Back to the Index Page

 
 
 

Geoffroy and Garcinde by Paul Heyse

 

About the time of the second crusade, there lived near Carcassonne in Provence, a nobleman, Count Hugo of Malaspina, who after the death of his fair and virtuous wife, sent his only daughter Garcinde, then ten years old, accompanied by her foster-sister Aigleta, to be educated at the convent of Mont Salvair, and recommenced himself, spite of grizzling hair, a wandering bachelor life. He was a stately knight, and popular both with men and women, so he had no lack of invitations to merry-making tournaments, and banquets at the castles of the wealthy nobles, far and near. But, however, his delight in military exercises and minstrelsy grew cool with years, so that he left the palm in both to be carried off by younger aspirants, developing, at the same time, an increasing love for wine and dice, and falling from his former character of a wise manager of himself and of his substance, to that of a degraded night-reveller, who even occupied the castle of his fathers as tenant to his creditors, and had nothing left to call his own but his unstained knightly courage, and the heart of his child. In order not to grieve that child, Count Hugo took the greatest care to prevent the rumour of the low state of his finances reaching the convent. He was in the habit of twice a year visiting his daughter, and the young girl, who up to this time had devoted all the power of loving she as yet had to her father, and admired him as the ideal of every human and knightly virtue and perfection,—did not fail to notice that the eyes of the fast aging man, had for some time back lost their open and joyous expression, that his cheeks were sunk, and his lips habitually compressed. But as she knew the way to cheer him, and for the time to make him forget the world outside the cloister-walls, she naturally attributed his depression to his solitude, and lovingly urged him to take her back, and keep her near him. At which the Count would sigh, gloomily shake his head and declare that it would not be consistent with her fair fame to live in a castle inhabited by men only, without better protection than he could offer. He could not, therefore, remove her from the cloister until she should exchange the companionship of the pious sisters for that of some worthy husband. This was not pleasant hearing to the intelligent girl, for although her life had not been otherwise than happy with the nuns, who were cheerful and busy, and though she had had, moreover, the companionship of the bright-eyed Aigleta—a lively girl and full of whatever fun was possible in a convent—yet Garcinde yearned to know and enjoy something of the world without, and above all to devote her loving heart entirely to her father. But he persisted that the honour of his house allowed of no other arrangement than the present, and after every conversation on the subject—as though stung by some secret vexation—he would abruptly take leave of his lovely child, who on such occasions sat in the turret of the convent-garden wall, lost in thought, and gazing on the road her father had taken.

Thus year after year passed by: the Count's daughter had long out-grown childhood, and the good nuns, reluctant as they might have been to part with their charge, yet began to wonder that nothing was said about marrying her. For they had no idea that Count Hugo, shrinking from confessing to a son-in-law that he was a beggar, spoke as little about his daughter as though she had been changed in her cradle, and a fairy bantling placed there in her stead.

Now it happened that early one morning, when no one was expecting him at his own castle, the Count returned quite alone on his roan mare, and gave a faint knock as a man mortally sick might give at a hospital-gate. The porter, growling over the untimely guest who roused him from his morning sleep, looked through the grating in the iron court-door, and was so startled by what he saw, that his trembling hands could scarcely draw the heavy bolt in order to admit of his master's entrance. For the face of the Count was pale as that of the dead, and his eyes hollow, fixed, and expressionless, as if, instead of having returned from a merry-making at the castle of his rich neighbour, the Count Pierre of Gaillac, he might have been emerging from the cave of St. Patrick, or from a still more terrible place where he had spent the night with spectres. He threw the bridle of his horse (the animal was covered with foam, and greedily drank the rain-water on the ground,) to the alarmed domestic, and uttered one word only, “Geoffroy.” Then he ascended the winding-stair to his lonely room, shaking his head when the servant enquired whether the Count would have any refreshments, and whether he should wake up the other retainers.

The porter, who had never seen his master in such a plight, would have been slow to recover from the shock he had received, had not the horse, with a shrill neigh of distress, sunk on the ground. With some difficulty he got it to its feet again, and led the utterly exhausted animal to the stable, where he rendered it every care; then still talking to himself, and calling upon all saints and angels, he ran to the Geoffroy whom the Count had demanded.

The youth who bore this name dwelt in a lonely ivy-grown turret close to the moat, and as the dawn had hardly broken, he still lay in the sound sleep beseeming his health and early years. He was only twenty, a nephew of the Count's, the offspring of the unfortunate love between the high-born Countess Beatrix and a wandering minstrel, who knowing the proud spirit and the customs of the house of Malaspina, had no way of winning, except persuading her to elope with him. Count Rambaut her father, when he discovered the disgrace that had befallen his family, took no one into his counsels but his son Hugo; and father and brother rode forth by night to follow the track of the offenders. In seven days time they returned, walking their horses, a closed litter between them, in which the young Countess lay with snow-white face, more like a waxen form than a living woman. Her brother had killed her lover, her father had cursed the dying man. From that time she never spoke another word to either of them, but lived a widow in a detached turret, where she brought her boy into the world. She made no complaint, but resisted all attempts at reconciliation, though on their father's death, her brother, who had always been deeply attached to her, endeavoured by all the means in his power, to conciliate her. He himself bore her son to the font, and when he married, he imposed upon his wife the duty of daily visiting the lonely one, who never of her own accord left her self-elected prison. Both ladies had now departed this life; the young man Geoffroy—he was named after his father—was brought up almost as the Count's own son, and truly the proudest might have gloried in such a son. He was a beautiful youth, broad-shouldered, dark-complexioned, with great earnest eyes, and a sweet sad mouth almost feminine in form, which seldom smiled. For although he had in abundance all that a young heart could desire, gay garments, finely-tempered weapons, horse, falcon, and leisure enough for every knightly practice, and though, too, from his earliest infancy no one had ever spoken an unkind word to him, or reproached him with his birth, yet for all that a shadow hung over him. Unless he were wandering in the forest—which bordered on the moat, and was reached by a narrow bridge in ten paces or so—he would keep himself apart from all joyous company, in the same room where his mother had brought him into the world, as though there were no other place on earth where he had a right to be. In his mother's lifetime he had planted the little tower about with roses, and he still kept her chamber, bed, and wardrobe, just as she had liked them to be. He for his part had but few wants, and always held himself prepared to leave even this corner where he was tolerated, at the first insulting word. However, no one thought of such an event less than did Count Hugo, whose heart the boy had entirely won, for he had transferred his love for his sister, to her fatherless child. But as spite of all the kindness and care shown him, the son could never force himself to return the friendly grasp of the hand that had slain his father, all that the Count could do was to leave his nephew in perfect freedom. He never required any service from him, thanked him as for a favour conferred if Geoffroy tamed a falcon, or broke a horse for him, and when his means began to fail, he would rather himself dispense with a necessary than that Geoffroy should be disappointed of a wish. However, he never took him with him on a visit, not that he wished to deny this illegitimate sprout of the family tree—especially since his unfortunate mother was no longer there to blush for him—but rather that he did not wish the youth to witness his own reckless mode of life, or to be corrupted by the loose manners and dissolute society of the neighbouring nobles.

Therefore it was that the nephew, who had never received an order from his uncle, was surprised to be thus suddenly disturbed at so unusual an hour by the porter, who breathlessly told him what had happened, and summoned him to the castle. He did not, however, delay to dress and obey the call. When he entered the chamber, dimly lighted by the dawning day, he saw the Count sitting at a table with a taper before him, by the aid of which he had evidently been writing a letter. He now sat motionless, his head resting on his hands, which were buried deep in his grey hair. Geoffroy had to call him three times before he could rouse him from his trance, then when he saw the haggard face and lifeless eyes he, too, was shocked, although he did not love his uncle. But he made an effort, enquired whether he was ill, and whether he should ride to Carcassonne to fetch a leech.

