|The Little Duke|
|by Charlotte M. Yonge|
|An inspiring story of Richard the Fearless (943-996) who became Duke of Normandy at the age of 8. Relates the perils of his childhood, both at home in Normandy and during his captivity at the court of France, and how at long last he came to embrace the values his father espoused. Ages 9-12 |
A DARING ESCAPE
 IT was a fine summer evening, and Richard and Carloman were playing
at ball on the steps of the Castle-gate, when a voice was heard from
beneath, begging for alms from the noble Princes in the name of the
blessed Virgin, and the two boys saw a pilgrim standing at the gate,
wrapt in a long robe of serge, with a staff in his hand, surmounted
by a Cross, a scrip at his girdle, and a broad shady hat, which he
had taken off, as he stood, making low obeisances, and asking
"Come in, holy pilgrim," said Carloman. "It is late, and you shall
sup and rest here to-night."
"Blessings from Heaven light on you, noble Prince," replied the
pilgrim, and at that moment Richard shouted joyfully, "A Norman, a
Norman! 'tis my own dear speech! Oh, are you not from
Osmond, Osmond! he comes from home!"
"My Lord! my own Lord!" exclaimed the pilgrim, and, kneeling on one
knee at the foot of the steps, he kissed the hand which his young
Duke held out to him—"This is joy unlooked for!"
"Walter!—Walter, the huntsman!" cried Richard. "Is it you? Oh, how
is Fru Astrida, and all at home?"
"Well, my Lord, and wearying to know how it is with you—" began
Walter—but a very different tone exclaimed from behind the pilgrim,
"What is all this? Who is stopping my way? What! Richard would be
King, and more, would he? More insolence!" It was Lothaire,
returning with his attendants from the chase, in by no means an
amiable mood, for he had been disappointed of his game.
"He is a Norman—a vassal of Richard's own," said Carloman.
"A Norman, is he? I thought we had got rid of the robbers! We want
no robbers here! Scourge him soundly, Perron, and teach him how to
stop my way!"
 "He is a pilgrim, my Lord," suggested one of the followers.
"I care not; I'll have no Normans here, coming spying in disguise.
Scourge him, I say, dog that he is! Away with him! A spy, a spy!"
"No Norman is scourged in my sight!" said Richard, darting forwards,
and throwing himself between Walter and the woodsman, who was
preparing to obey Lothaire, just in time to receive on his own bare
neck the sharp, cutting leathern thong, which raised a long red
streak along its course. Lothaire laughed.
"My Lord Duke! What have you done? Oh, leave me—this befits you
not!" cried Walter, extremely distressed; but Richard had caught hold
of the whip, and called out, "Away, away! run! haste, haste!" and the
words were repeated at once by Osmond, Carloman, and many of the
French, who, though afraid to disobey the Prince, were unwilling to
violate the sanctity of a pilgrim's person; and the Norman, seeing
there was no help for it, obeyed: the French made way for him and he
effected his escape; while Lothaire, after a great deal of storming
and raging, went up
 to his mother to triumph in the cleverness with
which he had detected a Norman spy in disguise.
Lothaire was not far wrong; Walter had really come to satisfy himself
as to the safety of the little Duke, and try to gain an interview
with Osmond. In the latter purpose he failed, though he lingered in
the neighbourhood of Laon for several days; for Osmond never left the
Duke for an instant, and he was, as has been shown, a close prisoner,
in all but the name, within the walls of the Castle. The pilgrim
had, however, the opportunity of picking up tidings which made him
perceive the true state of things: he learnt the deaths of Sybald
and Henry, the alliance between the King and Arnulf, and the
restraint and harshness with which the Duke was treated; and with
this intelligence he went in haste to Normandy.
Soon after his arrival, a three days' fast was observed throughout
the dukedom, and in every church, from the Cathedral of Bayeux to the
smallest and rudest village shrine, crowds of worshippers were
kneeling, imploring, many of them with tears, that God would look on
 His mercy, restore to them their Prince, and deliver the
child out of the hands of his enemies. How earnest and sorrowful
were the prayers offered at Centeville may well be imagined; and at
Montemar sur Epte the anxiety was scarcely less. Indeed, from the
time the evil tidings arrived, Alberic grew so restless and unhappy,
and so anxious to do something, that at last his mother set out with
him on a pilgrimage to the Abbey of Jumièges, to pray for the rescue
of his dear little Duke.
