BURIED from sight among the wooded spurs which prolonged the vast forest of Ardennes nearly to the Rhine, the castle of Immaburg seemed almost deserted ; for the king, with the royal household, had set out for Aix, to await there the arrival of his son Pepin from Pannonia. So magnificent were the preparations made to receive the victorious young king of Italy, and so great was the curiosity to witness the triumphant entry of the army with its barbarian captives and hostages, that many of the permanent inmates of the villa had obtained permission to follow the court; only such servants as were necessary for the care of the kennels and stables, the orchards and gardens, remaining. A single company of guards was also left to act as escort for certain damsels of the princesses’ household, who, while chatting over their needlework in the pleasance without the inclosure, were impatiently anticipating the morrow’s ride to Aix and the festivities of the capital. Gui of Tours himself, the chief of the company, after yawning away a half hour under the gallery of the préau, strolled discontentedly across the silent court-yard through the gateway, where a few soldiers loitered, playing at dice or sleeping on the wooden benches in the shadow of the wall. A subdued sound of laughter from the terrace greeted the captain’s appearance, for the company of women was well known to be his last resource. But the captain paid no more heed to the laughter than he had to the dice which the soldiers concealed at his approach, and disappeared among the outbuildings where were lodged the dogs and horses.
Shortly after, he was seen again on the road beyond the pleasance, gazing moodily over the cabins of the serfs, clustered about the paddocks and sheepfolds, towards the green wood which stretched unbroken to the horizon. It were no wonder if the women deemed the captain was searching for some flutter of the king’s banner in the screen of leaves below, and the pout on the small lips of Agnes of Solier, as her eyes glanced from the valance spread over her knees to the distant figure of the soldier, betrayed the chagrin which his indifference caused her. So dense was the green curtain that the hare beneath was safe from the kite above; neither flash of spear nor gleam of flames on the king’s standard rewarded the captain’s gaze, and he wandered back to the court-yard gate like a restless hound left behind from the chase.
“ Were I in thy stead,” whispered young Heluiz of Hesbaye, bending to Agnes’ ear, “ I would ask the captain to replenish my reel. The silk is almost gone, and he chafes with nothing to do.”
“ If the captain chafes, he is best away,” replied the girl, striving in vain to conceal the blush which rose to her cheek. “ Truly, I believe he is afraid of thy tongue’s point, — it is sharper than thy needle,” laughed her tormentor maliciously.
“ What art thou saying, Heluiz ? ” asked an elderly dame, who, in the centre of the group, directed the work of the young girls.
“ I was relating to Agnes of Solier, Mistress Chlodine, how Attila, king of the Huns, was slain by his wife with a golden needle on their marriage night.”
“ They say the Huns have the faces of apes,” said a fair-haired girl, looking up from her embroidery; “ like that which the Emir of Barcelona sent the king.”
A sally of laughter greeted this statement, and the speaker, Gesualda, daughter of Leidulphe, Count of Arnay, bent her head over her work in confusion.
“ What thou sayest is true, little dear,” said Mistress Chlodine. " These people are pagans and sorcerers, fearing neither God nor man. Is it not so, Rothilde ? ” she asked, turning to the maiden nearest her.
The question was rude, for the girl was a barbarian, of that Saxon race whose perfidy had cost the kingdom such blood and treasure, and all knew that Mistress Chlodine bore with ill grace her presence among the princesses’ women. Saxon and Hun were all one to Mistress Chlodine ; she made no distinction between their abodes, putting them all together in the zone of heathendom, which girdled the land like the sea in the maps which the School of the Palace had made for the king.
Two limpid blue eyes looked up from the vignette border of the tapestry, and a faint blush overspread the girl’s neck. At a passing glance, one would say she was the least beautiful of all present; yet there was that in the small face so attractive that he who looked into its quick-falling eyes waited till they should lift again, so trustful was their gaze, so timid their fall, so fraught with mute inquiry their slow return, — like a hand put confidingly into one’s own. There was not a maid in the pleasance but deemed her sly and full of wiles, and not a man in the kingdom but would have scouted such talk for jealous slander, so gentle was her bearing. That the heart of Robert of Tours had become as wax in her presence was common gossip. It was said that he had seen her first among the captives at Ehresberg, and would have had her, willing or unwilling, for himself but for the Abbot Rainal, who had brought her to the queen’s notice. Every one knew that it had been the abbot’s design to send her back to her own land to win her people to the service of the true God, but whether the king had twice refused her to Robert of Tours because he favored the abbot’s design, or because he was wroth that a great leude of the kingdom should wed a Saxon rebel, was matter of dispute. Certain it was, however, that after the king’s refusal Robert of Tours went with Pepin to Hungary, to vent his spleen on the Avars, and that Rothilde was sent from among the queen’s women to the school of the novices in the convent of Eicka. If she remained at Eicka but a single month, that was because of the favor of the young queen, to whom, it was said, the king could refuse nothing. Be that as it may, she was back again among the queen’s women ; and one would have sworn she was born in a palace, so apt was she to learn, excelling the rest in all she did. Indeed, luxury suited her well, and she filled her station as easily as water fills a jar.
As for the suit of Robert of Tours, if you would know how it fared with the girl, in spite of the king, ask Gesualda of Arnay. She would bid you observe the fillet of black pearls — the same which the count’s wife wore when she was alive — which Rothilde never loosed from her hair. Not that Gesualda was wiser than the others, — for the Saxon held her tongue, — but was more friendly to the girl than they; if not from affection, then from the love of contrariety, which was so natural to her that it often set her right hand against her left.
“ We shall soon see for ourselves,” she said, parrying Chlodine’s question for her friend. “ That the Huns resemble the Saracen’s ape I am sure. Ask the captain; he was with Theudoric on the Danube.”
“ He might as well be there now,” replied Heluiz of Hesbaye, with a sidelong glance at Agnes.
“ Jessé,” said Agnes, calling to the page on the terrace steps, “ go say to the captain, Gui of Tours, that Heluiz of Hesbaye is dying to put to him a question about the monkeys of Barcelona.”
A burst of laughter followed this retort, at which Mistress Chlodine, not understanding its import, frowned, and the fingers plied again between the silken floss and pearls in silence.
