THE WONDERFUL ADVENTURES
PHRA THE PHOENICIAN.
UNWASHED, unfed, my dinted armor on me still -- battle. stained and
rent -- unhelmeted, ungloved, my sword and scabbard cast bY my hollow
shield in a dark corner of the tent, ~ watched, tearless and stern, all that
night by the bier of the pale, white girl who had given so much for me
and taken so ~oor a reward. I, who, so fanciful and wayward, had
thought ~t might safely toy with the sweet tender of her affection --
sprung how or why I knew not -- and take or leave it as seemed best to
my convenience, brooded, all the long black watch, over that gentle
broken vessel that lay there white and still before me, alike indifferent. to
gifts or giving. And nOW and then I would start up from the stool I had
drawn near to her, and pace, with bent head and folded arms, the narrow
space, remembering how warm the rising tide of love had been flowing in
my heart for that fair dead thing so sholit a time before. "So short a time
before!" Why, it was but yesterday ~that she wrote for me that missive to
herself; and I, fool and blind, could not read the light that shone behind
those gray visor bars as she penned the lines, or translate the tremor that
shook that sweet scribe's fingers, or recognize the heave of the maiden
bosom under its steel and silk! I groaned in shame and grief, and bent
over her, thinking how dear things might have been had they been
otherwise, and loving her no whit the less because she was so cold,
immovable, saying I know not what into her listless ear, and nourishing in
~olitune, all thoso long hours, the black flower of the loYe that was alight
too late in my heart.
1 would not eat or rest, though my dinted armor was heavy as lead upon
my spent and weary limbs -- though the leather jerkin under that was stiff
with blood and sweat, and opened my bleeding wounds each time I
moved. I would IiOt be eased oi one single smart, I thought -- let the
cursed seams and gashes Sting and bite, and my hot flesh burn beneath
them; mayhap 'twould ease the bitter anger of my mind -- and I repulsed
all those who came with kind or curious eyes to the tent Joor, and vrould
not hear of ease or consolation. Even the king came down, and, in respect
to that ~`hich was withi~l, dismounted and stood like a simple knight
without, asking i£ he might see me. But I would not share my sorrow
with any one, and sent the page who brought me word that the king was
standing in the porQh to tell him so; and, accomplished in courtesy as in
war, the victorious monarch bent his head and mounted, and rode silently
back to his own lodging. The gay gallants who had krlown me came on
the whisper of the camp one by one (though all were hungry and weary),
and lifted the flap a little, and said something such as they coul(l think of,
and peered at me, grimly repehen t, in the shadows' and peeped curiously
at that fair white soldier laid on the trestles in her knightly gear so straight
and trim, and went away without daring to approach more nearly. My
veteraus clipped their jolly soldier-sougs, though they had well deserved
them, and took their suppers silently by the flickering camp-fire. Once
they sent him among them that I was knowh to like the best with food
and wino and clean linen, but I would not have it, and the good soldier
put them down on cne side of the door and went back as gladly as he who
retreats skin-whole from the cave where a bear keeps watch and ward.
Last of all there came the fall of quieter feet upon the ground, and, in place
of the clank of soldier harness, the rattle of the beads of rosaries and cross;
and, looking out, there was the king's own chaplain, bareheaded, and
three gray friars behind him. I needed ghostly comfort just then as lit. tle
as I needed temporal, and at first I thought to repulse them surlily; but
reflecting that the maid had ever been devout and held such men as these
in high esteem, I suffered them to enter, and stood back while they did by
her the ceremonial of their office. They made all smooth and fair about,
and lighted candles at her feet nu`1 gave her a crucifix, and sprinkled
water, and knelt, throwing their great black shadows athwart the white
shine of my dear companion, the while the~
told their beads and the chaplain prayed. When they tad done, the priest
rose and touched me on the arm.
"Son," he said, "the king has given an earl's ransom to bo expended in
masses for thy leman's soul,"
"Father," I replied, "tender the king my thanks for what was well meant
and as princely generous as becomes him, But tell him all the prayers thy
convent could count from now till the great ending would not bleach this
white maid's soul an atom whiter. Earn your ransom if you will, but not
here; leave me to my sorrow."
"I will give your answer, soldier; but these holy brothers -- the king
wished it -- must stay and share your vigil until the morning. It is their
profession; their praverful presence can ward off the spirits of the
darknes`; weariness never sits on their eyes as it sits now on thine. Let
them stay with thee; it is only fit."
'` Not for another ransom, priest. I will not brook their confederate tears;
I will not wing this fair girl's soul with their hireling prayers. Out, good
fellows! my mood is wondrous short, and I would not willing do that
which to-morrow I might repent of."
"But, brother," said one monk, gently.
"Hence -- hence! I have no brothers -- go! Oan you look on me here in this
extremity, can you see my hacked and bleeding harness, and the shine of
bitter grief in my eyes, and stand pattering there of prayers and
sympathy? Out! out! or by every lying relic in thy cloisters I add some
other saints to thy chapter rous!"
They went, and as the tent-flap dropped behind them, and the sound of
their sandaled feet died softly away into the gathering night, I tumad
sorrowful and sad to my watch. I drew a stool to the maiden bier, and sat
and took her hand, so white and smooth and cold, and looked at the fair
young face that death had made so passionless -- that sweet mirror upon
which the last time we had been together in happiness the rosy light of
love was shining, and sweet presumption and maiden shame were
striving. And as I looked and held her hand the dim tent-walls fell away,
and the painted lists rose up before me, and the littered flowers my quick,
curveting charger stamped into the earth, and the blare of the heralds'
trumpets, the flutter of the ribbons and the gay tires of brave lords and
fair ladies all centered round the dais where those two fair sisters sat.
