, perhaps, hunting something insavage mood, and as I dodged behind a pillar andlooked, out of the vortex of the shadows would leap oldAndrew Faulkener, as a leveret leaps from the fernsunder a lurcher’s nose, and, with ashy wild face, andflying wizard locks, and ragged sorrel cloak flappingin shreds behind him, the master would flash in frenziedfear across the glow that shimmered from theheart of his young Titan, and then be swallowed upagain by the next friendly blackness, and I scarce darebreathe as, with a hideous parody of vindictive cunning,that great thing would swirl and swerve, and beafter him again!

It was a wild, wonderful game, and the longer itwent the hotter it grew. Closer, denser, and blackergrew the gloom of that place, until at length you couldnot see an arm’s-stretch ahead of you in the sulphurousreek—a hot, steamy pall of dismal vapor, throughwhich glimmered redly, now and then, the ashes ofthe overturned furnace place, and the rosin-drippingsplutter of the feeble torch which we had put into thesocket by the door. Ah! that was all we had to lightus as we crawled and leaped and dodged before thevengeful fury of that screaming harpy of ours—allbut his own red copper glow that flamed now here,now there, on the black horizon of our den. Darkerand still darker and hotter became the air, until atlast—in half an hour perhaps—the torch and the furnaceashes were sickly stars, too pallid to light ourmerriment to any purpose, and even the glow of Faulkener’sgreat invention was a red-hot haze, only illuminingthe seething dust and smoke a yard or twoabout it, and everywhere else reigned black, choking,Stygian, infernal darkness.

A blank midnight void hung about the arena wherewe danced to that great being—sprung like a blackMinerva from my master’s over-fertile brain. Yet,Jove! ’twas midnight dark, but there was no midnightstillness in it. The very air seemed palpitating tothe thunderous beat of that beast’s mighty life—everyhollow cavern-niche in our rocky walls bellowed intoour startled ears a hideous mockery of his screeching;while the ceaseless roar of his cruel stride rattleddown the ragged juts of our stony roof like dislocatedthunder. And in that darkness and ear-splitting dinwe dodged and dipped and scuttled like two corneredrats. I have been brave—by this time I hope youknow it—but what was mortal strength or valoragainst the strength and recklessness of that irongod? No, he had the upper hand, and screamed forblood like the devil that he was, pressing us with suchfury that my very soul seemed oozing through mysweating skin. As for dignity—gods! I had none!At one moment I and Faulkener would be strugglingfor a narrow passage like two hoggets in a meadowgate; then I was anon crawling on hands and satinknees through pools half a foot deep with filthy furnace-water,or straddling greasy heaps of brash andashes with the beast close behind to fire my flaggingspirits, spurting flame and scalding steam, and crunchingwith his ponderous weight through the iron litterof the den as though it were an August stubble.

And this was not all. Being so dark, as I havesaid, presently that iron monster, inspirited with thesoul of a Fury, found it more and more difficult to followus, and went reeling and bellowing through thesteamy blackness ever more at random. Thereon hestopped a spell and seemed to listen, and, though wecould only tell his whereabouts by the great fierynebulæ of his glowing sides, we could plainly hear histhousand steel teeth champing, and the gush of theboiling force flying within him. We held our breath,and then we heard something change in the machinery—somepin or rivet fail—and the next minute Faulkener’sbaby was off again with a scream like a lostspirit and possessed of a cursed, brand-new idea. Ihave said the chains wherewith he had been held tothe forge were fastened to great revolving bars uponhis side. When he burst free he had torn these fromthe solid masonry and wound them up upon the spinningaxles, whereto by some misguided cunningFaulkener had welded them. And now that devil wasramping round to find us in the void, and had unwoundthose hideous flails, and with infernal patiencewas beating down one wall and up the other. Oh! itwas sickly to hear the screech of those steel whipssweeping unseen through the startled air, to hearthem thud upon the trembling ground and cut deepfurrows in it at every savage lash—now here, nowthere, flogging the frightened shadows and scourgingthe trembling rocks, and whistling overhead like athousand winged snakes—and all for us!—while thatgreat babe of my master’s hunted slowly round aboutour narrow prison, and thundered and howled andrattled like a tempest in a mountain pass, and, asthough he were some great monster in a deep seacave, shot out and drew in those humming tentacles,and tried each nook and corner, and squirted steamand fire into every crevice, and plied his cruel whipsmadly about in that darkness till ’twas all like Pandemonium.

Well, I will say no more, or you may think I wrapsober fact in that mantle of fancy which the godshave lent me. We had dodged and ducked at thisgame for many minutes when Faulkener’s mind gaveway! I chanced upon him in the middle space, laughingand screaming and taking off his cloak and vest.He saw me stalk from the shadows, and, with a frightfulgrin and caper, shouted that he knew what was thematter—“his pretty firstling needed a bloody sacrifice,and who could provide it better than himself?” Justthen the engine turned and came looming through themist toward us, and the old enthusiast made readyto cast himself under those mighty wheels.

“Come back!” I shouted, “come back!” But Faulkeneryelled: “Touch me at your peril, the sweet onemust not be balked!” And made toward it.

I seized him by the arm and dragged him to oneside, whereat, without further parley, like a furiouswild cat, he turned, and in a twinkling had me by thethroat, with those old talons of his deep buried inmy gullet, and his long, lean legs twirled round minelike thongs of leather, and his mad eyes flashing, hiswhite face lit up with maniac passion; and so weheaved and struggled, then down upon our knees, andover and over upon the floor, the old man striving allhe knew to kill me; while I, for my part, heaved andwrenched—all my splendid strength cramped up inthe wild grip of that sinewy old recluse—and over us,as we fought upon the earth, was glimmering in aminute the red-copper glow, the towering form, andthe cruel, shrieking flails of that exulting demon wehad invented!

We rolled and plunged in the dust, just where thatcircle of red light fell on it, while guttural sobs andsighs came from us, as, forgetful of all else, now onewas on top, in that ruddy arena, and then the other.The veins were big upon my forehead; I felt faint andsick; I could not loosen Faulkener’s iron fingers, deepbedded in my neck, and did not care; and that grimold fellow had no desire now but to watch me die.I saw the glowing haze wherein we fought, and dimlyunderstood it. I heard, faintly and more faintly, therattle of the chains, and the thunderous, black laughterof our plaything, and then, just as that glowingFury seemed drawing itself together for one finaleffort which should crush us both from all form andshape, that very effort put something out of gear—thetangled wheels fell into dead-lock all on a sudden,the heavy chains jerked wildly in their swing andtwisted together, the mighty rods and pistons wentall asplay like a handful of broken straws, the greatbeast trembled and reeled and shook, and then splitopen from end to end, and, with a thunderous roarthat shook our cellar to its deepest foundations, amida wild gust of flame and steam, blew up!

I rose unhurt from the dust and ashes, and unwindingFaulkener’s lifeless limbs from about me, founda hammer by the forge, and, scrambling over the nowpulseless remnants of the giant, burst open the door,and a few minutes later laid the great inventor’sbody down upon a bench in the peaceful moonlitcourtyard.

