Part 2 out of 5
rarely quit of strife, convoyed him a stage or two on his way. It was a
slender company: two Franciscans bearing the present of Louis to the
Khakan--a chapel-tent of scarlet cloth embroidered inside with pictures of
the Annunciation and the Passion; two sumpter mules with baggage; Aimery's
squire, a lad from the Boulonnais; and Aimery himself mounted on a Barbary
horse warranted to go far on little fodder. The lord of Jaffa turned back
when the snows of Lebanon were falling behind on their right. He had
nodded towards the mountains.
"There lives the Old Man and his Ishmaelites. Fear nothing, for his fangs
are drawn." And when Aimery asked the cause of the impotence of the
renowned Assassins, he was told--"That Khakan whom ye seek."
After that they made good speed to the city of Antioch, where not so long
before angels from heaven had appeared as knights in white armour to do
battle for the forlorn Crusaders. There they were welcomed by the Prince
and sent forward into Armenia, guided by the posts of the Constable of
that harassed kingdom. Everywhere the fame of the Tartars had gone abroad,
and with each mile they journeyed the tales became stranger. Conquerers
and warriors beyond doubt, but grotesque paladins for the Cross. Men
whispered their name with averted faces, and in the eyes of the travelled
ones there was the terror of sights remembered outside the mortal pale.
Aimery's heart was stout, but he brooded much as the road climbed into the
mountains. Far off in Cyprus the Khakan had seemed a humble devotee at
Christ's footstool, asking only to serve and learn; but now he had grown
to some monstrous Cyclops beyond the stature of man, a portent like a
thundercloud brooding over unnumbered miles. Besides, the young lord was
homesick, and had long thoughts of Alix his wife and the son she had borne
him. As he looked at the stony hills he remembered that it would now be
springtide in Picardy, when the young green of the willows fringed every
watercourse and the plovers were calling on the windy downs.
The Constable of Armenia dwelt in a castle of hewn stone about which a
little city clustered, with mountains on every side to darken the sky, He
was as swarthy as a Saracen and had a long nose like a Jew, but he was a
good Christian and a wise ruler, though commonly at odds with his cousin
of Antioch. From him Aimery had more precise news of the Khakan.
There were two, said the Constable. "One who rules all Western Asia east
of the Sultan's principates. Him they call the Ilkhan for title, and
Houlagou for name. His armies have eaten up the Chorasmians and the
Muscovites and will presently bite their way into Christendom, unless God
change their heart. By the Gospels, they are less and more than men.
Swinish drinkers and gluttons, they rise from their orgies to sweep the
earth like a flame. Here inside our palisade of rock we wait fearfully."
"And the other?" Aimery asked.
"Ah, he is as much the greater as the sun is greater than a star. Kublai
they name him, and he is in some sort the lord of Houlagou. I have never
met the man who has seen him, for he dwells as far beyond the Ilkhan as
the Ilkhan is far from the Pillars of Hercules. But rumour has it that he
is a clement and beneficent prince, terrible in battle, but a lover of
peace and all good men. They tell wonders about his land of Cathay, where
strips of parchment stamped with the King's name take the place of gold
among the merchants, so strong is that King's honour. But the journey to
Cambaluc, the city of Kublai, would fill a man's lifetime."
One April morning they heard mass after the odd Syrian fashion, and turned
their faces eastward. The Constable's guides led them through the
mountains, up long sword-cuts of valleys and under frowning snowdrifts, or
across stony barrens where wretched beehive huts huddled by the shores of
unquiet lakes. Presently they came into summer, and found meadows of young
grass and green forests on the hills' skirts, and saw wide plains die into
the blueness of morning. There the guides left them, and the little
cavalcade moved east into unknown anarchies.
The sky grew like brass over their heads, and the land baked and rutted
with the sun's heat. It seemed a country empty of man, though sometimes
they came on derelict ploughlands and towns of crumbling brick charred and
glazed by fire. In sweltering days they struggled through flats where the
grass was often higher than a horse's withers, and forded the tawny
streams which brought down the snows of the hills. Now and then they would
pass wandering herdsmen, who fled to some earth-burrow at their
appearance. The Constable had bidden them make for the rising sun, saying
that sooner or later they would foregather with the Khakan's scouts. But
days passed into weeks and weeks into months, and still they moved through
a tenantless waste. They husbanded jealously the food they had brought,
but the store ran low, and there were days of empty stomachs and light
heads. Unless, like the King of Babylon, they were to eat grass in the
fashion of beasts, it seemed they must soon famish.
But late in summertime they saw before them a wall of mountain, and in
three days climbed by its defiles to a pleasant land, where once more they
found the dwellings of man. It appeared that they were in a country where
the Tartars had been for some time settled and which had for years been
free of the ravages of war. The folks were hunters and shepherds who took
the strangers for immortal beings and offered food on bent knees like
oblations to a god. They knew where the Ilkhan dwelt, and furnished guides
for each day's journey. Aimery, who had been sick of a low fever in the
plains, and had stumbled on in a stupor torn by flashes of homesickness,
found his spirits reviving. He had cursed many times the futility of his
errand. While the Franciscans were busied with their punctual offices and
asked nothing of each fresh day but that it should be as prayerful as the
last, he found a rebellious unbelief rising in his heart. He was
travelling roads no Christian had ever trod, on a wild-goose errand, while
his comrades were winning fame in the battle-front. Alas! that a bright
sword should rust in these barrens!
But with the uplands peace crept into his soul and some of the mystery of
his journey. It was a brave venture, whether it failed or no, for he had
already gone beyond the pale even of men's dreams. The face of Louis
hovered before him. It needed a great king even to conceive such a
mission. . . . He had been sent on a king's errand too. He stood alone for
France and the Cross in a dark world. Alone, as kings should stand, for to
take all the burden was the mark of kingship. His heart bounded at the
thought, for he was young. His father had told him of that old Flanders
grandam, who had sworn that his blood came from proud kings.
But chiefly he thought of Louis with a fresh warmth of love. Surely the
King loved him, or he would not have chosen him out of many for this
fateful work. He had asked of him the ultimate service, as a friend
should. Aimery reconstructed in his inner vision all his memories of the
King: the close fair hair now thinning about the temples; the small face
still contoured like a boy's; the figure strung like a bow; the quick,
eager gestures; the blue dove's eyes, kindly and humble, as became one
whose proudest title was to be a "sergeant of the Crucified." But those
same eyes could also steel and blaze, for his father had been called the
Lion, his mother Semiramis, and his grandsire Augustus. In these wilds
Aimery was his vicegerent and bore himself proudly as the proxy of such a
The hour came when they met the Tartar outposts. A cloud of horse swept
down on them, each man riding loose with his hand on a taut bowstring. In
silence they surrounded the little party, and their leader made signs to
Aimery to dismount. The Constable had procured for him a letter in Tartar
script, setting out the purpose of his mission. This the outpost could not
read, but they recognised some word among the characters, and pointed it
out to each other with uncouth murmurings. They were strange folk, with
eyes like pebbles and squat frames and short, broad faces, but each horse
and man moved in unison like a centaur.
With gestures of respect the Tartars signalled to the Christians to
follow, and led them for a day and a night southward down a broad valley,
where vines and fruit trees grew and peace dwelt in villages. They passed
encampments of riders like themselves, and little scurries of horsemen
would ride athwart their road and exchange greetings. On the second
morning they reached a city, populous in men but not in houses. For miles
stretched lines of skin tents, and in the heart of them by the river's
edge stood a great hall of brick, still raw from the builders.
Aimery sat erect on his weary horse with the hum of an outlandish host
about him, himself very weary and very sick at heart. For the utter folly
of it all had come on him like the waking from a dream. These men were no
allies of the West. They were children of the Blue Wolf, as the Constable
had said, a monstrous brood, swarming from the unknown to blight the
gardens of the world. A Saracen compared to such was a courteous knight. .
. . He thought of Kublai, the greater Khakan. Perhaps in his court might
dwell gentlehood and reason. But here was but a wolf pack in the faraway
guise of man.
They gave the strangers food and drink--halfcooked fish and a porridge of
rye and sour spiced milk, and left them to sleep until sundown. Then the
palace guards led them to the presence.
The hall was immense, dim and shapeless like the inside of a hill, not
built according to the proportions of mankind. Flambeaux and wicks
floating in great basins of mutton fat showed a dense concourse of
warriors, and through an aisle of them Aimery approached the throne. In
front stood a tree of silver, springing from a pedestal of four lions
whose mouths poured streams of wine, syrup, and mead into basins, which
were emptied by a host of slaves, the cup-bearers of the assembly. There
were two thrones side by side, on one of which sat a figure so motionless
that it might have been wrought of jasper. Weighted with a massive
head-dress of pearls and a robe of gold brocade, the little grandchild of
Prester John seemed like a doll on which some princess had lavished wealth
and fancy. The black eyelashes lay quiet on her olive cheeks, and her
breathing did not stir her stiff, jewelled bodice.
"I have seen death in life," thought Aimery as he shivered and looked
Houlagou, her husband, was a tall man compared with the others. His face
was hairless, and his mouth fine and cruel. His eyes were hard like
agates, with no light in them. A passionless power lurked in the low broad
forehead, and the mighty head sunk deep between the shoulders; but the
power not of a man, but of some abortion of nature, like storm or
earthquake. Again Aimery shivered. Had not the prophets foretold that one
day Antichrist would be reborn in Babylon?
Among the Ilkhan's scribes was a Greek who spoke a bastard French and
acted as interpreter. King Louis' letter was read, and in that hall its
devout phrases seemed a mockery. The royal gifts were produced, the
tent-chapel with its woven pictures and the sacred utensils. The
half-drunk captains fingered them curiously, but the eyes from the throne
scarcely regarded them.
"These are your priests," said the Khakan "Let them talk with my priests
and then go their own way. I have little concern with priestcraft."
Then Aimery spoke, and the Greek with many haltings translated. He
reminded Houlagou of the Tartar envoys who had sought from his King
instruction in the Christian faith and had proclaimed his baptism.
"Of that I know nothing," was the answer. "Maybe 'twas some whim of my
brother Kublai. I have all the gods I need."
With a heavy heart Aimery touched on the proposed alliance, the advance on
Bagdad, and the pinning of the Saracens between two fires. He spoke as he
had been ordered, but with a bitter sense of futility, for what kind of
ally could be looked for in this proud pagan?
The impassive face showed no flicker of interest.
"I am eating up the Caliphs," he said, "but that food is for my own table.
As for allies, I have need of none. The children of the Blue Wolf do not
Then he spoke aside to his captains, and fixed Aimery with his agate eyes.
It was like listening to a voice from a stone.
"The King of France has sent you to ask for peace. Peace, no doubt, is
good, and I will grant it of my favour. A tribute will be fixed in gold
and silver, and while it is duly paid your King's lands will be safe from
my warriors. Should the tribute fail, France will be ours. I have heard
that it is a pleasant place."
The Ilkhan signed that the audience was over. The fountains of liquor
ceased to play, and the drunken gathering stood up with a howling like
wild beasts to acclaim their King. Aimery went back to his hut, and sat
deep in thought far into the night.
He perceived that the shadows were closing in upon him. He must get the
friars away, and with them a message to his master. For himself there
could be no return, for he could not shame his King who had trusted him.