Gods! was that long sigh the night wind circling about my tent-flap, or in
truth the sigh of slighted
sol~d as I rode past her chair with the victor's circlet on my speui-point
and laid it at the footstool of ner sister?
I herlt over that fair white corpse, so sick in mind and body that :th the
real was unreal and all the unrcal true. I saw the p.,h~ted pageantry of her
father's hall again, and the colore:l reflections of the blazoned windows on
the polished corri:10rs shirle rlpon our din1 and sandy floor, and down
the long vistas of my aching memory the groaps of men and WGmeII
moved in a motley harmony of color -- a fair shifting mosaio of pattern
and hue and light that radiated and came back eser to those two fair
English girls. I heard the ripplUlg laughter on courtly lips, the whispered
jest of gallants, and the thoughtless glee of damsels. I heard the ham and
smooth praise that circled round the b1ack elder sister's chair, and at my
elbow the father, saying, "My daughter; my daughter lsobel!" and started
up to find myself alone, and that sweet, horrid thing there in the low,
flickoring taper-light unmoved, unmovable.
I sat agaic, and presently the wavering shadows spread~out into the
likeness Of great cedar branches casting their dusky shelter over the soft,
sweet-scented ground; and, as the hushed air swayed to and i ro those
great vel vet screens, lsobel stepped from them, all in white, and ran to
me, and stopped, and clapped her hands bcfore her eyes and on her
throbbing bosom; then stretchefl those trembling fingers beseechingly to
me, fresh from that sweet compauionship; then down upon her knees,
and clipped me round with her fair white arms, and turned back her head
and looked upon me with wild, wet, yearning eyes, and cheeks that
burned for love and shame. I would not have it. I laughed\with the bitter
mockingness of one possessed by another love, and unwound those ivory
bonds and pushed the fair maid back, and there against the dusk of Icaf
and branch she stood and wrung her fingers and beat her breast and
spoke so swcet and passionate, that even my icy .nood half thawed undor
the white light of her reckless love, and I let her take my hand and hold
and rain hot 1<isses on it and warm, pattering tears, till all the strength
was running from me, and I half turned and my fingers closed on hers --
but, gods! how cold they were! And with a stifled cry I woke again in the
little tent, to find my hand fast locked in the icy fingers of the dead.
t was a long, weary night, and, sad as was my watch, and hectic as the
ViSiDus WlIiCil swept through my heavy head, I would not quicken by
one willing hour of sleep the sad duties of that gray to-morrow which I
knew must come. At tune~ I
sat and stared into the yellow tapers, living the brief spell of my last life
again: all the episode and change, all the hurry and glitter and unrest that
was forever my portion; and then, in spite of resolution, I would doze to
other visions, outlined more brightly on the black backgrcund of oblivion;
and then I started tlp, my will all at war with tired nature's sweet
insistence, and paced in weary round our canvas cell, solitary but for those
teeming thoughts and my own black shadow, which stalked, sullon~and
slow, ever beside me.
But WtlO can deride the great mother for long? 'Twas sleep I needed, and
she would have it; and so it came presently upon my heavy eyelids --
strong, dee;. sleep, as black and silent as the abysi of the ncther worldi. My
head sunk upon my arm, my arm upon the foot Of the yelvet bier, and
there, in my mail, mlder the thin taper light, worn out with battle and
grief, I slept.
I know not how long it was -- some hours most likely; but after a tim, the
strangest feeling took possession of me in that slumbor, and a fine
ethereal terror, purged of gross material fear, possessed my spirit. I
awoke -- not with the pleasant drowsiness which marks refreshment, but
wido and staring, and my black Phrygian hair, without the cause of sight
or sound, stoodi stiff upon my head, for something was moving in the
I glared around, yet nothing conld be seen; the lights were low in their
sockets, but all else was in order. My piled shield and helmet lay there in
the shadows; our warlike implements and gear were all as I had seen
them last. ~o noiso or vision broke the blank; and yet -- and yet -- a
coward chill sat on me, for here and thore was moving something unseen,
unheard, unfelt by outer senses. I rr~sc, and, fearful and vet angry to be
cowed by a dreadful nothing, stared into every corner and shadow, but
naught was there. Then I lifted a dim taper, and held it over the face of the
dead girl and stared amazed. Were it given to mortals to die twice, that
girl had. But a short time before and her sweet face had worn the
reflection of that dreadful day: there was a pal!id fright and pain upon it
we could not smooth away, and now some wonderful, strange thing had
surely happened, and all the unrest was gone, all the pained dissatisfaction
and frightened wonder. The maid was still and smooth and happy-
looking. Hoth! as I bent over her she looked just as one might look who
reads aright some long enigma, and finds relief with a sigh from some
hard problem. She slept so wondrous still and quiet, and looked so
marvelous fair now, and contented, that it
purged my fear, and, strong in that fair presence -- how could I be else? --
I sat, and after a time, though you may wonder at it, I slept again.
