Read THE BOOK OF YEA - CHAPTER II of The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay, free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on ReadCentral.com.

HOW THE FAIR JEHANE BESTOWED HERSELF

Betimes is best for an ugly business; your man of spirit will always rush what he loathes but yet must do.  Count Richard of Poictou, having made up his mind and confessed himself overnight, must leave with the first cock of the morning, yet must take the sacrament.  Before it was grey in the east he did so, fully armed in mail, with his red surcoat of leopards upon him, his sword girt, his spurs strapped on.  Outside the chapel in the weeping mirk a squire held his shield, another his helm, a groom walked his horse.  Milo the Abbot was celebrant, a snuffling boy served; the Count knelt before the housel-cloth haloed by the light of two thin candles.  Hardly had the priest begun his introibo when Jehane Saint-Pol, who had been awake all night, stole in with a hood on her head, and holding herself very stiffly, knelt on the floor.  She joined her hands and stuck them up before her, so that the tips of her fingers, pointing upwards as her thoughts would fly, were nearly level with her chin.  Thus frozen in prayer she remained throughout the office; nor did she relax when at the elevation of the Host Richard bowed himself to the earth.  It seemed as if she too, bearing between her hands her own heart, was lifting it up for sacrifice and for worship.

The Count was communicated.  He was a very religious man, who would sooner have gone without his sword than his Saviour upon any affairs.  Jehane saw him fed without a twitch of the lips.  She was in a great mood, a rapt and pillared saint; but when mass was over and his thanksgiving to make, she got up and hid herself away from him in the shades.  There she lurked darkling, and he, lunging out, swept with his sword’s point the very edge of her gown.  She did not hear him go, for he trod like a cat; but she felt him touch her with the sword, and shuddered once or twice.  He went out of the courtyard at a gallop.

While the abbot was reciting his own thanksgiving Jehane came out of her corner, minded to speak with him.  So much he divined, needing not the beckoning look she sent him from her guarded eyes.  He sat himself down by the altar of Saint Remy, and she knelt beside him.

‘Well, my daughter?’ says Milo.

‘I think it is well,’ she took him up.

The Abbot Milo, a red-faced, watery-eyed old man, rheumy and weathered well, then opened his mouth and spake such wisdom as he knew.  He held up his forefinger like a claw, and used it as if describing signs and wonders in the air.

‘Hearken, Madame Jehane,’ he said.  ’I say that you have done well, and will maintain it.  That great prince, whom I love like my own son, is not for you, nor for another.  No, no.  He is married already.’

He hoped to startle her, the old rhetorician; but he failed.  Jehane was too dreary.

‘He is married, my daughter,’ he repeated; ’and to whom?  Why, to himself.  That man from the birth has been a lonely soul.  He can never wed, as you understand it.  You think him your lover!  Believe me, he is not.  He is his own lover.  He is called.  He has a destiny.  And what is that? you ask me.’

She did not, but rhetoric bade him suppose it.  ’Salem is his destiny; Salem is his bride, the elect lady in bonds.  He will not wed Madame Alois of France, nor you, nor any virgin in Christendom until that spiritual wedlock is consummate.  I should not love him as I do if I did not believe it.  For why?  Shall I call my own son apostate?  He is signed with the Cross, a married man, by our Saviour!’

He leaned back in his chair, peering down at her to see how she took it.  She took it stilly, and turned him a marble, storm-purged face, a pair of eyes which seemed all black.

‘What shall I do to be safe?’ Her voice sounded worn.

‘Safe, my child?’ He wondered.  ‘Bless me, is not the Cross safety?’

‘Not with him, father.’

This was perfectly true, though tainted with scandal, he thought.  The abbot, who was trained to blink all such facts, had to learn that this girl blinked none.  True to his guidance, he blinked.

’Go home to your brother, my daughter; go home to Saint-Pol-la-Marche.  At the worst, remember that there are always two arks for a woman in flood-time, a convent and a bed.’

‘I shall never choose a convent,’ said Jehane.

‘I think,’ said the abbot, ‘that you are perfectly wise.’

I suppose the alternative struck a sudden terror into her; for the abbot abruptly records in his book that ’here her spirit seemed to flit out of her, and she began to tremble very much, and in vain to contend with tears.  I had her all dissolved at my feet within a few moments.  She was very young, and seemed lost.’

‘Come, come,’ he said, ’you have shown yourself a brave girl these two days.  It is not every maid can sacrifice herself for a Count of Poictou, the eldest son of a king.  Come, come, let us have no more of this.’  He hoped, no doubt, to brace her by a roughness which was far from his nature; and it is possible that he succeeded in heading off a mutiny of the nerves.  She was not violent under her despair, but went on crying very miserably, saying, ‘Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do?’

