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THE PRINCE AND THE PAGE
by Charlotte M. Yonge
In these days of exactness even a child's historical romance must point to what the French term its pieces justficatives. We own that ours do not lie very deep. The picture of Simon de Montfort drawn by his wife's own household books, as quoted by Mrs. Everett Green in her Lives of the Princesses, and that of Edward I. in Carte's History, and more recently in the Greatest of the Plantagenets, furnished the two chief influences of the story. The household accounts show that Earl Simon and Eleanor of England had five sons. Henry fell with his father at Evesham. Simon and Guy deeply injured his cause by their violence, and after holding out Kenilworth against the Prince, retired to the Continent, where they sacrilegiously murdered Henry, son of the King of the Romans--a crime so much abhorred in Italy that Dante represents himself as meeting them in torments in the Inferno, not however before Guy had become the founder of the family of the Counts of Monforte in the Maremma. Richard, the fourth son, appears in the household books as possessing dogs, and having garments bought for him; but his history has not been traced after his mother left England. The youngest son, Amaury, obtained the hereditary French possessions of the family, and continued the line of Montfort as a French subject. Eleanor, the only daughter, called the Demoiselle de Montfort, married, as is well known, the last native prince of Wales, and died after a few years.
The adventure of Edward with the outlaw of Alton Wood is one of the stock anecdotes of history, and many years ago the romance of the encounter led the author to begin a tale upon it, in which the outlaw became the protector of one of the proscribed family of Montfort. The commencement was placed in one of the manuscript magazines which are so often the amusement of a circle of friends. It was not particularly correct in its details, and the hero bore the peculiarly improbable name of Wilfred (by which he has since appeared in the Monthly Packet). The story slept for many years in MS., until further reading and thought had brought stronger interest in the period, and for better or for worse it was taken in hand again. Joinville, together with the authorities quoted by Sismondi, assisted in picturing the arrival of the English after the death of St. Louis, and the murder of Henry of Almayne is related in all crusading histories; but for Simon's further career, and for his implication in the attempt on Edward's life at Acre, the author is alone responsible, taking refuge in the entire uncertainty that prevails as to the real originator of the crime, and perhaps an apology is likewise due to Dante for having reversed his doom.
For the latter part of the story, the old ballad of The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, gives the framework. That ballad is believed to be Elizabethan in date, and the manners therein certainly are scarcely accordant with the real thirteenth century, and still less with our notions of the days of chivalry. Some liberties therefore have been taken with it, the chief of them being that Bessee is not permitted to go forth to seek her fortune in the inn at Romford, and the readers are entreated to believe that the alteration was made by the traditions which repeated Henry de Montfort's song.
It was the late Hugh Millar who alleged that the huge stone under which Edward sleeps in Westminster Abbey agrees in structure with no rocks nearer than those whence the mighty stones of the Temple at Jerusalem were hewn, and there is no doubt that earth and stones were frequently brought by crusaders from the Holy Land with a view to the hallowing of their own tombs.
The author is well aware that this tale has all the incorrectnesses and inconsistencies that are sure to attend a historical tale; but the dream that has been pleasant to dream may be pleasant to listen to; and there can be no doubt that, in spite of all inevitable faults, this style of composition does tend to fix young people's interest and attention on the scenes it treats of, and to vivify the characters it describes; and if this sketch at all tends to prepare young people's minds to look with sympathy and appreciation on any of the great characters of our early annals, it will have done at least one work.
December 12th, 1865.
CHAPTER I--THE STATELY HUNTER
"'Now who are thou of the darksome brow Who wanderest here so free?' "'Oh, I'm one that will walk the green green woods, Nor ever ask leave of thee.'"--S. M.
A fine evening--six centuries ago--shed a bright parting light over Alton Wood, illuminating the gray lichens that clung to the rugged trunks of the old oak trees, and shining on the smoother bark of the graceful beech, with that sidelong light that, towards evening, gives an especial charm to woodland scenery. The long shadows lay across an open green glade, narrowing towards one end, where a path, nearly lost amid dwarf furze, crested heather, and soft bent-grass, led towards a hut, rudely constructed of sods of turf and branches of trees, whose gray crackling foliage contrasted with the fresh verdure around. There was no endeavour at a window, nor chimney; but the door of wattled boughs was carefully secured by a long twisted withe.
