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- The Prince and the Page - 4/37 -
"Do I speak jest, Gourdon?" said Edward, regarding Adam with a lion- like glance.
"'Tis all true," growled Adam.
"And," proceeded the Prince, "if thy gentle lips refuse to utter the doom merited by such deeds, what wilt thou say to hear that, not content with these traitorous deeds of his own, he fosters the treason of others? Here stands a young rebel, who would have perished at Evesham, but for the care and protection of this Gourdon- -who healed his wounds, guarded him, robbed for him, for him spurned the offer of amnesty, and finally, set on thine own husband in Alton Wood--all to shelter yonder young traitor from the hands of justice! Speak the sentence he merits, most just of judges!"
"The sentence he merits?" said Eleanor, with swimming eyes. "Oh! would that I were indeed monarch, to dispense life or death! What he merits he shall have, from my whole heart--mine own poor esteem for his fidelity, and our joint entreaties to the King for his pardon! Brave man--thou shalt come with me to seek thy pardon from King Henry!"
"Thanks, Lady," said Adam with rude courtesy; "but it were better to seek my young lord's."
"My own dear young cousin!" exclaimed Eleanor, laying aside her assumed judicial power, and again holding out her hands to him, "we deemed you slain!"
"Yes, come hither," said Edward, "my jailer at Hereford--the rebel who drew his maiden sword against his King and uncle--the outlaw who would try whether Leicester fits as well as Huntingdon with a bandit life! What hast thou to say for thyself, Richard de Montfort?"
"That my fate, be it what it may, must not stand in the way of Adam's pardon!" said Richard, standing still, without response to the Princess's invitation. "My Lord, you have spoken much of his noble devotion to me for my father's sake; but you know not the half of what he has done and dared for me. Oh! plead for him, Lady!"
"Plead for him!" said Eleanor: "that will I do with all my heart; and well do I know that the good old King will weep with gratitude to him for having preserved the life of his young nephew. Yes, Richard, oft have we grieved for thee, my husband's kind young companion in his captivity, and mourned that no tidings could be gained of thee!"
It was not Richard who replied to this winning address. He stood flushed, irresolute, with eyes resolutely cast down, as if to avoid seeing the Princess's sweet face.
Adam, however, spoke: "Then, Lady, I am indeed beholden to you; provided that the boy is safe."
"He is safe," said Prince Edward. "His age is protection sufficient.--My young cousin, thou art no outlaw: thine uncle will welcome thee gladly; and a career is open to thee where thou mayst redeem the honour of thy name."
The colour came with deeper crimson to the boy's cheek, as he answered in a choked voice, "My father's name needs no redemption!"
Simultaneously a pleading interjection from the Princess, and a warning growl from De Gourdon, admonished Richard that he was on perilous ground; but the Prince responded in a tone of deep feeling, "Well said, Richard: the term does not befit that worthy name. I should have said that I would fain help thee to maintain its honour. My page once, wilt thou be so again? and one day my knight--my trusty baron?"
"How can I?" said Richard, still in the same undertone, subdued but determined: "it was you who slew him and my brothers!"
"Nay, nay!" exclaimed the Princess: "the poor boy thinks all his kindred are slain!"
"And they are not!" cried Richard, raising his face with sudden animation. "They are safe?"
"Thy brother Henry died with--with the Earl," said Eleanor; "but all the rest are safe, and in France."
"And my mother and sister?" asked Richard.
"They are likewise abroad," said the Prince. "And, Richard, thou art free to join them if thou wilt. But listen first to me. We tarry yet two days at this forest lodge: remain with us for that space-- thy name and rank unknown if thou wilt--and if thou shalt still look on me as guilty of thy father's death, and not as a loving kinsman, who honoured him deeply, I will send thee safely to the coast, with letters to my uncle, the King of France."
Richard raised his head with a searching glance, to see whether this were invitation or command.
"Thou art my captive," said Eleanor softly, coming towards him with a young matron's caressing manner to a boy whom she would win and encourage.
"Not captive, but guest," said Edward; but Richard perceived in the tones that no choice was left him, as far as these two days were concerned.