In the bestial twilight of this barbaric court the memory of Louis shone
like a star. He must attempt to reach Kublai, of whom men spoke well,
though the journey cost him his youth and his life. It might mean years of
wandering, but there was a spark of hope in it. There, in the bleak hut,
he suffered the extreme of mental anguish A heavy door seemed to have
closed between him and all that he held dear. He fell on his knees and
prayed to the saints to support his loneliness. And then he found comfort,
for had not God's Son suffered even as he, and left the bright streets of
Paradise for loneliness among the lost?
Next morning he faced the world with a clearer eye. It was not difficult
to provide for the Franciscans. They, honest men, understood nothing save
that the Tartar king had not the love of holy things for which they had
hoped. They explained the offices of the Church as well as they could to
ribald and uncomprehending auditors, and continued placidly in their
devotions. As it chanced, a convoy was about to start for Muscovy, whence
by ship they might come to Constantinople. The Tartars made no objection
to their journey, for they had some awe of these pale men and were glad to
be quit of foreign priestcraft. With them Aimery sent a letter in which he
told the King that the immediate errand had been done. but that no good
could be looked for from this western Khakan. "I go," he said," to Kublai
the Great, in Cathay, who has a heart more open to God. If I return not,
know, Sire, that I am dead in your most loving service, joyfully and
pridefully as a Christian knight dies for the Cross, his King, and his
lady." He added some prayers on behalf of the little household at
Beaumanoir and sealed it with his ring. It was the ring he had got from
his father, a thick gold thing in which had been cut his cognisance of
three lions' heads.
This done, he sought an audience with the Ilkhan, and told him of his
purpose. Houlagou did not speak for a little, and into his set face seemed
to creep an ill-boding shadow of a smile. "Who am I," he said at length,
"to hinder your going to my brother Kublai? I will give you an escort to
my eastern borders."
Aimery bent his knee and thanked him, but from the courtiers rose a hubbub
of mirth which chilled his gratitude. He was aware that he sailed on very
Among the Tartars was a recreant Genoese who taught them metal work and
had once lived at the court of Cambaluc. The man had glimmerings of
honesty, and tried hard to dissuade Aimery from the journey. "It is a
matter of years," he told him, "and the road leads through deserts greater
than all Europe and over mountains so high and icy that birds are frozen
in the crossing. And a word in your ear, my lord. The Ilkhan permits few
to cross his eastern marches. Beware of treason, I say. Your companions
are the blood-thirstiest of the royal guards."
But from the Genoese he obtained a plan of the first stages of the road,
and one morning in autumn he set out from the Tartar city, his squire from
the Boulonnais by his side, and at his back a wild motley of horsemen,
wearing cuirasses of red leather stamped with the blue wolf of Houlagou's
October fell chill and early in those uplands, and on the fourth day they
came into a sprinkling of snow. At night round the fires the Tartars made
merry, for they bad strong drink in many skin bottles, and Aimery was left
to his own cold meditations. If he had had any hope, it was gone now, for
the escort made it clear that he was their prisoner Judging from the chart
of the Genoese, they were not following any road to Cambaluc, and the
sight of the sky told him that they were circling round to the south. The
few Tartar words he had learned were not enough to communicate with them,
and in any case it was clear that they would take no orders from him. He
was trapped like a bird in the fowler's hands. Escape was folly, for in an
hour their swift horses would have ridden him down. He had thought he had
grown old, but the indignity woke his youth again, and he fretted
passionately. If death was his portion, he longed for it to come cleanly
in soldier fashion.
One night his squire disappeared. The Tartars, when he tried to question
them, only laughed and pointed westward. That was the last he heard of the
lad from the Boulonnais.
And then on a frosty dawn, when the sun rose red-rimmed over the barrens,
he noted a new trimness in his escort. They rode in line, and they rode
before and behind him, so that his captivity was made patent. On a ridge
far to the west he saw a great castle, and he knew the palace of Houlagou.
His guess had been right; he had been brought back by a circuit to his
Presently he was face to face with the Ilkhan, who was hunting. The Greek
scribe was with him, so the meeting had been foreseen. The King's face was
dark with the weather and his stony eyes had a glow in them.
"O messenger of France," he said, "there is a little custom of our people
that I had forgotten. When a stranger warrior visits us it is our fashion
to pit him in a bout against one of our own folk, so that if he
leaves us alive he may speak well of his entertainment."
"I am willing," said Aimery. "I have but my sword for weapon."
"We have no lack of swordsmen," said the Ilkhan. "I would fain see the
Frankish way of it."
A man stepped out from the ring, a great square fellow shorter by a head
than Aimery, and with a nose that showed there was Saracen blood in him.
He had a heavy German blade, better suited for fighting on horseback than
on foot. He had no buckler, and no armour save a headpiece, so the
combatants were fairly matched.
It was a contest of speed and deftness against a giant's strength, for a
blow from the great weapon would have cut deep into a man's vitals. Aimery
was weary and unpractised, but the clash of steel gave life to him. He
found that he had a formidable foe, but one who lacked the finer arts of
the swordsman. The Tartar wasted his strength in the air against the new
French parries and guards, though he drew first blood and gashed his
opponent's left arm. Aimery's light blade dazzled his eyes, and presently
when breath had grown short claimed its due. A deft cut on the shoulder
paralysed the Tartar's sword arm, and a breaststroke brought him to his
"Finish him," said the Ilkhan.
"Nay, sire," said Aimery, "it is not our custom to slay a disabled foe."
Houlagou nodded to one of his guards, who advanced swinging his sword. The
defeated man seemed to know his fate, and stretched out his neck. With a
single blow his head rolled on the earth.
"You have some skill of the sword, Frenchman," said the Ilkhan. "Hear,
now, what I have decreed concerning you. I will have none of this journey
to my brother Kublai. I had purposed to slay you, for you have defied my
majesty. You sought to travel to Cathay instead of bearing my commands
forthwith to your little King. But I am loath to kill so stout a warrior.
Swear to me allegiance, and you shall ride with me against the Caliphs."
"And if I refuse?" Aimery asked.
"Then you die ere sundown."
"I am an envoy, sire, from a brother majesty, and of such it is the custom
to respect the persons."
"Tush!" said the Ilkhan, "there is no brother majesty save Kublai. Between
us we rule the world."
"Hear me, then," said Aimery. The duel had swept all cobwebs from his
brain and doubts from his heart. "I am a knight of the Sire Christ and of
the most noble King Louis, and I can own no other lord. Do your work,
King. I am solitary among your myriads, but you cannot bend me."
"So be it," said Houlagou.
"I ask two boons as one about to die. Let me fall in battle against your
warriors. And let me spend the hours till sundown alone, for I would
prepare myself for my journey."
"So be it," said Houlagou, and turned to his hounds.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The damoiseau of Beaumanoir sat on a ridge commanding for fifty miles the
snow-sprinkled uplands. The hum of the Tartars came faint from a hollow to
the west, but where he sat he was in quiet and alone.
He had forgotten the ache of loss which had preyed on him. . . . His
youth had not been squandered. The joy of young manhood which had been
always like a tune in his heart had risen to a nobler song. For now, as it
seemed to him, he stood beside his King, and had found a throne in the
desert. Alone among all Christian men he had carried the Cross to a new
world, and had been judged worthy to walk in the footprints of his captain
Christ. A great gladness and a great humility possessed him.
He had ridden beyond the ken of his own folk, and no tale of his end would
ever be told in that northern hall of his when the hearth-fire flickered
on the rafters. That seemed small loss, for they would know that he had
ridden the King's path, and that can have but the one ending. . . . Most
clear in his memory now were the grey towers by Canche, where all day long
the slow river made a singing among the reeds. He saw Alix his wife, the
sun on her hair, playing in the close with his little Philip. Even now in
the pleasant autumn weather that curly-pate would be scrambling in the
orchard for the ripe apples which his mother rolled to him. He had thought
himself born for a high destiny. Well, that destiny had been accomplished.
He would not die, but live in the son of his body, and his sacrifice would
be eternally a spirit moving in the hearts of his seed. He saw the thing
clear and sharp, as if in a magic glass. There was a long road before the
house of Beaumanoir, and on the extreme horizon a great brightness.
Now he remembered that he had always known it, known it even when his head
had been busy with ardent hopes. He had loved life and had won life
everlasting. He had known it when he sought learning from wise books. When
he kept watch by his armour in the Abbey church of Corbie and questioned
wistfully the darkness, that was the answer he had got. In the morning,
when he had knelt in snow-white linen and crimson and steel before the
high altar and received back his sword from God, the message had been
whispered to his heart. In the June dawn when, barefoot, he was given the
pilgrim's staff and entered on his southern journey, he had had a
premonition of his goal. But now what had been dim, like a shadow in a
mirror, was as clear as the colours in a painted psaltery. "Jerusalem,
Jerusalem," he sighed, as his King was wont to sigh. For he was crossing
the ramparts of the secret city.
He tried to take the ring from his finger that he might bury it, for it
irked him that his father's jewel should fall to his enemies. But the
wound had swollen his left hand, and he could not move the ring.
He was looking westward, for that way lay the Holy Places, and likewise
Alix and Picardy. His minutes were few now, for he heard the bridles of
the guards, as they closed in to carry him to his last fight. . . . He had
with him a fragment of rye-cake and beside him on the ridge was a little
spring. In his helmet he filled a draught, and ate a morsel. For, by the
grace of the Church to the knight in extremity, he was now sealed of the
priesthood, and partook of the mystic body and blood of his Lord. . . .
Somewhere far off there was a grass fire licking the hills, and the sun
was setting in fierce scarlet and gold. The hollow of the sky seemed a
vast chapel ablaze with lights, like the lifting of the Host at Candlemas.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The tale is not finished. For, as it chanced, one Maffeo of Venice, a
merchant who had strayed to the court of Cambaluc and found favour there,
was sent by Kublai the next year on a mission to Europe, and his way lay
through the camp of Houlagou. He was received with honour, and shown the
riches of the Tartar armies. Among other things he heard of a Frankish
knight who had fallen in battle with Houlagou's champions, and won much
honour, they said, having slain three. He was shown the shrivelled arm of
this knight, with a gold ring on the third finger. Maffeo was a man of
sentiment, and begged for and was given the poor fragment, meaning to
accord it burial in consecrated ground when he should arrive in Europe. He
travelled to Bussorah, whence he came by sea to Venice. Now at Venice
there presently arrived the Count of St. Pol with a company of Frenchmen,
bound on a mission to the Emperor. Maffeo, of whom one may still read in
the book of Messer Marco Polo, was become a famous man in the city, and
strangers resorted to his house to hear his tales and see his treasures.
From him St. Pol learned of the dead knight, and, reading the cognisance
on the ring, knew the fate of his friend. On his return journey he bore
the relic to Louis at Paris, who venerated it as the limb of a saint; and
thereafter took it to Beaumanoir, where the Lady Alix kissed it with proud
tears. The arm in a rich casket she buried below the chapel altar, and the
ring she wore till her death.
CHAPTER 5. THE MAID
The hostel of the Ane Raye poured from its upper and lower windows a
flood of light into the gathering August dusk. It stood, a little withdrawn
among its beeches, at a cross-roads, where the main route southward from
the Valois cut the highway from Paris to Rheims and Champagne. The roads at
that hour made ghostly white ribbons, and the fore-court of dusty grasses
seemed of a verdure which daylight would disprove. Weary horses nuzzled at
a watertrough, and serving-men in a dozen liveries made a bustle around the
stables, which formed two sides of the open quadrangle. At the foot of the
inn signpost beggars squatted--here a leper whining monotonously, there
lustier vagrants dicing for supper. At the main door a knot of young
squires stood talking in whispers--impatient, if one judged from the
restless clank of metal, but on duty, as appeared when a new-comer sought
entrance and was brusquely denied. For in an upper room there was business
of great folk, and the commonalty must keep its distance.
