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Chivalry by James Branch Cabell

Part 4 out of 4

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and soiled Antoine, was, as I now know, the end to which the Eternal
Father created me. For, look you," she pleaded, "to surrender absolute
dominion over half Europe is a sacrifice. Assure me that it is a
sacrifice, Antoine! O glorious fool, delude me into the belief that I
surrender much in choosing you! Nay, I know it is as nothing beside
what you have given up for me, but it is all I have--it is all I have,
Antoine!"

He drew a deep and big-lunged breath that seemed to inform his being
with an indomitable vigor; and grief and doubtfulness went quite away
from him. "Love leads us," he said, "and through the sunlight of the
world Love leads us, and through the filth of it Love leads us, but
always in the end, if we but follow without swerving, Love leads
upward. Yet, O God upon the Cross! Thou that in the article of death
didst pardon Dysmas! as what maimed warriors of life, as what bemired
travellers in muddied byways, must we presently come to Thee!"

"Ah, but we will come hand in hand," she answered; "and He will
comprehend."

THE END OF THE NINTH NOVEL

X

THE STORY OF THE FOX-BRUSH

"Dame serez de mon cueur, sans debat,
Entierement, jusques mort me consume.
Laurier souef qui pour mon droit combat,
Olivier franc, m'ostant toute amertume."

THE TENTH NOVEL.--KATHARINE OF VALOIS IS LOVED BY A HUNTSMAN, AND
LOVES HIM GREATLY; THEN FINDS HIM, TO HER HORROR, AN IMPOSTOR; AND FOR
A SUFFICIENT REASON CONSENTS TO MARRY QUITE ANOTHER PERSON, NOT ALL
UNWILLINGLY.

_The Story of the Fox-Brush_

In the year of grace 1417, about Martinmas (thus Nicolas begins),
Queen Isabeau fled with her daughter the Lady Katharine to Chartres.
There the Queen was met by the Duke of Burgundy, and these two laid
their heads together to such good effect that presently they got back
into Paris, and in its public places massacred some three thousand
Armagnacs. That, however, is a matter which touches history; the root
of our concernment is that, when the Queen and the Duke rode off to
attend to this butcher's business, the Lady Katharine was left behind
in the Convent of Saint Scholastica, which then stood upon the
outskirts of Chartres, in the bend of the Eure just south of that
city. She dwelt for a year in this well-ordered place.

There one finds her upon the day of the decollation of Saint John the
Baptist, the fine August morning that starts the tale. Katharine the
Fair, men called her, with considerable show of reason. She was very
tall, and slim as a rush. Her eyes were large and black, having an
extreme lustre, like the gleam of undried ink,--a lustre at some times
uncanny. Her abundant hair, too, was black, and to-day seemed doubly
sombre by contrast with the gold netting which confined it. Her mouth
was scarlet, all curves, and her complexion was famous for its
brilliancy; only a precisian would have objected that she possessed
the Valois nose, long and thin and somewhat unduly overhanging the
mouth.

To-day as she came through the orchard, crimson garbed, she paused
with lifted eyebrows. Beyond the orchard wall there was a hodgepodge
of noises, among which a nice ear might distinguish the clatter of
hoofs, a yelping and scurrying, and a contention of soft bodies, and
above all a man's voice commanding the turmoil. She was seventeen, so
she climbed into the crotch of an apple-tree and peered over the wall.

He was in rusty brown and not unshabby; but her regard swept over this
to his face, and there noted how his eyes shone like blue winter stars
under the tumbled yellow hair, and noted the flash of his big teeth as
he swore between them. He held a dead fox by the brush, which he was
cutting off; two hounds, lank and wolfish, were scaling his huge body
in frantic attempts to get at the carrion. A horse grazed close at
hand.

So for a heart-beat she saw him. Then he flung the tailless body to
the hounds, and in the act spied two black eyes peeping through the
apple-leaves. He laughed, all mirth to the heels of him.
"Mademoiselle, I fear we have disturbed your devotions. But I had not
heard that it was a Benedictine custom to rehearse aves in tree-tops."
Then, as she leaned forward, both elbows resting more comfortably upon
the wall, and thereby disclosing her slim body among the foliage like
a crimson flower green-calyxed, he said, "You are not a nun--Blood of
God! you are the Princess Katharine!"

The nuns, her present guardians, would have declared the ensuing
action horrific, for Katharine smiled frankly at him and asked how
could he thus recognise her at one glance.

He answered slowly: "I have seen your portrait. Hah, your portrait!"
he jeered, head flung back and big teeth glinting in the sunlight.
"There is a painter who merits crucifixion."

She considered this indicative of a cruel disposition, but also of a
fine taste in the liberal arts. Aloud she stated:

"You are not a Frenchman, messire. I do not understand how you can
have seen my portrait."

The man stood for a moment twiddling the fox-brush. "I am a harper, my
Princess. I have visited the courts of many kings, though never that
of France. I perceive I have been woefully unwise."

