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- The Prince and the Page - 20/37 -
though with a certain stunned sense that nothing could be before the member of a proscribed family, but failure, suspicion, and ruin.
The two brothers, Edward and Edmund, with the Earl of Gloucester, and their other chief councillors, were assembled; and there were looks of deep concern on the faces of all, making Edward's more than ever like a rigid marble statue; while Edmund had evidently been weeping bitterly, though his features were full of fierce indignation. Hamlyn de Valence, and a few other members of the murdered Prince's suite, stood near in deep mourning suits.
"Richard de Montfort," said Prince Edward, looking at him with a sorrowful reproachful sternness that went to his heart, "we have sent for you to answer for yourself, on a grave charge. You have heard of that which has befallen?"
"I have heard, my Lord, of a foul crime which my soul abhors. I trust none present here think me capable of sharing in it! Whoever dares to accuse me, shall be answered by my sword!" and he glanced fiercely at Hamlyn.
"Hold!" said Edward severely, "no one is so senseless as to accuse you of taking actual part in a crime that took place beyond the sea; but there is only too much reason to believe that you have been tampered with by your brothers."
Then, as his brother Edmund made some suggestion to him, he added, "Is John de Mohun of Dunster here?"
"Yea, my Lord," said the little boy, coming forward, with a flush on his face, and a bold though wistful look, "but verily Richard is no traitor, be he who he may!"
"That is not what we wished to ask of you," said the Prince, too sad and earnest to be amused even for a moment. "Tell us whom you said, even now, you had seen in the tent you shared with him in Africa."
"I said I had seen his wraith," said John.
No smile lighted upon the Prince's features; they were as serious as those of the boy, as he commented, "His likeness--his exact likeness- -you mean."
"Ay," said the boy; "but Richard proved to me after, that it had been less tall, and was bearded likewise. So I hoped it did not bode him ill."
"Worse, I fear, than if it had in sooth been his double," said Gloucester to Prince Edmund. The Prince added the question whether this visitor had spoken; and John related the inquiry for Richard by the name of Montfort, and his own reply, which elicited a murmur of amused applause among the bystanders.
The Prince, however, continued in the same grave manner to draw from the little witness his account of Richard's injunction to secresy; and then asked about the letter-writing, of which John gave his plain account. The Prince then said, "Speak now, Hamlyn."
"This, then, I have to add, my Lord, that I, as all the world, remarked that Richard de Montfort consorted much with Sir Reginald de Ferrieres, who, as we all remember, is the son of a family deeply concerned in the Mad Parliament. By Sir Reginald, on his arrival at Castel San Giovanni, a messenger is despatched, bearing letters to the Hospital at Florence, and it is immediately after his arrival there, that the two Montforts speed from the Maremma to the unhappy and bloody Mass at Viterbo."
You hear, Richard!" said the Prince. "I bade you choose between me and your brothers. Had you believed me that you could not serve both, it had been better for you. I credit not that you incited them to the assassination; but your tidings led them to perpetrate it. I cannot retain the spy of the Montforts in my camp."
"My Lord," said Richard, at last finding space for speech, "I deny all collusion with my brothers. I have neither seen, spoken with, nor sent to them by letter nor word."
"Then to whom was this letter?" demanded the Prince.
"To Sir Robert Darcy, the Grand Prior of England," answered Richard.
A murmur of incredulous amazement was heard.
"The purport?" continued Edward.
"That, my Lord, it consorts not with my duty to tell."
"Look here, Richard," interposed Gilbert of Gloucester, "this is an unlikely tale. You can have no cause for secresy, save in connection with these brothers; and if you will point to some way of clearing yourself of being art and part in this foul act of murder, you may be sent scot free from the camp; but if you wilfully maintain this denial, what can we do but treat you as a traitor? No obstinacy! What can a lad like you have to say to good old Sir Robert Darcy, that all the world might not know?"
"My Lord of Gloucester," said Richard, "I am bound in honour not to reveal the matters between me and Sir Robert; I can only declare on the faith of a Christian gentleman that I have neither had, nor attempted to have, any dealings with either of my brothers, Guy or Simon; and if any man says I have, I will prove his falsehood on his body." And Richard flung down his glove before the Prince.
