The "Betrothed" did not greatly please one or two friends, who thought that it did not well correspond to the general title of "The Crusaders." They urged, therefore, that, without direct allusion to the manners of the Eastern tribes, and to the romantic conflicts of the period, the title of a "Tale of the Crusaders" would resemble the playbill, which is said to have announced the tragedy of Hamlet, the character of the Prince of Denmark being left out. On the other hand, I felt the difficulty of giving a vivid picture of a part of the world with which I was almost totally unacquainted, unless by early recollections of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments; and not only did I labour under the incapacity of ignorance - in which, as far as regards Eastern manners, I was as thickly wrapped as an Egyptian in his fog - but my contemporaries were, many of them, as much enlightened upon the subject as if they had been inhabitants of the favoured land of Goshen. The love of travelling had pervaded all ranks, and carried the subjects of Britain into all quarters of the world. Greece, so attractive by its remains of art, by its struggles for freedom against a Mohammedan tyrant, by its very name, where every fountain had its classical legend - Palestine, endeared to the imagination by yet more sacred remembrances - had been of late surveyed by British eyes, and described by recent travellers. Had I, therefore, attempted the difficult task of substituting manners of my own invention, instead of the genuine costume of the East, almost every traveller I met who had extended his route beyond what was anciently called "The Grand Tour," had acquired a right, by ocular inspection, to chastise me for my presumption. Every member of the Travellers' Club who could pretend to have thrown his shoe over Edom was, by having done so, constituted my lawful critic and corrector. It occurred, therefore, that where the author of Anastasius, as well as he of Hadji Baba, had described the manners and vices of the Eastern nations, not only with fidelity, but with the humour of Le Sage and the ludicrous power of Fielding himself, one who was a perfect stranger to the subject must necessarily produce an unfavourable contrast. The Poet Laureate also, in the charming tale of "Thalaba," had shown how extensive might be the researches of a person of acquirements and talent, by dint of investigation alone, into the ancient doctrines, history, and manners of the Eastern countries, in which we are probably to look for the cradle of mankind; Moore, in his "Lalla Rookh," had successfully trod the same path; in which, too, Byron, joining ocular experience to extensive reading, had written some of his most attractive poems. In a word, the Eastern themes had been already so successfully handled by those who were acknowledged to be masters of their craft, that I was diffident of making the attempt.
These were powerful objections; nor did they lose force when they became the subject of anxious reflection, although they did not finally prevail. The arguments on the other side were, that though I had no hope of rivalling the contemporaries whom I have mentioned, yet it occurred to me as possible to acquit myself of the task I was engaged in without entering into competition with them.
The period relating more immediately to the Crusades which I at last fixed upon was that at which the warlike character of Richard I., wild and generous, a pattern of chivalry, with all its extravagant virtues, and its no less absurd errors, was opposed to that of Saladin, in which the Christian and English monarch showed all the cruelty and violence of an Eastern sultan, and Saladin, on the other hand, displayed the deep policy and prudence of a European sovereign, whilst each contended which should excel the other in the knightly qualities of bravery and generosity. This singular contrast afforded, as the author conceived, materials for a work of fiction possessing peculiar interest. One of the inferior characters introduced was a supposed relation of Richard Coeur de Lion - a violation of the truth of history which gave offence to Mr. Mills, the author of the "History of Chivalry and the Crusades," who was not, it may be presumed, aware that romantic fiction naturally includes the power of such invention, which is indeed one of the requisites of the art.
Prince David of Scotland, who was actually in the host, and was the hero of some very romantic adventures on his way home, was also pressed into my service, and constitutes one of my dramatis personae.
It is true I had already brought upon the field him of the lion heart. But it was in a more private capacity than he was here to be exhibited in the Talisman - then as a disguised knight, now in the avowed character of a conquering monarch; so that I doubted not a name so dear to Englishmen as that of King Richard I. might contribute to their amusement for more than once.
I had access to all which antiquity believed, whether of reality or fable, on the subject of that magnificent warrior, who was the proudest boast of Europe and their chivalry, and with whose dreadful name the Saracens, according to a historian of their own country, were wont to rebuke their startled horses. "Do you think," said they, "that King Richard is on the track, that you stray so wildly from it?" The most curious register of the history of King Richard is an ancient romance, translated originally from the Norman; and at first certainly having a pretence to be termed a work of chivalry, but latterly becoming stuffed with the most astonishing and monstrous fables. There is perhaps no metrical romance upon record where, along with curious and genuine history, are mingled more absurd and exaggerated incidents. We have placed in the Appendix to this Introduction the passage of the romance in which Richard figures as an ogre, or literal cannibal.
A principal incident in the story is that from which the title is derived. Of all people who ever lived, the Persians were perhaps most remarkable for their unshaken credulity in amulets, spells, periapts, and similar charms, framed, it was said, under the influence of particular planets, and bestowing high medical powers, as well as the means of advancing men's fortunes in various manners. A story of this kind, relating to a Crusader of eminence, is often told in the west of Scotland, and the relic alluded to is still in existence, and even yet held in veneration.
Sir Simon Lockhart of Lee and Gartland made a considerable figure in the reigns of Robert the Bruce and of his son David. He was one of the chief of that band of Scottish chivalry who accompanied James, the Good Lord Douglas, on his expedition to the Holy Land with the heart of King Robert Bruce. Douglas, impatient to get at the Saracens, entered into war with those of Spain, and was killed there. Lockhart proceeded to the Holy Land with such Scottish knights as had escaped the fate of their leader and assisted for some time in the wars against the Saracens.
The following adventure is said by tradition to have befallen him: -
He made prisoner in battle an Emir of considerable wealth and consequence. The aged mother of the captive came to the Christian camp, to redeem her son from his state of captivity. Lockhart is said to have fixed the price at which his prisoner should ransom himself; and the lady, pulling out a large embroidered purse, proceeded to tell down the ransom, like a mother who pays little respect to gold in comparison of her son's liberty. In this operation, a pebble inserted in a coin, some say of the Lower Empire, fell out of the purse, and the Saracen matron testified so much haste to recover it as gave the Scottish knight a high idea of its value, when compared with gold or silver. "I will not consent," he said, "to grant your son's liberty, unless that amulet be added to his ransom." The lady not only consented to this, but explained to Sir Simon Lockhart the mode in which the talisman was to be used, and the uses to which it might be put. The water in which it was dipped operated as a styptic, as a febrifuge, and possessed other properties as a medical talisman.
Sir Simon Lockhart, after much experience of the wonders which it wrought, brought it to his own country, and left it to his heirs, by whom, and by Clydesdale in general, it was, and is still, distinguished by the name of the Lee-penny, from the name of his native seat of Lee.
The most remarkable part of its history, perhaps, was that it so especially escaped condemnation when the Church of Scotland chose to impeach many other cures which savoured of the miraculous, as occasioned by sorcery, and censured the appeal to them, "excepting only that to the amulet, called the Lee-penny, to which it had pleased God to annex certain healing virtues which the Church did not presume to condemn." It still, as has been said, exists, and its powers are sometimes resorted to. Of late, they have been chiefly restricted to the cure of persons bitten by mad dogs; and as the illness in such cases frequently arises from imagination, there can be no reason for doubting that water which has been poured on the Lee-penny furnishes a congenial cure.
Such is the tradition concerning the talisman, which the author has taken the liberty to vary in applying it to his own purposes.
Considerable liberties have also been taken with the truth of history, both with respect to Conrade of Montserrat's life, as well as his death. That Conrade, however, was reckoned the enemy of Richard is agreed both in history and romance. The general opinion of the terms upon which they stood may be guessed from the proposal of the Saracens that the Marquis of Montserrat should be invested with certain parts of Syria, which they were to yield to the Christians. Richard, according to the romance which bears his name, "could no longer repress his fury. The Marquis he said, was a traitor, who had robbed the Knights Hospitallers of sixty thousand pounds, the present of his father Henry; that he was a renegade, whose treachery had occasioned the loss of Acre; and he concluded by a solemn oath, that he would cause him to be drawn to pieces by wild horses, if he should ever venture to pollute the Christian camp by his presence. Philip attempted to intercede in favour of the Marquis, and throwing down his glove, offered to become a pledge for his fidelity to the Christians; but his offer was rejected, and he was obliged to give way to Richard's impetuosity." - History of Chivalry.
Conrade of Montserrat makes a considerable figure in those wars, and was at length put to death by one of the followers of the Scheik, or Old Man of the Mountain; nor did Richard remain free of the suspicion of having instigated his death.
It may be said, in general, that most of the incidents introduced in the following tale are fictitious, and that reality, where it exists, is only retained in the characters of the piece.
ABBOTSFORD, 1st July 1832
APPENDIX TO INTRODUCTION.
While warring in the Holy Land, Richard was seized with an ague.
The best leeches of the camp were unable to effect the cure of the King's disease; but the prayers of the army were more successful. He became convalescent, and the first symptom of his recovery was a violent longing for pork. But pork was not likely to be plentiful in a country whose inhabitants had an abhorrence for swine's flesh; and
"Though his men should be
They ne might, in that countrey,
For gold, ne silver, ne no money,
No pork find, take, ne get,
That King Richard might aught of eat.
An old knight with Richard biding,
When he heard of that tiding,
That the kingis wants were swyche,
To the steward he spake privyliche -
"Our lord the king sore is
sick, I wis,
After porck he alonged is;
Ye may none find to selle;
No man be hardy him so to telle!
If he did he might die.
Now behoves to done as I shall say,
Tho' he wete nought of that.
Take a Saracen, young and fat;
In haste let the thief be slain,
Opened, and his skin off flayn;
And sodden full hastily,
With powder and with spicery,
And with saffron of good colour.
When the king feels thereof savour,
Out of ague if he be went,
He shall have thereto good talent.
When he has a good taste,
And eaten well a good repast,
And supped of the brewis [Broth] a sup,
Slept after and swet a drop,
Through Goddis help and my counsail,
Soon he shall be fresh and hail.'
The sooth to say, at wordes few,
Slain and sodden was the heathen shrew.
Before the king it was forth
Quod his men, 'Lord, we have pork sought;
Eates and sups of the brewis soote,[Sweet]
Thorough grace of God it shall be your boot.'
Before King Richard carff a knight,
He ate faster than he carve might.
The king ate the flesh and gnew [Gnawed] the bones,
And drank well after for the nonce.
And when he had eaten enough,
His folk hem turned away, and lough.[Laughed]
He lay still and drew in his arm;
His chamberlain him wrapped warm.
He lay and slept, and swet a stound,
And became whole and sound.
King Richard clad him and arose,
And walked abouten in the close."
An attack of the Saracens was repelled by Richard in person, the consequence of which is told in the following lines :-
"When King Richard had rested a
A knight his arms 'gan unlace,
Him to comfort and solace.
Him was brought a sop in wine.
'The head of that ilke swine,
That I of ate!' (the cook he bade,)
'For feeble I am, and faint and mad.
Of mine evil now I am fear;
Serve me therewith at my soupere!'
Quod the cook, 'That head I ne
Then said the king, 'So God me save,
But I see the head of that swine,
For sooth, thou shalt lesen thine!'
The cook saw none other might be;
He fet the head and let him see.
He fell on knees, and made a cry -
'Lo, here the head! my Lord, mercy!'"
The cook had certainly some reason to fear that his master would be struck with horror at the recollection of the dreadful banquet to which he owed his recovery; but his fears were soon dissipated.
"The swarte vis [Black face]
when the king seeth,
His black beard and white teeth,
How his lippes grinned wide,
'What devil is this?' the king cried,
And 'gan to laugh as he were wode.
'What! is Saracen's flesh thus good?
That never erst I nought wist!
By God's death and his uprist,
Shall we never die for default,
While we may in any assault,
Slee Saracens, the flesh may take,
And seethen and roasten and do hem bake,
[And] Gnawen her flesh to the bones!
Now I have it proved once,
For hunger ere I be wo,
I and my folk shall eat mo!"'
The besieged now offered to surrender, upon conditions of safety to the inhabitants; while all the public treasure, military machines, and arms were delivered to the victors, together with the further ransom of one hundred thousand bezants. After this capitulation, the following extraordinary scene took place. We shall give it in the words of the humorous and amiable George Ellis, the collector and the editor of these Romances: -
"Though the garrison had faithfully performed the other articles of their contract, they were unable to restore the cross, which was not in their possession, and were therefore treated by the Christians with great cruelty. Daily reports of their sufferings were carried to Saladin; and as many of them were persons of the highest distinction, that monarch, at the solicitation of their friends, dispatched an embassy to King Richard with magnificent presents, which he offered for the ransom of the captives. The ambassadors were persons the most respectable from their age, their rank, and their eloquence. They delivered their message in terms of the utmost humility; and without arraigning the justice of the conqueror in his severe treatment of their countrymen, only solicited a period to that severity, laying at his feet the treasures with which they were entrusted, and pledging themselves and their master for the payment of any further sums which he might demand as the price of mercy.
"King Richard spake with wordes
'The gold to take, God me shield!
Among you partes [Divide] every charge.
I brought in shippes and in barge,
More gold and silver with me,
Than has your lord, and swilke three.
To his treasure have I no need!
But for my love I you bid,
To meat with me that ye dwell;
And afterward I shall you tell.
Thorough counsel I shall you answer,
What bode [Message] ye shall to your lord bear.
"The invitation was gratefully accepted. Richard, in the meantime, gave secret orders to his marshal that he should repair to the prison, select a certain number of the most distinguished captives, and, after carefully noting their names on a roll of parchment, cause their heads to be instantly struck off; that these heads should be delivered to the cook, with instructions to clear away the hair, and, after boiling them in a cauldron, to distribute them on several platters, one to each guest, observing to fasten on the forehead of each the piece of parchment expressing the name and family of the victim.
"'An hot head bring me beforn,
As I were well apayed withall,
Eat thereof fast I shall;
As it were a tender chick,
To see how the others will like.'
"This horrible order was punctually executed. At noon the guests were summoned to wash by the music of the waits. The king took his seat attended by the principal officers of his court, at the high table, and the rest of the company were marshalled at a long table below him. On the cloth were placed portions of salt at the usual distances, but neither bread, wine, nor water. The ambassadors, rather surprised at this omission, but still free from apprehension, awaited in silence the arrival of the dinner, which was announced by the sound of pipes, trumpets, and tabours; and beheld, with horror and dismay, the unnatural banquet introduced by the steward and his officers. Yet their sentiments of disgust and abhorrence, and even their fears, were for a time suspended by their curiosity. Their eyes were fixed on the king, who, without the slightest change of countenance, swallowed the morsels as fast as they could be supplied by the knight who carved them.
"Every man then poked other;
They said, 'This is the devil's brother,
That slays our men, and thus hem eats!'
"Their attention was then involuntarily fixed on the smoking heads before them. They traced in the swollen and distorted features the resemblance of a friend or near relation, and received from the fatal scroll which accompanied each dish the sad assurance that this resemblance was not imaginary. They sat in torpid silence, anticipating their own fate in that of their countrymen; while their ferocious entertainer, with fury in his eyes, but with courtesy on his lips, insulted them by frequent invitations to merriment. At length this first course was removed, and its place supplied by venison, cranes, and other dainties, accompanied by the richest wines. The king then apologized to them for what had passed, which he attributed to his ignorance of their taste; and assured them of his religious respect for their characters as ambassadors, and of his readiness to grant them a safe-conduct for their return. This boon was all that they now wished to claim; and
"King Richard spake to an old
'Wendes home to your Soudan!
His melancholy that ye abate;
And sayes that ye came too late.
Too slowly was your time y-guessed;
Ere ye came, the flesh was dressed,
That men shoulden serve with me,
Thus at noon, and my meynie.
Say him, it shall him nought avail,
Though he for-bar us our vitail,
Bread, wine, fish, flesh, salmon, and conger;
Of us none shall die with hunger,
While we may wenden to fight,
And slay the Saracens downright,
Wash the flesh, and roast the head.
With oo [One] Saracen I may well feed
Well a nine or a ten
Of my good Christian men.
King Richard shall warrant,
There is no flesh so nourissant
Unto an English man,
Partridge, plover, heron, ne swan,
Cow ne ox, sheep ne swine,
As the head of a Sarazyn.
There he is fat, and thereto tender,
And my men be lean and slender.
While any Saracen quick be,
Livand now in this Syrie,
For meat will we nothing care.
Abouten fast we shall rare,
And every day we shall eat
All as many as we may get.
ELLIS'S SPECIMENS OF EARLY ENGLISH METRICEL ROMANCES.
The reader may be curious to know owing to what circumstances so extraordinary an invention as that which imputed cannibalism to the King of England should have found its way into his history. Mr. James, to whom we owe so much that is curious, seems to have traced the origin of this extraordinary rumour.
"With the army of the cross also was a multitude of men," the same author declares, "who made it a profession to be without money. They walked barefoot, carried no arms, and even preceded the beasts of burden in their march, living upon roots and herbs, and presenting a spectacle both disgusting and pitiable.
"A Norman, who, according to all accounts, was of noble birth, but who, having lost his horse, continued to follow as a foot soldier, took the strange resolution of putting himself at the head of this race of vagabonds, who willingly received him as their king. Amongst the Saracens these men became well known under the name of Thafurs (which Guibert translates Trudentes), and were beheld with great horror from the general persuasion that they fed on the dead bodies of their enemies; a report which was occasionally justified, and which the king of the Thafurs took care to encourage. This respectable monarch was frequently in the habit of stopping his followers, one by one, in a narrow defile, and of causing them to be searched carefully, lest the possession of the least sum of money should render them unworthy of the name of his subjects. If even two sous were found upon any one, he was instantly expelled the society of his tribe, the king bidding him contemptuously buy arms and fight.
"This troop, so far from being cumbersome to the army, was infinitely serviceable, carrying burdens, bringing in forage, provisions, and tribute; working the machines in the sieges; and, above all, spreading consternation among the Turks, who feared death from the lances of the knights less than that further consummation they heard of under the teeth of the Thafurs." [James's "History of Chivalry."]
It is easy to conceive that an ignorant minstrel, finding the taste and ferocity of the Thafurs commemorated in the historical accounts of the Holy Wars, has ascribed their practices and propensities to the Monarch of England, whose ferocity was considered as an object of exaggeration as legitimate as his valour.
ABBOTSFORD, 1st July, 1832.
The burning sun of Syria had not yet attained its highest point in the horizon, when a knight of the Red Cross, who had left his distant northern home and joined the host of the Crusaders in Palestine, was pacing slowly along the sandy deserts which lie in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, or, as it is called, the Lake Asphaltites, where the waves of the Jordan pour themselves into an inland sea, from which there is no discharge of waters.
The warlike pilgrim had toiled among cliffs and precipices during the earlier part of the morning. More lately, issuing from those rocky and dangerous defiles, he had entered upon that great plain, where the accursed cities provoked, in ancient days, the direct and dreadful vengeance of the Omnipotent.
The toil, the thirst, the dangers of the way, were forgotten, as the traveller recalled the fearful catastrophe which had converted into an arid and dismal wilderness the fair and fertile valley of Siddim, once well watered, even as the Garden of the Lord, now a parched and blighted waste, condemned to eternal sterility.
Crossing himself, as he viewed the dark mass of rolling waters, in colour as in duality unlike those of any other lake, the traveller shuddered as he remembered that beneath these sluggish waves lay the once proud cities of the plain, whose grave was dug by the thunder of the heavens, or the eruption of subterraneous fire, and whose remains were hid, even by that sea which holds no living fish in its bosom, bears no skiff on its surface, and, as if its own dreadful bed were the only fit receptacle for its sullen waters, sends not, like other lakes, a tribute to the ocean. The whole land around, as in the days of Moses, was "brimstone and salt; it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth thereon." The land as well as the lake might be termed dead, as producing nothing having resemblance to vegetation, and even the very air was entirely devoid of its ordinary winged inhabitants, deterred probably by the odour of bitumen and sulphur which the burning sun exhaled from the waters of the lake in steaming clouds, frequently assuming the appearance of waterspouts. Masses of the slimy and sulphureous substance called naphtha, which floated idly on the sluggish and sullen waves, supplied those rolling clouds with new vapours, and afforded awful testimony to the truth of the Mosaic history.
Upon this scene of desolation the sun shone with almost intolerable splendour, and all living nature seemed to have hidden itself from the rays, excepting the solitary figure which moved through the flitting sand at a foot's pace, and appeared the sole breathing thing on the wide surface of the plain. The dress of the rider and the accoutrements of his horse were peculiarly unfit for the traveller in such a country. A coat of linked mail, with long sleeves, plated gauntlets, and a steel breastplate, had not been esteemed a sufficient weight of armour; there were also his triangular shield suspended round his neck, and his barred helmet of steel, over which he had a hood and collar of mail, which was drawn around the warrior's shoulders and throat, and filled up the vacancy between the hauberk and the headpiece. His lower limbs were sheathed, like his body, in flexible mail, securing the legs and thighs, while the feet rested in plated shoes, which corresponded with the gauntlets. A long, broad, straight-shaped, double-edged falchion, with a handle formed like a cross, corresponded with a stout poniard on the other side. The knight also bore, secured to his saddle, with one end resting on his stirrup, the long steel-headed lance, his own proper weapon, which, as he rode, projected backwards, and displayed its little pennoncelle, to dally with the faint breeze, or drop in the dead calm. To this cumbrous equipment must be added a surcoat of embroidered cloth, much frayed and worn, which was thus far useful that it excluded the burning rays of the sun from the armour, which they would otherwise have rendered intolerable to the wearer. The surcoat bore, in several places, the arms of the owner, although much defaced. These seemed to be a couchant leopard, with the motto, "I sleep; wake me not." An outline of the same device might be traced on his shield, though many a blow had almost effaced the painting. The flat top of his cumbrous cylindrical helmet was unadorned with any crest. In retaining their own unwieldy defensive armour, the Northern Crusaders seemed to set at defiance the nature of the climate and country to which they had come to war.
The accoutrements of the horse were scarcely less massive and unwieldy than those of the rider. The animal had a heavy saddle plated with steel, uniting in front with a species of breastplate, and behind with defensive armour made to cover the loins. Then there was a steel axe, or hammer, called a mace-of- arms, and which hung to the saddle-bow. The reins were secured by chain-work, and the front-stall of the bridle was a steel plate, with apertures for the eyes and nostrils, having in the midst a short, sharp pike, projecting from the forehead of the horse like the horn of the fabulous unicorn.
But habit had made the endurance of this load of panoply a second nature, both to the knight and his gallant charger. Numbers, indeed, of the Western warriors who hurried to Palestine died ere they became inured to the burning climate; but there were others to whom that climate became innocent and even friendly, and among this fortunate number was the solitary horseman who now traversed the border of the Dead Sea.
Nature, which cast his limbs in a mould of uncommon strength, fitted to wear his linked hauberk with as much ease as if the meshes had been formed of cobwebs, had endowed him with a constitution as strong as his limbs, and which bade defiance to almost all changes of climate, as well as to fatigue and privations of every kind. His disposition seemed, in some degree, to partake of the qualities of his bodily frame; and as the one possessed great strength and endurance, united with the power of violent exertion, the other, under a calm and undisturbed semblance, had much of the fiery and enthusiastic love of glory which constituted the principal attribute of the renowned Norman line, and had rendered them sovereigns in every corner of Europe where they had drawn their adventurous swords.
It was not, however, to all the race that fortune proposed such tempting rewards; and those obtained by the solitary knight during two years' campaign in Palestine had been only temporal fame, and, as he was taught to believe, spiritual privileges. Meantime, his slender stock of money had melted away, the rather that he did not pursue any of the ordinary modes by which the followers of the Crusade condescended to recruit their diminished resources at the expense of the people of Palestine - he exacted no gifts from the wretched natives for sparing their possessions when engaged in warfare with the Saracens, and he had not availed himself of any opportunity of enriching himself by the ransom of prisoners of consequence. The small train which had followed him from his native country had been gradually diminished, as the means of maintaining them disappeared, and his only remaining squire was at present on a sick-bed, and unable to attend his master, who travelled, as we have seen, singly and alone. This was of little consequence to the Crusader, who was accustomed to consider his good sword as his safest escort, and devout thoughts as his best companion.
Nature had, however, her demands for refreshment and repose even on the iron frame and patient disposition of the Knight of the Sleeping Leopard; and at noon, when the Dead Sea lay at some distance on his right, he joyfully hailed the sight of two or three palm-trees, which arose beside the well which was assigned for his mid-day station. His good horse, too, which had plodded forward with the steady endurance of his master, now lifted his head, expanded his nostrils, and quickened his pace, as if he snuffed afar off the living waters which marked the place of repose and refreshment. But labour and danger were doomed to intervene ere the horse or horseman reached the desired spot.
As the Knight of the Couchant Leopard continued to fix his eyes attentively on the yet distant cluster of palm-trees, it seemed to him as if some object was moving among them. The distant form separated itself from the trees, which partly hid its motions, and advanced towards the knight with a speed which soon showed a mounted horseman, whom his turban, long spear, and green caftan floating in the wind, on his nearer approach showed to be a Saracen cavalier. "In the desert," saith an Eastern proverb, "no man meets a friend." The Crusades was totally indifferent whether the infidel, who now approached on his gallant barb as if borne on the wings of an eagle, came as friend or foe - perhaps, as a vowed champion of the Cross, he might rather have preferred the latter. He disengaged his lance from his saddle, seized it with the right hand, placed it in rest with its point half elevated, gathered up the reins in the left, waked his horse's mettle with the spur, and prepared to encounter the stranger with the calm self-confidence belonging to the victor in many contests.
The Saracen came on at the speedy gallop of an Arab horseman, managing his steed more by his limbs and the inflection of his body than by any use of the reins, which hung loose in his left hand; so that he was enabled to wield the light, round buckler of the skin of the rhinoceros, ornamented with silver loops, which he wore on his arm, swinging it as if he meant to oppose its slender circle to the formidable thrust of the Western lance. His own long spear was not couched or levelled like that of his antagonist, but grasped by the middle with his right hand, and brandished at arm's-length above his head. As the cavalier approached his enemy at full career, he seemed to expect that the Knight of the Leopard should put his horse to the gallop to encounter him. But the Christian knight, well acquainted with the customs of Eastern warriors, did not mean to exhaust his good horse by any unnecessary exertion; and, on the contrary, made a dead halt, confident that if the enemy advanced to the actual shock, his own weight, and that of his powerful charger, would give him sufficient advantage, without the additional momentum of rapid motion. Equally sensible and apprehensive of such a probable result, the Saracen cavalier, when he had approached towards the Christian within twice the length of his lance, wheeled his steed to the left with inimitable dexterity, and rode twice around his antagonist, who, turning without quitting his ground, and presenting his front constantly to his enemy, frustrated his attempts to attack him on an unguarded point; so that the Saracen, wheeling his horse, was fain to retreat to the distance of a hundred yards. A second time, like a hawk attacking a heron, the heathen renewed the charge, and a second time was fain to retreat without coming to a close struggle. A third time he approached in the same manner, when the Christian knight, desirous to terminate this illusory warfare, in which he might at length have been worn out by the activity of his foeman, suddenly seized the mace which hung at his saddle-bow, and, with a strong hand and unerring aim, hurled it against the head of the Emir, for such and not less his enemy appeared. The Saracen was just aware of the formidable missile in time to interpose his light buckler betwixt the mace and his head; but the violence of the blow forced the buckler down on his turban, and though that defence also contributed to deaden its violence, the Saracen was beaten from his horse. Ere the Christian could avail himself of this mishap, his nimble foeman sprung from the ground, and, calling on his steed, which instantly returned to his side, he leaped into his seat without touching the stirrup, and regained all the advantage of which the Knight of the Leopard hoped to deprive him. But the latter had in the meanwhile recovered his mace, and the Eastern cavalier, who remembered the strength and dexterity with which his antagonist had aimed it, seemed to keep cautiously out of reach of that weapon of which he had so lately felt the force, while he showed his purpose of waging a distant warfare with missile weapons of his own. Planting his long spear in the sand at a distance from the scene of combat, he strung, with great address, a short bow, which he carried at his back; and putting his horse to the gallop, once more described two or three circles of a wider extent than formerly, in the course of which he discharged six arrows at the Christian with such unerring skill that the goodness of his harness alone saved him from being wounded in as many places. The seventh shaft apparently found a less perfect part of the armour, and the Christian dropped heavily from his horse. But what was the surprise of the Saracen, when, dismounting to examine the condition of his prostrate enemy, he found himself suddenly within the grasp of the European, who had had recourse to this artifice to bring his enemy within his reach! Even in this deadly grapple the Saracen was saved by his agility and presence of mind. He unloosed the sword-belt, in which the Knight of the Leopard had fixed his hold, and, thus eluding his fatal grasp, mounted his horse, which seemed to watch his motions with the intelligence of a human being, and again rode off. But in the last encounter the Saracen had lost his sword and his quiver of arrows, both of which were attached to the girdle which he was obliged to abandon. He had also lost his turban in the struggle.
These disadvantages seemed to incline the Moslem to a truce. He approached the Christian with his right hand extended, but no longer in a menacing attitude.
"There is truce betwixt our nations," he said, in the lingua franca commonly used for the purpose of communication with the Crusaders; "wherefore should there be war betwixt thee and me? Let there be peace betwixt us."
"I am well contented," answered he of the Couchant Leopard; "but what security dost thou offer that thou wilt observe the truce?"
"The word of a follower of the Prophet was never broken," answered the Emir. "It is thou, brave Nazarene, from whom I should demand security, did I not know that treason seldom dwells with courage."
The Crusader felt that the confidence of the Moslem made him ashamed of his own doubts.
"By the cross of my sword," he said, laying his hand on the weapon as he spoke, "I will be true companion to thee, Saracen, while our fortune wills that we remain in company together."
"By Mohammed, Prophet of God, and by Allah, God of the Prophet," replied his late foeman, "there is not treachery in my heart towards thee. And now wend we to yonder fountain, for the hour of rest is at hand, and the stream had hardly touched my lip when I was called to battle by thy approach."
The Knight of the Couchant Leopard yielded a ready and courteous assent; and the late foes, without an angry look or gesture of doubt, rode side by side to the little cluster of palm-trees.
Times of danger have always, and in a peculiar degree, their seasons of good-will and security; and this was particularly so in the ancient feudal ages, in which, as the manners of the period had assigned war to be the chief and most worthy occupation of mankind, the intervals of peace, or rather of truce, were highly relished by those warriors to whom they were seldom granted, and endeared by the very circumstances which rendered them transitory. It is not worth while preserving any permanent enmity against a foe whom a champion has fought with to-day, and may again stand in bloody opposition to on the next morning. The time and situation afforded so much room for the ebullition of violent passions, that men, unless when peculiarly opposed to each other, or provoked by the recollection of private and individual wrongs, cheerfully enjoyed in each other's society the brief intervals of pacific intercourse which a warlike life admitted.
The distinction of religions, nay, the fanatical zeal which animated the followers of the Cross and of the Crescent against each other, was much softened by a feeling so natural to generous combatants, and especially cherished by the spirit of chivalry. This last strong impulse had extended itself gradually from the Christians to their mortal enemies the Saracens, both of Spain and of Palestine. The latter were, indeed, no longer the fanatical savages who had burst from the centre of Arabian deserts, with the sabre in one hand and the Koran in the other, to inflict death or the faith of Mohammed, or, at the best, slavery and tribute, upon all who dared to oppose the belief of the prophet of Mecca. These alternatives indeed had been offered to the unwarlike Greeks and Syrians; but in contending with the Western Christians, animated by a zeal as fiery as their own, and possessed of as unconquerable courage, address, and success in arms, the Saracens gradually caught a part of their manners, and especially of those chivalrous observances which were so well calculated to charm the minds of a proud and conquering people. They had their tournaments and games of chivalry; they had even their knights, or some rank analogous; and above all, the Saracens observed their plighted faith with an accuracy which might sometimes put to shame those who owned a better religion. Their truces, whether national or betwixt individuals, were faithfully observed; and thus it was that war, in itself perhaps the greatest of evils, yet gave occasion for display of good faith, generosity, clemency, and even kindly affections, which less frequently occur in more tranquil periods, where the passions of men, experiencing wrongs or entertaining quarrels which cannot be brought to instant decision, are apt to smoulder for a length of time in the bosoms of those who are so unhappy as to be their prey.
It was under the influence of these milder feelings which soften the horrors of warfare that the Christian and Saracen, who had so lately done their best for each other's mutual destruction, rode at a slow pace towards the fountain of palm-trees to which the Knight of the Couchant Leopard had been tending, when interrupted in mid-passage by his fleet and dangerous adversary. Each was wrapt for some time in his own reflections, and took breath after an encounter which had threatened to be fatal to one or both; and their good horses seemed no less to enjoy the interval of repose.
That of the Saracen, however, though he had been forced into much the more violent and extended sphere of motion, appeared to have suffered less from fatigue than the charger of the European knight. The sweat hung still clammy on the limbs of the latter, when those of the noble Arab were completely dried by the interval of tranquil exercise, all saving the foam-flakes which were still visible on his bridle and housings. The loose soil on which he trod so much augmented the distress of the Christian's horse, heavily loaded by his own armour and the weight of his rider, that the latter jumped from his saddle, and led his charger along the deep dust of the loamy soil, which was burnt in the sun into a substance more impalpable than the finest sand, and thus gave the faithful horse refreshment at the expense of his own additional toil; for, iron-sheathed as he was, he sunk over the mailed shoes at every step which he placed on a surface so light and unresisting.
"You are right," said the Saracen - and it was the first word that either had spoken since their truce was concluded; "your strong horse deserves your care. But what do you in the desert with an animal which sinks over the fetlock at every step as if he would plant each foot deep as the root of a date-tree?"
"Thou speakest rightly, Saracen," said the Christian knight, not delighted at the tone with which the infidel criticized his favourite steed - "rightly, according to thy knowledge and observation. But my good horse hath ere now borne me, in mine own land, over as wide a lake as thou seest yonder spread out behind us, yet not wet one hair above his hoof."
The Saracen looked at him with as much surprise as his manners permitted him to testify, which was only expressed by a slight approach to a disdainful smile, that hardly curled perceptibly the broad, thick moustache which enveloped his upper lip.
"It is justly spoken," he said, instantly composing himself to his usual serene gravity; "List to a Frank, and hear a fable."
"Thou art not courteous, misbeliever," replied the Crusader, "to doubt the word of a dubbed knight; and were it not that thou speakest in ignorance, and not in malice, our truce had its ending ere it is well begun. Thinkest thou I tell thee an untruth when I say that I, one of five hundred horsemen, armed in complete mail, have ridden - ay, and ridden for miles, upon water as solid as the crystal, and ten times less brittle?"
"What wouldst thou tell me?" answered the Moslem. "Yonder inland sea thou dost point at is peculiar in this, that, by the especial curse of God, it suffereth nothing to sink in its waves, but wafts them away, and casts them on its margin; but neither the Dead Sea, nor any of the seven oceans which environ the earth, will endure on their surface the pressure of a horse's foot, more than the Red Sea endured to sustain the advance of Pharaoh and his host."
"You speak truth after your knowledge, Saracen," said the Christian knight; "and yet, trust me, I fable not, according to mine. Heat, in this climate, converts the soil into something almost as unstable as water; and in my land cold often converts the water itself into a substance as hard as rock. Let us speak of this no longer, for the thoughts of the calm, clear, blue refulgence of a winter's lake, glimmering to stars and moonbeam, aggravate the horrors of this fiery desert, where, methinks, the very air which we breathe is like the vapour of a fiery furnace seven times heated."
The Saracen looked on him with some attention, as if to discover in what sense he was to understand words which, to him, must have appeared either to contain something of mystery or of imposition. At length he seemed determined in what manner to receive the language of his new companion.
"You are," he said, "of a nation that loves to laugh, and you make sport with yourselves, and with others, by telling what is impossible, and reporting what never chanced. Thou art one of the knights of France, who hold it for glee and pastime to gab, as they term it, of exploits that are beyond human power. [Gaber. This French word signified a sort of sport much used among the French chivalry, which consisted in vying with each other in making the most romantic gasconades. The verb and the meaning are retained in Scottish.] I were wrong to challenge, for the time, the privilege of thy speech, since boasting is more natural to thee than truth."
"I am not of their land, neither of their fashion," said the Knight, "which is, as thou well sayest, to gab of that which they dare not undertake - or, undertaking, cannot perfect. But in this I have imitated their folly, brave Saracen, that in talking to thee of what thou canst not comprehend, I have, even in speaking most simple truth, fully incurred the character of a braggart in thy eyes; so, I pray you, let my words pass."
They had now arrived at the knot of palm-trees and the fountain which welled out from beneath their shade in sparkling profusion.
We have spoken of a moment of truce in the midst of war; and this, a spot of beauty in the midst of a sterile desert, was scarce less dear to the imagination. It was a scene which, perhaps, would elsewhere have deserved little notice; but as the single speck, in a boundless horizon, which promised the refreshment of shade and living water, these blessings, held cheap where they are common, rendered the fountain and its neighbourhood a little paradise. Some generous or charitable hand, ere yet the evil days of Palestine began, had walled in and arched over the fountain, to preserve it from being absorbed in the earth, or choked by the flitting clouds of dust with which the least breath of wind covered the desert. The arch was now broken, and partly ruinous; but it still so far projected over and covered in the fountain that it excluded the sun in a great measure from its waters, which, hardly touched by a straggling beam, while all around was blazing, lay in a steady repose, alike delightful to the eye and the imagination. Stealing from under the arch, they were first received in a marble basin, much defaced indeed, but still cheering the eye, by showing that the place was anciently considered as a station, that the hand of man had been there and that man's accommodation had been in some measure attended to. The thirsty and weary traveller was reminded by these signs that others had suffered similar difficulties, reposed in the same spot, and, doubtless, found their way in safety to a more fertile country. Again, the scarce visible current which escaped from the basin served to nourish the few trees which surrounded the fountain, and where it sunk into the ground and disappeared, its refreshing presence was acknowledged by a carpet of velvet verdure.
In this delightful spot the two warriors halted, and each, after his own fashion, proceeded to relieve his horse from saddle, bit, and rein, and permitted the animals to drink at the basin, ere they refreshed themselves from the fountain head, which arose under the vault. They then suffered the steeds to go loose, confident that their interest, as well as their domesticated habits, would prevent their straying from the pure water and fresh grass.
Christian and Saracen next sat down together on the turf, and produced each the small allowance of store which they carried for their own refreshment. Yet, ere they severally proceeded to their scanty meal, they eyed each other with that curiosity which the close and doubtful conflict in which they had been so lately engaged was calculated to inspire. Each was desirous to measure the strength, and form some estimate of the character, of an adversary so formidable; and each was compelled to acknowledge that, had he fallen in the conflict, it had been by a noble hand.
The champions formed a striking contrast to each other in person and features, and might have formed no inaccurate representatives of their different nations. The Frank seemed a powerful man, built after the ancient Gothic cast of form, with light brown hair, which, on the removal of his helmet, was seen to curl thick and profusely over his head. His features had acquired, from the hot climate, a hue much darker than those parts of his neck which were less frequently exposed to view, or than was warranted by his full and well-opened blue eye, the colour of his hair, and of the moustaches which thickly shaded his upper lip, while his chin was carefully divested of beard, after the Norman fashion. His nose was Grecian and well formed; his mouth rather large in proportion, but filled with well-set, strong, and beautifully white teeth; his head small, and set upon the neck with much grace. His age could not exceed thirty, but if the effects of toil and climate were allowed for, might be three or four years under that period. His form was tall, powerful, and athletic, like that of a man whose strength might, in later life, become unwieldy, but which was hitherto united with lightness and activity. His hands, when he withdrew the mailed gloves, were long, fair, and well-proportioned; the wrist-bones peculiarly large and strong; and the arms remarkably well-shaped and brawny. A military hardihood and careless frankness of expression characterized his language and his motions; and his voice had the tone of one more accustomed to command than to obey, and who was in the habit of expressing his sentiments aloud and boldly, whenever he was called upon to announce them.
The Saracen Emir formed a marked and striking contrast with the Western Crusader. His stature was indeed above the middle size, but he was at least three inches shorter than the European, whose size approached the gigantic. His slender limbs and long, spare hands and arms, though well proportioned to his person, and suited to the style of his countenance, did not at first aspect promise the display of vigour and elasticity which the Emir had lately exhibited. But on looking more closely, his limbs, where exposed to view, seemed divested of all that was fleshy or cumbersome; so that nothing being left but bone, brawn, and sinew, it was a frame fitted for exertion and fatigue, far beyond that of a bulky champion, whose strength and size are counterbalanced by weight, and who is exhausted by his own exertions. The countenance of the Saracen naturally bore a general national resemblance to the Eastern tribe from whom he descended, and was as unlike as possible to the exaggerated terms in which the minstrels of the day were wont to represent the infidel champions, and the fabulous description which a sister art still presents as the Saracen's Head upon signposts. His features were small, well-formed, and delicate, though deeply embrowned by the Eastern sun, and terminated by a flowing and curled black beard, which seemed trimmed with peculiar care. The nose was straight and regular, the eyes keen, deep-set, black, and glowing, and his teeth equalled in beauty the ivory of his deserts. The person and proportions of the Saracen, in short, stretched on the turf near to his powerful antagonist, might have been compared to his sheeny and crescent-formed sabre, with its narrow and light but bright and keen Damascus blade, contrasted with the long and ponderous Gothic war-sword which was flung unbuckled on the same sod. The Emir was in the very flower of his age, and might perhaps have been termed eminently beautiful, but for the narrowness of his forehead and something of too much thinness and sharpness of feature, or at least what might have seemed such in a European estimate of beauty.