“Saddle a horse, Geoffroy,” returned Count Hugo, slowly rising, folding the letter he had written, and sealing it with his signet-ring. “You must take this letter to-day to the Lady Abbess of the Convent of Mont Salvair, and to-morrow she must send me off my daughter Garcinde, for I have something to say to her. And as I myself cannot reach her—my ride this night has done me harm, and my gout admonishes me to get into bed rather than into the saddle—I could wish that you should escort your cousin, and see to her safe journey hither. Take a servant with you who will bring back, on a baggage-horse, whatever may be personally needed, till the abbess can send the rest. The convent will lend Garcinde a horse. I have requested this to be done in my letter. You will rest for a night half-way, at the farm of La Vaquiera, my daughter being unaccustomed to riding, and the summer heat great. On the evening of the third day I shall expect to see you here.”

The youth received the letter, lingered for a moment on the threshold as though some question were burning on his lips, then merely said, “It shall be done, my lord,” and with a slight inclination, took his departure. When he got outside the door, he fancied that he heard himself recalled, and stood still a moment to see whether it really were so, but hearing nothing further he ran down the winding-stair, got his horse out of the stable, gave the requisite orders to one of the few servants that remained about the fallen house, and as the man was sleepy and slow in his movements, ordered him to follow after, while he himself sprang through the gate past the wondering porter, to whose questions as to what the Count wanted, and whether it really were all over with him, he merely replied by a shrug of the shoulders.

The reason of his haste in fulfilling his mission, was a fear that the Count might change his mind and call him back, for during the eight years that his cousin had been away from her father's house, whenever a message had to be sent to her, he was never the one appointed to carry it, and there seemed to be a deliberate purpose to prevent their meeting. It is true that when they were both children there had been no one of whom the little Countess was so fond as of her silent, proud-spirited playfellow, the wandering minstrel's son, who at that time already led a strange and solitary life in the small tower where his mother had died. The servants had concluded that it was on account of young Geoffrey that Sir Hugo had sent his daughter to a convent, instead of taking a duenna into his house as many a widower had done, so as not to be separated from his child; and now here was the cousin sent to bring back the young lady, who had meanwhile, according to common report, grown up into unparalleled beauty. Had some suitor made his appearance on the previous evening, so that it was no longer necessary to guard the girl against an unsuitable attachment? Or had Death on his spectral horse accompanied the Count on his last night's ride, so that all earthly considerations having now fallen off from him, he merely thought of making his peace with God, and leaving his child free to be happy or unhappy in her own way? There was no solving the mystery.

As soon, however, as the turrets of the Castle of Malaspina were out of sight, Geoffroy threw away all care and sadness, and only suffered pleasant thoughts—rare guests in his mind—to go forth to meet the playfellow of his childhood, whose delicate face with its laughing white teeth and large dark eyes, shone out as plainly before him as though he had seen them but yesterday. The day was cloudless, the woods resounded with the song of birds, the beautiful fields of Provence spread before him golden with the ripening corn, and for the first time life appeared to him to be indeed a heavenly boon. He took to singing the song with which his father had won his mother's heart; he had found it in a music-book with the words written in the margin by her own hand.

                 “Le donz chans d'un auzelh,
                  Tue chantava en un plays,
                  Me desviet l'autr'ier
                  De mon camin—”

He knew not why this particular song should come to his mind: he had never till now thought of it but with sorrow, but to-day he sang it with clear voice and joyous heart.

As he approached the convent at evening, his mood became quieter, and his brow clouded. With fast beating heart he knocked at the gate, and delivering the letter through a grating to a lay-sister, awaited a message from the abbess. Before long the answer came, saying the command of the Count would be obeyed, that with the dawn of morning both the young girls would be given over to the messenger's charge, and that meanwhile he might spend the night at the house of the convent bailiff, who was accustomed to receive strangers, and dwelt in the vineyards of Mont Salvair.

The night, however, seemed long to the youth, for his trusty friend sleep came not as usual to speed it away; he envied the servant (who had only arrived about midnight with the baggage-horse,) the influence of the strong convent wine, and the deep unconsciousness that followed. In Geoffroy there was something awake which was stronger than wine or fatigue.

Once more it was day: they saddled their horses, took leave of the bailiff, and rode to the gate of Mont Salvair, there to await the youthful Countess. They were not there long before the door opened, the abbess came out, her train of nuns behind her, and in their midst the young Garcinde and her foster-sister, who were about to enter upon life and liberty, while the sisters returned to their pious bondage. There were so many tears and sighs, embraces and benedictions, that Geoffroy had still to wait some time before he could see the face of his cousin, now lost to him under one veil after another. But one glance of her black eyes, and the sheen of her fair hair, had wrought such an effect upon him, that he stood by his horse in utter confusion of mind, and hardly heard the abbess, who enquired in evident wonder whether he were really the messenger who yesterday brought Count Malaspina's letter, and to whom his daughter was to be confided. The servant, who was standing by with folded hands and open mouth, staring at the holy women, had to nudge the youth with his elbow before he came to himself, and reverentially bowed assent to what he had only imperfectly heard. “Sir Hugo himself,” he said, his eyes still fixed on his cousin's fair hair, “had been prevented coming. He had charged him to ride slowly, and to spend the night at La Vaquiera.” By mentioning this prudent plan, he hoped to remove any scruple the abbess might have in confiding the maiden to so young an escort. He seemed however, to have produced a quite contrary effect, for after one perturbed heavenward look, the noble lady turned away to some of the older nuns, and began in a low voice to take counsel with them. Then when the bailiff had led out the horses for the young women, and while some of the lay-sisters helped the servant to load the baggage horse with clothes and provisions, a lively face emerged from the living hedge of black and white veils. It belonged to Aigleta, the child of Garcinde's nurse, who had grown up to be a blooming maiden, and who now approached the mute messenger, holding out a small but vigorous hand, and exclaiming, “In God's name be welcome, Sir Geoffroy! Is it you?” After which she went up to the abbess and whispered a word or two in her ear which seemed to dispel all anxiety. The pious lady depended too fully on the lessons of wisdom and virtue, which her charge had imbibed with conventual milk, to hold it possible that she should give her heart to a nameless illegitimate cousin, especially at a time when, in all probability, a distinguished alliance awaited her. Accordingly she clasped Garcinde—who burst into tears—in her motherly embrace, herself helped her to mount the old convent grey, while Aigleta was lifted by Geoffroy on to a spirited pony, and with much sobbing and waving of hands and handkerchiefs, the small cavalcade was at last sent off from the old arched gate of Mont Salvair, through which the band of the Brides of Heaven slowly and mournfully returned.

But the young travelling-companions, too, proceeded on their way more silently and thoughtfully than might be expected, when a knightly youth, on the fairest of summer days, guides two fair maidens mounted on fresh horses upon their first expedition into a smiling world. After a hasty question as to how her father was, Garcinde had not again addressed Geoffroy, influenced, perhaps, by the curt although reverential manner in which he had seemed to avoid entering into further details. But Aigleta, who for her part had not allowed the departure from Mont Salvair to weigh the least upon her spirits, took up a livelier tone, and after a sigh of gratitude for being at last delivered from the pious monotony of cloistered life, began to give Geoffroy an amusing account of its course from day to day. She was an excellent mimic, and counterfeited the voices of the different sisters, their mild whispers, and downcast eyes, their unrestrained laughing and screaming as soon as they were unobserved, their petty spiteful quarrels, their cloying affectionateness to each other, ready at a moment's notice to turn into deadly enmity. In the midst of all this she introduced the solemn bass voice of the abbess, exhorting to peace, and painting the dangers of the world; and finally she concluded with a wild medley of pious and godless speeches, in which the nuns were supposed to express their feelings on the departure of the young Countess, their envy, their fear that Satan with all his crew might be waiting for them outside the gates; lastly the prayer of the abbess for their deliverance from all dangers, especially from the temptations of bold knights, and suspicious young cousins.

