Clemence Housman

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis - Chapter IX


MY most dear Master tells that the Quest of Launcelot led to Cardigan, without any mention of days or ways. If it drew in regular circuit through the North Marches, in all likelihood indications rife and strong beat in upon Percivale; for in those regions Aglovale, during his worst years, was well known under another name. Brose, in the day of remorse, denied this, claiming to be sole causer of the woe ensuing. Doubtless he played his wretched part, keeping up his devil's game.

Now came the night at Cardigan. Percivale lay down to sleep, but for trouble of heart he could not. A new fear possessed him that day; for, so strange and fierce were his brother's looks, now fixed, now wild, that he had come to doubt for his reason. Presently, as he lay, he heard in the quiet of night the heavy halt paces of Aglovale pass, and return, and die again. And again, renewing aimless roamings, they sounded on the court below, passing to vacant chambers that Percivale had seen to be sad with faded vestiges of a gentle woman's occupation. Also he had seen a tomb enisled, where upon a stone sill was carven, cubit long, the figure of a slender lady, lying with head turned away. Aglovale had answered, "She died by great villainy," and by the way he took hold of his sword-hilts, and by his stern countenance, Percivale deemed
that vengeance still delayed.

Again the tread repassed, and Percivale began to drowse, when he was aware that one entered softly.

"Who comes?"

"A sinner named Aglovale."
"Wherefore, brother?"

Aglovale stood beside him, breathing deep.

"Percivale, give me leave to lie by you. In my bed I find no sleep."

Amazed and moved beyond measure, Percivale made room. "I will well," he said, and lifted to embrace Aglovale as he lay down by his side.

"You burn fevered."

"It will pass with sleep. These last nights I have found no sleep."

Percivale sank down again choking. Aglovale, who never in all his life had asked for his help or his affection, was come to him in need of comfort; of such primitive comfort as in childhood little Saint used to seek in his bed. He breathed benediction and lay still.

The heavy sighs of Aglovale died down to tranquil breath as he drew remedy from the sensible presence of his beloved brother. But Percivale drew malease, and fevered in sore disquiet and trouble of mind. His great pity swelled against restraint, yet the ponderous minutes loaded his diffident heart
with dread of trespass ; and with a greater dread, monstrous,
unnameable, steeped in blood of his shedding. Lord Jesu, friend us! he prayed inwardly. Thou who knowest his sorrow,
guide me for his comfort.

Scarcely above his breath Percivale spoke. "Brother, do you sleep?"

As low Aglovale answered, "No." Doubtless he knew his hour was come.

Percivale lifted and sat with his head bowed to his knees, and the dreadful night drifted a moment while he prayed.

"Aglovale, what is it that I do not know?"
The dreadful night drifted a moment while Aglovale prayed.

"Me," he said. "Me, naked and loathsome."

"Ah, fair, dear brother!" cried Percivale. "Fair, dear brother!"

Then said Aglovale, "I shall need your silence, Percivale, till I be done."

"Doubt not me. Until you bid I will not speak," said Percivale in faithful subjection.

Then began the shameful avowal of Aglovale. Still as coffined clay he lay, and as from the ribs of death heaved his voice, as in order and exactly he delivered the tale of his iniquities from the first wild lapses of his youth through all the secret dark passages of abominable years.

"Yet not this, and not this," he said, "has been cried throughout the land against my worship."

That night deep beyond deep of sin opened on the sight of maiden Percivale. So gross, so foul, so infamous a record outpassed the measures of his simple knowledge. Rank words
and unfamiliar forced a way to his understanding, till shame of
mere hearing burnt over him, while he shivered for dread. He
knit his hands upon his mouth, and so held mute to hear.

Well did Aglovale know that he spoke to the ear of one above measure severe and intolerant of evil. Through long years he himself had trained and tempered his brother to this hard excellence, and he had the heart now to endure the outcome. He took no keep to spare Percivale or to spare himself. Triumphant pride in his perfect work took him even in that hour.

That telling was not brief. Misdeed and crime, in separate shape, in dense procession, marched on the night, Aglovale
still repeating, "Not this, and not this has been cried throughout the land against my worship." Then his published villainy he told.

