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The little Princess spoke the truth, for always since his coming to
Mezelais she had viewed the great conqueror as through an aweful haze
of forerunning rumor, twin to that golden vapor which enswathes a god
and transmutes whatever in corporeal man had been a defect into some
divine and hitherto unguessed-at excellence. I must tell you in this
place, since no other occasion offers, that even until the end of her
life it was so. For to her what in other persons would have seemed but
flagrant dulness showed, somehow, in Sire Edward, as the majestic
deliberation of one that knows his verdict to be decisive, and hence
appraises cautiously; and if sometimes his big, calm eyes betrayed no
apprehension of the jest at which her lips were laughing, and of which
her brain very cordially approved, always within the instant her heart
convinced her that a god is not lightly moved to mirth.

[Illustration: "SHE HAD VIEWED THE GREAT CONQUEROR" _Painting by Howard
Pyle_]

And now it was a god - _O deus certe!_ - who had taken a woman's paltry
face between his hands, half roughly. "And the maid is a Capet!" Sire
Edward mused.

"Never has Blanch desired you any ill, beau sire. But it is the
Archduke of Austria that she loves, beau sire. And once you were dead,
she might marry him. One cannot blame her," Meregrett considered,
"since he wishes to marry her, and she, of course, wishes to make him
happy."

"And not herself, save in some secondary way!" the big King said. "In
part I comprehend, madame. And I, too, long for this same happiness,
impotently now, and much as a fevered man might long for water. And my
admiration for the Death whom I praised this morning is somewhat
abated. There was a Tenson once - Lord, Lord, how long ago! I learn
too late that truth may possibly have been upon the losing side - " He
took up Rigon's lute.

Sang Sire Edward:

"_Incuriously he smites the armored king
And tricks his wisest counsellor - _

ay, the song ran thus. Now listen, madame - listen, while for me Death
waits without, and for you ignominy."

Sang Sire Edward:

"_Anon
Will Death not bid us cease from pleasuring,
And change for idle laughter i' the sun
The grave's long silence and the peace thereof, -
Where we entranced. Death our Viviaine
Implacable, may never more regain
The unforgotten passion, and the pain
And grief and ecstasy of life and love?_

"_Yea, presently, as quiet as the king
Sleeps now that laid the walls of Ilion,
We, too, will sleep, and overhead the spring
Laugh, and young lovers laugh - as we have done -
And kiss - as we, that take no heed thereof,
But slumber very soundly, and disdain
The world-wide heralding of winter's wane
And swift sweet ripple of the April rain
Running about the world to waken love._

"_We shall have done with Love, and Death be king
And turn our nimble bodies carrion,
Our red lips dusty; - yet our live lips cling
Spite of that age-long severance and are one
Spite of the grave and the vain grief thereof
We mean to baffle, if in Death's domain
Old memories may enter, and we twain
May dream a little, and rehearse again
In that unending sleep our present love._

"_Speed forth to her in sorry unison,
My rhymes: and say Death mocks us, and is slain
Lightly by Love, that lightly thinks thereon;
And that were love at my disposal lain -
All mine to take! - and Death had said, 'Refrain,
Lest I demand the bitter cost thereof,'
I know that even as the weather-vane
Follows the wind so would I follow Love._"


Sire Edward put aside the lute. "Thus ends the Song of Service," he
said, "which was made not by the King of England but by Edward
Plantagenet - hot-blooded and desirous man! - in honor of the one woman
who within more years than I care to think of has attempted to serve
but Edward Plantagenet."

"I do not comprehend," she said. And, indeed, she dared not.

But now he held both tiny hands in his. "At best, your poet is an
egotist. I must die presently. Meantime I crave largesse, madame! ay,
a great largesse, so that in his unending sleep your poet may rehearse
our present love." And even in Rigon's dim light he found her kindling
eyes not niggardly.

So that more lately Sire Edward strode to the window and raised big
hands toward the spear-points of the aloof stars. "Master of us all!"
he cried; "O Father of us all! the Hammer of the Scots am I! the
Scourge of France, the conqueror of Llewellyn and of Leicester, and the
flail of the accursed race that slew Thine only Son! the King of
England am I who have made of England an imperial nation and have given
to Thy Englishmen new laws! And to-night I crave my hire. Never, O my
Father, have I had of any person aught save reverence or hatred! never
in my life has any person loved me! And I am old, my Father - I am old,
and presently I die. As I have served Thee - as Jacob wrestled with
Thee at the ford of Jabbok - at the place of Peniel - " Against the
tremulous blue and silver of the forest she saw in terror how horribly
the big man was shaken. "My hire! my hire!" he hoarsely said. "Forty
long years, my Father! And now I will not let Thee go except Thou hear
me."

