Gateway to the Classics: Troubadour Tales by Evaleen Stein
 
Troubadour Tales by  Evaleen Stein

Count Hugo's Sword

How the Peasant Boy Geoffrey by His Bravery and Devotion Prevented a Duel of Great Nobles and Became Page to the Good King Louis


"T EE dee, deedle de de!" shrieked the cockatoo, from his perch high up in the gabled window of the old inn. "Tee de!" He was a pink and white cockatoo, with a beautiful tuft on top of his head; one of his legs was chained to a carved wooden perch that projected from the window-sill, while with his free claw he carefully balanced a large silver spoon, of antique pattern, from the contents of which he was very deliberately dining. For he was no common bird. Monsieur Jean the landlord of this "Guillaume-le-Conquérant" inn, of the ancient town of Dives, being something of a bird fancier, had but lately bought him, and for fear he might fly away, was thus keeping him chained to the window of monsieur's own apartment until he should grow used to his new home. As he now slowly picked from his spoon the last morsel, and swallowed it with a great ruffling of feathers all the way down his throat, again he shrilled out in a high-pitched mimicking tone, "Tee deedle!" and this time a little boy looked up quickly from the courtyard below.

The boy was seated on a bench under a plane-tree, and held in his hands a sheet of yellow parchment on which was written a musical score, whose large black notes he was trying to hum over.

"Fie, Cockie!" he cried, as he looked up, "dost thou not know 'tis a wicked sin to mock me when I am learning the holy mass music?"

But Cockie only screwed his head to one side, shook his empty spoon, and peered down with an impudent stare, as with a sigh the little boy once more applied himself to his task. In a few moments, however, he was again interrupted, this time by a call from beyond the kitchen:

"Geoffrey! Geoffrey! come hither and help catch this fowl for the Count Hugo's soup to-morrow!"

After a hot chase, Geoffrey succeeded in catching the fat hen and handing her over to the white-capped cook of the inn kitchen, and then he once more sat down and took up his parchment; for though a serving boy through the week, on Sunday he took his place with the little choristers of the Dives cathedral, and Father Anselm had allowed him to take the score home with him, so that he might practise in his leisure moments.

But as he now tried to go over the black notes, there was a mournful cadence to every tone, for Geoffrey was very unhappy. Usually he was gay as a bird, and indeed sang very like one; but to-day he had a weight on his mind, as he sat there in the courtyard of the quaint old inn.

It was long, long ago that Geoffrey lived—nearly six hundred years. The inn in which he served had been built in the Norman town of Dives nearly three centuries earlier by the great Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, whose name, which in French (for Normandy is a part of France) is Guillaume-le-Conquérant, the inn still bore in Geoffrey's time as it bears to this day. The Duke William had built the house because he wished to have some safe and pleasant stopping place during the time he was overseeing the finishing and freighting of the fleet of boats which lay near by in the river Dives, and in which he meant to sail to the conquest of England.

And so, with such illustrious beginning, the inn had become very famous among the nobles of Normandy, and grown larger and larger, till, in the days when Geoffrey lived, it was a very beautiful place indeed. The courtyard, which one entered through an arched gateway covered with guelder roses, was surrounded by ancient wooden buildings; their dark mossy beams were put together with white plaster, and their innumerable picturesque peaks and gables and wooden galleries and winding stairways were richly overhung with masses of the most lovely vines; for roses, wistarias, clematis, and jasmines clambered everywhere. There were two gardens also; one for the kitchen, the other full of lilies and clove pinks and French daisies, and numberless sweet old-fashioned flowers; for Monsieur Jean, the innkeeper, had much taste and loved both flowers and birds. Indeed, besides several cockatoos, he always kept dozens of peacocks that trailed about the courtyard squawking and spreading their gorgeous tails every time a new guest entered the gateway. There were fine pigeons, too, and rabbits and chickens, and no end of interesting things.

Geoffrey thought it a charming place to live, and he did not in the least mind the work he had to do; for all were kind to him, and moreover, he was happy in being able to give some of his earnings to his family at home, who were very poor. His father was a peasant living on the estate of the young Count Boni, of Château Beauvais, and had it not been for the kind-heartedness of this count, the poor peasant would have had hard shift to keep his little children in bread; for in those days the country had been so wasted by wars that the peasant folk had almost nothing left on which to live. But the Count Boni had always been most generous and considerate to the people on his estate, and especially to Geoffrey's father, who was honest, and intelligent above his class. The count it was who had secured for Geoffrey the place at the inn, and it was he also who had spoken to the monks of Dives of the boy's sweet voice, so that the good Fathers had become interested, and were taking much pains in teaching him music.

And now we come to the reason that Geoffrey was so unhappy as he sat under the plane-tree, vainly trying to practise his lesson; for he was thinking all the while of a deadly peril that threatened this good Count Boni, to whom he was deeply grateful for so many things, and whom he truly loved next to his own father.

His knowledge of the count's danger had come about in this way. It had happened that, the day before, Geoffrey had been sent to the Château Beauvais, which was not far distant from Dives, to carry some rabbits which Monsieur Jean had promised to Isabeau, the little daughter of the count. When Geoffrey reached the château and inquired for the little Lady Isabeau, he had been sent into the garden, and there he found her crying as if her heart would break! Now this grieved Geoffrey very much indeed; as he quite worshiped the gracious little girl who used often to visit their cottage when he lived at home, and who had sometimes gaily carried him back with her for a day's happy romp in the beautiful château grounds.

