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HOW NORMAN LESLIE WAS OUT OF ALL COMFORT
My brethren the good Benedictine Fathers here in Pluscarden Priory, are wont betimes to be merry over my penitents, for all the young lads and lasses in the glen say they are fain to be shriven by old Father Norman and by no other.
This that my brethren report may well be true, and yet I take no shame in the bruit or "fama." For as in my hot youth I suffered sorrows many from love, so now I may say, like that Carthaginian queen in Maro, "miseris succurrere disco." The years of the youth of most women and men are like a tourney, or jousts courteous, and many fall in the lists of love, and many carry sorer wounds away from Love's spears, than they wot of who do but look on from the safe seats and secure pavilions of age. Though all may seem but a gentle and joyous passage of arms, and the weapons that they use but arms of courtesy, yet are shrewd blows dealt and wounds taken which bleed inwardly, perchance through a whole life long. To medicine these wounds with kind words is, it may be, part of my poor skill as a healer of souls in my degree, and therefore do the young resort to Father Norman.
Some confessors there be who laugh within their hearts at these sorrows of lovers, as if they were mere "nugae" and featherweights: others there are who wax impatient, holding all love for sin in some degree, and forgetting that Monseigneur St. Peter himself was a married man, and doubtless had his own share of trouble and amorous annoy when he was winning the lady his wife, even as other men. But if I be of any avail (as they deem) in the healing of hearts, I owe my skill of that surgery to remembrance of the days of my youth, when I found none to give me comfort, save what I won from a book that my master had in hand to copy and adorn, namely, "The Book of One Hundred Ballades, containing Counsel to a Knight, that he should love loyally"; this counsel offered by Messire Lyonnet de Coismes, Messire Jehan de Mailly, the Sieur d'Yvry, and many other good knights that were true lovers. Verily, in sermons of preachers and lives of holy men I found no such comfort.
Almost the sorest time of my sorrowing was for very grief of heart when Elliot set forth on pilgrimage to Puy en Velay, for we were but newly come together; "twain we were with one heart," as a maker sang whom once I met in France ere I came back to Scotland; sweetly could he make, but was a young clerk of no godly counsel, and had to name Maitre Francoys Villon. Our heart was one, the heart of Elliot and mine own, and lo! here, in a day, it was torn asunder and we were set apart by the wisdom of men.
I remember me how I lay wakeful on the night before the day when Elliot should depart. Tossing and turning, I lay till the small fowls brake forth with their songs, and my own thought seemed to come and go, and come again in my head, like the "ritournelle" of the birds. At last I might not endure, but rose and attired myself very early, and so went down into the chamber. Thither presently came Elliot, feigning wonder to find me arisen, and making pretence that she was about her housewiferies, but well I wot that she might sleep no more than I. The old housewife coming and going through the room, there we devised, comforting each other with hopes and prayers; indeed we sorely wanted comfort, because never till we were wed, if ever that should be, might we have such solace of each other's presence as we desired. Then I brought from the workshop a sheet of vellum and colours, and the painting tools, and so fashioned a little picture of her, to wear within the breast of my doublet. A rude thing it was and is, for what gold, however finely handled, could match with her golden hair, whereof, at my desire, she gave me a lock; and of all worldly gear from my secular life, these and the four links of my mother's chain alone are still mine, and where my heart is there is my treasure. And she, too, must clip a long curl of my hair, for as yet it was not cut "en ronde," as archers use to wear it, but when she came again, she said she would find me shrewdly shaven, and then would love me no longer. Then she laughed and kissed me, and fell to comforting me for that she would not be long away.
"And in three months or four," she said, "the King will be sacred at Rheims, and the Maid will give you red wine to drink in Paris town, and the English will be swept into the sea, and then we shall have peace and abundance."
"And then shall we be wedded, and never part," I cried; whereat she blushed, bidding me not be over bold, for her heart might yet change, and so laughed again; and thus we fleeted the time, till her father came and sent her about disposing such things as she must take with her. Among these she was set on carrying her jackanapes, to make her merry on the road, though here I was of another counsel. For in so great a gathering there must be many gangrel folk, and among them, peradventure, the violer woman, who would desire to have the creature given back to her. But, if it were so, Elliot said she would purchase the jackanapes, "for I am no lifter of other men's cattle, as all you Scots are, and I am fain to own my jackanapes honestly."
So she carried him with her, the light chain about her wrist, and he riding on her saddle-bow, for presently, with many banners waving and with singing of hymns, came the troop who wended together on pilgrimage. Many townsfolk well armed were there to guard their women; the flags of all the crafts were on the wind; the priests carried blessed banners; so with this goodly company, and her confessor, and her father's old kinswoman, Elliot rode away. The jackanapes was screeching on her saddle- bow, her yellow hair was lifted on her shoulder with the light breeze; her father rode the first two stages with them. Merry enough they seemed that went, and the bells were chiming, but I was left alone, my heart empty, or only full of useless longings. I betook myself, therefore, to a chapel hard by, and there made my orisons for their safety and for good speed to the Maid and her holy enterprise.
