THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES
PHRA THE PHOENICIAN.
Grim and angry, all that night I chewed the bitter cud of my rejection, and
before the new day was an hour old determined life was no longer worth
the living in that place. I determined to leave those walls at once, to leave
all my songs unsung, my trysts unkept, to leave all my jolly comrades, the
tilt-yards and banquets, But I could not do this as secretly as
I would. The very paying off of my score down in the buttery, the
dismissing of my attendants, each with largess, the seriousness I could not
but give to my morning salutation of some of those I should never see
again, betrayed me. And thus a whisper, first down in the vaulted guard-
room, and then a rumor, and anon a widening murmur, the news was
spread, until surely the very jackdaws on the battlements were saying to
themselves, "Phra is going! Phra -- Phra is going!"
Yes; and the tidings spread to that fair floor of a hundred corridors, where
the Norman-arched windows looked down four-score feet upon the river
winding amid its shining morning meadows, bringing a sigh to more than
one silken pillow. It reached the unhappy, red-eyed lsobel, and presently
she tripped down the twining stone staircase, the loose folds of her skirt
thrown over her arm to free her pretty feet, and in her hand a scrap of
writing, a "cartel" she called it, seeming newly opened.
She came to the sunny empty corridor where I stood alone, and touched
me on the arm as I watched from a lattice my charger being armed and
saddled in the court-yard underneath, and, when I turned, held out her
hand to me in frank and simple fashion. How could I refuse the proffer of
so fair a friendship? and, pulling my velvet cap from my head, I put her
white fingers to my lips. And was it true, she asked with a sigh, I was really
going that morning, and so suddenly? Only too true, I answered, and,
saving her presence, not so sudden as my inclination prompted. Much I
saw she wished to question the why and wherefore, but of this, as of
nothing touching her stern sister, would I tell her.
So presently she came to her point, and, fingering that scroll she had, very
downcast and blushful, said: "You are a good knight, Sir Stranger, and
strong and experienced in arms,"
"Your ladyship's description wakes my ambition to deserve your words."
"And generous, I have noticed, and as indulgent to page and squire of
tender years as you are the contrary to stronger folk."
"And if this were so, madame," I asked, "what then?"
"Oh, only," she said, wondrous shy and frightened, "that I have here a
cartel from a friend of mine, a youth of noble family, who has heard of
thee, and would go to the wars in your company -- as your comrade, I
mean; that is, if you would take him."
"Why, damsel, the wars are free to every one; but I am in
no mood just now to tutor a young gallant in slitting Frenchmen's throats."
"But this one, sir, very particularly wishes to travel with you, of whose
prowess he is so convinced. He has, alas! quarreled with those at whose
side he should most naturally ride. He will be no trouble; for my sake you
must take him. And," said the cunning girl, standing on tiptoe to be the
nearer to my ear, "he is rich, though friendless by a rash love; he will
gladly see to both your horses and disburse your passage over to France,
even for the honor of remembering that he did it,"
Now, this touched me very nearly. One by one. my rings had gone, and
that morning, after paying scores and largess, in truth I had found my
wallet completely empty once again. If this youth had money, even
though it were but sufficient to buy corn for our chargers on the way, and
pay the ferry over to yonder fair field of adventure, why, there was no
denying he would be a very convenient traveling companion, and it would
go hard but that I could teach him something in return. Thinking this, I
lifted my eyes, and found those of Isobel watching the workings of my
face with pretty cunning.
"In truth, maid, if thy friend has so much gold as would safely land us with
King Edward in Flanders, why, I must confess that just at present that does
greatly commend him to me. What sort of a man is he?"
This question seemed to overwhelm the lady, who blushed and hung her
head like a poppy that has stood a week's drought.
"In truth, sir," she murmured, "I do not know."
"Not know! Why, but you said he was your friend!"
"Oh, so I did; and now I come to think of it, he is a tall youth -- about my
size and make."
