תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

from which he had never returned. Ray- mond did not trace such acts of neighborly mond Warde had loved her for her beauty, kindness to the day when, hawking with his which was real, and for her character, which lady and little Gilbert, then hardly big enough was entirely the creation of his own imagina- to sit upon a horse, they had been overtaken tion; and with the calm, unconscious fatuity by a winter storm not far from Arnold's which so often underlies the characters of lands, and when Arnold himself, returning honest and simple men, he had continued from a journey, had bidden them take shelter throughout his married life to believe that in a small outlying manor-house, where he his wife's affection, if neither very deep nor was to spend the night, and whither his servery high, was centered upon himself and vants had brought his little daughter Beaupon Gilbert. Any man a jot less true and trix to meet her father. Raymond had straightforward would have found out the accepted the offer for his wife's sake, and utter emptiness of such belief within a year. the two houses had made acquaintance on Goda had been bitterly disappointed by the that evening, by the blazing fire in the little result of her marriage, so far as her real hall. tastes and ambitions were concerned. She Before supper, the men had talked tohad dreamed of a court; she was condemned gether with that sort of cheery confidence to the country. She loved gaiety; she was which exists almost before the first meeting relegated to dullness. And the Lord of between men who are neighbors and of the Stoke was strong rather than attractive, same rank, and the Lady Goda had put in a imposing rather than seductive, and he had word now and then, as she sat in the highnever dreamed of that small coin of flattery backed chair, drying the bright blue cloth which greedy and dissatisfied natures re- skirt of her gown before the crackling logs; quire, at all costs, when their real longings and meanwhile, too, young Gilbert, who had are unfed. It is their nature to give little; his mother's hair and his father's deep-set it is their nature and their delight to ask eyes, walked round and round the solemn much, and to take all that is within their little dark-faced girl, who sat upon a settle reach. So it came to pass that Goda took by herself, clad in a green cloth dress, her husband's loving generosity and her son's which was cut in the fashion of grown-up devotion as matters foregone and of course, women, and having two short, stiff plaits of which were her due, and which might stay black hair hanging down behind the small hunger, though they could not satisfy her coverchief that was tied under her fat chin. vanity's large appetite; and she took, besides, And as the boy, in his scarlet doublet and such other things, both good and bad, as she green cloth hose, walked backward and forfound in her path, especially and notably the ward, stopping, moving away, then standing heart of Arnold de Curboil, a widowed knight, still to show off his small hunting-knife, cousin to the Archbishop of Canterbury who drawing it half out of its sheath, and drivhad crowned Stephen king, after swearing ing it home again with a smart push of the allegiance to Maud. This Arnold, who had palm of his hand, the little girl's round black followed his great cousin in supporting King eyes followed all his movements with silent Stephen's cause, had received for his service and grave curiosity. She was brotherless, broad lands, both farm and forest, in Hert- he had no sisters, and both had been fordshire, bordering, upon the hereditary brought up without companions, so that estates of the Wardes; and in the turmoil each was an absolute novelty to the other; and chaos of the long civil war, his word, at and when Gilbert threw his round cap, spinfirst without Raymond's knowledge, had ning on itself, up to the brown rafters of more than once saved the latter's little the dim, fire-lit chamber, and caught it castle from siege and probable destruction. upon one finger as it came down again, the Warde, in his loyalty to the rightful sover- little Beatrix laughed aloud. This seemed eign, had, indeed, rather drawn back from to him nothing less than an invitation, and the newcomer's friendship than made ad- he immediately sat down beside her on the vances to win it; but Raymond had yielded, settle, holding his cap in his hands, and in the end, to his wife's sarcasms, and to his began to ask her how she was called, and own sense of obligation, as he began to find whether she lived in that place all the year out how, again and again, in the turning tides round; and before long they were good of civil strife, his neighbor, though of oppo- friends, and were talking of plovers' eggs site conviction, served him by protecting his and kingfishers' nests, and of the time when bondmen, his neat cattle, and his growing they should each have a hawk of their own crops from pillage and destruction. Ray- and a horse, and each a hound and a footman.

