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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In the Chamber of Charlemagne

By Arthur Sherburne Hardy (1847–1930)

[Born in Andover, Mass., 1847. Died in Woodstock, Conn., 1930. Passe Rose. 1889.]

SEEING the attention of all diverted and the bronze doors momentarily deserted, Passe Rose pushed the heavy panel far enough to slip within, and without pause or deliberation ran up the broad stairs she saw before her. At their summit extended a long corridor, down which she advanced hurriedly, till the clamor of many voices and the metallic ring of dishes caused her to retreat. Passing thus quickly from the noise and light without into the gloom and solitude within, she heard every heart-beat, and felt her courage desert her. At the sound of approaching footsteps, she began to run, and at the first door she met glided behind its tapestry screen. This door gave access to the great hall where the noble youth of the kingdom assembled to listen to the teachings of the school of the palace, and adjoined the private apartments of the king. Passe Rose had no sooner lifted the curtain than she saw a page, who, sitting on the floor at the entrance of the passage to the king’s chamber, was amusing himself with a parchment, from which hung a multitude of tasselled strings. Seeing that she was observed, she went forward timidly, gaining courage, however, at sight of the pretty face of the boy. The latter, whose duty it was to summon the chaplain when the king had finished his reading, occupying himself with no business but his own, evinced only a lively curiosity in the young girl, whose presence promised to relieve the tedium of his waiting. Passe Rose, on her side, having no fear of a boy, approached with all the unconcern she could affect, smiling, her eyes fixed upon the silken fringe, but alert for every sound.

“What hast thou there?” she asked, stooping over the parchment in the boy’s hands.

“The Oracle of Truth,” he replied, looking up into her face.

“The Oracle?” whispered Passe Rose, glancing sidewise through the doorway. “Pray, what is that?”

“Choose one of these strings,” said the boy. Passe Rose reached out her hand. “Nay, shut thine eyes, then choose, and I will tell thee what will befall.”

“Canst thou read?” asked Passe Rose, observing the characters on the parchment.

“Nay, but I know the answers by heart. This one with the blue string reads thus: ‘Beware: after honey, gall!’ But choose; only close thine eyes.”

Forgetting for the moment her purpose, and fascinated by the mysterious parchment, Passe Rose shut her eyes, and, first signing herself, touched one of its pendent strings. “What is it?” she asked, opening her eyes and bending forward with anxiety.

The boy clapped his hands, laughing. “The yellow, the yellow! What luck! See,”—pointing with his finger,—“‘A great happiness is on its way to thee.’”

Passe Rose stood up, her eyes dilating, her bosom swelling. She could not speak. This great hall was not large enough for her to breathe in. Stooping quickly, she kissed the boy’s face, then disappeared in the corridor which led to the chamber of the king.

“Ho! Knowest thou not he is within?” called the page. Passe Rose neither paused nor turned. “Ho, I tell thee!” he called again, springing to his feet. But Passe Rose had already disappeared. “Seigneur!” cried the boy, terrified by such audacity, and running across the hall to tell the chief of the pages that a strange girl had entered the sleeping-chamber of the king.