"Gads! but he will be a shapely, if somewhat sapling, gallant," I laughed,
letting my eye roam over the supple maiden figure before me.
"But though he be so slim," the girl hastened to add, as if she feared she
had been indiscreet, "you will find the youth a rare good horseman, and
clever in many things. He can cook (if thou art ever belated) like a
Frenchman, and can read missals to thee, and write like a monk -- thy
comrade, Sir Knight, will be one in a thousand -- he can sing like a mavis
on a fir-top."
"I like not these singing knights, fair maid; their verses are both too
smooth for soldier ears, and too licentious for maidens."
"Ah! but my friend," quoth Isobel, with a blush, "never sung an ungentle
song in his life; you will find him a most civil, most simple-spoken
"Well, then, I will have him; no doubt we shall grow as close together as
boon companions should."
"Would that you might grow so close together as I could wish," said the
English girl, with a sigh I did not understand.
"And now, how am I to know this friend," I asked, "this slim and gentle
youth? What is his name, and what his face?"
"I had near forgotten that; and it was like a woman, for they say they ever
keep the most important matter to the last. This boy, for good reasons that
I know but may not mention, was sworn a vow, after the fashion of the
chivalry he delights in, not to show his face, not to wear his honorable
name, until some happier times shall come for him. He is in love -- like
many another -- and does conceive his heart to be most desperately
consumed thereby. Wherefore he has taken the name of Flamaucoeur, and
bears upon his shield a device to that effect. This alone will point him out to
you, over and above the dropped visor, which no earthly power will make
him lift until this war and quest of his be over. But you will know him, I
feel in my heart, without consideration. Sir Knight, you will know this
youth when you meet him, something in my innermost heart does tell me,
even as I should know one that I loved, or that loved me, behind twenty
thicknesses of steel. And now good-bye until we meet again."
The fair maid gave me her hand as though to part, and then hesitated a
moment. Presently she mustered up courage and said:
"Thou bear'st me no ill-will for yonder wild meeting of ours?"
"Maiden, it is forgotten."
"Well, let it be so. I do not know what possessed me. I was hurried down
the stream of feeling like a leaf on a tide.
'Twas I that met thee there by the cedars, and yet it was not I. Something
so wild and fierce, such a hot intruder spirit burned within this poor
circumference, that I think I was damnate and bewitched. Thou dost most
clearly understand that this hot fit is over now?"
"I clearly understand."
"And that I love thee no longer," quoth the lady, with a sigh, "or, at least,
not near so much?"
"Madame, so I conceive it. Be at ease; it is sacred between us two, and I will
"Thanks, a thousand thanks, even for the relief that cold forgetfulness does
give me, and now again good-bye. Be gentle to Flamaucoeur, and -- and,"
burst out the poor girl, as her control forsook her, "if there is an eye in the
whole of wide heaven, oh, may it watch thee! If ever prayers of mine can
pierce to the seat of the Eternal, oh, may they profit thee! Gods! that my
wishes were iron bars for thy dear body, and my salt tears could but rivet
them! Good-bye, good-bye," and, kissing my hands in a fierce outburst of
weeping, that fair white girl turned and fled, and disappeared through the
tapestries that screened the Norman archways.
Before nightfall I was down by the English coast, and many a long league
from the castle. Thoughtful and alone, my partings made, I had paced out
from its gloomy archway, the gay feathers on my helmet-top near
brushing the iron teeth of the portcullis lowering above, and my charger's
hoofs falling as hollow on the echoing drawbridge as my heart beat empty
to the sounds of happy life behind me. Away south went the pathway,
trodden day after day by contingents of gallant troops from that knightly
stronghold. Jove! one might have followed it at midnight: those jolly bands
had made a trail through copse and greenwood, through hamlet and
through heather, like the track of a storm-wind. They had beaten down
grass and herbage, they had robbed orchards and spinnies, and here their
way-side fires were still a-smoldering, and there waved rags upon the
bushes, and broken shreds and baggage. Now and then, as I paced along, I
saw in the hamlets the folk still looking southward, and standing gossiping
on the week's wonders, the boys meanwhile careering in mock onset with
broken spear-shafts or discarded trappings. Oh, 'twas easy enough to
know which way my friends had gone.
