Clemence Housman

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis - Chapter X


DAY came and day wore over Percivale and Brose, and still they came to no remedy of speech. Percivale pursued the south road according to the afore-made order of their circuit through Galis. He made no haste and no delay; he did not neglect his bounden Quest. After noon, as my Master tells, he came to a bridge of stone, where he found a good knight, Sir Persides, fast chained to a pillar by the malice of a lewd lady; and knightly he freed him and his servants, and went on with him to his castle. Brose maddened at the sight of him, as there in noble courtesy he sat out the feast. For his part he drank hard out of pure misery, fell to quarrels and brawls and insolence, and so came to hard stone lodging for the night on Sir Percivale's request.

Sobered and sorry, on the morn he came to himself. Cold and stern Sir Percivale scanned him and ordered him; and he did not dare to be free with the question that lay on his anxious heart. Sir Aglovale's horse, with quick jutting ears and large attentive eyes, snuffing unsatisfied, did better in his dumb language. Sir Percivale mounted; Sir Persides mounted also, and Brose saw that he made to go by the north road. Alas, alas! Sir Percivale was set otherwise. He said farewell; he gave a charge.

"Tell the King," said he, "how you met with me; and tell my brother Sir Aglovale how I rescued you; and bid him not to seek after me, for I am in the Quest to seek Sir Launcelot du Lake. And though he seek me he shall not find me. And tell him I will never see him nor the court till I have found Sir Launcelot."

Brose heard it, and he could not speak. The steady, deliberate tones fell to his ear like sods on a coffin.

Percivale spoke again. He, hitherto so meek, cast scorn for scorn as he charged Sir Persides with words to Sir Mordred and Sir Kay.

"Tell them that I trust to God to be of as great worthiness as either of them. For tell them I shall never forget their mocks and scorns. And tell them I will never see that court till men shall speak more worship of me than ever men did of any of them both."
Then they departed this way and that. The horse under Percivale tossed his crest and whinnied after his kind. Brose
went after him a hang-dog figure, dismayed.

Never did Brose quite forgive Sir Percivale for that unhappy message. For miles he rode silent, chewing over the stuff of it, ready to hate Sir Percivale, who could ride on leisurely with his head straight and high, while along the north road went forth, haply to break upon Sir Aglovale that day, a message so cruelly poor, and cold, and forbidding.

Alas for Percivale! His heart was still stunned and amazed; he had not come to himself, and well he knew it. Yet the brother in him was quick and loyal enough to defend the face of Aglovale against the world. Not openly could he plead his great distress, entreat for a further relief of time between them, point to a patient hope, admonish to the Quest, and advise to a separate way. Haply so much might break upon Aglovale through such wording as was fit and fair to be delivered by the mouth of a stranger and for any to hear. And all the brother in him spoke out against Kay and Mordred; for now he knew how he had been mocked and disparaged by virtue of his blind love and worship of Aglovale; now he understood King Arthur's hinting that he should remove from
Aglovale. Opened were his eyes, and here he went from Aglovale! For he was not himself; for he belied himself, and he knew it. Troubled, indignant, distracted, he launched high word to relieve his sore and ineffectual heart.

Percivale turned off the roadway up a fair green swell, and drew rein beside a welling spring, and a knot of pine trees that stood about a shrine. There he went, and kneeled and prayed devoutly; there too went Brose, and kneeled behind and prayed some curses. And all silently they stood up both and turned to their beasts.

Then said Brose desperately, "Sir, give me leave to speak and be gone."

"If you cannot abide restraint, so be it," said Percivale, far out from his meaning.

" It is more than I can bear. Consider, sir, how I served your brother Sir Aglovale, long before you put out your child-hands and swore him love upon these very hilts you now hold."

Percivale stood and considered hard; then he answered with constraint.

"Brose, I was loth, on account of past service; but I cannot allow your presumption that therefore you may riot like a rascal knave in spite of my head."

Cried Brose with a great oath, "Is naught on your mind but a bit of drunken folly?" He stammered passionately, "And think you your mighty rigour and displeasure stick in my guts? My lord Sir Aglovale, in old days, would put me to cool in the moat for no more, but he would not glower on me the morn after."

"If you be not again drunk, Brose, consider how he would deal, put case you answered him as now you answer me. Have you forgot his lesson writ upon that scarred cheek of yours?"

Brose put up his hand, and gasped painfully. Percivale, not from unkindness, turned away, and stooped over the spring. He washed the dust from his eyes, and sat waiting patiently. Brose marked on him then the wear of a sleepless night.
"Be so good as to pass over what I have mis-said, for pity, sir, and as I will not to offend."

"I will well."

"Sir, can I speak except you question?" said Brose, faltering.

"I have naught to ask."

"Then what is your need of me?"

"I need you not."

"In the name of God, then, why did you bid me leave my master to ride with you?"

"For cause you came. Let be on that matter we had one mind it was expedient."

