« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
night, unbarred the gate, and a messenger (whose horse fell dead as he lit, and who was girthed from hip to shoulder,) rushed into the refectory, exclaiming, " Missives, missives, lord abbot, from the Lord of Courtenaye. His castle is beleaguered by the heretics; and he deems all fautors of that heresy who do not hasten to his aid."
The outlaw kept back, and a pause followed, till the abbot crept from behind his chair. "The monks of Normoutier are sluggards at early mass," he said, "or thou hadst never caught me watching them thus, to oversee the discipline of the house more strictly observed."
"Lord abbot," cried the breathless messenger, "the Lord of Courtenaye commends him to you, and bids you haste to his rescue. He is avertised that many a crusading lord and knight is couched within the walls of your abbey to-night; and he bids me say, they had fitter ride to his rescue than snore vigils to St. Somnus in the cells of a monk. Whether there be such a saint in the calendar, my lord abbot knows better than I."
"Away — away!" cried the abbot, fully awakened from his drunken sleep, and trembling lest the heretics should remember how near the towers of Normoutier were to those of Courtenaye —" Sound thine horn again till it make cloister and cell ring — sound it, as if it would split the ear, and waken the dead. The Lord of Courtenaye in danger—in mortal danger?"
"The Lady Isabelle in peril?" cried the outlaw, brandishing his dagger and spear — "perchance she may see as daring deed done for her safety by an outlaw as by a belted knight."
"Wind thine horn, I say—toll out the great bell," cried the abbot in a fever of terror.
He was obeyed; and at the toll of the ponderous bell, and the winding of the horn, whose sound, confined within the walls of the refectory, seemed to split its very roof, the sleepers started up, like men roused by the trump of doom.
Life was then full of such stirring scenes, and no man lay down with the certainty of an hour's rest, if the sound of war was in the neighbourhood. Up started the thousand guests of the abbey at the summons. The Pelerins, who lay on the stone pavement of the court, or were dispersed through the various offices of the abbey, were the first to spring from their slumber and seize their arms; a few torches burned dimly in the courts to light them; then followed fast the glancing lights seen through the narrow windows of the galleries, as the men-at-arms and the bishop's followers hurried from their dormitories, lit by the monks. The bishop of Toulouse was in the court at the first summons, casting, as he mounted his steed, a look of reproach on, his laggard attendants. The flaring torches, lit in haste at the presence of the bishop, were now blazing through the court, held by the brotherhood, who dreamed as they stood; and the court itself rung like the streets of a town besieged. The surly waking of the troops — the tumult of oaths, orders, and exclamations— the hurried and hasty confronting of men belonging to various leaders—formed a scene of discord and of din, amid which the
bishop of Toulouse's voice alone could have commanded attention, or enforced control. The men-at-arms were summoned to their respective standards — the promiscuous band required to keep in the rear, and a kind of disorderly order established; while the abbot himself was seen to join the train, mounted on a pacing palfrey, and attended by a muffled figure in a dress which partook of that of a hunter and a peasant, to whom he whispered ever and anon, " Be true, thou false knave, for thine own sake."
"And who is this companion?" said the bishop, as he rode by.
"A rustical fellow, but useful withal," replied the abbot; "he knows the perplexed paths of this wild country, and will track your heretic sure as a bloodhound. Alack, my lord, your sleep, I fear, hath been broken; for me, a few pages of St. Chrysostom or, St. Jerome in my cell, and I sleep as I would after a vigil or at a mystery—eripiunt somnum Druso vitulisque marinis."
At this moment the great gate was once more flung open; its vast arches again rung with the din of steeds, arms, and men; the torch-light that flashed on its ribbed vaults of stone was contrasted with the pale light of an autumnal morning; and out rushed leader and vassal, " the horse and his rider," like a flood, through the gates (that quivered on their massive hinges with the impulse), and poured themselves tumultuously over the heath that surrounded the spacious walls of the abbey.
"To him," cried Paladour, couching his lance, "who arrives but a spear's length before me at the castle of Courtenaye, I will forfeit, if he be a knight, my steed of price; and if a man-at-arms, my glove of mail filled with agnels."
"To him," cried Amirald, spurring his steed to the rowel-head —" to him who attains a spear's length after me, I will forfeit, if a knight, my helm and corslet, and if a vassal, its value summed and paid"
"My holy lord," cried Sir Aymer, who saw the bishop's armed heel pointed towards his steed's flank at these words, "I pray you, use