HERE we have to do with the ninth tale of the Dizain of Queens. I abridge, as heretofore, at discretion: and the result is that to the Norman cleric appertains whatever the tale may have of merit, whereas what you find distasteful in it you must impute to my delinquencies in skill rather than in volition.
In the year of grace 1386, upon the feast of St. Bartholomew (thus Nicolas begins), came to the Spanish coast Messire Peyre de Lesnerac, in a war-ship sumptuously furnished and manned by many persons of dignity and wealth, in order they might suitably escort the Princess Jehane into Brittany, where she was to marry the Duke of that province. There were now rejoicings throughout Navarre, in which the Princess took but a nominal part and young Antoine Riczi none at all.
This Antoine Riczi came to Jehane that August twilight in the hedged garden. "King's daughter!" he sadly greeted her. "Duchess of Brittany! Countess of Rougemont! Mistress of Nantes and of Guerrand! of Rais and of Toufon and Guerche!"
"Nay," she answered, "Jehane whose only title is the Constant Lover." And in the green twilight, lit as yet by one low-hanging star alone, their lips met, as aforetime.
Presently the girl spoke. Her soft mouth was lax and tremulous, and her gray eyes were more brilliant than the star yonder. The boy's arms were about her, so that neither could be quite unhappy; and besides, a sorrow too noble for any bitterness had mastered them, and a vast desire whose aim they could not word or even apprehend save cloudily.
"Friend," said Jehane, "I have no choice. I must wed with this de Montfort. I think I shall die presently. I have prayed God I may die before they bring me to the dotard's bed."
Young Riczi held her now in an embrace more brutal. "Mine! mine!" he snarled toward the darkening heavens.
"Yet it may be I must live. Friend, the man is very old. Is it wicked to think of that? For I cannot but think of his great age."
Then Riczi answered: "My desires—may God forgive me!—have clutched like starving persons at that sorry sustenance. Friend! ah, fair, sweet friend! the man is human and must die, but love, we read, is immortal. I am fain to die, Jehane. But, oh, Jehane! dare you to bid me live?"
"Friend, as you love me, I entreat you live. Friend, I crave of the Eternal Father that if I falter in my love for you I may be denied even the bleak night of ease which Judas knows." The girl did not weep; dry-eyed she winged a perfectly sincere prayer toward the incorruptible Saints. He was to remember the fact, and through long years.
For even as Riczi left her, yonder behind the yew-hedge a shrill joculatrix sang, in rehearsal for Jehane's bridal feast.
Sang the joculatrix:
"When the morning broke before us
Came the wayward Three astraying,
Chattering a trivial chorus,—
Hoidens that at handball playing,
When they wearied of their playing,
Cast the Ball where now it whirls
Through the coil of clouds unstaying,
For the Fates are merry girls!"
And upon the next day de Lesnerac bore young Jehane from Pampeluna and presently to Saillé, where old Jehan the Brave took her to wife. She lived as a queen, but she was a woman of infrequent laughter.
Young Antoine Riczi likewise nursed his wound as best he might; but about the end of the second year his uncle, the Vicomte de Montbrison—a gaunt man, with preoccupied and troubled eyes—had summoned him into Lyonnois and, after appropriate salutation, had informed Antoine that, as the Vicomte's heir, he was to marry the Demoiselle Gerberge de Nérac upon the ensuing Michaelmas.
That I may not do," said Riczi; and since a chronicler that would tempt fortune should never stretch the fabric of his wares too thin, unlike Sir Hengist, I merely tell you these two dwelt together at Montbrison for a decade, and always the Vicomte swore at his nephew and predicted this or that disastrous destination so often as Antoine declined to marry the latest of his uncle's candidates—in whom the Vicomte was of an astonishing fertility.
In the year of grace 1401 came the belated news that Duke Jehan had closed his final day. You will be leaving me!" the Vicomte growled; "now, in my decrepitude, you will be leaving me! It is abominable, and I shall in all likelihood disinherit you this very night."
