Part 4 out of 8
spell that those evil men seemed to cast about him. Be that as it may, I
myself have grown from a child to a woman, and I say now, as I said
then, that no power in the world shall induce me to give my hand in
marriage to Peter Sanghurst. I will die first!"
The girl threw back her handsome head, and her great eyes glowed and
flashed. Raymond looked at her with a beating heart, feeling once more
that mysterious kindling of the soul which he could not understand, and
yet of which he had been before in the presence of Joan so keenly
conscious. She appeared to him to be far older than himself, though in
reality he was a few months the senior; for at eighteen a girl is always
older in mind than a boy, and Joan's superb physique helped to give to
her the appearance of a more advanced age than was really hers. Just
then, too, Raymond, though grown to his full height, which was stately
enough, was white and thin and enfeebled. He felt like a mere stripling,
and it never occurred to him that the many glances bent upon him by the
flashing eyes of the queenly maiden were glances of admiration,
interest, and romantic approval. To her the pale, silent youth, with the
saint-like face and the steadfast, luminous eyes, was in truth a very
/preux chevalier/ amongst men. She had seen something too much of those
knights of flesh and blood and nothing else, who could fight gallantly
and well, but who knew nothing of the deeper and truer chivalry of the
days of mythical romance in which her own ardent fancies loved to stray.
Feats of arms she delighted in truly with the bold spirit of her soldier
race; but she wanted something more than mere bravery in the field. It
was not physical courage alone that made Sir Galahad her favourite of
all King Arthur's knights. Ah no! There was another quest than that of
personal glory which every true knight was bound to seek. Yet how many
of them felt this and understood the truer, deeper meaning of chivalry?
She knew, she felt, that Raymond did; and as she turned her palfrey's
steps homeward when the twilight began to fall that cold December day,
it was with her favourite Sir Galahad that her mind was engrossed, and
to him she gave a pale, thin face, with firm, sweet lines and deep-set
dreamy eyes -- eyes that looked as though they had never quailed before
the face of foe, and which yet saw far into the unseen mysteries of
life, and which would keep their sweet steadfastness even to the end.
As for Raymond, an unwonted restlessness came over him at this time. He
was growing stronger and better. Moderate exercise was recommended as
beneficial, and almost every day during the bright hours of the forenoon
his steps were turned towards the town of Guildford, lying hard by his
uncle's Rectory house. Scarce a day passed but what he was rewarded by a
chance encounter with Mistress Joan -- either a glimpse of her at a
window, or a smile from her bright eyes as she passed him upon her
snow-white palfrey; or sometimes he would have the good hap to meet her
upon foot, attended by her nurse, or some couple of stout retainers, if
her walk had been in any wise extended; and then she would pause and
bring him to her side by a look, and inquire after his own health and
that of John, who seldom stirred out in the bitter cold of winter. Then
he would ask and obtain her permission to accompany her as far as the
gate of her own home -- the place where she was staying; and though he
never advanced beyond the gate -- for she knew not what her relatives
might say to these encounters with a gallant without money and without
lands -- they were red-letter days in the calendar of two young lives,
and were strong factors moulding their future lives, little as either
knew it at the time.
Had either the radiant maiden or the knightly youth had eyes for any but
the other, they might have observed that these encounters, now of almost
daily occurrence, were not unheeded by at least one evil-faced watcher.
The servants who attended Mistress Joan were all devoted to her, and
kept their own counsel, whatever they might think, and Raymond's fame as
one of the heroes of Crecy had already gone far and wide, and won him
great regard in and about the walls of his uncle's home; but there was
another watcher of Mistress Joan's movements who took a vastly different
view of the little idyll playing itself out between the youth and the
maiden, and this watcher was none other than the evil and vengeful Peter
Sanghurst the younger.
Once as Raymond turned away, after watching Joan's graceful, stately
figure vanish up the avenue which led to her uncle's house, he suddenly
encountered the intensely malevolent glance of a pair of coal-black
eyes, and found himself most unexpectedly face to face with the same man
who had once confronted him in the forest and had demanded the
restitution of the boy Roger.
"You again!" hissed out between his teeth the dark-browed man. "You
again daring to stand in my path to thwart me! Have a care how you
provoke me too far. My day is coming! Think you that I threaten in vain?
Go on then in your blind folly and hardihood! But remember that I can
read the future. I can see the day when you, a miserable crushed worm,
will be wholly and solely in my power; when you will be mine mine to do
with what I will, none hindering or gainsaying me. Take heed then how
you provoke me to vengeance; for the vengeance of the Sanghurst can be
what thou dreamest not of now. Thwart me, defy me, and the hour will
come when for every pang of rage and jealousy I have known thou shalt
suffer things of which thou hast no conception now, and none shall be
able to rescue thee from my hand. Yon maiden is mine -- mine -- mine!
Her will I wed, and none other. Strive as thou wilt, thou wilt never
pluck her from my hand. Thou wilt but draw down upon thine own head a
fearful fate, and she too shall suffer bitterly if thou failest to heed
And with a look of hatred and fury that seemed indeed to have something
positively devilish in it, Sanghurst turned and strode away, leaving
Raymond to make what he could of the vindictive threats launched at him.
Had this man, in truth, some occult power of which none else had the
secret; or was it but an idle boast, uttered with the view of terrifying
one who was but a boy in years?
Raymond knew not, could not form a guess; but his was a nature not prone
to coward fears. He resolved to go home and take counsel with his good
CHAPTER XV. THE DOUBLE SURRENDER.
On a burning day in July, nearly a year from the time of their parting,
the twin brothers met once more in the camp before Calais, where they
had parted the previous autumn. Raymond had been long in throwing off
the effect of the severe injuries which had nearly cost him his life
after the Battle of Crecy; but thanks to the rest and care that had been
his in his uncle's house, he had entirely recovered. Though not quite so
tall nor so broad-shouldered and muscular as Gaston, who was in truth a
very prince amongst men, he was in his own way quite as striking, being
very tall, and as upright as a dart, slight and graceful, though no
longer attenuated, and above all retaining that peculiar depth and
purity of expression which had long seemed to mark him out somewhat from
his fellow men, and which had only intensified during the year that had
banished him from the stirring life of the camp.
"Why, Brother," said Gaston, as he held the slim white hands in his
vise-like clasp, and gazed hungrily into the face he had last seen so
wan and white, "I had scarce dared to hope to see thee again in the camp
of the King after the evil hap that befell thee here before; but right
glad am I to welcome thee hither before the final act of this great
drama, for methinks the city cannot long hold out against the famine
within and our bold soldiers without the walls. Thou hast done well to
come hither to take thy part in the final triumph, and reap thy share of
the spoil, albeit thou lookest more like a youthful St. George upon a
church window than a veritable knight of flesh and blood, despite the
grip of thy fingers, which is well-nigh as strong as my own."
"I will gladly take my share in any valorous feat of arms that may be
undertaken for the honour of England and of England's King. But I would
sooner fight with warriors who are not half starved to start with. Say
not men that scarce a dog or a cat remains alive in the city, and that
unless the citizens prey one upon the other, all must shortly perish?"
"Yea, in very truth that is so; for, as perchance thou hast heard, a
vessel was sighted leaving Calais harbour but a few short days ago, and
being hotly pursued, was seen to drop a packet overboard. That packet at
ebb tide was found tied to an anchor, and being brought to the King and
by him opened, was found to contain those very words addressed to the
King of France by the governor of the city, praying him to come speedily
to the rescue of his fortress if he wished to save it from the enemy's
hand. Our bold King having first read it, sent it on posthaste to his
brother of France, crying shame upon him to leave his gallant subjects
thus to perish with hunger. Methinks that message will shame yon laggard
monarch into action. How he has been content to idle away the year, with
the foe besieging the key of his kingdom, I know not. But it is a warm
welcome he shall get if he comes to the relief of Calais. We are as
ready to receive him here as we were a year ago on the field of Crecy!"
"Ay, in fair fight with Philip's army would I gladly adventure my life
again!" cried Raymond, with kindling eyes; "but there be fighting I have
small relish for, my Gaston, and I have heard stories of this very siege
which have wrung my heart to listen to. Was it true, brother, that
hundreds of miserable creatures, more than half of them women and little
children, were expelled from the city as 'useless mouths,' and left to
starve to death between the city walls and the camp of the English, in
which plenty has all the winter reigned? Could that be true of our
gallant King and his brave English soldiers?"
A quick flush dyed Gaston's cheek, but he strove to laugh.
"Raymond, look not at me with eyes so full of reproach. War is a cruel
game, and in some of its details I like it little better than thou. But
what can we soldiers do? Nay, what can even the King do? Listen, and
condemn him not too hastily. Long months ago, soon after thou hadst left
us, the same thing was done. Seventeen hundred persons -- men, women,
and children -- were turned out of the town, and the King heard of it
and ordered some of them to be brought before him. In answer to his
question they told him that they were driven from the city because they
could not fight, and were only consuming the bread, of which there was
none to spare for useless mouths. They had no place to go to, no food to
eat, no hope for the future. Then what does our King do but give them
leave to pass through his camp; and not only so, but he orders his
soldiers to feed them well, and start them refreshed on their way; and
before they went forth, to each of them was given, by the royal order,
two sterlings of silver, so that they went forth joyously, blessing the
liberality and kindness of the English and England's King. But thou must
see he could not go on doing these kindly acts if men so took advantage
of them. He is the soul of bravery and chivalry, but there must be
reasonable limits to all such royal generosity."
Raymond could have found in his heart to wish that the limit had not
been quite so quickly reached, and that the hapless women and children
had not been left to perish miserably in the sight of the warmth and
plenty of the English camp; but he would not say more to damp his
brother's happiness in their reunion, nor in that almost greater joy
with which Roger received him back.
"In faith," laughed Gaston, "I believe that some of the wizard's art
cleaves yet to yon boy, for he has been restless and dreamy and unlike
himself these many days; and when I have asked him what ailed him, his
answer was ever the same, that he knew you were drawing nigh; and verily
he has proved right, little as I believed him when he spoke of it."
Roger had so grown and improved that Raymond would scarce have
recognized in him the pale shrinking boy they had borne out from the
house of the sorcerer three years before. He had developed rapidly after
the first year of his new life, when the shackles of his former
captivity seemed finally broken; but this last year of regular soldier's
employment had produced a more marked change in his outward man than
those spent in the Brotherhood or at Raymond's side. His figure had
widened. He carried himself well, and with an air of fearless alertness.
He was well trained in martial exercises, and the hot suns of France had
bronzed his cheeks, and given them a healthy glow of life and animation.
He still retained much of his boyish beauty, but the dreaminess and
far-away vacancy had almost entirely left his eyes. Now and again the
old listening look would creep into them, and he would seem for a few
moments to be lost to outward impressions; but if recalled at such
moments from his brief lapse, and questioned as to what he was thinking,
it always proved to be of Raymond, not of his old master.
Once or twice he had told Gaston that his brother was in peril -- of
what kind he knew not; and Gaston had wondered if indeed this had been
so. One of these occasions had been just before Christmastide, and the
date being thus fixed in his mind, he asked his brother if he had been
at that time exposed to any peril. Raymond could remember nothing save
the vindictive threat of Peter Sanghurst, and Gaston was scarce disposed
to put much faith in words, either good or bad, uttered by such a man as
And now things began to press towards a climax in this memorable siege.