This trenched upon insolence--the look of his eyes, indeed, carried it
well past the frontier,--but she found the statement interesting.
Straightway she touched the kernel of those fear-blurred legends
whispered about Dom Manuel's reputed descendants.

"You have, then, seen the King of England?"

"Yes, Highness."

"Is it true that in him, the devil blood of Oriander has gone mad, and
that he eats children--like Agrapard and Angoulaffre of the Broken
Teeth?"

His gaze widened. "I have heard a deal of scandal concerning the man.
But certainly I never heard that."

Katharine settled back, luxuriously, in the crotch of the apple-tree.
"Tell me about him."

Composedly he sat down upon the grass and began to acquaint her with
his knowledge and opinions concerning Henry, the fifth of that name to
reign in England, and the son of that squinting Harry of Derby about
whom I have told you so much before.

Katharine punctuated the harper's discourse with eager questionings,
which are not absolutely to our purpose. In the main, this harper
thought the man now buffeting France a just king, and he had heard,
when the crown was laid aside, Sire Henry was sufficiently jovial, and
even prankish. The harper educed anecdotes. He considered that the
King would manifestly take Rouen, which the insatiable man was now
besieging. Was the King in treaty for the hand of the Infanta of
Aragon? Yes, he undoubtedly was.

Katharine sighed her pity for this ill-starred woman. "And now tell me
about yourself."

He was, it appeared, Alain Maquedonnieux, a harper by vocation, and by
birth a native of Ireland. Beyond the fact that it was a savage
kingdom adjoining Cataia, Katharine knew nothing of Ireland. The
harper assured her that in this she was misinformed, since the kings
of England claimed Ireland as an appanage, though the Irish themselves
were of two minds as to the justice of these pretensions; all in all,
he considered that Ireland belonged to Saint Patrick, and that the
holy man had never accredited a vicar.

"Doubtless, by the advice of God," Alain said: "for I have read in
Master Roger de Wendover's Chronicles of how at the dread day of
judgment all the Irish are to muster before the high and pious
Patrick, as their liege lord and father in the spirit, and by him be
conducted into the presence of God; and of how, by virtue of Saint
Patrick's request, all the Irish will die seven years to an hour
before the second coming of Christ, in order to give the blessed saint
sufficient time to marshal his company, which is considerable."
Katharine admitted the convenience of this arrangement, as well as the
neglect of her education. Alain gazed up at her for a long while, as
if in reflection, and presently said: "Doubtless the Lady Heleine of
Argos also was thus starry-eyed and found in books less diverting
reading than in the faces of men." It flooded Katharine's cheeks with
a livelier hue, but did not vex her irretrievably; if she chose to
read this man's face, the meaning was plain enough.

I give you the gist of their talk, and that in all conscience is
trivial. But it was a day when one entered love's wardship with a
plunge, not in more modern fashion venturing forward bit by bit, as
though love were so much cold water. So they talked for a long while,
with laughter mutually provoked and shared, with divers eloquent and
dangerous pauses. The harper squatted upon the ground, the Princess
leaned over the wall; but to all intent they sat together upon the
loftiest turret of Paradise, and it was a full two hours before
Katharine hinted at departure.

Alain rose, approaching the wall. "To-morrow I ride for Milan to take
service with Duke Filippo. I had broken my journey these three days
past at Chateauneuf yonder, where this fox has been harrying my host's
chickens. To-day I went out to slay him, and he led me, his murderer,
to the fairest lady earth may boast. Do you not think that, in
returning good for evil, this fox was a true Christian, my Princess?"

Katharine said: "I lament his destruction. Farewell, Messire Alain!
And since chance brought you hither--"

"Destiny brought me hither," Alain affirmed, a mastering hunger in his
eyes. "Destiny has been kind; I shall make a prayer to her that she
continue so." But when Katharine demanded what this prayer would be,
Alain shook his tawny head. "Presently you shall know, Highness, but
not now. I return to Chateauneuf on certain necessary businesses;
to-morrow I set out at cockcrow for Milan and the Visconti's livery.
Farewell!" He mounted and rode away in the golden August sunlight, the
hounds frisking about him. The fox-brush was fastened in his hat. Thus
Tristran de Leonois may have ridden a-hawking in drowned Cornwall,
thus statelily and composedly, Katharine thought, gazing after him.
She went to her apartments, singing an inane song about the amorous
and joyful time of spring when everything and everybody is happy,--

"El tems amoreus plein de joie,
El tems ou tote riens s'esgaie,--"

and burst into a sudden passion of tears. There were born every day,
she reflected, such hosts of women-children, who were not princesses,
and therefore compelled to marry detestable kings.

