Read The Story of the Choices of Chivalry, free online book, by James Branch Cabell, on ReadCentral.com.

In the year of grace 1327 (thus Nicolas begins) you could have found in all England no couple more ardent in affection or in despair more affluent than Rosamund Eastney and Sir Gregory Darrell.  She was Lord Berners’ only daughter, a brown beauty, of extensive repute, thanks to a retinue of lovers who were practitioners of the Gay Science, and who had scattered broadcast innumerable Canzons in her honor; and Lord Berners was a man to accept the world as he found it.

“Dompnedex!” the Earl was wont to say; “in sincerity I am fond of Gregory Darrell, and if he chooses to make love to my daughter that is none of my affair.  The eyes and the brain preserve a proverbial warfare, which is the source of all amenity, for without lady-service there would be no songs and tourneys, no measure and no good breeding; and a man delinquent in domnei is no more to be valued than an ear of corn without the grain.  No, I am so profoundly an admirer of Love that I can never willingly behold him slain, of a surfeit, by Matrimony; besides, this rapscallion Gregory could not to advantage exchange purses with Lazarus in the parable; and, moreover, Rosamund is to marry the Earl of Sarum a little after All Saints’ day.”

“Sarum!” people echoed.  “Why, the old goat has had four wives already!”

And the Earl would spread his hands.  “These redundancies are permissible to one of the wealthiest persons in England,” he was used to submit.

Thus it fell out that Sir Gregory came and went at his own discretion as concerned Lord Berners’ fief of Ordish, all through those choppy times of warfare between Sire Edward and Queen Ysabeau.  Lord Berners, for one, vexed himself not inordinately over the outcome, since he protested the King’s armament to consist of fools and the Queen’s of rascals; and had with entire serenity declined to back either Dick or the devil.

But at last the Queen got resistless aid from Count William of Hainault (in a way to be told about hereafter), and the King was captured by her forces, and was imprisoned in Berkeley Castle.  There they held the second Edward to reign in England, who was the unworthy son of Dame Ellinor and of that first squinting King Edward about whom I have told you in the two tales preceding this tale.  It was in the September of this year, a little before Michaelmas, that they brought Sir Gregory Darrell to be judged by the Queen; notoriously the knight had been her husband’s adherent.  “Death!” croaked Adam Orleton, who sat to the right hand, and, “Young de Spencer’s death!” amended the Earl of March, with wild laughter; but Ysabeau leaned back in her great chair a handsome woman, stoutening now from gluttony and from too much wine, and regarded her prisoner with lazy amiability.

“And what was your errand in Figgis Wood?” she demanded “or are you mad, then, Gregory Darrell, that you dare ride past my gates alone?”

He curtly said, “I rode for Ordish.”

Followed silence.  “Roger,” the Queen ordered, “give me the paper which I would not sign.”

The Earl of March had drawn an audible breath.  The Bishop of London somewhat wrinkled his shaggy brows, like a person in shrewd and epicurean amusement, while the Queen subscribed the parchment, with a great scrawling flourish.

“Take, in the devil’s name, the hire of your dexterities,” said Ysabeau.  She pushed this document with her wet pen-point toward March.  “So! get it over with, that necessary business with my husband at Berkeley.  And do the rest of you withdraw, saving only my prisoner.”

Followed another silence.  Queen Ysabeau lolled in her carven chair, considering the comely gentleman who stood before her, fettered, at the point of shameful death.  There was in the room a little dog which had come to the Queen, and now licked the palm of her left hand, and the soft lapping of its tongue was the only sound you heard.  “So at peril of your life you rode for Ordish, then, messire?”

The tense man had flushed.  “You have harried us of the King’s party out of England, and in reason I might not leave England without seeing the desire of my heart.”

