| In the Days of William the Conqueror|
|by Eva March Tappan|
|Story of the life of William the Conqueror, telling of his boyhood in Normandy, beset by dangers, of his knighting by the King of France and of the after-deeds which made him famous, including the conquest of England. Ages 11-15 |
THAT WHICH HE WOULD HAVE
OME to the window, Ermenoldus. See how the country
stretches out,—fields and vineyards and corn land!
There's no richer ground in the whole duchy of
"You and Duke Richard rule it together, do you not, my
"No. We hold it together after a fashion, but he rules.
I am his vassal. Hiesmes is mine, and this goodly
castle of Falaise ought to go with it."
"Was the duke your father's favorite, my lord?"
"Doesn't it look like it, when he left me only Hiesmes
and then cut off the best part of it for Richard?"
"Could it have been suggested to him, my lord?"
 "You mean, did Richard tell him to do it," said Count
Robert bluntly. "Who knows what one man has said to
another? Richard was with him from morning till night.
My father called him a 'good youth.' I suppose I was a
bad one," and the young man laughed recklessly.
"Anyway, Richard is Duke of Normandy, and I am only the
Count of the Hiesmois; and here I am in the village of
Falaise that ought to be mine, collecting taxes that
ought to be mine, and putting them safely away for my
brother in the treasure-room of the castle that ought
to be mine."
"This castle seems to be of good strength, my lord. The
walls are thick and heavy. It would not be easy to
batter them down. It stands at the very edge of the
cliff, and the cliff falls down sheer to the valley. No
one could approach on that side."
"No; it's a strong castle, but I have none that could
not be captured in a day. Come to the window again,
Ermenoldus. See what a mass of rook the castle is built
on, and how it juts out over the valley! Across the
Ante is that other great, jagged precipice. You're a
Er-  menoldus; I verily believe you are. Couldn't you
build me a castle on Mount Mirat yonder that would be
as strong as this?"
I'm not enough of a wizard to give you a castle, my
lord," said Ermenoldus; "and yet, there's more than one
way," he half whispered. Count Robert did not hear the
whisper, for he had turned again to the narrow window.
"If those girls are as pretty as they are graceful and
merry," he said, "they would be well worth seeing.
Ermenoldus, will you call some one to get my horse? or,
if you stamp three times on the stone under your feet,
won't the horse come of its own accord, all saddled and
"You think too highly of the little that I have learned," said
"I'm not sure, though," said the count laughing, "but you
are in league with the fiend himself and know all that
there is to be known. Whence do you come and whither do
you go? You appear and then you disappear, and all I
know is that you are gone."
"Never did I go faster than you will go to gaze upon
the pretty maidens washing linen on
 the banks of the stream," said Ermenoldus; "only I beg
you, my lord, don't ride down over the cliff in your
haste. All my magic could not save you then;" but Count
Robert was already at the gate, and the next minute he
was galloping down the rough, rocky way that led to the
foot of the cliff.
The linen had been spread out on the grass to dry and
to whiten in the hot sun, and the young girls were
frolicking in the ripples of the little stream,
laughing and splashing water at one another. One had
bent down a green bough and held it in front of her
face to protect it.
"By my faith!" said Count Robert to himself, "if that
maiden's face is as fair as her little feet are white,
she's prettier than all the high-born dames at my
brother's castle." Just then the maiden let go the
green branch and it sprang up above her head.
"Let's dance," she said, "not splash water at one
another like children."
"That's a fairer face than I ever saw before," thought
the count, as he stopped his horse, and hidden by the
trees, gazed at the young girls in their playful
imitation of the village dance, their white feet now
twinkling in the green grass on the
 river's brink, and now splashing rainbow drops around them.
"See how high the sun is," said one of the girls. "The
linen is dry, and we must go home."
"I'm tired. I'm going to rest awhile here under the
trees before I go," said the maiden of the green
"But the sun is almost overhead," said one girl. "Won't your
mother beat you if you do not come?"
