Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:
ON the last Wednesday of the month of July, in the year 1248, the castle of Wark reposed in the sunshine and warmth of a bright merry summer's day; and, the exercises in the tiltyard being over for the morning, two of the apprentices to chivalry, whose dress indicated that they had attained the rank of squires, strolled slowly along the green border of the Tweed. Neither of them had passed the age of seventeen, but both were tall and strong and handsome for their years; and both had the fair hair, blue eyes, aquiline features, and air of authority which distinguished the descendants of the valiant Northmen who accompanied Rollo when he left Norway, sailed up the Seine, and seized on Neustria. But in one rather important respect there was a remarkable difference. One had a countenance which expressed gaiety of heart; the other had a countenance which expressed sadness of spirit. One bore the name of Guy Muschamp; the other the still greater name of Walter Espec.
'And so, good Walter, we are actually soldiers of the Cross, and vowed to combat the Saracens,' said Guy, as they walked along the grassy margin of the river, which flowed tranquilly on, while the salmon leaped in its silver tide, and the trouts glided like silver darts through the clear stream, and the white and brindled cows cooled their hoofs in the water; 'and yet I know not how it comes to pass, good Walter; but beshrew me if, at times, I do not fancy that it is a dream of the night.'
'In truth, brave Guy,' replied the other, 'I comprehend not how you can have any doubts on the subject, when you see the sacred badge on our shoulders, and when we have, even within the hour, learned that the ships of the great Saxon earl, in which we are to embark for the Holy Land, are now riding at anchor before the town of Berwick.'
'You are right, good Walter,' said Guy, quickly; 'and marry! worse than an infidel am I to have a doubt; and yet when I think of all the marvels we are likely to behold, I can scarce credit my good fortune. Just imagine, Walter Espec, the picturesque scenery—the palm-trees, the fig-trees, the gardens with flowers, and vines, and citrons, and pomegranates; the Saracenic castles, the long caravans of camels, and the Eastern women veiled in white, standing at fountains, and all the wonders that palmers and pilgrims tell of! Oh! the adventure appears so grand, that I now begin to dread lest some mischance should come to prevent us going.'
"I will go straightway with you, Walter," said Guy, "to the palace of the Caliph; and if he refuses to render you justice, I will challenge him to mortal combat on the spot."—p. 16. "I will go straightway with you, Walter," said Guy, "to the palace of the Caliph; and if he refuses to render you justice, I will challenge him to mortal combat on the spot."—p. 16.
'And I,' observed Walter, calmly, 'have no dread of the kind; and I am, heart and soul, bent on the holy enterprise; albeit, I reck little of caravans of camels, or veiled women. But my heart yearns for that far land; for there it is that I am like to hear tidings of him I have lost. Ah! credit me, brave Guy, that you, and such as you, little know what it is to be alone in this world, without kith or kindred, or home, and how saddening is the thought, ever crossing my mind, that one, near and dear, does live; and—and—'
He paused, bent his brow, clenched his hand, and cast his eyes on the ground, as tears streamed down his cheek.
'Good Walter, dear Walter,' said Guy, yielding to sympathy till he was almost equally affected; 'droop not, but be of good cheer. Forget not that we are brothers-in-arms, that I am your friend, your true and sworn friend; and I will aid your search. Nay, I know what you are going to say; but you do me wrong. I will not waste time in looking at the camels and the veiled women, of whom palmer and pilgrim tell; but I will go straightway with you to the palace of the caliph; and, if he refuse to render you justice, I will challenge him to mortal combat on the spot. So again I say, be of good cheer.'
Walter Espec smiled mournfully. His enthusiasm was not, in reality, less than that of his companion. But he had none of the gaiety, and little of the buoyant spirit, which enabled Guy Muschamp to make himself, at all times and seasons, a favourite in castle hall and lady's bower. 'I fear me, brave Guy,' said Walter, after a brief silence, 'that the caliph is too great a potentate to be dealt with as you would wish. But, come what may, I am sworn to laugh at danger in the performance of a duty. My dreams, awake and asleep, are of him who is lost; and I fantasied last night,' added he, lowering his voice, 'that my mother stood before me, as I last saw her when living, and implored me, in the name of St. Katherine, the patron saint of the Especs, to fulfil my vow of rescuing her lost son from captivity and from the enemies of Christ.'
'Oh, fear not, doubt not, good Walter,' cried Guy, with enthusiasm; 'it must, it shall, be done; and then we can go and conquer a principality, like Tancred, or Bohemund of Tarentum, or Count Raymond of St. Giles, and other old heroes.'
