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

IN WHAT HARBOUR THEY FOUND THE OLD LION

At Évreux, across the heath, Count Richard found his company:  the Viscount Adhemar of Limoges (called for the present the Good Viscount), the Count of Périgord, Sir Gaston of Béarn (who really loved him), the Bishop of Castres, and the Monk of Montauban (a singing-bird); some dozen of knights with their esquires, pages, and men-at-arms.  He waited two days there for Abbot Milo to come up with last news of Jehane; then at the head of sixty spears he rode fleetly over the marshes towards Louviers.  After his first, ‘You are well met, my lords,’ he had said very little, showing a cold humour; after a colloquy with Milo, which he had before he left his bed, he said nothing at all.  Alone, as became one of his race, he rode ahead of his force; not even the chirping Monk (who remembered his brother Henry and often sighed for him) cared to risk a shot from his strong eyes.  They were like blue stones, full of the cold glitter of their fire.  It was at times like this, when a man stands naked confronting his purpose, that one saw the hag riding on the back of Anjou.

He was not thinking of it now, but the truth is that there had hardly been a time in his short life when he had not been his father’s open enemy.  He could have told you that it had not been always his fault, though he would never have told you.  But I say that what he, a youth of thirty, had made of his inheritance was as nothing to that elder’s wasting of his.  In moments of hot rage Richard knew this, and justified himself; but the melting hour came again when he heaped all reproach upon himself, believing that but for such and such he might have loved this rooted, terrible old man who assuredly loved not him.  Richard was neither mule nor jade; he was open to persuasion on two sides.  Compunction was one:  you could touch him on the heart and bring him weeping to his knees; affection was another:  if he loved the petitioner he yielded handsomely.  Now, this time it was Jehane and not his conscience which had sent him to Louviers.  First of all Jehane had pleaded the Sepulchre, his old father, filial obedience, and he had laughed at the sweet fool.  But when she, grown wiser, urged him to pleasure her by treading on the heart she had given him, he could not deny her.  He was converted, not convinced.  So he rode alone, three hundred yards from his lièges, reasoning out how he could preserve his honour and yet yield.  The more he thought the less he liked it, but all the more he felt necessity at his throat.  And, as always with him, when he thought he seemed as if turned to stone.  ‘One way or another,’ Milo tells us, ’every man of the House of Anjou had his unapproachable side, so accustomed were they to the fortress-life.’

A broad plain, watered by many rivers, showed the towers of Louviers and red roofs cinctured by the greatest of them; short of the walls were the ranked white tents, columned smoke, waggons, with men and horses, as purposeless, little, and busy as a swarm of bees.  In the midst of this array was a red pavilion with a standard at the side, too heavy for the wind.  All was set in the clear sunless air of an autumn day in Normandy; the hour, one short of noon.  Richard reined up for his company, on a little hill.

‘The powers of England, my lords,’ he said, pointing with his hand.  All stayed beside him.  Gaston of Béarn tweaked his black beard.

‘Let us be done with the business, Richard,’ said this knight, ’before the irons can get out.’

‘What!’ cried the Count, ‘shall a father smite his son?’ No one answered:  in a moment he was ashamed of himself.  ‘Before God,’ he said, ’I mean no impiety.  I will do what I have undertaken as gently as may be.  Come, gentlemen.’  He rode on.

The camp was defended by fosse and bridge.  At the barbican all the Aquitanians except Richard dismounted, and all stayed about him while a herald went forward to tell the King who was come in.  The King knew very well who it was, but chose not to know it; he kept the herald long enough to make his visitors chafe, then sent word that the Count of Poictou would be received, but alone.  Claiming his right to ride in, Richard followed the heralds at a foot’s pace, alone, ungreeted by any.  At the mount of the standard he got off his horse, found the ushers of the King’s door, and went swiftly to the entry of the pavilion (which they held open for him), as though, like some forest beast, he saw his prey.  There in the entry he stiffened suddenly, and stiffly went down on his two knees.  Midway of the great tent, square and rugged before him, with working jaws and restless little fired eyes, sat the old King his father, hands on knees, between them a long bare sword.  Beside him was his son John, thin and flushed, and about, a circle of peers:  two bishops in purple, a pock-marked monk of Cluny, Bohun, Grantmesnil, Drago de Merlou, and a few more.  On the ground was a secretary biting his pen.