"Beat? What is that? No one ever beats me," she replied
indifferently. "You carry the linen home for me, and I
will come when I have had my little nap. Good-by, my
friends," and she waved them a farewell as she sat on
the bank with her head on her hand, half reclining on
the soft green grass in the shadow of the trees.
"Well, if that isn't Arletta!" said one young girl.
"She commands us to carry home her linen for her, and
we obey. We always do just what she tells us to.
Listen! Now she is singing. If I stayed after the
washing was done to sleep on the bank and to sing
songs, I should have a sound beating, but Arletta
always does what she likes." The maidens went slowly
down the valley.
 Arletta half closed her eyes, and sang softly to
"And may I listen to the pretty song?" said a voice
coming so suddenly that it seemed to be just at her
ear. Arletta sprang to her feet and made a humble
courtesy, and then stood still, too abashed to look up.
The rider had dismounted and stood holding his hat with
its long plume in one hand and the horse's bridle in
"Are you one of the maidens of Falaise?" he asked, and
then smiled at the idle question, for where else could
"I'm Arletta," she answered, looking up shyly, "and my
father is Fulbert the tanner."
"Strange that such a flower should blossom in the foul
garden of a tanner," said Robert to himself.
"Are you the great Duke Richard?" asked the maiden.
"No, I'm not," said Robert half gloomily. "I'm nobody
but Count Robert, his younger brother; and I haven't
even a strong castle to bless myself with. But you must
be tired. Isn't this washing too hard work for a girl
"Oh, no, I am strong," she said. "All the girls come
out here to wash the linen for their homes."
 "Shouldn't you rather stay at home and have some one to
wash the linen for you? When you braid your hair, you
could braid in a cord of shining gold, and you could
wear a silken mantle and fasten it with a golden
"But it is only the great ladies in castles who wear
silken mantles and braid gold in their hair," said
Arletta, smiling, nevertheless, at the thought of so
"And should you like to have a young man ride up on a
great black horse to see you? He would have a feather
in his hat, and perhaps he would wear a gold chain, if
he is only a count, and he might bring you one day a
jewelled band for your hair, and another day a veil of
silken tissue, or perhaps a mantle of silk or of
velvet. Should you like it?" Arletta said nothing,
but her cheeks were bright red. Her eyes were bent on
the ground, but when she ventured to look up for a
moment, they were glittering with excitement.
"Farewell, my pretty Arletta," said he, "but it will
not be many days before you will hear from me." He
sprang upon his horse, kissed his hand to her gayly,
and rode away, the horse's hoofs clattering on the
fragments of stone in the road.
 Whatever were Robert's faults, no one could accuse him
of putting off what he meant to do, and it was only the
next day when Fulbert came meekly from his tan-yard at
the demand of the young noble.
"I have seen many a high-born maiden," said Robert
without a word of explanation or preface, "and your
daughter pleases me better than all of them. I would
have her as the lady of the castle. Will you send her
to me to-morrow?"
"The child of a tanner cannot well consort with the
lord of a castle," said the father bravely, but with a
"And I have no castle worthy of the name," said Count
Robert bitterly, "but I suppose that I may have a
"The great folk have the power to take whom they will,"
said the tanner, his voice choking in his throat, "but
I would have had my daughter wed one of her own
station, and not in the castle but in the little
church; and I wanted my kinsfolk and her mother's to
look at her and smile upon her, and then to come to our
house and rejoice that Arletta was going to her own
home with the one that she had chosen."
 "As you will," said the count, with pretended
indifference; "but before you refuse, ask the girl
herself. If she says no, I will leave her; but should
she choose to say yes, you shall lose nothing by having
your daughter the bride of a noble."
In the tiny inner room of the cottage stood Arletta,
trembling and flushing.
"Hasten, Arletta," said her mother, Doda. "Hasten, and
put on your best robe, the gray with the blue belt. He
will go. A count will not wait long for a tanner's
daughter. Tell him that you are ready—but, no; tell him
that you will agree if—no, that will not do; ask him
humbly if he would not rather that his bride were
the daughter of a brewer than of a tanner; and tell him that
if he would only give your father the gold to become a
brewer, he would not be shamed that you have come from
the home of a tanner."