I dozed, and dozed, and dozed, in happy forgetfulness of the present,
while the black night wore on to morning, and the last faint flushes of the
priestly tapars played softly in their sockets; and then again I started up
with every nerve within me thrilling, my clinched fists on my knees, and
my wide eyes glaring into the mid-gloom, for that strange nothing was
moving gently once more about us, fanuing me, it seemed, with the
rhythnled swing of unseen draperies, circling in soft aadenced circles here
and thele, mute, voicele£s, presenceless, and yet so real and tangible to
some unl(nown inner sen£e that hailed it from withill me that I could
almost say that now 'twas here and now'twas there, and locate it with
trembling finger, although, in truth, nothing moved or stirred.
I looked at the maid -- she was as she had been; then into every dusky
place and corner, but nothing showed; then rose and walked to the tent-
flap, and lifted it and looked out. Down in the long valley below the
somber shadows were seamed by the winding of the pale river, and all
away on the low meadows, piled thick and deep with the black mounds of
dead foemen, the pale marsh-lights were playing amid the corpses --
leaping in ghostly fantasy from rank to rank, and heap to heap,
coalescing, separating, shining, vanishing, all in the tmbroken twilight
silence. And those somber fields below were tapestried with the thin
wisps of white mist that lay in the hollows, and were shredded ont into
weird shapes and forms over the black bosom of the near~spent night.
Up above, far away in the east, where the low hills lay flat in the distance,
the lapE'et fringe of the purple sky was dipped in the pale saRron of the
coming sun, and overhead a few white stars were shining, and noW and
then the swart, almost unseen wings of a raven went gently beating
through the starlit void; and as I watched I £aw him and his brothers
check over the Crecy ringes, and with hungry croak, like black spirits,
circle round and drop one after another through the thin white Yeils of
vapor that shrouned prince, chiefs, and vassals, peer and peasant, in those
deep, long swathes of the black harvest we cut, but left ungarnered,
yesterday. Near around me the English camp was all asleep, tired and
heavy with the by-gone battle; the listless pil kets on the rmisEv, distant
mounds hung drooping over their piled spears; the mettled chargers'
heads were all asag, they were so weary as they stood among the
shadows by their untouched fodder, and the damp pennone
and bannerets over the k~~~ightly porches scarce lifted on the morning
air. That air c~mie cool and sad youner from the l5;Dglish sea, and
wandered melancholy down our lifeless, cnjpty canvas streets, 1ifting the
loose tent-flaps and sighing as it strayed among the sleeping groups,
stirring with its unsecu feet the white ashes of the dead camp-fires, the
only moving presence in all the place -- sad, silent, and listless. I dropped
the hangings over the chill morning glimmer, the camp of sleeping
warriors and dusky valley of the dead, and turned again to my post. I was
not sleepy nOW, nor afraid -- evell though as I entered a draught of misty
outer air entered with me, and the last atom of the priestly taper shone
fitful and yellow for a moment upon the dead lsobel, and then went out.
I sat down by the maid in the chill darl<, and loolied sadly on the ground,
the while my spirits were as low as you may well guess, and the wind
went moaning round and round the tent. But I had not sat a moment --
scarcely twenty breathing spaces -- when a faint, fine scent of herb-cured
wolf-skins came upon the air, and strange shadows began to stand out
clear upon the floor. I saw my weapons shining with a pale refulgence,
and -- by all the godst -- the walls of the tent were a-shimmer with pale
luster! With a half-stifled cry I leaped to my feet, and there -- there across
the bier -- though you tell me I lie a thousand times -- there, calm,
refulgent, looking gently in the dead girl's face, splendid in her rundy
savage beauty, bending over that white marble body, so ghostly thin and
yet so real, so true in every line and limb, was Blodwen -- Blodwen, the
British chieftainess -- my thousand-years-dead wife!
Standing there serene and lovely, with that strange lavende glow about
her, was that wonderful and dreadful Shade, holding the dead girl's hand,
and looking at her closely with a face that spoke of neither resentment
nor sorrow. I stood and stared at them, every wit within me numb and
cold by the sun~lenuess of it, and then the apparition slowly lifted her
eyes to mine, and I -- the wildest sensations of the strong old love and
brand-new fear possessed mc. What! do you tell me that a~ection dies?
Why, there in that shadowed tent -- so long after, so untimely, SG strange
and useless -- all the old strcam of love I had borne for that beantiful
slave-girl, though t had been cold and overlaid by other loves for a
thousand years, welled up in my heart on a sunden. I made half a pace
toward her, I stretched a trembling, entreating hand, yet drew it back, for
I wa~ mortal and I feared; and an ecstacy of
pleasure filled my throbbing veins, and my love saTd, "On; she was thine
once and must be now; down to thy knees and claim her. What matters
anything, if thou hast a lion upon such splendid lovelinessP" And my
coward flesh hung b.tcli cold and would not, and now back and Inow
forward I swa-rT~d with these contending fedings, while that fair shadow
eved me with the most impenetrable calm. At last she spol~e, whll never a
tone in her voice to show she remembered it was near three hundred
years since she had spoken before.
"JIy Phoenician," she said, in soft monotone, looking ut the dead Isobel,
who lay pale in the soft blue shine abotlt he r, "this was a pity. You are
more dull-witted than I thought,"
I bent my head, but could not speak, and so she asked:
"Didst really never guess who it was yonder steel arrllor hid?"
"Not once," I said, "oh, sweetly dreadful!"
.'Nor who it was that stirred the white maid to lo`-e over there in her
"What!" I gasped. "Was that you? ~~as that your face, men, in truth, I saw,
reflecting in this dead girl's when first I net her?"
