Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

outside the city walls. He lingered for six weeks, during which he was surrounded by doctors, priests, and monks. On the nearer approach of death his heart softened, and though he preserved the kingly decorum and conversed calmly on the wonderful events of his life, he is said to have felt the vanity of all human grandeur, and a keen remorse for the crimes and cruelties he had committed. He sent money to Mantes to rebuild the churches and houses of religion he had burned, and he ordered large sums to be paid to the churches and monasteries in England, which he had plundered and impoverished. He released all his state prisoners, as well Saxons as others, some of whom had pined in dungeons for more than twenty years. Robert, his eldest son, who had had many violent quarrels with his father, was absent, but his two younger sons, William and Henry, who were successively kings of England, were assiduous round the death-bed, waiting impatiently for the declaration of his last will. A day or two before his death the conqueror assembled some of his prelates and chief barons in his sick chamber, and raising himself in his bed, he with a solemn and ghastly countenance declared in their presence that he bequeathed the duchy of Normandy and its other deperdencies to his eldest son Robert. “ As to the crown of England," said the dying monarch, “I bequeath it to no one, as I did not receive it, like the duchy of Normandy, in inheritance from my father, but acquired it by conquest and the shedding of blood with mine own good sword. The succession to that kingdom I therefore leave to the decision of God, only desiring most fervently that my son William, who hath ever been dutiful to me, may obtain it, and prosper in it.” “And what do you give unto me, oh' my father ?" eagerly cried Prince Henry. “Five thousand pounds weight of silver out of my treasury." “ But what can I do with five thousand pounds of silver, if I have neither lands nor a home ” Here the dying king put on the look of a prophet, and said, “Be patient, O Henry! and have trust in the Lord : suffer thy elder brothers to precede thee, and thy time will come after theirs.” Henry the Beauclerc, and the craftiest and cleverest of the unloving brotherhood, went straight and drew the silver, which he weighed with great care, and then furnished himself with a strong coffer to keep his treasure in. William Rufus left the king's bedside at the same time, and, without waiting to see his father breathe his last, hastened over to England to seize the royal treasures deposited in Winchester castle and to look after his crown.

About sunrise, on the 9th of September, the conqueror was roused from a stupor into which he had fallen by the sound of bells. He eagerly inquired what the noise meant, aud was told that they were ringing the hour of prime in the church of St. Mary. He lifted his clasped hands to heaven, and saying “I recommend my soul to my Lady Mary, the holy mother of God,” instantly expired. His last faint sigh was the signal for a general light and scramble. The knights, priests, and doctors, who had passed the night near him, put on their spurs, mounted their horses, and galloped off to their several homes to have an eye to their own interests. The king's servants and some vassals of inferior rank proceeded to rifle the apartments of the arms, silver vessels, linen and royal dresses, and then were to horse and away like their betters. Some took one thing, some another; nothing worth the carrying was left behind—no, not so much as the bed-clothes. From prime to tierce, or for about three hours, the corpse of the mighty conqueror, abandoned by sons, friends, servants and all, lay in a state of almost perfect nakedness on the bare boards of the chamber in which he had expired. The citizens of Rouen either ran about the streets asking news and advice from every one they met, or busied themselves in concealing their money and valuables. At last the clergy and the monks recovered the use of their faculties, and thought of the decent duties owing to the mortal remains of their sovereign ; and, arraying themselves in their best habits, and forming in order of procession they went with crucifis, burning tapers, and incense, to pray over the abandoned and dishonoured body for the peace of its soul. The archbishop of Rouen ordained that the king should be interred at Caen in the church of St. Stephen, which he had built and royally endowed. But even now there was none to do it honour : his sons, his brothers, his relations, were all absent, and of all the Conqueror's officers and rich vassals not one was found to take charge of the obsequies. At length a poor knight named Ierluin, who lived in the neighbourhood, charged himself with the trouble and expense of the funeral. “out of his natural good nature and love of God.” This poor and pious knight engaged the proper attendance and a wain ; he conveyed the king's body on the cart to the banks of the Seine, and from thence in a barge down the river and its estuary to the city of Caen. Gilbert, Abbot of St. Stephen's, with all his monks, came out of Caen to meet the body, and other churchmen and the inhabitants of the city joining these, a considerable procession was formed. But as they went along a fire suddenly broke out in the town ; laymen and clerks ran to extinguish it, and the abbot and his monks were left alone to conduct the remains of the king to the church which he had founded. Even the last burial service did not pass undisturbed. The neighbouring bishops and abbots assembled for this solemn ceremony. The mass and requiem had been said ; the incense was filling the church with its holy perfume, the Bishop of Evreux had pronounced the panegyric, and the body was about to be lowered into the grave prepared for it in the church between the altar and the choir, when a man, sudåenly rising in the crowd, exclaimed with a loud and angry voice which made the prelates and monks to start and cross themselves—“Bishop, the man whom thou hast praised was a robber! The very ground on which we are standing is mine, and is the site where my father's house stood. He took it from me by violence, to build this church on it. I reclaim it as my right ; and in the name of God, I forbid you to bury him here, or cover him with my glebe.” The man who spoke thus boldly was Asseline Fitz Arthur, who had often asked a just compensation from the king in his lifetime. Many of the persons present confirmed the truth of his statement; and, after some parley and chaffering, the bishop paid him sixty shillings for the grave alone, engaging to procure him hereafter the full value of the rest of his land. The body, dressed in royal robes, but without a coffin, was then lowered into the narrow tomb; the rest of the ceremony was hurried over, the people dispersed, the prelates went to their homes, and the abbot and monks of St. Stephen's went to their cloisters, leaving only one brother of the house to sprinkle holy water over the flat stone that covered the grave and to pray for the soul of the departed. The traveller may yet stand and muse over that grave in the quaint old Norman church at Caen ; but the equestrian statue of the Conqueror, placed against one of the external pillars of the church, has been wantonly and barbarously mutilated.

