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Yet this inconstancy is such,
As thou, too, shalt adore;
I could not love thee, love so much,
Loved I not honour more.
 WHEN King Richard returned to his tent, he commanded the Nubian
to be brought before him. He entered with his usual ceremonial
reverence, and having prostrated himself, remained standing
before the King in the attitude of a slave awaiting the orders of
his master. It was perhaps well for him that the preservation of
his character required his eyes to be fixed on the ground, since
the keen glance with which Richard for some time surveyed him in
silence would, if fully encountered, have been difficult to
"Thou canst well of woodcraft," said the King, after a pause,
"and hast started thy game and brought him to bay as ably as if
Tristrem himself had taught thee. [A universal tradition
ascribed to Sir Tristrem, famous for his love of the fair Queen
Yseult, the laws concerning the practice of woodcraft, or
VENERIE, as it was called, being those that related to the rules
of the chase, which were deemed of much consequence during the
Middle Ages.] But this is not all—he must be brought down at
force. I myself would have liked to have levelled my hunting-spear at him.
There are, it seems, respects which prevent this.
Thou art about to return to the camp of the Soldan, bearing a
letter, requiring of his courtesy to appoint neutral ground for
the deed of chivalry, and should it consist with his pleasure, to
concur with us in witnessing it. Now, speaking conjecturally, we
think thou mightst find in that camp some cavalier who, for the
love of truth and his own augmentation of honour, will do battle
with this same traitor of Montserrat."
The Nubian raised his eyes and fixed them on the King with a look
of eager ardour; then raised them to Heaven with such solemn
gratitude that the water soon glistened in them; then bent his
head, as affirming what Richard desired, and resumed his usual
posture of submissive attention.
"It is well," said the King; "and I see thy desire to oblige me
in this matter. And herein, I must needs say, lies the
excellence of such a servant as thou, who hast not speech either
to debate our purpose or to require explanation of what we have
determined. An English serving man in thy place had given me his
dogged advice to trust the combat with some good lance of my
household, who, from my brother Longsword downwards, are all on
fire to do battle in my cause; and a chattering Frenchman had
made a thousand attempts to discover wherefore I look for a
champion from the camp of the infidels. But thou, my silent
agent, canst do mine errand without questioning or comprehending
it; with thee to hear is to obey."
A bend of the body and a genuflection were the appropriate answer
of the Ethiopian to these observations.
"And now to another point," said the King, and speaking suddenly
and rapidly—"have you yet seen Edith Plantagenet?"
The mute looked up as in the act of being about to speak—nay,
his lips had begun to utter a distinct negative—when the
abortive attempt died away in the imperfect murmurs of the dumb.
"Why, lo you there!" said the King, "the very sound of the name
of a royal maiden of beauty so surpassing as that of our lovely
cousin seems to have power enough well-nigh to make the dumb
speak. What miracles then might her eye work upon such a
subject! I will make the experiment, friend slave. Thou shalt
see this choice beauty of our Court, and do the errand of the
Again a joyful glance—again a genuflection—but, as he arose,
the King laid his hand heavily on his shoulder, and proceeded
with stern gravity thus: "Let me in one thing warn you, my sable
envoy. Even if thou shouldst feel that the kindly influence of
her whom thou art soon to behold should loosen the bonds of thy
tongue, presently imprisoned, as the good Soldan expresses it,
within the ivory walls of its castle, beware how thou changest
thy taciturn character, or speakest a word in her presence, even
if thy powers of utterance were to be miraculously restored.
Believe me that I should have thy tongue extracted by the roots,
and its ivory palace—that is, I presume, its range of teeth
—drawn out one by one. Wherefore, be wise and silent still."
The Nubian, so soon as the King had removed his heavy grasp from
his shoulder, bent his head, and laid his hand on his lips, in
token of silent obedience.