Agnes of Solier had long been betrothed to Gui of Tours. Both her mother and her father were dead, — unless. indeed, there were truth in the rumor that the blood of Karle ran in her veins. Certain it was that the king loved and honored her next to his own daughters ; and it were strange that Robert of Tours should so set his heart on this betrothal if the girl were only an orphan dependent on the royal bounty. Certain also was it that on her mother’s death the king had sent her to the abbey of Chelles, whereof his sister Gisèle was abbess, but neither his commands nor the abbess’s entreaties had been able to dry her tears or stem her protest; so that after the lapse of a year the girl had her way, and exchanged the modest dress of the cloister for court attire. It were no new thing, surely, for a girl to brave the will of a king, but that the king should take the rebel into his favor lent strength to current rumors; for so he did, and even the Queen Fastrade had received her without jealousy in her household, exercising her mind by various devices and her fingers in every skillful work. If there were little in her voice and features which resembled Karle, she possessed his courageous Spirit. It leaped to her eye in anger, it burned like a coal beneath her silence, to flash forth again between her parted lips and white teeth in the merry laugh which gladdened the king’s heart. Not one in the company would dare to provoke her as had Heluiz, who withal teased without malice and loved without envy. What from her lips was only a sallying breeze from a rose thicket, from another would have been a biting, worrying wind that stings the blood like a wild nettle. If she teased, it was from curiosity to know what she could not otherwise discover; for at times her friend matched Gui’s indifference with scant words, and again the black lashes quivered over swimming eyes, — whether for love, or pride, or anger, Heluiz of Hesbaye was sore in doubt, not yet dreaming with what sorry company love will sometimes abide. Waiting for the captain’s coming, she stole a glance now and then at Agnes’ face, and seeing the fine lines of pride quiver said to herself, “ So the covert of leaves stirs when the fawn within trembles.”
A slope of broad steps led up from the roadside to the terrace. Elsewhere the latter was circled by an open balustrade, and so pressed about by the wood that at high noon its marble floor was dark with the leaf shadows. The frown had scarce left Mistress Chlodine’s face when Gesualda, sighing that she should be at work when butterflies were abroad, chanced to follow one with her eyes in its flight over the balusters, and gave a quick cry.
“ Mother of God! ” she said, her hand on her swelling bosom, “ I thought it was a wood spirit.”
The occasion of this exclamation was a young girl, who, emerging suddenly from the copse surrounding the pleasance, and surprised at the scene before her, hesitated whether to advance or retreat, fixing her large eyes in succession upon the faces turned towards her. She stood holding the branch which had barred her passage, her uplifted arm bare to the view, for the lacing-cord of the sleeve was gone and the braided wrist unfastened. A border of silver lace, tarnished and frayed, encircled the low neck of her dress, and, continuing down between the spiral pleats of the bosom, terminated in a broad band, which accentuated her slender form, and from which hung innumerable tiny trinkets and bells. Worn and dusty as was this dress, it served only to enhance the wearer’s vigorous beauty, which burst through her outgrown garment as the ripe fruit bursts its sheath.
Judging from her attire and appearance that she was some wandering dancer, who, separated from her companions, had become lost in the forest, Mistress Chlodine addressed her kindly, bidding her approach and rest on the terrace steps. Releasing the branch, the girl advanced slowly to the opening, where she stood scrutinizing the rich apparel of those about her.
“ What is thy name ? ” asked Agnes of Solier, on whose amice of seed pearls and ermine kirtle the stranger’s gaze was riveted.
The girl lifted her eyes, without replying, to Agnes’ face, where they rested with so frank an admiration that the latter forgave their beauty and daring.
“ Either she is dumb or does not understand! ” exclaimed Gesualda, whose earnest lisping voice was always the signal for laughter.
“ Nay,” said Heluiz of Hesbaye gently, offering her a small tray on which were bean cakes and almond pasties ; “ she is tired and hungry.”
The girl took the tray, and, sitting down on the step, began to eat without ceremony. “ Any one can understand that language,” lisped Gesualda.
Lifting her large eyes to the speaker’s face, the stranger smiled; whereupon all laughed aloud, even Mistress Chlodine. “It is good, pretty dear,” said the latter, condescendingly.
“ The captain, the captain ! ” cried Gesualda, clapping her hands. “ Have ready thy question, Heluiz.”
The girl, from whom attention was momentarily diverted, looked up from her tray. Down the path came Gui of Tours, twirling the empty strap of his baldric and followed by the page. His head was uncovered, and the sun shone on the metal band confining the brown hair above his forehead. As he drew near, his eyes sought Agnes’ face, where was clearly to be seen pride at his manly grace, mingled with a nervous apprehension as to how he might bear himself towards her.
“ Captain ” — said Heluiz of Hesbaye.
But in turning his eyes from Agnes to Heluiz, they got no farther than midway from one to the other, for there between them on the step sat Passe Rose.
Passe Rose it undoubtedly was, but in such guise that the captain’s cap fell from his hand for wonder and surprise. Her hair was powdered with the red dust, and her dress so torn and stained that if ever he had been in doubt of his heart’s desire, the plight of the girl made it plain. There she sat, eating her cake, apparently unconcerned, her eyes upon the wicker tray between her knees, — she of whom he dreamed by night and thought by day, the light of whose eye was dearer than the king’s oriflamme, and whose laugh was sweeter than all other of God’s sounds.
“ Captain,” said Heluiz, “ we have fallen into words over the Avars ” —
“ Whether they have the faces of apes or of men,” interrupted Gesualda. “ Hast thou not heard the song about Sigehert, how his army took flight at the mere sight of the Huns ? My mother told it me when I was young.”
A chorus of laughter greeted this evidence of the little maid’s age; but still the captain could not tear his gaze away from Passe Rose, in whom, it was now evident to all, he took more interest than in the Avars.
