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小伯爵(11)

2006-08-26 10:57

    Chapter XI

    As the Baron had said, there was more peace now that Lothaire had learnt to know that he must submit, and that no one cared for his threats of his father's or his mother's vengeance. He was very sulky and disagreeable, and severely tried Richard's forbearance; but there were no fresh outbursts, and, on the whole, from one week to another, there might be said to be an improvement. He could not always hold aloof from one so good-natured and good-humoured as the little Duke; and the fact of being kept in order could not but have some beneficial effect on him, after such spoiling as his had been at home.

    Indeed, Osmond was once heard to say, it was a pity the boy was not to be a hostage for life; to which Sir Eric replied, "So long as we have not the training of him."

    Little Carloman, meanwhile, recovered from his fears of all the inmates of the Castle excepting Hardigras, at whose approach he always shrank and trembled.

    He renewed his friendship with Osmond, no longer started at the entrance of Sir Eric, laughed at Alberic's merry ways, and liked to sit on Fru Astrida's lap, and hear her sing, though he understood not one word; but his especial love was still for his first friend, Duke Richard. Hand-in-hand they went about together, Richard sometimes lifting him up the steep steps, and, out of consideration for him, refraining from rough play; and Richard led him to join with him in those lessons that Father Lucas gave the children of the Castle, every Friday and Sunday evening in the Chapel. The good Priest stood on the Altar steps, with the children in a half circle round him——the son and daughter of the armourer, the huntsman's little son, the young Baron de Montemar, the Duke of Normandy, and the Prince of France, all were equal there——and together they learnt, as he explained to them the things most needful to believe; and thus Carloman left off wondering why Richard thought it right to be good to his enemies; and though at first he had known less than even the little leather-coated huntsman, he seemed to take the holy lessons in faster than any of them——yes, and act on them, too. His feeble health seemed to make him enter into their comfort and meaning more than even Richard; and Alberic and Father Lucas soon told Fru Astrida that it was a saintly-minded child.

    Indeed, Carloman was more disposed to thoughtfulness, because he was incapable of joining in the sports of the other boys. A race round the court was beyond his strength, the fresh wind on the battlements made him shiver and cower, and loud shouting play was dreadful to him. In old times, he used to cry when Lothaire told him he must have his hair cut, and be a priest; now, he only said quietly, he should like it very much, if he could be good enough.

    Fru Astrida sighed and shook her head, and feared the poor child would never grow up to be anything on this earth. Great as had been the difference at first between him and Richard, it was now far greater. Richard was an unusually strong boy for ten years old, upright and broad-chested, and growing very fast; while Carloman seemed to dwindle, stooped forward from weakness, had thin pinched features, and sallow cheeks, looking like a plant kept in the dark.

    The old Baron said that hardy, healthy habits would restore the puny children; and Lothaire improved in health, and therewith in temper; but his little brother had not strength enough to bear the seasoning. He pined and drooped more each day; and as the autumn came on, and the wind was chilly, he grew worse, and was scarcely ever off the lap of the kind Lady Astrida. It was not a settled sickness, but he grew weaker, and wasted away. They made up a little couch for him by the fire, with the high settle between it and the door, to keep off the draughts; and there he used patiently to lie, hour after hour, speaking feebly, or smiling and seeming pleased, when any one of those he loved approached. He liked Father Lucas to come and say prayers with him; and he never failed to have a glad look, when his dear little Duke came to talk to him, in his cheerful voice, about his rides and his hunting and hawking adventures. Richard's sick guest took up much of his thoughts, and he never willingly spent many hours at a distance from him, softening his step and lowering his voice, as he entered the hall, lest Carloman should be asleep.

    "Richard, is it you?" said the little boy, as the young figure came round the settle in the darkening twilight.

    "Yes. How do you feel now, Carloman; are you better?"

    "No better, thanks, dear Richard;" and the little wasted fingers were put into his.

    "Has the pain come again?"

    "No; I have been lying still, musing; Richard, I shall never be better."

    "Oh, do not say so! You will, indeed you will, when spring comes."

    "I feel as if I should die," said the little boy; "I think I shall. But do not grieve, Richard. I do not feel much afraid. You said it was happier there than here, and I know it now."

    "Where my blessed father is," said Richard, thoughtfully. "But oh, Carloman, you are so young to die!"

    "I do not want to live. This is a fighting, hard world, full of cruel people; and it is peace there. You are strong and brave, and will make them better; but I am weak and fearful——I could only sigh and grieve."

    "Oh, Carloman! Carloman! I cannot spare you. I love you like my own brother. You must not die——you must live to see your father and mother again!"

    "Commend me to them," said Carloman. "I am going to my Father in heaven. I am glad I am here, Richard; I never was so happy before. I should have been afraid indeed to die, if Father Lucas had not taught me how my sins are pardoned. Now, I think the Saints and Angels are waiting for me."

    He spoke feebly, and his last words faltered into sleep. He slept on; and when supper was brought, and the lamps were lighted, Fru Astrida thought the little face looked unusually pale and waxen; but he did not awake. At night, they carried him to his bed, and he was roused into a half conscious state, moaning at being disturbed. Fru Astrida would not leave him, and Father Lucas shared her watch.

    At midnight, all were wakened by the slow notes, falling one by one on the ear, of the solemn passing-bell, calling them to waken, that their prayers might speed a soul on its way. Richard and Lothaire were soon at the bedside. Carloman lay still asleep, his hands folded on his breast, but his breath came in long gasps. Father Lucas was praying over him, and candles were placed on each side of the bed. All was still, the boys not daring to speak or move. There came a longer breath——then they heard no more. He was, indeed, gone to a happier home——a truer royalty than ever had been his on earth.

    Then the boys' grief burst out. Lothaire screamed for his mother, and sobbed out that he should die too——he must go home. Richard stood by the bed, large silent tears rolling down his cheeks, and his chest heaving with suppressed sobs.

    Fru Astrida led them from the room, back to their beds. Lothaire soon cried himself to sleep. Richard lay awake, sorrowful, and in deep thought; while that scene in St. Mary's, at Rouen, returned before his eyes, and though it had passed nearly two years ago, its meaning and its teaching had sunk deep into his mind, and now stood before him more completely.

    "Where shall I go, when I come to die, if I have not returned good for evil?" And a resolution was taken in the mind of the little Duke.

    Morning came, and brought back the sense that his gentle little companion was gone from him; and Richard wept again, as if he could not be consoled, as he beheld the screened couch where the patient smile would never again greet him. He now knew that he had loved Carloman all the more for his weakness and helplessness; but his grief was not like Lothaire's, for with the Prince's was still joined a selfish fear: his cry was still, that he should die too, if not set free, and violent weeping really made him heavy and ill.

    The little corpse, embalmed and lapped in lead, was to be sent back to France, that it might rest with its forefathers in the city of Rheims; and Lothaire seemed to feel this as an additional stroke of desertion. He was almost beside himself with despair, imploring every one, in turn, to send him home, though he well knew they were unable to do so.

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