תמונות בעמוד


her and them, reflecting the lights of the strains of the dirge came echoing under the moving tapers, the dark cowls of the monks, deep archway. At that instant another the white surplices of the song-boys. They sound rent the air--the deep bell-note of moved slowly, and she, as in a dream, fol- the great bloodhounds, chained in the courtlowed them on the other side with little yard from sunrise to sunset; and it sank to steps, wondering, fearing, starting now with a wail, and the wail broke to a howl, dismal, a wild thrill of liberty at last, now struggling ear-rending, wild. Before it had died away, with a half-conventional, half-hysterical sob, one of the Saxon bondwomen shrieked aloud, that rose in her throat at the thought of and the next took up the cry, and then andeath so near. She had lived with him, she other, as a likewake dirge, till every stone had played the long comedy of love with in the shadowy manor seemed to have a him, she had loathed him in her heart, she voice, and every voice was weeping for the had smiled at him with well-trained eyes; and dead lord. And many of the women fell now she was free to choose, free to love, upon their knees, and some of the men, too, free to be Arnold's wife. And yet she had while others drew up their hoods, and stood lived with the dead man; and in the far-off with bent heads and folded hands past there were little tender lights of happi- the rough walls. ness, half real, half played, but never for Slowly and solemnly they bore him in and gotten, upon which she had once taught her set the bier down under the mid-arch. Then thoughts to dwell tenderly and sadly. She Gilbert Warde looked up and faced his mohad loved the dead man in the first days of ther; but he stood aside, that she might see marriage as well as her cold and unawak- her husband; and the monks and the song-boys ened nature could love at all, if not for stood back also, with their wax torches, which himself, at least for the hopes of vanity cast a dancing glare through the dim twibuilt on his name. She had hated him in light. Gilbert's face was white and stern; secret, but she could not have hated him so but the Lady Goda was pale, too, and her heartily had there not once been a little love heart fluttered, for she had to play the last to turn so fiercely sour. She could not have act of her married life before many who trained her eyes to smile at him so gently would watch her narrowly. For one moment had she not once smiled for his own sake. she hesitated whether to scream or to faint And so, when they brought him dead to the in honor of her dead husband. Then, with gate of his own house, his wife had still some the instinct of the born and perfect actress, shreds of memories for weeds to eke out a she looked wildly from her son's face to the show of sorrow.

straight, still length that lay beneath the She passed through the postern in the pall. She raised one hand to her forehead, small round tower beside the gateway, pressing back her golden hair with a gesture knowing that when she came out under the half mad, half dazed, then seemed to stagger portcullis the funeral train would be just forward two steps, and fell upon the body, in reaching the other end of the bridge. The a storm of tears. little vaulted room in the lower story of the Gilbert went to the bier, and lifted one of tower was not four steps in width across his mother's gloved hands from the covered from door to door; but it was almost dark, face, and it dropped from his fingers as if and there the Lady Goda stopped one mo- lifeless. He lifted the black cloth pall, and ment before she went out to meet the turned it back as far as he could without mourners. Standing still in the dimness, disturbing the woman's prostrate figure; and she pressed her gloved hands to her eyes there lay the Lord of Stoke, in his mail, as with all her might, as though to concentrate he had fallen in fight, in his peaked steel her thoughts and her strength. Then she helmet, the straight, fine ring-mail closethrew back her arms, and looked up through drawn round his face and chin, the silky brown the gloom, and almost laughed; and she felt mustache looking terribly alive against the something just below her heart that stifled dead face. But across the eyes and the her like a great joy. Then all at once she forehead below the helmet there was laid a was calm, and touched her eyes again with straight black band, and upon his breast the her gloved hands, but gently now, as though great mailed hands clasped the cross-hilted smoothing them and preparing them to look sword that lay lengthwise with his body. upon what they must see presently. She Gilbert, bareheaded and unarmed, gazed opened the little door, and was suddenly down into his father's face for a while, then standing in the midst of the frightened herd suddenly looked up and spoke to all the of retainers and servants, while the last people who thronged the gateway.

