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- The Prince and the Page - 5/37 -
Richard had shared his father's last Communion, received his last blessing, and had stood beside him in the desperate ring, which in true English fashion died on the field of battle, but never was driven from it. Since that time, the boy's life had been a wandering amid outlaws and peasants--all in one mind of bitter hatred to the court for its cruel vexations and oppressions, and of intense love and regret for their champion, Sir Simon the Righteous, of whose beneficence tales were everywhere told, rising at every step into greater wonder, until at length they were enhanced into miracles, wrought by his severed head and hands. Each day had made the boy prouder of his father's memory, more deeply incensed against the Court party that had brought about his fall; and keen and bitter were his feelings at finding himself in the hands of the Prince himself. He chafed all the more at feeling the ascendency which Edward's lofty demeanour and personal kindness had formerly exerted over him, reviving again by force of habit; he hated himself for not having at once challenged his father's murderer; so as, if he could not do more, to have died by his hand; and he despised himself the more, for knowing that all he could have said would have been good-naturedly put down by the Prince; all he could have done would have been but like a gnat's efforts against that mighty strength. Then how despicable it was to be sensible, in spite of himself, that this atmosphere of courtly refinement was far more natural to him--the son of a Provencal noble, and of a princess mother--than the rude forest life he had lately led. The greenwood liberty had its charms; and he had truly loved Adam de Gourdon; but the soft tones and refined accents were like a note of home to him; and though he had never seen the Princess before--she having been sent to the Court of St. Louis during the troubles--yet the whole of the interview gave him an inexplicable sense of being again among kindred and friends. He told himself that it was base, resolved that he would show himself determined to cast in his lot with his exiled brethren, and made up his mind to maintain a dignified silence during these two days, and at the end of them to leave with the Prince a challenge, to be fought out when he should have attained manly strength and skill in arms.
In pursuance of this resolution, he appeared at the morning mass and meal still grave and silent, and especially avoiding young Hamlyn de Valence, who, as the son of one of the half brothers of Henry III., stood in the same relationship to Prince Edward and to Richard, whose mother was the sister of King Henry. Probably Hamlyn had had a hint from the Prince, for though he regarded young Montfort with no friendly eyes, he yielded him an equality of precedence, which hardly consorted with Richard's rude forest garments.
The chase was the order of the day. The Prince rode forth with a boar spear to hunt one of these monsters of the wood, of which vague reports had reached him, unconfirmed, till Adam de Gourdon had undertaken to show him the creature's lair. He had proposed to Richard to join the hunt; but the boy, firm to his resolution of accepting no favour from him, that could be helped, had refused as curtly as he could; and then, not without a feeling of disappointment, had stood holding Leonillo in, as the gallant train of hunters rode down the woodland glade, and he figured to himself the brave sport in which they would soon be engaged.
The most part of the day was spent by him in lying under a tree, with his dog by his side, thinking over the scenes of his earlier life, which had passed by his childish mind like those of a drama, in which he had no part nor comprehension, but which now, with clearer perceptions, he strove to recall and explain to himself. Ever his father's stately figure was the centre of his recollections, whether receiving tidings of infractions of engagements, taking prompt measures for action, or striving to repress the violence of his sons and partizans, or it might be gazing on his younger boys with sad anxiety. Richard well remembered his saying, when he heard that his sons, Simon and Guy, had been plundering the merchant ships in the Channel: "Alas! alas! when I was more loyal to the law than to the Crown, I little deemed that I was rearing a brood who would scorn all law and loyalty!"
And well too did Richard recollect that when the proposal had been made that he should become the attendant of the Prince at Hereford, his father had told him that here he would see the mirror of all that was knightly and virtuous; and had added, on the loud outcry of the more prejudiced brothers: "It is only the truth. Were it not that the King's folly and his perjured counsellors had come between my nephew Edward and his better self, we should have in him a sovereign who might fitly be reckoned as a tenth worthy. It is his very duty to a misruled father that has ranged him against us."
"Yet," thought Richard, "on the man who thus thought and spoke of him the Prince could make savage warfare; nay, offer his senseless corpse foul despite. How can I tarry these two days in such keeping? I had rather--if he will still keep me--be a captive in his lowest dungeon, than eat of his bread as a guest! By our Lady, I will tell him so to his face! I will none of his favours! Alone I will go to the coast- -alone make my way to Simon and Guy, with no letters to the French king! All kings, however saintly they may be called, are in league, and make common cause; as said my poor brother Henry, when the Mise of Lewes was to be laid before this Frenchman! I will none of them! Pshaw! is this the Princess coming? I trust she will not see me. I want none of her fair words."