"Yet it is necessary," Riczi answered; and, filled with no unhallowed joy, rode not long afterward for Vannes, in Brittany, where the Duchess Regent held her court. Dame Jehane had within that fortnight put aside her mourning, and sat beneath a green canopy, gold-fringed and powdered with many golden stars, upon the night when he first came to her, and the rising saps of spring were exercising their august and formidable influence. She sat alone, by prearrangement, to one end of the high-ceiled and radiant apartment; midway in the hall her lords and divers ladies, gorgeously apparelled, were gathered about a saltatrice and a jongleur, who diverted them to the mincing accompaniment of a lute; but Jehane sat apart from these, frail, and splendid with many jewels, and a little sad, and, as ever (he thought), was hers a beauty clarified of its mere substance—the beauty, say, of a moonbeam which penetrates full-grown leaves.
And Antoine Riczi found no power of speech within him at the first. Silent he stood before her for an obvious interval, still as an effigy, while meltingly the jongleur sang.
"Jehane!" said Antoine Riczi, "have you, then, forgotten, O Jehane?"
Nor had the resplendent woman moved at all. It was as though she were some tinted and lavishly adorned statue of barbaric heathenry, and he her postulant; and her large eyes appeared to judge an immeasurable path, beyond him; only now her lips had fluttered somewhat. "The Duchess of Brittany am I," she said, and in the phantom of a voice. "The Countess of Rougemont am I. The mistress of Nantes and of Guerrand! of Rais and of Toufon and Guerche! . . . Jehane is dead."
The man had drawn one audible breath. "You are Jehane, whose only title is the Constant Lover!"
"Friend, the world smirches us," she said half pleadingly. "I have tasted too deep of wealth and power. Drunk with a deadly wine am I, and ever I thirst—I thirst—"
"Jehane, do you remember that May morning in Pampeluna when first I kissed you, and about us sang many birds? Then as now you wore a gown of green, Jehane."
"Friend, I have swayed kingdoms since."
"Jehane, do you remember that August twilight in Pampeiuna when last I kissed you? Then as now you wore a gown of green, Jehane."
"But no such chain as this about my neck," the woman answered, and lifted a huge golden collar garnished with emeralds and sapphires and with many pearls. "Friend, the chain is heavy, yet I lack the will to cast it off. I lack the will, Antoine." And with a sudden roar of mirth her courtiers applauded the evolutions of the saltatrice.
"King's daughter!" said Riczi then; "O perilous merchandise! a god came to me and a sword had pierced his breast. He touched the gold hilt of it and said, 'Take back your weapon.' I answered, 'I do not know you.'—'I am Youth,' he said; 'take back your weapon.' "
"It is true," she responded, "it is lamentably true that after to-night we are as different persons, you and I."
He said: "Jehane, do you not love me any longer? Remember old years and do not break your oath with me, Jehane, since God abhors nothing so much as perfidy. For your own sake, Jehane—ah, no, not for your sake nor for mine, but for the sake of that blithe Jehane whom, you tell me, time has slain!"
Once or twice she blinked, as dazzled by a light of intolerable splendor, but otherwise sat rigid. "You have dared, messire, to confront me with the golden-hearted, clean-eyed Navarrese that once was I! and I requite." The austere woman rose. "Messire, you swore to me, long since, an eternal service. I claim my bond. Yonder prim man—gray-bearded, the man in black and silver—is the Earl of Worcester, the King of England's ambassador, in common with whom the wealthy dowager of Brittany has signed a certain contract. Go you, then, with Worcester into England, as my proxy, and in that island, as my proxy, wed the King of England. Messire, your audience is done."
Latterly Riczi said this: "Can you hurt me any more, Jehane?—nay, even in hell they cannot hurt me now. Yet I, at least, keep faith, and in your face I fling faith like a glove—old-fashioned, it may be, but clean—and I will go, Jehane."
Her heart raged. "Poor, glorious fool!" she thought; "had you but the wit even now to use me brutally, even now to drag me from this dais—!" Instead he went from her smilingly, treading through the hall with many affable salutations, while always the jongleur sang.
Sang the jongleur:
"There is a land the rabble rout
Knows not, whose gates are barred
By Titan twins, named Fear and Doubt,
That mercifully guard
The land we seek—the land so fair!—
And all the fields thereof.