The French King, awakened from his long and inexplicable lethargy by the
entreaties of his starving subjects so bravely holding the town for a
pusillanimous master, and stung by the taunts of the English King, had
mustered an army, and was now marching to the relief of the town. It was
upon the last day of July, when public excitement was running high, and
all men were talking and thinking of an approaching battle, that word
was brought into the camp, and eagerly passed from mouth to mouth, to
the effect that the King of France had despatched certain messengers to
hold parley with the royal Edward, and that they were even now being
admitted to the camp by the bridge of Nieulay -- the only approach to
Calais through the marshes on the northeast, which had been closely
guarded by the English throughout the siege.
"Hasten, Raymond, hasten!" cried Gaston, dashing into the small lodging
he and his brother now shared together. "There be envoys come from the
French King. The Prince will be with his father to hear their message,
and if we but hasten to his side, we may be admitted amongst the number
who may hear what is spoken on both sides."
Raymond lost no time in following his brother, both eager to hear and
see all that went on; and they were fortunate enough to find places in
the brilliant muster surrounding the King and his family, as these
received with all courtesy the ambassador from the French monarch.
That messenger was none other than the celebrated Eustache de
Ribeaumont, one of the flower of the French chivalry, to whom, on
another occasion, Edward presented the celebrated chaplet of pearls,
with one of the highest compliments that one brave man could give
another. The boys, and indeed the whole circle of English nobility,
looked with admiration at his stately form and handsome face, and though
to our ears the message with which he came charged sounds infinitely
strange, it raised no smile upon the faces of those who stood around the
"Sire," began the messenger, "our liege lord, the King of France, sends
us before you, and would have you know that he is here, and is posted on
the Sandgatte Hill to fight you; but intrenched as you are in this camp,
he can see no way of getting at you, and therefore he sends us to you to
say this. He has a great desire to raise the siege of Calais, and save
his good city, but can see no way of doing so whilst you remain here.
But if you would come forth from your intrenchments, and appoint some
spot where he could meet you in open fight, he would rejoice to do it,
and this is the thing we are charged to request of you."
A shout, led by the Prince of Wales, and taken up by all who stood by,
was proof enough how acceptable such a notion was to the ardent spirits
of the camp; for it was not a shout of derision, but one of eager
assent. Indeed, for a moment it seemed as though the King of England
were disposed to give a favourable reply to the messenger; but then he
paused, and a different expression crossed his face. He sat looking
thoughtfully upon the ground, whilst breathless silence reigned around
him, and then he and the Queen spoke in low tones together for some few
When Edward looked up again his face had changed, and was stern and set
"Tell your lord," he said, speaking slowly and distinctly, "that had he
wished thus to fight, he should have sent his challenge before. I have
been near a twelvemonth encamped before this place, and my good people
of England have been sore pressed to furnish me with munitions for the
siege. The town is now on the point of falling into my hands, and then
will my good subjects find plunder enough to recompense them for their
labour and loss. Wherefore tell your lord that where I am there will I
stay; and that if he wishes to fight he must attack me in my camp, for I
assuredly have no intention of moving out from it."
A slight murmur of disappointment arose from the younger and more ardent
members of the crowd; but the older men saw the force of the King's
words, and knew that it would be madness to throw away all the
hardly-earned advantages of those long months just for a piece of
chivalrous bravado. So De Ribeaumont had to ride back to the French camp
with Edward's answer; and ere two more days had passed, the astonishing
news was brought to the English lines that Philip had abandoned his
camp, which was now in flames, and was retreating with his whole army by
the way he had come.
"Was ever such a craven coward!" cried the Prince, in indignant
disappointment; for all within the English camp had been hoping for
battle, and had been looking to their arms, glad of any incident to vary
the long monotony of the siege. "Were I those gallant soldiers in yon
fortress, I would serve no longer such a false, treacherous lord. Were
my father but their king, he would not leave them in such dire strait,
with an army at his back to fight for him, be the opposing force a
hundredfold greater than it is!"
And indeed it seemed as though the brave but desperate garrison within
those walls saw that it was hopeless to try to serve such a master. How
bitter must their feelings have been when Philip turned and left them to
their fate may well be imagined. Hopeless and helpless, there was
nothing but surrender before them now; and to make the best terms
possible was the only thing that remained for them. The day following
Philip's dastardly desertion, the signal that the city was ready to
treat was hung out, and brave Sir Walter Manny, whose own history and
exploits during the campaigns in Brittany and Gascony would alone fill a
volume either of history or romance, was sent to confer on this matter
with the governor of the city, the gallant De Vienne, who had been
grievously wounded during the long siege.
Raymond's sympathies had been deeply stirred by what he had heard and
imagined of the sufferings of the citizens, and with the love of
adventure and romance common to those days, he arrayed himself lightly
in a dress that would not betray his nationality, and followed in the
little train which went with Sir Walter. The conference took place
without the walls, but near to one of the gates. Raymond did not press
near to hear what was said, like the bulk of the men on both sides who
accompanied the leaders, but he passed through the eager crowd and made
for the gate itself, the wicket of which stood open; and so calm and
assured was his air, and so deeply were the minds of the porters stirred
by anxiety to know the fate of the town, that the youth passed in
unheeded and unchallenged, and once within the ramparts he could go
where he chose and see what he would.
But what a sight met his eyes! Out into the streets were flocking the
inhabitants, all trembling with anxiety to hear their fate. Every turn
brought him to fresh knots of famine-stricken wretches, who had almost
lost the wish to live, or any interest in life, till just stirred to a
faint and lingering hope by the news that the town was to be surrendered
at last. Gaunt and hollow-eyed men, women little better than skeletons,
and children scarce able to trail their feeble bodies along, were
crowding out of the houses and towards the great marketplace, where the
assembly to hear the conditions was likeliest to meet. The soldiers, who
had been better cared for than the more useless townsfolk, were
spectre-like in all conscience; but the starving children, and the
desperate mothers who could only weep and wring their hands in answer to
the piteous demand for bread, were the beings who most stirred Raymond's
heart as he went his way amongst them.
Again that sense of horror and shrinking came upon him that he had
experienced upon the field of Crecy amongst the dying and the dead. If
war did indeed entail such ghastly horrors and frightful sufferings,
could it be that glorious thing that all men loved to call it?
Curious glances began to be levelled at him as he passed through the
streets, sometimes pausing to soothe a wailing child, sometimes lending
a hand to assist a tottering woman's steps, and speaking to all in that
gentle voice of his, which with its slightly unfamiliar accent smote
strangely upon the ears of the people. He wore no helmet on his head,
and his curly hair floated about his grave saint-like face, catching
golden lights from the glory of the August sunshine.
"Is it one of the blessed saints?" asked a little child of his mother,
as Raymond paused in passing by to lay a caressing hand upon his head,
and speak a soft word of encouragement and hope to the weary mother.
And the innocent question was taken up and passed from mouth to mouth,
till it began to be whispered about that one of the holy saints had
appeared in their midst in the hour of the city's deadly peril. As
Raymond passed on his way, many a knee was bent and many a pleading
voice asked a blessing; whilst he, feeling still as one who moves in a
dream, made the sign of the cross from time to time over some kneeling
suppliant without understanding what was said of him or why all eyes
were bent upon him.
But the great town bell was ringing now to summon the citizens to
assemble themselves together to hear the final terms agreed upon for the
capitulation of the city, and all else was forgotten in the overwhelming
anxiety of that moment; for none could form a guess what terms would be
granted to a town in such sore straits as was theirs. The English King
could be generous and merciful, but he could also be stern and
implacable; and the long resistance made by the town was like to have
stirred his wrath, as well as the fact that the sea port of Calais had
done more harm to his ships and committed more acts of piracy than any
other port in France.
Raymond himself had great fears for the fate of the hapless town, and
was as eager as any to hear what had been decreed.
"Sure if the King could see the famished gathering here his heart would
relent," murmured the youth to himself, as he looked round at the sea of
wan faces gathered in the open square.
But the grave and sorrowful expression upon the governor's face told
that he had no very happy tidings to impart. He stood upon a flight of
steps where all men could well behold him, and in the dead silence that
fell upon the multitude every word spoken could be distinctly beard.
"My friends," he said, in grave, mournful accents, "I come to you with
news of the only terms of capitulation that I have been able to win from
England's King. I myself offered to capitulate if he would permit all
within the walls to depart unharmed, whilst his demand was for
unconditional surrender. The brave knight who came forth to confer with
me went back more than once to strive to win for us better terms, and
his intercession was thus far successful. The King will take the rest of
the citizens to mercy if six of their chief burgesses be given up to his
vengeance, and appear before him bareheaded and barefooted, with halters
about their necks and the keys of the city in their hands. For such
there will be no mercy. Brave Sir Walter Manny, who bore hack this
message with so sorrowful a countenance, bid me not hope that the lives
of these men would be spared. He said he saw the fierce sparkle in
Edward's eyes as he added, grinding his teeth, 'On them will I do my
will.' Wherefore, my good friends, we are this day in a great strait,
and I would that I might myself give up my life to save the town; but
the King's command is that it shall be six of the burgesses, and it is
for you and them to say if these hard conditions shall be accepted."
The deepest silence had hitherto prevailed in that vast place, but now
it was broken by the weeping and wailing of a great multitude. Raymond's
throat swelled and his eyes glistened as he looked around upon that sea
of starving faces, and tried to realize all that this message must mean
to them. If his own life could have paid the ransom, he would have laid
it down that moment for these miserable weeping beings; but he was
helpless as the brave governor, and could only stand and see the end of
Slowly up the steps of the marketplace, where stood the governor of the
city, advanced a fine-looking man in the prime of life, and a hushed
murmur ran through the crowd, in which Raymond caught the name of
Eustache de St. Pierre. This man held up his hand in token that he
wished to speak, and immediately a deathlike silence fell again upon the
"My friends," spoke the clear deliberate voice, "it would be a great
pity and mischief to let such a people as this assembled here die by
famine or any other way, if a means can be found to save them; and it
would be great alms and great grace in the sight of the Lord for any one
who could save them from such harm. I have myself so great hope of
finding grace and pardon in the sight of our Lord, if I die to save this
people, that I will be the first, and will yield myself willingly, in
nothing but my shirt, with my head bare and a halter round my neck, to
the mercy of the King of England."
As these simple but truly heroic words were spoken a burst of weeping
and blessing arose from the crowd, women pressed forward and fell at the
feet of the worthy citizen, and Raymond said in his heart:
"Sure if the King of England could but see it, there is more chivalry in
yon simple merchant than in half the knights who stand about his throne."
It is seldom that a noble example is thrown away upon men. Hardly had
the burst of weeping died away before two more men, brothers, to judge
by their likeness to each other, mounted the steps and stood beside St.
Pierre. He held out his hand and greeted them by name.
"My good friends Jacques and Peter de Wisant, we go hand in hand to
death, as we have gone hand in hand in other ventures of another kind.
And hither to join us comes our good friend Jehan d'Aire. Truly if we
march to death, we shall march in good company."
The full number was soon made up. Six of the wealthiest and best known
of the citizens came forward and stood together to be disrobed and led
before the King.
But Raymond could bear the sight no longer. With a bursting heart he
hurried through the crowd, which made way wonderingly for him as he
moved, and went straight towards the gate by which he had entered, none
hindering his path.
"It is the blessed saint who came amongst us in our hour of need," said
the women one to another, "and now perchance he goes to intercede with
the mighty conqueror! See how his face is set towards the gate; see the
light that shines in his eyes! Sure he can be no being of this earth,
else how could he thus come and go in our beleaguered city!"