'Even the crown of Jerusalem may not be beyond our grasp, if fortune favour us,' said Walter, with a calm smile.
'Oh, fortune ever favours the brave,' exclaimed Guy; 'and I hold that nothing is impossible to men who are brave and ambitious; and no squire of your years is braver or more ambitious than you, Walter, or more expert in arms; albeit you never utter a boast as to your own feats, while no one is more ready to praise the actions of others.'
'Even if I had anything to boast of,' replied Walter, 'I should refrain from so doing; and therein I should only be acting according to the maxims of chivalry; for you know we are admonished to be dumb as to our own deeds, and eloquent in praise of others; and, moreover, that if the squire is vainglorious, he is not worthy to become a knight, and that he who is silent as to the valour of others is a thief and a robber.'
And thus conversing, the brothers-in-arms returned to the castle, and entered the great hall, which was so spacious and so high in the roof that a man on horseback might have turned a spear in it with all the ease imaginable. It was, indeed, a stately apartment; the ceiling consisting of a smooth vault of ashlar-work, the stones being curiously joined and fitted together; and the walls and roof decorated by some of those great painters who flourished in England under the patronage of King Henry and his fair and accomplished queen, Eleanor of Provence. Here was represented the battle of Hastings; there the siege of Jerusalem by the Crusaders under Godfrey of Bouillon and Robert Curthose; here the battle of the Standard; there the signing of the Great Charter by King John, under the oak of Runnymede. Around the hall might be traced the armorial bearings of the lord of the castle and the chief families with whom the lord of the castle was allied by blood—the three water-budgets of De Roos; the three Katherine-wheels of Espec; the engrailed cross of De Vesci; the seven blackbirds of Merley; the lion argent of Dunbar in its field of gules; and the ruddy lion of Scotland, ramping in gold; while on the roof was depicted the castle itself, with gates, and battlements, and pinnacles, and towers; and there also, very conspicuous, was the form of a rose, and around it was inscribed in Gothic letters the legend—
He who doth secrets reveal,Beneath my roof shall never live.
It was ten o'clock—in that age the hour of dinner—when Walter Espec and Guy Muschamp entered the great hall of the castle, and, the household having assembled for that important meal, a huge oaken table, which in shape resembled the letter T, groaned under massive sirloins. Attended by his jesters, the lord of the castle took his seat on the dais, which was reserved for his family and his guests of high rank; while the knights, squires, pages, and retainers ranged themselves above and below the salt, according to their claims to precedence; and hawks stood around on perches, and hounds lay stretched on the rushy floor, waiting their turn to be fed.
Much ceremony was of course observed. The sirloins were succeeded by fish and fowl, and dishes curiously compounded; and, as was the fashion of that feudal age, the dinner lasted three hours. But, notwithstanding the pride and pomp exhibited, the meal was by no means dull. The jesters and minstrels did their work. During the intervals the jesters exercised all their wit to divert the lord and his friends; and the minstrels, in the gallery set apart for their accommodation, discoursed flourishes of music, borrowed from the Saracens and brought from the East, for the gratification of the company, or roused the aspirations of the youthful warriors by some such spirit-stirring strain as the battle-hymn of Rollo.
'I marvel much, good Walter,' said Guy Muschamp to his brother-in-arms, 'I marvel much where we are destined to dine this day next year.'
'Beshrew me if I can even form a guess,' replied Walter Espec, thoughtfully; 'methinks no seer less potent than the Knight of Ercildoune, whom the vulgar call "True Thomas," could on such a point do aught to satisfy your curiosity.'
'Mayhap at Acre or Jerusalem,' suggested Guy, after a pause.
'By Holy Katherine,' exclaimed Walter, 'ere you named Acre and Jerusalem, my imagination had carried me to the palace of the caliph at Bagdad.'
THE HEIRS OF THE ESPECS.
IN the days when the Norman kings reigned in England, the Especs were of high account among the Anglo-Norman barons. Many were the brave and pious men who bore the name; but the bravest and most pious of them all was that Walter Espec, a great noble of the north, who maintained high feudal state at the castles of Wark, Helmsley, and Kirkham, and who figured so conspicuously as chief of the English at the battle of the Standard, and harangued the soldiers before the battle from the chariot from which the standard was displayed.
But not only as a warrior was Walter Espec known to fame. As a benefactor to religion, his name was held in honour and his memory regarded with veneration.