Garcinde who had been riding a yard or two in advance, now cut short this burst of spirits, and with her gentle voice—without, however, turning towards Aigleta—rebuked her frivolous tone. It was sinful, she said, after all the love and kindness they had enjoyed, to expose to view the weaknesses of the poor and sadly limited life, and she at least should never forget that when orphaned, she had found there a second home. Whereupon the pert girl, who in Geoffroy's presence did not at all approve of having this well-merited sermon addressed to her, only replied with a couple of proverbs, “Each bird sings according as it is fed,” and—

                 “To tell the simple truth I ween,
                  May be unwise, but 'tis not sin.”

But she was all the more vexed and put out because the handsome youth by her side treated her as so perfect a stranger, while she for her part remembered him so well, and how glad she used to be when their childish games were so arranged that “Jaufret”—so they called him then—should be on her side to deliver her from a dragon, or to wake her by a kiss out of magic sleep. And while she now engaged the servant in commonplace talk, she could not help stealing frequent glances at her other companion, noticing how handsome and manly he had become; how with a slight turn of the wrist he could rein in a fiery horse, and yet had such a sad and earnest beauty in his eyes as would have become the very saints in the church of Mont Salvair. What could make him so silent, she kept wondering; and if she were below the attention of so noble a gentleman, how was it that he abstained from all attempt to find favour in the eyes of his lady-cousin? All this perplexed her so much that she gradually left off talking, and entirely forgot the slight anger she had felt at the admonition received. Meanwhile the youth on his side, who had so impatiently watched for this day, wished, as the sun rose higher, that it had never dawned upon him at all, instead of looking down on his joy and sorrow with so heartless a splendour. It is true that from his boyish years he had preserved the image of his cousin as his ideal of all beauty and loveliness, but the spark had smouldered on as a quiet memory in a well-guarded portion of his heart; but now at the first greeting from her lips, at the perfume that floated over to him from her hair, this spark burst out into a mighty flame, and he suffered tortures such as he had never known before. And then her apparent estrangement from him increased his anguish, for although he did not know whether it were disinclination to him personally, or the calm contempt of the Count's daughter for her father's poor retainer which closed her lips and kept her eyes averted, he had leisure enough in these silent hours to estimate with miserable accuracy the social gulf between them, and the duty of crushing every foolish hope. Then, again, his thoughts turned to conjectures as to what possessor he would have to make over the jewel entrusted to him, whether her hand would be given away without her heart, or whether her father in the gloom of sickness had so yearned for his only child, as suddenly to recall her to his deserted home. Even were it so, would his case be less hopeless if he had longer time to learn the full preciousness of the treasure which must at length be surrendered to another?

Thus he sank more and more into a profound melancholy, so that even Garcinde, who was not herself joyous, remarked it, and asked him whether he were suffering, whether he would rest and refresh himself with a draught of wine? Geoffroy, crimsoning to the roots of his hair, excused himself for his absent mood, accounted for it by a sleepless night, and did all he could to appear more cheerful. And at noon when they halted in a wood beside a spring to recruit themselves with the provisions with which the pious sisterhood had laden the baggage-horse, his spirits in a measure revived, while Aigleta, who had long got over her fit of sullenness, recovered the audacity of her mood, and flavoured the mid-day meal with the drollest freaks of fancy. Garcinde sat in the shadow of a tall black-thorn, and patiently endured that the little witch who could not rest a moment, should adorn the whole party with garlands, even to the servant and the grazing horses, singing merry songs the while, not always of spiritual import, at which even the servant laughed, so that the young Countess rose with a grave air, removed the wreath from her brow, and proposed that they should ride on again. The last to rise from the green grass was Geoffroy; to him the spot seemed a Paradise where he would willingly have dreamed his days away, yet when he lifted his cousin into her saddle, he did not dare to bestow on the little foot that she placed in his hand, anything more than the very slightest pressure. She turned her face away from him, and he was for an instant's space veiled in the flow of soft tresses that fell down to her girdle. Then she put her horse into a gentle canter. Thus they all rode on for a while, men and beasts refreshed by their hour's repose, and even Geoffroy carried his head higher, as though the red wine that Aigleta had given him in a cup garlanded with flowers, had put new life into his veins, and inspired him with energy to enjoy the bliss of the present hour.

La Vaquiera, which they reached early in the afternoon, was a dairy-farm, beautifully situated between richest pastures and wooded grounds; until late years in the possession of the house of Malaspina, but staked and lost at play, by the Count to a neighbouring noble, Pierre de Gaillac, who had, however, something else to do than to look after herds of cattle and flocks of sheep in this quiet corner. The farmer himself and his wife, who lived here with a troop of shepherds and milkmaids, and whom Sir Hugo greeted as usual whenever he rode past, had not a notion that they no longer held under him, and they received his daughter—whom they well remembered in her childhood—with all the reverence and attention due to their young mistress. They had only a small house, as the servants slept in the stables, but they at once gave up their one sleeping-chamber to the two girls, and themselves found a resting-place in the kitchen. Geoffroy had to put up with a loft reached by a ladder, fortunately an airy one having plenty of fresh hay. It was late, however, when he betook himself to it, for the best part of the starry night had been spent in such earnest and serious converse, that his impetuous feelings were somewhat subdued, and spite of the vicinity of Garcinde, he made up for the lost sleep of the night before. The two girls, on the contrary, although they too—what with the long ride and the strong wine—owned to being very tired, yet enlivened themselves during their unrobing, by much of that seeming confidential talk common to maidens who share the same couch, and yet would fain conceal their heart's secrets from each other. For girls believe there is no better way of holding their tongue on one subject than letting it run on unguardedly on every other. “Why have you been so little glad all day long, and are you sure you are not still angry with me for all the nonsense I have talked, out of sheer delight at getting back into the world?” said Aigleta to her friend, while helping her to braid and bind her hair. “Not so, dear heart,” replied her thoughtful companion, letting her delicate arms drop into her lap. “I envy you your light-heartedness, I do not censure it. But my heart is heavy. Oh, Aigleta, I used to have such happy dreams of returning to my father, of breathing free air, and seeing the world as it lay beyond the hill of Mont Salvair. And now—”

“Does not the world seem to you fair enough, the sky blue enough, the meadows green enough, the stream clear enough to reflect back your beauty?” laughed Aigleta.

“How can you mock at my anxiety and gloom?” returned the Count's daughter. “Just think—on the very day when I re-enter the world, my dear father is absent from me. I cannot grasp his hand or hear his voice. Oh believe me, there is something mysterious, dark, perhaps appalling, that is kept back from me, the foreboding of which has—spite of all the sunshine—darkened for me this much longed for day.”

“Nonsense!” said Aigleta. “Shall I tell you where the cloud lay that threw its dull shadow over you? On the brow and in the eyes of that simple Sir Jaufret. Deny it as you will I know what I know, and have not got eyes in my head for nothing. And have you not, indeed, every right to be offended with his uncourteous, indifferent manner? Fie! To make such a melancholy face when one has the good fortune to serve as knight to two sweet young ladies, one of whom, moreover, is a high-born countess and his own first cousin! And this evening, too, when we walked round the pastures, could he not have found something more lively to talk of than the stars above us, and whether we went to them after death, and horrid subjects of that kind? I think he might have found some stars nearer at hand, and only to talk about dying we need not have left Mont Salvair! He is certainly—as one can see—likely to die of love, but that is no excuse. Such gloom may do very well for poems when he writes you them, but while you were together and alone—for as for me, I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep—”

“What art thou prating about, foolish one?” said Garcinde, trying to look angry, although a sweet emotion sent the blood tingling to her cheeks. “Dost thou not know why he is so grave and sad, and never, indeed, will be quite happy all his life long? Not though that he need take his birth thus to heart. If he would only go to the court of some foreign prince, and there gain renown, no one would reproach him with what he could not help; and he might win wealth, and land, and fame, and be a fit wooer for any count's daughter. But even though he be a dreamer, and does not understand his own advantage, he is not so foolish as to turn his thoughts towards me, for well he knows my father would never give me to him. Nay I rather think that he hates me as being my father's daughter—above him in position—though I for my part would always behave to him as in our childish days, and do everything in my power to renew the old intimacy.”

