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gift will scarce pay the debt you laid on Hacquemont, when you saved all the household from a cruel death, and us women from dishonour crueller far. There is little left in me of the Odille who used to chant to you virelais long ago; but if I cannot minister greatly to your pleasure, I am ready henceforth to share your pains and sorrows; and to bear myself in all things as befits a humble, true, and loyal wife. So may our Lady aid me, and the blessed Saint Ursula !"
Over Ralph's grateful joy, and over Philippe de Hacquemont's triumph, it is needless to tarry. The news took none in the castle very much by surprise; unless it was Gilles, the ancient warder, who -since about thirty winters agone he lost a spouse, more bitter and cross-grained than himself-had come to consider marrying, and giving in marriage as things contrary to nature, and to the will of God.
In those troublous times, all pomps and ceremonies were much curtailed; and it was a very quiet wedding. Nevertheless it was needful that certain preparations should be made and guests bidden; for the castellan was not mindful that the contract should be slurred over, or done in secret, as if it were one he was ashamed of. Furthermore, from the neighbouring town of Bergerac was summoned a scrivener learned in the law, by whom divers deeds and parchments were engrossed; setting forth that-Philippe, Baron of Hacquemont, being then well stricken in years, and devoid of male issue, did thereby solemnly adopt as his heir and successor, Sir Ralph Brakespeare, who was licensed henceforth to bear the name and arms of Hacquemont. All this was duly witnessed, signed and sealed.
On one of these errands Gualtier de Marsan had ridden far and fast; and, as he returned, got drenched in a rain-storm. That same night he was seized with shivering fits, and on the morrow, was in fierce fever; which, on the morning fixed for the wedding had fairly mastered his brain. The esquire was a great favourite at Hacquemont, with the household, and the Free Companion himself felt right sorry for his state; and had more than once visited the sick chamber. at each of these visits the raving seemed to break forth with fresh violence ; and at last the leech forbade entrance to any save himself and the nurse. For many reasons the marriage could not be put off: indeed, it would have been useless to propose to the old castellan any such delay.
So Ralph Brakespeare, and Odille de Champrécourt, knit hands and plighted troth before the chapel-altar-under evil auspices, in
truth; with darkening shadows all around. Emotion and excitement had told heavily of late on the Baron of Hacquemont; and it was plain to all that, with a few more turns of the hour-glass, his life's sand must run out. And, as the scanty bridal-train passed from the chapel through the court, there rang out from a window far above, a terrible cry, followed by a burst of maniac laughter-sending a thrill through the stoutest heart there, and causing the bride to shiver like an aspen.
Those sounds came from the sick chamber where Gualtier de Marsan lay; tossing, like a rudderless barque, very near the fork of the Dark River-whereof one branch winds slowly back through the pleasant meadow-lands of Life; whilst the other hurries on, swift and straight into the deep Dead Sea.
THE SUMMER OF ST. MARTIN.
PHILIPPE DE HACQUEMONT had gauged very justly the measure of mercy meted out in answer to his prayers. He did survive to see his favourite project fulfilled; but barely more. It seemed as though he had braced himself for this one object, partly by an effort of the will, and, when it was accomplished, was not eager to prolong the struggle. He would sit for hours without speaking, and not caring much, as it seemed, to be spoken to; quite happy in his own thoughts, and in watching the new married pair, sitting-also rather silent-together. Then again he would brighten up, for a while, into something like his old self. On one of these last occasions, he desired to confer with Ralph alone, and thus bespoke him
"My fair son, I have, as thou knowest, done all that lies within my power to confirm thee in thine heirship here; and-forasmuch as there liveth no male, near of my kin-it importeth no one man, that I wot of, to oust thee from thine heritage. Nevertheless, that thou wilt enjoy it unto the end peacefully, without hindrance or peril, I may not hope. Whilst the present troubles of our realm endure, few-whether they be great or small-have leisure to concern themselves with their neighbour's affairs; and it may be long before news is brought to Paris that this worn-out carcass of mine is laid in the grave. But when Charles the Wise shall know how things stand here, thinkest
thou our politic King will sit with folded hands, whilst the fair fief of Hacquemont is held by one who oweth him not fealty; and who will send never a spear to the muster, even should the Oriflamme be raised? Moreover, in these times, I hold it not possible for a trained soldier to lie supine-taking his ease at home, and siding neither with England nor France. True it is, that certain fortresses are even now held with the strong hand, by certain who take service on either side as it suits their humour, bearing allegiance to none. I would not have thee ranged among these; and, well I trust, thou hast foresworn their company for ever and aye. When I proffered thee Odille, and chose thee for mine heir, I took no promise from thee concerning this matter; neither do I seek to bind thee now. Nevertheless, I freely aver that, hadst thou been in open arms against my lord our King, I could not in honour or conscience have set mine hand to either contract. But thou camest from beyond Alps-a Free Lance in very truth-owing fealty to none. Neither would it be more strange to see thee, being English born, do thy devoir under the Lilies, than to hear of all the knights and barons of Gascony and Poitou, who cry-St. George Guienne!' Once more, I require of thee no promise; but I charge thee, when I am gone, to weigh all these things heedfully-putting no violence on thyself; and then to decide, as seemeth best for thine own honour, and for the safety of the dear child, I leave in thy guard."
Ralph's brows were bent as he listened; and his answer came but slowly.