"Now I swear we had not! Why, why? No, I cannot hold my peace. Oh, sir, tell me in plain words."

"As you said, lest he should slay you."

His face was colourless and hard as marble; his wide, steady eyes stared down the man.

"I go back!" sprang sharp from Brose.

"Why did you come?"
Brose gave no answer, but after a silence he said, "So this damned tongue did set you on?"

Percivale bowed his head, loth to admit understanding with the man.

"Yet you would take me out of my lord's hands?"

"I would keep my brother's hands from off you."

"Why? I betrayed I wanted his hate that I might hate him as I wanted. Now I want no keep from his hate."

"Why did you come?"

"Sir, to give you such knowledge as you should be fain to have of my lord's past doings."

Cried Percivale, "Dare you to think I would against my brother question his servant?"

"Hear me you shall! For I would stake my life my lord Sir Aglovale has not told all the truth."

"This to me! Of him! Tempt me further, and by my head I will have you bite out that accursed tongue with your own teeth before you shall go hence alive."

Brose flushed darkly. It tried him hard to stand tame to such threatening. He clenched his hands, he ground his heels into the turf, he swallowed. And he kept his tongue to good effect. When he spoke at last, Percivale was aware that the man he had put down had risen to a higher level of address.

"Doomsday telling, Sir Percivale, may rub you more than mine now," said Brose. "Let be reckoning by brother and master a human soul concerns us one in mortal pains stressed cruel hard by my means and by yours. Respect of person is out of sight; he has me by the heart as I doubt he has not you."

Percivale gave no word nor sign, and Brose went on, "Once we were chained at one oar, he and I, equals in misery; yet I gave him worship then, for he never made any moan. He asked for no pity, and he gave none. He refused ransoming, and his name; and, as I know, he refused lest his house should suffer scorn through his name. Did he for himself say that? I warrant you have heard plenty that was criminal and shameful to his account, and nothing more. Not from him would you hear the best of him: of his bearing, his daring, the wits, the heart, the hand that engaged against great odds and delivered us all. I say he has not told you all the truth not the half you ought to hear. And I can tell it I, and none other so well. And I will. Once he said, 'Speak, Brose!' You heard him say it; and speak I will."

Said Percivale, still with a rigid countenance, "I will be plain with you, Brose, as man to man. I have tasted knowledge that is very bitter, and all distempered I know not how to sain me; I pray God to show. Your help I cannot use; I know you a liar."

"How have I lied?" stammered Brose.

"You slandered Sir Durnor to me. For Sir Aglovale's sake you did it. How can I take your word!"

Brose was confounded; he could offer no excuse that would not tell against him in the ears of Sir Percivale, who with his sincerity and virtue had the hard uncompromising judgment
of youth, and from his high standing condemned, with no indulgence to the weakness and errors of human nature ensnared through good affections. Here was he rigid, resolving
to be just and patient, condescending to hear the man out in
tolerant silence, all unconscious that the heart of tolerance was not in him. Brose quite hated him at that moment. He felt
the wrong that the wicked endure of the righteous, and could not utter it. Impotent, despairing, he launched out into reckless defiance.

"Fain as you are, Sir Percivale, to be rid of me, I warrant I am more fain to avoid you; for I do not quite love you, Sir Percivale. Cursed be the day when my lord took you in his hands to make a man of you. In my heart I deemed you not worth the pains he took; and so you prove. May God and the saints have joy of you! who mount clean to your place of worship, and would kick down him who shouldered you up fairly, because once he trod muck to the neck, and to you stinks of it yet."

Sir Percivale stiffened to hear; and, unchecked, Brose took no keep, crowded on his offence, said his worst with all his voice till he was hoarse. When his words gave out at last, Percivale stood up, spoke, and with one sentence Brose was daunted and beaten.

"I do thank you, Brose, with all my heart," he said. His face was set hard, but his voice was quite broken.

"Verily you are his brother!" said Brose, low; and again, when Percivale was mounted, he held on to the stirrup, looked up into his face, and said with strong entreaty, "Oh, sir, you are his brother!"

Though he got no answer, suspense swelled into hope, for following he was not bidden away, as Percivale rode at a soft pace down the slope, and at the roadway halted. Brose behind him quivered expectant. Alas! he crossed himself and turned away south.

Brose yelled a curse, headed north, and parted at a great gallop. But, as one backward glance he gave, he saw Sir Percivale swing forward and drop to earth like a log. And so he could not go; and the woman in man tricked him of his anger as he moved the helpless weight, and looked upon the pale visage smooth and fair. Sir Percivale was scarcely more than a boy in years, and his trouble was of a measure beyond common ado.

He came to himself, and found the man beside him, careful,
dutiful, silent.

"As God knows," he said, "I do need you, Brose. Abide with me, and hate me as well as you will. I will take keep of you ungrudging."

"Sir," muttered Brose, confounded, "there is one I hate more than you, and he may well abide with you."

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