“Hm,” said Aigleta, as she unlaced her bodice, “it may be that you are right, and yet I wish he hated me in the way he hates thee. I should desire nothing better, but I am a servant's daughter. Who would give himself the trouble to look and see whether I deserve love or hate? And yet I think,” and so saying she shook her thick hair over her white shoulders, “it might be well worth their while too, and whether high-born or not, you shall see, Domna Comtessa, in the net of these black hairs. I shall catch gay-plumaged birds as well as you with your gold threads, and even if that black crow Jaufret keeps out of them—”

“Any one who heard you speak,” interposed Garcinde, “would think that you came from some quite other place than a convent. But now we will go to sleep. I wish morning were come and that I had embraced my father.”

They lay quiet for an hour, yet neither of them closed an eye; the bed at the farm was certainly harder than their Mont Salvair couch, but that alone would not have troubled the repose of girls of eighteen. They both held their breath, and kept motionless, till Aigleta suddenly sat up and said, “I never believed the nuns when they said the outer world would steal away our rest; and now see, we have hardly put our foot outside their gates, and already sleep flies from us. And yet we are not even in love, I at least am not. Oh, Blessed Lady of Mont Salvair, what will happen when it comes to that! You of course will have some distinguished husband, and then lovers as many as you will, but I—suppose one took my fancy whom I could not have—I believe I should set a wood on fire and jump into the midst of it!”

“What are you dreaming about?” answered Garcinde, without raising her head from the pillow. “Do you suppose that I would take a husband whom I did not love, or that my father would give me to any one against whom my heart rebelled? Do you not know that he loves nothing on earth so well as me, and could have no greater sorrow than to see me suffer? Go to sleep—the wine has got into your head. I think you have been let out of the convent too soon.”

“Amen,” said the merry girl in the deep voice of the abbess; then she laughed out loud, but left off talking, and was asleep before her young mistress.

The next morning the horses had stood saddled and pawing the ground in the courtyard, for a good hour before the girls appeared on the threshold. They nodded familiarly to Geoffroy, and chatted a little with the good people of La Vaquiera. Then they spurred their horses in order to get over the four hour's ride to Malaspina, before the mid-day heat.

Again but little was said on the way; the youth, spite of his sound sleep, was still paler and sadder than on the previous day; even Aigleta seemed lost in thought, bit her full lip, and now and then sighed. Moreover they had difficulty to keep up with the young Countess, who urged her horse as though the wild huntsmen were on her track. Once she turned to Geoffroy, who kept near her for fear the over-urged palfrey should make a false step. “Do you think my father will ride to meet us?” she enquired, and anxiously waited for his answer. “I should think so,” replied the youth without daring to look at her, for his mind, too, was full of gloomy forebodings.

When they first came in sight of the Castle of Malaspina, Garcinde suddenly drew bridle, and shading her eyes with her hand gazed for several moments at the well-remembered ancient pile. The road wound like a bright narrow ribbon through the short-cut grass, and they could see every pebble on it. But of any horseman crossing the drawbridge and hastening to meet them, nothing was to be seen; even when they came so near that the warder blew his horn, everything remained unchanged, and there was no sign of the festal reception of which the girl had dreamed. The porter appeared in the open gateway, and behind him a few shabby-looking retainers, who stood round as if confused, and for the first time aware how high the grass and nettles grew between the flags in the courtyard. Geoffroy had made some pretext for remaining behind, for his heart bled at the idea of witnessing such a return home. For although the innocent, inexperienced girl could not take in the whole extent of the change—as she had only a childish recollection of the place, and it was not written over the gateway that scarcely the bare walls remained in her father's possession—yet the paucity of domestics, and their thread-bare attire, might well startle her; and above all, that her own parent had not the heart to welcome his beloved child in front of the ancestral dwelling!

“Is my father ill?” she cried, as without awaiting help she leapt from her saddle.

“It is only a sharp attack of gout, lady,” replied the porter, glancing up at an arched window that looked into the court, as if expecting that at least his master would beckon from thence to his daughter, even though his ailments might prevent his descending the stairs. But the window was empty, and a blush suffused Garcinde's face as her glance, which had taken the same direction, came back unsatisfied and distressed. “I will go upstairs to him, Aigleta,” she whispered, “wait here till I call you.”

She went, the others descended from their horses and made them over to the servants. Geoffroy after exchanging a few rapid words with the porter: “Anything new?” “All as it was,” took his own horse to the stable, unbridled him, and then crossed the courtyard on his way to his little turret without taking any notice of Aigleta, who, lost and forsaken, sat on a stone bench amongst the menials, and could have wept heartily over so disappointing a return to the much desired home, had there not been too many lookers on. She saw the young man take his way to the well-known rose-embowered tower, but his head hung down so dejectedly that she did not venture to address him, or ask him to let her go with him to their old play-ground. As for him, he seemed to have forgotten that he was in the world, or that he walked among men. Although he had only had a little bread and wine in the early morning, and it was now past noon, he had no thought of eating or drinking, but sat in his turret-chamber on his mother's bed, motionless like one struck by lightning, his widely-opened eyes fixed on his father's song-book, which on his entrance he had taken down from the shelf and opened out on his knee. Yet he did not seem to be reading, but rather listening to some words that his own heart was setting to the music, whether glad or sorrowful none could have guessed from his stony aspect. All at once, however, he started back into life, and his dark face flushed deeply; he sprang so hastily from the bed that the song-book slipped from his knee and fell open upon the flags, then he held his breath, and listened to some sound in the garden of roses below. Yes, it was her step, no other human being's was like it, and now her hand was upon the turret-door, now she crossed the dark and narrow hall, now she opened the inner door and stepped over its threshold into his small chamber.

As she entered, his eyes involuntarily fell, and he sought to disguise his emotion by lifting from the floor the parchment-book that lay between her and him, and now that he raised his eyes to her he started, horror-stricken. For her face but lately blooming with youth and health, had so changed in one short hour that she seemed to have traversed years of hopeless grief.

“I disturb you, cousin,” she said in a voice from which the music had fled, “but I come to you because I think you are my friend—perhaps the only one I have. Let me sit down, I am mortally weary. No, not on the bed; my dear aunt died there. Oh, Jaufret, if I only knew that it would be my death-bed too—and that my heart would grow still the moment I lay down there—God is my witness I would throw myself upon it at once!”

She sank down on the seat that he offered her, hiding her face in her hands, and tears streaming between her white fingers. “For God's sake, cousin,” he cried, “you break my heart. What has happened? What has your father said?”

Then she removed her hands from her face, pressed back her tears, and looked steadfastly at him. “I will not weep,” she said, “it is childish. If all is true that I have heard, tears are too weak for such sorrow. But I want to hear it from you, cousin. Is it indeed the case that the Count of Malaspina is a beggar, and that his daughter has nothing to call her own except the clothes she wears? You are silent, Jaufret. Be it so then; what should I care for that? I have long had a foreboding that there was trouble before me, and as to poverty, I have seen that in the convent, and know it, and it does not affright me. But shame, Jaufret, shame—”

“By the blood of our Lord,” he exclaimed. “Who dares to say that shame threatens you so long as I can bear a sword, and lay a lance in rest?”