The manners of the Eastern warrior were grave, graceful, and decorous; indicating, however, in some particulars, the habitual restraint which men of warm and choleric tempers often set as a guard upon their native impetuosity of disposition, and at the same time a sense of his own dignity, which seemed to impose a certain formality of behaviour in him who entertained it.
This haughty feeling of superiority was perhaps equally entertained by his new European acquaintance, but the effect was different; and the same feeling, which dictated to the Christian knight a bold, blunt, and somewhat careless bearing, as one too conscious of his own importance to be anxious about the opinions of others, appeared to prescribe to the Saracen a style of courtesy more studiously and formally observant of ceremony. Both were courteous; but the courtesy of the Christian seemed to flow rather from a good humoured sense of what was due to others; that of the Moslem, from a high feeling of what was to be expected from himself.
The provision which each had made for his refreshment was simple, but the meal of the Saracen was abstemious. A handful of dates and a morsel of coarse barley-bread sufficed to relieve the hunger of the latter, whose education had habituated them to the fare of the desert, although, since their Syrian conquests, the Arabian simplicity of life frequently gave place to the most unbounded profusion of luxury. A few draughts from the lovely fountain by which they reposed completed his meal. That of the Christian, though coarse, was more genial. Dried hog's flesh, the abomination of the Moslemah, was the chief part of his repast; and his drink, derived from a leathern bottle, contained something better than pure element. He fed with more display of appetite, and drank with more appearance of satisfaction, than the Saracen judged it becoming to show in the performance of a mere bodily function; and, doubtless, the secret contempt which each entertained for the other, as the follower of a false religion, was considerably increased by the marked difference of their diet and manners. But each had found the weight of his opponent's arm, and the mutual respect which the bold struggle had created was sufficient to subdue other and inferior considerations. Yet the Saracen could not help remarking the circumstances which displeased him in the Christian's conduct and manners; and, after he had witnessed for some time in silence the keen appetite which protracted the knight's banquet long after his own was concluded, he thus addressed him: -
"Valiant Nazarene, is it fitting that one who can fight like a man should feed like a dog or a wolf? Even a misbelieving Jew would shudder at the food which you seem to eat with as much relish as if it were fruit from the trees of Paradise."
"Valiant Saracen," answered the Christian, looking up with some surprise at the accusation thus unexpectedly brought, "know thou that I exercise my Christian freedom in using that which is forbidden to the Jews, being, as they esteem themselves, under the bondage of the old law of Moses. We, Saracen, be it known to thee, have a better warrant for what we do - Ave Maria! - be we thankful." And, as if in defiance of his companion's scruples, he concluded a short Latin grace with a long draught from the leathern bottle.
"That, too, you call a part of your liberty," said the Saracen; "and as you feed like the brutes, so you degrade yourself to the bestial condition by drinking a poisonous liquor which even they refuse!"
"Know, foolish Saracen," replied the Christian, without hesitation, "that thou blasphemest the gifts of God, even with the blasphemy of thy father Ishmael. The juice of the grape is given to him that will use it wisely, as that which cheers the heart of man after toil, refreshes him in sickness, and comforts him in sorrow. He who so enjoyeth it may thank God for his wine- cup as for his daily bread; and he who abuseth the gift of Heaven is not a greater fool in his intoxication than thou in thine abstinence."
The keen eye of the Saracen kindled at this sarcasm, and his hand sought the hilt of his poniard. It was but a momentary thought, however, and died away in the recollection of the powerful champion with whom he had to deal, and the desperate grapple, the impression of which still throbbed in his limbs and veins; and he contented himself with pursuing the contest in colloquy, as more convenient for the time.
"Thy words" he said, "O Nazarene, might create anger, did not thy ignorance raise compassion. Seest thou not, O thou more blind than any who asks alms at the door of the Mosque, that the liberty thou dost boast of is restrained even in that which is dearest to man's happiness and to his household; and that thy law, if thou dost practise it, binds thee in marriage to one single mate, be she sick or healthy, be she fruitful or barren, bring she comfort and joy, or clamour and strife, to thy table and to thy bed? This, Nazarene, I do indeed call slavery; whereas, to the faithful, hath the Prophet assigned upon earth the patriarchal privileges of Abraham our father, and of Solomon, the wisest of mankind, having given us here a succession of beauty at our pleasure, and beyond the grave the black-eyed houris of Paradise."
"Now, by His name that I most reverence in heaven," said the Christian, "and by hers whom I most worship on earth, thou art but a blinded and a bewildered infidel! - That diamond signet which thou wearest on thy finger, thou holdest it, doubtless, as of inestimable value?"
"Balsora and Bagdad cannot show the like," replied the Saracen; "but what avails it to our purpose?"
"Much," replied the Frank," as thou shalt thyself confess. Take my war-axe and dash the stone into twenty shivers: would each fragment be as valuable as the original gem, or would they, all collected, bear the tenth part of its estimation?"
"That is a child's question," answered the Saracen; "the fragments of such a stone would not equal the entire jewel in the degree of hundreds to one."
"Saracen," replied the Christian warrior, "the love which a true knight binds on one only, fair and faithful, is the gem entire; the affection thou flingest among thy enslaved wives and half- wedded slaves is worthless, comparatively, as the sparkling shivers of the broken diamond."
"Now, by the Holy Caaba," said the Emir, "thou art a madman who hugs his chain of iron as if it were of gold! Look more closely. This ring of mine would lose half its beauty were not the signet encircled and enchased with these lesser brilliants, which grace it and set it off. The central diamond is man, firm and entire, his value depending on himself alone; and this circle of lesser jewels are women, borrowing his lustre, which he deals out to them as best suits his pleasure or his convenience. Take the central stone from the signet, and the diamond itself remains as valuable as ever, while the lesser gems are comparatively of little value. And this is the true reading of thy parable; for what sayeth the poet Mansour: 'It is the favour of man which giveth beauty and comeliness to woman, as the stream glitters no longer when the sun ceaseth to shine.'"
"Saracen," replied the Crusader, "thou speakest like one who never saw a woman worthy the affection of a soldier. Believe me, couldst thou look upon those of Europe, to whom, after Heaven, we of the order of knighthood vow fealty and devotion, thou wouldst loathe for ever the poor sensual slaves who form thy haram. The beauty of our fair ones gives point to our spears and edge to our swords; their words are our law; and as soon will a lamp shed lustre when unkindled, as a knight distinguish himself by feats of arms, having no mistress of his affection."
"I have heard of this frenzy among the warriors of the West," said the Emir, "and have ever accounted it one of the accompanying symptoms of that insanity which brings you hither to obtain possession of an empty sepulchre. But yet, methinks, so highly have the Franks whom I have met with extolled the beauty of their women, I could be well contented to behold with mine own eyes those charms which can transform such brave warriors into the tools of their pleasure."
"Brave Saracen," said the Knight, "if I were not on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre, it should be my pride to conduct you, on assurance of safety, to the camp of Richard of England, than whom none knows better how to do honour to a noble foe; and though I be poor and unattended yet have I interest to secure for thee, or any such as thou seemest, not safety only, but respect and esteem. There shouldst thou see several of the fairest beauties of France and Britain form a small circle, the brilliancy of which exceeds ten-thousandfold the lustre of mines of diamonds such as thine."
"Now, by the corner-stone of the Caaba!" said the Saracen, "I will accept thy invitation as freely as it is given, if thou wilt postpone thy present intent; and, credit me, brave Nazarene, it were better for thyself to turn back thy horse's head towards the camp of thy people, for to travel towards Jerusalem without a passport is but a wilful casting-away of thy life."
"I have a pass," answered the Knight, producing a parchment, "Under Saladin's hand and signet."
The Saracen bent his head to the dust as he recognized the seal and handwriting of the renowned Soldan of Egypt and Syria; and having kissed the paper with profound respect, he pressed it to his forehead, then returned it to the Christian, saying, "Rash Frank, thou hast sinned against thine own blood and mine, for not showing this to me when we met."
"You came with levelled spear," said the Knight. "Had a troop of Saracens so assailed me, it might have stood with my honour to have shown the Soldan's pass, but never to one man."
"And yet one man," said the Saracen haughtily, "was enough to interrupt your journey."
"True, brave Moslem," replied the Christian; "but there are few such as thou art. Such falcons fly not in flocks; or, if they do, they pounce not in numbers upon one."
"Thou dost us but justice," said the Saracen, evidently gratified by the compliment, as he had been touched by the implied scorn of the European's previous boast; "from us thou shouldst have had no wrong. But well was it for me that I failed to slay thee, with the safeguard of the king of kings upon thy person. Certain it were, that the cord or the sabre had justly avenged such guilt."
"I am glad to hear that its influence shall be availing to me," said the Knight; "for I have heard that the road is infested with robber-tribes, who regard nothing in comparison of an opportunity of plunder.
"The truth has been told to thee, brave Christian," said the Saracen; "but I swear to thee, by the turban of the Prophet, that shouldst thou miscarry in any haunt of such villains, I will myself undertake thy revenge with five thousand horse. I will slay every male of them, and send their women into such distant captivity that the name of their tribe shall never again be heard within five hundred miles of Damascus. I will sow with salt the foundations of their village, and there shall never live thing dwell there, even from that time forward."
"I had rather the trouble which you design for yourself were in revenge of some other more important person than of me, noble Emir," replied the Knight; "but my vow is recorded in heaven, for good or for evil, and I must be indebted to you for pointing me out the way to my resting-place for this evening."
"That," said the Saracen, "must be under the black covering of my father's tent."
"This night," answered the Christian, "I must pass in prayer and penitence with a holy man, Theodorick of Engaddi, who dwells amongst these wilds, and spends his life in the service of God."
"I will at least see you safe thither," said the Saracen.
"That would be pleasant convoy for me," said the Christian; "yet might endanger the future security of the good father; for the cruel hand of your people has been red with the blood of the servants of the Lord, and therefore do we come hither in plate and mail, with sword and lance, to open the road to the Holy Sepulchre, and protect the chosen saints and anchorites who yet dwell in this land of promise and of miracle."
"Nazarene," said the Moslem, "in this the Greeks and Syrians have much belied us, seeing we do but after the word of Abubeker Alwakel, the successor of the Prophet, and, after him, the first commander of true believers. 'Go forth,' he said, 'Yezed Ben Sophian,' when he sent that renowned general to take Syria from the infidels; 'quit yourselves like men in battle, but slay neither the aged, the infirm, the women, nor the children. Waste not the land, neither destroy corn and fruit-trees; they are the gifts of Allah. Keep faith when you have made any covenant, even if it be to your own harm. If ye find holy men labouring with their hands, and serving God in the desert, hurt them not, neither destroy their dwellings. But when you find them with shaven crowns, they are of the synagogue of Satan! Smite with the sabre, slay, cease not till they become believers or tributaries.' As the Caliph, companion of the Prophet, hath told us, so have we done, and those whom our justice has smitten are but the priests of Satan. But unto the good men who, without stirring up nation against nation, worship sincerely in the faith of Issa Ben Mariam, we are a shadow and a shield; and such being he whom you seek, even though the light of the Prophet hath not reached him, from me he will only have love, favour, and regard."
"The anchorite whom I would now visit," said the warlike pilgrim, "is, I have heard, no priest; but were he of that anointed and sacred order, I would prove with my good lance, against paynim and infidel - "
"Let us not defy each other, brother," interrupted the Saracen; "we shall find, either of us, enough of Franks or of Moslemah on whom to exercise both sword and lance. This Theodorick is protected both by Turk and Arab; and, though one of strange conditions at intervals, yet, on the whole, he bears himself so well as the follower of his own prophet, that he merits the protection of him who was sent -"
"Now, by Our Lady, Saracen," exclaimed the Christian, "if thou darest name in the same breath the camel-driver of Mecca with - "
An electrical shock of passion thrilled through the form of the Emir; but it was only momentary, and the calmness of his reply had both dignity and reason in it, when he said, "Slander not him whom thou knowest not - the rather that we venerate the founder of thy religion, while we condemn the doctrine which your priests have spun from it. I will myself guide thee to the cavern of the hermit, which, methinks, without my help, thou wouldst find it a hard matter to reach. And, on the way, let us leave to mollahs and to monks to dispute about the divinity of our faith, and speak on themes which belong to youthful warriors - upon battles, upon beautiful women, upon sharp swords, and upon bright armour."
The warriors arose from their place of brief rest and simple refreshment, and courteously aided each other while they carefully replaced and adjusted the harness from which they had relieved for the time their trusty steeds. Each seemed familiar with an employment which at that time was a part of necessary and, indeed, of indispensable duty. Each also seemed to possess, as far as the difference betwixt the animal and rational species admitted, the confidence and affection of the horse which was the constant companion of his travels and his warfare. With the Saracen this familiar intimacy was a part of his early habits; for, in the tents of the Eastern military tribes, the horse of the soldier ranks next to, and almost equal in importance with, his wife and his family; and with the European warrior, circumstances, and indeed necessity, rendered his war-horse scarcely less than his brother in arms. The steeds, therefore, suffered themselves quietly to be taken from their food and liberty, and neighed and snuffled fondly around their masters, while they were adjusting their accoutrements for further travel and additional toil. And each warrior, as he prosecuted his own task, or assisted with courtesy his companion, looked with observant curiosity at the equipments of his fellow-traveller, and noted particularly what struck him as peculiar in the fashion in which he arranged his riding accoutrements.
Ere they remounted to resume their journey, the Christian Knight again moistened his lips and dipped his hands in the living fountain, and said to his pagan associate of the journey, "I would I knew the name of this delicious fountain, that I might hold it in my grateful remembrance; for never did water slake more deliciously a more oppressive thirst than I have this day experienced."
"It is called in the Arabic language," answered the Saracen, "by a name which signifies the Diamond of the Desert."
"And well is it so named," replied the Christian. "My native valley hath a thousand springs, but not to one of them shall I attach hereafter such precious recollection as to this solitary fount, which bestows its liquid treasures where they are not only delightful, but nearly indispensable."
"You say truth," said the Saracen; "for the curse is still on yonder sea of death, and neither man nor beast drinks of its waves, nor of the river which feeds without filling it, until this inhospitable desert be passed."
They mounted, and pursued their journey across the sandy waste. The ardour of noon was now past, and a light breeze somewhat alleviated the terrors of the desert, though not without bearing on its wings an impalpable dust, which the Saracen little heeded, though his heavily-armed companion felt it as such an annoyance that he hung his iron casque at his saddle-bow, and substituted the light riding-cap, termed in the language of the time a mortier, from its resemblance in shape to an ordinary mortar. They rode together for some time in silence, the Saracen performing the part of director and guide of the journey, which he did by observing minute marks and bearings of the distant rocks, to a ridge of which they were gradually approaching. For a little time he seemed absorbed in the task, as a pilot when navigating a vessel through a difficult channel; but they had not proceeded half a league when he seemed secure of his route, and disposed, with more frankness than was usual to his nation, to enter into conversation.
"You have asked the name," he said, "of a mute fountain, which hath the semblance, but not the reality, of a living thing. Let me be pardoned to ask the name of the companion with whom I have this day encountered, both in danger and in repose, and which I cannot fancy unknown even here among the deserts of Palestine?"
"It is not yet worth publishing," said the Christian. "Know, however, that among the soldiers of the Cross I am called Kenneth - Kenneth of the Couching Leopard; at home I have other titles, but they would sound harsh in an Eastern ear. Brave Saracen, let me ask which of the tribes of Arabia claims your descent, and by what name you are known?"
"Sir Kenneth," said the Moslem, "I joy that your name is such as my lips can easily utter. For me, I am no Arab, yet derive my descent from a line neither less wild nor less warlike. Know, Sir Knight of the Leopard, that I am Sheerkohf, the Lion of the Mountain, and that Kurdistan, from which I derive my descent, holds no family more noble than that of Seljook."
"I have heard," answered the Christian, "that your great Soldan claims his blood from the same source?"
"Thanks to the Prophet that hath so far honoured our mountains as to send from their bosom him whose word is victory," answered the paynim. "I am but as a worm before the King of Egypt and Syria, and yet in my own land something my name may avail. Stranger, with how many men didst thou come on this warfare?"
"By my faith," said Sir Kenneth, "with aid of friends and kinsmen, I was hardly pinched to furnish forth ten well-appointed lances, with maybe some fifty more men, archers and varlets included. Some have deserted my unlucky pennon - some have fallen in battle - several have died of disease - and one trusty armour- bearer, for whose life I am now doing my pilgrimage, lies on the bed of sickness."
"Christian," said Sheerkohf, "here I have five arrows in my quiver, each feathered from the wing of an eagle. When I send one of them to my tents, a thousand warriors mount on horseback - when I send another, an equal force will arise - for the five, I can command five thousand men; and if I send my bow, ten thousand mounted riders will shake the desert. And with thy fifty followers thou hast come to invade a land in which I am one of the meanest!"
"Now, by the rood, Saracen," retorted the Western warrior, "thou shouldst know, ere thou vauntest thyself, that one steel glove can crush a whole handful of hornets."
"Ay, but it must first enclose them within its grasp," said the Saracen, with a smile which might have endangered their new alliance, had he not changed the subject by adding, "And is bravery so much esteemed amongst the Christian princes that thou, thus void of means and of men, canst offer, as thou didst of late, to be my protector and security in the camp of thy brethren?"
"Know, Saracen," said the Christian, "since such is thy style, that the name of a knight, and the blood of a gentleman, entitle him to place himself on the same rank with sovereigns even of the first degree, in so far as regards all but regal authority and dominion. Were Richard of England himself to wound the honour of a knight as poor as I am, he could not, by the law of chivalry, deny him the combat."
"Methinks I should like to look upon so strange a scene," said the Emir, "in which a leathern belt and a pair of spurs put the poorest on a level with the most powerful."
"You must add free blood and a fearless heart," said the Christian; "then, perhaps, you will not have spoken untruly of the dignity of knighthood."
"And mix you as boldly amongst the females of your chiefs and leaders?" asked the Saracen.
"God forbid," said the Knight of the Leopard, "that the poorest knight in Christendom should not be free, in all honourable service, to devote his hand and sword, the fame of his actions, and the fixed devotion of his heart, to the fairest princess who ever wore coronet on her brow!"
"But a little while since," said the Saracen, "and you described love as the highest treasure of the heart - thine hath undoubtedly been high and nobly bestowed?"
"Stranger," answered the Christian, blushing deeply as he spoke, "we tell not rashly where it is we have bestowed our choicest treasures. It is enough for thee to know that, as thou sayest, my love is highly and nobly bestowed - most highly - most nobly; but if thou wouldst hear of love and broken lances, venture thyself, as thou sayest, to the camp of the Crusaders, and thou wilt find exercise for thine ears, and, if thou wilt, for thy hands too."
The Eastern warrior, raising himself in his stirrups, and shaking aloft his lance, replied, " Hardly, I fear, shall I find one with a crossed shoulder who will exchange with me the cast of the jerrid."
"I will not promise for that," replied the Knight; "though there be in the camp certain Spaniards, who have right good skill in your Eastern game of hurling the javelin."
"Dogs, and sons of dogs!" ejaculated the Saracen; "what have these Spaniards to do to come hither to combat the true believers, who, in their own land, are their lords and taskmasters? with them I would mix in no warlike pastime."
"Let not the knights of Leon or Asturias hear you speak thus of them," said the Knight of the Leopard. " But," added he, smiling at the recollection of the morning's combat, "if, instead of a reed, you were inclined to stand the cast of a battle-axe, there are enough of Western warriors who would gratify your longing."
"By the beard of my father, sir," said the Saracen, with an approach to laughter, "the game is too rough for mere sport. I will never shun them in battle, but my head" (pressing his hand to his brow) "will not, for a while, permit me to seek them in sport."
"I would you saw the axe of King Richard," answered the Western warrior, "to which that which hangs at my saddle-bow weighs but as a feather."
"We hear much of that island sovereign," said the Saracen. "Art thou one of his subjects?"
"One of his followers I am, for this expedition," answered the Knight, "and honoured in the service; but not born his subject, although a native of the island in which he reigns."
"How mean you? " said the Eastern soldier; "have you then two kings in one poor island?"
"As thou sayest," said the Scot, for such was Sir Kenneth by birth. "It is even so; and yet, although the inhabitants of the two extremities of that island are engaged in frequent war, the country can, as thou seest, furnish forth such a body of men-at- arms as may go far to shake the unholy hold which your master hath laid on the cities of Zion."
"By the beard of Saladin, Nazarene, but that it is a thoughtless and boyish folly, I could laugh at the simplicity of your great Sultan, who comes hither to make conquests of deserts and rocks, and dispute the possession of them with those who have tenfold numbers at command, while he leaves a part of his narrow islet, in which he was born a sovereign, to the dominion of another sceptre than his. Surely, Sir Kenneth, you and the other good men of your country should have submitted yourselves to the dominion of this King Richard ere you left your native land, divided against itself, to set forth on this expedition?"
Hasty and fierce was Kenneth's answer. "No, by the bright light of Heaven! If the King of England had not set forth to the Crusade till he was sovereign of Scotland, the Crescent might, for me, and all true-hearted Scots, glimmer for ever on the walls of Zion."
Thus far he had proceeded, when, suddenly recollecting himself, he muttered, "Mea culpa! Mea culpa! what have I, a soldier of the Cross, to do with recollection of war betwixt Christian nations!"
The rapid expression of feeling corrected by the dictates of duty did not escape the Moslem, who, if he did not entirely understand all which it conveyed, saw enough to convince him with the assurance that Christians, as well as Moslemah, had private feelings of personal pique, and national quarrels, which were not entirely reconcilable. But the Saracens were a race, polished, perhaps, to the utmost extent which their religion permitted, and particularly capable of entertaining high ideas of courtesy and politeness; and such sentiments prevented his taking any notice of the inconsistency of Sir Kenneth's feelings in the opposite characters of a Scot and a Crusader.
Meanwhile, as they advanced, the scene began to change around them. They were now turning to the eastward, and had reached the range of steep and barren hills which binds in that quarter the naked plain, and varies the surface of the country, without changing its sterile character. Sharp, rocky eminences began to rise around them, and, in a short time, deep declivities and ascents, both formidable in height and difficult from the narrowness of the path, offered to the travellers obstacles of a different kind from those with which they had recently contended.
Dark caverns and chasms amongst the rocks - those grottoes so often alluded to in Scripture - yawned fearfully on either side as they proceeded, and the Scottish knight was informed by the Emir that these were often the refuge of beasts of prey, or of men still more ferocious, who, driven to desperation by the constant war, and the oppression exercised by the soldiery, as well of the Cross as of the Crescent, had become robbers, and spared neither rank nor religion, neither sex nor age, in their depredations.
The Scottish knight listened with indifference to the accounts of ravages committed by wild beasts or wicked men, secure as he felt himself in his own valour and personal strength; but he was struck with mysterious dread when he recollected that he was now in the awful wilderness of the forty days' fast, and the scene of the actual personal temptation, wherewith the Evil Principle was permitted to assail the Son of Man. He withdrew his attention gradually from the light and worldly conversation of the infidel warrior beside him, and, however acceptable his gay and gallant bravery would have rendered him as a companion elsewhere, Sir Kenneth felt as if, in those wildernesses the waste and dry places in which the foul spirits were wont to wander when expelled the mortals whose forms they possessed, a bare-footed friar would have been a better associate than the gay but unbelieving paynim.
These feelings embarrassed him the rather that the Saracen's spirits appeared to rise with the journey, and because the farther he penetrated into the gloomy recesses of the mountains, the lighter became his conversation, and when he found that unanswered, the louder grew his song. Sir Kenneth knew enough of the Eastern languages to be assured that he chanted sonnets of love, containing all the glowing praises of beauty in which the Oriental poets are so fond of luxuriating, and which, therefore, were peculiarly unfitted for a serious or devotional strain of thought, the feeling best becoming the Wilderness of the Temptation. With inconsistency enough, the Saracen also sung lays in praise of wine, the liquid ruby of the Persian poets; and his gaiety at length became so unsuitable to the Christian knight's contrary train of sentiments, as, but for the promise of amity which they had exchanged, would most likely have made Sir Kenneth take measures to change his note. As it was, the Crusader felt as if he had by his side some gay, licentious fiend, who endeavoured to ensnare his soul, and endanger his immortal salvation, by inspiring loose thoughts of earthly pleasure, and thus polluting his devotion, at a time when his faith as a Christian and his vow as a pilgrim called on him for a serious and penitential state of mind. We was thus greatly perplexed, and undecided how to act; and it was in a tone of hasty displeasure that, at length breaking silence, he interrupted the lay of the celebrated Rudpiki, in which he prefers the mole on his mistress's bosom to all the wealth of Bokhara and Samarcand.
"Saracen," said the Crusader sternly, "blinded as thou art, and plunged amidst the errors of a false law, thou shouldst yet comprehend that there are some places more holy than others, and that there are some scenes also in which the Evil One hath more than ordinary power over sinful mortals. I will not tell thee for what awful reason this place - these rocks - these caverns with their gloomy arches, leading as it were to the central abyss - are held an especial haunt of Satan and his angels. It is enough that I have been long warned to beware of this place by wise and holy men, to whom the qualities of the unholy region are well known. Wherefore, Saracen, forbear thy foolish and ill-timed levity, and turn thy thoughts to things more suited to the spot - although, alas for thee! thy best prayers are but as blasphemy and sin."
The Saracen listened with some surprise, and then replied, with good-humour and gaiety, only so far repressed as courtesy required, "Good Sir Kenneth, methinks you deal unequally by your companion, or else ceremony is but indifferently taught amongst your Western tribes. I took no offence when I saw you gorge hog's flesh and drink wine, and permitted you to enjoy a treat which you called your Christian liberty, only pitying in my heart your foul pastimes. Wherefore, then, shouldst thou take scandal, because I cheer, to the best of my power, a gloomy road with a cheerful verse? What saith the poet, 'Song is like the dews of heaven on the bosom of the desert; it cools the path of the traveller.'"
"Friend Saracen," said the Christian, "I blame not the love of minstrelsy and of the gai science; albeit, we yield unto it even too much room in our thoughts when they should be bent on better things. But prayers and holy psalms are better fitting than lais of love, or of wine-cups, when men walk in this Valley of the Shadow of Death, full of fiends and demons, whom the prayers of holy men have driven forth from the haunts of humanity to wander amidst scenes as accursed as themselves."
"Speak not thus of the Genii, Christian," answered the Saracen, "for know thou speakest to one whose line and nation drew their origin from the immortal race which your sect fear and blaspheme."
"I well thought," answered the Crusader, "that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange is it to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it."
"From whom should the bravest boast of descending, saving from him that is bravest?" said the Saracen; "from whom should the proudest trace their line so well as from the Dark Spirit, which would rather fall headlong by force than bend the knee by his will? Eblis may be hated, stranger, but he must be feared; and such as Eblis are his descendants of Kurdistan."
Tales of magic and of necromancy were the learning of the period, and Sir Kenneth heard his companion's confession of diabolical descent without any disbelief, and without much wonder; yet not without a secret shudder at finding himself in this fearful place, in the company of one who avouched himself to belong to such a lineage. Naturally insusceptible, however, of fear, he crossed himself, and stoutly demanded of the Saracen an account of the pedigree which he had boasted. The latter readily complied.
"Know, brave stranger," he said, "that when the cruel Zohauk, one of the descendants of Giamschid, held the throne of Persia, he formed a league with the Powers of Darkness, amidst the secret vaults of Istakhar, vaults which the hands of the elementary spirits had hewn out of the living rock long before Adam himself had an existence. Here he fed, with daily oblations of human blood, two devouring serpents, which had become, according to the poets, a part of himself, and to sustain whom he levied a tax of daily human sacrifices, till the exhausted patience of his subjects caused some to raise up the scimitar of resistance, like the valiant Blacksmith and the victorious Feridoun, by whom the tyrant was at length dethroned, and imprisoned for ever in the dismal caverns of the mountain Damavend. But ere that deliverance had taken place, and whilst the power of the bloodthirsty tyrant was at its height, the band of ravening slaves whom he had sent forth to purvey victims for his daily sacrifice brought to the vaults of the palace of Istakhar seven sisters so beautiful that they seemed seven houris. These seven maidens were the daughters of a sage, who had no treasures save those beauties and his own wisdom. The last was not sufficient to foresee this misfortune, the former seemed ineffectual to prevent it. The eldest exceeded not her twentieth year, the youngest had scarce attained her thirteenth; and so like were they to each other that they could not have been distinguished but for the difference of height, in which they gradually rose in easy gradation above each other, like the ascent which leads to the gates of Paradise. So lovely were these seven sisters when they stood in the darksome vault, disrobed of all clothing saving a cymar of white silk, that their charms moved the hearts of those who were not mortal. Thunder muttered, the earth shook, the wall of the vault was rent, and at the chasm entered one dressed like a hunter, with bow and shafts, and followed by six others, his brethren. They were tall men, and, though dark, yet comely to behold; but their eyes had more the glare of those of the dead than the light which lives under the eyelids of the living. 'Zeineb,' said the leader of the band - and as he spoke he took the eldest sister by the hand, and his voice was soft, low, and melancholy - 'I am Cothrob, king of the subterranean world, and supreme chief of Ginnistan. I and my brethren are of those who, created out of the pure elementary fire, disdained, even at the command of Omnipotence, to do homage to a clod of earth, because it was called Man. Thou mayest have heard of us as cruel, unrelenting, and persecuting. It is false. We are by nature kind and generous; only vengeful when insulted, only cruel when affronted. We are true to those who trust us; and we have heard the invocations of thy father, the sage Mithrasp, who wisely worships not alone the Origin of Good, but that which is called the Source of Evil. You and your sisters are on the eve of death; but let each give to us one hair from your fair tresses, in token of fealty, and we will carry you many miles from hence to a place of safety, where you may bid defiance to Zohauk and his ministers.' The fear of instant death, saith the poet, is like the rod of the prophet Haroun, which devoured all other rods when transformed into snakes before the King of Pharaoh; and the daughters of the Persian sage were less apt than others to be afraid of the addresses of a spirit. They gave the tribute which Cothrob demanded, and in an instant the sisters were transported to an enchanted castle on the mountains of Tugrut, in Kurdistan, and were never again seen by mortal eye. But in process of time seven youths, distinguished in the war and in the chase, appeared in the environs of the castle of the demons. They were darker, taller, fiercer, and more resolute than any of the scattered inhabitants of the valleys of Kurdistan; and they took to themselves wives, and became fathers of the seven tribes of the Kurdmans, whose valour is known throughout the universe."
The Christian knight heard with wonder the wild tale, of which Kurdistan still possesses the traces, and, after a moment's thought, replied, "Verily, Sir Knight, you have spoken well -your genealogy may be dreaded and hated, but it cannot be contemned. Neither do I any longer wonder at your obstinacy in a false faith, since, doubtless, it is part of the fiendish disposition which hath descended from your ancestors, those infernal huntsmen, as you have described them, to love falsehood rather than truth; and I no longer marvel that your spirits become high and exalted, and vent themselves in verse and in tunes, when you approach to the places encumbered by the haunting of evil spirits, which must excite in you that joyous feeling which others experience when approaching the land of their human ancestry."
"By my father's beard, I think thou hast the right," said the Saracen, rather amused than offended by the freedom with which the Christian had uttered his reflections; "for, though the Prophet (blessed be his name!) hath sown amongst us the seed of a better faith than our ancestors learned in the ghostly halls of Tugrut, yet we are not willing, like other Moslemah, to pass hasty doom on the lofty and powerful elementary spirits from whom we claim our origin. These Genii, according to our belief and hope, are not altogether reprobate, but are still in the way of probation, and may hereafter be punished or rewarded. Leave we this to the mollahs and the imaums. Enough that with us the reverence for these spirits is not altogether effaced by what we have learned from the Koran, and that many of us still sing, in memorial of our fathers' more ancient faith, such verses as these."
So saying, he proceeded to chant verses, very ancient in the language and structure, which some have thought derive their source from the worshippers of Arimanes, the Evil Principle.
Dark Ahriman, whom Irak still
Holds origin of woe and ill!
When, bending at thy shrine,
We view the world with troubled eye,
Where see we 'neath the extended sky,
An empire matching thine!
If the Benigner Power can yield
A fountain in the desert field,
Where weary pilgrims drink;
Thine are the waves that lash the rock,
Thine the tornado's deadly shock,
Where countless navies sink!
Or if he bid the soil dispense
Balsams to cheer the sinking sense,
How few can they deliver
From lingering pains, or pang intense,
Red Fever, spotted Pestilence,
The arrows of thy quiver!
Chief in Man's bosom sits thy sway,
And frequent, while in words we pray
Before another throne,
Whate'er of specious form be there,
The secret meaning of the prayer
Is, Ahriman, thine own.
Say, hast thou feeling, sense, and form,
Thunder thy voice, thy garments storm,
As Eastern Magi say;
With sentient soul of hate and wrath,
And wings to sweep thy deadly path,
And fangs to tear thy prey?
Or art thou mix'd in Nature's source,
An ever-operating force,
Converting good to ill;
An evil principle innate,
Contending with our better fate,
And, oh! victorious still?
Howe'er it be, dispute is vain.
On all without thou hold'st thy reign,
Nor less on all within;
Each mortal passion's fierce career,
Love, hate, ambition, joy, and fear,
Thou goadest into sin.
Whene'er a sunny gleam appears,
To brighten up our vale of tears,
Thou art not distant far;
'Mid such brief solace of our lives,
Thou whett'st our very banquet-knives
To tools of death and war.
Thus, from the moment of our birth,
Long as we linger on the earth,
Thou rulest the fate of men;
Thine are the pangs of life's last hour,
And - who dare answer? - is thy power,
Dark Spirit! ended then?
[The worthy and learned clergyman by whom this species of hymn has been translated desires, that, for fear of misconception, we should warn the reader to recollect that it is composed by a heathen, to whom the real causes of moral and physical evil are unknown, and who views their predominance in the system of the universe as all must view that appalling fact who have not the benefit of the Christian revelation. On our own part, we beg to add, that we understand the style of the translator is more paraphrastic than can be approved by those who are acquainted with the singularly curious original. The translator seems to have despaired of rendering into English verse the flights of Oriental poetry; and, possibly, like many learned and ingenious men, finding it impossible to discover the sense of the original, he may have tacitly substituted his own.]
These verses may perhaps have been the not unnatural effusion of some half-enlightened philosopher, who, in the fabled deity, Arimanes, saw but the prevalence of moral and physical evil; but in the ears of Sir Kenneth of the Leopard they had a different effect, and, sung as they were by one who had just boasted himself a descendant of demons, sounded very like an address of worship to the arch-fiend himself. He weighed within himself whether, on hearing such blasphemy in the very desert where Satan had stood rebuked for demanding homage, taking an abrupt leave of the Saracen was sufficient to testify his abhorrence; or whether he was not rather constrained by his vow as a Crusader to defy the infidel to combat on the spot, and leave him food for the beasts of the wilderness, when his attention was suddenly caught by an unexpected apparition.
The light was now verging low, yet served the knight still to discern that they two were no longer alone in the desert, but were closely watched by a figure of great height and very thin, which skipped over rocks and bushes with so much agility as, added to the wild and hirsute appearance of the individual, reminded him of the fauns and silvans, whose images he had seen in the ancient temples of Rome. As the single-hearted Scottishman had never for a moment doubted these gods of the ancient Gentiles to be actually devils, so he now hesitated not to believe that the blasphemous hymn of the Saracen had raised up an infernal spirit.
"But what recks it?" said stout Sir Kenneth to himself; "down with the fiend and his worshippers!"
He did not, however, think it necessary to give the same warning of defiance to two enemies as he would unquestionably have afforded to one. His hand was upon his mace, and perhaps the unwary Saracen would have been paid for his Persian poetry by having his brains dashed out on the spot, without any reason assigned for it; but the Scottish Knight was spared from committing what would have been a sore blot in his shield of arms. The apparition, on which his eyes had been fixed for some time, had at first appeared to dog their path by concealing itself behind rocks and shrubs, using those advantages of the ground with great address, and surmounting its irregularities with surprising agility. At length, just as the Saracen paused in his song, the figure, which was that of a tall man clothed in goat-skins, sprung into the midst of the path, and seized a rein of the Saracen's bridle in either hand, confronting thus and bearing back the noble horse, which, unable to endure the manner in which this sudden assailant pressed the long-armed bit, and the severe curb, which, according to the Eastern fashion, was a solid ring of iron, reared upright, and finally fell backwards on his master, who, however, avoided the peril of the fall by lightly throwing himself to one side.
The assailant then shifted his grasp from the bridle of the horse to the throat of the rider, flung himself above the struggling Saracen, and, despite of his youth and activity kept him undermost, wreathing his long arms above those of his prisoner, who called out angrily, and yet half-laughing at the same time - "Hamako - fool - unloose me -this passes thy privilege - unloose me, or I will use my dagger."
"Thy dagger! - infidel dog!" said the figure in the goat-skins, "hold it in thy gripe if thou canst!" and in an instant he wrenched the Saracen's weapon out of its owner's hand, and brandished it over his head.
"Help, Nazarene!" cried Sheerkohf, now seriously alarmed; "help, or the Hamako will slay me."
"Slay thee!" replied the dweller of the desert; "and well hast thou merited death, for singing thy blasphemous hymns, not only to the praise of thy false prophet, who is the foul fiend's harbinger, but to that of the Author of Evil himself."
The Christian Knight had hitherto looked on as one stupefied, so strangely had this rencontre contradicted, in its progress and event, all that he had previously conjectured. He felt, however, at length, that it touched his honour to interfere in behalf of his discomfited companion, and therefore addressed himself to the victorious figure in the goat-skins.
"Whosoe'er thou art," he said, "and whether of good or of evil, know that I am sworn for the time to be true companion to the Saracen whom thou holdest under thee; therefore, I pray thee to let him arise, else I will do battle with thee in his behalf."
"And a proper quarrel it were," answered the Hamako, "for a Crusader to do battle in - for the sake of an unbaptized dog, to combat one of his own holy faith! Art thou come forth to the wilderness to fight for the Crescent against the Cross? A goodly soldier of God art thou to listen to those who sing the praises of Satan!"
Yet, while he spoke thus, he arose himself, and, suffering the Saracen to rise also, returned him his cangiar, or poniard.
"Thou seest to what a point of peril thy presumption hath brought thee," continued he of the goat-skins, now addressing Sheerkohf, "and by what weak means thy practised skill and boasted agility can be foiled, when such is Heaven's pleasure. Wherefore, beware, O Ilderim! for know that, were there not a twinkle in the star of thy nativity which promises for thee something that is good and gracious in Heaven's good time, we two had not parted till I had torn asunder the throat which so lately trilled forth blasphemies."
"Hamako," said the Saracen, without any appearance of resenting the violent language and yet more violent assault to which he had been subjected, "I pray thee, good Hamako, to beware how thou dost again urge thy privilege over far; for though, as a good Moslem, I respect those whom Heaven hath deprived of ordinary reason, in order to endow them with the spirit of prophecy, yet I like not other men's hands on the bridle of my horse, neither upon my own person. Speak, therefore, what thou wilt, secure of any resentment from me; but gather so much sense as to apprehend that if thou shalt again proffer me any violence, I will strike thy shagged head from thy meagre shoulders. - and to thee, friend Kenneth," he added, as he remounted his steed, "I must needs say, that in a companion through the desert, I love friendly deeds better than fair words. Of the last thou hast given me enough; but it had been better to have aided me more speedily in my struggle with this Hamako, who had well-nigh taken my life in his frenzy,"
"By my faith," said the Knight, "I did somewhat fail - was somewhat tardy in rendering thee instant help; but the strangeness of the assailant, the suddenness of the scene - it was as if thy wild and wicked lay had raised the devil among us - and such was my confusion, that two or three minutes elapsed ere I could take to my weapon."
"Thou art but a cold and considerate friend," said the Saracen; "and, had the Hamako been one grain more frantic, thy companion had been slain by thy side, to thy eternal dishonour, without thy stirring a finger in his aid, although thou satest by, mounted, and in arms."
"By my word, Saracen," said the Christian, "if thou wilt have it in plain terms, I thought that strange figure was the devil; and being of thy lineage, I knew not what family secret you might be communicating to each other, as you lay lovingly rolling together on the sand."