In the meantime, Louis had sent notice to Laon that he should return
home in a week's time; and Richard rejoiced at the prospect, for the
King had always been less unkind to him than the Queen, and he hoped
to be released from his captivity within the Castle. Just at this
time he became very unwell; it might have been only the effect of the
life of unwonted confinement which he had lately led that was
beginning to tell on his health; but, after being heavy and
uncomfortable for a day or two, without knowing what was the matter
with him, he was one night attacked with high fever.
 Osmond was dreadfully alarmed, knowing nothing at all of the
treatment of illness, and, what was worse, fully persuaded that the
poor child had been poisoned, and therefore resolved not to call any
assistance; he hung over him all night, expecting each moment to see
him expire—ready to tear his hair with despair and fury, and yet
obliged to restrain himself to the utmost quietness and gentleness,
to soothe the suffering of the sick child.
Through that night, Richard either tossed about on his narrow bed,
or, when his restlessness desired the change, sat, leaning his aching
head on Osmond's breast, too oppressed and miserable to speak or
think. When the day dawned on them, and he was still too ill to
leave the room, messengers were sent for him, and Osmond could no
longer conceal the fact of his sickness, but parleyed at the door,
keeping out every one he could, and refusing all offers of
attendance. He would not even admit Carloman, though Richard,
hearing his voice, begged to see him; and when a proposal was sent
from the Queen, that a skilful old nurse should visit and prescribe
 patient, he refused with all his might, and when he had shut
the door, walked up and down, muttering, "Ay, ay, the witch! coming
to finish what she has begun!"
All that day and the next, Richard continued very ill, and Osmond
waited on him very assiduously, never closing his eyes for a moment,
but constantly telling his beads whenever the boy did not require his
attendance. At last Richard fell asleep, slept long and soundly for
some hours, and waked much better. Osmond was in a transport of joy:
"Thanks to Heaven, they shall fail for this time and they shall never
have another chance! May Heaven be with us still!" Richard was too
weak and weary to ask what he meant, and for the next few days Osmond
watched him with the utmost care. As for food, now that Richard
could eat again, Osmond would not hear of his touching what was sent
for him from the royal table, but always went down himself to procure
food in the kitchen, where he said he had a friend among the cooks,
who would, he thought, scarcely poison him intentionally. When
Richard was able to cross the room, he insisted on his always
 door with his dagger, and never opening to any summons
but his own, not even Prince Carloman's. Richard wondered, but he
was obliged to obey; and he knew enough of the perils around him to
perceive the reasonableness of Osmond's caution.
Thus several days had passed, the King had returned, and Richard was
so much recovered, that he had become very anxious to be allowed to
go down stairs again, instead of remaining shut up there; but still
Osmond would not consent, though Richard had done nothing all day but
walk round the room, to show how strong he was.
"Now, my Lord, guard the door—take care," said Osmond; "you have no
loss to-day, for the King has brought home Herluin of Montreuil, whom
you would be almost as loth to meet as the Fleming. And tell your
beads while I am gone, that the Saints may bring us out of our
Osmond was absent nearly half an hour, and, when he returned, brought
on his shoulders a huge bundle of straw. "What is this for?"
exclaimed Richard. "I wanted my supper, and you have brought straw!"
 "Here is your supper," said Osmond, throwing down the straw, and
producing a bag with some bread and meat. "What should you say, my
Lord, if we should sup in Normandy to-morrow night?"
"In Normandy!" cried Richard, springing up and clapping his hands.
"In Normandy! Oh, Osmond, did you say in Normandy? Shall we, shall
we really? Oh, joy! joy! Is Count Bernard come? Will the King let
"Hush! hush, sir! It must be our own doing; it will all fail if you
are not silent and prudent, and we shall be undone."
"I will do anything to get home again!"
"Eat first," said Osmond.
"But what are you going to do? I will not be as foolish as I was
when you tried to get me safe out of Rollo's tower. But I should
like to wish Carloman farewell."