[ocr errors]

“Men of Stoke,” he said, “here lies the century to century. Between them and the body of Sir Raymond Warde, your liege dead knight Gilbert stood still, with bent lord, my father. He fell in the fight before head and downcast eyes, with pale face and Farringdon Castle, and this is the third day set lips, looking at his mother's bright hair since he was slain; for the way was long, and and at her clutching hands, and listening to we were not suffered to pass unmolested. the painfully drawn breath, broken continThe castle was but half built, and we were ually by her agonized weeping. Suddenly the encamped about it with the Earl of Glouces- bloodhounds' bay broke out again, fierce and ter, when the king came suddenly from Ox- deep; and on the instant a high young voice ford with a great host; and they fell upon rang from the court through the deep arch: us unawares at early morning, when we Burn the murderer! To Stortford, and had but just heard the mass, and most of us burn him out!” were but half armed, or not at all. So we Gilbert looked up quickly, peering into fought as we could, and many fell, and not the gloom whence the voice had spoken. He a few we killed with our hands. And I, with did not see how, at the words, his mother a helmet on my head and a gambeson but started back from the corpse, steadied herhalf buckled upon my body, and my hands self with one hand, and fixed her eyes in the bare, was fighting with a full-armed French- same direction; but before he could answer, man, and was hard pressed. But I smote the cry was taken up by a hundred throats: him in the neck, so that he fell upon one “Burn the traitor! burn the murderer! To knee and reeled. And even that moment I Stortford! Fagots! Fagots and pitch!” saw this sight: A score of paces from me, High, low, hoarse, clear, the words followed my father and Sir Arnold de Curboil met one another in savage yells; and here and face to face, suddenly and without warning, there among the rough men there were eyes their swords lifted in the act to strike; but that gleamed in the dark like a dog's. when my father saw his friend before him, Then through the din came a rattling of he dropped his sword-arm, and smiled, and bolts and a creaking of hinges, as the grooms would have turned away to fight another; tore open the stable doors to bring out the but Sir Arnold smiled also, and lowered not horses and saddle them for the raid; and one his hand, but smote my father by the point, called for a light, and another warned men unguarded, and thrust his sword through from his horse's heels. The Lady Goda was head and hood of mail at one stroke, treach- on her feet, her hands stretched out implorerously. And so my father, your liege lord, ingly to her son, instinctively and for the first fell dead unshriven, by his friend's hand; and time, as to the head of the house. She spoke may the curse of man, and the damnation of to him, too; but he neither heard nor saw, almighty God, be upon his murderer's head, for in his own heart a new horror had posnow and after I shall have killed him! For, session, beside which what had gone before as I would have sprung forward, the French- was as nothing. He thought of Beatrix. man, who was but stunned, sprang to his “Hold!” he cried. “Let no man stir, for feet and grappled with me; and by the time no man shall pass out who would burn he had no breath left, and the light broke in Stortford. Sir Arnold de Curboil is the his eyes, Sir Arnold was gone, and our fight king's man, and the king has the power in was lost. So we made a truce to bury our England; so that if we should burn down dead, and brought them away, each his own." Stortford Castle to-night, he would burn

When he had spoken there was silence Stoke Manor to-morrow over my mother's for many moments, broken only by the Lady head. Between Arnold de Curboil and me Goda's unceasing sobs. In the court within, there is death. To-morrow I shall ride out and on the bridge without, the air grew to find him, and kill him in fair fight. But purple and dark and misty; for the sun had let there be no raiding, no harrying, and no long gone down, and the light from the wax burning, as if we were Stephen's French torches, leaping, flaming, and flickering in robbers, or King David's red-haired Scots. the evening breeze, grew stronger and Take up the bier; and you," he said, turning yellower under the gateway than the twi- to the monks and songmen, “take up your light without. The dark-robed monks looked chant, that we may lay him in the chapel and gravely on, waiting till they should be told say prayers for his unshriven soul.” to pass into the chapel- men of all ages and The Lady Goda's left hand had been looks, red and pale, thin and stout, dark pressed to her heart as though she were in and fair, but all having that something in fear and pain; but as her son spoke it fell by their faces that marks the churchman from her side, and her face grew calm before she

