Page images
PDF
EPUB

Raymond started as if one had struck him on the cheek, and at the sight of his face leaped from the stone and turned as white as clay. It was a moment before his look came back.

"What would you, fair childe?" said he gently. The tears came into the eyes of the timid boy. "Sir!" said he, " I am an orphan child. My Lord, that was very kind to me, is dead; I would serve you if it please you."

The Earl's breast rose, and he turned away, and looked upon the sea :—at last " from what country—what is your name?" said he.

"Albert de la feuille morte," replied the boy,-—-" my father was of Provence," and his breath fluttered as if the memory of his father and his land rose in his heart.

"And have you no friends?" said Sir Raymond.

"I had—one," replied the child.

"And where is he?" asked the knight.

The boy turned away, and sat down upon the grass, and leaned his head upon a stone.

The Earl took his dark hand, and the tears came to his eyes as he looked upon the slender fingers; " Alas!" said he, " this was never meant to burnish a helm, and hold a black stirrup!"

"I will be very proud to hold the stirrup of a Knight of Jesv Christ,"* said the child.

The Earl stood still for a moment, and held his hand with a grasp from which a mailed wrist might have shrunk, but the boy did not shrink nor tremble.

"God save you, gentle child !"—said the Earl at last—" if you will be pleased to serve me, I will be—not a master—but a brother to you while I am in this world ; and when I am gone—God will be a Father."

The page fell upon his knee, and kissed his hand, and the tears trickled fast to the stone which was wet as the dew where his cheek had lain. The Earl did not speak, but raised him gently, and turned towards the town. As they went, he spoke him softly, and glanced to his dark beautiful features and faded habit; he looked yet scarce sixteen years, and wore the simple hose and green kirtle, such as usually the dress of pages in the south of France; but except for this, and his accent, his complexion was so dark, and his short curling hair so raven black, none had believed that he had ever known another country than Greece or Syria.—The Earl discoursed him as they went, and wondered at his "gentilexite," and learning; and when he came to his inn, bestowed him in the especial charge of his old minstrel.

"Here is a flower that I did not think to find in this desart world," said he ; " I pray you be very gentle to him."

The old man was himself a Provencal, and he laid his pillow in the alcove, and set his meat as if he had been his own son, and took his harp and played to him till he wept himself asleep like a stilled infant. "Certainly," said he, when the Earl asked about him the next day, "never such a gentle child served among stern war men !"—And in a little time, "Le page noir was the mignon of all the court." Unless at his service, however, he was always sad and alone, and never spoke of hia native land and former days ; and if the rude men urged him, he turned

• There wae an order of this title, but at an earlier period it was applied generally to Christian knights, and in particular to the Knights of the Croisade.

away, and the tears came to his eyes, and he would go to the sand or the rampart, though the sun was never so hot, or the wind never so wild.

At length, upon the morrow of St. Turiel, the Earl and all the Knights in Acre set out for Jerusalem, on sudden news that the great assault should be given in six days. Through all that long and terrible march* Albert rode beside the stirrup of Sir Raymond, and when the Syrian sun burned at noon, and the "dead wind" blew at night, he never eat till he had eaten, nor drank till he had drank, and served him at his board, and watched by him when he slept. When the heart of many a knight sunk in his hauberk, and the eye of the night guard closed under his helmet, Albert sat beside him, and fanned away the fly from his cheek, and the mouse from his pillow, and looked upon his face ; and when his lips shrunk, and his brow came dark, dropped his beads, and raised his cross, and said—" God give thee rest!"

• • '»»s*•

It was the night before the assault. The camp was still and quiet, and no sound came through the tents but the fitful stamp of a horse at the picket, or the distant clank of a hammer at the forge, where some man-at-arms still waited his armour for the morning. The stars shone bright upon the dark field, and at times the watch might hear the nightcall upon Jerusalem; and, as he walked before the tent, the whisper of shrift and absolution, where the knights made " a clean breast " for the "battle of God," and the rest in which so many should sleep when the night should come again.

Earl Raymond lay asleep in his tent, his banner by his side, and his sword at his head, where he had knelt before it when the sun went down. Albert sat by his shoulder, his pale brow fixed upon his face, and his still fingers rested on his crucifix. You could not see the breath come and go upon his lips.

The broad hand of the knight lay unbent upon the pillow, and his pale face calm, and his dark brow clear and smooth as-a sleeping child. Albert had never before seen the deep frown relax from his front in all the nights that he had looked upon it. For a moment he glanced up, and a flush came to his cheek, and a light to his eyes; but all tears were gone, and they looked full and still as the calm stars that were above him. For an instant his lips moved, and he gazed upward ; but again his eyes returned to the pallet, and his features to their watch.

