Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub
[ocr errors]

come

that, where so many were contending for the honour of her hand, it might so happen that she would be required, in consonance with the spirit of the age, to bestow it upon one, while hier affections were placed upon another.

Upon the right hand of the fair daughter of Sir Roger Mortimer, stood the dauntless king of England; to the point of whose lance was attached the crimson pennon of the Queen of Beauty, denoting its present possessor to be the Knight of Honour. Upon a signal given by this badge of indisputable authority, the heralds blew their trumpets, and the pursuivants at arms commanded the anxious knights to forth !" "Immediately the lists presented as proud and gorgeous display as was ever feigned by the wildest of oriental fancies, with all its splendid and romantic adjuncts of genii and enchanters to boot. The gallant aspirants for fame passed in review before the throne, bowing, as they were in duty bound to do, to her by whom it was occupied, and from whose fair hand each hoped to receive, ere long, the meed of victory. Like compliments were also paid by the knights to the more immediate objects of their choice, who, ranged in “ burning rows,” in the well-constructed amphitheatre above, watched with anxious solicitude the movements of their chivalric worshippers; and by the soulinspiring glances of their eyes, urged them to the performance of deeds of noble daring. But among all the proud and glittering champions who appeared in the lists, the Knight of Honour sought in vain for the wearer of the Plumeless Helm, the tale of whose achievements on the preceding day had reached the royal ear, clothed in the glowing colours of exaggeration and romance. But while Edward was excited by curiosity alone, the breasts of others were agitated by hope and fear, and many a keen eye was turned, through the loop-hole of the basinet, towards the tent of the mysterious stranger, into which courtesy and the laws of knighthood forbade an entrance. Fortunately, we are possessed of the very cap which the love-sick Hassan pilfered from the quarrelsome urchins of the renowned island of Wakwak*, and therefore, being under no necessity of observing these punctilious regulations, we can enter the tent without fear of detection.

“ How goes the field ?” inquired its noble tenant of his page, squire, and messenger—for Eric was each and all by turns, and replied to the question of his master with becoming brevity.

“The spectators already crowd the scaffolding.–The Queen of Beauty hath taken her seat-upon her left stands her sire, the brave Lord Mortimer, while on her right the king waves the pennon of the Knight of Honour. Below, in the lists, all is bustle and array--the impatient knights have already bowed before the throne, and I left them arranging themselves for the encounter; so that in a short time the trumpets will doubtless sound for the onset.

As the last words passed his lips the martial peal was heard; whereat our hero, starting from his seat, was about to poise his formidable spear ; but his faithful squire interposed. “ Not so, not so, my lord—the marshal hath sent to the Knight of the Plumeless Helm weapons better suited to the courteous assaults of the tourney, and requests him to

[ocr errors]

* See New Arabian Nights, vol. 2. The Tale of “ Hassan of Bassora."

lay aside the sword and lance of. battle-field, and enter the lists armed with these glaives courtois.”

Here the speaker presented him with a sword and lance duly prepared for the bloodless sports which it was intended should be performed ; but instead of receiving them he laid his hand upon the hilt of his own trusty falchion, and exclaimed, “ No, by our lady's footstool! I will not change my Vraiacier for the best glaive in Christendom! Thinkest thou, boy, the Elfin spirits by whom it was restored, intended I should part with it so lightly ?-Yet, stay! 'twere best, perhaps, I should first be sure that 'tis indeed my own good sword.”—And so saying, he drew the beaming weapon from its sheath, and proved its mettle against the oaken pillar upon which his arms had hung during the night. At one stroke it severed in twain the opposing substance, hard as it was, with as much ease as the falchion of Velint--the thrice-tempered Meinung, divided the floating bale of wool. After which, our knight returned it to its scabbard, fully satisfied of its identity.

The bustle and shouting which almost instantly followed the clarion's spirit-stirring notes, announced to Sir Gaston de Biern that the moment of trial was at hand. Away, my pretty page,” said he, “and bring hither

my

steed.—Quick, quick, for the jousters will close in an instant. Eric bounded off like a roe to execute his master's bidding—though altogether at a loss to conceive what motives could possibly have induced him thus to delay his appearance in the lists until the contest had begun. But this was evidently nothing more than a cunning manæuvre to escape the inquisitive eye of his offended sovereign, which he could not have done had he mingled with the combatants ere the tumult and confusion, necessary to the most orderly conducted conflict, had commenced. When informed that his courser was waiting, he hastened to the entrance of his pavilion, armed with the blunted lance; thus in part complying with the wish of the marshal, and the courteous laws of chivalry; while his good sword still hung beside him. He now vaulted into the saddle, and caracoled his steed to the barrier, within which he was immediately admitted; when, dressing his lance to its rest, he dashed forward into the very thickest of the melée, while the loud shouts of the spectators gave notice to those more actively engaged, of the presence of the Knight of the Plumeless Helm; and, mingling with the braying of the martial music, and the din of the mail-clad combatants, produced an uproar which made the very welkin ring again.