It seems that Walter Espec had, by his wife Adeline, an only son, who was a youth of great promise, and much beloved by his parents. Nothing, however, pleased him more than a swift horse; and he was so bold a rider that he would not have feared to mount Bucephalus, in spite of heels and horns. Leaping into the saddle one day, at the castle of Kirkham, and scorning the thought of danger, he spurred his charger beyond its strength, and, while galloping towards Frithby, had a fall at the stone cross, and was killed on the spot. Much afflicted at his son's death, Walter Espec sent for his brother, who was a priest and a rector.
'My son being, alas! dead,' said he, 'I know not who should be my heir.'
'Brother mine,' replied the priest, 'your duty is clear. Make Christ your heir.'
Now Walter Espec relished the advice, and proceeded to act on it forthwith. He founded three religious houses, one at Warden, a second at Kirkham, a third at Rievallé; and, having been a disciple of Harding, and much attached to the Cistercian order, he planted at each place a colony of monks, sent him from beyond the sea by the great St. Bernard; and, having further signalised his piety by becoming a monk in the abbey of Rievallé, he died, full of years and honours, and was buried in that religious house; while his territorial possessions passed to the Lord de Roos, as husband of his sister.
Nevertheless, the family of Espec was not yet extinct. A branch still survived and flourished in the north; and, as time passed over, a kinsman of the great Walter won distinction in war, and, though a knight of small estate, wedded a daughter of that Anglo-Saxon race the Icinglas, once so great in England, but of whom now almost everything is forgotten but the name. And this Espec, who had lived as a soldier, died a soldier's death; falling bravely with his feet to the foe, on that day in 1242 when the English under King Henry fought against such fearful odds, at the-village of Saintonge. But even now the Especs were not without representatives; for, by his Anglo-Saxon spouse Algitha, the Anglo-Norman warrior who fell in Gascony left two sons, and of the two one was named Walter, the other Osbert.
While Dame Algitha Espec lived, the young Especs scarcely felt the loss they had sustained in the death of their father. Nothing, indeed, could have been more exemplary than the care which the Anglo-Saxon dame bestowed on her sons. In a conversation which Walter Espec held on the battlements of the castle of Wark, with his brother-in-arms Guy Muschamp, the heir of an Anglo-Norman baron of Northumberland, he lauded her excellence as a woman, and her tenderness as a mother.
'I was in my tenth year,' said Walter, 'when my father, after having served King Henry as a knight in Gascony, fell in battle; and, albeit my mother, when she became a widow, was still fair and of fresh age, a widow she resolved to remain; and she adhered firmly to her purpose. In truth, her mouth was so accustomed to repeat the name of her dead husband that it seemed as if his memory had possession of her whole heart and soul; for whether in praying or giving alms, and even in the most ordinary acts of life, she continually pronounced his name.
'My mother brought up my brother and myself with the most tender care. Living at our castellated house of Heckspeth, in the Wansbeck, and hard by the abbey of Newminster, she lived in great fear of the Lord, and with an equal love for her neighbours, especially such as were poor; and she prudently managed us and our property. Scarcely had we learned the first elements of letters, which she herself, being convent-bred, taught us, when, eager to have us instructed, she confided us to a master of grammar, who incited us to work, and taught us to recite verses and compose them according to rule.'
It was while the brothers Espec were studying under this master of grammar, and indulging with spirit and energy in the sports and recreations fashionable among the boys of the thirteenth century—such as playing with whirligigs and paper windmills, and mimic engines of war, and trundling hoops, and shooting with bows and arrows, and learning to swim on bladders, that Dame Algitha followed her husband to a better world, and they found themselves orphans and unprotected. For both, however, Providence raised up friends in the day of need. Remembering what he owed to his connection with the Especs, the Lord de Roos received Walter into his castle of Wark, to be trained to arms; and another kinsman, who was a prior in France, received Osbert into his convent, to be reared as a monk. The orphans, who had never before been separated, and who were fondly attached, parted after many embraces, and many tears; and, with as little knowledge of the world into which they were entering as fishes have of the sea in which they swim, each went where destiny seemed to point the way.
On reaching the castle of Wark, Walter Espec felt delighted with the novelty of the scene, and entered with enthusiasm upon his duties as an aspirant to the honours of chivalry. Besides learning to carve, to sing, and to take part in that exciting sport which has been described as 'the image of war'—such as hawking, and hunting the hare, the deer, the boar, and the wolf—he ere long signalised himself in the tiltyard by the facility which he displayed in acquiring skill in arms, and in chivalrous exercises. Indeed, whether in assailing the pel, or charging the quintain on horseback, or riding at the ring, or in the combat at the barriers, Walter had hardly a rival among the youths of his own age; and, after being advanced to the rank of squire, he crowned his triumphs in the tiltyard by successfully charging on horseback, à la Cœur de Lion, with a sword in one hand and a lance in the other.
