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Title: The Abbatial Crosier - or Bonaik and Septimine. A Tale of a Medieval Abbess
Author: Sue, Eugène, 1804-1857
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE ABBATIAL CROSIER


THE FULL SERIES OF

The Mysteries of the People

OR

History of a Proletarian Family

Across the Ages

By EUGENE SUE

_Consisting of the Following Works_:

    THE GOLD SICKLE; or, _Hena the Virgin of the Isle of Sen_.
    THE BRASS BELL; or, _The Chariot of Death_.
    THE IRON COLLAR; or, _Faustine and Syomara_.
    THE SILVER CROSS; or, _The Carpenter of Nazareth_.
    THE CASQUE'S LARK; or, _Victoria, the Mother of the Camps_.
    THE PONIARD'S HILT; or, _Karadeucq and Ronan_.
    THE BRANDING NEEDLE; or, _The Monastery of Charolles_.
    THE ABBATIAL CROSIER; or, _Bonaik and Septimine_.
    THE CARLOVINGIAN COINS; or, _The Daughters of Charlemagne_.
    THE IRON ARROW-HEAD; or, _The Buckler Maiden_.
    THE INFANT'S SKULL; or, _The End of the World_.
    THE PILGRIM'S SHELL; or, _Fergan the Quarryman_.
    THE IRON PINCERS; or, _Mylio and Karvel_.
    THE IRON TREVET; or _Jocelyn the Champion_.
    THE EXECUTIONER'S KNIFE; or, _Joan of Arc_.
    THE POCKET BIBLE; or, _Christian the Printer_.
    THE BLACKSMITH'S HAMMER; or, _The Peasant Code_.
    THE SWORD OF HONOR; or, _The Foundation of the
    French Republic_.
    THE GALLEY SLAVE'S RING; or, _The Family Lebrenn_.

Published Uniform With This Volume By

THE NEW YORK LABOR NEWS CO.

28 CITY HALL PLACE NEW YORK CITY



THE

ABBATIAL CROSIER

OR

BONAIK AND SEPTIMINE

A Tale of a Medieval Abbess

By EUGENE SUE

TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL FRENCH BY

DANIEL DE LEON

NEW YORK LABOR NEWS COMPANY, 1908



Copyright 1908, by the

NEW YORK LABOR NEWS CO.



INDEX


TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE                           v

PROLOGUE.

CHAPTER.

I. NARBONNE                                    3

II. ABD-EL-KADER AND ROSEN-AER                 6


PART I--THE CONVENT OF ST. SATURNINE.

I. THE LAST OF THE MEROVINGIANS               15

II. CHARLES MARTEL                            23

III. FATHER CLEMENT'S REFECTORY               33

IV. MORDECAI THE SLAVE-DEALER                 40


PART II--THE ABBEY OF MERIADEK.

I. ELOI THE GOLDSMITH                         47

II. THE INTENDANT RICARIK                     57

III. THE ABBESS MEROFLEDE                     62

IV. IN SIGHT OF THE ABBEY                     69

V. ASYLUM                                     78

VI. WARRIOR AND ABBESS                        83

VII. THE MOUSE-TRAP                           89

VIII. THE MIRACLE OF ST. LOUP'S TEETH         94

IX. BRENN--KARNAK                            102

X. MISTRESS AND MAN                          117

XI. THE FLIGHT                               122

XII. MOTHER AND SON                          129



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE


The turbulent epoch that rocked the cradle of the Carlovingian dynasty,
the dynasty from which issued the colossal historic figure of
Charlemagne, is the epoch of this touching story--the eighth of the
series of Eugene Sue's historic novels known collectively under the
title "_The Mysteries of the People; or, History of a Proletarian Family
Across the Ages_." From the seething caldron of the valleys of the
western Rhine, inundated by the Arabs from the south, the Frisians from
the north, the Saxons from the west, and in which the chants of Moslems,
of Christians and of barbarians mixed into the one common cry of
desolating war, the feudal social system, previously introduced by
Clovis, and now threatened to be engulfed, emerged from the chaos as a
social institution. Many a characteristic of feudalism would be missed
if this, a crucial period of its existence, is not properly apprehended.
As in all the others of this series of Eugene Sue's stories, the
information is imparted without the reader's knowledge. What may be
termed the plot seizes and keeps the interest from start to finish,
steadily enriching the mind with knowledge historically inestimable,
besides connecting with the era described in the previous story--_The
Branding Needle; or, The Monastery of Charolles_--and preparing the
ground for the thrilling events that are the subject of the succeeding
narrative--_The Carlovingian Coins; or, The Daughters of Charlemagne_.

DANIEL DE LEON.

New York, 1904.



PROLOGUE



CHAPTER I.

NARBONNE.


Cruel intestine wars between the descendants of the Frankish conquerors
were devastating Gaul when the Arab invasion took place in 719. The
invaders poured down from the Pyrenees and drove back or subjugated the
Visigoths. The exchange of masters was almost a gain to the inhabitants
of the region. The conquerors from the south were more civilized than
those from the north. Many of the Gauls,--either freemen, or colonists
or slaves--took so strongly to the southern invader that they even
embraced his religion, the religion of Mahomet, allured thereto by the
promises of a paradise peopled with houris. "The virtuous believer,"
declared the Koran, "will be taken to the delicious home of Eden,
enchanted gardens, through which well-shaded rivers flow. There,
ornamented with bracelets of gold, clad in green clothes of woven silk
and resplendent with glory, the faithful will recline upon nuptial beds,
the happy prize in the dwelling of delights." Preferring, accordingly,
the white houris promised by the Koran to the winged seraphs of the
Christian paradise, many Gauls embraced Mohamedanism with ardor. Mosques
rose in Languedoc beside Christian churches. More tolerant than the
bishops, the Arabs allowed the Christians to follow their own religion.
Moreover, Mohamedanism, founded by Mahomet during the previous century,
608, acknowledged the divinity of the Scriptures and recognized Moses
and the Jewish prophets as beings chosen by God, only it did not
recognize the godship of Jesus. "Oh, ye, who have received the
Scriptures, keep within the bounds of the faith. Speak only the truth
about God. Jesus is the son of Mary, and he was sent by the All-High,
but is not his son. Say not that God is a trinity. God is one. Jesus
will not blush at being the servant of God. The angels that surround the
throne of God obey God!"--thus spoke the Koran.

The town of Narbonne, capital of Languedoc under the dominion of the
Arabs, had in 737 quite an Oriental aspect, due as much to the clearness
of the sky as to the dress and customs of a large number of its
inhabitants. The laurel shrubs, the green oaks and palm trees recalled
the vegetation of Africa. Saracen women were seen going to or coming
from the fountains with earthen vessels nicely balanced on their heads,
and draped in their white clothes like the women of the time of Abraham,
or of the young master of Nazareth. Camels with their long necks and
loaded with merchandise left the town for Nimes, Beziers, Toulouse or
Marseilles. The caravans passed on these journeys, along the fields, a
great variety of settlements--mud hovels thatched with straw and
inhabited by Gallic peasants, who were successively the slaves of the
Visigoths and of the Musselmen; tents of a Barbary tribe, Arabian
mountaineers who had descended to the plains from the peak of Mt. Atlas,
and who preserved in Gaul the nomad habits of their old home, warriors,
ever ready to mount their tireless and swift horses in answer to the
first call of battle from the emir of the province; finally, and at long
distances apart, on the crests of the mountains, high towers where,
during war, the Saracens lighted fires for the purpose of signaling the
approach of the enemy to one another.

In the almost Musselman town of Narbonne, the same as in all the other
towns of Gaul under the sway of the Franks and the bishops, there were,
sad to say, public market-places where slaves were set up for sale. But
that which imparted a peculiar character to the market of Narbonne was
the diversity of the races of the captives that were offered to
purchasers. There were seen negroes and negresses in large numbers, as
well as Ethiopians of ebony blackness; copper-colored mestizos; handsome
young Greek girls and boys brought from Athens, Crete or Samos and taken
prisoner on some of the frequent maritime raids made by the Arabs. A
skilful politician, Mahomet, their prophet, had incited in his
sectarians a passion for maritime expeditions. "The believer who dies on
land feels a pain that is hardly comparable with the bite of an ant,"
says the Koran, "but the believer who dies at sea, feels on the contrary
the delicious sensation of a man, who, a prey to burning thirst, is
offered iced water mixed with citron and honey." Around the slave market
stood numerous Arabian shops filled with merchandise mainly manufactured
at Cordova or Granada, centers, at the time, of Saracen art and
civilization: brilliant arms inlaid in arabesques with gold and silver,
coffers of chiseled ivory, crystal cups, rich silk fabrics, embroidered
hose, precious collars and bracelets. Around the shops pressed a crowd
of as various races as costumes: aboriginal Gauls in their wide hose, an
article that gave this section of Gaul the name of "Bracciata" with the
Romans; descendants of the Visigoths who remained faithful to their old
Germanic dress, the furred coat, despite the warmth of the climate;
Arabians with turbans of all colors. From time to time, the cry of the
Musselman priests, calling the believers to prayer from the height of
the minarets, mixed with the chimes of basilicas that summoned the
Christians to their devotions.

"Christian dogs!" said the Arabs or Musselman Gauls. "Accursed heathens,
damned degenerates!" answered the Christians; whereupon both proceeded
to exercise their own cult in peace. More tolerant than the bishops of
Rome, Mahomet said in the Koran: "Do not do violence upon men for reason
of their religion."



CHAPTER II.

ABD-EL-KADER AND ROSEN-AER.


Abd-el-Kader, one of the bravest chiefs of the warriors of Abd-el-Rhaman
during the life of this emir, who was killed five years before on the
field of Poitiers where he delivered a great battle to Charles Martel
(the Hammer)--Abd-el-Kader, after ravaging and pillaging the country and
the churches of Tours and of Blois, occupied one of the handsomest
dwellings in Narbonne. He had the house arranged in Oriental
fashion--the outside windows were closed up, and laurels were planted in
the inner courtyard, from the center of which a fountain jetted its
steady stream. His harem occupied one of the wings of the house. In one
of the chambers of this harem, covered with rich carpets of gay colors,
furnished with silk divans, and lighted by a window with gilded bars,
sat a woman of rare beauty, although about forty years of age. It was
easy to recognize by the whiteness of her skin, the blondness of her
hair and the blue of her eyes that she was not of Arabian stock. Her
pale and sad face revealed a settled and profound sorrow. The curtain
that covered the door of the chamber was pushed aside and Abd-el-Kader
entered. The swarthy-complexioned warrior was about fifty years of age;
his beard and moustache were grizzled; his face, calm and grave,
expressed dignity and mildness. He stepped slowly towards the woman and
said to her: "Rosen-Aër, we meet to-day for the last time, perhaps."

The Gallic matron seemed surprised and replied: "If I am not to see you
again, I still shall remember you. I am your slave, but you have been
kind and generous to me. I shall never forget that six years ago, when
the Arabians invaded Burgundy and raided the valley of Charolles, where
my family lived in happiness for more than a century, you respected me
when I was taken to your tent. I declared to you then that at the first
act of violence on your part, I would kill myself ... you ever treated
me as a free woman--"

"Mercy is the badge of the believer. I only obeyed the voice of the
prophet. But you, Rosen-Aër, did you not, shortly after you were brought
here a prisoner and Ibraham, my youngest son, was nearly dying, did you
not ask to take care of him the same as a mother would? Did you not
watch at his bedside during the long nights of his illness as if he were
your own son? It was, accordingly, in recompense for your services, as
well as in obedience to the behest of the Koran--_deliver your brothers
from bondage_--that I offered you your freedom."

"What else could I have done with my freedom? I am all alone in the
world.... I saw my brother and husband killed under my own eyes in a
desperate fight with your soldiers when they invaded the valley of
Charolles; and before those days I wept my son Amael, who had
disappeared six years before. I wept him then, as I do still every day,
inconsolable at his absence."

Rosen-Aër spoke these words and could not keep back the tears that
welled in her eyes and inundated her face. Abd-el-Kader looked at her
sadly and replied: "Your motherly sorrow has often touched me. I can
neither console you, nor give you hope. How could your son now be found,
seeing he disappeared when barely fifteen years of age! It is a question
whether he still lives."

"He would now be twenty-five; but," added Rosen-Aër drying her tears,
"let us not now talk of my son; I am afraid he is lost to me
forever.... But why say you that we see each other to-day, perhaps, for
the last time?"

"Charles Martel, the chief of the Franks, is advancing with forced
marches at the head of a formidable army to drive us out of Gaul. I was
notified yesterday of his approach. Within two days, perhaps, the Franks
will be upon the walls of Narbonne. Abd-el-Malek, our new emir, is of
the opinion that our troops should go out and meet Charles.... We are
about to depart. The battle will be bloody. God may wish to send me
death. That is why I came to tell you we may never meet again.... If God
should will it so, what will become of you?"

"You have several times generously offered me freedom, money and a guide
to travel through Gaul and look for my child. But I lacked the courage
and strength, or rather my reason told me how insane such an undertaking
would be in the midst of the civil wars that are desolating our unhappy
country. If I am not to see you again and I must leave this house, where
at least I have been able to weep in peace, free from the shame and the
trials of slavery, there will be nothing left to me but to die."

"I do not like to see you despair, Rosen-Aër. This is my plan for you.
During my absence you shall leave Narbonne. My forces are to take the
field against the Franks; my army is brave, but the will of God is
immovable. If it be his pleasure that victory fall to Charles and that
the Franks prevail over the Crescent, they may lay siege to this town
and take it. In that event you and all its inhabitants will be exposed
to the fate of people in a place carried by assault--death or slavery.
It is with an eye to withdrawing you from so sad a fate that I would
induce you to leave the town, and to take temporary shelter in one of
the Gallic colonies nearby that cultivate my fields."

"Your fields!" exclaimed Rosen-Aër with bitterness; "you should rather
say the fields that your soldiers seized by force and rapine, the
inseparable companions of conquest."

"Such was the will of God."

"Oh, for the sake of your race and of yourself, Abd-el-Kader, I hope the
will of God may save you the pain of some day seeing the fields of your
fathers at the mercy of conquerors!"

"God ordains ... Man submits. If God decrees against Charles Martel at
the approaching battle and we are victorious, you can return here to
Narbonne; if we are vanquished, if I am killed in the battle, if we are
driven out of Gaul, you shall have nothing to fear in the retreat that I
am providing for you. You can remain with the family of my servant. Here
is a little purse with enough gold pieces to supply your wants."

"I shall remember you, Abd-el-Kader, as a generous man, despite the
wrong your race has done mine."

"God sent us hither to cause the religion preached by Mahomet to
triumph, the only true religion. May his name be glorified."

"But the Christian bishops, priests and monks also pretend that their
religion is the only true one."

"Let them prove it ... we leave them free to preach their belief. Barely
a century since its foundation, the Musselman faith has subjugated the
Orient almost entirely, Spain and a portion of Gaul. We are instruments
of the divine will. If God has decided that I shall die in the
approaching battle, then we shall not meet again. Should I die and yet
our arms triumph, my sons, if they survive me, will take care of you....
Ibraham venerates you as his own mother."

"Do you take Ibraham to battle?"

"The youth who can manage a steed and hold a sword is of battle age....
Do you accept my offer, Rosen-Aër?"

"Yes; I tremble at the very thought of falling into the hands of the
Franks! Sad days these are for us. We have only the choice of
servitudes. Happy, at least, are those who, like myself, meet among
their masters compassionate hearts."

"Make yourself ready.... I myself shall depart in an hour at the head of
a part of my troops. I shall come for you. We shall leave the house
together; you to proceed to the colonist who occupies my country house,
and I to march against the Frankish army."

When Abd-el-Kader returned for Rosen-Aër, he had donned his battle
costume. He wore a brilliant steel cuirass, and a red turban wrapped
around his gilded casque. A scimitar of marvelous workmanship hung from
his belt; its sheath as well as its handle of massive gold was
ornamented with arabesques of corals and diamonds. The Arab warrior said
to Rosen-Aër with suppressed emotion: "Allow me to embrace you as a
daughter."

Rosen-Aër gave Abd-el-Kader her forehead, saying: "I pray that your
children may long retain their father."

The Arab and the Gallic woman left the harem together. Outside they met
the five sons of the chief--Abd-Allah, Hasam, Abul-Casem, Mahomet and
Ibraham, the youngest, all in full armor, on horseback and carrying over
their arms long and light white woolen cloaks with black tufts. The
youngest of the family, a lad of barely fifteen, alighted from his horse
when he saw Rosen-Aër, took her hand, kissed it respectfully and said:
"You have been a mother to me; before departing for battle I greet you
as a son."

The Gallic woman thought of her son Amael, who also was fifteen years
when he departed from the valley of Charolles, and answered the young
man: "May God protect you, you who are now to incur the risk of war for
the first time!"

"'Believers, when you march upon the enemy, be unshakable,' says the
prophet," the lad replied with mild yet grave voice. "We are going to
deliver battle to the infidel Franks. I shall fight bravely under the
eyes of my father.... God alone disposes of our lives. His will be
done."

Once more kissing the hand of Rosen-Aër, the young Arab helped her mount
her mule that was led by a black slave. From the distance the martial
bray of the Saracen clarions was heard. Abd-el-Kader waved his last
adieu to Rosen-Aër, and the Arab, with whom age had not weakened the
martial ardor of younger years, leaped upon his horse and galloped off,
followed by his five sons. For a few moments longer the Gallic woman
followed with her eyes the long white cloaks that the rapid course of
the Arab and his five children raised to the wind. When they had
disappeared in a cloud of dust at a turning of the street, Rosen-Aër
ordered the black slave to lead the mule towards the main gate of the
town in order to ride out and reach the colonist's house.



PART I.

THE CONVENT OF ST. SATURNINE



CHAPTER I.

THE LAST OF THE MEROVINGIANS.


About a month had elapsed since the departure of Abd-el-Kader and his
five sons to meet Charles Martel in battle.

A boy of eleven or twelve years, confined in the convent of St.
Saturnine in Anjou, was leaning on his elbows at the sill of a narrow
window on the first floor of one of the buildings of the abbey, and
looking out upon the fields. The vaulted room in which the boy was kept
was cold, spacious, bare and floored with stone. In a corner stood a
little bed, and on a table a few toys roughly cut out of coarse wood. A
few stools and a trunk were its only furniture. The boy himself, dressed
in a threadbare and patched black serge, had a sickly appearance. His
face, biliously pale, expressed profound sadness. He looked at the
distant fields, and tears ran down his hollow cheeks. While he was
dreaming awake, the door of the room opened and a young girl of about
sixteen stepped in softly. Her complexion was dark brown but extremely
fresh, her lips were red, her hair as well as her eyes jetty black, and
her eyebrows were exquisitely arched. A more comely figure could ill be
imagined, despite her drugget petticoat and coarse apron, the ends of
which were tucked under her belt and which was full of hemp ready to be
spun. Septimine held her distaff in one hand and in the other a little
wooden casket. At the sight of the boy, who remained sadly leaning on
his elbows at the window, the young girl sighed and said to herself:
"Poor little fellow ... always sorry ... I do not know whether the news
I bring will be good or bad for him.... If he accepts, may he never
have cause to look back with regret to this convent." She softly
approached the child without being heard, placed her hand upon his
shoulder with gentle familiarity and said playfully: "What are you
thinking about, my dear prince?"

The child was startled. He turned his face bathed in tears towards
Septimine, and letting himself down with an air of utter dejectment on a
stool near the window, said: "Oh, I am weary!... I am weary to death!"
and the tears flowed anew from his fixed and red eyes.

"Come now, dry those ugly tears," the young maid replied affectionately.
"I came to entertain you. I brought along a large supply of hemp to spin
in your company while talking to you, unless you prefer a game of
huckle-bones--"

"Nothing amuses me. Everything tires me."

"That is sad for those who love you; nothing amuses you, nothing pleases
you. You are always downcast and silent. You take no care of your
person. Your hair is unkempt ... and your clothes in rags! If your hair
were well combed over your forehead, instead of falling in disorder, you
would not look like a little savage.... It is now three days since you
have allowed me to arrange it, but to-day, will ye, nill ye, I shall
comb it."

"No; no; I won't have it!" said the boy stamping his foot with feverish
impatience. "Leave me alone; your attentions annoy me."

"Oh, oh! You can not frighten me with your stamping," Septimine replied
mirthfully. "I have brought along in this box all that I need to comb
you. Be wise and docile."

"Septimine.... Leave me in peace!"

But the young girl was not to be discouraged. With the authority of a
"big sister" she turned around the chair of the recalcitrant boy and
forced him to let her disentangle his disordered hair. While thus giving
him her care with as much affection as grace, Septimine, standing behind
him said: "Are you not a hundred times better looking this way, my dear
prince?"

"What is the difference, good looking or not?... I am not allowed to
leave this convent.... What have I done to be so wretched?"

"Alack, poor little one ... you are the son of a king!"

The boy made no answer, but he hid his face in his hands and fell to
weeping, from time to time crying in a smothered voice: "My father....
Oh, my father.... Alas!... He is dead!"

"Oh, if you again start crying, and, worst of all, to speak of your
father, you will make me also cry. Although I scold you for your
negligence, I do pity you. I came to give you some hope, perhaps."

"What do you mean, Septimine?"

Having finished dressing the boy's hair, the young girl sat down near
him on a stool, took up her distaff, began to spin and said in a low and
mysterious voice: "Do you promise to be discreet?"

"Whom do you expect I can talk to? Whom could I reveal secrets to? I
have an aversion to all the people in this place."

"Excepting myself.... Not true?"

"Yes, excepting you, Septimine.... You are the only one who inspires me
with some little confidence."

"What distrust could a little girl, born in Septimany, inspire you with?
Am not I as well as my mother, the wife of the outside porter of this
convent, a slave? When eighteen months ago you were brought to this
place and I was not yet fifteen, I was assigned to you, to entertain you
and play with you. Since then we have grown up together. You became
accustomed to me.... Is it not of course that you should have some
confidence in me?"

"You just told me you had some hope to give me.... What hope can you
give me? I want to hear?"

"Do you first promise to be discreet?"

"Be easy on that score. I shall be discreet."

"Promise me also not to begin to weep again, because I shall have to
speak about your father, a painful subject to you."

"I shall not weep, Septimine."

"It is now eighteen months since your father, King Thierry, died on his
domain in Compiegne, and the steward of the palace, that wicked Charles
Martel, had you taken to this place and kept imprisoned ... poor dear
innocent boy!"

"My father always said to me: 'My little Childeric, you will be a king
like myself, you will have dogs and falcons to hunt with, handsome
horses, chariots to ride in, slaves to serve you'; and yet I have none
of these things here. Oh, God! Oh, God! How unhappy I am!"

"Are you going to start weeping again?"

"No, Septimine; no, my little friend."

"That wicked Charles Martel had you brought to this convent, as I was
saying, in order to reign in your place, as he virtually reigned in the
place of your father, King Thierry."

"But there are in this country of Gaul enough dogs, falcons, horses and
slaves for that Charles to have an abundance and I also. Is it not so?"

"Yes ... if to reign means simply to have all these things ... but I,
poor girl, do not understand these things. I only know that your father
had friends who are enemies of Charles Martel, and that they would like
to see you out of this convent. That is the secret that I had for you."

"And I, Septimine, would also like to be out of here! The devil take the
monks and their convent."

After a moment's hesitation, the young girl stopped spinning and said
to the young prince in a still lower voice and looking around as if
fearing to be heard: "It depends upon you to get out of this convent."

"Upon me!" cried Childeric. "That would be quickly done on my part. But
how?"

"Mercy! Do not speak so loud," replied Septimine uneasily and casting
her eyes towards the door. "I always fear some one is there listening."
She rose and went on tip-toe to listen at the door and peep through the
keyhole. Feeling reassured by the examination, Septimine returned to her
seat, again started to spin, and went on talking with Childeric: "You
can walk in the garden during the day?"

"Yes, but the garden is surrounded by a high wall, and I am always
accompanied by one of the monks. That is why I prefer to remain in this
room to walking in such company."

"They lock you up at night--"

"And a monk sleeps outside before my door."

"Just look out of this window."

"What for?"

"To see whether the height of the window above the ground would frighten
you."

Childeric looked out of the window. "It is very high, Septimine; it is
really very high."

"You little coward! It is only eight or ten feet at most. Suppose a rope
with large knots were fastened to that iron bar yonder, would you have
the courage to descend by the rope, helping yourself with your feet and
hands?"

"Oh, I never could do that!"

"You would be afraid? Great God, is it possible!"

"The attempt looks to me above my strength."

"I would not be afraid, and I am only a girl.... Come, have courage, my
prince."

The boy looked once more out of the window, reflected and proceeded to
say: "You are right.... It is not as high as it looked at first. But
the rope, Septimine, how am I to get it? And then, when I am down there,
at night.... What shall I do then?"

"At the bottom of the window you will find my father. He will throw upon
your shoulders the caped cloak that I usually wear. I am not really much
taller than you. If you wrap the mantle well around you and lower the
cape well over your face, my father could, with the help of the night,
make you pass for me, traverse the interior of the convent, and reach
his lodge outside. There, friends of your father would be waiting on
horseback. You would depart quickly. You would have the whole night
before you, and in the morning, when your flight was discovered, it
would be too late to start in your pursuit.... Now answer, Childeric,
will you have the courage to descend from this window in order to regain
your freedom?"