When he asked her the reason of her tears, she had told him between her sobs:

"O, Geoffrey! my dear father, the count, is to fight a dreadful duel with the wicked Count Hugo, who will surely kill him with his evil sword! I heard nurse Marie talking with the gardener, and they say he will surely kill him! Oh! Oh! Oh!" and here poor little Isabeau fairly shook with the violence of her sobbing.

Geoffrey tried as best he could to comfort her, but to no avail; she could not be induced even to look at the rabbits she had so much wanted; so at last he was obliged to set them down quietly, and sorrowfully take his leave, though not until he had questioned some of the château pages for more particulars of that which the little girl had told him. He thus learned that Count Boni had indeed been challenged to a duel by the old Count Hugo, who lived in a castle beyond the city of Meaux.

Now in those days, when people got into disputes about things, even a bit of property, instead of settling the matter in courts of law as we do, it was quite customary to fight a "judicial duel," as it was called; that is, the two men disputing appointed a meeting-place where they tried to wound each other, generally with swords, and the one who succeeded in disabling, or as sometimes happened, killing his adversary, was adjudged the better man and the winner of his case. This was certainly a strange and cruel way of doing, but six hundred years ago people did many strange and cruel things. Had young Count Boni merely engaged to fight an ordinary duel, that would have been bad enough, though it would not perhaps have been a matter of such concern; for the count was brave and a good swordsman,—and, ah, well! one must expect a duel now and then.

But that which caused Isabeau, and Geoffrey, too, when he learned of it, such grief, was that her father was to fight the Count Hugo; for this nobleman was known to be most wicked and unscrupulous. It was his custom to pick an unjust quarrel with some noble whose lands he coveted and falsely claimed; then he would challenge his victim to a "judicial duel," which always resulted in the noble being slain, and his estates being seized by Hugo. For no one had ever been able to stand against the wicked count, who fought not merely to wound, but to kill, and who had the reputation of being the most skilful and merciless swordsman in all France. Indeed, his cruel sword had slain so many noble lords that people declared it was bewitched; that Count Hugo, who had been a crusader, had obtained it from the heathen Saracens, who had forged it under some evil spell. They insisted the more on the unholy power of this sword, as Count Hugo himself seemed to regard it with great superstition and always preferred it to any other weapon; though, indeed, many people even went further in their talk, and asserted also that the count had got his unhallowed skill from some heathen wizard, and that any sword would, in his hands, be certain to deal a fatal thrust.

And so it was that when he chose a victim for one of his duels, it was considered equal to a death warrant; though he always took care to make the nobles he challenged so angry that they would not listen to reason, and would fight him regardless of the fate of all who had crossed swords with him before. This, too, it was whispered, was a part of his sorcery—though perhaps really it was because the high-spirited Norman noblemen were no cowards, and would let no one assail their honor or seize their property if they could possibly help it.

The more Geoffrey thought of these things, and of the many kindnesses of Count Boni, and then as he saw in memory the sweet, tear-stained face of little Isabeau, his singing became more and more melancholy, till at last he stopped altogether, and gave himself up to thinking. He knew from the inn servants that the Count Hugo was expected there the next day, and that the duel was fixed for the following morning just outside the walls of Dives.

"Oh," he thought, "if it only, only could in some way be prevented!" Now Count Boni himself would have been very indignant had he known that anybody was thinking it should be prevented; for, just as Count Hugo had desired, he was very angry with his adversary, and had no wish to avoid the encounter. But that could not prevent Geoffrey from wishing it might be avoided for him.

Indeed, Geoffrey had learned many things. He had a quick intelligence, and was very observant, and many travelers came to the inn; so he was by no means so ignorant of affairs as many little boys of his age. He had heard it said that the Norman nobles had long sought in vain for some pretext to rid themselves of the wicked Hugo, who was a rich and powerful lord and seemed to lead a life charmed against all attack, for he had been many times openly assailed. As to his shameless dueling, since that was then within bounds of the law, they could do nothing. So how, thought Geoffrey sadly, how could he, a poor little peasant boy, hope to do anything where the great nobles seemed powerless!

But, by and by, he was aroused from his reverie by Monsieur Jean, who wished his help in the many preparations demanded of the inn folk by the important guest of the morrow, this hateful Hugo who was coming to kill his dear Count Boni! Ugh! had it not been bad enough to have to catch the chicken for his soup? How he wished it might strangle him! And how poor Geoffrey hated himself now because he was compelled to assist in this and that arrangement for the entertainment of the murderous nobleman and his many followers. How he wished they were all at the bottom of the Red Sea!

But at last, after much labor, that disagreeable day wore to an end for the little boy, though when he went to bed and tried to forget his troubles, he dreamed all night of poor little Isabeau, and seemed to hear her piteous sobs and to see the hot tears streaming down her pretty pink cheeks.

Early the next morning the inn was astir, and busy with more preparations for the expected guests. And, sure enough, just before midday, in through the rose-covered gateway galloped four outriders, wearing the crimson livery of Count Hugo, and insolently jingling their bridle reins and clanking their great gilded spurs.

