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The speaker was a tall sunburnt lad about thirteen, whose large-boned and loosely put-together frame gave promise of great strength hereafter. A bright honest face, shaded by thick rough hair, and a pair of merry hazel eyes, completed a picture of boyish health and vigour.
"No, Raoul,' said Aloys, with a singularly sweet smile, and a low gentle voice, only thinking.'
' And I am thinking, too, burst out Raoul, loudly enough ; then as he bethought himself of the Sire de Cervoles' presence, he sank into an eager whisper, “thinking that I am the worst-used lad in Christendom. The old villain of a Seneschal must have a spite against me.' •What has he done?'
"Well, thou knowest that that fellow Bertrand, like a Norman braggard as he is, said he could hit a mark better than I, so to-day I gave him my cross-bow, and told him to bring down an old crow which was sitting on the tower. The stupid oaf, he missed the crow by a mile, and put the bolt right into one of the chapel windows.'
O Raoul !' ejaculated Aloys, in dismay. • It is very fine to say, “O Raoul !” but the mischief was done, and out flies Father Bernard in a rage, and Bertrand down with the bow, and ran for it, so there was I left to pay the piper.'
*But it was not thy doing, Raoul ?'
'Ay! so I said; but I could not tell tales on Bertrand, and Father Bernard was pleased to doubt my story, and he called the Seneschal in. Of course, it was my bow, and I was always in mischief, and I had no business to be shooting there, and he must speak to the Sire, and so forth. Worse than all, he laid hands on my poor cross-bow, and carried it off, like a spiteful old wretch as he is.'
What will the Sire say ? asked Aloys, in an awe-struck whisper. 'I care not what he says or does, if he will only let me have my bow back. But I had it out with Bertrand, though.'
Was it thou that gave him that black eye? “Yes,' said Raoul, nearly choking with a stifled burst of laughter. “I have stopped his boasting for some time, at any rate. And oh, Aloys, such work as I had to get my face washed in time for supper, and he was late, and not very fit for the eyes of company, after all. Pity 'twas thou wast not there to see how I beat him ; but thou art always reading dreary romances to Mademoiselle Blanche.'
Aloys had listened patiently while his friend ran over his wrongs and his feats of arms; but the minute Raoul had come to an end, he began on the subject of which his head was full: “Raoul, heardest thou what Messire de Nogent was saying about the Crusade ?'
Yes, I heard. Would not it be rare sport to go off to Palestine, and leave old Hubert and Father Bernard to whistle after one in vain ?'
Aloys looked hurt-almost shocked. He was in earnest, while Raoul was only jesting; and his answer was grave: “It would be no sport that I see, Raoul; but think of the bappiness of winning the Blessed Sepulchre from the hands of the heathen. I would give anything to do that! My father will not come to me,' he continued, in a dreamy way, 'I would fain go to him.'
Raoul thought within himself that Gualtier de la Ferté was in all probability not to be found on earth, but he hardly liked to say so, and replied in a more serious tone, 'I mean to take the Cross myself, when I am a man; but as for going now—why, Messire de Nogent calls it folly.'
Ay, but folk say that he'-Aloys cautiously suppressed the name deserves fire and faggot as much as any of the Albigense heretics whom the Count de Montfort is destroying.
Father Bernard would tell thee to refrain from slandering,' said Raoul, rather sharply. 'Our Sire is not the man to harbour heretics. Besides
But ere Raoul had finished his defence of De Nogent, who had won his heart by teaching him on some former occasion how to use that very bow, Blanche crossed the hall, came up to the two boys, and laying her hand on the younger one's shoulder, said, 'Canst thou repeat thy lesson to me, Aloys? If so, come to my chamber, and I will hear thee.'
Aloys bowed, and answered in the affirmative. Raoul bowed also, but there was a look half of vexation, half of scorn, on his face; and as Blanche and her silken train swept away, he muttered, “So, Demoiselle, . I am not good enough company for your favourite, am I ? 'Raoul, how canst thou be so foolish ?'
It is true, though, Loy. Mademoiselle Blanche is afraid I should make thee a ne'er-do-well like myself, so she takes thee from me whenever she can.'