But when supper was over, and a serving- invented. On the following morning the woman had taken the little Beatrix away to Lady Goda had been taken away again by sleep in the women's upper chamber, and her husband, and her experiences of court when the steward of the manor-farm, and life had been brought to an abrupt close. his wife, and the retainers and servants, If the great earl, Robert of Gloucester, had who had eaten and drunk their fill at the deigned to bestow word upon her, instead lower end of the hall, were all gone to their of looking through her with his beautiful quarters in the outbuildings, -and when a calm blue eyes at an imaginary landscape bed had been made for Gilbert, in a corner beyond, her impressions of life at the emnear the great chimneypiece, by filling with press's court might have been very different, fresh straw a large linen sack which was laid and she might ever afterward have approved upon the chest in which the bag was kept her husband's loyalty. But although she during the daytime, and was then covered had bestowed unusual pains upon the arwith a fine Holland sheet and two thick rangement of her splendid golden hair, and woolen blankets, under which the boy was had boxed the ears of a clumsy tirewoman asleep in five minutes, – then the two knights with so much vivacity that her own hand and the lady were left to themselves in their ached perceptibly three hours afterward, great carved chairs before the fire. But the yet the great earl paid no more attention Lord of Stoke, who was a strong man and to her than if she had been a Saxon dairyheavy, and had eaten well and had drunk maid. These things, combined with the fact both ale and Gascony wine at supper, that she unexpectedly found the ladies of stretched out his feet to the fire-dogs, and the empress's court wearing pocket-sleeves rested his elbows upon the arms of his chair, shaped like overgrown mandolins, and aland matched his hands together by the most dragging on the rushes as they walked, thumbs, and by the forefingers, and by the whereas her own were of the old-fashioned other fingers, one by one; and little by little open cut, had filled her soul with bitterness the musical, false voice of his lady, and the against the legitimate heir to King Henry's singularly gentle and unctuous tones of his throne, and had made the one-sided barrier host, Arnold de Curboil, blended together between herself and her husband-which and lost themselves, just as the gates of she could see so plainly, but which was quite dreamland softly closed behind him. invisible to him-finally and utterly impas

The Lady Goda, who had been far too tired sable. He not only bored her himself, but to think of riding home that night, was not he had given her over to be bored by others, in the least sleepy, and, moreover, she was and from that day no such thing as even the profoundly interested in what Sir Arnold mildest affection for him was to be thought had to say, while he was much too witty to say of on her side. anything which should not interest her. He It was no wonder that she listened with talked of the court, and of the fashions, and breathless interest to all Sir Arnold told of great people whom he knew intimately her, and watched with delight the changing and whom the Lady Goda longed to know; expression of his subtle face, contrasted at and from time to time he managed to con- every point with the bold, grave features of vey to her the idea that the beauties of King the Lord of Stoke, solemnly asleep beside Stephen's court would stand in a poor com- her. And Curboil, on his side, was not only parison with her, if her husband could be flattered, as every man is when a beautiful induced to give up his old-fashioned pre- woman listens to him long and intently, but judices and his allegiance to the Empress he saw also that her beauty was of an unMaud. Lady Goda had once been presented usual and very striking kind. Too straight, to the empress, who had paid very little at- too cold, too much like marble, yet with hair tention to her, compared with the interest almost too golden, and a mouth like a small she showed in Sir Raymond himself. At the red wound; too much of every quality to be feast which had followed the formal audi- natural, and yet without fault or flaw, and ence, she had been placed between a stout too vivid not to delight the tired taste of German widow and an Italian abbot from the man of pleasure of that day, who had Normandy, who had talked to each other seen the world from London to Rome, and across her, in dog-Latin, in a way which from Rome to the court of Henry V. had seemed to her very ill-mannerly; and And she, on her side, saw in him the type the German lady had eaten pieces of game- to which she would naturally have been pie with her knife, instead of using her attracted had she been free to make her fingers, as a lady should before forks were choice of a husband. Contrasted with the

VOL. LVII.-9.