That upper room was long and low-ceiled, with a canopied bed in a corner
and an oaken table heaped with saddle-bags. A woman sat in a chair by the
empty hearth, very bright and clear in the glow of the big iron lantern
hung above the chimney. She was a tall girl, exquisitely dressed, from the
fine silk of her horned cap to the amethyst buckles on her Spanish shoes.
The saddle-bags showed that she was fresh from a journey, but her
tirewoman's hands must have been busy, for she bore no marks of the road.
Her chin was in her hands, and the face defined by the slim fingers was
small and delicate, pale with the clear pallor of perfect health, and now
slowly flushing to some emotion. The little chin was firm, but the mouth
was pettish. Her teeth bit on a gold chain, which encircled her neck and
held a crystal reliquary. A spoiled pretty child, she looked, and in a
mighty ill temper.
The cause of it was a young man who stood disconsolately by a settle a
little way out of the lantern's glow. The dust of the white roads lay on
his bodyarmour and coated the scabbard of his great sword. He played
nervously with the plume of a helmet which lay on the settle, and lifted
his face now and then to protest a word. It was an honest face, ruddy with
wind and sun and thatched with hair which his mislikers called red but his
The girl seemed to have had her say. She turned wearily aside, and drew the
chain between her young lips with a gesture of despair.
"Since when have you become Burgundian, Catherine?" the young man asked
timidly. The Sieur Guy de Laval was most notable in the field but he had
few arts for a lady's chamber.
"I am no Burgundian," she said, "but neither am I Armagnac. What concern
have we in these quarrels? Let the Kings who seek thrones do the fighting.
What matters it to us whether knock-kneed Charles or fat Philip reign in
The young man shuddered as if at a blasphemy "This is our country of
France. I would rid it of the English and all foreign bloodsuckers "
"And your way is to foment the quarrel among Frenchmen? You are a fool,
Guy. Make peace with Burgundy and in a month there will be no Goddams left
"It is the voice of La Tremouille."
"It is the voice of myself, Catherine of Beaumanoir. And if my kinsman of
La Tremouille say the same, the opinion is none the worse for that. You
meddle with matters beyond your understanding.... But have done with
statecraft, for that is not the heart of my complaint. You have broken your
pledged word, sir. Did you not promise me when you set out that you would
abide the issue of the Bourbon's battle before you took arms? Yet I have
heard of you swashbuckling in that very fight at Rouvray, and only the
miracle of God brought you out with an unbroken neck."
"The Bourbon never fought," said de Laval sullenly. "Only Stewart and his
Scots stood up against Fastolf's spears. You would not have me stay idle in
face of such odds. I was not the only French knight who charged. There was
La Hire and de Saintrailles and the Bastard himself."
"Yet you broke your word," was the girl's cold answer. "Your word to me.
You are forsworn, sir."
The boy's face flushed deeply. "You do not understand, my sweet Catherine.
There have been mighty doings in Touraine, which you have not heard of in
Picardy. Miracles have come to pass. Orleans has been saved, and there is
now a great army behind Charles. In a little while we shall drive the
English from Paris, and presently into the sea. There is hope now and a
clear road for us Frenchmen. We have heard the terrible English 'Hurra'
grow feeble, and 'St. Denis' swell like a wind in heaven. For God has sent
us the Maid...."
The girl had risen and was walking with quick, short steps from hearth to
"Tell me of this maid," she commanded.
"Beyond doubt she is a daughter of God," said de Laval.
"Beyond doubt. But I would hear more of her."
Her tone was ominously soft, and the young man was deceived by it. He
launched into a fervid panegyric of Jeanne of Arc. He told of her doings at
Orleans, when her standard became the oriflamme of France, and her voice
was more stirring than trumpets; of her gentleness and her wisdom. He told
of his first meeting with her, when she welcomed him in her chamber. "She
sent for wine and said that soon she would drink it with me in Paris. I saw
her mount a plunging black horse, herself all in white armour, but
unhelmeted. Her eyes were those of a great captain, and yet merciful and
mild like God's Mother. The sight of her made the heart sing like a May
morning. No man could fear death in her company. They tell how . . ."
But he got no farther. The girl's face was pale with fury, and she tore at
her gold neck-chain till it snapped.
"Enough of your maid!" she cried. "Maid, forsooth! The shame of her has
gone throughout the land. She is no maid, but a witch, a light-of-love, a
blasphemer. By the Rood, Sir Guy, you choose this instant between me and
your foul peasant. A daughter of Beaumanoir does not share her lover with a
The young man had also gone pale beneath his sunburn. "I will not listen,"
he cried. "You blaspheme a holy angel."
"But listen you shall," and her voice quivered with passion. She marched up
to him and faced him, her slim figure as stiff as a spear. "This very hour
you break this mad allegiance and conduct me home to Beaumanoir. Or, by the
Sorrows of Mary, you and I will never meet again."
De Laval did not speak, but stood gazing sadly at the angry loveliness
before him. His own face had grown as stubborn as hers.
"You do not know what you ask," he said at length. "You would have me
forswear my God, and my King, and my manhood."
"A fig for such manhood," she cried with ringing scorn. "If that is a man's
devotion, I will end my days in a nunnery. I will have none of it, I tell
you. Choose, my fine lover choose between me and your peasant."
The young man looked again at the blazing eyes and then without a word
turned slowly and left the room. A moment later the sound of horses told
that a company had taken the road
The girl stood listening till the noise died away. Then she sank all limp
in a chair and began to cry. There was wrath in her sobs, and bitter
self-pity. She had made a fine tragedy scene, but the glory of it was
short. She did not regret it, but an immense dreariness had followed on her
heroics. Was there ever, she asked herself, a more unfortunate lady?
And she had been so happy. Her lover was the bravest gallant that ever came
out of Brittany; rich too, and well beloved, and kin to de Richemont, the
Constable. In the happy days at Beaumanoir he was the leader in jousts and
valiances, the soul of hunting parties, the lightest foot in the dance. The
Beaumanoirs had been a sleepy stock, ever since that Sir Aimery, long ago,
who had gone crusading with Saint Louis and ridden out of the ken of
mortals. Their wealth had bought them peace, and they had kept on good
terms alike with France and Burgundy, and even with the unruly captains of
England. Wars might sweep round their marches, but their fields were
unravaged. Shrewd, peaceable folk they were, at least the males of the
house. The women had been different, for the daughters of Beaumanoir had
been notable for beauty and wit and had married proudly, till the family
was kin to half the nobleness of Artois and Picardy and Champagne. There
was that terrible great-aunt at Coucy, and the aunts at Beaulieu and
Avranches, and the endless cousinhood stretching as far south as the
Nivernais.... And now the main stock had flowered in her, the sole child of
her father, and the best match to be found that side of the Loire.
She sobbed in the chagrin of a new experience. No one in her soft cushioned
life had ever dared to gainsay her. At Beaumanoir her word was law. She had
loved its rich idleness for the power it gave her. Luxurious as she was, it
was no passive luxury that she craved, but the sense of mastery, of being a
rare thing set apart. The spirit of the women of Beaumanoir burned fiercely
in her. . . She longed to set her lover in the forefront of the world. Let
him crusade if he chose, but not in a beggars' quarrel. And now the palace
of glass was shivered, and she was forsaken for a peasant beguine. The
thought set her pacing to the window.
There seemed to be a great to-do without. A dozen lanterns lit up the
forecourt, and there was a tramping of many horses. A shouting, too, as if
a king were on the move. She hurriedly dried her eyes and arranged her
dress, tossing the reliquary and its broken chain on the table. Some new
guests; and the inn was none too large. She would have the landlord flayed
if he dared to intrude on the privacy which she had commanded. Nay, she
would summon her people that instant and set off for home, for her company
was strong enough to give security in the midnight forests.
She was about to blow a little silver whistle to call her steward when a
step at the door halted her. A figure entered, a stranger. It was a tall
stripling, half armed like one who is not for battle but expects a brush at
any corner of the road. A long surcoat of dark green and crimson fell
stiffy as if it covered metal, and the boots were spurred and defended in
front with thin plates of steel. The light helm was open and showed a young
face. The stranger moved wearily as if from a long journey.
"Good even to you, sister," said the voice, a musical voice with the broad
accent of Lorraine. "Help me to get rid of this weariful harness."
Catherine's annoyance was forgotten in amazement. Before she knew what she
did her fingers were helping the bold youth to disarm. The helm was
removed, the surcoat was stripped, and the steel corslet beneath it. With a
merry laugh the stranger kicked off the great boots which were too wide for
his slim legs.
He stretched himself, yawning, and then laughed again. "By my staff," he
said, "but I am the weary one." He stood now in the full glow of the
lantern, and Catherine saw that he wore close-fitting breeches of fine
linen, a dark pourrpoint, and a tunic of blue. The black hair was cut
short like a soldier's, and the small secret face had the clear tan of one
much abroad in wind and sun. The eyes were tired and yet merry, great grey
eyes as clear and deep as a moorland lake. . . . Suddenly she understood.
It may have been the sight of the full laughing lips, or the small maidenly
breasts outlined by the close-fitting linen. At any rate she did not draw
back when the stranger kissed her cheek.
"Ah, now I am woman again," said the crooning voice. The unbuckled sword in
its leather sheath was laid on the table beside the broken reliquary. "Let
us rest side by side, sister, for I long for maids' talk."
But now Catherine started and recoiled. For on the blue tunic she had
caught sight of an embroidered white dove bearing in its beak the scroll
De par le Roy du ciel. It was a blazon the tale of which had gone through
"You are she!" she stammered. "The witch of Lorraine!"
The other looked wonderingly at her. "I am Jeanne of Arc," she said simply.
"She whom they call the Pucelle. Do you shrink from me, sister?"
Catherine's face was aflame. She remembered her lost lover, and the tears
scarcely dry. "Out upon you!" she cried. "You are that false woman that
corrupt men's hearts." And again her fingers sought the silver whistle.
Jeanne looked sadly upon her. Her merry eyes had grown grave.
"I pray you forbear. I do not heed the abuse of men, but a woman's taunts
hurt me. They have spoken falsely of me, dear sister. I am no witch, but a
poor girl who would fain do the commands of God."
She sank on the settle with the relaxed limbs of utter fatigue. "I was
happy when they told me there was a lady here. I bade Louis and Raymond and
the Sieur d'Aulon leave me undisturbed till morning, for I would fain rest.
Oh, but I am weary of councils! They are all blind. They will not hear the
plain wishes of God.... And I have so short a time! Only a year, and now
half is gone!"
The figure had lost all its buoyancy, and become that of a sad, overwrought
girl. Catherine found her anger ebbing and pity stealing into her heart.
Could this tired child be the virago against whom she had sworn vengeance?
It had none of a woman's allure' no arts of the light-of-love. Its eyes
were as simple as a boy's.... She looked almost kindly at the drooping
But in a moment the languor seemed to pass from her. Her face lit up, as to
the watcher in the darkness a window in a tower suddenly becomes a square
of light. She sank on her knees, her head thrown back, her lips parted, the
long eyelashes quiet on her cheeks. A sudden stillness seemed to fall on
everything. Catherine held her breath, and listened to the beating of her
Jeanne's lips moved, and then her eyes opened. She stood up again, her face
entranced and her gaze still dwelling on some hidden world. . . Never had
Catherine seen such happy radiance.
