« ПредишнаНапред »
This being soon after the expulsion of the Danes, by the personal valour and great moves of the king, the government was somewhat weak; and the king sought to strengthen himself in the hearts of his subjects.
This young man, honouring the king's greatness, gave the whole of his riches into his hands, to farm for the use of the state, until it should be his pleasure to return them when they should cease to be needed. And, as he was of a gentle and passive disposition, he betook himself to a villa on the banks of the Thames, and there lived, entertaining his friends. Being, however, of a melancholy habit for one so young, and very thoughtful, his inclination led him to travel for relief. Having received a sufficient sum of the king, he departed; they mutually embracing and honouring each other. The young man, in answer to his sage advice, telling him only, “Sir, I bear your name."
Having passed through many countries, he came into Tuscany. The sun was setting, and he went over the bridge into the city; the bells were ringing, and the sound of music was distinctly heard in the meadows and vintages.
The doors of the houses were open, and all the place seemed as one family. His melancholy left him, and his heart warmed within him. He no longer pondered, nor looked down, but alighted gaily from his horse, and shook the dust from the feathers in his hat, inquiring the while, the reasons for the rejoicings. He was told that the
duke had, three days since, married a noble and beautiful lady, who much loved him; and that they were to rejoice for seven days.
When the evening was come, Alfred did not, as he might have done, challenge respect of the duke, but went into the hall as a common guest, and seated himself at the bottom of the table. There he sat, studying the favour of the duke, who was of a most noble appearance: his tanned cheek was freckled yellow with the sun; his eye fiery, and as dark as his hair, and that curling heavily and as black as a crow. There hung a gold chain about his neck, and thereto a lady's likeness; and a favour of lady's hair, as yellow as gold, was tied above his naked elbow. His shoulders were covered with a lion's skin; his neck was bare, and black with the sun of many a day. His belt was a chain of iron, and his kirtle of sable skins. Behind him stood dark boys, beautiful as Arcadians: one bearing his cup and grapes, and the other resting as David on Goliath's sword. Soft music was heard from without, and the Tuscan spoke; bis voice was as the sound in a cave.
The trumpets sounded as he had commanded; the sweet music passed under the battlements, and when the doors opened, and the duchess advanced, his eyes shot fire. Shaking back his hair, he advanced towards her with extended arms, moving like a leopard. When they embraced, and her yellow hair mingled with his upon his back, they looked like images of the clouds.
Alfred's heart smote against his side when he saw the beauty of that lady; he ate no meat, but still gazed upon her; nor did he crush any grapes, nor mingle any wine. He heard not, felt not, thought not; he hardly breathed; his senses were in his eyes. He was as one who is “gazing himself blind by looking on the moon.” All this while was his heart beating audibly, and he sat as quiet as a stone till the feast was done. When the duke had led the duchess away, and the hall was cleared, he was aroused; and, looking mournfully around, he sighed deeply, and departed weeping.
On the next day he wrote to the king as follows:“ Kind Father !
“It importeth my honour and my life, that I should be absent from your kingdom for some time; how long, I know not. I am a slave; but I serve those whom I most love, and do bless my bondage. I want no gold, therefore use my patrimony while you want it; when not, be it bestowed for the benefit of learning, giving to the church no more than it can demand. Though the tears I now shed are not mine, I do dedicate one drop to the remembrance of old times. Be assured, that which I do at present is honourable, for I bear your name.
Calling his only attendant to him, and giving him gold, he bade him carry the letter to the King of England; and by no means to return, as he should pass forthwith into Germany; and wringing him by the hand, they parted.
As soon as he was gone, Alfred changed his habit; took a herdsman's staff, went to the gates of the Duke of Tuscany, and demanded to see him. Now, the duke had just returned from hunting, and Alfred approached him like a nobleman, but demanded of him only to be his servant or page. The duke, seeing the greatness of the man through the poorness of his habit, entertained him, and granted his request; and, liking his face, placed him close to his person. Presently the duchess came riding in: he spoke to her of what he had done; and when she saw Alfred she approved it all. The duke desired him to help his lady from her horse; but he began to shake like a leaf, looked down, and was rooted to the ground. The duke unhorsed the lady, chiding Alfred for his poorness; he laying it to his new fortune that had gladdened him too much. Alfred soon took an opportunity to gain the duke's respect.
The duke and duchess, seeing continually the nobleness of his nature, grew kind to him, and he took him often by the hand, questioning him of his sorrowful aspect, and promising him to relieve his misfortunes. They often asked his advice, and would have made him great; but he refused it, liking his old office, and desiring nothing so much as to be opposite their countenances.
Thus did he live for ten years, under the affectionate notice of these two lovers (for neither time nor marriage had as yet weakened their hearts), when it happened that a Danish nobleman visited the court of Tuscany, with his daughter, a very beautiful girl. She, seeing the nobleness of the duke, fell violently in love with him; and the duke, seeing the richness of the prize, and feeling the power of his conquest, was guilty enough to return her passion; forgetting the heart of the duchess. And because she should not know of his amour, he gave it out that both his guests would depart from his court, and ordered a feast to their honour. But he had secretly paid a weighty sum of gold to the Dane, that the lady, his daughter, should remain with him; and on the night of her departure she returned, and was received privily into a castle, that was in a wood, out of the city.
The delicate and susceptible nature of the duchess soon told her that something perilous threatened her love. By the duke's manner and conduct she could read a difference in his heart; yet she could by no means suspect the cause. Trusting, however, to his honour, as well as she could, she stifled these feelings, and bent to all his humours; endeavouring by patient suffering to win him back to what he was. Yet did she never question him of the difference; nor even appear to know it, except by the greater tenderness of her conduct.
Alfred, who watched over the lady's happiness with the vigilance of a lynx, when he found the truth, hated the Tuscan, and dedicated himself by all means in his power to procure the duchess peace and tranquillity. Willingly would he have taken