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Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago by  Evaleen Stein

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THE DUCHESS MATILDA'S GIFT

[110] "Dear me!" said Alan one day, while still the ships waited for the wind, "won't it seem tame to go back to Noireat after being here so long?"

"Yes, indeed!" said Henri, with a sigh. "We surely will miss seeing all these knights and soldiers every day, and all the horses and ships! And then at night, the fire in the castle won't be half so much fun as the camp-fires here, even if they are put out early. And the stories the men have to tell about the wars they have been in beat old Herve's!"

"No," said Alan, "I don't think they are better than Master Herv's, but they are different. And then the minstrels here, what good songs they sing! I didn't expect though to find any of them  in camp! I didn't know they ever went to war!"

"Oh, yes!" said Henri, "I heard one of the [111] knights say that the minstrels, when they wanted to, could fight as well as anybody. But Duke William's minstrel, Talifer, is going along just to sing his war songs so as to cheer on the men. And the knight said that Talifer is so brave and that he sings so well that he will probably ride right in front of everybody!"

"He certainly sings well!" agreed Alan. "You know the other day when we passed Duke William's house, what a beautiful song we heard Talifer singing!"

Here the talk of the boys was cut short as Count Bertram called them to do some errand and they quickly sprang up to obey him.

The next morning Henri awakened with a sigh; for there was a gusty sound without and the flap of the tent had blown open.

"Do you hear that?" he asked, nudging Alan who slept beside him.

"Yes," said Alan, dolefully rubbing his eyes, "it's that old wind!"

Soon it was blowing strongly, and though not quite in the direction wanted, Duke William decided to go along the Norman coast to a point a little nearer Britain; so off the ships sailed to the seaport town of Saint Valery.

[112] Alan and Henri were very disconsolate as they watched the last sail fade away at the rim of the sky.

"Oh, don't you wish we were on one of those ships!" cried Alan longingly.

"Indeed I do!" answered Henri. "It seems lonesome already! It wouldn't be half so much fun staying here with the soldiers all gone, and I'd just as soon go back home!"

"Yes," said Alan, "but we can't right away, for one of the squires of the party we are to go with told me a while ago that his brother, Jean, is sick and they don't want to leave him alone here, so we are all to wait a few days till he gets better."

"Well," said Henri, "I don't see where we will stay, for the camps are all broken up."

"Oh," said Alan, "I forgot to say the squire has arranged for us all to go over to Duke William's house. There are a couple of small rooms the care-taker will let us have, and his wife will get our meals."

"Who will pay for us?" asked Henri.

"Oh, I don't know," answered Alan, "But I suppose Count Bertram will fix it all right when he comes back."

[113] So the little party moved over to Duke William's house, where the sick squire, Jean, was made comfortable and soon began to improve under the nursing of the care-taker's wife.

As Henri had said, everything seemed very quiet and deserted after the sailing of the fleet. But though at first the boys hardly knew what to do with themselves, they soon found plenty of entertainment in wandering about the old town and along the edge of the sea, which was a never ending wonder to them.

Thus several days passed; and then one morning word came to Dives that the fleet was again becalmed at Saint Valery, waiting vainly for favoring winds. At this news one of the young squires exclaimed, "Let us ride over to Saint Valery! I don't believe it is so very far away, and I think by hard riding we could reach it in a day. Let us go over and see what they are doing there!"

"All right!" cried the others eagerly, and "May we go, too?" Henri made haste to ask.

"Yes," said the squire, "we'll all go! Jean is better, and the care-takers will look after him till we get back."

[114] So, getting their horses and ponies ready as quickly as possible, off they started for Saint Valery.

It proved to be a three days' ride instead of one, but youth and good spirits, and a little money they managed to muster, carried them through, and it was a tired but happy little party that reached Saint Valery at nightfall the third day. Wrapping their riding cloaks about them, they lay down on the ground and slept soundly till morning.

When they awakened, they found much the same scene as had been at Dives. Tents and soldiers, knights and war-horses and ships, and great numbers of the people of Saint Valery coming and going among the throng.

The two pages had some trouble finding Count Bertram and Hugh among so many, but at last they did.

"Ho!" said Count Bertram, staring at them in surprise, "where did you young rascals drop from? I though you were home by this time!"

He smiled when the boys hurriedly explained to him how they had come. "Well, well," he said, "I am glad enough to see you and only [115] wish I could take you along! Meantime you can make yourselves useful here."

And he and Hugh between them soon found a number of things for them to do.

So ten days more passed. Then at last the east wind came.

Oh, what rejoicing there was then among all those warriors! And what a hurrying and scurrying to get back in the ships everything that has been taken ashore during the long wait! Horses neighed and whinnied and pranced as they were being led aboard, silken banners and pennons were set flying from every mast, men in armor, men with cross-bows, glittering spears and lances and shining battle-axes, all were crowded on the long ships, as the sun shone and sparkled and the people on shore ran to and fro bringing this and that thing to the water's edge.

Then all at once some one noticed a strange ship on the horizon. Its curving, gayly colored sails gleamed bright and billowy in the brilliant morning light as faster and faster it sped into the harbour of Saint Valery. And then, nearing the fleet, proudly it came to shore just as everything was ready and Duke William was about to embark on the ship he had chosen for his own.

[116] As the people gazed at the beautiful new vessel, so much finer that any there, a great shout of admiration went up. "The Mora!"  they cried, reading the name painted in bright colors on the side of the ship. And then on the flag, waving from the top of the mast, they saw embroidered the three lions of Normandy, and "The duke's ship!" everybody shouted.

But Duke William himself was staring at it in utter bewilderment. He stared at its beautiful shape, as its lion flag, and, most of all, he stared at the carved and gilded figure-head at its high prow. For this was the image of no other than his own little son William, his name-sake and favorite child. The golden boy grasped in one hand a bow and arrow, and with the other held to his lips an ivory trumpet which he seemed in the act of blowing.

As Duke William stood, the picture of amazement, a richly clad lady was seen near the mast of the ship, and in another moment his lips parted in a joyful smile as "The Duchess Matilda! Hurrah, hurrah!" burst from a thousand throats about him.

It was indeed the Duchess Matilda, who as a surprise for the duke, had ordered the beautiful [117] new ship built for his special use, and she had come

[117] with it because she wanted to have the pleasure of presenting it to him herself.

As for Duke William, he was overjoyed, and declared the gallant way in which the Mora  had sailed into harbor was a good omen for his undertaking. At once he ordered all his own things taken from the ship he had meant to use and placed on the fine new one.

When once more all was ready, and Duke William had taken leave of Duchess Matilda, and every one had said good-by to their friends, the anchors were drawn up, the sails set for Britain, music played, people cheered and shouted, and away went the fleet and the fearless army which was to help Duke William earn the name of "the Conqueror" and win for him the crown of Britain.

Alan and Henri, standing at the edge of the water, shaded their eyes with their hands and looked and looked as the countless swelling sails fluttered out to sea. And as the last gleam from the Mora  faded from sight, they fancied that from the ivory horn of the golden boy upon its prow there echoed back a brave "Good-by!—Good-by!"


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