CHAPTER XXIII

The episodes I now relate are so strange, so nearlyimpossible, that I hesitate to set them down lest youshould call me untruthful and a jongleur; nevertheless,they are told as they occurred, and you must believethem as you may.

My quaint recluse had not been slain that night wetried his infernal engine, but had lain in a long swoonafter I carried him from amid the wreck and débrisof his den out into the moonlight. That swoon, indeed,lasted for a whole day and night; and Elizabethwrung her white hands over her father’s seeming lifelessbody, while Emanuel picked his yellow teeth reflectivelywith his dagger-point at the couch-foot, andDame Margery spent all her art in unguents and salvesupon the luckless inventor ere he showed signs of returninglife.

At last, however, he revived, and made a long, slowrecovery of many days under the gentle ministering ofhis women. And while he throve hour by hour in thespring sunshine on the bench of his porch, I wooed hisdaughter in wayward, dissatisfied kind, and laughedscornfully at the black Spaniard’s jealous scowls, andwon the mellow heart of the old dame by my gallantnessand courtesy. But it was child’s play. I longedagain to feel the hot pulse of keen emotions throbbingin my veins, to struggle with some strong tide of hotadventure, and so at last I had made up my mind toleave my good host and hostess at an early season,and, turning soldier again, espouse the first quarrelwhich chance threw in my way.

Then one day it happened—a strange day indeed tome—old Master Andrew Faulkener had grown wearyof his cranks and fan-wheels, and had gone for solaceto his dusty tomes and classics. Exploring amid them,in an eventful moment he had taken down a missalpenned by some old Saxon monk, and turned to a passagehe must have known well, since it was markedand thumbed. And while the ancient scholar readand mumbled over that quaint black letter with itsgorgeous gold and crimson uncials, I, who chanced tostand a little way apart, saw the wan blood mountin a thin pink glow to the enthusiast’s cheeks, and inthat flush recognized that he was warm upon anotherquest. He mumbled and muttered to himself, andwhile he sauntered up and down, or stopped now andthen to thumb and pore over that leathern volume,I caught, in disjointed fragments, some pieces of histhoughts. “Ha! ha! a most likely find indeed, a splendidtreasure-house of trophies—and to think that noone but old Ambrose and I wot of it, ho! ho! Whatdoes he say? ‘And in this place was destroyed a noblehouse, and the anger of the Lord fell on the pagandefenders, and they were slain one and all. Ah! Godleveled their idolatrous dwelling-places and scatteredtheir ashes to the four winds of heaven, and withthem were destroyed—the common legend sayeth—alltheir hoards of brass and silver, all their accursedimages of bronze and gold, all their trinkets and fineraiment, so that the vengeance of the Lord was complete,and the heathen was utterly wiped out.’Good, very good, Brother Ambrose,” muttered theold man with chuckling pleasure. “And now, wheredid this thing happen? ‘This house which harboredso much lewdness stood on the hillock by the road afew miles from the river, and had all that land whichnow is holy perquisite to the neighboring abbey.’Good! good!—for certain ’tis the very spot I thoughtof—a happy, happy chance that made me light uponthis passage—I who live so near the spot it speaks of—Iwho alone of thousands can use it as the goldenkey to unlock such a sweet mine of relics as thatburied pagan home must be. Oh! Ambrose, I am grateful,”and patting the musty monkish tome in childishpleasure, he replaced it reverently upon its shelf.

Then up and down he paced, the student’s passionburning hot within him, muttering as he went: “Whynot to-night? Why not, why not? There is no seasonbetter for such a work than soon, and I have mylicense,” whereon he went to a peg on the wall andfumbled in the wallet of the ragged cloak I had seenhim wear the night we met. In a minute out camea brand-new scroll of parchment, neatly rolled andfolded, and stamped with the Royal seal. That scrollAndrew Faulkener undid, and, setting his horn glasseson his nose, began to read the paper at arm’s lengthwith inarticulate sounds of rapture. It seemed to delighthim so much that presently I sauntered over toshare in the merriment, forgetting I had thus far beenunobserved; but when we came within two paces ofeach other the scholar, perceiving me, with a cry ofdismay stuffed the crushed parchment hurriedly intohis bosom as though he thought himself about to berobbed of something precious by a sudden ambuscade.However, in a minute he recognized the robber, andwas reassured, yet undecided still, and inch by inchthe white roll came forth, while the old man kept hiseyes fixed on mine. What were his scripts and scrollsto me? I smiled to note the store he set by them:there was not one of those poor things could interestme more nearly than a last year’s leaf from the gardenyonder—and yet, strange to say, that white roll, creepinginto light from under his rusty gaberdine, didattract me somehow. Long life and strange experiencehave wakened in me senses dormant in other mortals,and I begin to be conscious of a knowledge beyondcommon knowing, a sense behind other senses, whichgrows with practice, and seems ambitious by and byto bridge the gulf which separates tangible from unreal,and what is from what will be. That growingperspicacity within me smelled something of weightabout Faulkener’s writing more than usual, and withmy curiosity gently roused, I queried:

“That seems a script of value, sir. Is its interestparticular or public?”

“In some ways, good youth,” Faulkener answeredhesitatingly, as he unfolded the scroll so slowly asthough he were jealous even of the prying sunshine,“in some ways the interest of what this is the key tois very general, and in other ways it is, at least forsome time to come, most private.”

“Enough!” I said, “and I am sorry to have questionedyou; but your pleasure in the tome over theresuggested just now that this were some general matterof curiosity—some dark passage in historywhereon, perhaps, two minds might shed more lightthan one. I ask indulgence for intrusion.”

“Nay, but stop a minute! History, did you say?Why, this is history; this is the birthscript of a brand-newpage in history; this is leave to turn a leaf noother fingers have ever turned, to spell out in sweetashes and lovely fragments a whole chapter, perchance,of the bygone. Boy!” cried the old fellow,grasping my arm with his lean fingers, and whisperingin my ear as though he dreaded the grinningmummy of Pharaoh in the shadow might play eavesdropper,“can you keep a secret?”

“Ay! fairly, when it does not interest me.”

“Why, then—there, take that and read it,” andFaulkener thrust the roll into my hands, and cast himselfinto an attitude, and crossed his arms upon hischest, and stared at me from under his shaggy eyebrowsas if he fancied to see fear and wonder and delightfly over my countenance while my eyes devouredthat precious deed of his. What was there so wonderfulin it? The thing was sealed and tasseled, theink and paper were new, the parchment white; it was,in fact, the very vellum Faulkener had been on hisway to beg at Court when we two met—a wonderfulchance, as you shall presently see, an extraordinaryhap indeed that brought me to his side out of the greatwastes of time at the very instant when that ancientscholar was on the road to ask that license. But I didnot know while I read how nearly the parchmenttouched me. It looked just an ordinary missive fromhigh authority to humble petitioner, profuse and verbose,signed and counter-signed, and, amid a wildernessof words, just a grain of sense that I construedas giving the bearer leave to seek for treasure on certainlands therein mentioned, and adopt the same tohis proper pleasure without tax or drawback.