And presently he turned, stark and black in the rearward splendor of
the moon. "_As a prince hast thou power with God,_" he calmly said,
"_and thou hast prevailed_. For the King of kings was never obdurate,
m'amye.

"Child! O brave, brave child!" he said to her a little later, "I was
never afraid to die, and yet to-night I would that I might live a
trifle longer than in common reason I may ever hope to live!" And
their lips met.

Neither stirred when Philippe the Handsome came into the room. At his
heels were seven lords, armed cap-a-pie, but the entrance of eight
cockchafers had meant as much to these transfigured two.

The French King was an odd man, no more sane, perhaps, than might
reasonably be expected of a Valois. Subtly smiling, he came forward
through the twilight, with soft, long strides, and made no outcry at
recognition of his sister. "Take the woman away; Victor," he said,
disinterestedly, to de Montespan. Afterward he sat down beside the
table and remained silent for a while, intently regarding Sire Edward
and the tiny woman who clung to Sire Edward's arm; and always in the
flickering gloom of the hut Philippe smiled as an artist might do who
gazes on the perfected work and knows it to be adroit.

"You prefer to remain, my sister?" he presently said. "He bien! it
happens that to-night I am in a mood for granting almost any favor. A
little later and I will attend to you." The fleet disorder of his
visage had lapsed again into the meditative smile which was that of
Lucifer watching a toasted soul. "And so it ends," he said.
"Conqueror of Scotland, Scourge of France! O unconquerable king! and
will the worms of Ermenoueil, then, pause to-morrow to consider through
what a glorious turmoil their dinner came to them?"

"You design murder, fair cousin?" Sire Edward said.

The French King shrugged. "I design that within this moment my lords
shall slay you while I sit here and do not move a finger. Is it not
good to be a king, my cousin, and to sit quite still, and to see your
bitterest enemy hacked and slain - and all the while to sit quite still,
quite unruffled, as a king should always be? Eh, eh! I never lived
until to-night!"

"Now, by Heaven," said Sire Edward, "I am your kinsman and your guest,
I am unarmed - "

And Philippe bowed his head. "Undoubtedly," he assented, "the deed is
a foul one. But I desire Gascony very earnestly, and so long as you
live you will never permit me to retain Gascony. Hence it is quite
necessary, you conceive, that I murder you. What!" he presently said,
"will you not beg for mercy? I had so hoped," the French King added,
somewhat wistfully, "that you might be afraid to die, O huge and
righteous man! and would entreat me to spare you. To spurn the weeping
conqueror of Llewellyn, say ... But these sins which damn one's soul
are in actual performance very tedious affairs; and I begin to grow
aweary of the game. He bien! now kill this man for me, messieurs."

The English King strode forward. "O shallow trickster!" Sire Edward
thundered. "_Am I not afraid?_ You baby, would you ensnare a lion
with a flimsy rat-trap? Not so; for it is the nature of a rat-trap,
fair cousin, to ensnare not the beast which imperiously desires and
takes in daylight, but the tinier and the filthier beast that covets
and under darkness pilfers - as you and your seven skulkers!" The man
was rather terrible; not a Frenchman within the hut but had drawn back
a little.

"Listen!" Sire Edward said, and came yet farther toward the King of
France and shook at him one forefinger; "when you were in your cradle I
was leading armies. When you were yet unbreeched I was lord of half
Europe. For thirty years I have driven kings before me as Fierabras
did. Am I, then, a person to be hoodwinked by the first big-bosomed
huzzy that elects to waggle her fat shoulders and to grant an
assignation in a forest expressively designed for stabbings? You baby,
is the Hammer of the Scots the man to trust a Capet? Ill-mannered
infant," the King said, with bitter laughter, "it is now necessary that
I summon my attendants and remove you to a nursery which I have
prepared in England." He set the horn to his lips and blew three
blasts.

There came many armed warriors into the hut, bearing ropes. Here was
the entire retinue of the Earl of Aquitaine; and, cursing, Sire
Philippe sprang upon the English King, and with a dagger smote at the
impassive big man's heart. The blade broke against the mail armor
under the tunic. "Have I not told you," Sire Edward wearily said,
"that one may never trust a Capet? Now, messieurs, bind these carrion
and convey them whither I have directed you. Nay, but, Roger - " He
conversed apart with his lieutenant, and what Sire Edward commanded was
done. The French King and seven lords of France went from that hut
trussed like chickens.