He had prepared himself to be ungracious; but his courtly breeding was too much of an instinct with him for him not to rise, doff his cap, and stand aside, as Eleanor of Castille slowly moved towards the woodland path, with her graceful Spanish step, followed, but at some distance, by two of her women. She turned as she was passing him, and smiled with a sweet radiance that would have won him instantly, had he not heard his elder brothers sneer at the cheap coin of royal smiles. He only bowed; but Leonillo was more accessible, and started forward to pay his homage of dignified blandishments to the queenly sweetness that pleased his canine appreciation. Richard was forced to step forth, call him in, and make his excuses; but the Princess responded by praises of the noble animal, and caresses, to which Leonillo replied with a grand gratitude, that showed him as nobly bred as his young master.
"Thou art a gallant creature," said Eleanor, her hand upon the proud head; "and no doubt as faithful as beautiful!"
"Faithful to the death, Lady," replied Richard warmly.
"He is thine own, I trow," said the Princess,--"not thy groom's? I remember, that when thy brave father brought my lord and me back from our bridal at Burgos, he procured two hounds in the Pyrenees, of meseems, such a breed."
"True, Lady; they were the parents of my Leonillo," said Richard, gratified, in spite of himself.
"How well I remember," continued Eleanor, "that first sight of the great Earl. My brothers had teased me for going so far north, and told me the English were mere rude islanders--boorish, and unlettered; but, child as I was, scarce eleven years old, I could perceive the nobleness of the Earl. 'If all thy new subjects be like him,' said my brother to me, 'thou wilt reign over a race of kings.' And how good he was to me when I wept at leaving my home and friends! How he framed his tongue to speak my own Castillian to me; how he comforted me, when the Queen, my mother-in-law, required more dignity of me than I yet knew how to assume; and how he chid my boy bridegroom for showing scant regard for his girl bride!" said Eleanor, smiling at the recollection, as the beloved wife of eleven years could well afford to do. "I mind me well that he found me weeping, because my Edward had tied the scarf I gave him on the neck of one of those very dogs, and the fatherly counsel he gave me. Ah, Leonillo, thy wise wistful face brings back many thoughts to my mind! I am glad I may honour thee for fidelity!"
"Indeed you may, Lady," said Richard. "It was he that above all saved my life."
"Prithee let me hear," said the Princess, who had already so moved on, while herself speaking, as to draw Richard into walking with her along the path that had been cleared under the beech trees. "We have so much longed to know thy fate."
"I cannot tell you much, Lady," returned Richard. "The last thing I recollect on that dreadful day was, that my father asked for quarter- -for us--for my brother Henry and me. We heard the reply: 'No quarter for traitors!' and Henry fell before us a dead man. My father shouted, 'By the arm of St. James, it is time for me to die!' I saw him, with his sword in both hands, cut down a wild Welshman who was rushing on me. Then I saw no more, till in the moonlight I was awakened by this dog's cool tongue licking the blood from my face, and heard his low whining over me."
"Good dog, good dog!" murmured Eleanor, caressing the animal. "And thou, Richard, thou wert sorely wounded?"
"Sorely," said Richard; "my side had been pierced with a lance, a Welsh two-handed sword had broken through my helmet, and well-nigh cleft my skull; and the men-at-arms, riding over me I suppose, must have broken my leg, for I could not move: and oh! I felt it hard that I had yet to die. Then, Lady, came lights and murmuring voices. They were Mortimer's plundering Welsh robbers. I heard their wild gibbering tongue; and I knew how it would be with me, should they see the white cross on my breast. But, Lady, Leonillo stood over me. His lion bark chased them aside; and when one bolder than the rest came near the mound where we lay, good Leonillo flew at his savage throat. I heard the struggle as I lay--the growls of the dog, the howls of the man; and then they were cut short. And next I heard de Gourdon's gruff voice commending the good hound, whose note had led him to the spot, from the woods, where he was hiding after the battle. The faithful beast sprang from him, and in a moment more had led him to me. Then--ah, then, Lady! when Adam had freed me from my broken helm, and lifted me in his arms, what a sight had I! Oh, what a field that harvest moon shone upon! how thickly heaped was that little mound! And there was my father's face up-turned in the white moonlight! O Lady, never in hall or bower could it have been so peaceful, or so majestic! I bade Adam lay me down by his side, and keep guard through the night with Leonillo; but he said that the plunderers would come in numbers too great for him, and that he must care for the living rather than the dead; and withstand him as I would, he bore me away. O Lady, Lady, foul wrong was done when we were gone!"
"Think not on that," said Eleanor; "it bitterly grieved my lord that so it should have been. Thou knowest, I hope, that he was the chief mourner when those honoured limbs were laid in the holy ground at Evesham Abbey. They told me, who saw him that day, that his weeping for his godfather and his Cousin Henry overcame all joy in his victory. And I can assure thee, dear Richard, that when, three months after, I came to him at Canterbury, just after he had been with thy mother at Dover, even then he was sad and mournful. He said that the wisest and best baron in England had been made a rebel of, and then slain; and he was full of sorrow for thee, only then
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