She did not appear to hear him. Then after a pause in which she, as if unconsciously, drew her rosary through her hands, she shudderingly enquired, “Do you know the Count de Gaillac?” The youth started as though he had trodden upon a snake, he muttered a curse between his teeth, and convulsively clutched the silken coverlet.

“You seem to know him,” the maiden continued, “and I know him too. About two years ago a hunting-party came to Mont Salvair, a great gathering of knights and fair dames. They all sat themselves down to feast in the wood that bordered the convent garden, and we from our shrubbery could see what was going on; the drinking, the banqueting; and could hear the songs that the Count's mistress—a tall, proud-looking woman—sang to her lute. Oh cousin, what dreadful human beings there are! Even then I felt a terror come over me, and was glad when the abbess came to drive us out of the garden, and set us down in the refectory to our spinning-wheels. There nothing was heard but the whispering of the nuns, every one of whom knew something of the wildness and godlessness of the Count de Gaillac. For they know everything in the convent, know all about the outer world and its ways, otherwise they would die of tedium. Then the abbess came in, told me that the Count was standing at the grating, and desired to see me, as he was the bearer of a message from my father. I do not know how I had strength enough to rise, and walk across the long hall to her; then, however, she took my hand in her mother-like clasp, and whispered, 'Remember that thou art here in a consecrated place; here the evil one himself could have no power over thee.' So saying she led me to where the godless man with his hawk's eyes in his wolf's face, was waiting behind the grating, the handsome, bold-looking woman by his side. They were laughing loud when we appeared, but suddenly grew silent. I heard the Count say something in Italian to the lady that I perfectly understood, but could not contradict. What his message to me was I never knew, but it cut me to the heart to hear him name my father, and call him his best friend. A cloud darkened my eyes,—when I came to myself again, they were gone. The abbess never alluded to this visit, and forbade the nuns ever to name Pierre de Gaillac before me. Thus I never heard of him again, till to-day, when my own father has told me that on one wretched night, after gambling away the remnant of his possessions to this man, he had staked the hand of his daughter upon the last throw of the dice, and lost that too.”

A sound forced its way from the young man's breast, a hollow cry of horror and of rage, but his limbs seemed paralysed, and his tongue bound, for he did not speak a word, and there was such stillness in the small chamber, that the grinding of the sand beneath his feet was plainly heard.

“You hate my father,” the girl at length continued with downcast eyes but calm voice. “Oh, Jaufret, I have known this for many years, and it has grieved me enough. But what I have now told you ought not to increase your hatred, for if there be one miserable being on earth, who in the burning torture of his soul already endures hell-fire, and expiates his sins, believe me, cousin, it is the Count of Malaspina, who would gladly change places with the dropsical cripple at his castle gate, if only he could undo what he has done. He writhed as though impaled at the stake, and buried his face in the pillows that I might not see him while he told me how it all came about; how they clouded his mind with hippocras; how at every throw they pressed the goblet into his hand, till at length the mocking laughter of the Count seemed to awake him from a dream, and he gazed with sheer horror at the abyss into which he had hurled his last possession, the happiness of his child. He did everything he could to propitiate his malicious enemy and conqueror, nay he offered to be his serf, his bondservant, if only he might pay the fearful debt thus. But the Count had merely laughed and said, 'A Jew's bargain indeed you would make with me, my friend, to offer me a plucked old cock for a plump young hen. I have more servants to feed than I care for, but a young wife I do want, for you know that I am getting old, and I am not so fond of my mistress as to wish to leave her my lands and castles after my death. Moreover, I fear she might make me a very bad return, and before my eyes were closed, drink with some younger fellow to my approaching end. But your daughter has been chastely and piously brought up, and will convert me—grey in sin as I am—to an orderly life. Therefore I would not take all the treasures on earth in exchange for her small hand, which can alone open the door of Heaven to me; and so I charge you by your honour that within three weeks you bring her to celebrate the marriage here in Gaillac. I on my part, as my gift on the morning after the nuptials, will make over to you all the woods and lands that I have won from you of late years, in order that your child need not provide for you like a beggar, but that you may live out your old age in state and comfort.' And so saying he called for his servants to light him to bed, and left my father alone.”

At this moment Geoffrey made a gesture as though about to speak; but she rose quickly, advanced towards him, and laid her small, cold, trembling hand beseechingly on his clenched fist. “Cousin,” said she, “do not speak yet. I know what you would say: that it would be better to go forth as a beggar from home and hearth, and to wander through the wide world, than to endure disgrace, and give up body and soul to a demon. But consider that my father has nothing on earth besides his honour, his sacred, inviolable, knightly word, and that it would ill become me, his daughter, to counsel him to break it. At the same time, I feel that if there were no other means of fulfilling the pledge given, and paying this debt than by giving my hand to this abhorred suitor, I should prefer what is honourable in the sight of God, to what men call honour. But let us hope, my friend, that this last alternative may be spared me. I propose to write a letter to the man who has us in his power, and you—if you are really my friend—you must take it this very day to Gaillac, for until I know the answer I cannot lay me down to sleep. But do you rest here awhile and take some food. I will go and write the letter; they always commended my skill in writing at the convent; God grant that it may stand me in good stead now! See, I leave you much calmer than I was when I came, although you have not spoken one word of comfort to me; but here in this place where we were so happy as children, here where it seems as if no bad spirits had power over me, here—I cannot persuade myself that the hideous dream is true, and the father's honour pledged to the child's disgrace.”

She paused for a moment, but when the youth bent before her with a deep sigh, and pressed her hand to his lips in token that she might depend upon him, she laid her other hand affectionately on his shoulder, and took leave of him, saying, “Aigleta will bring you the letter. Farewell, dear friend, and God go with you,” and then on the threshold of the door, folding her hands after kissing the image of the Virgin on the wall, she repeated in a low voice the following prayer:

                 “Maires de Crist, ton filh car
                  Prega per nos, quens ampar
                  E quens gardo de cazer
                  A la fin en desesper.”

Then she left him alone.

                     * * * * *

A day and night passed away, and yet another day and night. Geoffroy did not return.

Sir Hugo never missed him; he was, indeed, accustomed to the youth going his own way, and weeks often passed without his seeing him, and at the present time he hated the sight of any human being. He would sit for hours in one place in his room. The food carried in to him remained untouched, but he drank wine greedily, as though seeking forgetfulness from it; forgetfulness of himself, of the past, and the future.

On the evening of the first day, when Garcinde had gone to see him, he could not even face his own child, but when she approached him, and gently threw her arm over his shoulder, his whole frame was convulsed, and slipping from his chair on to the stone floor, sobbing he clasped her knees and pressed his brow against her feet, so that she had difficulty in raising him and leading him back to his couch. Since then she avoided his chamber, for if she had tried to comfort him by telling him the reason of Geoffroy's absence, her own desponding heart would have contradicted her words.

The third morning she woke early out of a painful dream, and called to Aigleta who shared her couch: “Do you hear nothing, dear? I thought I caught the sound of horses' hoofs beyond the drawbridge—no, I was only dreaming. Oh, Aigleta! if I have also made him unhappy—sent him to his ruin. But hark! the sound comes nearer—I hear the gate creak on its hinges—it is he. Mother of God! What does he bring—Life or Death!”

She had sprung up and thrown a cloak around her. Aigleta, too, hastily rose and bound up her hair; the rosy morning light shone into the room, and coloured the pale, worn face of the Count's daughter. She would have gone to meet Geoffroy had her knees supported her; as it was she was standing in the middle of the room when he entered. He, too, was pale, and as he bent before her, it struck Aigleta that he did not raise the leathern cap which covered one-half of his brow. But Garcinde saw nothing but his eyes which sought to avoid hers.