"That must not be," said Osmond; "we should not have time to escape,
if they did not still believe you very ill in bed."
"I am sorry not to wish Carloman good-bye," repeated Richard; "but we
shall see Fru Astrida
 again, and Sir Eric; and Alberic must come
back! Oh, do let us go! O Normandy, dear Normandy!"
Richard could hardly eat for excitement, while Osmond hastily made
his arrangements, girding on his sword, and giving Richard his dagger
to put into his belt. He placed the remainder of the provisions in
his wallet, threw a thick purple cloth mantle over the Duke, and then
desired him to lie down on the straw which he had brought in. "I
shall hide you in it," he said, "and carry you through the hall, as
if I was going to feed my horse."
"Oh, they will never guess!" cried Richard, laughing. "I will be
quite still—I will make no noise—I will hold my breath."
"Yes, mind you do not move hand or foot, or rustle the straw. It is
no play—it is life or death," said Osmond, as he disposed the straw
round the little boy. "There, can you breathe?"
"Yes," said Richard's voice from the midst. "Am I quite hidden?"
"Entirely. Now, remember, whatever happens,
 do not move. May Heaven
protect us! Now, the Saints be with us!"
Richard, from the interior of the bundle heard Osmond set open the
door; then he felt himself raised from the ground; Osmond was
carrying him along down the stairs, the ends of the straw crushing
and sweeping against the wall. The only way to the outer door was
through the hall, and here was the danger. Richard heard voices,
steps, loud singing and laughter, as if feasting was going on; then
some one said, "Tending your horse, Sieur de Centeville?"
"Yes," Osmond made answer. "You know, since we lost our grooms, the
poor black would come off badly, did I not attend to him."
Presently came Carloman's voice: "O Osmond de Centeville! is Richard
"He is better, my Lord, I thank you, but hardly yet out of danger."
"Oh, I wish he was well! And when will you let me come to him,
Osmond? Indeed, I would sit quiet, and not disturb him."
"It may not be yet, my Lord, though the Duke loves you well—he told
me so but now."
 "Did he? Oh, tell him I love him very much—better than any one
here—and it is very dull without him. Tell him so, Osmond."
Richard could hardly help calling out to his dear little Carloman;
but he remembered the peril of Osmond's eyes and the Queen's threat,
and held his peace, with some vague notion that some day he would
make Carloman King of France. In the meantime, half stifled with the
straw, he felt himself carried on, down the steps, across the court;
and then he knew, from the darkness and the changed sound of Osmond's
tread, that they were in the stable. Osmond laid him carefully down,
and whispered—"All right so far. You can breathe?"
"Not well. Can't you let me out?"
"Not yet—not for worlds. Now tell me if I put you face downwards,
for I cannot see."
He laid the living heap of straw across the saddle, bound it on, then
led out the horse, gazing round cautiously as he did so; but the
whole of the people of the Castle were feasting, and there was no one
to watch the gates. Richard heard the hollow sound of the hoofs, as
the drawbridge was
 crossed, and knew that he was free; but still
Osmond held his arm over him, and would not let him move, for some
distance. Then, just as Richard felt as if he could endure the
stifling of the straw, and his uncomfortable position, not a moment
longer, Osmond stopped the horse, took him down, laid him on the
grass, and released him. He gazed around; they were in a little
wood; evening twilight was just coming on, and the birds sang
"Free! free!—this is freedom!" cried Richard, leaping up in the
delicious cool evening breeze; "the Queen and Lothaire, and that grim
room, all far behind."
"Not so far yet," said Osmond; "you must not call yourself safe till
the Epte is between us and them. Into the saddle, my Lord; we must
ride for our lives."
ESCAPE FROM CAPTIVITY.
Osmond helped the Duke to mount, and sprang to the saddle behind him,
set spurs to the horse, and rode on at a quick rate, though not at
full speed, as he wished to spare the horse. The twilight faded, the
stars came out, and still he rode, his arm round the child, who, as
 grew weary, and often sunk into a sort of half doze,
conscious all the time of the trot of the horse. But each step was
taking him further from Queen Gerberge, and nearer to Normandy; and
what recked he of weariness? On—on; the stars grew pale again, and
the first pink light of dawn showed in the eastern sky; the sun rose,
mounted higher and higher, and the day grew hotter; the horse went
more slowly, stumbled, and though Osmond halted and loosed the girth,
he only mended his pace for a little while.