man of action, of few words, of few feelings own forehead, was thrown into relief by the and strong ones, she saw the many-sided exquisite gold embroidery that edged the man of the world, whose mere versatility shirt of finest Flemish linen. He wore a was a charm, and the thought of whose close-fitting tunic of fine scarlet cloth, with manifold experiences had in it a sort of mys- tight sleeves, slightly turned back to display terious fascination. Arnold de Curboil was, his shapely wrists; it was gathered to his above all, a man of tact and light touch, waist by a splendid sword-belt, made of accustomed to the society of women, and linked and enameled plates of silver, the skilled in the art of appealing to that un- work of a skilled Byzantine artist, each satisfied vanity which is the basis of most plate representing in rich colors a little imperfect feminine characters. There was scene from the life and passion of Christ. nothing weak about him, and he was, at the straight, cross-hilted sword stood leanleast, as brave as most men, besides being ing against the wall near the great chimneymore skilful than the majority in the use of piece, but the dagger was still at the belt, a weapons. His small, well-shaped, olive-tinted marvel of workmanship, a wonder of temper, hand could drive a sword with a quicker a triumph of Eastern art, when almost all thrust than Raymond Warde's, and with art was Eastern. The hilt of solid gold, as sure an aim, though there might not be eight-sided and notched, was cross-chiseled the same massive strength behind it. In the in a delicate but deep design, picked out saddle he had not the terrible grip of the with rough gems, set in cunning irregularity; knee which could make a strong horse shrink the guard, a hollowed disk of steel, graven and quiver and groan aloud; but few riders and inlaid in gold with Cufic characters; of his day were more profoundly skilled in the blade, as long as a man's arm from the the art of showing a poor mount to good elbow to the wrist-joint, forged of steel and advantage, and of teaching a good one to silver by a smith of Damascus, well balanced, use his own powers to the utmost. When slender, with deep blood-channels scored on Warde had ridden a horse six months, the each side to within four fingers of the thricebeast was generally gone in the fore quar- hardened point, that could prick as deliters, and broken-winded, if not dead out- cately as a needle, or pierce fine mail like a right; but in the same time Curboil would spike driven by a sledge-hammer. The tunic have ridden the same horse twice as far, and fell in folds to the knee, and the close-fitted would have doubled his value. And so in cloth hose were of a rich dark brown. Sir many other ways, with equal chances, the Arnold wore short riding-boots of dark one seemed to squander where the other purple leather, having the tops worked turned everything to his own advantage. round with a fine scarlet lacing; but the Standing, Sir Arnold was scarcely of medium spur-leathers were of the same color as the height, but seated he was not noticeably boot, the spurs themselves of steel, small, small; and, like many men of short stature, sharp, unornamented, and workmanlike. he bestowed a constant and thoughtful care Six years had passed since that evening, upon his person and appearance, which re- and still, when the Lady Goda closed her sulted in a sort of permanent compensation. eyes and thought of Sir Arnold, she saw His dark beard was cut to a point, and so him as she had seen him then, with every carefully trimmed as to remind one of those line of his expression, every detail of his smoothly clipped trees representing peacocks dress, sitting beside her in the warm fireand dragons, which have been the delight of light, leaning forward a little in his chair, the Italian gardener ever since the days of and talking to her in a tone of voice that Pliny. He wore his hair neither long nor was meant to be monotonous to the sleeper's short, but the silky locks were carefully ear, but not by any means to her own. Beparted in the middle, and smoothed back in tween Warde and Curboil the acquaintance rich dark waves. There was something al- had matured - had been, in a measure, forced most irritating in their unnatural smooth- in its growth by circumstances and mutual ness, in the perfect transparency of the obligations; but it had never ripened into the man's healthy olive complexion, in the confidence of friendship on Warde's side, mouse-like sleekness of his long, arching while on Sir Arnold's it had been only a eyebrows, and in the complete self-satisfac- well-played comedy to hide his rising hatred tion and confidence of his rather insolent for the Lady Goda's husband. And she, on reddish-brown eyes. His straight, round her side, played her part as well. An alliance throat, well proportioned, well set upon his in which ambition had held the place of heart shoulders, and as transparently smooth as his could not remain an alliance at all when am

bition had been altogether disappointed. She tall and straight and pale, Gilbert loved her hated her husband for having disappointed quite naturally, as she loved him—two her; she despised him for having made no- young people of one class, without other thing of his many gifts and chances, forcling- companions, and very often brought toing to an old cause, for being old-fashioned, gether for days at a time, in the isolated for having seen much and taken nothing, - existence of medieval castles. Perhaps Gilwhich makes “rich eyes and poor hands,” bert never realized just how much of his