Where daffodils grow everywhere
About the Fields of Love—
Knowing that in the Middle-Land
A tiny pool there lies
And serpents from the slimy strand
Lift glittering cold eyes.
"Now, the parable all may understand.
And surely you know the name o' the land?
Ah, never a guide or ever a chart
May safely lead you about this land—
The Land of the Human Heart!"
And the following morning, being duly empowered, Antoine Riczi sailed for England in company with the Earl of Worcester, and upon St. Richard's day the next ensuing was, at Eltham, as proxy of Jehane, married in his own person to the bloat King of England.
Afterward the King made him presents of some rich garments of scarlet trimmed with costly furs, and of four silk belts studded with silver and gold, and with valuable clasps, whereof the recipient might well be proud, and Riczi returned to Lyonnois. "Depardieux!" his uncle said; "so you return alone!"
"As Prince Troilus did," said Riczi—"to boast to you of liberal entertainment in the tent of Diomede."
"You are certainly an inveterate fool," the Vicomte considered after a prolonged appraisal of his face, "since there is always a deal of other pink-and-white flesh as yet unmortgaged— Boy with my brother's eyes!" the Vicomte said, and in another voice: "I would that I were God to punish as is fitting! Nay, come home, my lad!—come home!"
So these two abode together at Montbrison for a long time, and in the purlieus of that place hunted and hawked, and made sonnets once in a while, and read aloud from old romances some five days out of the seven. The verses of Riczi were in the year of grace 1410 made public, and not without acclamation, and thereafter the stripling Comte de Charolais, future heir to all Burgundy and a zealous patron of rhyme, was much at Montbrison, and there conceived for Antoine Riczi such an admiration as was possible to a very young man only.
In the year of grace 1412 the Vicomte, being then bedridden, died without any disease and of no malady save the inherencies of his age. "I entreat of you, my nephew," he said at the last, "that always you use as touchstone the brave deed you did at Eltham. It is necessary a man serve his lady according to her commandments, but you have performed the most absurd and crudest task which any woman ever imposed upon her servitor. I laugh at you and I envy you." Thus he died, about Martinmas.
Now was Antoine Riczi a powerful baron, and got no comfort of his lordship, since in his meditations the King of Darkness, that old incendiary, had added a daily fuel until the ancient sorrow quickened into vaulting flames of wrath and of disgust.
What now avail my riches?" he said. "How much wealthier was I when I was loved, and was myself an eager lover! I relish no other pleasures than those of love. Love's sot am I, drunk with a deadly wine, poor fool, and ever I thirst. As vapor are all my chattels and my acres, and the more my dominion and my power increase, the more rancorously does my heart sustain its misery, being robbed of that fair merchandise which is the King of England's. To hate her is scant comfort and to despise her none at all, since it follows that I who am unable to forget the wanton am even more to be despised than she. I will go into England and execute what mischief I may against her."
The new Vicomte de Montbrison set forth for Paris, first to do homage for his fief, and secondly to be accredited for some plausible mission into England. But in Paris he got disquieting news: Jehane's husband was dead, and her stepson Henry, the fifth monarch of the name to reign in Britain, had invaded France; and through this sudden turn was the new Vicomte, the dreamer and the recluse, caught up by the career of events, as a straw is by a torrent, when the French lords marched with their vassals to Harfleur, where they were soundly drubbed by the King of England; as afterward at Agincourt.
But in the year of grace 1417 there was a breathing-space for discredited France, and presently the Vicomte de Montbrison was sent into England, as ambassador. He got in London a fruitless audience of King Henry, whose demands were such as rendered a renewal of the war inevitable, and afterward, in the month of April, about the day of Palm Sunday, and within her dower-palace of Havering-Bower, an interview with Queen Jehane.
Nicolas omits, and unaccountably, to mention that during the French wars she had ruled England as Regent, and with marvellous capacity,—though this fact, as you will see more lately, is the pivot of his chronicle.
A solitary page ushered the Vicomte whither she sat alone, by prearrangement, in a chamber with painted walls, profusely lighted by the sun, and making pretence to weave a tapestry. When the page had gone she rose and cast aside the shuttle, and then with a glad and wordless cry stumbled toward the Vicomte. "Madame and Queen—!" he coldly said.