"Septimine, I have a strong desire to do so ... but--"

"But you are afraid.... Fie! A big boy like you! It is shameful!"

"And who will give me a rope?"

"I.... Are you decided? You will have to hurry; your father's friends
are in the neighborhood.... To-night and to-morrow night they will be
waiting with horses not far from the walls of the convent ... to take
you away--"

"Septimine, I shall have the courage to descend, yes ... I promise you."

"Forget not, Childeric, that my mother, my father and I are exposing
ourselves to terrible punishment, even death perhaps, by favoring your
flight. When the proposition was made to my father to help in your
escape, he was offered money. He refused, saying: 'I want no other
reward than the satisfaction of having contributed in the deliverance
of the poor little fellow, who is always sad and weepful all these
eighteen months, and who is dying of grief.'"

"Oh, be easy. When I shall be king, like my father, I shall make you
handsome presents; I shall give you fine clothes, jewelry--"

"I do not need your presents. You are a child that one must sympathize
with. That is all that concerns me. 'It is not because the poor little
fellow is the son of a king that I take an interest in him,' my father
has said to me, 'because, after all, he is of the race of those Franks
who have held us in bondage, us the Gauls, ever since Clovis. No, I wish
to help the poor little fellow because I pity him.' Now, remember,
Childeric, the slightest indiscretion on your part would draw terrible
misfortunes upon my family."

"Septimine, I shall say nothing to anybody, I shall have courage, and
this very night I shall descend by the window to join my father's
friends. Oh! What happiness!" the child added, clapping his hands, "what
happiness! I shall be free to-morrow!... I shall be a king like my
father!"

"Wait till you are away to rejoice!... And now, listen to me carefully.
You are always locked in after evening prayers. The night is quite dark
by that time. You will have to wait about half an hour. Then tie the
rope and let yourself down into the garden. My father will be at the
foot of the window--"

"Agreed.... But where is the rope?"

"Here," said Septimine, taking from amidst the flax that she held in her
apron a roll of thin but strong rope, furnished with knots at intervals.
"There is at the end, as you see, an iron hook; you will fasten that to
this bar, and you will then let yourself down from knot to knot till you
reach the ground."

"Oh! I am no longer afraid! But where shall I hide the rope? Where shall
I keep it until evening?"

"Under the mattress of your bed."

"Good! Give it to me!" and the young prince, helped by Septimine, hid
the rope well under the mattress. Hardly had they re-covered the bed
when trumpets were heard blowing at a distance. Septimine and Childeric
looked at each other for a moment in astonishment. The young girl
returned to her seat, took up her distaff and observed in great
excitement:

"Something unusual is going on outside of the abbey.... They may come
here.... Take up your huckle-bones and play with them."

Childeric mechanically obeyed the orders of the young girl, sat down on
the floor, and began to play huckle-bones, while Septimine, with
apparent unconcern, spun at her distaff near the window. A few minutes
later the door of the room opened. Father Clement, the abbot of the
convent, came in and said to the young girl: "You can go away; I shall
call you back if I want you."

Septimine hastened to leave; but thinking she could profit by a moment
when the monk did not see her, she placed her finger to her lips in
order to convey to Childeric a last warning of discretion. The abbot
happening to turn around suddenly, the girl hardly had time to carry her
hand to her hair in order to conceal the meaning of her first gesture.
Septimine feared she had aroused the suspicion of Father Clement, who
followed her with penetrating eyes, and her apprehensions ripened into
certainty when, having arrived at the threshold of the door and turning
a last time to salute the Father, her eyes met his scrutinizing gaze
fixed upon her.

"May God help us," said the poor girl seized with mortal anxiety and
leaving the room. "At the sight of the monk the unhappy prince became
purple in the face.... He did not take his eyes from the bed where we
hid the rope. Oh, I tremble for the little fellow and for us!... Oh!
What will come of it?"



CHAPTER II.

CHARLES MARTEL.


Charles the Hammer, or Martel, had arrived at the convent of St.
Saturnine escorted by only about a hundred armed men. He was on the way
to join a detachment of his army that lay encamped at a little distance
from the abbey. The steward of the palace and one of the officers of the
squad that accompanied him were installed in a room that served as the
refectory of Father Clement, while the latter went for the little
prince.

At this period in the full vigor of his age, Charles Martel exaggerated
in his language and costume the rudeness of his Germanic stock. His
beard and hair, which were of a reddish blonde, were kept untrimmed and
shaggy, and framed in a face of high color, that bore the imprint of
rare energy coupled with a good nature that was at times both jovial and
sly. His keen eyes revealed an intelligence of superior order. Like the
lowest of his soldiers, he wore a coat of goat-skin over his tarnished
armor. His boots, made of heavy leather, were armed with rusty iron
spurs. From his leather baldric hung a long sword of Bordeaux, a town
renowned for its manufacture of arms.

The officer who accompanied Charles Martel seemed to be twenty-five
years of age--tall, slender, powerfully built. He wore his brilliant
steel armor with military ease, half-hidden under a long white cloak
with black tufts, after the Arabian fashion. His magnificent scimitar,
with both handle and scabbard of solid gold and ornamented with
arabesques of coral and diamonds, likewise was of Arabian origin. The
young man's face was of rare manly beauty. He had placed his casque upon
a table. His wavy black hair, divided in the middle of his head, fell in
ringlets on both sides of his forehead, which was furrowed by a deep
scar, and shaded his manly face that bore a slight brown beard. His eyes
of the blue of the sea, usually mild and proud, seemed however to reveal
a secret sorrow or remorse. At times a nervous twitch brought his
eyebrows together, and his features would for a while become somber.
Soon, however, thanks to the mobility of his impressions, the ardor of
his blood, and the impetuosity of his character, his face would again
resume its normal expression.

Charles, who for a while had been silently contemplating his young
companion with a kind and sly satisfaction, at last broke the silence,
saying in his hoarse voice:

"Berthoald, how do you like this abbey and the fields that we have just
traversed?"

"The abbey seems to me large, the fields fertile. Why do you ask?"

"Because I would like to make you a present to your taste, my lad."

The young man looked at the Frankish chief with profound astonishment.

Charles Martel proceeded: "In 732, it is now nearly six years ago, at
the time that those heathens from Arabia, who had settled in Gaul,
pushed forward as far as Tours and Blois, I marched against them. One
day I saw arrive at my camp a young chief followed by fifty daring
devils. It was you, the son, as you told me, of a Frankish seigneur, who
was dead and had been dispossessed of his benefice, like so many others.
I cared nothing about your birth. When the blade is well tempered I care
little about the name of the armorer," Charles explained as he noticed a
slight quiver in the eyelashes of Berthoald whose forehead swiftly
mantled with a blush and whose eyes dropped in involuntary confusion.
"You searched your fortune in war and had assembled a band of determined
men. You came to offer me your sword and your services. The next day, on
the plains of Poitiers, you and your men fought so bravely against the
Arabs that you lost three-fourths of your little troop. With your own
hands you killed Abd-el-Rhaman, the general of those heathens, and you
received two wounds in disengaging me from a group of horsemen who were
about to kill me, and would thereby have ended the war to the lasting
injury of the Franks."

"It was my duty as a soldier to defend my chief. I deserve no praise for
that."

"And it is now my duty as your chief to reward your soldierly courage. I
shall never forget that I owe my life to your valor. Neither will my
children. They will read in some notes I have left on my campaign: 'At
the battle of Poitiers, Charles owed his life to Berthoald; let my
children remember it every time they see the scar that the brave warrior
carries on his forehead.'"

"Charles, your praises embarrass me."

"I love you sincerely. Since the battle of Poitiers I have looked upon
you as one of my best companions in arms, although at times you are as
stubborn as a mule and quite odd in your tastes. If the matter in hand
is a war in the east or the north against the Frisians or the Saxons, or
in the south against the Arabs, there is no more rageful hammerer on the
enemies' heads than yourself; but when we had to suppress some revolts
of the Gauls you fought gingerly, almost against your will.... You no
longer were the same daring champion.... Your sword did not leave its
scabbard."

"Charles, tastes differ," answered Berthoald laughing with so obvious an
effort that it betrayed some poignant recollection. "In matters of
battle it is as in matters of women, tastes differ. Some like blondes,
others brunettes; they are all fire for the one, and all ice for the
other. And so my preference is for war against the Frisians, Saxons and
Arabs."

"I have no such predilections. As true as I have been surnamed Martel,
so long as I can strike and crush what stands in my way, all enemies are
equally to my taste.... I believed that those Arabian dogs who had been
so roughly hammered would recross the Pyrenees in a hurry after their
rout at Poitiers. I was mistaken. They still hold their ground firmly in
Languedoc. Despite the success of our last battle we have not been able
to seize Narbonne, the place of refuge of those heathens. I am now
called back to the north of Gaul to resist the Saxons who are returning
with more threatening forces. I regret to have to leave Narbonne in the
hands of the Saracens. But we have at least ravaged the neighborhood of
that large town, made an immense booty, carried away a large number of
slaves, and devastated in our retreat the countries of Nimes, of
Toulouse and of Beziers. It will be a good lesson for the populations
who took the side of the Arabs. They will long remember what is to be
gained by leaving the Gospels for the Koran, or rather, because, after
all, I care as little for the Pope as I do for Mahomet, what is to be
gained by an alliance with the Arabs against the Franks. For the rest,
although they remain masters of Narbonne, these pagans worry me little.
Travelers from Spain have informed me that civil war has broken out
between the Caliphs of Granada and of Cordova. Busy with their own
internal strifes, they will not send fresh troops into Gaul, and the
accursed Saracens will not dare to advance beyond Languedoc, whence I
shall drive them away later. At rest about the south, I now return
north. But before doing so I wish to provide, to their own taste and
mine, for a large number of soldiers, who, like yourself, have served
me valiantly, and turn them into fat abbots, rich bishops or other large
beneficiaries."

"Charles, would you make out of me an abbot or a bishop? You are surely
joking."

"Why not? It is the abbey and the bishopric that make the abbot and the
bishop, whoever be the incumbent."

"Please explain yourself more clearly."

"I have been able to sustain my great wars in the north and south only
by constantly recruiting my forces from the German tribes on the other
side of the Rhine. The descendants of the seigneurs who were the
beneficiaries of Clovis and his sons have degenerated. They have become
do-nothings like their kings. They seek to escape their obligations of
leading their columns to war, under the pretext that they need hands to
cultivate the soil. Apart from a few fighting bishops, old men with the
devil in them, who changed the casque for the mitre, and who, redonning
their cuirasses brought their men to my camp, the Church has not wished
and does not wish to contribute to the expenses of the war. Now, upon
the word of Martel, that will not do! My brave warriors, fresh from
Germany, the chiefs of the bands that have served me faithfully, have a
right to a share of the lands of Gaul. They have more right thereto than
the rapacious bishops and the debauched abbots who keep harems like the
Caliphs of the Arabs. I want to restore order in the matter; to reward
the brave and to punish the cowards and do-nothings. I propose to
distribute a part of the goods of the Church among my men who have
recently arrived from Germany. I shall in that manner provide for my
chiefs and their men, and instead of leaving so much land and so many
slaves in the hands of the tonsured brothers, I shall form a strong
reserve army of veterans, ever ready to take the field at the first
signal. And to begin, I present this abbey to you, its lands, buildings,
slaves, with no other charge upon you than to contribute a certain sum
into my treasury and to turn out with your men at my first call."

"I a count of this country! I the possessor of such broad estates!" the
young chief cried with joy, hardly believing so magnificent a gift
possible. "But the goods of this abbey are immense! Its lands and
forests extend more than two leagues in a circle!"

"So much the better, my lad! You and your men will settle down here.
Handsome female slaves are sure to abound on the place. You will raise a
good breed of soldiers. Moreover this abbey is bound, due to its
situation, to become an important military post. I shall grant to the
abbot of this convent some more land ... if any is left. And that is not
all, Berthoald; I entertain as much affection for [you] as I place
confidence in you. I make the gift to you out of affection; now, as to
my confidence. I shall give you a strong proof of it by establishing you
here and charging you with so important a duty ... that, in the end, it
will be I who remain your debtor...."

"Why do you halt, Charles?" asked Berthoald noticing the chief of the
Franks reflect instead of continuing.

After a few seconds of silence, Charles resumed: "During the century and
a half and more that we have reigned in fact, we the stewards of the
palace ... of what earthly use have the kings been, the descendants of
Clovis?"

"Have I not heard you say a hundred times that those do-nothings spend
their time drinking, eating, playing, hunting, sleeping in the arms of
their concubines, going to church and building churches in atonement for
some crime committed in the fury of their drunkenness?"

"Such has been the life of those 'do-nothing' kings--well named such. We
the stewards of the palace govern in fact. At every assembly of the
Field of May, we pulled one of our royal mannikins out of his residence
of Compiegne, of Kersey-on-the-Oise, or of Braine. We had him set up in
a gilded chariot drawn by four oxen according to the old Germanic
custom, and, with a crown upon his head, a scepter in his hand, purple
on his back, his face ornamented with a long artificial beard, if he had
no beard, so as to impart to him a certain degree of majesty, the image
was promenaded around the Field of May, and received the pledge of
homage from the dukes, counts and bishops, gathered at the assembly from
all parts of Gaul.... The comedy over, the idol was thrust back into its
box until the next year. But what useful purpose can these mummeries
serve? He only should be king who governs and fights. Consequently, as I
have no taste for what is superfluous, I have suppressed the royalty....
I confiscated the King."

"You deserve to be praised for that, Charles; the Frankish kings
descended from Clovis, have inspired me with hatred and contempt--"

"But whence the hate?"

Berthoald blushed and puckered up his brows: "I have always hated
idleness and cruelty."

"The last one of these kings, Thierry IV, dead now eighteen months, left
a son behind ... a child of about nine years.... I had him deported to
this abbey--"

"What do you purpose to do with him?"

"To keep him.... We Franks are fickle folks. For a century and a half we
fell into the habit of despising the kings that one time we
worshipped.... Accordingly, when the first Field of May took place
without the royal mummery, not one of the dukes and bishops missed the
idol that was absent from the feast. This year, however, some did ask
where was the king; and others answered: 'What is the use of the king?'
It may, nevertheless, happen that one of these days they may demand to
see the royal mannikin make the tour of the Field of May according to
the old custom.... I do not care, provided I reign. Accordingly, I keep
in reserve for them the child that is here. With the aid of a false
beard on his chin and a crown on his head, the little monkey will play
his role in the chariot neither better nor worse than so many other
kings of twelve or fifteen years who preceded him. In case of need, next
year he will be Childeric III, if I think it advisable."

"Kings of twelve!... How low can royalty fall!... How low the
degradation of the people!"

"The stewardship of the palace, a post that became hereditary, came very
near dropping to the same level.... Did I not have a brother of eleven
who was the steward of the palace to a king of ten?"

"You joke, Charles!"

"No, indeed, I do not, because those days were far from pleasant for
me.... My step-mother, Plectrude, had me cast into prison after the
death of my father Pepin of Heristal.... According to the dame, I was
only a bastard, good either for the gibbet or the priest's frock, while
my father left to my brother Theobald the post of steward of the palace;
hereditary in our family.... And so it happened that my brother, then
only eleven, became the steward of the palace of the then king, who was
only ten, and who became the grandfather of this little Childeric, who
is a prisoner in this convent. That king and steward could exercise no
rivalry over each other except at tops or huckle-bones. Thus the good
dame Plectrude expected to rule in the place of the two urchins, while
they would be at play. Such audacity and folly aroused the Frankish
seigneurs. At the end of a few years Plectrude was driven away with her
son, while I, Charles, for whom she had only bad names, came out of
prison, and now became steward of the palace of Dagobert III. Since then
I have made so much noise in the world, hammering here and yonder upon
the heads of Saxons, Frisians and Saracens, that the name of Martel has
stuck to me. Dagobert III left a son, Thierry IV, who died eighteen
months ago, and he was the father of little Childeric, the prisoner of
this place. While having to cross the region, I wished to pay a visit to
the royal brat and learn how he stood his captivity. I said I had a
token of confidence to give.... I confide to you the keeping of that
child, the last scion of the stock of Clovis, of the Merovingian
conquerors of Gaul."

"I shall keep this last scion of Clovis?" cried Berthoald, at first
stupefied, but immediately thrilled with savage joy. "I shall keep him?
The boy who has among his ancestors a Clotaire, the murderer of
children! a Chilperic, the Nero of the Gauls! a Fredegonde, a second
Messalina! a Clotaire II, the executioner of Brunhild, and so many other
crowned monsters! Shall I be the jailor of their last issue?... The fate
of man is often strange.... I to be the guardian of the last descendant
of that conqueror of Gaul so much abhorred by my fathers!... Oh, the
gods are just!"

"Berthoald, are you going crazy? What is there so astonishing in your
becoming the watcher of this child?"

"Excuse me, Charles," answered Berthoald recollecting and fearing to
betray himself. "I was greatly struck with the thought that I, an
obscure soldier, should watch and hold as a prisoner the last scion of
so many kings! Is it not a strange fate?"

"Indeed this stock of Clovis, once so valiant, ends miserably!... But
how else could it be! These kinglets--fathers before fifteen, decayed at
thirty, brutified by wine, dulled by idleness, unnerved by youthful
debauchery, emaciated, stunted, and stupid--could not choose but end
this-wise.... The stewards of the palace, on the contrary--rough men,
always on the march from north to south, from east to west, and back
again, always on horseback, always fighting, always governing--they run
out into a Charles, and he is not frail, he is not stunted! Not he! His
beard is not artificial; he will be able to raise a breed of true
kings.... Upon the word of Martel, this second breed of kings will not
allow themselves to be exhibited in carts neither before nor after the
assemblies of the Field of May by any stewards of palaces!"

"Who can tell, Charles! It may happen that if you raise a breed of
kings, their stock will run down just as that of Clovis has done, whose
last scion you wish to put under my charge."

"By the devil! By the navel of the Pope! Do you see any sign of decay in
us, the sons of Pepin of Old, who have been the hereditary stewards of
the palace since the reign of Queen Brunhild?"

"You were not kings, Charles; and royalty carries with it a poison that
in the long run enervates and kills the most virile stock--"

At this moment Father Clement came tumbling into the room in great
excitement, and broke the thread of the conversation between Charles
Martel and Berthoald.



CHAPTER III.

FATHER CLEMENT'S REFECTORY.


"Seigneur," said Father Clement to Charles, as he precipitately broke
into the room, "I have just discovered a plot! The young prince
obstinately refused to accompany me hither--"

"A plot! Ho, ho! The folks of your abbey indulge in conspiracies!"

"Thanks be to heaven, seigneur, myself and brothers are utter strangers
to the unworthy treason. The guilty ones are the miserable slaves who
will be punished as they deserve!"

"Explain yourself! And stop circumlocutions!"

"I must first of all inform you, sir, that when the young prince first
arrived at this convent, Count Hugh who brought him, recommended to me
to place near the child some young female slave, a pretty girl, if
possible, above all one that would provoke love ... and who would be
willing to submit to the consequences--"

"In order, I suppose, that he be educated after the fashion that old
Queen Brunhild followed towards her own grandchildren.... Count Hugh
exceeded my orders; and you, holy man, did you not blush at the role of
coupler in the infamous scheme?"

"Oh, seigneur! What an abomination! The two children remained pure as
angels.... To make it short, I placed a young female slave near the
prince. The girl, an innocent creature, together with her father and
mother took pity on the fate of Childeric. They listened to detestable
propositions, and this very night and by means of a rope, the child was
to slip from his room with the connivance of the porter slave, and join
some faithful adherents of the deceased King Thierry who are lying in
hiding near the convent. That was the plot."

"Ha! Ha! The old royal party is stirring! They thought I would be long
kept busy with the Arabs! They planned to restore the royalty in my
absence!"

"A minute ago, as I entered the room of the young prince, my suspicions
were awakened. The confusion he was in and the redness in his face told
of his guilt. He would not take his eyes from his bed. A sudden idea
occurred to me. I raised the mattress, and there I found a rope
carefully stowed away. I pressed the child with questions, and amidst
tears he confessed to me the full project of escape."

"Treason!" cried the chief of the Franks, affecting more rage than he
really felt. "How came I to confide this child to the care of monks who
are either traitors or incapable of defending their prisoner!"

"Oh, seigneur!... We traitors!"

"How many men did this abbey contribute to the army?"

"Seigneur, our colonists and slaves are hardly enough to cultivate the
land; our vines are neglected; our fields lie fallow. We could not spare
a single man for the army."

"How much did you pay into the treasury towards the expenses of the
war?"

"All our revenues were employed in charitable works ... in pious
foundations."

"You extend fat charities to yourselves. Such are these churchmen!
Always receiving and taking, never giving or returning! Ye are a race of
vipers! Under whom does this old abbey hold the land?"

"From the liberalities of the pious King Dagobert. The charter of our
endowment is of the year 640 of our Lord Jesus Christ."

"Do you, monk, believe that the Frankish kings made these endowments to
you of the tonsured fraternity to the end that you might grow fat in
idleness and abundance, and without ever contributing towards the
expenses of the war with either men or money?"

"Seigneur ... remember the obligations of the monastery ... keep in mind
the expenses of the cult!"

"I confide an important prisoner to you and you prove unable to watch
him ... you miserable tonsured idlers ... topers and do-nothings!"

"Seigneur, we are innocent and incapable of betraying you!"

"That will never do. I shall settle soldiers on the domain ... men who
will be able to watch the prisoner, and, when need be, defend the abbey,
if the folks of the royal party should attempt to carry off the prince
by force," and turning to Berthoald, Charles said: "You and your men
will take possession of this abbey. I present it to you!"

The abbot raised his hands to heaven in sign of mute desolation, while
Berthoald, who had pensively stood near, said to Charles Martel:

"Charles, the commission of jailor is repugnant to my character of a
soldier. I feel thankful to you, but I must decline the gift."

"Your refusal afflicts me. You have heard the monk. I need here a
vigilant guardian. This abbey is, by its position, an important military
post."

"Charles, there are other soldiers in your army whom you can charge with
the child and to whom you can confide the defence of the post. You will
find men enough who will not be restrained by any scruples such as
restrain me."

For a few minutes the chief of the Franks remained silent and
thoughtful, then he said: "Monk, how much land, how many colonists and
slaves have you?"

"Seigneur, we have five thousand eight hundred acres of land, seven
hundred colonists, and nineteen hundred slaves."

"Berthoald ... you hear it! That is what you decline for yourself and
your men. Moreover, I would have created you count of the domain."

"Reserve for others than myself the favor you meant to bestow upon me. I
absolutely refuse the function of jailor."

"Seigneur," put in Father Clement with a holy resignation that, however,
but ill-concealed his anger at Charles: "You are the chief of the Franks
and all-powerful. If you establish your armed men on this domain, we
shall have to obey, but what will become of us?"

"And what will become of my companions in arms, who have valiantly
served me during the war while you were counting your beads?... Are they
to steal or beg their bread along the roads?"

"Seigneur ... there is a way of satisfying both your companions in arms
and ourselves. You wish to change this abbey into a military post. I
admit it, your armed men would be better keepers of the young prince
than we poor monks. But since you dispose of this abbey, deign,
illustrious seigneur, to bestow another one upon us. There is near
Nantes the abbey of Meriadek. One of our brothers, who died recently,
lived there several years as the intendant. He left with us an inventory
containing an exact list of the goods and persons of that abbey. It was
at the time under the rule of St. Benoit. We have learned that later it
was changed into a community of women. But we have no positive
information on that head. But that would matter little."

"And that abbey," Charles asked, rubbing his beard with a sly look, "you
ask me for it as a charity to you and your monks?"

"Yes, seigneur; since you dispossess us of this one, we solicit
indemnity."

"And what is to become of the present holders of the abbey of Meriadek?"

"Alack! what we would have become. The will of God be done. Charity
begins at home."

"Yes, provided the will of God turn in your favor. Is the abbey rich?"

"Seigneur, with the aid of God, we could live there humbly and in
seclusion and prayer and with a little privation."

"Monk, no false pretences! Is that abbey worth more or is it worth less
than this one? I wish to know whether it is a cow or a goat I am giving
away. If you deceive me, I may some day go back upon my gift. Moreover,
you just said you had an exact inventory of the abbey's havings. Come,
speak up, you old dotard!"

"Yes, seigneur," answered the abbot biting his lips and proceeding to
look in a drawer among several rolls of parchment for the inventory of
the abbey of Meriadek. "Here," said he, producing the document, "you
will see from this that the revenues of Meriadek are worth about as much
as those that we draw here.... We may even, by retrenching upon our good
works, by reducing our charities, contribute two hundred gold sous
annually to your treasury."

"You say that rather late," replied Charles turning the leaves of the
inventory which did, indeed, accurately set forth the extent and limits
of the domain of Meriadek. "Have you parchments to write on? I wish to
make the bequest in due form."

"Yes, seigneur," cried the monk in great glee, running to his trunk and
believing himself in full possession of the abbey of Meriadek. "Here is
a roll of parchment, gracious seigneur. Be kind enough to dictate the
terms of the bequest ... unless you prefer to adopt the usual formula."

