Clemence Housman

The Life of Sir Aglovale de Galis - Chapter XII


NOW from straying, this tale turns back to go with Brose.

Casting to and fro through Galis, he came upon tidings of his master, and traced him towards Camelot, till meeting with Sir Persides he learned enough to turn him again distracted. To Nacien the Hermit he sought in vain, and to Sir Hermind, and, come to Cardiff, heard how the Queen was dead. He had wit to consider that if Sir Aglovale knew, her tomb would draw him; so he prayed Sir Hermind to have a watch set about the place against his coming secretly.

As Brose was passing the sacred walls where in the chancel the Queen was buried, pelting weather beat from the north-east, and the windows were ardent for Benediction, so that he was minded to enter. Against the north wall stood a leper in the wet, with bell and bowl and cloth, his covered face turned to the strait window that is called the leper's squint. Brose
barely glanced on him as he went by; but when, having made
an end of staring within and of his poor devotions, he departed, the leper he noticed again for pity. The man kneeled, ineffectually sheltered by the pent above; his frieze clothing hung on him drenched and heavy, his bowl on the rain-washed slabs beside him held a puddle of water. Brose cried "Ho!" twice, and the leper lifted his head and turned towards him the two great eyelet-holes of his headcloth.

"Poor devil!" said Brose, as from his distance he spun a silver piece that plashed to its mark in the bowl.

The leper neither took up the alms nor blessed the giver, but with monstrous eyes regarded him as he swung on his way.
From Cardiff, Brose turned west along the coast, for he deemed that Sir Aglovale might have taken to the seas as before. At Milford Haven he lighted on a false clue, so that he crossed the channel to Ireland, and after a bootless search returned disheartened to Cardigan at a snowy time.

It happened that as Brose came up to the bridge of Cardigan, which was narrow and a little steep, he heard the tinkling of a bell shrill in the frosty air, and saw a tall leper making up on the further side. "Now," said Brose to himself, churlish, "if he turn he may come on, but if he come on he shall turn." The bridge was of such a width that he was but just within his rights to enforce on the unclean his obligation to turn back before any he met in a strait way. To the crown of the bridge the leper came, and stood still as Brose neared. He did not shake his bell nor lift his cry, "Unclean!" and he did not turn, but made way quickly, pressing close against the coping.

"Way, there!" called Brose, setting to his curst game. "Way there, fitchew!" he repeated.

Up went his cudgel threatening, and as the leper only shrank flatter against the stones, he strode forward and dropped it smartly on his skull. His choler rose, so obstinately the man stood.

"I will learn you," he cried truculently, "to take heed of where you bring your filthy carcase!" and set to with tongue and arm; nor would he stay when the leper turned about without a word to plod back the way he came.

Heated into brutality, Brose drove him, with blows and abuse, clear off the bridge and into a roadside drift. He laughed when he looked back, so grotesque was the figure he left, up to the middle in snow, stockstill, with dark eyelet-holes watching him away.

From the castle of Cardigan, Brose took horse again, and turned into Northgalis. Sir Aglovale there was greatly hated,
so that he had an evil time and perils for his sake. Passing thence through the Waste Lands he came at last to that Priory
where Bennet was buried. There he saw Favel, and the harness and sword of Sir Percivale, and was shocked to think that his master had left the world for a religious life. To this the Prior gave denial. Months ago, he said, Sir Aglovale had come and gone, he knew not why nor where. But he would answer no further, saying he must keep Sir Aglovale's counsel. Brose entreated and raged in vain; then in his violence he laid hold of the Prior, whereat the brethren ran and fell upon him together, and thrust him out of door.

He fell into sullen dejection when he had ridden off his rage. Suddenly, as a bolt from the clouds, enlightenment blazed. He remembered the leper of Cardiff, and the leper of Cardigan, and knew him.

"Oh, my God, my God!" jabbered the miserable man, and writhed and sweated as the dreadful truth in all its bearings
took hold of him. He protested frantically against conviction:
"But I drubbed him but I drubbed him!" Yet memory testified against him that the leper went halt before him through the snow. "My lord, my lord!" howled Brose ; and he beat on stocks and stones the headpiece that had served so ill, till confusion came, and crying out against an impostor, he laughed. Like a new shock came the rush of truth, and he went the round again.