"Thy gibe is no answer, brother Kenneth," said the Saracen; "for know, that had my assailant been in very deed the Prince of Darkness, thou wert bound not the less to enter into combat with him in thy comrade's behalf. Know, also, that whatever there may be of foul or of fiendish about the Hamako belongs more to your lineage than to mine - this Hamako being, in truth, the anchorite whom thou art come hither to visit."
"This!" said Sir Kenneth, looking at the athletic yet wasted figure before him - "this! Thou mockest, Saracen - this cannot be the venerable Theodorick!"
"Ask himself, if thou wilt not believe me," answered Sheerkohf; and ere the words had left his mouth, the hermit gave evidence in his own behalf.
"I am Theodorick of Engaddi," he said - "I am the walker of the desert - I am friend of the Cross, and flail of all infidels, heretics, and devil-worshippers. Avoid ye, avoid ye! Down with Mahound, Termagaunt, and all their adherents!" - So saying, he pulled from under his shaggy garment a sort of flail or jointed club, bound with iron, which he brandished round his head with singular dexterity,
"Thou seest thy saint," said the Saracen, laughing, for the first time, at the unmitigated astonishment with which Sir Kenneth looked on the wild gestures and heard the wayward muttering of Theodorick, who, after swinging his flail in every direction, apparently quite reckless whether it encountered the head of either of his companions, finally showed his own strength, and the soundness of the weapon, by striking into fragments a large stone which lay near him.
"This is a madman," said Sir Kenneth.
"Not the worse saint," returned the Moslem, speaking according to the well-known Eastern belief, that madmen are under the influence of immediate inspiration. "Know, Christian, that when one eye is extinguished, the other becomes more keen; when one hand is cut off, the other becomes more powerful; so, when our reason in human things is disturbed or destroyed, our view heavenward becomes more acute and perfect."
Here the voice of the Saracen was drowned in that of the hermit, who began to hollo aloud in a wild, chanting tone, "I am Theodorick of Engaddi - I am the torch-brand of the desert - I am the flail of the infidels! The lion and the leopard shall be my comrades, and draw nigh to my cell for shelter; neither shall the goat be afraid of their fangs. I am the torch and the lantern - Kyrie Eleison!"
He closed his song by a short race, and ended that again by three forward bounds, which would have done him great credit in a gymnastic academy, but became his character of hermit so indifferently that the Scottish Knight was altogether confounded and bewildered.
The Saracen seemed to understand him better. "You see," he said, "that he expects us to follow him to his cell, which, indeed, is our only place of refuge for the night. You are the leopard, from the portrait on your shield; I am the lion, as my name imports; and by the goat, alluding to his garb of goat-skins, he means himself. We must keep him in sight, however, for he is as fleet as a dromedary."
In fact, the task was a difficult one, for though the reverend guide stopped from time to time, and waved his hand, as if to encourage them to come on, yet, well acquainted with all the winding dells and passes of the desert, and gifted with uncommon activity, which, perhaps, an unsettled state of mind kept in constant exercise, he led the knights through chasms and along footpaths where even the light-armed Saracen, with his well- trained barb, was in considerable risk, and where the iron- sheathed European and his over-burdened steed found themselves in such imminent peril as the rider would gladly have exchanged for the dangers of a general action. Glad he was when, at length, after this wild race, he beheld the holy man who had led it standing in front of a cavern, with a large torch in his hand, composed of a piece of wood dipped in bitumen, which cast a broad and flickering light, and emitted a strong sulphureous smell.
Undeterred by the stifling vapour, the knight threw himself from his horse and entered the cavern, which afforded small appearance of accommodation. The cell was divided into two parts, in the outward of which were an altar of stone and a crucifix made of reeds: this served the anchorite for his chapel. On one side of this outward cave the Christian knight, though not without scruple, arising from religious reverence to the objects around, fastened up his horse, and arranged him for the night, in imitation of the Saracen, who gave him to understand that such was the custom of the place. The hermit, meanwhile, was busied putting his inner apartment in order to receive his guests, and there they soon joined him. At the bottom of the outer cave, a small aperture, closed with a door of rough plank, led into the sleeping apartment of the hermit, which was more commodious. The floor had been brought to a rough level by the labour of the inhabitant, and then strewed with white sand, which he daily sprinkled with water from a small fountain which bubbled out of the rock in one corner, affording in that stifling climate, refreshment alike to the ear and the taste. Mattresses, wrought of twisted flags, lay by the side of the cell; the sides, like the floor, had been roughly brought to shape, and several herbs and flowers were hung around them. Two waxen torches, which the hermit lighted, gave a cheerful air to the place, which was rendered agreeable by its fragrance and coolness.
There were implements of labour in one corner of the apartment, in another was a niche for a rude statue of the Virgin. A table and two chairs showed that they must be the handiwork of the anchorite, being different in their form from Oriental accommodations. The former was covered, not only with reeds and pulse, but also with dried flesh, which Theodorick assiduously placed in such arrangement as should invite the appetite of his guests. This appearance of courtesy, though mute, and expressed by gestures only, seemed to Sir Kenneth something entirely irreconcilable with his former wild and violent demeanour. The movements of the hermit were now become composed, and apparently it was only a sense of religious humiliation which prevented his features, emaciated as they were by his austere mode of life, from being majestic and noble. He trod his cell as one who seemed born to rule over men, but who had abdicated his empire to become the servant of Heaven. Still, it must be allowed that his gigantic size, the length of his unshaven locks and beard, and the fire of a deep-set and wild eye were rather attributes of a soldier than of a recluse.
Even the Saracen seemed to regard the anchorite with some veneration, while he was thus employed, and he whispered in a low tone to Sir Kenneth, "The Hamako is now in his better mind, but he will not speak until we have eaten - such is his vow."
It was in silence, accordingly, that Theodorick motioned to the Scot to take his place on one of the low chairs, while Sheerkohf placed himself, after the custom of his nation, upon a cushion of mats. The hermit then held up both hands, as if blessing the refreshment which he had placed before his guests, and they proceeded to eat in silence as profound as his own. To the Saracen this gravity was natural; and the Christian imitated his taciturnity, while he employed his thoughts on the singularity of his own situation, and the contrast betwixt the wild, furious gesticulations, loud cries, and fierce actions of Theodorick, when they first met him, and the demure, solemn, decorous assiduity with which he now performed the duties of hospitality.
When their meal was ended, the hermit, who had not himself eaten a morsel, removed the fragments from the table, and placing before the Saracen a pitcher of sherbet, assigned to the Scot a flask of wine.
"Drink," he said, "my children" - they were the first words he had spoken - "the gifts of God are to be enjoyed, when the Giver is remembered."
Having said this, he retired to the-outward cell, probably for performance of his devotions, and left his guests together in the inner apartment; when Sir Kenneth endeavoured, by various questions, to draw from Sheerkohf what that Emir knew concerning his host. He was interested by more than mere curiosity in these inquiries. Difficult as it was to reconcile the outrageous demeanour of the recluse at his first appearance with his present humble and placid behaviour, it seemed yet more impossible to think it consistent with the high consideration in which, according to what Sir Kenneth had learned, this hermit was held by the most enlightened divines of the Christian world. Theodorick, the hermit of Engaddi, had, in that character, been the correspondent of popes and councils; to whom his letters, full of eloquent fervour, had described the miseries imposed by the unbelievers upon the Latin Christians in the Holy Land, in colours scarce inferior to those employed at the Council of Clermont by the Hermit Peter, when he preached the first Crusade. To find, in a person so reverend and so much revered, the frantic gestures of a mad fakir, induced the Christian knight to pause ere he could resolve to communicate to him certain important matters, which he had in charge from some of the leaders of the Crusade.
It had been a main object of Sir Kenneth's pilgrimage, attempted by a route so unusual, to make such communications; but what he had that night seen induced him to pause and reflect ere he proceeded to the execution of his commission. From the Emir he could not extract much information, but the general tenor was as follows: -That, as he had heard, the hermit had been once a brave and valiant soldier, wise in council and fortunate in battle, which last he could easily believe from the great strength and agility which he had often seen him display; that he had appeared at Jerusalem in the character not of a pilgrim, but in that of one who had devoted himself to dwell for the remainder of his life in the Holy Land. Shortly afterwards, he fixed his residence amid the scenes of desolation where they now found him, respected by the Latins for his austere devotion, and by the Turks and Arabs on account of the symptoms of insanity which he displayed, and which they ascribed to inspiration. It was from them he had the name of Hamako, which expresses such a character in the Turkish language. Sheerkohf himself seemed at a loss how to rank their host. He had been, he said, a wise man, and could often for many hours together speak lessons of virtue or wisdom, without the slightest appearance of inaccuracy. At other times he was wild and violent, but never before had he seen him so mischievously disposed as he had that day appeared to be. His rage was chiefly provoked by any affront to his religion; and there was a story of some wandering Arabs, who had insulted his worship and defaced his altar, and whom he had on that account attacked and slain with the short flail which he carried with him in lieu of all other weapons. This incident had made a great noise, and it was as much the fear of the hermit's iron flail as regard for his character as a Hamako which caused the roving tribes to respect his dwelling and his chapel. His fame had spread so far that Saladin had issued particular orders that he should be spared and protected. He himself, and other Moslem lords of rank, had visited the cell more than once, partly from curiosity, partly that they expected from a man so learned as the Christian Hamako some insight into the secrets of futurity. "He had," continued the Saracen, "a rashid, or observatory, of great height, contrived to view the heavenly bodies, and particularly the planetary system - by whose movements and influences, as both Christian and Moslem believed, the course of human events was regulated, and might be predicted."
This was the substance of the Emir Sheerkohf's information, and it left Sir Kenneth in doubt whether the character of insanity arose from the occasional excessive fervour of the hermit's zeal, or whether it was not altogether fictitious, and assumed for the sake of the immunities which it afforded. Yet it seemed that the infidels had carried their complaisance towards him to an uncommon length, considering the fanaticism of the followers of Mohammed, in the midst of whom he was living, though the professed enemy of their faith. He thought also there was more intimacy of acquaintance betwixt the hermit and the Saracen than the words of the latter had induced him to anticipate; and it had not escaped him that the former had called the latter by a name different from that which he himself had assumed. All these considerations authorized caution, if not suspicion. He determined to observe his host closely, and not to be over-hasty in communicating with him on the important charge entrusted to him.
"Beware, Saracen," he said; "methinks our host's imagination wanders as well on the subject of names as upon other matters. Thy name is Sheerkohf, and he called thee but now by another."
"My name, when in the tent of my father," replied the Kurdman, "was Ilderim, and by this I am still distinguished by many. In the field, and to soldiers, I am known as the Lion of the Mountain, being the name my good sword hath won for me. But hush, the Hamako comes - it is to warn us to rest. I know his custom; none must watch him at his vigils."
The anchorite accordingly entered, and folding his arms on his bosom as he stood before them, said with a solemn voice, "Blessed be His name, who hath appointed the quiet night to follow the busy day, and the calm sleep to refresh the wearied limbs and to compose the troubled spirit!"
Both warriors replied "Amen!" and, arising from the table, prepared to betake themselves to the couches, which their host indicated by waving his hand, as, making a reverence to each, he again withdrew from the apartment.
The Knight of the Leopard then disarmed himself of his heavy panoply, his Saracen companion kindly assisting him to undo his buckler and clasps, until he remained in the close dress of chamois leather, which knights and men-at-arms used to wear under their harness. The Saracen, if he had admired the strength of his adversary when sheathed in steel, was now no less struck with the accuracy of proportion displayed in his nervous and well- compacted figure. The knight, on the other hand, as, in exchange of courtesy, he assisted the Saracen to disrobe himself of his upper garments, that he might sleep with more convenience, was, on his side, at a loss to conceive how such slender proportions and slimness of figure could be reconciled with the vigour he had displayed in personal contest.
Each warrior prayed ere he addressed himself to his place of rest. The Moslem turned towards his keblah, the point to which the prayer of each follower of the Prophet was to be addressed, and murmured his heathen orisons; while the Christian, withdrawing from the contamination of the infidel's neighbourhood, placed his huge cross-handled sword upright, and kneeling before it as the sign of salvation, told his rosary with a devotion which was enhanced by the recollection of the scenes through which he had passed, and the dangers from which he had been rescued, in the course of the day. Both warriors, worn by toil and travel, were soon fast asleep, each on his separate pallet.
Kenneth the Scot was uncertain how long his senses had been lost in profound repose, when he was roused to recollection by a sense of oppression on his chest, which at first suggested a flirting dream of struggling with a powerful opponent, and at length recalled him fully to his senses. He was about to demand who was there, when, opening his eyes, he beheld the figure of the anchorite, wild and savage-looking as we have described him, standing by his bedside, and pressing his right hand upon his breast, while he held a small silver lamp in the other.
"Be silent," said the hermit, as the prostrate knight looked up in surprise; "I have that to say to you which yonder infidel must not hear."
These words he spoke in the French language, and not in the lingua franca, or compound of Eastern and European dialects, which had hitherto been used amongst them.
"Arise," he continued, "put on thy mantle; speak not, but tread lightly, and follow me."
Sir Kenneth arose, and took his sword.
"It needs not," answered the anchorite, in a whisper; "we are going where spiritual arms avail much, and fleshly weapons are but as the reed and the decayed gourd."
The knight deposited his sword by the bedside as before, and, armed only with his dagger, from which in this perilous country he never parted, prepared to attend his mysterious host.
The hermit then moved slowly forwards, and was followed by the knight, still under some uncertainty whether the dark form which glided on before to show him the path was not, in fact, the creation of a disturbed dream. They passed, like shadows, into the outer apartment, without disturbing the paynim Emir, who lay still buried in repose. Before the cross and altar, in the outward room, a lamp was still burning, a missal was displayed, and on the floor lay a discipline, or penitential scourge of small cord and wire, the lashes of which were recently stained with blood - a token, no doubt, of the severe penance of the recluse. Here Theodorick kneeled down, and pointed to the knight to take his place beside him upon the sharp flints, which seemed placed for the purpose of rendering the posture of reverential devotion as uneasy as possible. He read many prayers of the Catholic Church, and chanted, in a low but earnest voice, three of the penitential psalms. These last he intermixed with sighs, and tears, and convulsive throbs, which bore witness how deeply he felt the divine poetry which he recited. The Scottish knight assisted with profound sincerity at these acts of devotion, his opinion of his host beginning, in the meantime, to be so much changed, that he doubted whether, from the severity of his penance and the ardour of his prayers, he ought not to regard him as a saint; and when they arose from the ground, he stood with reverence before him, as a pupil before an honoured master. The hermit was, on his side, silent and abstracted for the space of a few minutes.
"Look into yonder recess, my son," he said, pointing to the farther corner of the cell; "there thou wilt find a veil - bring it hither."
The knight obeyed, and in a small aperture cut out of the wall, and secured with a door of wicker, he found the veil inquired for. When he brought it to the light, he discovered that it was torn, and soiled in some places with some dark substance. The anchorite looked at it with a deep but smothered emotion, and ere he could speak to the Scottish knight, was compelled to vent his feelings in a convulsive groan.
"Thou art now about to look upon the richest treasure that the earth possesses," he at length said; "woe is me, that my eyes are unworthy to be lifted towards it! Alas! I am but the vile and despised sign, which points out to the wearied traveller a harbour of rest and security, but must itself remain for ever without doors. In vain have I fled to the very depths of the rocks, and the very bosom of the thirsty desert. Mine enemy hath found me - even he whom I have denied has pursued me to my fortresses."
He paused again for a moment, and turning to the Scottish knight, said, in a firmer tone of voice, "You bring me a greeting from Richard of England?"
"I come from the Council of Christian Princes," said the knight; "but the King of England being indisposed, I am not honoured with his Majesty's commands."
"Your token?" demanded the recluse.
Sir Kenneth hesitated. Former suspicions, and the marks of insanity which the hermit had formerly exhibited, rushed suddenly on his thoughts; but how suspect a man whose manners were so saintly? "My password," he said at length, "is this - Kings begged of a beggar."
"It is right," said the hermit, while he paused. "I know you well; but the sentinel upon his post -and mine is an important one - challenges friend as well as foe,"
He then moved forward with the lamp, leading the way into the room which they had left. The Saracen lay on his couch, still fast asleep. The hermit paused by his side, and looked down on him.
"He sleeps," he said, "in darkness, and must not be awakened."
The attitude of the Emir did indeed convey the idea of profound repose. One arm, flung across his body, as he lay with his face half turned to the wall, concealed, with its loose and long sleeve, the greater part of his face; but the high forehead was yet visible. Its nerves, which during his waking hours were so uncommonly active, were now motionless, as if the face had been composed of dark marble, and his long silken eyelashes closed over his piercing and hawklike eyes. The open and relaxed hand, and the deep, regular, and soft breathing, all gave tokens of the most profound repose. The slumberer formed a singular group along with the tall forms of the hermit in his shaggy dress of goat-skins, bearing the lamp, and the knight in his close leathern coat - the former with an austere expression of ascetic gloom, the latter with anxious curiosity deeply impressed on his manly features.
"He sleeps soundly," said the hermit, in the same low tone as before; and repeating the words, though he had changed the meaning from that which is literal to a metaphorical sense -"he sleeps in darkness, but there shall be for him a dayspring. - O Ilderim, thy waking thoughts are yet as vain and wild as those which are wheeling their giddy dance through thy sleeping brain; but the trumpet shall be heard, and the dream shall be dissolved."
So saying, and making the knight a sign to follow him, the hermit went towards the altar, and passing behind it, pressed a spring, which, opening without noise, showed a small iron door wrought in the side of the cavern, so as to be almost imperceptible, unless upon the most severe scrutiny. The hermit, ere he ventured fully to open the door, dropped some oil on the hinges, which the lamp supplied. A small staircase, hewn in the rock, was discovered, when the iron door was at length completely opened.
"Take the veil which I hold," said the hermit, in a melancholy tone, "and blind mine eyes; For I may not look on the treasure which thou art presently to behold, without sin and presumption."
Without reply, the knight hastily muffled the recluse's head in the veil, and the latter began to ascend the staircase as one too much accustomed to the way to require the use of light, while at the same time he held the lamp to the Scot, who followed him for many steps up the narrow ascent. At length they rested in a small vault of irregular form, in one nook of which the staircase terminated, while in another corner a corresponding stair was seen to continue the ascent. In a third angle was a Gothic door, very rudely ornamented with the usual attributes of clustered columns and carving, and defended by a wicket, strongly guarded with iron, and studded with large nails. To this last point the hermit directed his steps, which seemed to falter as he approached it.
"Put off thy shoes," he said to his attendant; "the ground on which thou standest is holy. Banish from thy innermost heart each profane and carnal thought, for to harbour such while in this place were a deadly impiety."
The knight laid aside his shoes as he was commanded, and the hermit stood in the meanwhile as if communing with his soul in secret prayer, and when he again moved, commanded the knight to knock at the wicket three times. He did so. The door opened spontaneously - at least Sir Kenneth beheld no one - and his senses were at once assailed by a stream of the purest light, and by a strong and almost oppressive sense of the richest perfumes. He stepped two or three paces back, and it was the space of a minute ere he recovered the dazzling and overpowering effects of the sudden change from darkness to light.
When he entered the apartment in which this brilliant lustre was displayed, he perceived that the light proceeded from a combination of silver lamps, fed with purest oil, and sending forth the richest odours, hanging by silver chains from the roof of a small Gothic chapel, hewn, like most part of the hermit's singular mansion, out of the sound and solid rock. But whereas, in every other place which Sir Kenneth had seen, the labour employed upon the rock had been of the simplest and coarsest description, it had in this chapel employed the invention and the chisels of the most able architects. The groined roofs rose from six columns on each side, carved with the rarest skill; and the manner in which the crossings of the concave arches were bound together, as it were, with appropriate ornaments, were all in the finest tone of the architecture of the age. Corresponding to the line of pillars, there were on each side six richly-wrought niches, each of which contained the image of one of the twelve apostles.
At the upper and eastern end of the chapel stood the altar, behind which a very rich curtain of Persian silk, embroidered deeply with gold, covered a recess, containing, unquestionably, some image or relic of no ordinary sanctity, in honour of which this singular place of worship had been erected, Under the persuasion that this must be the case, the knight advanced to the shrine, and kneeling down before it, repeated his devotions with fervency, during which his attention was disturbed by the curtain being suddenly raised, or rather pulled aside, how or by whom he saw not; but in the niche which was thus disclosed he beheld a cabinet of silver and ebony, with a double folding-door, the whole formed into the miniature resemblance of a Gothic church.
As he gazed with anxious curiosity on the shrine, the two folding-doors also flew open, discovering a large piece of wood, on which were blazoned the words, Vera Crux; at the same time a choir of female voices sung Gloria Patri. The instant the strain had ceased, the shrine was closed, and the curtain again drawn, and the knight who knelt at the altar might now continue his devotions undisturbed, in honour of the holy relic which had been just disclosed to his view. He did this under the profound impression of one who had witnessed, with his own eyes, an awful evidence of the truth of his religion; and it was some time ere, concluding his orisons, he arose, and ventured to look around him for the hermit, who had guided him to this sacred and mysterious spot. He beheld him, his head still muffled in the veil which he had himself wrapped around it, crouching, like a rated hound, upon the threshold of the chapel; but, apparently, without venturing to cross it - the holiest reverence, the most penitential remorse, was expressed by his posture, which seemed that of a man borne down and crushed to the earth by the burden of his inward feelings. It seemed to the Scot that only the sense of the deepest penitence, remorse, and humiliation could have thus prostrated a frame so strong and a spirit so fiery.
He approached him as if to speak; but the recluse anticipated his purpose, murmuring in stifled tones, from beneath the fold in which his head was muffled, and which sounded like a voice proceeding from the cerements of a corpse, - "Abide, abide - happy thou that mayest - the vision is not yet ended." So saying, he reared himself from the ground, drew back from the threshold on which he had hitherto lain prostrate, and closed the door of the chapel, which, secured by a spring bolt within, the snap of which resounded through the place, appeared so much like a part of the living rock from which the cavern was hewn, that Kenneth could hardly discern where the aperture had been. He was now alone in the lighted chapel which contained the relic to which he had lately rendered his homage, without other arms than his dagger, or other companion than his pious thoughts and dauntless courage.
Uncertain what was next to happen, but resolved to abide the course of events, Sir Kenneth paced the solitary chapel till about the time of the earliest cock-crowing. At this dead season, when night and morning met together, he heard, but from what quarter he could not discover, the sound of such a small silver bell as is rung at the elevation of the host in the ceremony, or sacrifice, as it has been called, of the mass. The hour and the place rendered the sound fearfully solemn, and, bold as he was, the knight withdrew himself into the farther nook of the chapel, at the end opposite to the altar, in order to observe, without interruption, the consequences of this unexpected signal.
He did not wait long ere the silken curtain was again withdrawn, and the relic again presented to his view. As he sunk reverentially on his knee, he heard the sound of the lauds, or earliest office of the Catholic Church, sung by female voices, which united together in the performance as they had done in the former service. The knight was soon aware that the voices were no longer stationary in the distance, but approached the chapel and became louder, when a door, imperceptible when closed, like that by which he had himself entered, opened on the other side of the vault, and gave the tones of the choir more room to swell along the ribbed arches of the roof.
The knight fixed his eyes on the opening with breathless anxiety, and, continuing to kneel in the attitude of devotion which the place and scene required, expected the consequence of these preparations. A procession appeared about to issue from the door. First, four beautiful boys, whose arms, necks, and legs were bare, showing the bronze complexion of the East, and contrasting with the snow-white tunics which they wore, entered the chapel by two and two. The first pair bore censers, which they swung from side to side, adding double fragrance to the odours with which the chapel already was impregnated. The second pair scattered flowers.
After these followed, in due and majestic order, the females who composed the choir - six, who from their black scapularies, and black veils over their white garments, appeared to be professed nuns of the order of Mount Carmel; and as many whose veils, being white, argued them to be novices, or occasional inhabitants in the cloister, who were not as yet bound to it by vows. The former held in their hands large rosaries, while the younger and lighter figures who followed carried each a chaplet of red and white roses. They moved in procession around the chapel, without appearing to take the slightest notice of Kenneth, although passing so near him that their robes almost touched him, while they continued to sing. The knight doubted not that he was in one of those cloisters where the noble Christian maidens had formerly openly devoted themselves to the services of the church. Most of them had been suppressed since the Mohammedans had reconquered Palestine, but many, purchasing connivance by presents, or receiving it from the clemency or contempt of the victors, still continued to observe in private the ritual to which their vows had consecrated them. Yet, though Kenneth knew this to be the case, the solemnity of the place and hour, the surprise at the sudden appearance of these votaresses, and the visionary manner in which they moved past him, had such influence on his imagination that he could scarce conceive that the fair procession which he beheld was formed of creatures of this world, so much did they resemble a choir of supernatural beings, rendering homage to the universal object of adoration.
Such was the knight's first idea, as the procession passed him, scarce moving, save just sufficiently to continue their progress; so that, seen by the shadowy and religious light which the lamps shed through the clouds of incense which darkened the apartment, they appeared rather to glide than to walk.
But as a second time, in surrounding the chapel, they passed the spot on which he kneeled, one of the white-stoled maidens, as she glided by him, detached from the chaplet which she carried a rosebud, which dropped from her fingers, perhaps unconsciously, on the foot of Sir Kenneth. The knight started as if a dart had suddenly struck his person; for, when the mind is wound up to a high pitch of feeling and expectation, the slightest incident, if unexpected, gives fire to the train which imagination has already laid. But he suppressed his emotion, recollecting how easily an incident so indifferent might have happened, and that it was only the uniform monotony of the movement of the choristers which made the incident in the slightest degree remarkable.
Still, while the procession, for the third time, surrounded the chapel, the thoughts and the eyes of Kenneth followed exclusively the one among the novices who had dropped the rosebud. Her step, her face, her form were so completely assimilated to the rest of the choristers that it was impossible to perceive the least marks of individuality; and yet Kenneth's heart throbbed like a bird that would burst from its cage, as if to assure him, by its sympathetic suggestions, that the female who held the right file on the second rank of the novices was dearer to him, not only than all the rest that were present, but than the whole sex besides. The romantic passion of love, as it was cherished, and indeed enjoined, by the rules of chivalry, associated well with the no less romantic feelings of devotion; and they might be said much more to enhance than to counteract each other. It was, therefore, with a glow of expectation that had something even of a religious character that Sir Kenneth, his sensations thrilling from his heart to the ends of his fingers, expected some second sign of the presence of one who, he strongly fancied, had already bestowed on him the first. Short as the space was during which the procession again completed a third perambulation of the chapel, it seemed an eternity to Kenneth. At length the form which he had watched with such devoted attention drew nigh. There was no difference betwixt that shrouded figure and the others, with whom it moved in concert and in unison, until, just as she passed for the third time the kneeling Crusader, a part of a little and well-proportioned hand, so beautifully formed as to give the highest idea of the perfect proportions of the form to which it belonged, stole through the folds of the gauze, like a moonbeam through the fleecy cloud of a summer night, and again a rosebud lay at the feet of the Knight of the Leopard.
This second intimation could not be accidental - -it could not be fortuitous, the resemblance of that half-seen but beautiful female hand with one which his lips had once touched, and, while they touched it, had internally sworn allegiance to the lovely owner. Had further proof been wanting, there was the glimmer of that matchless ruby ring on that snow-white finger, whose invaluable worth Kenneth would yet have prized less than the slightest sign which that finger could have made; and, veiled too, as she was, he might see, by chance or by favour, a stray curl of the dark tresses, each hair of which was dearer to him a hundred times than a chain of massive gold. It was the lady of his love! But that she should he here - in the savage and sequestered desert - among vestals, who rendered themselves habitants of wilds and of caverns, that they might perform in secret those Christian rites which they dared not assist in openly; that this should be so, in truth and in reality, seemed too incredible - it must be a dream - a delusive trance of the imagination. While these thoughts passed through the mind of Kenneth, the same passage, by which the procession had entered the chapel, received them on their return. The young sacristans, the sable nuns, vanished successively through the open door. At length she from whom he had received this double intimation passed also; yet, in passing, turned her head, slightly indeed, but perceptibly, towards the place where he remained fixed as an image. He marked the last wave of her veil - it was gone - and a darkness sunk upon his soul, scarce less palpable than that which almost immediately enveloped his external sense; for the last chorister had no sooner crossed the threshold of the door than it shut with a loud sound, and at the same instant the voices of the choir were silent, the lights of the chapel were at once extinguished, and Sir Kenneth remained solitary and in total darkness. But to Kenneth, solitude, and darkness, and the uncertainty of his mysterious situation were as nothing - he thought not of them - cared not for them - cared for nought in the world save the flitting vision which had just glided past him, and the tokens of her favour which she had bestowed. To grope on the floor for the buds which she had dropped - to press them to his lips, to his bosom, now alternately, now together -to rivet his lips to the cold stones on which, as near as he could judge, she had so lately stepped - to play all the extravagances which strong affection suggests and vindicates to those who yield themselves up to it, were but the tokens of passionate love common to all ages. But it was peculiar to the times of chivalry that, in his wildest rapture, the knight imagined of no attempt to follow or to trace the object of such romantic attachment; that he thought of her as of a deity, who, having deigned to show herself for an instant to her devoted worshipper, had again returned to the darkness of her sanctuary - or as an influential planet, which, having darted in some auspicious minute one favourable ray, wrapped itself again in its veil of mist. The motions of the lady of his love were to him those of a superior being, who was to move without watch or control, rejoice him by her appearance, or depress him by her absence, animate him by her kindness, or drive him to despair by her cruelty - all at her own free will, and without other importunity or remonstrance than that expressed by the most devoted services of the heart and sword of the champion, whose sole object in life was to fulfil her commands, and, by the splendour of his own achievements, to exalt her fame.
Such were the rules of chivalry, and of the love which was its ruling principle. But Sir Kenneth's attachment was rendered romantic by other and still more peculiar circumstances. He had never even heard the sound of his lady's voice, though he had often beheld her beauty with rapture. She moved in a circle which his rank of knighthood permitted him indeed to approach, but not to mingle with; and highly as he stood distinguished for warlike skill and enterprise, still the poor Scottish soldier was compelled to worship his divinity at a distance almost as great as divides the Persian from the sun which he adores. But when was the pride of woman too lofty to overlook the passionate devotion of a lover, however inferior in degree? Her eye had been on him in the tournament, her ear had heard his praises in the report of the battles which were daily fought; and while count, duke, and lord contended for her grace, it flowed, unwillingly perhaps at first, or even unconsciously, towards the poor Knight of the Leopard, who, to support his rank, had little besides his sword. When she looked, and when she listened, the lady saw and heard enough to encourage her in a partiality which had at first crept on her unawares. If a knight's personal beauty was praised, even the most prudish dames of the military court of England would make an exception in favour of the Scottish Kenneth; and it oftentimes happened that, notwithstanding the very considerable largesses which princes and peers bestowed on the minstrels, an impartial spirit of independence would seize the poet, and the harp was swept to the heroism of one who had neither palfreys nor garments to bestow in guerdon of his applause.
The moments when she listened to the praises of her lover became gradually more and more dear to the high-born Edith, relieving the flattery with which her ear was weary, and presenting to her a subject of secret contemplation, more worthy, as he seemed by general report, than those who surpassed him in rank and in the gifts of fortune. As her attention became constantly, though cautiously, fixed on Sir Kenneth, she grew more and more convinced of his personal devotion to herself and more and more certain in her mind that in Kenneth of Scotland she beheld the fated knight doomed to share with her through weal and woe - and the prospect looked gloomy and dangerous - the passionate attachment to which the poets of the age ascribed such universal dominion, and which its manners and morals placed nearly on the same rank with devotion itself.
Let us not disguise the truth from our readers. When Edith became aware of the state of her own sentiments, chivalrous as were her sentiments, becoming a maiden not distant from the throne of England - gratified as her pride must have been with the mute though unceasing homage rendered to her by the knight whom she had distinguished, there were moments when the feelings of the woman, loving and beloved, murmured against the restraints of state and form by which she was surrounded, and when she almost blamed the timidity of her lover, who seemed resolved not to infringe them. The etiquette, to use a modern phrase, of birth and rank, had drawn around her a magical circle, beyond which Sir Kenneth might indeed bow and gaze, but within which he could no more pass than an evoked spirit can transgress the boundaries prescribed by the rod of a powerful enchanter. The thought involuntarily pressed on her that she herself must venture, were it but the point of her fairy foot, beyond the prescribed boundary, if she ever hoped to give a lover so reserved and bashful an opportunity of so slight a favour as but to salute her shoe-tie. There was an example - the noted precedent of the "King's daughter of Hungary," who thus generously encouraged the "squire of low degree;" and Edith, though of kingly blood, was no king's daughter, any more than her lover was of low degree - fortune had put no such extreme barrier in obstacle to their affections. Something, however, within the maiden's bosom - that modest pride which throws fetters even on love itself forbade her, notwithstanding the superiority of her condition, to make those advances, which, in every case, delicacy assigns to the other sex; above all, Sir Kenneth was a knight so gentle and honourable, so highly accomplished, as her imagination at least suggested, together with the strictest feelings of what was due to himself and to her, that however constrained her attitude might be while receiving his adorations, like the image of some deity, who is neither supposed to feel nor to reply to the homage of its votaries, still the idol feared that to step prematurely from her pedestal would be to degrade herself in the eyes of her devoted worshipper.
Yet the devout adorer of an actual idol can even discover signs of approbation in the rigid and immovable features of a marble image; and it is no wonder that something, which could be as favourably interpreted, glanced from the bright eye of the lovely Edith, whose beauty, indeed, consisted rather more in that very power of expression, than an absolute regularity of contour or brilliancy of complexion. Some slight marks of distinction had escaped from her, notwithstanding her own jealous vigilance, else how could Sir Kenneth have so readily and so undoubtingly recognized the lovely hand, of which scarce two fingers were visible from under the veil, or how could he have rested so thoroughly assured that two flowers, successively dropped on the spot, were intended as a recognition on the part of his lady- love? By what train of observation - by what secret signs, looks, or gestures -by what instinctive freemasonry of love, this degree of intelligence came to subsist between Edith and her lover, we cannot attempt to trace; for we are old, and such slight vestiges of affection, quickly discovered by younger eyes, defy the power of ours. Enough that such affection did subsist between parties who had never even spoken to one another - though, on the side of Edith, it was checked by a deep sense of the difficulties and dangers which must necessarily attend the further progress of their attachment; and upon that of the knight by a thousand doubts and fears lest he had overestimated the slight tokens of the lady's notice, varied, as they necessarily were, by long intervals of apparent coldness, during which either the fear of exciting the observation of others, and thus drawing danger upon her lover, or that of sinking in his esteem by seeming too willing to be won, made her behave with indifference, and as if unobservant of his presence.
This narrative, tedious perhaps, but which the story renders necessary, may serve to explain the state of intelligence, if it deserves so strong a name, betwixt the lovers, when Edith's unexpected appearance in the chapel produced so powerful an effect on the feelings of her knight.
Their necromantic forms in vain
Haunt us on the tented plain;
We bid these spectre shapes avaunt,
Ashtaroth and Termagaunt.
The most profound silence, the deepest darkness, continued to brood for more than an hour over the chapel in which we left the Knight of the Leopard still kneeling, alternately expressing thanks to Heaven and gratitude to his lady for the boon which had been vouchsafed to him. His own safety, his own destiny, for which he was at all times little anxious, had not now the weight of a grain of dust in his reflections. He was in the neighbourhood of Lady Edith; he had received tokens of her grace; he was in a place hallowed by relics of the most awful sanctity. A Christian soldier, a devoted lover, could fear nothing, think of nothing, but his duty to Heaven and his devoir to his lady.
At the lapse of the space of time which we have noticed, a shrill whistle, like that with which a falconer calls his hawk, was heard to ring sharply through the vaulted chapel. it was a sound ill suited to the place, and reminded Sir Kenneth how necessary it was he should be upon his guard. He started from his knee, and laid his hand upon his poniard. A creaking sound, as of a screw or pulleys, succeeded, and a light streaming upwards, as from an opening in the floor, showed that a trap-door had been raised or depressed. In less than a minute a long, skinny arm, partly naked, partly clothed in a sleeve of red samite, arose out of the aperture, holding a lamp as high as it could stretch upwards, and the figure to which the arm belonged ascended step by step to the level of the chapel floor. The form and face of the being who thus presented himself were those of a frightful dwarf, with a large head, a cap fantastically adorned with three peacock feathers, a dress of red samite, the richness of which rendered his ugliness more conspicuous, distinguished by gold bracelets and armlets, and a white silk sash, in which he wore a gold-hilted dagger. This singular figure had in his left hand a kind of broom. So soon as he had stepped from the aperture through which he arose, he stood still, and, as if to show himself more distinctly, moved the lamp which he held slowly over his face and person, successively illuminating his wild and fantastic features, and his misshapen but nervous limbs. Though disproportioned in person, the dwarf was not so distorted as to argue any want of strength or activity. While Sir Kenneth gazed on this disagreeable object, the popular creed occurred to his remembrance concerning the gnomes or earthly spirits which make their abode in the caverns of the earth; and so much did this figure correspond with ideas he had formed of their appearance, that he looked on it with disgust, mingled not indeed with fear, but that sort of awe which the presence of a supernatural creature may infuse into the most steady bosom.
The dwarf again whistled, and summoned from beneath a companion. This second figure ascended in the same manner as the first; but it was a female arm in this second instance which upheld the lamp from the subterranean vault out of which these presentments arose, and it was a female form, much resembling the first in shape and proportions, which slowly emerged from the floor. Her dress was also of red samite, fantastically cut and flounced, as if she had been dressed for some exhibition of mimes or jugglers; and with the same minuteness which her predecessor had exhibited, she passed the lamp over her face and person, which seemed to rival the male's in ugliness. But with all this most unfavourable exterior, there was one trait in the features of both which argued alertness and intelligence in the most uncommon degree. This arose from the brilliancy of their eyes, which, deep-set beneath black and shaggy brows, gleamed with a lustre which, like that in the eye of the toad, seemed to make some amends for the extreme ugliness of countenance and person.
Sir Kenneth remained as if spellbound, while this unlovely pair, moving round the chapel close to each other, appeared to perform the duty of sweeping it, like menials; but as they used only one hand, the floor was not much benefited by the exercise, which they plied with such oddity of gestures and manner as befitted their bizarre and fantastic appearance. When they approached near to the knight in the course of their occupation, they ceased to use their brooms; and placing themselves side by side, directly opposite to Sir Kenneth, they again slowly shifted the lights which they held, so as to allow him distinctly to survey features which were not rendered more agreeable by being brought nearer, and to observe the extreme quickness and keenness with which their black and glittering eyes flashed back the light of the lamps. They then turned the gleam of both lights upon the knight, and having accurately surveyed him, turned their faces to each other, and set up a loud, yelling laugh, which resounded in his ears. The sound was so ghastly that Sir Kenneth started at hearing it, and hastily demanded, in the name of God, who they were who profaned that holy place with such antic gestures and elritch exclamations.
"I am the dwarf Nectabanus," said the abortion-seeming male, in a voice corresponding to his figure, and resembling the voice of the night-crow more than any sound which is heard by daylight.
"And I am Guenevra, his lady and his love," replied the female, in tones which, being shriller, were yet wilder than those of her companion.
"Wherefore are you here?" again demanded the knight, scarcely yet assured that they were human beings which he saw before him.
"I am," replied the male dwarf, with much assumed gravity and dignity, "the twelfth Imaum. I am Mohammed Mohadi, the guide and the conductor of the faithful. A hundred horses stand ready saddled for me and my train at the Holy City, and as many at the City of Refuge. I am he who shall bear witness, and this is one of my houris."
"Thou liest!" answered the female, interrupting her companion, in tones yet shriller than his own; "I am none of thy houris, and thou art no such infidel trash as the Mohammed of whom thou speakest. May my curse rest upon his coffin! I tell thee, thou ass of Issachar, thou art King Arthur of Britain, whom the fairies stole away from the field of Avalon; and I am Dame Guenevra, famed for her beauty."
"But in truth, noble sir," said the male, "we are distressed princes, dwelling under the wing of King Guy of Jerusalem, until he was driven out from his own nest by the foul infidels -Heaven's bolts consume them!"
"Hush," said a voice from the side upon which the knight had entered - "hush, fools, and begone; your ministry is ended."
The dwarfs had no sooner heard the command than, gibbering in discordant whispers to each other, they blew out their lights at once, and left the knight in utter darkness, which, when the pattering of their retiring feet had died away, was soon accompanied by its fittest companion, total silence.