“My friend,” said Ysabeau, as if half in sorrow, “I would have pardoned anything save that.”  She rose.  Her face was dark and hot.  “By God and all His saints! you shall indeed leave England to-morrow and the world also! but not without a final glimpse of this same Rosamund.  Yet listen:  I, too, must ride with you to Ordish as your sister, say Gregory, did I not hang, last April, the husband of your sister?  Yes, Ralph de Belomys, a thin man with eager eyes, the Earl of Farrington he was.  As his widow I will ride with you to Ordish, upon condition you disclose to none at Ordish, saving only, if you will, this quite immaculate Rosamund, any hint of our merry carnival.  And to-morrow (you will swear according to the nicest obligations of honor) you must ride back with me to encounter that which I may devise.  For I dare to trust your naked word in this, and, moreover, I shall take with me a sufficiency of retainers to leave you no choice.”

Darrell knelt before her.  “I can do no homage to Queen Ysabeau; yet the prodigal hands of her who knows that I must die to-morrow and cunningly contrives, for old time’s sake, to hearten me with a sight of Rosamund, I cannot but kiss.”  This much he did.  “And I swear in all things to obey your will.”

“O comely fool!” the Queen said, not ungently, “I contrive, it may be, but to demonstrate that many tyrants of antiquity were only bunglers.  And, besides, I must have other thoughts than those which I have known too long:  I must this night take holiday from thinking them, lest I go mad.”

Thus did the Queen arrange her holiday.

“Either I mean to torture you to-morrow,” Dame Ysabeau said, presently, to Darrell, as these two rode side by side, “or else I mean to free you.  In sober verity I do not know.  I am in a holiday humor, and it is as the whim may take me.  But do you indeed love this Rosamund Eastney?  And of course she worships you?”

“It is my belief, madame, that when I see her I tremble visibly, and my weakness is such that a child has more intelligence than I, and toward such misery any lady must in common reason be a little compassionate.”

Her hands had twitched so that the astonished palfrey reared.  “I design torture,” the Queen said; “ah, I perfect exquisite torture, for you have proven recreant, you have forgotten the maid Ysabeau, Le Desir du Cuer, was it not, my Gregory, that you were wont to call her, as nowadays this Rosamund is the desire of your heart.  You lack inventiveness.”

His palms clutched at heaven.  “That Ysabeau is dead! and all true joy is destroyed, and the world lies under a blight from which God has averted an unfriendly face in displeasure! yet of all wretched persons existent I am he who endures the most grievous anguish, for daily I partake of life without any relish, and I would in truth deem him austerely kind who slew me now that the maiden Ysabeau is dead.”

She shrugged wearily.  “I scent the raw stuff of a Planh,” the Queen observed; “benedicite! it was ever your way, my friend, to love a woman chiefly for the verses she inspired.”  And she began to sing, as they rode through Baverstock Thicket.

Sang Ysabeau: 

  “Man’s love hath many prompters,
  But a woman’s love hath none;
  And he may woo a nimble wit
  Or hair that shames the sun,
  Whilst she must pick of all one man
  And ever brood thereon
  And for no reason,
  And not rightly,

  “Save that the plan was foreordained
  (More old than Chalcedon,
  Or any tower of Tarshish
  Or of gleaming Babylon),
  That she must love unwillingly
  And love till life be done, . 
  He for a season,
  And more lightly.”

So to Ordish in that twilight came the Countess of Farrington, with a retinue of twenty men-at-arms, and her brother Sir Gregory Darrell.  Lord Berners received the party with boisterous hospitality.

“Age has not blinded Father to the fact that your sister is a very handsome woman,” was Rosamund Eastney’s comment.  The period appears to have been after supper, and the girl sat with Gregory Darrell in not the most brilliant corner of the main hall.

The wretched man leaned forward, bit his nether-lip, and then with a tumbling rush of speech told of the sorry masquerade.  “The she-devil designs some horrible and obscure mischief, she plans I know not what.”

“Yet I ” said Rosamund.  The girl had risen, and she continued with an odd inconsequence:  “You have told me you were Pembroke’s squire when long ago he sailed for France to fetch this woman into England ”

“ Which you never heard!” Lord Berners shouted at this point.  “Jasper, a lute!” And then he halloaed, “Gregory, Madame de Farrington demands that racy song you made against Queen Ysabeau during your last visit.”  Thus did the Queen begin her holiday.