Saying this the abbot was about to sit down and take pen in hand, when,
pushing him away from the table, Charles said: "Monk, I am not like the
do-nothing and ignorant kings; I know how to write; and I like to
transact my business myself."

Consulting from time to time the parchments that the abbot had handed to
him, and from time to time casting a look upon Berthoald, who had
remained steeped in thought and a stranger to what was going on near
him, Charles began to write. A few steps from the table, and following
the hand of Charles with greedy eyes, the monk was congratulating
himself upon his having thought of the abbey of Meriadek, and he no
doubt was computing the advantage that would accrue to himself by the
exchange. Addressing the chief of the Franks, who was silently writing,
the monk said: "Mighty seigneur, my names are Bonaventure Clement, an
unworthy priest and monk of the order of St. Benoit."

Charles raised his head, looked fixedly at the abbot and a singular
smile played around his lips. He then proceeded to write, and a few
minutes later said: "Wax!... I wish to place my seal on this charter as
a last formality."

The abbot hastened to fetch what he was ordered; Charles pulled from his
finger a large gold ring and placed it on the burning wax. "Now the
charter of the bequest is in good shape."

"Gracious seigneur," cried the abbot extending his hands, "we shall
every day pray that heaven may protect you."

"You have my thanks, monk; disinterested prayers are particularly
agreeable to the Almighty;" and turning towards his young officer:
"Berthoald, by this charter I make you count of the county of Nantes,
and I donate to you and your men the abbey of Meriadek, together with
its dependencies."

The abbot remained petrified. Berthoald trembled with joy, and cried in
accents of profound gratitude: "Charles, will your generosity never
tire?"

"No, no, my valiant boy! No more than your arm tires in battle.... And
now, to horse, noble count. Should the abbey of Meriadek turn out to be
a convent of tonsured friars with some fighting abbot at their head who
refuses to make room for you, you have your sword; your men have their
lances. If it happens to be a convent of women and that the nuns are
young and handsome, by the devil!--"

Again the conversation in the monk's refectory was suddenly broken in
upon; this time by Septimine.



CHAPTER IV.

MORDECAI THE SLAVE-DEALER.


Pale, affrighted, her face in tears, her hair unloosened, Septimine
broke into the room and threw herself at the feet of the abbot, crying:

"Mercy, Father, mercy!"

Close upon the heels of Septimine entered two slaves armed with whips,
and carrying rolls of rope. They had run after the young girl, but now
stood respectfully awaiting the abbot's orders. Septimine was so
beautiful, her distress so touching, her suppliant attitude, accentuated
by the tears that flowed down her charming face, so pathetic, that
Berthoald was struck with admiration and suddenly felt an irrepressible
interest in the distracted girl. Charles Martel himself could not hold
back the cry of admiration: "My faith, what a pretty girl!"

"What do you want here?" brutally asked Father Clement, smarting under
the pain of having seen the gift of the abbey of Meriadek slip from him;
and turning to the two slaves, who remained motionless at the door: "Why
have you not punished this wretch?"

"Father, we were about to strip off her clothes and tie her to the
whipping-post. But she fought us so hard that she slipped away from us."

"Oh, Father!" cried Septimine in a voice suffocated with sobs and
raising her suppliant hands to the abbot; "order me killed, but spare me
the disgrace!"

"Charles," said Father Clement, "this slave girl sought to help the
young prince to escape!... Drag her away!" he added to the slaves at
the door; "Have her well whipped!"

The slaves took a step forward, but Berthoald held them back with a
menacing gesture. Approaching Septimine he took her hand and said: "Fear
not, poor child; Charles the chief of the Franks will not allow you to
be punished."

The young woman, not yet daring to rise, turned her charming face
towards Berthoald, and remained no less struck by the generosity of the
young man than by his comely looks. Their eyes met. Berthoald felt a
profound emotion, while Charles said to Septimine: "Come, I pardon you;
but why the devil, my little girl, did you want that royal urchin to run
away?"

"Oh, seigneur, the child is so unhappy! My father and mother, the same
as myself, felt pity for him.... That is all our crime, seigneur.... I
swear by the salvation of my soul;" and sobs again choked her voice.
Again joining her hands, she could only utter the words: "Mercy; mercy
for my father and mother! Have pity upon us, noble seigneur!"

"You are weeping fit to choke yourself," said Charles, touched, despite
his roughness, at the sight of such youth, anguish and beauty: "I forbid
that your father and mother be punished."

"Seigneur ... they want to sell me and to separate me from my
parents.... Have pity upon us!"

"What about that, monk?" asked Charles, while Berthoald, who felt his
sorrow, admiration and pity increase by the second, could not take his
eyes from the charming maid.

"Seigneur," answered Father Clement, "I gave orders that, after being
severely whipped, the three slaves, father, mother and daughter, be sold
and taken far away from the convent. One of those slave-dealers who
travel through the country came this morning to offer me two carpenters
and a smith that we stand in need of. I offered him the young girl in
exchange together with her father and mother. But Mordecai refused the
exchange."

"Mordecai!" involuntarily exclaimed Berthoald, whose face, suddenly
turning pale, now expressed as much fear as anxiety. "That Jew!"

"What the devil is the matter with you?" said Charles to the young man.
"You look as white as your cloak."

Berthoald sought to control his emotions, dropped his eyes and answered
in a quivering voice: "The horror that these accursed Jews inspire me
with is such ... that I can not see them, or even hear their names
mentioned, without shuddering, despite myself." Saying this, Berthoald
quickly took his casque from the table and put it on his head, pushing
it down as far as he could so that the visor might conceal his face.

"I can understand your horror for the Jews," replied Charles; "I share
your aversion for that race. Proceed, monk."

"Mordecai consented to take the girl, for whom he has a place; but he
does not want either the father or the mother. I, accordingly, sold him
the girl, reserving the right of having her punished before delivery to
him. I shall sell her parents to some other slave-dealer."

"Seigneur!" cried Septimine breaking out into a fresh flood of tears,
"slavery is a cruel condition, but it seems less hard when borne in the
company of those whom we love--"

"The bargain is closed," said the abbot. "Mordecai paid me earnest
money; he has my word; he is waiting for the girl."

When Berthoald heard that the Jew was in the convent he trembled anew,
retreated into a niche in the wall, and threw the cape of his long
Arabian cloak over his casque so as to conceal his face. He then
addressed the Frankish chief in a hurried voice like a man in fear of
some imminent danger and anxious to leave the place:

"Charles, before I bid you good-bye, perhaps for a long time, cap the
climax of your generosity towards me. Give the father and mother of this
child their freedom, and buy her back from the Jew to prevent her being
separated from her parents. Guilty though she was, it was only pity that
led her astray. You are about to place vigilant soldiers in this place.
The little prince's escape will not need to be feared."

Hearing the tender words of Berthoald, Septimine raised her face to him,
full with ineffable gratitude.

"Rest assured, Berthoald," said Charles; "and you, my girl, rise; this
abbey, where I wish to establish my warriors, shall have three slaves
less. I can refuse nothing to this valiant officer."

"Take this, my child," said the young man putting several Arabian gold
pieces into the hand of Septimine. "This is to help you, your father and
mother to live. May you be happy! Bless the generosity of Charles
Martel; and remember me occasionally."

With an unconscious movement that absolutely controlled her will,
Septimine took the hand that Berthoald reached out to her, and without
taking the gold pieces that he tendered and that rolled down over the
floor, she kissed the young man's hand with such passionate
thankfulness, that his own eyes were moistened with tears. Charles
Martel noticed the circumstance, and pointing at the young folks, cried
with the boisterous laugh peculiar to himself:

"Upon the word of Martel, I believe he weeps!"

Berthoald pulled the cape of his cloak further down over his face,
leaving it now almost wholly covered.

"You are right, my brave fellow, to lower your cape and conceal your
tears."

"I shall not long treat you to the spectacle of my weakness, Charles;
allow me to depart immediately with my men for the abbey of Meriadek."

"Go, my good companion in arms. I excuse your impatience. Be vigilant!
Keep your men in daily exercise; let them be ever ready to answer my
first call. I may have to use them against the accursed Bretons who have
withstood our arms since the days of Clovis. You are the count of the
county of Nantes, close to the frontiers of that bedeviled Armorica.
Your loyal sword may yet have occasion to render me such service that in
the end it may yet be I who will be your debtor. May we soon meet again!
A happy trip and a fat abbey are my best wishes to you."

Thanks to the cape that almost wholly veiled Berthoald's face, he was
able to conceal from Charles the cruel agony that he became a prey to
the moment he heard Charles say that some day he might receive orders to
invade the country of the Bretons that had so far remained indomitable.
He bent a knee before the chief of the Franks and left the refectory in
such a state of wild and complex anxiety that he did not even have a
parting look for Septimine, who remained upon her knees amidst the
Saracen gold pieces that lay strewn around her.

The young officer crossed the courtyard of the abbey to reach his horse,
when, turning the corner of a wall, he found himself face to face with a
little grey-bearded man. It was the Jew Mordecai. Berthoald shivered and
walked quickly by; but although his face was hidden under the cape of
his cloak, his eyes encountered the piercing ones of the Jew, who smiled
sardonically while the young chief walked rapidly away.

The Jew had recognized Berthoald.



PART II.

THE ABBEY OF MERIADEK



CHAPTER I.

ELOI THE GOLDSMITH.


A gold and silversmith's shop is a sight agreeable to the eye of the
artisan who, freeman or slave, has grown old at the beautiful art made
illustrious by Eloi, the most celebrated of all Gallic goldsmiths. The
eye rests with pleasure upon the burning furnace, upon the crucible
where the metal boils, upon the anvil that seems to be of silver veined
with gold--so much gold and silver has been beaten on it. The
work-bench, equipped with its files, its hammers, its chip-axes, its
burins, its bloodstone and agate polishing stones is no less pleasing to
the eye. Then there are also the earthen molds into which the metal is
poured, and here and there upon little tables some models taken from the
debris of antique art that have been found among the ruins of Roman
Gaul. There is nothing from the grinding of the files to the panting
breath of the bellows, that is not like sweet music to the ear of the
artisan grown old at the trade. Such is the passion of this art that the
slave at times forgets his bondage, and has no thought but for the
marvels that he fashions for his master.

Like other rich convents of Gaul, the abbey of Meriadek had its little
gold and silver shop. An old man, almost ninety-six years of age, was
overseeing the work of four young apprentices, slaves like himself, all
busy in a vaulted ground floor room, lighted by an arched window, that
was furnished with iron bars and that opened upon a moat full of water,
the convent having been built upon a sort of peninsula almost wholly
surrounded by deep ponds. The forge was placed against one of the walls,
into the thick body of which a kind of vault was dug that led below by
several steps. It contained the supply of charcoal required for the
work. The old goldsmith, whose face and hands were blackened by the
smoke of the forge, wore a smock-frock half hidden by a large leathern
apron, and was engaged in chiseling with great professional delight a
little silver abbatial crosier that he held on his knees.

"Father Bonaik," said one of the young slaves to the old man, "this is
the eighth day that our comrade Eleuthere has not come at all to the
workshop ... where can he be?"

"God knows, my boys ... but let us talk of something else."

"I am half of your opinion, old father; on the matter of Eleuthere I
have as strong a desire to speak as to hold my tongue. I have discovered
a secret. It burns my tongue. And I fear it will be cut off if I talk."

"Come, my lad," replied the old man, chiseling away at his work, "keep
your secret. That's the most prudent thing you can do."

But more inquisitive than the old man, the other young apprentices
insisted so much with their comrade that, overcome by their
importunities, he told them: "Day before yesterday--it was the sixth day
since the disappearance of Eleuthere--I took, by order of Father Bonaik,
a silver bowl to the abbey. The attendant at the turning-box told me to
wait while she went inside to inquire whether there were any articles of
silver that needed mending. Left alone during her absence, I had the
curiosity to step upon a stool so as to look out of a high window that
opened upon the garden of the monastery. And what did I see? Or, rather,
what is it that I thought I saw? Because there are resemblances that are
so striking ... so extraordinary--"

"Well, what did you see in the garden?"

"I saw the abbess, distinguished by her high stature, walking between
two young nuns with an arm resting upon the shoulder of each."

"You talk as though our abbess were almost a hundred years old, like
Father Bonaik--she who rides like a warrior, who hunts with falcons, and
whose upper lip is shaded by a slight reddish moustache neither more nor
less than that of a youth of eighteen!"

"It surely was not out of feebleness but tenderness that the abbess
leaned upon the two nuns. One of them having stepped upon her robe, lost
her balance, tripped and turned her head ... and I recognized, or
believed I recognized ... guess whom ... Eleuthere!"

"Dressed like a nun?"

"Dressed like a nun."

"Go away!... You must have been dreaming."

"And yet," replied another and less incredulous slave, "that is quite
possible. Our comrade is not yet eighteen, and his chin is as innocent
of a beard as any young girl's."

"I maintain that if that nun is not Eleuthere, she is his sister ... if
he has one."

"I tell you," put in the old goldsmith with marked impatience, "I tell
you that you are ninnies, and that if you are anxious for a trip to the
whipping-post and to renew your acquaintance with the thongs of the
whip, all you have to do is to persevere in talks like that."

"But Father Bonaik--"

"I allow chattering at work; but when the words may translate themselves
into the strokes of a whip on your backs, then the subject seems to me
badly chosen. You know, as well as I, that the abbess--"

"Is hot-tempered and bedeviled, Father Bonaik."

"Are you anxious to have the flesh flayed off your backs, unhappy lads!
I order you to hold your tongues."

"And what are we to talk about if not of our masters and the abbess?"

"Here," said the old man anxious to have the subject drop, "I have often
promised you to tell you the story of the illustrious master of our
trade, the glory of the artisans of Gaul. Let us talk of that artist."

"About the good Eloi? The great and saintly Eloi, Father Bonaik, the
friend of the good King Dagobert?"

"Call him the 'good' Eloi, my boys; never was there a better; but do not
say the 'good' King Dagobert. That King had everybody who displeased him
throttled; he pillaged, he levied ransom upon the poor, and he kept a
harem like an Arabian Caliph. Listen, children. The good Eloi was born
in 588 or thereabouts, at Catalacte, a small village in the neighborhood
of Limoges. His parents were freemen, but of obscure and poor
condition."

"Father Bonaik, if Eloi was born in 588, that must have been about a
hundred and fifty years ago. That is a century and a half."

"Yes, my boys, seeing we are now almost at 738."

"And did you know him?" asked one of the lads with an incredulous smile.
"Did you know the good Eloi?"

"Certainly, I did, seeing I shall soon be ninety-six, and that he died
last century, in 659, nearly eighty years ago."

"You were then quite young?"

"I was sixteen and a half years old the last time I saw him.... His
father was called Eucher and his mother Terragie. Noticing that his son
was since early boyhood ever fashioning in wood some figure or small
utensil of pretty design, his father apprenticed him to a skilful
goldsmith of Limoges, named Master Abbon, who at that epoch also
directed the mint in the town of Limoges. After having acquired a good
deal of skill in his art, to the point that he surpassed his master,
Eloi left the neighborhood and his family, much regretted by everybody,
he being beloved by all on account of his cheerful disposition, the
mildness of his nature and his excellent heart. He went to seek his
fortune in Paris, one of the residential towns of the Frankish kings.
Eloi was recommended by his old master to a certain Bobbon, a goldsmith
and treasurer of Clotaire II. Having accepted Eloi as a workman, Bobbon
soon perceived the young man's talent. One day King Clotaire ordered a
chair of solid gold, wrought with art and ornamented with precious
stones."

"A chair of solid gold! Father Bonaik, what magnificence! Nothing is too
costly to these kings."

"Alack, my boys, the gold cost the Frankish kings in Gaul only the
trouble of picking it up, and they were not slow at it. Well, then,
Clotaire II had the fancy to own a gold chair. But nobody in the
workshops of the palace was able to accomplish such a task. The
treasurer Bobbon knew the skill of Eloi and proposed to him to undertake
the work. Eloi accepted; he went to the forge and the crucible, and out
of the large quantity of gold given for one chair he fashioned two. He
then took to the palace one of the two chairs and hid the other--"

"Ho! Ho!" said one of the young slaves laughing. "The good Eloi did as
millers do who are sharp, artful and not very scrupulous. He drew double
pay for one bag--"

"Wait, my boys, wait before you judge our venerable master. Charmed at
the elegance and delicacy of the artisan's work, Clotaire II issued
orders on the spot to recompense him generously. Eloi thereupon showed
the second chair to Bobbon saying: 'This is what I spent the rest of
your gold in so as to lose nothing of the stuff. I have acted as you
would have wished.'"

"You are right, Father Bonaik, we were too quick in judging the good
Eloi."

"That act of probity, so honorable in the poor artisan, was the start
of his future fortune. Clotaire II wished to attach him to his court as
a goldsmith. It was then that Eloi achieved his finest productions:
vases of chiseled gold ornamented with rubies, pearls and diamonds;
pieces of furniture of solid silver and admirable design and set off
with chiseled stone; reliquaries, curtain pins, Bible cases encrusted
with carbuncles.... I saw the chalice of enameled gold more than a foot
high that he made for the abbey of Chelles. It was a miracle in enamel
and gold."

"It is enough to dazzle one to hear you tell of such beautiful works,
Father Bonaik."

"Oh, children, this room could not contain the masterpieces of that one
artisan, the glory of Gallic artisanship. The coins that he has struck
as the minter of Clotaire II, of Dagobert and of Clovis II have
admirable reliefs: they are gold thirds of a sou of a superb stamp. Eloi
succeeded in all the branches of the goldsmith's art. He excelled, like
the goldsmiths of Limoges, in the incrustation of enamel and the setting
of precious stones; he also excelled, as did the goldsmiths of Paris, in
statuaries of hammered gold and silver. He chiseled jewelry as
delicately as the jewelers of Metz. The cloths of woven gold thread
manufactured under his eyes and after his designs, were not less
magnificent than those of Lyon. My boys, what a hard worker was Eloi.
Ever at his forge from earliest dawn, ever with his leathern apron on
his loins, and the file, the hammer or the burin in his hand. He often
did not leave his workshop until a late hour in the night, and had ever
at his side his favorite apprentice, a Saxon named Thil. I knew that
Thil. He was then an old man, and he also was a great artist. They
should be models for you."

"Eloi was not a slave, and as he enjoyed the fruit of his labor he must
have become very rich, Father Bonaik?"

"Yes, my boys, very rich. Dagobert, upon succeeding to the throne of
his father Clotaire II, kept Eloi as his goldsmith. But the good Eloi,
mindful of his hard condition as an artisan, and of the cruel fate of
the slaves who had often been his fellow-workmen, when he became rich
spent all his income in ransoming slaves. He used in that way to
emancipate twenty, thirty and even fifty on one day. He often went to
Rouen and bought whole cargoes of slaves of both sexes taken from all
countries to that town, celebrated for its market of human flesh. Among
those unfortunate people were Romans, Gauls, English, and even Moors,
but above all Saxons. If it happened that the good Eloi did not have
money enough to purchase the slaves, he used to distribute among them
all the money he had in order to relieve their misery. 'How often,'
Thil, his favorite apprentice said to me, 'his purse being exhausted, I
saw my master sell his cloak, his belt and even his shoes.' But you must
know, my boys, that that mantle, that belt, those shoes were embroidered
with gold and often enriched with pearls. The good Eloi, who ornamented
the robes of others, also took pleasure in ornamenting his own. In his
younger years he was magnificently dressed."

"It was the least he could do to deck himself out well--he who decked
others so well. It is not as with us who work on gold and silver, and
never have but rags."

"My poor boys, we are slaves, while Eloi had the fortune of being free;
but he utilized his freedom for the benefit of his fellows. He had
around him several servants who adored him. I knew some of them, among
others, Bauderic, Tituen, Buchin, Andre, Martin and John. So you see old
Bonaik has a good memory. But how can one fail to remember anything
connected with Eloi!"

"Do you know, master, that it is an honor to us poor goldsmith slaves,
to number such a man in our profession?"

"A great honor, my boys! Certes, we should be proud of it. Imagine that
the reputation of the good Eloi for charity was such that his name was
known all over Gaul, and even in other countries. Strangers considered
it an honor to call upon the goldsmith who was at once so great an
artist and so good a man. If anyone asked in Paris where he lived, the
first passer-by would answer: 'Do you want to know where the good Eloi
lives? Go where you will find the largest number of poor people gathered
together. He lives there.'"

"Oh, the good Eloi," said one of the lads with eyes moist with tears.
"Oh, the good Eloi, so well named!"

"Yes, my friends, he was as active in charity as at his trade. In the
evening, at his meal hour, he would send out his servants in different
directions to gather people who suffered hunger, and also travelers in
distress. They were taken to him and he fed them. Filling the office of
a servant when they came, he helped some to unload their packs,
sprinkled warm water on the hands of others, poured out wine into their
cups, broke their bread, carved their meat and distributed it--all
himself. After having thus served all with sweet pleasure, he would sit
down himself, and only then did he himself share in the meal that he
offered these poor people. That was his way of practicing charity."

"And how did the good Eloi look, Father Bonaik? Was he tall or short?"

"He was tall and of a florid complexion. In his younger days, his
apprentice Thil said to me, his black hair was naturally curly. His
hand, though hardened by the hammer, was white and well-shaped; there
was something angelic in his expression; yet his straightforward eyes
were full of keenness."

"That is just the way I would picture him to myself, dressed in the
magnificent robes that he used to sell in order to ransom slaves."

"When he grew in years, the good Eloi renounced splendor altogether. He
wore only a robe of coarse wool, with a cord for belt.... When about
forty he was appointed bishop of Noyon at his own request."

"He? Did so great an artist aspire after a bishopric?"

"Yes, my lads.... Grieved at the sight of so many covetous and wicked
prelates, who devoured the substance of his well-beloved poor, the good
Eloi applied to the King for the bishopric of Noyon, saying to himself
that at least that bishopric would be ruled by the sweet morality of
Jesus. And he put that morality into practice up to the last day of his
life, without thereby renouncing his art. He founded several
monasteries, where he set up large gold and silversmiths' shops under
the direction of the apprentices whom he raised in the abbey of Solignac
and elsewhere in Limousin. It was thither, my lads, that I was taken as
a slave at sixteen after having undergone many trials. But I was born in
Brittany ... in that Brittany that is still free to this day, and that I
never expect to see again, although this abbey lies not far from the
cradle of my family," and the old man, who during the whole of his
narrative had kept steadily at work at the abbatial crosier that he was
chiseling, dropped on his knee the hand that held the burin. He remained
silent and pensive for a few seconds. Then, waking up with a start, he
proceeded addressing the young slaves under him, who wondered at his
silence: "My lads, I have allowed myself to be carried away despite
myself by recollections that are at once sweet and painful to my
mind.... Where did I leave off?"

"You were telling us, Father Bonaik, that you were taken as a slave at
the age of sixteen to the abbey of Solignac in Limousin."

"Yes; well, it was there that I first saw the great artist. Once every
year he left Noyon to visit the abbey. He had inducted his apprentice
Thil abbot of the place, and the abbot directed the goldsmith's
workshop. The good Eloi was quite old then; but he loved to come to the
workshop to oversee and direct the work. He often took the file or the
burin from our hands to show us how to use it, and in such a paternal
manner did he act that all our hearts went out to him. Oh! those were
good days.... The slaves were not allowed to leave the territory of the
monastery, but they felt as happy there as one can under bondage. At
every visit that he paid the place, Eloi inquired after them to
ascertain whether they were kindly treated. After his death, however,
everything changed."

The old goldsmith had reached this epoch in his narrative when the door
of the workshop opened and two personages stepped in.



CHAPTER II.

THE INTENDANT RICARIK.


One of the persons who entered Father Bonaik's workshop was Ricarik, the
intendant of the abbey, a Frank of a low and vulgar appearance; the
other was Septimine, the slave of the abbey of St. Saturnine, whose
freedom, together with her father's and mother's, Berthoald had a few
days previous sued for and obtained at the hands of Charles Martel.
Since her departure from the abbey of St. Saturnine, the poor child had
become hardly recognizable. Her charming face had thinned and was
pale--so much had she suffered and wept. She followed the intendant
silent and confused.

"Our holy dame, Abbess Meroflede, sends you this slave," said Ricarik to
the old goldsmith, pointing at Septimine, who, ashamed at finding
herself among the young apprentices, did not dare to raise her eyes.
"Meroflede bought her yesterday from the Jew Mordecai.... You are to
teach her to polish jewelry; our holy abbess wishes to keep her near her
for that work. Within a month at the latest, she must be versed in her
work; if not, both she and you shall be punished."

At these words Septimine trembled and took courage to raise her eyes to
the old man, who stepped forward and said to her kindly: "Do not be
afraid, my child; with a little good will on your part, we shall be able
to teach you how to polish jewelry and meet the wishes of our holy
abbess. You shall work there, near me."

For the first time in several days did the features of the young girl
express sentiments other than those of fear and sadness. She timidly
raised her eyes to Bonaik, and, struck by the kindness of his face,
answered him in an accent of profound gratitude: "Oh! Thank you, good
father! Thank you for being kind to me!"