• By our sword and sceptre !” said the king, addressing his noble host, " but yonder knight bears himself gallantly.—See! see, my

Lord ! -By St. George he'll unhorse our favourite--and thy future son-inlaw.—There, my brave Mortimer, said I not so !”

The monarch was, indeed, right—Sir Gaston de Biern having succeeded in overthrowing his antagonist, though the doughtiest knight in the lists ; and one whose prowess and good fortune had often been the theme of minstrel song in hall and lady's bower. Some over-ruling power appeared, however, upon the present occasion, to have directed him in the selection of the lance which of all others he had most reason to shun, and the knight whom he had most deeply injured ; for the vauquished warrior proved to be no other than John de Langeville, the

66

rival of our hero's early love, and the original cause of his late long and painful imprisonment.

When the Knight of the Emerald Shield (so called from the cognizance of its lord's being a hart lodged on a field, vert) was borne so unexpectedly to the ground, a shout partaking more of surprise than either of applause or disapprobation burst simultaneously from the dense throng of spectators, and so startled many of the less-experienced combatants, who were too intent upon their own adventures to pay much attention to those of others, that it became absolutely necessary to suspend the conflict. The Knight of Honour accordingly gave the requisite signal, and the cry of à l'ostelle, à l'ostelle," was so effectually raised by the well-practised heralds and officers at arms, that the most ardent and impetuous paused in their career, and retired to their respective stations. The Baron Mortimer started forward to the front of the scaffolding, and even his fair daughter could not refrain from advancing a few steps to ascertain by occular demonstration if her intended“ lord and master” had indeed been vanquished, as well as perhaps to obtain a glimpse of the fortunate victor.

De Langeville's fall was more dishonourable than dangerous, yet the sudden and unusual shock so stunned his bodily and mental powers, that he was borne by his friends, among the most active of whom was Mortimer, into an adjoining tent in a state of comparative insensibility, while his victorious rival was forced by those around him into the presence of the King of England and the Queen of Beauty, before whose exalted throne he bowed in token of dutiful obeisance, without, however, removing from his head the casque which had become so distinguished for the valour and prowess of its wearer, and so talked of for its own singularity.

“ Sir Knight of the Plumeless Helm,” said the royal judge, come to the lists of Kenilworth! Thrice welcome, though the flower of English chivalry hath fallen beneath thy lance! Knowest thou whom thou hast vanquished ?" “ John de Langeville,” replied the conqueror,

a false and craven knight, as I will prove to the utterance! There lies my gage !” and so saying, he flung down his gauntlet.

Edward was surprised at the apparent audacity and boldness of the knight, at the same time that he admired his bravery and prowess, and would fain have urged him to revoke his challenge ; but as consistently with his knightly character he could not dictate to a brother in arms, he referred to the lady arbitress to know whether or not it was her good will and pleasure to permit a challenge à l'outrance to be given or received within the limits of her jurisdiction. Though the beauteous Alice, 'tis true, was unprepared for this appeal, she betrayed greater agitation when called upon to pronounce judgment upon the point than could fairly be supposed to have arisen from an occurrence by no means uncommon in those days of tilts and tournaments, when the word of woman was in very many cases the only law to which man paid a willing obedience.

“ Let not the pastimes of peace, Sir King, be turned into those of war !" was her laconic reply, but it was imperative; and with this sove

16 wel

[ocr errors]

reign message the Knight of Honour returned to the challenger, but he returned too late to effect its peaceful purpose. Whilst he parleyed with La Reine, some over-officious friend of Sir John de Langeville had taken up the gage, and carried it to the challenged hero, who having partly recovered from his stupor, and finding himself uninjured by his late fall, swore by the faith and honour of a knight to accept the cartel. He accordingly commanded his armorial ensign to be removed from the entrance of his tent, and dispatched an esquire with his mortal defiance to the Knight of the Plumeless Helm. All attempts at pacification being now at an end, it only remained to announce the names of the combatants, and to prepare for the perilous engagement.

In compliance with the demand of the herald to be furnished with his name, the Gascon hero, as he slowly unlaced his helmet and removed it from his head, gave the required information.“ Gaston de Biern," said he,—“ Gaston de Biern?” repeated the king, in an interrogative tone of mingled anger and surprise. The name acted like a talisman, and “ Gaston de Biern” was re-echoed by the surrounding chivalry with similar expressions of wonder and astonishment, while, from the lips of a few, the ominous exclamation of “ treason” escaped.