The guard at the gate looked with doubtful eyes at the stranger, and one
man stood in his path as if to hinder him; but Raymond's eyes seemed to
look through and beyond him, and in a clear, strange voice he said:
"In the name of the Blessed Son of God, I bid thee let me pass. I go
upon an errand of mercy in that most Holy Name."
The man fell back, his comrades crossed themselves and bent the knee.
Raymond passed out of the gate, scarce knowing how he had done so, and
sped back to the English camp as if his feet had wings. With that same
strangely rapt expression upon his face, he went straight to the lodging
of the Prince of Wales, and entering without ceremony found not only the
Prince there, but also his royal mother, the gracious Queen Philippa.
Bending his knee to that fair lady, but without one thought beyond the
present urgent need of the moment, Raymond told all his tale in the ear
of the Queen and the Prince. With that power of graphic description
which was the gift of his vivid imagination and deep sense of sympathy
with the needs of others, he brought the whole scene before the eyes of
his listeners the crowded marketplace, the famine-stricken people in
their extremity and despair, the calm heroism of the men who willingly
offered their lives to save those of their townspeople, and the wailing
multitude watching the start of the devoted six going forth to a
shameful and ignominious death on their behalf.
And as Raymond spoke the Prince's cheek flushed, and the eyes of the
beautiful Queen kindled and filled with sudden tears; and rising to her
feet she held out her hand to Raymond and said:
"Good lad, I thank thee for thy tale, and the request thy lips have not
spoken shall be granted. Those men shall not die! I, the Queen of
England, will save them. I pledge thee here my royal word. I will to my
noble husband and win their pardon myself."
Raymond sank upon his knee and kissed the fair hand extended to him, and
both he and the Prince hastened after the Queen, who hoped to find her
royal husband alone and in a softened mood, as he was wont to be after
the stress of the day was over.
But time had fled fast whilst Raymond had been telling his tale, and
already notice had been brought to Edward of the approach of the six
citizens, and he had gone forth into a pavilion erected for his
convenience in an open part of the camp; and there he was seated with
grim aspect and frowning brow as his Queen approached to speak with him.
"I will hear thee anon, good wife," he said, seeing that she craved his
ear. "I have sterner work on hand today than the dallying of women. Stay
or go as thou wilt, but speak not to me till this day's work is carried
Raymond's heart sank as he heard these words, and saw the relentless
look upon the King's face. None realized better than he the cruel side
to the boasted chivalry of the age; and these middle-aged burgesses,
with no knightliness of dress or bearing, would little move the loftier
side of the King's nature. There would be no glamour of romance
surrounding them. He would think only of the thousands of pounds the
resistance of the city had cost him, and he would order to a speedy
death those whom he would regard as in part the cause of all this
trouble and loss.
The Queen made no further effort to win his notice, but with graceful
dignity placed herself beside him; whilst the Prince, quivering with
suppressed excitement, stepped behind his father's chair. Raymond stood
in the surrounding circle, and felt Gaston's arm slipped within his. But
he had eyes only for the mournful procession approaching from the
direction of the city, and every nerve was strained to catch the
lightest tone of the Queen's voice if she should speak.
The governor of Calais, though disabled by wounds from walking, was
pacing on horseback beside the devoted six thus giving themselves up to
death; and as he told how they had come forward to save their fellow
citizens from death, tears gathered in many eyes, and brave Sir Walter
Manny, who had pleaded their cause before, again threw himself upon his
knees before his sovereign, and besought his compassion for the brave
But Edward would not listen -- would not allow the better feelings
within him to have play. With a few angry and scathing words, bidding
his servants remember what Calais had cost them to take, and what the
obstinacy of its citizens had made England pay, he relentlessly ordered
the executioner to do his work, and that right quickly; and as that grim
functionary slowly advanced to do the royal bidding, a shiver ran
through the standing crowd, the devoted six alone holding themselves
But just at the moment when it seemed as if all hope of mercy was at an
end, the gentle Queen arose and threw herself at her husband's feet, and
her silvery voice rose clear above the faint murmur rising in the throng.
"Ah, gentle Sire, since I have crossed the sea with great peril, I have
never asked you anything; now I humbly pray, for the sake of the Son of
the Holy Mary and your love of me, that you will have mercy on these six
Raymond's breath came so thick and fast as he waited for the answer,
that he scarce heard it when it came, though the ringing cheer which
broke from the lips of those who stood by told him well its purport.
The King's face, gloomy at first, softened as he gazed upon the graceful
form of his wife, and with a smile he said at last:
"Dame, I wish you had been somewhere else this day; but I cannot refuse
you. I put them into your keeping; do with them what you will."
Raymond felt himself summoned by a glance from the Prince. The
Queen-mother had bidden him take the men, and feast them royally, and
send them away with rich gifts.
As the youth who had done so much for them forced his way to the side of
the Prince, his face full of a strange enthusiasm and depth of feeling,
the citizens looked one upon another and whispered:
"Sure it was true what the women said to us. That was the youth with the
face of painted saint that we saw within the walls of the city. Sure the
Blessed Saints have been watching over us this day, and have sent an
angel messenger down to deliver us in our hour of sorest need!"
CHAPTER XVI. IN THE OLD HOME.
The memorable siege of Calais at an end, Edward, his Queen and son and
nobility generally, set sail for England, where many matters were
requiring the presence of the sovereign after an absence so prolonged.
When the others of the Prince's comrades were thronging on hoard to
accompany him homewards, Gaston and Raymond sought him to petition for
leave to remain yet longer in France, that they might revisit the home
of their youth and the kind-hearted people who had protected them during
their helpless childhood.
Leave was promptly and willingly given, though the Prince was graciously
pleased to express a hope that he should see his faithful comrades in
England again ere long.
It had begun to be whispered abroad that these two lads with their
knightly bearing, their refinement of aspect, and their fearlessness in
the field, were no common youths sprung from some lowly stock. That
there was some mystery surrounding their birth was now pretty well
admitted, and this very mystery encircled them with something of a charm
-- a charm decidedly intensified by the aspect of Raymond, who never
looked so much the creature of flesh and blood as did his brother and
the other young warriors of Edward's camp. The fact, which was well
known now, that he had walked unharmed and unchallenged through the
streets of Calais upon the day of its capitulation, but before the terms
had been agreed upon, was in itself, in the eyes of many, a proof of
some strange power not of this world which encircled the youth. And
indeed Gaston himself was secretly of the opinion that his brother was
something of a saint or spirit, and regarded him with a reverential
affection unusual between brothers of the same age.
Through the four years since he had left his childhood's home, Gaston
had felt small wish to revisit it. The excitement and exaltation of the
new life had been enough for him, and the calm quiet of the peaceful
past had lost, its charm. Now, however, that the war was for the present
over, and with it the daily round of adventure and change; now that he
had gold in his purse, a fine charger to ride, and two or three stout
men-at-arms in his train, a sudden wish to see again the familiar haunts
of his childhood had come over him, and he had willingly agreed to
Raymond's suggestion that they should go together to Sauveterre, to ask
a blessing from Father Anselm, and tell him how they had fared since
they had parted from him long ago. True, Raymond had seen him a year
before, but he had not then been in battle; he had not had much to tell
save of the cloister life he had been sharing; and of Gaston's fortunes
he had himself known nothing.
Both brothers were for the present amply provided for. They had received
rich rewards from the Prince after the Battle of Crecy, and the spoils
of Calais had been very great. They could travel in ease through the
sunny plains of France, sufficiently attended to be safe from
molestation, even if the terror of the English arms were not protection
enough for those who wore the badge of the great Edward. From Bordeaux
they could find easy means of transport to England later; and nothing
pleased them better than the thought of this long ride through the
plains of France, on the way to the old home.
They did not hurry themselves on this pleasant journey, taken just as
the trying heats of summer had passed, but before the winter's cold had
made its first approach. The woods were scarce showing their first
russet tints as the brothers found themselves in familiar country once
again, and looked about them with eager glances of recognition as they
traversed the once well-known tracks.
"Let us first to Father Anselm," said Raymond, as they neared the
village where the good priest held his cure. "He will gladly have us
pass a night beneath his roof ere we go onward to the mill; and our good
fellows will find hospitable shelter with the village folks. They have
been stanch and loyal in these parts to the cause of the Roy Outremer,
and any soldier coming from his camp will be doubly welcome, as the
bearer of news of good luck to the English arms. The coward King of
France is little loved by the bold Gascons, save where a rebel lord
thinks to forward his private ends by transferring his allegiance from
England to France."
"To the good Father's, then, with all my heart," answered Gaston
heartily; and the little troop moved onwards until, to the astonishment
of the simple villagers clustered round the little church and their
cure's house, the small but brilliant cavalcade of armed travellers drew
up before that lowly door.
The Father was within, and, as the sound of trampling feet made itself
heard, appeared at his door in some astonishment; but when the two
youths sprang from their horses and bent the knee before him, begging
his blessing, and he recognized in them the two boys who had filled so
great a portion of his life not so many years ago, a mist came before
his eyes, and his voice faltered as he gave the benediction, whilst
raising them afterwards and tenderly embracing them, he led them within
the well-known doorway, at the same time calling his servant and bidding
him see to the lodging of the men without.
The low-ceiled parlour of the priest, with its scanty plenishing and
rush-strewn floor, was well known to the boys; yet as Raymond stepped
across the threshold he uttered a cry of surprise, not at any change in
the aspect of the room itself, but at sight of a figure seated in a
high-backed chair, with the full sunlight shining upon the calm, thin
face. With an exclamation of joyful recognition the lad sped forward and
threw himself upon his knees before the erect figure, with the name of
Father Paul upon his lips.
The keen, austere face did not soften as Father Anselm's had done. The
Cistercian monk, true to the severity of his order, permitted nothing of
pleasure to appear in his face as he looked at the youth whose character
he had done so much to form. He did not even raise his hand at once in
the customary salutation or blessing, but fixed his eyes upon Raymond's
face, now lifted to his in questioning surprise; and not until he had
studied that face with great intentness for many long minutes did he lay
his hand upon the lad's head and say, in a low, deep voice, "Peace be
with thee, my son."
This second and most unexpected meeting was almost a greater pleasure to
Raymond than the one with Father Anselm. Whilst Gaston engrossed his old
friend's time and thought, sitting next him at the board, and pacing at
his side afterwards in the little garden in which he loved to spend his
leisure moments, Raymond remained seated at the feet of Father Paul,
listening with breathless interest to his history of the voyage he had
taken to the far East (as it then seemed), and to the strange and
terrible sights he had witnessed in some of those far-off lands.
Raymond had vaguely heard before of the plague, but had regarded it as a
scourge confined exclusively to the fervid heat of far-off countries --
a thing that would never come to the more temperate latitudes of the
north; but when he spoke these words to the monk, Father Paul shook his
head, and a sudden sombre light leaped into his eyes.
"My son, the plague is the scourge of God. It is not confined to one
land or another. It visits all alike, if it be God's will to send it in
punishment for the many and grievous sins of its inhabitants. True, in
the lands of the East, where the paynim holds his court, and everywhere
is blasphemy and abomination, the scourge returns time after time, and
never altogether ceases from amongst the blinded people. But of late it
has spread farther and farther westward -- nearer and nearer to our own
shores. God is looking down upon the lands whose people call themselves
after His name, and what does he see there but corruption in high
places, greed, lust, the covetousness that is idolatry, the slothful
ease that is the curse of the Church?"
The monk's eyes flashed beneath their heavily-fringed lids; the fire
that glowed in them was of a strange and sombre kind. Raymond turned his
pure young face, full of passionate admiration and reverence, towards
the fine but terribly stern countenance of the ecclesiastic. A painter
would have given much to have caught the expression upon those two faces
at that moment. The group was a very striking one, outlined against the
luminous saffron of the western sky behind.