And now Sire Edward turned toward Meregrett and chafed his big hands
gleefully. "At every tree-bole a tethered horse awaits us; and a ship
awaits our party at Fecamp. To-morrow we sleep in England - and, Mort
de Dieu! do you not think, madame, that within the Tower your brother
and I may more quickly come to some agreement over Guienne?"

She had shrunk from him. "Then the trap was yours? It was you that
lured my brother to this infamy!"

"I am vile!" was the man's thought. And, "In effect, I planned it many
months ago at Ipswich yonder," Sire Edward gayly said. "Faith of a
gentleman! your brother has cheated me of Guienne, and was I to waste
an eternity in begging him to restore it? Nay, for I have a many spies
in France, and have for some two years known your brother and your
sister to the bottom. Granted that I came hither incognito, to
forecast your kinfolk's immediate endeavors was none too difficult; and
I wanted Guienne - and, in consequence, the person of your brother.
Mort de ma vie! Shall not the seasoned hunter adapt his snare
aforetime to the qualities of his prey, and take the elephant through
his curiosity, as the snake through his notorious treachery?" Now the
King of England blustered.

But the little Princess wrung her hands. "I am this night most
hideously shamed. Beau sire, I came hither to aid a brave man
infamously trapped, and instead I find an alert spider, snug in his
cunning web, and patiently waiting until the gnats of France fly near
enough. Eh, the greater fool was I to waste my labor on the shrewd and
evil thing which has no more need of me than I of it! And now let me
go hence, sire, and unmolested, for the sake of chivalry. Could I have
come to you but as to the brave man I had dreamed of, I had come
through the murkiest lane of hell; as the more artful knave, as the
more judicious trickster" - and here she thrust him from her - "I spit
upon you. Now let me go hence."

He took her in his brawny arms. "Fit mate for me," he said. "Little
vixen, had you done otherwise I had devoted you to the devil."

Anon, still grasping her, and victoriously lifting Dame Meregrett, so
that her feet swung quite clear of the floor, Sire Edward said: "Look
you, in my time I have played against Fate for considerable stakes - for
fortresses, and towns, and strong citadels, and for kingdoms even. And
it was only to-night I perceived that the one stake worth playing for
is love. It were easy enough to get you for my wife; but I want more
than that.... Pschutt! I know well enough how women have these
notions: and carefully I weighed the issue - Meregrett and Guienne to
boot? or Meregrett and Meregrett's love to boot? - and thus the final
destination of my captives was but the courtyard of Mezelais, in order
I might come to you with hands - well! not intolerably soiled."

"Oh, now I love you!" she cried, a-thrill with disappointment. "Yet
you have done wrong, for Guienne is a king's ransom."

He smiled whimsically, and presently one arm swept beneath her knees,
so that presently he held her as one dandles a baby; and presently his
stiff and yellow beard caressed her burning cheek. Masterfully he
said: "Then let it serve as such and ransom for a king his glad and
common manhood. Ah, m'amye, I am both very wise and abominably
selfish. And in either capacity it appears expedient that I leave
France without any unwholesome delay. More lately - he, already I have
within my pocket the Pope's dispensation permitting me to marry the
sister of the King of France, so that I dare to hope."

Very shyly Dame Meregrett lifted her little mouth toward his hot and
bearded lips. "Patience," she said, "is a virtue; and daring is a
virtue; and hope, too, is a virtue: and otherwise, beau sire, I would
not live."

And in consequence, after a deal of political tergiversation (Nicolas
concludes), in the year of grace 1299, on the day of our Lady's
nativity, and in the twenty-seventh year of King Edward's reign, came
to the British realm, and landed at Dover, not Dame Blanch, as would
have been in consonance with seasoned expectation, but Dame Meregrett,
the other daughter of King Philippe the Bold; and upon the following
day proceeded to Canterbury, whither on the next Thursday after came
Edward, King of England, into the Church of the Trinity at Canterbury,
and therein espoused the aforesaid Dame Meregrett.



THE END OF THE THIRD NOVEL




IV

The Story of the Choices

"Sest fable es en aquest mon
Semblans al homes que i son;
Que el mager sen qu'om pot aver
So es amar Dieu et sa mer,
E gardar sos comendamens."