Dawn found her in the orchard. She was to remember that it was a
cloudy morning, and that mist-tatters trailed from the more distant
trees. In the slaty twilight the garden's verdure was lustreless, the
grass and foliage were uniformly sombre save where dewdrops showed
like beryls. Nowhere in the orchard was there absolute shadow, nowhere
a vista unblurred; in the east, half-way between horizon and zenith,
two belts of coppery light flared against the gray sky like embers
swaddled by ashes. The birds were waking; there were occasional
scurryings in tree-tops and outbursts of peevish twittering to attest
as much; and presently came a singing, less musical than that of many
a bird perhaps, but far more grateful to the girl who heard it, heart
in mouth. A lute accompanied the song demurely.

Sang Alain:

"O Madam Destiny, omnipotent,
Be not too obdurate to us who pray
That this our transient grant of youth be spent
In laughter as befits a holiday,
From which the evening summons us away,
From which to-morrow wakens us to strife
And toil and grief and wisdom,--and to-day
Grudge us not life!

"O Madam Destiny, omnipotent,
Why need our elders trouble us at play?
We know that very soon we shall repent
The idle follies of our holiday,
And being old, shall be as wise as they:
But now we are not wise, and lute and fife
Plead sweetlier than axioms,--so to-day
Grudge us not life!

"O Madam Destiny, omnipotent,
You have given us youth--and must we cast away
The cup undrained and our one coin unspent
Because our elders' beards and hearts are gray?
They have forgotten that if we delay
Death claps us on the shoulder, and with knife
Or cord or fever flouts the prayer we pray--
'Grudge us not life!'

"Madam, recall that in the sun we play
But for an hour, then have the worm for wife,
The tomb for habitation--and to-day
Grudge us not life!"

Candor in these matters is best. Katharine scrambled into the crotch
of the apple-tree. The dew pattered sharply about her, but the
Princess was not in a mood to appraise discomfort.

"You came!" this harper said, transfigured; and then again, "You
came!"

She breathed, "Yes."

So for a long time they stood looking at each other. She found
adoration in his eyes and quailed before it; and in the man's mind not
a grimy and mean incident of the past but marshalled to leer at his
unworthiness: yet in that primitive garden the first man and woman,
meeting, knew no sweeter terror.

It was by the minstrel that a familiar earth and the grating speech of
earth were earlier regained. "The affair is of the suddenest," Alain
observed, and he now swung the lute behind him. He indicated no
intention of touching her, though he might easily have done so as he
sat there exalted by the height of his horse. "A meteor arrives with
more prelude. But Love is an arbitrary lord; desiring my heart, he has
seized it, and accordingly I would now brave hell to come to you, and
finding you there, would esteem hell a pleasure-garden. I have already
made my prayer to Destiny that she concede me love. Now of God, our
Father and Master, I entreat quick death if I am not to win you. For,
God willing, I shall come to you again, even if in order to do this I
have to split the world like a rotten orange."

"Madness! Oh, brave, sweet madness!" Katharine said. "You are a
minstrel and I am a king's daughter."

"Is it madness? Why, then, I think sane persons are to be
commiserated. And indeed I spy in all this some design. Across half
the earth I came to you, led by a fox. Hey, God's face!" Alain swore;
"the foxes which Samson, that old sinewy captain, loosed among the
corn of heathenry kindled no disputation such as this fox has set
afoot. That was an affair of standing corn and olives spoilt, a bushel
or so of disaster; now poised kingdoms topple on the brink of ruin.
There will be martial argument shortly if you bid me come again."

"I bid you come," said Katharine; and after they had stared at each
other for a long while, he rode away in silence. It was through a dank
and tear-flawed world that she stumbled conventward, while out of the
east the sun came bathed in mists, a watery sun no brighter than a
silver coin.

And for a month the world seemed no less dreary, but about Michaelmas
the Queen-Regent sent for her. At the Hotel de Saint-Pol matters were
much the same. Katharine found her mother in foul-mouthed rage over
the failure of a third attempt to poison the Dauphin of Vienne, as
Queen Isabeau had previously poisoned her two elder sons; I might here
trace out a curious similitude between the Valois and that
dragon-spawned race which Jason very anciently slew at Colchis, since
the world was never at peace so long as any two of them existed. But
King Charles greeted his daughter with ampler deference, esteeming her
to be the wife of Presbyter John, the tyrant of Aethiopia. However,
ingenuity had just suggested card-playing for King Charles' amusement,
and he paid little attention nowadays to any one save his opponent at
this new game.

So the French King chirped his senile jests over the card-table, while
the King of England was besieging the French city of Rouen sedulously
and without mercy. In late autumn an armament from Ireland joined
Henry's forces. The Irish fought naked, it was said, with long knives.
Katharine heard discreditable tales of these Irish, and reflected how
gross are the exaggerations of rumor.

In the year of grace 1419, in January, the burgesses of Rouen, having
consumed their horses, and finding frogs and rats unpalatable, yielded
the town. It was the Queen-Regent who brought the news to Katharine.