The knight felt the departure of these unfortunate creatures a relief. He could not, from their language, manners, and appearance, doubt that they belonged to the degraded class of beings whom deformity of person and weakness of intellect recommended to the painful situation of appendages to great families, where their personal appearance and imbecility were food for merriment to the household. Superior in no respect to the ideas and manners of his time, the Scottish knight might, at another period, have been much amused by the mummery of these poor effigies of humanity; but now their appearance, gesticulations, and language broke the train of deep and solemn feeling with which he was impressed, and he rejoiced in the disappearance of the unhappy objects.
A few minutes after they had retired, the door at which he had entered opened slowly, and remaining ajar, discovered a faint light arising from a lantern placed upon the threshold. Its doubtful and wavering gleam showed a dark form reclined beside the entrance, but without its precincts, which, on approaching it more nearly, he recognized to be the hermit, crouching in the same humble posture in which he had at first laid himself down, and which, doubtless, he had retained during the whole time of his guest's continuing in the chapel.
"All is over," said the hermit, as he heard the knight approaching, "and the most wretched of earthly sinners, with him who should think himself most honoured and most happy among the race of humanity, must retire from this place. Take the light, and guide me down the descent, for I must not uncover my eyes until I am far from this hallowed spot."
The Scottish knight obeyed in silence, for a solemn and yet ecstatic sense of what he had seen had silenced even the eager workings of curiosity. He led the way, with considerable accuracy, through the various secret passages and stairs by which they had ascended, until at length they found themselves in the outward cell of the hermit's cavern.
"The condemned criminal is restored to his dungeon, reprieved from one miserable day to another, until his awful Judge shall at length appoint the well-deserved sentence to be carried into execution."
As the hermit spoke these words, he laid aside the veil with which his eyes had been bound, and looked at it with a suppressed and hollow sigh. No sooner had he restored it to the crypt from which he had caused the Scot to bring it, than he said hastily and sternly to his companion; "Begone, begone - to rest, to rest. You may sleep - you can sleep - I neither can nor may."
Respecting the profound agitation with which this was spoken, the knight retired into the inner cell; but casting back his eye as he left the exterior grotto, he beheld the anchorite stripping his shoulders with frantic haste of their shaggy mantle, and ere he could shut the frail door which separated the two compartments of the cavern, he heard the clang of the scourge and the groans of the penitent under his self-inflicted penance. A cold shudder came over the knight as he reflected what could be the foulness of the sin, what the depth of the remorse, which, apparently, such severe penance could neither cleanse nor assuage. He told his beads devoutly, and flung himself on his rude couch, after a glance at the still sleeping Moslem, and, wearied by the various scenes of the day and the night, soon slept as sound as infancy. Upon his awaking in the morning, he held certain conferences with the hermit upon matters of importance, and the result of their intercourse induced him to remain for two days longer in the grotto. He was regular, as became a pilgrim, in his devotional exercises, but was not again admitted to the chapel in which he had seen such wonders.
Now change the scene - and let the trumpets sound,
For we must rouse the lion from his lair.
The scene must change, as our programme has announced, from the mountain wilderness of Jordan to the camp of King Richard of England, then stationed betwixt Jean d'Acre and Ascalon, and containing that army with which he of the lion heart had promised himself a triumphant march to Jerusalem, and in which he would probably have succeeded, if not hindered by the jealousies of the Christian princes engaged in the same enterprise, and the offence taken by them at the uncurbed haughtiness of the English monarch, and Richard's unveiled contempt for his brother sovereigns, who, his equals in rank, were yet far his inferiors in courage, hardihood, and military talents. Such discords, and particularly those betwixt Richard and Philip of France, created disputes and obstacles which impeded every active measure proposed by the heroic though impetuous Richard, while the ranks of the Crusaders were daily thinned, not only by the desertion of individuals, but of entire bands, headed by their respective feudal leaders, who withdrew from a contest in which they had ceased to hope for success.
The effects of the climate became, as usual, fatal to soldiers from the north, and the more so that the dissolute license of the Crusaders, forming a singular contrast to the principles and purpose of their taking up arms, rendered them more easy victims to the insalubrious influence of burning heat and chilling dews. To these discouraging causes of loss was to be added the sword of the enemy. Saladin, than whom no greater name is recorded in Eastern history, had learned, to his fatal experience, that his light-armed followers were little able to meet in close encounter with the iron-clad Franks, and had been taught, at the same time, to apprehend and dread the adventurous character of his antagonist Richard. But if his armies were more than once routed with great slaughter, his numbers gave the Saracen the advantage in those lighter skirmishes, of which many were inevitable.
As the army of his assailants decreased, the enterprises of the Sultan became more numerous and more bold in this species of petty warfare. The camp of the Crusaders was surrounded, and almost besieged, by clouds of light cavalry, resembling swarms of wasps, easily crushed when they are once grasped, but furnished with wings to elude superior strength, and stings to inflict harm and mischief. There was perpetual warfare of posts and foragers, in which many valuable lives were lost, without any corresponding object being gained; convoys were intercepted, and communications were cut off. The Crusaders had to purchase the means of sustaining life, by life itself; and water, like that of the well of Bethlehem, longed for by King David, one of its ancient monarchs, was then, as before, only obtained by the expenditure of blood.
These evils were in a great measure counterbalanced by the stern resolution and restless activity of King Richard, who, with some of his best knights, was ever on horseback, ready to repair to any point where danger occurred, and often not only bringing unexpected succour to the Christians, but discomfiting the infidels when they seemed most secure of victory. But even the iron frame of Coeur de Lion could not support without injury the alternations of the unwholesome climate, joined to ceaseless exertions of body and mind. He became afflicted with one of those slow and wasting fevers peculiar to Asia, and in despite of his great strength and still greater courage, grew first unfit to mount on horseback, and then unable to attend the councils of war which were from time to time held by the Crusaders. It was difficult to say whether this state of personal inactivity was rendered more galling or more endurable to the English monarch by the resolution of the council to engage in a truce of thirty days with the Sultan Saladin; for on the one hand, if he was incensed at the delay which this interposed to the progress of the great enterprise, he was, on the other, somewhat consoled by knowing that others were not acquiring laurels while he remained inactive upon a sick-bed,
That, however, which Coeur de Lion could least excuse was the general inactivity which prevailed in the camp of the Crusaders so soon as his illness assumed a serious aspect; and the reports which he extracted from his unwilling attendants gave him to understand that the hopes of the host had abated in proportion to his illness, and that the interval of truce was employed, not in recruiting their numbers, reanimating their courage, fostering their spirit of conquest, and preparing for a speedy and determined advance upon the Holy City, which was the object of their expedition, but in securing the camp occupied by their diminished followers with trenches, palisades, and other fortifications, as if preparing rather to repel an attack from a powerful enemy so soon as hostilities should recommence, than to assume the proud character of conquerors and assailants.
The English king chafed under these reports, like the imprisoned lion viewing his prey from the iron barriers of his cage. Naturally rash and impetuous, the irritability of his temper preyed on itself. He was dreaded by his attendants and even the medical assistants feared to assume the necessary authority which a physician, to do justice to his patient, must needs exercise over him. One faithful baron, who, perhaps, from the congenial nature of his disposition, was devoutly attached to the King's person, dared alone to come between the dragon and his wrath, and quietly, but firmly, maintained a control which no other dared assume over the dangerous invalid, and which Thomas de Multon only exercised because he esteemed his sovereign's life and honour more than he did the degree of favour which he might lose, or even the risk which he might incur, in nursing a patient so intractable, and whose displeasure was so perilous.
Sir Thomas was the Lord of Gilsland, in Cumberland, and in an age when surnames and titles were not distinctly attached, as now, to the individuals who bore them, he was called by the Normans the Lord de Vaux; and in English by the Saxons, who clung to their native language, and were proud of the share of Saxon blood in this renowned warrior's veins, he was termed Thomas, or, more familiarly, Thom of the Gills, or Narrow Valleys, from which his extensive domains derived their well-known appellation.
This chief had been exercised in almost all the wars, whether waged betwixt England and Scotland, or amongst the various domestic factions which then tore the former country asunder, and in all had been distinguished, as well from his military conduct as his personal prowess. He was, in other respects, a rude soldier, blunt and careless in his bearing, and taciturn - nay, almost sullen - in his habits of society, and seeming, at least, to disclaim all knowledge of policy and of courtly art. There were men, however, who pretended to look deeply into character, who asserted that the Lord de Vaux was not less shrewd and aspiring than he was blunt and bold, and who thought that, while he assimilated himself to the king's own character of blunt hardihood, it was, in some degree at least, with an eye to establish his favour, and to gratify his own hopes of deep-laid ambition. But no one cared to thwart his schemes, if such he had, by rivalling him in the dangerous occupation of daily attendance on the sick-bed of a patient whose disease was pronounced infectious, and more especially when it was remembered that the patient was Coeur de Lion, suffering under all the furious impatience of a soldier withheld from battle, and a sovereign sequestered from authority; and the common soldiers, at least in the English army, were generally of opinion that De Vaux attended on the King like comrade upon comrade, in the honest and disinterested frankness of military friendship contracted between the partakers of daily dangers.
It was on the decline of a Syrian day that Richard lay on his couch of sickness, loathing it as much in mind as his illness made it irksome to his body. His bright blue eye, which at all times shone with uncommon keenness and splendour, had its vivacity augmented by fever and mental impatience, and glanced from among his curled and unshorn locks of yellow hair as fitfully and as vividly as the last gleams of the sun shoot through the clouds of an approaching thunderstorm, which still, however, are gilded by its beams. His manly features showed the progress of wasting illness, and his beard, neglected and untrimmed, had overgrown both lips and chin. Casting himself from side to side, now clutching towards him the coverings, which at the next moment he flung as impatiently from him, his tossed couch and impatient gestures showed at once the energy and the reckless impatience of a disposition whose natural sphere was that of the most active exertion.
Beside his couch stood Thomas de Vaux, in face, attitude, and manner the strongest possible contrast to the suffering monarch. His stature approached the gigantic, and his hair in thickness might have resembled that of Samson, though only after the Israelitish champion's locks had passed under the shears of the Philistines, for those of De Vaux were cut short, that they might be enclosed under his helmet. The light of his broad, large hazel eye resembled that of the autumn morn; and it was only perturbed for a moment, when from time to time it was attracted by Richard's vehement marks of agitation and restlessness. His features, though massive like his person, might have been handsome before they were defaced with scars; his upper lip, after the fashion of the Normans, was covered with thick moustaches, which grew so long and luxuriantly as to mingle with his hair, and, like his hair, were dark brown, slightly brindled with grey. His frame seemed of that kind which most readily defies both toil and climate, for he was thin-flanked, broad- chested, long-armed, deep-breathed, and strong-limbed. He had not laid aside his buff-coat, which displayed the cross cut on the shoulder, for more than three nights, enjoying but such momentary repose as the warder of a sick monarch's couch might by snatches indulge. This Baron rarely changed his posture, except to administer to Richard the medicine or refreshments which none of his less favoured attendants could persuade the impatient monarch to take; and there was something affecting in the kindly yet awkward manner in which he discharged offices so strangely contrasted with his blunt and soldierly habits and manners.
The pavilion in which these personages were, had, as became the time, as well as the personal character of Richard, more of a warlike than a sumptuous or royal character. Weapons offensive and defensive, several of them of strange and newly-invented construction, were scattered about the tented apartment, or disposed upon the pillars which supported it. Skins of animals slain in the chase were stretched on the ground, or extended along the sides of the pavilion; and upon a heap of these silvan spoils lay three alans, as they were then called (wolf- greyhounds, that is), of the largest size, and as white as snow. Their faces, marked with many a scar from clutch and fang, showed their share in collecting the trophies upon which they reposed; and their eyes, fixed from time to time with an expressive stretch and yawn upon the bed of Richard, evinced how much they marvelled at and regretted the unwonted inactivity which they were compelled to share. These were but the accompaniments of the soldier and huntsman; but on a small table close by the bed was placed a shield of wrought steel, of triangular form, bearing the three lions passant first assumed by the chivalrous monarch, and before it the golden circlet, resembling much a ducal coronet, only that it was higher in front than behind, which, with the purple velvet and embroidered tiara that lined it, formed then the emblem of England's sovereignty. Beside it, as if prompt for defending the regal symbol, lay a mighty curtal- axe, which would have wearied the arm of any other than Coeur de Lion.
In an outer partition of the pavilion waited two or three officers of the royal household, depressed, anxious for their master's health, and not less so for their own safety, in case of his decease. Their gloomy apprehensions spread themselves to the warders without, who paced about in downcast and silent contemplation, or, resting on their halberds, stood motionless on their post, rather like armed trophies than living warriors.
"So thou hast no better news to bring me from without, Sir Thomas!" said the King, after a long and perturbed silence, spent in the feverish agitation which we have endeavoured to describe. "All our knights turned women, and our ladies become devotees, and neither, a spark of valour nor of gallantry to enlighten a camp which contains the choicest of Europe's chivalry - ha!"
"The truce, my lord," said De Vaux, with the same patience with which he had twenty times repeated the explanation -"the truce prevents us bearing ourselves as men of action; and for the ladies, I am no great reveller, as is well known to your Majesty, and seldom exchange steel and buff for velvet and gold - but thus far I know, that our choicest beauties are waiting upon the Queen's Majesty and the Princess, to a pilgrimage to the convent of Engaddi, to accomplish their vows for your Highness's deliverance from this trouble."
"And is it thus," said Richard, with the impatience of indisposition, "that royal matrons and maidens should risk themselves, where the dogs who defile the land have as little truth to man as they have faith towards God?"
"Nay, my lord," said De Vaux, "they have Saladin's word for their safety."
"True, true!" replied Richard; "and I did the heathen Soldan injustice - I owe him reparation for it. Would God I were but fit to offer it him upon my body between the two hosts - Christendom and heathenesse both looking on!"
As Richard spoke, he thrust his right arm out of bed naked to the shoulder, and painfully raising himself in his couch, shook his clenched hand, as if it grasped sword or battle-axe, and was then brandished over the jewelled turban of the Soldan. It was not without a gentle degree of violence, which the King would scarce have endured from another, that De Vaux, in his character of sick-nurse, compelled his royal master to replace himself in the couch, and covered his sinewy arm, neck, and shoulders with the care which a mother bestows upon an impatient child.
"Thou art a rough nurse, though a willing one, De Vaux," said the King, laughing with a bitter expression, while he submitted to the strength which he was unable to resist; "methinks a coif would become thy lowering features as well as a child's biggin would beseem mine. We should be a babe and nurse to frighten girls with."
"We have frightened men in our time, my liege," said De Vaux; "and, I trust, may live to frighten them again. What is a fever- fit, that we should not endure it patiently, in order to get rid of it easily?"
"Fever-fit!" exclaimed Richard impetuously; "thou mayest think, and justly, that it is a fever-fit with me; but what is it with all the other Christian princes - with Philip of France, with that dull Austrian, with him of Montserrat, with the Hospitallers, with the Templars - what is it with all them? I will tell thee. It is a cold palsy, a dead lethargy, a disease that deprives them of speech and action, a canker that has eaten into the heart of all that is noble, and chivalrous, and virtuous among them - that has made them false to the noblest vow ever knights were sworn to -has made them indifferent to their fame, and forgetful of their God!"
"For the love of Heaven, my liege," said De Vaux, "take it less violently - you will be heard without doors, where such speeches are but too current already among the common soldiery, and engender discord and contention in the Christian host. Bethink you that your illness mars the mainspring of their enterprise; a mangonel will work without screw and lever better than the Christian host without King Richard."
"Thou flatterest me, De Vaux," said Richard, and not insensible to the power of praise, he reclined his head on the pillow with a more deliberate attempt to repose than he had yet exhibited. But Thomas de Vaux was no courtier; the phrase which had offered had risen spontaneously to his lips, and he knew not how to pursue the pleasing theme so as to soothe and prolong the vein which he had excited. He was silent, therefore, until, relapsing into his moody contemplations, the King demanded of him sharply, "Despardieux! This is smoothly said to soothe a sick man; but does a league of monarchs, an assemblage or nobles, a convocation of all the chivalry of Europe, droop with the sickness of one man, though he chances to be King of England? Why should Richard's illness, or Richard's death, check the march of thirty thousand men as brave as himself? When the master stag is struck down, the herd do not disperse upon his fall; when the falcon strikes the leading crane, another takes the guidance of the phalanx. Why do not the powers assemble and choose some one to whom they may entrust the guidance of the host?"
"Forsooth, and if it please your Majesty," said De Vaux, "I hear consultations have been held among the royal leaders for some such purpose."
"Ha!" exclaimed Richard, his jealousy awakened, giving his mental irritation another direction, "am I forgot by my allies ere I have taken the last sacrament? Do they hold me dead already? But no, no, they are right. And whom do they select as leader of the Christian host?"
"Rank and dignity," said De Vaux, "point to the King of France."
"Oh, ay," answered the English monarch, "Philip of France and Navarre - Denis Mountjoie - his most Christian Majesty! Mouth- filling words these! There is but one risk - that he might mistake the words en arriere for en avant, and lead us back to Paris, instead of marching to Jerusalem. His politic head has learned by this time that there is more to be gotten by oppressing his feudatories, and pillaging his allies, than fighting with the Turks for the Holy Sepulchre."
"They might choose the Archduke of Austria," said De Vaux.
"What! because he is big and burly like thyself, Thomas - nearly as thick-headed, but without thy indifference to danger and carelessness of offence? I tell thee that Austria has in all that mass of flesh no bolder animation than is afforded by the peevishness of a wasp and the courage of a wren. Out upon him! He a leader of chivalry to deeds of glory! Give him a flagon of Rhenish to drink with his besmirched baaren-hauters and lance- knechts."
"There is the Grand Master of the Templars," continued the baron, not sorry to keep his master's attention engaged on other topics than his own illness, though at the expense of the characters of prince and potentate. "There is the Grand Master of the Templars," he continued, "undaunted, skilful, brave in battle, and sage in council, having no separate kingdoms of his own to divert his exertions from the recovery of the Holy Land - what thinks your Majesty of the Master as a general leader of the Christian host?"
"Ha, Beau-Seant?" answered the King. "Oh, no exception can be taken to Brother Giles Amaury; he understands the ordering of a battle, and the fighting in front when it begins. But, Sir Thomas, were it fair to take the Holy Land from the heathen Saladin, so full of all the virtues which may distinguish unchristened man, and give it to Giles Amaury, a worse pagan than himself, an idolater, a devil-worshipper, a necromancer, who practises crimes the most dark and unnatural in the vaults and secret places of abomination and darkness?"
"The Grand Master of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem is not tainted by fame, either with heresy or magic," said Thomas de Vaux.
"But is he not a sordid miser?" said Richard hastily; "has he not been suspected - ay, more than suspected - of selling to the infidels those advantages which they would never have won by fair force? Tush, man, better give the army to be made merchandise of by Venetian skippers and Lombardy pedlars, than trust it to the Grand Master of St. John."
"Well, then, I will venture but another guess," said the Baron de Vaux. "What say you to the gallant Marquis of Montserrat, so wise, so elegant, such a good man-at-arms?"
"Wise? - cunning, you would say," replied Richard; "elegant in a lady's chamber, if you will. Oh, ay, Conrade of Montserrat - who knows not the popinjay? Politic and versatile, he will change you his purposes as often as the trimmings of his doublet, and you shall never be able to guess the hue of his inmost vestments from their outward colours. A man-at-arms? Ay, a fine figure on horseback, and can bear him well in the tilt-yard, and at the barriers, when swords are blunted at point and edge, and spears are tipped with trenchers of wood instead of steel pikes. Wert thou not with me when I said to that same gay Marquis, 'Here we be, three good Christians, and on yonder plain there pricks a band of some threescore Saracens -what say you to charge them briskly? There are but twenty unbelieving miscreants to each true knight."
"I recollect the Marquis replied," said De Vaux, "that his limbs were of flesh, not of iron, and that he would rather bear the heart of a man than of a beast, though that beast were the lion, But I see how it is - we shall end where we began, without hope of praying at the Sepulchre until Heaven shall restore King Richard to health."
At this grave remark Richard burst out into a hearty fit of laughter, the first which he had for some time indulged in. "Why what a thing is conscience," he said, "that through its means even such a thick-witted northern lord as thou canst bring thy sovereign to confess his folly! It is true that, did they not propose themselves as fit to hold my leading-staff, little should I care for plucking the silken trappings off the puppets thou hast shown me in succession. What concerns it me what fine tinsel robes they swagger in, unless when they are named as rivals in the glorious enterprise to which I have vowed myself? Yes, De Vaux, I confess my weakness, and the wilfulness of my ambition. The Christian camp contains, doubtless, many a better knight than Richard of England, and it would be wise and worthy to assign to the best of them the leading of the host. But," continued the warlike monarch, raising himself in his bed, and shaking the cover from his head, while his eyes sparkled as they were wont to do on the eve of battle, "were such a knight to plant the banner of the Cross on the Temple of Jerusalem while I was unable to bear my share in the noble task, he should, so soon as I was fit to lay lance in rest, undergo my challenge to mortal combat, for having diminished my fame, and pressed in before to the object of my enterprise. But hark, what trumpets are those at a distance?"
"Those of King Philip, as I guess, my liege," said the stout Englishman.
"Thou art dull of ear, Thomas," said the King, endeavouring to start up; "hearest thou not that clash and clang? By Heaven, the Turks are in the camp - I hear their lelies." [The war-cries of the Moslemah.]
He again endeavoured to get out of bed, and De Vaux was obliged to exercise his own great strength, and also to summon the assistance of the chamberlains from the inner tent, to restrain him.
"Thou art a false traitor, De Vaux," said the incensed monarch, when, breathless and exhausted with struggling, he was compelled to submit to superior strength, and to repose in quiet on his couch. "I would I were - I would I were but strong enough to dash thy brains out with my battle-axe!"
"I would you had the strength, my liege," said De Vaux, "and would even take the risk of its being so employed. The odds would be great in favour of Christendom were Thomas Multon dead and Coeur de Lion himself again."
"Mine honest faithful servant," said Richard, extending his hand, which the baron reverentially saluted, "forgive thy master's impatience of mood. It is this burning fever which chides thee, and not thy kind master, Richard of England. But go, I prithee, and bring me word what strangers are in the camp, for these sounds are not of Christendom."
De Vaux left the pavilion on the errand assigned, and in his absence, which he had resolved should be brief, he charged the chamberlains, pages, and attendants to redouble their attention on their sovereign, with threats of holding them to responsibility, which rather added to than diminished their timid anxiety in the discharge of their duty; for next, perhaps, to the ire of the monarch himself, they dreaded that of the stern and inexorable Lord of Gilsland. [Sir Thomas Multon of Gilsland.]
There never was a time on the march parts yet,
When Scottish with English met,
But it was marvel if the red blood ran not
As the rain does in the street.
Battle of Otterbourne.
A considerable band of Scottish warriors had joined the Crusaders, and had naturally placed themselves under the command of the English monarch, being, like his native troops, most of them of Saxon and Norman descent, speaking the same languages, possessed, some of them, of English as well as Scottish demesnes, and allied in some cases by blood and intermarriage. The period also preceded that when the grasping ambition of Edward I. gave a deadly and envenomed character to the wars betwixt the two nations - the English fighting for the subjugation of Scotland, and the Scottish, with all the stern determination and obstinacy which has ever characterized their nation, for the defence of their independence, by the most violent means, under the most disadvantageous circumstances, and at the most extreme hazard. As yet, wars betwixt the two nations, though fierce and frequent, had been conducted on principles of fair hostility, and admitted of those softening shades by which courtesy and the respect for open and generous foemen qualify and mitigate the horrors of war. In time of peace, therefore, and especially when both, as at present, were engaged in war, waged in behalf of a common cause, and rendered dear to them by their ideas of religion, the adventurers of both countries frequently fought side by side, their national emulation serving only to stimulate them to excel each other in their efforts against the common enemy.
The frank and martial character of Richard, who made no distinction betwixt his own subjects and those of William of Scotland, excepting as they bore themselves in the field of battle, tended much to conciliate the troops of both nations. But upon his illness, and the disadvantageous circumstances in which the Crusaders were placed, the national disunion between the various bands united in the Crusade, began to display itself, just as old wounds break out afresh in the human body when under the influence of disease or debility.
The Scottish and English, equally jealous and high-spirited, and apt to take offence - the former the more so, because the poorer and the weaker nation - began to fill up by internal dissension the period when the truce forbade them to wreak their united vengeance on the Saracens. Like the contending Roman chiefs of old, the Scottish would admit no superiority, and their southern neighbours would brook no equality. There were charges and recriminations, and both the common soldiery and their leaders and commanders, who had been good comrades in time of victory, lowered on each other in the period of adversity, as if their union had not been then more essential than ever, not only to the success of their common cause, but to their joint safety. The same disunion had begun to show itself betwixt the French and English, the Italians and the Germans, and even between the Danes and Swedes; but it is only that which divided the two nations whom one island bred, and who seemed more animated against each other for the very reason, that our narrative is principally concerned with.
Of all the English nobles who had followed their King to Palestine, De Vaux was most prejudiced against the Scottish. They were his near neighbours, with whom he had been engaged during his whole life in private or public warfare, and on whom he had inflicted many calamities, while he had sustained at their hands not a few. His love and devotion to the King was like the vivid affection of the old English mastiff to his master, leaving him churlish and inaccessible to all others even towards those to whom he was indifferent -and rough and dangerous to any against whom he entertained a prejudice. De Vaux had never observed without jealousy and displeasure his King exhibit any mark of courtesy or favour to the wicked, deceitful, and ferocious race born on the other side of a river, or an imaginary line drawn through waste and wilderness; and he even doubted the success of a Crusade in which they were suffered to bear arms, holding them in his secret soul little better than the Saracens whom he came to combat. It may be added that, as being himself a blunt and downright Englishman, unaccustomed to conceal the slightest movement either of love or of dislike, he accounted the fair- spoken courtesy which the Scots had learned, either from imitation of their frequent allies, the French, or which might have arisen from their own proud and reserved character, as a false and astucious mark of the most dangerous designs against their neighbours, over whom he believed, with genuine English confidence, they could, by fair manhood, never obtain any advantage.
Yet, though De Vaux entertained these sentiments concerning his Northern neighbours, and extended them, with little mitigation, even to such as had assumed the Cross, his respect for the King, and a sense of the duty imposed by his vow as a Crusader, prevented him from displaying them otherwise than by regularly shunning all intercourse with his Scottish brethren-at-arms as far as possible, by observing a sullen taciturnity when compelled to meet them occasionally, and by looking scornfully upon them when they encountered on the march and in camp. The Scottish barons and knights were not men to bear his scorn unobserved or unreplied to; and it came to that pass that he was regarded as the determined and active enemy of a nation, whom, after all, he only disliked, and in some sort despised. Nay, it was remarked by close observers that, if he had not towards them the charity of Scripture, which suffereth long, and judges kindly, he was by no means deficient in the subordinate and limited virtue, which alleviates and relieves the wants of others. The wealth of Thomas of Gilsland procured supplies of provisions and medicines, and some of these usually flowed by secret channels into the quarters of the Scottish - his surly benevolence proceeding on the principle that, next to a man's friend, his foe was of most importance to him, passing over all the intermediate relations as too indifferent to merit even a thought. This explanation is necessary, in order that the reader may fully understand what we are now to detail.
Thomas de Vaux had not made many steps beyond the entrance of the royal pavilion when he was aware of what the far more acute ear of the English monarch - no mean proficient in the art of minstrelsy - had instantly discovered, that the musical strains, namely, which had reached their ears, were produced by the pipes, shalms, and kettle-drums of the Saracens; and at the bottom of an avenue of tents, which formed a broad access to the pavilion of Richard, he could see a crowd of idle soldiers assembled around the spot from which the music was heard, almost in the centre of the camp; and he saw, with great surprise, mingled amid the helmets of various forms worn by the Crusaders of different nations, white turbans and long pikes, announcing the presence of armed Saracens, and the huge deformed heads of several camels or dromedaries, overlooking the multitude by aid of their long, disproportioned necks.
Wondering, and displeased at a sight so unexpected and singular - for it was customary to leave all flags of truce and other communications from the enemy at an appointed place without the barriers - the baron looked eagerly round for some one of whom he might inquire the cause of this alarming novelty.
The first person whom he met advancing to him he set down at once, by his grave and haughty step, as a Spaniard or a Scot; and presently after muttered to himself, "And a Scot it is - he of the Leopard. I have seen him fight indifferently well, for one of his country."
Loath to ask even a passing question, he was about to pass Sir Kenneth, with that sullen and lowering port which seems to say, "I know thee, but I will hold no communication with thee." But his purpose was defeated by the Northern Knight, who moved forward directly to him, and accosting him with formal courtesy, said, "My Lord de Vaux of Gilsland, I have in charge to speak with you."
"Ha!" returned the English baron, "with me? But say your pleasure, so it be shortly spoken - I am on the King's errand."
"Mine touches King Richard yet more nearly," answered Sir Kenneth; "I bring him, I trust, health."
The Lord of Gilsland measured the Scot with incredulous eyes, and replied, "Thou art no leech, I think, Sir Scot; I had as soon thought of your bringing the King of England wealth."
Sir Kenneth, though displeased with the manner of the baron's reply, answered calmly, "Health to Richard is glory and wealth to Christendom. - But my time presses; I pray you, may I see the King?"
"Surely not, fair sir," said the baron, "until your errand be told more distinctly. The sick chambers of princes open not to all who inquire, like a northern hostelry."
"My lord," said Kenneth, "the cross which I wear in common with yourself, and the importance of what I have to tell, must, for the present, cause me to pass over a bearing which else I were unapt to endure. In plain language, then, I bring with me a Moorish physician, who undertakes to work a cure on King Richard."
"A Moorish physician!" said De Vaux; "and who will warrant that he brings not poisons instead of remedies?"
"His own life, my lord - his head, which he offers as a guarantee."
"I have known many a resolute ruffian," said De Vaux, "who valued his own life as little as it deserved, and would troop to the gallows as merrily as if the hangman were his partner in a dance."
"But thus it is, my lord," replied the Scot. "Saladin, to whom none will deny the credit of a generous and valiant enemy, hath sent this leech hither with an honourable retinue and guard, befitting the high estimation in which El Hakim [The Physician] is held by the Soldan, and with fruits and refreshments for the King's private chamber, and such message as may pass betwixt honourable enemies, praying him to be recovered of his fever, that he may be the fitter to receive a visit from the Soldan, with his naked scimitar in his hand, and a hundred thousand cavaliers at his back. Will it please you, who are of the King's secret council, to cause these camels to be discharged of their burdens, and some order taken as to the reception of the learned physician?"
"Wonderful!" said De Vaux, as speaking to himself. - "And who will vouch for the honour of Saladin, in a case when bad faith would rid him at once of his most powerful adversary?"
"I myself," replied Sir Kenneth, "will be his guarantee, with honour, life, and fortune."
"Strange!" again ejaculated De Vaux; "the North vouches for the South - the Scot for the Turk! May I crave of you, Sir Knight, how you became concerned in this affair?"
"I have been absent on a pilgrimage, in the course of which," replied Sir Kenneth "I had a message to discharge towards the holy hermit of Engaddi."
"May I not be entrusted with it, Sir Kenneth, and with the answer of the holy man?"
"It may not be, my lord," answered the Scot.
"I am of the secret council of England," said the Englishman haughtily.
"To which land I owe no allegiance," said Kenneth. "Though I have voluntarily followed in this war the personal fortunes of England's sovereign, I was dispatched by the General Council of the kings, princes, and supreme leaders of the army of the Blessed Cross, and to them only I render my errand."
"Ha! sayest thou?" said the proud Baron de Vaux. "But know, messenger of the kings and princes as thou mayest be, no leech shall approach the sick-bed of Richard of England without the consent of him of Gilsland; and they will come on evil errand who dare to intrude themselves against it."
He was turning loftily away, when the Scot, placing himself closer, and more opposite to him, asked, in a calm voice, yet not without expressing his share of pride, whether the Lord of Gilsland esteemed him a gentleman and a good knight.
"All Scots are ennobled by their birthright," answered Thomas de Vaux, something ironically; but sensible of his own injustice, and perceiving that Kenneth's colour rose, he added, "For a good knight it were sin to doubt you, in one at least who has seen you well and bravely discharge your devoir."
"Well, then," said the Scottish knight, satisfied with the frankness of the last admission, "and let me swear to you, Thomas of Gilsland, that, as I am true Scottish man, which I hold a privilege equal to my ancient gentry, and as sure as I am a belted knight, and come hither to acquire los [Los - laus, praise, or renown] and fame in this mortal life, and forgiveness of my sins in that which is to come - so truly, and by the blessed Cross which I wear, do I protest unto you that I desire but the safety of Richard Coeur de Lion, in recommending the ministry of this Moslem physician."
The Englishman was struck with the solemnity of the obtestation, and answered with more cordiality than he had yet exhibited, "Tell me, Sir Knight of the Leopard, granting (which I do not doubt) that thou art thyself satisfied in this matter, shall I do well, in a land where the art of poisoning is as general as that of cooking, to bring this unknown physician to practise with his drugs on a health so valuable to Christendom?"
"My lord," replied the Scot, "thus only can I reply - that my squire, the only one of my retinue whom war and disease had left in attendance on me, has been of late suffering dangerously under this same fever, which, in valiant King Richard, has disabled the principal limb of our holy enterprise. This leech, this El Hakim, hath ministered remedies to him not two hours since, and already he hath fallen into a refreshing sleep. That he can cure the disorder, which has proved so fatal, I nothing doubt; that he hath the purpose to do it is, I think, warranted by his mission from the royal Soldan, who is true-hearted and loyal, so far as a blinded infidel may be called so; and for his eventual success, the certainty of reward in case of succeeding, and punishment in case of voluntary failure, may be a sufficient guarantee."
The Englishman listened with downcast looks, as one who doubted, yet was not unwilling to receive conviction. At length he looked up and said, "May I see your sick squire, fair sir?"
The Scottish knight hesitated and coloured, yet answered at last, "Willingly, my Lord of Gilsland. But you must remember, when you see my poor quarter, that the nobles and knights of Scotland feed not so high, sleep not so soft, and care not for the magnificence of lodgment which is Proper to their southern neighbours. I am poorly lodged, my Lord of Gilsland," he added, with a haughty emphasis on the word, while, with some unwillingness, he led the way to his temporary place of abode.
Whatever were the prejudices of De Vaux against the nation of his new acquaintance, and though we undertake not to deny that some of these were excited by its proverbial poverty, he had too much nobleness of disposition to enjoy the mortification of a brave individual thus compelled to make known wants which his pride would gladly have concealed.
"Shame to the soldier of the Cross," he said, "who thinks of worldly splendour, or of luxurious accommodation, when pressing forward to the conquest of the Holy City. Fare as hard as we may, we shall yet be better than the host of martyrs and of saints, who, having trod these scenes before us, now hold golden lamps and evergreen palms."
This was the most metaphorical speech which Thomas of Gilsland was ever known to utter, the rather, perhaps (as will sometimes happen), that it did not entirely express his own sentiments, being somewhat a lover of good cheer and splendid accommodation. By this time they reached the place of the camp where the Knight of the Leopard had assumed his abode.
Appearances here did indeed promise no breach of the laws of mortification, to which the Crusaders, according to the opinion expressed by him of Gilsland, ought to subject themselves. A space of ground, large enough to accommodate perhaps thirty tents, according to the Crusaders' rules of castrametation, was partly vacant - because, in ostentation, the knight had demanded ground to the extent of his original retinue - partly occupied by a few miserable huts, hastily constructed of boughs, and covered with palm-leaves. These habitations seemed entirely deserted, and several of them were ruinous. The central hut, which represented the pavilion of the leader, was distinguished by his swallow-tailed pennon, placed on the point of a spear, from which its long folds dropped motionless to the ground, as if sickening under the scorching rays of the Asiatic sun. But no pages or squires - not even a solitary warder - was placed by the emblem of feudal power and knightly degree. If its reputation defended it not from insult, it had no other guard.
Sir Kenneth cast a melancholy look around him, but suppessing his feelings, entered the hut, making a sign to the Baron of Gilsland to follow. He also cast around a glance of examination, which implied pity not altogether unmingled with contempt, to which, perhaps, it is as nearly akin as it is said to be to love. He then stooped his lofty crest, and entered a lowly hut, which his bulky form seemed almost entirely to fill.
The interior of the hut was chiefly occupied by two beds. One was empty, but composed of collected leaves, and spread with an antelope's hide. It seemed, from the articles of armour laid beside it, and from a crucifix of silver, carefully and reverentially disposed at the head, to be the couch of the knight himself. The other contained the invalid, of whom Sir Kenneth had spoken, a strong-built and harsh-featured man, past, as his looks betokened, the middle age of life. His couch was trimmed more softly than his master's, and it was plain that the more courtly garments of the latter, the loose robe in which the knights showed themselves on pacific occasions, and the other little spare articles of dress and adornment, had been applied by Sir Kenneth to the accommodation of his sick domestic. In an outward part of the hut, which yet was within the range of the English baron's eye, a boy, rudely attired with buskins of deer's hide, a blue cap or bonnet, and a doublet, whose original finery was much tarnished, sat on his knees by a chafing-dish filled with charcoal, cooking upon a plate of iron the cakes of barley- bread, which were then, and still are, a favourite food with the Scottish people. Part of an antelope was suspended against one of the main props of the hut. Nor was it difficult to know how it had been procured; for a large stag greyhound, nobler in size and appearance than those even which guarded King Richard's sick- bed, lay eyeing the process of baking the cake. The sagacious animal, on their first entrance, uttered a stifled growl, which sounded from his deep chest like distant thunder. But he saw his master, and acknowledged his presence by wagging his tail and couching his head, abstaining from more tumultuous or noisy greeting, as if his noble instinct had taught him the propriety of silence in a sick man's chamber.
Beside the couch sat on a cushion, also composed of skins, the Moorish physician of whom Sir Kenneth had spoken, cross-legged, after the Eastern fashion. The imperfect light showed little of him, save that the lower part of his face was covered with a long, black beard, which descended over his breast; that he wore a high tolpach, a Tartar cap of the lamb's wool manufactured at Astracan, bearing the same dusky colour; and that his ample caftan, or Turkish robe, was also of a dark hue. Two piercing eyes, which gleamed with unusual lustre, were the only lineaments of his visage that could be discerned amid the darkness in which he was enveloped.
The English lord stood silent with a sort of reverential awe; for notwithstanding the roughness of his general bearing, a scene of distress and poverty, firmly endured without complaint or murmur, would at any time have claimed more reverence from Thomas de Vaux than would all the splendid formalities of a royal presence- chamber, unless that presence-chamber were King Richard's own. Nothing was for a time heard but the heavy and regular breathings of the invalid, who seemed in profound repose.
"He hath not slept for six nights before," said Sir Kenneth, "as I am assured by the youth, his attendant."
"Noble Scot," said Thomas de Vaux, grasping the Scottish knight's hand, with a pressure which had more of cordiality than he permitted his words to utter, "this gear must be amended. Your esquire is but too evil fed and looked to."
In the latter part of this speech he naturally raised his voice to its usual decided tone, The sick man was disturbed in his slumbers.
"My master," he said, murmuring as in a dream, "noble Sir Kenneth, taste not, to you as to me, the waters of the Clyde cold and refreshing after the brackish springs of Palestine?"
"He dreams of his native land, and is happy in his slumbers," whispered Sir Kenneth to De Vaux; but had scarce uttered the words, when the physician, arising from the place which he had taken near the couch of the sick, and laying the hand of the patient, whose pulse he had been carefully watching, quietly upon the couch, came to the two knights, and taking them each by the arm, while he intimated to them to remain silent, led them to the front of the hut.
"In the name of Issa Ben Mariam," he said, "whom we honour as you, though not with the same blinded superstition, disturb not the effect of the blessed medicine of which he hath partaken. To awaken him now is death or deprivation of reason; but return at the hour when the muezzin calls from the minaret to evening prayer in the mosque, and if left undisturbed until then, I promise you this same Frankish soldier shall be able, without prejudice to his health, to hold some brief converse with you on any matters on which either, and especially his master, may have to question him."
The knights retreated before the authoritative commands of the leech, who seemed fully to comprehend the importance of the Eastern proverb that the sick chamber of the patient is the kingdom of the physician.
They paused, and remained standing together at the door of the hut - Sir Kenneth with the air of one who expected his visitor to say farewell, and De Vaux as if he had something on his mind which prevented him from doing so. The hound, however, had pressed out of the tent after them, and now thrust his long, rough countenance into the hand of his master, as if modestly soliciting some mark of his kindness. He had no sooner received the notice which he desired, in the shape of a kind word and slight caress, than, eager to acknowledge his gratitude and joy for his master's return, he flew off at full speed, galloping in full career, and with outstretched tail, here and there, about and around, cross-ways and endlong, through the decayed huts and the esplanade we have described, but never transgressing those precincts which his sagacity knew were protected by his master's pennon. After a few gambols of this kind, the dog, coming close up to his master, laid at once aside his frolicsome mood, relapsed into his usual gravity and slowness of gesture and deportment, and looked as if he were ashamed that anything should have moved him to depart so far out of his sober self-control.
