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Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago by  Evaleen Stein


 

 

LITTLE DUKE RICHARD

[49] All morning a fine rain had fallen and the boys and girls of the castle had been busy indoors; the girls learning to sew and embroider, while the boys, with blunt swords, took a fencing lesson from Hugh.


[Illustration]

THE BOYS...TOOK A FENCING LESSON FROM HUGH.

After dinner Blanchette peeped out into the courtyard. "It's still raining!" she called back to Marie and the pages who were gathered around the door. "What shall we do?"

"Let's go over to Master Herve and get him to tell us a story!" proposed Marie.

"All right!" cried the others, and darting out of the door, they skimmed like a flight of swallows over the wet paving stones to old Herve's tower. As the laughing group burst into the place, "Well, well!" he exclaimed in pretended fright, "I thought the Duke himself was storming the castle, you made such a hub-bub!"

[50] "We will storm your tower, sure enough, Master Herve," cried Marie, "unless you tell us a nice story right away!"

"Dear me," answered Master Herve, "if that is so, I will hurry and begin! What shall I tell you? About little Duke Richard?"

"Yes," shouted a chorus of merry voices, "tell us about little Duke Richard!"

"Well," began Master Herve, "it was a long time ago"—"How  long?" asked Henri, who always liked to be exact,—"Oh, I don't know," replied Master Herve, "but it must have been a good while, because it was when Richard was a little boy only eight years old, and Richard was the great-great-grandfather of our Duke William, so you see it must have been nearly ninety years ago.

"There was a great deal of quarreling in Normandy then, and Duke William Long-Sword—"

"Who was Duke William Long-Sword?" asked one of the younger pages.

"Why, he was little Richard's father," put in Alan, "and he was called Long-Sword because he always carried a wonderful long one with a gold handle!"

51 "Yes," said old Herve, "you are right, Alan, he was Richard's father, and as I began to say, when the little lad was only eight years old William Long-Sword was one day killed by some of his enemies."

"Tell about his hair shirt!" said Henri; for the children had heard most of old Herve's stories before, and did not want anything left out.

"To be sure!" answered Herve. "When they came to make Duke William ready for his funeral, they found that underneath his splendid ducal dress he always wore a shirt made of coarse hair cloth next to his skin, and that he kept a little scourge with which he often whipped himself. For he was very pious, and you know that is the way that many people believe they can make peace with God for their sins."

Here the children made long faces at the idea of any one whipping himself, and Master Herve went on: "The funeral was no sooner over than little Richard, who was the sole heir to the duchy, was dressed in his handsomest red tunic and brought to the cathedral in the city of Rouen to be crowned Duke of Normandy.

[52] "Richard walked up the aisle, and when he sat in the great chair by the altar his feet didn't come anywhere near the floor. The priest said the mass, and Richard solemnly promised to be a good and true ruler; and then they put on his shoulders the great crimson velvet mantle trimmed with ermine that belongs to the Norman dukes. But Richard was so little that it trailed all around him, and when they tried to crown him the crown was so big and heavy that one of the barons had to hold it over his head. Then they gave him the long sword that had been his father's. When it was over, and Richard stood up to walk down the aisle, the mantle was so long and heavy that one of the nobles picked him up and carried him; another was about to take the sword."

"But Richard wouldn't let him! He carried it himself!" cried Henri.

"Yes," said old Herve, "thought the sword was longer than he was, he would let no one take it."

"It must have been a funny sight," observed Marie, "to see him carried down the long aisle with that big crimson mantle trailing behind him and he clutching the sword taller than himself!"

[53] The others laughed, but Master Herve did not join them, "Yes, funny it may seem to you youngsters, but it was a sad enough sight to the friends of little Richard to see him orphaned and obliged to be a dike before he was able to govern the country, and with all sorts of troublesome affairs ahead of him and, worst of all, the King of France wishing with all his heart to get his duchy from him!

"Well, Richard was carried back tot he palace, and then his vassals, the highest nobles of Normandy, all came and kneeling before him, placed their great strong hands between his baby ones and swore to be loyal subjects."

"Didn't Richard himself have to do the same thing to the King of France?" asked Alan.

"Yes," said old Herve, "he did later on, the first time he went to France, and he didn't go of his own free will, either; but that's what I'm coming to in the story. Of course ever since Rolf the Ganger promised loyalty to Charles the Simple all the Norman dukes have done the same to the kings of France. But though the French people have kept fairly peaceable with us, they have never liked it because Rolf took [54] Normandy, and our dikes have known well enough that behind their backs they called them 'Dukes of the Pirates,' for so the French nick-named our brave people. And no sooner was little Richard crowned than the French King Louis thought it would be a fine thing to get possession of the young Duke of the Pirates, and then—well, King Louis had two boys of his own, and of course if anything happened to Richard that crimson velvet mantle and the big crown would do very nicely for one of the little French princes." Here old Herve shrugged his shoulders with a wise look.

"At any rate," he went on, "very soon Kind Louis came and insisted on taking Richard home with him. He said the boy was his godson, and his vassal besides, and that he had a perfect right to be his guardian. The Norman nobleman thought very differently, but as the King had taken care to bring a large force of soldiers with him they did not dare to refuse. Though when they said good-by to their little duke they made up their minds to get him back again just as soon as they could manage it. One of their number, a young noble, was allowed to go with him, and a faithful friend he proved. Who of you re- [55] members his name?" quizzed the old man of his eager little listeners.

"We all  do! Osmond de Centeville!" cried the children in chorus, indignant that Master Herve should fancy they could forget.