It was impossible: it was certain. The injured master he sought after in mortal dread had let him pass without a sign; had taken the ignominy of blows rather than grant him one word.

"Do I deserve such dealing?" cried Brose. "Killing were more human and just. Oh, my lord, how had you the heart! Ah, your poor body! Ah, your poor servant!"
A year had yet to run before the fatal end. To retrieve his error Brose did all that man could do; he took no keep nor rest, and swore that he would not till he was dead or reconciled. Horrible was his task. Among the human dregs of vice and misery he sought his master, dreading to find him a leper in flesh as well as in clothing. In lazar-cotes and pales he took lodging. Little fellowship had he but with lepers: creatures so wretched and degraded that they lied and cheated, and misguided for pure spite one who came among them whole,
clean, uncovered.

Only once did Brose meet certain proof that tidings of his master were more than loose figments. He was sent to a tall
leper who mimicked Sir Aglovale's gait and movements so closely that for a moment he was deceived. Shaking like one
in an ague he stood forward, and hardly could he force a whisper, "My lord, is it you?" The answer came in the tones of Sir Aglovale, but the matter was leprous and abominable. Brose snatched away the headcloth, and saw a rotten mask with eyes fishy-blue. A ring of lepers made merry at this trick.

"Foul beast!" he yelled, and laid the cheat Sailings with a hearty cuff.

Quick as a cat the man sprang up and closed. The stink and the touch of him were too much for Brose; he wrestled free, turned tail and ran, the leper at his heels, and the rest behind, cheering in pursuit. He took to the water, swam the Severn, and so escaped from their pale. The merry lepers gathered on the brink, and watched the queasy man with antics and laughter.

When another winter was past, and elms were ruddy and quick, still at his search went Brose unflagging. Through pest-close, spital, and lazar-cote he had passed untainted for so long that he ceased to dread the risks he ran. Yet when one day his knees failed him suddenly, at that first warning of danger his heart also failed him suddenly, and he made sure he was stricken for death. He headed for the place where he would be buried, and rode as it were a race.

He was at the end of his powers when he knocked at the Priory gate. He asked for the Prior, and the good man came out austere to question him of his need.

"Of your charity give me a grave by my brother Bennet, and a word for me to my lord Sir Aglovale, if ever he come, and a truss of hay to die on."

Sense forsook Brose when he had said this, but on return he was aware of more kindness offered than he had presumed to ask. With his ill-behaviour to the Prior on his mind, he muttered, "Let be. I can die well enough without more help."

At this the Prior was amazed and grieved, holding him a miscreant rejecting ministration to his soul. Nevertheless he did not withdraw benevolence. In a little loft he had the sick
man laid, bedded with a blanket of scarlet, a truss of sweet
clover hay, and a pillow of hops; and he appointed one to tend
him, and himself gathered simples and mixed drinks, for he was a good, hard Christian.

But of that fever Brose was not to die; and after eight weeks he was on a fair way to recover. A mere skeleton, weak as a babe he lay, renewing the use of sense before the powers of thought were able. Pleasant was the scent of pines, blowing through the open shutters, and the sound of April rains, and the sight of sky, tree, wooing pigeon. Once every day the good Prior climbed up by ladder and trap to fulfil his duty, and broke that pleasant dream of sweet spring with his admonitions and rebukes. Brose would sigh in relief when he ceased and went, feeling the gratitude he owed a weary load; while the Prior would sigh and pray for that poor soul, so wanting in all signs of grace.
Came the last day. Brose slept. In his dreams he heard, as often, the sound of uneven paces coming to his bed. "Ah, my lord," he muttered in his sleep. Who then fetched a painful breath? Brose started up awake. There in leper's habit, stood he motionless, monstrous-eyed, holding the tongue of his bell. Rigid with terror, Brose gazed a moment. Alas, alas! Guilty fear and shame were stronger than love; he cast up his hands, named him gasping, cowered back upon his pillow, and buried his face.

The thick drumming of his poor heart covered the sound of retreating feet; but he heard the fall of the trap. Too late he lifted up a feeble, frantic cry. Naked from the bed he started, fell down, crawled on his knees along the floor to the trap. That he could not raise. "My lord, my lord!" he wailed, and beat above the exit with all the strength of his weak hands. None heard to answer. He held, listening. Only rain sounded on the roof. He beat and listened, and called and beat again.