“This may be a golden key, Sir,” was my response,as the thing was handed back, “but it is difficult tolearn anything of the door it opens by looking on it.”

“Yet, nevertheless, young man, it is a golden key,and you shall see me use it, for if, as yonder brokenengine hints, the Fates will that I may not pry intothe misty future, yet with their leave, with the helpof this and you, will I peep into the even moreshadowy past. Were you ever at the opening of anancient crypt—a stony hiding-place, for instance,where dead men’s bones lay all about mid dim gemsand the rusty iron playthings of love and war?”

“I do recall one such an episode.”

“And did it not affect you greatly?”

“Greatly indeed.”

“Ay, boy, and this that I will show you shall affectyou more—we two will turn a leaf which shall read asclear to you as though you had been at the writing ofit a thousand years before. It is a grassy hillock,and you shall lift that sod with me, and, if this thingis as I think it is, oh! you shall start at what you find,and coward ague shall unstring your soldier legs, youshall be dumb with wonder, and ply your mattockwith damp, fearful awe beaded on your forehead, andstarting eyes fixed fast in horrid pleasure on what wewill unearth. Ay, if you have a spark of generouscomprehension, if one drop of the milk of kindnessstill bides within you, you shall people this place wego to find with such teeming, sprightly fancies, suchmoving mockeries of frail human kind new risen fromtheir ashes at your feet, that you shall wring yourhands out of pure rue for them that were, and pluckyour beard in dumb chagrin, and beat upon yourheart, even to watch all that which once was ruddyvalor and hot love, and white beauty go adrifting soupon the dusty evening wind! You will come withme?”

“Old man!” I said, pacing up and down with foldedarms and bent head, “’twas upon my tongue to say Iwould not—I had a fair tryst to keep this evening, andsomething that I have seen of late makes such venturesas you have planned doubly distasteful to me;’twas in my mind to laugh and shake my head—but,gods! you have stirred a pulse within me that rousesme with resistless wonder; your words tell on mestrangely—there is something in that you say whichechoes through my heart like the footfall of a stormupon the hollow earth, and I can do nothing but listenand acquiesce. I will come!”

“Good youth, good youth, I knew you would; and,that our hopes may not suffer by delay, let us prepareat once. Get you mattock, spade, and pick, withwhatever other tools your strength shall need, and Iwill feed and have my pretty palfrey saddled, and conyon crabbed passage over once again. So we will beready; and at nightfall, under the yellow stars, willstart upon a venture that you shall think on for manya day.”

I bent my head, and we did as Faulkener suggested.But a strange unrest possessed me. When spade andmattock were hidden where we could take them upin secret (for we did not wish our enterprise too widelyknown), the time hung wondrously heavy on hand.All the tedious hours before sunset I was oppressedwith an anxiety quaint and inexplicable; half wishingby turns I had not promised to join the mad old fellowin his moonlight quest, and then laughing my scruplesdown and becoming as restless for the start as beforeI had been reluctant. As for the scholar himself, thevery shirt of Dejanira possessed him, and his impatienceshone behind his yellow wrinkled face like acandle inside a horn lantern. Somehow the hourswore through, however, and when the evening wascome, we set forth, Faulkener pale and eloquentlyraving from astride of that mean palfrey whosesumpter pad was loaded with our tools on one side,and on the other a monster sack wherein to bring backall the treasure we were to rifle, and I on foot leadingthat gentle beast, and thoughtful, past proportion orreason.

At first we pushed on at a brisk pace by familiarroads, but after a time our path lay more to the eastward,the scholar said, and once off the broad whitetrack leading to the nearest town the road grew narrowerand more narrow. On we went in silence, mileafter mile; by rutty lanes where twittering bats flittedup and down the black arcades of overhanging bushand brier; by rushy flats where the water stood wanand dim in the uncertain light; now brushing by theheavy, dew-laden branches of a woodman’s paththrough deep thickets of oak and beech, and then followinga winding sheep-track over ling and gorse. Sosomber was that way, and so few the signs of life, Iwondered how the scholar kept even the direction; buthe was a better pilot than he seemed, and, while heranted silently upon the sky and waved his hands inghostly rhythm to his unspoken thoughts, I foundfrom a chance word or two he was in some kind watchingthe stars, and leading us forward by their dimlight toward that goal whereof he had got knowledgefrom his musty tomes. On we went through the stillstarry night, pacing along from black shadows toblack shadows, and moonlight to silver moonlight,until it must have been within an hour or two of day-breaking,for under the purple pall of sky there wasa long stream of pale light in the east. It was aboutthat time, and the night shadows were strong andebony, and the cold breath and deep hush of a comingmorning hung over everything when Faulkener firstbegan to hesitate, and presently confessed that thatwhich he sought for should be somewhere here, butin the glimmer of the starlight he was uncertainwhether it lay to right or left. We halted, and,mounting on a hillock, peered all about us, but to littlepurpose, fur the somber night hid everything, themassed forest trees rose tier upon tier on every hand,like mountain ranges running on indefinite into thegloomy passes of the clouds, and the chance gleams ofmoonlight, lying white and still upon the dew-dampmeadows, were so like great misty lakes and rivers,it were difficult to say whether they were such or no.

So back we scrambled once more, and unhitchedour patient beast from the hazel whereto we had tiedhim, and plunged on again by dingle and sandy road,and rough woodland path, until we were hopelesslymazed, and there seemed nothing for it but to wait tilldaylight or go empty back. Yet, reluctant to doeither, we held to it a little, hoping some chance mightfavor us. ’Twas past midnight—not a crow of distantco*ck or yelp of village cur broke the dead stillness,and we were plodding down a turfy road, whenon a sudden our patient steed threw forward his earsand came to a dead stop, and, almost the same minute,the gray clad figure of a countryman in long capeand hood, a wide slouch hat upon his head, and a tallstaff in his hand, came out from the depth a hundredyards ahead of us, and with slow, measured gait andbent face walked down toward us. Old Faulkenerwas overjoyed. Here was one who knew the country,and would show us his precious hillock; and heshouted to that stranger, and tugged his palfrey’s rein.But that observant beast was strangely reluctant; hewent on a pace, then stopped and backed and pawedthe silent ground, throwing his prick ears forward,whinnying, and staring at that silent coming stranger,with strange disquiet in every movement. And I—Isympathized with that dumb brute; and, as the countrymancame near, somehow my blood ran cold andcolder; my tongue, that was awag to ask the way,stuck helpless to my teeth; a foolish chill beset mylimbs; and, by the time we met, I had only wit enoughleft to stare, speechless, at that gray form, in silentexpectation. But the old philosopher did not feelthese tremors. He was delighted at our good luck,and, fumbling in his wallet, pulled out a small silverpiece which he tendered to the man, explaining at thesame time our need and asking him to guide us.

The stranger took the coin in silence, and, keepinghis face hidden in the shadow of his hat, said themound was near, “he knew it well, he had bided by itlong,” and he would willingly show us where it lay.Back we went by copse and heather, back for half amile, then turned to the right, and in a few minutesmore came out of the brushwood into the starlight,and there at our very feet the ground was swelling upin gentle sweep to the flat top of a little island-hilllost in the sea of forest-land about it. It was theplace we came for, and the scholar, without anotherthought for us, joyfully pricked his steed to the rise,and was soon out of sight round the shoulder of theground.