A frightened woman, half distraught, aging now but rather handsome, his judgment saw in her, and no more; all black and shimmering gold his senses found her, and supple like some dangerous and lovely serpent; and with a contained hatred he had discovered, as by the curt illumination of a thunderbolt, that he could never love any woman save the woman whom he most despised.
She said: "I had forgotten. I had remembered only you, Antoine, and Navarre, and the clean-eyed Navarrese—" Now, for a little, Jehane paced the gleaming and sun-drenched apartment as a bright leopardess might tread her cage. Then she wheeled. "Friend, I think that God Himself has deigned to avenge you. All misery my reign has been. First Hotspur, then prim Worcester harried us; followed the dreary years that linked me to the rotting corpse which God's leprosy so hideously devoured while the thing yet moved. All misery, Antoine! And now I live beneath a sword."
"You have earned no more," he said. You have earned no more, O Jehane! whose only title is the Constant Lover!" He spat it out.
She came uncertainly toward him, as though he had been some not implacable knave with a bludgeon. "For the King hates me," she plaintively said, "and I live beneath a sword. Ever the big fierce-eyed man has hated me, for all his lip-courtesy. And now he lacks the money to pay his troops, and I am the wealthiest person within his realm. I am a woman and alone in a foreign land. So I must wait, and wait, and wait, Antoine, till he devise some trumped-up accusation. Friend, I live as did St. Damoclus, beneath a sword. Antoine!" she wailed—for now was the pride of Queen Jehane shattered utterly—"within the island am I a prisoner for all that my chains are of gold."
"Yet it was not until o' late," he observed, "that you disliked the metal which is the substance of all crowns."
And now the woman lifted toward him a huge golden collar garnished with emeralds and sapphires and with many pearls, and in the sunlight the gems were tawdry things. "Friend, the chain is heavy, and I lack the power to cast it off. The Navarrese we know of wore no such perilous fetters about her neck. Ah, you should have mastered me at Vannes. You could have done so, and very easily. But you only talked—oh, Mary pity us! you only talked!—and I could find only a servant where I had sore need to find a master. Then pity me."
But now came many armed soldiers into the apartment. With spirit Queen Jehane turned to meet them, and you saw that she was of royal blood, for the pride of ill-starred emperors blazed and informed her body as light occupies a lantern. "At last you come for me, messieurs?"
"Whereas," their leader read in answer from a parchment—"whereas the King's stepmother, Queen Jehane, is accused by certain persons of an act of witchcraft that with diabolical and subtile methods wrought privily to destroy the King, the said Dame Jehane is by the King committed (all her attendants being removed) to the custody of Sir John Pelham, who will, at the King's pleasure, confine her within Pevensey Castle, there to be kept under Sir John's control: the lands and other properties of the said Dame Jehane being hereby forfeit to the King, whom God preserve!"
"Harry of Monmouth!" said Jehane.—"oh, Harry of Monmouth, could I but come to you, very quietly, and with a knife—!" She shrugged her shoulders, and the gold about her person glittered in the sunlight. "Witchcraft! ohimé, one never disproves that. Friend, now are you avenged the more abundantly."
"Young Riczi is avenged," the Vicomte said; "and I came hither desiring vengeance."
She wheeled, a lithe flame (he thought) of splendid fury. "And in the gutter Jehane dares say what Queen Jehane upon the throne might never say. Had I reigned all these years as mistress not of England but of Europe—had nations wheedled me in the place of barons—young Riczi had been avenged, no less. Bah! what do these so-little persons matter? Take now your petty vengeance! drink deep of it! and know that always within my heart the Navarrese has lived to shame me! Know that to-day you despise Jehane, the purchased woman! and that Jehane loves you! and that the love of proud Jehane creeps like a beaten cur toward your feet, and in the sight of common men! and know that Riczi is avenged, you—you milliner!"
"Into England I came desiring vengeance—Apples of Sodom! O bitter fruit!" the Vicomte thought. "O fitting harvest of a fool's assiduous husbandry!"