Both knights looked on with pleasure; for Sir Kenneth was justly proud of his noble hound, and the northern English baron was, of course, an admirer of the chase, and a judge of the animal's merits.
"A right able dog," he said. "I think, fair sir, King Richard hath not an alan which may match him, if he be as stanch as he is swift. But let me pray you - speaking in all honour and kindness -have you not heard the proclamation that no one under the rank of earl shall keep hunting dogs within King Richard's camp without the royal license, which, I think, Sir Kenneth, hath not been issued to you? I speak as Master of the Horse."
"And I answer as a free Scottish knight," said Kenneth sternly. "For the present I follow the banner of England, but I cannot remember that I have ever subjected myself to the forest-laws of that kingdom, nor have I such respect for them as would incline me to do so. When the trumpet sounds to arms, my foot is in the stirrup as soon as any - when it clangs for the charge, my lance has not yet been the last laid in the rest. But for my hours of liberty or of idleness King Richard has no title to bar my recreation."
"Nevertheless," said De Vaux, "it is a folly to disobey the King's ordinance; so, with your good leave, I, as having authority in that matter, will send you a protection for my friend here."
"I thank you," said the Scot coldly; "but he knows my allotted quarters, and within these I can protect him myself. - And yet," he said, suddenly changing his manner, "this is but a cold return for a well-meant kindness. I thank you, my lord, most heartily. The King's equerries or prickers might find Roswal at disadvantage, and do him some injury, which I should not, perhaps, be slow in returning, and so ill might come of it. You have seen so much of my house-keeping, my lord," he added, with a smile, "that I need not shame to say that Roswal is our principal purveyor, and well I hope our Lion Richard will not be like the lion in the minstrel fable, that went a-hunting, and kept the whole booty to himself. I cannot think he would grudge a poor gentleman, who follows him faithfully, his hour of sport and his morsel of game, more especially when other food is hard enough to come by."
"By my faith, you do the King no more than justice; and yet," said the baron, "there is something in these words, vert and venison, that turns the very brains of our Norman princes."
"We have heard of late," said the Scot, "by minstrels and pilgrims, that your outlawed yeomen have formed great bands in the shires of York and Nottingham, having at their head a most stout archer, called Robin Hood, with his lieutenant, Little John. Methinks it were better that Richard relaxed his forest- code in England, than endeavour to enforce it in the Holy Land."
"Wild work, Sir Kenneth," replied De Vaux, shrugging his shoulders, as one who would avoid a perilous or unpleasing topic - "a mad world, sir. I must now bid you adieu, having presently to return to the King's pavilion. At vespers I will again, with your leave, visit your quarters, and speak with this same infidel physician. I would, in the meantime, were it no offence, willingly send you what would somewhat mend your cheer."
"I thank you, sir," said Sir Kenneth, "but it needs not. Roswal hath already stocked my larder for two weeks, since the sun of Palestine, if it brings diseases, serves also to dry venison."
The two warriors parted much better friends than they had met; but ere they separated, Thomas de Vaux informed himself at more length of the circumstances attending the mission of the Eastern physician, and received from the Scottish knight the credentials which he had brought to King Richard on the part of Saladin.
A wise physician, skilled our wounds to heal,
Is more than armies to the common weal.
"This is a strange tale, Sir Thomas," said the sick monarch, when he had heard the report of the trusty Baron of Gilsland. "Art thou sure this Scottish man is a tall man and true?"
"I cannot say, my lord," replied the jealous Borderer. "I live a little too near the Scots to gather much truth among them, having found them ever fair and false. But this man's bearing is that of a true man, were he a devil as well as a Scot; that I must needs say for him in conscience."
"And for his carriage as a knight, how sayest thou, De Vaux?" demanded the King.
"It is your Majesty's business more than mine to note men's bearings; and I warrant you have noted the manner in which this man of the Leopard hath borne himself. He hath been full well spoken of."
"And justly, Thomas," said the King. "We have ourselves witnessed him. It is indeed our purpose in placing ourselves ever in the front of battle, to see how our liegemen and followers acquit themselves, and not from a desire to accumulate vainglory to ourselves, as some have supposed. We know the vanity of the praise of man, which is but a vapour, and buckle on our armour for other purposes than to win it."
De Vaux was alarmed when he heard the King make a declaration so inconsistent with his nature, and believed at first that nothing short of the approach of death could have brought him to speak in depreciating terms of military renown, which was the very breath of his nostrils. But recollecting he had met the royal confessor in the outer pavilion, he was shrewd enough to place this temporary self-abasement to the effect of the reverend man's lesson, and suffered the King to proceed without reply.
"Yes," continued Richard, "I have indeed marked the manner in which this knight does his devoir. My leading-staff were not worth a fool's bauble had he escaped my notice; and he had ere now tasted of our bounty, but that I have also marked his overweening and audacious presumption."
"My liege," said the Baron of Gilsland, observing the King's countenance change, "I fear I have transgressed your pleasure in lending some countenance to his transgression." "How, De Multon, thou?" said the King, contracting his brows, and speaking in a tone of angry surprise. "Thou countenance his insolence? It cannot be."
"Nay, your Majesty will pardon me to remind you that I have by mine office right to grant liberty to men of gentle blood to keep them a hound or two within camp, just to cherish the noble art of venerie ; and besides, it were a sin to have maimed or harmed a thing so noble as this gentleman's dog.
"Has he, then, a dog so handsome?" said the King.
"A most perfect creature of Heaven," said the baron, who was an enthusiast in field-sports - "of the noblest Northern breed - deep in the chest, strong in the stern - black colour, and brindled on the breast and legs, not spotted with white, but just shaded into grey - strength to pull down a bull, swiftness to cote an antelope."
The King laughed at his enthusiasm. "Well, thou hast given him leave to keep the hound, so there is an end of it. Be not, however, liberal of your licenses among those knights adventurers who have no prince or leader to depend upon; they are ungovernable, and leave no game in Palestine. - But to this piece of learned heathenesse - sayest thou the Scot met him in the desert?"
"No, my liege; the Scot's tale runs thus. He was dispatched to the old hermit of Engaddi, of whom men talk so much - "
"'Sdeath and hell!" said Richard, starting up. "By whom dispatched, and for what? Who dared send any one thither, when our Queen was in the Convent of Engaddi, upon her pilgrimage for our recovery?"
"The Council of the Crusade sent him, my lord," answered the Baron de Vaux; "for what purpose, he declined to account to me. I think it is scarce known in the camp that your royal consort is on a pilgrimage; and even the princes may not have been aware, as the Queen has been sequestered from company since your love prohibited her attendance in case of infection."
"Well, it shall be looked into," said Richard. "So this Scottish man, this envoy, met with a wandering physician at the grotto of Engaddi - ha?"
"Not so my liege," replied De Vaux? "but he met, I think, near that place, with a Saracen Emir with whom he had some melee in the way of proof of valour, and finding him worthy to bear brave men company, they went together, as errant knights are wont, to the grotto of Engaddi."
Here De Vaux stopped, for he was not one of those who can tell a long story in a sentence.
"And did they there meet the physician?" demanded the King impatiently.
"No, my liege," replied De Vaux; "but the Saracen, learning your Majesty's grievous illness, undertook that Saladin should send his own physician to you, and with many assurances of his eminent skill; and he came to the grotto accordingly, after the Scottish knight had tarried a day for him and more. He is attended as if he were a prince, with drums and atabals, and servants on horse and foot, and brings with him letters of credence from Saladin."
"Have they been examined by Giacomo Loredani?"
"I showed them to the interpreter ere bringing them hither, and behold their contents in English."
Richard took a scroll, in which were inscribed these words: The blessing of Allah and his Prophet Mohammed ["Out upon the hound!" said Richard, spitting in contempt, by way of interjection], Saladin, king of kings, Saldan of Egypt and of Syria, the light and refuge of the earth, to the great Melech Ric, Richard of England, greeting. Whereas, we have been informed that the hand of sickness hath been heavy upon thee, our royal brother, and that thou hast with thee only such Nazarene and Jewish mediciners as work without the blessing of Allah and our holy Prophet ["Confusion on his head!" again muttered the English monarch], we have therefore sent to tend and wait upon thee at this time the physician to our own person, Adonbec el Hakim, before whose face the angel Azrael [The Angel of Death.] spreads his wings and departs from the sick chamber; who knows the virtues of herbs and stones, the path of the sun, moon, and stars, and can save man from all that is not written on his forehead. And this we do, praying you heartily to honour and make use of his skill; not only that we may do service to thy worth and valour, which is the glory of all the nations of Frangistan, but that we may bring the controversy which is at present between us to an end, either by honourable agreement, or by open trial thereof with our weapons, in a fair field - seeing that it neither becomes thy place and courage to die the death of a slave who hath been overwrought by his taskmaster, nor befits it our fame that a brave adversary be snatched from our weapon by such a disease. And, therefore, may the holy - "
"Hold, hold," said Richard, " I will have no more of his dog of a prophet! It makes me sick to think the valiant and worthy Soldan should believe in a dead dog. Yes, I will see his physician. I will put myself into the charge of this Hakim - I will repay the noble Soldan his generosity - I will meet Saladin in the field, as he so worthily proposes, and he shall have no cause to term Richard of England ungrateful. I will strike him to the earth with my battle-axe - I will convert him to Holy Church with such blows as he has rarely endured. He shall recant his errors before my good cross-handled sword, and I will have him baptized on the battle-field, from my own helmet, though the cleansing waters were mixed with the blood of us both. - Haste, De Vaux, why dost thou delay a conclusion so pleasing? Fetch the Hakim hither."
"My lord," said the baron, who perhaps saw some accession of fever in this overflow of confidence, "bethink you, the Soldan is a pagan, and that you are his most formidable enemy - "
"For which reason he is the more bound to do me service in this matter, lest a paltry fever end the quarrel betwixt two such kings. I tell thee he loves me as I love him - as noble adversaries ever love each other. By my honour, it were sin to doubt his good faith!"
"Nevertheless, my lord, it were well to wait the issue of these medicines upon the Scottish squire," said the Lord of Gilsland. "My own life depends upon it, for worthy were I to die like a dog did I proceed rashly in this matter, and make shipwreck of the weal of Christendom."
"I never knew thee before hesitate for fear of life," said Richard upbraidingly.
"Nor would I now, my liege," replied the stout-hearted baron, "save that yours lies at pledge as well as my own."
"Well, thou suspicious mortal," answered Richard, "begone then, and watch the progress of this remedy. I could almost wish it might either cure or kill me, for I am weary of lying here like an ox dying of the murrain, when tambours are beating, horses stamping, and trumpets sounding without."
The baron hastily departed, resolved, however, to communicate his errand to some churchman, as he felt something burdened in conscience at the idea of his master being attended by an unbeliever.
The Archbishop of Tyre was the first to whom he confided his doubts, knowing his interest with his master, Richard, who both loved and honoured that sagacious prelate. The bishop heard the doubts which De Vaux stated, with that acuteness of intelligence which distinguishes the Roman Catholic clergy. The religious scruples of De Vaux he treated with as much lightness as propriety permitted him to exhibit on such a subject to a layman.
"Mediciners," he said, "like the medicines which they employed, were often useful, though the one were by birth or manners the vilest of humanity, as the others are, in many cases, extracted from the basest materials. Men may use the assistance of pagans and infidels," he continued, "in their need, and there is reason to think that one cause of their being permitted to remain on earth is that they might minister to the convenience of true Christians. Thus we lawfully make slaves of heathen captives. Again," proceeded the prelate, "there is no doubt that the primitive Christians used the services of the unconverted heathen. Thus in the ship of Alexandria, in which the blessed Apostle Paul sailed to Italy, the sailors were doubtless pagans; yet what said the holy saint when their ministry was needful? - 'Nisi hi in navi manserint, vos salvi fieri non potestis' - Unless these men abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Again, Jews are infidels to Christianity, as well as Mohammedans. But there are few physicians in the camp excepting Jews, and such are employed without scandal or scruple. Therefore, Mohammedans may be used for their service in that capacity -Quod erat demonstrandum."
This reasoning entirely removed the scruples of Thomas de Vaux, who was particularly moved by the Latin quotation, as he did not understand a word of it.
But the bishop proceeded with far less fluency when he considered the possibility of the Saracen's acting with bad faith; and here he came not to a speedy decision. The baron showed him the letters of credence. He read and re-read them, and compared the original with the translation.
"It is a dish choicely cooked," he said, "to the palate of King Richard, and I cannot but have my suspicions of the wily Saracen. They are curious in the art of poisons, and can so temper them that they shall be weeks in acting upon the party, during which time the perpetrator has leisure to escape. They can impregnate cloth and leather, nay, even paper and parchment, with the most subtle venom. Our Lady forgive me! And wherefore, knowing this, hold I these letters of credence so close to my face? Take them, Sir Thomas - take them speedily!"
Here he gave them at arm's-length, and with some appearance of haste, to the baron. "But come, my Lord de Vaux," he continued, "wend we to the tent of this sick squire, where we shall learn whether this Hakim hath really the art of curing which he professeth, ere we consider whether there be safety in permitting him to exercise his art upon King Richard. - Yet, hold! let me first take my pouncet-box, for these fevers spread like an infection. I would advise you to use dried rosemary steeped in vinegar, my lord. I, too, know something of the healing art."
"I thank your reverend lordship," replied Thomas of Gilsland; "but had I been accessible to the fever, I had caught it long since by the bed of my master."
The Bishop of Tyre blushed, for he had rather avoided the presence of the sick monarch; and he bid the baron lead on.
As they paused before the wretched hut in which Kenneth of the Leopard and his follower abode, the bishop said to De Vaux, "Now, of a surety, my lord, these Scottish Knights have worse care of their followers than we of our dogs. Here is a knight, valiant, they say, in battle, and thought fitting to be graced with charges of weight in time of truce, whose esquire of the body is lodged worse than in the worst dog-kennel in England. What say you of your neighbours?"
"That a master doth well enough for his servant when he lodgeth him in no worse dwelling than his own," said De Vaux, and entered the hut.
The bishop followed, not without evident reluctance; for though he lacked not courage in some respects, yet it was tempered with a strong and lively regard for his own safety. He recollected, however, the necessity there was for judging personally of the skill of the Arabian physician, and entered the hut with a stateliness of manner calculated, as he thought, to impose respect on the stranger.
The prelate was, indeed, a striking and commanding figure. In his youth he had been eminently handsome, and even in age was unwilling to appear less so. His episcopal dress was of the richest fashion, trimmed with costly fur, and surrounded by a cope of curious needlework. The rings on his fingers were worth a goodly barony, and the hood which he wore, though now unclasped and thrown back for heat, had studs of pure gold to fasten it around his throat and under his chin when he so inclined. His long beard, now silvered with age, descended over his breast. One of two youthful acolytes who attended him created an artificial shade, peculiar then to the East, by bearing over his head an umbrella of palmetto leaves, while the other refreshed his reverend master by agitating a fan of peacock-feathers.
When the Bishop of Tyre entered the hut of the Scottish knight, the master was absent, and the Moorish physician, whom he had come to see, sat in the very posture in which De Vaux had left him several hours before, cross-legged upon a mat made of twisted leaves, by the side of the patient, who appeared in deep slumber, and whose pulse he felt from time to time. The bishop remained standing before him in silence for two or three minutes, as if expecting some honourable salutation, or at least that the Saracen would seem struck with the dignity of his appearance. But Adonbec el Hakim took no notice of him beyond a passing glance, and when the prelate at length saluted him in the lingua franca current in the country, he only replied by the ordinary Oriental greeting, "Salam alicum - Peace be with you."
"Art thou a physician, infidel?" said the bishop, somewhat mortified at this cold reception. "I would speak with thee on that art."
"If thou knewest aught of medicine," answered El Hakim, "thou wouldst be aware that physicians hold no counsel or debate in the sick chamber of their patient. Hear," he added, as the low growling of the staghound was heard from the inner hut, "even the dog might teach thee reason, Ulemat. His instinct teaches him to suppress his barking in the sick man's hearing. Come without the tent," said he, rising and leading the way, "if thou hast ought to say with me."
Notwithstanding the plainness of the Saracen leech's dress, and his inferiority of size when contrasted with the tall prelate and gigantic English baron, there was something striking in his manner and countenance, which prevented the Bishop of Tyre from expressing strongly the displeasure he felt at this unceremonious rebuke. When without the hut, he gazed upon Adonbec in silence for several minutes before he could fix on the best manner to renew the conversation. No locks were seen under the high bonnet of the Arabian, which hid also part of a brow that seemed lofty and expanded, smooth, and free from wrinkles, as were his cheeks, where they were seen under the shade of his long beard. We have elsewhere noticed the piercing quality of his dark eyes.
The prelate, struck with his apparent youth, at length broke a pause, which the other seemed in no haste to interrupt, by demanding of the Arabian how old he was?
"The years of ordinary men," said the Saracen, "are counted by their wrinkles; those of sages by their studies. I dare not call myself older than a hundred revolutions of the Hegira." [Meaning that his attainments were those which might have been made in a hundred years.]
The Baron of Gilsland, who took this for a literal assertion that he was a century old, looked doubtfully upon the prelate, who, though he better understood the meaning of El Hakim, answered his glance by mysteriously shaking his head. He resumed an air of importance when he again authoritatively demanded what evidence Adonbec could produce of his medical proficiency.
"Ye have the word of the mighty Saladin," said the sage, touching his cap in sign of reverence - "a word which was never broken towards friend or foe. What, Nazarene, wouldst thou demand more?"
"I would have ocular proof of thy skill," said the baron, "and without it thou approachest not to the couch of King Richard."
"The praise of the physician," said the Arabian, "is in the recovery of his patient. Behold this sergeant, whose blood has been dried up by the fever which has whitened your camp with skeletons, and against which the art of Your Nazarene leeches hath been like a silken doublet against a lance of steel. Look at his fingers and arms, wasted like the claws and shanks of the crane. Death had this morning his clutch on him; but had Azrael been on one side of the couch, I being on the other, his soul should not have been left from his body. Disturb me not with further questions, but await the critical minute, and behold in silent wonder the marvellous event."
The physician had then recourse to his astrolabe, the oracle of Eastern science, and watching with grave precision until the precise time of the evening prayer had arrived, he sunk on his knees, with his face turned to Mecca, and recited the petitions which close the Moslemah's day of toil. The bishop and the English baron looked on each other, meanwhile, with symptoms of contempt and indignation, but neither judged it fit to interrupt El Hakim in his devotions, unholy as they considered them to be.
The Arab arose from the earth, on which he had prostrated himself, and walking into the hut where the patient lay extended, he drew a sponge from a small silver box, dipped perhaps in some aromatic distillation, for when he put it to the sleeper's nose, he sneezed, awoke, and looked wildly around. He was a ghastly spectacle as he sat up almost naked on his couch, the bones and cartilages as visible through the surface of his skin as if they had never been clothed with flesh. His face was long, and furrowed with wrinkles; but his eye, though it wandered at first, became gradually more settled. He seemed to be aware of the presence of his dignified visitors, for he attempted feebly to pull the covering from his head in token of reverence, as he inquired, in a subdued and submissive voice, for his master.
"Do you know us, vassal?" said the Lord of Gilsland.
"Not perfectly, my lord," replied the squire faintly. "My sleep has been long and full of dreams. Yet I know that you are a great English lord, as seemeth by the red cross, and this a holy prelate, whose blessing I crave on me a poor sinner."
"Thou hast it - Benedictio domini sit vobiscum," said the prelate, making the sign of the cross, but without approaching nearer to the patient's bed.
"Your eyes witness," said the Arabian, "the fever hath been subdued. He speaks with calmness and recollection -his pulse beats composedly as yours - try its pulsations yourself"
The prelate declined the experiment; but Thomas of Gilsland, more determined on making the trial, did so, and satisfied himself that the fever was indeed gone.
"This is most wonderful," said the knight, looking to the bishop; "the man is assuredly cured. I must conduct this mediciner presently to King Richard's tent. What thinks your reverence?"
"Stay, let me finish one cure ere I commence another," said the Arab; "I will pass with you when I have given my patient the second cup of this most holy elixir."
So saying he pulled out a silver cup, and filling it with water from a gourd which stood by the bedside, he next drew forth a small silken bag made of network, twisted with silver, the contents of which the bystanders could not discover, and immersing it in the cup, continued to watch it in silence during the space of five minutes. It seemed to the spectators as if some effervescence took place during the operation; but if so, it instantly subsided.
"Drink," said the physician to the sick man - "sleep, and awaken free from malady."
"And with this simple-seeming draught thou wilt undertake to cure a monarch?" said the Bishop of Tyre.
"I have cured a beggar, as you may behold," replied the sage. "Are the Kings of Frangistan made of other clay than the meanest of their subjects?"
"Let us have him presently to the King," said the Baron of Gilsland. "He hath shown that he possesses the secret which may restore his health. If he fails to exercise it, I will put himself past the power of medicine."
As they were about to leave the hut, the sick man, raising his voice as much as his weakness permitted, exclaimed, "Reverend father, noble knight, and you, kind leech, if you would have me sleep and recover, tell me in charity what is become of my dear master?"
"He is upon a distant expedition, friend," replied the prelate - "on an honourable embassy, which may detain him for some days."
"Nay," said the Baron of Gilsland, "why deceive the poor fellow? - Friend, thy master has returned to the camp, and you will presently see him."
The invalid held up, as if in thankfulness, his wasted hands to Heaven, and resisting no longer the soporiferous operation of the elixir, sunk down in a gentle sleep.
"You are a better physician than I, Sir Thomas," said the prelate - "a soothing falsehood is fitter for a sick-room than an unpleasing truth."
"How mean you, my reverend lord?" said De Vaux hastily. "Think you I would tell a falsehood to save the lives of a dozen such as he?"
"You said," replied the bishop, with manifest symptoms of alarm - "you said the esquire's master was returned -he, I mean, of the Couchant Leopard."
"And he is returned," said De Vaux. "I spoke with him but a few hours since. This learned leech came in his company."
"Holy Virgin! why told you not of his return to me?" said the bishop, in evident perturbation.
"Did I not say that this same Knight of the Leopard had returned in company with the physician? I thought I had," replied De Vaux carelessly. "But what signified his return to the skill of the physician, or the cure of his Majesty?"
"Much, Sir Thomas - it signified much," said the bishop, clenching his hands, pressing his foot against the earth, and giving signs of impatience, as if in an involuntary manner. "But where can he be gone now, this same knight? God be with us - here may be some fatal errors!"
"Yonder serf in the outer space," said De Vaux, not without wonder at the bishop's emotion, "can probably tell us whither his master has gone."
The lad was summoned, and in a language nearly incomprehensible to them, gave them at length to understand that an officer had summoned his master to the royal tent some time before their arrival at that of his master. The anxiety of the bishop appeared to rise to the highest, and became evident to De Vaux, though, neither an acute observer nor of a suspicious temper. But with his anxiety seemed to increase his wish to keep it subdued and unobserved. He took a hasty leave of De Vaux, who looked after him with astonishment, and after shrugging his shoulders in silent wonder, proceeded to conduct the Arabian physician to the tent of King Richard.
This is the prince of leeches; fever, plague,
Cold rheum, and hot podagra, do but look on him,
And quit their grasp upon the tortured sinews.
The Baron of Gilsland walked with slow step and an anxious countenance towards the royal pavilion. He had much diffidence of his own capacity, except in a field of battle, and conscious of no very acute intellect, was usually contented to wonder at circumstances which a man of livelier imagination would have endeavoured to investigate and understand, or at least would have made the subject of speculation. But it seemed very extraordinary, even to him, that the attention of the bishop should have been at once abstracted from all reflection on the marvellous cure which they had witnessed, and upon the probability it afforded of Richard being restored to health, by what seemed a very trivial piece of information announcing the motions of a beggardly Scottish knight, than whom Thomas of Gilsland knew nothing within the circle of gentle blood more unimportant or contemptible; and despite his usual habit of passively beholding passing events, the baron's spirit toiled with unwonted attempts to form conjectures on the cause.
At length the idea occurred at once to him that the whole might be a conspiracy against King Richard, formed within the camp of the allies, and to which the bishop, who was by some represented as a politic and unscrupulous person, was not unlikely to have been accessory. It was true that, in his own opinion, there existed no character so perfect as that of his master; for Richard being the flower of chivalry, and the chief of Christian leaders, and obeying in all points the commands of Holy Church, De Vaux's ideas of perfection went no further. Still, he knew that, however unworthily, it had been always his master's fate to draw as much reproach and dislike as honour and attachment from the display of his great qualities; and that in the very camp, and amongst those princes bound by oath to the Crusade, were many who would have sacrificed all hope of victory over the Saracens to the pleasure of ruining, or at least of humbling, Richard of England.
"Wherefore," said the baron to himself, "it is in no sense impossible that this El Hakim, with this his cure, or seeming cure, wrought on the body of the Scottish squire, may mean nothing but a trick, to which he of the Leopard may be accessory, and wherein the Bishop of Tyre, prelate as he is, may have some share."
This hypothesis, indeed, could not be so easily reconciled with the alarm manifested by the bishop on learning that, contrary to his expectation, the Scottish knight had suddenly returned to the Crusaders' camp. But De Vaux was influenced only by his general prejudices, which dictated to him the assured belief that a wily Italian priest, a false-hearted Scot, and an infidel physician, formed a set of ingredients from which all evil, and no good, was likely to be extracted. He resolved, however, to lay his scruples bluntly before the King, of whose judgment he had nearly as high an opinion as of his valour.
Meantime, events had taken place very contrary to the suppositions which Thomas de Vaux had entertained. Scarce had he left the royal pavilion, when, betwixt the impatience of the fever, and that which was natural to his disposition, Richard began to murmur at his delay, and express an earnest desire for his return. He had seen enough to try to reason himself out of this irritation, which greatly increased his bodily malady. He wearied his attendants by demanding from them amusements, and the breviary of the priest, the romance of the clerk, even the harp of his favourite minstrel, were had recourse to in vain. At length, some two hours before sundown, and long, therefore, ere he could expect a satisfactory account of the process of the cure which the Moor or Arabian had undertaken, he sent, as we have already heard, a messenger commanding the attendance of the Knight of the Leopard, determined to soothe his impatience by obtaining from Sir Kenneth a more particular account of the cause of his absence from the camp, and the circumstances of his meeting with this celebrated physician.
The Scottish knight, thus summoned, entered the royal presence as one who was no stranger to such scenes. He was scarcely known to the King of England, even by sight, although, tenacious of his rank, as devout in the adoration of the lady of his secret heart, he had never been absent on those occasions when the munificence and hospitality of England opened the Court of its monarch to all who held a certain rank in chivalry. The King gazed fixedly on Sir Kenneth approaching his bedside, while the knight bent his knee for a moment, then arose, and stood before him in a posture of deference, but not of subservience or humility, as became an officer in the presence of his sovereign.
"Thy name," said the King, "is Kenneth of the Leopard - from whom hadst thou degree of knighthood?"
"I took it from the sword of William the Lion, King of Scotland," replied the Scot.
"A weapon," said the King, "well worthy to confer honour; nor has it been laid on an undeserving shoulder. We have seen thee bear thyself knightly and valiantly in press of battle, when most need there was; and thou hadst not been yet to learn that thy deserts were known to us, but that thy presumption in other points has been such that thy services can challenge no better reward than that of pardon for thy transgression. What sayest thou - ha?"
Kenneth attempted to speak, but was unable to express himself distinctly; the consciousness of his too ambitious love, and the keen, falcon glance with which Coeur de Lion seemed to penetrate his inmost soul, combining to disconcert him.
"And yet," said the King, "although soldiers should obey command, and vassals be respectful towards their superiors, we might forgive a brave knight greater offence than the keeping a simple hound, though it were contrary to our express public ordinance."
Richard kept his eye fixed on the Scot's face, beheld and beholding, smiling inwardly at the relief produced by the turn he had given to his general accusation.
"So please you, my lord," said the Scot, "your majesty must be good to us poor gentlemen of Scotland in this matter. We are far from home, scant of revenues, and cannot support ourselves as your wealthy nobles, who have credit of the Lombards. The Saracens shall feel our blows the harder that we eat a piece of dried venison from time to time with our herbs and barley-cakes."
"It skills not asking my leave," said Richard, "since Thomas de Vaux, who doth, like all around me, that which is fittest in his own eyes, hath already given thee permission for hunting and hawking."
"For hunting only, and please you," said the Scot. "But if it please your Majesty to indulge me with the privilege of hawking also, and you list to trust me with a falcon on fist, I trust I could supply your royal mess with some choice waterfowl."
"I dread me, if thou hadst but the falcon," said the King, "thou wouldst scarce wait for the permission. I wot well it is said abroad that we of the line of Anjou resent offence against our forest-laws as highly as we would do treason against our crown. To brave and worthy men, however, we could pardon either misdemeanour. - But enough of this. I desire to know of you, Sir Knight, wherefore, and by whose authority, you took this recent journey to the wilderness of the Dead Sea and Engaddi?"
"By order," replied the knight, "of the Council of Princes of the Holy Crusade."
"And how dared any one to give such an order, when I - not the least, surely, in the league - was unacquainted with it?"
"It was not my part, please your highness," said the Scot, "to inquire into such particulars. I am a soldier of the Cross - serving, doubtless, for the present, under your highness's banner, and proud of the permission to do so, but still one who hath taken on him the holy symbol for the rights of Christianity and the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre, and bound, therefore, to obey without question the orders of the princes and chiefs by whom the blessed enterprise is directed. That indisposition should seclude, I trust for but a short time, your highness from their councils, in which you hold so potential a voice, I must lament with all Christendom; but, as a soldier, I must obey those on whom the lawful right of command devolves, or set but an evil example in the Christian camp."
"Thou sayest well," said King Richard; "and the blame rests not with thee, but with those with whom, when it shall please Heaven to raise me from this accursed bed of pain and inactivity, I hope to reckon roundly. What was the purport of thy message"
"Methinks, and please your highness," replied Sir Kenneth, "that were best asked of those who sent me, and who can render the reasons of mine errand; whereas I can only tell its outward form and purport."
"Palter not with me, Sir Scot - it were ill for thy safety," said the irritable monarch.
"My safety, my lord," replied the knight firmly, "I cast behind me as a regardless thing when I vowed myself to this enterprise, looking rather to my immortal welfare than to that which concerns my earthly body."
"By the mass," said King Richard, "thou art a brave fellow! Hark thee, Sir Knight, I love the Scottish people; they are hardy, though dogged and stubborn, and, I think, true men in the main, though the necessity of state has sometimes constrained them to be dissemblers. I deserve some love at their hand, for I have voluntarily done what they could not by arms have extorted from me any more than from my predecessors, I have re-established the fortresses of Roxburgh and Berwick, which lay in pledge to England; I have restored your ancient boundaries; and, finally, I have renounced a claim to homage upon the crown of England, which I thought unjustly forced on you. I have endeavoured to make honourable and independent friends, where former kings of England attempted only to compel unwilling and rebellious vassals."
"All this you have done, my Lord King," said Sir Kenneth, bowing - "all this you have done, by your royal treaty with our sovereign at Canterbury. Therefore have you me, and many better Scottish men, making war against the infidels, under your banners, who would else have been ravaging your frontiers in England. If their numbers are now few, it is because their lives have been freely waged and wasted."
"I grant it true," said the King; "and for the good offices I have done your land I require you to remember that, as a principal member of the Christian league, I have a right to know the negotiations of my confederates. Do me, therefore, the justice to tell me what I have a title to be acquainted with, and which I am certain to know more truly from you than from others."
"My lord," said the Scot, "thus conjured, I will speak the truth; for I well believe that your purposes towards the principal object of our expedition are single-hearted and honest, and it is more than I dare warrant for others of the Holy League. Be pleased, therefore, to know my charge was to propose, through the medium of the hermit of Engaddi -a holy man, respected and protected by Saladin himself - "
"A continuation of the truce, I doubt not," said Richard, hastily interrupting him.
"No, by Saint Andrew, my liege," said the Scottish knight; "but the establishment of a lasting peace, and the withdrawing our armies from Palestine."
"Saint George!" said Richard, in astonishment. "Ill as I have justly thought of them, I could not have dreamed they would have humbled themselves to such dishonour. Speak, Sir Kenneth, with what will did you carry such a message?"
"With right good will, my lord," said Kenneth; "because, when we had lost our noble leader, under whose guidance alone I hoped for victory, I saw none who could succeed him likely to lead us to conquest, and I accounted it well in such circumstances to avoid defeat."
"And on what conditions was this hopeful peace to be contracted?" said King Richard, painfully suppressing the passion with which his heart was almost bursting.
"These were not entrusted to me, my lord," answered the Knight of the Couchant Leopard. "I delivered them sealed to the hermit."
"And for what hold you this reverend hermit -for fool, madman, traitor, or saint?" said Richard.
"His folly, sire," replied the shrewd Scottish man, "I hold to be assumed to win favour and reverence from the Paynimrie, who regard madmen as the inspired of Heaven - at least it seemed to me as exhibited only occasionally, and not as mixing, like natural folly, with the general tenor of his mind."
"Shrewdly replied," said the monarch, throwing himself back on his couch, from which he had half-raised himself. "Now of his penitence?"
"His penitence," continued Kenneth, "appears to me sincere, and the fruits of remorse for some dreadful crime, for which he seems, in his own opinion, condemned to reprobation."
"And for his policy?" said King Richard.
"Methinks, my lord," said the Scottish knight, "he despairs of the security of Palestine, as of his own salvation, by any means short of a miracle - at least, since the arm of Richard of England hath ceased to strike for it."
"And, therefore, the coward policy of this hermit is like that of these miserable princes, who, forgetful of their knighthood and their faith, are only resolved and determined when the question is retreat, and rather than go forward against an armed Saracen, would trample in their flight over a dying ally!"
"Might I so far presume, my Lord King," said the Scottish knight, "this discourse but heats your disease, the enemy from which Christendom dreads more evil than from armed hosts of infidels."
The countenance of King Richard was, indeed, more flushed, and his action became more feverishly vehement, as, with clenched hand, extended arm, and flashing eyes, he seemed at once to suffer under bodily pain, and at the same time under vexation of mind, while his high spirit led him to speak on, as if in contempt of both.
"You can flatter, Sir Knight," he said, "but you escape me not. I must know more from you than you have yet told me. Saw you my royal consort when at Engaddi?"
"To my knowledge - no, my lord," replied Sir Kenneth, with considerable perturbation, for he remembered the midnight procession in the chapel of the rocks.
"I ask you," said the King, in a sterner voice," whether you were not in the chapel of the Carmelite nuns at Engaddi, and there saw Berengaria, Queen of England, and the ladies of her Court, who went thither on pilgrimage?"
"My lord," said Sir Kenneth, "I will speak the truth as in the confessional. In a subterranean chapel, to which the anchorite conducted me, I beheld a choir of ladies do homage to a relic of the highest sanctity; but as I saw not their faces, nor heard their voices, unless in the hymns which they chanted, I cannot tell whether the Queen of England was of the bevy."
"And was there no one of these ladies known to you?"
Sir Kenneth stood silent.
"I ask you," said Richard, raising himself on his elbow, "as a knight and a gentleman - and I shall know by your answer how you value either character - did you, or did you not, know any lady amongst that band of worshippers?"
"My lord," said Kenneth, not without much hesitation, "I might guess."
"And I also may guess," said the King, frowning sternly; "but it is enough. Leopard as you are, Sir Knight, beware tempting the lion's paw. Hark ye - to become enamoured of the moon would be but an act of folly; but to leap from the battlements of a lofty tower, in the wild hope of coming within her sphere, were self- destructive madness."
At this moment some bustling was heard in the outer apartment, and the King, hastily changing to his more natural manner, said, "Enough - begone - speed to De Vaux, and send him hither with the Arabian physician. My life for the faith of the Soldan! Would he but abjure his false law, I would aid him with my sword to drive this scum of French and Austrians from his dominions, and think Palestine as well ruled by him as when her kings were anointed by the decree of Heaven itself."
The Knight of the Leopard retired, and presently afterwards the chamberlain announced a deputation From the Council, who had come to wait on the Majesty of England.
"It is well they allow that I am living yet," was his reply. "Who are the reverend ambassadors?"
"The Grand Master of the Templars and the Marquis of Montserrat."
"Our brother of France loves not sick-beds," said Richard; "yet, had Philip been ill, I had stood by his couch long since. - Jocelyn, lay me the couch more fairly - it is tumbled like a stormy sea. Reach me yonder steel mirror - pass a comb through my hair and beard. They look, indeed, liker a lion's mane than a Christian man's locks. Bring water."
"My lord," said the trembling chamberlain, "the leeches say that cold water may be fatal."
"To the foul fiend with the leeches!" replied the monarch; "if they cannot cure me, think you I will allow them to torment me? - There, then," he said, after having made his ablutions, "admit the worshipful envoys; they will now, I think, scarcely see that disease has made Richard negligent of his person."
The celebrated Master of the Templars was a tall, thin, war-worn man, with a slow yet penetrating eye, and a brow on which a thousand dark intrigues had stamped a portion of their obscurity. At the head of that singular body, to whom their order was everything, and their individuality nothing - seeking the advancement of its power, even at the hazard of that very religion which the fraternity were originally associated to protect - accused of heresy and witchcraft, although by their character Christian priests - suspected of secret league with the Soldan, though by oath devoted to the protection of the Holy Temple, or its recovery - the whole order, and the whole personal character of its commander, or Grand Master, was a riddle, at the exposition of which most men shuddered. The Grand Master was dressed in his white robes of solemnity, and he bore the abacus, a mystic staff of office, the peculiar form of which has given rise to such singular conjectures and commentaries, leading to suspicions that this celebrated fraternity of Christian knights were embodied under the foulest symbols of paganism.
Conrade of Montserrat had a much more pleasing exterior than the dark and mysterious priest-soldier by whom he was accompanied. He was a handsome man, of middle age, or something past that term, bold in the field, sagacious in council, gay and gallant in times of festivity; but, on the other hand, he was generally accused of versatility, of a narrow and selfish ambition, of a desire to extend his own principality, without regard to the weal of the Latin kingdom of Palestine, and of seeking his own interest, by private negotiations with Saladin, to the prejudice of the Christian leaguers.
When the usual salutations had been made by these dignitaries, and courteously returned by King Richard, the Marquis of Montserrat commenced an explanation of the motives of their visit, sent, as he said they were, by the anxious kings and princes who composed the Council of the Crusaders, "to inquire into the health of their magnanimous ally, the valiant King of England."
"We know the importance in which the princes of the Council hold our health," replied the English King; "and are well aware how much they must have suffered by suppressing all curiosity concerning it for fourteen days, for fear, doubtless, of aggravating our disorder, by showing their anxiety regarding the event."
The flow of the Marquis's eloquence being checked, and he himself thrown into some confusion by this reply, his more austere companion took up the thread of the conversation, and with as much dry and brief gravity as was consistent with the presence which he addressed, informed the King that they came from the Council, to pray, in the name of Christendom, "that he would not suffer his health to be tampered with by an infidel physician, said to be dispatched by Saladin, until the Council had taken measures to remove or confirm the suspicion which they at present conceived did attach itself to the mission of such a person."
"Grand Master of the Holy and Valiant Order of Knights Templars, and you, most noble Marquis of Montserrat," replied Richard, "if it please you to retire into the adjoining pavilion, you shall presently see what account we make of the tender remonstrances of our royal and princely colleagues in this religious warfare."
The Marquis and Grand Master retired accordingly; nor had they been many minutes in the outward pavilion when the Eastern physician arrived, accompanied by the Baron of Gilsland and Kenneth of Scotland. The baron, however, was a little later of entering the tent than the other two, stopping, perchance, to issue some orders to the warders without.
As the Arabian physician entered, he made his obeisance, after the Oriental fashion, to the Marquis and Grand Master, whose dignity was apparent, both from their appearance and their bearing. The Grand Master returned the salutation with an expression of disdainful coldness, the Marquis with the popular courtesy which he habitually practised to men of every rank and nation. There was a pause, for the Scottish knight, waiting for the arrival of De Vaux, presumed not, of his own authority, to enter the tent of the King of England; and during this interval the Grand Master sternly demanded of the Moslem, "Infidel, hast thou the courage to practise thine art upon the person of an anointed sovereign of the Christian host?"
"The sun of Allah," answered the sage, "shines on the Nazarene as well as on the true believer, and His servant dare make no distinction betwixt them when called on to exercise the art of healing."
"Misbelieving Hakim," said the Grand Master, "or whatsoever they call thee for an unbaptized slave of darkness, dost thou well know that thou shalt be torn asunder by wild horses should King Richard die under thy charge?"
"That were hard justice," answered the physician, "seeing that I can but use human means, and that the issue is written in the book of light."