"God is asleep," the Queen said; "and while He nods, the Butcher of
Agincourt has stolen our good city of Rouen." She sat down and
breathed heavily. "Never was any poor woman so pestered as I! The
puddings to-day were quite uneatable, as you saw for yourself, and on
Sunday the Englishman entered Rouen in great splendor, attended by his
chief nobles; but the Butcher rode alone, and before him went a page
carrying a fox-brush on the point of his lance. I put it to you, is
that the contrivance of a sane man? Euh! euh!" Dame Isabeau squealed
on a sudden; "you are bruising me."

Katharine had gripped her by the shoulder. "The King of England--a
tall, fair man? with big teeth? a tiny wen upon his neck--here--and
with his left cheek scarred? with blue eyes, very bright, bright as
tapers?" She poured out her questions in a torrent, and awaited the
answer, seeming not to breathe at all.

"I believe so," the Queen said, "and they say, too, that he has the
damned squint of old Manuel the Redeemer."

"O God!" said Katharine.

"Ay, our only hope now. And may God show him no more mercy than has
this misbegotten English butcher shown us!" the good lady desired,
with fervor. "The hog, having won our Normandy, is now advancing on
Paris itself. He repudiated the Aragonish alliance last August; and
until last August he was content with Normandy, they tell us, but now
he swears to win all France. The man is a madman, and Scythian
Tamburlaine was more lenient. And I do not believe that in all France
there is a cook who understands his business." She went away
whimpering, and proceeded to get tipsy.

The Princess remained quite still, as Dame Isabeau had left her; you
may see a hare crouch so at sight of the hounds. Finally the girl
spoke aloud. "Until last August!" Katharine said. "Until last August!
_Poised kingdoms topple on the brink of ruin, now that you bid me come
to you again_. And I bade this devil's grandson come to me, as my
lover!" Presently she went into her oratory and began to pray.

In the midst of her invocation she wailed: "Fool, fool! How could I
have thought him less than a king!"

You are to imagine her breast thus adrum with remorse and hatred of
herself, the while that town by town fell before the invader like
card-houses. Every rumor of defeat--and the news of some fresh defeat
came daily--was her arraignment; impotently she cowered at God's
knees, knowing herself a murderess, whose infamy was still afoot,
outpacing her prayers, whose victims were battalions. Tarpeia and
Pisidice and Rahab were her sisters; she hungered in her abasement for
Judith's nobler guilt.

In May he came to her. A truce was patched up, and French and English
met amicably in a great plain near Meulan. A square space was staked
out and on three sides boarded in, the fourth side being the river
Seine. This enclosure the Queen-Regent, Jehan of Burgundy, and
Katharine entered from the French side. Simultaneously the English
King appeared, accompanied by his brothers the Dukes of Clarence and
Gloucester, and followed by the Earl of Warwick. Katharine raised her
eyes with I know not what lingering hope; but it was he, a young Zeus
now, triumphant and uneager. In his helmet in place of a plume he wore
a fox-brush spangled with jewels.

These six entered the tent pitched for the conference--the hanging of
blue velvet embroidered with fleurs-de-lys of gold blurred before the
girl's eyes,--and there the Earl of Warwick embarked upon a sea of
rhetoric. His French was indifferent, his periods were interminable,
and his demands exorbitant; in brief, the King of England wanted
Katharine and most of France, with a reversion at the French King's
death of the entire kingdom. Meanwhile Sire Henry sat in silence, his
eyes glowing.

"I have come," he said, under cover of Warwick's oratory--"I have come
again, my lady."

Katharine's gaze flickered over him. "Liar!" she said, very softly.
"Has God no thunders remaining in His armory that this vile thief
still goes unblasted? Would you steal love as well as kingdoms?"

His ruddy face was now white. "I love you, Katharine."

"Yes," she answered, "for I am your pretext. I can well believe,
messire, that you love your pretext for theft and murder."

Neither spoke after this, and presently the Earl of Warwick having
come to his peroration, the matter was adjourned till the next day.
The party separated. It was not long before Katharine had informed her
mother that, God willing, she would never again look upon the King of
England's face uncoffined. Isabeau found her a madwoman. The girl
swept opposition before her with gusts of demoniacal fury, wept,
shrieked, tore at her hair, and eventually fell into a sort of
epileptic seizure; between rage and terror she became a horrid,
frenzied beast. I do not dwell upon this, for it is not a condition in
which the comeliest maid shows to advantage. But, for the Valois,
insanity always lurked at the next corner, and they knew it; to save
the girl's reason the Queen was forced to break off all discussion of
the match. Accordingly, the Duke of Burgundy went next day to the
conference alone. Jehan began with "ifs," and over these flimsy
barriers Henry, already fretted by Katharine's scorn, presently
vaulted to a towering fury.

"Fair cousin," the King said, after a deal of vehement bickering, "we
wish you to know that we will have the daughter of your King, and that
we will drive both him and you out of this kingdom."