CHAPTER III--ALTON LODGE
"Ever were his sons hawtayn, And bold for their vilanye; Bothe to knight and sweyn Did they vilanye." Old Ballad of Simon de Montforte.
For the first time for many a month, Richard de Montfort lay down to sleep in a pallet bed, instead of a couch of heather; but his heart was ill at ease. He was the fourth son of the great Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort; and for the earlier years of his life, he had been under the careful training of the excellent chaplain, Adam de Marisco, a pupil and disciple of the great Robert Grostete, Bishop of Lincoln. His elder brothers had early left this wholesome control; pushed forward by the sad circumstances that finally drove their father to take up arms against the King, and strangers to the noble temper that actuated him in his championship of the English people, they became mere lawless rebels--fiercely profiting by his elevation, not for the good of the people, but for their own gratification.
Richard had been still a mere boy under constant control, and being intelligent, spirited, and docile, had been an especial favourite with his father. To him the great Earl had been the model of all that was admirable, wise, and noble; deeply religious, just, and charitable, and perfect in all the arts of chivalry and accomplishments of peace--a tender and indulgent father, and a firm and wise head of a household--he had been ardently loved and looked up to by the young son, who had perhaps more in common with him by nature than any other of the family.
Wrongs and injuries had been heaped upon Montfort by the weak and fickle King, who would far better have understood him, if, like the selfish kinsmen who encircled the throne, he had struggled for his own advantage, and not for the maintenance of the Great Charter. Richard was too young to remember the early days when his elder brothers had been companions, almost on equal terms, to their first cousins, the King's sons; his whole impression of his parents' relations with the court was of injustice and perfidy from the King and his counsellors, vehemently blamed by his mother and brothers, but sometimes palliated by his father, who almost always, even at the worst, pleaded the King's helplessness, and Prince Edward's honourable intentions. Understanding little of the rights of the case, Richard only saw his father as the maintainer of the laws, and defender of the oppressed against covenant breakers; and when the appeal to arms was at length made, he saw the white cross assumed by his father and brothers, in full belief that the war in defence of Magna Carta was indeed as sacred as a crusade, and he had earnestly entreated to be allowed to bear arms; but he had been deemed as yet too young, and thus had had no share in the victory of Lewes, save the full triumph in it that was felt by all at Kenilworth. Afterwards, when sent to be Prince Edward's page at Hereford, he was prepared to regard his royal cousin as a ferocious enemy, and was much taken by surprise to find him a graceful courtly knight, peculiarly gentle in manner, loving music, romances, and all chivalrous accomplishments; and far from the pride and haughtiness that had been the theme of all the vassals who assembled at Kenilworth, he was gracious to all, and distinguished his young page by treating him as a kinsman and favourite companion; showing him indeed far more consideration than ever he had received from his unruly turbulent brothers.
When Edward had effected his escape, and had joined the Mortimers and Clares, Richard had gone home, where his expressions of affection for the Prince were listened to by his father, indeed, with a well- pleased though melancholy smile, and an augury that one day his brave godson would shake off the old King's evil counsellors, and show himself in his true and noble colouring. His brothers, however, laughed and chid any word about the Prince's kindness. Edward's flattery and seduction, they declared, had won the young De Clare from their cause. And in vain did their father assure them that they had lost the alliance of the house of Gloucester solely by their own over-bearing injustice--a tyranny worse than had been exercised under the name of the King.
With Henry of Winchester in their hands, however, theirs seemed the loyal cause; and Richard had, by the influence of his elders, been made ashamed of his regard for the Prince, and looked upon it as a treacherous rebellion, when Edward mustered his forces, and fell upon Leicester and his followers. His father had mournfully yielded to the boy's entreaty to remain with him, instead of being sent away with his mother and the younger ones for security: an honourable death, said the Earl, might be better for him than an outlawed and proscribed life. And thus Richard had heard his father's exclamation on marking the well-ordered advance of the Royalists: "They have learnt this style from me. Now, God have mercy on our souls, for our bodies are the Prince's!"
And when Henry, his eldest son, spoke words of confidence, entreating him not to despair, he had answered, "I do not, my son; but your presumption, and the pride of thy brothers, have brought me to this pass. I firmly believe I shall die for the cause of God and
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