They took her from him; and that afternoon, after long meditation, the Vicomte de Montbrison entreated a fresh and private audience of King Henry and readily obtained it. "Unhardy is unseely," the Vicomte said at its conclusion. Then the tale tells that the Vicomte returned to France and within this realm assembled all such lords as the abuses of the Queen-Regent Ysabeau had more notoriously dissatisfied. Then presently these lords had sided with King Henry, as had the Vicomte de Montbrison, in open field. Latterly Jehan Sans-Peur was slain at Montereau; and a little later the new Duke of Burgundy, who loved the Vicomte as he loved no other man, had shifted his coat.
Meantime was Queen Jehane conveyed to prison and lodged therein for five years' space. She had the liberty of a tiny garden, high-walled, and of two scantily furnished chambers; the brace of hard-featured females Pelham had provided for the Queen's attendance might speak to her of nothing that occurred without the gates of Pevensey, and she saw no other persons save her confessor, a triple-chinned Dominican; and in fine, had they already lain Jehane within the massive and gilded coffin of a queen the outer world would have made as great a turbulence in her ears.
But in the year of grace 1422, upon the feast of St. Bartholomew, and about vespers—for thus it wonderfully fell out—one of those grim attendants brought to her the first man, save the fat confessor, whom the Queen had seen within five years. The proud, frail woman looked and what she saw was the common inhabitant of all her dreams.
Said Jehane: " This is ill done. The years have avenged you. Be contented with that knowledge, and, for Heaven's sake, do not endeavor to moralize over the ruin Heaven has made, and justly made, of Queen Jehane, as I perceive you mean to do." She lay back in the chair, very coarsely clad in brown, but knowing her countenance to be that of the anemone which naughtily dances above wet earth.
"Friend," the lean-faced man now said, "I do not come with any such intent, as my mission will readily attest, nor to any ruin, as your mirror will attest. Nay, madame, I come as the emissary of King Henry, now dying at Vincennes, and with letters to the lords and bishops of bis council. Dying, the man restores to you your liberty and your dower-lands, your bed and all your movables, and six gowns of such fashion and such color as you may elect."
Then with hurried speech he told her of five years' events: how within that period King Henry had conquered entire France, and had married the French King's daughter, and had begotten a boy who would presently inherit the united realms of France and England, since in the supreme hour of triumph King Henry had been stricken with a mortal sickness, and now lay dying, or perhaps already dead, at Vincennes; and how with his penultimate breath the prostrate conqueror had restored to Queen Jehane all properties and all honors which she formerly enjoyed.
"I shall once more be Regent," the woman said when he had made an end; "Antoine, I shall presently be Regent both of France and of England, since Dame Katherine is but a child." She stood motionless save for the fine hands that plucked the air. "Mistress of Europe! absolute mistress, and with an infant ward! now, may God have mercy on my unfriends, for they will have great need of it!"
"Yet was mercy ever the prerogative of royal persons," the Vicomte suavely said, "and the Navarrese we know of was both royal and very merciful, O Constant Lover."
The speech was as a whip-lash. Abruptly suspicion kindled in her eyes, as a flame leaps from stick to stick. "Harry of Monmouth feared neither man nor God. It needed more than any death-bed repentance to frighten him into restoral of my liberty." There was a silence. "You, a Frenchman, come as the emissary of King Henry who has devastated France! are there no English lords, then, left alive of all his army?"
The Vicomte de Montbrison said: "There is perhaps no person better fitted to patch up this dishonorable business of your captivity, wherein a clean man might scarcely dare to meddle."
She appraised this, and more lately said with entire irrelevance: "The world has smirched you, somehow. At last you have done something save consider your ill treatment. I praise God, Antoine, for it brings you nearer."
He told her all. King Henry, it appeared, had dealt with him at Havering in perfect frankness. The King needed money for his wars in France, and failing the seizure of Jehane's enormous wealth, had exhausted every resource. "And France I mean to have," the King had said. "Yet the world knows you enjoy the favor of the Comte de Charolais; so get me an alliance with Burgundy against my imbecile brother of France, and Dame Jehane shall have her liberty. There you have my price."