The Duke answered, not without spirit, "Sire, you are pleased to say
so; but before you have succeeded in ousting my lord and me from this
realm, I am of the opinion that you will be very heartily tired."

At this the King turned on his heel; over his shoulder he flung: "I am
tireless; also, I am agile as a fox in the pursuit of my desires. Say
that to your Princess." Then he went away in a rage.

It had seemed an approvable business to win love incognito, according
to the example of many ancient emperors, but in practice he had
tripped over an ugly outgrowth from the legendary custom. The girl
hated him, there was no doubt about it; and it was equally certain he
loved her. Particularly caustic was the reflection that a twitch of
his finger would get him Katharine as his wife, for before long the
Queen-Regent was again attempting secret negotiations to bring this
about. Yes, he could get the girl's body by a couple of pen-strokes,
and had he been older that might have contented him: as it was, what
he wanted was to rouse the look her eyes had borne in Chartres orchard
that tranquil morning, and this one could not readily secure by
fiddling with seals and parchments. You see his position: this
high-spirited young man now loved the Princess too utterly to take her
on lip-consent, and this marriage was now his one possible excuse for
ceasing from victorious warfare. So he blustered, and the fighting
recommenced; and he slew in a despairing rage, knowing that by every
movement of his arm he became to her so much the more detestable.

Then the Vicomte de Montbrison, as you have heard, betrayed France,
and King Henry began to strip the French realm of provinces as you
peel the layers from an onion. By the May of the year of grace 1420
France was, and knew herself to be, not beaten but demolished. Only a
fag-end of the French army lay entrenched at Troyes, where King
Charles and his court awaited Henry's decision as to the morrow's
action. If he chose to destroy them root and branch, he could; and
they knew such mercy as was in the man to be quite untarnished by
previous using. Sire Henry drew up a small force before the city and
made no overtures toward either peace or throat-cutting.

This was the posture of affairs on the evening of the Sunday after
Ascension day, when Katharine sat at cards with her father in his
apartments at the Hotel de Ville. The King was pursing his lips over
an alternative play, when somebody began singing below in the
courtyard.

Sang the voice:

"I can find no meaning in life,
That have weighed the world,--and it was
Abundant with folly, and rife
With sorrows brittle as glass,
And with joys that flicker and pass
Like dreams through a fevered head;
And like the dripping of rain
In gardens naked and dead
Is the obdurate thin refrain
Of our youth which is presently dead.

"And she whom alone I have loved
Looks ever with loathing on me,
As one she hath seen disproved
And stained with such smirches as be
Not ever cleansed utterly;
And is both to remember the days
When Destiny fixed her name
As the theme and the goal of my praise;
And my love engenders shame,
And I stain what I strive for and praise.

"O love, most perfect of all,
Just to have known you is well!
And it heartens me now to recall
That just to have known you is well,
And naught else is desirable
Save only to do as you willed
And to love you my whole life long;--
But this heart in me is filled
With hunger cruel and strong,
And with hunger unfulfilled.

"Fond heart, though thy hunger be
As a flame that wanders unstilled,
There is none more perfect than she!"

Malise now came into the room, and, without speaking, laid a fox-brush
before the Princess.

Katharine twirled it in her hand, staring at the card-littered table.
"So you are in his pay, Malise? I am sorry. But you know that your
employer is master here. Who am I to forbid him entrance?" The girl
went away silently, abashed, and the Princess sat quite still, tapping
the brush against the table.

"They do not want me to sign another treaty, do they?" her father
asked timidly. "It appears to me they are always signing treaties, and
I cannot see that any good comes of it. And I would have won the last
game, Katharine, if Malise had not interrupted us. You know I would
have won."

"Yes, Father, you would have won. Oh, he must not see you!" Katharine
cried, a great tide of love mounting in her breast, the love that
draws a mother fiercely to shield her backward boy. "Father, will you
not go into your chamber? I have a new book for you, Father--all
pictures, dear. Come--" She was coaxing him when Sire Henry appeared
in the doorway.

"But I do not wish to look at pictures," Charles said, peevishly; "I
wish to play cards. You are an ungrateful daughter, Katharine. You are
never willing to amuse me." He sat down with a whimper and began to
pluck at his dribbling lips.

Katharine had moved a little toward the door. Her face was white. "Now
welcome, sire!" she said. "Welcome, O great conqueror, who in your
hour of triumph can find no nobler recreation than to shame a maid
with her past folly! It was valorously done, sire. See, Father; here
is the King of England come to observe how low we sit that yesterday
were lords of France."

