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old man leaped the fire and came hideously on to the swords, the points
dropped at his son's direction. Almost crying, the King turned to his
followers. 'Taillefer, will you see me dishonoured? Where is Ponthieu?
Where is Drago?' So at last they all attacked together, coming on with
their shields before them, in a phalanx. This was a device that needs
must fail; they could not drive a wedge where they could not get in the
point. The three defending shields were locked in the entry. Two men
fell at the first assault, and Richard's terrible axe crashed into
Perceforest's skull and scattered his brains wide. Red and breathless
work as it was, it was not long adoing. The King was dismayed at the
killing of Perceforest, and dared risk no more lives at such long odds.
'Fire the other door, Drago,' he said grimly. 'We'll have the place down
upon them.' The Normans were set to engage the three while others went
to find fuel.

The Viscount of Béziers had had his hand dressed by Jehane, and was now
able to take his turn. It was by a ruse of his that Richard got away
without a life lost. With Jehane to help him, he got the horses trapped
and housed. 'Now, Richard,' he said, 'listen to my proposals. I am going
to open the north door and make away before they fire it. I shall have
half of them after me as I reckon; but whereas I shall have a good start
on a fresh horse, I doubt not of escape. Do you manage the rest: there
will be three of you.'

Richard approved. 'Go, Raimon,' he said. 'We will join you on the edge
of the plain.'

This was done. Jehane, when Béziers was ready, flung open the door. Out
he shot like a bolt, and she shut it behind him. The old King got wind
of him, spurred off with five or six at his heels, such as happened to
be mounted. Richard fell back from the entry, got out his horse, and
came forward. As he came he stooped and picked up Jehane, who, with a
quick nestling movement, settled into his shield arm. Roussillon and
Gaston in like manner got their horses; then at a signal they drove out
of the tower into the midst of the Normans. There was a wild scuffle.
Richard got a side blow on the knee, but in return he caught Drago de
Merlou under the armpit and well-nigh cut him in half. Taillefer and
Gilles de Gurdun set upon him together, and one of them wounded him in
the shoulder. But Taillefer got more than he gave, for he fell almost as
he delivered his blow, and broke his jaw against a rock. As for Gurdun,
Richard hurtled full into him, bore him backwards, and threw him also.
Jehane safe in arms, he rode over him where he lay. But lastly, pounding
through the tussocks in the faint grey light, he met his father charging
full upon him, intent to cut him off. 'Avoid me, father,' he cried out.
'By God,' said the King, 'I will not. I am for you, traitorous beast.'
They came together, and Richard heard the old man's breath roaring like
a foundered horse's. He held his sword arm out stiffly to parry the
blow. The King's sword shivered and fell harmless as Richard shot by
him. Turning as he rode (to be sure he had done him no more hurt), he
saw the wicked grey face of his father cursing him beyond redemption;
and that was the last living sight of it he had.

They got clean away without the loss of a man of theirs, reached the
lands of the Count of Perche, and there found a company of sixty knights
come out to look for Richard. With them he rode down through Maine to Le
Mans, which had fallen, and now held the French King. Richard's
triumphant humour carried him strange lengths. As they came near to the
gates of Le Mans, 'Now,' he said, 'they shall see me, like a pious
knight, bear my holy banner before me.' He made Jehane stand up in the
saddle in front of him; he held her there firmly by one long arm. So he
rode in the midst of his knights through the thronged streets to the
church of Saint-Julien, Jehane Saint-Pol pillared before him like a
saint. The French king made much of him, and to Jehane was respectful.
Prince John was there, the Duke of Burgundy, the Dauphin of Auvergne,
all the great men. To Richard was given the Bishop's house; Jehane
stayed with the Canonesses of Prémonstre. But he saw her every day.


