Gateway to the Classics: Pepin: A Tale of Twelfth Night by Evaleen Stein
 
Pepin: A Tale of Twelfth Night by  Evaleen Stein

The Tale of Gundebold the Wolf

A ND now will we go back to the hut wherein did old Yann and Pepin busy themselves through the short wintry day. At evenfall, having finished their supper and set the beggar's portion of their dark loaf upon a pewter plate to await any chance wayfarer, then did they pull their bench near to the hearth, and side by side for awhile they watched in silence the flames as they leaped and flickered around the oaken log which Yann laid upon the fire.

Without, the wind rose sharply, driving the whirling snowflakes before it and drifting them over the hut and through the great, bleak forest.

As these wintry blasts sighed and moaned, or swept by with a shrill wailing, presently did there come from the heart of the forest a sound as of deep baying. Again and yet again echoed the long-drawn dismal cries, and Pepin and old Yann shivered as they harkened. Then did the young lad creep closer to his grandsire; and as once more the snarling sound rang out mingling with the wind, "Grandsire," he asked, "why do the wolves howl so long to-night?"


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"Nay, child," answered Yann, "that I cannot tell. Unless," he said, pausing awhile, "it may be they do call for their comrade, Gundebold the Wolf. Thou knowest 'tis Twelfth Night when he follows with the pack."

"Gundebold the Wolf?" repeated Pepin, with a question in his voice. "Who was he? I know naught about him."

"What sayest thou?" said Yann, as he turned slowly and looked down at the lad. "Didst thy father never tell thee of Gundebold?" Then did he add, sighing a bit, for old people do sigh often in thinking of the past, "Ah, well, I had forgotten, child, too young thou wast whilst thy father lived, seeing thou wast but a babe. Yet as none there be in Bourbonnaise but must some time hear the tale, I will tell it to thee, even as I had it from my father, and he from his grandsire; for in such manner, I know not from how far back, has the story been handed down."

Eagerly did Pepin wait, as the old man, softly stroking the lad's hair, paused again and sat gazing at the red coals upon the hearth.

Then passing his hand across his eyes, at last he began; telling the tale to the young lad even as I repeat his words to thee, my child. Thus spoke old Yann. "Long, long, long ago, more than thrice a hundred years, in the days when the good King Louis surnamed 'The Saint,' ruled our realm of France, there lived a baron of Burgundy whose name was Gundebold."

"Where is Burgundy, Grand-sire?" asked Pepin.

"As to that," replied Yann, a bit uncertainly, "I cannot tell thee more than this; 'tis just beyond our own province of Bourbonnaise. A fair country 'tis said to be to-day, full of vineyards and with rich pastures of sweet grass for flocks and herds. But in the days of the Baron Gundebold, rough and lonely it was, and many and wild were the great forests wherein did range boars and wolves and all manner of fierce untamed creatures of the woods.

"Over one of the wildest of these woodlands, a dark reach of pines and hemlocks called the Forest of Ott, rose a rocky height; and on this stood the strong castle of the baron, with its high towers and walls of stone thicker than a man is tall."

"Was it larger than the castle of our Duke Loys?" again did Pepin ask.

"Yes," answered Yann, " 'twas larger and stronger even than his, and deep and wide was the moat round about it. But though Baron Gundebold's castle was filled to overflowing with splendid furnishings, for great riches were his, yet did the great, gray towers rise grim and forbidding, and the place was shunned by all save the evil companions of the baron. For Gundebold himself was hard-hearted and selfish, and wild and roistering was the life he led, caring for naught so much as the hunt. He would leap on his horse and, seizing his bow and boar-spear, so furiously would he gallop off chasing the beasts through the forest that often was he called the 'Wild Huntsman.' Thou knowest, Pepin, I have told thee of the wicked hunter who rides on the storm-wind over the tops of the tallest trees of the forest, his fierce pack of hounds snarling and baying about him and the Evil One close on his heels?"

"Yes, Grandsire," answered Pepin, giving another little shiver as he crept closer.

"Well," continued Yann, "the Baron Gundebold was indeed a wild rider, and so fierce and merciless did he become in his chase of the forest beasts, and so cruel and heartless to the peasant folk around him, that soon people began to add to his name 'The Wolf.'

"As thou canst guess, child, he was not loved by his vassals as is our Duke Loys the Good. But though well he knew he was both feared and hated, little cared Gundebold. So that his own table was spread with the richest fare and his cloak and doublet were of the finest fur and velvet, it mattered not to him if the poor peasants who tilled his fields and dressed his vines had naught but rags to wear and crusts for food."

Here did old Yann pause for a moment, thinking of the castle life he had seen in his youth. Then did he go on thus: "Thou dost not dream, Pepin, what wonderful things the noble folk do eat and drink! Thou knowest when I was a lad I did serve in the castle in the time of the father of our Duke Loys, and never will I forget the silver platters and flagons, and the gold and jewelled cups that were sent in for his table, and the fine white loaves, and the spits full of pheasants and hares and boar's flesh and venison roasting in the great kitchen, and the baskets of strange fruits from far countries, and the sweetmeats which the castle cooks did fashion in the oddest shapes! 'Tis almost past believing!