Although quietly eating her bean cake, a storm of emotions tore Passe Rose’s heart: shame at the contrast between her and the laughing girls, and a burning dread lest Gui should deem she had sought him out; envy of all the joyous ease and rich attire about her, and scorn for it all in comparison with what she herself could give ; a bitter anger against injustice, and a sense of loss made doubly keen at the sight of things beyond her reach ; but most of all the consciousness of the captain’s gaze, for its open eloquence caused her both fear and exultation. It was to measure the effect of this gaze that she lifted her eyes, and saw the curious glances fixed upon the captain and herself. Even Gesualda had forgotten the Avars.
With an effort Passe Rose stood up, confused before so many eyes.
“ Art thou rested ? ” said Heluiz kindly. But the girl could make no answer.
“ Bid the captain give her shelter for the night, Mistress Chlodine,” said Agnes; but the tone of the voice was at such variance with the meaning of the word that a sudden fire blazed on Passe Rose’s face, and the eyes of the two met with a shock as when flint strikes flint and the fire flashes between. Neither knew cause for enmity ; but as often one feels more than is perceived, so a secret foreboding filled their hearts with mistrust and defiance. It seemed as if each forgot her own beauty at the sight of the other’s, and it were hard to tell what had happened (for the rest looked on in wonder) had not Gui stepped boldly forward, taking Passe Rose’s hand, and saying, “ Were the king here, shelter and food were surely thine, and in his name I offer them.” With this, delaying for no reply, he led her down the step to where the page stood in waiting, and, being still observed of all, gave her into his charge without further words, and returned to answer Gesualda’s question.
“ I have followed the Count Theudoric from the Kamp to the Vaag,” he said, pushing back the hair from his forehead, “ but have seen more apes in France than in all the land of the Avars.”
“ By what sign dost thou know them ? ” asked Gesualda, in doubt whether he was in jest or earnest.
“ By a certain chattering speech, — without meaning or purpose,” replied the captain.
“ I think thine hath overmuch of both,” said the girl, hot with vexation. It was evident to all that things were not as they had been before the stranger’s coming, and Gesualda, losing all interest in the Huns and eager to repay the captain’s thrust, divined the point of attack in spite of his nonchalant manner. “ Mistress Chlodine,” she said innocently, and plying fast her needle, “ after working on the queen’s valance, I am sure the king would grudge us no pastime at supper. Here is this girl, who doubtless hath tales of adventure, or can otherwise divert us with jugglers’ tricks or even rope-dancing ” —
“ Nay,” interposed Gui abruptly, “ let the girl rest; she hath walked from Maestricht ” —
“From Maestricht! exclaimed Gesualda, lifting her eyebrows. “ Hath she taught thee her conjurer’s art ? She said no word, and yet thou knowest whence she came.”
“ I saw her in the abbey of St. Servais,” stammered the captain, getting nearer the truth than would have many another in like vexation.
Gesualda contented herself with a glance at Agnes and a subdued laugh, indicating vast amusement over something she chose not to utter.
“For my part,” said Heluiz of Hesbaye, “ I had far rather ride to Aix this very evening. The moon is full, and I love dearly to see the wood by night.”
“ Aye, let us have all,” chimed in Gesualda : “ dances at supper, the moon on the plain, and torches for the wood.”
So lively a murmur of approbation greeted this proposition that Mistress Chlodine smiled assent, and at the same time took the cover of gilded leather from the needle-case on her knees as a signal that work was over. The embroidery was quickly folded in its silken cover; there was rustling of robes, flashing of beads, and chatter of loosened voices ; a score of light feet pattered over the terrace floor, a half score gowns swept the steps, and the pleasance was left to the birds and the leaf shadows.
“ Who is she, — the one with the ermine kirtle ?” Passe Rose had asked of the page, as she followed him down the path.
“With the ermine kirtle ?” said the page, turning to see whom the girl designated. “ Oh, that is Agnes of Solier. She is betrothed to the captain who commands the guard ; ” and half closing his eye with an expressive glance at Passe Rose, “ They say she is a king’s daughter.”
A bat sweeping from the night gloom into a blaze of candles would be no more dazed than was Passe Rose when, from the silence and twilight of the wood, she stepped into the maidens’ chatter and the light of her lover’s eye. Fascinated by the scene before her, and gladdened at heart in the midst of her misery by the sight of Gui, yet through all the maze of her feeling ran a single thought like a leading-string, — to escape again, and free herself from suspicion of seeking aught at his hand. But when she heard the page’s answer, the design she had formed to outwit the boy between the terrace and the gate passed clean from her mind. She followed him now willingly, the image of Agnes of Solier in her ermine kirtle before her eyes, heeding so little whither she went that she neither saw the soldiers about the gate nor observed the woman to whom the page committed her; and when her thoughts returned, there she was — like one who, waking from sleep, sits up in bed — alone, on a bench in a sort of alcove, curtained off from view. A mat of reeds covered the floor, and a bed of moss and dry leaves was spread in the corner. Pushing aside the curtain, she saw a large room, with seats ranged along the wall, and a table before the fireplace, at which a woman was cooking. The light fell full in her face from the door opposite, so that at first she could distinguish nothing clearly at the farther end of the vast apartment ; but on shielding her eyes from the sun, she perceived a monk seated at the table. He had apparently just finished his afternoon meal, for, taking a cloth from his bag and wiping his mouth, he pushed his seat to the wall, near the fireplace, where, with hands locked over his paunch, he composed himself to slumber.
Having cleared the table of its cup and platter, the attendant raked the unburnt sticks from the fire, and disappeared in the shadows beyond. Passe Rose was about to let fall the curtain, when a woman whom she recognized as one she had seen on the terrace entered the doorway. Casting a quick glance behind her, the latter traversed the room with a rapid but timid step, as if seeking some one, and seeing the monk dozing near the fire hastened towards him. So light was her footfall that the monk knew nothing of her approach till he felt her hand upon his shoulder.
“ Dost thou return to Maestricht tonight ? ” she asked, checking his surprise by her question.
Passe Rose listened.
“ I am told,” continued the speaker, “ thou art a holy man, much esteemed by the Prior Sergius.”
Passe Rose could not hear the monk’s reply, for his voice was thick, but its tones betrayed satisfaction.
“ I have a message to send him, and lest thy memory should be overtaxed I have committed it to writing. Where is thy money-bag ? ”
The monk showed the bag whence he had taken the napkin.