At the same moment Hamlyn de Valence sprang forward.
"Then, Richard de Montfort, I take up the gage. I give thee the lie in thy throat, and will prove on thy body that thou art a man-sworn traitor, in league with thy false brethren."
"I commit me to the judgment of God," said Richard, looking upwards.
"My Lord," said Hamlyn, "have we your permission to fight out the matter?"
"You have," said Edward, "since to that holy judgment Richard hath appealed."
But the Prince looked far from contented with the appeal. He allowed the preliminaries of place and time to be fixed without his interposition; and when the council broke up, he fixed his clear deep eyes upon Richard in a manner which seemed to the boy to upbraid him with the want of confidence, for which, however, he would not condescend to ask. Richard felt that, let the issue of the combat be what it would, he had lost that full trust on the part of the Prince, which had hitherto been his one drop of comfort; and if he were dismissed from the camp, he should be more than ever desolate, for his soul could scarce yet bring itself to grasp the horror of the crime of his brothers.
The combat could not take place for two days--waiting, on one, in order that Hamlyn might have time to rest, and recover his full strength after his voyage, and the next, because it was Ash Wednesday. In the meantime Richard was left solitary; under no restraint, but universally avoided. The judicial combat did not make him uneasy; the two youths had often measured their strength together, and though Hamlyn was the elder, Richard was the taller, and had inherited something of the Plantagenet frame, so remarkable in those two
Lords of the biting axe and beamy spear,
"wide conquering Edward" and "Lion Richard"; and each believed in the righteousness of his own cause sufficiently to have implicit confidence that the right would be shown on his side.
In fact, Richard soon understood that though Prince Edward, with a sense of the value of definite evidence far in advance of the time, and befitting the English Justinian, had only allowed the charge to be brought against him which could in a manner be substantiated, yet that the general belief went much further. Proved to be a Montfort, and to have written a letter, he was therefore convicted, by universal consent, of a league with his brothers for the revenge of their house; to have instigated the assassination at Viterbo, and to be only biding his time for the like act at Trapani. Even the Prince was deeply offended by his silence, and imputed it to no good motive; trust and affection were gone, and Richard felt no tie to retain him where he was, save his duty as a crusader. Let him fail in the combat, and the best he could look for would be to be ignominiously branded and expelled: let him gain, and he much doubted whether, though the ordeal of battle was always respected, he would regain his former position. With keen suffering and indignation, he rebelled against Edward's harshness and distrust. He--who had brought him there--who ought to have known him better! Moreover, there was the crushing sense of the guilt of his brothers; guilt most horrible in its sacrilegious audacity, and doubly shocking to the feelings of a family where the grim sanctity of the first Simon de Montfort, and the enlightened devotion of the second, formed such a contrast to the savage outrage of him who now bore their name. Richard, as with bare feet and ashes whitening his dark locks he knelt on the cold stones of the dark Norman church at Trapani, wept hot and bitter tears of humiliation over the family crimes that had brought them so low; prayed in an agony for repentance for his brothers; and for himself, some opening for expiating their sin against at least the generous royal family. "O! could I but die for my Prince, and know that he forgave and they repented!"
Only when on his way back to the camp was he sensible of the murmurs of censure at his hypocrisy in joining the penitential procession at all. Dame Idonea, in a complete suit of sackcloth, was informing her friends that she had made a vow not to wash her face till the whole adder brood of Montfort had been crushed; and that she trusted to see the beginning of justice done to-morrow. She had offered a candle to St. James to that effect, hoping to induce him to turn away his patronage from the family.
Every one, knight or squire, shrank away from Richard, if he did but look towards them; and he was seriously discomfited by the difficulty of obtaining a godfather for the combat. No one chose even to be asked, lest they might be suspected of approving of the murder of Prince Henry; and the unhappy page re-entered his tent with the most desolate sense of being abandoned by heaven and man.
Fastened upon the pole of the tent by an arrowhead, a small scroll of parchment met his eyes. He read in English--"A steed and a lance are ready for the lioncel who would rather avenge his father than lick the tyrant's feet. A guide awaits thee."
Some weeks since, this might have been a tempting summons; but now
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