Clemence Housman

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis - Chapter XI


THE waking of Aglovale was to such quietude of spirit as befalls in the interval between the rack and the scaffold. To God he rendered thanks that his trial was past, and passive he leaned his heart to the coming pain of meeting his brother under the light of day. The arms of Percivale played upon him gleams from the well-risen sun, and though the place beside him was void and cold he took no dread. And though Brose came not at call he took no dread. All unprepared he went along and entered his own vacant chamber, taking no dread.

Lo! a blank. Sword and harness gone. He was forsaken. Percivale despised him and forsook him.

An hour later Aglovale crept away feebly, and hugging from wall to wall came to the place where Gilleis had died. And while the sun went round he kneeled in a ghostly presence, her gentle head turned away to eternal silence from his great
villainy; yet he cried to God that his punishment was more than he could bear.

Retainers, who had spied and listened in vain, forced the door and found him tranced and rigid. They fetched to him one reputed a holy man and a good leach, who exorcised and bled him, and brought him to his senses; and then he warned him that he lived in deadly sin to come to such a pass, and warned him against meat and wine, and namely warned him against hardness of heart. Then he departed.

Aglovale had the arms of Percivale brought to him there. Once again alone to the ghostly presence of Gilleis, he took his brother's sword, set the pommel between his feet, and felt the point with his hands. Cried a voice that was his own, "Ah, low cheat, low cheat!" and he dropped the point hastily and lifted up the cross of the hilts. Then bewildered, he was ware of another ghostly presence, the boy Bennet with his wounded arm and bruised fingers. "Be content, Bennet; for your sake Brose has wrung me hard and left me now." That presence
faded out. "Oh, Durnor, would to God I had loved you more while you were man alive. Now would I walk the world barefoot but once to hold the living hand that now is dust." That channel for tears refilled and flushed his cloudy brain.
He looked forth upon the hollow sky, the rim of the world, closed behind the pair who had forsaken kindness. He went forth, taking to him without speculation the harness, the sword and the horse Favel that Percivale had left for a pledge; and he wandered he cared not where, forsaking faith, honour, and the Quest of Launcelot.

After many days he came by chance to a market-cross that he remembered, and envisaged his old self, who there had stood shamed in vain expiation; and he wondered how he could have found penance so unspeakably bitter while his brother Durnor and his man Brose held to him with love and devotion unstinted. Thence from cross to cross he carried his broken heart, summing up despair along the way to Camelot.

He was seen and known one hazy morn, hoving solitary in a certain meadow beside Camelot; and Arthur, hearing of him, sent Sir Kay instantly to summon him. Then he required of him tidings of Sir Launcelot.

"Alas! sir, I have found none."

"How now, Sir Aglovale, since you bring no tidings, why come you here again?"

At that Aglovale stood speechless; and when the King asked further: had he forsaken his Quest faithless and fore sworn? he smote down his head without excuse.

There looked the indignant Queen, and there Sir Mordred smiled despiteful, while Arthur spoke in cold anger.

"You, Sir Aglovale, who owe more to Sir Launcelot than does any man, give account of why you stand here without him, or any tidings of him."

Aglovale looked up and down. Came a sense of nakedness as cover of sounds drifted off; for the face of Arthur made silence. The tread of a knight entering struck hard at his back. One came and saluted the King in the name of Sir Percivale. Aglovale turned agape.

Said Arthur, "In good time, Sir Persides, come you to speak of Sir Percivale, for he beside you is his brother, Sir Aglovale."

"Sooth in good time," said Persides; "for Sir Percivale has charged me with a message that is mainly to Sir Aglovale."

He told all how Percivale had loosed him from the chain, and delivered his servants, and reproved the lewd lady. Then he gave out that unhappy message.

"Sir Percivale bids you not to seek after him, for he is in the Quest to seek Sir Launcelot. Though you seek him, he says, you shall not find him, and he will never see you nor the court till he has found Sir Launcelot."
So came the message home to him who, despairing, had forsaken faith, honour, and the Quest of Launcelot; and those
that listened considered it fit and fair enough, and approved
Sir Percivale.