But I! Oh, what was that strange, dull hesitationthat made my feet heavy as lead upon that threshold?Whence came those thronging, formless fancies thatcrowded to my mind as I surveyed that smoothly-roundedhillock, and all the fantastic shadows beyondit? That spot was the same one I had wandered towhen I walked lonely from Faulkener’s house, andmere chance brought me to it anew at dead midnight;and all the old thrills of indistinct remembrance I thenhad felt were working in me again with redoubledforce, moving my soul to such unrest that I bent myhead and hid my eyes, and strove long but vainly torecall why or when I had last trodden that soil, assomewhere and somehow I was certain that I had.Thinking and thinking without purpose, presently Ilooked up, and there, two paces away was still thatgray hedgeman leaning on his staff and regarding mefrom under his country hat with calm, soulless attention.I had forgotten his presence, and it was sostrange to see him there, so rustic and so stately, thatI started back, and an unfamiliar chill beset me foran instant. But it was only a moment, then, angryto have been surprised, I turned haughtily upon him,and, with folded arms, in mockingness of his own sternattitude, stared proudly into those black shadowswhere should have been his face. Jove! ’twas a starethat would not have blanched for all the lightning ina Cæsar’s eye or wavered one moment beneath thegrim returning gaze of any tyrant that ever lived;and yet, even as I looked into that void my soul turnedto water, and my eyelids quivered and bent anddrooped, my arms fell loose and nerveless to my side,and every power of free action forsook me.

That being took my perturbation with the same coldlack of wonder he had shown throughout. He eyedme for a minute with his sleepy, stately calm, andthen he said: “You have been here before.”

“Yes,” I answered, “but how or when only the greatgods know”—and though I noticed it not at the moment,yet since it has flashed upon me as another linkin a wondrous chain, that at that moment both I andthe gray countryman were using the long-forgottenBritish tongue!

“And would you know, would you recall?” hequeried in his passionless voice.

“Ay, if it is within your power to stir my memory,stir it, in the name of loud Taranis, of old Belenus,and all the other fiends I once believed in!”

“Well sworn, Phœnician!” said the tall nocturnalwanderer, and without another word grasped his staffand, signing me to follow, led round the shoulder ofthe hillock to where, alone and solitary, we two werestayed by a trickling rivulet that sprang from a grassybasin in the slope, and went by a little rushy coursewinding down into the dusky thickets beyond. Atthat pool my guide stopped suddenly, then, pointingwith stern finger still shrouded under the folds of hisample cloak:

“Drink!” he cried. “Drink and remember!”

I could no more have thwarted him than I couldhave torn that solid mound from off its base, and downI went upon one knee, and took a broken crock someshepherd had left behind, and filled it, and put it to mylips and drank. Then up I leaped with a wild yellof wonder and astonishment, while right across thesullen midnight sky, it seemed, there shot out in onebroad living picture all the painted pageantry of myRoman life. I saw old Roman Britain rise before me,and the quaint templed towns of a splendid epochleap into shape from the tumbled chaos of the eveningclouds. I saw the crowded episodes that had followedafter the rewakening in the cave where my princesshad laid me; the faces of my jolly long-dead comradesseemed thronging round about me; I heard the streetcries of a Roman-British city; I saw the dust rise,and the glitter as the phalanges wheeled and turnedupon the castra before the porch where, a gay patriciangallant, I lounged in gold and turquoise armor.I saw Electra’s ivory villa start into form and substanceout of the pale, filtering Tudor moonlight, andthe great white bull, and the haughty lady, statelyand tall, beckoning me up her marble steps; and thenI was with her, her petted youth, lying indolent andhappy, toying disdainfully with the imperial love sheproffered me, while we filled our rainbow shells fromthat bright fountain that spurted in her inner court!

With a wild cry I dropped the shepherd’s crock andstarted back. The water I was sipping was the waterof Electra’s courtyard fountain! Gods! there wasnone other like it. Often we two had drunk of thatcrystal torrent as it burst, full of those sweet earth-saltsthe Romans loved so well, from the bowels ofthe earth straight into her pearly basins; the last timeI had stooped to it was on that night of fiery combatwhen Electra’s villa fell—and here I was sipping ofit again, so strangely and unexpectedly that I hid myeyes a space, scarce knowing what might happen next.When I uncovered them the black dusty clouds hadswallowed the painted pageantry of my vision, thenight-wind blew chill round the grassy slope; theRoman villa and fountain had gone from the grayshadows where we stood—only the tinkle of the fallingwater was left in the darkness, and in front ofme still the tall figure of that gray-clad countryman.Only that countryman! Hoth! how can I describe therush of keen wonder and fear which swept over mewhen, looking at him again, I saw that he had turnedback the flap of his wide hat, and there, in the deadgray light, was staring at me—the same stern, passionlessface that had come to my shoulder in thereek and heat of combat on this very spot thirteenhundred years before, and, doing the bidding of thegreat Unknown, had drawn me from those fiery shamblesonly just in time?

I knew him then, on the instant, as no mortal, andglared, and glared at him with every nerve at tension,and speechless tongue, too numb to question, andwhile I stared like that with the strong emotion playingon lip and eye—it was only a minute or so, thoughit seemed an epoch, the face of that being was lit bya smile, sedate and impalpable.

Then, turning to me with gentle superiority, he said:“You have been long, Phœnician! They told me youwould come again, and I have waited—waited for youhere these few hundred years—waited until I neartired of watching all your circling vagaries. Here isthe place you came to-night to find—my errand ends!Dig, wonder, and reflect—this I was told to show youand to say!” And like the echo of his own words,like the shadow of a cloud upon a rock, that strangemessenger of another life was drunk up by the darknessright in front of my wondering eyes.

So swift and silent was his passage back into theouter vagueness that for a minute I could not believehe had gone in truth, and held my breath, and staredup and down, expecting he would fashion again outof the draughty air, or speak above or below, oncemore, in that voice every syllable of which fell clearon my soul, like water falling into a well. But it wasuseless to listen and peer into the gloom. The shapewas gone beyond recall; and, while my mind still ponderedover the strangeness of it, keeping me spellboundat the brink of that enchanted fountain, withbent head and folded arms, trying to guess how muchof this was fantasy, and how much fact, there rose ashout upon the still night air, and, raising my eyes,there was Faulkener’s quaint black image caperingwildly on the dusky skyline, the while he brandishedaloft in one hand a spade, and in the other—lookingquaintly like a new-severed head dangling by the hair—thefirst sod he had cut of that “treasure-heap” sodear and dreadful to me.