"Father, tell me more!" pleaded Raymond. "I am so young, so ignorant;
and many of the things the world praises and calls deeds of good turn my
heart sick and my spirit faint within me. I would fain know how I may
safely tread the difficult path of life. I would fain choose the good
and leave the evil. But there be times when I know not how to act, when
it seems as though naught in this world were wholly pure. Is it only
those who yield themselves up to the life of the cloister who may choose
aright and see with open eyes? Must I give up my sword and turn monk ere
I may call myself a son of Heaven?"
The boy's eyes were full of an eager, questioning light. His hands were
clasped together, and his face was turned full upon his companion. The
Father's eyes rested on the pure, ethereal face with a softer look than
they had worn before, and then a deep sadness came into them.
"My son," he answered, very gravely, "I am about to say a thing to thee
which I would not say to many young and untried as thou art. There have
been times in my life when I should have triumphed openly had men spoken
to me the words that I shall speak to thee -- times when I had gladly
said that all which men call holiness was but a mask for corruption and
deceit, and should have rejoiced that the very monks themselves were
forced to own to their own wanton disregard of their vows. My son, I see
the shrinking and astonishment in thine eyes; but yet I would for a
moment that thou couldst see with mine. I spoke awhile ago of the
judgment of an angry God. Wherefore, thinkest thou, is it that His anger
is so hotly burning against those lands that call themselves by His name
-- that call day by day upon His name, and make their boast that they
hold the faith whole and undefiled?"
Raymond shook his head. He had no words with which to answer. He was
beginning slowly yet surely to feel his eyes opened to the evil of the
world -- even that world of piety and chivalry of which such bright
dreams had been dreamed. His fair ideals were being gradually dashed and
effaced. Something of sickness of heart had penetrated his being, and he
had said in the unconscious fashion of pure-hearted youth, "Vanity of
vanities! is all around but vanity?" and he had found no answer to his
own pathetic question.
As an almost necessary consequence of all this had his thoughts turned
towards the holy, dedicated life of the sons of the Church; and though
it was with a strong sense of personal shrinking, with a sense that the
sacrifice would be well-nigh bitterer than the bitterness of death, he
had asked himself if it might not be that God had called him, and that
if he would be faithful to the love he had ever professed to hold, he
ought to rise up without farther delay and offer himself to the
dedicated service of the Church.
And now Father Paul, who had always seemed to read the very secrets of
his heart, appeared about to answer this unspoken question. Greatly had
Raymond longed of late to speak with him again. Father Anselm was a good
and a saintly man, but he knew nothing of the life of the world. To him
the Church was the ark of refuge from all human ills, and gladly would
he have welcomed within its fold any weary or world-worn soul. But with
Father Paul it was different. He had lived in the world; he had sinned
(if men spoke truth), and had suffered bitterly. One look in his face
was enough to tell that; and having lived and sinned, repented and
suffered, he was far more able to offer counsel to one tempted and
sometimes suffering, though perhaps in a very different fashion.
The Father's eyes were bent upon the faint glow in the sky, seen through
the open casement. His words were spoken quietly, yet with an
earnestness that was almost terrible.
"My son," he said, "I have come back but recently from lands where it
seems that holiness should abound -- that righteousness should flow
forth as from a perpetual fountain, where the Lord should be seen
walking almost visibly in the midst of His people. And what have I seen
instead? Luxury, corruption, unspeakable abominations -- abominations
such as I may not dare to speak in thy pure ears, such as I would not
have believed had not mine own eyes seen, mine own ears heard. Where is
the poverty, the lowliness, the meekness, the chastity of the sons of
the Church? Ah, God in Heaven only knows; and let it be our solemn
rejoicing that He does know where His own faithful children are to be
found, for assuredly man would miserably fail if he were sent forth to
find and to gather them. Leaving those lands which thou, my son, hast
never seen, and coming hither to France and England, what do we find?
Those who have vowed themselves to the service of the Church walking
gaily in the dress of soldiers, engaged in carnal matters, letting their
hair hang down their shoulders curled and powdered, and thinking scorn
of the tonsure, which is the mark of the Kingdom of Heaven. And does not
God see? Will He not recompense to His people their sins? Yea, verily He
will; and in an hour when they little think it, the wrath of God shall
fall upon them. It is even now upon its way. I have seen it; I have
marked its progress. Ere another year has passed, if men repent not of
their sins, it will be stalking amongst us. And thou, my son, when that
day comes, fear not. Think not of the cloister; keep thy good sword at
thy side, but keep it bright in the cause of right, of mercy, of truth,
and keep thy shield stainless and unspotted. Then when the hour of
judgment falls upon this land, and men in wild terror begin to call upon
the God they have forgotten and abused, then go thou forth in the power
of that purity of heart which He in His mercy has vouchsafed to thee.
Fear not the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor the sickness that
destroyeth at noonday. A thousand shall fall beside thee, and ten
thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. With thine
eyes shalt thou behold the destruction of thine enemies; but the angels
of God shall encamp around thy path, and guard thee in all thy ways.
Only be true, be fearless, be steadfast. Thou shalt be a knight of the
Lord; thou shalt fight His battle; and from Him, and from no earthly
sovereign, shalt thou reap thy reward at last!"
As the Father continued speaking, it seemed as if something of prophetic
fire had lighted his eyes. Raymond held his breath in awe as he heard
this strange warning, benediction, and promise. But not for a moment did
he doubt that what the Father spoke would come to pass. He sank upon his
knees, and his heart went up in prayer that when the hour of trial came
he might be found faithful at his post; and at once and for ever was
laid to rest that restless questioning as to the life of the Church. He
knew from that moment forward that it was in the world and not out of it
that his work for his Lord was to be done.
No more of a personal nature passed between him and Father Paul that
night, and upon the morrow the brothers proceeded to the mill, and the
Father upon his journey to England.
"We shall meet again ere long," was Father Paul's parting word to
Raymond, and he knew that it would be so.
It was a pretty sight to witness the delighted pride with which honest
Jean and Margot welcomed back their boys again after the long
separation. Raymond hardly seemed a stranger after his visit of the
previous year, but of Gaston they knew not how to make enough. His tall
handsome figure and martial air struck them dumb with admiration. They
never tired of listening to his tales of flood and field; and the
adventures he had met with, though nothing very marvellous in
themselves, seemed to the simple souls, who had lived so quiet a life,
to raise him at once to the position of some wonderful and almost
On their own side, they had a long story to tell of the disturbed state
of the country, and the constant fighting which had taken place until
the English King's victory at Crecy had caused Philip to disband his
army, and had restored a certain amount of quiet to the country.
The quiet was by no means assured or very satisfactory. Though the army
had been disbanded, there was a great deal of brigandage in the remoter
districts. So near as the mill was to Sauveterre, it had escaped without
molestation, and the people in the immediate vicinity had not suffered
to any extent; but there was a restless and uneasy feeling pervading the
country, and it had been a source of considerable disappointment to the
well-disposed that the Roy Outremer had not paid a visit to Gascony in
person, to restore a greater amount of order, before returning to his
The Sieur de Navailles had made himself more unpopular than ever by his
adhesion to the French cause when all the world had believed that
Philip, with his two huge armies, would sweep the English out of the
country. Of late, in the light of recent events, he had tried to annul
his disloyalty, and put another face upon his proceedings; but only his
obscurity, and the remoteness of his possessions in the far south, would
protect him from Edward's wrath when the affairs of the rebel Gascons
came to be inquired into in detail.
Gaston listened eagerly, and treasured it all carefully up, feeling sure
he could place his rival and the usurper of the De Brocas lands in a
very unenviable position with the royal Edward at any time when he
wished to make good his own claim.
The visit of the De Brocas brothers (as they were known in these parts)
was not made by stealth. All the world might know it now for all they
cared, protected as they were by their stout men-at-arms, and surrounded
by the glamour of the English King's royal favour. Gaston and Raymond
ranged the woods and visited their old haunts with the zest of youth and
affectionate memories, and Gaston often hunted there alone whilst his
brother paid a visit to Father Anselm, to read with him or talk of
It was after a day spent thus apart that Gaston came in looking as
though some unwonted thing had befallen him, and when he and his brother
were alone in their room together, he began to speak with eager rapidity.
"Raymond, methinks I have this day lost my heart to a woodland nymph or
fairy. Such a strange encounter had I in the forest today! and with it a
warning almost as strange as the being who offered it."
"A warning, Gaston? what sort of warning?"
"Why, against our old, old enemy the Navailles, who, it seems, knows of
our visit here, and, if he dared, would gladly make an end of us both.
So at least the fairy creature told me, imploring me, with sweetest
solicitude, to be quickly gone, and to adventure myself in the woods
alone no more. I told her that our visit was well-nigh at an end, and
that we purposed to reach England ere the autumn gales blew shrill. At
that she seemed mightily pleased, and yet she sighed when we said adieu.
Raymond, she was the loveliest maiden my eyes have ever beheld: her hair
like silk, and of the deepest golden hue; her eyes of the colour of
violets nestling beneath brown winter leaves. Her voice was like the
rippling of a summer's brook, and her form scarce of this earth, so
light, so airy, so full of sylvan grace. She was like the angelic being
of a dream. I have never seen a daughter of earth so fair. Tell me,
thinkest thou it was some dream? Yet it is not my wont to slumber at my
sport, and the little hand I held in mine throbbed with the warmth of life."
"Asked you not her name and station?"
"Yea verily, but she would tell me naught; only the soft colour crept
into her cheeks, and she turned her eyes for a moment away. Raymond, I
have heard men speak of love, but till that moment I knew not what they
meant. Now methinks I have a better understanding, for if yon sweet
maiden had looked long into my eyes, my very soul would sure have gone
out to her, and I should have straightway forgot all else in the world
but herself. Wherefore I wondered if she could be in truth a real and
living being, or whether some woodland siren sent to lure man to death
Raymond smiled at the gravity of Gaston's words. Mystic as he was in
many matters, he had outgrown that belief in woodland nymphs and sirens
which had woven itself into their life whilst the spell of the forests
remained upon them in their boyhood. That evil and good spirits did
hover about the path of humanity, Raymond sincerely believed; but he was
equally certain that they took no tangible form, and that the vision
Gaston had seen in the wood was no phantom form of spirit.
"Sure she came to try to warn and save," he answered; "that should be
answer enough. Gaston, methinks we will take that warning. We are still
but striplings and our men are few, though brave and true. The land is
disturbed as in our memory it never was, and men are wild and lawless,
none being strong enough to put down disorder. Wherefore we had best be
gone. It is no true bravery to court danger, and our errand here is
done. When the King comes, as one day he will, to punish rebels and
reward faithful loyalty, then we will come with him, and thou shalt seek
out thy woodland nymph once more, and thank her for her good counsel.
Now wilt thou thank her best -- seeing she came express to warn thee of
coming peril -- by taking her at her word. Honest Jean and Margot will
not seek to stay us longer. They have a secret fear of the Sieur de
Navailles. We will not tell them all, but we will tell them something,
and that will be enough. Tomorrow will we take to horse again; and we
will tell in the ears of the King how restless and oppressed by
lawlessness and strife are his fair lands of Gascony."
Raymond's advice was followed. Gaston had had enough of quiet and
repose, and only the desire to see again the face of the woodland sprite
could have detained him. Not knowing where to seek her, he was willing
enough to set his face for Bordeaux; and soon the brothers had landed
once again upon the shores of England.