"Why, yes, good merchant. And how you could not know it passes all
"And then it was you, dear and dreadful, who moved her? illove! 'twas
you who filled her beating pulses there down by the cedars; it was you
who prompted her hot tongue to that passionate wooing! But why --
That shadow looked away for a moment, and then turned upon me one
fierce fleeting glance of such strange, concentrated, unquenchable love
that it numbed my tongue and stupefied my senses, and I staggered back,
scarce knowin$ whether I were auswered or were not.
Presently she went on: " Then, again, you are a little forgetful at times, my
master -- so full of your petty 1oves and wars it vexes me."
"Vexes you! That were wonderful, indeed; yet 'tis more wonderful that
you submit. One word to me -- to come but one moment and stand
shining there as you do -- and I should be at your feet, strange,
"lt might be so, but that were supposing such moments as these were
always possible. Dost not notice, Phoenician, how seldom I have been to
thee like this, and yet, remombering that I forget thee not, that mayhap I
love thee still, canst thou doubt but that wayward circumstance fits to my
c,ousts~ut wish but seldom?"
"Yet you are imniortal; time and space seom nothing; barriers and
distance -- all those things that shackle mell -- have no meaning for you.
All thy being fomed on the structure of a wish, and every earthly 1aw
sLIbservient to yonr fancy, how ~s it you can do so much and yet so little,
and be at once so dominant and yet so feeble?"
"I told yOLZ, dear friend, before, that with new capacities new laws arise. I
ncar forget how far I once could see -- what was the edge of that shallow
world you live in -- wl~ere exactly the confines of your powers and liberty
are set. Hut this I know for certain: that while with us the possible widens
out into splondid vagueness, the impossible still oxists,"
"And do you really mean, then, that fate is still the stronger among you?
-- this fair girl, herc, sweet shadow! Oh, with one of those terrible and
shining arms crossed there on thy bosom, couldst thou not have guided
into happy void that fatal spear that killed? Surely, surely, it were so
The priestess dropped her fair head, und over her dim white shoulders,
and her pleasant-scented, hazy wolf-skhls, her rundy hair, all agleam in
that strange refulgDnce, shono like a cascade of sleeping fire. Sthon she
looked up and roplied, in low tones:
"The swimmer swims, and the river runs; the vwished-for point may be
reached or it may nDt; the river is the stronger,"
Somehow I felt that my shadowy guest was less pleased thau before, so I
thought a moment, and then said, "Where is she uow?" and glauced at
"The nlavice," smiled Blodwen, "is asleep."
~ " Oh, wal~o her!" I cried, i'for one moment, for half a breath, for one
moiety of a pulse, and I will never ask thee other questions."
"Insatiable! incredulous! how far will thy reckless love and wonder go?
Must I lay out before thy common eyes all the things of the unknown for
you to sample as you did your bags of fig and olive?"
"I loved her before, and I love her still, even as I loved and still love thee.
Does sbe know this?"
"She knows as much as you know little. Look!" and the shadow sprcad out
one violet hand over that silent faco.
I looked, and then leaped back with a cry of fear and surprise. The dead
girl was truly dead, not a nu~~cle or a finger moved; yet at that bidding I
turned my eyes upon hkr there under the tender glowing shadow of that
wood l'Ous p.lim, a faint, sweet flush of colorless light rose up within her,
and on it I read, for one fleeting moment, such inexplicable knowledge,
such extraordinary felicity, such impenetrable contentnent, that I stood
spell-bound, all of a tremblo. while that wondrous radiance died away
evell quicker than it had risen. Gods! 'twas like the shine of the herald
da`sm on a summer morning; it was like the ilush on the water of a
coming sunrise. I drew my hand across my face and looked up, expecting
the chieftaines£ would haNre gone, but she was still there.
"Are you satisfied for the moment, dear trader, or would you catechise
me as you did just now yonder by the fire under the altar in the circle:~"
"Just now!" I exclaimed, as her words swept back to me the remembrance
of the stormy night in the old Saxon days wher', with the fair Fditha
asleep at my knee, that shade had appeared before -- "just now! why,
Shadow, that was throo hundred years ago!"
"Three hundred what?"
"Threo hundred years -- full round circles, threo hundred varying seasons.
Why, Blodwen, forests have been seeded, and grown venerable, and
decayed about those stones since we were there !" ~
"Well, may be they have. I now remember that interval you call a year,
and what strange store we set by it; and I dimly recollect," said the
dreamy spirit, "what wide-asmlder episodes those were between the
green flush of your forests and the yellow. But now -- why, the grains of
sand here on thy tent-floor are not set more close together -- do n~ot
seem more one simple whole to you than your trivial seasons do to me.
Ah, dear merchant! and as you smile to see the ripples of the sea sparklo a
moment in frolic chaso of ono anothor, and then bo gOllO into the void
from whonce theg camo, so do we lio and waeeh thy petty years shino
for a momont on the smooth bosom of the immellse."
Deep, strange, atld weird seemed her words to me that night, and much
she said more thau I havo told I coultl not understand, but sat with bent
head and crossed arms full of stralige perplexity of feelIng, now glancing
at the dead £ol liermaid my body loved, and then looking at that comely
column of bluo woman-vapol that sat so placid on the foot of the bior and
spoke so simply of such W-ondrous things.
For an hour we talked, a;,d then on a sunden Blodwen started to her feEt
and stoo.l in listening attitune. ii They are COming, Phoenician," she .ried,
and E,ointed to the door.