I went sullenly up to the recluse, full of suchstrange, conflicting feelings as you may suppose, andfound him eager and excited. He had marked out along furrow across the crest of the hill, “and this wewere to open and strike out right or left according asour venture throve.” Jove! I stared for a time atthat black trench as though it were the narrow lip ofhell, which presently should yawn and throw up agrim, ghostly, warlike crew, worse than those whofrightened Jason. And then I laughed in bitternessand perplexity, and tore off my doublet and rolled mytunic-sleeves above my shoulder, and took a spade,and at one strong heave plunged it deep into the tenderbosom of the swelling turf just over where theoutskirts of the ancient Roman house had been, andwrenched it up. Then in again, and then again, whilethe mad philosopher capered in the twilight to watchmy sinewy strength so well applied, and the whistlingbats swept curious round us. I had not turned backa stitch of that light, peaty coverlet, when down myspade sank through an inner crust, deep into somethingsoft and hollow-seeming; and the next minuteFaulkener, who also had set to work, was into thesame fine strata too. We laid it bare, and there belowus shone a floor of white dim ashes, mixed withearth, and leaves, and roots.

“A torch! a torch!” yelled Faulkener, and down hewent upon his knees, and, wild with exultation, wallowedin that powdery stuff, throwing it out by handand armfuls, till all his clothes were covered with it,and his hoary beard was still more hoary, and hiswhite face still more white, and his mad twinklingeyes were still more lunatic, and I helping him, fullof crowding hopes and fears. And so we dug andgroveled and scraped, while the pale stars twinkledoverhead, until soon my master gave a shout, andlooking quickly at him—Jove! he was hand in handwith a dead white hand that he had uncovered, andwas hauling at it in frantic eagerness, and scrapingaway the rubbish above, and slipping and plungingand staggering in the gray dust, while the beadedsweat shone on his forehead, and his white elf-lockswere all astray upon the night air; and then—gods!—itbegan to give, and I held my breath—knowing all Iknew—while the white stuff cracked and heaved aboutthat ghostly palm, and then it opened, and—first hishead, and then his shoulders, and then his stiff contortedlimbs—my master dragged out into the starshine,with one strong effort, a bulky ancient warrior!

There, in the torchlight which Faulkener held abovehim, slept that kiln-dried soldier. He lay flat uponhis back, and, while one knotted, shriveled fist wasstretched stiff in front in deathless anger, the brokendigits of his other hand were welded by red iron rustabout the red rusty hilt of a bladeless sword. Andthat soldier’s soulless face was set stiff and hard, whileon his stern, shut lips and deep in his eyeless socketseven now restless passion and quenchless hate seemedsmoldering. About that frail body still clung in melancholytatters the shreds and remnants of purplewebs and golden tissue. On his shoulders, sunk intohis withered, lifeless flesh, were the moldy straps andscales of harness and cuirass, and on his head whatonce had been, though now it was more like winterwrack, a gay helmet and a horseman’s nodding crimsonplume. It was a ghostly plaything to unearthlike that under the wavering starlight, and it wasdoubly dreadful to note how deathlike was it while yetall the hot life-passion lay stamped forever in unchangingfierceness on the hideous mask of dissolution.I turned away as Faulkener, gleefully shoutingthat he was a thousand years old if he was a day, torethe russet trophies from him, and pushed him downthe hill; I turned away, grimly frowning, out into theblack starlight, with folded arms, for that contortedthing was jolly Caius Martius, my merry Byzantinecaptain of those mercenaries who stood it out withme that last night of Roman power in England! JollyCaius Martius! Often we two had set the Britishdogs a-yelping as we wandered home from noisy midnightfrolics down the moonlit temple streets; oftenwe two had driven the same boar to bay deep in hisreedy stronghold; often at banquet and at feast, whenthe roses lay deep below and the strong warm breathof scented wine hung thick above, that curly blackhead the Mercian damsels liked so well had sunkhappy and heavy on my shoulder. Jove! how the worldhad spun since then!—and there was Faulkener pushinghim down the slope, and I could not raise a comradefinger for merry Caius, and could only stupidlyremember, as the sprawling head went trundling awayinto the brambles, how, in that long ago, I had owedhim half a silver talent and had never yet repaid it!

Well, we fell to work again, and farther on, amidthe passages where these ancient men had fought andfallen in the rout, we found a limb, and dug about ittill we uncovered another strange, twisted hide ofwhat was once humanity—a stalwart shell this one,but Faulkener thought little on him because he woreno links or chains, and set him rolling after the otherwith scant ceremony. The next we came to seemedby gear and weapons a Southern mercenary. He layasprawl upon his face, and my master levered him outand plucked him of his scanty metal relics with nomore compunction than if he were a pigeon. It wasgrim, wild work, there under the leer of the yellowdawning, all in the hush of the twilight, coming onthose ghastly relics thus one by one, and prising themout of their ashy shells, and turning them over, andreading on each black mummy mask, that seemed tosmile and grin with dead ferocity under the flickeringflambeau light, the countenance and fashion of ancientcomrade and ally. And ever and anon as I worked,held to the labor by a strange fascination, the melancholyfootfall of the gusty wind came pacing roundthe hill, and with a frown and start I would look overmy shoulder, half fearing, half hoping it was my graycountryman once more. So we toiled, and toiled, whilethe light waned, and Faulkener’s treasure-heap wasswelling. And the nearer we worked to the center ofthat ample round of corridors and courts the thickercame to light those old world fighters, and presentlywe got right down to the tessellated paving of Electra’slordly hall, and here we found what it was whichmade all these ancient warriors so still and lasting.It was that strange, mysterious fountain. That jetof pungent taste and wondrous properties, when thewalls fell in, had overflowed its basins and percolatedthrough the deep soft ashes lying thick about thesemarble rooms and chambers, and, by the stony magicwherewith it was charged, had lined and filled thoseancient gentlemen it met with, and thereafter, in longdark months of silence, had supplemented their wastingtissues with its calcareous sediment, and keptthem forever as we found them—strange, horrible,exact, and real, with passion and life stamped deepon every face, and strength and vigor in every limb,although those faces wore only ashy masks, and thoselimbs no stouter than the vellum on which I write.

Under the crust of welded stone and ashes it waswonderful to see how perfectly was everything preserved.We raised it in great flakes from the stonyflooring, and all the stain and litter of the fight layunder it, as though they were not a dozen hours old;we chipped that scaly covering from the walls, andthere, fresh as the moment they were made, gleamedup under our wavering torchlight all the gay muralpaintings, the smudges of battle, and the scars of axeand arrow. We lifted that pale, stiff shroud fromthe inner chambers, and beneath lay shreds and shellsof furniture and gear; the half-baked loaves were inthe oven; the flesher’s knife was on the block! Roundabout the bounds of that stately ruin we went, uncoveringat every spadeful something mournful, forgettingfatigue and time, as wonder after wonder roseto view; thus we came at last to the mid court, wherethe great fight had been, and peeled the thin turf fromoff it, far and near.