The King looked his best on a throne, for his upper part was his best.  It was, at least, the mannish part.  With scanty red hair much rubbed into disorder, a seamed red face, blotched and shining; with a square jaw awry, the neck and shoulders of a bull; with gnarled gross hands at the end of arms long out of measure, a cruel mouth and a nose like a bird’s beak — his features seemed to have been hacked coarsely out of wood and as coarsely painted; but what might have passed by such means for a man was transformed by his burning eyes, with their fuel of pain, into the similitude of a fallen angel.  The devil of Anjou sat eating King Henry’s eyes, and you saw him at his meal.  It gave the man the look of a wild boar easing his tusks against a tree, horrible, yet content to be abhorred, splendid, because so strong and lonely.  But the prospect was not comfortable.  Little as he knew of his father, Richard could make no mistake here.  The old King was in a picksome mood, fretted by rage:  angry that his son should kneel there, more than angry that he had not knelt before.

The play began, like a farce.  The King affected not to see him, let him kneel on.  Richard did kneel on, as stiff as a rod.  The King talked with obscene jocosity, every snap betraying his humour, to Prince John; he scandalised even his bishops, he abashed even his barons.  He infinitely degraded himself, yet seemed to wallow in disgrace.  So Richard’s gorge (a tender organ) rose to hear him.  ’God, what wast Thou about, to let such a hog be made?’ he muttered, loud enough for at least three people to hear.  The King heard it and was pleased; the Prince heard it, and with a scared eye perceived that Bohun had heard it.  The King went grating on, John fidgeted; Bohun, greatly daring, whispered in his master’s ear.

The King replied with a roar which all the camp might have heard.  ’Ha!  Sacred Face, let him kneel, Bohun.  That is a new custom for him, useful science for a man of his trade.  All men of the sword come to it sooner or later — sooner or later, by God!’

Hereupon Richard, very deliberately, rose to his feet and stepped forward to the throne.  His great height was a crowning abomination.  The King blinked up at him, showing his tushes.

‘What now, sir?’ he said.

‘Later for me, sire, if kneeling is to be done by soldiers,’ said Richard.  The King controlled himself by swallowing.

‘And yet, Richard,’ he said, dry as dust, ’And yet, Richard, you have knelt to the French lad soon enough.’

‘To my liege-lord, sire?  Yes, it is true.’

‘He is not your liege-lord, man,’ roared the King.  ’I am your liege-lord, by heaven.  I gave and I can take away.  Heed me now.’

‘Fair sire,’ says Richard, ’observe that I have knelt to you.  I am not here for any other reason, and least of all to try conclusions of the voice.  I have come out of my lands with my company to give you obedience.  Be sure that they, on their part, will pay you proper honour (as I do) if you will let them.’

’You come from lands I have given you, as Henry came, as Geoffrey came, to defy me,’ said the old man, trembling in his chair.  ’What is your obedience worth when I have measured theirs:  Henry’s obedience!  Geoffrey’s obedience!  Pish, man, what words you use.’  He got up and stamped about the tent like an irritable dwarf, crook-legged and long-armed, pricked, maddened at every point.  ’And you tell me of your men, your lands, your company!  Good men all, a fair company, by the Rood of Grace!  Tell me now, Richard, have you Raimon of Toulouse in that company?  Have you Beziers?’

‘No, sire,’ said Richard, looking serenely down at the working face.

‘Nor ever will have,’ snarled the King.  ‘Have you the Knight of Béarn?’

‘I have, sire.’

’Ill company, Richard.  It is a white-faced, lying beast, with a most goatish beard.  Have you your singing monk?’