“ Is it secure ? ” asked the woman, testing its cord, and at the same time putting within it some things she drew from her bosom. “ Deliver it into the prior’s own hand without fail, and may God keep thee.”
Followed by the monk, the speaker retraced her steps, and Passe Rose, fearing to be seen, let go the curtain.
“ Remember thou givest the parchment into the prior’s own hand. Thou shouldst have heard the queen praise thy work ; it was marvelous.”
“ Honey-tongue ! ” thought Passe Rose. They were now close by, and she could not resist the temptation to part the curtain again the width of her eye; and there, beaming with self-complacency, stood the monk who rode the gray mule.
“From whom shall I say—should the prior ask ” — he stammered, under the woman’s soft eyes.
The latter hesitated, balancing something in her mind. Then, after a moment, “ Rothilde,” she whispered.
“ By St. Martin,” thought Passe Rose, “ the gospel was right.”
“ Here comes thy mule. God speed thee,” said the woman to the monk, and, retreating from the doorway to escape the observation of those who brought the mule, she glided down the room and disappeared in the obscurity.
Brother Dominic, little thinking that only a hempen curtain separated him from the demon, smiled in the doorway. He had expected to win the queen’s praise, but it was news to him that he stood high in the prior’s favor. As for the woman’s voice, it was sweeter than the king’s wine.
“ If the sight of me were not too much for thee, dear monk,” said Passe Rose, thinking of Friedgis, “ I also would entrust thee with a message.”
The mule was at the door, and Brother Dominic was preparing to mount. “ Hold thyself steady till I am firmly on,” he said coaxingly. “ So — there, now, by God’s grace we will reach Visé to-night, and to-morrow ” —
“ Good father ” —said a voice within the door, from behind the curtain. The monk turned in his seat as best he could, but discovered no one. “ As thou goest from the square of St. Sebastian by the house of Werdric the goldsmith, knock at the garden gate, and say to Jeanne, his wife, that I am well, and send her greeting.”
Partly from surprise and partly because of the mule’s impatience, Brother Dominic found no reply at hand. To tell the truth, he had fully recovered from neither the wine taken at supper nor the nap so suddenly interrupted.
“My voice is not so sweet as the other’s,” continued Passe Rose, “ but if thou givest my message I will thank thee none the less ; and if it tax not thy memory overmuch, say the sender is Passe Rose.”
By this time Brother Dominic had lost all hope of checking the mule’s ardor. It was enough for him if he were able to guide the beast through the gateway, through which, however, he passed in safety, but with sorely confused ideas of his messages, their mysterious senders, and those to whom he was to deliver them.
Having watched the monk through the. gate, and waited till all was silent again, Passe Rose, satisfied that she was alone, unlaced her sleeve, loosed the band about her hair, and, kneeling down beside the shallow basin on the floor, near the bed, began to bathe her face and neck in the cool water. While she was thus occupied came Gesualda with Heluiz of Hesbaye, — the former having sought permission to bring the girl to supper, the latter accompanying her at the command of Mistress Chlodine, who would as soon have trusted a filly in the open field as Gesualda with liberty. Passe Rose had taken her dagger from her bosom, and, bending above the basin, was parting her long hair with the blade’s point, so that she neither saw nor heard anything till, throwing back the hair from before her eyes, she looked up, and perceived the two standing hand in hand without the parted curtain. Gesualda’s face was pretty enough ; what it lacked the queen’s toilet chest could not furnish, — a certain depth of expression beyond her years ; yet Passe Rose passed it by to rest her gaze upon Heluiz, who looked neither upon her soiled feet nor her disheveled hair, but steadfastly, with a kindly promise of amity, into her eyes.
“ Thou hast a stout comb,” said Gesualda, who had watched the dagger’s passage through the shining hair.
“It hath served many a purpose,” replied Passe Rose, seeking to fasten the neck-band over her bosom, while still looking at Heluiz.
Nothing daunted, Gesualda advanced and sat down on the bench’s edge.
“ I have an ivory one, white as a dog’s tooth, I will give thee, for a tale or a dance at supper,” she said, scrutinizing the bells which bordered Passe Rose’s dress.
Little had the latter thought, when boasting to Friedgis beside the abbey pond, that she was to dance like the water stars for those that shine in the sky ; but her pride was numbed with the dread of leaving the place. Had the servants driven her from the gate, she would have hovered about the skirt of wood. Her thought was no more of silk or pearls ; she had lost all memory of Jeanne’s tears, the shame of their parting, and the weary journey in the forest; a single face barred every way to which her thought turned, the face of Agnes of Solier, and the bitterness and loneliness of her heart uprose in a single hate against this face which stood between her and her soul’s desire. For the love which unawares had consoled her in her wandering, self-confessed and unrebuked, now mastered every other desire.
“ Wilt thou come ? ” persisted Gesualda.
“ I am ready,” replied Passe Rose, rising from her knees.
The three crossed the room to the doorway through which Rothilde had passed, Gesualda leading. This door led to a flight of stairs, which they ascended to the floor above, where a corridor with openings upon the court conducted to a spacious vestibule. Between its pillars hung white cloths fringed with purple, and, as they entered, sounds of approaching voices were heard between the curtains. Whispering a word to Gesualda, Heluiz drew Passe Rose aside. The voices grew louder, two pages held back the swaying drapery, and a merry company came forth from the room beyond. It was the women of the princesses’ service passing to supper.