“You bring no comfort?” she said. “I knew it.” Then seating herself on a bench in the window, she listened impassively to what he narrated with a faltering voice.

He reached Gaillac that same evening, for he had not spared his horse. When he was ushered into the hall where the Count was, he found him at supper, a couple of his riotous companions with him, and the one of his mistresses who just then was highest in his favour. On a low stool at his feet crouched a mis-shapen dwarf, who played the part of fool and fed his dogs. The beautiful bold woman sat by his side, and poured him out red wine into a silver goblet, putting her lips to it before he drained it at a draught. “They all looked at me,” said Geoffroy, “as though I arrived very opportunely to divert their dulness by some novelty or other, for none of them appeared in spirits except the fool, who with shallow jests that waked no laughter, went on throwing fragments of food to the dogs. I delivered your letter without speaking a word, and while the Count unfolded and read it, I could not but think how she who wrote it would have been received at such a table. The thought made the blood rush to my head, and such a giddiness came over me that I was obliged to lean upon my sword. One of the guests who noticed this ordered that wine should be brought me, for I must be weary and thirsty after my rapid ride, but I shook my head and said I would only await the answer, and then return at once. Meanwhile the Count had read the letter, and made it over in silence to his neighbour; she had scarcely run her eyes over the first few lines before she burst out into loud laughter. 'A sermon!' she cried, 'God's death! You are going to get a saint for a wife,' and then she began to read the letter aloud, line for line; and the words that would have made stones weep and moved the gates of hell, waked only mocking echoes here. Blasphemies and impious jests broke out, interrupting the reading. Then the woman rose, and casting a proud look upon the Count, said with curled lip, 'The saint may come and welcome. I was averse to her, thinking she might turn your heart from us all and rule here alone, but now that I have read her letter I am not afraid of her. You, Pierre de Gaillac are not the man to wear a hair-shirt and a prickly girdle. You are accustomed to the fires of hell, and the air of heaven would but chill you. In hell, however, there is more joy over one who sickens of penance and returns to his evil ways than over ninety-and-nine lost souls. Whereupon I empty this goblet to the last drop, and call upon you to pledge me.' She drank, the Count drew her closer to his side, and whispered something into her ear that made her laugh loud. They all seemed to have forgotten the messenger who had brought the letter; the letter itself was handed to the others, and when it came back to the Count, the dwarf snatched at it and cried, 'You have not read it rightly, godmother. Now listen how it ought to be sung to move you all to laughter,' and he began to read it once more aloud in the manner in which they chant litanies in church, wagging head and hands like a preacher giving out the blessing, and if they had all laughed the first time, they knew not now what to do, they held their sides and groaned out responses. At last rage got the better of me. I sprang upon the shameless fellow, tore the letter from him, and struck him such a blow that he rolled over backwards, and upset the silver vessel that held the food for the dogs. 'If I am to obtain no answer,' I cried, 'worthy of the lady who has sent me here, I will at least silence the daring mouth that has mocked at a noble virgin, and dragged the words of a pure and lofty soul through the mire!'

“For a moment there was silence. I even thought I might pass through the hall unhindered, but I had reckoned without my host. Servants rushed in, the guests raged and railed at me, the dogs howled, but the Count still sat in his place, pale as death, and motionless with fury, and the woman by his side shot fiery looks at me. When—a quarter of an hour later—I found myself on damp straw behind a bolted door, a wound in my head, and darkness before my eyes, I thanked my Saviour that I was delivered from the neighbourhood of those brutal men, and could no longer hear them blaspheme the name dearest to me. I do not know how I passed the night and the following day. I think I must have slept through them, but about the middle of the second night, I was gently waked by a soft hand passing over my face, and the light of a small lamp shone into my eyes. It was the Count's mistress who stood before me there, and signed to me to be silent; gently she led me up the broken stairs, through empty passages and halls to a narrow door of which she had the key. 'I cannot let you starve to death in unbroken darkness down there,' said she. 'Outside you will find your horse and something to eat at the saddle-bow. Fly! if ever thou needest a friend come to Carcassonne, and ask for Agnes the Sardinian. You will easily find me out.' She waited an answer, perhaps she had even dreamed of a tenderer farewell, but as I was silent she opened the door, and again passed her hand over my blood-stained hair. 'Poor youth,' said she, 'thou deservedst a better fate.' Then I leapt into the saddle, and spurred my horse hard, and thus I rode on without stopping, for in the night air my senses gradually awoke and the fever of my wound left me. And here I am—and this is all the answer that I bring back.”

So saying he bared his head, and showed his brow—a thick curl of his hair lay upon the wound and seemed to have stanched its bleeding.

Then Garcinde rose from her seat and advanced towards him as though she had something to say, but she stopped short and remained speechless with downcast eyes before him. Aigleta was the one to speak. “I will go and bring linen and salves to dress the wound properly,” said she; then she looked at her friend as though she had some quite other thought, secretly sighed, and left the two alone. And scarcely had she turned away when Geoffroy fell on his knees before the fair and silent mourner, and cried as he seized her hands' and pressed them passionately to his heart: “Command me—what shall I do? For my life is worthless to me unless I can offer it up to thee. Never should I have betrayed the sweet pangs I endured, if sorrow had not overshadowed thee. But now thou art no longer the Countess, the proud daughter of Malaspina, at whom I gazed as at a star far above me. Thine is a poor unfortunate tortured heart which will not despise another heart which devotes itself to thee for life and death. Oh, cousin! loveliest love, say but one word, and I mount again the horse that still stands saddled in the courtyard, to ride back to Gaillac, and plunge this dagger into the breast of the enemy of thy honour and peace, in the midst of all his boon companions, even though his dogs should tear me to pieces the next moment!”

Then she bent down towards him, and for the first time a smile played over her pale face. “Jaufret,” said she, pressing her lips to his blood-stained brow; “the fever of thy wound shows in thy speech. Go and lie down, and let Aigleta—who understands such tasks—wash away the blood and dress thy wound, and then refresh thyself with sleep and food. For by our dear lady of Mont Salvair I accept the life you offer me. I am no rich countess to disdain such a gift, and yet I am rich enough to repay it. While you were relating your adventure—hideous and cruel enough to destroy all hope—I was considering what I would and could do. But this is not the time for talking. See, here comes your doctress, I make you over to her, and you must do all she tells you, and if you are tractable and obedient, be sure, cousin, you shall not rue it! See that he sleeps and gets strong, Aigleta,” she said to her friend, who nodded, and looked as though she understood more than was uttered. Meanwhile, the youth who still gazed at Garcinde in utmost perplexity, had risen from his knees, and loosed her hands. He could not understand how she could be so composed since he had brought her no hope. But half from the exhaustion of his wound, and half from his blind confidence in her strong and lofty nature, he parted from her with a lightened heart, and followed Aigleta who had now lost all her gaiety. “What can she be planning?” said he to the girl, as they both went down the stair together. “Who can tell—obey and sleep,” said Aigleta with a quick hoarse voice, and then turning her head away, she added, “The Lord gives to those He loves in sleep.”

She led him into his turret hermitage; she saw to his wound, which was indeed but slight, and already disposed to heal; she furnished him with all that he could need for refreshment, and then seeing that his eyes were growing heavy she left him.

She herself, however, did not instantly return to Garcinde; she still lingered among the roses, made a nosegay, pulled it to pieces again, and when at last she returned to the castle, her eyes were red, and she washed them long with cold water that no one should observe it.