- for being slow,good-natured, kind-hearted, affection for his mother was the result of and a prey to all who wished to get anything her willingness to let him fall in love with from him. She reflected with bitterness that Beatrix. But the possibility of discussing for a matter of seven or eight years of wait- the marriage was another excuse for those ing, and a turn of chance which would have long conversations with Sir Arnold which meant happiness instead of misery, she had now become a necessary part of Goda's might have had the widowed Sir Arnold for life, and it made the frequent visits and a husband, and have been the Archbishop of meetings in the hawking season seem quite Canterbury's cousin, high in favor with the natural to the unsuspecting Sir Raymond. winning side in the civil war, and united to In hunting with Sir Arnold, he had more a man who would have known how to flatter than one narrow escape. Once, when alher cold nature into a fiction of feeling, in- most at close quarters with an old boar, he stead of wasting on her the almost exag- was stooping down to meet the tusker with gerated respect with which a noble passion a low thrust. His wife and Sir Arnold were envelops its object, but which, to most some twenty paces behind him, and all three women, becomes, in the end, unspeakably had become separated from the huntsmen. wearisome.

Seeing the position and the solitude, the Many a time during those six years had Lady Goda turned her meaning eyes to her ne and Sir Arnold met and talked as on the companion. An instant later Sir Arnold's first night. Once, when the Empress Maud boar-spear flew, like a cloth-yard arrow, had taken King Stephen prisoner, and things straight at Sir Raymond's back. But in looked ill for his followers, Warde had in- that very instant, too, as the boar rushed sisted that his neighbor should come over to upon him, Warde sprang to one side, and, Stoke Regis, as being a safer place than his almost dropping to his knee, ran the wild own castle; and once again, when Stephen beast through with his hunting-sword. The had the upper hand, and Sir Raymond was spear flew harmless, unseen and unheard, fighting desperately under Gloucester, his over his head, and lost itself in the dead wife had taken her son, and the priest, and leaves twenty yards beyond him. On ansome of her women, and had ridden over to other day, Raymond, riding along, hawk on ask protection of Sir Arnold, leaving the wrist, ten lengths before the others, as was manor to take care of itself.

his wont, did not notice that they gradually At first Curboil had constantly professed fell behind, until he halted in a narrow path admiration for Warde's mental and physical of the forest, looked round, and found himgifts; but little by little, tactfully feeling his self alone. He turned his horse's head and distance, he had made the lady meet his real rode back a few yards, when suddenly three intention half-way by confiding to him all masked men, whom he took for highway that she suffered, or fancied that she robbers, sprang up in his path, and fell suffered, - which with some women is the upon him with long knives. But they had same thing,- in being bound for life to a misreckoned their distance by a single yard, man who had failed to give her what her and their time by one second, and when they ambition craved. Then, one day, the key- were near enough to strike, his sword was word had been spoken. After that, they already in his hand. The first man fell dead; never ceased to hope that Raymond Warde the second turned and fled, with a deep fleshmight come to an untimely end.