“ Come with me,” said Heluiz, taking Passe Rose by the hand, and drawing her into the apartment whence the women had issued. Hurrying across it to one of the smaller rooms surrounding its three sides, she called to a servingmaid loitering by the water-tank, and, putting into Passe Rose’s fingers the key she took from her girdle, said, “ Take what thou wilt from the chest within ; thou canst return it when supper is ended ; ” and to the maid, “ Bring water for her feet, give her sandals, and wait upon her ; ” saying which, she hastened back to join the others at supper. The maid, filling her basin from the pool, regarded. Passe Rose with curiosity. Passe Rose, alone with the maid, looked about her in no less wonder. Sitting where she was bidden, she gave herself over to the girl’s service, gazing down at her own feet in the limpid water which curled about her ankles, giving forth a scent of roses under the maid’s hand. Having finished her task, with a sulky face at having to serve one whom she took to be of no dignity or degree, the maid stood by, waiting to see what orders Passe Rose dared to give. But Passe Rose did not observe her. The warm colors on the walls, the soft cushions of brilliant hues, the lustre of enameled tiles strewn with sweet-smelling herbs, delighted her senses, and, refreshed by the cooling water, she sat gazing about her, holding the key in her hand. The girl brought her sandals, finished with soft leather reaching halfway to the knee, and, suiting her motions to the maid’s endeavor, Passe Rose was watching the fitting of the hooks in the silver eyelets, when the wind lifted the curtain of the vestibule, bringing the sound of voices from those at supper.
She rose quickly to her feet, saying “ Enough ! ” to her curious attendant, and entered the side room which Heluiz had designated. A couch covered with a serge cloth occupied one angle ; in the other stood the chest whose key she held ; between these a square window, high up, admitted the light from the corridor. Below the window was a recess in the wall, containing a mirror of polished metal mounted on a bronze stand, with other articles of toilet. From among these Passe Rose took a comb and a long silken band, and began to braid her hair, still hanging over her shoulders, weaving the band in and out deftly between the braids. Having finished, she fitted the key to the chest’s clasp and raised the lid. On the top lay a mantle, covered with the finest plumage of the peacock’s neck and bordered with swan’s down, and above her shone the mirror, with the lines of her sloping shoulders in its dark face. She smoothed the mantle with her finger-tips, lifted it cautiously to feel its weight, held it high in the beam of light, then spread it about her neck. To slip the pin in the double clasp at the throat was the work of a moment; the touch of the plumage upon her down-bent chin was soft to feel, hut to observe the garment well she must needs turn her head with a sidewise glance over her shoulders, and there, in the doorway, stood Jessé, the page, his eye sparkling with admiration, and his message sticking fast in his throat.
Thinking he summoned her to supper, Passe Rose laid the mantle quickly in the chest, turning the key, and, taking the boy’s hand, crossed the room. But on reaching the vestibule the youth found his tongue.
“ The captain, Gui of Tours,” he stammered, holding out her collar of gold, " bade me bring thee this token that he waits in the strangers’ court to speak with thee.”
Passe Rose took the jewel from his outstretched hand.
“ Dost thou know the place where they are at supper?” she asked, smiling upon him.
“ Surely,” replied the boy; “ it is there, straight on,” pointing the way.
“ Go tell the captain,” said Passe Rose, “ that I am gone to dance before Agnes of Solier, his betrothed, having a fancy to see her so strong that I cannot come.”Saying which she left the page gazing after her, and disappeared in the direction he had indicated.
Not since she saw the candle burning in her chamber window on her return from the abbey of St. Servais. had Passe Rose felt so light of heart as now, entering the supper-room of Immaburg. In its doorway she stood on the threshold of her ambition, and Jeanne’s garden seemed far away. Have you seen the bright edge of clouds piled high against the sun’s disk at dusk ? The passage of the Lady Adelhaide with her train in the streets of Maestricht had been nothing less to Passe Rose than that glimpse of splendor lying on the farther side of the cloud, where the sun is ; and here she was, passing into the glory of the king’s court, where, come what might, she was resolved to stay.
As she entered, servants were removing from the dresser a quarter of roedeer garnished with flowers and jelly of loach; others were bringing wine and spices, and Passe Rose, who lived to the full each passing moment, while searching for Agnes of Solier among those at table, saw these and many other things, enjoying all as they were her own. She took no notice of the surprise occasioned by her coming before she was bidden, turning her eyes slowly from face to face till they fell upon Agnes, sitting in the chief seat, Mistress Chlodine being in chapel at prayers for the safety of the night journey.
“ Come hither; have no fear,” said Gesualda, who, although the youngest, was the readiest with her tongue.
Advancing slowly to the centre of the room, Passe Rose stopped, her gaze still fixed upon Agnes of Solier.
“ What is thy name ? ” asked the latter, washing her hands in the basin offered by a page.
“ Passe Rose,” replied the girl, returning the curious glances directed upon her, and observing Rothilde at Agnes’ side.
“Passe Rose?” repeated Gesualda. " That is a strange name. Whence dost thou come ? ”
“ From whence the swallows come at night,” replied Passe Rose.
“ Hast thou no master, no kin ? ” asked Agnes of Solier. “ Nay ; I am free.”
“ Thou saidst thou wouldst dance for us,” said Gesualda. “ Thou hast a pretty foot, since it goes into the sandals of Heluiz.”
“ I danced once before the Queen Hildegarde, and I have made a vow to dance no more except before a queen,” replied Passe Rose.
Gesualda opened wide her eyes. “ Before Queen Hildegarde ! Pray what is thine age ? ”
At this moment Passe Rose caught Rothilde’s eye, and, without heeding Gesualda’s question, began to fasten about her neck the collar Gui had sent by the page, exposing it full to view. The Saxon uttered a cry of surprise.
“Whence hadst thou my collar?” she exclaimed, spilling her cup as she leaned forward over the table.
“ By St. Martin,” replied Passe Rose carelessly, “that is the question which Friedgis, the Saxon serf who keeps the gate for the monks of the blessed St. Servais, asked me, and I am tired of answering it.”
At the mention of Friedgis’ name Rothilde fell back in her seat, turning pale.
“ What ails thee ? ” asked Agnes, observing her pallor. “ If the jewel is thine ” —
“ Give it her to see! ” exclaimed Gesualda. “ Bid her give it, Agnes ! ” she said excitedly, rising from the table, with a glance of suspicion at Passe Rose.
As she spoke, Gui appeared in the doorway, and at the sound of his step an insolent light gleamed in Passe Rose’s eyes. The message she had sent her lover by the page, seasoned though it was with bitterness and cold with seeming indifference, was little else than the call of the wounded bird to its mate; and when first her ear caught his step she knew for whom he came.
“ The jewel was given me by my lover,” she said, looking straight into Agnes’ face, “ and I swore at the time to give it into no hand but his.”