While the apprentices were exchanging in a low voice their views on the
looks of their new shopmate, Ricarik, who carried a little casket under
his arm, said to the old man: "I bring you here the gold and silver with
which to fashion the belt that you know of, and also the Greek vase. Our
dame Meroflede is anxious to have the two articles."

"Ricarik, I told you before that the stuff that you brought me in bits
and in gold and silver sous is not enough. It is all in that iron trunk
whose key you hold. Moreover, in order to make one of those beautiful
belts, similar to those that I saw manufactured in the workshops that
the illustrious Eloi established, about twenty pearls and as many other
precious stones will be needed."

"I have in this purse and this casket all the gold, silver and precious
stones that you will need," saying which, Ricarik emptied out the
contents of a purse upon the old goldsmith's work-bench, and took out of
the casket a sufficient number of gold sous, several twisted lumps also
of gold, that looked as if they had been forcibly wrenched from some
article that they had served as ornament to, and finally a gold
reliquary studded with precious stones. "Have you now enough gold and
stones?"

"I think so; these stones are superb; the reliquary is ornamented with
matchless rubies."

"This reliquary was presented to our holy abbess; it contains a thumb of
St. Loup, of the great St. Loup, and two teeth from his jaw."

"Ricarik, after I shall have detached the rubies and melted the gold of
the reliquary, what am I then to do with the thumb and teeth?"

"The thumb and teeth?"

"The bones of the blessed St. Loup that are inside."

"Do with them what you like ... keep them as relics to prolong your old
age."

"I would then live at least two hundred years."

"What are you examining with so much attention?"

"I am examining the silver sous that you have just brought in. Some of
them do not seem sound."

"Some colonist must have cheated me.... This is the day they pay their
rents and imposts. When these people pay in money you would think they
were having their teeth extracted. It is unfortunately too late now to
discover the cheats who paid with false sous. But you shall come along
with me so that you may examine the pieces that are now to be paid in.
Woe to the thief who should then try to pass false coin upon me! His
skin will boil for it!"

"I shall do as you order.... We shall lock these precious metals and
stones in the iron chest, if you please, until I have time to start to
work on them."

While the Frank was examining the contents of the chest, the old
goldsmith approached his young apprentices and said to them in a low
voice: "Now, lads, so far I have always taken your side against our
masters, palliating or hiding your faults, to spare you the punishments
that you sometimes did deserve."

"That is so, Father Bonaik."

"In return, I demand of you that you treat that poor girl that stands
trembling there, as if she were your own sister. I am to go out with the
intendant, and shall be away, perhaps, for an hour. Promise me that you
will be decorous and reserved in your talk before her."

"Fear not, Father Bonaik; we shall say nothing that a nun may not hear."

"That is not enough; certain nuns can hear everything; promise me you
will say nothing that you would not say before your own mothers."

"We promise you, Father Bonaik."

This whispered conversation took place at the other end of the workshop,
while Ricarik was taking an inventory of the contents of the iron chest.
The old man then returned to Septimine and said to her also in a low
voice: "My child, I shall leave you for a little while; but I have
recommended those lads to treat you as a sister. Be at ease. You will
hear nothing to hurt your ears."

Septimine had hardly thanked the old jeweler with a look of gratitude,
when the intendant closed the chest and said: "Have you heard any news
of that runaway Eleuthere?"

The old goldsmith made a sign to the young slaves, all of whom had
raised their heads at the name of Eleuthere; but catching Father
Bonaik's eyes, all resumed work without answering a word to the
intendant's question, and without even seeming to hear him.

"His disappearance must be a matter of surprise to you, is it not?"
asked Ricarik, letting his penetrating eye wander over the apprentices.

"He must have found a way to escape," said the lad who believed he had
recognized Eleuthere in the cloister. "He long went with the idea of
escaping from the monastery."

"Yes, yes," answered two other apprentices; "Eleuthere told us he would
run away from the monastery."

"And why did you not post me, you dogs?" cried the intendant. "You are
his accomplices."

The lads remained quiet with their eyes down. The Frank proceeded:

"Oh! You kept the secret! Your backs will ring for it under the whip!"

"Ricarik," replied the old goldsmith, "these lads chatter like jays, and
have no more brains than fledgling birds. Eleuthere often said as so
many others have: 'Oh, how I would like to roam over the fields, instead
of being bound to the workshop from morning till evening!' That is what
these lads call secrets. Pardon them. Then, you should remember that our
holy dame Meroflede is impatient for her belt and vase. But if you have
my apprentices whipped, they will spend more time rubbing their sores
than plying the hammer and the file, and our work will make but slow
progress. It would cause a great delay."

"Very well, then; they shall be punished later. All of you will have to
work hard, not by day only, but also by night. By day you will work upon
gold and silver. By night you shall furbish iron. There is a double task
for you."

"What do you mean?"

"There will be a stack of arms brought here this evening--axes, swords,
and lances that I have bought at Nantes."

"Arms!" cried the old man in astonishment. "Arms! Do the Arabs still
threaten the heart of Gaul?"

"Old man, the arms will be brought to you this evening. See to it that
the lances have good points, that the swords are well sharpened, the
axes trenchant. Never you mind the rest. But this is the hour when the
colonists must bring their money taxes. Follow me, in order to ascertain
whether the thieves try to pass false coin upon me. Come, Father
Bonaik!"



CHAPTER III.

THE ABBESS MEROFLEDE.


Upon leaving the workshop, the intendant Ricarik, followed by the old
goldsmith, proceeded to a vast shed located outside of the abbey. Almost
all the slaves and colonists who had ground-rent to pay to the monastery
were gathered at the place. There were four days in the year set aside
for the payment of major rents. At these periods, the products of the
land that was cultivated, and with so much labor, by the Gauls, flowed
in a strong and steady stream into the abbey. Thus abundance and leisure
reigned within the holy precincts of this, the same as of all the other
monasteries, while the enslaved populations, barely sheltered in
thatched hovels, lived in perpetual and atrocious misery, borne down by
all manner of exactions. Few sights could be imagined, more lively and
yet so sad, than those presented at the payment of the ground-rent. The
peasants, barely clad, whether slaves outright or only colonists, whose
leanness told of their trials, arrived carrying on their shoulders or
pushing in carts provisions and products of all sorts. To the tumultuous
noise of the crowd was added the bleating of sheep and calves, the
grunting of pigs, the lowing of cattle, the cackling of poultry--animals
that the rent payers had to bring alive. Some of the men bent under the
weight of large baskets filled with eggs, cheese, butter and honeycombs;
others rolled barrels of wine that were taken to the abbey's gate on a
sort of sled; yonder, wagons were unloaded of their heavy bags of wheat,
of barley, of spelt, of oats or of mustard grain; here, hay and straw
were being heaped up in high piles; further away, kindling wood or
building material, such as beams, planks, boards, vine poles, stakes;
forester slaves brought in bucks, wild boars and venison to be smoked;
colonists led by the leash hunting dogs that they had to train, or
carried in cages falcons and sparrow-hawks that they had taken from
their nests for falconry; others, taxed in a certain quantity of iron
and lead, necessary articles in the construction of the buildings of the
abbey, carried these metals, while others brought rolls of cloth and of
linen, bales of wool or of hemp for spinning, large pieces of woven
serge, packages of cured hides, ready for use. There were also tenants
whose rent consisted in certain quantities of wax, of oil, of soap and
even resinous torches; baskets, osier, twisted rope, hatchets, hoes,
spades and other agricultural implements. Finally, others had to pay
with articles of furniture, and household utensils.

Ricarik sat down at one of the corners of the shed near a table to
receive the money tax of the colonists who were in arrears, while
several turning-box sisters of the convent, dressed in their long black
robes and white veils, went from group to group with a parchment scroll
on which they entered the rent in kind. The old goldsmith stood behind
Ricarik and examined one after another the sous and the silver and
copper deniers that were being paid in. He approved them all. The
venerable old man feared to expose the poor people to bad treatment if
he rejected any coin, seeing the intendant was merciless. The colonists
who were unable to pay on that day made a considerable group, and
anxiously awaited their names to be called. Many of them were
accompanied by their wives and children. Those who had the money to pay
having acquitted themselves, Ricarik called in a loud voice:
"Sebastian!" The colonist advanced all in a tremble with his wife and
two children at his side, all of them as miserably dressed as himself.

"Not only have you not paid your rent of twenty-six sous," said the
intendant, "but last week you refused to cart to the abbey the woolen
and linen goods that the abbess sent to Rennes. A bad payer, a
detestable servant."

"Alack, seigneur! If I have not paid my rent it is because shortly
before harvest time the storm destroyed my ripe wheat. I might still
have saved something if I could have attended to the crop immediately,
but the slaves who work the field with me were requisitioned away five
out of seven days in order to work at the enclosures of the new park of
the abbey and in draining one of the ponds. Left alone, I could not take
in the remnants of the harvest; then came the heavy rains; the wheat
rotted on the ground and the whole harvest was lost. All I had left was
one field of spelt; it had not been badly treated by the storm; but the
field is contiguous to the forest of the abbey, and the deer ravaged the
crops as they did the year before."

Ricarik shrugged his shoulders and proceeded: "You owe besides, six
cart-loads of hay; you did not fetch them in, yet the meadows that you
cultivate are excellent. With the surplus of six cart-loads you could
easily get money and fulfill your engagements."

"Alack, seigneur! I never get to see the first cut of those meadows. The
herds of the abbey come to pasture on my lands from early spring. If I
set slaves to keep them off, a fight breaks out between my slaves and
those of the abbey; one day mine are beaten, the next mine beat the
others. But however it be, I am deprived of the help of their arms.
Besides, seigneur, almost every day has its special duties; one day we
have to prune the vines of the abbey, another we have to plow, harrow
and plant its fields; yet another, we have its crops to cart away;
another day it is the fences that have to be repaired. We have lately
also had ditches to dig when the abbess feared that the convent was to
be attacked by some bands of marauders. At that time we also had to
mount guard.... If out of three nights one is compelled to spend two on
his feet, and then to work from early dawn, strength fails and the work
is neglected."

"What about the cartage that you refused?"

"No, seigneur, I did not refuse to make the cartage. But one of my
horses was foundered with too heavy a load and too long a stretch for
the abbey. It was not possible to execute your orders for the last
cartage."

"If you have only one foundered horse, how do you expect to cultivate
your fields? How will you pay your back rent and the rent of next year?"

"Alack, seigneur! I am in a cruel fix. I have brought with me my wife
and children. Here they are. They join me in beseeching you to remit
what I owe. Perhaps in the future I shall not meet so many disasters one
after another."

At a sign from the unhappy Gaul, his wife and children threw themselves
at the feet of the intendant and with tears in their eyes implored him
to remit the debt. Ricarik answered the colonist: "You have done wisely
in bringing your wife and children with you; you have saved me the
trouble of sending for them. I know of a certain Jew of Nantes called
Mordecai, who loans money on bodily security. He will advance at least
ten gold sous on your wife and two children, both of whom are old enough
to work. You will be able to invest the money in the purchase of a horse
to replace the one that was foundered. Later, after you shall have
reimbursed the Jew his loan, he will return you your wife and children."

The colonist and his family heard with stupor the words of the
intendant, and broke out into sobs and prayers. "Seigneur," said the
Gaul, "sell me if you like as a slave; my condition will not be worse
than it is now; but do not separate me from my wife and children.... I
never shall be able to pay my back rent and reimburse the Jew; I prefer
slavery to my present life as a colonist. Have pity upon us!"

"That will do!" said Ricarik. "You have too numerous a family to feed;
that is what is ruining you.... When you will have only your own needs
to attend to, you will be able to pay your rent, and with Mordecai's
loan you will be enabled to continue to work." Turning thereupon to one
of his men: "Take the wife and children of Sebastian to the Jew
Mordecai, he happens to be here now."

Bonaik sought to mollify the Frank, but in vain, and Ricarik proceeded
to call up by their names other colonists who were in arrears with their
rent. The intendant was at this work when a lad of from seventeen to
eighteen was dragged before him. The lad offered violent resistance to
his captors and cried: "Let me go! I have brought three falcons and two
goshawks for the abbess' perch as my father's rent.... I took them from
their nests at the risk of breaking my bones.... What is it you want?"

"Ricarik," said one of the slaves of the abbey who was dragging the lad,
"we were near the fence of the abbey's perch when we saw a sparrow-hawk,
still hooded, that had escaped from the falconer's hand. The bird flew
only a little distance. Being impeded by its hood, it fell down close to
the fence. This lad immediately threw his cap upon the bird and put it
into his bag. We caught the thief in the act. Here is the bag. The
sparrow-hawk is inside with its hood still on."

"What have you to say?" asked Ricarik of the young lad who remained
somber and silent. "Do you know how the law punishes the theft of a
sparrow-hawk? It condemns the thief to pay three silver sous or to allow
the bird to eat six ounces of flesh from his breast. I have a good mind
to apply the law to you as a salutary example to other hawk thieves....
What have you to say?"

"If our abbess," the lad answered boldly, "gives our flesh for pasture
to her hunting birds, as true as my name is Broute-Saule, sooner or
later I shall have my revenge on her and you!"

"Seize him!" cried Ricarik. "Let him be tied down to a bench outside of
the shed so that his punishment be public.... Let the flesh on his
breast be offered to the sparrow-hawk for pasture!"

"Butcher!" cried the lad. "If I ever catch you or your abbess of the
devil alone, you will make the acquaintance of my knife!"

The crowd of slaves who witnessed the scene broke out into violent
shouts against Broute-Saule, who was impious enough to express himself
in such terms on the abbess Meroflede, and the wretches crowded each
other in their curiosity to witness the punishment. The young Gaul was
stripped of his clothes to the waist and tied down, face up, to a stout
bench that stood outside of the shed. Ricarik then made a slight
incision on the right breast of the lad so as to whet the hawk's
appetite. Attracted by the blood, the bird pounced upon the breast of
Broute-Saule, into whose flesh it stuck its beak.

At this moment the tramp of several horses was heard, and immediately
the slaves and colonists who stood near the bench on which Broute-Saule
lay, and with a greedy gap watched his punishment, fell upon their
knees. The abbess Meroflede had ridden in among them, mounted upon a
vigorous grey stallion. Curious to ascertain the cause of the excited
crowd that stood outside of the shed, the abbess reined in her horse
with a sudden tug at the reins. Meroflede was dressed in a long black
robe; a white veil, fastened under her chin, framed in her face. Clasped
at the height of her neck, a sort of caped red cloak floated in the
breeze over her monastic garb. Slender, tall and graceful, the woman was
about thirty years of age. Her features would have been handsome but for
their combined expression that was alternately sensuous, haughty or
savage. Her face, wan from excess, rivaled by its pallor the whiteness
of the veil that surrounded it, the same as the color of her cloak vied
with her red and lascivious lips that were shaded by a light moustache
of reddish gold. Her hooked nose terminated in palpitating and inflated
nostrils. Her large eyes of sea-green color glistened under thick and
reddish eyebrows. Meroflede reined in her horse near the crowd, which
knelt down, and in doing so discovered to her sight the half-naked
youth, whose breast the sparrow-hawk had begun to peg into. Broute-Saule
turned towards her his face that nestled in his black and wavy hair, and
despite the pain that the bird's beak gave him, the young Gaul, whose
features were expressive of involuntary admiration, cried: "How
beautiful she is!"

Motionless, with the gloved hand that held her whip reclining upon her
thigh, Meroflede looked steadily upon the slave whose flesh the hawk was
eating up; on the other hand, insensible to his own pain, Broute-Saule
contemplated the abbess and repeated in a low voice as if in a rapture:
"How beautiful she is! Oh, madam, the Queen Mary and mother of God is
not more beautiful!"

For a few seconds Meroflede contemplated the spectacle; she then called
Ricarik, leaned down over her saddle, whispered a few words to him, and
casting a last look at Broute-Saule she departed at a gallop without
bestowing upon the kneeling slaves and colonists the benediction that
the poor wretches expected from their abbess.



CHAPTER IV.

IN SIGHT OF THE ABBEY.


Upon leaving the convent of St. Saturnine, Berthoald took with his men
the road to the abbey of Meriadek. The march of the troop was delayed by
the condition in which they found two of the bridges on their route; the
roads, moreover, were in such a state that the carts containing the
booty of the warriors, together with the Arabian and Gallic women whom
they had captured in the environs of Narbonne, frequently sank to the
axles of the wheels in the mud.

Two days after Broute-Saule had been delivered to the claws and beak of
the sparrow-hawk, Berthoald and his men arrived near Nantes. The sun was
going down, night was near. The young chief on horseback rode a few
paces ahead of his companions, among whom were several fresh recruits
raised by Charles from the other side of the Rhine--men as savage and
fierce as the first soldiers of Clovis, and, like them, dressed in skins
and wearing their hair tied at the top of their heads--just as, more
than two centuries before, Neroweg, one of the leudes of the Frankish
king, had worn his. The other warriors were casqued and cuirassed.
Berthoald was reserved, almost haughty towards the men of his band. They
grumbled at his coolness and general bearing towards them. But the
ascendency of his courage, his redoubtable physical strength, his rare
dexterity in arms, the promptitude of his war expedients, finally, the
high favor that he enjoyed with Charles held the savage men of war in
control. Accordingly, Berthoald rode alone at the head of his troop.
Often, since his departure from the abbey of St. Saturnine, he had
dropped into a reverie at the thought of the charming Septimine. He was
thinking of the young girl when Richulf, one of his men, rode up to his
chief and said to him:

"According to the information that we gathered on the way, our abbey
must lie hereabouts. If you will, let us interrogate the slaves that we
see on the fields."

Awakening from his reverie, Berthoald made an affirmative sign with his
head, and the two hastened the pace of their horses.

"As for me," said Richulf, a sort of German giant of an enormous girth,
"I am enjoying in advance the face that our abbot will make when we
shall tell him: 'We are here by the grace of Charles Martel. Vacate the
place, priest of Satan, and give us the key of the cellar and pantry for
us to eat and drink our fill!'"

Being now near the slaves towards whom they had ridden, Berthoald asked
one of them where the abbey of Meriadek was.

"Not far from here, seigneur; the crossroad that you see there down
below, bordered with poplars, leads straight to the abbey."

"Is an abbot or an abbess at the head of the abbey of Meriadek?"

"It is our holy abbess Meroflede."

"An abbess!" repeated Berthoald in surprise. And laughing he asked
again: "Is she young and handsome, this abbess Meroflede?"

"Seigneur, I could not answer your question, never having seen her but
from a distance and enveloped in her veils."

"If she envelops herself in her veils she must be ugly," put in Richulf,
shaking his head doubtfully. "Are the lands of the abbey fertile? Has it
many herds of swine? Does it gather in good wine?"

"The lands of the abbey are very fertile, seigneur ... the herds of
swine and sheep are very large. Two days ago we carried our rent to the
abbey and the colonists their money. It was with difficulty that the
large shed of the monastery could contain all the cattle and provisions
taken there."

"Berthoald," said Richulf, "Charles Martel has dealt generously by us.
But we arrive two days too late. The rents are paid, perhaps also
consumed by the abbess and her nuns. We will find neither pork nor wine
left."

The young chief did not seem to share the apprehensions of his
companion, and said to the slave: "Well, my poor fellow, that road lined
with poplars, there ahead of us, leads to the abbey of Meriadek?"

"Yes, seigneur; you can reach the place in half an hour."

"Thank you for the information."

Berthoald and Richulf were about to turn their horses' heads and rejoin
their troop when the latter, breaking out into a loud guffaw, observed:
"By my beard, I have never seen anyone so kind and civil towards these
dogs as you, Berthoald."

"It pleases me to be so--"

"And that makes you an odd man in everything that concerns these slaves.
One would think that it hurts you to see them.... We have about twenty
female slaves in the carts that we are dragging after us as part of the
booty. Some of them are very beautiful. You never as much as had the
curiosity of looking at them ... yet they belong to you as much as to
the rest of us."

"I have told you that I lay no claim whatever to my share of human
flesh," impatiently answered Berthoald. "The sight of those poor
creatures is painful to me. You refused to give them their freedom....
Have your way.... But do not mention them again to me."

"Well, it is no loss to us. After having amused ourselves with them on
the road we can sell them for at least from fifteen to twenty gold sous
each, according to what a Jew, who looked at them, said to us."

"Enough!... I have heard enough about the Jew and the slaves!" and
wishing to put an end to a conversation that was painful to him, he
touched the flanks of his horse with his spurs to join his Frankish
companions whom he hailed from afar. "Friends, good news! Our abbey is
rich, well stocked with cattle, and fertile; and we are to succeed an
abbess; whether she be young or old, handsome or ugly, I do not yet
know. We shall see her within an hour and shall be able to judge."

"Long live Charles Martel!" cried one of the warriors. "There's no
abbess without nuns.... We shall have a good laugh with the nuns!"

"I would have preferred to have dispossessed some fighting abbot. But I
console myself with the thought that we are to be masters of numerous
herds of swine."

"Richulf, you can think of nothing but loins of beef and ham!"

Thus gaily conversing, the warriors followed the avenue bordered with
poplars. The abbey was presently descried from the distance, rising in
the center of a sort of peninsula, and reached from this side by a
narrow road that was built between two ponds.

"Hurrah for Charles Martel!"

"What a magnificent building! Look at it, Berthoald!"

"Vast domains! And that grand forest in the horizon--it surely all
belongs to our abbey. We shall be able to hunt at our ease."

"It must be full of game. We shall hunt deer, bucks and wild boars....
Long live Charles Martel!"

"And the ponds that extend down there on either side of the road, they
must be full of fish.... We shall fish carp, tench and pike that I like
so well!... Long live Charles!"

"Do you not find, comrades, that this abbey has a certain martial
aspect, with its high battlements, its counter forts, its ramparts, its
few and narrow windows and its ponds that surround it like a natural
defence?"

"So much the better! Within its walls we shall be entrenched as within a
fortress; and should it please the successors of our good Charles, or
the phantom kings, to dispossess us in turn, as we are about to
dispossess this abbess, we shall be able to prove that we wear hose and
not skirts."

"Our tapers are lances, our benedictions sabre cuts."

"Let us hasten our horses; it will soon be night and I am hungry....
Upon the word of Richulf, two whole hams, four pikes and a whole
mountain of cabbage will barely suffice to appease my hunger."

"Sharpen your teeth, glutton! As to me, I propose to invite the abbess
and her nuns. The feast will then be complete."

"I shall invite the young and handsome ones to share our lodgings at the
abbey. What say you, comrades?"

"What! Invite them, Sigewald!... They must, by my beard! They shall be
forced to remain with us.... The good Charles will laugh at the move. If
the Bishop of Nantes should raise a howl, we shall tell him to come and
take his sheep from the wolves."

"The devil take the Bishop of Nantes! The day of these tonsured people
has gone by, that of the soldier has come!... We are masters in our
house!"

While his companions were delivering themselves of these gross jokes,
Berthoald preceded them silent and pensive. Charles had invested him
with the high dignity of count; he dragged a rich booty behind him in
his carts; the donation of the abbey insured to him the possession of a
large income; all notwithstanding, the young chief seemed troubled in
mind; at times a bitter and painful smile curled his lips. The Frankish
riders were presently on the narrow road at either side of which an
immense pond extended as far as the eye could reach. Richulf presently
said to the young chief: "I do not know whether it is the dusk that
impedes my sight, but it looks to me as if this road is cut off by a
mound of earth a little distance ahead of us."

"Let us look at that a little closer," said Berthoald, putting his horse
to a gallop. Richulf and Sigewald followed him. Soon the three found
their advance intercepted by a deep and wide moat cut into the road and
filled with water that flowed into it from two ponds. On the other side
of the moat rose a kind of breastwork of earth protected with enormous
piles. The obstacle was serious. Night drew near, and on either side the
ponds extended as far as the eye could reach. Berthoald turned around to
his companions who were no less surprised than himself: "The breastwork,
like the abbey, has a decidedly martial mien."

"This ground has been recently thrown up. The bark of the piles is still
fresh, as also the leaves of the hedge that crowns the parapet.... What
the devil can these precautions of defence mean?"

"By the hammer of Charles!" said Berthoald. "Here we have an abbess who
is well up in the art of entrenchment! But there must be some other
route to reach the abbey and--" Berthoald did not finish the sentence. A
volley of stones thrown by slingers hid behind the hedge that crowned
the parapet, reached the three warriors. Their casques and cuirasses
broke the shock, but the young chief was rudely struck in the shoulder,
while the horse of Richulf, that was near the edge of the road and was
hit in the head, reared so violently that it fell over upon its rider
and both rolled into the pond, which was so deep at that spot that horse
and rider disappeared completely. The Frank soon rose back to the
surface and managed with great difficulty to clamber up the bank, while
his horse swam away frightened towards the center of the pond, where,
finally exhausted, it rolled over and sank.

"Treason!" cried Berthoald.

The deep moat filled with water was thirty feet wide. In order to cross
it, according to the art of war, it would have been necessary to fetch
lumber from a great distance and commence a regular siege. Night,
moreover, was on. While the young chief consulted with his companions
upon the unexpected occurrence, a voice from behind the hedge called
out: "This first volley of stones is but a shower of roses to what is in
store for you if you attempt to force a passage."