THE FOURTH NOVEL. - YSABEAU OF FRANCE, DESIROUS OF
DISTRACTION, LOOKS FOR RECREATION IN THE TORMENT
OF A CERTAIN KNIGHT, WHOM SHE PROVES TO BE NO MORE
THAN HUMAN; BUT IN THE OUTCOME OF HER HOLIDAY
HE CONFOUNDS THIS QUEEN BY THE WIT OF HIS REPLY.



The Story of the Choices

In the year of grace 1327 (thus Nicolas begins) you could have found in
all England no lovers more ardent in affection or in despair more
affluent than Rosamund Eastney and Sir Gregory Darrell. She was Lord
Berners' only daughter, a brown beauty, and of extensive repute, thanks
to such among her retinue of lovers as were practitioners of the Gay
Science and had scattered broadcast innumerable Canzons in her honor;
and Lord Berners was a man who accepted the world as he found it.

"Dompnedex!" the Earl was wont to say; "in sincerity I am fond of
Gregory Darrell, and if he chooses to make love to my daughter that is
none of my affair. The eyes and the brain preserve a proverbial
warfare, which is the source of all amenity, for without lady-service
there would be no songs and tourneys, no measure and no good breeding;
and, in a phrase, a man delinquent in it is no more to be valued than
an ear of corn without the grain. Nay, I am so profoundly an admirer
of Love that I can never willingly behold him slain, of a surfeit, by
Matrimony; and besides, the rapscallion could not to advantage exchange
purses with Lazarus; and, moreover, Rosamund is to marry the Earl of
Sarum a little after All Saints' day."

"Sarum!" people echoed. "Why, the old goat has had two wives already!"

And the Earl would spread his hands. "One of the wealthiest persons in
England," he was used to submit.

Thus it fell out that Sir Gregory came and went at his own discretion
as concerned Lord Berners' fief of Ordish, all through those gusty
times of warfare between Sire Edward and Queen Ysabeau, until at last
the Queen had conquered. Lord Berners, for one, vexed himself not
inordinately over the outcome of events, since he protested the King's
armament to consist of fools and the Queen's of rascals; and had with
entire serenity declined to back either Dick or the devil.

It was in the September of this year, a little before Michaelmas, that
they brought Sir Gregory Darrell to be judged by the Queen, for
notoriously the knight had been Sire Edward's adherent. "Death!"
croaked Adam Orleton, who sat to the right hand, and, "Young de
Spencer's death!" amended the Earl of March, with wild laughter; but
Ysabeau leaned back in her great chair - a handsome woman, stoutening
now from gluttony and from too much wine - and regarded her prisoner
with lazy amiability, and devoted the silence to consideration of how
scantily the man had changed.

"And what was your errand in Figgis Wood?" she demanded in the
ultimate - "or are you mad, then, Gregory Darrell, that you dare ride
past my gates alone?"

He curtly said, "I rode for Ordish."

Followed silence. "Roger," the Queen ordered, sharply, "give me the
paper which I would not sign."

The Earl of March had drawn an audible breath. The Bishop of London
somewhat wrinkled his shaggy brows, as a person in shrewd and epicurean
amusement, what while she subscribed the parchment within the moment,
with a great scrawling flourish.

"Take, in the devil's name, the hire of your dexterities," said
Ysabeau, and pushed this document with her wet pen-point toward March,
"and ride for Berkeley now upon that necessary business we know of.
And do the rest of you withdraw, saving only my prisoner - my prisoner!"
she said, and laughed not very pleasantly.

[Illustration: "'MY PRISONER!' SHE SAID" _Painting by Howard Pyle_]

Followed another silence. Queen Ysabeau lolled in her carven chair,
considering the comely gentleman who stood before her, fettered, at the
point of shameful death. There was a little dog in the room which had
come to the Queen, and now licked the palm of her left hand, and the
soft lapping of its tongue was the only sound you heard. "So at peril
of your life you rode for Ordish, then, messire?"

The tense man had flushed. "You have harried us of the King's party
out of England - and in reason I might not leave England without seeing
her."

"My friend," said Ysabeau, as half in sorrow, "I would have pardoned
anything save that." She rose. Her face was dark and hot. "By God
and all His saints! you shall indeed leave England to-morrow and the
world as well! but not without a final glimpse of this same Rosamund.
Yet listen: I, too, must ride with you to Ordish - as your sister,
say - Gregory, did I not hang last April the husband of your sister?
Yes, Ralph de Belomys, a thin man with eager eyes, the Earl of
Farrington he was. As his widow will I ride with you to Ordish, upon
condition you disclose to none at Ordish, saving only, if you will,
this quite immaculate Rosamund, even a hint of our merry carnival. And
to-morrow (you will swear according to the nicest obligations of honor)
you must ride back with me to encounter - that which I may devise. For
I dare to trust your naked word in this, and, moreover, I shall take
with me a sufficiency of retainers to leave you no choice."