"My Brothers of Paradise spoke with me. They call me sometimes when I am
sad. Their voices said to me, 'Daughter of God, go forward. We are at your
Catherine trembled. She seemed on the edge of a world of which in all her
cosseted life she had never dreamed, a world of beautiful and terrible
things. There was rapture in it, and a great awe. She had forgotten her
grievances in wonder.
"Do not shrink from me," said the voice which seemed to have won an
unearthly sweetness. "Let us sit together and tell our thoughts. You are
very fair. Have you a lover?"
The word brought the girl to earth. "I had a lover, but this night I
dismissed him. He fights in your company, and I see no need for this war."
Jeanne's voice was puzzled. "Can a man fight in a holier cause than to free
"The country . . ." But Catherine faltered. Her argument with Guy now
seemed only pettishness.
"You are a great lady," said Jeanne, "and to such as you liberty may seem a
little thing. You are so rich that you need never feel constraint. But to
us poor folk freedom is life itself. It sweetens the hind's pottage, and
gives the meanest an assurance of manhood.... Likewise it is God's will. My
Holy Ones have told me that sweet France shall be purged from bondage. They
have bidden me see the King crowned and lead him to Paris. . . . After that
they have promised me rest."
She laid an arm round Catherine's neck and looked into her eyes.
"You are hungry, sister mine," she said.
The girl started. For the eyes were no longer those of a boy, but of a
mother--very wise, very tender. Her own mother had died so long ago that
she scarcely remembered her. A rush of longing came over her for something
she had never known. She wanted to lay her head on that young breast and
"You are hungry--and yet I think you have been much smiled on by fortune.
You are very fair, and for most women to be beautiful is to be happy. But
you are not content, and I am glad of it. There is a hunger that is
She broke off, for the girl was sobbing. Crumpled on the floor, she bent
her proud head to the Maid's lap "What must I do?" she cried piteously.
"The sight of you makes me feel my rottenness. I have been proud of
worthless things and I have cherished that wicked pride that I might forget
the doubts knocking on my heart. You say true, I am not content. I shall
never be content, I am most malcontent with myself. . . . Would to God that
like you I had been born a peasant!"
The tragic eyes looked up to find the Maid laughing--a kind, gentle
merriment. Catherine flushed as Jeanne took her tear-stained face in her
"You are foolish, little sister. I would I had been born to your station.
My task would have been easier had I been Yoland of Sicily or that daughter
of the King of Scots from whom many looked for the succour of France.
Folly, folly! There is no virtue in humble blood. I would I had been a
queen! I love fine clothes and rich trappings and the great horse which
d'Alencon gave me. God has made a brave world and I would that all His
people could get the joy of it. I love it the more because I have only a
little time in it."
"But you are happy," said the girl, "and I want such happiness."
"There is no happiness," said the Maid, "save in doing the will of God our
"But I do not know His will. . . . I am resolved now. I will take the vows
and become a religious, and then I shall find peace. I am weary of all this
"Foolish one," and Jeanne played with the little curls which strayed around
Catherine's ear. "You were not born for a nunnery. Not that way God calls
"Show me His way," the girl implored. "He shows His way privily to each
heart, and His ways are many. For some the life of devout contemplation,
but not for you, sister. Your blood is too fiery and your heart too
passionate.... You have a lover? Tell me his name.
Docilely Catherine whispered it, and Jeanne laughed merrily.
"Sir Guy! My most loyal champion. By my staff, you are the blessed maid.
There is no more joyous knight in all the fields of France."
"I do not seek wedlock. Oh, it is well for you who are leading armies and
doing the commands of God. Something tells me that in marriage I shall lose
The girl was on her knees with her hands twined. "Let me follow you," she
cried. "I will bring a stout company behind me. Let me ride with you to the
freeing of France. I promise to be stalwart."
The Maid shook her head gently.
"Then I take the vows." The obstinate little mouth had shut and there were
no tears now in the eyes.
"Listen, child," and Jeanne took the suppliant hands in hers. "It is true
that God has called me to a holy task. He has sent His angels to guide me
and they talk with me often. The Lady of Fierbois has given me a mystic
sword. I think that in a little while this land will be free again.... But
I shall not see it, for God's promise is clear, and for me it does not give
length of days. I did not seek this errand of mine. I resisted the command,
till God was stern with me and I submitted with bitter tears. I shall die a
maid, and can never know the blessedness of women. Often at night I weep to
think that I shall never hold a babe next my heart."
The face of Jeanne was suddenly strained with a great sadness. It was
Catherine's turn to be the comforter. She sat herself beside her and drew
her head to her breast.
"For you I see a happier fate--a true man's wife-- the mother of sons.
Bethink you of the blessedness. Every wife is like the Mother of God--she
has the hope of bearing a saviour of mankind. She is the channel of the
eternal purpose of Heaven. Could I change--could I change! What fortunate
wife would envy a poor maid that dwells in the glare of battle? . . . Nay,
I do not murmur. I do God's will and rejoice in it. But I am very lonely."
For a little there was silence, an ecstatic silence. Something hard within
Catherine melted and she felt a gush of pity. No longer self-pity, but
compassion for another. Her heart grew suddenly warm. It was as if a window
had been opened in a close room to let in air and landscape.
"I must rest, for there is much ado to-morrow. Will you sleep by me, for I
have long been starved of a woman's comradeship?"
In the great canopied bed the two girls lay till morning. Once in the
darkness Catherine started and found her arms empty. Jeanne was kneeling by
the window, her head thrown back and the moonlight on her upturned face.
When she woke in the dawn the Maid was already up, trussing the points of
her breeches and struggling with her long boots. She was crooning the verse
of a ballad:
"Serais je nonette' Crois que non--"
and looking with happy eyes at the cool morning light on the forest.
"Up, sleepy-head," she cried. "Listen to the merry trampling of the horses.
I must start, if I would spare the poor things in the noon. Follow me with
your prayers, for France rides with me. I love you, sweet sister; Be sure I
will hasten to you when my work is done."
So the Maid and her company rode off through the woods to Compiegne, and a
brooding and silent Catherine took the north road to Picardy.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The promise was kept. Once again Catherine saw and had speech of Jeanne. It
was nearly two years later, when she sat in a May gloaming in the house of
Beaumanoir, already three months a bride. Much had happened since she had
ridden north from the inn at the forest cross-roads. She had summoned de
Laval to her side, and the lovers had been reconciled. Her father had died
in the winter and the great fortune and wide manors of the family were now
her own. Her lover had fought with Jeanne in the futile battles of the
spring, but he had been far away when in the fatal sortie at Compiegne the
Maid was taken by her enemies. All the summer of that year he had made
desperate efforts at rescue, but Jeanne was tight in English hands, and
presently was in prison at Rouen awaiting judgment, while her own king and
his false councillors stirred not hand or foot to save her. Sir Guy had
hurled himself on Burgundy, and with a picked band made havoc of the
eastern roads, but he could not break the iron cordon of Normandy. In
February they had been wed, but after that Beaumanoir saw him little, for
he was reading Burgundy a lesson in the Santerre.
Catherine sat at home, anxious, tremulous, but happy. A new-made wife lives
in a new world, and though at times she grieved for the shame of her land,
her mind was too full of housewifely cares, and her heart of her husband,
for long repining. But often the thought of Jeanne drove a sword into her
contentment. . . . So when she lifted her eyes from her embroidery and saw
the Maid before her, relief and gladness sent her running to greet her.
Long afterwards till she was very old Catherine would tell of that hour.
She saw the figure outlined against a window full of the amethyst sky of
evening. The white armour and the gay surcoat were gone.
Jeanne was still clad like a boy in a coarse grey tunic and black breeches,
but her boots did not show any dust of the summer roads. Her face was very
pale, as if from long immurement, and her eyes were no more merry. They
shone instead with a grave ardour of happiness, which checked Catherine's
embrace and set her heart beating.
She walked with light steps and kissed the young wife's cheek--a kiss like
"You are free?" Catherine stammered. Her voice seemed to break unwillingly
in a holy quiet.
"I am free," the Maid answered. "I have come again to you as I promised.
But I cannot bide long. I am on a journey."
"You go to the King?" said Catherine.
"I go to my King."
The Maid's hand took Catherine's, and her touch was like the fall of
gossamer. She fingered the girl's broad ring which had come from distant
ancestors, the ring which Sir Aimery of Beaumanoir had worn in the
Crusades. She raised it and pressed it to her
Catherine's limbs would not do her bidding. She
would fain have risen in a hospitable bustle, but she
seemed to be held motionless. Not by fear, but by
an exquisite and happy awe. She remembered afterwards that from the Maid's
rough clothes had come a faint savour of wood-smoke, as from one who has
been tending a bonfire in the autumn stubble
"God be with you, lady, and with the good knight, your husband. Remember my
word to you, that every wife is like Mary the Blessed and may bear a
saviour of mankind. The road is long, but the ways of Heaven are sure."
Catherine stretched out her arms, for a longing so fierce had awoke in her
that it gave her power to move again. Never in her life had she felt such a
hunger of wistfulness. But Jeanne evaded her embrace. She stood poised as
"They are calling me. I go. Adieu, sweet sister."
A light shone in her face which did not come from the westering sun. To
Catherine there was no sound of voices, but the Maid seemed to hear and
answer. She raised her hand as if in blessing and passed out.
Catherine sat long in an entranced silence. Waves of utter longing flowed
over her, till she fell on her knees and prayer passionately to her saints,
among whom not the least was that grey-tunicked Maid whose eyes seemed
doorways into heaven. Her tirewoman found her asleep on her faldstool.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Early next morning there came posts to Beaumanoir, men on weary horses with
a tragic message. On the day before, in the market-place of Rouen, the
chief among the daughters of God had journeyed through the fire to
CHAPTER 6. THE WOOD OF LIFE
The Lady Catherine de Laval, in her own right Countess of Beaumanoir, and
mistress of fiefs and manors, rights of chase and warren, mills and
hospices, the like of which were not in Picardy, was happy in all things
but her family. Her one son had fallen in his youth in an obscure fray in
Guienne, leaving two motherless boys who, after her husband's death, were
the chief business of life to the Countess Catherine. The elder, Aimery,
grew to manhood after the fashion of the men of her own house, a somewhat
heavy country gentleman, much set upon rustic sports, slow at learning, and
averse alike from camps and cities. The ambition of the grandmother found
nothing to feed upon in the young lord of Beaumanoir. He was kind, virtuous
and honest, but dull as a pool on a winter's highway.
Catherine would fain have had the one youth a soldier and the other a
saint, and of the two ambitions she most cherished the latter. The first
made shipwreck on the rustic Aimery, and therefore the second burned more
fiercely. She had the promise from the saints that her line had a great
destiny, and the form of it she took to be sanctitude. For, all her married
days she had ruled her life according to the canons of God, fasting and
praying, cherishing the poor, tending the afflicted, giving of her great
wealth bountifully to the Church. She had a name for holiness as far as the
coasts of Italy. Surely from the blood of Beaumanoir one would arise to be
in dark times a defender of the Faith, a champion of Christ whom after
death the Church should accept among the beatified. Such a fate she desired
for her seed more hungrily than any Emperor's crown.