Thereafter there was no similitude for me and my unhappy estate, save that of a dog who has lost his master in a strange place, and goes questing everywhere, and comfortless. Then Randal Rutherford, coming to visit me, found me such a lackmirth, he said, and my wits so distraught, that a love-sick wench were better company for a man-at-arms.
"Cheer up, man," he said. "Look at me, did I not leave my heart at Branxholme Mains with Mally Grieve, and so in every town where I have been in garrison, and do you see me cast down? Off with this green sickness, or never will you have strength to march with the Maid, where there is wealth to be won, and golden coronets, and gaudy stones, such as Saunders Macausland took off the Duke of Clarence at Bauge. Faith, between the wound Capdorat gave you and this arrow of Dan Cupid's in your heart, I believe you will not be of strength to carry arms till there is not a pockpudding left in broad France. Come forth, and drain a pot or two of wine, or, if the leech forbids it, come, I will play you for all that is owing between you and me."
With that he lugged out his dice and fetched a tablier, but presently vowed that it was plain robbery, for I could keep no count of the game. Therewith he left me, laughing and mocking, and saying that I had been bolder with Robin Lindsay's lass.
Being alone and out of all comfort, I fell to wandering in the workroom, and there lit, to my solace, on that blessed book of the hundred ballades, which my master was adorning with pictures, and with scarlet, blue, and gold. It set forth how a young knight, in sorrow of love, was riding between Pont de Ce and Angiers, and how other knights met him and gave him counsel. These lines I read, and getting them by rote, took them for my device, for they bid the lover thrust himself foremost in the press, and in breach, mine, and escalade.
S'en assault viens, devant te lance, En mine, en eschielle, en tous lieux Ou proesce les bons avance, Ta Dame t'en aimera mieux.
But reading soon grew a weariness to me, as my life was, and my master coming home, bade me be of better cheer.
"By St. Andrew," quoth he, "this is no new malady of thine, but well known to leeches from of old, and never yet was it mortal! Remede there is none, save to make ballades and rondels, and forget sorrow in hunting rhymes, if thou art a maker. Thou art none? Nay, nor ever was I, lad; but I have had this disease, and yet you see me whole and well. Come, lend me a hand at painting in these lilies; it passes not thy skill."
So I wrought some work whereof I have reason to be proud, for these lilies were carried wheresoever blows and honour were to be won, ay, and where few might follow them. Meanwhile, my master devised with me about such sights as he had seen on the way, and how great a concourse was on pilgrimage to Puy, and how, if prayers availed, the cause of France was won; "and yet, in England too, wives are praying for their lords, and lasses for their lads in France. But ours is the better quarrel."
So that weary day went by, one of the longest that I have known, and other days, till now the leech said that I might go back to the castle, though that I might march to the wars he much misdoubted. Among the archers I had the best of greetings, and all quarrels were laid by, for, as was said, we were to set forth to Orleans, where would be blows enough to stay the greediest stomach. For now the Maid had won all hearts, taking some with her piety, and others with her wit and knowledge, that confounded the doctors, how she, a simple wench, was so subtle in doctrine, which might not be but by inspiration. Others, again, were moved by her mirth and good-fellowship, for she would strike a man-at- arms on the shoulder like a comrade, and her horsemanship and deftness with sword and lance bewitched others, she seeming as valiant and fair as these lady crusaders of whom old romances tell. And others, again, she gained by bourdes and jests; others by her manners, the fairest and most courtly that might be, for she, a manant's daughter, bore herself as an equal before the blood of France, and was right dear to the young bride of the fair Duc d'Alencon. Yet was there about her such a grace of purity, as of one descended from the skies, that no man of them all was so hardy as to speak to her of love, or even so much as to think thereof in the secret of his heart.
So all reported of her, and she had let write a letter to the English at Orleans, bidding them yield to God and the Maid, and begone to their own country, lest a worse thing befall them. At this letter they mocked, swearing that they would burn her heralds who carried the message. But the King had named her chief of war, and given her a household, with a good esquire, Jean d'Aulon, to govern it, and all that beseems noble or royal blood. New armour had been made for her, all of steel and silver, and there was talk of a sword that she had come by in no common way, but through revelation of the saints. For she being in Tours had it revealed to her that a certain ancient sword, with five crosses on the blade, lay buried behind the altar of St. Catherine of Fierbois. An armourer of Tours was therefore sent thither, and after much labour and search they of St. Catherine's Church found that sword, very ancient, and much bestained with rust. Howbeit, they cleaned it and made for it a sheath of cloth of gold. Nevertheless, the Maid wore it in a leathern scabbard.
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