Darrell knelt before her. "I can do no homage to Queen Ysabeau; yet
the prodigal hands of her who knows that I must die to-morrow and
cunningly contrives, for old time's sake, to hearten me with a sight of
Rosamund, I cannot but kiss." This much he did. "And I swear in all
things to obey her will."

"O comely fool!" the Queen said, not ungently, "I contrive, it may be,
but to demonstrate that many tyrants of antiquity were only bunglers.
And, besides, I must have other thoughts than that which now occupies
my heart: I must this night take holiday, lest I go mad."

Thus did the Queen arrange her holiday.

"Either I mean to torture you to-morrow," Dame Ysabeau said, presently,
to Darrell, as these two rode side by side, "or else I mean to free
you. In sober verity I do not know. I am in a holiday humor, and it
is as the whim may take me. But you indeed do love this Rosamund
Eastney? And of course she worships you?"

"It is my belief, madame, that when I see her I tremble visibly, and my
weakness is such that a child has more intelligence than I - and toward
such misery any lady must in common reason be a little compassionate."

Her hands had twitched so that the astonished palfrey reared. "I
design torture," the Queen said; "ah, I perfect exquisite torture, for
you have proven recreant, you have forgotten the maid Ysabeau - Le Desir
du Cuer, was it not, my Gregory?"

His palms clutched at heaven. "That Ysabeau is dead! and all true joy
is destroyed, and the world lies under a blight wherefrom God has
averted an unfriendly face in displeasure! yet of all wretched persons
existent I am he who endures the most grievous anguish, for daily I
partake of life without any relish, and I would in truth deem him
austerely kind who slew me now that the maiden Ysabeau is dead."

She shrugged, although but wearily. "I scent the raw stuff of a
Planh," the Queen observed; "_benedicite!_ it was ever your way, my
friend, to love a woman chiefly for the verses she inspired." And she
began to sing, as they rode through Baverstock Thicket.

Sang Ysabeau:

"_Man's love hath many prompters,
But a woman's love hath none;
And he may woo a nimble wit
Or hair that shames the sun,
Whilst she must pick of all one man
And ever brood thereon -
And for no reason,
And not rightly, - _

"_Save that the plan was foreordained
(More old than Chalcedon,
Or any tower of Tarshish
Or of gleaming Babylon),
That she must love unwillingly
And love till life be done,
He for a season,
And more lightly._"


So to Ordish in that twilight came the Countess of Farrington, with a
retinue of twenty men-at-arms, and her brother Sir Gregory Darrell.
Lord Berners received the party with boisterous hospitality.

"And the more for that your sister is a very handsome woman," was
Rosamund Eastney's comment. The period appears to have been after
supper, and she sat with Gregory Darrell in not the most brilliant
corner of the main hall.

The wretched man leaned forward, bit his nether-lip, and then with a
sudden splurge of speech informed her of the sorry masquerade. "The
she-devil designs some horrible and obscure mischief, she plans I know
not what."

"Yet I - " said Rosamund. The girl had risen, and she continued with an
odd inconsequence. "You have told me you were Pembroke's squire when
long ago he sailed for France to fetch this woman into England - "

"Which you never heard!" Lord Berners shouted at this point. "Jasper,
a lute!" And then he halloaed, more lately, "Gregory, Madame de
Farrington demands that racy song you made against Queen Ysabeau during
your last visit."

Thus did the Queen begin her holiday.

It was a handsome couple which came forward, hand quitting hand a shade
too tardily, and the blinking eyes yet rapt; but these two were not
overpleased at being disturbed, and the man in particular was troubled,
as in reason he well might be, by the task assigned him.

"Is it, indeed, your will, my sister," he said, "that I should
sing - this song?"

"It is my will," the Countess said.

And the knight flung back his comely head and laughed. "What I have
written I shall not disown in any company. It is not, look you, of my
own choice that I sing, my sister. Yet if she bade me would I sing
this song as willingly before Queen Ysabeau, for, Christ aid me! the
song is true."

Sang Sir Gregory:

"_Dame Ysabeau, la prophecie
Que li sage dit ne ment mie,
Que la royne sut ceus grever
Qui tantost laquais sot aymer - _"

and so on. It was a lengthy ditty and in its wording not
oversqueamish; the Queen's career in England was detailed without any


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