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- The Prince and the Page - 6/37 -

understanding from thy mother that thou hadst been in the battle at all, and that nothing had been heard of thee. He said thou wert the most like to thy father of all his sons; and truly I knew thee at once by thine eyes, Richard. Where wast thou all these months?"

"At first," said Richard, "I was in an anchoret's cell, in the wall of a church. So please you, Madame, I must not name names; but when Adam, bearing me faint and well-nigh dying on his back, saw the twinkling light in the churchyard, he knocked, and entreated aid. The good anchoret pitied my need at first, and when he learnt my name, he gave me shelter for my father's sake, the friend of all religious men. I lay on his little bed, in the chamber in the wall, till I could again walk. Meanwhile, Adam watched in the woods at hand, and from time to time came at night to see how I fared, and bring me tidings. Simon was still holding out Kenilworth, and we hoped to join him there; but when we set forth I was still lame, and too feeble to go far in a day; and we fell in with--within short, with a band of robbers, who detained us, half as guests, half as captives. They needed Adam's stout arm; and there was a shrewd, gray, tough old fellow, who had been in Robin Hood's band, and was looked up to as a sort of prince among them, who was bent on making us one with them. Lady, you would smile to hear how the old man used to sit by me as I lay on the rushes, and talk of outlawry, as Father Adam de Marisco used to talk of learning--as a good and noble science, decaying for want of spirit and valour in these days. It was all laziness, he said; barons and princes must needs have their wars, and use up all the stout men that were fit to bend a bow in a thicket. If the Prince went on at this rate, he said, there would soon be not an honest outlaw to be found in England! But he was a kind old man, and very good to me; and he taught me how to shoot with the long bow better than ever our master at Odiham could. However, I could not brook the spoiler's life, and the band did not trust me; so, as we found that Kenilworth had fallen, as soon as my strength had returned to me, we stole away from the outlaws, and came southwards, hoping to find my mother at Odiham. Hearing that Odiham too was gone from us, we have lurked in Alton Wood till means should serve us for reaching the coast."

"Till thou hast found the friend who has longed for thee, and sought for thee," replied Eleanor. "What didst thou do, young Richard, to win my husband's heart so entirely in his captivity?"

"I know not, Lady, why he should take thought for me," bluntly said Richard, with a return of the sensation of being coaxed and talked over.

"Methinks I can tell thee one cause," returned the Princess. "Was there not a time when thou didst overhear him concerting with Thomas de Clare the plan of an escape, and thou didst warn them that thou wast at hand; ay, and yet didst send notice to thy father?"

"Yes," answered Richard with surprise; "I could do no other."

"Even so," said Eleanor. "And thus didst thou win the esteem of thy kinsman. 'The stripling is loyal and trustworthy,' he has said to me; 'pity that such a heart should be pierced in an inglorious field. Would that I could find him, and strive to return to him something of what his father's care hath wrought for me.' Richard, trust me, it would be a real joy and lightening of his grief to have thee with him."

"Grief, Madame!" repeated Richard. "I little thought he grieved for my father, who, but for him, would be--" and a sob checked him, as the contrast rose before him of the great Earl and beautiful Countess presiding over their large family and princely household, and the scattered ruined state of all at present.

"He shall answer that question himself," said Eleanor. "See, here he comes to meet us by the beechwood alley."

And in fact, a form, well suited to its setting within the stately aisles of the beech trees, was pacing towards them. The chase had ended, and hearing that his wife had walked forth into the wood, the Prince had come by another path to meet her, and his rare and beautiful smile shone out as he saw who was her companion. "Art making friends with my young cousin?" he said affectionately.

"I would fain do so," replied Eleanor; "but alas, my Lord! he feels that there is a long dark reckoning behind, that stands in the way of our friendship."

Richard looked down, and did not speak. The Princess had put his thought into words.

"Richard," said the Prince, "I feel the same. It is for that very cause that I seek to have thee with me. Hear me. Thou art grown older, and hast seen man's work and man's sorrows, since I left thee on the hill-side at Hereford. Thou canst see, perchance, that a question hath two sides--though it is not given to all men to do so. Hearken then.--Thy father was the greatest man I have known--nay, but for the thought of my uncle of France, I should say the holiest. He was my teacher in all knightly doings, and in all kingly thoughts, such as I pray may be with me through life. It was from him I learnt that this royal, this noble power, is not given to exalt ourselves, but as a trust for the welfare of others. It was the spring of action that was with him through life."