Osmond looked grievously perplexed; but they had not gone much
further before a party of merchants came in sight, winding their way
with a long train of loaded mules, and stout men to guard them,
across the plains, like an eastern caravan in the desert. They gazed
in surprise at the tall young Norman holding the child upon the worn-
"Sir merchant," said Osmond to the first, "see you this steed?
Better horse never was ridden; but he is sorely spent, and we must
make speed. Let me barter him with you for yonder stout palfrey. He
is worth twice as much,
 but I cannot stop to chaffer—ay or no at
The merchant, seeing the value of Osmond's gallant black, accepted
the offer; and Osmond removing his saddle, and placing Richard on his
new steed, again mounted, and on they went through the country which
Osmond's eye had marked with the sagacity men acquire by living in
wild, unsettled places. The great marshes were now far less
dangerous than in the winter, and they safely crossed them. There
had, as yet, been no pursuit, and Osmond's only fear was for his
little charge, who, not having recovered his full strength since his
illness, began to suffer greatly from fatigue in the heat of that
broiling summer day, and leant against Osmond patiently, but very
wearily, without moving or looking up. He scarcely revived when the
sun went down, and a cool breeze sprang up, which much refreshed
Osmond himself; and still more did it refresh the Squire to see, at
length, winding through the green pastures, a blue river, on the
opposite bank of which rose a high rocky mound, bearing a castle with
many a turret and battlement.
 "The Epte! the Epte! There is Normandy, sir! Look up, and see your
own dukedom." "Normandy!" cried Richard, sitting upright. "Oh, my
own home!" Still the Epte was wide and deep, and the peril was not
yet ended. Osmond looked anxiously, and rejoiced to see marks of
cattle, as if it had been forded. "We must try it," he said, and
dismounting, he waded in, leading the horse, and firmly holding
Richard in the saddle. Deep they went; the water rose to Richard's
feet, then to the horse's neck; then the horse was swimming, and
Osmond too, still keeping his firm hold; then there was ground again,
the force of the current was less, and they were gaining the bank.
At that instant, however, they perceived two men aiming at them with
cross-bows from the castle, and another standing on the bank above
them, who called out, "Hold! None pass the ford of Montemar without
permission of the noble Dame Yolande." "Ha! Bertrand, the Seneschal,
is that you?" returned Osmond. "Who calls me by my name?" replied
the Seneschal. "It is I, Osmond de Centeville. Open your gates
quickly, Sir Seneschal; for here is the Duke, sorely in need of rest
 "The Duke!" exclaimed Bertrand, hurrying down to the landing-place,
and throwing off his cap. "The Duke! the Duke!" rang out the shout
from the men-at-arms on the battlements above and in an instant more
Osmond had led the horse up from the water, and was exclaiming, "Look
up, my Lord, look up! You are in your own dukedom again, and this is
"Welcome, indeed, most noble Lord Duke! Blessings on the day!" cried
the Seneschal. "What joy for my Lady and my young Lord!"
"He is sorely weary," said Osmond, looking anxiously at Richard, who,
even at the welcome cries that showed so plainly that he was in his
own Normandy, scarcely raised himself or spoke. "He had been very
sick ere I brought him away. I doubt me they sought to poison him,
and I vowed not to tarry at Laon another hour after he was fit to
move. But cheer up, my Lord; you are safe and free now, and here is
the good Dame de Montemar to tend you, far better than a rude Squire
"Alas, no!" said the Seneschal; "our Dame is gone with young Alberic
on a pilgrimage to
 Jumièges to pray for the Duke's safety. What joy
for them to know that their prayers have been granted!"
Osmond, however, could scarcely rejoice, so alarmed was he at the
extreme weariness and exhaustion of his charge, who, when they
brought him into the Castle hall, hardly spoke or looked, and could
not eat. They carried him up to Alberic's bed, where he tossed about
restlessly, too tired to sleep.