"Whoever you be, you shall pay dearly for this assault," cried
Berthoald. "We are come by orders of Charles, chief of the Franks, who
made a gift of the abbey of Meriadek to me and my men. I command here.
It is for you to obey."

"And I," replied the voice, "make you a gift, preparatory to something
better, of that volley of stones that you just got."

"We can not to-night force a passage; but we shall encamp on this road.
To-morrow, at break of day, we shall storm your entrenchment. So, I warn
you, the abbess of this convent and her nuns will be treated like women
of conquered towns. The young ones will be distributed among us, the old
ones will be whipped, and the men will be slaughtered."

"Our holy abbess, Dame Meroflede, minds not such threats," answered the
voice. "The abbess consents to admit the chief of those bandits, but
alone, into the convent.... His companions will camp for the night on
the causeway. To-morrow at break of day he shall rejoin his troop. And
when he shall have reported to them what he saw in the monastery, and in
what style preparations are making to receive them, they will realize
that the very best thing for them to do will be to return and fight
near Charles, the heathen who dares to dispose of the goods of the
Church! By the horns of Satan, we shall know how to chase you hence!"

"I shall punish your insolence!"

"My horse is drowned," added Richulf in a rage; "the water streams from
my armor; I am chilled through; my stomach is empty; and yet we are
condemned to spend the night in the open!"

"Enough words! Decide!" replied the voice. "From the top of this
breastwork a long plank will be lowered over to you. However unsteady of
foot your chief may be, he will be able to cross the moat in safety. I
shall take him to the abbey; to-morrow he shall rejoin his companions,
and may the devil, who brought you here, lead you back to hell!"

During this debate the other Franks of Berthoald's troop and presently
also the carts and baggages, all of which entered without mistrust upon
the narrow causeway, had come up to where the young chief stood. He
explained what had happened, and showed them the moat and the opposite
breastwork, which, under the circumstances, could neither be cleared nor
taken. The straggling beneficiaries of the abbey, no less nonplussed and
no less furious than Berthoald himself, broke out into threats and
imprecations against the abbess. Nevertheless, night having now fallen,
there was no choice but to camp upon the road. It was also decided that
Berthoald should proceed alone to the abbey, and that early the next
morning they were to consider what to do, according to his report; but
whatever their decision might be upon Berthoald's report, it was
determined that if Berthoald should fall a victim to treason and not
return in the morning, force would be immediately resorted to. As to
himself, wholly disregarding any danger that might threaten, Berthoald
insisted upon accepting the offer of admitting him to the monastery. The
young chief yielded in this as much to the spirit of adventure as to an
overpowering curiosity to see the fighting abbess. Agreeable to the
tender made by Ricarik, who guarded the breastwork, a plank was pushed
out horizontally from within the parapet, it swayed to the right and
left for a moment and then dropped so that one end rested on the side of
the ditch where Berthoald stood and the other remained firmly fastened
to the parapet. Berthoald left his horse in charge of one of his
companions, and with a firm and light step walked over the plank,
quickly reaching the parapet, into which the plank was immediately drawn
back.



CHAPTER V.

ASYLUM.


Berthoald was received by the intendant, whom, controlling his own
anger, he followed to a near spot where two horses stood saddled.
Ricarik left about a dozen slaves and colonists behind to watch the
trench under the starry sky, and motioning Berthoald to one of the
horses, leaped upon the other and galloped ahead. The young chief rode
in the wake of his guide, rage alternating in his breast with curiosity
concerning the fighting abbess who gave such unsatisfactory tokens of
resignation to the decree that dispossessed her of her benefice. In the
course of the ride towards the abbey, Berthoald encountered two other
protected ditches, like the first, but crossable by means of drawbridges
that were let down to allow him and his guide to pass. A short while
after crossing the second of these two ditches, Berthoald stood near the
outer enclosure of the abbey. The enclosure consisted of thick joists
well fastened together and planted from bank to bank of the two ponds
that lay on both sides. The buildings of the abbey rose upon a vast
peninsular field, accessible only from the side of the causeway that had
just been put in a state of defence. Behind the monastery, a tongue of
land connected with the forest, whose crest bordered the horizon, thus
offering another passage. Berthoald noticed many lights inside of the
enclosure, projected, no doubt, by torches. The intendant took a copper
horn that hung from the pommel of his saddle and blew a call. An
iron-barbed door facing the jetty opened slowly. Preceded by his guide,
Berthoald entered the first courtyard of the abbey, and found himself
face to face with the abbess on horseback, surrounded by several
torch-bearing slaves. Meroflede had lowered the cape of her scarlet
cloak half over her forehead. At her side hung a gold-handled hunting
knife in a steel sheath. Berthoald was seized with astonishment at the
sight of the woman as she sat in the light of the torches. Her costume,
at once monastic and martial, set off the supple and easy frame of the
abbess. The young chief found her handsome as far as he could judge
across the shadow projected upon her face by her half-drawn cowl.

"I know that you are Berthoald," said Meroflede in a vibrating and
sonorous voice; "and so you have come to take possession of my abbey?"

"This abbey has been given me and my companions of war by Charles, the
chief of the Franks. Yes, I have come to take possession."

Meroflede indulged in a laugh of disdain, and despite the shadow that
veiled her face, her laughter exposed to the eyes of Berthoald two rows
of pearly white teeth. The abbess gave her horse a slight touch of her
heel and bade the young man follow.

At the moment when Meroflede's horse was put on the march,
Broute-Saule--now healed of the peckings of the sparrow-hawk, and no
longer clad in rags, but wearing on the contrary an elegant green
jacket, buck-skin hose, neat leather shoes and a rich fur cap--placed
himself at the horse's head with his hands on the reins. Thus walking
between the abbess and Berthoald, the young hawk thief watched
attentively the slightest motion of Meroflede and covered her with
ardent and jealous eyes. From time to time he cast an uneasy glance at
the young chief. The torch-bearing slaves followed close behind the
abbess and Berthoald to the inner courtyard. Meroflede entered with
Berthoald and indicated to him fifty colonists in martial order and
armed with bows and slings.

"Do you think these premises are sufficiently protected, my valiant
captain?" asked Meroflede.

"For me and my men, a slinger or an archer is no more dangerous than a
dog that barks at a distance. We let the arrows whiz, the stones fly and
get within our sword's length. To-morrow at break of day you will know
what you have to expect, dame abbess ... should you insist upon
defending the abbey."

Meroflede again laughed and said: "If you love a fight at close quarters
your taste will be suited to-morrow."

"Not to-morrow!" cried Broute-Saule, casting upon Berthoald a look of
concentrated hatred and mistrust; "if you wish to fight, fight on the
spot ... right here in this yard, by the light of the torches and under
the eyes of our holy abbess; although I have neither casque nor cuirass,
I am your man!"

Meroflede playfully struck Broute-Saule's cap with her whip and said
smiling: "Hold your tongue, slave!"

Berthoald made no answer to the challenge of the hot-headed lad, and
silently followed the abbess, who, riding out of this second yard, moved
towards a spacious building from which confused cries were heard to
proceed. She leaned over her horse, and said a few words in the ear of
Broute-Saule. The latter seemed to hesitate before obeying. Seeing this,
she added imperiously:

"Did you hear me?"

"Holy dame--"

"Will you obey!" cried Meroflede impetuously, striking Broute-Saule with
her whip. "Do as you are told, slave!"

The face of Broute-Saule became livid and his furious eyes fell not upon
Meroflede but upon Berthoald. But the lad made a violent effort to
control himself; he obeyed, and ran forward to execute his mistress'
orders. Immediately after, about a hundred men of sinister and
determined mien and dressed in rags came out of the building, drew up
in line and brandished their lances, swords and axes, shouting: "Long
live our holy abbess, Meroflede!" Several women who were among the men
cried no less noisily: "Long live our abbess! Long live our holy dame!"

"Do you, who have come to take possession of this monastery," said
Meroflede to the young chief with a caustic smile, "know what the right
of asylum imports?"

"A criminal who takes refuge in a church is protected from the justice
of men."

"You are a treasure of science, worthy of carrying the crosier and the
mitre! Well, these good folks that you see there are the flower of the
bandits of this region; the least guilty of them has committed one or
two murders. Apprised of your approach, I offered them to leave the
asylum of the basilica of Nantes by night, and promised them asylum in
the chapel of the abbey, and the indulgence of the good old times. If
they leave this place the gibbet awaits them. That will give you an idea
of the fury with which they will defend the monastery against your men,
who would not be Christian enough to extend to them a similar
protection. It is easy enough to accept the gift of an abbey, it is more
difficult to take possession of it. You now know what forces I have at
my command. Let us enter the monastery. After so long a journey, you
must feel tired. I extend hospitality to you. You shall sup with me....
To-morrow, at daybreak, you shall rejoin your companions. You surely are
a prudent councilor. You will induce your band to look for some other
abbey, and you will lead them in the search."

"I see with pleasure, holy abbess, that solitude and the austerities of
the cloister have not impaired the joviality of your temper."

"Ah! You think I am jovial?"

"You suggest with an amusing seriousness that I and my men who have
been fighting the Arabs, Frisians and Saxons since the battle of
Poitiers, shall now turn tail to this handful of murderers and robbers,
reinforced by poor colonists who have left the plow for the lance, and
the hoe for the sling!"

"You braggart!" cried Broute-Saule, who had returned to his place at the
head of Meroflede's horse. "Will you have us two take an axe? We shall
strip to the waist, and you will find out whether the men of this place
are cowards!"

"You look to me to be a brave lad," answered Berthoald smiling. "If you
would like to remain with us at the abbey, you will find a place in the
ranks of my companions."

"We must have a truce from now till to-morrow.... You are surely tired.
You shall be taken to a bath. That will refresh you. After that we shall
sup. I can not treat you to a feast such as St. Agnes and St. Radegonde
treated their favorite poet, Bishop Fortunat, to at their abbey of
Poitiers, in short skirts. But you will not starve." Meroflede then
turned to Ricarik: "You have my orders, obey them!"

While speaking, Meroflede had drawn near the interior door of the abbey.
With a light leap she alighted from her horse and disappeared within the
cloister, after throwing the bridle to Broute-Saule. The lad followed
the fascinating woman with looks of despair, and he then slowly returned
to the stables, after shaking his fist at Berthoald. The latter, who was
more and more struck by the oddities of the abbess, did not notice
Broute-Saule's threatening gesture but was steeped in thought when
Ricarik recalled him to his surroundings, saying: "Alight; the slaves
will conduct you to the bath; they will help you take off your armor,
and as your baggage is not here they will furnish you with proper
vestments--they are a new hose and coat that I never used. You may put
them on should you prefer them to your iron shell. I shall later come
for you to sup with our holy dame."



CHAPTER VI.

WARRIOR AND ABBESS.


Refreshed by his bath and daintily dressed, Berthoald was half an hour
later led by Ricarik to the apartment of the abbess. When he appeared in
the hall where Meroflede awaited him, he found her alone. The abbess had
doffed her black vestments to array herself in a long white robe. A
light veil half hid the tresses of her thick and reddish hair. A
necklace and bracelets of precious stones ornamented her neck and bare
arms. The Franks, having preserved the custom, introduced before them in
Gaul by the Romans, of surrounding their banquet tables with couches,
the abbess, extended almost at full length upon a long and wide lounge
furnished with cushions, made a sign to the young chief to sit down near
her. Berthoald obeyed, increasingly taken with the unusual beauty of
Meroflede. A large fire flamed in the hearth. Rich vessels of silver
glistened on the table, which was covered with embroidered linen;
daintily carved flagons stood near gold cups; the plates held toothsome
dishes; a candelabrum, on which two little wax candles were burning,
barely lighted the spacious apartment, which was thrown into
semi-obscurity a few paces away from Meroflede and her guest, and into
complete darkness at its further ends. The lounge stood against a
wainscoted wall from which hung two portraits, one of them, coarsely
painted on an oak panel in Byzantine style, representing a Frankish
warrior barbarously accoutred after the fashion of the leudes of Clovis
three centuries earlier. Below the painting was the inscription:
"Gonthram Neroweg." Beside this picture was one of the abbess Meroflede
herself, draped in her long black and white veils; in one hand she held
her abbatial crosier, in the other a naked sword. The second picture was
much smaller than the first; it was painted on parchment, in the style
of the miniatures that sacred books were then commonly illuminated with.
Berthoald's eyes fell upon the two pictures at the moment when he was
about to sit down beside his hostess. At their sight a tremor ran
through him, and he remained as if thunder-struck. Presently he looked
from Gonthram Neroweg to Meroflede, and from the abbess back to the
former. He seemed to compare the resemblance between the two, an obvious
resemblance; like Neroweg, Meroflede's hair was reddish, her nose
beaked, her eyes green. The young chief could not conceal his
astonishment.

"You seem to contemplate with deep interest the portrait of one of my
ancestors, deceased several centuries ago!"

"You are of the race of Neroweg!"

"Yes, and my family still inhabits its vast domains of Auvergne,
conquered by my ancestors' swords, or bestowed upon them by royal
gifts.... But that is quite enough for the past. Glory to the dead, joy
to the living! Sit down here near me, and let us take supper.... I am an
odd abbess. But by Venus, I live like the other abbots and bishops of my
time, with the only difference that these mitred folks sup with young
girls, while I shall spend the night with a handsome soldier.... Will
that be to your taste?" and raising one of the heavy silver flagons with
a virile hand, she filled to the brim the gold cup that was placed near
her guest. After merely moistening her own red lips in the cup, she
reached it to the young chief and said resolutely:

"Let us drink your welcome to this convent!"

Berthoald held the cup for a moment between his two hands, and casting
one more look at the portrait of Neroweg, he smiled caustically, fixed
upon the abbess a look as bold as that which she cast at him, and
replied: "Let us drink, beautiful abbess!" and emptying the cup at one
draught, he added: "Let us drink to love!... which overpowers the
abbesses as it does the simple maids!"

"Aye! Let us drink to love, the god of the world, as the pagans used to
say!" answered Meroflede, and filling her own cup from a little red
flagon, and replenishing the cup of the young chief, who fixedly gazed
at her with eyes that shot fire, she added: "I have drunk to your toast;
now drink to mine!"

"Whatever it be, holy abbess, and even though this cup be filled with
poison, I shall empty it to your toast, I swear by your snow-white
arms!--by your beautiful eyes!--by your voluptuous lips! I drink to
Venus Callipyge!"

"Well, then," said the abbess, fixing a penetrating look upon the young
man, "let us drink to the Jew Mordecai!"

Berthoald had his cup at his lips, but at the name of the Jew he
shivered, laid his cup down abruptly, his face grew dark and he cried in
terror:

"Drink to the Jew Mordecai?"

"Come, by Venus, the patroness of lovers, do not tremble like that, my
brave friend!"

"Drink to the Jew Mordecai!... I----"

"You said to me: 'Let us drink to Love!'" replied the abbess, without
losing the effect of her words upon Berthoald; "you swore by the
whiteness of this arm," and she raised her sleeves, "you swore to drink
my toast. Fulfill your promise!"

"Woman!" cried Berthoald with impatience and embarrassment, "what whim
is that? Why do you wish me to drink to the Jew Mordecai, to a merchant
of human flesh?"

"I shall satisfy your curiosity.... Had not Mordecai sold you as a slave
to the Seigneur Bodegesil, you would not have stolen your master's horse
and armor to go in search of adventures, and palmed yourself off upon
that devil of a Charles Martel--you, a Gaul of the subject race--for a
noble of the Frankish race and son of a dispossessed beneficiary, and
finally, Charles, one of whose best captains you have become, would not
have presented you with this abbey. Consequently, you would not be here
now, at my side, at this table, where we are together drinking to
Love.... That is the reason why, my valiant warrior, I empty this cup to
the memory of that filthy Jew! And now, will you drink to the Jew
Mordecai?"

While Meroflede was uttering these words, Berthoald contemplated her
with increased astonishment, now mixed with fear, and could find not one
word in answer.

"Ah! Ah! Ah!" said the abbess laughing, "see how dumb he has become. Why
grow alternately pale and red? What does it matter whether you are of
Gallic or Frankish race? Does that render your eyes less blue, your hair
less black, your shape less comely? Come, shame upon you, my warrior!
Must I teach a soldier how cups are emptied, and how love is made?"

Berthoald felt as if in a dream. Meroflede did not seem to despise him;
she did not seem to triumph at the advantage that she had gained over
him by the knowledge of his secret. Frank in her cynicism, she
contemplated the young chief with mild and ardent eyes. Her looks that
at once troubled his mind and fired his veins; the strangeness of the
adventure; the effect of the large cup that he had just drained at one
draught, either a heady wine or perchance mixed with some philtre, and
that began to throw his brain into disorder;--all these thoughts crowded
upon Berthoald's mind. He took a sudden resolve--to vie with the abbess
in audacity, and said resolutely to her: "You are of the race of
Neroweg, I of that of Joel!"

"We shall drink to Joel ... he has raised a breed of handsome soldiers."

"Are you acquainted with the death of the son of Gonthram Neroweg, whose
portrait I see there on the wall?"

"A tradition in my family has it that he was killed in his domain of
Auvergne by the chief of a troop of bandits and revolted slaves. May the
devil keep his soul!"

"The chief of those bandits was named Karadeucq ... he was the great
grandfather of my grandfather!"

"By heaven! That is a singular coincidence! And how did the bandit kill
Neroweg?"

"Your ancestor and mine fought valiantly with axes, and the count
succumbed. The Gaul triumphed over the Frank!"

"Indeed ... you refresh the recollections of my childhood. Did not your
ancestor cut some words in the trunk of a tree with the point of a
dagger after the combat?"

"Yes--'_Karadeucq, a descendant of Joel, killed Count Neroweg_'!"

"A few months after her husband's death, the count's wife, Godegisele,
gave birth to a son, who was the grandfather of my grandfather."

"Strange coincidence, indeed ... and you, my beautiful abbess, listen to
the story with great calmness!"

"What are those combats of our ancestors and of our races to me? By
Venus! By her beautiful hips! I know but one race in all the world--the
race of lovers! Empty your cup, my valiant warrior, and let us sup
merrily. To-night there is a truce between us two.... War to-morrow!"

"Shame! Remorse! Reason! Duty!--let them all be drowned in wine!... I
know not whether I am awake or dreaming on this strange night!" cried
the young chief, and taking up his full cup, he rose and proceeded with
an air of feverish defiance while turning towards the somber and savage
portrait of the Frankish warrior: "To you, Neroweg!" Having emptied his
cup, Berthoald felt seized with a vertigo and threw himself upon the
lounge, saying to Meroflede: "Long live Love, abbess of the devil! Let
us love each other to-night, and fight to-morrow!"

"We shall fight on the spot!" cried a hoarse and strangling voice, that
seemed to proceed from the extremity of the large hall that lay in utter
darkness, and, the curtains of one of the doors being thrust aside,
Broute-Saule, who, without the knowledge of the abbess and driven by
savage jealousy, had managed to penetrate into the apartment, rushed
forward agile like a tiger. With two bounds he reached Berthoald, seized
him by the hair with one hand and raised a dagger over him with the
other, determined to plunge the weapon into the young chief's throat.
The latter, however, although taken by surprise, quickly drew his sword,
held with his iron grip the armed hand of Broute-Saule, and ran his
weapon through the unfortunate lad. Deadly wounded, Broute-Saule
staggered about for a few seconds and then dropped, crying: "Meroflede
... my beautiful mistress ... I die under your eyes!"

Still holding his bloody sword in his hand, and aware that the powerful
wine was making further inroads upon his senses, Berthoald mechanically
fell back upon the lounge. The dazed chief for a moment scrutinized the
darkness of the apartment, apprehensive of further attempts upon his
life, when he saw the abbess knock over with her fist the candelabrum
which alone lighted the room, and in the midst of the total darkness
that now pervaded the place he felt himself in the close embrace of the
monster. Hardly any recollection remained to him of what happened during
the rest of that night of drunkenness and debauchery.



CHAPTER VII.

THE MOUSE-TRAP.


Dawn was about to succeed the night in which Broute-Saule was killed by
Berthoald. Profoundly asleep and with his hands pinioned behind his
back, the young chief lay upon the floor of Meroflede's bedchamber.
Wrapped in a black cloak, her face pale and half veiled by her now loose
thick red hair that almost reached the floor, the abbess proceeded to
the window, holding in her hand a lighted torch of rosin. Leaning over
the sill whence the horizon could be seen at a distance, the abbess
waved her torch three times, while intently looking towards the east
which began to be tinted with the approaching day. After a few minutes,
the light of a large flame, that rose from a distance behind the
retreating shades of night, responded to Meroflede's signal. Her
features beamed with sinister joy. She dropped her torch into the moat
that surrounded the monastery, and then proceeded to awaken Berthoald by
shaking him rudely. Berthoald was with difficulty drawn from his
lethargy. He sought to take his hand to his forehead, but found that he
was pinioned. He raised himself painfully upon his leaden feet, and
still unclear of mind he contemplated Meroflede in silence. The abbess
extended her bare arms towards the horizon, that dawn was feebly
lighting, and said: "Do you see yonder, far away, the narrow road that
crosses the pond and prolongs itself as far as the outer works of the
abbey?"

"Yes," said Berthoald, struggling against the strange torpor that still
paralyzed his mind and will, without thereby wholly clouding his
intellect; "yes, I see the road surrounded by water on all sides."

"Did not your companions in arms camp on that road during the night?"

"I think so," replied the young chief, seeking to collect his confused
thoughts; "last evening ... my companions--"

"Listen!" put in the abbess nervously and placing her hand upon the
young man's shoulder. "Listen ... what do you hear from the side on
which the sun is about to rise?"

"I hear a great rumbling noise ... that seems to draw nearer towards us.
It sounds like the rush of waters."

"Your ear does not deceive you, my valiant warrior;" and leaning upon
Berthoald's shoulder: "Yonder, towards the east, lies an immense lake
held in by dikes and locks."

"A lake? What of it?"

"The level of its waters is eight to ten feet above those of the
ponds.... Do you understand what will follow?"

"No, my mind is heavy ... I hardly remember ... our charming night ...
but why am I pinioned?"

"For the purpose of checking your joy when, as will soon be the case,
you will have recovered your senses.... Now, let us continue our
confidential chat. You will understand that the moment the dikes are
broken through and the locks opened, the water will rise in these ponds
to the extent that they will submerge the narrow road on which your
companions encamped for the night with their horses and the carts that
held their booty and slaves.... Now, watch.... Do you notice how the
water is rising? It is now up to the very edge of the jetty.... Within
an hour, the jetty itself will be entirely submerged. Not one of your
companions will have escaped death.... If they seek to flee, a deep
trench, cut at my orders over night, will stop their progress.... Not
one will escape death.... Do you hear, my handsome prisoner?"

"All drowned!" murmured Berthoald, still under the dominion of a dull
stupor; "all my companions drowned----"

"Oh, does not yet that new piece of confidential news wake you up?...
Let us pass to another thing," and the abbess proceeded with a voice of
ringing triumph: "Among the female slaves, taken from Languedoc, that
your band brought in its train, there was a woman ... who will drown
with the rest, and that woman," said Meroflede, emphasizing each word in
the hope of each being a dagger in Berthoald's heart, "is--your--mother!"

Berthoald trembled violently, leaped up in his bonds, and vainly sought
to snap them. He uttered a piercing cry, cast a look of despair and
terror upon the immense sheet of water that, tinted with the first rays
of the rising sun, now extended in every direction. The wretched man
called aloud: "Oh, my mother!"

"Now," said Meroflede with savage joy, "the water has almost completely
invaded the causeway. The tent-cloths that cover the carts can hardly be
seen. The flood still rises, and at this very hour your mother is
undergoing the agonies of death ... agonies that are more horrible than
death itself."

"Oh, demon!" cried the young man, writhing in his bonds. "You lie! My
mother is not there!"

"Your mother's name is Rosen-Aër, she is forty years of age; she lived
one time in the valley of Charolles in Burgundy."

"Woe! Woe is me!"

"Fallen into the hands of the Arabs at the time of their invasion of
Burgundy, she was taken to Languedoc as a slave. After the last siege of
Narbonne by Charles, your mother was captured in the vicinity of the
town together with other women. When the division of the booty took
place, Rosen-Aër having fallen to the lot of your band was brought as
far as here.... If still you should doubt, I shall give you one more
token. That woman carries on her arm, like you, traced in indelible
letters the two words: '_Brenn_' and '_Karnak_'.... Are these details
accurate enough?"

"Oh, my mother!" cried the unfortunate Berthoald casting upon the waters
of the pond a look of most poignant pain.

"Your mother is now dead.... The jetty has disappeared under the waters,
and still they rise.... Aye, your mother was drowned in the covered
cart, where she was held confined with the other slaves."

"My heart breaks," murmured Berthoald, crushed by the weight of pain and
despair: "My suffering is beyond endurance!"

"Are you so soon at the end of your strength?" cried Meroflede with a
peal of infernal laughter. "Oh! no, no! You have not yet suffered
enough. What! You stupid slave! You Gallic renegade! Cowardly liar, who
brazenly deck yourself with the name of a noble Frank! What, did you
imagine vengeance did not boil in my veins because you saw me smile last
evening at the death of my ancestor, who was killed by a bandit of your
race! Aye! I smiled because I thought how at daybreak I would have you
witness from a distance the death agonies of your own mother! I was but
preparing my vengeance."