There was a shuttered gap in the wall for storage to the loft, and presently through the chink came up the little waft of sound: the ringing of that leper's bell at a distance, coming
near and nearer below. Brose staggered up to his feet, snatched back the hasp, and tugged desperately. The shutter
swung slowly in. He stood on the sill. The green world rushed against him, silvered with slants of rain; quick and clear tinkled the bell, and there strode he the leper, already past.

"My lord Sir Aglovale!" with all his voice cried Brose.

He made no sign of hearing. With head bowed against the rain he went on at unaltered speed. "My lord, my lord!" He was past the reach of that broken wail. Brose flung up his arms in despair. Oh, cast body cast soul!

Sir Aglovale was out of hearing then; but he saw a young server, scudding to shelter, halt and jerk up his hands. His heart caught dreadfully as he turned to look behind. There
was cause. At the foot of the wall he had passed lay a heap
that was human.

Aglovale lifted the poor naked body from the stones, knowing well enough that he was answerable. Though life was not out, hopeless injury was visible on the staring frame. Such skin and bone was light enough to bear, yet gentlest handling fetched moans of pain so grievous that Aglovale was constrained to lay his burden down on the nearest turf, where an elder-tree gave a little shelter from the fleet rain-shower. Hood and gown he stripped off, turned them, and spread them on the moist ground; he took off also the harsh hair that was his shirt. The young server looked on in trembling horror; then he came to his aid, and between them carefully they put the dying man to lie dry. The lad pulled off his gown too, and covered him, and hung up the cilice against the weather; while Aglovale sat himself down and raised his head upon his knee.

"Go in and bid here a priest in all haste to give houselling."

"Sir," stammered the lad, "oh, sir, I saw I doubt if that may be."

"Begone and obey!" said Aglovale so fiercely that he went without more words.

Brose ceased from moans at the sound of his master's voice; his eyelids moved a little; there was a break of breath. Aglovale laid his hand over the heart and listened. Quietly it
resumed, and Brose clasped both hands fast about his wrist
and looked up for his face. He was quite satisfied. Once or
twice a low grunt broke, compound of laugh and sob, wringing
the hearer's heart.

Came a feeble whisper, "My dear lord, speak to your sorry servant."

Brokenly Aglovale answered, "Brose, my dear servant, your sorry master! Jesu Christ show mercy on us both."

"Lift me, my lord, that I may better see you."

Aglovale shifted him up a little, back against his knees. The death-dew stood thick on the man's brow, and the brow of his master was as wet with anguish.

Closely Brose scanned the face, blanched pallid as his own, and the unclothed body.

"Clean," he said, "quite clean."

He put out his hands, stroked and felt over the hard, lean flesh, sinewy arms, chest, ribs ; he touched upon the old wound, open. "Ah me, unhealed!" he muttered pitiful, eyeing the stain on his fingers.

"Friend, friend!" said Aglovale in his pains. "Dig in deeper and have out my heart at once, to know, as God does know, its grief. Oh, pardon, Brose! I knew not what I did."

"Nor did I." The first tears that Aglovale had ever seen stood in his hard eyes. "Nor did I. How I did drub you, not knowing! My lord, I got worse aches than I gave. Ah, but you were hard!"

The Prior, with the lad and others, was coming; as fast he came as he could walk with reverence for That he carried in
his hands.

"Forgive me all, Brose, for the love and fear of Jesu God, and make you ready to receive your Saviour."

A spasm crossed the countenance of Brose; his jaw fell slack, his eyes dilated and rested upon his master in a sombre, inscrutable stare.

Aglovale called on high, "Haste, oh slugs, haste!" and turned again to wipe off sweat and tears. "Mercy! what pain!"

"No," whispered Brose. "So little now."

Then came the Prior, breathless, and beheld those two dreadful men, with naked bodies, holding each other, with faces drawn in anguish at gaze on each other. He put the pyx into other hands, and fell on his knees.

"Repent, wretched sinner! It is not too late, even now. The mercies of God are very wide. Confess and be sorry for your sins, and though the deadliest, even that may be forgiven you."

Brose never shifted his eyes. The film of death was in them, and over his face spread the subtle change that never lifts. Yet for some minutes he breathed gently: great minutes, full crammed by the Prior with pious entreaties, that the dying man heard as they were falling rain. His lips moved, and all hushed to hear.

"My lord, kiss of peace."