In the younger, Philip, there was hope. He had been an odd child, slim and
pale while Aimery was large and ruddy, shy where his brother was bold and
bold where he was shy. He was backward in games and unready in a quarrel,
but it was observed that he had no fear of the dark, or of the Green Lady
that haunted the river avenue. Father Ambrose, his tutor, reported him of
quick and excellent parts, but marred by a dreaminess which might grow into
desidia that deadly sin. He had a peculiar grace of body and a silken
courtesy of manner which won hearts. His grey eyes, even as a small boy,
were serious and wise. But he seemed to dwell aloof, and while his
brother's moods were plain for all to read, he had from early days a
self-control which presented a mask to his little world. With this stoicism
went independence. Philip walked his own way with a gentle obstinacy. "A
saint, maybe," Father Ambrose told his grandmother. "But the kind of saint
that the Church will ban before it blesses."
To the old dame of Beaumanoir the child was the apple of her eye; and her
affection drew from him a tenderness denied to others. But it brought no
confidences. The dreaming boy made his own world, which was not, like his
grandmother's, one of a dark road visited rarely by angels, with heaven as
a shining city at the end of it; or, like his brother's, a green place of
earthy jollity. It was as if the Breton blood of the Lavals and Rohans had
brought to the solid stock of Beaumanoir the fairy whimsies of their dim
ancestors. While the moors and woodlands were to Aimery only places to fly
a hawk or follow a stag, to Philip they were a wizard land where dreams
grew. And the mysteries of the Church were also food for his gold fancy,
which by reshaping them stripped them of all terrors. He was
extraordinarily happy, for he had the power to make again each fresh
experience in a select inner world in which he walked as king, since he was
He was a child of many fancies, but one especially stayed with him. When
still very small, he slept in a cot in his grandmother's room, the walls of
which were hung with tapestry from the Arras looms. One picture caught his
eye, for the morning sun struck it, and when he woke early it glowed
invitingly before him. It represented a little river twining about a
coppice. There was no figure in the piece, which was bounded on one side by
a great armoire, and on the other by the jamb of the chimney; but from
extreme corner projected the plume of a helmet and the tip of a lance.
There was someone there; someone riding towards the trees. It grew upon
Philip that that little wood was a happy place, most happy and desirable.
He fancied himself the knight, and he
longed to be moving up the links of the stream. He followed every step of
the way, across the shallow ford, past the sedges of a backwater, between
two clumps of willows, and then over smooth green grass to the edge of the
wood. But he never tried to picture what lay inside. That was sacred--even
from his thoughts.
When he grew older and was allowed to prowl about in the scriptorium of the
Abbey of Montmirail which lay by the Canche side, he found his wood again.
It was in a Psaltery on which a hundred years before some Flemish monk had
lavished his gold and vermilion. Opposite the verse of Psalm xxiii., "In
loco pascuae," was a picture almost the same as that in the bedroom arras.
There were the river, the meadows, and the little wood, painted in colours
far brighter than the tapestry. Never was such bloom of green or such depth
of blue. But there was a difference. No lance or plume projected from the
corner. The traveller had emerged from cover, and was walking waist-deep in
the lush grasses. He was a thin, nondescript pilgrim, without arms save a
great staff like the crozier of a Bishop. Philip was disappointed in him
and preferred the invisible knight, but the wood was all he had desired. It
was indeed a blessed place, and the old scribe had known it, for a scroll
of gold hung above it with the words "Sylva Vitae."
At the age of ten the boy had passed far beyond Father Ambrose, and was
sucking the Abbey dry of its learning, like some second Abelard. In the
cloisters of Montmirail were men who had a smattering of the New Knowledge,
about which Italy had gone mad, and, by the munificence of the Countess
Catherine, copies had been made by the Italian stationarii of some of the
old books of Rome which the world had long forgotten. In the Abbey library,
among a waste of antiphonaries and homilies and monkish chronicles, were to
be found texts of Livy and Lucretius and the letters of Cicero. Philip was
already a master of Latin, writing it with an elegance worthy of Niccolo
the Florentine. At fourteen he entered the college of Robert of Sorbonne,
but found little charm in its scholastic pedantry. But in the capital he
learned the Greek tongue from a Byzantine, the elder Lascaris, and copied
with his own hand a great part of Plato and Aristotle. His thirst grew with
every draught of the new vintage. To Pavia he went and sat at the feet of
Lorenzo Vallo. The company of Pico della Mirandola at Florence sealed him
of the Platonic school, and like his master he dallied with mysteries and
had a Jew in his house to teach him Hebrew that he might find a way of
reconciling the Scriptures and the classics, the Jew and the Greek. From
the verses which he wrote at this time, beautifully turned hexameters with
a certain Lucretian cadence, it is clear that his mind was like Pico's,
hovering about the borderland of human knowledge, clutching at the
eternally evasive. Plato's Banquet was his gospel, where the quest of
truth did not lack the warmth of desire. Only a fragment remains now of the
best of his poems, that which earned the praise of Ficino and the great
Lorenzo, and it is significant that the name of the piece was "The Wood of
At twenty Philip returned to Beaumanoir after long wanderings. He was the
perfect scholar who had toiled at books and not less at the study of
mankind. But his well-knit body and clear eyes showed no marks of
bookishness, and Italy had made him a swordsman. A somewhat austere young
man, he had kept himself unspotted in the rotting life of the Italian
courts, and though he had learned from them suavity had not lost his
simplicity. But he was more aloof than ever. There was little warmth in the
grace of his courtesy, and his eyes were graver than before. It seemed that
they had found much, but had had no joy of it, and that they were still
craving. It was a disease of the time and men called it aegritudo. "No
saint," the aged Ambrose told the Countess. "Virtuous, indeed, but not with
the virtue of the religious. He will never enter the Church. He has drunk
at headier streams." The Countess was nearing her end. All her days, for a
saint, she had been a shrewd observer of life, but with the weakening of
her body's strength she had sunk into the ghostly world which the Church
devised as an ante-room to immortality. Her chamber was thronged with lean
friars like shadows. To her came the Bishop of Beauvais, once a star of the
Court, but now in his age a grim watch-dog of the Truth. To him she spoke
of her hopes for Philip.
"An Italianate scholar!" cried the old man. "None such shall pollute the
Church with my will. They are beguiled by such baubles as the holy Saint
Gregory denounced, poetarum figmenta sive deliramenta. If your grandson,
madame, is to enter the service of God he must renounce these pagan
The Bishop went, but his words remained. In the hour of her extremity the
vision of Catherine was narrowed to a dreadful antagonism of light and
darkness--God and Antichrist--the narrow way of salvation and a lost world.
She was obsessed by the peril of her darling. Her last act must be to pluck
him from his temptress. Her mood was fanned by the monks who surrounded
her, narrow men whose honesty made them potent.
The wan face on the bed moved Philip deeply. Tenderness filled his heart,
and a great sense of alienation, for the dying woman spoke a tongue he had
forgotten. Their two worlds were divided by a gulf which affection could
not bridge. She spoke not with her own voice but with that of her
confessors when she pled with him to do her wishes.
"I have lived long," she said, "and know that the bread of this world is
ashes. There is no peace but in God. You have always been the child of my
heart, Philip, and I cannot die at ease till I am assured of your
salvation. . . . I have the prevision that from me a saint shall be born.
It is God's plain commandment to you. Obey, and I go to Him with a quiet
For a moment he was tempted. Surely it was a little thing this, to gladden
the dying. The rich Abbey of Montmirail was his for the taking, and where
would a scholar's life be more happily lived than among its cool cloisters?
A year ago, when he had been in the mood of seeing all contraries but as
degrees in an ultimate truth, he might have assented. But in that dim
chamber, with burning faces around him and the shadow of death overhead, he
discovered in himself a new scrupulousness. It was the case of Esau; he was
bidden sell his birthright for pottage, and affection could not gloze over
"I have no vocation," he said sadly. "I would fain do the will of God, but
God must speak His will to each heart, and He does not speak thus to me."
There was that in the words which woke a far-away memory of her girlhood.
Once another in a forest inn had spoken thus to her. She stretched out her
hand to him, and he covered it with kisses.
But in the night the priests stirred her fears again, and next morning
there was another tragic pleading, from which Philip fled almost in tears.
Presently he found himself denied her chamber, unless he could give
assurance of a changed mind. And so the uneasy days went on, till in a dawn
of wind amid a great praying and chanting the soul of the Countess
Catherine passed, and Aimery reigned in Beaumanoir.
The place had grown hateful to Philip and he made ready to go. For him in
his recalcitrancy there was only a younger son's portion, the little
seigneury of Eaucourt, which had been his mother's. The good Aimery would
have increased the inheritance, but Philip would have none of it. He had
made his choice, and to ease his conscience must abide strictly by the
consequences. Those days at Beaumanoir had plucked him from his moorings.
For the moment the ardour of his quest for knowledge had burned low. He
stifled in the air of the north, which was heavy with the fog of a furious
ignorance. But his mind did not turn happily to the trifling of his Italian
friends. There was a tragic greatness about such as his grandmother, a salt
of nobility which was lacking among the mellow Florentines. Truth, it
seemed to him, lay neither with the old Church nor the New Learning, and
not by either way could he reach the desire of his heart.
Aimery bade him a reluctant farewell. "If you will not keep me company
here, I go to the wars. At Beaumanoir I grow fat. Ugh, this business of
dying chills me." And then with a very red face he held out a gold ring.
"Take it, Philip. She cherished it, and you were her favourite and should
wear it. God knows I have enough."
Likewise he presented him with a little vellum-bound book. "I found this
yesterday, and you being the scholar among us should have it. See, the
grandmother's name is written within."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It was a bright May morning when Philip, attended by only two lackeys as
became a poor man, rode over the bridge of Canche with eyes turned
southward. In the green singing world the pall lifted from his spirits. The
earth which God had made was assuredly bigger and better than man's
philosophies. "It would appear," he told himself, "that like the younger
son in the tale, I am setting out to look for fortune."
At an inn in the city of Orleans he examined his brother's gift. It was a
volume of careful manuscript, entitled Imago Mundi, and bearing the name
of one Pierre d'Ailly, who had been Bishop of Cambray when the Countess
Catherine was a child. He opened it and read of many marvels--how that the
world was round, as Pythagoras held, so that if a man travelled west he
would come in time to Asia where the sun rose. Philip brooded over the
queer pages, letting his fancy run free, for he had been so wrapped up in
the mysteries of man's soul that he had forgotten the mysteries of the
earth which is that soul's place of pilgrimage. He read of cities with
silver walls and golden towers waiting on the discoverer, and of a river on
whose banks "virescit sylva vitae." And at that phrase he fell to
dreaming of his childhood, and a pleasant unrest stirred in his heart.
"Aimery has given me a precious viaticum," he said.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
He travelled by slow stages into Italy, for he had no cause for haste. At
Pavia he wandered listlessly among the lecture halls. What had once seemed
to him the fine gold of eloquence was now only leaden rhetoric. In his
lodging at Florence he handled once again his treasures--his books from
Ficino's press; his manuscripts, some from Byzantium yellow with age, some
on clean white vellum new copied by his order; his busts and gems and
intaglios. What had become of that fervour with which he had been used to
gaze on them? What of that delicious world into which, with drawn curtains
and a clear lamp, he could retire at will? The brightness had died in the
He found his friends very full of quarrels. There was a mighty feud between
two of them on the respective merits of Cicero and Quintilian as lawgivers
in grammar, and the air was thick with libels. Another pair wrangled in
public over the pre-eminence of Scipio and Julius Caesar; others on narrow
points of Latinity. There was a feud among the Platonists on a matter of
interpretation, in which already stilettos had been drawn. More bitter
still was the strife about mistresses--kitchen-wenches and courtesans,
where one scholar stole shamelessly from the other and decked with names
like Leshia and Erinna . . . . Philip sickened at what he had before
tolerated, for he had brought back with him from the north a quickened
sense of sin. Maybe the Bishop of Beauvais had been right. What virtue was
there in this new knowledge if its prophets were apes and satyrs! Not here
grew the Wood of Life. Priapus did not haunt its green fringes.