"Monster of lewdness and ferocity!" cried Berthoald, making superhuman
efforts to break his bonds. "I must punish you for your crimes!... Yes,
by Hesus, I shall throttle you with my own hands!"

The abbess realized the impotence of Berthoald's fury, shrugged her
shoulders and continued: "Your ancestor, the bandit, set fire a century
and a half ago to the castle of my ancestor, Count Neroweg, and killed
him with an axe. I reply to the fire with the inundation, and I drown
your mother! As to the fate that awaits you, it will be terrible!"

"Did my mother know that I was the chief of the Franks who took her
prisoner?"

"My vengeance lacked only that!"

"But who, miserable woman, could have told you what you know about my
mother?"

"The Jew Mordecai."

"How did he know her? Where did he see her?"

"At the halt that you made at the convent of St. Saturnine with Charles
Martel; it was there that the Jew recognized you."

"God was merciful to me! My mother did not live to know my shame. Her
death would have been doubly terrible.... And now, monster, deliver me
of your presence and of life. I am in a hurry to die!"

"Have patience! I have prepared for you a refined punishment, and a
prolonged agony."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE MIRACLE OF ST. LOUP'S TEETH.


On the morning of the fateful day when the abbess Meroflede drowned, as
in a mouse-trap, the troop of Frankish warriors that had presumed to
dispossess her, the goldsmith Bonaik entered his workshop at the
accustomed hour. He was soon joined by his slave apprentices. After
lighting the fire in the forge, the old man opened the window that
looked over the fosse, to let the smoke escape. With no little
astonishment Bonaik observed that the water in the moat had risen so
high as to be within a foot of the window sill. "Oh, my lads," said he
to the apprentices, "I fear some great calamity happened last night! For
very many years the water of this moat did not reach the height of
to-day, and then it happened when the dike of the upper lake broke, and
caused widespread disasters. Look yonder at the other end of the moat.
The water is almost up to the air-hole cut into the cavern under the
building opposite us."

"And it looks as if the water were still rising, Father Bonaik."

"Alack, yes, my lad! It is still rising. Oh, the bursting of the dikes
will bring on great calamities. There will be many victims!"

While Bonaik and his apprentices were looking at the rising water in the
moat, the voice of Septimine was heard calling on the outside: "Father
Bonaik, open the door of the workshop!" One of the apprentices ran to
the door and the girl entered, supporting a woman whose long hair
streamed with water; her clothes were drenched, her face livid; she was
barely able to drag herself along; so weak was she that after taking a
few steps in the shop she fell fainting in the arms of the old goldsmith
and Septimine.

"Poor woman! She is cold as ice!" exclaimed the old man, and turning to
his apprentices: "Quick, quick boys! Fetch some coal from the vault, ply
the bellows and raise the fire in the forge to warm up this unfortunate
woman. I thought so! This inundation must have caused much damage."

At the words of the goldsmith, two apprentices ran down into the vault
behind the forge for charcoal, and the other blew upon the fire, while
the old man approached Septimine, who, on her knees before the
unconscious woman, wept and said: "Oh, she is going to die!"

"Reassure yourself," the old man said; "this poor woman's hands, icy
cold a minute ago, are becoming warmer. But what has happened? Your
clothes also are drenched. You look strangely shocked."

"Good father, at daybreak this morning, the girls who sleep in my room
and I woke up and went into the courtyard. There we heard other slaves
crying that the dikes had burst. The girls all ran to see the progress
of the inundation. I went along without knowing why. They dispersed. I
advanced to a tongue of land that is washed by the water of the pond. A
large willow stands near the spot. I presently saw a half-submerged cart
floating a little way off. It was being turned around by the opposite
currents, and it was covered by a tent-cloth."

"Thanks be to God! The spreading tent-cloth acted like a balloon and
kept the cart from sinking."

"The wind blew into this sort of a sail, driving the cart towards the
shore where I stood. I then saw this unfortunate woman, holding to the
tent-cloth, the rest of her body in the water."

"And what happened then, my daughter?"

"There was not a second to lose. The failing hands of the poor woman,
whose strength was exhausted, were about to drop. I fastened one end of
my belt to one of the branches of the willow-tree and the other to my
wrist and I leaned forward towards the poor woman calling out to her:
'Courage!' She heard me, and seized my right hand convulsively. The
sudden pull caused my feet to slip from the edge and I fell into the
water."

"Fortunately your left wrist was tied to one of the ends of the belt
that you had fastened to the tree!"

"Yes, good father. But the shock was violent. I thought my arm was
wrenched from its socket. Fortunately the poor woman took hold of the
edge of my dress. My first pain having passed I did my best, and with
the aid of my belt that remained fastened to the tree and on which I
tugged away, I succeeded in reaching the shore and pulling out this
woman, on the point of drowning. Our workshop being the nearest place
that I could think of, I brought her here; she could hardly support
herself; but, alack!" added the girl at the sight of the still inanimate
face of Rosen-Aër, for it was Berthoald's mother that Septimine had just
saved, "I may only have retarded the supreme moment for a few seconds!"

"Do not lose hope," answered the old man, "her hands are growing
warmer."

With the aid of the apprentices, who were no less compassionate than
Septimine and the old man, Rosen-Aër was drawn sitting on a stool near
the forge. Little by little she felt the salutary effect of the
penetrating heat, she gradually recovered her senses, and finally awoke.
Gathering her thoughts, she stretched out her arms to Septimine and said
in a feeble voice: "Dear child, you saved me!"

Septimine threw herself around Rosen-Aër's neck, shedding glad tears,
and answered: "We have done what we could; we are only poor slaves."

"Oh! my child, I am a slave like yourselves, brought to this country
from the center of Languedoc. We spent the night on the road between the
two ponds of this monastery. The oxen had been unhitched from the carts.
We were caught in the inundation that began at daybreak----" But
Rosen-Aër suddenly broke off and rose to her feet. Her face was at first
expressive of stupor, but immediately a delirious joy seized her, and
precipitating herself towards the open window, she passed her arm
through the thick iron bars, crying: "My son! I see my son Amael
yonder!"

For a moment both Septimine and Bonaik believed the unhappy woman had
become demented, but when they approached the window the young girl
joined her hands and cried out: "The Frankish Chief, he in an
underground passage of the abbey?"

Rosen-Aër and Septimine saw on the other side of the moat Berthoald
holding himself up with both hands by the iron bars of the air-hole of
the cavern. He suddenly saw and as quickly recognized his mother, and,
delirious with joy, he cried in a thrilling voice that, despite the
distance, reached the workshop: "Mother!... My dear mother!"

"Septimine," Bonaik said anxiously to the girl, "do you know that young
man?"

"Oh, yes! He was as good to me as an angel from Heaven! I saw him at the
convent of St. Saturnine. It is to that warrior that Charles donated
this abbey."

"To him!" replied the old man, bewildered. "How, then, comes he in that
cavern?"

"Master Bonaik," one of the apprentices ran by saying, "I hear outside
the voice of the intendant Ricarik. He stopped under the vault to scold
some one. He will be here in a minute. He is coming on his morning
round, as is his habit. What is best to be done?"

"Good God!" cried the old man in terror. "He will find this woman here,
and will question her. She may betray herself and acknowledge that she
is the mother of that young man--undoubtedly a victim of the abbess."
And the old man, running to the window, seized Rosen-Aër by the arm and
said to her while he dragged her away: "In the name of your son's life,
come! Come quick!"

"What threatens my son's life?"

"Follow me, or he is lost, and you also." And Bonaik, without further
explanations to Rosen-Aër, pointed out to her the vault behind the
forge, saying: "Hide there, do not stir," and turning to his apprentices
while he put on his apron: "You, boys, hammer away as loud as you can,
and sing at the top of your voices! You, Septimine, sit down and polish
this vase. May God prevent that poor young man from remaining at the
air-hole or from being seen by Ricarik!" Saying this the old goldsmith
started to hammer upon his anvil, striking with a sonorous voice the old
and well-known goldsmith's song in honor of the good Eloi:

       "From the station of artisan
     He was raised to that of bishop,--
     With his duties of pastor,
     Eloi purified the goldsmith.
     His hammer is the authority for his word,
     His furnace the constancy of zeal,
     His bellows the inspirer,
     His anvil, obedience!"

Ricarik entered the workshop. The goldsmith seemed not to notice him,
and proceeded with his song while flattening with hammer blows a silver
leaf into which the abbatial cross terminated. "You are a jolly set,"
remarked the intendant stepping to the center of the workshop; "stop
your singing ... you dogs ... you deafen my ears!"

"I have not a drop of blood in my veins," Septimine whispered to Bonaik.
"That wicked man is drawing near the window.... If he were to see the
Frankish chief--"

"Why have you so much fire in the forge?" the intendant proceeded to
say, taking a step towards the fireplace, behind which was the cave that
Rosen-Aër was concealed in. "Do you amuse yourself burning coal
uselessly?"

"No, indeed! This very morning I shall melt the silver that you brought
me yesterday."

"Metal is melted in crucibles, not in forges--"

"Ricarik, everyone to his trade. I have worked in the workshops of the
great Eloi. I know my profession, seigneur intendant. I shall first
subject my metal to the strong fire of the forge, then hammer it, and
only after that will it be ready for the crucible. The cast will then be
more solid."

"You never lack for an answer."

"Because I always have good ones to give. But there are several
necessary things that I shall want from you for this work, the most
important of any that I shall have made for the monastery, seeing the
silver vase is to be two feet high, as you may judge from the cast on
the table."

"What do you need, dotard?"

"I shall need a barrel that I shall fill with sand, and in the middle of
which I shall place my mold.... That is not all.... I have often found
that, despite the hoops that hold the staves of the barrel, where molds
are placed inside of the sand, the barrel bursts when the molten metal
is poured into the hollow. I shall need a long rope to wind tightly
around the barrel. If the hoops snap, the rope will hold. I shall also
need a long thin string to hold the sides of the mold."

"You shall have the barrel, the rope and string."

"These young folks and I shall be forced to spend part of the night at
the work. The days are short at this season. Order a pouch of wine for
us, who otherwise drink only water. The good cheer will keep up our
strength during our hard night's work. On casting days, at the workshops
of the great Eloi, the slaves were always treated to something extra....
Eatables were not spared."

"You shall have your pouch of wine ... seeing that this is a holy-day at
the convent. A miracle has taken place--"

"A miracle! Tell us about it!"

"Yes.... A just punishment of heaven has struck a band of adventurers
upon whom Charles the accursed had the audacity of bestowing this abbey
that is consecrated to the Church. They camped last night upon the
jetty, expecting to attack the monastery at daybreak. But the Lord, by
means of a redoubtable and astonishing prodigy opened the cataracts of
heaven. The ponds swelled and the whole band of criminals was drowned!"

"Glory be to the Lord!" cried the old goldsmith, making a sign to his
apprentices to imitate him. "Glory be to the Lord, who drowns impious
wretches in the cataracts of his wrath!"

"Glory be to the Lord!" repeated the young slaves in chorus at the top
of their voices. "Glory be to the Lord, who drowns impious wretches in
the cataracts of his wrath! Amen!"

"It is a miracle that does not at all surprise me, Ricarik," added the
goldsmith; "it is surely due to the teeth of St. Loup, to the holy relic
that you brought me yesterday."

"That's probable ... it is certain.... You do not need anything else?"

"No," answered the old man, rising and looking into several boxes; "I
have here for the mold enough sulphur and bitumen, there is also enough
charcoal; one of my apprentices shall go with you, Ricarik, and bring
the barrel, rope and cord, and do not forget the pouch of wine and the
victuals, seigneur intendant!"

"You will get them later, together with your pittances at double
rations."

"Ricarik, we shall not be able to leave the workshop one instant, on
account of the mold. Let us have our daily pittance this morning, if you
please, so that the work may not be interrupted. We shall lock the door
to keep out intruders."

"Let one of your apprentices come with me; he shall bring all the
things, but be sure and have the vase cast to-morrow so as to please our
holy abbess; if you fail your backs will have to pay for it."

"You may assure our holy and venerable abbess that when the vase shall
come out of the mold it will be worthy of an artisan who saw the great
Eloi handle the file and burin." Bonaik then said in a low voice to one
of the apprentices, while Ricarik was moving towards the door: "Pick up
on your way a dozen stones of the size of walnuts; keep them in your
pockets, and bring them to me." He then said aloud: "Accompany the
seigneur intendant, my boy; and be sure not to loiter on the way back."

"Rest assured, master," said the apprentice with a significant gesture
to the old man while following the intendant out of the shop; "your
orders will be obeyed to the letter."



CHAPTER IX.

BRENN--KARNAK.


The goldsmith remained a few moments at the threshold of the workshop
listening to the retreating steps of the intendant; he then closed and
bolted the door and went to the vault where Rosen-Aër was in hiding,
while Septimine ran to the window to see whether Berthoald was still in
sight. But the sight that presented itself to her eyes made her exclaim
with terror: "Great God, the young chief is lost!... The water has
reached the air-hole!"

"Lost!... My son!" cried Rosen-Aër in despair, rushing to the window
despite the old man's efforts to restrain her. "Oh, my son! To have seen
you again only to lose you.... Amael, Amael!... Answer your mother!"

"The woman will betray us ... if she is heard outside!" said the
fear-stricken old man, vainly endeavoring to drag Rosen-Aër from the
window bars to which the distracted woman clung, hysterically calling
out to her son. But Amael did not reappear. The flood had gained the
opening of the air-hole, and despite the width of the moat that
separated the two buildings, the muffled sound of the water was heard
pouring through the opening and falling into the cavern. Pale as death,
Septimine could not utter a word. In the frenzy of her despair,
Rosen-Aër sought to break the stout iron bars of the window, while she
sobbed aloud: "To know that he is there ... in agony ... dying ... and
we unable to save him!"

"Have hope!" cried the old man with tears in his eyes at the sight of
the mother's anguish; "hope!... I have been watching the moss-covered
stone at the corner of the air-hole. The water does not rise to it....
It has stopped rising.... See for yourselves!"

Septimine and Rosen-Aër dried their tears and looked at the stone that
Bonaik pointed out. In fact it was not submerged. Presently even the
noise of the water flowing down through the air-hole sounded with less
distinctness, and finally ceased altogether. The flood seemed checked.

"He is saved!" cried Septimine. "Thank God, the young chief will not
drown!"

"Saved!" stammered Rosen-Aër in a heart-rending tone of doubt. "And if
enough water has poured into the cavern to drown him.... Oh! If he were
still alive he would have answered my voice.... No, no! He is dying! He
is dead!"

"Master Bonaik, some one knocks," an apprentice said. "What shall I do?
Open?"

"Return to your hiding place," the old man said to Rosen-Aër, and as she
did not seem to hear, he added: "Are you determined to perish and have
us all perish with you, we who are ready to sacrifice ourselves for you
and your son?" Rosen-Aër left the window and returned to the vault,
while the old man walked to the door and inquired: "Who is there?"

"I," answered from the outside the voice of the apprentice who had gone
out with Ricarik; "I, Justin, I have executed your commissions, Father
Bonaik."

"Come in, quick," said the goldsmith to the lad who carried an empty
barrel on his shoulders and had in his hand a basket of provisions, the
wine pouch, and a large roll of rope and cord. Re-bolting the door, the
old man took the wine pouch out of the basket and going to the vault
where Rosen-Aër was hiding said to her: "Take a little wine to comfort
you."

But Amael's mother pushed the pouch aside, crying in despair: "My son!
My son! What has become of my son Amael?"

"Justin," the old man said to the apprentice, "give me the stones I told
you to pick up."

"Here, Master Bonaik, are they. I filled my pockets with them."

The old man picked out a small stone and went to the window, saying: "If
the unfortunate man is not drowned, he will understand, when he sees
this stone drop into the cave, that it is a signal." Father Bonaik took
accurate aim and threw the stone through the air-hole. Rosen-Aër and
Septimine awaited the result of Bonaik's attempt in mortal anguish. Even
the apprentices observed profound silence. A few seconds of intense
anxiety passed. "Nothing," murmured the old goldsmith with his eyes
fixed upon the air-hole.

"He is dead!" cried Rosen-Aër, held by Septimine in her arms. "I shall
never more see my son!"

The old man threw a second stone. Another interval of anxiety ensued.
All held their breath. A few seconds later, as Rosen-Aër raised herself
on tip-toe, she cried: "His hands! I see his hands! He is holding to the
bar of the air-hole. Thanks, Hesus! Thanks! You have saved my son!" and
the woman fell upon her knees in an attitude of prayer.

Bonaik thereupon saw the pale face of Amael, framed in his long black
hair that now streamed with water, rise between the iron bars of the
air-hole. The old man made him a sign to withdraw quickly, while saying
in a low voice as if he expected to be heard by the prisoner: "Now, hide
yourself, disappear and wait!" and turning to Rosen-Aër: "Your son has
understood me. No imprudence. Be calm." Bonaik then went to his
work-bench, took a piece of parchment from a little roll that he used to
trace his models on, and wrote these words:

       *       *       *       *       *

"If the water has not invaded the cavern so that you cannot stay there
without danger until night, then give three pulls to the string at the
end of which will be attached the stone tied in this note. This cord can
then serve as a means of communicating. When you see it shake get ready
for further information. Until then do not show yourself at the
air-hole. Courage!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Having written these words, the goldsmith rolled the stone in the
parchment, happily impermeable to water, and tied both in a knot to one
end of the string, at about the middle of which he attached a piece of
iron in order that the body of the rope might be held under water, and
thus the means of communication between the workshop and the cavern
remain invisible. Bonaik slung the stone through the air-hole, retaining
in his hand the other end of the string. Almost immediately after, three
pulls given to the string announced to Bonaik that Amael could remain
until evening without danger in his prison, and that he would follow the
orders of the old man. Hope revived the spirits of Rosen-Aër. In the
fulness of her thanks she took the goldsmith's hands and said to him:
"Good father, you will save him, will you not? You will save my son?"

"I hope so, poor woman! But let me collect my thoughts.... At my age,
you know, such experiences are trying. In order to succeed, we must be
prudent. The task is difficult.... We cannot be too cautious."

While the goldsmith, leaning on his elbows at his work-bench, held his
head in his hands, and the apprentices remained silent and uneasy,
Rosen-Aër, struck by a sudden recollection, said to Septimine: "My
child, you said my son had been good to you, like an angel from
heaven.... All that concerns you interests me. Where did you meet him?"

"Near Poitiers, at the convent of St. Saturnine.... My family and I,
touched with pity for a young prince, a boy, who was kept confined in
the monastery, wished to help him to escape; all was discovered, they
meant to punish me in a shameful, infamous manner," Septimine said
blushing; "and they decided to sell me and separate me from my father
and mother.... It was at that moment that your son, a favorite of
Charles, the Chief of the Franks, interceded in my behalf and took me
under his protection--"

"My son, say you, dear child?"

"Yes, madam, the seigneur Berthoald."

"You call him Berthoald?"

"That is the name of the young Frankish chief who is locked up in that
cavern--"

"My son Amael with the name of Berthoald! My son a favorite of the
Frankish chief!" cried Rosen-Aër struck with amazement. "My son, who was
raised in horror for the conquerors of Gaul, those oppressors of our
race! My son one of their favorites! No, no.... It is impossible!"

"Live a hundred years, and never shall I forget what happened at the
convent of St. Saturnine--the touching kindness of the seigneur
Berthoald towards me, whom he had never seen before. Did he not obtain
my liberty from Charles, and also the liberty of my father and mother?
Was he not generous enough to give me gold to meet my family's wants?"

"I am lost in the attempt to penetrate this mystery. The troop of
warriors, that brought us slaves in their train, did indeed stop at the
abbey of St. Saturnine," replied Rosen-Aër in great agony, and she
added: "but if he whom you call Berthoald obtained your freedom from the
chief of the Franks, how come you to be a slave here, my poor child?"

"The seigneur Berthoald trusted the word of Charles, and Charles trusted
the word of the abbot of the convent. But after the departure of the
chief of the Franks and your son, the abbot, who had previously sold me
to a Jew named Mordecai, kept his bargain with the Jew.... In vain did I
beseech the warriors whom Charles left behind in possession of the
monastery, and as a guard over the little prince, to stand by me. I was
torn away from my family. The Jew kept the gold that your son had
generously given me, and brought me to this country. He sold me to the
intendant of this abbey that was donated by Charles to the seigneur
Berthoald, as I learned at the convent of St. Saturnine."

"This abbey was donated to my son!... He a companion in arms of these
accursed Franks!... He a traitor! a renegade! Oh, if you speak truly,
shame and perdition upon my son!"

"A traitor! A renegade!... The seigneur Berthoald! The most generous of
men! You judge your son too severely!"

"Listen, poor child, and you will understand my sorrow.... After a great
battle, delivered near Narbonne against the Arabs, I was taken by the
warriors of Charles. The booty and slaves were divided by lot. I and my
female fellow prisoners were told that we belonged to the chief
Berthoald and his men."

"You, a slave of your own son!... But, God, he did not know it!"

"Yes, the same as I did not know that my new master, the young Frankish
chief Berthoald, was my son Amael."

"And probably your son, who marched at the head of his troop, did not
see you on the journey."

"We were eight or ten female slaves in a covered cart. We followed the
army of Charles. Occasionally the men of chief Berthoald visited us, and
... but I shall spare your blushes, poor child, and shall not dilate
upon their infamous conduct!" added Rosen-Aër shuddering at the
disgusting and horrible recollection. "My age protected me from a shame
that, however, I was determined to escape by death.... My son never
joined in those orgies, frequently stained with blood and moistened in
tears--the men beat the girls to the point of shedding their blood when
they sought to resist being outraged. In that way we arrived in the
vicinity of the convent of St. Saturnine. We stopped there several
hours. The Jew Mordecai happened to be at the monastery. Learning, no
doubt, that there were slaves to buy in the train of the army, he came
to us accompanied by some men of the band of Berthoald. You were sold,
poor child; you know the disgraceful examination that these dealers in
Gallic flesh submit the slaves to."

"Yes, yes; I had to undergo the shame before the monks of the abbey of
St. Saturnine when they sold me to the Jew," answered Septimine, hiding
her face, purple with shame.

Rosen-Aër proceeded:

"Women and young girls, despite their prayers and resistance, were
stripped of their clothes, profaned and spoiled by the looks of the men
who wanted either to sell or to buy us. My age could not spare me this
general disgrace--" and breaking out into tears and wringing her arms in
despair, the mother of Amael added amidst moans: "Such are the Franks
whose companion of war my son is!"

"It is horrible!"

"The baseness confounds my senses and makes my heart to sicken. At the
age of fifteen my son disappeared from the valley of Charolles, where he
lived free and happy ... before the Saracen invasion. What happened
since? I do not know."

Hearing the name of the valley of Charolles, Bonaik, who had remained
steeped in thought, trembled and listened to the conversation between
Septimine and the mother of Amael, who proceeded to say: "Perhaps the
Jew holds the secret of my son's life."

"That Jew?... How?"

"When, despite the pain it gave me, the Jew came to inspect me, I had to
undergo the fate of the rest. I was stripped of my clothes.... Oh, may
my son never know of my shame! The thought alone would haunt him as a
perpetual remorse through life, if he should live," Rosen-Aër
interjected in a low voice. "While I underwent the fate of my companions
in slavery ... the Jew observed with a start on my left arm these two
words traced in indelible letters: '_Brenn_,' '_Karnak_.'"

"'_Brenn_,' '_Karnak_'!" cried the old goldsmith.

"The custom of doing so was adopted in my family several generations
back, because, alack, in those troubled days of continuous war, families
were exposed to being rent apart and dispersed far and wide. 'Twas an
indelible sign which might help them to recognize one another."

Rosen-Aër had hardly pronounced these words when, drawing near her in
deep emotion, Bonaik cried: "Are you of the family of Joel, the brenn of
the tribe of Karnak?"

"Yes, father!"

"Did you live in Burgundy in the valley of Charolles, once ceded to
Loysik, the brother of Ronan, by King Clotaire I?"

"But, good father, how do you know all that?"

For only answer, the old man rolled up the sleeve of his blouse and
pointed with his finger to two words indelibly traced on his left arm:
"_Brenn_," "_Karnak_."

Rosen-Aër remained stupified, and recovering said: "You also?... You
also.... You, good father.... Are you of the family of Joel?"

"One of my ancestors was Kervan, the uncle of Ronan. That is my
affiliation."

"Does your family live in Brittany, near Karnak?"

"My brother Allan or his children remained at the cradle of our stock."

"And how did you fall into slavery?"

"Our tribe crossed the frontier and came, according to their custom from
time immemorial, to trade arms for the vines of the Franks near the
county of Rennes. I was then fifteen, and accompanied my father on his
journey. A troop of Franks attacked us. I was separated during the fight
from my father, was captured and taken far away into bondage. Sold from
one master to another, accident brought me to this country where I am
now twelve years. Alack! Often have my eyes wandered towards the
frontier of our old Brittany, ever free! My advanced age coupled to the
habit of a profession that I love and that consoles me, have kept me
from thinking of escape. And so we are relatives!... The unhappy young
man yonder, near us, imprisoned in the cavern, is of our blood?... But
how did he become chief of this Frankish troop that the inundation has
just swallowed up?"