"The King of England!" echoed Charles, and he rose now to his feet. "I
thought we were at war with him. But my memory is treacherous. You
perceive, brother of England, I am planning a new mouse-trap, and my
mind is somewhat preempted. I recall now that you are in treaty for my
daughter's hand. Katharine is a good girl, a fine upstanding girl, but
I suppose--" He paused, as if to regard and hear some invisible
counsellor, and then briskly resumed: "Yes, I suppose policy demands
that she should marry you. We trammelled kings can never go free of
policy--ey, my compere of England? No; it was through policy I wedded
her mother; and we have been very unhappy, Isabeau and I. A word in
your ear, son-in-law: Madame Isabeau's soul formerly inhabited a sow,
as Pythagoras teaches, and when our Saviour cast it out at Gadara, the
influence of the moon drew it hither."

Henry did not say anything. Steadily his calm blue eyes appraised Dame
Katharine. And King Charles went on, very knowingly:

"Oho, these Latinists cannot hoodwink me, you observe, though by
ordinary it chimes with my humor to appear content. Policy again,
son-in-law: for once roused, I am terrible. To-day in the great
hall-window, under the bleeding feet of Lazarus, I slew ten flies--
very black they were, the black shrivelled souls of parricides,--and
afterward I wept for it. I often weep; the Mediterranean hath its
sources in my eyes, for my daughter cheats at cards. Cheats, sir!--and
I her father!" The incessant peering, the stealthy cunning with which
Charles whispered this, the confidence with which he clung to his
destroyer's hand, was that of a conspiring child.

"Come, Father," Katharine said. "Come away to bed, dear."

"Hideous basilisk!" he spat at her; "dare you rebel against me? Am I
not King of France, and is it not blasphemy for a King of France to be
mocked? Frail moths that flutter about my splendor," he shrieked, in
an unheralded frenzy, "beware of me, beware! for I am omnipotent! I am
King of France, Heaven's regent. At my command the winds go about the
earth, and nightly the stars are kindled for my recreation. Perhaps I
am mightier than God, but I do not remember now. The reason is written
down and lies somewhere under a bench. Now I sail for England. Eia!
eia! I go to ravage England, terrible and merciless. But I must have
my mouse-traps, Goodman Devil, for in England the cats of the
middle-sea wait unfed." He went out of the room, giggling, and in the
corridor began to sing:

"A hundred thousand times good-bye!
I go to seek the Evangelist,
For here all persons cheat and lie ..."

All this while Henry remained immovable, his eyes fixed upon
Katharine. Thus (she meditated) he stood among Frenchmen; he was the
boulder, and they the waters that babbled and fretted about him. But
she turned and met his gaze squarely. She noted now for the first time
how oddly his left eyebrow drooped. Katharine said: "And that is the
king whom you have conquered! Is it not a notable conquest to overcome
so wise a king? to pilfer renown from an idiot? There are cut-throats
in Troyes, rogues doubly damned, who would scorn the action. Now shall
I fetch my mother, sire? the commander of that great army which you
overcame? As the hour is late, she is by this time tipsy, but she will
come. Or perhaps she is with some paid lover, but if this conqueror,
this second Alexander, wills it she will come. O God!" the girl
wailed, on a sudden; "O just and all-seeing God! are not we of Valois
so contemptible that in conquering us it is the victor who is shamed?"

"Flower of the marsh!" he said, and his voice pulsed with tender
cadences--"flower of the marsh! it is not the King of England who now
comes to you, but Alain the harper. Henry Plantagenet God has led
hither by the hand to punish the sins of this realm, and to reign in
it like a true king. Henry Plantagenet will cast out the Valois from
the throne they have defiled, as Darius cast out Belshazzar, for such
is the desire and the intent of God. But to you comes Alain the
harper, not as a conqueror but as a suppliant,--Alain who has loved
you whole-heartedly these two years past, and who now kneels before
you entreating grace."

Katharine looked down into his countenance, for to his speech he had
fitted action. Suddenly and for the first time she understood that he
believed France to be his by Divine favor and Heaven's peculiar
intervention. He thought himself God's factor, not His rebel. He was
rather stupid, this huge, handsome, squinting boy; and as she
comprehended this, her hand went to his shoulder, half maternally.

"It is nobly done, sire. But I understand. You must marry me in order
to uphold your claim to France. You sell, and I with my body purchase,
peace for France. There is no need of a lover's posture when hucksters
meet."

"So changed!" he said, and he was silent for an interval, still
kneeling. Then he began: "You force me to point out that I do not need
any pretext for holding France. France lies before me prostrate. By
God's singular grace I reign in this fair kingdom, mine by right of
conquest, and an alliance with the house of Valois will neither make
nor mar me." She was unable to deny this, unpalatable as was the fact.
"But I love you, and therefore as man wooes woman I sue to you. Do you
not understand that there can be between us no question of expediency?
Katharine, in Chartres orchard there met a man and a maid we know of;
now in Troyes they meet again,--not as princess and king, but as man
and maid, the wooer and the wooed. Once I touched your heart, I think.
And now in all the world there is one thing I covet--to gain for the
poor king some portion of that love you would have squandered on the
harper." His hand closed upon her hand.