CHAPTER XI

OF PROPHECY; AND JEHANE IN THE PERILOUS BED


Well may the respectable Abbot Milo despond over this affair. Hear him,
and conceive how he shook his head. 'O too great power of princes,' he
writes, 'lodged in a room too frail! O wagging bladder that serves as
cushion for a crown! O swayed by idle breath, seeming god that yet is a
man, man driven by windy passion, that has yet to ape the god's estate!
Because Richard craved this French girl, therefore he must take her, as
it were, from the lap of her mother. Because he taught her his nobility,
which is the mere wind in a prince's nose, she taught him nobility
again. Then because a prince must not be less noble than his nobles (but
always _primus inter pares_), he, seeing her nobly disposed, gave her
over to a man of her own choosing; and immediately after, unable to bear
it that a common person should have what he had touched, took her away
again, doing slaughter to get her, to say nothing of outrage in the
church. Last of all, as you are now to hear, thinking that too much
handling was dishonour to the thin vessel of her body, touched on the
generous spot, he made bad worse; he added folly to force; he made a
marriage where none could be; he made immortal enmities, blocked up
appointed roads, and set himself to walk others with a clog on his leg.
Better far had she been a wanton of no account, a piece of dalliance, a
pastime, a common delight! She was very much other than that. Dame
Jehane was a good girl, a noble girl, a handsome girl of inches and
bright blood; but by the Lord God of Israel (Who died on the Tree),
these virtues cost her dear.'

All this, we may take it, is true; the pity is that the thing promised
so fair. Those who had not known Jehane before were astonished at her
capacity, discretion, and dignity. She had a part to play at Le Mans,
where Richard kept his Easter, which would have taxed a wiser head. She
moved warily, a poor thing of gauze, amid those great lights. King
Philip had a tender nose; a very whiff of offence might have drawn
blood. Prince John had a shrewd eye and an evil way of using it; he
stroked women, but they seldom liked it, and never found good come of
it. The Duke of Burgundy ate and drank too much. He resembled a sponge,
when empty too rough a customer, when full too juicy. It was on one of
the days when he was very full that, tilting at the ring, he won, or
said he won, forty pounds of Richard. Empty, he claimed them, but
Richard discerned a rasp in his manner of asking, and laughed at him.
The Duke of Burgundy took this ill. He was never quite the same to
Richard again; but he made great friends with Prince John.

With all these, and with their courtiers, who took complexion from their
masters, Jehane had to hold the fair way. As a mistress who was to be a
wife, the veiled familiarity with which she was treated was always
preaching to her. How dare she be a Countess who was of so little
account already? The poor girl felt herself doomed beforehand. What
king's mistress had ever been his wife? And how could she be Richard's
wife, betrothed to Gilles de Gurdun? Richard was much afield in these
days, making military dispositions against his coming absence in
Poictou. She saw him rarely; but in return she saw his peers, and had to
keep her head high among the women of the French court. And so she did
until one day, as she was walking back from mass with her ladies, she
saw her brother Saint-Pol on horseback, him and William des Barres.
Timidly she would have slipped by; but Saint-Pol saw her, reined up his
horse in the middle of the street, and stared at her as if she had been
less than nothing to him. She felt her knees fail her, she grew vividly
red, but she kept her way. After this terrible meeting she dared not
leave the convent.

Of course she was quite safe. Saint-Pol could not do anything against
the conqueror of Touraine, the ally of his master; but she felt tainted,
and had thoughts (not for the first time) of taking the veil. One woman
had already taken it; she heard much concerning Madame Alois from the
Canonesses, how she had a little cell at Fontevrault among the nuns
there, how she shivered with cold in the hottest sun, how she shrieked
o' nights, how chattered to herself, and how she used a cruel
discipline. All these things working upon Jehane's mind made her love an
agony. Many and many a time when her royal lover came to visit her she
clung to him with tears, imploring him to cast her off again; but the
more she bewailed the more he pursued his end. In truth he was master by
this time, and utterly misconceived her. Nothing she might say or do
could stay him from his intent, which was to wed and afterwards crown
her Countess of Poictou. This was to be done at Pentecost, as the only
reparation he could make her.

Not even what befell on the way to Poictiers for this very thing could
alter him. Again he misread her, or was too full of what he read in
himself to read her at all. They left Le Mans a fortnight before
Pentecost with a great train of lords and ladies, Richard looking like a
young god, with the light of easy mastery shining in his eyes. She, poor
girl, might have been going to the gallows - and before the end of the
journey would thankfully have gone there; and no wonder. Listen to this.

Midway between Châtelherault and Poictiers is a sandy waste covered with
scrub of juniper and wild plum, which contrives a living by some means
between great bare rocks. It is a disconsolate place, believed to be the
abode of devils and other damned spirits. Now, as they were riding over
this desert, picking their way among the boulders at the discretion of
their animals, it so happened that Richard and Jehane were in front by
some forty paces. Riding so, presently Jehane gave a short gasping cry,
and almost fell off her horse. She pointed with her hand, and 'Look,
look, look!' she said in a dry whisper. There at a little distance from
them was a leper, who sat scratching himself on a rock.