41.-DEATH AND BURIAL OF WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.

Rev. J. WHITE.
WILLIAM.
WOLFSTAN, a Saxon monk.
ASSELYN FITZARTHUR.
Townsmen.
Friar.
Abbot, Peasants, &c.

[ocr errors]

The Church of Saint Gervas, near Rouen. Wolfstan, a monk, stands absorbed in thought. His hands clasped. Two townsmen

observing him.
First Townsman. He'll stand you thus whole days ; his eyeballs fixed
On one sole spot; his hands close clenched in prayer.

Second Townsman They look as if they clutch'u a sword, so swoll'n
The veins, so tight the grasp. I'll speak to him.

First Townsman. Nay, 'tis of evil omen ; if he speaks
'Tis well, but not the Abbot's self has courage
To address him first. Crazed with such grief he is
That like a crumbling ruin he may fall,
'Neath the mere sound that shakes the circling air,
And bury rash intruders.
Second Townsman.

Ruin indeed
So wan with misery, so sunk in gloom
No face has met my eyes. What is his name?

First Toronsman. Wolfstan, an English monk. I know no more;
Save that he left his English monastery
Six years since, and, they say, has secret arts
Known only to himself, whereby the Future
Lifts its thick curtain up, and at set times,
After lone Vigils, he can see in the sky
-Viewless to all beside,-strange siglats as clear
As needled pictures on the Arras cloths
That hang Duke William's walls.
Wolfstan—(mutters).

It tarries long!
Yet it will come.

Onward in thickening gloom
It rolls the lurid cloud, in whose deep folds
Vengeance lies blind yet watchful. Let it come!

Secund Townsman. Is it a prayer he mutters, or a curse ?
I shudder at his words—(goes near)--Your blessing, Father.

Wolfstan. I have no blessing. You are young and strong;
Go forth into the sunshine; hear the birds ;
Look on the skies ; wander amid the trees ;-
Blessing may reach your heart from sight and sound,
From motion and the pleasant summer air,
But on my tongue, it dies, like rain in sand.

[The two townsmen retire. Asselyn Fitzarthur-in rags and misery)-I pray you, father, give your

ear to me, A broken man am I ; wasted with grief.Wolfstan—(lays his hand on Asselyn's shoulder). I know. I feel through

all my sense a glow,

As if we two were partners of one Thought ;-
As if our souls were two half-darken'd rooms
In one lone house, and on the noiseless floor
Played with grim joy the Hellchild, Hate-
Asselyn.