"Alas! alas!" said Osmond, "I have been too hasty. I have but saved
him from the Franks to be his death by my own imprudence."
"Hush! Sieur de Centeville," said the Seneschal's wife, coming into
the room. "To talk in that manner is the way to be his death,
indeed. Leave the child to me—he is only over-weary."
Osmond was sure his Duke was among friends, and would have been glad
to trust him to a woman; but Richard had but one instinct left in all
his weakness and exhaustion—to cling close to Osmond, as if he felt
him his only friend and protector; for he was, as yet, too much worn
out to understand that he was in Normandy and
 safe. For two or three
hours, therefore, Osmond and the Seneschal's wife watched on each
side of his bed, soothing his restlessness, until at length he became
quiet, and at last dropped sound asleep.
The sun was high in the heavens when Richard awoke. He turned on his
straw-filled crib, and looked up. It was not the tapestried walls of
his chamber at Laon that met his opening eyes, but the rugged stone
and tall loop-hole window of a turret chamber. Osmond de Centeville
lay on the floor by his side, in the sound sleep of one overcome by
long watching and weariness. And what more did Richard see?
It was the bright face and sparkling eyes of Alberic de Montemar, who
was leaning against the foot of his bed, gazing earnestly, as he
watched for his waking. There was a cry—"Alberic! Alberic!" "My
Lord! my Lord!" Richard sat up and held out both arms, and Alberic
flung himself into them. They hugged each other, and uttered broken
exclamations and screams of joy, enough to have awakened any sleeper
but one so wearied out as Osmond.
 "And is it true? Oh, am I really in Normandy again?" cried Richard.
"Yes, yes!—oh, yes, my Lord! You are at Montemar. Everything here
is yours. The bar-tailed hawk is quite well, and my mother will be
here this evening; she let me ride on the instant we heard the news."
"We rode long and late, and I was very weary," said Richard,
don't care, now we are at home. But I can hardly believe it! Oh,
Alberic, it has been very dreary!"
"See here, my Lord!" said Alberic, standing by the window. "Look
here, and you will know you are at home again!"
Richard bounded to the window, and what a sight met his eyes! The
Castle court was thronged with men-at-arms and horses, the morning
sun sparkling on many a burnished hauberk and tall conical helmet,
and above them waved many a banner and pennon that Richard knew full
well. "There! there!" he shouted aloud with glee. "Oh, there is the
horse-shoe of Ferrieres! and there the chequers of Warenne! Oh, and
best of all, there is—there is our own red pennon of
 Centeville! O
Alberic! Alberic! is Sir Eric here? I must go down to him!"
"Bertrand sent out notice to them all, as soon as you came, to come
and guard our Castle," said Alberic, "lest the Franks should pursue
you; but you are safe now—safe as Norman spears can make you—thanks
be to God!"
"Yes, thanks to God!" said Richard, crossing himself and kneeling
reverently for some minutes, while he repeated his Latin prayer;
then, rising and looking at Alberic, he said, "I must thank Him,
indeed, for he has saved Osmond and me from the cruel King and Queen,
and I must try to be a less hasty and overbearing boy than I was when
I went away; for I vowed that so I would be, if ever I came back.
Poor Osmond, how soundly he sleeps! Come, Alberic, show me the way to
And, holding Alberic's hand, Richard left the room, and descended the
stairs to the Castle hall. Many of the Norman knights and barons, in
full armour, were gathered there; but Richard looked only for one.
He knew Sir Eric's grizzled hair, and blue inlaid armour, though his
to-  wards him, and in a moment, before his entrance had been
perceived, he sprang towards him, and, with outstretched arms,
exclaimed: "Sir Eric—dear Sir Eric, here I am! Osmond is safe! And
is Fru Astrida well?"
The old Baron turned. "My child!" he exclaimed, and clasped him in
his mailed arms, while the tears flowed down his rugged cheeks.
"Blessed be God that you are safe, and that my son has done his
"And is Fru Astrida well?"
"Yes, right well, since she heard of your safety. But look round, my
Lord; it befits not a Duke to be clinging thus round an old man's
neck. See how many of your true vassals be here, to guard you from
the villain Franks."
