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- The Prince and the Page - 30/37 -
"My father--my father!" he said. "He forgave--he hated blood; Simon, didst but know--"
"I see," said Simon impatiently, "that Heaven and earth alike are set against my purpose. Fear not for his days, Richard, they are safe from me, and here is my hand upon it."
The tone was sullen and grudging, and Richard looked scarcely comforted; but the Prince was in haste that he should be succoured at once, and even while receiving Simon's unwilling hand, said, "We lose time. Speed near enough to the Spital to be heard, and shout for aid. Then seek thine own safety. I will say no more of thy share in this matter."
Simon lingered one moment. "Boy," he said, "I told thee thou wast over like him. Live, live if thou canst! Alas! I had thought to make surer work this time; but thou dost pardon me the mischance?"
"More than pardon--thank thee--since he is safe," whispered Richard, and as Simon bent over him the boy crossed his brow, and returned a look of absolute joy.
Simon sped away; and the Prince, when left alone with Richard, put no restraint upon the warmth of his feelings, and his tears fell fast and freely.
"Boy, boy," he said; "I little thought thou wast to bear what was meant for me!" And then, with tenderness that would have seemed foreign to his nature, he inquired into the pain that Richard was suffering, tried to make his position more easy, and lamented that he could not venture to draw out the weapon until the leeches should come.
"It has been my best hope," said Richard; "and now that it should have been thus. With your goodness I have nothing--nothing to wish. Sir Raynald will be here--I have only my charge for Henry to give him--and poor Leonillo!"
"I will bear thy charges to Henry," said the Prince. "Nor shall he think thou didst betray his secret. I will watch over him so far as he will let me, and do all I may for his child. Yet it may be thou wilt still return. I hear the stir in the House. They will be here anon. Thou must live, Richard, my friend, where I have few friends. I thought to have knighted thee, boy, when thou hadst won fame. Oh, would that I had shown thee more of my love while it was time!"
"All, all I hoped or longed for I have," murmured Richard. "If you see Henry, my Lord, bear him my greetings--and to poor Adam--yea, and my mother. Oh! would that I could make them all know your kindness and my joy--that it should be thus!"
By this time the whole Hospital was astir, and the knights and lay brethren came flocking out in consternation and dread of finding their royal host himself murdered within their cloisters.
Great was the confusion, and eager the search for the assassin, while others crowded round the Prince, who still would not give up his post of supporting the sufferer in his arms, while a few moments' examination convinced the experienced infirmarers that the wound was mortal, and that the extraction of the dagger would but hasten death, which could not be other than very near. Indeed, Richard already spoke with such difficulty that only the Prince's ear could detect his entreaty that Raynald Ferrers might act as his priest. Raynald was already near, only withheld by the crowd of knights of higher degree who had thronged before him. Richard looked up to him with a face that in all its mortal agony seemed to ask congratulation. The power of making confession was gone, and when Raynald would have offered to take him in his own arms, both he and the Prince showed disinclination to the move. So thus they still remained, while the young knightly priest spoke the words of Absolution, and then, across the solemn darkness of the garden, amid the light of tapers, the Host was borne from the Chapel, while the low subdued chant of the brethren swelled up through the night air. Poor little John of Dunster, with his arms round Leonillo's neck, to keep him from disturbing his master, knelt, sobbing as though his heart would break, but trying to stifle the sounds as the priest's voice came grave and full on the silent air, responded to by the gathered tones of the brethren: the fountain bubbled on, and the wakening birds began to stir in the trees.
Once more Richard opened his eyes, looked up at his Prince, and smiled. That smile remained while Edward kissed his brow with fervour, laid him down on the cushions, and rising to his feet, bowed his head to the Grand Master, but did not even strive to speak, and gravely walked across the cloister, with a slow though steady step, to his own chamber. No one saw him again till the sun was high, when, with looks as composed as ever, he went forth to lay his page's head in the grave, and thence visit and calm the fears of his Princess.
Search had everywhere been made for the assassin, but no traces of him were found. Only the strange pilgrim had vanished in the confusion; and the Prince never contradicted the Grand Master in his indignation that a Moslem hound should have assumed such a disguise.
CHAPTER XIII--THE BEGGAR AND THE PRINCE
"This favour only, that thou would'st stand out of my sunshine." DIOGENES.