I feel it !
And many a year have thrill'd beneath its feet.
How is't you know my thought ?
Wolfstan.

Man's covering
Grows crystal when the heart it holds is fire.
I fix my spirit on your's, and draw it forth
Like dew drops from the grass.
Asselyn.

Help me, oh father,
For I am choked with meaning, and my lips
Close, as if barr'd in iron !
Wolfstan.

-This is one
Whose soul is as my own.—The man you hate
Is powerful

Asselyn. Powerful.
Wolfstan.

He shall die !
Asselyn. (eagerly.) How soon ?

Wolfstan. I know not; but a Vision night by night
Comes to my pallet, pointing to a tomb
Where oozing slowly from the broken grave-stone
Comes blood, and trickles, dark, among the weeds.

Asselyn. I would not he should thus escape my voice,
Or hide him from my eye ; once, face to face
We stood, and I would see him once again !
Have I not starved since then, from year to year
And felt the hunger like a tightning grasp
Fold on my heart? He wrong'd me of my lands,
My house, my name; and left me the sole wealth
Of Hatred for my covering, food and rest.
Oh! father, let me lift your shrunken hand
High up, and hear you curse him ere he dies !

Wolfstan. Nor for your wrongs I curse luim; not for mine ;
Not for the land's he tramples into ruin :
Nor for my native England's fettered grief,
Yet I will curse him.

Enter Friar. Friar.

Father, hear my speech. Fever hath struck Duke William to the ground And death sits at his bed.

Wolfstan smiles). He speaks old words
That have been in my ears these many days.

Asselyn. How? He we spoke of—
Wolfstan.

Hush
Friar.

And hither came
His Highness that he breathe the sacred air
Of Holy Gervas till he breathe no more.

Asselyn. May I not dash into his ghastly room
And hear him groan his last !
Wolfstan.

No-to your home,

[Exit Asselyn.

Go while you may. Vengeance will reach him yet.

Friar. And now he summons to his couch of pain
Your ministering prayer.
Wolfstan.

I come to him.

SCENE SECOND,

Chamber in St. Gervas Monastery. William dying.

William-Attendant, William. Where is my sou—my William ? Attendant.

Gone in haste
To cross to England and to seize the Crown.

William. The Crown ! and I alive? Call Henry hither.
Attendant. He's gone, sire, with the coin your Highness gave.

William. And left me thus! Bear witness, noble Knights,-
Come nearer, I would see you while I speak,
Why come you not, and stand before my sight?

Attendant. Sire, all have left you : all but only I.

William. I could have borne it all—but my two sons !
If they had left my side in battle thus,
The Headsman had unspurred them with his axe!
And now I face this Enemy alone !
This Death, whose icy hand is on my throat,
And none comes to the rescue.—Arms ! Sir Knave,
My cuirass of bright steel; my shining greaves
My sword, my gauntlets. Let me meet the foe
As fits my name, not idly, like a monk
Dreaming his dream of life till death awakes him.
Quick !-or I perish.—See you how he stands
With eyeless socket fixed upon my face,
And a proud smile upon his bony lips ?
Yield me to ransom ? Ha! my arm is chilled, -
I cannot fight, but I've no craven cry,
I yield not

Wolfstan (who has entered noiselessly). William
William.

Soh! The fantom fades,
I breathe again. Who speaks ?
Attendant.

The holy priest
Rich with deep prayer from Gervas inper shrine.

William. Why came you not ere this? Your solemn presence
Might have dispelled these shadows, like the sun.

Wolfstan. They are not shadows.
William.

There's a tone i the voice
That racks me. There is English on your tongue.

Wolfstan. And in my heart.
William.

I will not have your prayers !
They will not reach to heaven, clogged with the hate
That weighs them down.
Wolfstan.

How know you that I hate ?
Wiúiam. All bate meall; the ruddy cheeked young child
That lisps its broken words, the grey haired man
That staggers in his speech from weary age,

« EdellinenJatka »