His mind turned towards Venice. There the sea was, and there men dwelt with
eyes turned to spacious and honourable quests, not to monkish hells and
heavens or inward to unclean hearts. And in Venice in a tavern off the
Merceria he spoke with destiny.
It was a warm evening, and, having dined early, he sought the balcony which
overlooked the canal. It was empty but for one man who sat at a table with
a spread of papers before him on which he was intently engaged. Philip bade
him good evening, and a face was raised which promptly took his fancy. The
stranger wore a shabby grey doublet, but he had no air of poverty, for
round his neck hung a massive chain of gold, and his broad belt held a
richly chased dagger. He had unbuckled his sword, and it lay on the table
holding down certain vagrant papers which fluttered in the evening wind.
His face was hard and red like sandstone, and around his eyes were a
multitude of fine wrinkles. It was these eyes that arrested Philip. They
were of a pale brown as if bleached by weather and gazing over vast spaces;
cool and quiet and friendly, but with a fire burning at the back of them.
The man assessed Philip at a glance, and then, as if liking what he found
in him, smiled so that white furrows appeared in his tanned cheeks. With a
motion of his hand he swept aside his papers and beckoned the other to sit
with him. He called on the drawer to bring a flask of Cyprus.
"I was about to have my evening draught," he said. "Will you honour me with
your company, sir?"
The voice was so pleasant that Philip, who was in a mood to shun talk,
could not refuse. He sat down by the board, and moved aside a paper to make
room for the wine. He noticed that it was a map.
The Bishop of Cambray had made him curious about such things. He drew it to
him, and saw that it was a copy of Andrea Bianco's chart, drawn nearly half
a century before, showing the Atlantic Sea with a maze of islands
The other shook his head. "A poor thing and out of date. Here," and he
plucked a sheet from below the rest, "here is a better, which Fra Mauro of
this city drew for the great prince, Henry of Portugal."
Philip looked at the map, which showed a misshapen sprawling Africa, but
with a clear ocean way round the south of it. His interest quickened. He
peered at the queer shapes in the dimming light.
"Then there is a way to the Indies by sea?"
"Beyond doubt. I myself have turned the butt of Africa. . . . If these
matters interest you? But the thought of that dry land has given me an
African thirst. He, drawer!"
He filled his glass from a fresh bottle. "'Twas in June four years back. I
was in command of a caravel in the expedition of Diaz. The court of Lisbon
had a fit of cold ague and we sailed with little goodwill; therefore it was
our business to confound the doubters or perish. Already our seamen had
reached the mouth of that mighty river they called the Congo, and clearly
the butt of Africa could not be distant. We had the course of Cam and
Behaim to guide us thus far, but after that was the darkness."
The man's face had the intent look of one who remembers with passion. He
told of the struggle to cross the Guinea Deep instead of hugging the shore;
of blue idle days of calm when magic fish flew aboard and Leviathan
wallowed so near that the caravels were all but overwhelmed by the wave of
him; of a storm which swept the decks and washed away the Virgin on the
bows of the Admiral's ship; of landfall at last in a place where the
forests were knee deep in a muddy sea, strange forests where the branches
twined like snakes; of a going ashore at a river mouth full of toothed
serpents and giant apes, and of a fight with Behemoth among the reeds. Then
a second storm blowing from the east had flung them seaward, and for weeks
they were out of sight of land, steering by strange stars. They had their
magnets and astrolabes, but it was a new world they had entered, and they
trusted God rather than their wits. At last they turned eastward.
"What distance before the turn?" Philip asked.
"I know not. We were far from land and no man can measure a course on water."
"Nay, but the ancients could," Philip cried, and he explained how the
Romans had wheels of a certain diameter fixed to their ships' sides which
the water turned in its passing, and which flung for each revolution a
pebble into a tally-box."
The other's eyes widened. "A master device! I would hear more of it. What a
thing it is to have learning. We had only the hour-glass and guesswork."
Then he told how on a certain day the crews would go no farther, being worn
out by storms, for in those seas the tides were like cataracts and the
waves were mountains. The admiral, Bartholomew Diaz, was forced to put
about with a heavy heart, for he believed that a little way to the east he
should find the southern cape of Africa. He steered west by north, looking
for no land till Guinea was sighted. "But on the second morning we saw land
to the northward, and following it westward came to a mighty cape so high
that the top was in the clouds. There was such a gale from the east that we
could do no more than gaze on it as we scudded past. Presently, still
keeping land in sight, we were able to bend north again, and when we came
into calm waters we captains went aboard the admiral's ship and knelt and
gave thanks to God for His mercies. For we, the first of mortals, had
rounded the butt of Africa and prepared the sea-road to the Indies."
"A vision maybe."
"Nay, it was no vision. I returned there under mild skies, when it was no
longer a misty rock, but a green mountain. We landed, and set up a cross
and ate the fruits and drank the water of the land. Likewise we changed its
name from the Cape of Storms, as Diaz had dubbed it, to the Bona Esperanza,
for indeed it seemed to us the hope of the world."
"And beyond it?"
"Beyond it we found a pleasant country, and would doubtless have made the
Indies, if our ships had not grown foul and our crews mutinous from fear of
the unknown. It is clear to me that we must establish a port of victualling
in that southern Africa before we can sail the last stage to Cathay."
The man spoke modestly and simply as if he were talking of a little journey
from one village to another. Something in his serious calm powerfully
caught Philip's fancy. In all his days he had never met such a one.
"I have not your name, Signor," he said.
"They call me Battista de Cosca, a citizen of Genoa, but these many years a
wanderer. And yours?"
Philip gave it and the stranger bowed. The de Lavals were known as a great
house far beyond the confines of France.
"You contemplate another voyage?"
The brown man nodded. "I am here on the quest of maps, for these Venetians
are the princes of mapmaking. Then I sail again."
A sudden longing had taken Philip. It was as if a bright strange world had
been spread before him compared with which the old was tarnished and dingy.
Battista shook his head. "Not Cathay. To go there would be only to make
assurance of that which we already know. I have shown the road: let others
plan its details and build hostelries. For myself I am for a bolder
The balcony was filling up. A noisy group of young men were chattering at
one table, and at others some of the merchants from the Merceria were at
wine. But where the two sat it was quiet and dusky, though without on the
canal the sky made a golden mirror. Philip could see his companion's face
in the reflected light, and it reminded him of the friars who had filled
the chamber of his dying grandmother. It was strained with a steadfast
Battista leaned his elbows on the board and his eyes searched the other's.
"I am minded to open my heart to you," he said. "You are young and of a
noble stock. Likewise you are a scholar. I am on a mission, Sir Philip--the
loftiest, I think, since Moses led Israel over the deserts. I am seeking a
promised land. Not Cathay, but a greater. I sail presently, not the African
seas, but the Sea of Darkness, the Mare Atlanticum." He nodded towards
Bianco's map. "I am going beyond the Ultimate Islands."
"Listen," he went on, and his voice fell very low and deep. "I take it we
live in these latter days of which the prophets spoke. I remember a monk in
Genoa who said that the Blessed Trinity ruled in turn, and that the reign
of the Father was accomplished and that of the Son nearing its close; and
that now the reign of the Spirit was at hand. It may have been heresy--I am
no scholar--but he pointed a good moral. For, said he, the old things pass
away and the boundaries of the world are shifting. Here in Europe we have
come to knowledge of salvation, and brought the soul and mind of man to an
edge and brightness like a sword. Having perfected the weapon, it is now
God's will that we enter into possession of the new earth which He has kept
hidden against this day, and He has sent His Spirit like a wind to blow us
into those happy spaces. . . . Now, mark you, sir, this earth is not a flat
plain surrounded by outer darkness, but a sphere hung in the heavens and
sustained by God's hand. Therefore if a man travel east or west he will, if
God prosper him, return in time to his starting-point."
The speaker looked at Philip as if to invite contradiction, but the other
"It is the belief of the best sailors," Battista went on; "it is the belief
of the great Paolo Toscanelli in this very land of Italy."
"It was the belief of a greater than he. The ancients--"
"Ay, what of your ancients?" Battista asked eagerly.
Philip responded with a scholar's zest. "Four centuries before our Lord's
birth Aristotle taught the doctrine, from observing in different places the
rise and setting of the heavenly bodies. The sages Eratosthenes, Hipparchus
and Ptolemy amplified the teaching. It is found in the poetry of Manilius
and Seneca, and it was a common thought in the minds of Virgil and Ovid and
Pliny. You will find it in St. Augustine, and St. Isidore and Beda, and in
many of the moderns. I myself have little knowledge of such things, but on
the appeal to high authority your doctrine succeeds.'
"What a thing is learning!" Battista exclaimed with reverence. "Here have I
and such as I been fumbling in the dark when the great ones of old saw
clearly! . . . It follows, then, that a voyage westward will bring a man to
"Assuredly. But how will he return? If the earth is a sphere, his course
will be a descent, and on his way back he will have to climb a great steep
"It is not so," said Battista vigorously. "Though why it is not so I cannot
tell. Travelling eastward by land there is no such descent, and in this
Mediterranean sea of ours one can sail as easily from Cadiz to Egypt as
from Egypt to Cadiz. There is a divine alchemy in it which I cannot fathom,
but the fact stands."
"Then you would reach Cathay by the west?"
"Not Cathay." The man's voice was very earnest. "There is a land between us
and Cathay, a great islandland beyond the Seven Cities of Antillia."
"Cipango," said Philip, who had read Marco Polo's book in the Latin version
published a year or two before.
"Nay, not Cipango. On this side Cipango. Of Cipango the Venetians have told
us much, but the land I seek is not Cipango."
He drew closer to Philip and spoke low. "There was a Frenchman, a
Rochellois he is dead these ten years--but I have spoken with him. He was
whirled west by storms far beyond Antillia, and was gripped by a great
ocean stream and carried to land. What think you it was? No less than
Hy-Brasil. There he found men, broad-faced dusky men, with gentle souls,
and saw such miracles as have never been vouchsafed to mortals. 'Twas not
Cipango or Cathay' for there were no Emperors or cities, but a peaceful
race dwelling in innocence. The land was like Eden, bringing forth five
harvests in the year, and vines and all manner of fruits grew without
tillage. Tortorel was the man's name, and some thought him mad, but I
judged differently. I have talked with him and I have copied his charts. I
go to find those Fortunate Islands."
"I have friends. There is a man of my own city--Cristoforo Colombo, they
call him. He is a hard man and a bitter, but a master seaman, and there is
a fire in him that will not be put out. And there may be others."
His steadfast burning eyes held Philip's.
"And you--what do you seek?" he asked.
Philip was aware that he had come to a cross roads in life. The easy path
he had planned for himself was barred by his own nature. Something of his
grandmother's blood clamoured within him for a sharper air than the
well-warmed chamber of the scholar. This man, chance met in a tavern, had
revealed to him his own heart.
"I am looking for the Wood of Life," he said simply and was amazed at his
Battista stared at him with open mouth, and then plucked feverishly at his
doublet. From an inner pocket he produced a packet rolled in fine leather,
and shook papers on the table. One of these was a soiled and worn slip of
parchment, covered with an odd design. "Look," he said hoarsely.