It was a handsome couple which came forward, with hand quitting hand tardily, and with blinking eyes yet rapt:  these two were not overpleased at being disturbed, and the man was troubled, as in reason he well might be, by the task assigned him.

“Is it, indeed, your will, my sister,” he said, “that I should sing this song?”

“It is my will,” the Countess said.

And the knight flung back his comely head and laughed.  “A truth, once spoken, may not be disowned in any company.  It is not, look you, of my own choice that I sing, my sister.  Yet if Queen Ysabeau herself were to bid me sing this song, I could not refuse, for, Christ aid me! the song is true.”

Sang Sir Gregory: 

  “Dame Ysabeau, la prophecie
  Que li sage dit ne ment mie,
  Que la royne sut ceus grever
  Qui tantost laquais sot aymer “

and so on.  It was a lengthy ditty, and in its wording not oversqueamish; the Queen’s career in England was detailed without any stuttering, and you would have found the catalogue unhandsome.  Yet Sir Gregory delivered it with an incisive gusto, desperately countersigning his own death warrant.  Her treacheries, her adulteries and her assassinations were rendered in glowing terms whose vigor seemed, even now, to please their contriver.  Yet the minstrel added a new peroration.

Sang Sir Gregory: 

  “Ma voix mocque, mon cuer gemit
  Peu pense a ce que la voix dit,
  Car me membre du temps jadis
  Et d’ung garson, d’amour surpris,
  Et d’une fille et la vois si
  Et grandement suis esbahi.”

And when Darrell had ended, the Countess of Farrington, without speaking, swept her left hand toward her cheek and by pure chance caught between thumb and forefinger the autumn-numbed fly that had annoyed her.  She drew the little dagger from her girdle and meditatively cut the buzzing thing in two.  She cast the fragments from her, and resting the dagger’s point upon the arm of her chair, one forefinger upon the summit of the hilt, considerately twirled the brilliant weapon.

“This song does not err upon the side of clemency,” she said at last, “nor by ordinary does Queen Ysabeau.”

“That she-wolf!” said Lord Berners, comfortably.  “Hoo, Madame Gertrude! since the Prophet Moses wrung healing waters from a rock there has been no such miracle recorded.”

“We read, Messire de Berners, that when the she-wolf once acknowledges a master she will follow him as faithfully as any dog.  My brother, I do not question your sincerity, yet everybody knows you sing with the voice of an unhonored courtier.  Suppose Queen Ysabeau had heard your song all through as I have heard it, and then had said for she is not as the run of women ’Messire, I had thought until this that there was no thorough man in England save tall Roger Mortimer.  I find him tawdry now, and I remember.  Come you, then, and rule the England that you love as you may love no woman, and rule me, messire, since I find even in your cruelty For we are no pygmies, you and I!  Yonder is squabbling Europe and all the ancient gold of Africa, ready for our taking! and past that lies Asia, too, and its painted houses hung with bells, and cloud-wrapt Tartary, where we two may yet erect our equal thrones, upon which to receive the tributary emperors!  For we are no pygmies, you and I.”  She paused.  She shrugged.  “Suppose Queen Ysabeau, who is not as the run of women, had said this much, my brother?”

Darrell was more pallid (as the phrase is) than a sheet, and the lute had dropped unheeded, and his hands were clenched.

“I would answer, my sister, that as she has found in England but one man, I have found in England but one woman the rose of all the world.”  His eyes were turned at this toward Rosamund Eastney.  “And yet,” the man stammered, “because I, too, remember ”

“Hah, in God’s name!  I am answered,” the Countess said.  She rose, in dignity almost a queen.  “We have ridden far to-day, and to-morrow we must travel a deal farther eh, my brother?  I am going to bed, Messire de Berners.”

So the men and women parted.  Madame de Farrington kissed her brother at leaving him, as was natural; and under her caress his stalwart person shuddered, but not in repugnance; and the Queen went away singing hushedly.

Sang Ysabeau: 

  “Were the All-Mother wise, life (shaped anotherwise)
  Would be all high and true;
  Could I be otherwise I had been otherwise
  Simply because of you, ... 
  With whom I have naught to do,
  And who are no longer you!