"I was telling this poor child that a Jew, a dealer in slaves, having
noticed these two words--'_Brenn_,' '_Karnak_'--on my arm seemed
astonished, and said to me: 'Have you not a son who must be about
twenty-five years old, and who carries like you, those two words traced
on his arm?' But despite the horror that the Jew inspired me with, his
words revived in me the hope of finding my son again. 'Yes,' I answered
him, 'ten years ago my son disappeared from the place where we lived.'
'And you lived in the valley of Charolles?' the Jew asked. 'Do you know
my son?' I cried. But the infamous man refused to answer me, and he
walked away casting a cruel look upon me."

"And you have seen him since?" asked Septimine.

"Never again. The carts resumed their march to this country, where I
arrived with my fellow female slaves. All the women must have perished
this morning ... and without the efforts of this brave girl I would have
perished also."

"The Jew Mordecai," replied the goldsmith reflecting, "that dealer in
the flesh of Gauls, a great friend of the intendant Ricarik, arrived
here a few days ago. He was at the convent of St. Saturnine when the
donation of this abbey was made to your son and his band. He must,
undoubtedly, have run ahead to warn the abbess, and she, accordingly,
made her preparations of defence against the warriors who came to
dispossess her."

"The Jew was in a great hurry to arrive here after his departure from
the convent of St. Saturnine, where he took me from," replied Septimine.
"We were only three slaves and he packed us on his light wagon that was
drawn by two horses. He must have arrived here two or three days ahead
of the troop of the seigneur Berthoald, who must have been delayed on
his march by his large baggage."

"So that the Jew must have notified Meroflede in advance, and must also
have revealed to her the secret of the alleged Frankish chief being of
the Gallic race," observed Bonaik. "Hence the terrible vengeance of the
abbess, who must have had your son cast into that subterranean prison,
expecting to expose him to certain death. The thing now is how to save
him, and to protect ourselves from the vengeance of Meroflede. To remain
here after your son's escape would be to expose these poor apprentices
and Septimine to death."

"Oh, good father! What shall we do?" put in Septimine, joining her
hands. "No one can penetrate into the building under which the seigneur
Berthoald is imprisoned."

"Call him Amael, my child," said Rosen-Aër bitterly. "The name of
Berthoald constantly reminds me of a shame that I would forget."

"To extricate Amael out of the cavern is not an impossible feat," said
the old goldsmith, raising his head. "I have just been thinking it over.
We have a fair chance of success."

"But, good father," asked Rosen-Aër, "what about the iron bars at the
window of this workshop, and those at the air-hole of the cave in which
my son is confined? And then that large and deep moat? What obstacles!"

"These are not the most difficult obstacles to surmount. Suppose night
has set in and Amael is with us, free. What then?"

"Leave the abbey," said Septimine; "escape ... we shall all flee--"

"And how, my child? Do you forget that with nightfall the gate of the
jetty is locked? A watchman is there on guard. But, even if we cleared
the gate, the inundation covers the road. It will take two or three days
for the waters to withdraw. Until then this abbey will remain surrounded
by water like an island."

"Master Bonaik," said one of the young apprentices, "there are the
fishing boats."

"Where are they usually fastened, my boy, at what part of the pond?"

"On the side of the chapel."

"To reach them we would have to cross the interior court of the
cloister, and its door is every evening bolted and barred from within!"

"Alack!" exclaimed Rosen-Aër, "must we renounce all hope of escape?"

"Never give up hope. Let us first think of Amael. Whatever may happen,
once he is out of the cavern, his fate will not be worse. Now, my lads,"
the goldsmith added, addressing the apprentices, "what we are about to
attempt is grave ... your lives and ours are at stake. You have no
choice but to help us or betray us. To betray us would be a base act.
Nevertheless your only interest in this flight is the uncertain hope of
recovering your freedom. Do you prefer to betray us? Say so frankly, and
now.... In that event I shall not undertake anything, and the fate of
the worthy woman and her son is sealed.... If, on the contrary, we
succeed with your help to save Amael and leave this abbey, this is my
plan: I am told it is about four days' march from here to Armorica, the
only territory in all Gaul that is still free. Arrived in Brittany, we
shall take the road to Karnak. There we shall find my brother or his
descendants. My tribe will receive us all as children of its own family.
From goldsmith's apprentices you will become apprentices in field-labor,
unless you should prefer to pursue your trade in some town of Brittany,
only no longer as slaves but as free artisans. Reflect ripely, and
decide. The day is slipping by. Time is precious."

Justin, one of the apprentices, consulted with his companions in a low
voice, and then answered: "Our choice is not doubtful, Master Bonaik. We
shall join you in restoring a son to his mother; hap what hap may, we
shall share your fate."

"Thank you, my generous boys!" said Rosen-Aër, with her eyes full of
tears. "Alack! All I can offer you in exchange for your noble conduct is
the gratitude of a mother!"

"Now," said the goldsmith, who seemed to have regained the agility and
vivacity of his youth, "no more words! To work! Two of you will see to
the sawing of the bars of the window. But do it so that they remain in
position."

"We understand, Father Bonaik," said Justin; "the bars will remain in
position; all that will be needed to throw them down will be a slight
tap of the hammer when you tell us."

"There is no fear of being seen from without. The opposite building has
no windows facing us."

"But how are the bars of the air-hole to be sawed?"

"The prisoner will do that himself with the aid of this file that I
shall throw over to him wrapped in another note directing him what to
do." Saying this the old man sat down upon his work-bench and wrote the
following lines which Septimine, leaning over his shoulders, read aloud
as fast as he wrote:

       *       *       *       *       *

"Saw off with this file the iron bars of the air-hole, keeping them,
however, in position. When it is dark remove them. Three pulls given to
the string, one end of which you hold, will announce to us that you are
ready. You will then draw towards the air-hole an empty barrel that we
shall have tied to the end of the string."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What! Good father! You had so much presence of mind as to think of all
these means of escape and prepare for them? How grateful my heart is to
you!"

"We must find means of escape," answered the old man, starting to write;
"the lives of us all are now at stake----"

"And we who are of the trade, we really believed you were preparing
these articles for the cast," said Justin. "This is a fine trick! The
wicked Ricarik will himself have furnished us the barrel and ropes."

Septimine continued to read as Bonaik wrote:

       *       *       *       *       *

"When the barrel is near enough to the air-hole, you will take firm hold
of a rope that is wound around the barrel and throw yourself into the
water. You will push the barrel, and we will pull it gently toward the
window, which you will then be able to scale easily with our help. We
shall consider the rest."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, good father," exclaimed Rosen-Aër tenderly, "thanks to you, my son
is saved!"

"Alack! Not so fast, poor woman! I told you before, to take him out of
the cavern is possible; but after that the need will be to get out of
this accursed convent.... Well, we shall try!" and he proceeded to write
these last lines:

       *       *       *       *       *

"Perhaps you can swim; no imprudence! The best swimmers get drowned.
Reserve your strength so as to be able to help your mother to escape
from this abbey. When you receive this parchment tear it up in little
bits; the same with the first, throw them into the darkest corner of
your prison because it is possible that you may be sent for and taken
from there before evening."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, God!" exclaimed Rosen-Aër joining her hands in terror. "We never
thought of that. Such a misfortune is possible."

"We must foresee every eventuality," replied the old man closing his
letter with these words:

"Do not despair, and place your hope in Hesus, the God of our fathers!"

"Oh!" murmured Rosen-Aër in distress, "the faith of his fathers, the
teachings of his family, the sufferings of his race, and the hatred for
the stranger--he has forgotten it all!"

"But the sight of his mother will have brought all back again to him,"
answered the old man. Saying this he gave a pull to the string to notify
Amael. The latter answered the signal in the same way. Bonaik then
wrapped the file in the parchment and threw it to the other side of the
moat. The aim was again accurate. The missive, together with the file,
flew through the air-hole and dropped on the floor of the cavern. After
having informed himself on these further instructions from the old man,
Amael showed himself behind the bars. His eager eyes seemed to ask for
his mother.

"He is looking for you," said Septimine to Rosen-Aër; "show yourself to
him; do not deny him this consolation."

The Gallic matron sighed, and leaning upon Septimine took two steps
towards the window. There, with a solemn and resigned mien, she raised a
finger to heaven, as if to say to her son to trust the God of his
fathers. At the sight of his mother and Septimine, the sweet image of
whom had never left him since he first saw her at the convent of St.
Saturnine, Amael joined his hands, and raised them above his head. His
face indicated at once resignation, respect and happiness.

"And now, my boys," the goldsmith said to the young apprentices, "take
your files and start filing off the bars of the window; I and one of you
shall place the crucible on the brasier and melt the metal. Ricarik may
come back. He must be made to believe that we are busy at the cast. The
door is bolted inside. You, Rosen-Aër, remain near the entrance of the
vault so as to escape into it quickly should that accursed intendant
take it into his head to return here, a probable thing. His early
morning round being done, we hardly ever see him again, thanks to God!
But the least imprudence may be fatal."



CHAPTER X.

MISTRESS AND MAN.


Night has returned. Clad in her monastic vestments, the abbess Meroflede
reclines on the lounge in the banquet hall where the evening before
Amael was seated near her. The woman's pale face has a sinister aspect.
Seated opposite her at the table lighted by a wax taper, Ricarik had
been writing under the dictation of the abbess.

"Madam," said Ricarik, "you need only to attach your signature to the
letter for the Bishop of Nantes," and seeing that, absorbed in her own
thoughts, Meroflede did not answer, the intendant repeated in a louder
voice: "Madam, I am waiting for your signature."

Her forehead resting on her hand, her eye fixed, her bosom heaving,
Meroflede said to her intendant in a slow and hollow voice: "What did
Berthoald have to say this morning when you went to see him in his
prison?"

"He remained silent and somber."

The abbess rose brusquely and paced the hall in great agitation.
Overpowering the storm within her breast she said to the intendant:

"Go and bring me Berthoald."

"Madam!... Is it you who issue such an order?"

"I have commanded; obey without delay."

"But the messenger whom you sent for is waiting for this letter to the
Bishop of Nantes. The boat is ready with its oarsmen."

"The Bishop of Nantes will receive my missive a day later. Fetch me
Berthoald!"

"I obey the orders of my noble mistress."

Ricarik walked slowly towards the entrance of the hall and was about to
disappear behind the curtain when, after another equally violent
struggle, Meroflede called to him: "No ... come back!" and letting
herself heavily down upon the lounge, the abbess covered her face with
her hands, uttering prolonged and woeful moans that resembled the
howlings of a wounded she-wolf. The intendant drew near and waited in
silence for the crisis that was convulsing his mistress to spend itself.
A few seconds later the abbess rose again. Her cheeks were inflamed; her
eyes shot fire, her lips curled disdainfully. "I am too weak!" she
cried. "Oh, that man! that man! He shall pay dearly for what he makes me
suffer!" Again Meroflede paced the hall in violent agitation, but
presently she grew calmer, sat down upon the lounge and said to the
intendant: "Read me the letter over again.... I was temporarily insane!"

The intendant read:

       *       *       *       *       *

"Meroflede, the maid-servant of the maid-servants of the Lord, to her
beloved father in Christ, Arsene, Bishop of the diocese of Nantes,
respectful greeting. Very beloved father, the Lord has shown by a
wonderful miracle what terrible punishment he reserves for the wicked
who wrong him in the person of his poor hand-maids. Charles, the chief
of the Franks, contemner of all divine laws, desolator of the Church,
devastator of faithful women, had the sacrilegious audacity of bestowing
upon a band of his warriors the possession of this abbey, a patrimony of
God. The chief of these adventurers summoned me outrageously to vacate
this monastery, adding that if I did not obey, he would attack us by
main force at daybreak. In order to be nearer to their damnable work,
these accursed men camped over night behind one of the approaches of the
abbey. But the eye of the Lord watched over us. The Almighty has known
how to defend us against the ravishing wolf. During the night the
cataracts of heaven opened with a frightful crash. The waters of the
ponds, miraculously swollen, swallowed up the sacrilegious warriors. Not
one of them escaped the punishment of heaven! It was a terrible prodigy!
Red lights shimmered at the bottom of the waves as if a mouth of hell
had opened to recover its detestable prey. The justice of the Lord being
accomplished, the waters again became calm and limpid, and peacefully
returned to their bed. So that, after the deluge the white dove of peace
and hope winged its flight out of the holy ark. This letter, oh, my
venerable father in Christ, is to notify you of the miracle. This fresh
proof of the omnipotence of the Lord will serve to edify, comfort,
console and delight all pious, and terrify the impious. I close asking
your apostolic benediction."

       *       *       *       *       *

After Ricarik had finished reading this pious letter he again said to
the abbess: "Madam, may it please you to sign."

Meroflede took the pen and wrote at the bottom, "MEROFLEDE, ABBESS OF
MERIADEK," after which she said with a satanic leer: "The Bishop of
Nantes is a skilful man; he will know how to make the miracle tell; a
century hence people will speak of the prodigy to which the virgins of
the convent of Meriadek owed their deliverance." An instant later she
said distractedly: "The fires of hell are burning in my veins!"

"What, madam, are you still thinking of Berthoald? How strong an
impression must he have made upon you!"

"What I feel for that man is a mixture of contempt, hatred and amorous
frenzy.... I am frightened at my own feelings.... No other man ever
inspired me with such a passion!"

"There is a very simple method of ridding yourself of these agonies....
I proposed the method to you.... I am ready to apply it."

"Take care! No violence upon him! Your life answers to me for his!"

"What are your intentions?"

"I do not know what to decide upon.... One moment I wish him to undergo
a thousand deaths ... the next I am ready to fall at his knees, and ask
pardon.... I am out of my mind ... out of my mind with love!" And the
abbess wrung her hands, bit into the cushions of the lounge, and tore
them with her nails in savage fury. Suddenly rising, her eyes wet with
tears and glistening with passion, she cried: "Give me the key of
Berthoald's prison!"

"It is on this bunch," answered the intendant pointing to several keys
that hung from his belt.

"Give me that one quick!"

"Here it is," said the intendant, detaching a large iron key from the
bunch. Meroflede took the key, contemplated it in silence, and fell into
a revery.

"Madam," said Ricarik, "I shall order the messenger in waiting to depart
with your letter to the Bishop of Nantes."

"Go.... Go.... Take the letter and return!"

"I shall also take a look at the old goldsmith's shop.... He is to cast
the large silver vase to-day!"

"Oh! What do I care!"

"There is a vague suspicion in my mind. I imagined this morning I
noticed a sign of embarrassment on the face of the wily old man. He told
me he was to lock himself in the whole day. I suspect he has a plot with
his apprentices to pilfer a portion of the metal. He also notified me
the casting would not commence until night. I wish to see how it is
done. I shall then come back, madam. Have you any other orders for me,
my abbess?"

Meroflede remained plunged in revery, holding in her hand the key of
Amael's prison. After a few seconds of silence, and without raising her
eyes that remained fixed upon the floor, she said to the intendant:

"When you go out, tell Madeleine to bring me my cloak and a lighted
lamp."

"Your cloak, madam? Do you expect to go out? Do you need it to go to
Berthoald in his prison----?"

Meroflede interrupted the intendant by stamping her foot in a rage, and
pointed him to the door with an imperious gesture, saying:

"Begone, vile slave!"



CHAPTER XI.

THE FLIGHT.


Bonaik, his apprentices, Rosen-Aër, and Septimine, confined since
morning in the workshop, had impatiently waited for night. Everything
was in readiness for the escape of Amael from the cavern when darkness
should set in. The glare of the brasier in the forge and the furnace
alone lighted the workshop.

"You are young and strong," said the old man to his apprentices; "for
want of better weapons, the iron bars that have been removed from the
window may serve you to defend us. Deposit them in a corner. Now pass
the barrel out of the window, and fasten to one of the hoops this
string, the other end of which is in Amael's hands. He is ready. He has
just answered my signal."

Their hearts beating with hope and anxiety, Rosen-Aër and Septimine
stood near the window in a close embrace. The apprentices pushed out the
barrel. The darkness was thick. Not even the whiteness of the building
in whose lower part lay Amael's prison, was distinguishable. Drawn
towards himself by the latter, the barrel soon disappeared in the dark.
In the measure that it went, one of the apprentices paid out the rope
attached to it. The rope was to help pull the barrel back as soon as
Amael had seized it. At that critical moment a profound silence reigned
in the workshop. All seemed to hold their breath. Despite the pitchy
darkness of the night that prevented anything being seen without, the
eyes of all sought to penetrate the obscurity. Finally, after a few
minutes of anxiety, the apprentice, who, leaning out of the window,
held the cord that was to pull the barrel back, said to the old man:
"Master Bonaik, the prisoner is out of the cavern; he is holding the
barrel; I feel the cord tighten."

"Then, you pull, my boy!... Pull gently.... Do not jerk!"

"He is coming," replied the apprentice joyfully; "the prisoner's weight
is upon the barrel."

"Great God!" suddenly cried Rosen-Aër, pointing out of the window. "Look
in the cavern! There is a light!... All is lost!"

Indeed, a strong light, shed by a lamp, suddenly appeared in the
subterranean prison. The semi-circular opening of the air-hole was
luminously marked across the darkness. The reverberation of the light
projected itself upon the water in the moat--and revealed the fugitive,
who, half submerged, held himself up with his two hands on the floating
barrel. Immediately after, Meroflede appeared at the air-hole wrapped in
her scarlet cloak with its hood thrown back, and leaning against the
remaining bars which Amael had not had time to remove. At the sight of
the fugitive, the abbess uttered a scream of rage and cried twice,
"Berthoald! Berthoald!" She then disappeared, taking her lamp with her,
so that again all was left in thickest darkness without. Frightened at
the appearance of the abbess, the apprentice who drew the barrel threw
himself back and dropped the cord. Fortunately the goldsmith seized it
as soon, and amidst the mortal fear of all, drew the barrel close to the
window, saying: "Let us first save Amael."

Thanks to the barrel, which floated almost on a level with the window
sill, the latter was easily scaled by the prisoner. His first movement
upon stepping into the workshop was to throw himself on his mother's
neck. Mother and son for a moment forgot their common danger and were
holding each other in a passionate embrace when a rap was heard at the
door.

"Woe is us!" muttered one of the apprentices. "It is the abbess!"

"Impossible!" said the goldsmith. "To ascend from the prison, pass the
cloister, cross the courtyard, and come as far as our workshop she would
need more than ten minutes."

"Bonaik!" cried from the outside the rough voice of Ricarik, "open the
door instantly."

"Oh! what shall we do! The coal vault is too narrow to conceal Rosen-Aër
and her son," muttered the old man; then raising his voice, he answered:
"Seigneur intendant, we are just at the cast, we cannot leave it----"

"That is the very operation I want to witness," cried back the
intendant. "Open immediately."

"You, Septimine, and your son remain near the window, lean out your
heads; you will otherwise be suffocated," hastily said the old man to
Rosen-Aër, taking a swift resolution. And pushing Amael, his mother and
Septimine to the casement, he whispered to one of the apprentices: "Pour
the full contents of the box of sulphur and bitumen upon the forge
brasier.... We shall fill the workshop with smoke."

The young slave obeyed mechanically. At the moment when Ricarik began
again to knock at the door with redoubled force, a sulphurous and
bituminous smoke began to spread in the workshop, and soon was so
intense that one could hardly see his hand before his eyes. Thus, when
the old man finally proceeded to open the door to the intendant, the
latter, blinded and suffocated by a puff of the pungent and thick vapor,
instead of stepping in, jumped back.

"Walk in, seigneur intendant," said Bonaik, "this is the effect of the
casting after the fashion of the great Eloi.... We could not open to you
sooner out of fear of chilling the liquid metal, which we were pouring
into the mold.... Step forward, seigneur intendant; come and see the
casting."

"Go to the devil!" answered Ricarik, coughing fit to strangle and
stepping further away from the threshold. "I am suffocated ... blinded!"

"It is the effect of the casting, dear seigneur," and watching the bunch
of keys at the belt of the intendant, who was rubbing his smarting
eyelids with both hands, Bonaik seized him by the throat and cried:
"This way, boys! He has the keys of the gates!"

At the call of the old man, the apprentices and Amael rushed forward,
precipitated themselves upon the intendant and smothered his cries by
holding his throat tight, while Bonaik, seizing the bunch of keys, said:
"Drag this fellow into the workshop and throw him out of the window into
the moat. That will settle him quickly, and he will no longer punish and
kill poor slaves!"

The old man's orders were immediately executed. Despite the resistance
of the Frank, the noise of his body was soon heard, dropping into the
water.

"Now," cried the old man, "all come here! Follow me and let us run!"

Hardly had the old man taken a few steps in the alley when he saw the
slave who watched the gate approaching from a distance with a lighted
lantern in his hand. "Remain hidden in the shadow," the goldsmith said
in a low voice to the fugitives, and he walked briskly toward the
gateman, who met him with a look of surprise:

"Helloa, old Bonaik! Is not the intendant in your workshop? I do not
know what the man is thinking about. It is two hours since the boat and
oarsmen are waiting for his messenger.... They are growing impatient and
want to go."

"They will not have long to wait; I am the messenger."

"Are you going to fill the functions of messenger?"

"Do you know this bunch of keys?"

"Surely I know this bunch of keys. It is the one the intendant always
carries at his belt."

"He confided it to me so that I could get out of the abbey yard in case
you were not at your lodge. Let us go quick to the boat. Walk ahead."

Convinced by the sincerity of the old man, whose presence of mind seemed
to grow with the difficulties that arose in his way, the gateman marched
ahead of him. Bonaik, however, slackened his pace, and, calling to one
of the apprentices, in a low voice said: "Justin, you and the others
follow me at a distance; the night is dark, the light of the gateman's
lantern will guide us, but the moment you hear me whistle, all run up to
me." Having attended to that, Bonaik addressed the gateman who had gone
far ahead: "Helloa, Bernard! Do not walk so fast; you forget that at my
age one's legs are not as nimble as yours." Thus, preceded by the
gateman and followed at a distance in the dark by the rest of the
fugitives, Bonaik arrived at the outer court of the monastery. Bernard
stopped and seemed to listen.

"What's the matter?" asked the goldsmith. "Why do you halt?"

"Do you not see the flare of torches lighting the top of the wall of the
inside court? Do you not hear voices?"

"March, man! March! I have other business in hand than to stop to look
at torches, or listen to noises. I must obey our holy abbess and deliver
Ricarik's message as soon as possible. I have not a second to lose.
Quick, let's hurry."

"But something out of the usual order is going on in the monastery!"

"It is for that very reason that the intendant sent me off with so much
haste on this message.... Hurry up! Time presses!"

"Oh, that is something else, old Bonaik," answered Bernard, quickening
his steps. The gateman hurried on, arrived in a minute at the outside
enclosure, and opened the gate. Immediately the old man whistled.
Greatly surprised at this, the gateman asked him: "What are you
whistling for? The door is open. Go out, if you are in such a hurry. But
I hear steps. They seem to be running this way. Who are these people?"
and he raised his lantern in order to obtain a better view. "There are
two women; who may they be?"

Bonaik cut short the gateman's observations with the peremptory order to
the fugitives: "Take the key out of the lock and close it after you.
That will keep the gateman locked in." Hardly had the old man pronounced
these words when Amael, the apprentices, Rosen-Aër and Septimine rushed
through the opening. One of the apprentices pushed Bernard roughly back
into the court, took out the key, pulled the door after him and locked
it on the outside. Bonaik took up the lantern and cried: "Helloa, there!
The boat! Come here for us to embark!"

"Come this way!" answered several voices. "This way! The boat is tied to
the large willow tree."

"Master Bonaik," said one of the apprentices in great trepidation, "we
are pursued. The porter is calling for help. Look at the glimmer of
approaching torches! They seem to be in the garden that we have just
left."

"There is now nothing to fear, my lads, the gate is studded with iron
and locked from without. Before they can have time to break it down, we
shall have embarked," saying which the old man proceeded at a rapid pace
towards the willow tree. Observing on his way a full bag on Justin's
shoulder, Bonaik said to him: "What have you got in that bag?"

"Master Bonaik, while you were talking to the intendant, Gervais and I,
fearing some oversight on your part, took, out of precaution, I, my bag
in which I stowed away the rest of our provisions, and Gervais the wine
pouch which is still half full."

"You are wise lads; we have a long tramp before us after we shall have
disembarked."

A few minutes later and the old man, together with his companions,
arrived at the old willow tree. A boat stood ready. Four slave oarsmen
sat on the benches, with the steersman at the rudder. "At last!" said
the steersman in a peevish tone. "Here we have been waiting over three
hours; we are chilled through, and have more than two hours to row--"

"I am going to give you a piece of good news, my friends," answered the
goldsmith to the boatmen. "I have brought oarsmen with me to relieve
you. You can go back to the monastery. The steersman alone will have to
remain to pilot the boat."

Glad and quickly the slaves jumped out of the boat. The steersman
resigned himself not without a murmur. Bonaik let Rosen-Aër and
Septimine enter first. Amael and the apprentices took hold of the oars,
the steersman the rudder, and the boat swiftly left the bank behind,
while Bonaik, wiping the sweat from his brow, said with a sigh of relief
and joy:

"Oh, my boys, this was a casting day such as I never saw in the workshop
of the great Eloi!"