Shortly after their arrival the coach itself dashed into the middle of the courtyard with a great clatter of hoofs and wheels, followed by a long train of mounted and liveried servants, and lackeys, and pages, and men-at-arms; for traveling in those days was none too safe without a guard of spearmen and lancers. The coach was painted a bright yellow and richly gilded; on the panels of its doors the count's crest and coat of arms were blazoned in blue and crimson; and no sooner had its wheels stopped than the lackeys jumped from their horses and, running to its side, flung open the doors, which they respectfully held back as still others assisted the nobleman to alight.

Count Hugo was a heavily-built man of middle age, with cold, cruel eyes, and mustachios of grisly gray; he was richly dressed in a green velvet suit with crimson satin facings and ruffles of the finest lace; his shoe buckles sparkled with diamonds. Geoffrey, who from a quiet corner was watching everything, involuntarily clenched his fists as he saw the evil-omened sword, encased in an elaborately-wrought scabbard, poking hatefully out from under the tail of the count's beautiful velvet coat.

As Hugo, followed by his retinue, crossed the courtyard, there was a great bowing and scraping from Monsieur Jean and all the inn servants; the peacocks spread their gorgeous tails and screamed at the tops of their voices; the pigeons puffed and pouted and strutted about; the cockatoo shrieked loudly and flourished his silver spoon; and the rabbits ran away with their ears flat to their heads with fright, and hid under the cabbage leaves in the garden until the commotion of the count's arrival had somewhat subsided.

But at last the great man had been ushered into his rooms, where he had breakfasted on the most elaborate products of the cooks' skill; while on the spits in the great inn kitchen huge haunches of venison and beef were turning and browning in front of the blazing fire, and the white-capped and aproned scullions were running about with big ladles and spoons in their hands making ready the dinner for the large company of guests.

Geoffrey had, at their bidding, done many errands, and last of all had brought up from the garden a great basket of vegetables. He had wished, as he tragically jerked them out of the ground and brandished them in the air, that each separate carrot, leek and radish might stick in Count Hugo's wicked throat, and stay there forever! Now at length tired out, he sat down to rest on his bench under the plane-tree.

As he sat there, presently through the arched gateway there entered a man dressed in a frayed waistcoat of ragged satin, knee breeches of blue plush much the worse for wear, and leather leggings from which half the buckles were gone. Slung around his neck by a gay green ribbon hung a viol, and in one hand he grasped a slender little chain that held in leash a small monkey wearing a tiny red cap. This motley figure was one of the strolling jongleurs, half juggler, half troubadour, who flourished at that time in all parts of France, and managed to eke out a living from the pranks of their monkeys and the practice of the "gay science," as it was called; that is, by the singing of songs which they themselves usually made up and set to music.

As this particular jongleur entered the courtyard, he spied Geoffrey, and strolling over to the bench amiably seated himself beside the boy with a friendly "Good morrow, my lad!"

"Good morrow, sir," answered Geoffrey, rather absently.

The jongleur then caught sight of the coach drawn up by the inn wall.

"Ah," he said, "small wonder none came forth to welcome us. Other guests are ahead of me, I perceive." And, as the monkey climbed upon his knee, he added: "Had thou and I fared hither in yonder yellow cart, Pippo, we should have had the whole inn at our feet. And monsieur, the landlord, would have been down on his knees humbly beseeching to know when my Lord Pippo would be pleased to dine! Hey! Pippo! is't not true?"

But Pippo, paying no attention to him, began mischievously to finger the strings of the viol with his little brown claws, and the jongleur, with a gay laugh, turning to Geoffrey, inquired:

"To whom does yonder gaud belong?"

"It is the coach of Count Hugo," said Geoffrey; "he came to-day, and is to fight a duel with Count Boni, of Château Beauvais, to-morrow morning."

"So!" said the jongleur with a short whistle; "well, then, their countships had better let no grass grow under their noble feet, for the king hath but just issued an edict forbidding all such dueling from now on, henceforth and forever."

"What, sir?" said Geoffrey, suddenly rousing up excitedly; "what is that thou sayest?"

"Well, well, little man! thou seemest to take this matter somewhat to heart! I was merely mentioning the new edict of our blessed King Louis Ninth, God save his soul, which forbids dueling! It seems our sovereign lord hath grown weary of the foolish practice whereby he hath lost so many noble subjects, and moreover, being a wise monarch, hath become convinced that all disputes should be settled in the courts of law, which he hath been studying much since his return from Constantinople, where the law is held in high esteem—in short, he will have no more 'judicial duels'; and yesterday when I and Pippo were in Rouen, we heard the king's heralds as they solemnly proclaimed the new edict to the people."

"Oh!" exclaimed Geoffrey delightedly, "thank the blessed saints, then, the duel can not be fought to-morrow!"

"Hold, hold," said the jongleur, "not so fast, my lad—"

"Nay," cried Geoffrey, "but how dare they when the king forbids?" and, dragging the jongleur up by the hand, he added: "Come with me now and we will seek the wicked Count Hugo, and tell him the news! Come!"

"Nay, nay," the jongleur replied, "not I!"

"Why, is it not true?" demanded Geoffrey.

"True as gospel," said the jongleur, "but thou art but a child; dost thou fancy two noble lords, bent on the sword play, would for one moment be stayed by the word of a poor strolling jongleur? Nay, I should but receive a drubbing for my pains if I sought to inform that cruel Hugo. I prefer, thank you, to keep my bones whole; especially as I could do no good. Moreover, let them spit each other, if they so desire! I do not care, youngster, how many duels they fight!"