"It was," murmured Richard, calling to mind many a saying of his father's.

"And fain would he have impressed it on all around," added Edward: "but there were others who deemed that kingly power was but a means of enjoyment, and that restraint was an outrage on the crown. They drew one way, the Earl drew the other, and, as his noble nature prompted him, made common cause with the injured. It skills not to go through the past. Those whom he joined had selfish aims, and pushed him on; and as the crown had been led to invade the rights of the vassals, so the vassals invaded my father's rights. Oaths were extorted, though both sides knew they could never be observed; and between violences, now on one side, now on the other, the right course could scarce be kept. The Earl imagined that, with my father in his hands, removed from all other influences, he could give England the happy days they talk of her having enjoyed under my patron St. Edward; but, as thou knowest, Richard, the authority he held, being unlawful, was unregarded, and its worst transgressors came out of his own bosom. He could not enforce the terms on which I had yielded myself--he could not even prevent my father from being a mere captive; and for the English folk, their miseries were but multiplied by the tyrants who had arisen."

"It was no doing of his," said Richard, with cheek hotly glowing.

"None know that better than I," said the Prince; "but if he had snatched the bridle from a feeble hand, it was only to find that the steed could not be ruled by him. What was left for me but to break my bonds, and deliver my father, in the hope that, being come to man's estate, I might set matters on a surer footing? I had hoped--I had greatly hoped, so to rule affairs, that the Earl might own that his training had not been lost on his nephew, and that the Crown might be trusted not to infringe the Charter. I had hoped that he might yet be my wisest counsellor. But, Richard, I too had supporters who outran my commands. Bitter hatred and malice had been awakened, and cruel resolves that none should be spared. When I returned from bearing my father, bleeding and dismayed, from the battle, whither he had been cruelly led, it was to find that my orders had been disobeyed--that there had been foul and cruel slaughter; and that all my hopes that my uncle of Leicester would forgive me and look friendly on me were ended!"

The Prince's lip trembled as he spoke, and tears glistened in his eyes; and the evident struggle to repress his feelings, brought home deeply and forcibly the conviction to Richard that his sorrow was genuine.

He could not speak for some seconds; then he added: "I marvel not that I am looked on among you as guilty of his blood. Simon and Guy regard me as one with whom they are at deadly feud, and cannot understand that it was their own excesses that armed those merciless hands against him. Even my aunt shrank from me, and implored my mercy as though I were a ruthless tyrant. But thou, Richard, thou hast inherited enough of thy father's mind to be able to understand how unwillingly was my share in his fall, and how great would be my comfort and joy in being good kinsman to one of his sons."

The strong man's generous pleading was most touching. Richard bowed his head; the Princess watched him eagerly. The boy spoke at last in perplexity. "My Lord, you know better than I. Would it be knightly, would it be honourable?"

The Princess started in some indignation at such a question to her husband; but Edward understood the boy better, and said, "That which is most Christian is most knightly." Then pausing: "Ask thine heart, Richard; which would thy father choose for thee--to live in such guidance as I hope will ever be found in my household, or to share the wandering, I fear me freebooting, life of thy brothers?"

Richard could not forget how his father had sternly withheld him from going with Simon to besiege Pevensey. He knew that these two brethren had long been a pain and grief to his father; and began to understand that the nephew, with whom the Earl's last battle had been fought, was nevertheless his truest pupil.

"Thou wilt remain," said Edward decisively; "and let us strive one day to bring to pass the state of things for which thy father and I fought alike, though, alas! in opposite ranks."

"If my mother consents," said Richard, his head bent down, and uttering the words with the more difficulty, because he felt so strongly drawn towards his cousin, who never seemed so mighty as in his condescension.

"Then, Richard de Montfort," said Edward gravely, "let us render to one another the kiss of peace, as kinsmen who have put away all thought of wrong between them."

Richard looked up; and the Prince bending his lofty head, there was exchanged between them that solemn embrace, which in the early middle ages was the deepest token of amity.

And with that kiss, it was as though the soul of Richard de Montfort were knit to the soul of Edward of England with the heart-whole devotion, composed of affection and loyal homage to a great character, which ever since the days of the bond between the son of the doomed King of Israel and the youthful slayer of the Philistine champion, has been one of the noblest passions of a young heart.


The Prince and the Page - 6/37

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