'Ride on, ride on, my heart,' said Richard; but she, 'No, no, he is
coming. We must wait.' Her voice was full of despair.

The leper came jumping from rock to rock, a horrible thing of rags and
sores, with a loose lower jaw, which his disease had fretted to
dislocation. He stood in their mid path, in full sun, and plucking at
his disastrous eyes, peered upon the gay company. By this time all the
riders were clustered together before him, and he fingered them out one
after another - Richard, whom he called the Red Count, Gaston, Béziers,
Auvergne, Limoges, Mercadet; but at Jehane he pointed long, and in a
voice between a croak and a clatter (he had no palate), said thrice,
'Hail thou!'

She replied faintly, 'God be good to thee, brother.' He kept his finger
still upon her as he spoke again: every one heard his words.

'Beware (he said) the Count's cap and the Count's bed; for so sure as
thou liest in either thou art wife of a dead man, and of his killer.'
Jehane reeled, and Richard held her up.

'Begone, thou miserable,' he cried in his high voice, 'lest I pity thee
no more.' But the leper was capering away over the rocks, hopping and
flapping his arms like an old raven. At a safe distance he squatted down
and watched them, his chin on his bare knees.

This frightened Jehane so much that in the refectory of a convent, where
they stayed the night, she could hardly see her victual for tears, nor
eat it for choking grief. She exhausted herself by entreaties. Milo says
that she was heard crying out at Richard night after night, conjur ing
him by Christ on the Cross, and Mary at the foot of the Cross, not to
turn love into a stabbing blade; but all to no purpose. He soothed and
petted her, he redoubled her honours, he compelled her to love him; and
the more she agonised the more he was confident he would right her.

Very definitely and with unexampled profusion he provided for her
household and estate as soon as he was at home. Kings' daughters were
among her honourable women, at least, counts' daughters, daughters of
viscounts and castellans. She had Lady Saill of Ventadorn, Lady Elis of
Montfort, Lady Tibors, Lady Maent, Lady Beatrix, all fully as noble, and
two of them certainly more beautiful than she. Lady Saill and Lady Elis
were the most lovely women of Aquitaine, Saill with a face like a flame,
Elis clear and cold as spring water in the high rocks. He gave her a
chancellor of her seal, a steward of the household, a bishop for
chaplain. Viscount Ebles of Ventadorn was her champion, and Bertran de
Born (who had been doing secret mischief in the south, as you will learn
by and by), if you will believe it, Bertran de Born was forgiven and
made her trobador. It was at a great Court of Love which Richard caused
to be held in the orchards outside Poictiers, with pavilions and a
Chastel d'Amors, that Bertran came in and was forgiven for the sake of
his great singing. On a white silk tribune before the castle sat Jehane,
in a red gown, upon her golden head a circlet of dull silver, with the
leaves and thorns which made up the coronet of a countess. Richard bade
sound the silver trumpets, and his herald proclaim her three times, to
the north, to the east, and to the south, as 'the most puissant and
peerless princess, Madame Jehane, by the grace of God Countess of
Poictou, Duchess of Aquitaine, consort of our illustrious dread lord
Monsire Richard, Count and Duke of the same.' Himself, gloriously
attired in a bliaut of white velvet and gold, with a purple cloak over
his shoulder, sustained in a _tenzon_ with the chief trobadors of
Languedoc, that she was 'the most pleasant lovely lady now on earth, or
ever known there since the days of Madame Dido, Queen of Carthage, and
Madame Cleopatra, Empress of Babylon' - unfortunate examples both, as
some thought.

Minstrels and poets of the greatest contended with him; Saill had her
champion in Guillem of Cabestaing, Elis in Girault of Borneilh; the
Dauphin of Auvergne sang of Tibors, and Peire Vidal of Lady Maent.
Towards the end came sideways in that dishevelled red fox (whom nothing
shamed), Bertran de Born himself, looked askance at the Count, puffed
out his cheeks to give himself assurance, and began to sing of Jehane in
a way that brought tears to Richard's eyes. It was Bertran who dubbed
her with the name she ever afterwards went by throughout Poictou and the
south, the name of Bel Vezer. Richard at the end clipped him in his
arms, and with one arm still round his wicked neck led him to the
tribune where Jehane sat blushing. 'Take him into your favour, Lady Bel
Vezer,' he said to her. 'Whatever his heart may be, he hath a golden
tongue.' Jehane, stooping, lent him her cheek, and Bertran fairly kissed
her whom he had sought to undo. Then turning, fired with her favour, he
let his shrill voice go spiring to heaven in her praise.