I arose with a strange, une. ,yfetling and looked out. 'L'h6 gray dawn had
spread from sky to sUv, and an angry flush was over all the air. The
morning wind blew cold and mel.
`- chol~r, and the shrouned mists, like bands of pale speecers, were
trooping up the bloody valley before it, but otherwise not a soul was
moving, not a sound broke the ghostly stinness. I dropped the awning,
and shook my head at the fair priestess, whereon sl.e smiled superior, as
orle might at a ~rayward child, and for a minute or t~vo we spol,e again
together. then up she got once more, tall and stately, with dilated nostrils
anc1 the old proun, cxpeetant look I had seen on her sweet red face so
often as we togcthet, hand itl hand and heart to he4rt, had galloped out to
tribal war. `'They come, PhoeniGian, and I must go," she whispered, and
again she pointed to the tent door, though never a sourld or footfall
broke the stinness.
"You shall not, must not -g`~, wife, priestess, queen!" I cried, throwing
nlyself on my knee at those shadowy feet, and extending my 1or?gin~
arms. "Oh, you that can awake, put me to sleep; you that can read to the
Hnisll of every half-told tale, relieve me of the long record of my life. Oh,
stay and mend my loneliness, or, if you go, let ?ne come too! -- n ask not
how or ~Fhither,"
"Not yet," she said, "not yet -- "And then, while more seemed actually
upon her lil~s, I did hear the sound of footfalls outside, and, Wollderiltg, I
sprung to the curtain and lifted it.
There, outside, standing in the first glint of the yellow sunshine, were
some half dozen of my honest veterans, all with spades and picks and in
their leathern doublets.
"You see, sir," said the spo~esman, sorrowfully~, the while he scraped the
half-dry dAy from off his trenching spade, "we have come round for our
brave young captain -- for your good lady, sir -- the first. Presently we
shall be very busy, and we thought mayhap you would like this over as
SOOlt and quiet as might be."
They had come for Isobel! I turned back into the tent, wondering what
they would think of my stra?lge guest, and she was gone. 3XTot one ray
of light was left behind -- not one thread of her lavender skirt shone
agamst my black walls -- only the cold, pale girl there, stiff and white, with
the shine of the dawn UpO?I her dead face; and all my long pain a?ld
vigils told upon me. and, with a cry of pain and grief I could not master, I
dropped upon a seat and hid my face upon my arm.
I had had enough of France with that night, and three nours afterward
went~ straight to the kin~ and told him so, begging
him to relieve me from my duty and let me get back to England, there to
seek the dead maid's kindred, and Hnd in some new direction
forgetfulness of eYerything about the victorious camp. And to this the
king replied, by commending my poor selvice far too higmy, saving some
fair, kind things out of his smooth courtier tongllo about her that was no
more and in good part uphraiding HlC for bringing, as he supposed I had
brought, one so gentle-nurtured so far afield; then he said: " In faith, good
soldier, were to-day but yesterday, and Philip's array still befcre us, we
would not spare you, even though our sympathy were yours as f~~lly as
'tis now. But my misguided COliSin is away to Paris, and his following are
scattered to the four winds -- for which God and all the saints be thanked!
There is thus less need for thy strong arm and brave presence in our
camp, and if you really would, why, then, go, and may kind time heal
those wounds which, believe me, I do most thoroughly assess."
I bent and kissed the kindly monarch's hand, and made my thanks; then
"But stay a minute!" he cried after me. "How soon could you make a
"I have no gear," I said, "and all my prisoners have been set free
unransomed. I could start here, even as I stand."
"Soldierly answered!" exclaimed the king. "A good knight shouid have no
baggage but his weapons, and no attachments but his duty. ~ow look! I
can both relieve you of irksome charges here and excuse with reason both
ample and honorable your going. Come to me as soon as you have put
by your armor. I will have ready for you a scrip sealed and signed. No
messenger has yet gone over to England with the news of our glorious
yesterday, and this charge shall be thine. Take the scrip straight to the
queen in England. There, no thanks. Away, away! thou wilt be the most
popular man in all my realm before the sun goes down, I fear."
I well knew how honorable was this business that the good king had
planned for me, and made my utmost dispatch. I gave my tent to one
esquire and my spare armor to another. I ran and gripped the many
hronzed hands of my tough companions, and told them (alas, unwittingly
what a lie that wore!) that I would come again; then I bestowed my
charger Jove! how reluctant was the gift!) upon the next in rank below
me, and mounted lsobel's light war-horse, and paid my debts, and settled
all accomlts, and was back at our great captain's tent ~ust as his
cha~1?1ain was sanding the last line~ upon
that dispatch which was to startle yonder fair country waiting so
expeetant across the narrow sea.
They rolled it up in silk and leather, and put it in a metal cylinder, and shut
the lid and sealed it with the king's own seal, and then he gave it to me.
"Take this," he said, "straight to the queen, and givo it into her own hands.
Be close and silent, for you will know it were not meet to be robbed of thy
news upon the road; but I need not tell you of what becomes a trnsty
messenger. There, so, strap it in thy girdle, and God speed thee! Surely
such big news was never packed so small before."
I left the royal tent and vaulted into the ready saddle without. One hour, I
thought, as the swift steed's head was turned to the westward, would take
me to the shore, and two others may set ~~le on foot in England. Then, if
they have relays upon the road, three~more will see me kneeling at the
lady's feet, the while her fingers burst these seals. Lord! ilOW they shall
shout this afternoon! How the prentices shall toss their caps, and the fat
burghers crowd the narrow streets, and every rustic hamlet green ring to
the sky with gratitune. Ah, six hours I thought might do the journey; but
read, and you shall see how long it took.