  “Life with its pay to be bade us essay to be
  What we became, I believe
  Were there a way to be what it was play to be
  I would not greatly grieve ... 
  Hearts are not worn on the sleeve. 
  Let us neither laugh nor grieve!”

Ysabeau would have slept that night within the chamber of Rosamund Eastney had either slept.  As concerns the older I say nothing.  The girl, though soon aware of frequent rustlings near at hand, lay quiet, half-forgetful of the poisonous woman yonder.  The girl was now fulfilled with a great blaze of exultation:  to-morrow Gregory must die, and then perhaps she might find time for tears; meanwhile, before her eyes, the man had flung away a kingdom and life itself for love of her, and the least nook of her heart ached to be a shade more worthy of the sacrifice.

After it might have been an hour of this excruciate ecstasy the Countess came to Rosamund’s bed.  “Ay,” the woman began, “it is indisputable that his hair is like spun gold and that his eyes resemble sun-drenched waters in June.  It is certain that when this Gregory laughs God is more happy.  Girl, I was familiar with the routine of your meditations before you were born.”

Rosamund said, quite simply:  “You have known him always.  I envy the circumstance, Madame Gertrude you alone of all women in the world I envy, since you, his sister, being so much older, must have known him always.”

“I know him to the core, my girl,” the Countess answered.  For a while she sat silent, one bare foot jogging restlessly.  “Yet I am two years his junior Did you hear nothing, Rosamund?” “No, Madame Gertrude, I heard nothing.”

“Strange!” the Countess said; “let us have lights, since I can no longer endure this overpopulous twilight.”  She kindled, with twitching fingers, three lamps.  “It is as yet dark yonder, where the shadows quiver very oddly, as though they would rise from the floor do they not, my girl? and protest vain things.  But, Rosamund, it has been done; in the moment of death men’s souls have travelled farther and have been visible; it has been done, I tell you.  And he would stand before me, with pleading eyes, and would reproach me in a voice too faint to reach my ears but I would see him and his groping hands would clutch at my hands as though a dropped veil had touched me, and with the contact I would go mad!”

“Madame Gertrude!” the girl stammered, in communicated terror.

“Poor innocent fool!” the woman said, “I am Ysabeau of France.”  And when Rosamund made as though to rise, in alarm, Queen Ysabeau caught her by the shoulder.  “Bear witness when he comes that I never hated him.  Yet for my quiet it was necessary that it suffer so cruelly, the scented, pampered body, and no mark be left upon it!  Eia! even now he suffers!  No, I have lied.  I hate the man, and in such fashion as you will comprehend when you are Sarum’s wife.”

“Madame and Queen!” the girl said, “you will not murder me!” “I am tempted!” the Queen answered.  “O little slip of girlhood, I am tempted, for it is not reasonable you should possess everything that I have lost.  Innocence you have, and youth, and untroubled eyes, and quiet dreams, and the fond graveness of a child, and Gregory Darrell’s love ” Now Ysabeau sat down upon the bed and caught up the girl’s face between two fevered hands.  “Rosamund, this Darrell perceives within the moment, as I do, that the love he bears for you is but what he remembers of the love he bore a certain maid long dead.  Eh, you might have been her sister, Rosamund, for you are very like her.  And she, poor wench why, I could see her now, I think, were my eyes not blurred, somehow, almost as though Queen Ysabeau might weep!  But she was handsomer than you, since your complexion is not overclear, praise God!”

Woman against woman they were.  “He has told me of his intercourse with you,” the girl said, and this was a lie flatfooted.  “Nay, kill me if you will, madame, since you are the stronger, yet, with my dying breath, I protest that Gregory has loved no woman truly in all his life except me.”