CHAPTER XII.

MOTHER AND SON.


At noon of the day following the exciting night in which the fugitives
left the abbey, they halted for rest after having been uninterruptedly
on the march from the time that they disembarked at the other shore of
the abbey's pond. Thanks to the precaution of the apprentices, one of
whom had brought provisions and another a pouch of wine, their strength
was speedily restored. The travelers had sat down upon the grass under a
wide-spreading oak whose foliage was yellowed by the late season. At
their feet flowed a stream of limpid water, behind them rose a hill that
they had just traveled over, following the track of an old Roman road
that had fallen into decay. The road continued for a long distance until
the turning of a wooded headland behind which it disappeared. Far away
in the distant horizon stood outlined the dark blue mountain-tops that
form the boundaries and frontier of Brittany. Guided by one of the
apprentices who was familiar with the surroundings of the abbey, the
fugitives had struck the old Roman road. It led to Nantes, at the
boundary line of Armorica, and in the neighborhood of which, seven
centuries earlier, Julius Cæsar established several entrenched camps in
order to protect his military colonies. Accustomed through his
profession of war to measure distances, Amael calculated that by
marching until sunset, resting an hour, and then resuming their tramp,
it would be possible to reach Brittany at the end of the next day.
Septimine sat near Rosen-Aër and Amael, and the apprentices, spread out
upon the grass, had just finished their frugal meal. The old goldsmith
having also repaired his forces, pulled out of the pocket of his blouse
a little packet that was carefully wrapped up in a piece of smooth skin.
The young folks followed the old man's movements with curiosity, and to
their great surprise they saw him take from its wrapping the little
abbatial crosier of silver, at which he had for some time been
chiseling. There were also two burins in the package. Noticing the look
of astonishment on the faces of the apprentices, he said to them:

"You seem surprised, my children, to see that I carried this jewel from
the abbey. It is not the value of the metal that tempted me."

"I believe that, Master Bonaik; the little crosier has but little silver
in it. But we still wonder why you brought it along."

"Well, my boys, I love my trade.... I shall have no further
opportunities to exercise it during the remaining days of my life.... I
preserved my two best burins.... I mean to chisel this crosier so nicely
that by working upon it a little every day I shall consume the rest of
my life at it. It will be the masterpiece of my long career."

"You congratulated us upon our foresight, Master Bonaik, because we
thought of the pouch of wine and the provisions. But we must admit that
your foresight exceeds ours."

"Good father, and you, my friends," said Amael, addressing himself to
the goldsmith and his apprentices, "please draw near; I wish you to hear
what I have to say to my mother. I have committed a wrong, I should now
have courage to make a public confession ... and beseech forgiveness."

Rosen-Aër sighed and listened with sad and severe curiosity to her son's
account of his conduct and career since she saw him as a boy. Looking at
her with a surprised face Septimine seemed to beseech the indulgence of
the mother, of this Gallic mother who felt so justly and so painfully
mortified at her son.

"From the moment that all peril to me was over," Amael began, "my mother
has not spoken to me during this long journey, either by day or night;
she has refused the support of my arm, preferring that of this poor
girl, who saved her life. My mother's severity is just, I cannot
complain of it, though it pains me.... May the truthful account of my
faults, the confession of my errors, and my sincere repentance merit her
pardon."

"A mother always forgives," said Septimine timidly, looking at
Rosen-Aër, but the latter answered in a tremulous and grave voice,
without deigning to look at Amael:

"My son's abandonment has torn my heart; a prey to unceasing and ever
renewing anxieties on his behalf, I gave myself up alternately to
despair and to insane hope.... These torments have lasted long years. I
can pardon my son for having caused them; but what is not in my power to
pardon is his criminal alliance with the oppressors of our race, with
those accursed Franks, who enslaved our fathers, outraged our mothers,
and who continue to hold our children in bondage!"

"My crime is great. But I swear to you, mother, that long before I saw
you again remorse gnawed at my heart. It is ten years since I left the
valley of Charolles, where I lived happily with my family. But I yielded
to curiosity, to an overpowering thirst for adventure. I believed that
beyond our own confines I was to see an entirely new world. One evening
I left, but not without shedding many a tear, not without turning more
than once to take a parting look at our valley."

"In my youth," said the old man, "my father often told me how Karadeucq,
one of our ancestors, also left his family to run what then was called
the 'Bagaudy'--to tramp free through the woods and lie in ambush for
our oppressors. May, Rosen-Aër, the remembrance of our ancestor soften
your heart towards your son."

"The Bagauders and the Vagres warred against the Romans and then against
the Franks; they did not ally themselves with our oppressors, and fight
on their side, as my son has done."

"Your reproaches are merited, mother! You will see in the course of my
account that I often made them to myself. Almost immediately upon
quitting the valley I fell into the hands of a band of Franks. They were
on their way back from Auvergne and were traveling north. They made me a
slave. Their chief kept me for a time to oversee and tend his horse, and
to furbish his weapons. I had the instinct of war. The sight of arms or
of a fine horse always fascinated me since childhood. You know it,
mother."

"Yes, your holidays were those on which the colonists of the valley
exercised themselves in arms ... or ran races on horseback."

"Led a slave by that Frankish chief, I never sought to flee. He treated
me kindly. Besides, it was to me a pleasure to polish armors and to ride
on the march. At least, and at last, I was seeing a new country....
Alas, quite new! The fields were ravaged, the harvest was neglected, the
frightful distress of the subjugated populations of the districts that
we traversed contrasted cruelly with the independent and happy life of
the inhabitants of our valley. It was on such occasions that, thinking
of our happy region, of you, and of my father, tears dropped from my
eyes, and my heart felt like breaking. Occasionally, the thought came to
me of running away from the Franks and returning to you. But the fear of
a severe reprimand held me back."

"I would have felt the same way, had I committed the same fault," said
Septimine, who listened to Amael's report with tender interest. "I
never would have dared to return to my family."

"After being more than a year with the Frankish chief, I had become a
good groom, and I could master the most spirited horses. By cleaning the
weapons I had learned to handle them. The Frank died. I was to be sold
with all his other slaves. A Jew named Mordecai, who traveled over Gaul
as a trafficker in slaves, happened to be in Amiens at the time; he
inspected my deceased master's slaves. He bought me and told me in
advance that he was to sell me to a rich Frankish seigneur named
Bodegesil, Duke of the country of Poitiers. The seigneur, said the Jew,
owned the finest horses and the finest armors imaginable. 'If you flee'
said the Jew to me, 'I would lose a fat sum of money, because I bought
you for a large amount, knowing I could dispose of you to the seigneur
Bodegesil at a good profit. If you run away you will lose a chance of
making your fortune. Bodegesil is a generous seigneur. Serve him
faithfully and he will take you to war with him whenever he is called to
take the field with his men, and we have seen in these days of war more
than one manumitted slave become a count.' The Jew's words fired my
ambition, pride intoxicated me, I believed what he said, and did not try
to run away. He himself, in order to confirm my purpose, treated me at
his best; he even promised me to have a letter that I wrote to you reach
you through another Jew who was to go to Burgundy."

"The man did not keep his promise," said Rosen-Aër. "No tidings from you
ever reached me."

"I am not surprised at his breach of promise. That Jew was greedy and
faithless. He took me to Duke Bodegesil. That Frank did indeed raise
superb horses on the immense meadows of his domain, and one of the halls
of his burg, an ancient Roman castle, was fitted out with splendid
armors. But the Jew had lied to me on the duke's character. He was a
violent, cruel man. Still, struck almost immediately after my arrival at
the manner in which I broke in a savage colt that had until then been
the terror of the stable slaves, he treated me with less severity than
he did my Gallic or Frankish companions, because, you know, mother,
that, thanks to the ups and downs of the times, a large number of the
descendants of the conquerors of the Gauls have fallen into poverty, and
from poverty into slavery. Bodegesil was as cruel towards his slaves of
his own German extraction as towards those of the Gallic race. Always on
horseback, always busy furbishing and handling weapons, I now steadily
pursued an idea that was destined to be realized. The renown of Charles,
the steward of the palace, had reached my ears; I had heard some of the
Frankish friends of Bodegesil say that Charles, being compelled to
defend Gaul in the north against the Frisians and in the south against
the Arabs, and finding himself ill-supported by the old lay and clerical
seigneurs, who furnished him little money and only small forces, gave a
friendly reception to adventurers, several of whom by bravely fighting
under his orders, had arrived at unexpected wealth. I was twenty years
old when I learned that Charles was approaching Poitiers for the purpose
of driving back the Arabians, who then threatened to invade the region.
The moment, long dreamed of by my ambition, had arrived. One day I took
the handsomest suit of armor from Bodegesil's racks, I sequestered a
sword, a battle-axe, a lance and a buckler. When night fell I picked out
of the stable the finest and most spirited horse. I put on the armor,
and rode rapidly away from the castle. I wished to join Charles and
decided to conceal my extraction and pass for the son of a Frankish
seigneur so as to interest Charles in my fortunes. About five or six
leagues from the castle, I was attacked early the next morning by
bandits who infested the roads. I defended myself vigorously. I killed
two of the robbers and said to the others: Charles needs brave men. He
leaves a large part of the booty to them. Come with me. It is better to
fight in an army than to attack travelers on the road. The danger is the
same, but the profit is larger! The bandits took my advice and followed
me. Our little troop was increased on the route by other idle but
determined men. We arrived at the camp of Charles on the eve of the
battle of Poitiers. I claimed to be the son of a noble Frank who died
poor and left me his horse and arms as only inheritance. Charles
received me with his habitual roughness. 'There will be a fight
to-morrow,' he answered me, 'if you and your men behave well you will be
pleased with me.' Accident willed it that at that battle against the
Arabs I saved the life of the Frankish chief by helping him to defend
himself against a group of Berbery riders who attacked him furiously. I
was wounded in several places. That day secured the affection of Charles
to me. I shall not tell you, mother, of the many proofs of favor that he
gave me. My great fortune was ever poisoned by the thought ever present
in my mind: 'I have lied; I have denied my race; I have allied myself to
the oppressors of Gaul; I have given them the aid of my sword in
repelling the Saxons and Arabs, who are neither more nor less barbarous
than our accursed Frankish conquerors.' More than once, during the
incessant struggles between the seigneurs of Austrasia and those of
Neustria or Aquitaine--impious wars in which the counts, the dukes, and
the bishops drafted their Gallic colonists as soldiers--I fought against
the men of my own race.... I reddened my sword with their blood. These
are crimes."

"Oh, shame and sorrow," murmured Rosen-Aër, covering her face with her
hands, "to be the mother of such a son!"

"Yes, shame and sorrow ... not for you only, but also for me. Alack! I
yielded to the consequence of a first false step; I fought the men of my
race, out of fear to be taken for a coward by Charles, out of fear to
betray my extraction. Pride intoxicated me when I saw myself admiringly
surrounded by the proudest of our conquerors--I, the son of that
conquered and subjugated people. But after such moments of vertigo were
over, I often envied the fate of the most miserable slave. They at least
were entitled to the respect that undeserved misfortune inspires. Vainly
did I look for death in battle. I was condemned to live. Only in the
intoxication of battle, in perilous undertakings did I find temporary
relief from the remorse that haunted me. Oh, how often did I not think
with sorrow of our valley of Charolles, where my family lived! When I
afterward learned of the ravages of the region by the Arabs, of the
desperate resistance that its inhabitants had offered ... my relatives,
my friends; when I thought that my sword might have defended you, or at
least avenged you, mother, from that time forward remorse embittered my
life. I never since had one instant of happiness."

"Your father fought up to his last breath for freedom and for the
freedom of his kin. I saw him fall at my feet riddled with wounds! Where
were you when your father was defending his hearth, his freedom and his
family?... Near the Frankish chief, fawning for his favor! Perchance
even fighting your own brothers!"

Amael covered his face with his hands and answered only with a smothered
sob.

"Oh, for pity's sake, do not overwhelm him!" said Septimine to
Rosen-Aër. "See how wretched he feels ... how contrite he is!"

"Rosen-Aër," added the old man, "remember that yesterday your son was
still the favorite of the sovereign chief of Gaul, and that to-day he
renounces the favors that intoxicated him. He is no less wretched than
we, and has no other wish than to live a poor and hard but free life in
the old Armorica that is the cradle of our family."

"By Hesus!" cried Rosen-Aër. "Did my son voluntarily renounce those
goods, those lands, those favors, the accursed gifts of Charles? Did you
not extract him from a prison, where, without you, he would have
perished? Oh! The gods are just. My son owed his fortune to an impious
ambition ... and the fortune came near being fatal to him. Glorified and
enriched by the Franks, he has been shamefully punished and stripped of
all by a woman of their race."

"Oh!" cried Septimine, breaking down in tears, "do you believe that
Amael, even if in full possession, would not have renounced all to
follow you, his mother?"

"The man who falls away from his duty to his country and his race can
also fall away from his duty to his mother! I am justified to question
the goodness of my son's heart!"

"Master Bonaik," suddenly cried one of the apprentices in an accent of
fear, "look down below there, at the turning of the road ... there are
soldiers. They are approaching rapidly. They will be here within short!"

At these words of the lad the fugitives jumped to their feet. Amael
himself, forgetting for a moment the sorrow into which his mother's just
severity plunged him, dried his face that was moist with tears and took
a few steps forward to reconnoiter.

"Great God!" cried Septimine. "They may be in pursuit of Amael.... Good
father Bonaik, let us hide in this thicket----"

"My child, that would be to expose ourselves to being pursued. The
riders have seen us.... Our flight would awaken their suspicion.
Besides, they come from the side opposite to Nantes; they cannot have
been sent in our pursuit."

"Master Bonaik," said one of the apprentices, "three of the riders are
hastening their horses' steps, and motion us with their hands to come to
them."

"Perhaps a new danger now threatens us!" said Septimine, drawing close
to Rosen-Aër, who had alone remained seated, and seemed indifferent to
what went on around her. "Alack, what is to become of us!"

"Oh, poor child!" said Rosen-Aër, "I care little for life at this
moment!... And yet the mere hope of some day finding again my son,
served to sustain my sad life!"

"But you have found again that son whose loss you so tenderly regretted.
He is here, near you!"

"No!" answered the Gallic mother with sorrow, "no, that is not my son!"

Feeling not a little uneasy, Amael had walked toward the three Frankish
horsemen, who rode at the head of a more numerous troop. One of them
reined in his steed, and said to Rosen-Aër's son: "Does this road lead
to Nantes?"

"Yes; it is the nearest road."

"Does it also lead to the abbey of Meriadek?"

"Yes," answered Amael, as much surprised at the meeting as at the
questions.

"Arnulf," said the rider to one of his companions, "ride back and tell
Count Bertchram that we are on the right road; while waiting for your
return to us, I shall let my horse drink at this stream."

The rider departed, and while his two companions were allowing their
horses to take a few throatfuls of water, Amael, who had not been able
to overcome the growing curiosity that seized him at hearing the name of
Count Bertchram, asked the two riders: "What brings Count Bertchram to
this country?"

"He comes as a messenger of Charles, the chief of the Franks. Tell us,
young man, whether we still have a long way to ride before we reach the
abbey of Meriadek."

"You could not reach the place until late to-night."

"Is that abbey as rich as they claim?"

"It is rich.... But why do you ask?"

"Why?" said the soldier with a merry smile, "because Bertchram and we
are to take possession of the abbey, which the good Charles has bestowed
upon us."

"But I heard it said that Charles had bestowed the monastery and all its
dependencies upon one Berthoald."

During this conversation the other riders had joined their vanguard,
followed by several carts drawn by mules and a few horses led by the
bridle. The carts were loaded with baggage. Bertchram rode at the head
of the main body. He was an elderly warrior of rude and stupid
physiognomy. Amael took a few steps toward the count. The latter
suddenly stopped his horse, dropped the reins, and rubbed his eyes as if
he could not believe the evidence of their sense. He contemplated the
son of Rosen-Aër for a few seconds in utter amazement, and then cried:
"Berthoald! Count Berthoald!"

"Yes, it is I.... Good-day to you, Bertchram!"

Bertchram alighted from his horse and ran toward the young man to
contemplate him closer. "It is he ... and no mistake! And what are you
doing here, valiant count, in the company of these beggars?"

"Speak not so loud. I am on a mission from Charles."

"Bareheaded in that way? Without arms, your clothes soiled with mud and
almost in rags?"

"It is a disguise that I have assumed."

"You are a wily customer! Whenever the good Charles had some delicate
matter in hand, it was always you he charged with it, because you are
more subtle than any of us others. Charles always said to me:
'Bertchram, you would be a terrible man if your brain were as powerful
as your fist!' You probably do not know that I am the bearer of a
message to you?"

"What is the message about?"

"Simply this, that I come to replace you as abbot at the abbey of
Meriadek."

"Charles is master, he can give and take back again."

"Do not look upon the substitution as a disgrace, Berthoald! Far from
it! Charles raises you to the rank of duke, and he reserves for you the
command of his vanguard in the war he is about to undertake against the
Frisians. 'Upon the word of the Hammerer,' he said to us, 'I was a fool
in confining to an abbey one of my youngest captains, and at this season
when wars break out so unexpectedly; it is now, when I have not
Berthoald at my side, that I feel how much I need him. The post I gave
him is good for an aged soldier; it fits you better than him, old
Bertchram, go and take the place of Berthoald and his men; you shall
give him this letter from me, and as a pledge of my constant friendship,
take to him two of my best horses; besides that, take to him from me a
magnificent armor of Bordeaux. He loves fine armor and fine horses. It
will please him.' And there they are with me," added Bertchram. "The
horses are led by the bridle. They are beautiful, one is as black as a
raven, the other white as a swan. As to the armor, it is carefully
packed up in my baggage, I cannot show it to you now. It is a
masterpiece of the most famous armorer of Bordeaux. It is enriched with
gold and silver ornaments. The casque is a marvel."

"I am truly touched with this fresh proof of Charles' affection,"
answered Amael, "I shall report to him as soon as I have fulfilled his
mission."

"But he wishes you to join him immediately, as you will see by the
letter that I have carefully put away in my cuirass," said the warrior
hunting for the parchment.

"Charles will not regret to see me arrive a day or two later if I return
to him after successfully attending to the mission that he confided to
me. I shall find the horses and the armor at the abbey, where I shall
see you again, and now I shall move on with my men. But you must have
made a wide circuit, to judge by the road you are on!"

"Charles gave me the command of a large troop that he has cantonned on
the frontiers of Brittany."

"Does he expect to attack Armorica?"

"I do not know. I left the troops entrenched in two old Roman camps, one
to the right, the other to the left of a long road that winds up there."

"Is the troop large?"

"About two thousand men distributed in two camps."

"Charles can undertake nothing against Brittany with so small a number
of soldiers."

"All he expects to do is to reconnoiter the frontier of the country
until after the war with the Frisians is ended, when he will be able to
give his attention in person to the accursed Armorica. This province has
resisted our arms for more than three centuries, since the glorious
Clovis conquered Gaul. Indeed it is a shame to us!"

"Yes, the independence of Armorica is a shame to the arms of the
Franks."

"Here is Charles' letter," said Bertchram pulling from under his cuirass
a scroll of parchment that he delivered to Amael, and ordering the two
horses which his slaves had unsaddled to be brought forward, he added:
"Look at them! Are there any nobler or more spirited animals in the
world?"

"No," answered Amael unable to avoid admiring the two superb stallions,
that were with difficulty held by the slaves. The horses reared and
caracoled, daintily striking the ground with their hoofs; one was ebony
black, with a bluish tinge; the other, white as snow, shone like silver.
Their nostrils were inflated, their eyes sparkled under their long
manes, and they lashed the air with their flowing tails.

"These are noble horses!" said Amael smothering a sigh; and motioning to
the slaves to re-cover the animals with their housings, he muttered:
"Adieu, fine battle horses! Adieu magnificent armors!" Turning to the
Frank, Amael said: "I wish you a happy journey.... I shall see you again
at the abbey of Meriadek where I hope you may enjoy yourself."

"Adieu, Berthoald; but ... a thought strikes me. Should your men refuse
to admit me during your absence, what shall I do?"

"Keep Charles' letter; it will notify my men of Charles' pleasure. You
may break the seal before them."

"I shall do it that way. Adieu, I shall take your place at the abbey,
where I expect to have a dull time until your return. Adieu, and come
back soon."

"One more question.... Who are the chiefs of the troops that are
cantonned near the frontiers of Brittany?"

"Two friends of yours, Hermann and Gondulf. They asked me to remember
them to you."

"Now, good-bye."

"Good-bye, Berthoald."

The chief of the Frankish troops, having resumed his march, followed by
his troops and train, soon disappeared before the eyes of the fugitives.
Amael returned to the tree under which his traveling companions were
assembled. Hardly had he taken a few steps towards them when his mother
opened her arms to him: "Come, my son; I have heard every word. Now, at
least, your renunciation of a brilliant career, that might have dazzled
you, is voluntary!"

"You were near me, mother, and yonder I saw the frontiers of Brittany.
Could I be dazzled by any favors from Charles against my mother and my
country?"

"Oh!" cried the matron tenderly pressing Amael to her breast. "This day
makes me forget all that I have suffered!"

"And this, mother, is the first happy day that I have had in years--a
day of unalloyed happiness."

"You see I was right, your son's heart remained true," said Septimine to
Rosen-Aër with touching kindness.

"Septimine!" replied Amael with a look of tenderness, "would you doubt
my heart in the future?"

"No, Amael," she answered naïvely, looking at the young man with an
expression of timidity and surprise. "I shall never doubt you."

"Mother, this sweet and brave girl saved your life; she is now a
fugitive, forever separated from her family. If she should consent to
give me her hand, would you accept her as a daughter?"

"Oh, with joy! With thankfulness!" said Rosen-Aër. "But would you
consent to the union, Septimine?"

Blushing with surprise, with happiness and confusion, the girl threw
herself on the neck of Amael's mother, and holding her face on the
matron's breast, murmured:

"I loved him since the day he showed himself so generous toward me at
the convent of St. Saturnine. Did he not there protect me?"

"Oh, Rosen-Aër!" now exclaimed the old man who had stood near wrapped in
thought, "the gods have blessed my old age, seeing they reserved such a
day for me." And after a few seconds of silent emotion, shared in by the
young apprentices, the old man proceeded, saying: "My friends, if you
will take my advice, let us resume our march. We shall have to walk
briskly in order to arrive to-morrow evening at the frontier of
Armorica."

"Mother," said Amael, "lean upon me; you will not now refuse the support
of my arm?"

"No, oh, no! my child!" answered the matron with tenderness, and brimful
of happiness, taking her son's arm.

"And you, good father," said Septimine to the old goldsmith, "you lean
on me."

The fugitives resumed their march. After having traveled without
accident until night and the following day, they arrived at moon-rise
not far from the first spurs of the wild and high mountains that serve
both as boundary and as ramparts to Armorica. The sight of his native
soil awoke in Bonaik the recollections of his boyhood days as if by
enchantment. Having before now crossed the frontiers with his father in
order to attend the Breton fairs, he remembered that four druid stones
of colossal size rose not far from a path that was cut between the
rocks, and that was so closely hemmed in, that it allowed only one
person to march abreast. The fugitives entered the path one after the
other and began climbing the steep ascent. Amael marched first.
Presently they arrived at a little clearing or platform, surrounded by
precipices and beetled over by huge rocks.

Suddenly the fugitives heard from a far distance above their heads a
sonorous voice, that, quivering through the surrounding and profound
silence of the night, melancholically chanted these words:

    "She was young,
     She was fair,
     And holy was she;
     Hena her name,
     Hena, the Maid of the Island of Sen."

Rosen-Aër, Bonaik and Amael, the three descendants of Joel, remained for
a moment transfixed with exaltation, and yielding to an irresistible
impulse all three fell upon their knees. Tears ran down their cheeks.
Septimine and the apprentices, sharing the emotion which they were
unable to account for, also fell upon their knees, and all listened,
while the sonorous voice which seemed to descend from the skies,
concluded the Gallic chant now eight centuries old.

"Oh, Hesus!" finally exclaimed Rosen-Aër, raising her tear-stained face
toward the starry vault where the sacred luminary of Gaul was shining in
its splendor, "Oh, Hesus! I see a divine omen in this chant, so dear to
the descendants of Joel.... Blessed be the chant! It salutes us at this
solemn hour when, at last setting foot on this free soil, we return to
the ancient cradle of our family!"

Guided by the old goldsmith, Amael, his mother, Septimine and the
apprentices, arrived in the vicinity of the sacred stones of Karnak, and
were tenderly received by the sons of Bonaik's brother. Amael became a
field laborer, the young apprentices followed his example and settled in
the tribe. At the death of Bonaik, the abbatial crosier, which he had
finished at his leisure, was joined to the relics of the family of Joel
accompanied by this narrative which I, Amael, the son of Guen-Ael, who
was the son of Wanoch, who was the son of Alan a grandson of Ronan the
Vagre through Ronan's son Gregory, wrote shortly after our return to
Brittany.


THE END.





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