“ Let it pass,” whispered Heluiz to Agnes, pressing her hand beneath the table. But the words on the latter’s lips were beyond restraint. Gui’s first glance had been for Passe Rose. Agnes had noted it well. “ Captain,” she said haughtily, “ bring me, I pray thee, the girl’s collar, that I may show it to Rothilde.”
“ Thou hast chosen well.” said Passe Rose, turning for the first time to Gui. “It was the captain who gave it me, and he may have it if he will.”
Between differences of wealth and station, where no love is, a man may waver; but for Gui to be at Passe Rose’s side was station enough, and the message in her eyes more than gold. “To this girl,” he said, taking her hand,
“ I gave the protection of the king. Since that is not ample to cover her, henceforth she is under mine.”
There was not one present who, at these words, did not expect from the king’s favorite some angry retort or harsh command, and not one, remembering afterwards how she bore herself, doubted the story of her birth ; for she only laughed, fondling the hound beside her chair, and, rising from table, bade the others follow her, saying to Gui, as she passed, that the girl was safe now, and she felt at ease to prepare for the journey, — just as often the king himself, when vexed or even insulted, had been seen to put the occasion by with a jest, and bide his time.
“ If the girl has not the chance to dance in truth before a queen, and a king also, ere her oath is a week older, then am I no prophet,” thought Gesualda, as they left the room.
Scarcely were they gone, whispering together, with backward glances, than Passe Rose began to speak, as if she would give the captain no chance to utter a word.
“ I fell on the Saxon maid at the first cast,” she said, struggling to command her voice; but her bravery was over, and she retreated towards the table, facing Gui, who followed her. “ Thou shouldst have seen her face. When I put on the collar she cried out, asking whence I had it. Did I not tell thee, in the field ? I said to her the serf ” —
“ I heard thine answer, — that thy lover gave it thee.”
“Nay,” said Passe Rose hurriedly. Her eyes shone and her voice faltered. “ I said the serf Friedgis put me the same question. Thereupon the Saxon turned white. Does a woman wax pale and swoon on finding her lover ? ” Gui, advancing, smiled, and Passe Rose knew the color on her cheek was answer to her question. Still receding, she found her retreat cut off by Agnes’ chair. The collar bound her swelling throat, and the words fell nervously from her lips. “ She sent a message to the prior by the monk. Her voice is like honey and wine. The monk was drunk with it. She hath soft eyes, looking down. I hate such ” —
Gui took both her hands. “ I love thee,” he said.
Passe Rose trembled from head to foot.
“ I love thee.” repeated the captain. His words enveloped her like a mist. In an instant his arms were about her. Power to speak, to stand, strength of will and limb alike, were failing her, when suddenly, like a spark out of the dark, came the thought of Agnes of Solier. A quiver ran through her body, and she slid from his arms into the chair, hiding her face with her hands.
Seizing them by the wrists, the captain drew them away, and uncovered her eyes.
“How happens it, being betrothed to”—the words died on her lips — “ that thou lovest me ? ” She had twisted her wrists from his grasp, and, shrinking back in the chair, trembled.
“ I swear ” — cried Gui passionately, seeking her hands. “ Sh ! ” said Passe Rose, leaning forward suddenly, and covering his mouth with her fingers.
It was Mistress Chlodine returning from prayers. Her eye glanced down the deserted table, and she had certainly discovered Passe Rose, crouching breathless in the chair, had not the captain come boldly forward between the two.
“ Countess,” said he courteously, but chafing inwardly, “the sixth hour is just called, and time presses. To a man on a good horse an hour is nothing, but with baggage and women’s litters ” —
“Have no fear,” she replied. “In an hour’s time all will be ready,” and she passed out whither the others had gone, observing nothing, for the room, dimly lighted from without, was growing dark.
Now it happened that Brother Dominic, whether because of the wine he had at supper or the conversation he had with Rothilde, whose presence lingered with him like odor of musk, had gotten no farther than the outer gate, when he began to query whether the written message in his pouch or the spoken one of Passe Rose was for the prior. In vain did he cudgel both his wits and the mule; and having so excellent a reason for hearing that sweet voice again, he turned back to the room where he had supped. Finding it empty, he left the mule at the door, making inquiries of all he met for two women, — though his thoughts were of one only,—till at last, full of misgivings, and so bewildered by many turnings that he began to think of nothing but to find his mule again, he came up the private stair from the oratory to the supper-room just as Mistress Chlodine finished speaking, to find himself face to face with the captain, furious at this second interruption. It was enough for Brother Dominic to be thus confronted by one whom he thought beyond redemption in the grasp of the demon; for he had not seen the captain since they parted on the abbey road. What then was his terror on seeing the demon also advancing upon him from behind the captain. With no thought but of flight, the monk retreated precipitately into the corridor; but before he had passed the door Passe Rose had him by the sleeve.
Holding him fast, — an easy task, — “Go thou,” she said to Gui, who looked on in amazement. “ Nay, listen,” for the captain advanced towards her: “ go thou and prepare a litter for me also, and come again quickly to the chapel.” An exclamation of love and remonstrance burst from the captain’s lips. “ Nay,” cried Passe Rose, stretching out her arm forbiddingly. “As thou lovest me, go; and, as thou lovest me, come shortly.” Saying which, she drew the monk with her into the passage, leaving the astonished captain as she had left him in the wood of Hesbaye, and on the road which descends to Maestricht, consumed with love, yet loath to disobey.
Deserted by the captain, and alone with the girl in an obscure corridor, Brother Dominic planted his feet as firmly as ever his mule had done, making the sign of the cross above his tormentor’s head.
“ Blood and death! ” cried Passe Rose, in no mood to trifle with his terror, “ art thou mad ? Only show me the way to the chapel. Do demons seek the altars of God ? ” Somewhat assured by this reflection, Brother Dominic ceased his gesticulations, but still stood, obstinate, his back against the wall. “ Feel my arm,” said Passe Rose, thrusting it under his nose; “ hath a devil flesh and blood ? Do thou pass first, and I will follow.” By no means convinced, but persuaded that compliance was the door of his safety, the monk shuffled down the corridor, taking by good luck the stair to the chapel, for he had no recollection of the way he had come. The private stair by which they descended opened directly into the porch in front of the curtain. “ May the blessed St. Servais reward thee,” said Passe Rose, as they emerged into the air. A few penitents, who had been listening to the service within, were still prostrated before the curtain. “ Hast thou the message safe which I gave thee?” she whispered in his ear. “I thought by this time thou wouldst be well on thy way.”