So plain was the track, and so well did my good horse acknowledge it, that
there was little for me to do but sit and chew the bitter cud of fancy. All
through the hot afternoon, all through the bright sunshine and shining
green bracken, did we saunter, back toward the gray sea I knew so well,
back toward that void beginning of my wanderings, and as my sad
thoughts turned to when I last had sat a charger in such woods as these, to
my fair Saxon homestead, Editha, the abbey and its abbot, my donning
English mail and breaking spears for a smile from yon cold peeress, with
much more of like nature, went idly flitting through my head. But hardly a
thought among all that motley crowd was there for Isobel or her tears,
and my promised meeting with her playmate.
Thus it happened that as evening fell and found me still some two miles
from where our troops lay camped along the shore, waiting to-morrow's
ferrying across to France, I rode down the steep back of a small river to a
ford, and slowly waded through. There be episodes of action that live in
our minds, and incidents of repose that recur with no less force. So, then --
that placid evening stream has come before me again and again -- in the
hot tumult of onset and melee, in court and camp, in the cold of winter and
in summer's warmth, I have ridden that ford once more. I have gone
down sad and thoughtful as I did, my loose reins on my charger's arching
neck, watching the purple shine of the water where it fretted and broke in
the evening light against his fetlocks; again and again I have listened to the
soft lisp of the stream as he drank of that limpid trough, and I have seen in
its cool fresh mirror my own tall image, my waving crimson plumes, and
the one white star of the evening above, reflected upon it. And yet, if these
things of a remote yesterday are fresh in my mind, even more so is my
meeting with the slim gallant whose figure rose before me as I emerged
from the ford.
As my good English charger bore me up from the hollow, on the brow of
the opposite rise was a mounted figure standing out clear and emotionless
against the yellow glow of the sunset. At first I thought it would be some
wandering spearman bound on a like errand with myself, for more than
one or two such had passed that day. But something in the steadfast
interest of that silent horseman roused my curiosity even before I was
near enough to see the color of his armor or the device upon his shield. Up
we scrambled that sandy heathery scar, the strong sinews of my war-
horse playing like steel cordage under my thighs as he lifted me and my
armor up the gravelly path, and then, as we topped the rise and came into
the evening breeze, that strange warrior advanced and held out a hand.
Never, in all my experience, had I known a knight extend the palm of
friendship to another so demure and downcast. "Truth!" I thought to
myself, "this friend of Isobel's is, in fact, as she said, the most modest-
mannered soldier who ever took a place in the rough game of war." But I
was pledged to like him, and, therefore, in the most hearty manner
possible, as we came up knee to knee I slapped my heavy hand into his
extended fingers and welcomed him loudly as a long looked-for comrade.
And in truth he was a very pretty fellow, whose gentle presence grew
upon me after that first meeting each
hour we lived together. He seemed, as far as I could judge, no more than
five-and-twenty years of age, yet even that was but a guess, for his armor
was complete from top to toe, his visor was down, and there was, indeed,
naught to judge by but a certain slightness of limb and suppleness that
spoke of no more mature years. In height this gallant was very passable
enough, and his helmet, with its nodding plumes, added some grace and
inches to his stature, while his pale-gray mail was beautifully fashioned and
molded, and spoke through every close joint and cunningly finished link of
a young but well-proportioned soldier.
The arms this warrior carried were better suited to his strength than to
that of the man who rode beside him. His lance was long and of polished
inlay, while mine beside it was like the spear of Goliath to a fisher's hazel
wand. His dagger was better for cutting the love-knot on a budget of
sonnets than for disburdening foemen's spirits of their mortal shackles. His
cross-hilted sword was so light it made me sigh to look at it. On his shield
was a heart wrapped in flames, most cunningly painted, and expressive
enough in those days, when every man took a pride in being as vulnerable
to women as he was unapproachable among men.