The Queen laughed bitterly.  “Do I not know men?  He told you nothing.  And to-night he hesitated, and to-morrow, at the lifting of my finger, he will supplicate.  Since boyhood Gregory Darrell has loved me, O white, palsied innocence! and he is mine at a whistle.  And in that time to come he will desert you, Rosamund bidding farewell with a pleasing Canzon, and they will give you to the gross Earl of Sarum, as they gave me to the painted man who was of late our King! and in that time to come you will know your body to be your husband’s makeshift when he lacks leisure to seek out other recreation! and in that time to come you will long for death, and presently your heart will be a flame within you, my Rosamund, an insatiable flame! and you will hate your God because He made you, and hate Satan because in some desperate hour he tricked you, and hate all men because, poor fools, they scurry to obey your whims! and chiefly you will hate yourself because you are so pitiable! and devastation only will you love in that strange time which is to come.  It is adjacent, my Rosamund.”

The girl kept silence.  She sat erect in the tumbled bed, her hands clasping her knees, and she appeared to deliberate what Dame Ysabeau had said.  Plentiful brown hair fell about this Rosamund’s face, which was white and shrewd.  “A part of what you say, madame, I understand.  I know that Gregory Darrell loves me, yet I have long ago acknowledged he loves me as one pets a child, or, let us say, a spaniel which reveres and amuses one.  I lack his wit, you comprehend, and so he never speaks to me all that he thinks.  Yet a part of it he tells me, and he loves me, and with this I am content.  Assuredly, if they give me to Sarum I shall hate Sarum even more than I detest him now.  And then, I think, Heaven help me! that I would not greatly grieve Oh, you are all evil!” Rosamund said; “and you thrust into my mind thoughts which I may not understand!”

“You will comprehend them,” the Queen said, “when you know yourself a chattel, bought and paid for.”

The Queen laughed.  She rose, and her hands strained toward heaven.  “You are omnipotent, yet have You let me become that into which I am transmuted,” she said, very low.

She began to speak as though a statue spoke through lips that seemed motionless.  “Men have long urged me, Rosamund, to a deed which by one stroke would make me mistress of these islands.  To-day I looked on Gregory Darrell, and knew that I was wise in love and I had but to crush a lewd soft worm to come to him.  Eh, and I was tempted !”

The girl said:  “Let us grant that Gregory loves you very greatly, and me just when his leisure serves.  You may offer him a cushioned infamy, a colorful and brief delirium, and afterward demolishment of soul and body; I offer him contentment and a level life, made up of small events, it may be, and lacking both in abysses and in skyey heights.  Yet is love a flame wherein the lover’s soul must be purified; it is a flame which assays high queens just as it does their servants:  and thus, madame, to judge between us I dare summon you.”  “Child, child!” the Queen said, tenderly, and with a smile, “you are brave; and in your fashion you are wise; yet you will never comprehend.  But once I was in heart and soul and body all that you are to-day; and now I am Queen Ysabeau Did you in truth hear nothing, Rosamund?”

“Why, nothing save the wind.”

“Strange!” said the Queen; “since all the while that I have talked with you I have been seriously annoyed by shrieks and imprecations!  But I, too, grow cowardly, it may be Nay, I know,” she said, and in a resonant voice, “that by this I am mistress of broad England, until my son my own son, born of my body, and in glad anguish, Rosamund knows me for what I am.  For I have heard Coward!  O beautiful sleek coward!” the Queen said; “I would have died without lamentation and I was but your plaything!”

“Madame Ysabeau !” the girl answered vaguely, for she was puzzled and was almost frightened by the other’s strange talk.

“To bed!” said Ysabeau; “and put out the lights lest he come presently.  Or perhaps he fears me now too much to come to-night.  Yet the night approaches, none the less, when I must lift some arras and find him there, chalk-white, with painted cheeks, and rigid, and smiling very terribly, or look into some mirror and behold there not myself but him, and in that instant I shall die.  Meantime I rule, until my son attains his manhood.  Eh, Rosamund, my only son was once so tiny, and so helpless, and his little crimson mouth groped toward me, helplessly, and save in Bethlehem, I thought, there was never any child more fair But I must forget all that, for even now he plots.  Hey, God orders matters very shrewdly, my Rosamund.”

Timidly the girl touched Ysabeau’s shoulder.  “In part, I understand, madame and Queen.”

“You understand nothing,” said Ysabeau; “how should you understand whose breasts are yet so tiny?  So let us put out the light! though I dread darkness, Rosamund For they say that hell is poorly lighted and they say ” Then Queen Ysabeau shrugged.  Pensively she blew out each lamp.