“ The message ” — stammered the monk, bewildered, and fumbling in his bag.
“ Aye, for the prior — quick — let me see.”
“ Here it is,” replied the monk, drawing it forth ; “ but surely it was the other gave it me.”
“ What other ? ” said Passe Rose, taking it quickly. “ Tut, tut, dear monk, thou art bewitched. Say to the prior I have more to add to it, and will send it by the captain when next he goes to inquire for the abbot’s health. Farewell.” With this she wrapped the parchment about her dagger, with the other found by the abbey pond, and lifting the curtain disappeared within.
The torches which had been lighted during the vesper service were extinguished, and for a moment. Passe Rose could see nothing but the candle of yellow wax burning under the cupola of the altar. As she went down the nave she put out her hand instinctively before her, till, becoming accustomed to the gloom, she perceived the reading-desks in front of the chancel and the iron gates leading into the choir. Opening one of these gates, she passed in, and stood contemplating the altar. The curtains between the columns supporting the canopy were drawn aside, and the dove containing the Eucharist, hanging by four silver chains between the pillars, was visible. Behind the altar, on the screen, stood two angels collecting in a cup the blood flowing from the feet of the Christ on a cross above them. Below the angels was a manger, within which was represented an infant wrapped in swaddling-clothes. Passe Rose gazed in silence at these things, which seemed profoundly to affect her. Her face shone, and one hand rested on her bosom. If she thought of the image lying broken on the floor of her chamber where she had hurled it, she made no effort to reconcile that act of anger with her present purpose. One thing she knew. — she loved ; and this love, unutterably precious, in which she exulted and for which she trembled, she had brought to the protecting shelter of the power so mysteriously symbolized in the emblems before her. Absorbed in contemplation, she remained motionless, scarcely breathing, when a voice close beside her said : —
“ Woman, what seekest thou ? ”
Passe Rose turned her head, and saw a priest. Hearing the clang of the chancel gate, he had come out from the vestry, where he was disrobing, and perceiving a woman within the railing, whose upturned face he scrutinized in vain, and whose strange dress proclaimed her no ordinary inmate of the villa, had hastened to ask her errand. Passe Rose seemed in no wise surprised by his presence. She stood smiling, her hand still resting on her bosom.
“ Whom seekest thou ? ” repeated the priest.
Passe Rose turned her ear to the porch and listened. The neighing of horses in the court could be heard, but the church was silent. “ Father,” she said, “ we have need of thy blessing. Come.” Descending the chancel stair, she opened the gate, and listened again. It was evident that she expected some one, and the priest, following her motions, peered into the darkness which enveloped them. “ Have patience,” whispered Passe Rose, “ he will come; let us wait in the porch,” and she extended her hand.
“For whom dost thou wait?” asked the priest, observing the girl suspiciously.
A quick blush overran her face. “ Knowest thou the captain, Gui of Tours ? ” The priest assented. “ It is he—we seek thy blessing.” The captain was well known to the priest, and, seeing the girl color, he doubted not into what manner of adventure she had fallen. “ Come,” she stammered. Chilled by the expression on his face, she began to tremble.
“ Thou hast sinned,” he said gravely, eying her steadfastly.
Passe Rose looked up quickly. “ Nay, to love — that is no sin ” — She stopped, her confusion increasing. “ Is it not in the porch that they who love receive thy blessing ? Said I not we seek it ? ” Her voice faltered. She read on his face the expression she had seen on that of Friedgis, by the pond.
“ Is she mad or foolish ? ” the priest was saying to himself.
“ Knowest thou not that Gui of Tours is betrothed ? The king himself was present at the espousals. Who art thou ? Tell me all,” he said gently, for he saw her limbs tremble as with cold.
But Passe Rose, retreating through the gate, shook her head. “ He will come,” she murmured; “ he hath promised.”
“ To marry thee ? ” Passe Rose, holding fast to the gate, nodded. So astonished was the priest that he smiled incredulously. At this smile the girl quivered like a tree when the lance strikes fast in its heart. “ Daughter,” he said gently, “ the blessing thou seekest were of no avail ” —
“ Thou refusest!” interrupted Passe Rose hoarsely. The priest sighed. The girl had turned away her eyes, and was gazing at the altar. Beside the screen were two nuptial crowns. Suddenly she drew herself erect. “ It is well — thy blessings are for the great — Because I come to thy porch with no train of damsels nor sponsors ” — Her throat swelled. “ If I brought thee my shame, thou wouldst receive it. I have come with my love, and thou wilt have none of it. So be it, — so be it,” she repeated to herself, casting a scornful glance at the altar. “ The Saxon spoke well; henceforth thy king and thy God are nothing to me.”
Hot with passion, she had scarce passed the chancel gate when she saw the captain, who, entranced by her promise to accompany him that night to Aix, advanced eagerly from the porch to meet her. She stopped short, her feet rooted to the flagstone like a tree to the soil. The blood ran from her face and neck ; with a convulsive effort to reach the priest’s side, she cried, “ Father, save me! ” Then the walls rocked before her eyes, as the walls of the house before the eyes of the revelers, when Samson laid hold of the pillars.
When she awoke, she felt the cool autumn air upon her face. Was she still in the wood of Hesbaye ? Nay, she thought, raising herself on her elbows. She was in a cart, and her limbs were sore with the jolting. Crawling to the opening, she looked out from under the cover of skins. A long cavalcade of wagons and horsemen stretched before her. Through the smoke of the torches she saw stars and waving branches. The red flames streamed in the wind, and shone on the metal plates of the harness. Returning to her rough bed, she endeavored to collect her thoughts, watching the reflections dancing on the covering over her head. All at once these reflections disappeared in a man’s shadow. She lifted her head. “ Hush! ” said a voice which made her blood quicken. “ Art thou well? There is wine beside thee. Reach hither thy hand.” She put forth her hand. “ I swore to the priest by the sacred books, and thou hast his blessing. Art thou satisfied ? ” A hand pressed hers to the lips which spoke. “ Sleep on, and fear nothing.” Passe Rose lay down again. The jolting cart pained her no longer. She had no need of wine or sleep. An ecstasy of joy possessed her, and she smiled, alone, in the darkness.