It showed a stretch of country, apparently a broad valley running east to a
seashore. Through it twined a river and on both sides were hills dotted
with trees. The centre seemed to be meadows, sown with villages and
gardens. In one crook of the stream lay a little coppice on which many
roads converged, and above it was written the words "Sylva Vitae."
"It is the finger of God," said Battista. "Will you join me and search out
this Wood of Life?"
At that moment there was a bustle at the door giving on the main room of
the tavern. Lights were being brought in and a new company were entering.
They talked in high-pitched affected voices and giggled like bona-robas.
There were young men with them, dressed in the height of the fashion; a
woman or two, and a man who from the richness of his dress seemed to be one
of the princely merchants who played Maecenas to the New Learning. But what
caught Philip's sight was a little group of Byzantines who were the guests
of honour. They wore fantastic headdresses and long female robes, above
which their flowing dyed beards and their painted eyebrows looked like
masks of Carnival time. After Battista's gravity their vain eyes and
simpering tones seemed an indecent folly. These were the folk he had called
friends, this the life he had once cherished. Assuredly he was well rid of
He grasped Battista's hand.
"I will go with you," he said, "over the edge of the world."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
As it happened Philip de Laval did not sail with Columbus in that first
voyage which brought him to San Salvador in the Bahamas. But he and
Battista were in the second expedition, when the ship under the command of
the latter was separated by a storm from her consorts, and driven on a
westerly course when the others had turned south. It was believed to be
lost, and for two years nothing was heard of its fate. At the end of that
time a tattered little vessel reached Bordeaux, and Philip landed on the
soil of Franc. He had a strange story to tell. The ship had been caught up
by a current which had borne it north for the space of fifteen days till
landfall was made on the coast of what we now call South Carolina. There it
had been beached in an estuary, while the crew adventured inland. The land
was rich enough, but the tribes were not the gentle race of Battista's
imagining. There had been a savage struggle for mastery, till the strangers
made alliances and were granted territory between the mountains and the
sea. But they were only a handful and Philip was sent back for further
colonists and for a cargo of arms and seeds and implements.
The French court was in no humour for his tale, being much involved in its
own wars. It may be that he was not believed; anyhow he got no help from
his king. At his own cost and with the aid of friends he fitted out his
ship for the return. After that the curtain falls. It would appear that the
colony did not prosper, for it is on record that Philip in the year 1521
was living at his house at Eaucourt, a married man, occupied with books and
the affairs of his little seigneury. A portrait of him still extant by an
Italian artist shows a deeply furrowed face and stern brows, as of one who
had endured much, but the eyes are happy. It is believed that in his last
years he was one of the first of the gentlemen of Picardy to adhere to the
CHAPTER 7. EAUCOURT BY THE WATERS
The horseman rode down the narrow vennel which led to the St. Denis gate of
Paris, holding his nose like a fine lady. Behind him the city reeked in a
close August twilight. From every entry came the smell of coarse cooking
and unclean humanity, and the heaps of garbage in the gutters sent up a fog
of malodorous dust when they were stirred by prowling dogs or hasty
"Another week of heat and they will have the plague here, he muttered. Oh
for Eaucourt--Eaucourt by the waters! I have too delicate a stomach for
His thoughts ran on to the country beyond the gates, the fields about St.
Denis, the Clermont downs. Soon he would be stretching his bay on good
But the gates were closed, though it was not yet the hour of curfew. The
lieutenant of the watch stood squarely before him with a forbidding air,
while a file of arquebusiers lounged in the archway.
"There's no going out to-night," was the answer to the impatient rider.
"Tut, man, I am the Sieur de Laval, riding north on urgent affairs. My
servants left at noon. Be quick. Open!"
"Who ordered this folly?"
"The Marshal Tavannes. Go argue with him, if your mightiness has the courage."
The horseman was too old a campaigner to waste time in wrangling. He
turned his horse's head and retraced his path up the vennel. "Now what in
name is afoot to-night?" he asked himself, and the bay tossed his dainty
head, as if in the same perplexity. He was a fine animal with the deep
barrel and great shoulders of the Norman breed, and no more than his master
did he love this place of alarums and stenches.
Gaspard de Laval was a figure conspicuous enough even in that city of
motley. For one thing he was well over two yards high, and, though somewhat
lean for perfect proportions, his long arms and deep chest told of no
common strength. He looked more than his thirty years, for his face was
burned the colour of teak by hot suns, and a scar just under the hair
wrinkled a broad low forehead. His small pointed beard was bleached by
weather to the hue of pale honey. He wore a steel back and front over a
doublet of dark taffeta, and his riding cloak was blue velvet lined with
cherry satin. The man's habit was sombre except for the shine of steel and
the occasional flutter of the gay lining. In his velvet bonnet he wore a
white plume. The rich clothing became him well, and had just a hint of
foreignness, as if commonly he were more roughly garbed. Which was indeed
the case, for he was new
back from the Western Seas, and had celebrated his home-coming with a brave
As a youth he had fought under Conde in the religious wars, but had
followed Jean Ribaut to Florida, and had been one of the few survivors when
the Spaniards sacked St. Caroline. With de Gourgues he had sailed west
again for vengeance, and had got it. Thereafter he had been with the
privateers of Brest and La Rochelle, a hornet to search out and sting the
weak places of Spain on the Main and among the islands. But he was not born
to live continually in outland parts, loving rather to intercalate fierce
adventures between spells of home-keeping. The love of his green Picardy
manor drew him back with gentle hands. He had now returned like a child to
his playthings, and the chief thoughts in his head were his gardens and
fishponds, the spinneys he had planted and the new German dogs he had got
for boar-hunting in the forest. He looked forward to days of busy idleness
in his modest kingdom.
But first he must see his kinsman the Admiral about certain affairs of the
New World which lay near to that great man's heart. Coligny was his
godfather, from whom he was named; he was also his kinsman, for the
Admiral's wife, Charlotte de Laval, was a cousin once removed. So to
Chatillon Gaspard journeyed, and thence to Paris, whither the Huguenot
leader had gone for the marriage fetes of the King of Navarre. Reaching the
city on the Friday evening, he was met by ill news. That morning the
Admiral's life had been attempted on his way back from watching the King at
tennis. Happily the wounds were slight, a broken right forefinger and a
bullet through the left forearm, but the outrage had taken away men's
breath. That the Admiral of France, brought to Paris for those nuptials
which were to be a pledge of a new peace, should be the target of
assassins shocked the decent and alarmed the timid. The commonwealth was
built on the side of a volcano, and the infernal fires were muttering.
Friend and foe alike set the thing down to the Guises' credit, and the door
of Coligny's lodging in the Rue de Bethisy was thronged by angry Huguenot
gentry, clamouring to be permitted to take order with the Italianate
On the Saturday morning Gaspard was admitted to audience with his kinsman,
but found him so weak from Monsieur Ambrose Pare's drastic surgery that he
was compelled to postpone his business. "Get you back to Eaucourt," said
Coligny, "and cultivate your garden till I send for you. France is too
crooked just now for a forthright fellow like you to do her service, and I
do not think that the air of Paris is healthy for our house." Gaspard was
fain to obey, judging that the
Admiral spoke of some delicate state business for which he was aware he had
no talent. A word with M. de Teligny reassured him as to the Admiral's
safety, for according to him the King now leaned heavily against the Guises.
But lo and behold! the gates of Paris were locked to him, and he found
himself interned in the sweltering city.
He did not like it. There was an ugly smack of intrigue in the air,
puzzling to a plain soldier. Nor did he like the look of the streets now
dim in the twilight. On his way to the gates they had been crammed like a
barrel of salt fish, and in the throng there had been as many armed men as
if an enemy made a leaguer beyond the walls. There had been, too, a great
number of sallow southern faces, as if the Queen-mother had moved bodily
thither a city of her countrymen. But now as the dark fell the streets were
almost empty. The houses were packed to bursting--a blur of white faces
could be seen at the windows, and every entry seemed to be alive with
silent men. But in the streets there was scarcely a soul except priests,
flitting from door to door, even stumbling against his horse in their
preoccupation. Black, brown, and grey crows, they made Paris like
Cartagena. The man's face took a very grim set as he watched these birds of
ill omen. What in God's name had befallen his honest France? . . . He was
used to danger, but this secret massing chilled even his stout heart. It
was like a wood he remembered in Florida where every bush had held an
Indian arrow, but without sight or sound of a bowman. There was hell
brewing in this foul cauldron of a city.
He stabled his horse in the yard in the Rue du Coq, behind the glover's
house where he had lain the night before. Then he set out to find supper.
The first tavern served his purpose. Above the door was a wisp of red wool,
which he knew for the Guise colours. Inside he looked to find a crowd, but
there was but one other guest. Paris that night had business, it seemed,
which did not lie in the taverns.
That other guest was a man as big as himself, clad wholly in black, save
for a stiff cambric ruff worn rather fuller than the fashion. He was
heavily booted, and sat sideways on a settle with his left hand tucked in
his belt and a great right elbow on the board. Something in his pose, half
rustic, half braggart, seemed familiar to Gaspard. The next second the two
were in each other's arms.
"Gawain Champernoun!" cried Gaspard. "When I left you by the Isle of Pines
I never hoped to meet you again in a Paris inn? What's your errand, man, in
this den of thieves?"
"Business of state," the Englishman laughed. "I have been with Walsingham,
her Majesty's Ambassador, and looked to start home to-night. But your city
is marvellous unwilling to part with her guests. What's toward, Gaspard?"
"For me, supper," and he fell with zest to the broiled fowl he had ordered.
The other sent for another flask of the wine of Anjou, observing that he
had a plaguy thirst.
"I think," said Gaspard, at last raising his eyes from his food, "that
Paris will be unwholesome to-night for decent folk."
"There's a murrain of friars about," said Champernoun, leisurely picking
"The place hums like a bee-hive before swarming. Better get back to your
Ambassador, Gawain. There's sanctuary for you under his cloak."
The Englishman made a pellet of bread and flicked it at the other's face.
"I may have to box your ears, old friend. Since when have I taken to
shirking a fracas? We were together at St. John d'Ulloa, and you should
know me better."
"Are you armed?" was Gaspard's next question.
Champernoun patted his sword. "Also there are pistols in my holsters."
"You have a horse, then?"
"Stabled within twenty yards. My rascally groom carried a message to Sir
Francis, and as he has been gone over an hour, I fear he may have come to
an untimely end."
"Then it will be well this night for us two to hold together. I know our
Paris mob and there is nothing crueller out of hell. The pistolling of the
Admiral de Coligny has given them a taste of blood, and they may have a
fancy for killing Luteranos. Two such as you and I, guarding each other's
backs, may see sport before morning, and haply rid the world of a few
miscreants. What say you, camerado?"
"Good. But what account shall we give of ourselves if someone questions us?"
"Why, we are Spanish esquires in the train of King Philip's Mission. Our
clothes are dark enough for the dons' fashion, and we both speak their
tongue freely. Behold in me the Senor Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza, a poor
knight of Castile, most earnest in the cause of Holy Church."
"And I," said the Englishman with the gusto of a boy in a game, "am named
Rodriguez de Bobadilla. I knew the man, who is dead, and his brother owes
me ten crowns.... But if we fall in with the Spanish Ambassador's
"We will outface them."
"But if they detect the imposture?"
"Why, wring their necks. You are getting as cautious as an apple-wife,
"When I set out on a business I like to weigh it, that I may know how much
is to be charged to my own wits and how much I must leave to God. To-night
it would appear that the Almighty must hold us very tight by the hand.