We had scarce begun to rake aside the ashes, whendown to help us came, out of the black parting clouds,strong gusts of cold morning wind, blowing fitfully atfirst and chill, and sobbing overhead and all about us,as though the gray air was full of spirits. It gatheredstrength, and, wailing over the wide floor we had uncovered,in one strong breath swept back the veil ofashes, and there—Jove!—all amid the juts of fallenmasonry and stumps of beam and rafter, blackened inthat fire which seemed but yesterday, were high, protrudingknees of dead combatants, and stiff bentelbows, as thick as grass; and haggard, wizened faces,all stamped with twenty fine degrees of terror; andfierce clenched fists, and hands that still waved abovethem broken hilt and blade. There they lay in heapsand rucks about that ancient villa floor, just as theyhad died fighting amid the red choking ashes of theblazing roof, all horribly lifelike and yet so grimlydead! Old Faulkener yelled in sheer affright, andcapered, and shook his fists toward them, and torehis lean white locks ’tween dread and wonder; andstiff my Phrygian curls seemed on my head, and coldthe sweat upon my forehead.

And then, while we watched, a very wonderful thinghappened, and, dreadful and beautiful, those cindersbegan to glow. Jutting beam and rafter grew redand redder, pile and timber and cornice caught theambient blush, the crimson stain crept all across thehall, it burned in mockery upon ruined wall and portico,and lit with an unearthly radiance those parched,contorted faces that grinned and leered and frowned,still in frantic struggle with their kind, all round us.Was I mad? Was this some hideous last delusionwhich beset my aching mind and horror-surfeitedeyes? No! there was Faulkener saw it too, and hadfallen on his knees and buried his fearful face behindhis hands and thrown his gaberdine cloak over hishead to shut out that dreadful sight. I drew my handacross my face and looked again: it was true, too true—thatcharred and ancient villa was all alight oncemore; wherever fire had been, at every point andcrevice, there the ambient glow was smoldering witha flameless brightness. It underlay the silver asheswith a hot golden shine; it gilded all the fallen metalstatues of gods and goddesses until they seemed toshimmer beneath its touch; it shone near by underthe walls and far out upon the steps—it was so real,so terribly like what it had been here a thousand yearsbefore, that I half bent to take a weapon, in the delusionof that brilliant fantasy, a husky cry of encouragementto those stark, ancient warriors half frameditself upon my lips—and then, how exactly I know not,but somehow a slight insequence fleshed upon me,and in another minute I had spun angrily round uponmy heel—and there I saw, right behind us, calm, benignant,crimson, the great May sun was topping theeastern oak-trees.

CHAPTER XXIV

After that eventful episode just detailed, life ransmooth and uneventful for a time in the old manor-house.I had had enough to think of for many a day,and was inert and listless somehow. War, that hadseemed so bright, had lost its color to me. Honor!and renown! Why, the green grass in the fields werenot more fleeting, I began to think; and what use wasit striving after conquests which another age undid,or attempting brave adventures whereof a later timerecognized neither cause nor purpose? I was in adoleful mood, as you will see, and lay about on Faulkener’ssunny, red-brick terraces for days together, reflectingin this idle fashion, or pressed my suit uponhis daughter when other pastimes failed.

Now, this latter was a dangerous sport for one likeme, and one whose fair opponent at the game had sucha fine untaught instinct for it as Mistress Bess possessed.I began to speak soft things unto that lady’sear, as you may remember, like many another, for lackof better occupation, and because it seemed so discourteousto be indifferent to the sweet enticement of myfriend, and then I took the gentle malady from her,and, growing worse than she had been, how could shedo aught but sympathize? And so between us weeked the matter on in ample leisure, until that whichwas a pretty jest became at last very serious andsober earnest.

It was a strange wooing. I still worked in theforge, riveting, hammering, and piecing together thefragments of the scholar’s shattered dream, and downthe damsel would come at times into the grimy denand sit upon the forge-corner in her dainty countrysmock, twirling her ribboned points and laughing atme and my toil, as fresh and dainty among all thatgloomy black litter round about as a ray of spring sunshine.I was so solitary and glum, how could I failto be pleasured in that dear presence? And one timeI would hammer her a gleaming buckle or wristlet outof a nob of ancient silver, and it was sweet to see thatcountry damsel’s eagerness as, with flushed face andsparkling eyes, she bent over and watched the prettytoy shine and glitter and take form and shape undermy cunning hammer. Or then again, perhaps, anotherday I would tell her, as though it were only hearsay,some wondrous old story of the ancient time, so fullof light and color and love as I could fill it, and thatdear auditor would drink in every syllable with thirstyears, and laugh and weep and fear and tremble just asI willed, the while I pointed my periods with my anvilirons, and danced my visionary puppets against theblack shadows of that nether hall. Hoth! a good listeneris a sweet solace to him whose heart is full!Those narratives did so engross us that often the forgewent cold, and bar and rivet slumbered into blackness,while I stalked up and down that dingy cavern peoplingit with such glowing forms and fancies as keptthat dear untutored damsel spellbound; often theevening fell upon us so, and we had at last to stealshamefacedly across the courtyard to where the warmglow behind the lattices told us supper and the otherswaited.

There was small difference in these days. I hammeredcheerful and I hammered dull, I hammeredhopeful and I hammered melancholy, I hammered intune to the merry prattle of that girl, and I hammeredsad and solitary. And ever as I forged and welded bymyself you may guess how I thought and speculated—thoughtof all the love that I had loved, and all theuseless strife and ambition, and now hung over myblackening iron as the pain of ancient perplexities anddisappointments beset me, and then anon laughed andbeat new life into the glowing metal as the light offorgotten joys flashed for a moment on the fitful currentof my mind. Ah! and again I forged hot and impetuouson my master’s rods and rivets as the oldpulse of battles and onset swelled in my veins—forgedand hammered while the stream of such fancies boreme on—until, unwitting, the very molten stuff beneathmy hands took form and fashion of my thoughts, andgrew up into shining spear-heads and white bladesuntil the fantasy in turn was passed, and I checkedmy fancies and saw, ashamed, the foolish work mybusy hammer had fashioned, and sadly broke thespear-heads and snapped the blades, and came backwith a sigh to meaner things.

My mind being thus full of all those wild adventuresand wondrous exploits I had seen and shared, when,as I was strolling one idle morning down Faulkener’sdusty museum corridor, and sampling as I went hisprecious tomes, that thing happened to which you owethis book. I dipped into his missals and vellums asI sauntered from shelf to shelf, and soon I found therewas scarcely a page, scarcely a passage within theirmothy leathern covers that did not touch me nearly,or set me thinking of something old and wonderful.There was not a page in all that fingered, scholar-markedlibrary, it seemed to me, upon which I couldnot find something better or nearer to the shiningtruth to say than they had who wrote those cupboardhistories and philosophies; and first I was only sadto see so much inaccurate set down, and then I fell tosighing, as I turned the leaves of quaint treatise andpedantic monkish diary, that they should write whoknew so little, and I, who knew so much, should be sodumb. And thus vague fancies began to form withinmy mind, and, backed by the brooding memoriesstrong within, began to egg me on to write myself!Jove! I had not touched a pen for many hundred years,and yet here was the budding hunger for expressionrising strong within me, and I laughed and went overto old Faulkener’s great oak table by the mullionedwindow, and took up his quill, and turned it here andthere, and looked on both ends of it, then presentlyset it down with a shake of the head as a weaponpast my wielding. I felt the texture of his vellumsand peered into the depth of his inkpot, as thoughthere were to see therein all those glowing facts andfancies that I yearned to draw therefrom. But itwould not do; not even the challenge of those piledtomes, not even the handy means to the end I coveted,could for a time break down my diffidence.