CHAPTER XVII. THE BLACK DEATH
The glorious termination of Edward's campaign, and the rich spoil
brought home from the wars by the soldiers, had served to put the nation
into a marvellous good temper. Their enthusiasm for their King amounted
almost to adoration, and nothing was thought of but tourneys, jousts,
and all sorts of feasting and revelry. Indeed, things came to such a
pass that at last an order was given that tournaments might be held only
at the royal pleasure, else the people were disposed to think of nothing
else, and to neglect the ordinary avocations of life. As the King
appointed nineteen in six months, to be held in various places
throughout the kingdom, it cannot be said that he defrauded his subjects
of their sports; and he himself set the example of the extravagant and
fanciful dressing which called forth so much adverse criticism from the
more sober minded, appearing at the jousts in all manner of wonderful
apparel, one of his dresses being described as "a harness of white
buckram inlaid with silver -- namely, a tunic, and a shield with the motto:
'Hay, hay, the wythe swan!
By Goddes soul I am thy man;'
whilst he gave away on that occasion five hoods of long white cloth
worked with blue men dancing, and two white velvet harnesses worked with
blue garters and diapered throughout with wild men."
Women disgraced themselves by going about in men's attire and behaving
themselves in many unseemly fashions. The ecclesiastics, too, often fell
into the prevailing vices of extravagance and pleasure seeking that at
this juncture characterized the whole nation, and, as Father Paul had
said to Raymond, disgraced their calling by so doing far more than
others who had never professed a higher code. Amongst the graver and
more austere men of the day heads were gravely shaken over the wild
burst of enthusiasm and extravagance, and there were not wanting those
who declared that the nation was calling down upon itself some terrible
judgment of God -- such a judgment as so often follows upon a season of
unwonted and sudden prosperity.
As for the twin brothers, they spent these months in diverse fashion,
each carrying out his own tastes and preferences. Gaston attached
himself to Sir James Audley once again, and travelled with him into
Scotland, where the knight frequently went upon the King's business.
When in or about the Court, he threw himself into the jousting and
sports with the greatest enthusiasm and delight, quickly excelling so
well in each and every contest that he made a name and reputation for
himself even amongst the chosen flower of the English nobility. Real
fighting was, however, more to his taste than mock contests, and he was
always glad to accompany his master upon his journeys, which were not
unfrequently attended by considerable peril, as the unsettled state of
the Border counties, and the fierce and sometimes treacherous nature of
the inhabitants, made travelling there upon the King's business a matter
of some difficulty and danger. There was no fear of Gaston's growing
effeminate or turning into a mere pleasure hunter; and he soon made
himself of great value to his master, not only by his undaunted bravery,
but by his success in diplomatic negotiation -- a success by no means
expected by himself, and a surprise to all about him.
Perhaps the frank, free bearing of the youth, his perfect fearlessness,
and his remarkably quick and keen intelligence, helped him when he had
any delicate mission entrusted to him. Then, too, the hardy and
independent nature of the Scots was not altogether unlike that of the
free-born Gascon peasant of the Pyrenean portion of the south of France;
so that he understood and sympathized with them better, perhaps, than an
average Englishman could have done.
A useful life is always a happy one, and the successful exercise of
talents of whose very existence we were unaware is in itself a source of
great satisfaction. Gaston, as he grew in years, now began to develop in
mind more rapidly than he had hitherto done, and though separated for
the most part from his brother, was seldom many months without meeting
him for at least a few days.
Raymond was spending the time with his old friend and comrade and
cousin, John de Brocas. It had become evident to all who knew him that
John was not long for this world. He might linger on still some few
years, but the insidious disease we now call consumption had firm hold
upon him, and he was plainly marked as one who would not live to make
any name in the world. He showed no disposition to seclude himself from
his kind by entering upon the monastic life, and his father had recently
bestowed upon him a small property which he had purchased near
Guildford, the air and dryness of which place had always been beneficial
This modest but pleasant residence, with the revenues attached, kept
John in ease and comfort. He had spent the greater part of his income
the year previous in the purchase of books, and his uncle's library was
always at his disposal. He had many friends in and about the place; and
his life, though a little lonely, was a very happy one -- just the life
of quietness and study that he loved better than any other.
When his cousin Raymond came home from the wars without any very
definite ideas as to his own immediate career in the future, it had
occurred to John that if he could secure the companionship of this
cousin for the coming winter it would be a great boon to himself; and
the suggestion had been hailed with pleasure by the youth.
Raymond would gladly have remained with the King had there been any
fighting in the cause of his country to be done; but the round of
feasting and revelry which now appeared to be the order of the day had
no charms for him. After breaking a lance or two at Windsor, and seeing
what Court life was in times of triumphant peace, he wearied of the
scene, and longed for a life of greater purpose. Hearing where his
cousin John was located, he had quickly ridden across to pay him a
visit; and that visit had lasted from the previous October till now,
when the full beauty of a glorious English summer had clothed the world
in green, and the green was just tarnishing slightly in the heat of a
As Raymond had seen something of the fashion in which the world was
wagging, his thoughts had ofttimes recurred to Father Paul and that
solemn warning he had uttered. He had spoken of it to John, and both had
mused upon it, wondering if indeed something of prophetic fire dwelt
within that strong, spare frame -- whether indeed, through his
austerities and fasts, the monk had so reduced the body that the things
of the spiritual world were revealed to him, and the future lay spread
before his eyes.
At first both the cousins had thought week by week to hear some news of
a terrible visitation; but day had followed day, and months had rolled
by, and still the country was holding high revel without a thought or a
fear for the future. So gradually the two studious youths had ceased to
speak of the visitation they had once confidently looked for, and they
gave themselves up with the zest of pure enjoyment to their studies and
the pursuit of learning. Raymond's spiritual nature was deepened and
strengthened by his perusal of such sacred and devotional lore as he
could lay hands upon; and though the Scriptures, as they were presented
to him, were not without many errors and imperfections and omissions, he
yet obtained a clearer insight into many of the prophetical writings,
and a fuller grasp of God's purposes towards man, than he had ever
dreamed of before. So that though strongly tinged with the mysticism and
even with the superstition of the times, his spiritual growth was great,
and the youth felt within him a spring of power unknown before which was
in itself a source of exaltation and power.
And there was another element of happiness in Raymond's life at this
time which must not be omitted from mention. Seldom as he saw her --
jealously as she was guarded by her father and brother, now returned
from the war, and settled again at Woodcrych -- he did nevertheless from
time to time encounter Mistress Joan Vavasour, and each encounter was
fraught with a new and increasing pleasure. He had never spoken a word
of love to her; indeed he scarce yet knew that he had lost his heart in
that fashion which so often leads to wedlock. He was only just beginning
to realize that she was not many years older than himself -- that she
was not a star altogether beyond the firmament of his own sky. He had
hitherto regarded her with one of those boyish adorations which are for
the time being sufficient in themselves, and do not look ahead into the
future; and then Raymond well knew that before he could for a moment
dream of aspiring to the hand of the proud knight's daughter, he must
himself have carved his way to moderate fortune and fame.
His dreams of late had concerned themselves little with his worldly
estate, and therefore his deep reverential admiration for Joan had not
developed into anything of a definite purpose. If he dreamed dreams of
the future in which she bore a part, it was only of laying at her feet
such laurels as he should win, without thinking of asking a reward at
her hands, unless it was the reward of being her own true knight, and
rescuing her from the power of the Sanghursts, father and son, who
appeared to have regained their old ascendency over Sir Hugh and his
son, and to be looking forward still to the alliance between the two
Joan was of more than marriageable age. It was thought strange by many
that the match was not yet consummated. But the quietly determined
resistance on the part of the girl herself was not without some effect;
and although there were many rumours afloat as to the boundless wealth
of the ill-famed father and son, it was not yet an affair of absolute
certainty that they were in possession of the secret of the
transmutation of metals. So the match still hung fire, and Raymond
received many bewitching smiles from the lady on the rare occasions when
they met; and he thought nothing of the threat of Peter Sanghurst, being
endowed with that fearless courage which does not brood upon possible
perils, but faces real ones with quiet resolution.
John was sitting over his books in the pleasant western window one
evening at the close of a hot September day, when he heard a quick
footstep crossing the anteroom, and Raymond came in with a strange look
upon his face.
"John," he said, before his cousin could ask a single question, "it has
come at last!"
"What has come?"
"The visitation -- the sickness -- the scourge of God. I knew that
Father Paul was looking into the future when he pronounced the doom upon
this land. It has come; it is amongst us now!"
"Not here -- not in this very place! We must have heard something of it
had it been so nigh."
"It has not yet reached this town," answered Raymond, the same strange
light shining in his eyes that John had observed there from his
entrance. "Listen, and I will tell thee all I myself know. Thou knowest
that I have been to Windsor, to meet my brother who is there. Him I
found well and happy, brave as ever, knowing naught of this curse and
scourge. But even as we talked together, there came a messenger from
London in hot haste to see thy father, good John. He had been straight
despatched by the King with a message of dire warning. A terrible
sickness, which already men are calling by the name of Black Death, has
broken out in the south and west of the land, and seems creeping
eastward with these hot west winds that steadily blow. It attacks not
only men, but beasts and cattle -- that is, it seems to be accompanied
by a plague something similar in nature which attacks the beasts. Word
has been passed on by the monks of what is happening far away, and
already a great terror has seized upon many, and some are for flying the
country, others for shutting themselves up in their houses and keeping
great fires burning around them. The message to thy father was to have a
care for the horses, and to buy no new ones that might by chance carry
the seeds of the sickness within them. Men say that the people of London
are very confident that they can keep the sickness away from entering
their walls, by maintaining a careful guard upon the city gates. At
Windsor, I left the town in a mighty fear, folks looking already askance
at each other, as if afraid they were smitten with the deadly disease.
The news of its appearance is passing from mouth to mouth faster than a
horseman could spread the tidings. It had outridden me hither, and I
thought perchance thou mightest have heard it ere I reached home."
"Nay, I have heard naught; but I would fain hear more now."
"I know little but what I have already told thee," answered Raymond.
"Indeed, it is but little that there is to know at present. The disease
seems to me somewhat to resemble that described by Lucretius as visiting
Athens. Men sometimes suddenly fall down dead; or they are seized with
violent shiverings, their hair bristling upon their heads. Sometimes it
is like a consuming fire within, and they run raving mad to the nearest
water, falling in perchance, and perishing by drowning, leaving their
carcases to pollute the spring. But if it do not carry off the stricken
person for some hours or days, black swellings are seen upon their
bodies like huge black boils, and death follows rapidly, the victim
often expiring in great agony. I have heard that the throat and lungs
often become inflamed before the Black Death seizes its victim, and that
in districts where the scourge has reached, any persons who appear to
have about them even a common rheum are cast forth from their homes even
by those nearest and dearest, for fear they are victims to the terrible
"Misfortune makes men cruel if it do not bind them closer together.
Raymond, I see a purpose in thy face -- a purpose of which I would know
the meaning. That light in thine eyes is not for nothing. Tell me all
that is in thine heart. Methinks I divine it somewhat already."
"Belike thou dost, good John," answered Raymond, speaking very calmly
and steadily, "for thou knowest the charge laid upon me by my spiritual
Father. 'Fear not, be not dismayed. A thousand shall fall beside thee,
and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee.'
Such was the burden of his charge; and shall I shrink or falter when the
hour I have waited and watched for all these years has come like a thief
in the night? Good John, thou wast the first to teach me that there was
a truer, deeper chivalry than that of the tourney or the battlefield.