But Richard again laid his hand on him more gently, and added,
"This behest we lay on thee as on a slave. Wert thou knight and
gentleman, we would require thine honour in pledge of thy
silence, which is one especial condition of our present trust."
The Ethiopian raised his body proudly, looked full at the King,
and laid his right hand on his heart.
Richard then summoned his chamberlain.
"Go, Neville," he said, "with this slave to the tent of our royal
consort, and say it is our pleasure that he have an audience—a
private audience—of our cousin Edith. He is charged with a
commission to her. Thou canst show him the way also, in case he
requires thy guidance, though thou mayst have observed it is
wonderful how familiar he already seems to be with the purlieus
of our camp.—And thou, too, friend Ethiop," the King continued,
"what thou dost do quickly, and return hither within the half-hour."
"I stand discovered," thought the seeming Nubian, as, with
downcast looks and folded arms, he followed the hasty stride of
Neville towards the tent of Queen Berengaria—"I stand
undoubtedly discovered and unfolded to King Richard; yet I cannot
perceive that his resentment is hot against me. If I understand
his words—and surely it is impossible to misinterpret them—he
gives me a noble chance of redeeming my honour upon the crest of
this false Marquis, whose guilt I read in his craven eye and
quivering lip when the charge was made against him.—Roswal,
faithfully hast thou served thy master, and most dearly shall thy
wrong be avenged!—But what is the meaning of my present
permission to look upon her whom I had despaired ever to see
again? And why, or how, can the royal Plantagenet consent that I
should see his divine kinswoman, either as the messenger of the
heathen Saladin, or as the guilty exile whom he so lately
expelled from his camp—his audacious avowal of the affection
which is his pride being the greatest enhancement of his guilt?
That Richard should consent to her receiving a letter from an
infidel lover by the hands of one of such disproportioned rank
are either of them circumstances equally incredible, and, at the
same time, inconsistent with each other. But Richard, when
unmoved by his heady passions, is liberal, generous, and truly
noble; and as such I will deal with him, and act according to his
instructions, direct or implied, seeking to know no more than may
gradually unfold itself without my officious inquiry. To him who
has given me so brave an opportunity to vindicate my tarnished
honour, I owe acquiescence and obedience; and painful as it may
be, the debt shall be paid. And yet"—thus the proud swelling
of his heart further suggested—"Coeur de Lion, as he is called,
might have measured the feelings of others by his own. I urge an
address to his kinswoman! I, who never spoke word to her when I
took a royal prize from her hand—when I was accounted not the
lowest in feats of chivalry among the defenders of the Cross! I
approach her when in a base disguise, and in a servile habit—
and, alas! when my actual condition is that of a slave, with a
spot of dishonour on that which was once my shield! I do this!
He little knows me. Yet I thank him for the opportunity which
may make us all better acquainted with each other."
As he arrived at this conclusion, they paused before the entrance
of the Queen's pavilion.
They were of course admitted by the guards, and Neville, leaving
the Nubian in a small apartment, or antechamber, which was but
too well remembered by him, passed into that which was used as
the Queen's presence-chamber. He communicated his royal master's
pleasure in a low and respectful tone of voice, very different
from the bluntness of Thomas de Vaux, to whom Richard was
everything and the rest of the Court, including Berengaria
herself, was nothing. A burst of laughter followed the
communication of his errand.
"And what like is the Nubian slave who comes ambassador on such
an errand from the Soldan?—a negro, De Neville, is he not?" said
a female voice, easily recognized for that of Berengaria. "A
negro, is he not, De Neville, with black skin, a head curled like
a ram's, a flat nose, and blubber lips—ha, worthy Sir Henry?"
"Let not your Grace forget the shin-bones," said another voice,
"bent outwards like the edge of a Saracen scimitar."
"Rather like the bow of a Cupid, since he comes upon a lover's
errand," said the Queen.—"Gentle Neville, thou art ever prompt
to pleasure us poor women, who have so little to pass away our
idle moments. We must see this messenger of love. Turks and
Moors have I seen many, but negro never."