But when he looked down and saw the grief in Geoffrey's eyes, he softened, and added: "But since thou seemest to care so much, little one, I would risk the drubbing, by my faith, I would! if 'twere to any purpose. But I am older than thou, and somewhat a man of the world," here the jongleur straightened himself up; "and I swear to thee, 'twould work naught but mischief were I to seek out yonder count and strive to prevent his encounter to-morrow. He would simply be angered, and would not believe me, or would pretend not to, because he does not wish to be stopped till he hath killed this Count Boni you tell me of, and got his lands. Naught but the king's heralds themselves could hinder that affair." And then, as he meditated, he added: " 'Tis a monstrous pity, though! When didst thou say they fight, little one? In the morning? A monstrous pity! For the heralds will no doubt arrive in Dives to-morrow afternoon; they were to come hither on leaving Rouen. Thou knowest they must proclaim the edict through all the cities of the realm!"

Six hundred years ago printing and newspapers and the telegraph were unknown; and so when a war was to be undertaken, or peace settled upon, or a new law made, the king sent his heralds about through all his dominions, and they made proclamation to the people, with a great flourish of trumpets and much quaint ceremony.

But here Pippo became engaged in a squabble with a fat peacock, and the jongleur rising, separated them, and then strolled off toward the inn kitchen; for he had journeyed far, and the savory smells wafted out into the courtyard suddenly reminded him that he was very hungry.

Geoffrey, thus left alone, fell to thinking, and he thought and thought as never before in all his life. So the heralds were on their way to Dives, if what the jongleur told was true, and he believed it was; and the jongleur had said, moreover, that these heralds could stop even the wicked Hugo from carrying out his designs. Geoffrey felt that this was true also, for he knew that not even noblemen dared openly defy the king. And then he reasoned, perhaps more wisely than he knew, that Hugo stirred up and fought these "judicial duels" merely to increase his property and not to satisfy his personal honor; and that if nothing were to be gained, Hugo would surely not fight. The king had forbidden his subjects to acquire property that way; the great thing, therefore, was to prevent the encounter in the morning, so that the heralds might have time to come to Dives and make their proclamation, which would certainly put an end to the whole affair. But how, how could he, Geoffrey, do this?

At last, however, an idea occurred to him that made his eyes brighten and his cheeks flush. If he could only get hold of that bewitched Saracen sword of Count Hugo's, and hide it, why, probably, as the count was known superstitiously to prefer it to any other weapon, he might be delayed hunting for it till the heralds came.

As Geoffrey thought over this plan, he reflected that if he got possession of the sword it must be that night, as the count wore it constantly all day long; and though he felt like a highwayman and a robber even to plan it, for he was an honest little lad, yet he said to himself there was no other way to save Isabeau's father.

And so, full of his project, as a preliminary, he got up and sauntered past that part of the inn where he knew was the count's sleeping chamber, and noticed that it had one window opening upon one of the little wooden galleries which was approached from the outside by a winding stair. The window was barred with heavy wooden rounds; but as Geoffrey measured with his eye the distance between these bars, he felt sure that if he made himself as flat as possible, he could squeeze in through them. It would not be so easy to get the sword out, but perhaps he could manage it somehow; he must   manage it!

Having thus made up his mind as to what he would do, Geoffrey passed the rest of the afternoon and evening in a fever of impatience. After supper was over he hid himself in the garden behind a rose bush, and as he watched the inn it seemed as if the last of the clatter would never die away, and people would never settle down and go to sleep! But at length—after weeks, it seemed to Geoffrey—the last candle flickered out and the inn became quiet.

He waited, however, an hour or two longer, knowing the habit of the maids to lie awake and gossip in the dark. But when he heard the Dives watchman passing the inn gateway and calling out, "Midnight! and all's well!" he crept out, and keeping close in the shadow of the wall, reached the stairway to the gallery by the count's sleeping room. The moon had risen and might have betrayed him as he mounted it, but fortunately the stair was overhung by vines. He made his way along the gallery to the count's window. There was no glass in it, and, as it was summer time, the heavy wooden shutter that guarded it was wide open, the bars seeming quite enough protection from ordinary intruders. But they could not keep out this little boy, who drew in his breath and made his little stomach as flat as possible as he cautiously wriggled in between them. At last he stood on tiptoe in the count's chamber.

As he gazed about, here and there the moonlight touched some object of its quaint furnishings, and although Geoffrey, on the inn errands, had been in the room before, everything now looked strange and unfamiliar to his wide-open, excited eyes. To his dismay he had not considered how he should find the sword; but as he stood wondering and groping about in the dim light, a beam of moonlight fell at the foot of the high-posted, carved and canopied bed where the count lay asleep, and showed the scabbard with the sword in it, hanging by its chased metal hook to a projecting ornament in the heavy carving of the bed. Geoffrey tiptoed over toward it, all the while listening, with his heart in his mouth, to the count's breathing. He seemed to be sound asleep, for now and then he gave a little snore; but, as with trembling fingers Geoffrey took down the sword, its tip end struck lightly against a tall chest of drawers near by, and the count started slightly. Geoffrey crouched down hopelessly in the shadow of a chair, expecting the count to pounce upon him at any moment.

