« AnteriorContinua »
and the seneschal was putting off his furred gown within his closet; for as yet the great had not fallen into those extravagant late hours which made them invisible to their poor suitors at eight o'clock before noon. *
In the midst of this quiet, a tall figure wrapped in a dark mantle came out from the west postern, and turned hastily towards the Grande Place. The full moon was rising over the dim houses as he entered the square ; and as he looked up to her bright face, it discovered the pale noble countenance of Raymond de Toulouse. He passed hastily to the house, which he had noticed at his entry, and stopping at a small port under the garden turret, unclosed the door and passed into a little wilderness of cypresses and olives. He walked forward through the dim alleys, like one well acquainted with their windings, till he came to a vast plane tree, which overshadowed a little green seat beside the Garonne.
A white female figure sat upon the turf, her long black hair loose upon her neck, and her silk gown glistening on the grass like a con. tinuation of the moonlight which glimmered on the water, and to which she gazed with such fixedness that the knight was at her side before she heard his step.
“ BLANCHE ROSE !” said he, in a still gentle voice; she started and drew a long quivering breath, but as she looked in his face, she sprung from the ground," My own very dear prince and brother!" she exclaimed, and fell upon his bosom, and wept without a word,
The prince held her in his arms and bent over her till her emotion subsided into the low tremulous sobs of an infant's tears. Several times the Earl strove to speak; but his voice failed at that sad trembling breath that fluttered upon his bosom.
“ Dear Blanche,” said he at last, “what is this?---they would not tell membut you
will tell me.” The lady started and shuddered, and her face sunk closer on his mantle.
The tears came to the eyes of the young knight-"My own dear Orpheline Ladyethe child of my foster-mother-you do not fear to speak to me!--to your brother ? look up on the face that used to rest on the same bosom-sleep in the same cradle--and this the hand that was once the little helpless hand that clung to the same breast with yours-Now to Him be the glory! The battle arm that holds the thun. der and the lightning against all that should do ill to my dear sister.”
Blanche burst afresh into sobs, and would have sunk out of his arms but for his strong hand; but he supported her in silence, till at last her tears ceased, and she leaned still and breathless, and deathly heavy on, his arm, Raymond looked upon her bright lovely head that lay motion, less upon his cloak, and smoothed the raven locks from her pale brow. “ Alas !” said he gently, “ where is your own white flower that used to be so bright in these dark waves ?"
“ La-Blanche-Rose” trembled like the leaves that quivered in the moonlight" Fallen-gonewithered in the dust !” she murmured faintly.
The Earl's hand shook, but he did not speak, and for a long time they stood without a word.
Blanche rose up from his arm, and swept back the hair from her pale
Latimer, in one of his sermons, complains that the dissipation and late hours of the courtiers, had advanced to such an excess, that they were unable to give audience perhaps, before eight o'clock in the morning.
death-face. Raymond !" said she, “ I will speak to you as a knight s daughter should speak to a knight's son.I wasyour very dear true sister. I am"-her voice choked and struggled" no more your sister no more my father's daughter-a poor-lost-fallen maiden! I was the last of his race that was the father of kings. I shall be the first-the mother of one—who will never have a father.!” She sunk down upon the seat and buried her face on the grass.
Raymond stood silent and fixed, and held her hand--but it did not move again, and lay cold and still, and heavy as the dead clay. “My dear sister !” said he at last, “ what, who has done you wrong?"
Blanche did not speak nor lift her face, but drew away her hand, and immediately it returned with something bright to the moonshine ; as Raymond stooped it flew open, and he saw the glorious beautiful features of Auguste de Valence.
« Le Bel du Monde !” he exclaimed.
Blanche did not move nor answer, and his eyes rested fixed upon the miniature, as it lay open in her passive hand.
“ What has he done!” said the Earl, in the deep calm terrible voice with which he used to speak in battle.
Her voice spoke faintly from the ground; “ He has shed the rose from my brow that shall never bloom again!"
Raymond fell on the ground, his long hair spread in the dust, and his bright noble terrible battle-front bowed like a child. The white fingers of the maiden closed convulsively upon the gold, and the bright robe trembled on her slender form, like the lights upon the stream.
Raymond rose up; his lips were white as death, but his eyes calm and steady ; and he stooped and took her passive hand and kissed her cold lips. “ Ladye! my very dear love and sister !” said he, “ it is gone! it is passed away !-to-morrow your white flower shall bloom on your brow, clear and stainless as ever it shone in the sun !”
Blanche started and glanced wildly up; but the sudden light of her eyes fell, and she clasped her hands on her face, “He is married to another!" said she.
Raymond grasped her hands. “ Look up !” said he ; “ look on the fair moon; she is rising as you and I have seen her rise when we were happy, careless infants on this bank. When she rises again, you shall look upon her, clear, and bright, and spotless as her face that smiles upon you !”