"I am created to obey your Grace's commands, so you will bear me
out with my Sovereign for doing so," answered the debonair
knight. "Yet, let me assure your Grace you will see something
different from what you expect."
"So much the better—uglier yet than our imaginations can fancy,
yet the chosen love-messenger of this gallant Soldan!"
"Gracious madam," said the Lady Calista, "may I implore you would
permit the good knight to carry this messenger straight to the
Lady Edith, to whom his credentials are addressed? We have
already escaped hardly for such a frolic."
"Escaped?" repeated the Queen scornfully. "Yet thou mayest be
right, Calista, in thy caution. Let this Nubian, as thou callest
him, first do his errand to our cousin—besides, he is mute too,
is he not?"
"He is, gracious madam," answered the knight.
"Royal sport have these Eastern ladies," said Berengaria,
"attended by those before whom they may say anything, yet who can
report nothing. Whereas in our camp, as the Prelate of Saint
Jude's is wont to say, a bird of the air will carry the matter."
"Because," said De Neville, "your Grace forgets that you speak
within canvas walls."
The voices sunk on this observation, and after a little
whispering, the English knight again returned to the Ethiopian,
and made him a sign to follow. He did so, and Neville conducted
him to a pavilion, pitched somewhat apart from that of the Queen,
for the accommodation, it seemed, of the Lady Edith and her
attendants. One of her Coptic maidens received the message
communicated by Sir Henry Neville, and in the space of a very few
minutes the Nubian was ushered into Edith's presence, while
Neville was left on the outside of the tent. The slave who
introduced him withdrew on a signal from her mistress, and it was
with humiliation, not of the posture only but of the very inmost
soul, that the unfortunate knight, thus strangely disguised,
threw himself on one knee, with looks bent on the ground and arms
folded on his bosom, like a criminal who expects his doom. Edith
was clad in the same manner as when she received King Richard,
her long, transparent dark veil hanging around her like the shade
of a summer night on a beautiful landscape, disguising and
rendering obscure the beauties which it could not hide. She held
in her hand a silver lamp, fed with some aromatic spirit, which
burned with unusual brightness.
When Edith came within a step of the kneeling and motionless
slave, she held the light towards his face, as if to peruse his
features more attentively, then turned from him, and placed her
lamp so as to throw the shadow of his face in profile upon the
curtain which hung beside. She at length spoke in a voice
composed, yet deeply sorrowful,
"Is it you? It is indeed you, brave Knight of the Leopard
—gallant Sir Kenneth of Scotland; is it indeed you?—thus
servilely disguised—thus surrounded by a hundred dangers."
At hearing the tones of his lady's voice thus unexpectedly
addressed to him, and in a tone of compassion approaching to
tenderness, a corresponding reply rushed to the knight's lips,
and scarce could Richard's commands and his own promised silence
prevent his answering that the sight he saw, the sounds he just
heard, were sufficient to recompense the slavery of a life, and
dangers which threatened that life every hour. He did recollect
himself, however, and a deep and impassioned sigh was his only
reply to the high-born Edith's question.
"I see—I know I have guessed right," continued Edith. "I marked
you from your first appearance near the platform on which I stood
with the Queen. I knew, too, your valiant hound. She is no true
lady, and is unworthy of the service of such a knight as thou
art, from whom disguises of dress or hue could conceal a faithful
servant. Speak, then, without fear to Edith Plantagenet. She
knows how to grace in adversity the good knight who served,
honoured, and did deeds of arms in her name, when fortune
befriended him.—Still silent! Is it fear or shame that keeps
thee so! Fear should be unknown to thee; and for shame, let it
remain with those who have wronged thee."
The knight, in despair at being obliged to play the mute in an
interview so interesting, could only express his mortification by
sighing deeply, and laying his finger upon his lips. Edith
stepped back, as if somewhat displeased.