For these feats Bertran was appointed to her household, as I have said.
He made no secret of his love for her, but sang of her night and day,
and delighted Richard's generous heart. But indeed Jehane won the favour
of most. If she was not so beautiful as Saill, she was more courteous,
if not so pious as Elis, more the woman for that. There were many,
misled by her petulant lips and watchful eyes, to call her sulky: these
did not judge her silence favourably. They thought her cold, and so she
was to all but one; their eyes might have told them what she was to him,
and how when they met in love, to kiss or cling, their two souls burned
together. And if she made a sweet lover, she promised to be a rare
Countess. Her judgment was never at fault; she was noble, and her sedate
gravity showed her to be so. She was no talker, and had great command
over herself; but she was more pale than by ordinary, and her eyes were
burning bright. The truth was, she was in a fever of apprehension,
restless, doomed, miserable; devouringly in love, yet dreading to be
loved. So, more and more evidently in pain, she walked her part through
the blare of festival as Pentecost drew nigh.

'Upon that day,' to quote the mellifluous abbot, 'Upon that day when in
leaping tongues the Spirit of God sat upon the heads of the Holy
Apostles, and gave letters to the unlettered and to the speechless Its
own nature, Count Richard wedded Dame Jehane, and afterwards crowned her
Countess with his own hands.

'They put her, crying bitterly, into the Count's bed in the Castle of
Poictiers on the evening of the same feast. Weeping also, but at a later
day, I saw her crowned again at Angers with the Count's cap of Anjou. So
to right her and himself Count Richard did both the greatest wrong of
all.'

Much more pageantry followed the marriage. I admire Milo's account. 'He
held a tournament after this, when the Count and the party of the castle
maintained the field against all corners. There was great jousting for
six days, I assure you; for I saw the whole of it. No English knights
were there, nor any from Anjou; but a few French (without King Philip's
goodwill), many Gascons and men of Toulouse and the Limousin; some from
over the mountains, from Navarre, and Santiago, and Castile; there also
came the Count of Champagne with his friends. King Sancho of Navarre was
excessively friendly, with a gift of six white stallions, all housed,
for Dame Jehane; nobody knew why or wherefore at the time, except
Bertran de Born (O thief unrepentant!).

'Countess Jehane, with her ladies, being set in a great balcony of red
and white roses, herself all in rose-coloured silk with a chaplet of
purple flowers, the first day came Count Richard in green armour and a
surcoat of the same embroidered with a naked man, a branch of yellow
broom in his helm. None held up against him that day; the Duke of
Burgundy fell and brake his collar-bone. The second day he drove into
the mêlée suddenly, when there was a great press of spears, all in red
with a flaming sun on his breast. He sat a blood-horse of Spain, bright
chestnut colour and housed in red. Then, I tell you, we saw horses and
men sunder their loves. The third day Pedro de Vaqueiras, a knight from
Santiago, encountered him in his silver armour, when he rode a horse
white as the Holy Ghost. By a chance blow the Spaniard bore him back on
to the crupper. There was a great shout, "The Count is down! Look to the
castle, Poictou!" Dame Jehane turned colour of ash, for she remembered
the leper's prophecy, and knew that De Vaqueiras loved her. But Richard
recovered himself quickly, crying, "Have at you again, Don Pedro." So
they brought fresh spears, and down went De Vaqueiras on his back, his
horse upon him. To be plain, not Hector raging over the field with
shouts for Achilles, nor flamboyant Achilles spying after Hector, nor
Hannibal at Cannae, Roland in the woody pass of Roncesvalles, nor the
admired Lancelot, nor Tristram dreadful in the Cornish isle - not one of
these heroes was more gloriously mighty than Count Richard. Like the
war-horse of Job (the prophet and afflicted man) he stamped with his
foot and said among the captains "ha ha!" His nostrils scented the
battle from very far off; he set on like the quarrell of a bow, and
gathering force as he went, came rocking into his adversary like galley
against galley. With all this he was gentle, had a pleasant laugh. It
was good to be struck down by such a man, if it ever can be good. He
bore away opposition as he bore away the knights.'

