Reconciliation at Last
Y EARS had passed away. The oaths of Louis, and promises of Lothaire, had been broken; and Arnulf of Flanders, the murderer of Duke William, had incited them to repeated and treacherous inroads on Normandy; so that Richard's life, from fourteen to five or six-and- twenty, had been one long war in defence of his country. But it had been a glorious war for him, and his gallant deeds had well earned for him the title of "Richard the Fearless"—a name well deserved; for there was but one thing he feared, and that was, to do wrong.
By and by, success and peace came; and then Arnulf of Flanders, finding open force would not destroy him, three times made attempts to assassinate him, like his father, by treachery. But all these had failed; and now Richard had enjoyed many years of peace and honour, whilst his enemies had vanished from his sight.
King Louis was killed by a fall from his horse; Lothaire died in early youth, and in him ended the degenerate line of Charlemagne; Hugh Capet, the son of Richard's old friend, Hugh the White, was on the throne of France, his sure ally and brother-in-law, looking to him for advice and aid in all his undertakings.
Fru Astrida and Sir Eric had long been in their quiet graves; Osmond and Alberic were among Richard's most trusty councillors and warriors; Abbot Martin, in extreme old age, still ruled the Abbey of Jumieges, where Richard, like his father, loved to visit him, hold converse with him, and refresh himself in the peaceful cloister, after the affairs of state and war.
And Richard himself was a grey-headed man, of lofty stature and majestic bearing. His eldest son was older than he had been himself when he became the little Duke, and he had even begun to remember his father's project, of an old age to be spent in retirement and peace.
It was on a summer eve, that Duke Richard sat beside the white-bearded old Abbot, within the porch, looking at the sun shining with soft declining beams on the arches and columns. They spoke together of that burial at Rouen, and of the silver key; the Abbot delighting to tell, over and over again, all the good deeds and good sayings of William Longsword.
As they sat, a man, also very old and shrivelled and bent, came up to the cloister gate, with the tottering, feeble step of one pursued beyond his strength, coming to take sanctuary.
"What can be the crime of one so aged and feeble?" said the Duke, in surprise.
At the sight of him, a look of terror shot from the old man's eye. He clasped his hands together, and turned as if to flee; then, finding himself incapable of escape, he threw himself on the ground before him.
"Mercy, mercy! noble, most noble Duke!" was all he said.
"Rise up—kneel not to me. I cannot brook this from one who might be my father," said Richard, trying to raise him; but at those words the old man groaned and crouched lower still.
"Who art thou?" said the Duke. "In this holy place thou art secure, be thy deed what it may. Speak!—who art thou?"
"Dost thou not know me?" said the suppliant. "Promise mercy, ere thou dost hear my name."
"I have seen that face under a helmet," said the Duke. "Thou art Arnulf of Flanders!"
There was a deep silence.
"And wherefore art thou here?"
"I delayed to own the French King Hugh. He has taken my towns and ravaged my lands. Each Frenchman and each Norman vows to slay me, in revenge for your wrongs, Lord Duke. I have been driven hither and thither, in fear of my life, till I thought of the renown of Duke Richard, not merely the most fearless, but the most merciful of Princes. I sought to come hither, trusting that, when the holy Father Abbot beheld my bitter repentance, he would intercede for me with you, most noble Prince, for my safety and forgiveness. Oh, gallant Duke, forgive and spare!"
"Rise up, Arnulf," said Richard. "Where the hand of the lord hath stricken, it is not for man to exact his own reckoning. My father's death has been long forgiven, and what you may have planned against myself has, by the blessing of Heaven, been brought to nought. From Normans at least you are safe; and it shall be my work to ensure your pardon from my brother the King. Come into the refectory: you need refreshment. The Lord Abbot makes you welcome."
Tears of gratitude and true repentance choked Arnulf's speech, and he allowed himself to be raised from the ground, and was forced to accept the support of the Duke's arm.
The venerable Abbot slowly rose, and held up his hand in an attitude of blessing: "The blessing of a merciful God be upon the sinner who turneth from his evil way; and ten thousand blessings of pardon and peace are already on the head of him who hath stretched out his hand to forgive and aid him who was once his most grievous foe!"