wound in his shoulder; the third followed During those years Gilbert had grown without striking a blow; and Sir Raymond from a boy to a man, unsuspicious, worship- rode on unhurt, meditating upon the uncering his mother as a kind of superior being, tainty of the times. When he rejoined his but loving his father with all that profound wife and friend, he found them dismounted instinct of mutual understanding which and sitting side by side on a fallen tree, makes both love and hatred terrible within talking low and earnestly, while the footmen the closer degrees of consanguinity. As and falconers were gathered together in a time went by, and the little Beatrix grew little knot at some distance. As they heard

his voice, Goda started with a little cry, and fore sunset she came every day to the little Arnold's dark face turned white; but by the garden under the west wall of the manor, time he was beside them they were cool and looked long toward the road- not that again, and smiled, and asked him whether she wished Sir Raymond back, nor that she he had lost his way. Raymond said nothing cared when Gilbert came, but she well knew of what had happened to him, fearing to that the return of either would mean that startle the delicate nerves of his lady; but the fighting was over, and that Sir Arnold, late on the following night, when Sir Arnold too, would be at leisure to go home. was alone in his bedchamber, a man, ghastly And on that fifth of May, as the sun was white from loss of blood, lifted the heavy going down, she stood still and looked out curtain, and told his story in a low voice. toward the road for the tenth time since

Curboil had gone to join the king. And the

sun sank lower, and still she saw nothing; II.

and she felt the chill of the damp evening Now Raymond and his son had gone over air, and would have turned to go in, but into Berkshire, to the building of the great something held her. Far up the road, on castle at Farringdon, as has been said; and the brow of the rising ground, she saw a tiny for a while Sir Arnold remained in his hold, spark, a little dancing flame like the corpseand very often he rode over alone to Stoke, candles that run along the graves on a sumand spent many hours with the Lady Goda, mer's night-first one, then all at once three, both in the hall and in the small garden by then, as it seemed to her, a score at least, the moat. The priest, and the steward, and swaying a little above a compact, dark mass the men-at-arms, and the porter, were all against the red sky. The lights were like used to see him there often enough when little stars rising and falling on the horizon, Sir Raymond was at home, and they thought and always just above a low, black cloud. A no evil because he came now to bear the moment more, and the evening breeze out of lonely lady company; for the manners of the west brought a long-drawn harmony of those days were simple.

chanting to the Lady Goda's ear, the high, But on a morning at the end of April sweet notes of youthful voices sustained by there came a messenger from King Stephen, the rich counterpoint of many grown men's bidding all earls, barons, bannerets, and tones. She started, and held her breath, knights join him, with their fighting men, shivered a little, and snatched at the rosein Oxford, upon their oath of fealty. For bush beside her, so that the thorns struck form's sake, the messenger came to Stoke through the soft green gauntlet and pricked Regis, as not admitting that any Norman her, though she felt nothing. There was knight should not be on the king's side. death in the air; there was death in those And, the drawbridge being down, he rode moving lights; there was death in the minor under the gateway, and when the trumpeter wail of the monks' voices. In the first mowho was with him had blown three blasts, ment of understanding, it was Arnold whom he delivered his message. Then the steward, they were bringing home to her, slain in bowing deeply, answered that his lord was battle by her lawful husband, or by Gilbert, absent on a journey; and the messenger her son; it was Arnold whom they were turned and rode away, without bite or sup. bringing back to her who loved him, that But, riding on to Stortford Castle, he found she might wash his wounds with her tears, Sir Arnold, and delivered the king's bidding and dry his damp brow with her glorious with more effect, and was hospitably treated hair. Wide-eyed and silent, as the train with meat and drink. Sir Arnold armed came near, she moved along by the moat to himself slowly in full mail, saving his head; meet the procession at the drawbridge, not for the weather was strangely warm, and understanding yet, but not letting one movehe would ride in his hat rather than wear ment of the men, one flicker of the lights, the heavy steel cap with the broad nasal. one quaver of the deep chant, escape her Before an hour was past, he was mounted, reeling senses. Then, all at once, she was with his men, and his footmen were march- aware that Gilbert walked bareheaded before ing before and behind him on the broad the bier, half wrapped in a long black cloak Hertford road. But he had sent a messen- that swept the greensward behind him. As ger secretly to the Lady Goda, to tell her she turned the last bastion before reaching that he was gone; and after that she heard the drawbridge, the funeral procession was nothing for many days.

moving along by the outer edge of the moat, In the morning, and after dinner, and be- and there was only the broad water between

« הקודםהמשך »