But still Walter Espec was unhappy; and, even when his dexterity and prowess in arms moved the envy or admiration of his youthful compeers, his heart was sad and his smile mournful.
And why was the brave boy so sad?
At the time when Walter was winning such reputation at the castle of Wark, Jerusalem was sacked by the Karismians. A cry of distress came from the Christians in the East; and the warriors of the West were implored to undertake a new crusade, to rescue the Holy Sepulchre and save the kingdom founded by Godfrey and the Baldwins. The warriors of the West, however, showed no inclination to leave their homes; and the pope was lamenting the absence of Christian zeal, when a boy went about France, singing in his native tongue—
Jesus, Lord, repair our loss,Restore to us thy blessed cross;
and met with much sympathy from those of his own age. Multitudes of children crowded round him as their leader, and followed his footsteps wherever he went. Nothing could restrain their enthusiasm; and, assembling in crowds in the environs of Paris, they prepared to cross Burgundy and make for Marseilles.
'And whither are you going, children?' people asked.
'We are going to Jerusalem, to deliver the Holy Sepulchre,' answered they.
'But how are you to get there?' was the next question.
'Oh,' replied they, 'you seem not to know how it has been prophesied that this year the drought will be very great, that the sun will dissipate all the waters, and that the abysses of the sea will be dry; and that an easy road will lie open to us across the bed of the Mediterranean.'
On reaching Marseilles, however, the young pilgrims discovered that they had been deluded. Some of them returned to their homes; but the majority were not so fortunate. Many lost themselves in the forests which then covered the country, and died of hunger and fatigue; and the others became objects of speculation to two merchants of Marseilles, who carried on trade with the Saracens. Affecting to act from motives of piety, the two merchants tempted the boy-pilgrims by offering to convey them, without charge, to the Holy Land; and, the offer having been joyfully accepted, seven vessels, with children on board, sailed from Marseilles. But the voyage was not prosperous. At the end of two days, when the ships were off the isle of St. Peter, near the rock of the Recluse, a tempest arose, and the wind blew so violently that two of them went down with all on board. The five others, however, weathered the storm, and reached Bugia and Alexandria. And now the young Crusaders discovered to their consternation how they had been deceived and betrayed. Without delay they were sold by the merchants to the slave-dealers, and by the slave-dealers to the Saracens. Forty of them were purchased for the caliph and carried to Bagdad, where they were forced to abjure Christianity, and brought up as slaves.
Now, among the boys who had yielded to the prevailing excitement, and repaired to Marseilles to embark for Syria, was Osbert Espec; and ever since Walter received from his kinsman, the prior, intelligence of his brother's disappearance, and heard the rumours of what had befallen the young pilgrims on their arrival in the East, his memory had brooded over the misfortune, and his imagination, which was constantly at work, pictured Osbert in the caliph's prison, laden with chains, and forced to forswear the God of his fathers; and the thought of his lost brother was ever present to his mind. And therefore was Walter Espec's heart sad, and therefore was his smile mournful.
AMONG the names of the European princes associated with the history of the Holy War, that of St. Louis is one of the most renowned. Although flourishing in a century which produced personages like Frederick, Emperor of Germany, and our first great Edward, who far excelled him in genius and prowess—as wise rulers in peace and mighty chiefs in war—his saintliness, his patience in affliction, his respect for justice and the rights of his neighbours, entitle him to a high place among the men of the age which could boast of so many royal heroes. In order to comprehend the crusade, of which he was leader, it is necessary to refer briefly to the character and career of the good and pious king, who, in the midst of disaster and danger, exhibited the courage of a hero and the resignation of a martyr.
It was on the day of the Festival of St. Mark, in the year 1215, that Blanche of Castille, wife of the eighth Louis of France, gave birth, at Poissy, to an heir to the crown, which Hugh Capet had, three centuries earlier, taken from the feeble heir of Charlemagne. On the death of his father, Louis, then in his twelfth year, became King of France, at a time when it required a man with a strong hand to maintain the privileges of the crown against the great nobles of the kingdom. Fortunately for the young monarch Providence had blessed him with a mother, who, whatever her faults and failings—and chroniclers have not spared her reputation—brought to the terrible task of governing in a feudal age a high spirit and a strong will, and applied herself earnestly to the duty of bringing up her son in the way in which he should walk, and educating him in such a manner as to prepare him for executing the high functions which he was destined to fulfil. While, with the aid of her chivalrous admirer, the Count of Champagne, and the counsel of a cardinal-legate—with whom, by-the-bye, she was accused of being somewhat too familiar—Blanche of Castille maintained the rights of the French monarchy against the great vassals of France, she reared her son with the utmost care. She entrusted his education to excellent masters, appointed persons eminent for piety to attend to his religious instruction, and evinced profound anxiety that he should lead a virtuous and holy life.