Geoffroy only slept a few hours: then he awoke a new man, with brow cool, thanks to Aigleta's salve, and heart on fire, thanks to the mysterious hope-encouraging words of his cousin. Like a wanderer on whom the fairy of the woods has bestowed the wishing-rod, by which at the hour of midnight he may find and possess himself of a treasure, and who dreams away the intervening time, so the youth sat hour after hour, gazing only at the sunbeam which slowly moved along the stone floor, and listening only to the song of the birds around his turret. No one came to disturb him: the servants lay yawning in shady corners of the court, the horses were stamping in the stable to shake off the flies; both girls had locked themselves up in their castle chamber, and did not appear all day. Once only through his narrow window did he catch sight of Sir Hugo, who stepped out on the balcony before his chamber, and looked down into the castle moat as though considering whether it would not be better for him to dash himself to pieces there. His hair and beard had become white as snow, his face was worn to a shadow; soon he vanished again like a restless ghost. And now the sun went down, and the moon rose above the wood, and silvered the rose-garden around Geoffrey's tower. The birds were silent, but the bull-frogs in the moat seemed to croak the louder, and in the distance a nightingale's song was heard. It was so light in the tower that the youth could read every letter in his parchment book, but he knew not what he was reading.

Another hour passed away, and yet another, and then light and rapid steps along the narrow path woke the listener out of his trance. He rushed to the door and threw it open wide, and saw with amazement not only the one that his heart foretold, but her friend also beside her on the threshold. They greeted him with a silent nod, and it was only when they had passed into his narrow chamber that Garcinde shyly spoke, “You see that I keep my word, cousin, but have you not in the course of the day changed your mind? Do you not regret what you said to me this morning?” and as he looked at her with mute enquiry she blushingly continued: “That you loved me, Jaufret, loved me more than your life, and would devote that life to me in sorrow until death. You may speak out your heart openly, this faithful friend knows all. She knew even earlier than I did myself that my heart belonged to thee, as thine to me. Oh, Jaufret, even at La Vaquiera, when we spoke by night about the stars, what made me so still and so sad was that I kept saying to myself, Is there no place amongst those countless orbs where he and I may belong to each other? Must I lose him whom I have only just regained? For I foresaw too clearly that my heart and my hand would not long remain my own. And God is my witness I was resolved to obey my father, had he betrothed me to any worthy husband, however distasteful he might have proved. But to fall a victim in an unholy hour to the mere chance of the dice, that cannot be God's will, though he has commanded us to honour father and mother; for I have in dreams seen my mother weeping over me, and I know that were she still living, she would go with me into poverty rather than give me to such a husband. And therefore am I come to thee, my beloved, and if thou art in earnest as I believe and know thou art, I will in this very hour before God and this witness, take thee for my husband, and fly forth with thee into the wide world. And sure am I that when our flight is discovered, my father will not mount his horse and follow us to punish the son as he did the father; he knows that he dare not judge, that a judge should have a guiltless heart. But we—where shall we fly? Are not all places home to us, so I am with thee, Jaufret, and thou with thy Garcinde?”

With these words she gave him her little hand, but while he, in a transport of silent rapture, took it and held it fast, Aigleta stepped forward and said in her lively way, and with a smiling face. “Just look at this coy gentleman, Garcinde. Can this be the son of the man whose lips overflowed with sweetest sayings, and not a single poor word falls from his mouth; even when one brings him the fairest of count's daughters, who whistles all the castles and lands of Gaillac down the wind, in order to beg her way through the world with this helpless lover. But come, come, we cannot wait till a miracle is wrought, and the dumb regains his speech. You must exchange rings, and pronounce the marriage-vow, and then go forth and far away, and I—poor forsaken one—have only to make the sign of the cross behind you; for to me you are dead and buried, that I know all too well. I shall—”

Her voice broke down, spite of all her self-control and her effort to smile, and she had to stoop and pretend to adjust her shoe, that her tears might drop unnoticed. Geoffroy, meantime, had collected himself and now drew a ring from his finger.

“Do you know it?” he said to Garcinde. “With this little ring my father betrothed himself to my mother, and as in his case it betokened the firmest constancy—a constancy that was sealed by death—I now give it to thee, my passionately loved bride, and swear in presence of the Holy Trinity, and before our true friend, I will never be the husband of any other woman than Garcinde of Malaspina.”

“And I will never be the wife of any other man than my Geoffroy,” said the bride.

“Amen. So be it,” said Aigleta, in corroboration of their vow, laying—after the exchange of rings—their hands together. Then the pair knelt down before the picture of the Mother of God, and remained for a short season, in silent prayer. But when they rose again and sank into each other's arms, and with heart on heart, and mouth on mouth, ratified their holy vow, the witness slipped softly away. By-and-bye, they found her outside amongst the roses, of which she had woven two garlands. “No wedding without a garland,” said she, and smiled, though her eyes were wet, while she crowned them both. Then the youth hurried to the stable and noiselessly saddled his horse and led him to the garden, where Garcinde lay on the breast of her friend, and whispered amidst her tears: “I know why thou weepest. God make thee as happy as thou hast been brave, and true to me.”

They set off quietly, Geoffroy leading the horse, who with dilated nostrils snorted at the moonlight, the girls following him over the bridge; then he lifted his young wife into the saddle, sprang up himself behind her, and waving his hand to Aigleta, spurred his faithful charger on. It did not feel the weight it bore too heavy, for with the exception of his sword and dagger, Geoffroy had taken nothing with him but his father's song-book, and Garcinde only a few ornaments which she had inherited from her mother, and which her father had never touched. Thus, then, they rode through the moonlit forest. They did not say much: every now and then when the horse was slowly crossing boggy ground, she would turn half round to him, and then he kissed her cheek, and her black eyes smiled while she whispered, “My dearest husband.”

She rested in his arms so sweetly, and the good horse trod so securely, that they hardly realised their circumstances—a hasty flight by night—a dark future before them—but enjoyed their bliss as though no shadow of care and danger hung over their love.

But when they got out of the wood and reached the hill from whence Garcinde a few days ago had first beheld again her father's castle, she suddenly pulled the rein and turned the horse round.

“What ails thee, sweet wife? And why dost thou halt here?” asked Geoffroy.

She did not reply, but gazed over the wide plain towards the dark pile with its leaden-roofed turrets that shone in the moonlight.

“What is it that you see, dearest?” asked the youth, who felt her tremble on his breast, as though a frosty chill had overtaken her on the warm summer night. “Let us look forwards, not back. Our happiness lies before us.” But she only shook her head sorrowfully, turned away when he wished to kiss her, and said not a word. All of a sudden she had seemed to see in the deserted castle her father with a taper in his hand wandering from room to room, and crying, “Where is my daughter Garcinde? I have pledged my honour, she must redeem my pledge. Where is my child, and where is my honour? I was a beggar. I had nothing but my unstained name, and now that is lost. The last of the Malaspina has destroyed the good fame of the house, for she knows that I can no longer pursue her as in former years I should have done. I am old and sick, and a sinful man. Now, therefore, I must go down disgraced to the grave, for mine enemy will say I have connived at this, and that to avoid paying my debt, I have preferred even to give my last jewel to a beggar, than to the creditor I hated!” Then again this image vanished, and she now saw herself and her lover pursued on strange roads by an angry band, Pierre de Gaillac at their head, resolved to claim his bride from her ravisher. She saw her Jaufret fight with the energy of a despairing man, and yet at length conquered by numbers, shed his life's blood on the green grass, and she heard the mocking conqueror laugh, “So thou enviest me my gains at play, thou player's son; the creditor reclaims the debt the debtor would have withheld from him!” Then a deadly shudder passed over her; she thought for a moment that her heart had ceased to beat. All the joys of her young love seemed crushed by an icy hand. She knew now that what had appeared to her in her trouble a way of escape and an immeasurable bliss was a false dream; that she should but bring death and ruin to both the beings whom she supremely loved!