‘I have, sire.’

‘Shameful company.  Have you Adhemar of Limoges?’

‘Yes, sire.’

‘Silly company.  Leave him with his women.  Have you your Abbot Milo?’

‘Yes.’

‘Sick company.’  His head sank into his breast; he found himself suddenly tired, even of reviling, and had to sit down again.  Richard felt a tide of pity; looking down at the huddled old man, he held out his hand.

‘Let us not quarrel, father,’ he said; but that brought up the King’s head, like a call to arms.

‘A last question, Richard.  Have you dared bring here Bertran de Born?’ He was on his feet again for the reply, and the two men faced each other.  Everybody knew how serious the question was.  It sobered the Count, but drove the pity out of him.

‘Dare is not a word for Anjou, sire,’ he replied, picking his phrases; ‘but Bertran is not with me.’  Before the old man could break again into savagery he went on to his main purpose.  ’Sire, short speeches are best.  You seek to draw my ill-humours, but you shall not draw them.  As son and servant of your Grace I came in, and so will go out.  As a son I have knelt to the King my father, as servant I am ready to obey him.  Let that marriage, designed in the cradle by the French King and you, go on.  I will do my part if Madame Alois will do hers.’

Richard folded his arms; the King sat down again.  A queer exchange of glances had passed between his father and brother at the mention of that lady’s name.  Richard, who saw it, got the feeling of some secret between them, the feeling of being in a trap; but he said nothing.  The King began his old harping.

‘Attend to me now, Richard,’ he said, with much work of the eyebrows; ’if that ill-gotten beast Bertran had been of your meinie our last words had been said.  Beast!  He is a toothed snake, that crawled into my boy’s bed and bit passion into him.  Lord Jesus, if ever again I meet Bertran, help Thou me to redden his face!  But as it is, I am content.  Rest you here with me, if so rough a lodging may content your nobility.  As for Madame Alois, she shall be sent for; but I think I will not meet your bevy of joglars from the south.  I have a proud stomach o’ these days; I doubt pastry from Languedoc would turn me sour; and liking monks little enough as it is, your throstle-cock of Montauban might cause me to blaspheme.  See them entertained, Drago; or better, let them entertain each other — with singing games, holy God!  Go you, Bohun’ — and he turned — ’fetch in Madame Alois.’  Bohun went through a curtain behind him, and the King sat in thought, biting his thumbs.

Madame Alois of France came out of the inner tent, a slinking, thin girl, with the white and tragic face of the fool in a comedy set in black hair.  Richard thought she was mad by the way she stared about her from one man to another; but he went down on his knee in a moment.  Prince John turned stiff, the old King bent his brows to watch Richard.  The lady, who was dressed in black, and looked to be half fainting, shrank in an odd way towards the wall, as if to avoid a whip.  ’Too long in England, poor soul,’ Richard thought; ’but why did she come from the King’s tent?’

It was not a cheerful meeting, nor did the King show any desire to make it better.  When by roundabout and furtive ways Madame Alois at last stood drooping by his chair, he began to talk to her in English, a language unknown to Richard, though familiar enough, he saw, to his father and brother.  ’It seems to be his Grace’s desire to make me ridiculous,’ he went on to say to himself:  ’what a dead-level of grim words!  In English, it appears, you do not talk.  You stab with the tongue.’  In truth, there was no conversation.  The King or the Prince spoke, and Madame Alois moistened her lips; she looked nowhere but at the old tyrant, not at his eyes, but above them, at his forehead, and with a trepitant gaze, like a watched hare’s.  ’The King has her in thrall, soul and body,’ Richard considered.  Then his knee began to ache, and he released it.  ‘Fair sire,’ he began in his own tongue.  Madame Alois gave a start, and ‘Ha, Richard,’ says the King, ’art thou still there, man?’

‘Where else, my lord?’ asked the son.  The father looked at Alois.