But who am I that I should judge that gentle knight by myself -- by me,
whose sinews countless fights have but matured, who have been blessed
by the gods with bulk and strength above other mortals? Why should I
measure his brand-new lance, gleaming in the pride of virgin polish,
against the stern long spear I carried; or that dainty brand of his, that
mayhap his tender maid had belted on him for the first time some hours
before, with such a broad blade as long use had made lighter to my hand
than a lady's distaff?
Before we had paced a mile Flamaucoeur had proved himself the
sprightliest companion who ever enlivened a dull road with wit and
laughter. At first 'twas I that spoke, for he had not one word in all the
world to say, he was so shy. But when I twitted him for this, and laughed,
and asked him of his lady love, and how she had stood the parting; how
many tears there had been, and whether they all were hers; and whose
heart was that upon his shield, his own or the damsel's; and so on, in
bantering playfulness, I got down to the mettle of that silent boy. He
winced beneath my laughter for a little time, and fingered upon his saddle,
and then the gentle blood in his veins answered, as I hoped it would, and
he turned and gave me better than I offered. Such a pretty fellow in wordy
fence I never saw; his tongue was like a woman's, it
was so hard to silence. When I thought I had him at disadvantage on a
jest, he burked the point of my telling argument, and struck me below my
guard; when I would have pinned him to some keen inquiry regarding
that which he did not wish to tell, he turned questioner with swift
adroitness, and made -- quicker than it takes to write -- his inquisitor the
humble answerer to his playful malice. He was better at that fence than I,
there could be no doubt, and very speedily his nimble tongue, which
sounded so strange and pleasant in the hollow of his helmet, had
completely mastered mine. So, with a laugh, I did acknowledge to the
Whereon that generous youth was pleased, I saw, and laid aside his
coyness, and chattered like a mill-stream among the gravels on an idle
Sunday. He turned out both shrewd and witty, with a head stuffed full of
romance and legend, just such as one might have who had spent a young
life listening to troubadours and minstrels. And I liked him none the less
because he trimmed the gross fables of that time to such a decent shape.
He told me one or two that I had heard before although he knew it not.
And as I had heard them from the licentious lips of courtly minstrels they
are not fit to write or tell, but my worthy wayfarer clipped and purged
them so adroitly, and turned them out so fair and seemly, all with such a
nice unconsciousness, I scarce could recognize them. He was a most gentle-
natured youth, and there was something in his presence, something in the
half frankness he put forth, and something in that there was strange about
him which greatly drew me. Now you would think to listen to him he was
all a babbling stream as shallow as could be, and then, anon, a turn of sad
wisdom or a sigh set you wondering, as when that same stream runs deep
into the shadows, and you hear it fret and fume with gathering strength
far away in unknown depths of mother earth. A most enticing, a most
Beguiling the way in this fashion, and liking my new ally better and better
as we went, we came a little after nightfall on a wet and windy evening to
the hamlet near the sea, where the rear-guard of the English troops were
collected for ferrying over to France. Here we halted and sought food and
shelter, but neither were to be had for the asking. That little street of
English dwellings was crowded with hungry troopers. They were camping
by their gleaming watch-fires all along the grassy ways, so full was every
lodgment, while every yellow window of the dim gabled ale-house in the
midst shone into the wet, dark night, and every room within was replete
with stamping, clanking, noisy gallants. Their chargers filled the yard and
were picketed a furlong down the muddy road, that sloped to the
murmuring unseen sea, and there was not space, it seemed, for one single
other horse or rider in the whole friendly village.