But in a few minutes Hugo's regular breathing told that he was again deep asleep.

Geoffrey then hastened to make his way back to the window, though he found the sword in its heavy scabbard rather an awkward burden for a little boy, and it became still more awkward as he prepared to climb between the bars. He first thought he would take the sword out of its sheath; but then how could he drop it to the gallery below without making a noise? He could not climb out with it in his arms. So, on second thought, he decided to leave it in the scabbard, whose metal hook he saw might be useful; then lifting this, which took all his strength, he carefully thrust it outside between the bars, on one of which he hung the hook, thus keeping both sword and sheath from falling.

He next turned his attention to getting himself out, and climbing up, and squeezing and squirming, legs first, at last managed once more to stand outside on the gallery floor. But it had happened that just as he was making the last twist through the bars, his foot had accidentally touched the scabbard, hanging from the window, and it clanked against the wall. This time the sound seemed to penetrate the ears of the sleeping Count Hugo, for he started up in earnest, though not entirely awake; he drowsily arose, however, and crossed over to the window.

Geoffrey, meantime, hearing him coming, drew back into the shadow, tightly clutching the sword, and was hidden by the curtain of vines.

As the count peered through the bars, he caught sight of the cockatoo, whose perch was in one of the gable windows near by. Now, as good luck had it, the cockatoo also had been half aroused from his sleep, and giving a faint screech, began to shift uneasily in his dreams, from one leg to the other, his chain clanking against his perch as he did so. Count Hugo hearing him, at once supposed the cockatoo responsible for that other clanking sound which had aroused him; he swore a round oath, and turned from the window, muttering to himself, "A plague on that jabbering popinjay! What with their everlasting peacocks and monkeys, and heaven only knows what, a man can not get a wink of sleep in this accursed tavern!" He then went back to bed and, angrily flinging himself down, was soon snoring soundly.

After a while, Geoffrey, outside on the gallery, began creeping cautiously along, and at last managing to get down the stairway, stood hesitating a moment at its foot; for he had not fully decided what to do with the sword, now that he had it. He wished as soon as possible to be rid of the wicked thing; for everybody was superstitious in those days, and he felt that some fearful evil threatened him so long as he had hold of the fatal weapon. He would really have very much liked to take it out and throw it in the river Dives, so it could never kill any one else; but as he remembered that to do this he would have to climb over the high wall of the courtyard, for the gate was locked and the portcullis down, and that then he would have to run the risk of meeting the town watchman, he concluded the chances for being caught were too many, and that he must hide the sword elsewhere. Moreover, he thought that to drop it in the river would be too much like stealing, anyway, which he did not wish to be guilty of; he merely wished to keep the count from finding the sword until the heralds came, when he was willing to restore it.

So quickly making up his mind, he sped down into the garden, where he carefully hid it, scabbard and all, under a thick tangle of vines and shrubbery which grew in a secluded corner where the inn people seldom went. This done, he made his way back to his own little chamber under one of the gables, and crept into bed, although he was so excited with his night's doings that he could not go to sleep.

The next day, as was his custom, Count Hugo lay abed till the sun was well up, for the duel was not to take place until beyond the middle of the morning. When at last he arose, and his serving men came in to wait on him as he made his toilet, they adjusted all his ruffles and laces with the greatest nicety, freshly curled his wig, tied up his queue with a crimson ribbon, and smoothed out his velvets and satins; then everything being ready, they looked about for the sword, without which Hugo never budged an inch. But when they turned to where he told them he had left it the night before, to their great consternation, it was not there! When they timidly ventured to tell the count that he must have put it somewhere else, Hugo, who was busy arranging a heavy gold chain about his lace collar, curtly replied, without turning his head: "Ye blind moles of the earth! I tell you it is  there!"

But when again they were obliged to contradict him, the count flew into a temper, and rushing over to the foot of the bed, put out his hand to seize the sword and give them a wrathful prick or two all round—but lo! sure enough, it was not  there!

There then followed a tremendous uproar. They searched the room from end to end; they tore down all the old tapestries; they peered under all the chairs; they climbed up and crawled all over the high canopy of the ancient bed; they shook the mattresses; and in their zeal, even looked in the count's shaving mug and under the brass candlesticks.

Meantime, Hugo himself, in a towering passion, was striding up and down the room, cuffing his pages, accusing everybody of robbery, and threatening right and left to hang every man of them if the sword were not instantly found!

At last, however, neither threats nor rage proving of the least avail in bringing to light the lost sword, he descended, followed by his terrified retinue, to the inn courtyard, and calling out Monsieur Jean, he stirred up another terrible commotion. He accused everybody of everything, and finally wound up by insisting that the craven Count Boni had hired some robber to steal the sword in hopes that the duel might not be fought. He swore that he would none the less kill poor Boni, sword or no sword, and meantime ordered the man-at-arms, who had slept outside his door, to be mercilessly beaten; for Hugo declared the thief must have entered through the door, as no man could possibly have come in between the bars of the window.

At this Geoffrey, who had been up for a long while, and had witnessed all this uproar in the courtyard, felt himself in a very unhappy position; he had not expected all this. Indeed, he had given very little thought as to what might happen to himself or anybody else, when once he had hidden the sword. He knew now that fearful punishment awaited him if he were found out; but he could not bear to have the good Count Boni's honor blackened, or that the poor man-at-arms, who was entirely innocent of blame, should suffer, because of what he, Geoffrey, had done.