‘God knoweth,’ says the abbot, ’this was a bad case; but I had a good thought for it.’  He began to speak of Richard, of what he had done and what would live to do.  ’They say that the strain of the fiend is in that race, my dear,’ he told her.  ’They say that Geoffrey Grey-Gown had intercourse with a demon.  And certain it is that in Richard, as in all his brothers, that stinging grain lives in the blood.  For testimony look at their cognisance of leopards, and advise yourself, whether any house in Christendom ever took that device but had known familiarly the devil in some shape?  And look again at the deeds of these princes.  What turned the young king to riot and death, and Geoffrey to rapine and death?  What else will turn John Sansterre to treachery and death, or our tall Richard to violence and death?  Nothing else, nothing else.  But before he dies you shall see him glorious — ’

‘He is glorious already,’ said Jehane, wiping her eyes.

‘Keep him so, then,’ said the abbot testily, who did not love to have his periods truncated.

‘If I go back to Saint-Pol,’ said Jehane, ’I shall fall in with Gilles de Gurdun, who has sworn to have me.’

‘Well,’ replied the abbot, ’why should he not?  Does he receive the assurance of your brother the Count?’

Jehane shook her head.  ’No, no.  My brother wished me to be my lord Richard’s.  But Gilles needs no assurance.  He will buy my marriage from the King of France.  He is very sufficient.’

‘Hath he substance?  Hath he lands?  Is he noble, then, Jehane?’

‘He hath knighthood, a Church fief — oh, enough!’

‘God forgive me if I did amiss,’ writes the abbot here; ’but seeing her in a melting mood, dewy, soft, and adorable, I kissed that beautiful person, and she left the Chapel of Saint Remy somewhat comforted.’

Not only so, but the same day she left the Dark Tower with her brother Count Eustace, and rode towards Gisors and Saint-Pol-la-Marche.  Nothing she could do could be shamefully done, because of her silence, and the high head upon which she carried it; yet the Count of Saint-Pol, when he heard her story, sitting bulky in his chair (like a stalled red bull), did his best to put shame upon her, that so he might cover his own bitterness.  It was Eustace, a generous ardent youth in those days, who saved her from most of Eudo’s wrath by drawing it upon himself.

The Count of Saint-Pol swore a great oath.

‘By the teeth of God, Jehane,’ he roared, ’I see how it is.  He hath made thee a piece of ruin, and now runs wasting elsewhere.’

‘You shall never say that of my sister, my lord,’ cries Eustace, very red in the face, ‘nor yet of the greatest knight in the world.’

‘Why, you egg,’ says the Count, ’what have you to do in this?  Tell me the rights of it before you put me in the wrong.  Is my house to be the sport of Anjou?  Is that long son of pirates and the devil to batten on our pastures, tread underfoot, bruise and blacken, rout as he will, break hedge and away?  By my father’s soul, Eustace, I shall see her righted.’  He turned to the still girl.  ’You tell me that you sent him away?  Where did you send him?  Where did he go?’

‘He went to the King of England at Louviers, and to the camp,’ said Jehane.  ‘The King sent for him.  I sent him not.’

‘Who is there beside the King of England?’

‘Madame Alois of France is there.’

The Count of Saint-Pol put his tongue in his cheek.

‘Oho!’ he said, ’Oho!  That is how it stands?  So she is to be cuckoo, hey?’ He sat square and intent for a moment or two, working his mouth like a man who chews a straw.  Then he slapped his big hand on his knee, and rose up.  ’If I cannot spike this wheel of vice, trust me never.  By my soul, a plot indeed.  Oh, horrible, horrible thief!’ He turned gnashing upon his brother.  ’Now, Eustace, what do you say to your greatest knight in the world?  And what now of your sister, hey?  Little fool, do you not catch the measure of it now?  Two honey years of Jehane Saint-Pol, gossamer pledges of mouth and mouth, of stealing fingers, kiss and clasp; but for the French King’s daughter — pish! the thing of naught they have made her — the sacrament of marriage, the treaty, the dowry-fee.  Oh, heaven and earth, Eustace, answer me if you can.’

All three were moved in their several ways:  the Count red and blinking, Eustace red and trembling, Jehane white as a cloth, trembling also, but very silent.  The word was with the younger man.

‘I know nothing of all this, upon my word, my lord,’ he said, confused.  ’I love Count Richard, I love my sister.  There may have been that which, had I loved but one, I had condemned in the other.  I know not, but’ — he saw Jehane’s marble face, and lifted his hand up — ’by my hope, I will never believe it.  In love they came together, my lord; in love, says Jehane, they have parted.  I have heard little of Madame Alois, but my thought is, that kings and the sons of kings may marry kings’ daughters, yet not in the way of love.’