"My lord and father, your speech is wise and generous as ever, Trust me, not now for the first time do I ponder these things, and ever find myself in the same strait; yet I scarce know why it should be thus with me. I have never a home-tie beyond the seas; and here I had many such, even before the last seven days made them sevenfold stronger. For ten years I have been fighting yonder for hireling's pay; scarce knowing-and to speak sooth, scarce caring-for the banner under which I lay down at night should be ranged against me on the morrow. Such scruples are misplaced in my heart, as would be the Cross of St. Louis on my breast; yet I cannot away with them altogether. Maybe I shall wax wise, and better able to discern the right path, after biding here for a while. Be sure of this-I will constrain myself much, rather than in any wise imperil the welfare of my dear lady, your daughter."
"Thou sayest well, and I am content"-the castellan replied.
Then after taking breath, he went on more earnestly than before.
"Mark me now. Unless I grossly err, over things in these parts there will shortly come a great change. Since his fleet was swept away under thine eyes before Rochelle, there hath been shrewd ebb in King Edward's power. Poitou he ever ruled rather by fear than love; and the malcontents there have waxed outspoken and bold: in Guienne too, his lieutenants have not strengthened his hands. Thou knowest what tidings have come to Bergerac of late. The Constable's staff, in Du Guesclin's grasp, is no gilded bauble: Moncontour, St. Sévere, Soubise, and many other strong places have gone down before him. The valiant Captal de Buch is prisoner; neither will our King be over speedy in putting him to ransom. Even now, if common report be true, the chiefest of the Poitevins, who still hold to the Red Cross, are closely penned in Thouars; and, unless succour come from England, are under covenant to surrender by an appointed day. Pardi, if matters go on thus, such as dwell in France, and deny fealty to her Suzerain, will stand like lonely trees-a ready mark both for the blast and the felling." "There is reason in all this"-the other answered, gravely. "That the battle hath gone hard against Edward of late, I may not deny. Yet having heard much concerning him, and seen somewhat of that King in early days, and heard more from those who have been near his person-such as stout Walter Breckenridge, whom God assoilzie! -I guess that he will not lightly relinquish that which it hath cost so much time, and gold, and blood to obtain. Men wax not less stubborn as they wax older, till they begin to doat; and had you, my lord, looked on his face, as I did, day by day during Calais leaguer, you would share my faith, that he will essay one great emprize at the least, ere he listen to any such terms of treaty as France would propose. Yon armament under Pembroke which so heavily miscarried, was, I know meant only as the forerunner of a mightier one. The cry for help from Thouars must needs bring things to an issue; King Edward cannot be deaf thereto for very shame, I dare aver, ere this there is chafe and stir at Windsor; and that the arrièreban hath gone forth already, from the Scottish Border southwards, throughout the length and breadth of the land. I am minded to bide here quiet for a while, marking warily the changes of the times. Hacquemont, as I have heard you say, hath ever lain somewhat remote from the turmoil. "Twill be easy to send forth scouts ever and anon who shall bring us word if it rolls our way. Thus far do I subscribe to your opinion, my good lord: if King Edward should lose foothold in Guienne, or keep it only on the seaboard, 'twere sheer mad
ness to keep his banner flying over a few scattered castles-for the Constable to sack piece-meal at his leisure. I mind well the words that were ever in John Hawkwood's mouth, when somewhat had to be done at which he guessed we might have qualms-we were not nice of stomach, God wot necessity hath no law'-quoth he. He picked up the proverb from a priest; yet 'tis truth, perchance, for all that; and I will strive to comfort myself therewith-as better men have done, I trow -at a fitting season. The Saints guide my judgment, to guess when
castellan answered, as he leant back, closing his "We will speak further of these matters, but Fetch Odille to me, I pray thee.
"Amen "-the old eyes with a long sigh. not now; I am too weary. that my time is so short, I begrudge her being long out of my presence. I bade her go to inquire concerning the health of Messire Gualtier; 'tis a gentle youth and a kindly-yea, also, I have done him some wrong in my thoughts of late. I am well pleased to hear that he is mending fast."
Truly said Philippe de Hacquemont that his time was short; it was shorter even than he counted on; and on worldly matters he spoke again never a word. Early on the morrow they found him quite dead-" lying as he had smiled." The change had come so quietly that the page who slept in the chamber never guessed that aught had gone amiss, till he drew the curtain and let the light stream in on the set white face.
Though for months past Odille must have looked upon her father's death as a question of days; and could hardly-for his own sake-have wished his life prolonged; it was only natural she should regret him deeply. But time passed on till the fullest period of filial mourning was expired, and still the lady seemed unable to shake off the sorrow that seldom allowed a smile to flicker on her lips and kept her eyes often heavy with tears. In her husband's presence she did, indeed force herself to be cheerful; but even to him-unsuspicious and easily satisfied as he was-the effort was sometimes apparent.
Yet Ralph never murmured, even to himself; and was indeed perfectly happy in his honest way. Action, and some sort of exercise in the open air, had become part and parcel of his nature. He was Seigneur of Hacquemont, till any chose to dispute his title; and the succession brought business enough and to spare on his hands. For the fief-though not over wealthy-was broad, and counted many scattered vassals; with all of whom Ralph chose to make acquaintance face to face. The tried soldier always loves to know, on what ma