So biting his lips hard to keep up his courage and tightly clenching his hands behind him, Geoffrey, who was a brave, manly little fellow, straightway strode out and, standing in front of the raging Count Hugo, said:

"Sir, neither Count Boni nor yonder man-at-arms had aught to do with the loss of your evil sword. I took it away myself!"

At this Count Hugo stared at the little boy for a moment in speechless surprise. Then, roaring out a terrible oath in a voice like thunder, he pounced like a wildcat upon poor Geoffrey, and shook him till his teeth chattered.

"Thou—thou—miserable varlet!" roared and sputtered the count. "Thou base-born knave! So thy monkey fingers have dared to meddle with my precious sword! Faugh! Where hast thou put it? Tell me instantly,—parbleu!—or I will crack every bone in thy worthless body!"

And here he fell so viciously to shaking and cuffing him again, that poor Geoffrey could hardly open his mouth to answer; but at length he managed to gasp out resolutely:

"I will not tell thee till to-morrow. Then I will restore it to thee! I do not wish to keep the heathenish thing!"

At this the rage of the count knew no bounds, and he doubtless would have killed the poor little boy then and there, had not Monsieur Jean and others among the terrified spectators rushed between them and besought Hugo to be merciful, and give the boy at least till the morrow to fulfil his word.

Hereupon, the count, who even in his wrath saw reason in what they said, savagely flung Geoffrey over to one of his men-at-arms, commanding him to chastise him, chain him, and keep close watch over him till the morrow. For the count reflected that if he should hang the boy then, as he fully intended to do by and by, he would cut off the only possible means of finding out where his sword was hidden. For while the lad was stubborn as a rock, Hugo had to admit that he seemed honest, and so perhaps would keep his promise to restore his prized weapon.

But the more the count thought of Geoffrey's act, the more it puzzled him to account for it. As he recalled the disturbance of his sleep the night before, he began to understand that Geoffrey was the real cockatoo of the affair.

"Faugh!" he said to himself, "to think 'twas the clanking of my own good sword that I mistook for the rattling of that chattering popinjay's chain!" But he could not account for the boy's curious promise to restore the weapon on the morrow. If he meant to return it, why did he take it at all? And why did he confess and get himself into trouble, when no one thought of accusing him? The first part of this question Count Hugo could not answer, because he knew nothing of the coming of the heralds and Geoffrey's wish to put off the duel; while the last part was equally puzzling to him, because he had no sense of honor, and could not see why one should suffer if an innocent man would do just as well.

At any rate, he soon tired trying to understand the matter. Having placed the boy in safe keeping till the morrow, the next thing was to have his "second"—(for so the friends were called who arranged the details of duels for those who were to do the fighting)—see Count Boni's second, who had arrived some time before, and have the duel fixed for the following morning, when Count Hugo vowed he would fight to the death with somebody's sword,—whether his own or another's.

These matters settled, he remembered that it was fully noon, and he had not yet breakfasted; so he haughtily withdrew to the inn parlor, and commanded Monsieur Jean to have him served instantly.

Meanwhile poor Geoffrey went off with the man-at-arms, who was secretly sorry for the little boy, and so did not chastise him so cruelly as the count would have wished; although he was obliged to give him a few bloody cuts with the lash across his face and hands, for the sake of appearances, in case Hugo should happen to inspect him.

Poor little boy! Ah! how eagerly he longed for the arrival of the heralds, as the jongleur had predicted. But then the dreadful thought would come, what if something should delay their journey! Or worst of all, what if the jongleur had not spoken the truth, and there were no heralds anyway! These doubts and fears tormented Geoffrey more and more as the hours wore on, and still no sign of the longed-for king's messengers.

He began to wish dismally that he had set farther off the time for restoring the sword; though he felt sure that unless prevented by the king's edict, Count Hugo would fight on the morrow anyhow, despite the loss of that particular weapon. It then suddenly occurred to him, that even if the heralds came and stopped the duel as he wished, how was he himself to escape from the clutches of Count Hugo? This thought sent a cold chill through him; but when he thought of his dear Count Boni and the grief of poor little Isabeau, he was not a whit sorry for what he had done, and with childish hopefulness looked forward to some good chance to free him.

Surely, surely, he said to himself, the king's heralds were persons in authority, and would not see him killed by the cruel Hugo, even if he had taken and hidden the heathenish old sword. Did he not mean to give it back, and had he not done it because of the very law they were coming to proclaim? Surely they would help him in some way!

And so the afternoon wore wearily on. Count Hugo came once or twice to see that the man-at-arms had properly beaten him, and even meditated putting him to some torture to make him disclose at once the whereabouts of the sword. But he scarcely dared, as he feared an uprising of the people of the inn, who, he saw, were very fond of Geoffrey; so he contented himself with cruelly striking the lad once or twice, and determining to deal summarily with him when he should take him away from Dives.

For at that time powerful noblemen did very much as they pleased. The good King Louis had been away fighting in the Holy Land for so long that affairs in France had for the most part taken care of themselves; and though since his return the king was striving hard to correct many abuses, there were many things yet to be looked after. So Count Hugo thought he should have no trouble in carrying Geoffrey away as his private prisoner because of the taking of his sword.