Thou wast the first to understand, and to make me understand, that the
highest chivalry was that of our Lord Himself, when He laid down His
life for sinners, and prayed for His enemies who pierced and nailed Him
to the Cross. His words are ever words of mercy. Were He here with us
today upon earth, where should we find Him now? Surely where the peril
was greatest, where the need sorest, where the darkness, the terror, the
distress blackest. And where He would be, were He with us here, is the
place where those who would follow Him most faithfully should be found.
Not all perchance; there be claims of kindred, ties of love that no man
may lightly disregard: But none such ties bind me. I have but my brother
to love, and he is out in the world -- he needs me not. I am free to go
where the voice within calls me; and I go forth to-morrow."
"And whither goest thou?" asked John, in a low, awestruck tone.
"I go to Father Paul," answered Raymond, without hesitation, as one who
has thought the matter well out beforehand. "Wherever the need is
sorest, the peril greatest, there will Father Paul be found. And the
Brotherhood stands in the heart of the smitten regions; wherefore at his
very doors the sick will be lying, untended perchance and unassoiled,
save in those places whither he can go. I fare forth at sunrising
tomorrow, to seek and to find him. He will give me work, he will let me
toil beside him; better than that I ask not."
John had risen from his seat. An answering light had sprung to his eyes
as he had heard and watched Raymond. Now he laid his hand upon his
cousin's arm, and said quietly:
"Go, then, in the name of the Lord; I too go with thee."
Raymond turned his head and looked full at his cousin, marking the thin,
sunken lines of the face, the stooping pose of the shoulders, the hectic
flush that came and went upon the hollow cheek; and seeing this and
knowing what it betokened, he linked his arm within John's and commenced
walking up and down the room with him, as though inaction were
impossible at such a moment. And as he walked he talked.
"Good John," he said, "I would fain have thee with me; but I well know
thou hast no strength for the task thou hast set thyself. Even the long
day's ride would weary thy frame so sorely that thou wouldst fall an
easy victim to the sickness ere thou hadst done aught to help another.
Thou hast thy father, thy mother, and thy good uncle to think of. How
sad would they be to hear whither thou hadst gone! And then, my cousin,
it may well be that for thee there is other work, and work for which
thou canst better prepare thyself here than in any other place. I have
thought of thee as well as of myself as I have ridden homeward this day.
Shall I tell thee what my thought -- my dream of thee was like?"
"Ay, tell me; I would gladly hear."
"I saw in my spirit the advance of this terrible Black Death; I saw it
come to this very place. Dead and dying, cast out of their homes by
those who would neither bury the one nor tend the other, were left lying
in the streets around, and a deadly fear was upon all the place. And
then I saw a man step forth amongst these miserable wretches, and the
man had thy face, dear cousin. And he came forward and said to those who
were yet willing to touch the sick, 'Carry them into my house; I have a
place made ready for them. Bring them to my house; there they will he
tended and cared for.' And then I thought that I saw the bearers lift
and carry the sick here to this house, and that there they were received
by some devoted men and women who had not been driven away by the
general terror, and there were clean and comfortable beds awaiting the
sick, and great fires of aromatic herbs burning upon the hearths to keep
away the fumes of the pestilence from the watchers. And as the wretched
and stricken creatures found themselves in this fair haven, they blessed
him who had had this care for them; and those who died, died in comfort,
shriven and assoiled by holy priests, whilst some amongst the number
were saved, and saved through the act of him who had found them this
Raymond ceased speaking, and looked out over the fair landscape
commanded by the oriel window of the room in which they were standing;
and John's pale face suddenly kindled and glowed. The same spirit of
self-sacrifice animated them both; but the elder of the pair realized,
when it was put before him, how little he was fit for the work which the
younger had set himself to do, whilst he had the means as well as the
disposition to perform an act of mercy which in the end might be a
greater boon to many than any service he could offer now. And if he did
this thing -- if he turned his house into a house of mercy for the sick
of the plague -- he would then have his own opportunity to tend and care
for the sufferers.
Only one thought for a moment hindered him from giving an answer. He
looked at Raymond, and said:
"Thinkest thou that this sickness will surely come this way?"
"In very truth I believe that it will ravage the land from end to end. I
know that Father Paul looked to see the whole country swept by the
scourge of God. Fear not but that thy work will find thee here. Thou
wilt not have to wait long, methinks. Thou wilt but have fair time to
make ready all that thou wilt need -- beds, medicaments, aromatic wood,
and perfumes -- and gather round thee a few faithful, trusty souls who
will not fly at the approach of danger. It may be no easy task to find
these, yet methinks they will be found here and there; for where God
sends His scourges upon His earth, He raises up pious men and women too,
to tend the sufferers and prove to the world that He has still amongst
the gay and worldly His own children, His own followers, who will follow
wherever He leads."
John's mind was quickly made up.
"I will remain behind and do this thing," he said. "Perchance thou and I
will yet work together in this very place amongst the sick and dying."
"I well believe it," answered Raymond, with one of his far-away looks;
and the cousins stood together looking out over the green world bathed
in the light of sunset, wondering how and when they would meet again,
but both strangely possessed with perfect confidence that they would so
Then Raymond went to make his simple preparations for the morrow's ride.
He had intended travelling quite alone, and chancing the perils of the
road, which, however, in these times of peace and rejoicing, were not
very great; for freebooters seldom disturbed travellers by day, save
perhaps in very lonely forest roads. But when Roger, the woodman's son,
heard whither his master's steps were bent, and upon what errand he was
going, he fell at his feet in one of his wild passions of devotional
excitement, and begged to be allowed to follow him even to the death.
"It may well be to the death, good Roger," answered Raymond gravely.
"Men say that death is certain for those who take the breath of the
smitten persons; and such as go amongst them go at the risk of their
lives. I do not bid thee follow me -- I well believe the peril is great;
but if thou willest to do this thing, I dare not say thee nay, for
methinks it is a work of God, and may well win His approval."
"I will go," answered Roger, without the slightest hesitation. "Do I not
owe all -- my body and soul alike -- to you and Father Paul? Where you
go, there will I go with you. What you fear not to face, I fear not
either. For life or for death I am yours; and if the Holy Saints and the
Blessed Virgin will but give me strength to fight and to conquer this
fell foe, I trow they will do it because that thou art half a saint
thyself, and they will know that I go to be with thee, to watch over
thee, and perchance, by my service and my prayers, guard thee in some
sort from ill."
Raymond smiled and held out his hand to his faithful servant. In times
of common peril men's hearts are very closely knit together. The bond
between the two youths seemed suddenly to take a new form; and when they
rode forth at sunrise on the morrow, with John waving an adieu to them
and watching their departure with a strange look of settled purpose on
his face, it was no longer as master and servant that they rode, but as
friends and comrades going forth to meet a deadly peril together.
It seemed strange, as they rode along in the bright freshness of a clear
September morning, to realize that any scenes of horror and death could
be enacting themselves upon this fair earth not very many miles away.
Yet as they rode ever onwards and drew near to the infected districts,
the sunshine became obscured by a thick haze, the fresh wind which had
hitherto blown in their faces dropped, and the air was still with a
deadly stillness new to both of them -- a stillness which was oppressive
and which weighed upon their spirits like lead. The first intimation
they had of the pestilence itself was the sight of the carcasses of
several beasts lying dead in their pasture, and, what was more terrible
still, the body of a man lying beside them, as though he had dropped
dead as he came to drive them into shelter.
Raymond looked at the little group with an involuntary shudder, and
Roger crossed himself and muttered a prayer. But they did not turn out
of their way; they were now nearing the gates of the Monastery, and it
was of Father Paul that Raymond's thoughts were full. Plainly enough he
was in the heart of the peril. How had it gone with him since the
sickness had appeared here?
That question was answered the moment the travellers appeared within
sight of the well-known walls. They saw a sight that lived in their
memories for many a day to come.
Instead of the calm and solitude which generally reigned in this place,
a great crowd was to be seen around the gate, but such a crowd as the
youths had never dreamed of before. Wretched, plague-stricken people,
turned from their own doors and abandoned by their kindred, had dragged
themselves from all parts to the doors of the Monastery, in the hope
that the pious Brothers would give them help and a corner to die in
peace. And that they were not disappointed in this hope was well seen:
for as Raymond and his companion appeared, they saw that one after
another of these wretched beings was carried within the precincts of the
Monastery by the Brothers; whilst amongst those who lay outside waiting
their turn for admission, or too far gone to be moved again, a tall thin
form moved fearlessly, bending over the dying sufferers and hearing
their last confessions, giving priestly absolution, or soothing with
strong and tender hands the last agonies of some stricken creature.
Raymond, with a strange, tense look upon his face, went straight to the
Father where he stood amongst the dying and the dead, and just as he
reached his side the Monk stood suddenly up and looked straight at him.
His austere face did not relax, but in his eyes shone a light that
looked like triumph.
"It is well, my son," he said. "I knew that thou wouldest be here anon.
The soldier of the Cross is ever found at his post in such a time as this."
CHAPTER XVIII. WITH FATHER PAUL.
All that evening and far into the night Raymond worked with the Brothers
under Father Paul, bringing in the sick, burying the dead, and tending
all those for whom anything could be done to mitigate their sufferings,
or bring peace either of body or mind.
By nightfall the ghastly assemblage about the Monastery doors had
disappeared. The living were lying in rows in the narrow beds, or upon
the straw pallets of the Brothers, filling dormitories and Refectory
alike; the dead had been laid side by side in a deep trench which had
been hastily dug by order of Father Paul; and after he had read over
them the burial service, earth and lime had been heaped upon the bodies,
and one end of the long trench filled in. Before morning there were a
score more corpses to carry forth, and out of the thirty and odd
stricken souls who lay within the walls, probably scarce ten would
recover from the malady.
But no more of the sick appeared round and about the Monastery gates as
they had been doing for the past three days; and when Raymond asked why
this was so, Father Paul looked into his face with a keen, searching
glance as he replied:
"Verily, my son, it is because there be no more to come -- no more who
have strength to drag themselves out hither. Tomorrow I go forth to
visit the villages where the sick be dying like beasts in the shambles.
I go to shrive and confess the sick, to administer the last rites to the
dying, to read the prayers of the Church over those who are being
carried to the great common grave. God alone knows whether even now the
living may suffice to bury the dead. But where the need is sorest, there
must His faithful servants be found."
Raymond looked back with a face full of resolute purpose.
"Father, take me with thee," he said.
Father Paul looked earnestly into that fair young face, that was growing
so intensely spiritual in its expression, and asked one question.
"My son, and if it should be going to thy death?"
"I will go with thee, Father Paul, be it for life or for death."
"God bless and protect thee, my son!" said the Father. "I verily believe
that thou art one over whom the Blessed Saints and the Holy Angels keep
watch and ward, and that thou wilt pass unscathed even through this time
of desolation and death."
Raymond had bent his knee to receive the Father's blessing, and when he
rose he saw that Roger was close behind him, likewise kneeling; and
reading the thought in his mind, he said to the Father:
"Wilt thou not give him thy blessing also? for I know that he too will
go with us and face the peril, be it for life or death."
Father Paul laid his hand upon the head of the second lad.