remembered that it should grow sad. Until chance. He judged that Sir Arnold must to-day her son had been in her eyes but a have returned from Farringdon; and if Gilchild, subject to his father, subject to her- bert met him now, riding over his own lands self, subject to the old manor priest who had in the May morning, he would be unmailed taught him the little he knew. Now, on a and unsuspecting of attack. And should sudden, he was full-grown and strong; more they not meet, Gilbert meant to ride up to than that, he was master in his father's the castle gate, and ask for the baron, and place, and at a word from him, reevemen courteously propose to him that they should and men-at-arms and bondmen would have ride together into the wood. And, indeed, gone forth on the instant to slay the man Gilbert hoped that it might turn out so; for, she loved, and to burn and to harry all that once under the gateway, he might hope to was his. She was grateful to him for not see Beatrix for a moment; and two weeks having spoken that word; and since Gilbert had passed, and terrible things had happened, meant to meet Curboil in single combat, she since he had last set eyes upon her face. felt no fear for her lover, the most skilled He met no one in the road; but in the man at fence in all Essex and Hertfordshire, meadow before the castle, half a dozen and she felt sure, likewise, that for his repu- Saxon grooms, in loose hose and short tation as a knight he would not kill a youth homespun tunics, were exercising some of but half his age.

Curboil's great Normandy horses. The baron And while she was thinking of these himself was not in sight, and the grooms told things, the monks had begun to chant Gilbert that he was within. The drawbridge again; the confusion was ended in the was down, and Gilbert halted just before encourtyard; the squires took up the bier, and tering the gate, calling loudly for the porter. the procession moved slowly across the broad But instead of the latter, Sir Arnold himself paved space to the chapel opposite the main appeared at that moment within the courtgate.

yard, feeding a brace of huge mastiffs with An hour later Sir Raymond's dead body lay gobbets of red raw meat from a wooden before the altar, whereon burned many waxen bowl, carried by a bare-legged stable-boy tapers. Alone, upon the lowest step, Gilbert with a shock of almost colorless flaxen hair, was kneeling, with joined hands and uplifted and a round, red face, pierced by two little eyes, as motionless as a statue. He had taken round blue eyes. Gilbert called again, and the long sword from the dead man's breast, the knight instantly turned and came toward and had set it up against the altar, straight him, beating down with his hands the huge and bare. It was hacked at the edges, and dogs that sprang up at him in play and there were dark stains upon it from its mas- seemed trying to drive him back. Sir Arnold ter's last day's work. In the simple faith of was smooth, spotless, and as carefully dressed a bloody age, Gilbert Warde was vowing, by as ever, and came forward with a well-comall that he and his held sacred, before God's posed smile in which hospitality was skilfully altar, upon God's sacred body, upon his blended with sympathy and concern. Gilfather's unburied corpse, that before the bert, who was as thorough a Norman in blade should be polished again, it should be every instinct and thought as any whose black with the blood of his father's murderer. fathers had held lands from the Conqueror,

And as he knelt there, his lady mother, did his best to be suave and courteous on his now clad all in black, entered the chapel, and side. Dismounting, he said quietly that he moved slowly toward the altar-steps. She desired to speak with Sir Arnold alone upon meant to kneel beside her son; but when she a matter of weight, and, as the day was fair, was yet three paces from him, a great terror he proposed that they should ride together at her own falseness descended into her for a little way into the greenwood. Sir heart, and she sank upon her knees in the Arnold barely showed a slight surprise, and aisle.

readily assented. Gilbert, intent upon his purpose, noticed that the knight had no

weapon. VERY early in the morning, Gilbert Warde “It were as well that you took your sword was riding along the straight road between with you, Sir Arnold,” he said, somewhat Sheering Abbey and Stortford Castle. He emphatically. “No one is safe from highrode in his tunic and hose and russet boots, waymen in these times.” with his father's sword by his side; for he The knight met Gilbert's eyes, and the meant not to do murder, but to fight his two looked at each other steadily for a moenemy to death, in all the honor of even ment; then Curboil sent the stable-boy to


fetch his sword from the hall, and himself bloodhound, so that I barely saved myself by went out upon the drawbridge, and called to slaying him against my will. I will not fight one of the grooms to bring in a horse. In you unless you force me to it; and you had less than half an hour from the time when better not, for if you do, I shall lay you by Gilbert had reached the castle, he and his the heels in two passes. enemy were riding quietly side by side in a “Bragging and lying are well coupled," little glade in Stortford wood. Gilbert drew answered Gilbert, falling into guard. “Draw rein and walked his horse, and Sir Arnold before I shall have counted three, or I will instantly did the same. Then Gilbert spoke: skewer you like a trussed fowl. One