After the count's last visit, when he had informed Geoffrey of some of the punishments he meant to visit upon him when he got him off in his own castle, the poor boy began really to despair! It was growing late, and the sun was almost to its setting, and still not a sound to tell of any unusual arrival in Dives. The little boy lay back, and shut his eyes tight, trying to forget his miseries, and the dreadful things ahead of him; but try as he might, now and then a big tear would force itself through his closed lids, and trickle down his poor little blood-stained cheeks.

And so another hour wore on, Geoffrey growing all the while more despairing and miserable in his gloomy prospects. But at last, just as he had given up all hope of the heralds, and concluded that the plight he had got himself into had been all useless after all,—he suddenly started up, and clutching the sleeve of the man-at-arms, exclaimed, "Hark! what is that?"

"Hush, hush, little one! 'tis nothing," said the man, who was a stupid fellow, half dozing, and merely thought the lad crazed by his fright.

"Nay!" cried Geoffrey, "but listen!"

Here the guard somewhat pricked up his ears.

"By my faith!" he answered, "I believe 'tis a blare of trumpets! Some noble must be coming to Dives!"

But Geoffrey, with eyes shining, held his breath, and listened to the sounds, which seemed to be coming nearer. First there was a great fanfare of trumpets; then a blare of horns; and then he could hear the clatter as the inn folk hastened across the paved courtyard to the gateway to see what was going on in the street without. In a little while some of them seemed to return, and Geoffrey, who was burning to know, but could not stir for his chains, besought the man-at-arms to ask some one the cause of the commotion; so going over to the window of the room, he called out to a passer-by.

"Ho, comrade! what is the meaning of yonder uproar?"

" 'Tis the king's heralds," answered the voice from without; "he hath sent them to proclaim a new law forbidding duels!"

Then, before long, the heralds, having made the tour of the Dives streets, came riding toward the inn, escorted by a train of Dives people. Geoffrey heard their horses' hoofs as they pricked in through the gateway, and also had the great joy of hearing them make the proclamation itself; for having heard that at that very moment a nobleman was lodging in the inn, come there for the purpose of a now unlawful duel, they halted in the middle of the courtyard, and rising in their stirrups, blew their trumpets, and again elaborately announced the royal edict,—this time for the express benefit of their two countships, Hugo and Boni.

Hearing this, Geoffrey was wild with delight; it was all working out just as he had counted on! That is, all but one fact, which he all at once ruefully remembered; he himself was at that moment still a prisoner of the cruel Count Hugo. He had not counted on that at all!

O, he thought, if he could only get out and throw himself on the mercy of the heralds! They were his only hope; for Count Boni as yet knew not why he had taken the sword, and was perhaps angry with him and would not come at once to help him. So he piteously begged and besought the man-at-arms to take off his chains and let him go only so far as the courtyard. But the man, though he felt sorry for the boy, had too hearty a terror of the consequences to himself if he let him out against Hugo's orders; so he turned a deaf ear to all Geoffrey's entreaties, and gruffly told him he could do nothing for him.

At this the poor little boy fell to sobbing, and sobbed and sobbed most of the night; for the dark had now fallen, and the little fellow was quite hopeless for the morrow, when he knew Count Hugo meant to take him away.

Meantime, that nobleman had passed into another terrible rage when he heard the edict of the heralds. He was furious! Furious at the king, the heralds, at Geoffrey and the world in general; because he saw himself thwarted in his plans to kill Boni,—as he felt confident he could do, with his unholy skill with the sword,—and to seize Boni's rich estate. All this put him in a frightful temper; although he was wise enough to know that he dare not defy the king. So he scolded and swore at everybody in sight, and then sulkily withdrew to his own apartments, after giving orders to have his coach made ready to leave early in the morning; for he wished to get off with Geoffrey at least, before any one could prevent that!  And on the boy he meant to wreak full vengeance.

So the next morning Hugo, contrary to his custom, was astir early; he had breakfasted in his room, and then hastening down to the courtyard, got into his yellow coach and sent instant orders for the man-at-arms to bring Geoffrey and mount the coach also; for he wished to keep an eye on his victim and also to demand fulfilment of his promise to restore the sword. But just as the man-at-arms was on his way to the count, with his miserable little prisoner, he was intercepted by the two heralds, who had been astir earlier even than Hugo.

Indeed, they were up because they had had a word or two put into their ears the night before by the jongleur, who had sought them out and had a bit of a talk with them. Now the jongleur was a shrewd fellow, and recalling his conversation under the plane-tree with Geoffrey, had put two and two together, and had pretty well understood the boy's reasons for carrying off the sword; and admiring him, he had determined to do the best he could to save him, if explaining things to the heralds could effect this. And it seemed it could; for now the heralds, laying hold of the boy, first asked him if he had restored the stolen sword.

"Nay, sirs," he answered, "but I will right gladly do as I promised, if ye will let me go and get it!"

So one of the heralds went with him down into the garden, and stood over Geoffrey as he uncovered the weapon and gathered it up still safe in its scabbard. Then conducting him back to the courtyard, and to the door of the count's coach, the two king's messengers stood, one on each side, as the boy, making an obeisance, presented the sword to the glowering count.

The heralds then solemnly announced to all,—for everyone in the inn had gathered about by this time,—that they bore witness that the lad had duly restored the stolen property to its rightful owner; and that punishment for his taking it must be meted out by his rightful suzerain, the noble Count Boni, to whose estate the boy's family belonged. They demanded this right for Geoffrey, in the name of the king.