Scouring over the low grassy plains as hard as the good horse could
gallop, with the gray sea broadening out ahead with every mile we went,
full of thoughts of a busy past and uncertain future, I hardly noticed how
the wind was freshening. Yet, when we rode down at last by a loose hill
road to the beach, strong gusts were piping amid the tree-tops, and the
king's galleys were lurching and rolling together at their anchors by the
landing-stage as the short waves came crowding in, one close upon
another, under the first pressure of a coming storm.
But wind or no wind, I would cross; and I spoke to the captain of the
galleys, showing him my pass with its royal signet, and saying I must
have a ship at once, though all the cave of :Eblis were- let loose upon us.
That worthy, weather-beaten fellow held the mandate most respectfully
in one hand. while he pulled his grizzled beard with the other, and stared
o;1t into the north, where, under a black canopy of lowering sky, the sea
was seamed with .gray and hurrying squalls; then turned to the cluster of
sailors who were crowded round us, guessing my imperious errand, to
know who would start upon it. And those rough salts swore no man of
sanity would venture out -- not even for a king's generous bounty -- not
even to please victorious Edward would the~ go; no' nor to egse the
hearts of twenty thousand wives, or glad the proun eyes of ten-score
hundred mothers. It was impossible, they said. See how the frothy spray
was flying already over the harbor bar, and how shrill the frightened
sea~mews were rising high above the land; no ship would hold together
in such a wind as that brewing out over there; no man this eide of hell
could face it -- and yet, and yet, "Why," laughed a leathery fellow, slapping
his mighty fist into his other palm, "as I was born by Sareharm, and knew
the taste of salt spray near as early as I knew my mother's milk, it shall
never be said I was frightened by a hollow sky and a Frenchman's wind.
I'll be your pilot, sir.
"And I'll go wherever old Harry dares," put in a stout young fellow. "And
I." "And I." "And I," was chorused on every side, as the brave English
seamen caught the bold infection, and in a brief space there, under the lee
of the gray harbor jetty, before a motley cheering crowd, all in the
blustering wind and rain, I rode my palfrey up the sloping way, and on to
the impatient tossing little bark that was to bear the great news to
We stabled the good steed safe under the half deck forward, set the
mizzen and cast off the hawser, and soon the little vessel's prow was
bursting through the crisp waves at the harbor mouthj her head for
home, and behind, dim through the rainy gusts, the white house-fronts of
the beach village, and far away the uplands where the English army lay.
We reefed and set the sails as we drew from the land, but truly those
fellows were right when they hung back from sharing the peril and the
glory with me. The strong blue waters of the midland sea whereon I first
sailed my merchant bark were like the ripples of a sheltered pond to the
roaring trench and furrows of this narrow northern strait. All day long we
fought to westward, and every hour we spent the wind came stronger
and more keenly out of the black funnel of the north, and the waves
swelled broader and more monstrous. By noon we saw the English coast
gleam ghostly white through the flying reek in front; but by then, so
fierce was the north-easter howling, that, though we went to windward
and off again, doing all that good seamen could, now stealing a spell
ahead,,and anon losing it amid a blinding squall, we could not near the
English port for which we aimed, there in the cleft of the dim white cliffs.
After a long time of this our captain came to where I leaned, watchful,
against the mast, and said:
"The king has made an order, as you well know, all vessels
from France are to sail for this town of Dover there, and nowhere else, on
pain of a fine that would go near to swamp such as we."
"Good sl~ipper," I answered, "I know the law, but there are exceptions to
every rule, which, well taken, only cast the more honor on general
stringency. :ECing Edward would have you make that pOI t at all
reasonable times; but if you can not reach it, as you surely can not now,
you are not bo~md to sail me, his messenger, to Paradise in lieu thereof. I
pray you, put dowu your helm and run, and take the nearest harbor the
wind will let us." At this the captain turlled upon his heel well pleased, and
our ship came ronun, and now, before the gale, sailed perhaps a little
But it scarcely bettered our fortune. A short time before dusk, while we
wallowed heavily in the long furrows, my poor palfrey was thrown and
broke her fore-legs over her trestlebar, and between fear and pain
screarned so loun and shlill it chilled even my stalwart sailors. Then, later
on, as we rode the frothy summit of a giant wave, our topmast snapped,
and fell among us, and the wild loose ropes writhed and lashed about
worse than a hundred biting serpents, and the bellowing sail, like a great
bull, jerked and strained for a moment so that I thought that it would
unstep the mast itself, and then went all~to tatters with a hollow boom,
while we, kneedeep in the swirling sea that Hlled our hollow, deckless
ship, gentle and simple, prentice and knight, whipped out our knives and
gave over to the hungry ocean all that riven tackle.