"Nay, reverend and valiant Grand Master," said the Marquis of Montserrat, "consider that this learned man is not acquainted with our Christian order, adopted in the fear of God, and for the safety of His anointed. - Be it known to thee, grave physician, whose skill we doubt not, that your wisest course is to repair to the presence of the illustrious Council of our Holy League, and there to give account and reckoning to such wise and learned leeches as they shall nominate, concerning your means of process and cure of this illustrious patient; so shall you escape all the danger which, rashly taking such a high matter upon your sole answer, you may else most likely incur."
"My lords," said El Hakim, "I understand you well. But knowledge hath its champions as well as your military art - nay, hath sometimes had its martyrs as well as religion. I have the command of my sovereign, the Soldan Saladin, to heal this Nazarene King, and, with the blessing of the Prophet, I will obey his commands. If I fail, ye wear swords thirsting for the blood of the faithful, and I proffer my body to your weapons. But I will not reason with one uncircumcised upon the virtue of the medicines of which I have obtained knowledge through the grace of the Prophet, and I play you interpose no delay between me and my office."
"Who talks of delay?" said the Baron de Vaux, hastily entering the tent; "we have had but too much already. I salute you, my Lord of Montserrat, and you, valiant Grand Master. But I must presently pass with this learned physician to the bedside of my master."
"My lord," said the Marquis, in Norman-French, or the language of Ouie, as it was then called, "are you well advised that we came to expostulate, on the part of the Council of the Monarchs and Princes of the Crusade, against the risk of permitting an infidel and Eastern physician to tamper with a health so valuable as that of your master, King Richard?"
"Noble Lord Marquis," replied the Englishman bluntly, "I can neither use many words, nor do I delight in listening to them; moreover, I am much more ready to believe what my eyes have seen than what my ears have heard. I am satisfied that this heathen can cure the sickness of King Richard, and I believe and trust he will labour to do so. Time is precious. If Mohammed - may God's curse be on him! stood at the door of the tent, with such fair purpose as this Adonbec el Hakim entertains, I would hold it sin to delay him for a minute. So, give ye God'en, my lords."
"Nay, but," said Conrade of Montserrat, "the King himself said we should be present when this same physician dealt upon him."
The baron whispered the chamberlain, probably to know whether the Marquis spoke truly, and then replied, "My lords, if you will hold your patience, you are welcome to enter with us; but if you interrupt, by action or threat, this accomplished physician in his duty, be it known that, without respect to your high quality, I will enforce your absence from Richard's tent; for know, I am so well satisfied of the virtue of this man's medicines, that were Richard himself to refuse them, by our Lady of Lanercost, I think I could find in my heart to force him to take the means of his cure whether he would or no. - Move onward, El Hakim."
The last word was spoken in the lingua franca, and instantly obeyed by the physician. The Grand Master looked grimly on the unceremonious old soldier, but, on exchanging a glance with the Marquis, smoothed his frowning brow as well as he could, and both followed De Vaux and the Arabian into the inner tent, where Richard lay expecting them, with that impatience with which the sick man watches the step of his physician. Sir Kenneth, whose attendance seemed neither asked nor prohibited, felt himself, by the circumstances in which he stood, entitled to follow these high dignitaries; but, conscious of his inferior power and rank, remained aloof during the scene which took place.
Richard, when they entered his apartment, immediately exclaimed, "So ho! a goodly fellowship come to see Richard take his leap in the dark. My noble allies, I greet you as the representatives of our assembled league; Richard will again be amongst you in his former fashion, or ye shall bear to the grave what is left of him. - De Vaux, lives he or dies he, thou hast the thanks of thy prince. There is yet another - but this fever hath wasted my eyesight. What, the bold Scot, who would climb heaven without a ladder! He is welcome too. - Come, Sir Hakim, to the work, to the work!"
The physician, who had already informed himself of the various symptoms of the King's illness, now felt his pulse for a long time, and with deep attention, while all around stood silent, and in breathless expectation. The sage next filled a cup with spring water, and dipped into it the small red purse, which, as formerly, he took from his bosom. When he seemed to think it sufficiently medicated, he was about to offer it to the sovereign, who prevented him by saying, "Hold an instant. Thou hast felt my pulse -let me lay my finger on thine. I too, as becomes a good knight, know something of thine art."
The Arabian yielded his hand without hesitation, and his long, slender dark fingers were for an instant enclosed, and almost buried, in the large enfoldment of King Richard's hand.
"His blood beats calm as an infant's," said the King; "so throbs not theirs who poison princes. De Vaux, whether we live or die, dismiss this Hakim with honour and safety. - Commend us, friend, to the noble Saladin. Should I die, it is without doubt of his faith; should I live, it will be to thank him as a warrior would desire to be thanked."
He then raised himself in bed, took the cup in his hand, and turning to the Marquis and the Grand Master - "Mark what I say, and let my royal brethren pledge me in Cyprus wine, 'To the immortal honour of the first Crusader who shall strike lance or sword on the gate of Jerusalem; and to the shame and eternal infamy of whomsoever shall turn back from the plough on which he hath laid his hand!'"
He drained the cup to the bottom, resigned it to the Arabian, and sunk back, as if exhausted, upon the cushions which mere arranged to receive him. The physician then, with silent but expressive signs, directed that all should leave the tent excepting himself and De Vaux, whom no remonstrance could induce to withdraw. The apartment was cleared accordingly.
And now I will unclasp a secret book,
And, to your quick-conceiving discontent,
I'll read you matter deep and dangerous.
Henry IV., Part I.
The Marquis of Montserrat and the Grand Master of the Knights Templars stood together in the front of the royal pavilion, within which this singular scene had passed, and beheld a strong guard of bills and bows drawn out to form a circle around it, and keep at distance all which might disturb the sleeping monarch. The soldiers wore the downcast, silent, and sullen looks with which they trail their arms at a funeral, and stepped with such caution that you could not hear a buckler ring or a sword clatter, though so many men in armour were moving around the tent. They lowered their weapons in deep reverence as the dignitaries passed through their files, but with the same profound silence.
"There is a, change of cheer among these island dogs," said the Grand Master to Conrade, when they had passed Richard's guards. "What hoarse tumult and revel used to be before this pavilion! - nought but pitching the bar, hurling the ball, wrestling, roaring of songs, clattering of wine pots, and quaffing of flagons among these burly yeomen, as if they were holding some country wake, with a Maypole in the midst of them instead of a royal standard."
"Mastiffs are a faithful race," said Conrade; "and the King their Master has won their love by being ready to wrestle, brawl, or revel amongst the foremost of them, whenever the humour seized him."
"He is totally compounded of humours," said the Grand Master. "Marked you the pledge he gave us! instead of a prayer, over his grace-cup yonder."
"He would have felt it a, grace-cup, and a well-spiced one too," said the Marquis, "were Saladin like any other Turk that ever wore turban, or turned him to Mecca at call of the muezzin. But he affects faith, and honour, and generosity, as if it were for an unbaptized dog like him to practise the virtuous bearing of a Christian knight. It is said he hath applied to Richard to be admitted within the pale of chivalry."
"By Saint Bernard!" exclaimed the Grand Master, "it were time then to throw off our belts and spurs, Sir Conrade, deface our armorial bearings, and renounce our burgonets, if the highest honour of Christianity were conferred on an unchristened Turk of tenpence."
"You rate the Soldan cheap," replied the Marquis; "yet though he be a likely man, I have seen a better heathen sold for forty pence at the bagnio."
They were now near their horses, which stood at some distance from the royal tent, prancing among the gallant train of esquires and pages by whom they were attended, when Conrade, after a moment's pause, proposed that they should enjoy the coolness of the evening breeze which had arisen, and, dismissing their steeds and attendants, walk homewards to their own quarters through the lines of the extended Christian camp. The Grand Master assented, and they proceeded to walk together accordingly, avoiding, as if by mutual consent, the more inhabited parts of the canvas city, and tracing the broad esplanade which lay between the tents and the external defences, Where they could converse in private, and unmarked, save by the sentinels as they passed them.
They spoke for a time upon the military points and preparations for defence; but this sort of discourse, in which neither seemed to take interest, at length died away, and there was a long pause, which terminated by the Marquis of Montserrat stopping short, like a man who has formed a sudden resolution, and gazing for some moments on the dark, inflexible countenance of the Grand Master, he at length addressed him thus: "Might it consist with your valour and sanctity, reverend Sir Giles Amaury, I would pray you for once to lay aside the dark visor which you wear, and to converse with a friend barefaced."
The Templar half smiled.
"There are light-coloured masks," he said, "as well as dark visors, and the one conceals the natural features as completely as the other."
"Be it so," said the Marquis, putting his hand to his chin, and withdrawing it with the action of one who unmasks himself; "there lies my disguise. And now, what think you, as touching the interests of your own order, of the prospects of this Crusade?"
"This is tearing the veil from my thoughts rather than exposing your own," said the Grand Master; "yet I will reply with a parable told to me by a santon of the desert. 'A certain farmer prayed to Heaven for rain, and murmured when it fell not at his need. To punish his impatience, Allah,' said the santon, 'sent the Euphrates upon his farm, and he was destroyed, with all his possessions, even by the granting of his own wishes.'"
"Most truly spoken," said the Marquis Conrade. "Would that the ocean had swallowed up nineteen parts of the armaments of these Western princes! What remained would better have served the purpose of the Christian nobles of Palestine, the wretched remnant of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Left to ourselves, we might have bent to the storm; or, moderately supported with money and troops, we might have compelled Saladin to respect our valour, and grant us peace and protection on easy terms. But from the extremity of danger with which this powerful Crusade threatens the Soldan, we cannot suppose, should it pass over, that the Saracen will suffer any one of us to hold possessions or principalities in Syria, far less permit the existence of the Christian military fraternities, from whom they have experienced so much mischief."
"Ay, but," said the Templar, "these adventurous Crusaders may succeed, and again plant the Cross on the bulwarks of Zion."
"And what will that advantage either the Order of the Templars, or Conrade of Montserrat?" said the Marquis.
"You it may advantage," replied the Grand Master. "Conrade of Montserrat might become Conrade King of Jerusalem."
"That sounds like something," said the Marquis, "and yet it rings but hollow. Godfrey of Bouillon might well choose the crown of thorns for his emblem. Grand Master, I will confess to you I have caught some attachment to the Eastern form of government - a pure and simple monarchy should consist but of king and subjects. Such is the simple and primitive structure - a shepherd and his flock. All this internal chain of feudal dependance is artificial and sophisticated; and I would rather hold the baton of my poor marquisate with a firm gripe, and wield it after my pleasure, than the sceptre of a monarch, to be in effect restrained and curbed by the will of as many proud feudal barons as hold land under the Assizes of Jerusalem. [The Assises de Jerusalem were the digest of feudal law, composed by Godfrey of Boulogne, for the government of the Latin kingdom of Palestine, when reconquered from the Saracens. "It was composed with advice of the patriarch and barons, the clergy and laity, and is," says the historian Gibbon, "a precious monument of feudatory jurisprudence, founded upon those principles of freedom which were essential to the system."] A king should tread freely, Grand Master, and should not be controlled by here a ditch, and there a fence-here a feudal privilege, and there a mail-clad baron with his sword in his hand to maintain it. To sum the whole, I am aware that Guy de Lusignan's claims to the throne would be preferred to mine, if Richard recovers, and has aught to say in the choice."
"Enough," said the Grand Master; "thou hast indeed convinced me of thy sincerity. Others may hold the same opinions, but few, save Conrade of Montserrat, dared frankly avow that he desires not the restitution of the kingdom of Jerusalem, but rather prefers being master of a portion of its fragments - like the barbarous islanders, who labour not for the deliverance of a goodly vessel from the billows, expecting rather to enrich themselves at the expense of the wreck."
"Thou wilt not betray my counsel?" said Conrade, looking sharply and suspiciously. "Know, for certain, that my tongue shall never wrong my head, nor my hand forsake the defence of either. Impeach me if thou wilt - I am prepared to defend myself in the lists against the best Templar who ever laid lance in rest."
"Yet thou start'st somewhat suddenly for so bold a steed," said the Grand Master. "However, I swear to thee by the Holy Temple, which our Order is sworn to defend, that I will keep counsel with thee as a true comrade."
"By which Temple?" said the Marquis of Montserrat, whose love of sarcasm often outran his policy and discretion; "swearest thou by that on the hill of Zion, which was built by King Solomon, or by that symbolical, emblematical edifice, which is said to be spoken of in the councils held in the vaults of your Preceptories, as something which infers the aggrandizement of thy valiant and venerable Order?"
The Templar scowled upon him with an eye of death, but answered calmly, "By whatever Temple I swear, be assured, Lord Marquis, my oath is sacred. I would I knew how to bind thee by one of equal obligation."
"I will swear truth to thee," said the Marquis, laughing, "by the earl's coronet, which I hope to convert, ere these wars are over, into something better. It feels cold on my brow, that same slight coronal; a duke's cap of maintenance were a better protection against such a night-breeze as now blows, and a king's crown more preferable still, being lined with comfortable ermine and velvet. In a word, our interests bind us together; for think not, Lord Grand Master, that, were these allied princes to regain Jerusalem, and place a king of their own choosing there, they would suffer your Order, any more than my poor marquisate, to retain the independence which we now hold. No, by Our Lady! In such case, the proud Knights of Saint John must again spread plasters and dress plague sores in the hospitals; and you, most puissant and venerable Knights of the Temple, must return to your condition of simple men-at-arms, sleep three on a pallet, and mount two upon one horse, as your present seal still expresses to have been your ancient most simple custom."
"The rank, privileges, and opulence of our Order prevent so much degradation as you threaten," said the Templar haughtily.
"These are your bane," said Conrade of Montserrat; "and you, as well as I, reverend Grand Master, know that, were the allied princes to be successful in Palestine, it would be their first point of policy to abate the independence of your Order, which, but for the protection of our holy father the Pope, and the necessity of employing your valour in the conquest of Palestine, you would long since have experienced. Give them complete success, and you will be flung aside, as the splinters of a broken lance are tossed out of the tilt-yard,"
"There may be truth in what you say," said the Templar, darkly smiling. "But what were our hopes should the allies withdraw their forces, and leave Palestine in the grasp of Saladin?"
"Great and assured," replied Conrade. "The Soldan would give large provinces to maintain at his behest a body of well- appointed Frankish lances. In Egypt, in Persia, a hundred such auxiliaries, joined to his own light cavalry, would turn the battle against the most fearful odds. This dependence would be but for a time - perhaps during the life of this enterprising Soldan; but in the East empires arise like mushrooms. Suppose him dead, and us strengthened with a constant succession of fiery and adventurous spirits from Europe, what might we not hope to achieve, uncontrolled by these monarchs, whose dignity throws us at present into the shade - and, were they to remain here, and succeed in this expedition, would willingly consign us for ever to degradation and dependence?"
"You say well, my Lord Marquis," said the Grand Master, "and your words find an echo in my bosom. Yet must we be cautious - Philip of France is wise as well as valiant."
"True, and will be therefore the more easily diverted from an expedition to which, in a moment of enthusiasm, or urged by his nobles, he rashly bound himself. He is jealous of King Richard, his natural enemy, and longs to return to prosecute plans of ambition nearer to Paris than Palestine. Any fair pretence will serve him for withdrawing from a scene in which he is aware he is wasting the force of his kingdom."
"And the Duke of Austria?" said the Templar.
"Oh, touching the Duke," returned Conrade, "his self-conceit and folly lead him to the same conclusions as do Philip's policy and wisdom. He conceives himself, God help the while, ungratefully treated, because men's mouths - even those of his own minne- singers [The German minstrels were so termed.] - are filled with the praises of King Richard, whom he fears and hates, and in whose harm he would rejoice, like those unbred, dastardly curs, who, if the foremost of the pack is hurt by the gripe of the wolf, are much more likely to assail the sufferer from behind than to come to his assistance. But wherefore tell I this to thee, save to show that I am in sincerity in desiring that this league be broken up, and the country freed of these great monarchs with their hosts? And thou well knowest, and hast thyself seen, how all the princes of influence and power, one alone excepted, are eager to enter into treaty with the Soldan."
"I acknowledge it," said the Templar; "he were blind that had not seen this in their last deliberations. But lift yet thy mask an inch higher, and tell me thy real reason for pressing upon the Council that Northern Englishman, or Scot, or whatever you call yonder Knight of the Leopard, to carry their proposals for a treaty?"
"There was a policy in it," replied the Italian. "His character of native of Britain was sufficient to meet what Saladin required, who knew him to belong to the band of Richard; while his character of Scot, and certain other personal grudges which I wot of, rendered it most unlikely that our envoy should, on his return, hold any communication with the sick-bed of Richard, to whom his presence was ever unacceptable."
"Oh, too finespun policy," said the Grand Master; "trust me, that Italian spiders' webs will never bind this unshorn Samson of the Isle - well if you can do it with new cords, and those of the toughest. See you not that the envoy whom you have selected so carefully hath brought us, in this physician, the means of restoring the lion-hearted, bull-necked Englishman to prosecute his Crusading enterprise. And so soon as he is able once more to rush on, which of the princes dare hold back? They must follow him for very shame, although they would march under the banner of Satan as soon."
"Be content," said Conrade of Montserrat; "ere this physician, if he work by anything short of miraculous agency, can accomplish Richard's cure, it may be possible to put some open rupture betwixt the Frenchman - at least the Austrian - and his allies of England, so that the breach shall be irreconcilable; and Richard may arise from his bed, perhaps to command his own native troops, but never again, by his sole energy, to wield the force of the whole Crusade."
"Thou art a willing archer," said the Templar; "but, Conrade of Montserrat, thy bow is over-slack to carry an arrow to the mark."
He then stopped short, cast a suspicious glance to see that no one overheard him, and taking Conrade by the hand, pressed it eagerly as he looked the Italian in the face, and repeated slowly, "Richard arise from his bed, sayest thou? Conrade, he must never arise!"
The Marquis of Montserrat started. "What! spoke you of Richard of England - of Coeur de Lion - the champion of Christendom?"
His cheek turned pale and his knees trembled as he spoke. The Templar looked at him, with his iron visage contorted into a smile of contempt.
"Knowest thou what thou look'st like, Sir Conrade, at this moment? Not like the politic and valiant Marquis of Montserrat not like him who would direct the Council of Princes and determine the fate of empires - but like a novice, who, stumbling upon a conjuration in his master's book of gramarye, has raised the devil when he least thought of it, and now stands terrified at the spirit which appears before him."
"I grant you," said Conrade, recovering himself, "that - unless some other sure road could be discovered - thou hast hinted at that which leads most direct to our purpose. But, blessed Mary! we shall become the curse of all Europe, the malediction of every one, from the Pope on his throne to the very beggar at the church gate, who, ragged and leprous, in the last extremity of human wretchedness, shall bless himself that he is neither Giles Amaury nor Conrade of Montserrat."
"If thou takest it thus," said the Grand Master, with the same composure which characterized him all through this remarkable dialogue, "let us hold there has nothing passed between us -that we have spoken in our sleep - have awakened, and the vision is gone."
"It never can depart," answered Conrade.
"Visions of ducal crowns and kingly diadems are, indeed, somewhat tenacious of their place in the imagination," replied the Grand Master.
"Well," answered Conrade, "let me but first try to break peace between Austria and England."
They parted. Conrade remained standing still upon the spot, and watching the flowing white cloak of the Templar as he stalked slowly away, and gradually disappeared amid the fast-sinking darkness of the Oriental night. Proud, ambitious, unscrupulous, and politic, the Marquis of Montserrat was yet not cruel by nature. He was a voluptuary and an epicurean, and, like many who profess this character, was averse, even upon selfish motives, from inflicting pain or witnessing acts of cruelty; and he retained also a general sense of respect for his own reputation, which sometimes supplies the want of the better principle by which reputation is to be maintained.
"I have," he said, as his eyes still watched the point at which he had seen the last slight wave of the Templar's mantle - "I have, in truth, raised the devil with a vengeance! Who would have thought this stern, ascetic Grand Master, whose whole fortune and misfortune is merged in that of his order, would be willing to do more for its advancement than I who labour for my own interest? To check this wild Crusade was my motive, indeed, but I durst not think on the ready mode which this determined priest has dared to suggest. Yet it is the surest - perhaps even the safest."
Such were the Marquis's meditations, when his muttered soliloquy was broken by a voice from a little distance, which proclaimed with the emphatic tone of a herald, "Remember the Holy Sepulchre!"
The exhortation was echoed from post to post, for it was the duty of the sentinels to raise this cry from time to time upon their periodical watch, that the host of the Crusaders might always have in their remembrance the purpose of their being in arms. But though Conrade was familiar with the custom, and had heard the warning voice on all former occasions as a matter of habit, yet it came at the present moment so strongly in contact with his own train of thought, that it seemed a voice from Heaven warning him against the iniquity which his heart meditated. He looked around anxiously, as if, like the patriarch of old, though from very different circumstances, he was expecting some ram caught in a thicket some substitution for the sacrifice which his comrade proposed to offer, not to the Supreme Being, but to the Moloch of their own ambition. As he looked, the broad folds of the ensign of England, heavily distending itself to the failing night- breeze, caught his eye. It was displayed upon an artificial mound, nearly in the midst of the camp, which perhaps of old some Hebrew chief or champion had chosen as a memorial of his place of rest. If so, the name was now forgotten, and the Crusaders had christened it Saint George's Mount, because from that commanding height the banner of England was supereminently displayed, as if an emblem of sovereignty over the many distinguished, noble, and even royal ensigns, which floated in lower situations.
A quick intellect like that of Conrade catches ideas from the glance of a moment. A single look on the standard seemed to dispel the uncertainty of mind which had affected him. He walked to his pavilion with the hasty and determined step of one who has adopted a plan which he is resolved to achieve, dismissed the almost princely train who waited to attend him, and, as he committed himself to his couch, muttered his amended resolution, that the milder means are to be tried before the more desperate are resorted to.
"To-morrow," he said, "I sit at the board of the Archduke of Austria. We will see what can be done to advance our purpose before prosecuting the dark suggestions of this Templar."
One thing is certain in our Northern land -
Allow that birth or valour, wealth or wit,
Give each precedence to their possessor,
Envy, that follows on such eminence,
As comes the lyme-hound on the roebuck's trace,
Shall pull them down each one.
Sir David Lindsay.
Leopold, Grand Duke of Austria, was the first possessor of that noble country to whom the princely rank belonged. He had been raised to the ducal sway in the German Empire on account of his near relationship to the Emperor, Henry the Stern, and held under his government the finest provinces which are watered by the Danube. His character has been stained in history on account of one action of violence and perfidy, which arose out of these very transactions in the Holy Land; and yet the shame of having made Richard a prisoner when he returned through his dominions; unattended and in disguise, was not one which flowed from Leopold's natural disposition. We was rather a weak and a vain than an ambitious or tyrannical prince. His mental powers resembled the qualities of his person. He was tall, strong, and handsome, with a complexion in which red and white were strongly contrasted, and had long flowing locks of fair hair. But there was an awkwardness in his gait which seemed as if his size was not animated by energy sufficient to put in motion such a mass; and in the same manner, wearing the richest dresses, it always seemed as if they became him not. As a prince, he appeared too little familiar with his own dignity; and being often at a loss how to assert his authority when the occasion demanded it, he frequently thought himself obliged to recover, by acts and expressions of ill-timed violence, the ground which might have been easily and gracefully maintained by a little more presence of mind in the beginning of the controversy.
Not only were these deficiencies visible to others, but the Archduke himself could not but sometimes entertain a painful consciousness that he was not altogether fit to maintain and assert the high rank which he had acquired; and to this was joined the strong, and sometimes the just, suspicion that others esteemed him lightly accordingly.
When he first joined the Crusade, with a most princely attendance, Leopold had desired much to enjoy the friendship and intimacy of Richard, and had made such advances towards cultivating his regard as the King of England ought, in policy, to have received and answered. But the Archduke, though not deficient in bravery, was so infinitely inferior to Coeur de Lion in that ardour of mind which wooed danger as a bride, that the King very soon held him in a certain degree of contempt. Richard, also, as a Norman prince, a people with whom temperance was habitual, despised the inclination of the German for the pleasures of the table, and particularly his liberal indulgence in the use of wine. For these, and other personal reasons, the King of England very soon looked upon the Austrian Prince with feelings of contempt, which he was at no pains to conceal or modify, and which, therefore, were speedily remarked, and returned with deep hatred, by the suspicious Leopold. The discord between them was fanned by the secret and politic arts of Philip of France, one of the most sagacious monarchs of the time, who, dreading the fiery and overbearing character of Richard, considering him as his natural rival, and feeling offended, moreover, at the dictatorial manner in which he, a vassal of France for his Continental domains, conducted himself towards his liege lord, endeavoured to strengthen his own party, and weaken that of Richard, by uniting the Crusading princes of inferior degree in resistance to what he termed the usurping authority of the King of England. Such was the state of politics and opinions entertained by the Archduke of Austria, when Conrade of Montserrat resolved upon employing his jealousy of England as the means of dissolving, or loosening at least, the league of the Crusaders.
The time which he chose for his visit was noon; and the pretence, to present the Archduke with some choice Cyprus wine which had lately fallen into his hands, and discuss its comparative merits with those of Hungary and of the Rhine. An intimation of his purpose was, of course, answered by a courteous invitation to partake of the Archducal meal, and every effort was used to render it fitting the splendour of a sovereign prince. Yet the refined taste of the Italian saw more cumbrous profusion than elegance or splendour in the display of provisions under which the board groaned.
The Germans, though still possessing the martial and frank character of their ancestors - who subdued the Roman Empire - had retained withal no slight tinge of their barbarism. The practices and principles of chivalry were not carried to such a nice pitch amongst them as amongst the French and English knights, nor were they strict observers of the prescribed rules of society, which among those nations were supposed to express the height of civilization. Sitting at the table of the Archduke, Conrade was at once stunned and amused with the clang of Teutonic sounds assaulting his ears on all sides, notwithstanding the solemnity of a princely banquet. Their dress seemed equally fantastic to him, many of the Austrian nobles retaining their long beards, and almost all of them wearing short jerkins of various colours, cut, and flourished, and fringed in a manner not common in Western Europe.
Numbers of dependants, old and young, attended in the pavilion, mingled at times in the conversation, received from their masters the relics of the entertainment, and devoured them as they stood behind the backs of the company. Jesters, dwarfs, and minstrels were there in unusual numbers, and more noisy and intrusive than they were permitted to be in better regulated society. As they were allowed to share freely in the wine, which flowed round in large quantities, their licensed tumult was the more excessive.
All this while, and in the midst of a clamour and confusion which would better have become a German tavern during a fair than the tent of a sovereign prince, the Archduke was waited upon with a minuteness of form and observance which showed how anxious he was to maintain rigidly the state and character to which his elevation had entitled him. He was served on the knee, and only by pages of noble blood, fed upon plate of silver, and drank his Tokay and Rhenish wines from a cup of gold. His ducal mantle was splendidly adorned with ermine, his coronet might have equalled in value a royal crown, and his feet, cased in velvet shoes (the length of which, peaks included, might be two feet), rested upon a footstool of solid silver. But it served partly to intimate the character of the man, that, although desirous to show attention to the Marquis of Montserrat, whom he had courteously placed at his right hand, he gave much more of his attention to his spruch-sprecher - that is, his man of conversation, or sayer- of-sayings - who stood behind the Duke's right shoulder.
This personage was well attired in a cloak and doublet of black velvet, the last of which was decorated with various silver and gold coins stitched upon it, in memory of the munificent princes who had conferred them, and bearing a short staff to which also bunches of silver coins were attached by rings, which he jingled by way of attracting attention when he was about to say anything which he judged worthy of it. This person's capacity in the household of the Archduke was somewhat betwixt that of a minstrel and a counsellor. He was by turns a flatterer, a poet, and an orator; and those who desired to be well with the Duke generally studied to gain the good-will of the spruch-sprecher.
Lest too much of this officer's wisdom should become tiresome, the Duke's other shoulder was occupied by his hoff-narr, or court-jester, called Jonas Schwanker, who made almost as much noise with his fool's cap, bells, and bauble, as did the orator, or man of talk, with his jingling baton.
These two personages threw out grave and comic nonsense alternately; while their master, laughing or applauding them himself, yet carefully watched the countenance of his noble guest, to discern what impressions so accomplished a cavalier received from this display of Austrian eloquence and wit. It is hard to say whether the man of wisdom or the man of folly contributed most to the amusement of the party, or stood highest in the estimation of their princely master; but the sallies of both seemed excellently well received. Sometimes they became rivals for the conversation, and clanged their flappers in emulation of each other with a most alarming contention; but, in general, they seemed on such good terms, and so accustomed to support each other's play, that the spruch-sprecher often condescended to follow up the jester's witticisms with an explanation, to render them more obvious to the capacity of the audience, so that his wisdom became a sort of commentary on the buffoon's folly. And sometimes, in requital, the hoff-narr, with a pithy jest, wound up the conclusion of the orator's tedious harangue.
Whatever his real sentiments might be, Conrade took especial care that his countenance should express nothing but satisfaction with what he heard, and smiled or applauded as zealously, to all appearance, as the Archduke himself at the solemn folly of the spruch-sprecher and the gibbering wit of the fool. In fact, he watched carefully until the one or other should introduce some topic favourable to the purpose which was uppermost in his mind.
It was not long ere the King of England was brought on the carpet by the jester, who had been accustomed to consider Dickon of the Broom (which irreverent epithet he substituted for Richard Plantagenet) as a subject of mirth, acceptable and inexhaustible. The orator, indeed, was silent, and it was only when applied to by Conrade that he observed, "The genista, or broom-plant, was an emblem of humility; and it would be well when those who wore it would remember the warning."
The allusion to the illustrious badge of Plantagenet was thus rendered sufficiently manifest, and Jonas Schwanker observed that they who humbled themselves had been exalted with a vengeance. "Honour unto whom honour is due," answered the Marquis of Montserrat. "We have all had some part in these marches and battles, and methinks other princes might share a little in the renown which Richard of England engrosses amongst minstrels and minne-singers. Has no one of the joyeuse science here present a song in praise of the royal Archduke of Austria, our princely entertainer?"
Three minstrels emulously stepped forward with voice and harp. Two were silenced with difficulty by the spruch-sprecher, who seemed to act as master of the revels, and a hearing was at length procured for the poet preferred, who sung, in high German, stanzas which may be thus translated: -
"What brave chief shall head the forces,
Where the red-cross legions gather?
Best of horsemen, best of horses,
Highest head and fairest feather."
Here the orator, jingling his staff, interrupted the bard to intimate to the party - what they might not have inferred from the description - that their royal host was the party indicated, and a full-crowned goblet went round to the acclamation, Hoch lebe der Herzog Leopold! Another stanza followed: -
"Ask not Austria why, 'midst princes,
Still her banner rises highest;
Ask as well the strong-wing'd eagle,
Why to heaven he soars the highest."
"The eagle," said the expounder of dark sayings, "is the cognizance of our noble lord the Archduke - of his royal Grace, I would say - and the eagle flies the highest and nearest to the sun of all the feathered creation."
"The lion hath taken a spring above the eagle," said Conrade carelessly.
The Archduke reddened, and fixed his eyes on the speaker, while the spruch-sprecher answered, after a minute's consideration, "The Lord Marquis will pardon me - a lion cannot fly above an eagle, because no lion hath got wings."
"Except the lion of Saint Mark," responded the jester.
"That is the Venetian's banner," said the Duke; "but assuredly that amphibious race, half nobles, half merchants, will not dare to place their rank in comparison with ours."
"Nay, it was not of the Venetian lion that I spoke," said the Marquis of Montserrat, "but of the three lions passant of England. Formerly, it is said, they were leopards; but now they are become lions at all points, and must take precedence of beast, fish, or fowl, or woe worth the gainstander."
"Mean you seriously, my lord?" said the Austrian, now considerably flushed with wine. "Think you that Richard of England asserts any pre-eminence over the free sovereigns who have been his voluntary allies in this Crusade?"
"I know not but from circumstances," answered Conrade. "Yonder hangs his banner alone in the midst of our camp, as if he were king and generalissimo of our whole Christian army."
"And do you endure this so patiently, and speak of it so coldly?" said the Archduke.
"Nay, my lord," answered Conrade, "it cannot concern the poor Marquis of Montserrat to contend against an injury patiently submitted to by such potent princes as Philip of France and Leopold of Austria. What dishonour you are pleased to submit to cannot be a disgrace to me."
Leopold closed his fist, and struck on the table with violence.
"I have told Philip of this," he said. "I have often told him that it was our duty to protect the inferior princes against the usurpation of this islander; but he answers me ever with cold respects of their relations together as suzerain and vassal, and that it were impolitic in him to make an open breach at this time and period."
"The world knows that Philip is wise," said Conrade, "and will judge his submission to be policy. Yours, my lord, you can yourself alone account for; but I doubt not you have deep reasons for submitting to English domination."
"I submit!" said Leopold indignantly -"I, the Archduke of Austria, so important and vital a limb of the Holy Roman Empire - I submit myself to this king of half an island, this grandson of a Norman bastard! No, by Heaven! The camp and all Christendom shall see that I know how to right myself, and whether I yield ground one inch to the English bandog. - Up, my lieges and merry men; up and follow me! We will - and that without losing one instant - place the eagle of Austria where she shall float as high as ever floated the cognizance of king or kaiser."
With that he started from his seat, and amidst the tumultuous cheering of his guests and followers, made for the door of the pavilion, and seized his own banner, which stood pitched before it.
"Nay, my lord," said Conrade, affecting to interfere, "it will blemish your wisdom to make an affray in the camp at this hour; and perhaps it is better to submit to the usurpation of England a little longer than to - "
"Not an hour, not a moment longer," vociferated the Duke; and with the banner in his hand, and followed by his shouting guests and attendants, marched hastily to the central mount, from which the banner of England floated, and laid his hand on the standard- spear, as if to pluck it from the ground.
"My master, my dear master!" said Jonas Schwanker, throwing his arms about the Duke, "take heed - lions have teeth -"
"And eagles have claws," said the Duke, not relinquishing his hold on the banner-staff, yet hesitating to pull it from the ground.
The speaker of sentences, notwithstanding such was his occupation, had nevertheless some intervals of sound sense. He clashed his staff loudly, and Leopold, as if by habit, turned his head towards his man of counsel.
"The eagle is king among the fowls of the air," said the spruch- sprecher, "as is the lion among the beasts of the field - each has his dominion, separated as wide as England and Germany. Do thou, noble eagle, no dishonour to the princely lion, but let your banners remain floating in peace side by side."
Leopold withdrew his hand from the banner-spear, and looked round for Conrade of Montserrat, but he saw him not; for the Marquis, so soon as he saw the mischief afoot, had withdrawn himself from the crowd, taking care, in the first place, to express before several neutral persons his regret that the Archduke should have chosen the hours after dinner to avenge any wrong of which he might think he had a right to complain. Not seeing his guest, to whom he wished more particularly to have addressed himself, the Archduke said aloud that, having no wish to breed dissension in the army of the Cross, he did but vindicate his own privileges and right to stand upon an equality with the King of England, without desiring, as he might have done, to advance his banner - which he derived from emperors, his progenitors - above that of a mere descendant of the Counts of Anjou; and in the meantime he commanded a cask of wine to be brought hither and pierced, for regaling the bystanders, who, with tuck of drum and sound of music, quaffed many a carouse round the Austrian standard.
This disorderly scene was not acted without a degree of noise, which alarmed the whole camp.
The critical hour had arrived at which the physician, according to the rules of his art, had predicted that his royal patient might be awakened with safety, and the sponge had been applied for that purpose; and the leech had not made many observations ere he assured the Baron of Gilsland that the fever had entirely left his sovereign, and that, such was the happy strength of his constitution, it would not be even necessary, as in most cases, to give a second dose of the powerful medicine. Richard himself seemed to be of the same opinion, for, sitting up and rubbing his eyes, he demanded of De Vaux what present sum of money was in the royal coffers.
The baron could not exactly inform him of the amount.
"It matters not," said Richard; "be it greater or smaller, bestow it all on this learned leech, who hath, I trust, given me back again to the service of the Crusade. If it be less than a thousand byzants, let him have jewels to make it up."
"I sell not the wisdom with which Allah has endowed me," answered the Arabian physician; "and be it known to you, great Prince, that the divine medicine of which you have partaken would lose its effects in my unworthy hands did I exchange its virtues either for gold or diamonds."
"The Physician refuseth a gratuity!" said De Vaux to himself. "This is more extraordinary than his being a hundred years old."
"Thomas de Vaux," said Richard, "thou knowest no courage but what belongs to the sword, no bounty and virtue but what are used in chivalry. I tell thee that this Moor, in his independence, might set an example to them who account themselves the flower of knighthood."
"It is reward enough for me," said the Moor, folding his arms on his bosom, and maintaining an attitude at once respectful and dignified, "that so great a king as the Melech Ric [Richard was thus called by the Eastern nations.] should thus speak of his servant. - But now let me pray you again to compose yourself on your couch; for though I think there needs no further repetition of the divine draught, yet injury might ensue from any too early exertion ere pour strength be entirely restored."
"I must obey thee, Hakim," said the King; "yet believe me, my bosom feels so free from the wasting fire which for so many days hath scorched it, that I care not how soon I expose it to a brave man's lance. - But hark! what mean these shouts, and that distant music, in the camp? Go, Thomas de Vaux, and make inquiry."
"It is the Archduke Leopold," said De Vaux, returning after a minute's absence, "who makes with his pot-companions some procession through the camp."
"The drunken fool!" exclaimed King Richard; "can he not keep his brutal inebriety within the veil of his pavilion, that he must needs show his shame to all Christendom? - What say you, Sir Marquis?" he added, addressing himself to Conrade of Montserrat, who at that moment entered the tent.
"Thus much, honoured Prince," answered the Marquis, "that I delight to see your Majesty so well, and so far recovered; and that is a long speech for any one to make who has partaken of the Duke of Austria's hospitality."
"What! you have been dining with the Teutonic wine-skin!" said the monarch. "And what frolic has he found out to cause all this disturbance? Truly, Sir Conrade, I have still held you so good a reveller that I wonder at your quitting the game."
De Vaux, who had got a little behind the King, now exerted himself by look and sign to make the Marquis understand that he should say nothing to Richard of what was passing without. But Conrade understood not, or heeded not, the prohibition.
"What the Archduke does," he said, "is of little consequence to any one, least of all to himself, since he probably knows not what he is acting; yet, to say truth, it is a gambol I should not like to share in, since he is pulling down the banner of England from Saint George's Mount, in the centre of the camp yonder, and displaying his own in its stead."
"What sayest thou?" exclaimed the King, in a tone which might have waked the dead.
"Nay," said the Marquis, "let it not chafe your Highness that a fool should act according to his folly - "
"Speak not to me," said Richard, springing from his couch, and casting on his clothes with a dispatch which seemed marvellous - "Speak not to me, Lord Marquis! - De Multon, I command thee speak not a word to me - he that breathes but a syllable is no friend to Richard Plantagenet. - Hakim, be silent, I charge thee!"
All this while the King was hastily clothing himself, and, with the last word, snatched his sword from the pillar of the tent, and without any other weapon, or calling any attendance, he rushed out of his pavilion. Conrade, holding up his hands as if in astonishment, seemed willing to enter into conversation with De Vaux; but Sir Thomas pushed rudely past him, and calling to one of the royal equerries, said hastily, "Fly to Lord Salisbury's quarters, and let him get his men together and follow me instantly to Saint George's Mount. Tell him the King's fever has left his blood and settled in his brain."
Imperfectly heard, and still more imperfectly comprehended, by the startled attendant whom De Vaux addressed thus hastily, the equerry and his fellow-servants of the royal chamber rushed hastily into the tents of the neighbouring nobility, and quickly spread an alarm, as general as the cause seemed vague, through the whole British forces. The English soldiers, waked in alarm from that noonday rest which the heat of the climate had taught them to enjoy as a luxury, hastily asked each other the cause of the tumult, and without waiting an answer, supplied by the force of their own fancy the want of information. Some said the Saracens were in the camp, some that the King's life was attempted, some that he had died of the fever the preceding night, many that he was assassinated by the Duke of Austria. The nobles and officers, at an equal loss with the common men? to ascertain the real cause of the disorder, laboured only to get their followers under arms and under authority, lest their rashness should occasion some great misfortune to the Crusading army. The English trumpets sounded loud, shrill, and continuously. The alarm-cry of "Bows and bills, bows and bills!" was heard from quarter to quarter, again and again shouted, and again and again answered by the presence of the ready warriors, and their national invocation, "Saint George for merry England!"
The alarm went through the nearest quarter of the camp, and men of all the various nations assembled, where, perhaps, every people in Christendom had their representatives, flew to arms, and drew together under circumstances of general confusion, of which they knew neither the cause nor the object. It was, however, lucky, amid a scene so threatening, that the Earl of Salisbury, while he hurried after De Vaux's summons with a few only of the readiest English men-at-arms, directed the rest of the English host to be drawn up and kept under arms, to advance to Richard's succour if necessity should require, but in fit array and under due command, and not with the tumultuary haste which their own alarm and zeal for the King's safety might have dictated.