Now Count Hugo knew well enough that every peasant had a right to be tried for a crime by the nobleman of his own home; but he had trusted to carry things off with a high hand, thinking no one at the inn would dare oppose him; as was undoubtedly the case. But with the king's heralds it was different; they did not fear him, and so he was obliged to give up the boy.

This last thwarting of his plans, however, was almost too much for Hugo! White with rage, he thundered to his driver to whip up the horses, and off he clattered, disdainfully turning his back on the Guillaume-le-Conquérant inn and all that it contained; and his swarm of retainers followed him, all quaking in their boots from fear of their master's violent temper.

After the count's departure, Geoffrey, still in charge of the heralds, was taken into the great kitchen of the inn, where everybody gathered about, delighted at the little boy's escape from Hugo's clutches. The cook gave him some nice little cakes fresh from the oven; the peacocks trailed past the open door proudly spreading their beautiful tails; and the pink and white cockatoo overhead screamed his "Tee deedle!" and seemed as pleased as anybody.

After a while the heralds gave Geoffrey over into the charge of Count Boni's second, who had meantime arrived to say that the count was outside the walls of Dives, at the appointed place, and ready to meet Hugo in the proposed duel. The second was greatly surprised when he heard how matters had turned out; for he had spent the day before with Count Boni at the Château Beauvais, and neither he nor his master had yet heard of the proclamation or the subsequent departure of Count Hugo. However, he took the little boy with him back to Count Boni, to whom he delivered the message the heralds had sent: that he, Boni, was to decide on what punishment Geoffrey was to receive for the taking of Hugo's sword; though it really seemed that the child had had punishment enough already, at the hands of the cruel count himself!

When Count Boni was told all these things, at first he was greatly displeased; for he was young and high-spirited, and very angry with Hugo, whom he wished to fight regardless of the danger he ran from such an unscrupulous antagonist, and he did not like it that a little peasant boy had interfered.

Though when he understood how much the boy had risked and suffered for love of himself and little Isabeau, he could not find it in his heart to wish Geoffrey punished. And indeed, in after years he came heartily to thank the warm-hearted, devoted little lad, whose impulsive act had no doubt kept him from losing both life and property to a wicked and dishonorable man.

Meantime Count Boni felt himself in a very delicate position. As Geoffrey's overlord, it was his duty to punish him for taking the sword, even though it had been restored to its rightful owner; but as the sword had been taken because the little boy wished to keep Count Boni himself from the chance of being killed, how could he inflict severe punishment upon him? Indeed, this question was so difficult that the count concluded he must take time to think it over, and meantime he held Geoffrey prisoner at the château. This did not prevent the boy from having the kindest treatment and the freedom of the grounds, where he enjoyed many a merry romp with little Isabeau, who was happy as a bird, and thought Geoffrey the nicest and most wonderful boy in all the world because he had succeeded in preventing the duel. Nor was the least cloud cast over their glee when one day they heard that the wicked Hugo had died in a fit of apoplexy, brought on by one of his terrible rages. In fact, if the truth must be told, they went off by themselves and had a shamelessly gay extra romp in celebration of the news.

Thus several weeks had passed, when one day there arrived at the château a messenger from the king, demanding the custody of a peasant boy by the name of Geoffrey.

Poor Geoffrey was again badly frightened, thinking that this time surely he would receive punishment! But his fears were turned to delight when Count Boni told him that the king had sent, not to imprison him, but to have him live in the royal household. The messenger explained to Boni that when the heralds returned to Paris, they told King Louis the story of the little boy, and that he was greatly pleased with the lad's bravery and devotion, and wished to have him brought to the palace.

So Geoffrey became a page of King Louis, and was very, very happy. He was happy, too, because he could now send back to those he loved at home much more for their comfort than he could as a little serving boy at the Guillaume-le-Conquérant inn. And then, sometimes, when one of his messengers had an errand to Dives, the good king would let Geoffrey go along, and he would then make a little visit to his family, and would see his dear Count Boni and little Isabeau, who never ceased to take the greatest pride and interest in him.

By and by, King Louis discovered how sweet a voice he possessed, and that it had been well-trained for church music. This pleased the king much, as he was very devout in his worship, and did a great deal during his reign to improve the music in the cathedrals of France. So Geoffrey was at once placed under masters, and he sang for a number of years in the king's own chapel, becoming one of the most famous little choristers of the realm. Later on, as he grew to manhood, he passed from being a page, to a squire; and after that, he was appointed man-at-arms in the bodyguard of the king, who grew to love and trust him greatly.

Some years later still, when King Louis again set forth for the East, on the crusade from which he was never to return, Geoffrey was among the most faithful of the followers who took ship with him. And when the poor king lay dying, before the walls of the far-away city of Tunis, it was Geoffrey whose tenderness and devotion helped to comfort the last days of the stricken monarch.

When all was over, and the little band of crusaders once more returned to their homes in France, none among them was more loved and respected than the Viscount Geoffrey; for shortly before his death the good King Louis had, with his own hand, bestowed knighthood upon the little peasant boy, declaring that he had won the distinction, not only because of his great bravery and his honorable life, but also because of the exceeding sweetness and gentleness of his character.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Lost Rune  |  Next: Felix
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2020   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.