So I fell melancholy again, and wandered down thatquaintly stocked museum library, gazing ruefully oneach sad remnant of humanity, and thinking howquaint it was that I should come to dust my kinsmen’sskulls and tabulate those grim old heads thathad so often wagged in praise of me, then back againto the shelves, and pored and pondered over the many-authoredbooks, until, by hap, my eyes lit upon a passagein an Eastern tale that was so pregnant with experience,so fine, it seemed to my mood, in fancy andphilosophy, that it entranced me and fired my zealto a point naught else had done.

The ancient Arabian narrator is telling how onecame, in mid desert, upon a splendid, ruined city—asilent, unpeopled town of voiceless palaces and temples—andwandered on by empty street and fallengreatness until, in the stateliest court of a thousandstately palaces, he found an iron tablet, and on it waswritten these words:

In the name of God, the Eternal, the Everlastingthroughout all ages: in the name of God, who begettethnot, and who is not begotten, and unto whomthere is none like: in the name of God, the Mightyand Powerful: in the name of the Living who diethnot. O thou who arrivest at this place, be admonishedby the misfortunes and calamities that thou beholdest,and be not deceived by the world and itsbeauty, and its falsity and calumny, and its fallacyand finery; for it is a flatterer, a cheat, a traitor. Itsthings are borrowed, and it will take the loan fromthe borrower; and it is like the confused visions of thesleeper, and the dream of the dreamer. These are thecharacteristics of the world: confide not therefore init, nor incline to it; for it will betray him who dependethupon it, and who in his affairs relieth upon it.Fall not into its snares, nor cling to its skirts. For Ipossessed four thousand bay horses in a stable; and Imarried a thousand damsels, all daughters of Kings,high-bosomed virgins, like moons; and I was blessedwith a thousand children; and I lived a thousandyears, happy in mind and heart; and I amassed richessuch as the Kings of the earth were unable to procure,and I imagined that my enjoyments would continuewithout failure. But I was not aware when therealighted among us the terminator of delights, the separatorof companions, the desolator of abodes, theravager of inhabited mansions, the destroyer of thegreat and the small, and the infants, and the children,and the mothers. We had resided in this palace insecurity until the event decreed by the Lord of allcreatures, the Lord of the heavens, and the Lord ofthe earths, befell us, and the thunder of the ManifestTruth assailed us, and there died of us every day two,till a great company of us had perished. So when Isaw that destruction had entered our dwellings, andhad alighted among us, and drowned us in the sea ofdeaths, I summoned a writer, and ordered him towrite these verses and admonitions and lessons, andcaused them to be engraved upon these doors and tabletsand tombs. I had an army comprising a thousandthousand bridles, composed of hardy men, with spears,and coats of mail and sharp swords, and strong arms;and I ordered them to clothe themselves with the longcoats of mail, and to hang on the keen swords, and toplace in rest the terrible lances, and mount the high-bloodedhorses. Then, when the event appointed bythe Lord of all creatures, the Lord of the earth andthe heavens, befell us, I said, O companies of troopsand soldiers, can ye prevent that which hath befallenme from the Mighty King? But the soldiers andtroops were unable to do so, and they said, How shallwe contend against Him from whom none hath secluded,the Lord of the door that hath no doorkeeper?So I said, Bring to me the wealth! (And it was containedin a thousand pits, in each of which were athousand hundredweights of red gold, and in themwere varieties of pearls and jewels, and there was thelike quantity of white silver, with treasures such asthe Kings of the earth were unable to procure.) Andthey did so; and when they had brought the wealthbefore me, I said to them, Can ye deliver me by meansof all these riches, and purchase for me therewith oneday during which I may remain alive? But they couldnot do so. They resigned themselves to destiny, andI submitted to God with patient endurance of fate andaffliction until he took my soul and made me to dwellin my grave. And if thou ask concerning my name, Iam Khoosh, the son of Sheddád, the son of ’Ad theGreater.

“Oh, well written!” I cried. “Well written, Khoosh,the son of Sheddád, the son of ’Ad the Greater, welland wisely written, and also I will write, for I havemuch to tell, and I too may some day be as thou art!”

Thus was the beginning of this book. I got penand ink and a volume of unwritten leaves forthwith,and carried them away to a lonely chamber in thethickness of a turret wall, a little forgotten cell somesix poor feet across, and there solitary I have written,and still write, peopling by the flickering yellowlamp-light that stony niche with all the brilliant memoriesthat I harbor, letting my recollection wanderunshackled down the wondrous path that I have come,and step by step, by episodes of pain and pleasure, bywild adventure and strange mischance down, fardown, from the ancient times I have brought you untilnow, when my ink is still wet upon the events of yesterday,and I cease for the moment.

This, then, is all that there is to say, all but onesuggestive line. I and yonder fair damsel haveplighted troth under the apple-trees out in herorchard! We have broken a ring, and she has onehalf of it and I have the other. To-morrow will wetell her father, and presently be married. ’Tis a rightsweet and winsome maid, and together, hand in hand,we will rehabilitate this ancient pile, and dock thatdesert garden, and get us friends, and troops of curly-headedchildren, and lie and bask in the jolly sunshineof contentment—and so go hand in hand foreverdown the pleasant ways of peaceful dalliance.

Jove!—my pen, and a few poor minutes more fromthe bottom dregs of life! It is over! all the long combatand turmoil, all the success and disappointment,all the hoping and fearing. That which I thought wasa beginning turns out to be but an ending. My handshakes as I write, my life throbs, and my blood is onfire within me; I am dying, friendless and alone asI have lived, dying in a niche in the wall with mygreat unfinished diary before me—and, with the grimbriefness of my necessity, this is how it has happened.

I had wooed and won Elizabeth Faulkener, and, onthe day after she had come down into the forge, as washer wont, sweet and virginal; and I was there atwork, and took her into my arms; and, while we dalliedthus, there entered on us the ancient scholar andthe swart steward. Gods! that villain blanched andscowled to see us so till his swart face was whiter thanthe furnace ashes.

I took the maiden’s hand, and boldly turning to herfather told my love and its accomplishment, whereatshe burst from me and threw herself upon his bosom,and, radiant with confusion, such a sweet countrypearl as any Prince might well have stooped to raise,she pleaded for us.

Oh! a thousand thousand curses on that black fellshadow standing there behind her! The father, relenting,kissed the fair white forehead of that winsomegirl. He bid Emanuel bring at once a loving-cup, and,while that foul traitor reeled away to fetch it, he joinedour hands and gave us, in tones of love and gentleness,his blessing.