Blanche looked long, and fixed, and calm upon him, and dropped her eyes, and shook her head. “ The gravethe fire that washes out all spot—the mercy of God shall take away my stain, but never man on earth!”
The Earl turned away and held her hand, and the tears run down his face. At last he loosed his surcoat, and undid the white cross from his neck. “ I took it at the holy shrine,” said he, “ at His foot where all sins shall be forgiven ; it has brought me through battle, and tempest, and the black death,* — by His might it shall bring you through peril worse than death. Take it ; pray for me; and when we meet again you shall be the bright, beautiful, glorious lady of the world that ever you were in life!”
• The Plague in general, in particular a dreadful pestilence which desolated the north of Eurove in the 13th century.
He tied the cord on her neck, and laid the pearl in her hand, and long spoke and strove to console her, but she could not be comforted, and sat still and silent upon the grass ; her hands dropped in the cold dew, and her eyes fixed blank and dim upon the moonlight that floated in the water. - Raymond stood and gazed upon her till his face grew white as hers; but suddenly the light came to his eyes, he laid his hand upon the cross of his sword—“ By His might and His hope, I hold the spell of your fate !" said he; “ to-morrow it shall be broken !"
The grey dawn was breaking in the forest of Maris, and the dim cold light began to glisten upon the pale flowers and the dewy leaves of the wood sorrel and colt's-foot which clustered about the feet of the old oaks. No sound came through the still thickets but the chime from the distant convent, and the light trip of the buck pricking among the leaves ; even at that quiet hour he started at the mass-bell, suddenly stopped his cropping lips from the grass, and bent his ear, and held up his nose in the wind; but he returned to his browsing, and wavered through the wood, till he came to the brink of a small deep glade; he stopped suddenly, and pricked his ear, and glanced his bright eye into the hollow, and for a moment stood and felt the wind, but in the next his white single went over the long fern like a flash of light, and he vanished into the deep thicket. For an instant his short bound came from the moss, but nothing stirred nor appeared where he had looked, and the light began to brighten and the birds to sing, but all was still and solitary.
The red rose of the morning began to appear through the trees, and the white mist went slowly up from the glade, and under an oak leaned a tall dark man, his arms folded, his back to the tree, and his brown cap and deep mantle, scarce distinguishable from the knotted and fantastic shapes of the old trunks that stood about him.
As he leaned and gazed upon the path, a quick step rustled on the leaves, and suddenly the light noble figure of Auguste de Valence came out upon the glade. For a moment he stopped and glanced round. The man rose from the tree, and dropped his cloak, and came to the greenRaymond de Toulouse.
Auguste cast his mantle, and put off his glove, and they drew their swords and confronted each other without a word. For a moment they stood upon their guard, point to point, eye to eye, foot to foot, and neither gave hit nor foin ; but in the next Auguste made a feint and plunge that might have foiled the best hand in France, but the blade glanced like a reed from the sword of Raymond, and for several moments the glade echoed to the quick clash and the heavy fearful trample of the mortal assault. But it might have seemed only a skilful “ passage of arms,” neither being able to foil the hand of his opponent, till Auguste made the foin that he was never known to fail, and the sword went through the kirtle of his antagonist, close beneath his arm.
The point glittered at his back, and the blood gushed down his green hose, but he did not fall (nor stagger, nor drop his hand, and they closed, and clashed, and showered blows, till the blood run from every limb, and breathless and exhausted they dropped their points, and stood apart to breathe. For an instant they wiped their brows and drew their breath, and undid their kirtles to the wind ; and Auguste sat down upon a mole-hill, and the Earl leaned to a tree, and each glanced at times to the other, till suddenly they started to the green, and renewed the battle with the same mortal determination. The sun was rising as they struck the first strokes; and whether it shone in the eyes of Auguste, or that the Earl had the better, he made a sudden feint, and in the next moment the hilt of his sword was against the breast of his antagonist, and the blade a red half ell beyond his back.
De Valence sprung like a stricken hart, and fell upon the turf without a word; the blood gushed out from his mouth and breast, and in a moment his eyes began to change, and his lips became blue and cold. Raymond threw himself upon his knees by his side, and clasped his hand, and raised his head, and strove to stanch the blood, and gazed wildly upon his closing eyes—“ God give mercy and grace !” he cried, “ that I should do this !”
Auguste opened his eyes and grasped his hand—“ True and noble friend,” said he, “ you were ever kind and faithful to me in our lives, and this that you have now done is the best and truest deed of all.-I thank God I bless you—pray for me--forgive me—but ( she never can!”—and he turned his face to the earth.