If one half of this were true, and no man in steel could withstand him,
how could circumstance, how could she, this slim and frightened girl?
Mad indeed with love and pride, quite beside herself, she forgot for
once her tremors and qualms. On the last day she fell panting upon his
breast; and he, a great lover, kissed her before them all, and lifted
her high in his hands. 'Oyez, my lords!' he cried with a mighty voice,
'Is this a lovely wife I have won, or not?' They answered him with a
shout.

He took her a progress about his country afterwards. From Poictiers they
went to Limoges, thence westward to Angoulesme, and south to Périgueux,
to Bazas, to Cahors, Agen, even to Dax, which is close to the country of
the King of Navarre. Wherever he led her she was hailed with joy. Young
girls met her with flowers in their hands, wise men came kneeling,
offering the keys of their towns; the youth sang songs below her
balcony, the matrons made much of her and asked her searching questions.
They saw in her a very superb and handsome Duchess, Jehane of the Fair
Girdle, now acclaimed in the soft syllables of Aquitaine as Bel Vezer.
When they were at Dax the wise King of Navarre sent ambassadors
beseeching from them a visit to his city of Pampluna; but Richard would
not go. Then they came back to Poictiers and shocking news. This was of
the death of King Henry of England, the old lion, 'dead (Milo is bold to
say) in his sin.'


CHAPTER XII

HOW THEY BAYED THE OLD LION


I must report what happened to the King of England when (like a falcon
foiled in his stoop) he found himself outpaced and outgeneralled on the
moor. Shaken off by those he sought to entrap, baited by the badger he
hoped to draw, he took on something not to be shaken off, namely death,
and had drawn from him what he would ill spare, namely the breath of his
nostrils. To have done with all this eloquence, he caught a chill,
which, working on a body shattered by rages and bad living, smouldered
in him - a slow-eating fever which bit him to the bones, charred and
shrivelled him up. In the clutches of this crawling disease he joined
his forces with those of his Marshal, and marched to the relief of Le
Mans, where the French King was taking his ease. Philip fired the place
when he heard of his approach; so Henry got near enough to see the sky
throbbing with red light, and over all a cloud of smoke blacker than his
own despair. It is said that he had a fit of hard sobbing when he saw
this dreadful sight. He would not suffer the host to approach the
burning city, but took to his bed, turned his face to the tent-wall, and
refused alike housel and meat. News, and of the worst, came fast. The
French were at Châteaudun, the Countess of Brittany's men were
threatening Anjou from the north; all Touraine with Saumur and a chain
of border castles were subject to Richard his son. These things he heard
without moving from his bed or opening his eyes.

After a week of this misery two of his lords, the Marshal, namely, and
Bishop Hugh of Durham, came to his bedside and told him, 'Sire, here are
come ambassadors from France speaking of a peace. How shall it be?'

'As you will,' said the King; 'only let me sleep.' He spoke drowsily, as
if not really awake, but it is thought that he was more watchful than he
chose to appear.

They held a hasty conference, Geoffrey his bastard, the Marshal, the
Bishop: these and the French ambassadors. On the King's part they made
but one request; and Geoffrey made that. The King was dying: let him be
taken down to his castle of Chinon, not die in the fields like an old
hunting dog. This was allowed. He took no sort of notice, let them do
what they would with him, slept incessantly all the way to Chinon.

They brought him the parchments, sealed with his great seal; and he,
quite broken, set his hand to them without so much as a curse on the
robbery done his kingdom. But as the bearers were going out on tiptoe he
suddenly sat up in bed. 'Hugh,' he grumbled, 'Bishop Hugh, come thou
here.' The Bishop turned back eagerly, for those two had loved each
other in their way, and knelt by his bed.

'Read me the signatures to these damned things,' said the King; and
Hugh rejoiced that he was better, yet feared to make him worse.

'Ah, dear sire,' he began to say; but 'Read, man,' said the old King,
jerking his foot under the bedclothes. So Hugh the Bishop began to read
them over, and the sick man listened with a shaky head, for by now the
fever was running high.

'Philip the August, King of the Franks,' says the Bishop; and 'A dog's
name,' the old King muttered in his throat. 'Sanchez, Catholic King of
Navarre,' says Hugh; and 'Name of an owl,' King Henry. To the same
ground-bass he treated the themes of the illustrious Duke of Burgundy,
Henry Count of Champagne, and others of the French party. With these the
Bishop would have stopped, but the King would have the whole. 'Nay,
Hugh,' he said - and his teeth chattered as if it had been bitter



Online LibraryMaurice HewlettThe Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay → online text (page 8 of 24)