"And this price I paid," the Vicomte sternly said, "for 'Unhardy is unseely,' Satan whispered, and I knew that Duke Philippe trusted me. Yea, all Burgundy I marshalled under your stepson's banner, and for three years I fought beneath his loathed banner, until in Troyes we had trapped and slain the last loyal Frenchman. And to-day in France my lands are confiscate, and there is not an honest Frenchman but spits upon my name. All infamy I come to you for this last time, Jehane! as a man already dead I come to you, Jehane, for in France they thirst to murder me, and England has no further need of Montbrison, her blunted and her filthy instrument!"
The woman shuddered. "You have set my thankless service above your life, above your honor even. I find the rhymester glorious and very vile."
"All vile," he answered; "and outworn! King's daughter, I swore to you, long since, eternal service. Of love I freely gave you yonder in Navarre, as yonder at Eltham I crucified my innermost heart for your delectation. Yet I, at least, keep faith, and in your face I fling faith like a glove—outworn, it may be, and, God knows, unclean! Yet I, at least, keep faith! Lands and wealth have I given up for you, O King's daughter, and life itself have I given you, and lifelong service have I given you, and all that I had save honor; and at the last I give you honor, too. Now let the naked fool depart, Jehane, for he has nothing more to give."
She had leaned, while thus he spoke, upon the sill of an open casement. "Indeed, it had been far better," she said, and with averted face, "had we never met. For this love of ours has proven a tyrannous and evil lord. I have had everything, and upon each feast of will and sense the world afforded me this love has swept down, like a harpy—was it not a harpy you called the bird in that old poem of yours?—to rob me of delight. And you have had nothing, for of life he has pilfered you, and he has given you in exchange but dreams, my poor Antoine, and he has led you at the last to infamy. We are but as God made us, and—I may not understand why He permits this despotism."
Thereafter, somewhere below, a peasant sang as he passed supperward through the green twilight:
"King Jesus hung upon the Cross,
'And have ye sinned?' quo' He,—
'Nay, Dysmas, 'tis no honest loss
When Satan cogs the dice ye toss,
And thou shalt sup with Me,—
Sedebis apud angelos.
"At Heaven's Gate was Heaven's Queen,
'And have ye sinned?' quo' She,—
'And would I hold him worth a bean
That durst not seek, because unclean.
My cleansing charity?—
Speak thou that wast the Magdalene,
"It may be that in some sort the jingle answers me!" then said Jehane; and she began with an odd breathlessness: "Friend, when King Henry dies—and even now he dies—shall I not as Regent possess such power as no woman has ever wielded in Europe? can aught prevent this?"
"Naught," he answered.
"Unless, friend, I were wedded to a Frenchman. Then would the stern English lords never permit that I have any finger in the government." She came to him with conspicuous deliberation and laid one delicate hand upon either shoulder. "Friend, I am aweary of these tinsel splendors. I crave the real kingdom."
Her mouth was tremulous and lax, and her gray eyes were more brilliant than the star yonder. The man's arms were about her, and an ecstasy too noble for any common mirth had mastered them, and a vast desire whose aim they could not word or even apprehend save cloudily.
And of the man's face I cannot tell you. "King's daughter! mistress of half Europe! I am a beggar, an outcast, as a leper among honorable persons."
But it was as though he had not spoken. "Friend, it was for this I have outlived these garish, fevered years, it was this which made me glad when I was a child and laughed without knowing why. That I might to-day give up this so-great power for love of you, my all-incapable and soiled Antoine, was, as I now know, the end to which the Eternal Father created me. For, look you," she pleaded, "to surrender absolute dominion over half Europe is a sacrifice. Assure me that it is a sacrifice, Antoine! O glorious fool, delude me into the belief that I deny myself in choosing you! Nay, I know it is as nothing beside what you have given up for me, but it is all I have—it is all I have, Antoine!" she wailed in pitiful distress.
He drew a deep and big-lunged breath that seemed to inform his being with an indomitable vigor, and doubt and sorrow went quite away from him. "Love leads us," he said, "and through the sunlight of the world he leads us, and through the filth of it Love leads us, but always in the end, if we but follow without swerving, he leads upward. Yet, O God upon the Cross! Thou that in the article of death didst pardon Dysmas! as what maimed warriors of life, as what bemired travellers in muddied byways, must we presently come to Thee!"
"But hand in hand," she answered; "and He will comprehend."