"It was a sad journey for poor little Richard," he continued, "away from his own home to the gloomy castle of Laon where King Louis was then living; and when they reached it Richard found nothing but coldness and unkindness from all. The Queen, Gerberge, was haughty and disagreeable, and the two young princes, Pothaire and Carloman, were cross and hateful to him.

"Several months went on in this way; but all the while Richard's faithful friend, Osmond de Centeville, was keeping careful watch for the very first chance to help his little master to escape.

"By and by, Richard fell ill; and the paler and thinner he grew the happier it made king Louis and Queen Gerberge, who wanted him to die so as to get Normandy for their hateful young Lothaire."

Here Alan and Henri clenched their fists angrily, as if they could have liked to get at [56] Richard's cruel enemies, while Blanchette sighed sympathetically, and Marie, remembering their lesson on herbs, asked: "Didn't Osmond know any place where he could get some herb medicine? I should think he could have managed some  way!"

"Don't you fancy Osmond de Centeville wasn't taking the best care of Richard!" said old Herve with a chuckle. "I dare say he got plenty of medicine for him, and gave it to him himself up there in the tower room where he kept him away from the castle folks. And he went right down into the castle kitchen, too, and cooked everything that Richard ate, because he was afraid the King's cooks had been ordered to poison little Richard! Well, one night everybody was so sure that the Duke of the Pirates was going to die, that they thought there was no need of keeping as close watch on him as they had been doing, and King Louis and Queen Gerberge decided to give a great banquet because they were so happy at the idea of soon getting Normandy for Lothaire.

"So, while everybody was busy eating, Osmond managed to get a big armful of straw from somewhere, and with this he crept quietly [57] up the winding stair to the tower room where Richard was lying very white and weak.

" 'Hush!' he whispered, as the little duke started up in surprise. 'Can you keep as still as a mouse for a little while, and not mind if you are nearly smothered? And can you pretend that you are not a duke at all, but nothing but a bundle of straw?'

" 'Yes, yes!!' answered Richard eagerly, his eyes growing bright with excitement as Osmond explained his plan, 'I can be a stick of wood, anything  , Osmond, if you will only take me away from here!'

"Then Osmond rolled Richard up in his little purple mantle and stuffed him into the middle of that bundle of straw, and, seizing it in his strong arms, he crept out of the room, and felt his way carefully down the winding stairs, till presently he came to the big smoky kitchen which he had to pass through in order to get out doors. The cooks were all so busy running to and from that very few of them noticed Osmond at all, and those who did were quite satisfied when he said, with a fine careless air, 'I forgot to bed down and feed my war horse and I'm just going out to the stable to do it.'

[58] "And Osmond went to the stable, sure enough," went on Master Herve with a laugh, but it was neither to make a bed out of the little duke nor to feed him to the big Normandy horse which he saddled and bridled faster than he had ever done in all his life. Then, placing the precious bundle of straw across the saddle bow, carefully,—oh, so carefully,—he led the horse to the castle gate. The keeper had had so much wine at the banquet that his head had dropped on his breast and he was sound asleep. And carefully,—oh, so carefully,—Osmond slipped back the great bars, one by one, flung open the gate, sprang into the saddle, and away with the wind!"

Here there was a loud clapping of hands and a shrill cheer from Herve's little audience.

"Oh," cried Henri enviously, "wouldn't I like to have been Osmond!"

"Maybe you would," said old Herve, "but I don't believe anybody would like to have been the Duke of the Pirates that night, for the poor little fellow was nearly smothered! When Osmond had galloped a safe distance from the castle, he stopped and loosened the straw as much as he could from around Richard's face, [59] for the little lad was fairly gasping. But he was full of pluck and without fear,—you know the name he earned in after life?" asked Herve, who was fond of quizzing children.

"Yes," they answered, "of course we do, 'Richard the Fearless'!"

"So," went on Herve, "after a short rest, on they galloped fast and faster, clatter, clatter, clatter, every minute drawing nearer the Norman border. Oh, but that was a wild ride that brought the little Duke of the Pirates back to his own! All night they rode, and far into the next day till the good black war horse was spent and breathless. Then Osmond somehow managed to get a fresh one, and thud, thud, away they went again. At daybreak the second day they came to the river Epte dividing France and Normandy, and on the cliffs at the far side rose the towers of Crecy castle. There was no bridge, but that was no matter. Panting and foam-flecked, straight into the river plunged the gallant horse with his precious bundle. Oh, how tired he was with that long galloping, but how bravely he fought his way across the current and safe to the farther side! And then, just as he had won back to his own Normandy, [60] it seemed for a moment that all was lost for the little duke. For the watchers of the castle walls, little dreaming who were the riders of that brave horse, and thinking them enemies from France, were just fitting their arrows to their bows to shoot, when at a quick signal from Osmond they paused, and then,--well, when they found out that their own true duke was come back to them, you can guess whether or not they gave his a rousing welcome!" and old Herve's voice rose in enthusiastic fervor.

"But with all his bravery," added Herve, in a tender tone, "the poor little man was scarce breathing when they lifted him out of his straw and loosened his purple mantle; for the long ride had almost ended his life. But you can guess, too, whether they nursed him carefully. And you may be sure the lady of Crecy castle saw that he got the right herb medicine"; here Master Herve looked at Marie with a twinkle in his eye. "At any rate, it wasn't long till the little duke was as fine and sturdy a boy as heart could wish and King Louis didn't get him back again, either!"

"No," said Alan, "when he came back and tried to, the Norman army was waiting for [61] him, and he decided he would have to look somewhere else for a duchy for Lothaire!"

"Yes, yes, youngsters," said old Herve, "I guess you know all my stories nearly as well as I do. But I am tired now, so go off and play. Next time you come maybe I'll have a new story for you."


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