“Sir Arnold de Curboil, it is now full three two-" days since I saw you treacherously kill my Before the next word could pass his lips, father.”

Sir Arnold's sword was out, keen and bright Sir Arnold started and turned half round as if it had just left the armorer's hands, in the saddle, his olive skin suddenly white clashing upon Gilbert's hacked and bloodwith anger; but the soft, fresh color in Gil- rusted blade. bert's cheek never changed.

Sir Arnold was a brave man, but he was "Treacherously!" cried the knight, angrily also cautious. He expected to find in Gilbert and with a questioning tone.

a beginner of small skill and reckless bra"Foully," answered Gilbert, with perfect very, who would expose himself for the sake calm. “I was not twenty paces from you of bringing in a sweeping blow in carte, or when you met, and had I not been hampered attempting a desperate thrust. Consequently by a Frenchman of your side, who was un- he did not attempt to put his bragging threat reasonably slow in dying, I should have into practice, for Gilbert was taller than either saved my father's life, or ended yours, he, stronger, and more than twenty years as I mean to now."

younger. Unmailed, as he stood in his tunic Thereupon Gilbert brought his horse to a and hose, one vigorous sword-stroke of the stand, and prepared to dismount; for the furious boy might break down his guard and sward was smooth and hard, and there was cut him half in two. But in one respect room enough to fight. Sir Arnold laughed Curboil was mistaken. Gilbert, though aloud, as he sat still in the saddle watching young, was one of those naturally gifted the younger man.

fencers in whom the movements of wrist “So you have brought me here to kill and arm are absolutely simultaneous with me!” he said, as his mirth subsided.

the perception of the eye, and not divided Gilbert's foot was already on the ground, by any act of reasoning or thought. In less but he paused in the act of dismounting. than half a minute Sir Arnold knew that he

“If you do not like the spot,” he answered was fighting for his life; the full minute had coolly, “we can ride farther."

not passed before he felt Gilbert's jagged “No; I am satisfied," answered the knight; blade deep in the big muscles of his swordbut before he had spoken the last word he arm, and his own weapon, running past his broke into a laugh again.

adversary, fell from his powerless hand. They tied up their horses, out of reach of In those days it was no shame to strike a one another, to trees at a little distance, and disarmed foe in a duel to the death. As Sir Gilbert was the first to return to the ring of Arnold felt the rough steel wrenched from open ground. As he walked, he drew his the flesh-wound, he knew that the next father's sword from its sheath, slipped the stroke would be his end. Quick as light, scabbard from the belt and threw it to the his left hand snatched his long dagger from edge of the grass. Sir Arnold was before its sheath at his left side, and even as Gilhim a moment later; but his left hand only bert raised his blade to strike, he felt as if rested on the pommel of his sheathed weapon, an icicle had pierced his throat; his arm and he was still smiling as he stopped before trembled in the air, and lost its hold upon his young adversary.

the hilt; a scarlet veil descended before his "I should by no means object to fighting eyes, and the bright blood gushed from his you,” he said, “if I had killed your father in mouth, as he fell straight backward upon the treachery. But I did not. I saw you as well green turf. as you saw me. Your Frenchman, as you Sir Arnold stepped back, and stood lookcall him, hindered your sight. Your father ing at the fallen figure curiously, drawing was either beside himself with rage, or did his lids down, as some short-sighted men not know me in my mail. He dropped his do. Then, as the sobbing breast ceased to point one instant, and then flew at me like a heave and the white hands lay quite still

[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« הקודםהמשך »