His published villainy he told most fully; how it was made known, he told; how he was shamed and scorned and near unknightly death, he told; how he was enforced to hard penance, he told. On the rest was silence. For a hard man he was; who would make no excuse, who would speak no word of loss and misfortune and sudden and fierce temptation, who would not lay right stress on true penitence, who would mention no good deeds as against the ill.
The dreadful night drifted awhile. Still sat Percivale, with his head bowed to his knees, and still as coffined clay lay Aglovale. The wretched man spoke his last to his brother.

Brokenly he said, "Go to, Percivale; I have done with you. Whatsoever you have the heart to utter, ah, dear brother, doubt not I have the heart to approve."

From Percivale came a shuddering sigh, but no word; and Aglovale lay quiet, without appeal.

Presently Percivale, with shaking hands, felt about his brother's head; he signed the damp brow with the cross, and
leaning down kissed him on the brow.

Aglovale turned upon his face, drew cover over his head, and terrible sobs shook the bed.

Alas for such comfort! As the saint the sinner had Percivale kissed his head. Not so a true brother had kissed him on the cheek, with staunch affection in the day of dishonour. Dead Durnor got his due: for him he wept in agony of longing and regret after the love he had so lightly regarded and poorly returned.

Alas for Percivale! He had no strength to wring one word, he had no spring for tears. The stifled sobs of Aglovale pierced him for pity, but brought no outrush of loving kindness. Memories were also knocking at his heart: of the Miserere
vigil, of midnight sobbing under Nacien, when he in tender
respect had shrunk from knowledge to tears. Further back he
remembered, how great sobs like these had answered when he had vowed love to him disinherited. Still he sat stunned and
stricken, and could utter no word of comfort.

Aglovale expected none now. He had received token enough to dispense with courses of speech. He had finished with suspense. The bed shook with lengthening pauses as the rest of sheer exhaustion took hold of his trouble. Waves of oblivion swept his brain, and heavy with the reservation of outworn nights, stupendous sleep drenched his senses.

About midnight Percivale was aware of pale light in the chamber at the rising of a waning moon, and he prayed for thick darkness to keep his face awhile from his brother's eyes. And then he perceived how sleep prevented. Quick and hard then worked his breath. He withdrew himself softly from his bed-fellow and stood out upon the floor. Scarcely could he keep upright, for he was weak and dizzy as one first rising after wounds. Within the window lay pieces of his harness, lighted to silver. These and his sword he essayed to take, but forbore, lest under his shaking hands the metal should clash to waken the sleeper.

Profound was the slumber of Aglovale. Percivale kneeled down by his bedside, and piteously he besought Heaven's pardon and keep for that grievous sinner. Down the pillow stole patches of wan light, played from the surface of his shield; a lax hand showed, and then the dreadful mask half prone. In every line and hollow the imprint of evil was legible at last to eyes that before had spelled in vain on mystery. Percivale rose and went out soft-foot, with never a backward look.

Brose was sleeping by the door of his master's vacant chamber. He started up at a touch, and all bedazzled he heard bewildered the voice of Percivale.

"Rise and make ready, Brose, for you and I will ride away secretly."

Then he saw the face of Percivale, and his heart stood still. "He knows, and my master is undone."

Once before he had looked on such a face. One dawn, long years ago, a young damsel crept forth from Sir Aglovale's bed to find one sweeter; and he stood and let her pass unhindered, so daunting was the sight of her stricken countenance as straight she went to her last bed.

Now, in remorse, Brose recognized the outcome of his own accursed game of betrayal, and knew not what to do to stay
the cruel mischief. He dared not hinder Sir Percivale, he dared not let him go. He stammered for excuse.

"Sir, I would full fain ride with you where you would have me; but, an my lord your brother take me, he will slay me."

Percivale nodded curtly. "As for that, care not," he said, "for I shall be your warrant."

Like a doomed man Brose went, daring not to speak one word of all that ached in his heart. As Percivale bade, he brought him his brother's harness and armed him, and brought him his brother's horse, with muffled hoofs, to the gate. On high, as for protest, the dumb beast neighed to the echoing court. Yet sleep held.

So was Aglovale forsaken.

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