"May God's blessing rest also upon thee, my son," he said. "In days past
thou hast been used as an instrument of evil, and hast been forced to do
the devil's own work. Now God, in His mercy, has given thee work to do
for Him, whereby thou mayest in some sort make atonement for the past,
and show by thy faith and piety that thou art no longer a bondservant
Then turning to both the youths as they stood before him, the Father
added, in a different and less solemn tone:
"And since your purpose is to go forth with me tomorrow, you must now
take some of that rest without which youthful frames cannot long
dispense. Since early dawn you have been travelling and working at tasks
of a nature to which you are little used. Come with me, therefore, and
pass the remaining hours of the night in sleep. I will arouse you for
our office of early mass, and then we will forth together. Till then
sleep fearlessly and well. Sleep will best fit you for what you will see
and hear tomorrow."
So saying, the Father led them into a narrow cell where a couple of
pallet beds had been placed, and where some slices of brown bread and a
pitcher of spring water were likewise standing.
"Our fare is plain, but it is wholesome. Eat and drink, my sons, and
sleep in peace. Wake not nor rise until I come to you again."
The lads were indeed tired enough, though they had scarcely known it in
the strange excitement of the journey, and amid the terrible scenes of
death and sickness which they had witnessed around and about the
Monastery doors since their arrival there. Now, however, that they had
received the command to rest and sleep (and to gainsay the Father's
commands was a thing that would never have entered their minds), they
were willing enough to obey, and had hardly laid themselves down before
they fell into a deep slumber, from which neither awoke until the light
of day had long been shining upon the world, and the Father stood beside
them bidding them rise and follow him.
In a few minutes their simple toilet and ablutions had been performed,
and they made their way along the familiar passage to the chapel, from
whence a low sound of chanting began to arise. There were not many of
the Brothers present at the early service, most of them being engaged in
tending the plague-stricken guests beneath their roof. But the Father
was performing the office of the mass, and when he had himself partaken
of the Sacrament, he signed to the two boys, who were about to go forth
with him into scenes of greater peril than any they had witnessed
heretofore, to come and receive it likewise.
The service over, and some simple refreshment partaken of, the youths
prepared for their day's toil, scarce knowing what they would be like to
see, but resolved to follow Father Paul wherever he went, anxious only
to accomplish successfully such work as he should find for them to do.
Each had a certain burden to carry with him -- some of the cordials that
had been found to give most relief in cases of utter collapse and
exhaustion, a few simple medicaments and outward applications thought to
be of some use in allaying the pain of those terrible black swellings
from which the sickness took its significant name, and some
simply-prepared food for the sufferers, who were often like to perish
from inanition even before the plague had done its worst. For stricken
persons, or those supposed to be stricken, were often turned out of
their homes even by their nearest relatives, and forced to wander about
homeless and starving, none taking pity upon their misery, until the
poison in their blood did its fatal work, and they dropped down to die.
That loosening of the bands of nature and affection in times of deadly
sickness has always been one of the most terrible features of the
outbreaks of the plague when it has visited either this or other lands.
There are some forms of peril that bind men closer and closer together,
and that bring into bond of friendship even those who have been before
estranged; and terrible though these perils may be, there is always a
deep sense of underlying consolation in the closer drawing of the bond
of brotherhood. But when the scourge of deadly sickness has passed over
the land, the effect has almost always been to slacken this tie; the
inherent love of life, natural to human beings, turning to an almost
incredible selfishness, and inducing men to abandon their nearest and
dearest in the hour of peril, leaving them, if stricken, to die alone,
or turning them, sick to death though they might be, away from their
doors, to perish untended and without shelter. True, there were many
bright exceptions to such a code of barbarity, and devoted men and women
arose by the score to strive to ameliorate the condition of the
sufferers; but for all that, one of the most terrible features of the
period of death and desolation was that of the fearful panic it
everywhere produced, and the inhuman neglect and cruelty with which the
early sufferers were treated by the very persons who, perhaps only a few
days or even hours later, had themselves caught the contagion, and were
lying dead or dying in the homes from which they had ejected their own
kith and kin before.
Of the fearful havoc wrought in England by this scourge of the Black
Death many readers of history are scarcely aware. Whole districts were
actually and entirely depopulated, not a living creature of any kind
being left sometimes within a radius of many miles; and at the lowest
computation made by historians, it is believed that not less than
one-half of the entire population perished during the outbreak.
But of anything like the magnitude of such a calamity no person at this
time had any conception, and little indeed was Raymond prepared for the
sights that he was this day to look upon.
The Father and his two assistants went forth after they had partaken of
food, and turned their faces westward.
"There is a small village two miles hence that we will visit first,"
said the Father, "for the poor people have no pastor or any other person
to care for their bodies or souls, and I trow we shall find work to do
there. If time permits when we have done what we may there, we will pass
on to the little town round the church of St. Michael, whose spire you
see yonder on the hillside. Many of the stricken folks within our walls
came from thence. The sickness is raging there, and there may be few
helpers left by now."
The same sultry haze the travellers had noticed in the infected regions
was still hanging over the woods today as they sallied forth; and though
the sun was shining in the sky, its beams were thick and blood-red
instead of being clear and bright, and there was an oppression in the
air which caused the birds to cease their song, and lay on the spirit
like a dead weight.
"The curse of God upon the land -- the curse of God!" said the Father,
in a low, solemn tone, as he led the way, bearing in his hands the Holy
Sacrament with which to console the dying. "Men have long been
forgetting Him. But He will not alway be forgotten. He will arise in
judgment and show men the error of their ways. If in their prosperity
they will not remember Him, He will call Himself to their remembrance by
a terrible day of adversity. And who may stand before the Lord? Who may
abide the day of His visitation?"
Moving along with these and like solemn words of warning and admonition,
to which his followers paid all reverent heed, the woodland path was
quickly traversed, and the clearing reached which showed the near
approach to the village. There was a break in the forest at this point,
and some excellent pasture land and arable fields had tempted two
farmers to establish themselves here, a small hamlet growing quickly up
around the farmsteads. This small community supplied the Brothers with
some of the necessaries of life, and every soul there was known to the
Father. Some dozen persons had come to the Monastery gates during the
past two days, stricken and destitute, and had been taken in there. But
all these had died and no others had followed, and Father Paul was
naturally anxious to know how it fared with those left behind.
Raymond and Roger both knew the villagers well. The two years spent
within the walls of the Brotherhood had made them fully acquainted with
the people round about. The little hamlet was a pretty spot: a number of
low thatched cottages nestled together beside the stream that watered
the meadows, whilst the larger farmsteads, which, however, were only
modest dwelling houses with their barns and sheds forming a background
to them, stood a little farther back upon a slightly-rising ground,
sheltered from the colder winds by a spur of the forest.
Generally one was aware, in approaching the place, of the pleasant
homely sounds of life connected with farming. Today, with the golden
grain all ready for the reaper's hand, one looked to hear the sound of
the sickle in the corn, and the voices of the labourers calling to each
other, or singing some rustic harvest song over their task. But instead
of that a deadly and death-like silence prevailed; and Raymond, who had
quickened his steps as he neared the familiar spot, now involuntarily
paused and hung back, as if half afraid of what he would be forced to
look upon when once the last turning was passed.
But Father Paul moved steadily on, turning neither to the right hand nor
to the left. There was no hesitation or faltering in his step, and the
two youths pressed after him, ashamed of their moment's backwardness.
The sun had managed to pierce through the haze, and was shining now with
some of its wonted brilliancy. As Raymond turned the corner and saw
before him the whole of the little hamlet, he almost wished the sun had
ceased to shine, the contrast between the beauty and brightness of
nature and the scene upon which it looked being almost too fearful for
Lying beside the river bank, in every attitude and contortion of the
death agony, were some dozen prostrate forms of men, women, and
children, all dead and still. It seemed as though they must have crawled
forth from the houses when the terrible fever thirst was upon them, and
dragging themselves down to the water's edge, had perished there. And
yet if all were dead, as indeed there could be small doubt from their
perfect stillness and rigidity, why did none come forth to bury them?
Already the warm air was tainted and oppressive with that
plague-stricken odour so unspeakably deadly to the living. Why did not
the survivors come forth from their homes and bury the dead out of their
sight? Had all fled and left them to their fate?
Father Paul walked calmly onwards, his eyes taking in every detail of
As he reached the dead around the margin of the stream, he paused and
looked upon the faces he had known so well in life, then turning to his
two followers, he said:
"I trow these be all dead corpses, but I will examine each if there be
any spark of life remaining. Go ye into the houses, and if there be any
sound persons within, bid them, in the name of humanity and their own
safety, come forth and help to bury their brethren. If they are suffered
to lie here longer, every soul in this place will perish!"
Glad enough to turn his eyes from the terrible sight without, Raymond
hurried past to the cluster of dwelling places beyond, and entering the
first of these himself, signed to Roger to go into the second. He had
some slight difficulty in pushing open the door, not because it was
fastened, but owing to some encumbrance behind. When, however, he
succeeded in forcing his way in, he found that the encumbrance was
nothing more or less than the body of a woman lying dead along the floor
of the tiny room. Upon a bed in the corner two children were lying,
smiling as if in sleep, but both stiff and cold, the livid tokens of the
terrible malady visible upon their little bodies, though the end seemed
to have been painless. No other person was in the house, and Raymond,
drawing a covering over the children as they lay, turned from the house
again with a shudder of compassionate sorrow. Outside he met Roger
coming forth with a look of awe upon his face.
"There be five souls within you door," he said -- "an old woman, her two
sons and two daughters. But they are all dead and cold. I misdoubt me if
we find one alive in the place."
"We must try farther and see," answered Raymond, his face full of the
wondering consternation of so terrible a discovery; and by mutual
consent they proceeded in their task together. There was something so
unspeakably awful in going about alone in a veritable city of the dead.
And such indeed might this place be called. Roger was fearfully right in
his prediction. Each house entered showed its number of victims to the
destroyer, but not one of these victims was living to receive comfort or
help from the ministrations of those who had come amongst them. And not
man alone had suffered; upon the dumb beasts too had the scourge fallen:
for when Roger suddenly bethought him that the creatures would want
tendance in the absence of their owners, and had gone to the sheds to
seek for them, nothing but death met his eye on all sides. Some in their
stalls, some in the open fields, some, like their masters, beside the
stream, lay the poor beasts all stone dead.
It seemed as if the scourge had fallen with peculiar virulence upon this
little hamlet, in the warm cup-like hollow where it lay, and had smitten
it root and branch. Possibly the waters of the stream had been poisoned
higher up, and the deadly malaria had reached it in that way; possibly
some condition of the atmosphere predisposed living things to take the
infection. But be the cause what it might, there was no gainsaying the
fact. Not a living or breathing thing remained in the hamlet; and little
as Raymond knew it, such wholesale destruction was only too common
throughout the length and breadth of England. But such a revelation
coming upon him suddenly, brought before his very eyes when he had come
with the desire to help and tend the living, filled him with an awe that
was almost terror, although the terror was not for himself. Personally
he had no fear; he had given himself to this work, and he would hold to
it be the result what it might. But the thought of the scourge sweeping
down upon a peaceful hamlet, and carrying off in a few short days every
breathing thing within its limits, was indeed both terrible and pitiful.
He could picture only too vividly the terror, the anguish, the agony of
the poor helpless people, and longed, not to escape from such scenes,
but rather to go forward to other places ere the work of destruction had
been accomplished, and be with the sick when the last call came. If he
had been but two days earlier in coming forward, might he not have been
in time to do a work of mercy and charity even here?
But it was useless musing thus. To act, and not to think, was now the
order of the day. He went slowly out from the yard they had last
visited, his face as pale as death, but full of courage and high purpose.
"There is nothing living here," he said, as he reached the Father, who
had not left the side of the dead. "We have been into all the houses, we
have looked everywhere, but there is nothing but dead corpses: man and
beast have perished alike. Nothing that breathes is left alive."