In the meanwhile, without regarding for one instant the shouts, the cries, the tumult which began to thicken around him, Richard, with his dress in the last disorder, and his sheathed blade under his arm, pursued his way with the utmost speed, followed only by De Vaux and one or two household servants, to Saint George's Mount.
He outsped even the alarm which his impetuosity only had excited, and passed the quarter of his own gallant troops of Normandy, Poitou, Gascony, and Anjou before the disturbance had reached them, although the noise accompanying the German revel had induced many of the soldiery to get on foot to listen. The handful of Scots were also quartered in the vicinity, nor had they been disturbed by the uproar. But the King's person and his haste were both remarked by the Knight of the Leopard, who, aware that danger must be afoot, and hastening to share in it, snatched his shield and sword, and united himself to De Vaux, who with some difficulty kept pace with his impatient and fiery master. De Vaux answered a look of curiosity, which the Scottish knight directed towards him, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, and they continued, side by side, to pursue Richard's steps.
The King was soon at the foot of Saint George's Mount, the sides as well as platform of which were now surrounded and crowded, partly by those belonging to the Duke of Austria's retinue, who were celebrating, with shouts of jubilee, the act which they considered as an assertion of national honour; partly by bystanders of different nations, whom dislike to the English, or mere curiosity, had assembled together to witness the end of these extraordinary proceedings. Through this disorderly troop Richard burst his way, like a goodly ship under full sail, which cleaves her forcible passage through the rolling billows, and heeds not that they unite after her passage and roar upon her stern.
The summit of the eminence was a small level space, on which were pitched the rival banners, surrounded still by the Archduke's friends and retinue. In the midst of the circle was Leopold himself, still contemplating with self-satisfaction the deed he had done, and still listening to the shouts of applause which his partisans bestowed with no sparing breath. While he was in this state of self-gratulation, Richard burst into the circle, attended, indeed, only by two men, but in his own headlong energies an irresistible host.
"Who has dared," he said, laying his hands upon the Austrian standard, and speaking in a voice like the sound which precedes an earthquake - "Who has dared to place this paltry rag beside the banner of England?"
The Archduke wanted not personal courage, and it was impossible he could hear this question without reply. Yet so much was he troubled and surprised by the unexpected arrival of Richard, and affected by the general awe inspired by his ardent and unyielding character, that the demand was twice repeated, in a tone which seemed to challenge heaven and earth, ere the Archduke replied, with such firmness as he could command, "It was I, Leopold of Austria."
"Then shall Leopold of Austria," replied Richard, "presentry see the rate at which his banner and his pretensions are held by Richard of England."
So saying, he pulled up the standard-spear, splintered it to pieces, threw the banner itself on the ground, and placed his foot upon it.
"Thus," said he," I trample on the banner of Austria. Is there a knight among your Teutonic chivalry dare impeach my deed?"
There was a momentary silence; but there are no braver men than the Germans.
"I," and "I," and "I," was heard from several knights of the Duke"s followers; and he himself added his voice to those which accepted the King of England's defiance.
"Why do we daily thus?" said the Earl Wallenrode, a gigantic warrior from the frontiers of Hungary. "Brethren and noble gentlemen, this man's foot is on the honour of your country - let us rescue it from violation, and down with the pride of England!"
So saying, he drew his sword, and struck at the King a blow which might have proved fatal, had not the Scot intercepted and caught it upon his shield.
"I have sworn," said King Richard - and his voice was heard above all the tumult, which now waxed wild and loud -"never to strike one whose shoulder bears the cross; therefore live, Wallenrode - but live to remember Richard of England."
As he spoke, he grasped the tall Hungarian round the waist, and, unmatched in wrestling, as in other military exercises, hurled him backwards with such violence that the mass flew as if discharged from a military engine, not only through the ring of spectators who witnessed the extraordinary scene, but over the edge of the mount itself, down the steep side of which Wallenrode rolled headlong, until, pitching at length upon his shoulder, he dislocatcd the bone, and lay like one dead. This almost supernatural display of strength did not encourage either the Duke or any of his followers to renew a personal contest so inauspiciously commenced. Those who stood farthest back did, indeed, clash their swords, and cry out, "Cut the island mastiff to pieces!" but those who were nearer veiled, perhaps, their personal fears under an affected regard for order, and cried, for the most part, "Peace! Peace! the peace of the Cross - the peace of Holy Church and our Father the Pope!"
These various cries of the assailants, contradicting each other, showed their irresolution; while Richard, his foot still on the archducal banner, glared round him with an eye that seemed to seek an enemy, and from which the angry nobles shrunk appalled, as from the threatened grasp of a lion. De Vaux and the Knight of the Leopard kept their places beside him; and though the swords which they held were still sheathed, it was plain that they were prompt to protect Richard's person to the very last, and their size and remarkable strength plainly showed the defence would be a desperate one.
Salisbury and his attendants were also now drawing near, with bills and partisans brandished, and bows already bended.
At this moment King Philip of France, attended by one or two of his nobles, came on the platform to inquire the cause of the disturbance, and made gestures of surprise at finding the King of England raised from his sick-bed, and confronting their common ally, the Duke of Austria, in such a menacing and insulting posture. Richard himself blushed at being discovered by Philip, whose sagacity he respected as much as he disliked his person, in an attitude neither becoming his character as a monarch, nor as a Crusader; and it was observed that he withdrew his foot, as if accidentally, from the dishonoured banner, and exchanged his look of violent emotion for one of affected composure and indifference. Leopold also struggled to attain some degree of calmness, mortified as he was by having been seen by Philip in the act of passively submitting to the insults of the fiery King of England.
Possessed of many of those royal qualities for which he was termed by his subjects the August, Philip might be termed the Ulysses, as Richard was indisputably the Achilles, of the Crusade. The King of France was sagacious, wise, deliberate in council, steady and calm in action, seeing clearly, and steadily pursuing, the measures most for the interest of his kingdom - dignified and royal in his deportment, brave in person, but a politician rather than a warrior. The Crusade would have been no choice of his own; but the spirit was contagious, and the expedition was enforced upon him by the church, and by the unanimous wish of his nobility. In any other situation, or in a milder age, his character might have stood higher than that of the adventurous Coeur de Lion. But in the Crusade, itself an undertaking wholly irrational, sound reason was the quality of all others least estimated, and the chivalric valour which both the age and the enterprise demanded was considered as debased if mingled with the least touch of discretion. So that the merit of Philip, compared with that of his haughty rival, showed like the clear but minute flame of a lamp placed near the glare of a huge, blazing torch, which, not possessing half the utility, makes ten times more impression on the eye. Philip felt his inferiority in public opinion with the pain natural to a high-spirited prince; and it cannot be wondered at if he took suck opportunities as offered for placing his own character in more advantageous contrast with that of his rival. The present seemed one of those occasions in which prudence and calmness might reasonably expect to triumph over obstinacy and impetuous violence.
"What means this unseemly broil betwixt the sworn brethren of the Cross - the royal Majesty of England and the princely Duke Leopold? How is it possible that those who are the chiefs and pillars of this holy expedition - "
"A truce with thy remonstrance, France," said Richard, enraged inwardly at finding himself placed on a sort of equality with Leopold, yet not knowing how to resent it. "This duke, or prince, or pillar, if you will, hath been insolent, and I have chastised him - that is all. Here is a coil, forsooth, because of spurning a hound!"
"Majesty of France," said the Duke, "I appeal to you and every sovereign prince against the foul indignity which I have sustained. This King of England hath pulled down my banner-torn and trampled on it."
"Because he had the audacity to plant it beside mine," said Richard.
"My rank as thine equal entitled me," replied the Duke, emboldened by the presence of Philip.
"Assert such equality for thy person," said King Richard, "and, by Saint George, I will treat thy person as I did thy broidered kerchief there, fit but for the meanest use to which kerchief may be put."
"Nay, but patience, brother of England," said Philip, "and I will presently show Austria that he is wrong in this matter. - Do not think, noble Duke," he continued, "that, in permitting the standard of England to occupy the highest point in our camp, we, the independent sovereigns of the Crusade, acknowledge any inferiority to the royal Richard. It were inconsistent to think so, since even the Oriflamme itself - the great banner of France, to which the royal Richard himself, in respect of his French possessions, is but a vassal - holds for the present an inferior place to the Lions of England. But as sworn brethren of the Cross, military pilgrims, who, laying aside the pomp and pride of this world, are hewing with our swords the way to the Holy Sepulchre, I myself, and the other princes, have renounced to King Richard, from respect to his high renown and great feats of arms, that precedence which elsewhere, and upon other motives, would not have been yielded. I am satisfied that, when your royal grace of Austria shall have considered this, you will express sorrow for having placed your banner on this spot, and that the royal Majesty of England will then give satisfaction for the insult he has offered."
The spruch-sprecher and the jester had both retired to a safe distance when matters seemed coming to blows; but returned when words, their own commodity, seemed again about to become the order of the day.
The man of proverbs was so delighted with Philip's politic speech that he clashed his baton at the conclusion, by way of emphasis, and forgot the presence in which he was, so far as to say aloud that he himself had never said a wiser thing in his life.
"It may be so," whispered Jonas Schwanker, "but we shall be whipped if you speak so loud."
"The Duke answered sullenly that he would refer his quarrel to the General Council of the Crusade - a motion which Philip highly applauded, as qualified to take away a scandal most harmful to Christendom.
Richard, retaining the same careless attitude, listened to Philip until his oratory seemed exhausted, and then said aloud, "I am drowsy - this fever hangs about me still. Brother of France, thou art acquainted with my humour, and that I have at all times but few words to spare. Know, therefore, at once, I will submit a matter touching the honour of England neither to Prince, Pope, nor Council. Here stands my banner - whatsoever pennon shall be reared within three butts' length of it - ay, were it the Oriflamme, of which you were, I think, but now speaking - shall be treated as that dishonoured rag; nor will I yield other satisfaction than that which these poor limbs can render in the lists to any bold challenge - ay, were it against five champions instead of one."
"Now," said the jester, whispering his companion, "that is as complete a piece of folly as if I myself had said it; but yet, I think, there may be in this matter a greater fool than Richard yet."
"And who may that be?" asked the man of wisdom.
"Philip," said the jester, "or our own Royal Duke, should either accept the challenge. But oh, most sage spruch-specher, what excellent kings wouldst thou and I have made, since those on whose heads these crowns have fallen can play the proverb-monger and the fool as completely as ourselves!"
While these worthies plied their offices apart, Philip answered calmly to the almost injurious defiance of Richard, "I came not hither to awaken fresh quarrels, contrary to the oath we have sworn, and the holy cause in which we have engaged. I part from my brother of England as brothers should part, and the only strife between the Lions of England and the Lilies of France shall be which shall be carried deepest into the ranks of the infidels."
"It is a bargain, my royal brother," said Richard, stretching out his hand with all the frankness which belonged to his rash but generous disposition; "and soon may we have the opportunity to try this gallant and fraternal wager."
"Let this noble Duke also partake in the friendship of this happy moment," said Philip; and the Duke approached half-sullenly, half-willing to enter into some accommodation.
"I think not of fools, nor of their folly," said Richard carelessly; and the Archduke, turning his back on him, withdrew from the ground.
Richard looked after him as he retired.
"There is a sort of glow-worm courage," he said, "that shows only by night. I must not leave this banner unguarded in darkness; by daylight the look of the Lions will alone defend it. Here, Thomas of Gilsland, I give thee the charge of the standard - watch over the honour of England."
"Her safety is yet more dear to me," said De Vaux, "and the life of Richard is the safety of England. I must have your Highness back to your tent, and that without further tarriance."
"Thou art a rough and peremptory nurse, De Vaux," said the king, smiling; and then added, addressing Sir Kenneth, "Valiant Scot, I owe thee a boon, and I will pay it richly. There stands the banner of England! Watch it as novice does his armour on the night before he is dubbed. Stir not from it three spears' length, and defend it with thy body against injury or insult. Sound thy bugle if thou art assailed by more than three at once. Dost thou undertake the charge?"
"Willingly," said Kenneth; "and will discharge it upon penalty of my head. I will but arm me, and return hither instantly."
The Kings of France and England then took formal leave of each other, hiding, under an appearance of courtesy, the grounds of complaint which either had against the other - Richard against Philip, for what he deemed an officious interference betwixt him and Austria, and Philip against Coeur de Lion, for the disrespectful manner in which his mediation had been received. Those whom this disturbance had assembled now drew off in different directions, leaving the contested mount in the same solitude which had subsisted till interrupted by the Austrian bravado. Men judged of the events of the day according to their partialities, and while the English charged the Austrian with having afforded the first ground of quarrel, those of other nations concurred in casting the greater blame upon the insular haughtiness and assuming character of Richard.
"Thou seest," said the Marquis of Montserrat to the Grand Master of the Templars, "that subtle courses are more effective than violence. I have unloosed the bonds which held together this bunch of sceptres and lances - thou wilt see them shortly fall asunder."
"I would have called thy plan a good one," said the Templar, "had there been but one man of courage among yonder cold-blooded Austrians to sever the bonds of which you speak with his sword. A knot that is unloosed may again be fastened, but not so the cord which has been cut to pieces."
'Tis woman that seduces all mankind.
In the days of chivalry, a dangerous post or a perilous adventure was a reward frequently assigned to military bravery as a compensation for its former trials; just as, in ascending a precipice, the surmounting one crag only lifts the climber to points yet more dangerous.
It was midnight, and the moon rode clear and high in heaven, when Kenneth of Scotland stood upon his watch on Saint George's Mount, beside the banner of England, a solitary sentinel, to protect the emblem of that nation against the insults which might be meditated among the thousands whom Richard's pride had made his enemies. High thoughts rolled, one after each other, upon the mind of the warrior. It seemed to him as if he had gained some favour in the eyes of the chivalrous monarch, who till now had not seemed to distinguish him among the crowds of brave men whom his renown had assembled under his banner, and Sir Kenneth little recked that the display of royal regard consisted in placing him upon a post so perilous. The devotion of his ambitious and high- placed affection inflamed his military enthusiasm. Hopeless as that attachment was in almost any conceivable circumstances, those which had lately occurred had, in some degree, diminished the distance between Edith and himself. He upon whom Richard had conferred the distinction of guarding his banner was no longer an adventurer of slight note, but placed within the regard of a princess, although he was as far as ever from her level. An unknown and obscure fate could not now be his. If he was surprised and slain on the post which had been assigned him, his death - and he resolved it should be glorious - must deserve the praises as well as call down the vengeance of Coeur de Lion, and be followed by the regrets, and even the tears, of the high-born beauties of the English Court. He had now no longer reason to fear that he should die as a fool dieth.
Sir Kenneth had full leisure to enjoy these and similar high- souled thoughts, fostered by that wild spirit of chivalry, which, amid its most extravagant and fantastic flights, was still pure from all selfish alloy - generous, devoted, and perhaps only thus far censurable, that it proposed objects and courses of action inconsistent with the frailties and imperfections of man. All nature around him slept in calm moon-shine or in deep shadow. The long rows of tents and pavilions, glimmering or darkening as they lay in the moonlight or in the shade, were still and silent as the streets of a deserted city. Beside the banner-staff lay the large staghound already mentioned, the sole companion of Kenneth's watch, on whose vigilance he trusted for early warning of the approach of any hostile footstep. The noble animal seemed to understand the purpose of their watch; for he looked from time to time at the rich folds of the heavy pennon, and, when the cry of the sentinels came from the distant lines and defences of the camp, he answered them with one deep and reiterated bark, as if to affirm that he too was vigilant in his duty. From time to time, also, he lowered his lofty head, and wagged his tail, as his master passed and repassed him in the short turns which he took upon his post; or, when the knight stood silent and abstracted leaning on his lance, and looking up towards heaven, his faithful attendant ventured sometimes, in the phrase of romance, "to disturb his thoughts," and awaken him from his reverie, by thrusting his large rough snout into the knight's gauntleted hand, to solicit a transitory caress.
Thus passed two hours of the knight's watch without anything remarkable occurring. At length, and upon a sudden, the gallant staghound bayed furiously, and seemed about to dash forward where the shadow lay the darkest, yet waited, as if in the slips, till he should know the pleasure of his master.
"Who goes there?" said Sir Kenneth, aware that there was something creeping forward on the shadowy side of the mount.
"In the name of Merlin and Maugis," answered a hoarse, disagreeable voice, "tie up your fourfooted demon there, or I come not at you."
"And who art thou that would approach my post?" said Sir Kenneth, bending his eyes as keenly as he could on some object, which he could just observe at the bottom of the ascent, without being able to distinguish its form. "Beware - I am here for death and life."
"Take up thy long-fanged Sathanas," said the voice, "or I will conjure him with a bolt from my arblast."
At the same time was heard the sound of a spring or check, as when a crossbow is bent.
"Unbend thy arblast, and come into the moonlight," said the Scot, "or, by Saint Andrew, I will pin thee to the earth, be what or whom thou wilt!"
As he spoke he poised his long lance by the middle, and, fixing his eye upon the object, which seemed to move, he brandished the weapon, as if meditating to cast it from his hand - a use of the weapon sometimes, though rarely, resorted to when a missile was necessary. But Sir Kenneth was ashamed of his purpose, and grounded his weapon, when there stepped from the shadow into the moonlight, like an actor entering upon the stage, a stunted, decrepit creature, whom, by his fantastic dress and deformity, he recognized, even at some distance, for the male of the two dwarfs whom he had seen in the chapel at Engaddi. Recollecting, at the same moment, the other and far different visions of that extraordinary night, he gave his dog a signal, which he instantly understood, and, returning to the standard, laid himself down beside it with a stifled growl.
The little, distorted miniature of humanity, assured of his safety from an enemy so formidable, came panting up the ascent, which the shortness of his legs rendered laborious, and, when he arrived on the platform at the top, shifted to his left hand the little crossbow, which was just such a toy as children at that period were permitted to shoot small birds with, and, assuming an attitude of great dignity, gracefully extended his right hand to Sir Kenneth, in an attitude as if he expected he would salute it. But such a result not following, he demanded, in a sharp and angry tone of voice, "Soldier, wherefore renderest thou not to Nectabanus the homage due to his dignity? Or is it possible that thou canst have forgotten him?"
"Great Nectabanus," answered the knight, willing to soothe the creature's humour, "that were difficult for any one who has ever looked upon thee. Pardon me, however, that, being a soldier upon my post, with my lance in my hand, I may not give to one of thy puissance the advantage of coming within my guard, or of mastering my weapon. Suffice it that I reverence thy dignity, and submit myself to thee as humbly as a man-at-arms in my place may."
"It shall suffice," said Nectabanus, "so that you presently attend me to the presence of those who have sent me hither to summon you."
"Great sir," replied the knight, "neither in this can I gratify thee, for my orders are to abide by this banner till daybreak - so I Pray you to hold me excused in that matter also."
So saying, he resumed his walk upon the platform; but the dwarf did not suffer him so easily to escape from his importunity.
"Look you," he said, placing himself before Sir Kenneth, so as to interrupt his way, "either obey me, Sir Knight, as in duty bound, or I will lay the command upon thee, in the name of one whose beauty could call down the genii from their sphere, and whose grandeur could command the immortal race when they had descended."
A wild and improbable conjecture arose in the knight's mind, but he repelled it. It was impossible, he thought, that the lady of his love should have sent him such a message by such a messenger; yet his voice trembled as he said, "Go to, Nectabanus. Tell me at once, and as a true man, whether this sublime lady of whom thou speakest be other than the houri with whose assistance I beheld thee sweeping the chapel at Engaddi?"
"How! presumptuous Knight," replied the dwarf, "think'st thou the mistress of our own royal affections, the sharer of our greatness, and the partner of our comeliness, would demean herself by laying charge on such a vassal as thou? No; highly as thou art honoured, thou hast not yet deserved the notice of Queen Guenevra, the lovely bride of Arthur, from whose high seat even princes seem but pigmies. But look thou here, and as thou knowest or disownest this token, so obey or refuse her commands who hath deigned to impose them on thee."
So saying, he placed in the knight's hand a ruby ring, which, even in the moonlight, he had no difficulty to recognize as that which usually graced the finger of the high-born lady to whose service he had devoted himself. Could he have doubted the truth of the token, he would have been convinced by the small knot of carnation-coloured ribbon which was fastened to the ring. This was his lady's favourite colour, and more than once had he himself, assuming it for that of his own liveries, caused the carnation to triumph over all other hues in the lists and in the battle.
Sir Kenneth was struck nearly mute by seeing such a token in such hands.
"In the name of all that is sacred, from whom didst thou receive this witness?" said the knight. "Bring, if thou canst, thy wavering understanding to a right settlement for a minute or two, and tell me the person by whom thou art sent, and the real purpose of thy message, and take heed what thou sayest, for this is no subject for buffoonery."
"Fond and foolish Knight," said the dwarf, "wouldst thou know more of this matter than that thou art honoured with commands from a princess, delivered to thee by a king? We list not to parley with thee further than to command thee, in the name and by the power of that ring, to follow us to her who is the owner of the ring. Every minute that thou tarriest is a crime against thy allegiance."
"Good Nectabanus, bethink thyself," said the knight. "Can my lady know where and upon what duty I am this night engaged? Is she aware that my life - pshaw, why should I speak of life - but that my honour depends on my guarding this banner till daybreak; and can it be her wish that I should leave it even to pay homage to her? It is impossible - the princess is pleased to be merry with her servant in sending him such a message; and I must think so the rather that she hath chosen such a messenger."
"Oh, keep your belief," said Nectabanus, turning round as if to leave the platform; "it is little to me whether you be traitor or true man to this royal lady - so fare thee well."
"Stay, stay - I entreat you stay," said Sir Kenneth. "Answer me but one question: is the lady who sent thee near to this place?"
"What signifies it?" said the dwarf. "Ought fidelity to reckon furlongs, or miles, or leagues - like the poor courier, who is paid for his labour by the distance which he traverses? Nevertheless, thou soul of suspicion, I tell thee, the fair owner of the ring now sent to so unworthy a vassal, in whom there is neither truth nor courage, is not more distant from this place than this arblast can send a bolt."
The knight gazed again on that ring, as if to ascertain that there was no possible falsehood in the token. "Tell me," he said to the dwarf, "is my presence required for any length of time?"
"Time!" answered Nectabanus, in his flighty manner; "what call you time? I see it not - I feel it not - it is but a shadowy name - a succession of breathings measured forth by night by the clank of a bell, by day by a shadow crossing along a dial-stone. Knowest thou not a true knight's time should only be reckoned by the deeds that he performs in behalf of God and his lady?"
"The words of truth, though in the mouth of folly," said the knight. "And doth my lady really summon me to some deed of action, in her name and for her sake? - and may it not be postponed for even the few hours till daybreak?"
"She requires thy presence instantly," said the dwarf, "and without the loss of so much time as would be told by ten grains of the sandglass. Hearken, thou cold-blooded and suspicious knight, these are her very words - Tell him that the hand which dropped roses can bestow laurels."
This allusion to their meeting in the chapel of Engaddi sent a thousand recollections through Sir Kenneth's brain, and convinced him that the message delivered by the dwarf was genuine. The rosebuds, withered as they were, were still treasured under his cuirass, and nearest to his heart. He paused, and could not resolve to forego an opportunity, the only one which might ever offer, to gain grace in her eyes whom he had installed as sovereign of his affections. The dwarf, in the meantime, augmented his confusion by insisting either that he must return the ring or instantly attend him.
"Hold, hold, yet a moment hold," said the knight, and proceeded to mutter to himself, "Am I either the subject or slave of King Richard, more than as a free knight sworn to the service of the Crusade? And whom have I come hither to honour with lance and sword? Our holy cause and my transcendent lady!"
"The ring! the ring!" exclaimed the dwarf impatiently; "false and slothful knight, return the ring, which thou art unworthy to touch or to look upon."
"A moment, a moment, good Nectabanus," said Sir Kenneth; "disturb not my thoughts. - What if the Saracens were just now to attack our lines? Should I stay here like a sworn vassal of England, watching that her king's pride suffered no humiliation; or should I speed to the breach, and fight for the Cross? To the breach, assuredly; and next to the cause of God come the commands of my liege lady. And yet, Coeur de Lion's behest - my own promise! Nectabanus, I conjure thee once more to say, are you to conduct me far from hence?"
"But to yonder pavilion; and, since you must needs know," replied Nectabanus, "the moon is glimmering on the gilded ball which crowns its roof, and which is worth a king's ransom."
"I can return in an instant," said the knight, shutting his eyes desperately to all further consequences, "I can hear from thence the bay of my dog if any one approaches the standard. I will throw myself at my lady's feet, and pray her leave to return to conclude my watch. - Here, Roswal" (calling his hound, and throwing down his mantle by the side of the standard-spear), "watch thou here, and let no one approach."
The majestic dog looked in his master's face, as if to be sure that he understood his charge, then sat down beside the mantle, with ears erect and head raised, like a sentinel, understanding perfectly the purpose for which he was stationed there.
"Come now, good Nectabanus," said the knight, "let us hasten to obey the commands thou hast brought."
"Haste he that will," said the dwarf sullenly; "thou hast not been in haste to obey my summons, nor can I walk fast enough to follow your long strides - you do not walk like a man, but bound like an ostrich in the desert."
There were but two ways of conquering the obstinacy of Nectabanus, who, as he spoke, diminished his walk into a snail's pace. For bribes Sir Kenneth had no means - for soothing no time; so in his impatience he snatched the dwarf up from the ground, and bearing him along, notwithstanding his entreaties and his fear, reached nearly to the pavilion pointed out as that of the Queen. In approaching it, however, the Scot observed there was a small guard of soldiers sitting on the ground, who had been concealed from him by the intervening tents. Wondering that the clash of his own armour had not yet attracted their attention, and supposing that his motions might, on the present occasion, require to be conducted with secrecy, he placed the little panting guide upon the ground to recover his breath, and point out what was next to be done, Nectabanus was both frightened and angry; but he had felt himself as completely in the power of the robust knight as an owl in the claws of an eagle, and therefore cared not to provoke him to any further display of his strength.
He made no complaints, therefore, of the usage he had received; but, turning amongst the labyrinth of tents, he led the knight in silence to the opposite side of the pavilion, which thus screened them from the observation of the warders, who seemed either too negligent or too sleepy to discharge their duty with much accuracy. Arrived there, the dwarf raised the under part of the canvas from the ground, and made signs to Sir Kenneth that he should introduce himself to the inside of the tent, by creeping under it. The knight hesitated. There seemed an indecorum in thus privately introducing himself into a pavilion pitched, doubtless, for the accommodation of noble ladies; but he recalled to remembrance the assured tokens which the dwarf had exhibited, and concluded that it was not for him to dispute his lady's pleasure.
He stooped accordingly, crept beneath the canvas enclosure of the tent, and heard the dwarf whisper from without, "Remain here until I call thee."
You talk of Gaiety and Innocence!
The moment when the fatal fruit was eaten,
They parted ne'er to meet again; and Malice
Has ever since been playmate to light Gaiety,
From the first moment when the smiling infant
Destroys the flower or butterfly he toys with,
To the last chuckle of the dying miser,
Who on his deathbed laughs his last to hear
His wealthy neighbour has become a bankrupt.
Sir Kenneth was left for some minutes alone and in darkness. Here was another interruption which must prolong his absence from his post, and he began almost to repent the facility with which he had been induced to quit it. But to return without seeing the Lady Edith was now not to be thought of. He had committed a breach of military discipline, and was determined at least to prove the reality of the seductive expectations which had tempted him to do so. Meanwhile his situation was unpleasant. There was no light to show him into what sort of apartment he had been led - the Lady Edith was in immediate attendance on the Queen of England - and the discovery of his having introduced himself thus furtively into the royal pavilion might, were it discovered; lead to much and dangerous suspicion. While he gave way to these unpleasant reflections, and began almost to wish that he could achieve his retreat unobserved, he heard a noise of female voices, laughing, whispering, and speaking, in an adjoining apartment, from which, as the sounds gave him reason to judge, he could only be separated by a canvas partition. Lamps were burning, as he might perceive by the shadowy light which extended itself even to his side of the veil which divided the tent, and he could see shades of several figures sitting and moving in the adjoining apartment. It cannot be termed discourtesy in Sir Kenneth that, situated as he was, he overheard a conversation in which he found himself deeply interested.
"Call her - call her, for Our Lady's sake," said the voice of one of these laughing invisibles. "Nectabanus, thou shalt be made ambassador to Prester John's court, to show them how wisely thou canst discharge thee of a mission."
The shrill tone of the dwarf was heard, yet so much subdued that Sir Kenneth could not understand what he said, except that he spoke something of the means of merriment given to the guard.
"But how shall we rid us of the spirit which Nectabanus hath raised, my maidens?"
"Hear me, royal madam," said another voice. "If the sage and princely Nectabanus be not over-jealous of his most transcendent bride and empress, let us send her to get us rid of this insolent knight-errant, who can be so easily persuaded that high-born dames may need the use of his insolent and overweening valour."
"It were but justice, methinks," replied another, "that the Princess Guenever should dismiss, by her courtesy, him whom her husband's wisdom has been able to entice hither."
Struck to the heart with shame and resentment at what he had heard, Sir Kenneth was about to attempt his escape from the tent at all hazards, when what followed arrested his purpose.
"Nay, truly," said the first speaker, "our cousin Edith must first learn how this vaunted wight hath conducted himself, and we must reserve the power of giving her ocular proof that he hath failed in his duty. It may be a lesson will do good upon her; for, credit me, Calista, I have sometimes thought she has let this Northern adventurer sit nearer her heart than prudence would sanction."
One of the other voices was then heard to mutter something of the Lady Edith's prudence and wisdom.
"Prudence, wench!" was the reply. "It is mere pride, and the desire to be thought more rigid than any of us. Nay, I will not quit my advantage. You know well that when she has us at fault no one can, in a civil way, lay your error before you more precisely than can my Lady Edith. But here she comes."
A figure, as if entering the apartment, cast upon the partition a shade, which glided along slowly until it mixed with those which already clouded it. Despite of the bitter disappointment which he had experienced - despite the insult and injury with which it seemed he had been visited by the malice, or, at best, by the idle humour of Queen Berengaria (for he already concluded that she who spoke loudest, and in a commanding tone, was the wife of Richard), the knight felt something so soothing to his feelings in learning that Edith had been no partner to the fraud practised on him, and so interesting to his curiosity in the scene which was about to take place, that, instead of prosecuting his more prudent purpose of an instant retreat, he looked anxiously, on the contrary, for some rent or crevice by means of which be might be made eye as well as ear witness to what was to go forward.
"Surely," said he to himself, "the Queen, who hath been pleased for an idle frolic to endanger my reputation, and perhaps my life, cannot complain if I avail myself of the chance which fortune seems willing to afford me to obtain knowledge of her further intentions."
It seemed, in the meanwhile, as if Edith were waiting for the commands of the Queen, and as if the other were reluctant to speak for fear of being unable to command her laughter and that of her companions; for Sir Kenneth could only distinguish a sound as of suppressed tittering and merriment.
"Your Majesty," said Edith at last, "seems in a merry mood, though, methinks, the hour of night prompts a sleepy one. I was well disposed bedward when I had your Majesty's commands to attend you."
"I will not long delay you, cousin, from your repose," said the Queen, "though I fear you will sleep less soundly when I tell you your wager is lost."
"Nay, royal madam," said Edith, "this, surely, is dwelling on a jest which has rather been worn out, I laid no wager, however it was your Majesty's pleasure to suppose, or to insist, that I did so."
"Nay, now, despite our pilgrimage, Satan is strong with you, my gentle cousin, and prompts thee to leasing. Can you deny that you gaged your ruby ring against my golden bracelet that yonder Knight of the Libbard, or how call you him, could not be seduced from his post?"
"Your Majesty is too great for me to gainsay you," replied Edith, "but these ladies can, if they will, bear me witness that it was your Highness who proposed such a wager, and took the ring from my finger, even while I was declaring that I did not think it maidenly to gage anything on such a subject."
"Nay, but, my Lady Edith," said another voice, "you must needs grant, under your favour, that you expressed yourself very confident of the valour of that same Knight of the Leopard."
"And if I did, minion," said Edith angrily, "is that a good reason why thou shouldst put in thy word to flatter her Majesty's humour? I spoke of that knight but as all men speak who have seen him in the field, and had no more interest in defending than thou in detracting from him. In a camp, what can women speak of save soldiers and deeds of arms?"
"The noble Lady Edith," said a third voice, "hath never forgiven Calista and me, since we told your Majesty that she dropped two rosebuds in the chapel."
"If your Majesty," said Edith, in a tone which Sir Kenneth could judge to be that of respectful remonstrance, "have no other commands for me than to hear the gibes of your waiting-women, I must crave your permission to withdraw."
"Silence, Florise," said the Queen, "and let not our indulgence lead you to forget the difference betwixt yourself and the kinswoman of England. - But you, my dear cousin," she continued, resuming her tone of raillery, "how can you, who are so good- natured, begrudge us poor wretches a few minutes' laughing, when we have had so many days devoted to weeping and gnashing of teeth?"
"Great be your mirth, royal lady," said Edith; "yet would I be content not to smile for the rest of my life, rather than - "
She stopped, apparently out of respect; but Sir Kenneth could hear that she was in much agitation.
"Forgive me," said Berengaria, a thoughtless but good-humoured princess of the House of Navarre; "but what is the great offence, after all? A young knight has been wiled hither - has stolen, or has been stolen, from his post, which no one will disturb in his absence - for the sake of a fair lady; for, to do your champion justice, sweet one, the wisdom of Nectabanus could conjure him hither in no name but yours."
"Gracious Heaven! your Majesty does not say so?" said Edith, in a voice of alarm quite different from the agitation she had previously evinced, - "you cannot say so consistently with respect for your own honour and for mine, your husband's kinswoman! Say you were jesting with me, my royal mistress, and forgive me that I could, even for a moment, think it possible you could be in earnest!"
"The Lady Edith," said the Queen, in a displeased tone of voice, "regrets the ring we have won of her. We will restore the pledge to you, gentle cousin; only you must not grudge us in turn a little triumph over the wisdom which has been so often spread over us, as a banner over a host."
"A triumph!" exclaimed Edith indignantly -"a triumph! The triumph will be with the infidel, when he hears that the Queen of England can make the reputation of her husband's kinswoman the subject of a light frolic."
"You are angry, fair cousin, at losing your favourite ring," said the Queen. "Come, since you grudge to pay your wager, we will renounce our right; it was your name and that pledge brought him hither, and we care not for the bait after the fish is caught."
"Madam," replied Edith impatiently, "you know well that your Grace could not wish for anything of mine but it becomes instantly yours. But I would give a bushel of rubies ere ring or name of mine had been used to bring a brave man into a fault, and perhaps to disgrace and punishment."
"Oh, it is for the safety of our true knight that we fear!" said the Queen. "You rate our power too low, fair cousin, when you speak of a life being lost for a frolic of ours. O Lady Edith, others have influence on the iron breasts of warriors as well as you - the heart even of a lion is made of flesh, not of stone; and, believe me, I have interest enough with Richard to save this knight, in whose fate Lady Edith is so deeply concerned, from the penalty of disobeying his royal commands."
"For the love of the blessed Cross, most royal lady," said Edith - and Sir Kenneth, with feelings which it were hard to unravel, heard her prostrate herself at the Queen's feet - "for the love of our blessed Lady, and of every holy saint in the calendar, beware what you do! You know not King Richard - you have been but shortly wedded to him. Your breath might as well combat the west wind when it is wildest, as your words persuade my royal kinsman to pardon a military offence. Oh, for God's sake, dismiss this gentleman, if indeed you have lured him hither! I could almost be content to rest with the shame of having invited him, did I know that he was returned again where his duty calls him!"
"Arise, cousin, arise," said Queen Berengaria, "and be assured all will be better than you think. Rise, dear Edith. I am sorry I have played my foolery with a knight in whom you take such deep interest. Nay, wring not thy hands; I will believe thou carest not for him -believe anything rather than see thee look so wretchedly miserable. I tell thee I will take the blame on myself with King Richard in behalf of thy fair Northern friend - thine acquaintance, I would say, since thou own'st him not as a friend. Nay, look not so reproachfully. We will send Nectabanus to dismiss this Knight of the Standard to his post; and we ourselves will grace him on some future day, to make amends for his wild-goose chase. He is, I warrant, but lying perdu in some neighbouring tent."
"By my crown of lilies, and my sceptre of a specially good water- reed," said Nectabanus, "your Majesty is mistaken, He is nearer at hand than you wot - he lieth ensconced there behind that canvas partition."
"And within hearing of each word we have said!" exclaimed the Queen, in her turn violently surprised and agitated. "Out, monster of folly and malignity!"
As she uttered these words, Nectabanus fled from the pavilion with a yell of such a nature as leaves it still doubtful whether Berengaria had confined her rebuke to words, or added some more emphatic expression of her displeasure.
"What can now be done?" said the Queen to Edith, in a whisper of undisguised uneasiness.
"That which must," said Edith firmly. "We must see this gentleman and place ourselves in his mercy."
So saying, she began hastily to undo a curtain, which at one place covered an entrance or communication.
"For Heaven's sake, forbear - consider," said the Queen - "my apartment - our dress - the hour - my honour!"
But ere she could detail her remonstrances, the curtain fell, and there was no division any longer betwixt the armed knight and the party of ladies. The warmth of an Eastern night occasioned the undress of Queen Berengaria and her household to be rather more simple and unstudied than their station, and the presence of a male spectator of rank, required. This the Queen remembered, and with a loud shriek fled from the apartment where Sir Kenneth was disclosed to view in a compartment of the ample pavilion, now no longer separated from that in which they stood. The grief and agitation of the Lady Edith, as well as the deep interest she felt in a hasty explanation with the Scottish knight, perhaps occasioned her forgetting that her locks were more dishevelled and her person less heedfully covered than was the wont of high- born damsels, in an age which was not, after all, the most prudish or scrupulous period of the ancient time. A thin, loose garment of pink-coloured silk made the principal part of her vestments, with Oriental slippers, into which she had hastily thrust her bare feet, and a scarf hurriedly and loosely thrown about her shoulders. Her head had no other covering than the veil of rich and dishevelled locks falling round it on every side, that half hid a countenance which a mingled sense of modesty and of resentment, and other deep and agitated feelings, had covered with crimson.
But although Edith felt her situation with all that delicacy which is her sex's greatest charm, it did not seem that for a moment she placed her own bashfulness in comparison with the duty which, as she thought, she owed to him who had been led into error and danger on her account. She drew, indeed, her scarf more closely over her neck and bosom, and she hastily laid from her hand a lamp which shed too much lustre over her figure; but, while Sir Kenneth stood motionless on the same spot in which he was first discovered, she rather stepped towards than retired from him, as she exclaimed, "Hasten to your post, valiant knight! - you are deceived in being trained hither - ask no questions."
"I need ask none," said the knight, sinking upon one knee, with the reverential devotion of a saint at the altar, and bending his eyes on the ground, lest his looks should increase the lady's embarrassment.
"Have you heard all?" said Edith impatiently. "Gracious saints! then wherefore wait you here, when each minute that passes is loaded with dishonour!"
"I have heard that I am dishonoured, lady, and I have heard it from you," answered Kenneth. "What reck I how soon punishment follows? I have but one petition to you; and then I seek, among the sabres of the infidels, whether dishonour may not be washed out with blood."
"Do not so, neither," said the lady. "Be wise - dally not here; all may yet be well, if you will but use dispatch."
"I wait but for your forgiveness," said the knight, still kneeling, "for my presumption in believing that my poor services could have been required or valued by you."
"I do forgive you - oh, I have nothing to forgive! have been the means of injuring you. But oh, begone! I will forgive - I will value you - that is, as I value every brave Crusader - if you will but begone!"
"Receive, first, this precious yet fatal pledge," said the knight, tendering the ring to Edith, who now showed gestures of impatience.
"Oh, no, no " she said, declining to receive it. "Keep it - keep it as a mark of my regard - my regret, I would say. Oh, begone, if not for your own sake, for mine!"
Almost recompensed for the loss even of honour, which her voice had denounced to him, by the interest which she seemed to testify in his safety, Sir Kenneth rose from his knee, and, casting a momentary glance on Edith, bowed low, and seemed about to withdraw. At the same instant, that maidenly bashfulness, which the energy of Edith's feelings had till then triumphed over, became conqueror in its turn, and she hastened from the apartment, extinguishing her lamp as she went, and leaving, in Sir Kenneth's thoughts, both mental and natural gloom behind her.