As the old man sat living over the past, "Do noble folk always eat white bread; and all those other wonderful things?" added the lad vaguely. For never had he been in a castle kitchen, and naught did he guess of what went on therein.

"Always," replied old Yann, nodding his head wisely. "And we peasant folk must be content with our coarse black loaves; that is the way of the world," and again did he nod. "But never does Duke Loys let us go without bread, and always does he see to it that we have a sound thatch over our heads and a whole smock to our backs; which is more than did Gundebold.

"Withal so haughty and selfish and wild he was, that the hearts of all his vassals melted with pity when they saw the young bride he one day brought home to his castle. Fair and sweet she was, as beautiful as the white lilies that grow in the garden of Duke Loys. And so kind and gentle she was to everyone, that soon was she christened by all as 'The Dove'; and thus always did they speak of her."

"Was the Baron Gundebold cruel to her?"  said the lad, wondering if even The Wolf could be unkind to so sweet a bride.

For answer old Yann did but nod his head sadly as he went on with the tale. " 'Twas an ill mating, The Wolf and The Dove, and wretched and sorrowful enough must have been the lot of the wife of Gundebold. By and by, when a son was born to them, fair and gentle he was, like to his mother; and this angered The Wolf. Gundebold loved the child, in a fierce, masterful way, more than his hard heart had ever loved anything, but he wished him to be bold and reckless like himself; and to make him so, just as soon as little Gaspard, for thus did they call him, could sit in front of him on his saddle-bow, then did The Wolf begin to take him for companion on his wild hunts."

"I should think The Dove must have been ill pleased with that, and so must Gaspard also," said Pepin, who himself was a gentle lad and so did shrink from the thought of chasing to the death the creatures of the forest.

"Yes," answered Yann, "little Gaspard did indeed hate and dread those fierce rides even as wouldst thou, Pepin. And as for The Dove, many and bitter were the tears she shed to be thus forced to see the child so early trained in those rough and dangerous ways. But," here did old Yann shrug his shoulders as he went on, "who could withstand the will of The Wolf? And so, day after day, in vain did The Dove wring her white hands as she besought him to leave the boy with her; for Gundebold paid no heed.

"But at last, when Gaspard was about thine age, Pepin, there came a day when The Wolf, snatching him from his play, swung him to the saddle of his great black horse and galloped off to chase the wild boars through the Forest of Ott.

"Pale and trembling, the lad clung to his father when they set out; and paler still, but trembling no longer, did he come home. For it was his lifeless body that lay cross the saddle-bow. Gundebold, in seeking to hurl his heavy boar-spear, had unwittingly struck and slain Gaspard. And well-nigh crazed with grief was the unhappy father as he bore him back to the castle."

As old Yann paused in his telling, Pepin was silent, save for a low, long-drawn sigh of pity.

Presently, again did Yann take up the tale. "Before long The Dove faded away and died of her sorrow. And Gundebold, if he had been wild and reckless before, now was he a hundredfold more so. He passed his time chasing the boars and wolves by day, and by night feasting and drinking red wine with the companions he would gather in his castle; all of them only a little less wild and wicked than himself.

"And so it went on till Twelfth Day came, and in the castles round about him they kept the Feast of the Kings. But Gundebold, though he held a feast that night, had no mind to honor the Wise Kings. Little enough did he care for them, or the blessed Christ-child either; no Christmas had he kept, nor did any green garlands deck his walls as in the castles of the other noble folk who had remembered the Christ-child's birthday. Nay, Gundebold's feast did but chance to fall on Twelfth Night, and 'twas but one of his many wild revels where they did eat and drink enough for thrice their number and amused themselves shouting out rude jests and loudly singing their wicked, heathenish songs. And never one of them gave a thought to the little Lord Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem, nor to the Three Kings who came seeking Him on this day."

Again did old Yann sit lost in thought for a few moments; then did he go on. "As I have told thee, great riches had the Baron Gundebold, and these did he delight to show. Therefore, very splendid was his table as it stood in the midst of the castle hall, spread for that Twelfth Night feast. Gold and silver cups and flagons and platters glittered in the torchlight as the company took their places. At the head of the table sat The Wolf; he was dressed in the finest of velvet and over his furred mantle and wide collar of lace hung golden chains set thick with jewels. When all were ready, at a signal from the baron there came into the hall a long procession of serving men bearing the most costly food."

"Was there a Twelfth-loaf with a bean in it?" asked Pepin.

" 'Tis to that part of the story I am coming," replied Yann. "Naught cared The Wolf for aught to remind him of the day; but those there were who served him in the castle kitchen who were more careful to keep the Feast of the Kings. So a Twelfth-loaf had they made, and though in it they had placed a bean, thinking thus to please their master with some fresh excuse for folly, not less had they taken pains to mark with a cross another goodly part of it for God's Share.

"At the beginning of the feast was the great loaf borne in so that some one of the noisy company might be proclaimed King of the Bean and so rule the revel. When each guest had taken his portion, then was the platter which held it set before Gundebold; and dark was his frown when he saw God's Share still left upon it. For he had no pity for the poor and did scorn the kindly old custom of giving them part of the Twelfth-loaf. Frowning again, then did he take from the platter the beggar's share, and slowly crumbled it on the floor so that the hound at his feet might lick it up.


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