Well, I am ready when I have I drunk another cup of wine." He drew his
sword and lovingly fingered its edge, whistling all the while.
Gaspard went to the door and looked into the street. The city was still
strangely quiet. No roysterers swaggered home along the pavements, no tramp
of cuirassiers told of the passage of a great man. But again he had the
sense that hot fires were glowing under these cold ashes. The mist had
lifted and the stars were clear, and over the dark mass of the Louvre a
great planet burned. The air was warm and stifling, and with a gesture of
impatience he slammed the door. By now he ought to have been drinking the
cool night on the downs beyond Oise.
The Englishman had called for another bottle, and it was served in the
empty tavern by the landlord himself. As the wine was brought in the two
fell to talking Spanish, at the sound of which the man visibly started. His
furtive sulky face changed to a sly friendliness. "Your excellencies have
come to town for the good work," he said, sidling and bowing.
With a more than Spanish gravity Gaspard inclined his head.
"When does it start?" he asked.
"Ah, that we common folk do not know. But there will be a signal. Father
Antoine has promised us a signal. But messieurs have not badges. Perhaps
they do not need them for their faces will be known. Nevertheless for
better security it might be well. . . ." He stopped with the air of a
huckster crying his wares.
Gaspard spoke a word to Champernoun in Spanish. Then to the landlord: "We
are strangers, so must bow to the custom of your city. Have you a man to
send to the Hotel de Guise?"
"Why trouble the Duke, my lord?" was the answer. "See, I will make you
He tore up a napkin, and bound two white strips crosswise on their left
arms, and pinned a rag to their bonnets. "There, messieurs, you are now
wearing honest colours for all to see. It is well, for presently blood will
be hot and eyes blind."
Gaspard flung him a piece of gold, and he bowed himself out. "Bonne
fortune, lordships," were his parting words. "'Twill be a great night for
our Lord Christ and our Lord King."
"And his lord the Devil," said Champernoun. "What madness has taken your
good France? These are Spanish manners, and they sicken me. Cockades and
signals and such-like flummery!"
The other's face had grown sober. "For certain hell is afoot to-night. It
is the Admiral they seek. The Guisards and their reiters and a pack of
'prentices maddened by sermons. I would to God he were in the Palace with
the King of Navarre and the young Conde."
"But he is well guarded. I heard that a hundred Huguenots' swords keep
watch by his house."
"Maybe. But we of the religion are too bold and too trustful. We are not
match for the Guises and their Italian tricks. I think we will go to
Coligny's lodgings. Mounted, for a man on a horse has an advantage if the
mob are out!"
The two left the tavern, both sniffing the air as if they found it tainted.
The streets were filling now, and men were running as if to a rendezvous,
running hot-foot without speech and without lights. Most wore white crosses
on their left sleeve. The horses waited, already saddled, in stables not a
furlong apart, and it was the work of a minute to bridle and mount. The two
as if by a common impulse halted their beasts at the mouth of the Rue du
Coq, and listened. The city was quiet on the surface, but there was a low
deep undercurrent of sound, like the soft purring of a lion before he
roars. The sky was bright with stars. There was no moon, but over the Isle
was a faint tremulous glow.
"It is long past midnight," said Gaspard; "in a little it will be dawn."
Suddenly a shot cracked out. It was so sharp a sound among the muffled
noises that it stung the ear like a whip-lash. It came from the dark mass
of the Louvre, from somewhere beyond the Grand Jardin. It was followed
instantly by a hubbub far down the Rue St. Honore and a glare kindled where
that street joined the Rue d'Arbre Sec.
"That way lies the Admiral," Gaspard cried. "I go to him," and he clapped
spurs to his horse.
But as his beast leapt forward another sound broke out, coming apparently
from above their heads. It was the clanging of a great bell.
There is no music so dominant as bells. Their voice occupies sky as well as
earth, and they overwhelm the senses, so that a man's blood must keep pace
with their beat. They can suit every part, jangling in wild joy, or copying
the slow pace of sorrow, or pealing in ordered rhythm, blithe but with a
warning of mortality in their cadence. But this bell played dance music. It
summoned to an infernal jig. Blood and fever were in its broken fall, hate
and madness and death.
Gaspard checked his plunging horse. "By God, it is from St. Germains
l'Auxerrois! The Palace church. The King is in it. It is a plot against our
faith. They have got the pick of us in their trap and would make an end of
>From every house and entry men and women and priests were pouring to swell
the army that pressed roaring eastwards. No one heeded the two as they sat
their horses like rocks in the middle of a torrent.
"The Admiral is gone," said Gaspard with a sob in his voice. "Our few
hundred spears cannot stand against the King's army. It remains for us to
die with him."
Champernoun was cursing steadily in a mixture of English and Spanish, good
mouth-filling oaths delivered without heat. "Die we doubtless shall, but
not before we have trounced this bloody rabble."
Still Gaspard did not move. "After to-night there
will be no gentlemen left in France, for we of the religion had all the
breeding. Then he laughed bitterly. "I mind Ribaut's last words, when
Menendez slew him. 'We are of earth,' says he, 'and to earth we must
return, and twenty years more or less can matter little!' That is our case
to-night, old friend."
"Maybe," said the Englishman. "But why talk of dying? You and I are Spanish
caballeros. Walsingham told me that the King hated that nation, and that
the Queen-mother loved it not, but it would appear that now we are very
popular in Paris."
"Nay, nay, this is no time to play the Nicodemite. It is the hour for
public confession "I'm off to the dead Admiral to avenge him on his
"Softly, Gaspard. You and I are old companions in war, and we do not ride
against a stone wall if there be a gate. It was not thus that Gourgues
avenged Ribaut at St. John's. Let us thank God that we hold a master card
in this game. We are two foxes in a flock of angry roosters, and by the
Lord's grace we will take our toll of them. Cunning, my friend. A stratagem
of war! We stand outside this welter and, having only the cold passion of
revenge, can think coolly. God's truth, man, have we fought the Indian and
the Spaniard for nothing? Wily is the word. | Are we two gentlemen, who
fear God, to be worsted by a rabble of Papegots and Marannes?"
It was the word "Marannes," or, as we say, "halfcastes," which brought
conviction to Gaspard. Suddenly he saw his enemies as less formidable, as
something contemptible--things of a lower breed, dupers who might
themselves be duped.
"Faith, Gawain, you are the true campaigner. Let us forward, and trust to
Heaven to show us a road."
They galloped down the Rue St. Honore, finding an open space in the cobbles
of the centre, but at the turning into the Rue d'Arbre Sec they met a
block. A great throng with torches was coming in on the right from the
direction of the Bourbon and d'Alencon hotels. Yet by pressing their horses
with whip and
spur, and by that awe which the two tall dark cavaliers inspired even in a
mob which had lost its wits, they managed to make their way to the entrance
of the Rue de Bethisy. There they came suddenly upon quiet.
The crowd was held back by mounted men who made a ring around the gate of a
high dark building. Inside its courtyard there were cries and the rumour of
fighting, but out in the street there was silence. Every eye was turned to
the archway, which was bright as day with the glare of fifty lanterns.
The two rode straight to the ring of soldiers.
"Make way," Gaspard commanded, speaking with a foreign accent.
"For whom, monsieur?" one asked who seemed to be of a higher standing than
"For the Ambassador of the King of Spain."
The man touched his bonnet and opened up a road by striking the adjacent
horses with the flat of his sword, and the two rode into the ring so that
they faced the archway. They could see a little way inside the courtyard,
where the light gleamed on armour. The men there were no rabble, but
A priest came out, wearing the Jacobin habit, one of those preaching friars
who had been fevering the blood of Paris. The crowd behind the men-at-arms
knew him, for even in its absorption it sent up shouts of greeting. He
flitted like a bat towards Gaspard and Champernoun and peered up at them.
His face was lean and wolfish, with cruel arrogant eyes.
"Hail, father!" said Gaspard in Spanish. "How goes the good work?"
He replied in the same tongue. "Bravely, my children. But this is but the
beginning. Are you girt and ready for the harvesting?"
"We are ready," said Gaspard. His voice shook with fury, but the Jacobin
took it for enthusiasm. He held up his hand in blessing and fluttered back
to the archway.
>From inside the courtyard came the sound of something falling, and then a
great shout. The mob had jumped to a conclusion. "That is the end of old
Toothpick," a voice cried, using the Admiral's nickname There was a wild
surge round the horsemen, but the ring held. A body of soldiers poured out
of the gate, with blood on their bare swords. Among them was one tall
fellow all in armour, with a broken plume on his bonnet. His face was torn
and disfigured and he was laughing horribly. The Jacobin rushed to embrace
him, and the man dropped on his knees to receive a blessing.
"Behold our hero," the friar cried. "His good blade has rid us of the
arch-heretic," and the mob took up the shout.
Gaspard was cool now. His fury had become a cold thing like a glacier.
"I know him!" he whispered to Champernoun. He is the Italian Petrucci. He
is our first quarry."
The second will be that damned friar," was the Englishman's answer.
Suddenly the ring of men-at-arms drew inward as a horseman rode out of the
gate followed by half a dozen attendants. He was a tall young man, very
noble to look upon, with a flushed face like a boy warm from the game of
paume. His long satin coat was richly embroidered, and round his neck
hung the thick gold collar of some Order. He was wiping a stain from his
sleeve with a fine lawn handkerchief.
What is that thing gilt like a chalice?" whispered Champernoun.
"Henry of Guise," said Gaspard.
The Duke caught sight of the two men in the centre of the ring. The
lanterns made the whole place bright and he could see every detail of their
dress and bearing. He saluted them courteously.
"We make your Grace our compliments," said Gaspard. "We are of the
household of the Ambassador of Spain, and could not rest indoors when great
deeds were being done in the city."
The young man smiled pleasantly. There was a boyish grace in his gesture.
"You are welcome, gentlemen. I would have every good Catholic in Europe see
with his own eyes the good work of this Bartholomew's day. I would ask you
to ride with me, but I leave the city in pursuit of the Count of
Montgomery, who is rumoured to have escaped. There will be much for you to
see on this happy Sunday. But stay! You are not attended, and our streets
are none too safe for strangers. Presently the Huguenots will counterfeit
our white cross, and blunders may be made by the overzealous."
He unclasped the jewel which hung at the end of his chain. It was a little
Agnus of gold and enamel, surmounting a lozenge-shaped shield charged with
"Take this," he said, "and return it to me when the work is over. Show it
if any man dares to question you. It is a passport from Henry of Guise....
And now forward," he cried to his followers. "Forward for Montgomery and
The two looked after the splendid figure. "That bird is in fine feather,"
Gaspard's jaw was very grim. "Some day he will lie huddled under the
assassin's knife. He will die as he has made my chief die, and his body
will be cast to the dog's....
But he has given me a plan," and he spoke in his companion's ear.
The Englishman laughed. His stolidity had been slow to quicken, but his
eyes were now hot and he had altogether ceased to swear.
"First let me get back to Walsingham's lodging. I have a young kinsman
there, they call him Walter Raleigh, who would dearly love this venture."
"Tut, man, be serious. We play a desperate game, and there is no place for
boys in it. We have Guise's jewel, and by the living God we will use it. My
mark is Petrucci."
"And the priest," said Champernoun.
The crowd in the Rue de Bethisy was thinning, as bands of soldiers, each
with its tail of rabble, moved off to draw other coverts. There was
fighting still in many houses, and on the roof-tops as the pale dawn spread