It was the last week of August, 1274, the morrow of the most splendid coronation that England had ever beheld, either for the personal qualities and appearance of the sovereigns, or for the magnificence of the adornments, and the bounteous feasting of multitudes.
A whole fortnight of entertainments to rich and poor had been somewhat exhausting, even to the guests; and the suburbs of London wore an unusually sleepy and quiescent appearance in the hot beams of the August sun. Bethnal Green lay very silent, parched, and weary, not even enlivened by its usual gabbling flocks of geese, all of whom, poor things! except the patriarchal gander, and one or two of his ladies, had gone to the festival--but to return no more!
One of those who had been in the midst of the pageant, and had returned unscathed, was Blind Hal of Bethnal Green. Many a coin had gone into his scrip--uncontested king of the beggars as he was; many a savoury morsel had been conveyed to him and his child by his admiring brethren of the wallet; with many a gibing scoff had he driven from the field presuming mendicants, not of his own fraternity; and with half-bitter, half-amused remarks, had he listened to the rapturous descriptions of the splendours of king, queen, and their noble suite. And pretty Bessee had clung fast to his hand, and discreetly guided him through every maze of the crowd, with the strange dexterity of a child bred up in throngs. And now tired out with the long-continued festivities, the beggar sat in front of his hut, basking in the sun, and more than half asleep; while Bessee, her lap full of heather-blossoms and long bents of grass, was endeavouring to weave herself chains, bracelets, and coronals, in imitation of those which had recently dazzled her eyes.
She had just encircled her dark auburn locks with a garland of purple heather, studded here and there with white or gold, when, starting upon her little bare but delicately clean pink feet, she laid her hand on her father's lap, and said, "Father, hark! I see two of the good red monks coming!"
"Well, child; and wherefore waken me? They are after their own affairs, I trow. Moreover, I hear no horses' feet."
"They are not riding," said Bessee; "and they are walking this way. They have a dog, too! Oh, such a gallant glorious dog, father! Ah," cried she joyfully, "'tis the good Father Grand Prior!" and she was about to start forward, but the blind man's ear could now distinguish the foot-falls; and holding her fast, he almost gasped--"And the other, child--who is he?"
"No knight at our Spital! A stranger, father. So tall, so tall! His mantle hardly reaches his knee his robe leaves his ankles bare. O father, they are coming. Let me go to meet dear good Father Robert! But what--Oh, is the fit coming? Father Robert will stop it!"
"Hush thy prattle," said the beggar, clutching her fast, and listening as one all ear; and by this time the two knights were close at hand, the taller holding the dog, straining in a leash, while the good Grand Prior spoke. "How fares it with thee, friend? And thou, my pretty one? No mishaps among the throng?"
"None," returned Hal; "though the King and his suite DID let loose five hundred chargers in the crowd at their dismounting, to trample down helpless folk, and be caught by rogues. Largesse they called it! Fair and convenient largesse--easily providing for those that received it!"
"No harm was done," briefly but sharply exclaimed the strange knight; and the blind man, who had, as little Bessee at least perceived, been turning his acute ear in that direction all the time he had been speaking, now let his features light up with sudden perception.
But Sir Robert Darcy, thinking that he only now became aware of the stranger's presence, said, "A knight is here from the East, who brings thee tidings, my son."
Sir Robert would have said more, but the beggar standing up, cut him short, by saying, "So, cousin, you have yet to learn the vanity of disguises and feignings towards a blind man."
"Nay, fair cousin," was the answer, "my feigning was not towards you; but I doubted me whether you would have the world see me visit you in my proper character. Will not you give me a hand, Henry?"
"First say to me," said Henry, embracing with his maimed arm his staff, planted in front of him defiantly, and still holding tight his little daughter in his hand, "what brings you here to break into the peace of the poor remnant of a man you have left?"
"I come," said Edward patiently, "to fulfil my last--my parting promise, to one who loved us both--and gave his life for me."
"Loved you, ay! and well enough to betray me to you!" said Henry bitterly.
"No, Henry de Montfort, ten thousand times no!" said Edward. "I would maintain in the lists the honour and loyalty of my Richard towards you and me and all others. His faithfulness to you brought him into peril of death and disgrace in the wretched matter of poor
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