The Count fumed.  ’You are a fool, I see, and therefore not to my purpose.  I must talk with men.  Stay you here, Eustace, and watch over her till I return.  Let none get at her, on your dear life.  There are those who — sniffing rogues, climbers, boilers of their pots — keep them out, Eustace, keep them out.  As for you’ — he turned hectoring to the proud girl — ’As for you, mistress, keep the house.  You are not in the market, you are spoilt goods.  You shall go where you should be.  I am still lord of these lands; there shall be no rebellion here.  Keep the house, I say.  I return ere many days.’  He stamped out of the hall; they heard him next rating the grooms at the gate.

Saint-Pol was a great house, a noble house, no doubt of it.  Its counts drew no limits in the way of pedigree, but built themselves a fair temple in that kind, with the Twelfth Apostle himself for head of the corner.  So far as estate went, seeing their country was fruitful, compact, snugly bounded between France and Normandy (owing fealty to the first), they might have been sovereign counts, like the house of Blois, like that of Aquitaine, like that even of Anjou, which, from nothing, had risen to be so high.  More:  by marriage, by robbery on that great plan where it ceases to be robbery and is called warfare, by treaty and nice use of the balances, there was no reason why kingship should not have been theirs, or in their blood.  Kingship, even now, was not far off.  They called the Marquess of Montferrat cousin, and he (it was understood) intended to be throned at Jerusalem.  The Emperor himself might call, and once (being in liquor) did call Count Eudo of Saint-Pol ‘cousin’; for the fact was so.  You must understand that in the Gaul of that day things were in this ticklish state, that a man (as they say) was worth the scope of his sword:  reiver yesterday, warrior to-morrow; yesterday wearing a hemp collar, to-day a count’s belt, and to-morrow, may be, a king’s crown.  You climbed in various ways, by the field, by the board, by the bed.  A handsome daughter was nearly worth a stout son.  Count Eudo reckoned himself stout enough, and reckoned Eustace was so; but the beauty of Jehane, that stately maid who might uphold a cornice, that still wonder of ivory and gold, was an emblement which he, the tenant, meant to profit by; and so for an hour (two years by the clock) he saw his profit fair.  The infatuation of the girl for this man or that man was nothing; but the infatuation of the great Count of Poictou for her set Eudo’s heart ablaze.  God willing, Saint Maclou assisting, he might live to call Jehane ‘My Lady Queen.’  He shut his ears to report; there were those who called Richard a rake, and others who called him ‘Yea-and-Nay’; that was Bertran de Born’s name for him, and all Paris knew it.  He shut his eyes to Richard’s galling unconcern with himself and his dignity.  Dignity of Saint-Pol!  He would wait for his dignity.  He shut his mind to Jehane’s blown fame, to the threatenings of his dreadful Norman neighbour, Henry the old king, who had had an archbishop pole-axed like a steer; he dared the anger of his suzerain, in whose hands lay Jehane’s marriage; a heady gambler, he staked the fortunes of his house upon this clinging of a girl to a wild prince.  And now to tell himself that he deserved what he had got was but to feed his rage.  Again he swore by God’s teeth that he would have his way; and when he left his castle of Saint-Pol-la-Marche it was for Paris.

The head of his house, under the Emperor Henry, was there, Conrad of Montferrat, trying to negotiate the crown of Jerusalem.  There must be a conference before the house of Saint-Pol could be let to fall.  Surely the Marquess would never allow it!  He must spike the wheel.  Was not Alois of France within the degrees?  She was sister to the French King:  well, but what was Richard’s mother?  She had been wife to Louis, wife to Alois’ father.  Was this decency?  What would the Pope say — an Italian?  Was the Marquess Conrad an Italian for nothing?  Was ‘our cousin’ the Emperor of no account, King of the Romans?  The Pope Italian, the Marquess Italian, the Emperor on his throne, and God in His heaven — eh, eh! there should be a conference of these high powers.  So, and with such whirl of question and answer, did the Count of Saint-Pol beat out to Paris.

But Jehane remained at Saint-Pol-la-Marche, praying much, going little abroad, seeing few persons.  Then came (since rumour is a gadabout) Sir Gilles de Gurdun, as she knew he would, and knelt before her, and kissed her hand.  Gilles was a square-shouldered, thick-set youth of the black Norman sort, ruddy, strong-jawed, small-eyed, low in the brow, bullet-headed.  He was no taller than she, looked shorter, and had nothing to say.  He had loved her since the time when she was an overgrown girl of twelve years, and he a squire about her father’s house learning mannishness.  The King of England had dubbed him a knight, but she had made him a man.  She knew him to be a good one; as dull as a mud-flat, but honest, wholesome, and of decent estate.  In a moment, when he was come again, she saw that he was a long lover who would treat her well.

‘God help me, and him also,’ she thought; ’it may be that I shall need him before long.’