"But perhaps I do not wish to go to the castle," said
Arletta indifferently. "Perhaps I would rather walk to
the church with all the village maidens, and have a
"Arletta, why will you torment me? Hasten; I do not hear
a sound. Perhaps he is already
 gone. One would think you had no idea how great an
honor it is. Don't you know that he can wed whom he
"The one that weds me will be the one that I will,"
"You are a proud, undutiful girl," said Doda. "Pull
those folds more on the shoulders, and draw the girdle
to the right. There, I hear his voice again. He has not
"No, he has not gone," said Arletta, with a peculiar
little smile, and she went forward slowly, till she
stood in the opening between the two rooms. The soft
gray garment hung in long folds from her shoulders, and
was confined at the waist by a blue belt. Her cheeks
were red, and her eyes shone.
"Go to him. Tell him you are sorry you have kept him so
long," whispered Doda, twitching her daughter's robe,
for she had crept up softly behind the girl. But
Arletta did not take even a single step through the
opening. She stood with one foot drawn back, as if she
might disappear in a moment. So beautiful she was that
Robert bent on one knee before her, and kissed her hand
as if she had been some maiden of high degree.
 "The next time that I see you, shall it be in the
castle? Will you come to me, Arletta?"
"Say yes," whispered her mother, and even Fulbert had
begun to realize that this was a great opportunity, and
to fear lest the wayward damsel should refuse so lordly
"Will you come, Arletta?" asked the count gently,
looking eagerly into her eyes.
"Yes, I will come," said Arletta, with slow
graciousness, and with a touch of condescension in
manner that would have seemed to belong to a princess
rather than to a simple maiden of the people. The count
slipped about her neck a slender gold chain with a
pearl in every link.
"That is to hold you fast," he said. "The castle is a
grim and dreary place; but I know where there is a
little door that leads to a chamber the thickness of
the wall. It is dark and gloomy now, but people who are
wise in using colors shall paint the walls with blue
and gold and vermilion. The hangings shall be of silk,
and every day the straw on the floor shall be bright
with fresh flowers; and there shall you abide, and,
tanner's daughter as you are, you shall be treated as
if you were a king's daughter."
 "Tell him you are grateful," whispered Doda anxiously,
but Arletta only smiled slightly, with the air of one
conferring a favor. The count sprang upon his great
black horse, and went his way to the castle.
As he dropped his bridle into the hands of a servant,
"And where is Ermenoldus?"
"Truly, my lord, I do not know," said the man. "He was
here, and then he was not here, and when he was here he
said, 'Tell my lord there is a message from me,' and
then he was not here."
"Folly! no man could leave the castle unless the gate
was opened for him. If you are telling me false, I'll
have you thrown from the top of the cliff."
"Indeed, my lord, it is true," said the servant
earnestly. "He was here, and then he was not here, and
he said there was a message for you that you could read
only in the glow of the fire."
"I believe the man is in league with the fiend," said
Robert to himself. "To leave me just when I wanted him
That night, when the count went to his bed, there lay
on his pillow a scroll, closely tied with
 a golden cord that was wrought into an intricacy of
many twists and coils. Impatiently he struggled with
"There's surely magic about it," he said, "and I have
heard that if one cuts a magic knot, the wizardry will
all turn against him," so he pulled and turned and
twisted the golden thread, until all of a sudden it
seemed to fly apart of its own accord under his
fingers. Apparently nothing was written on the scroll,
but as he held it half fearfully before the fire in the
castle hall, there came out, letter by letter, a
message. He read it slowly, for he was more used to
reading the faces of men than lettering on parchment.
It was this:—
"When one holds that which he would have, let him see to
him see to it that he hold it fast."