He smiled faintly as Aglovale leaned forward, breast to breast,
and kissed him. His hands tightened their hold with an effort,
then fell loose. His head dropped forward on his master's shoulder with a little chuckle of content. No beat nor breath
could Aglovale feel stir in the ribs against him. "God receive his soul to rest."

None said Amen. The Prior stood up trembling, and he and his company looked on each other with white, horrified faces; only the young server had dropped on his face and was sobbing. Aglovale rested as still as if he, too, were dead, and for a while none had the heart to speak in the presence of such
death and grief.

When at last the Prior came and touched him, he lifted up a ghastly visage. All in morne silence they watched him as, with the sign of the cross, he closed the lids of the dead man, and laid him down reverently, lifted up the jaw, straightened the limbs, lapped him decently. Last he crossed him brow and breast. Without dispute the Prior stood by, seeing his office done by another.

Then said Aglovale, "He shall be buried beside his brother."

"Alas! Sir Aglovale," quavered the Prior, "he may not be buried there. How came he by his death?"

Painfully Aglovale brought forth what he knew of the truth.

"I caused his death; I confess it. I left him in distress he wanting comfort without a word I went, for I am curst. And eager after me he leaned out from a window, calling and fell. Ah, gape and wag your heads upon me, who have lost my best friend by unkindness."

"One who saw says he died otherwise; that he cast himself down wilful to death."

He cried out mightily in terror, "A lie, oh, a lie! Who has said it?"

Like frightened sheep they huddled from him, thrusting forward the witness to the Prior's hand.

"I said but what I saw," whimpered the lad. "It is God's truth I did see I can say no otherwise. He laid his arms across his eyes so! He stepped back so! He pitched himself forward headlong, as would to Heaven I had never seen."

Aglovale turned and fell on his knees by the body to look in the dead face. "Brose, Brose!" he questioned huskily of eternal silence. Further he questioned, higher, "Oh, my God, my God, my God!" He surrendered question with a great cry of despair, and called on death and damnation.

To the Prior he came on his knees to beg passionately for
Christian burial to Brose. "May I be buried like a dog, but not he. For howsoever he died I was the cause. Show such kindness to his poor body, that God above may see to consider on kindness to his poor soul."

As he kneeled, holding the good man by the skirt, supplicating, trembling, tears sprang and ran down his haggard face, and his speech was hindered by sobs so fierce that on his naked body the ribs stood out straining, and the hurt in his side welled and trickled. So piteous was the spectacle that the Prior himself was in tears to refuse him. Yet, as was his duty, so he did; and since other consolation he would offer was rejected blasphemously, he and his company at last departed heavily, sodden to the heart, and left the wretched man shedding curses.

Presently two came again with mattocks and a piece of scarlet blanket for Brose in his last bed. These they left, for Sir Aglovale would not suffer them to deal with the body.

Within the chapel the Prior gathered his company, and all engaged in pitiful prayer. For the dead man they might not pray, but for the living they prayed right hard and constantly.
Only the young server, wanting his gown, stole aloft before the
day was done. Behind the shutter he laid himself down, and by the chink at the sill watched the burial of Brose.

The world was washed and radiant at the stoop of day, jubilant with singing birds, fragrant, delightful, topped by a rainbow-sweep wasting up into pure sky. The elder-tree glittered to wind and sun. At its roots, like a blot of blood, lay the scarlet roll.

Sir Aglovale dug the grave. Dark, dry blood crumbled from his side and fresh red ran, as he peeled off the emerald turf and trenched through damp soil and dry. With every heft came a little start of blood.

The body of Brose was already rigid as he reclothed it in scarlet and brought it to the brink of the grave. There it rested, while down in the pit stood Sir Aglovale, worked with sobs, pressing to the lifeless breast his face and hands.

Then the young server saw the shrouded clay entered to its final home ; but to the bed of the grave he could not spy. The sun sank and set, and the rose of eve mounted the sky and faded. "Ah, mercy!" shivered the lad. "Will he never quit the pit Is he, too, dead?"

The ringing of a bell summoned him away then; but later he crept back, to see Sir Aglovale filling up the grave in the pearly twilight, treading down the mould, resetting the turf. The last he saw of that sorry burial was him prostrate on the unhallowed grave of his poor servant.

Yet Brose, who had little piety and much love, though no stake pinned him down, rested quietly thereafter as any of the blessed dead.

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