At his touch the girl's composure vanished. "My lord, you woo too
timidly for one who comes with many loud-voiced advocates. I am
daughter to the King of France, and next to my soul's salvation I
esteem the welfare of France. Can I, then, fail to love the King of
England, who chooses the blood of my countrymen as a judicious garb to
come a-wooing in? How else, since you have ravaged my native land,
since you have besmirched the name I bear, since yonder afield every
wound in my dead and yet unburied Frenchmen is to me a mouth which
shrieks your infamy?"

He rose. "And yet, for all that, you love me."

She could not at the first effort find words with which to answer him,
but presently she said, quite simply, "To see you lying in your coffin
I would willingly give up my hope of heaven, for heaven can afford no
sight more desirable."

"You loved Alain."

"I loved the husk of a man. You can never comprehend how utterly I
loved him."

"You are stubborn. I shall have trouble with you. But this notion of
yours is plainly a mistaken notion. That you love me is indisputable,
and this I propose to demonstrate. You will observe that I am quite
unarmed except for this dagger, which I now throw out of the
window--" with the word it jangled in the courtyard below. "I am in
Troyes alone among some thousand Frenchmen, any one of whom would
willingly give his life for the privilege of taking mine. You have but
to sound the gong beside you, and in a few moments I shall be a dead
man. Strike, then! For with me dies the English power in France.
Strike, Katharine! If you see in me but the King of England."

She was rigid; and his heart leapt when he saw it was because of
terror.

"You came alone! You dared!"

He answered, with a wonderful smile, "Proud spirit! How else might I
conquer you?"

"You have not conquered!" Katharine lifted the baton beside the gong,
poising it. God had granted her prayer--to save France. Now the past
and the ignominy of the past might be merged in Judith's nobler guilt.
But I must tell you that in the supreme hour, Destiny at her beck, her
main desire was to slap the man for his childishness. Oh, he had no
right thus to besot himself with adoration! This dejection at her feet
of his high destiny awed her, and pricked her, too, with her inability
to understand him. Angrily she flung away the baton. "Go! Ah, go!" she
cried, like one strangling. "There has been enough of bloodshed, and I
must spare you, loathing you as I do, for I cannot with my own hand
murder you."

But the King was a kindly tyrant, crushing independence from his
associates as lesser folk squeeze water from a sponge. "I cannot go
thus. Acknowledge me to be Alain, the man you love, or else strike
upon the gong."

"You are cruel!" she wailed, in her torture.

"Yes, I am cruel."

Katharine raised straining arms above her head in a hard gesture of
despair. "You have conquered. You know that I love you. Oh, if I could
find words to voice my shame, to shriek it in your face, I could
better endure it! For I love you. With all my body and heart and soul
I love you. Mine is the agony, for I love you! and presently I shall
stand quite still and see little Frenchmen scramble about you as
hounds leap about a stag, and afterward kill you. And after that I
shall live! I preserve France, but after I have slain you, Henry, I
must live. Mine is the agony, the enduring agony." She stayed
motionless for an interval. "God, God! Let me not fail!" Katharine
breathed; and then: "O fair sweet friend, I am about to commit a vile
action, but it is for the sake of the France that I love next to God.
As Judith gave her body to Holofernes, I crucify my heart for the
preservation of France." Very calmly she struck upon the gong.

If she could have found any reproach in his eyes during the ensuing
silence, she could have borne it; but there was only love. And with
all that, he smiled like one who knew the upshot of this matter.

A man-at-arms came into the room. "Germain--" said Katharine, and then
again, "Germain--" She gave a swallowing motion and was silent. When
she spoke it was with crisp distinctness. "Germain, fetch a harp.
Messire Alain here is about to play for me."

At the man's departure she said: "I am very pitiably weak. Need you
have dragged my soul, too, in the dust? God heard my prayer, and you
have forced me to deny His favor, as Peter denied Christ. My dear, be
very kind to me, for I come to you naked of honor." She fell at the
King's feet, embracing his knees. "My master, be very kind to me, for
there remains only your love."

He raised her to his breast. "Love is enough," he said.

She was conscious, as he held her thus, of the chain mail under his
jerkin. He had come armed; he had his soldiers no doubt in the
corridor; he had tricked her, it might be from the first. But that did
not matter now.

"Love is enough," she told her master docilely.

Next day the English entered Troyes and in the cathedral church these
two were betrothed. Henry was there magnificent in a curious suit of
burnished armor; in place of his helmet-plume he wore a fox-brush
ornamented with jewels, which unusual ornament afforded great matter
of remark among the busybodies of both armies.

THE END OF THE TENTH NOVEL

THE EPILOGUE

"Et je fais scavoir a tous lecteurs de ce Livret que les choses que
je dis avoir vues et sues sont enregistres icy, afin que vous pouviez
les regarder selon vostre bon sens, s'il vous plaist."