Richard stood up, and held out his hand, bowing courteously and
acknowledging the greetings of each bold baron, with a grace and
readiness he certainly had not when he left Normandy. He was taller
too; and though still pale, and not dressed with much care (since he
had hurried on his clothes with no help but Alberic's)—though his
hair was rough and disordered, and the scar of
 the burn had not yet
faded from his check—yet still, with his bright blue eyes, glad
face, and upright form, he was a princely, promising boy, and the
Norman knights looked at him with pride and joy, more especially
when, unprompted, he said: "I thank you, gallant knights, for coming
to guard me. I do not fear the whole French host now I am among my
own true Normans."
Sir Eric led him to the door of the hall to the top of the steps,
that the men-at-arms might see him; and then such a shout rang out of
"Long live Duke Richard!"—"Blessings on the little Duke!"—that it
echoed and came back again from the hills around—it pealed from the
old tower—it roused Osmond from his sleep—and, if anything more had
been wanting to do so, it made Richard feel that he was indeed in a
land where every heart glowed with loyal love for him.
Before the shout had died away, a bugle-horn was heard winding before
the gate; and Sir Eric, saying, "It is the Count of Harcourt's note,"
sent Bertrand to open the gates in haste, while Alberic followed, as
Lord of the Castle, to receive the Count.
 The old Count rode into the court, and to the foot of the steps,
where he dismounted, Alberic holding his stirrup. He had not taken
many steps upwards before Richard came voluntarily to meet him (which
he had never done before), held out his hand, and said, "Welcome,
Count Bernard, welcome. Thank you for coming to guard me. I am very
glad to see you once more."
"Ah, my young Lord," said Bernard, "I am right glad to see you out of
the clutches of the Franks! You know friend from foe now, methinks!"
"Yes, indeed I do, Count Bernard. I know you meant kindly by me, and
that I ought to have thanked you, and not been angry, when you
reproved me. Wait one moment, Sir Count; there is one thing that I
promised myself to say if ever I came safe to my own dear home.
Walter—Maurice—Jeannot—all you of my household, and of Sir Eric's-
-I know, before I went away, I was often no good Lord to you; I was
passionate, and proud, and overbearing; but God has punished me for
it, when I was far away among my enemies, and sick and lonely. I am
very sorry for it, and I hope you will pardon me; for I will strive,
 hope God will help me, never to be proud and passionate again."
"There, Sir Eric," said Bernard, "you hear what the boy says. If he
speaks it out so bold and free, without bidding, and if he holds to
what he says, I doubt it not that he shall not grieve for his journey
to France, and that we shall see him, in all things, such a Prince as
his father of blessed memory."
"You must thank Osmond for me," said Richard, as Osmond came down,
awakened at length. "It is Osmond who has helped me to bear my
troubles; and as to saving me, why he flew away with me even like an
old eagle with its eaglet. I say, Osmond, you must ever after this
wear a pair of wings on shield and pennon, to show how well we
managed our flight."
"As you will, my Lord," said Osmond, half asleep; "but 'twas a good
long flight at a stretch, and I trust never to have to fly before
your foes or mine again."
What a glad summer's day was that! Even the three hours spent in
council did but renew the relish with which Richard visited Alberic's
 treasures, told his adventures, and showed the accomplishments he had
learnt at Laon. The evening was more joyous still; for the Castle
gates were opened, first to receive Dame Yolande Montemar, and not
above a quarter of an hour afterwards, the drawbridge was lowered to
admit the followers of Centeville; and in front of them appeared Fru
Astrida's own high cap. Richard made but one bound into her arms,
and was clasped to her breast; then held off at arm's-length, that
she might see how much he was grown, and pity his scar; then hugged
closer than ever: but, taking another look, she declared that Osmond
left his hair like King Harald Horrid-locks;
and, drawing an
ivory comb from her pouch, began to pull out the thick tangles,
hurting him to a degree that would once have made him rebel, but now
he only fondled her the more.
As to Osmond, when he knelt before her, she blessed him, and sobbed
over him, and blamed him for over-tiring her darling, all in one; and
assuredly, when night closed in and Richard had, as of old, told his
beads beside her knee, the happiest boy in Normandy was its little
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