‘Deign to recognise in this baron, Madame,’ he said, ’my son the Count of Poictou.  Let him salute, Madame, that which he has sought from so far, and with such humility, pardieu; your white hand, Alois.’  The strange girl quivered, then put her hand out.  Richard, kissing it, found it horribly cold.

‘Lady,’ he said, ’I pray we may be better acquainted; but I must tell you that I have no English.  Let me hope that in this good land you may recover your French.’  He got no answer from the lady, but, by heaven, he made his father angry.

‘We hope, Richard, that you will teach Madame better things than that,’ sniffed the old man, nosing about for battle.

‘I pray that I may teach her no worse, my lord,’ replied the other.  ’You will perhaps allow that for a daughter of France the tongue may have its uses.’

‘As English, Count, for the son of England!’ cried his father; ’or for his wife, by the mass, if he is fit to have one.’

‘Of that, sire, we must talk at your Grace’s leisure,’ said Richard slowly.  ‘Jesus!’ he asked himself, ’will he put me to a block of ice?  What is the matter with this woman?’ The King put an end to his questions by dismissing Madame Alois, breaking up the assembly, and himself retiring.  He was dreadfully fatigued, quite white and breathless.  Richard saw him follow the lady through the inner curtain, and again was uncomfortably suspicious.  But when his brother John made to slip in also he thought there must be an end of it.  He tapped the young man on the shoulder.

‘Brother, a word with you,’ says he; and John came twittering back.  The two were alone in the tent.

This John — Sansterre, Landlos, Lackland, so they variously called him — was a timid copy of his brother, a wry-necked reedy Richard with a sniff.  Not so tall, yet more spare, with blue eyes more pallid than his brother’s, and protruding where Richard’s were inset, the difference lay more in degree than kind.  Richard was of heroic build, but a well-knit, well-shaped hero; in John the arms were too long, the head too small, the brow too narrow.  Richard’s eyes were perhaps too wide apart; no doubt John’s were too near together.  Richard twitched his fingers when he was moved, John bit his cheek.  Richard stooped from the neck, John from the shoulders.  When Richard threw up his head you saw the lion; John at bay reminded you of a wolf in a corner.  John snarled at such times, Richard breathed through his nose.  John showed his teeth when he was crossed, Richard when he was merry.  So many thousand points of unlikeness might be named, all small:  the Lord knows here are enough.  The Angevin cat-and-dog nature was fairly divided between these two.  Richard had the sufficiency of the cat, John the dependence of a dog; John had the cat’s secretiveness, Richard the dog’s dash.  At heart John was a thief.

He feared and hated his brother; so when Richard said, ’Brother, a word with you,’ John tried to disguise apprehension in disgust.  The result was a very sick smile.

‘Willingly, dear brother, and the more so — ’ he began; but Richard cut him short.

‘What under the light of the sky is the matter with that lady?’ he asked him.

John had been preparing for that.  He raised his eyebrows and splayed out both his hands.  ’Can you ask?  Eh, our Lord!  Emotion — a stranger in a strange land — an access of the shudders — who knows women?  So long from France-dreadful of her brother — dreadful of you — so many things! a silly mind — ah, my brother!’

Richard checked him testily.  ’Put a point, put a point, you drown me in phrases; your explanations explain nothing.  One more word.  What in the devil’s name is she doing in there?’ He had a short way.  John began to stammer.

‘A second father — a tender guardian — ’

‘Pish!’ said Count Richard, and turned to leave the pavilion.  Prince John slipped through the curtains, and at that moment Richard heard a little fretful cry within, not the cry of mortal lady.  ’What under heaven have they got in there, this family?’ he asked himself.  Shrugging, he went out into the fresh air.

The abbot notes that his lord and master came running into his quarters, ’and tumbled upon me, like a lover who finds his mistress after many days.  “Milo, Milo, Milo,” he began to cry, three times over, as if the name helped him, “Thou wilt live to see a puddock upon the throne of England!” Thus he strangely said.’