It was enough to malie the stoutest heart beat low to ride in such a
creaking, retching cockle-shell over the hill and dale of that stupennous
water. Now, out of the tumble and hiss, down we would go, careering
down the glassy side of a mighty green slope, the creamy white water
boiling under our lowsunk bows, and there, in mid-hollow, with the
tempest howling overhead, we would have for a breathing space a
blessed spell of seeming calm. And then, ere we could taste that scant
felicity, the reeling floor would swell beneath us, and out of the watery
glen, hurtled by some unseen power, we rose again up, up to the spume
and spray, to the wild shouting wind that thrilled our humming cordage
and lay heavy upon us, while the gleaming turmoil through which we
staggered and rushed leaped at our ileeting siles liLe packs of whide sea-
wolves, and all the heaving leadell distance of the storm lay spread in turn
before us -- then down again. Hour after hour we ~eeled down the
English coast with the
~rild cl~amlel in mid-fllry on our left and the dim-seen ramparts ot
brt.lliers at the cliil feet on onr right. Then, as we went, the light began to
fail us. Our weather-beatell steersman's fa`.c, whic}1 had looked f om his
phace by the tiller so calm a!Zd steadfast over the `;ar of wind and sea,
became troubled and long and anxiously he scanned the endless line of
surf that shut us from the many little villag'es and creeks ;e were passing.
"You see, Sir might," shouted the captain to me, as wet through we held
fast to the same rope, "'tis a question with us whether we find a shelter
before the light goes down, or whether we spend a night like this out on
the big waters yonder,"
"And does he," I asked, "who pilots us, know of a near harbor?"
"Ah, there is one somewhere hereabout, but with a perilous bar across the
mouth, and the tide serves but poorly for getting over. If we can cross it
there is a dry jacket and supper for all this evening; and if we do not, may
the saints in Paradise have mercy on usl"
"Try, good fellow, try!" I shouted; " many a dangerous thing comes easier
by the venturing, and I am already a laggard post!" So the word was
passed for each mall to stand by his place, and through the gloom and
storm, the beating spray and the wild pelting rain, just as the wet evening
fell, we neared the laun.
NVe swept in from the storm, and soon there was the bar plain cnough --
a, shining, thunderous orescent -- glimmering pallic' under the shadow of
the land, a frantic hell of foam and breakers that heaved and broke and
surged with an infernal, storm-deriding tumult, and tossed the ficrce
whete~ fountains of its rage mast-hign into the air, and swirled and sholle
and crashed in the gloom, sending the white litter of its turrlloil in hroad,
ghostly sheets far into that black, still water we could mal;e out beyond
under the veil of spume and foam ha!lging above that boiling caldron.
Straight to it we went through the cold, fierce wind, with the howl of the
black night bemun us, and the thunder of that shi!le before. We came to
the bar, and I saw the white light 0!1 thu strained, brave faces of my silent
friends. I looked aft, and there was the helmsman, calm and strong,
u!lilinchingly e~ing the infernal belt before us. I saw all this in a scanty
second, and then the tvhite hell was under our bows and towering high
above our stern, a mighty cresteLl, foam-streaked breaker. With the
speed of a javelin thrown by a strong hand we rushed into the
wrack; one blinding moment of fury and turmoil, and then ~ felt the
vessel stagger as she touched the sand; and the next irlstant her sides ~ ent
all to s-~linters under my very feet, and the great wave burst over nS and
rushed thundering on in conscious strength, and not two planks of that ill-
fated ship, it seemfd, were still togethor.
Over and over through I7le swirl and hum I was swept, the dying cries of
my ship-farers smLIlding in my ears like the wail of disembodied spirits --
now, for a moment, I was high in the sptmle and ruck, gasping and
striking out as even he who likes his life the loast will gasp in like case, and
then, with thunderous power, the big wase hurled me down into the
depth, down, down, into the inky darkness with all the noises of Inferno
in my ears, and the great churning waters pressing on me till the honest
air seemed leagues above, and my strained, bursting chest was dying for
a gasp. Then, again, the hideous, playful waters would tear asnuner and
toss me high into the keen, strong air, with the yellow stars dancing
above, and the long line of the black coast before my salt tearfilled eyes,
and propped me np Just SO IOIlg as I might get half a gasping sigh, and
hear the storm beating wildly on the further side of the bar, then the
mocking sea would laugh in savage frolic, and down again. Gods! right
into the abyss of the nether turmoil, fathoms deep, like a strand of
worthless seawrack, scouring over the yellow sand-beds where never
living man went before, all in the cruel fingers of the icy midnight sea, was
I tossed here and there.
And when I did not die, when the savage sea, like a great beast of prey, let
me live by gasps to spread its enjoyment the more, and tossed and te^sed
me, and shouted so hideous in my ears and weiglled me down -- why, the
last spark of spirit in me burned tlp on u sunden, ficrce and angry. I set
my teeth, and struck out hard and strong. Ah! and the sea grew
somewhat slcek when I grew resolute, and, after some minutes of this
new struggle, rolled more gently, and buried me less deep each time in its
black, foam-ribbed vortex, and, presently, in half an hour perhaL's, the
thunder of the bar was all behind me instead of roullfl abmlt, th- stars
were steadier in their places, the dim barrier of the lal.I frowned through
the rain direct above, and a few minutes more, wondrous spent and
weary, the black water flowin~ in at my low and swohen lip6 with every
stroke, yet strong in heart and hopeful, I found myself floating up a
narrow estuary on a dim, foam-flecked, but peaceful tide.
The strong but gentle c,urrent swept in with the flowing
Water under the dark shadows of the land, past what seemed, in the wet
night-gloom, like rugged banks of tree and forest, and finally floated me
to v,here, among loose bowlders and sand, the tatned water was lapp,ng
on a smooth and level beach. I staggered ashore, and sat down as wet and
sorry as well could be. Life ran so cold and numb within, it seemed scarce
worth the cost spent in keeping. My scrip was still at my side, but my
sword was gone, my clothing torn to ribbons, and a more buffeted
messenger never eyed askance the scroll that led him into such a plight.