“We know this Gregory Darrell,” the Queen said in the darkness, “ah, to the marrow we know him, however steadfastly we blink, and we know the present turmoil of his soul; and in common-sense what chance have you of victory?”

“None in common-sense, madame, and yet you go too fast.  For man is a being of mingled nature, we are told by those in holy orders, and his life here is one unending warfare between that which is divine in him and that which is bestial, while impartial Heaven attends as arbiter of the tourney.  Always a man’s judgment misleads him and his faculties allure him to a truce, however brief, with iniquity.  His senses raise a mist about his goings, and there is not an endowment of the man but in the end plays traitor to his interest, as of God’s wisdom God intends; so that when the man is overthrown, the Eternal Father may, in reason, be neither vexed nor grieved if only the man takes heart to rise again.  And when, betrayed and impotent, the man elects to fight out the allotted battle, defiant of common-sense and of the counsellors which God Himself accorded, I think that the Saints hold festival in heaven.”

“A very pretty sermon,” said the Queen.  “Yet I do not think that our Gregory could very long endure a wife given over to such high-minded talking.  He prefers to hear himself do the fine talking.”

Followed a silence, vexed only on the purposeless September winds; but I believe that neither of these two slept with profundity.

About dawn one of the Queen’s attendants roused Sir Gregory Darrell and conducted him into the hedged garden of Ordish, where Ysabeau walked in tranquil converse with Lord Berners.  The old man was in high good-humor.

“My lad,” said he, and clapped Sir Gregory upon the shoulder, “you have, I do protest, the very phoenix of sisters.  I was never happier.”  And he went away chuckling.

The Queen said in a toneless voice, “We ride for Blackfriars now.”

Darrell responded, “I am content, and ask but leave to speak, briefly, with Dame Rosamund before I die.”

Then the woman came more near to him.  “I am not used to beg, but within this hour you encounter death, and I have loved no man in all my life saving only you, Sir Gregory Darrell.  Nor have you loved any person as you loved me once in France.  Oh, to-day, I may speak freely, for with you the doings of that boy and girl are matters overpast.  Yet were it otherwise eh, weigh the matter carefully! for I am mistress of England now, and England would I give you, and such love as that slim, white innocence has never dreamed of would I give you, Gregory Darrell No, no! ah, Mother of God, not you!” The Queen clapped one hand upon his lips.

“Listen,” she quickly said; “I spoke to tempt you.  But you saw, and you saw clearly, that it was the sickly whim of a wanton, and you never dreamed of yielding, for you love this Rosamund Eastney, and you know me to be vile.  Then have a care of me!  The strange woman am I, of whom we read that her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.  Hoh, many strong men have been slain by me, and in the gray time to come will many others be slain by me, it may be; but never you among them, my Gregory, who are more wary, and more merciful, and who know that I have need to lay aside at least one comfortable thought against eternity.”

“I concede you to have been unwise ” he hoarsely began.

About them fell the dying leaves, of many glorious colors, but the air of this new day seemed raw and chill.

Then Rosamund came through the opening in the hedge.  “Now, choose,” she said; “the woman offers life and high place and wealth, and it may be, a greater love than I am capable of giving you.  I offer a dishonorable death within the moment.”

And again, with that peculiar and imperious gesture, the man flung back his head, and he laughed.  Said Gregory Darrell: 

“I am I! and I will so to live that I may face without shame not only God, but also my own scrutiny.”  He wheeled upon the Queen and spoke henceforward very leisurely.  “I love you; all my life long I have loved you, Ysabeau, and even now I love you:  and you, too, dear Rosamund, I love, though with a difference.  And every fibre of my being lusts for the power that you would give me, Ysabeau, and for the good which I would do with it in the England which I or blustering Roger Mortimer must rule; as every fibre of my being lusts for the man that I would be could I choose death without debate.  And I think also of the man that you would make of me, my Rosamund.

“The man!  And what is this man, this Gregory Darrell, that his welfare should be considered? an ape who chatters to himself of kinship with the archangels while filthily he digs for groundnuts!  This much I know, at bottom.