THE VOW MADE.
Aloys de la Ferté, or “Loy,' as he was familiarly called, was the pet and plaything of Château Cervoles, partly from his own winsome ways, partly from the pity excited by his sad history, and from the affection once given to his father.
Gualtier de la Ferté had been simply worshipped by all his friendsnot that he was unusually clever or unusually strong ; but the very men who could worst Gualtier in an argument, or unhorse him in the tiltyard, nevertheless trusted him, liked him, and admired him as they would no one else, merely for his truth and unselfishness. The Sire de Cervoles, who had no son of his own, treated Gualtier almost as if he had been his child; and though he could not blame him for it, still it was a great sorrow to the old man, when ten years ago, his favoured vassal was seized with a fit of enthusiasm, and left his wife and infant son, to join Reginald Count of Dampierre, in the Crusade of 1202.
It was a disgraceful expedition, that Crusade; though, in a worldly point of view, not an unsuccessful one. The main body of the army, forgetful of their vows, and indifferent to the Pope's excommunication, turned their forces first against Zara, a Christian city, and then against Constantinople, which they took and sacked, winning thereby enormous wealth, and founding the Latin Empire of the East. But Gualtier had no hand in slaughtering the inhabitants and plundering the churches of Byzantium. A small and more honest party among the Crusaders, headed by the Count de Dampierre, did go to the Holy Land, and joined Boemund Prince of Antioch in a war against the Armenians, and not one of these had ever come back.
Gualtier's fate, of course, was as uncertain as that of his comrades ; but it was pleasanter to think of him as one who had died a noble death, and was now at rest, than as a prisoner wasting the best years of his life in hopeless captivity; and so dead he was assumed to be. Only one still clung to the belief that he was alive-his poor young wife, who taught her child to think the same, and to pray for his father's return; and thus, when at six years old, little Aloys was left altogether an orphan, the idea was so firmly rooted in his head that it was impossible to get it out.
Gentle, delicate, and dreamy, Loy was a sore trouble to the Sire de Cervoles, who as his feudal superior, became of course his guardian. The old noble, though' as good-hearted a man as ever breathed, was severe and passionate, and not always sparing of hard words and blows; but to Loy he invariably shewed himself tender to an extent which his sterner judgement often condemned. 'Blanche,' he would sometimes say to his daughter, when he found her petting the child and keeping him away from the rough play of the other pages, “I'll not have thee cocker that boy after this sort; we are spoiling him among us.' Or when, once or twice, Aloys shewed that there was a little spirit of wilfulness under his sweetness and softness—'Blanche, I tell thee, Loy must be brought under rule. Why, poor Gualtier never dreamt of disobeying me, or, if he had, I should have made short work with him ; and this little imp, who is not half what his father was, is to have his own way in everything, forsooth!'
But the Sire de Cervoles' heart failed him when, as soon as he began to find fault, Loy's great dark eyes filled with tears, and he seemed utterly crushed under the rebuke; and so the task of reproving him was delegated to Blanche, who was a great deal too fond of her own little page' to do anything of the kind; while if any of the other damoiseaux (pages) were inclined to bully him, they were kept in check by young Raoul Saint-André, who, ready enough to use his fists on any occasion, was doubly so when Loy had to be defended.
Raoul was very different from his friend. He was not, intellectually, as clever as Aloys, and therefore the latter, though two years his junior, could very often lead him ; but he was the boldest and most daring among his companions, ever eager for anything adventurous or mischievous, and much oftener in disgrace than not. It was Raoul who climbed to the very topmost turret of the castle at the peril of his neck, to bring down a jackdaw's nest; Raoul who threw the Demoiselle de Cervoles' lap-dog into the moat to teach him to swim ; Raoul who got into the buttery at night, and set out all the trenchers and drinking-cups on the stones of the court-yard-toujours Raoul ! men in France. Many a noble had sent his heir to swell the ranks of the child-army; and surely, if his father had been here, he would gladly have permitted his son to go forth on God's service. He was only treading in the steps of that father ; and though Loy once reflected that his fate might be the same, to his wild enthusiastic nature a martyr's death was a thing rather to be courted than shunned.