Where was 1? The great gods who live forever alone could tell, yet surely
scores of miles from where I should be. I got to my feet, reeking with wet
and spray, the gusty wind tossing back the black Phrygian locks from off
my forehead, and glared around. Sigh, sigh, sigh tvent the gale in the
pines above, while mournful pipings came about the shore like wandering
voices, and the sea boomed suhen ly out yo~lder in the darkness. I stared
and stared, and then started back a pace~and stared again. I turned round
on my heel and glowered up the narrow inlet and out to sea; then at the
beetling, crags above and the dimseen mounds inland; then all of a
sunden burst into a scornful laugh -- a wild, angry laugh, that the rocks
bandied about on the wet night air, and sent back to me blended with all
the fitful sobs and moaning of the wind.
The lonely harbor, that Of' a thousand harbors I had come to, was the old
British beach. It was my Druid priestess's village-place that I was standing
I laugl~eJlong and loun as I, the old trader in wine-and olives -- I, the
felueea captain, with cloth and wine below and a comely red-haired slave
on deck -- I, again, in other guise, royal Edward'6 chosen messenger -- as
good a knight as ever jerked a victorious brand ho;ne into its scabbard --
stood there with chattering teeth and shaking knee, mocking fate and
strange chance in reckless spirit. I laughed until my mood changed on a
sunden; and then, swearing by twenty forgotten hierarchies I would not
stand shivering in the rain for any wild pranks that Fate might play me, I
staggered off on to the hard ground.
Every trace of my old village had long since gone; yet, though it were a
thousand years ago, I knew my way about with a strange certainty. I left
the shore, and pushed into the overhanging woods, dark and damp and
somber, and presently I even found a well-known track (for these things
never change); and, half glad and half afraid -- a strange, tattered, dismal
prodigal com'~ strangely home -- I pushed b~ dripping
branch and shadowy coverts out into the open grass-hills b~ yond.
Here, on some ghostly tumuli near about, the gray shino of the night
showed scattered piles of mighty stones and broken circles that once had
been our temples and the burial-places for great captains. I turned my
steps to one of these on the elbow of a little ringe overlooking the harbor,
and perhaps two hundred paces inland from it, and found a vast lichened
slab of stupendous bulk undermined by weather, and all on a slope, with
a single entrance ul-lderneath one end. Did ever man ask lodgment in like
circumstances? It was the burialmound of an old Druid headman, and I
lal~ghed a little again to think how well I had known l~im -- grim old
Ufner of the reeking a~~ars. Hoth! what a cruel, bloody old priest he was!
-- never did a man before, I chu kled, combine such piety and savagery
together. How that old fellow's cruel small eves did sparkle with native
pleasure as the thick, pungent smoke of the sacrificial fire went roaring
up, and the hiss and splutter half drowned the screaming of mea and
women pcnt in their wicker cages amid that blaze. Oh! Old IJfner liked the
smell of hot new blood, and there was no music to his British ear like the
wail nf a captive's anguish. And then for me to be pattering round his cell
like ihis in the gusty dark midnight, shivering and alone, patting and
~feeling the mighty lid of the great crypt, and begging a friendly shelter in
my stress and weariness of that ghostly hostelry -- it was surely strango
Twice or thrice as I ~valked round the great colfer -- it was near as big as a
herdsman's cottage -- and then, finding no other crack or crannv, stooped
and stooped before the tiny portal at the lower end. I s~aw as I knelt that
i;hat tremendous slab ¥vas resting wondrous lightly on a single point of
upright stone set just like the trigg r of an urchin's mouse-trap; but,
nothing daunted, pushing and squeezing, in I crept, and felt with my
hands all that I could not see.
The foxes and the weather had long since sent all there was of IJfner to
dust. ~ill was bare and smooth, while round the -sides were solid, deep
earth-planted slabs of rock -- no one knew better than I how thick they
were and heavy, and on the floor a soft couch of withered leaves and
Now one more sentence, and the ch ~pi r is ended. I had not coiled myself
down on those leaves a minute, my weary head had nodded but once
upon my arm, my eyelids drooped but twice, when, with a soundless
start, undermined by the fierce storm and moved a fatal hair's-breadth by
~e propping key-stone fell in, and all at once my giant roof began to slide.
That vast and ponderous stone, that had taken two tribes to move, was
slipping slowly down, and as it went, all along where it grcund, a line of
glowing, ambient fire, a smoLmg, hissing band of dust marked its silent,
irresistible progress -- a hissing belt of dust aTld glow that shone for a half
moment round the fringe of that stupendous portal -- and then, too late,
as I tottered to my weary knees, and extended a feeble hand toward the
entrance, that mighty door came to rest, that ponderous slab, that scarce a
thousand men could move, fell with a hollow click three inches inl;o the
mortice.3 of the earth-bound walls, and there in that mighty coffer I was
locked -- fast, deep, and safe!
I listened. ~:ot a sound, not a breath of the storm without moved in that
strange chamber. I stared about, and not one cranny of light broke the
smooth,arelvet darkness. What mattered it? I was weary and tired -- to-
morrow I would shout, and some one might hear; to-night I would rest;
and, Jove! how deep and warm and pleasant was that lealy bed that
chance had spread there on the floor for me!
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