A halbert, a broken arrow, a deer-skin pegged out on the ground to dry, a bundle of faggots, a bare and blackened patch of grass, strewn with wood ashes, were tokens of recent habitation, though the reiterations of the nightingale, the deep tones of the blackbird and the hum of insects, were the only sounds that broke the stillness.
Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a clear, loud, ringing whistle, repeated at brief intervals and now and then exchanged for the call--"Leonillo! Leon!" A footstep approached, rapidly overtaken and passed by the rushing gallop of a large animal; and there broke on the scene a large tawny hound, prancing, bounding, and turning round joyfully, pawing the air, and wagging his tail, in welcome to the figure who followed him.
This was a youth thirteen years old, wearing such a dress as was usual with foresters--namely, a garment of home-spun undyed wool, reaching to the knee, and there met by buskins of deer-skin, with the dappled hair outside; but the belt which crossed one shoulder was clasped with gold, and sustained a dagger, whose hilt and sheath were of exquisite workmanship. The cap on his head was of gray rabbit- skin, but a heron's plume waved in it; the dark curling locks beneath were carefully arranged; and the port of his head and shoulders, the mould of his limbs, the cast of his features, and the fairness of his complexion, made his appearance ill accord with the homeliness of his garb. In one hand he carried a bow over his shoulder; in the other he held by the ears a couple of dead rabbits, with which he playfully tantalized the dog, holding them to his nose, and then lifting them high aloft, while the hound, perfectly entering into the sport, leapt high after them with open mouth, and pretended to seize them, then bounded and careered round his young master with gay short barks, till both were out of breath; and the boy, flinging the rabbits on the turf, threw himself down on it, with one arm upon the neck of the panting dog, whose great gasps, like a sobbing of laughter, heaved his whole frame.
"Ay, good Leonillo, take your rest!" said the boy: "we have done yeoman's service to-day, and shown ourselves fit to earn our own livelihood! We are outlaws now, my lion of the Pyrenees; and you at least lead a merrier life than in the castle halls, when we hunted for sport, and not for sustenance! Well-a-day, my Leon!"--as the creature closed his mouth, and looked wistfully up at him with almost human sympathy and intelligence--"would that we knew where are all that were once wont to go with us to the chase! But for them, I would be well content to be a bold forester all my days! Better so, than to be ever vexed and crossed in every design for the country's weal--distrusted above--betrayed beneath! Alack! alack! my noble father, why wert thou wrecked in every hope--in every aim!"
These murmurings were broken off as Leonillo suddenly crested his head, and changed his expression of repose for one of intense listening.
"Already!" exclaimed the boy, springing to his feet, as Leonillo bounded forward to meet a stout hardy forester, who was advancing from the opposite end of the glade. This was a man of the largest and most sinewy mould, his face tanned by sun and wind to a uniform hard ruddy brown, and his shaggy black hair untrimmed, as well as his dark bristly beard. His jerkin was of rough leather, crossed by a belt, sustaining sword and dagger; a bow and arrows were at his back; a huge quarter-staff in his hand; and his whole aspect was that of a ferocious outlaw, whose hand was against every man.
But the youth started towards him gleefully, as if the very sight of him had dispelled all melancholy musings, and shouted merrily, "Welcome--welcome, Adam! Why so early home? Have the Alton boors turned surly? or are the King's prickers abroad, and the neighbourhood unwholesome for bold clerks of St. Nicholas?"
"Worse!" was the gruff mutter in reply. "Down, Leon: I am in no mood for thy freaks!"
"What is it, Adam? Have the keepers carried their complaints to the King, of the venison we have consumed, with small thanks to him?"
"Prince Edward is at Alton! What think you of that, Sir? Come to seek through copse and brake for the arrant deer-stealer and outlaw, and all his gang!"
"Why, there's preferment for you!" said the boy, laughing. "High game for the heir of the throne! And his gang! Hold up your head, Leonillo: you and I come in for a share of the honour!"
"Hold up your head!" said the outlaw bitterly. "You may chance to hold it as high as your father's is, for all your gibes and jests, my young Lord, if the Longshanks gets a hold of you, which our Lady forefend."
"Nay, I think better of my Cousin Longshanks. I loved him well when I was his page at Hereford: he was tenderer to me than ever my brothers were; and I scarce think he would hang, draw, and quarter me now."
"You may try, if you are not the better guided."
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