"Well, well," said Arthur.

Aglovale lifted up his hands and turned about once, as a man that is hanged lifts his hands and turns on the cord. He cried against his brother: "He departed from me unkindly."

The hardest man there present was a little moved for the sound of the words. The first to speak was Sir Persides, scarcely understanding what he witnessed.

"Sir, on my life he shall prove a noble knight as any now living," he said. "And ye, Sir Kay and Sir Mordred, my fair lords both," he said, "Sir Percivale greets you well both, and sends you word by me that he trusts to God or ever he come to the court again to be of as great nobleness as ever were you both, and more men to speak of his nobleness than ever they did you."

"It may well be," answered Kay, bluntly, "but at that time he was made knight he was full unlikely to prove a good knight."

Then said Arthur, wording slow, "As for that he must needs prove a good knight, for his father and his brethren were noble knights."

Without anger, without compassion, he spoke, eyeing Sir Aglovale as though he were not there. One word more he gave, when Queen Guenever leaned across and spoke low at his ear.

"Sir Aglovale is dead," said Arthur, heavily. "Well, well, I say he is dead to knighthood."

So came to an end Aglovale's vain hope of redeeming his name knightly. By the way he came he departed from Camelot hastily, and went to the cover of living death.

Meanwhile, through the longest days that ever he breathed, Brose followed Sir Percivale on the Quest of Launcelot. Hither and thither, forsaking all forecast order, they wandered as do the winds. "As God shall lead," said Percivale.

Day after day Brose would say his best to show forth his master as he knew and loved him; he would urge excuses for
him even at his worst; he would give many particulars, garbling as he thought fit; he would add lamentable intercession. And he would swallow back curses, and keep down the passion and complaint kicking at his throat, as day after day Sir Percivale suffered him patiently, and spoke gently again, and gave him never one warm word from the heart. Night after night, when Brose snored at his feet, Percivale would rise shuddering, and go apart to pray clear of the man, whose rude touch tried him almost beyond endurance, who could offer no truth from his full heart that was not coloured by his own coarse nature and dark conscience.
"As God shall lead," said Percivale; and it came to pass that one day Brose said, "Look you, sir, where God has led you."

Percivale looked about him and knew the place. They were come to the Forest Cross-roads. The elder-blossom was brown and shed, but the scent of it came back to him; he saw moonlight then at noon; he heard the squeak of night in the
piping of day; all the sunny place was steeped with the dark
of sorrow.

Suddenly Percivale came to himself. Brose beheld him with gloomy satisfaction as tears rained down his face. No pleadings of his had ever moved him to a tear, but now it was
good to see how he wept. On Brose, too, the night came back
strong with remorse for the wicked mischief he had done. He
held quiet awhile, watching Sir Percivale and cursing himself. At last he came close and said, "Sir, you need me no longer."

"Leave me. Go!" said Sir Percivale, astray.

Brose wheeled and faced him. "I mean going; for I see that you need me no longer now," he said, his hard eyes fixed against the tear-stained visage.

"Ah, friend!" cried Percivale, understanding him then.

The man's face stiffened. "God knows I have done my best. Sir, I have told you only truth."

"Friend," said Sir Percivale again, "that I do believe," and he offered his hand.

Brose backed. "If I be dead, remember me some day to my lord Sir Aglovale; say how it was at your bidding I left him, and but to serve him; say how I have served you for his sake. For I dread to be slain at sight, and I would he should know."

"Bear with me, Brose, and abide. I would keep you according to my word."

"Sir, I go to seek my master. Take or leave me as you will."

Said Percivale, his voice broken with grief, "Would to God I were fit and free."

"Look you, sir, and consider this place well. I, too, was here that night, when you lay there, and there Sir Aglovale stood. The Devil was at me then to come out and tell you, there before his face, what he was looking upon there in the white night. I tell you now. In this very place he saw one come driving his prisoners; he saw one bound, wounded, carried away to a miserable end ; he saw one turn from rescue and go to ruin the only hope of his fellow who trusted him. Look you, that was shameful, pitiful, villainous! It was!"