If one has not seen in midwinter a gray birch copse filled quickly with such a wealth of sun that the very buds seem to swell, though the ice-drops hang from the tips of the twigs; if one has not seen a dull waste of sea under a rack of low cloud answer a random slant of sun with a play of such colors as fire the stone in the brooch of the king’s mantle; nay, if one has not felt within his own breast, though for no longer a time than the passing of a bird’s shadow, the presentiment of an endless joy, one would never understand how Passe Rose should so smile and dream on her bed of skins in the king’s baggage-wagon. Fears enough were ready to assail her, pressing close as the night without on the torches, yet held aloof, as it were, by that smile; and just as the torches’ flame flared brighter and their fiery sparks leaped higher for the very thickness of the shadows, so was her joy sharpened by her heart’s hunger.
Suddenly the wagon stopped ; there was neighing of frightened horses and stamping of hoofs on the loose stones, for they had come to the ford of the Wurm, and the water was high because of the rains. Rising on her hands and knees, Passe Rose peered between the loosely sewed covering. Blocked by those in advance, the wagons stood three abreast at the edge of the shoal. She could see horsemen sounding the river shallows with their lances, the glare of uplifted torches reflected in their armor plates and dancing on the swollen waters. The foremost wagon was already midway in the stream ; its horses, snorting with fear, pricked forward their ears, scattering the spray at every hesitating step upon the leather pleatings of their riders’ tunics. “ Is there danger ? ” cried Mistress Chlodine, from the wagon in front.
“ Nay,” replied a horseman, “ the bottom is firm ; have no fear.”
Passe Rose, widening the crevice between the skins with her fingers, searched for the captain. As she looked, a low, familiar voice issuing from the adjoining wagon caught her ear. The axle-ends touched each other, and the words came distinctly : —
“ Tell me, then, dear Rothilde, what it is that wins a man’s fancy. If to be a king’s daughter, and to possess beauty ” — Then the words were lost amid the shoutings.
Passe Rose pressed her ear to the opening.
“ Which thinkest thou hast the greater beauty ? ” said the voice of Gesualda again.
“ It is plain what the captain thought,” replied the other ; then a horse shook himself, and the voice was drowned in the rattle of the harness.
“ One would say she thought to wed him on the spot,” laughed Gesualda.
“ He will have her no other way, mark me.”
“ Saints of God ! a dancing-girl ” —
“ Moreover, the captain will do her bidding,” pursued the other. " I noted them both well. She hath his heart, and the king himself cannot buy it from her with the treasure of the Huns, though for his own daughter.”
“ What a king cannot possess he destroys,” said Gesualda, significantly; “ thou shouldst know that well, being a Saxon.”
There was a moment of silence.
“ If Agnes will let him. Dost thou not remember what the priest read yester morning: how, when Solomon would have divided the child between the mothers ” —
“ The case is far different,” interrupted Gesualda. " Which is easier,— for a dancing-girl to give herself to a captain, or for a king’s daughter to forget an injury ? For if he had Agnes’ heart, he gave it back to her in presence of us all. Mark well what I tell thee, — this business will cost him dear. One hath his heart; the other will have his head " —
“ Heu, heu ! forward ! ” cried a horseman, brandishing his torch. The voices ceased, the horses strained to the task, and the wagon whence the voices proceeded entered the river.
Like the dazed hound, mute under the scourge of its master, so, on her knees, dazed and powerless to reason, Passe Rose remained motionless. “ The other will have his head; ” and then, like the cut of a whip’s lash, “ Strumpet ! ” cried the voice of Werdric. Her own wagon began to move. A hand thrust aside the covering in front, and she saw the captain.
“ Art thou afraid ? ”
He made a movement as if to enter. She held up her hand. He smiled, his eyes shining under the steel rim of his helmet, then disappeared. Crawlinglike a cat over the skins to the rear of the wagon, Passe Rose drew her dagger from her bosom and made a rent in the covering. She could hear the gurgle of running waters, the wagon swayed on the rolling stones, then the wheels sank in the yielding sand, — they were over. The leather thong fastening the curtain was knotted tightly. She took her dagger again, and widened the rent clean to the bottom. The edge was keen, and in her haste to thrust the weapon back in her garment she cut her wrist. Lifting the flap, she put out her head. The night was dark, there were none behind her— the way was open. About to leap, yet she could not stir ; it seemed to her that her heart was in a vise, that it was not beating. Looking down, she saw the blood upon her wrist. Wetting her finger in the spot, she drew on the covering of the wagon a large heart transfixed by a dagger, — such as she had seen of marchpane and sugared sweets at the fair of St. Denis. The sight of this heart seemed to give her pleasure as she contemplated it. " Heu, heu ! ” cried a driver. With a rapid twist of her dagger she cut out the heart, hid it with the blade in her bosom, and leaped.
The entire train had crossed the ford, and the momentary disorder caused by the passage was repaired. The foremost wagons, having waited for those which followed, had begun to move again ; the escort were taking their places; and the horsemen, appointed to close the march, galloping down the line, wheeled into position almost on the spot where Passe Rose had leaped.
“ By the mass ! ” exclaimed one, leaning forward on his horse’s neck and examining the rent covering, “one would say the claws of a wild-cat.”
The other — that Gascon who would have saved the captain from the demon on the road to Maestricht, and who, having seen the captain return sound of body, but indisposed to answer the questions put to him, and having, moreover, assisted in secretly carrying Passe Rose to this very wagon as the train drew out from the court at Immaburg, was ready to swear there was more flesh than spirit in the business — thrust his torch eagerly through the rent. " The cage is empty,” he said, withdrawing his torch, and, beginning to believe that the monk was right, he put spurs to his horse, and hastened to tell the captain.
Arthur Sherburne Hardy .