HERE IS APPENDED THE EPILOGUE THAT MESSIRE NICOLAS DE CAEN AFFIXED TO
THE BOOK WHICH HE HAD MADE ACCORDING TO THE BEST OF HIS ABILITY; AND
WHICH (IN CONSEQUENCE) HE DARED NOT APPRAISE.

_The Epilogue_

_A Son Livret_

Intrepidly depart, my little book, into the presence of that most
illustrious lady who bade me compile you. Bow down before her
judgment. And if her sentence be that of a fiery death, I counsel you
not to grieve at what cannot be avoided.

But, if by any miracle that glorious, strong fortress of the weak
consider it advisable that you remain unburned, pass thence, my little
book, to every man who may desire to purchase you, and live out your
little hour among these very credulous persons; and at your appointed
season perish and be forgotten. Thus may you share your betters' fate,
and be at one with those famed comedies of Greek Menander and all the
poignant songs of Sappho. _Et quid Pandoniae_--thus, little book, I
charge you to poultice your more-merited oblivion--_quid Pandoniae
restat nisi nomen Athenae?_

Yet even in your brief existence you may chance to meet with those who
will affirm that the stories you narrate are not true and protest
assertions which are only fables. To these you will reply that I, your
maker, was in my youth the quite unworthy servant of the most high and
noble lady, Dame Jehane, and in this period, at and about her house of
Havering-Bower, conversed in my own person with Dame Katharine, then
happily remarried to a private gentleman of Wales; and so obtained the
matter of the ninth story and of the tenth authentically. You will say
also that Messire de Montbrison afforded me the main matter of the
sixth and seventh stories, and many of the songs which this book
contains; and that, moreover, I once journeyed to Caer Idion and
talked for some two hours with Richard Holland (whom I found a very
old and garrulous and cheery person), and got of him the matter of the
eighth tale in this dizain, together with much information as concerns
the sixth and the seventh. And you will add that the matter of the
fourth and fifth tales was in every detail related to me by my most
illustrious mistress, Madame Isabella of Portugal, who had this
information from her mother, an equally veracious and immaculate lady,
and one that was in youth Dame Philippa's most dear associate. For the
rest you must admit, unwillingly, the first three stories in this book
to be a thought less solidly confirmed; although (as you will say)
even in these histories I have not ever deviated from what was at odd
times narrated to me by the aforementioned persons, and have always
endeavored honestly to piece together that which they told me.

I have pieced together these tales about the women who intermarried,
not very enviably, with the demon-tainted blood of Edward Longshanks,
because it seems to me that these tales, when they are rightly
considered, compose the initial portion of a troubling history.
Whether (as some declare) the taint came from Manuel of Poictesme, or
whether (as yet others say) this poison was inherited from the demon
wife whom Foulques Plantagenet fetched out of hell, the blood in these
men was not all human. These men might not tread equally with human
beings: their wives suffered therefor, just as they that had inherited
this blood suffered therefor, and all England suffered therefor. And
the upshot of it I have narrated elsewhere, in the book called and
entitled _The Red Cuckold_, which composes the final portion of this
history, and tells of the last spilling and of the extinction of this
blood.

Also, my little book, you will encounter more malignant people who
will jeer at you, and will say that you and I have cheated them of
your purchase-money. To these you will reply, with Plutarch, _Non mi
aurum posco, nec mi pretium_. Secondly you will say that, of
necessity, the tailor cuts the coat according to his cloth; and that
he cannot undertake to robe an Ephialtes or a towering Orion suitably
when the resources of his shop amount to only a few yards of cambric.
Indeed had I the power to make you better, my little book, I would
have exercised that power to the utmost. A good conscience is a
continual feast, and I summon high Heaven to be my witness that had I
been Homer you had awed the world, another Iliad. I lament your
inability to do this, as heartily as any person living; yet Heaven
willed it; and it is in consequence to Heaven these aforementioned
cavillers should rightfully complain.

So to such impious people do you make no answer at all, unless indeed
you should elect to answer them by repetition of this song which I now
make for you, my little book, at your departure from me. And the song
runs in this fashion:

Depart, depart, my book! and live and die
Dependent on the idle fantasy
Of men who cannot view you, quite, as I.

For I am fond, and willingly mistake
My book to be the book I meant to make,
And cannot judge you, for that phantom's sake.

Yet pardon me if I have wrought too ill
In making you, that never spared the will
To shape you perfectly, and lacked the skill.

Ah, had I but the power, my book, then I
Had wrought in you some wizardry so high
That no man but had listened ...

They pass by,
And shrug--as we, who know that unto us
It has been granted never to fare thus,
And never to be strong and glorious.

Is it denied me to perpetuate
What so much loving labor did create?--
I hear Oblivion tap upon the gate,
And acquiesce, not all disconsolate.

For I have got such recompense
Of that high-hearted excellence
Which the contented craftsman knows,
Alone, that to loved labor goes,
And daily does the work he chose,
And counts all else impertinence!

EXPLICIT DECAS REGINARUM

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