The Father looked round upon the scene of smiling desolation -- the
sunny harvest fields, the laughing brook, the broad meadows -- and the
ghastly rows of plague-stricken corpses at his feet, and a stern, sad
change passed across his face.
"It is the hand of the Lord," he said, "and perchance He smites in mercy
as well as in wrath, delivering men from the evil to come. Let us arise
and go hence. Our work is for the living and not the dead."
For those three to have attempted to bury all that hamlet would have
been an absolute impossibility. Dreadful as was the thought of turning
away and leaving the place as it was, it was hopeless to do otherwise,
and possibly in the town men might be found able and willing to come out
and inter the corpses in one common grave.
With hearts full of awe, the two lads followed their conductor. He had
been through similar scenes in other lands. To him there was nothing new
in sights such as this. Even the sense of personal peril, little as he
had ever regarded it, had long since passed away. But it was something
altogether new to Raymond and his companion; and though they had seen
death in many terrible forms upon the battlefield, it had never inspired
the same feelings of horror and awe. It was impossible to forget that
they might at any moment be breathing into their lungs the same deadly
poison which was carrying off multitudes on every side, and although
there was no conscious fear for themselves in the thought, it could not
but fill them with a quickened perception of the uncertainty of life and
the unreality of things terrestrial.
In perfect silence the walk towards the little town was accomplished;
and as they neared it terrible sights began to reveal themselves even
along the roadside. Plainly indeed to be seen were evidences of
attempted flight from the plague-stricken place; and no doubt many had
made good their escape, but others had fallen down by the wayside in a
dying state, and these dead or dying sufferers were the first tokens
observed by the travellers of the condition of the town.
Not all were dead, though most were plainly hopeless cases. Raymond and
Roger had both learned something during the hours of the previous night,
when they had helped the good Brothers over their tasks; and they
fearlessly knelt beside the poor creatures, moistening their parched
lips, answering their feeble, moaning plaints, and summoning to the side
of the dying the Father, who could hear the feeble confession of sin,
and pronounce the longed-for absolution to the departing soul.
Passing still onwards -- for they could not linger long, and little
enough could be done for these dying sufferers, all past hope -- they
reached the streets of the town itself; and the first sight which
greeted their eyes was the figure of a man stripped naked to the waist,
his back bleeding from the blows he kept on inflicting upon himself with
the thick, knotted cord he held in his hands, a heavy and rough piece of
iron being affixed to the end to make the blows more severe. From the
waist downwards he was clothed with sackcloth, and as he rushed about
the streets shrieking and castigating himself, he called aloud on the
people to repent of their sins, and to flee from the wrath of God that
was falling upon the whole nation.
Yet, though many dead and dying were lying in the streets about him, and
though cries and groans from many houses told that the destroyer was at
work there, this Flagellant (as these maniacs, of which at that time
there were only too many abroad, were called) never attempted to touch
one of them, though he ran almost over their prostrate bodies, and had
apparently no fear of the contagion. There were very few people abroad
in the streets, and such as were sound kept their faces covered with
cloths steeped in vinegar or some other pungent mixture, and walked
gingerly in the middle of the road, as if afraid to approach either the
houses on each side or the other persons walking in the streets.
A cart was going about, with two evil-looking men in it, who lifted in
such of the dead as they found lying by the roadside, and coolly
divested them of anything of any value which they chanced to have upon
them before conveying them to the great pit just outside which had been
dug to receive the victims of the plague.
A wild panic had seized upon the place. Most of the influential
inhabitants had fled. There was no rule or order or oversight observed,
and the priest of the church, who until this day had kept a certain
watch over his flock, and had gone about encouraging and cheering the
people, had himself been stricken down with the fell malady, and no one
knew whether he were now living or dead.
As the Father passed by, people rushed out from many doors to implore
him to come to this house or the other, to administer the last rites to
some one dying within. There were other houses marked with a red cross
on the doors, which had been for many days closed by the town
authorities, until these had themselves fled, being assured that no
person could live in that polluted air. What had become of the wretched
beings thus shut up, when the watchers who were told off to guard them
had fled in terror, it was hard to imagine; and whilst the Father
responded to the calls of those who required spiritual assistance at the
last dread hour, Raymond beckoned to Roger to follow him in his
visitation to those places where the distemper had first showed itself,
and where people had hoped to confine it by closing the houses and
letting none go forth.
The terribly deadly nature of the malady was well exemplified by the
condition of these houses. Scarce ten living souls were found in them,
and of these almost all were reduced to the last extremity either by
disease or hunger; for none had been nigh them, and they had no strength
to try to make their wants known.
Raymond had the satisfaction of seeing some amongst these wretched
beings revive somewhat under his ministrations. It was not in every case
the real distemper from which they suffered; in not a few the patients
had sunk only from fright and the misery of feeling themselves shut away
from their fellows. Whenever any persons ailed anything in those days,
it was at once supposed that the Black Death was upon them, and they
were shunned and abhorred by all their friends and kindred. To these
poor creatures it seemed indeed as though an angel from heaven had come
down when Raymond bent over them and put food and drink to their lips.
Many an office of loving mercy to the sick and dying did he and Roger
perform ere daylight faded from the sky; and before night actually fell,
the Father had by precept and example got together a band of helpers
ready and willing to tend the sick and bury the dead, and the people
felt that the terrible panic which had fallen upon them, and caused
every one to flee away, had given place to something better and more humane.
Men who had fled their stricken homes and had spent their time carousing
in the taverns, trying to drown their fears and their griefs, now
returned home to see how it fared with those who had been left behind.
Women who had been almost distracted by grief, and had been rushing into
the church sobbing and crying, and neglecting the sick, that they might
pour out their hearts at the shrine of their favourite saint, were
admonished by the Holy Father, so well known to them, to return to their
homes and their duties. As the pall of night fell over the stricken
city, and the three who had entered it a few hours before still toiled
on without cessation, people breathed blessings on them wherever they
appeared, and Raymond felt that his work for the Lord in the midst of
His stricken people had indeed begun.
CHAPTER XIX. THE STRICKEN SORCERER.
"Thou to Guildford then, my son, and I and the Brethren to London."
So said Father Paul some three weeks later, as he stood once again
inside the precincts of the Monastery, with Raymond by his side, looking
round the thinned circle of faces of such of the Brothers as had
survived the terrible visitation which had passed over them, and now
gone, as it seemed, elsewhere. Quite one-half of the inhabitants of that
small retreat had fallen victims to the scourge. Scarce ten souls out of
all those who had sought shelter within those walls had risen from their
beds and gone forth to their desolated homes again. The great trench in
the burying ground had received the rest; and of the Brothers who
gathered round Father Paul to welcome him back, several showed, by their
pinched and stricken appearance, how near they themselves had been to
the gates of death.
Few stricken by the fatal sickness itself ever recovered; but there were
many others who, falling ill of overwork or some other feverish ailment,
were accounted to have caught the distemper, and many of these did
amend, though all sickness at such a time seemed to get a firmer hold
upon its victims. But Father Paul and both his young assistants had
escaped unscathed, though they had been waging a hand-to-hand fight with
the destroyer for three long weeks, that seemed years in the retrospect.
The Brothers came crowding round them as about those returned from the
grave. Indeed, to them it did almost seem as though this was a
resurrection from the dead; for they had long since given up all hope of
seeing their beloved Superior and Father again in the flesh.
But the Father himself only accounted his work begun. Although the
pestilence appeared to have passed from the immediate district, and such
cases as occurred amid the few survivors of the visitation were by no
means so fatal as they had been in the beginning, yet the sickness
itself in its most virulent form was sweeping along northward and
eastward, spreading death and desolation in its track; and Father Paul
had but one purpose in his mind, which was to follow in the path of the
destroyer, performing for the sufferers wherever he went the same
offices of piety and mercy that he had been wont to undertake all these
past days; and the Brothers, who had finished their labour of love
within the walls of their home, and had grown fearless before the
pestilence with that fearlessness which gradually comes to those who
look long and steadily upon death, were not wanting in resolve to face
it even in its most terrible shape.
So that they one and all vowed that they would go with Father Paul; and
his steps were bound for the capital of the kingdom, where he knew that
the need would be the sorest.
It seemed to the Brothers, who had long lived beneath his austere but
wise and fatherly rule, that not only did he himself bear a charmed
life, but that all who worked with him felt the shelter of that charm.
Raymond and Roger had returned, having suffered no ill effects from the
terrible sights and scenes through which they had passed. Though the
country in these almost depopulated districts literally reeked with the
pestilence, owing to the effluvia from the carcasses of men and beasts
which lay rotting on the ground unburied, yet they had passed unscathed
through all, and were ready to go forth again upon the same errand of mercy.
Raymond was much divided in mind as to his own course of action. Much as
he longed to remain with Father Paul, whom he continued to revere with a
loving admiration that savoured of worship, he yet had a great desire to
know how it was faring with his cousin John. He could not but be very
sure that the pestilence would not pass Guildford by, and he knew that
John would go forth amongst the sick and dying, and bring them into his
own house for tendance, even though his own life paid the forfeit. It
was therefore with no small eagerness that he longed for news of him;
and when he spoke of this to the Father, the latter at once advised that
they should part company -- he and such of the Brethren as were fit for
the journey travelling on to London, whilst the two youths took the
direct road to Guildford, to see how matters fared there.
"Ye are but striplings," said the Father kindly, "and though ye be
willing and devoted, ye have not the strength of men, nor are ye such
seasoned vessels. In London the scenes will be terrible to look upon. It
may be that they would be more than ye could well brook. Go, then, to
Guildford. They will need helpers there who know how best to wrestle
with the foul distemper, and ye have both learned many lessons with me.
I verily believe that your work lies there, as mine lies yonder. Go
then, and the Lord be with you. It may be we shall meet again in this
world, but if not, in that world beyond into which our Blessed Saviour
has passed, that through His intercession, offered unceasingly for us,
we too may obtain an entrance through the merits of His redeeming Blood."
Then blessing both the boys and embracing them with a tenderness new in
one generally so reserved and austere, he sent them away, and they set
their faces steadily whence they had come, not knowing what adventures
they might meet upon the way.
This return journey was by no means so rapid as the ride hither had
been. Both the horses they had then ridden had perished of the sickness,
and as none others were to be found, and had they been obtainable might
but have fallen down by the wayside to die, the youths travelled on
foot. And they did not even take the most direct route, but turned aside
to this place or the other, wherever they knew of the existence of human
habitations; for wherever such places were, there might there be need
for human help and sympathy. And not a few acts of mercy did the boys
perform as they travelled slowly onwards through an almost depopulated
Time fails to tell of all they saw and heard as they thus journeyed; but
they found ample employment for all their skill and energy. The lives of
many little children, whose parents had died or fled, were saved by
them, and the neglected little orphans left in the kindly care of some
devoted Sisterhood, whose inmates gladly received them, fearless of the
risk they might run by so doing.
Wandering so often out of their way, they scarce knew their exact
whereabouts when darkness fell upon them on the third day of their
journeying; but after walking still onwards for some time in what they
judged to be the right direction, they presently saw a light in a
cottage window, and knocking at the door, asked shelter for the night.
Travellers at such a time as this were regarded with no small suspicion,
and the youths hardly looked to get any answer to their request; but
rather to their surprise, the door was quickly opened, and Roger uttered
a cry of recognition as he looked in the face of the master of the house.
It was no other, in fact, than the ranger with whom as a boy he had
found a temporary home, from which home he had been taken in his
father's absence and sold into the slavery of Basildene. The boy's cry