Percivale, with wide, tranced eyes, was watching the face of Brose as he spoke; like a child he was giving himself to hear and understand.

"He saw that looking back: the shame, the pity, the villainy of it, looking back. You and I have not so far to look back to see such a sight."

"Lo!" cried Brose, lifting hands and voice. " Lo! my master and your brother bound for misery. Lo! I his servant, that drove and struck him. Lo! you his brother, his hope, that forsook his rescue. Face of God, these go for to outdo those!"

He spoke in vain. Percivale, indeed, rocked and bowed before the rude force of the man, but in the end he lifted his head and returned answer.

"By the face of God, I know I am not fit nor free."

In chagrin and disgust Brose turned his horse, and without another word passed away, never looking back. Percivale
neither stirred nor spoke, watching him out of hearing and sight. So they ended.

Alone in the brimming woodland, Percivale lighted down, and kneeling at his brother's station, wept like a lost child. "Ah, God, be Thou my light that I may go right."

Years before, to Nacien, Percivale in boyhood had told his pitiful doubt of heart. "I would eschew both love and fear," said the boy. "I have no guide..." The good man had given him counsel of perfection beyond him then, beyond him still. He came to better understanding in the Quest of the Grail, with Galahad and Bors, and with Saint his sister, best of all to teach him charity.

"The Devil," said Saint, "seeing you win charity, does assail your faith." And Percivale remembered how it was so when, after fifteen days of torpor, his heart woke again in the forest haunt to love for his brother, when almost it seemed right to
him to go wrong, to forsake faith, honour, and the Quest of
Launcelot, and turn again to Aglovale.

He told her all thus far; and she, regarding him with clear eyes, knew him by heart: his deep contrition, his perfect surrender of self-will, his pure worship foregoing the subtle temptation to assume as a prime duty the righting of his own error, his constancy and truth that kept him from the deceit of arrogance in the guise of humility. For he and she were fast united in the rare and wonderful love and understanding of a
pigeon pair.

Brother and sister bowed close as Percivale spoke low for the telling of a great mystery: how first he saw the Holy Grail, and knew not what he saw.

He told how right so at the Forest Cross-roads Sir Ector came upon him, and from that noon to sundown fought him deadly hard. And when both were sore wounded past earthly remedy, lo! traversing that haunt of woe, a shining and a breath of sweetness passed,; and whole without a scar, he and his fellow stood up from the bloody dust in a world a-bloom.

"Sir Ector could not see; and I, I know not what I saw. I was aware of a brightness moving: even against the sun it shone bright; and against white bloom I was aware of a maiden in white moving: yea, for the elder-bloom was fresh renewed! And her I thought to be that dumb maid who was dead; and then again, I thought, O sister Saint, I thought her you!"

She began to tremble, and her eyes were tranced and light.

"Sister Saint," whispered Percivale, "was it you?"

"I know not, brother. It was not I in the body."

Aright she named day and hour, and told how at that time she was taken for dead by her sisters.

"Ah, Percivale, even to you I scarce know how to tell the mystery. I deemed that in the spirit I had seen the Holy Grail, that it slid and touched my breast between my hands. And with the double sense of a dream, meseemed that earthly life was the dark womb wherein we grew together, and our quickening was upon us, you and me together, as it was at the
beginning before we were born.

"And thenceforward," said Saint, "come thoughts strange and simple like half-remembered dreams; and in the fear of God I speak, lest I do dishonour to a gift of prophecy. Then also I left worldly life and vanity; and I clipped off that my glory of hair, and wrought of it a girdle in prayer and vigil, with faith that to me was ordained some service when the Holy Quest should come to be fulfilled."

That crowning grace of charity, lacking in Percivale, had ever shown excellent in Saint. In the end she gave away her life in pure charity.

"Madam, for God's love pray for me!" was her meek call on the miserable creature for whose remedy she, the last of a hundred slaughtered virgins, offered a dishful of blood that drained away life from her generous heart.

So in the body she led Percivale no further in the Quest of the Grail.

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