What!" she said, "the Asiatic mute in very deed, as well as in
attire? This I looked not for. Or thou mayest scorn me, perhaps,
for thus boldly acknowledging that I have heedfully observed the
homage thou hast paid me? Hold no unworthy thoughts of Edith on
that account. She knows well the bounds which reserve and
modesty prescribe to high-born maidens, and she knows when and
how far they should give place to gratitude—to a sincere desire
that it were in her power to repay services and repair injuries
arising from the devotion which a good knight bore towards her.
Why fold thy hands together, and wring them with so much passion?
Can it be," she added, shrinking back at the idea, "that their
cruelty has actually deprived thee of speech? Thou shakest thy
head. Be it a spell—be it obstinacy, I question thee no
further, but leave thee to do thine errand after thine own
fashion. I also can be mute."
The disguised knight made an action as if at once lamenting his
own condition and deprecating her displeasure, while at the same
time he presented to her, wrapped, as usual, in fine silk and
cloth of gold, the letter of the Soldan. She took it, surveyed
it carelessly, then laid it aside, and bending her eyes once more
on the knight, she said in a low tone, "Not even a word to do
thine errand to me?"
He pressed both his hands to his brow, as if to intimate the pain
which he felt at being unable to obey her; but she turned from
him in anger.
"Begone!" she said. "I have spoken enough—too much—to one who
will not waste on me a word in reply. Begone!—and say, if I have
wronged thee, I have done penance; for if I have been the unhappy
means of dragging thee down from a station of honour, I have, in
this interview, forgotten my own worth, and lowered myself in thy
eyes and in my own."
She covered her eyes with her hands, and seemed deeply agitated.
Sir Kenneth would have approached, but she waved him back.
"Stand off! thou whose soul Heaven hath suited to its new
station! Aught less dull and fearful than a slavish mute had
spoken a word of gratitude, were it but to reconcile me to my own
degradation. Why pause you?—begone!"
The disguised knight almost involuntarily looked towards the
letter as an apology for protracting his stay. She snatched it
up, saying in a tone of irony and contempt, "I had forgotten—the
dutiful slave waits an answer to his message. How's this—from
She hastily ran over the contents, which were expressed both in
Arabic and French, and when she had done, she laughed in bitter
"Now this passes imagination!" she said; "no jongleur can show so
deft a transmutation! His legerdemain can transform zechins and
byzants into doits and maravedis; but can his art convert a
Christian knight, ever esteemed among the bravest of the Holy
Crusade, into the dust-kissing slave of a heathen Soldan—the
bearer of a paynim's insolent proposals to a Christian maiden—
nay, forgetting the laws of honourable chivalry, as well as of
religion? But it avails not talking to the willing slave of a
heathen hound. Tell your master, when his scourge shall have
found thee a tongue, that which thou hast seen me do"—so saying,
she threw the Soldan's letter on the ground, and placed her foot
upon it—"and say to him, that Edith Plantagenet scorns the
homage of an unchristened pagan."
With these words she was about to shoot from the knight, when,
kneeling at her feet in bitter agony, he ventured to lay his hand
upon her robe and oppose her departure.
"Heard'st thou not what I said, dull slave?" she said, turning
short round on him, and speaking with emphasis. "Tell the heathen
Soldan, thy master, that I scorn his suit as much as I despise
the prostration of a worthless renegade to religion and chivalry
—to God and to his lady!"
So saying, she burst from him, tore her garment from his grasp,
and left the tent.
The voice of Neville, at the same time, summoned him from
without. Exhausted and stupefied by the distress he had
undergone during this interview, from which he could only have
extricated himself by breach of the engagement which he had
formed with King Richard, the unfortunate knight staggered rather
than walked after the English baron, till they reached the royal
pavilion, before which a party of horsemen had just dismounted.
There were light and motion within the tent, and when Neville
entered with his disguised attendant, they found the King, with
several of his nobility, engaged in welcoming those who were