“ Treason by the rood !” exclaimed Edward ; is but it shall never be said of King Henry's son that he sheltered his sovereignty behind the shield of his knighthood.” Then, with a look and air of kingly haughtiness, he addressed himself to the knight: “Gaston de Biern, the lists are free for you to combat in !”

“ Nay, but my liege,” rejoined the latter, “ 'tis not enough; as a victor in the tournament and joust I claim a boon!” Edward waved his pennon in token for the speaker to proceed, and he did so. long years, my liege, have I been imprisoned under the foul, false charge of treason. Sir John de Langeville knows the charge is false ; and this good sword shall force him to confess ere long that it was he alone provoked me to rebellion, or if it does not, let me die degraded and disgraced ! But ere I stake my life to this adventure, I would fain know if 'mid the throng of beauty which I see, there be not one at least that will grant me her support? My liege, there was a bright-eyed damsel once whose love I won, as this long-cherished pledge can testify; I would now restore it her if she mistrusts the justness of my cause. Come hither, boy: go, bear this jewel to the Queen of Beauty !”

At these words the watchful Eric stepped forward to receive the ring which his master held forth to him, and advancing to the fair judge of the lists, laid it at her feet. The lovely Alice, who, while the foregoing colloquy was held, became so agitated as to require the utmost exertions of her fair friends and attendants to prevent her from being overpowered by her emotions, received the profered relic, and kissing it with all the devotion and enthusiasm of true and unalterable love, restored it again to the page, and immediately concealed her blushing countenance in her richly-wrought kerchief, while the overjoyed knight received the pledge, and retired, unquestioned and uninterrupted from the throng of his chivalrous companions, who were too much surprised at what they beheld to do aught save gaze in silence at their fortunate brother in arms.

There was, indeed, no small cause for surprise ; and all were equally at a loss to conceive what could possibly have induced

66 For eight

the plighted bride of Sir John De Langeville to bestow so distinguishing and so unequivocal a mark of her affection upon the man who in a short time was to meet him in the deadly rencontre.

The officers at arms soon however aroused the champions from their stupor, by commanding them to withdraw, in order that they might prepare the lists for the approaching combat ; and during the interval they were so occupied conjecture was busy as to its probable results. The Lord Mortimer, altogether unable to account for his daughter's late conduct, and indignant at seeing his parental authority so little regarded, expostulated with the agitated maiden in no very knightly terms : unrestrained even by the presence of royalty itself, and swore by à Becket's shrine, that if any harm happened to the knight whom he had selected for her future Lord,“ he would send her forthwith to a nunnery!" She herself was alike insensible to his menaces and his

anger;

and

many a gallant scion of chivalry laughed in his sleeve at the enraged baron, well knowing that the bright-eyed Alice would never be long immured in a convent's walls, while so many brave lords of the lance and sword were ready and anxious to devote both to her service.

By the hour of noon the necessary arrangements were completed ; and the amphitheatre became thronged with silent or with whispering spectators, all equally desirous and impatient to behold the display of true courage and knightly skill which was about to take place. As the contest was to be for life or death, many a timid damsel avoided the scene where it was to take place : among others, Alice Mortimer, though the most interested in its issue, quitted not her chamber; many a little foot page, however, took his station near the dais, in order to convey from time to time to his half-hoping, half-despairing lady the intelligence of what was passing without. King Edward presided in the judgment seat: while the restless Lord of Kenilworth now held a momentary parley with the marshal, and anon hastened to encourage his chosen knight, who was already cased in full panoply of steel and brass, and curbed in with difficulty his fiery steed, which impatient as its rider for the onset, pawed the level ground and covered its gilded bit with snow white foam.

The martial trump was at length heard, and with its first note the Lord of the Emerald Shield bounded into the lists, and was loudly cheered by his friends and fellow nobles, as well as by all the gentles of the land. His early appearance inspired them with confidence, and occasioned his late defeat to be for the time almost forgotten; whilst, on the other hand, the tardiness of his rival's coming, augured but little in his favour. The trumpet, indeed, had brayed forth its last notes ere Sir Gaston thought proper to enter the arena. His appearance had undergone no alteration, save that the lance of the courteous tourney had been exchanged for the tough spear with which on the preceding day he had overcome the brave and knightly defenders of the passage of arms; and that the bridle arm displayed his invulnerable and fairy-polished shield !

Expectation beamed in every eye, and silence flung a mystic charm round the scene, which the monarch's signal dissipated in a moment. The onset note was sounded the ropes were seve

vered, and the combatants dashed forward in true knightly style. In the twinkling of an eye they met, but the shock was issueless; each having at the same instant, and

« ПредишнаНапред »