Naturally enough, though regarded with an eye of disfavour by the authorities of the Castle, he was an object of admiration to his fellow pages, and of amusement to De Cervoles' knights and squires, who fagged Raoul, teazed him, and occasionally, it must be confessed, incited him to further mischief.
Thus, in the interval between Mass and breakfast, which the Sire de Cervoles employed in visiting his horses, Raoul was attacked by one or two of the knights who were loitering about the hall with the question, • Who broke the chapel window ?'
‘Ha! Saint-André,' quoth De Nogent, 'I am glad to see thee still maintain thy reputation for the greatest scapegrace in Christendom. Wast thou practising with the mangonel on the top of the keep?'
Only with your cross-bow, Messire de Nogent.' * Heaven and the Sire de Cervoles pardon me!' said De Nogent gravely. “One of the worst sins I ever committed was teaching thee the use of so dangerous a weapon.'
*Raoul Saint-André ! cried another knight, laying a heavy hand on his shoulder, was it thou broke my riding-rod yesterday?'
• Not I, Sire Geoffroi.'
"Well for thee,' said the young knight. “If it had been, I'd have broken the switch a little smaller over thy head.'
. Better do it, Geoffroi. Someone ought to thrash Raoul every morning,
'Here, Raoul,' said De Nogent, laughing, and drawing the boy to him;
'I indeed! Why, thou young fear-nought, thou hast daring enough to lead the next Crusade, tricks enough to put a Greek to shame; and thou canst not get thy bow back, forsooth!'
The Sire de Cervoles' entrance put a stop to further talk of this kind, and Raoul was left meditating schemes for recovering his confiscated property, while Aloys was wishing that he knew De Nogent as well as his friend did. He would have given anything to be able to ask him about the Children's Crusade; but then he had never set eyes on him before, wbile Raoul had often seen him at his father's. So Loy could only think and wonder in silence, which he did to some purpose.
His mind was made up. He must and would join this Crusade. It was true that De Nogent scoffed at it, that the Sire thought it insanity; but then had not all the holy Saints and Martyrs been mocked at, and called madmen? And besides, the Sire and his friend were not the only
If he could only get out of the castle!
There was one resource-Raoul, who would brave any danger for mere amusement; and so he resolved to take his friend into council.
For the first time in his life, Loy thought Blanche's instructions in reading and music, both which accomplishments she did her best to impart to him, very irksome; and when he at last found himself at liberty, Raoul was not forthcoming.
That young hero was fretting and fuming his soul out in a little turretchamber, which had occasionally done duty as a prison, and was furnished accordingly with strong staples driven into the wall, and heavy chains hanging to them. Out of these he extracted a faint amusement by making them swing to and fro, and the rest of the time he filled up by railing bitterly against the world in general.
De Nogent's unlucky speech had set Raoul upon recovering his bow; and having discovered it hanging up by the window of the armoury, he made a vigorous attempt to fork it out by standing on a big stone in the court-yard and thrusting a lance through the bars. Unfortunately, the lance was a favourite one, much gilded and ornamented, of Messire Geoffroi de Cervoles, the Sire's nephew; and unfortunately, Messire Geoffroi, who had long been at war with Raoul, caught him in the act, and not only manifested his disapproval in a very substantial manner, but had the baseness to hand him over to the Seneschal after all. So the door of the turret-chamber was bolted on Raoul, with the parting remark that the dungeon would bave been no more than his deserts; and there he was left.
But he had scarcely finished his morning's allowance of bread and water next day, when the bolt shot back, and Aloys de la Ferté entered.
• Holla! how didst thou come in ?? quoth Raoul, staring at the apparition.
• The door was not locked.'
Hussh! if anyone heard me here? “Well, say thy say, and go; I would not get thee into trouble for all the treasure of Constantinople.'
Aloys knelt down by his friend's side, and whispered, “Raoul, I mean to run away.' • Why, who has ill-used thee?' cried the boy fiercely.
No one; I have vowed to join the Crusade.' Aloys spoke in a tone of determination, very different from his usual timid manner, and his dark eyes sparkled till they seemed more un