Then back came the scoundrel Spaniard, his lean,hungry face all drawn and puckered with his wickedpassions, and in his hand a silver bowl of wine. OJove! how cruel it flames within me now! My sweetmaid took it, and, rueful for the pain she had givenblack Emanuel, spoke fair and gentle, saying howwe would ever stay his friends and do our best toprosper him. And even I, generous like a soldier,echoed her sweet words, telling that fell knave how,when the game was played and finished, even theworst rivals might meet once more in good comradeship.And so—while the mean Spanish hound, withcruel jaw dropped down and, hands a-twitching at hisside, turned from us—his tender mistress lifted thegoblet to her lips and drank.

The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (16)

Then came the scoundrel Spaniard, his lean, hungry face all drawnand puckered with his wicked passions

She drank, and because she was no courtly goblet-kissingdame, she drank full and honest, then passedthe troth-cup to me—and I laughed and swept asidemy Phrygian beard, and happy once more and successful,at the pink of my ambition, pledged those friendlytwo, pledged even yon black-hearted scoundrel scowlingthere in the shade, then poured all that sweet,rosy-tasting, love-cup of promise down my thirstythroat.

Gods! what was that at bottom of it? a pale, bitterwhite dreg. Oh! Jove, what was this? I dipped afinger in and tried it, while a dead hush fell upon usfour. It was bitter, bitter as rue, cold, horrible, andbiting. My fingers tightened slowly round the gobletstem. I looked at the sweet lady, and in a minuteshe was swaying to and fro in the pale light like afair white column, and then her hands were pressedconvulsive for a space upon her heart, while her kneestrembled and her body shook, and then, all in an instant,she locked her fair fingers at arm’s length aboveher head, and, with a long, low wail of fear andanguish that shall haunt forever that stony corridor,she staggered and dropped!

Down went the goblet, and I caught her as she fell;and there she lay, heaving a moment in my arms, thenlooked up and smiled at me—smiled for one happysecond her own dear smile of love and sunshine—thenshut her eyes, trembling a little, and presently lay stilland pale upon my bosom—dead!

Fair, fair Elizabeth Faulkener!

I held her thus a space, and it was so still you couldhear the gentle draught of the curling smoke filteringup the chimney, and the merry twitter of the swallowsperched far above it. I held her so a space, thenkissed her fiercely and tender once upon her smoothforehead, and gave the white girl to her father.

Then turned I to the steward, the bitter passionand the deadly drug surging together like molten leadwithin my veins. So turned I to him, and our eyesmet—and for a moment we glared upon each other sostill and grim that you could hear our hearts pulsinglike iron hammers, and at every beat a long year ofterror and shame seemed to flit across the ashy face ofthat coward Iberian; he withered and grew old, grewlean and haggard and pinched and bent in those fewseconds I stared at him. Then, without taking an eyefrom his eyes, slowly my hand was outstretched andmy sword was lifted from the anvil where I hadthrown it. Slowly, slowly I drew the weapon fromits sheath and raised it, and slow that villain wentback, staring grimly the while, like the dead man thathe was, at the point. Then on a sudden he screamedlike a rat in a gin, and turned and fled. And I wasafter him like the November wind after the deadleaves. And round and round the forge we ran, fearand bitter, bitter vengeance winging our heels; andround the anvil with its idle hammer and cold half-weldediron swept that savage race; round by wherethe pale father was bending over the soft dead form ofhis sweet country girl; round the ruined chaos of thegreat broken engine; round by the cobwebbed wallsof that gloomy crypt; round by the clattering heapsof iron in a mad, wild frenzy we swept—and then theSpaniard fled to a little oaken wicket in the stony wallleading by many score of winding steps far out intothe turrets above.

He tore the wicket open and plunged up that stonystaircase, and I was on his heels. Up the clatteringstairs we raced—gods, how the fellow leaped andscreamed—and so we came in a minute out into theair again, out on to old Andrew Faulkener’s ancientroof, out all among his gargoyles and corbie steps,with the pleasant summer wind wafting the bluesmoke of luncheon-time about us, and the courtyardflags far, far down below.

And there I set my teeth, and drew my sinews together,and wiped the cold sweat of death from offmy forehead, and stilled the wild, strong tremors thatwere shaking my iron fabric, and, lost in a recklesslust of vengeance, crouched to the spring that shouldhave ended that villain.

He saw it, and back he went step by step, screamingat every pace, hideous and shrill; back step by step,with no eyes but for me; back until he was, unknowing,at the very verge of the roof; back again anotherpace—and then, Jove! a reel and a stagger, and he wasgone, and, as I rushed forward and looked down, Isaw him strike the parapets a hundred feet below andbound into the air, and fall and strike again, and spinlike a wheel, and be now feet up and now head, andso, at last, crash, with a dull, heavy thud, a horridlifeless thing, on the distant stones of that quiet courtyard!

It is over, and I in turn have time to laugh. I havecome here, here to my secret den in the thickness ofthese great walls, staggering slowly here by dim,steep stairs, and rare-trodden landings—here to die;and I have double-locked the oaken door, and shot thebolts and pitched the key out of my one narrow window-slit,and, gently rocking and swaying as thestrong poison does its errand, I have thrown down mybelt and sword and opened my great volume onceagain.

Misty the letters swim before me, and the strongpain ebbs and flows within. All the room is hazyand dim, and I grow weak and feeble, and my heavyhead sags down upon the leaf I strive to finish. Someother time shall find that leaf, and me a dusty, ancientremnant. Some other hand shall turn these pagesthan those I meant them for: some other eyes thantheirs shall read and wonder, and perhaps regret.And now I droop anon, and then start up, and the paleswinging haze seems taking the shapes of friendlinessand beauty. There are no longer limits to this narrowkingdom, and before my footstool sweep in softprocession all the shapes that I have known andloved. Electra comes, a pale, proud shade, sweepingdown that violet road, and holding out her ivory palmin queenly friendship; and Numidea trips behind her,and nods and smiles; and there is stalwart Caius, hismartial plumes brushing the sky; and earlier Sempronius,brave and gentle; and jolly Tulus; and, twoand two, a trooping band of ancient comrades.

Now have I looked up once more and laughed, andhere they come trooping again, those smiling shadows,and the fair Thane is with them, her plaited yellowhair gleaming upon her unruffled forehead; and byeither hand she leads a rosebud babe, who stretchsmall palms toward and voiceless cries upon me; andwhite-bearded Senlac; and, two and two, my Saxonserfs and franklins come gliding in. And there stridesgallant Codrington, leading a pale shadow all in white,and Isobel turns a fair pale face upon me as she goesby. Oh! I am dead—dead, I know it, all but thehand which writes and the eyes that see, and I laughas the last fitful flashes of the pain and life fly throughthe loosening fabric of my body.... And now,and now a hush has fallen on those silent shades, andtheir hazy ranks have fallen wide apart, and throughthem glides ruddy Blodwen—Blodwen, who comes toclaim her own—and, approaching, looks into my eyes,and all those stately shadows are waiting, two andtwo, for us two to head them hence; and she, my princess,my wife, has come near and touched my hand,and at that touch the mantle of life falls from me!

Blodwen! I come, I come!

THE END

Transcriber’s Notes

A number of typographical errors were corrected silently.

Cover image is in the public domain.

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The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (2024)

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