The Earl's tears dropped fast upon his cold brow, and he held his hand without speaking, as his breath came in short painful sobs, and the cold death-dew rose upon his forehead; he gave a sudden shiver, and his hand caught upon the hand of his friend~" Say a prayer,” said he; “ bid God sain ; and let her pray for me when I am gone !"
Raymond cast up a sudden look-" Holy saints !-and no priest ! none to say him shrift !”
The dying knight pressed his hand- |_“Hold up your cross,” said he, “ and let me look upon it till I pass away. If I had but a cup of water !”
Raymond glanced eagerly round the glade ; a little blue streamlet fell through the grass upon a hollow of the mossy rock, and hastening to the spot, he filled his bonnet at the well, and hurried back to the dying
The eyes of Auguste had closed, but when the water came to his lips he opened them and looked up; a faint light came to his cheek ; and he raised himself on the arm of his once brother.
“ I will confess my shrift to you, my true brother,” said he, “ and you shall tell the priest, and pray for me, and there will be mercy.”
The Earl bathed his face, and held him in his arms, and lifted the cross before him; and the knight clasped his dying hands on his, and confessed to him, as if he had been a monk in holy quire. His strength ebbed away with his last words, and he sunk heavy and breathless upon the breast of Raymond. The knight dipped his hand in the water, and signed his brow, and put the cross in his cold fingers—“God be merci. ful to you and forgive you,” said he, “and speak to you that word that I dare not speak, and that none is here to speak in his name !"
The hand of the dying knight closed upon the rood ; his eyes fell, and one sharp shiver, and he stretched out, cold and still, and gone for ever.
The Earl gazed on his void face, and held his hand till it grew stiff and cold, and the eyes slowly unclosed and fixed in the death-glare. Raymond shuddered, and clasped his hands, and laid his head upon the turf, and the cross upon his breast, and spread his mantle over him, and knelt, and wept, and prayed beside him. At last he rose, and dried his sword on his sleeve, and put his bonnet on his head, and set his horn to his lips, and blew the mort.* In a few moments a little page came
• The death-mote, or the blast that was blown at the death of a stag.
lightly through the trees with his white Arab; and, as he led up the horse, looked upon the cloak, and trembled and turned pale.
“Sit beside him," said the Earl, “ and watch that no beast nor bird come to do him wrong; and I will ride to the town, and he shall be buried as men should bury a king's son.”
The sun was set, and the twilight was almost gone ; all Toulouse was in motion ; the great bell of the cathedral tolled its heavy knell over the town; and the streets were crowded with a tide of people hurrying to.. wards the main rue. All the way from the Chateau to the great church was kept by men-at-arms, and a constant wavering stir went among the tall lances, and an eager murmur of voices, interrupted only by the fearful toll of the bell that struck its death-knell at slow intervals.
“ Gramercy! what is this, that the great bell tolls!” exclaimed an old peasant to his merchant as he pushed through the crowd; “ I never heard that knell but for the death of our Earl.”
“ Then shall you well hear it to-day,” replied the citizen ; “ for though he is not, as you shall say, dead in his body, he is dead in his glory and knight's fame.”
“ Saint Mary! of what speak you ?" said the granger. “ Know you La Rose Blanche ?” asked the merchant.
“ Peine de ma vie !” exclaimed the old man, “ do I know the moon, and the bright star when she rises at vespers ?”
“ Then shall you not marvel that the Earl had the greatest love for her that ever knight had for a lady,” said the burgher.
“ Nay, truly,” replied the peasant; “ but I make great marvel to hear a bell toll, when all the chimes in Toulouse should be ringing merry !”
“ You shall not make the lark sing at your holiday,” replied the merchant, "nor a maiden's love come for your harping. This, that was the brightest that ever the sun looked on, minded a fair crown and broad lordship no more than you should value a cowslip fee in fairy-land; and likely for that they had been foster-children together, she thought of Earl Raymond but as a maiden may of her true brother, and would not be his lady though he had been king of France; at the least she said so. The Count was near out of his mind, as all men know; but that which men know not_alas, that it should be to say—on the evening that he was to sail for the Holy Land, being alone with her to take his leave, fell such unknightly outrage as never prince did to a lady, unless it was Don Rodrique to count Palayo's daughter. The sweet gentle maiden never spoke charge nor word against him, but ever she was pale, and heavy, and broken of heart, and none knew why, till it could no longer be hid, and her shame flew fast and far as ever went the renown of the “ Blanche Rose,” that had never peer of any earthly ladye. Fearful ! fearful !--she had to dree* when the priest came to curse her, and the bishop to make her speak, and the proud peers, her kinsmen, spoke of burning her on a hill, like queen Guinever; yet she would never tell the name of her false knight till this hour. But now when the Earl came, he was all confounded in her peril; and for his great repenting, he hath confessed and accused him to the bishop, and now would do all