She must be obeyed, was the first distinct idea which waked him from his reverie, and he hastened to the place by which he had entered the pavilion. To pass under the canvas in the manner he had entered required time and attention, and he made a readier aperture by slitting the canvas wall with his poniard. When in the free air, he felt rather stupefied and overpowered by a conflict of sensations, than able to ascertain what was the real import of the whole. He was obliged to spur himself to action by recollecting that the commands of the Lady Edith had required haste. Even then, engaged as he was amongst tent-ropes and tents, he was compelled to move with caution until he should regain the path or avenue, aside from which the dwarf had led him, in order to escape the observation of the guards before the Queen's pavilion; and he was obliged also to move slowly, and with precaution, to avoid giving an alarm, either by falling or by the clashing of his armour. A thin cloud had obscured the moon, too, at the very instant of his leaving the tent, and Sir Kenneth had to struggle with this inconvenience at a moment when the dizziness of his head and the fullness of his heart scarce left him powers of intelligence sufficient to direct his motions.
But at once sounds came upon his ear which instantly recalled him to the full energy of his faculties. These proceeded from the Mount of Saint George. He heard first a single, fierce, angry, and savage bark, which was immediately followed by a yell of agony. No deer ever bounded with a wilder start at the voice of Roswal than did Sir Kenneth at what he feared was the death-cry of that noble hound, from whom no ordinary injury could have extracted even the slightest acknowledgment of pain. He surmounted the space which divided him from the avenue, and, having attained it, began to run towards the mount, although loaded with his mail, faster than most men could have accompanied him even if unarmed, relaxed not his pace for the steep sides of the artificial mound, and in a few minutes stood on the platform upon its summit.
The moon broke forth at this moment, and showed him that the Standard of England was vanished, that the spear on which it had floated lay broken on the ground, and beside it was his faithful hound, apparently in the agonies of death.
All my long arrear of honour lost,
Heap'd up in youth, and hoarded up for age.
Hath Honour's fountain then suck'd up the stream?
He hath - and hooting boys may barefoot pass,
And gather pebbles from the naked ford!
After a torrent of afflicting sensations, by which he was at first almost stunned and confounded, Sir Kenneth's first thought was to look for the authors of this violation of the English banner; but in no direction could he see traces of them. His next, which to some persons, but scarce to any who have made intimate acquaintances among the canine race, may appear strange, was to examine the condition of his faithful Roswal, mortally wounded, as it seemed, in discharging the duty which his master had been seduced to abandon. He caressed the dying animal, who, faithful to the last, seemed to forget his own pain in the satisfaction he received from his master's presence, and continued wagging his tail and licking his hand, even while by low moanings he expressed that his agony was increased by the attempts which Sir Kenneth made to withdraw from the wound the fragment of the lance or javelin with which it had been inflicted; then redoubled his feeble endearments, as if fearing he had offended his master by showing a sense of the pain to which his interference had subjected him. There was something in the display of the dying creature's attachment which mixed as a bitter ingredient with the sense of disgrace and desolation by which Sir Kenneth was oppressed. His only friend seemed removed from him, just when he had incurred the contempt and hatred of all besides. The knight's strength of mind gave way to a burst of agonized distress, and he groaned and wept aloud.
While he thus indulged his grief, a clear and solemn voice, close beside him, pronounced these words in the sonorous tone of the readers of the mosque, and in the lingua franca mutually understood by Christians and Saracens: -
"Adversity is like the period of the former and of the latter rain - cold, comfortless, unfriendly to man and to animal; yet from that season have their birth the flower and the fruit, the date, the rose, and the pomegranate."
Sir Kenneth of the Leopard turned towards the speaker, and beheld the Arabian physician, who, approaching unheard, had seated himself a little behind him cross-legged, and uttered with gravity, yet not without a tone of sympathy, the moral sentences of consolation with which the Koran and its commentators supplied him; for, in the East, wisdom is held to consist less in a display of the sage's own inventive talents, than in his ready memory and happy application of and reference to "that which is written."
Ashamed at being surprised in a womanlike expression of sorrow, Sir Kenneth dashed his tears indignantly aside, and again busied himself with his dying favourite.
"The poet hath said," continued the Arab, without noticing the knight's averted looks and sullen deportment, "the ox for the field, and the camel for the desert. Were not the hand of the leech fitter than that of the soldier to cure wounds, though less able to inflict them?"
"This patient, Hakim, is beyond thy help," said Sir Kenneth; "and, besides, he is, by thy law, an unclean animal."
"Where Allah hath deigned to bestow life, and a sense of pain and pleasure," said the physician, "it were sinful pride should the sage, whom He has enlightened, refuse to prolong existence or assuage agony. To the sage, the cure of a miserable groom, of a poor dog and of a conquering monarch, are events of little distinction. Let me examine this wounded animal."
Sir Kenneth acceded in silence, and the physician inspected and handled Roswal's wound with as much care and attention as if he had been a human being. He then took forth a case of instruments, and, by the judicious and skilful application of pincers, withdrew from the wounded shoulder the fragment of the weapon, and stopped with styptics and bandages the effusion of blood which followed; the creature all the while suffering him patiently to perform these kind offices, as if he had been aware of his kind intentions.
"The animal may be cured," said El Hakim, addressing himself to Sir Kenneth, "if you will permit me to carry him to my tent, and treat him with the care which the nobleness of his nature deserves. For know, that thy servant Adonbec is no less skilful in the race and pedigree and distinctions of good dogs and of noble steeds than in the diseases which afflict the human race."
"Take him with you," said the knight. "I bestow him on you freely, if he recovers. I owe thee a reward for attendance on my squire, and have nothing else to pay it with. For myself, I will never again wind bugle or halloo to hound!"
The Arabian made no reply, but gave a signal with a clapping of his hands, which was instantly answered by the appearance of two black slaves. He gave them his orders in Arabic, received the answer that "to hear was to obey," when, taking the animal in their arms, they removed him, without much resistance on his part; for though his eyes turned to his master, he was too weak to struggle.
"Fare thee well, Roswal, then," said Sir Kenneth - "fare thee well, my last and only friend - thou art too noble a possession to be retained by one such as I must in future call myself! - I would," he said, as the slaves retired, "that, dying as he is, I could exchange conditions with that noble animal!"
"It is written," answered the Arabian, although the exclamation had not been addressed to him, "that all creatures are fashioned for the service of man; and the master of the earth speaketh folly when he would exchange, in his impatience, his hopes here and to come for the servile condition of an inferior being."
"A dog who dies in discharging his duty," said the knight sternly, "is better than a man who survives the desertion of it. Leave me, Hakim; thou hast, on this side of miracle, the most wonderful science which man ever possessed, but the wounds of the spirit are beyond thy power."
"Not if the patient will explain his calamity, and be guided by the physician," said Adonbec el Hakim.
"Know, then," said Sir Kenneth, "since thou art so importunate, that last night the Banner of England was displayed from this mound - I was its appointed guardian - morning is now breaking - there lies the broken banner-spear, the standard itself is lost, and here sit I a living man!"
"How!" said El Hakim, examining him; "thy armour is whole - there is no blood on thy weapons, and report speaks thee one unlikely to return thus from fight. Thou hast been trained from thy post - ay, trained by the rosy cheek and black eye of one of those houris, to whom you Nazarenes vow rather such service as is due to Allah, than such love as may lawfully be rendered to forms of clay like our own. It has been thus assuredly; for so hath man ever fallen, even since the days of Sultan Adam."
"And if it were so, physician," said Sir Kenneth sullenly, "what remedy?"
"Knowledge is the parent of power," said El Hakim, "as valour supplies strength. Listen to me. Man is not as a tree, bound to one spot of earth; nor is he framed to cling to one bare rock, like the scarce animated shell-fish. Thine own Christian writings command thee, when persecuted in one city, to flee to another; and we Moslem also know that Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, driven forth from the holy city of Mecca, found his refuge and his helpmates at Medina."
"And what does this concern me?" said the Scot.
"Much," answered the physician. "Even the sage flies the tempest which he cannot control. Use thy speed, therefore, and fly from the vengeance of Richard to the shadow of Saladin's victorious banner."
"I might indeed hide my dishonour," said Sir Kenneth ironically, "in a camp of infidel heathens, where the very phrase is unknown. But had I not better partake more fully in their reproach? Does not thy advice stretch so far as to recommend me to take the turban? Methinks I want but apostasy to consummate my infamy."
"Blaspheme not, Nazarene," said the physician sternly. "Saladin makes no converts to the law of the Prophet, save those on whom its precepts shall work conviction. Open thine eyes to the light, and the great Soldan, whose liberality is as boundless as his power, may bestow on thee a kingdom; remain blinded if thou will, and, being one whose second life is doomed to misery, Saladin will yet, for this span of present time, make thee rich and happy. But fear not that thy brows shall be bound with the turban, save at thine own free choice."
"My choice were rather," said the knight, "that my writhen features should blacken, as they are like to do, in this evening's setting sun."
"Yet thou art not wise, Nazarene," said El Hakim, "to reject this fair offer; for I have power with Saladin, and can raise thee high in his grace. Look you, my son - this Crusade, as you call your wild enterprise, is like a large dromond [The largest sort of vessels then known were termed dromond's, or dromedaries.] parting asunder in the waves. Thou thyself hast borne terms of truce from the kings and princes, whose force is here assembled, to the mighty Soldan, and knewest not, perchance, the full tenor of thine own errand."
"I knew not, and I care not," said the knight impatiently. "What avails it to me that I have been of late the envoy of princes, when, ere night, I shall be a gibbeted and dishonoured corse?"
"Nay, I speak that it may not be so with thee," said the physician. "Saladin is courted on all sides. The combined princes of this league formed against him have made such proposals of composition and peace, as, in other circumstances, it might have become his honour to have granted to them. Others have made private offers, on their own separate account, to disjoin their forces from the camp of the Kings of Frangistan, and even to lend their arms to the defence of the standard of the Prophet. But Saladin will not be served by such treacherous and interested defection. The king of kings will treat only with the Lion King. Saladin will hold treaty with none but the Melech Ric, and with him he will treat like a prince, or fight like a champion. To Richard he will yield such conditions of his free liberality as the swords of all Europe could never compel from him by force or terror. He will permit a free pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and all the places where the Nazarenes list to worship; nay, he will so far share even his empire with his brother Richard, that be will allow Christian garrisons in the six strongest cities of Palestine, and one in Jerusalem itself, and suffer them to be under the immediate command of the officers of Richard, who, he consents, shall bear the name of King Guardian of Jerusalem. Yet further, strange and incredible as you may think it, know, Sir Knight - for to your honour I can commit even that almost incredible secret - know that Saladin will put a sacred seal on this happy union betwixt the bravest and noblest of Frangistan and Asia, by raising to the rank of his royal spouse a Christian damsel, allied in blood to King Richard, and known by the name of the Lady Edith of Plantagenet." [This may appear so extraordinary and improbable a proposition that it is necessary to say such a one was actually made. The historians, however, substitute the widowed Queen of Naples, sister of Richard, for the bride, and Saladin's brother for the bridegroom. They appear to have been ignorant of the existence of Edith of Plantagenet. - See Mill's History of the Crusades, vol. ii., p. 61.]
"Ha! - sayest thou?" exclaimed Sir Kenneth, who, listening with indifference and apathy to the preceding part of El Hakim's speech, was touched by this last communication, as the thrill of a nerve, unexpectedly jarred, will awaken the sensation of agony, even in the torpor of palsy. Then, moderating his tone, by dint of much effort he restrained his indignation, and, veiling it under the appearance of contemptuous doubt, he prosecuted the conversation, in order to get as much knowledge as possible of the plot, as he deemed it, against the honour and happiness of her whom he loved not the less that his passion had ruined, apparently, his fortunes, at once, and his honour. - "And what Christian," he said, With tolerable calmness, "would sanction a union so unnatural as that of a Christian maiden with an unbelieving Saracen?"
"Thou art but an ignorant, bigoted Nazarene," said the Hakim. "Seest thou not how the Mohammedan princes daily intermarry with the noble Nazarene maidens in Spain, without scandal either to Moor or Christian? And the noble Soldan will, in his full confidence in the blood of Richard, permit the English maid the freedom which your Frankish manners have assigned to women. He will allow her the free exercise of her religion, seeing that, in very truth, it signifies but little to which faith females are addicted; and he will assign her such place and rank over all the women of his zenana, that she shall be in every respect his sole and absolute queen."
"What!" said Sir Kenneth, "darest thou think, Moslem, that Richard would give his kinswoman - a high-born and virtuous princess - to be, at best, the foremost concubine in the haram of a misbeliever? Know, Hakim, the meanest free Christian noble would scorn, on his child's behalf, such splendid ignominy."
"Thou errest," said the Hakim. "Philip of France, and Henry of Champagne, and others of Richard's principal allies, have heard the proposal without starting, and have promised, as far as they may, to forward an alliance that may end these wasteful wars; and the wise arch-priest of Tyre hath undertaken to break the proposal to Richard, not doubting that he shall be able to bring the plan to good issue. The Soldan's wisdom hath as yet kept his proposition secret from others, such as he of Montserrat, and the Master of the Templars, because he knows they seek to thrive by Richard's death or disgrace, not by his life or honour. Up, therefore, Sir Knight, and to horse. I will give thee a scroll which shall advance thee highly with the Soldan; and deem not that you are leaving your country, or her cause, or her religion, since the interest of the two monarchs will speedily be the same. To Saladin thy counsel will be most acceptable, since thou canst make him aware of much concerning the marriages of the Christians, the treatment of their wives, and other points of their laws and usages, which, in the course of such treaty, it much concerns him that he should know. The right hand of the Soldan grasps the treasures of the East, and it is the fountain or generosity. Or, if thou desirest it, Saladin, when allied with England, can have but little difficulty to obtain from Richard, not only thy pardon and restoration to favour, but an honourable command in the troops which may be left of the King of England's host, to maintain their joint government in Palestine. Up, then, and mount - there lies a plain path before thee."
"Hakim," said the Scottish knight, "thou art a man of peace; also thou hast saved the life of Richard of England - and, moreover, of my own poor esquire, Strauchan. I have, therefore, heard to an end a matter which, being propounded by another Moslem than thyself, I would have cut short with a blow of my dagger! Hakim, in return for thy kindness, I advise thee to see that the Saracen who shall propose to Richard a union betwixt the blood of Plantagenet and that of his accursed race do put on a helmet which is capable to endure such a blow of a battle-axe as that which struck down the gate of Acre. Certes, he will be otherwise placed beyond the reach even of thy skill."
"Thou art, then, wilfully determined not to fly to the Saracen host?" said the physician. "Yet, remember, thou stayest to certain destruction; and the writings of thy law, as well as ours, prohibit man from breaking into the tabernacle of his own life."
"God forbid!" replied the Scot, crossing himself; "but we are also forbidden to avoid the punishment which our crimes have deserved. And since so poor are thy thoughts of fidelity, Hakim, it grudges me that I have bestowed my good hound on thee, for, should he live, he will have a master ignorant of his value."
"A gift that is begrudged is already recalled," said El Hakim; "only we physicians are sworn not to send away a patient uncured. If the dog recover, he is once more yours."
"Go to, Hakim," answered Sir Kenneth; "men speak not of hawk and hound when there is but an hour of day-breaking betwixt them and death. Leave me to recollect my sins, and reconcile myself to Heaven."
"I leave thee in thine obstinacy," said the physician; "the mist hides the precipice from those who are doomed to fall over it."
He withdrew slowly, turning from time to time his head, as if to observe whether the devoted knight might not recall him either by word or signal. At last his turbaned figure was lost among the labyrinth of tents which lay extended beneath, whitening in the pale light of the dawning, before which the moonbeam had now faded away.
But although the physician Adonbec's words had not made that impression upon Kenneth which the sage desired, they had inspired the Scot with a motive for desiring life, which, dishonoured as he conceived himself to be, he was before willing to part from as from a sullied vestment no longer becoming his wear. Much that had passed betwixt himself and the hermit, besides what he had observed between the anchorite and Sheerkohf (or Ilderim), he now recalled to recollection, and tended to confirm what the Hakim had told him of the secret article of the treaty.
"The reverend impostor!" he exclaimed to himself; "the hoary hypocrite! He spoke of the unbelieving husband converted by the believing wife; and what do I know but that the traitor exhibited to the Saracen, accursed of God, the beauties of Edith Plantagenet, that the hound might judge if the princely Christian lady were fit to be admitted into the haram of a misbeliever? If I had yonder infidel Ilderim, or whatsoever he is called, again in the gripe with which I once held him fast as ever hound held hare, never again should he at least come on errand disgraceful to the honour of Christian king or noble and virtuous maiden. But I - my hours are fast dwindling into minutes - yet, while I have life and breath, something must be done, and speedily."
He paused for a few minutes, threw from him his helmet, then strode down the hill, and took the road to King Richard's pavilion.
The feather'd songster, chanticleer,
Had wound his bugle-horn,
And told the early villager
The coming of the morn.
King Edward saw the ruddy streaks
Of light eclipse the grey,
And heard the raven's croaking throat
Proclaim the fated day.
"Thou'rt right," he said, "for, by the God
That sits enthron'd on high,
Charles Baldwin, and his fellows twain,
This day shall surely die."
On the evening on which Sir Kenneth assumed his post, Richard, after the stormy event which disturbed its tranquillity, had retired to rest in the plenitude of confidence inspired by his unbounded courage and the superiority which he had displayed in carrying the point he aimed at in presence of the whole Christian host and its leaders, many of whom, he was aware, regarded in their secret souls the disgrace of the Austrian Duke as a triumph over themselves; so that his pride felt gratified, that in prostrating one enemy he had mortified a hundred.
Another monarch would have doubled his guards on the evening after such a scene, and kept at least a part of his troops under arms. But Coeur de Lion dismissed, upon the occasion, even his ordinary watch, and assigned to his soldiers a donative of wine to cerebrate his recovery, and to drink to the Banner of Saint George; and his quarter of the camp would have assumed a character totally devoid of vigilance and military preparation, but that Sir Thomas de Vaux, the Earl of Salisbury, and other nobles, took precautions to preserve order and discipline among the revellers.
The physician attended the King from his retiring to bed till midnight was past, and twice administered medicine to him during that period, always previously observing the quarter of heaven occupied by the full moon, whose influences he declared to be most sovereign, or most baleful, to the effect of his drugs. It was three hours after midnight ere El Hakim withdrew from the royal tent, to one which had been pitched for himself and his retinue. In his way thither he visited the tent of Sir Kenneth of the Leopard, in order to see the condition of his first patient in the Christian camp, old Strauchan, as the knight's esquire was named. Inquiring there for Sir Kenneth himself, El Hakim learned on what duty he was employed, and probably this information led him to Saint George's Mount, where he found him whom he sought in the disastrous circumstances alluded to in the last chapter.
It was about the hour of sunrise, when a slow, armed tread was heard approaching the King's pavilion; and ere De Vaux, who slumbered beside his master's bed as lightly as ever sleep sat upon the eyes of a watch-dog, had time to do more than arise and say, "Who comes?" the Knight of the Leopard entered the tent, with a deep and devoted gloom seated upon his manly features.
"Whence this bold intrusion, Sir Knight?" said De Vaux sternly, yet in a tone which respected his master's slumbers.
"Hold! De Vaux," said Richard, awaking on the instant; "Sir Kenneth cometh like a good soldier to render an account of his guard. To such the general's tent is ever accessible." Then rising from his slumbering posture, and leaning on his elbow, he fixed his large bright eye upon the warrior - "Speak, Sir Scot; thou comest to tell me of a vigilant, safe, and honourable watch, dost thou not? The rustling of the folds of the Banner of England were enough to guard it, even without the body of such a knight as men hold thee."
"As men will hold me no more," said Sir Kenneth. "My watch hath neither been vigilant, safe, nor honourable. The Banner of England has been carried off."
"And thou alive to tell it!" said Richard, in a tone of derisive incredulity. "Away, it cannot be. There is not even a scratch on thy face. Why dost thou stand thus mute? Speak the truth -it is ill jesting with a king; yet I will forgive thee if thou hast lied."
"Lied, Sir King!" returned the unfortunate knight, with fierce emphasis, and one glance of fire from his eye, bright and transient as the flash from the cold and stony flint. "But this also must be endured. I have spoken the truth."
"By God and by Saint George!" said the King, bursting into fury, which, however, he instantly checked. "De Vaux, go view the spot. This fever has disturbed his brain. This cannot be. The man's courage is proof. It cannot be! Go speedily - or send, if thou wilt not go."
The King was interrupted by Sir Henry Neville, who came, breathless, to say that the banner was gone, and the knight who guarded it overpowered, and most probably murdered, as there was a pool of blood where the banner-spear lay shivered.
"But whom do I see here?" said Neville, his eyes suddenly resting upon Sir Kenneth.
"A traitor," said the King, starting to his feet, and seizing the curtal-axe, which was ever near his bed - "a traitor! whom thou shalt see die a traitor's death." And he drew back the weapon as in act to strike.
Colourless, but firm as a marble statue, the Scot stood before him, with his bare head uncovered by any protection, his eyes cast down to the earth, his lips scarcely moving, yet muttering probably in prayer. Opposite to him, and within the due reach for a blow, stood King Richard, his large person wrapt in the folds of his camiscia, or ample gown of linen, except where the violence of his action had flung the covering from his right arm, shoulder, and a part of his breast, leaving to view a specimen of a frame which might have merited his Saxon predecessor's epithet of Ironside. He stood for an instant, prompt to strike; then sinking the head of the weapon towards the ground, he exclaimed, "But there was blood, Neville - there was blood upon the place. Hark thee, Sir Scot - brave thou wert once, for I have seen thee fight. Say thou hast slain two of the thieves in defence of the Standard - say but one - say thou hast struck but a good blow in our behalf, and get thee out of the camp with thy life and thy infamy!"
"You have called me liar, my Lord King," replied Kenneth firmly; "and therein, at least, you have done me wrong. Know that there was no blood shed in defence of the Standard save that of a poor hound, which, more faithful than his master, defended the charge which he deserted."
"Now, by Saint George!" said Richard, again heaving up his arm. But De Vaux threw himself between the King and the object of his vengeance, and spoke with the blunt truth of his character, "My liege, this must not be - here, nor by your hand. It is enough of folly for one night and day to have entrusted your banner to a Scot. Said I not they were ever fair and false?" [Such were the terms in which the English used to speak of their poor northern neighbours, forgetting that their own encroachments upon the independence of Scotland obliged the weaker nation to defend themselves by policy as well as force. The disgrace must be divided between Edward I. and Edward III., who enforced their domination over a free country, and the Scots, who were compelled to take compulsory oaths, without any purpose of keeping them.]
"Thou didst, De Vaux; thou wast right, and I confess it," said Richard. "I should have known him better - I should have remembered how the fox William deceived me touching this Crusade."
"My lord," said Sir Kenneth, "William of Scotland never deceived; but circumstances prevented his bringing his forces."
"Peace, shameless!" said the King; "thou sulliest the name of a prince, even by speaking it. - And yet, De Vaux, it is strange," he added, "to see the bearing of the man. Coward or traitor he must be, yet he abode the blow of Richard Plantagenet as our arm had been raised to lay knighthood on his shoulder. Had he shown the slightest sign of fear, had but a joint trembled or an eyelid quivered, I had shattered his head like a crystal goblet. But I cannot strike where there is neither fear nor resistance."
There was a pause.
"My lord," said Kenneth -
"Ha!" replied Richard, interrupting him, "hast thou found thy speech? Ask grace from Heaven, but none from me; for England is dishonoured through thy fault, and wert thou mine own and only brother, there is no pardon for thy fault."
"I speak not to demand grace of mortal man," said the Scot; "it is in your Grace's pleasure to give or refuse me time for Christian shrift - if man denies it, may God grant me the absolution which I would otherwise ask of His church! But whether I die on the instant, or half an hour hence, I equally beseech your Grace for one moment's opportunity to speak that to your royal person which highly concerns your fame as a Christian king."
"Say on," said the King, making no doubt that he was about to hear some confession concerning the loss of the Banner.
"What I have to speak," said Sir Kenneth, "touches the royalty of England, and must be said to no ears but thine own."
"Begone with yourselves, sirs," said the King to Neville and De Vaux.
The first obeyed, but the latter would not stir from the King's presence.
"If you said I was in the right," replied De Vaux to his sovereign, "I will be treated as one should be who hath been found to be right - that is, I will have my own will. I leave you not with this false Scot."
"How! De Vaux," said Richard angrily, and stamping slightly, "darest thou not venture our person with one traitor?"
"It is in vain you frown and stamp, my lord," said De Vaux; "I venture not a sick man with a sound one, a naked man with one armed in proof."
"It matters not," said the Scottish knight; "I seek no excuse to put off time. I will speak in presence of the Lord of Gilsland. He is good lord and true."
"But half an hour since," said De Vaux, with a groan, implying a mixture of sorrow and vexation, "and I had said as much for thee!"
"There is treason around you, King of England," continued Sir Kenneth.
"It may well be as thou sayest," replied Richard; "I have a pregnant example."
"Treason that will injure thee more deeply than the loss of a hundred banners in a pitched field. The - the - " Sir Kenneth hesitated, and at length continued, in a lower tone, "The Lady Edith - "
"Ha!" said the King, drawing himself suddenly into a state of haughty attention, and fixing his eye firmly on the supposed criminal; "what of her? what of her? What has she to do with this matter?"
"My lord," said the Scot, "there is a scheme on foot to disgrace your royal lineage, by bestowing the hand of the Lady Edith on the Saracen Soldan, and thereby to purchase a peace most dishonourable to Christendom, by an alliance most shameful to England."
This communication had precisely the contrary effect from that which Sir Kenneth expected. Richard Plantagenet was one of those who, in Iago's words, would not serve God because it was the devil who bade him; advice or information often affected him less according to its real import, than through the tinge which it took from the supposed character and views of those by whom it was communicated. Unfortunately, the mention of his relative's name renewed his recollection of what he had considered as extreme presumption in the Knight of the Leopard, even when he stood high in the roll of chivalry, but which, in his present condition, appeared an insult sufficient to drive the fiery monarch into a frenzy of passion.
"Silence," he said, "infamous and audacious! By Heaven, I will have thy tongue torn out with hot pincers, for mentioning the very name of a noble Christian damsel! Know, degenerate traitor, that I was already aware to what height thou hadst dared to raise thine eyes, and endured it, though it were insolence, even when thou hadst cheated us - for thou art all a deceit - into holding thee as of some name and fame. But now, with lips blistered with the confession of thine own dishonour - that thou shouldst now dare to name our noble kinswoman as one in whose fate thou hast part or interest! What is it to thee if she marry Saracen or Christian? What is it to thee if, in a camp where princes turn cowards by day and robbers by night -where brave knights turn to paltry deserters and traitors - what is it, I say, to thee, or any one, if I should please to ally myself to truth and to valour, in the person of Saladin?"
"Little to me, indeed, to whom all the world will soon be as nothing," answered Sir Kenneth boldly; "but were I now stretched on the rack, I would tell thee that what I have said is much to thine own conscience and thine own fame. I tell thee, Sir King, that if thou dost but in thought entertain the purpose of wedding thy kinswoman, the Lady Edith - "
"Name her not - and for an instant think not of her," said the King, again straining the curtal-axe in his gripe, until the muscles started above his brawny arm, like cordage formed by the ivy around the limb of an oak.
"Not name - not think of her!" answered Sir Kenneth, his spirits, stunned as they were by self-depression, beginning to recover their elasticity from this species of controversy. "Now, by the Cross, on which I place my hope, her name shall be the last word in my mouth, her image the last thought in my mind. Try thy boasted strength on this bare brow, and see if thou canst prevent my purpose."
"He will drive me mad!" said Richard, who, in his despite, was once more staggered in his purpose by the dauntless determination of the criminal.
Ere Thomas of Gilsland could reply, some bustle was heard without, and the arrival of the Queen was announced from the outer part of the pavilion.
"Detain her - detain her, Neville," cried the King; "this is no sight for women. - Fie, that I have suffered such a paltry traitor to chafe me thus! - Away with him, De Vaux," he whispered, "through the back entrance of our tent; coop him up close, and answer for his safe custody with your life. And hark ye - he is presently to die - let him have a ghostly father - we would not kill soul and body. And stay - hark thee - we will not have him dishonoured - he shall die knightlike, in his belt and spurs; for if his treachery be as black as hell, his boldness may match that of the devil himself."
De Vaux, right glad, if the truth may be guessed, that the scene ended without Richard's descending to the unkingly act of himself slaying an unresisting prisoner, made haste to remove Sir Kenneth by a private issue to a separate tent, where he was disarmed, and put in fetters for security. De Vaux looked on with a steady and melancholy attention, while the provost's officers, to whom Sir Kenneth was now committed, took these severe precautions.
When they were ended, he said solemnly to the unhappy criminal, "It is King Richard's pleasure that you die undegraded -without mutilation of your body, Or Shame to your arms - and that your head be severed from the trunk by the sword of the executioner."
"It is kind," said the knight, in a low and rather submissive tone of voice, as one who received an unexpected favour; "my family will not then hear the worst of the tale. Oh, my father - my father!"
This muttered invocation did not escape the blunt but kindly- natured Englishman, and he brushed the back of his large hand over his rough features ere he could proceed.
"It is Richard of England's further pleasure," he said at length, "that you have speech with a holy man; and I have met on the passage hither with a Carmelite friar, who may fit you for your passage. He waits without, until you are in a frame of mind to receive him."
"Let it be instantly," said the knight. "In this also Richard is kind. I cannot be more fit to see the good father at any time than now; for life and I have taken farewell, as two travellers who have arrived at the crossway, where their roads separate."
"It is well," said De Vaux slowly and solemnly; "for it irks me somewhat to say that which sums my message. It is King Richard's pleasure that you prepare for instant death."
"God's pleasure and the King's be done," replied the knight patiently. "I neither contest the justice of the sentence, nor desire delay of the execution."
De Vaux began to leave the tent, but very slowly -paused at the door, and looked back at the Scot, from whose aspect thoughts of the world seemed banished, as if he was composing himself into deep devotion. The feelings of the stout English baron were in general none of the most acute, and yet, on the present occasion, his sympathy overpowered him in an unusual manner. He came hastily back to the bundle of reeds on which the captive lay, took one of his fettered hands, and said, with as much softness as his rough voice was capable of expressing, "Sir Kenneth, thou art yet young - thou hast a father. My Ralph, whom I left training his little galloway nag on the banks of the Irthing, may one day attain thy years, and, but for last night, would to God I saw his youth bear such promise as thine! Can nothing be said or done in thy behalf?"
"Nothing," was the melancholy answer. "I have deserted my charge - the banner entrusted to me is lost. When the headsman and block are prepared, the head and trunk are ready to part company."
"Nay, then, God have mercy!" said De Vaux. "Yet would I rather than my best horse I had taken that watch myself. There is mystery in it, young man, as a plain man may descry, though he cannot see through it. Cowardice? Pshaw! No coward ever fought as I have seen thee do. Treachery? I cannot think traitors die in their treason so calmly. Thou hast been trained from thy post by some deep guile - some well-devised stratagem - the cry of some distressed maiden has caught thine ear, or the laughful look of some merry one has taken thine eye. Never blush for it; we have all been led aside by such gear. Come, I pray thee, make a clean conscience of it to me, instead of the priest. Richard is merciful when his mood is abated. Hast thou nothing to entrust to me?"
The unfortunate knight turned his face from the kind warrior, and answered, "Nothing."
And De Vaux, who had exhausted his topics of persuasion, arose and left the tent, with folded arms, and in melancholy deeper than he thought the occasion merited - even angry with himself to find that so simple a matter as the death of a Scottish man could affect him so nearly.
"Yet," as he said to himself, "though the rough-footed knaves be our enemies in Cumberland, in Palestine one almost considers them as brethren."
'Tis not her sense, for sure in that
There's nothing more than common;
And all her wit is only chat,
Like any other woman.
The high-born Berengaria, daughter of Sanchez, King of Navarre, and the Queen-Consort of the heroic Richard, was accounted one of the most beautiful women of the period. Her form was slight, though exquisitely moulded. She was graced with a complexion not common in her country, a profusion of fair hair, and features so extremely juvenile as to make her look several years younger than she really was, though in reality she was not above one-and- twenty. Perhaps it was under the consciousness of this extremely juvenile appearance that she affected, or at least practised, a little childish petulance and wilfulness of manner, not unbefitting, she might suppose, a youthful bride, whose rank and age gave her a right to have her fantasies indulged and attended to. She was by nature perfectly good-humoured, and if her due share of admiration and homage (in her opinion a very large one) was duly resigned to her, no one could possess better temper or a more friendly disposition; but then, like all despots, the more power that was voluntarily yielded to her, the more she desired to extend her sway. Sometimes, even when all her ambition was gratified, she chose to be a little out of health, and a little out of spirits; and physicians had to toil their wits to invent names for imaginary maladies, while her ladies racked their imagination for new games, new head-gear, and new court-scandal, to pass away those unpleasant hours, during which their own situation was scarce to be greatly envied. Their most frequent resource for diverting this malady was some trick or piece of mischief practised upon each other; and the good Queen, in the buoyancy of her reviving spirits, was, to speak truth, rather too indifferent whether the frolics thus practised were entirely befitting her own dignity, or whether the pain which those suffered upon whom they were inflicted was not beyond the proportion of pleasure which she herself derived from them. She was confident in her husband's favour, in her high rank, and in her supposed power to make good whatever such pranks might cost others. In a word, she gambolled with the freedom of a young lioness, who is unconscious of the weight of her own paws when laid on those whom she sports with.
The Queen Berengaria loved her husband passionately, but she feared the loftiness and roughness of his character; and as she felt herself not to be his match in intellect, was not much pleased to see that he would often talk with Edith Plantagenet in preference to herself, simply because he found more amusement in her conversation, a more comprehensive understanding, and a more noble cast of thoughts and sentiments, than his beautiful consort exhibited. Berengaria did not hate Edith on this account, far less meditate her any harm; for, allowing for some selfishness, her character was, on the whole, innocent and generous. But the ladies of her train, sharpsighted in such matters, had for some time discovered that a poignant jest at the expense of the Lady Edith was a specific for relieving her Grace of England's low spirits, and the discovery saved their imagination much toil.
There was something ungenerous in this, because the Lady Edith was understood to be an orphan; and though she was called Plantagenet, and the fair Maid of Anjou, and admitted by Richard to certain privileges only granted to the royal family, and held her place in the circle accordingly, yet few knew, and none acquainted with the Court of England ventured to ask, in what exact degree of relationship she stood to Coeur de Lion. She had come with Eleanor, the celebrated Queen Mother of England, and joined Richard at Messina, as one of the ladies destined to attend on Berengaria, whose nuptials then approached. Richard treated his kinswoman with much respectful observance, and the Queen made her her most constant attendant, and, even in despite of the petty jealousy which we have observed, treated her, generally, with suitable respect.
The ladies of the household had, for a long time, no further advantage over Edith than might be afforded by an opportunity of censuring a less artfully disposed head attire or an unbecoming robe; for the lady was judged to be inferior in these mysteries. The silent devotion of the Scottish knight did not, indeed, pass unnoticed; his liveries, his cognizances, his feats of arms, his mottoes and devices, were nearly watched, and occasionally made the subject of a passing jest. But then came the pilgrimage of the Queen and her ladies to Engaddi, a journey which the Queen had undertaken under a vow for the recovery of her husband's health, and which she had been encouraged to carry into effect by the Archbishop of Tyre for a political purpose. It was then, and in the chapel at that holy place, connected from above with a Carmelite nunnery, from beneath with the cell of the anchorite, that one of the Queen's attendants remarked that secret sign of intelligence which Edith had made to her lover, and failed not instantly to communicate it to her Majesty. The Queen returned from her pilgrimage enriched with this admirable recipe against dullness or ennui; and her train was at the same time augmented by a present of two wretched dwarfs from the dethroned Queen of Jerusalem, as deformed and as crazy (the excellence of that unhappy species) as any Queen could have desired. One of Berengaria's idle amusements had been to try the effect of the sudden appearance of such ghastly and fantastic forms on the nerves of the Knight when left alone in the chapel; but the jest had been lost by the composure of the Scot and the interference of the anchorite. She had now tried another, of which the consequences promised to be more serious.
The ladies again met after Sir Kenneth had retired from the tent, and the Queen, at first little moved by Edith's angry expostulations, only replied to her by upbraiding her prudery, and by indulging her wit at the expense of the garb, nation, and, above all the poverty of the Knight of the Leopard, in which she displayed a good deal of playful malice, mingled with some humour, until Edith was compelled to carry her anxiety to her separate apartment. But when, in the morning, a female whom Edith had entrusted to make inquiry brought word that the Standard was missing, and its champion vanished, she burst into the Queen's apartment, and implored her to rise and proceed to the King's tent without delay, and use her powerful mediation to prevent the evil consequences of her jest.
The Queen, frightened in her turn, cast, as is usual, the blame of her own folly on those around her, and endeavoured to comfort Edith's grief, and appease her displeasure, by a thousand inconsistent arguments. She was sure no harm had chanced - the knight was sleeping, she fancied, after his night-watch. What though, for fear of the King's displeasure, he had deserted with the Standard - it was but a piece of silk, and he but a needy adventurer; or if he was put under warding for a time, she would soon get the King to pardon him - it was but waiting to let Richard's mood pass away.
Thus she continued talking thick and fast, and heaping together all sorts of inconsistencies, with the vain expectation of persuading both Edith and herself that no harm could come of a frolic which in her heart she now bitterly repented. But while Edith in vain strove to intercept this torrent of idle talk, she caught the eye of one of the ladies who entered the Queen's apartment. There was death in her look of affright and horror, and Edith, at the first glance of her countenance, had sunk at once on the earth, had not strong necessity and her own elevation of character enabled her to maintain at least external composure.
"Madam," she said to the Queen, "lose not another word in speaking, but save life - if, indeed," she added, her voice choking as she said it, "life may yet be saved."
"It may, it may," answered the Lady Calista. "I have just heard that he has been brought before the King. It is not yet over - but," she added, bursting into a vehement flood of weeping, in which personal apprehensions had some share, "it will soon, unless some course be taken."
"I will vow a golden candlestick to the Holy Sepulchre, a shrine of silver to our Lady of Engaddi, a pall, worth one hundred byzants, to Saint Thomas of Orthez," said the Queen in extremity.
"Up, up, madam!" said Edith; "call on the saints if you list, but be your own best saint."
"Indeed, madam," said the terrified attendant, "the Lady Edith speaks truth. Up, madam, and let us to King Richard's tent and beg the poor gentleman's life."
"I will go - I will go instantly," said the Queen, rising and trembling excessively; while her women, in as great confusion as herself, were unable to render her those duties which were indispensable to her levee. Calm, composed, only pale as death, Edith ministered to the Queen with her own hand, and alone supplied the deficiencies of her numerous attendants.
"How you wait, wenches!" said the Queen, not able even then to forget frivolous distinctions. "Suffer ye the Lady Edith to do the duties of your attendance? Seest thou, Edith, they can do nothing; I shall never be attired in time. We will send for the Archbishop of Tyre, and employ him as a mediator."
"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Edith. "Go yourself madam; you have done the evil, do you confer the remedy."
"I will go - I will go," said the Queen; "but if Richard be in his mood, I dare not speak to him - he will kill me!"
"Yet go, gracious madam," said the Lady Calista, who best knew her mistress's temper; "not a lion, in his fury, could look upon such a face and form, and retain so much as an angry thought, far less a love-true knight like the royal Richard, to whom your slightest word would be a command."
"Dost thou think so, Calista?" said the Queen. "Ah, thou little knowest yet I will go. But see you here, what means this? You have bedizened me in green, a colour he detests. Lo you! let me have a blue robe, and - search for the ruby carcanet, which was part of the King of Cyprus's ransom; it is either in the steel casket, or somewhere else."
"This, and a man's life at stake!" said Edith indignantly; "it passes human patience. Remain at your ease, madam; I will go to King Richard. I am a party interested. I will know if the honour of a poor maiden of his blood is to be so far tampered with that her name shall be abused to train a brave gentleman from his duty, bring him within the compass of death and infamy, and make, at the same time, the glory of England a laughing-stock to the whole Christian army."
At this unexpected burst of passion, Berengaria listened with an almost stupefied look of fear and wonder. But as Edith was about to leave the tent, she exclaimed, though faintly, "Stop her, stop her!"
"You must indeed stop, noble Lady Edith," said Calista, taking her arm gently; "and you, royal madam, I am sure, will go, and without further dallying. If the Lady Edith goes alone to the King, he will be dreadfully incensed, nor will it be one life that will stay his fury."
"I will go - I will go," said the Queen, yielding to necessity; and Edith reluctantly halted to wait her movements.
They were now as speedy as she could have desired. The Queen hastily wrapped herself in a large loose mantle, which covered all inaccuracies of the toilet. In this guise, attended by Edith and her women, and preceded and followed by a few officers and men-at-arms, she hastened to the tent of her lion-like husband.
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