"Indeed I will," he said under his breath. "Arletta is
mine, and the workmen shall work as never before, and
if the little room in the tower is not ready in two
days, some one shall go into the dungeon."
No one was thrown into the dungeon, for on the second
day the little chamber in the wall was as bright and
cheery as a place could be that had
 but a single window, and that a tiny one. However,
people thought more of safety than of sunlight in
those days, and the smallness of the opening was looked
upon as an advantage. The frowning vaulting of the gray
stonework that made the top of the room was hidden by a
light blue coloring, half veiled by a graceful
scrollwork of gold. All about the little window the
stone was stained a deep, rich vermilion, and the walls
were hung with heavy silken tapestries of a clear,
sunny yellow. The floor was strewn with the softest of
straw, and over it were sprinkled fresh roses from
which the pages had removed every thorn. With precious
stones—cut from the count's mantle of state—hung here
and there on the walls, the little room flashed when
the door was thrown open as if it was full of
All was ready, and Robert sent a chamberlain for
Arletta. Behold, he returned without the village
"She would not come with me," he explained. "She said
she would not come to the castle as a serving maid, she
would come as the bride of a great lord; and she bade
me return, if you were
 of the same mind, with an escort of palfreys well
caparisoned, and with a due attendance. 'I do not go to
the castle to beg,' she said—and O my lord, she
looked like a queen when she said it—'I go of my own
will, and as the free maiden daughter of a gallant man.
I will not creep up hill with a single chamberlain as
my escort. If I am worth having, I am worth sending for
in proper state. Then, too, the count has sent me no
finely woven robe and no silken mantle. I have nothing
save what is the gift of my father. Would he have me
come to him wearing the gift of a tanner, or would he
have me wear nothing at all but the little chain of
gold and pearls?' Then she turned away, and I saw her
no more." The count laughed.
"I like her the better for it," said he. "And now do you
make up an escort as you would for the daughter of a
duke. Carry her the handsomest tunic and mantle to be
found in the castle. Choose the best palfreys, and
have them as well groomed and as handsomely caparisoned
as for a queen. Let twenty men-at-arms go with you, and
see to it that you delay not in going. As for the
coming, the fair Arletta will choose her own pace."
 The little procession went forth and made its way along
the rocky road to the home of the tanner. Robert
watched it eagerly as it carne slowly up the hill. At
the castle gate there was a halt.
"Throw the gates open wide," he heard a low, clear
voice say. "I am not an uninvited guest. I come here
at the wish of the count and of my own free will."
"Let him see to it that he hold it fast," said Robert,
"and that I will," and he hastened to welcome the fair
Month after month passed away, but the charm of the
tanner's daughter for the young count did not grow
less. Whether she met him in her plain gray gown, with
the playful humility of a village maiden, or in the
rich robes of the lady of the castle, to whom all must
do honor, and with a pride and haughtiness equal to
that of the count's aristocratic grandfather, Richard
the Fearless, she was equally fascinating to Count
Robert. His brother's interests were forgotten. Of his
own he took no heed. It began to be whispered that he
would not willingly depart from the castle of Falaise.
Now Normandy and the districts round about
 were swarming with people, too many for even so fertile
a country to nourish. The land had been divided and
subdivided until the share of a man would no longer
support those who were in helpless dependence upon him.
There was restlessness everywhere. The women of the
household must abide at home; nowhere else was there
protection or safety. The fathers of families must
struggle on as best they could; but the young men were
held back by no question of fear, bound by no demands
of any who were dependent upon them. From one domain to
another they wandered, ready to throw themselves
vehemently into whatever cause might come to hand. They
were any man's soldiers if he would pay them well. They
would follow the sound of the tinkling silver wherever
it might lead.
The country about was full of such men, and at the
first whisper of the count's unwillingness to leave
Falaise, they hastened to the castle. The weapon lay at
Robert's hand. Would he use it? One of the boldest of
the young soldiers made his way to the count.
"Here we are," he said, "and here are our weapons. Can
you make use of us and of them? We will fight for you
bravely and faithfully."
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