'Rather,' she once said, 'would I see my son in his grave, than learn that he had committed a mortal sin.'
As time passed on, Blanche of Castille had the gratification of finding that her toil and her anxiety were not in vain. Lotus, indeed, was a model whom other princes, in their teens, would have done well to copy. His piety, and his eagerness to do what was right and to avoid what was wrong, raised the wonder of his contemporaries. He passed much of his time in devotional exercises, and, when not occupied with religious duties, ever conducted himself as if with a consciousness that the eye of his Maker was upon him, and that he would one day have to give a strict account of all his actions. Every morning he went to hear prayers chanted, and mass and the service of the day sung; every afternoon he reclined on his couch, and listened while one of his chaplains repeated prayers for the dead; and every evening he heard complines.
Nevertheless, Louis did not, like such royal personages as our Henry VI., allow his religious exercises so wholly to monopolise his time or attention as to neglect the duties which devolved upon him as king. The reverse was the case. After arriving at manhood he convinced the world that he was well qualified to lead men in war, and to govern them in peace.
It happened that, in the year 1242, Henry King of England, who was several years older than Louis, became ambitious of regaining the continental territory wrested from his father, John, by Philip Augustus; and the Count de la Marche, growing malecontent with the government of France, formed a confederacy against the throne, and invited Henry to conduct an army to the Continent. Everything seemed so promising, and the confederacy so formidable, that Henry, unable to resist the temptation of recovering Normandy and Anjou, crossed the sea, landed at Bordeaux, and prepared for hostilities. At first, the confederates were confident of succeeding in their objects; but, ere long, they discovered that they had mistaken their position, and the character of the prince whom they were defying.
In fact, Louis soon proved that he was no 'carpet knight.' Assembling an army, he buckled on his mail, mounted his charger; and placing himself at the head of his forces, marched to encounter his enemies. Reaching the banks of the Charente, he offered the confederates battle, near the bridge of Taillebourg; but his challenge was not accepted. By this time the confederates had lost faith in their enterprise; and while De la Marche was meditating a reconciliation with Louis, Henry, accusing the count of having deceived, and being about to betray, him, retreated precipitately, and never drew rein till he reached the village of Saintonge.
But Louis was unwilling to allow his royal foe to escape so easily. Nor, indeed, could Henry without reluctance fly from the peril he had provoked. At all events, on reaching Saintonge, the English turned to bay, and a battle began. But the odds were overwhelming; and, though the Anglo-Norman barons fought with characteristic courage, they were speedily worsted, and under the necessity of making for Bordeaux.
From the day on which this battle was fought, it was no longer doubtful that Louis was quite able to hold his own; and neither foreign kings nor continental counts cared to disturb his government or defy his power. In fact, the fame of the King of France became great throughout Christendom, and inspired the hopes of the Christians of the East.
Nor was it merely as a warrior that Louis signalised himself among his contemporaries. At the time when he was attending, with exemplary regularity, to his religious devotions, and keeping watch over the security of his dominions, he was devoting himself assiduously to his duties as sovereign and to the administration of justice.
One day, when Louis was at the castle of Hieros, in Provence, a Cordelier friar approached.
'Sire,' said the friar, 'I have read of unbelieving princes in the Bible and other good books; yet I have never read of a kingdom of believers or unbelievers being ruined, but from want of justice being duly administered. Now,' continued the friar, 'I perceive the king is going to France; let him administer justice with care, that our Lord may suffer him to enjoy his kingdom, and that it may remain in peace and tranquillity all the days of his life, and that God may not deprive him of it with shame and dishonour.'
Louis listened attentively to the Cordelier, and the friar's words sank deep into his mind. From that date he gave much attention to the administration of justice, and took especial care to prevent the poor being wronged by their more powerful neighbours. On summer days, after hearing mass, he was in the habit of repairing to the gardens of his palace, seating himself on a carpet, and listening to such as wished to appeal to him; at other times he went to the wood of Vincennes, and there, sitting under an oak, listened to their statements with attention and patience. No ceremony was allowed to keep the poor man from the king's justice-seat.
'Whoever has a complaint to make,' Louis was wont to say, 'let him now make it;' and when there were several who wished to be heard, he would add, 'My friends, be silent for awhile, and your causes shall be despatched one after another.'