But the insidious Flamaucoeur found a way and place. He sought out the
master of the inn himself, and, unheeding of his curt refusals, made
request so cunning and used his money-pouch so liberal that that strong
and surly yeoman, with much to-do, found us a loft to sleep in, which was
a bedroom better than the way-side, though still but a rough one. Then
Flamaucoeur waylaid the buxom, hurrying housewife, and, on an evening
when many a good gentleman was going supperless to bed, got us a loaf
of white bread and a wooden bowl of milk, the which we presently shared
most comrade-like, my friend lifting his visor so much as might suffice to
eat, but yet not enough to show his face. He waylaid a lad, and, for a coin
or two and a little of his sweet-voiced cajoling, got our steeds watered and
sheltered, though many another lordly, sleek-limbed beast stood all night
unwashed, unminded. A most persuasive youth was Flamaucoeur.
And then, our frugal supper made and our horses seen to, we went to bed.
Diffident, ingenious young knight! He made my couch (while I was not by)
long and narrow -- no bigger than for one -- of all the soft things he could
lay his hand on, as though, forsooth, I were some tender flower, and for
himself hardly spread a horse-cloth on the bare floor.
Now, when I came up and found this done, without a word I sent the boy
to go and see what the night was like, and if the moon yet showed, or if it
rained, and, when he went forthwith, pulled that couch to bits, respreading
it so it was broad enough for two good comrades side by side. Ah! and
when Flamaucoeur came back I rated him soundly, telling him that,
though it was set in the laws of arms that a young knight should show due
deference to an older, yet all that comrades had of hard or soft was equally
dividable, both board and bed, and good luck and misfortune. And he was
amenable, though still a little strange, and unbuckled his armor by our dim
rush-light, and then -- poor, tired youth -- with that iron mask upon his
head, in his quilted underwear, throw himself upon the couch, and slept
almost before he could straighten out those shapely limbs of his.
And I presently lay down by his side and slept, while all through my
dreams went surging the wildest fancies of tilt and tourney and lady's love.
And now I heard in the uproar of
the restless village street, and the neighing of the chargers at their pickets,
the noise of battle and of onset. And then I thought I had, on some
unknown field, five thousand spearmen overset against a hundred times
as many; and while my heart bounded proudly in answer to that
disadvantage, and I rode up and down our glittering ranks, speaking
words of strength and courage to those scanty heroes, waving my shining
sword in the sun that shone for victory on us, and curbing my fretting
charger's restless valor, methought, somehow, the words dried upon my
lips, and the proud murmur of my firm-set veterans turned to a low
moaning wail, and a gray mist of tears put out the sun, and black grief
drank up the warriors; and while I wrestled with that melancholy,
Blodwen, my princess, was sitting by my side, cooling my hot forehead
with her calm immortal hand, and calling me, with smiling accent, "dull,
unwitful, easily beguiled," and all the time that young gallant by me lay
limp, supine, asleep, and soulless.
So passed the chequered fancies of the night, and the earliest dawn found
us up, in arms, and ready for sterner things.
Again I had to owe to Flamaucoeur's ready wit and liberal purse
precedence for our needs above all the requirements of the many good
knights who would have crossed with the haste they could, but had,
perforce, to wait. It was he that got us a vessel sufficient for our needs
when the fisher folk were swearing there was not a ship to be hired for
twenty miles up or down the coast. In this we embarked with our horses,
and one or two other gentlemen we knew, and in a few hours' sailing the
English shore went down and the sunny cliffs of Normandy rose ahead of
Will you doubt but that I stood thoughtful and silent as the green and
silver waves were shivered by our dancing prow, and that strange,
familiar land rose up before us? I, that British I, who had seen Caesar's
galleys, heavy with Umbrian and Etrurian, put out from that very shore; I,
who had stood on the green cliffs of Harold's kingdom and shaken a
Saxon javelin toward that home of Norman tyranny; I, this knightly, steel-
bound I, stood and watched that country grow upon us, with thoughts
locked in my heart there were none to listen to and none to share.
Oh! it was passing strange, and I did not rouse me until our iron keel went
gently grinding up the Norman gravel, and our vessel was beached upon
the hostile shore.
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