All night he sat, and by degrees every sound died away; the horse was still at his picket, and the sentinel at his post, and for a short while there was a deep death stillness, and all was hushed in heaven and on the earth. It was the dead hour—the turning of the tide—when the eoul passes, and the spirits in the grave are loosed—slowly a faint sweet strain of music came by on the silence, and voices sung in the air :—

"Blessed is the heart when the sin-stain has gone;
Blessed is the brow that His light shines upon I"

And ever a pale still light shone upon the brow of Albert, while he sat fixed and quiet as if he heard no sound, and felt no light; and, whether it was the monks that sung in the valley, and the moon that looked

• It must be remembered that this was in the twelfth century, and in time of war—now it is only a ride of three days.

into the tent—but never song was so sweet on earth, and never light shone so fair upon a mortal brow.

At length a faint stir began to come from the field, and at intervals the jingle of bridles, the stamp of hoofs, the baying of a hound, and a sudden foot passing quickly by the tent. In a short while the far cry of the mollahs could be heard upon the towers, and the pale grey dawn stole dimly through the curtain of the tent. Albert sat, and fixed his eyes upon the light, as now a horse, and now a man came by, and now could be distinguished the tread of heavy feet pouring through the sand. Suddenly a trumpet sounded at a distance, and the page started up, and laid his hand upon the breast of the Earl. Raymond awoke. "The first trumpet has sounded," said the page.

The knight rose hastily, and put on his helm and hauberk. Albert laced his casque, and buckled the spur to his heels, and the broad belt to his side; and the Earl knelt down before his sword, and dropped his beads, and looked upon the cross with a look that made Albert's cheek come pale. In a few moments he rose and grasped the page's hand, and laid his broad mailed glove upon his head, and sat down to the little table beside the pallet. Albert served his frugal meal, and took his trencher to sit by the door; but the Earl made him sit beside him at the same dish.

"It is the last that I may eat," said he. "There will be no salt" between me and thee where we shall meet again."

Albert bent his head over the board, and said no word; but the large round tear fell on his plate.

The short meal passed in silence, and the haste of those who every moment expect to hear the trumpet sound to arms. As soon as it was ended, the Earl rose up and crossed himself, and gave his hand to the page, and drank the grace cup; and when Albert had pledged him, he went to his mails, and took out a heavy purse, and loosed from his neck a little white cross.—" Dear and faithful child," said he, "God be gracious to you, and give you peace."—He put the purse in his hand.— "When thou and I shall part, return to thy country, and if thou hast none better—to mine, where thou shalt find a very gentle mistress, who will be to thee all that I would be."

Albert took the purse, and looked calm in his face, and bowed his head, and said him—" Yes."

The Earl looked on him for a moment, but his eyes did not change. "Brave and constant child," he said, " God shall not forsake thee ; and now—for none may know His will to-day—take this little cross that must not fall among His enemies. If He give us the victory, thou shalt bury it with me in this holy Earth; but if in the great press, or the day shall go against us, and I may not be found, take it with thee, give it to my lady, from whom I had it, and say, Raymond of Toulouse is gone to his rest."

Albert had not changed before ; but at the sight of that cross, and the sound of those words, his colour went out of his face, and the hand that he held out fell to his side, and he sunk down at the feet of the Earl. Raymond lifted him to the pallet, and snatched the cruce, and hastened to loose his collar. The hand of the page closed upon his arm, and he

• The jfreat salt-cellar was the division between the " Ifentles" and the "simples" who sat at the same table in the old time.

opened his eyes, and sat upright. For an instant he gazed half conscious to the light; but there was no tear in his eyes, and no flutter in his breast, and he rose up to take the Earl's command.

"Alas, my child!" said Raymond, "thou art spent and overwatched. Thy feeble body is too frail for thy spirit. Lie down and rest, and fear not—all will be well."

He put the cross upon his neck, and made him lie on the pallet, and covered him with his cloak, and taking his banner went out hastily from the tent.

Albert started up and gazed after him, and looked upon the cross, and wept, and knelt, and laid it on his head, and bowed his forehead on the mat that had been touched by the helmet of the Earl. Suddenly the trumpet began to sound, the quick clank of arms, and the deep tramp of horses went past as if the earth moved around him. Albert dropped the jewel, and listened, and gazed where the heavy sound went by. The long successive tramp continued without intermission, till a shock like a clap of thunder burst upon the stillness, and a far fearful rolling surge of shouts went up to heaven like the roar of a tempest. In another moment the whole camp seemed to tremble, bolt after bolt shook the walls of the city, and the mingled cries and shouts, and clash of arms, spread like a storm from the breach; and as the tongues of the hundred nations rose and fell, came suddenly the faint shout of the French, "Mont Joye St. Denis ! !* Albert started from the ground, and braced his dagger, and did on his bonnet, and rushed out from the tent.