“For the love of the Saints!” cried Geoffroy, who felt her cherished form grow heavy as a lifeless body in his embrace, “come to thyself again. What fearful thoughts hast thou in thy mind that thus thy lips move silently as though speaking with the departed? Give me the bridle and let us turn to life, to liberty. The spirits that hover over those towers will have no power over thee when once thou art the other side of this hill. Wilt thou make us both wretched? Wilt thou even—”

He stopped when he saw the stony eyes of his young wife from which every beam of hope and joy had utterly vanished. But this did not last long, the convulsion was now over. She gave a deep sigh, turned on him eyes of yearning love, and said, while endeavouring to smile:

“I have scared thee; forgive me, my beloved. What have we two to fear from any spirits that may hover over that house and envy us our bliss. Thou, my husband, and I, thy wife, eternally one, body and soul! But I have been thinking about our flight, that it is not the will of Heaven; and if we persisted, Jaufret, against my conscience, we should be punished, and should end as miserably as did thy father and my dear aunt. Trust to me, I have another idea which thou shalt know tomorrow early. Thou wilt praise thy wife when thou seest how she has contrived both to pay the debt to the creditor, and yet to be the wife of no man except her dearest cousin, to whom she has given herself in the presence of God. Lift me down from the saddle, I do not wish to ride any longer. If it pleases you, my husband, let us walk back through the wood, there are still many hours before day, and a fairer wedding-night no count's daughter could ever wish for. And now kiss me, so that I may again see a smile on thy lips; for truly this poor life is too short for us to spoil even one moment of it by care and gloom.” He reluctantly did what she required of him; but when he took her into his arms and their lips met, he could not refrain from asking, “Oh Garcinde! What art thou thinking of? Hast thou not too much confidence in thyself, and wilt thou not if thy plan fails make us both eternally wretched?” But she smiled at him with bright eyes, laid her finger on his mouth, and said, “You are the happiest married man on earth, Sir Geoffrey; you have a wife who knows how to keep a secret. But now do not press me any further. What have we to do with the morrow? To-day are we already such old married people that we can find more important subjects to speak of than our love? Say, Jaufret, do I really please thee better than Agnes of Sardinia, and was her hand when she stroked thy hair not softer than mine? Nay, but thou must not embrace me so ardently here, the moon looks too boldly down, and after all she does not know that thou art my dear husband. Come into the wood, I am weary with our ride and would fain rest awhile. I know a bank where a brook runs through the moss, numbers of flowers bloom there, and I will weave them into fresh garlands, for those Aigleta made are quite crushed. Poor Aigleta! Dost thou know that she loved thee too well? But that cannot be helped now: no one can be the husband of two women; that is against God's law. And I, though I be not indeed better than she, I am the more unhappy of the two, or at least I should have been if thy heart, my beautiful love, had not been mine.”

With such words as these, which intoxicated the youth like strong wine, they went down the hill and entered the wood. Their gentle horse followed them of his own accord, and peacefully grazed near them in the flowery glade where they laid them down. Through the whole of the night the brook rippled and the nightingales sang, and the moon shone so brightly that no one could have thought of sleep, not at least two who had so much to confide to each other, and knew not whether there would be time for it on the following day. When the morning drew near, and the dew began to fall, and a cooler air swept through the wood, Garcinde arose and said, while a shudder passed over her, “It is growing cold, my husband. I think we ought to go home.” “Where?” asked he, looking at her in amazement, but she smiled.

“Only come,” said she, “I will show you. Can I have any other home than thine?” With that she took his arm and led him out of the wood, and over the bridge back into his tower.

“Here let me rest,” said she, as she seated herself on his mother's bed. “Here I would fain sleep for an hour until the sun rises. But leave me alone, my beloved, otherwise we shall go on talking, and I shall not be able to close an eye. And give me your song-book too, I should like to read a verse or two before I fall asleep. And now, one good-night kiss, and then go! Oh, Jaufret, I love thee more than my life! Are we not two happy beings to have enjoyed such bliss that nothing can trouble us. And if we lived a hundred years, could time make us richer in joys when we have drunk from the cup of eternal blessedness?” Once more he embraced the lovely one, and kissed her long and fervently on her mouth. Then he left her alone.

An hour later the cock crew. But it did not wake the youth who lay in the rose-garden, his cloak thrown over him, smiling in his dream as though he were inwardly happy, and murmuring the name of his young wife. Neither did it wake the sleeper in the turret-room, whose lips were half-open as though they, too, would pronounce a name, but all was still as death in the dim chamber.

It was only when the sun had already risen over the tops of the trees, that Aigleta came by with weary eyes and pale face, listless and absorbed in her own thoughts. When she saw Geoffroy lying in the garden, she was horror-stricken as though she had seen a ghost, and it was only when she ascertained that he was breathing that she bent down to wake him. “You still here?” she whispered. “And where is—your wife?”

He sprang up in haste, and without answering a word, rushed to his turret. When he opened the door, he gave a cry like a man mortally wounded, and fell upon the bed. There lay his young bride, one hand pressed to her heart, from which a little stream of blood still flowed, her other hand rested on the song-book, which was open at its last page, and the white fingers pointed to a newly written line that ran thus in the language of Provence:

Lo deuteire paqua al crezedor tot lo deute.

The debtor pays to the creditor all the debt.

                     * * * * *

It was noon before the servants ventured carefully to apprise Count Hugo of the heart-rending truth. He listened to the tidings as though he did not rightly understand their purport; even when they led him down to where his child, like a proud and beautiful statue of whitest marble, lay outstretched on the bed he knew so well, he gave no token of what he felt, spoke not a word, shed not a tear. All night he shut himself up with the dead. The next morning he ordered a bier to be prepared. He would redeem his word, he said, and carry the bride to her bridegroom. The servants silently obeyed. Geoffroy—who might else have put in his claim—lay in a raging fever, tended by Aigleta; his wound on the forehead had burst open afresh, and no salve availed to close it.

When the procession came to Gaillac, Count Hugo at its head, the dead bride on a high bier borne by his servants, a great crowd of peasants and retainers behind, the bride's father sent a herald in advance to blow his trumpet three times, and cry with a loud voice, “The debtor pays to the creditor all that he owes him!” At this cry, Count Pierre de Gaillac appeared on the balcony of his castle; but when he saw the lamentable spectacle he turned away horrified, and violently signed to them to go back, that he would have no such wedding. Then he flung himself on his horse and rode far away, and only returned after many days a broken-down man who had forgotten how to laugh.

Count Hugo, however, without giving one sign of grief, next ordered the bearers to carry the bier to a chapel that stood in the open country, and was dedicated to the blessed Lady of Mont Salvair. There on the land and property belonging to the Count de Gaillac, to whom he had to pay his debt, he buried the beautiful body of his child. And no one dared to touch a spade, for he determined with his own hands to prepare her last resting-place. When this ceremony had been performed amidst the tears of the crowd, all went away and left him. He remained alone in the chapel; no one knew whether he was praying or speaking with the dead. But when they went to look after him the next day, and to offer him food and drink, he was no longer living, and they buried him beside his child.

Of Geoffroy the chronicle tells nothing further, except that in the autumn of the same year he joined the crusaders, and travelled towards Jerusalem, from whence he never came back. But any one turning over the old records of the Convent of Mont Salvair would there find that towards the end of the century, there was an abbess of the name of Aigleta von Malaspina—in religion named Sor Sofrenza (in modern French Soeur Souffrance,)—who only at an advanced age entered into eternal rest.

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1:
            Sack that's torn will not hold grain.
            To poor men good advice is vain.]

 
 
 

Back to the Index Page