“Yet more clearly do I perceive that this same man, like all his fellows, is a maimed god who walks the world dependent upon many wise and evil counsellors.  He must measure, to a hair’s-breadth, every content of the world by means of a bloodied sponge, tucked somewhere in his skull, a sponge which is ungeared by the first cup of wine and ruined by the touch of his own finger.  He must appraise all that he judges with no better instruments than two bits of colored jelly, with a bungling makeshift so maladroit that the nearest horologer’s apprentice could have devised a more accurate device.  In fine, each man is under penalty condemned to compute eternity with false weights, to estimate infinity with a yard-stick:  and he very often does it, and chooses his own death without debate.  For though, ’If then I do that which I would not I consent unto the law,’ saith even an Apostle; yet a braver Pagan answers him, ’Perceive at last that thou hast in thee something better and more divine than the things which cause the various effects and, as it were, pull thee by the strings.’

“There lies the choice which every man must face, whether rationally, as his reason goes, to accept his own limitations and make the best of his allotted prison-yard? or stupendously to play the fool and swear even to himself (while his own judgment shrieks and proves a flat denial), that he is at will omnipotent?  You have chosen long ago, my poor proud Ysabeau; and I choose now, and differently:  for poltroon that I am! being now in a cold drench of terror, I steadfastly protest I am not very much afraid, and I choose death without any more debate.”

It was toward Rosamund that the Queen looked, and smiled a little pitifully.  “Should Queen Ysabeau be angry or vexed or very cruel now, my Rosamund? for at bottom she is glad.”

And the Queen said also:  “I give you back your plighted word.  I ride homeward to my husks, but you remain.  Or rather, the Countess of Farrington departs for the convent of Ambresbury, disconsolate in her widowhood and desirous to have done with worldly affairs.  It is most natural she should relinquish to her beloved and only brother all her dower-lands or so at least Messire de Berners acknowledges.  Here, then, is the grant, my Gregory, that conveys to you those lands of Ralph de Belomys which last year I confiscated.  And this tedious Messire de Berners is willing now he is eager to have you for a son-in-law.”

About them fell the dying leaves, of many glorious colors, but the air of this new day seemed raw and chill, while, very calmly, Dame Ysabeau took Sir Gregory’s hand and laid it upon the hand of Rosamund Eastney.  “Our paladin is, in the outcome, a mortal man, and therefore I do not altogether envy you.  Yet he has his moments, and you are capable.  Serve, then, not only his desires but mine also, dear Rosamund.”

There was a silence.  The girl spoke as though it was a sacrament.  “I will, madame and Queen.”

Thus did the Queen end her holiday.

A little later the Countess of Farrington rode from Ordish with all her train save one; and riding from that place, where love was, she sang very softly.

Sang Ysabeau: 

  “As with her dupes dealt Circe
  Life deals with hers, for she
  Reshapes them without mercy,
  And shapes them swinishly,
  To wallow swinishly,
  And for eternity;

  “Though, harder than the witch was,
  Life, changing not the whole,
  Transmutes the body, which was
  Proud garment of the soul,
  And briefly drugs the soul,
  Whose ruin is her goal;

  “And means by this thereafter
  A subtler mirth to get,
  And mock with bitterer laughter
  Her helpless dupes’ regret,
  Their swinish dull regret
  For what they half forget.”

And within the hour came Hubert Frayne to Ordish, on a foam-specked horse, as he rode to announce to the King’s men the King’s barbaric murder overnight, at Berkeley Castle, by Queen Ysabeau’s order.

“Ride southward,” said Lord Berners, and panted as they buckled on his disused armor; “but harkee, Frayne! if you pass the Countess of Farrington’s company, speak no syllable of your news, since it is not convenient that a lady so thoroughly and so praise-worthily Lord, Lord, how I have fattened! so intent on holy things, in fine, should have her meditations disturbed by any such unsettling tidings.  Hey, son-in-law?”

Sir Gregory Darrell laughed, very bitterly.  “He that is without blemish among you ” he said.  Then they armed completely, and went forth to battle against the murderous harlot.