The clear day was bright upon the camp, and the long black lines of men at arms were pouring through the white tents like torrents towards the town, but all beneath the wall was lost in dust and smoke, through which the tall black giant tower of assault t rose almost as high as the ramparts, where the dim grey battlements could be discerned crowded with men. Albert stood upon the rock under the standard % before the tent, and watched the black columns pouring into the cloud, which swallowed them in its darkness. As the sun approached, the faint flash

• The ancient war-cry of France.

.(- A wooden tower of a height equal to the wall of a besieged place, was one of the ancient engines of a siege. It was moveable upon block wheels, and provided with a " fall-bridge," one similar to a draw-bridge, to drop from the summit upon the battlement. The historians mention with astonishment two of prodigious size used at the assault of Jerusalem under Godfroi de Boulogne, and constructed by Count Raymond. The first when brought to the wall was found too low, and was afterwards burned in a sally of the Saracens; but the second had a small internal turret capable of being elevated by ropes and pullies. When the Saracens saw it brought to the wall, they treated it with contempt incited by the failure of the first; but their consternation was great when they saw the summit begin to move, and rise slowly up to a height greater than that of the battlements of the town. A successful lodgement was made by means of the "fall-bridge" and the city taken soon afterwards.

J There were two kinds of engines called " war-wolvet." One was a sort of ponderous wooden grate used to break a battering-ram, &c.; the other, which is here meant, was a machine for casting vast stones. Edward I. at the siege of Stirling

used one, which is said to have thrown pieces of rock weighing three cwt Mat. Par.

Several kinds of engines were named from animals; as the War-wolf, for casting ■tones; the Ram, for battering; the Tortoise, for covering the working party under a wall; the Cat and the Sow, moveable coverings, or close sheds on wheels, under which the besiegers made their approaches to the ditch. From these names war engines were generally called in French Beasteahx, and in old English, Beattial, and Btattial of Tree—Old romances, Barbour's Bruce, the Blind Minstrel, &c. &c.

of the crescents and crowded arms could be seen glittering along the ramparts, and at quick intervals the fearful shock of the war wolves* sent up a cloud of dust from the wall; and as it swept off, a deep black gap appeared in the battlements and glittering line of arms. All at once the vast dark mighty column of the tower began to move, and rose slowly out of the smoke till it looked over the rampart; a thunder of shouts rolled up from the host, and suddenly the flash of arms and banners receded like a bright wave along the wall. In an instant a little bridge fell from the top of the turret upon the battlement, and a white knight, followed by a glittering stream of glaives and lances, rushed over to the rampart. A terrific cry came from the turret, and re-echoed from the moat—" Raymond of Thoulouse ! Raymondof Thoulouse!" and Albert distinguished the glorious figure of his master and the white cross of France. One moment he gazed, one moment knelt upon the rock, one moment lifted up his cross, and rushed down into the stream of the assault.

The black terrible tide went on like a torrent into the moat, and the storm of the escalade thickened under the breach; but nothing was visible in the thick darkness, and the black dense press went on and disappeared into the cloud, man over man, till it almost filled up the deep black visionless gulf of the moat which roared round it like the bottomless pit. At intervals the heavy shot t rebounded on the wall, and the rolling ruin and storm of the defence rained down fire, and thunder, and battle sleet, through the black cloud: but the slow dark iron tide went on—and on—and on—over the falling heaps, till suddenly there was an explosion as if the heaven and the earth burst amidst the darkness. A moment of fearful stillness prevailed, the smoke rolled away, and the breach appeared to the sun, and all the thick glittering stream of helms and crosses going up over the ruined wall like a swarm of locusts. Again there was rescue—again the charge—and as the cloud opened and shut—now helmets, now turbans glistened in the breach; but suddenly a broad bright gleam broke on the towers, and the white figure of Earl Raymond appeared on the top turret. A moment he stood amidst the smoke in the sight of all the hosts, and suddenly mounting the bartizan, pitched the white banner in the sun, and began to sing the battle hymn of Toulouse. The field—the breach—the crowded towers sent up a shout like the sea roar, and as the bright silk flew in the wind, the darts and shot clinked upon the knight's mail, and glanced through the fluttering banner like sharp sleet. Raymond stood still amidst the shower, waving his hand over the assault, and singing his chorus:

• Anciently in a camp, every leader, of the rank of a Baron, had a banner (i.e.) a square flag emblazoned with his armorial coat, pitched before his tent. This flag was much larger than the banner carried with the troops, and being only used for pitching in the ground, was thence called a " Stand-ard." The name is now confounded with common military ensigns ; though it is properly regulated, by its use, and had an established stated dimension, according to the rank of its owner, from that of an Emperor to a Baron. None under this last rank could display his arms in a banner, properly so called, for that of a banner-et was only his guydon with the points cut off.

T The stones and various missiles of Balistse, and other engines, were called "shot," a* the engines and their materials were called " artillery" several centuries before the invention of guns.

Vol. II. C

« PreviousContinue »