On emerging from the obscurity of the passage-way into the light, Passe Rose was still smiling. She paused a moment on the threshold of the chamber, then stepped upon its mosaic floor, and stood still again. The room was empty, yet, as when gazing at the altar in the chapel of Immaburg, sure of some invisible presence, she searched its length and breadth, her heart beating fast with expectation, and her members numb with awe. Before her was the king’s bed, low and wide, with its ermine cover and pillows of broidered silk, partly concealed by curtains hung from swinging rods. On the floor beside it stretched the red skin of a fox, and upon the table stood the king’s cup and the candelabrum, whose six candles of wax indicated the hour of the day; for the king had not yet received the famous brass water-clock, damaskeened with gold, presented to him by the Caliph Aroun-al-Raschid, whose falling balls sounded the hours night and day. Three of these candles were already consumed; it would therefore be more than an hour before the king would send for his chaplain. From the bed Passe Rose’s eyes followed the tapestry which hid the wall to the height of her shoulders, and above which a carved shelf made the circuit of the apartment. Behind the objects upon this shelf the walls displayed flowers, painted in red and yellow and other colors, of such marvellous forms and hues that Passe Rose could think of nothing but the beautiful fields of Paradise. Moreover, above the door opposite her she saw an image of the blessed St. Martin, who divided his cloak with a beggar; and the face of this image, rudely carved though it was, certainly smiled upon her, while its lips, albeit of wood, moved visibly, as if saying, “A great happiness is on its way to thee.” Persuaded that the saint really addressed her, she approached, her two hands crossed upon her bosom, when she perceived that the sounds came from within the door, and suddenly——

“Turn over some pages,” said a clear voice, as it were at her very side.

She started back, but catching sight again of the encouraging countenance of the saint, murmured a quick prayer, and advancing to the door laid her ear close to the golden lions of the tapestry. Some one was speaking. She held her breath, and listened.

“But now as regards loftiness of place, it is altogether ridiculous to be so influenced by the fact that the demons inhabit the air, and we the earth, as to think that on that account they are to be put before us; for in this way we put all the birds before ourselves. But the birds, when they are weary with flying, or require to repair their bodies with food, come back to the earth to rest or to feed, which the demons, they say, do not. Are they therefore inclined to say that the birds are superior to us, and the demons superior to the birds? But if it be madness to think so, there is no reason why we should think that, on account of their inhabiting a loftier element, the demons have a claim to our religious submission.”

This passage excited in Passe Rose so lively an interest that she forgot everything. Her face flushed redder than the fabric next her cheek, and in her eagerness to catch every word she parted the fringe, revealing to the reader a pair of dark eyes, which glistened like dew-drops among the silk marigolds of the tapestry. Disconcerted by this apparition, the clerk paused.

“Read on,” said the king sharply.

The clerk would have obeyed, but the place was lost; in vain did he seek, it with his finger, for he could not wrest his eyes from the girl’s face; so that the king, following his gaze, and turning quickly, discovered Passe Rose standing terrified in the doorway.

Whether because his face inspired confidence (for in the presence of some we are at our best, as in that of others every good quality deserts us without reason), or whether because her courage rose when put to the proof, no sooner did the king’s eye meet hers than her terror left her, and with a firm step she advanced into the room, rendering gaze for gaze. She had taken no thought of what she should say, but, going in, she remembered how, when a little girl dancing before Queen Hildegarde at the Easter fêtes, a young chamberlain came with a message, and, bending upon one knee, said, “In the name of God, who suffered for us, I salute you”; and how the queen made answer, “In the name of God, who was our ransom, hail.” These fine words came back to her and were on her lips as she approached, when, just beyond the king’s chair, she saw Agnes of Solier, and stopped, mute and staring. A hundred times the space in which Passe Rose stood thus trembling like a tense bowstring would not suffice to tell all she felt and saw in that moment of silence, though in reality it was but the length of two breaths. All which before had seemed sure and easy became suddenly hopeless and of no avail, while every evil fear she had once lightly set aside was uppermost. How could she contend with a king’s daughter? She had killed the queen’s favorite! What if, as the prior had said, the papers were of other matters? Who would then believe her? Where were her witnesses? It was perhaps a dream, and she made a little movement of the fingers to feel whether the wounds caused by the Saxon’s knife were still there; seeing at the same time the white hands of Agnes of Solier and her own, brown with toil and stained with blood. A confused recollection of what the clerk had read crossed her mind. “Demon of hell,” whispered a voice in her ear, “the abbot, the prior, the monk, will swear to it, and the captain also, whom thou hast possessed.” “Ay, whom I possess,” she replied; and she heard the page saying to her, “A great happiness is on its way to thee.” She repeated the words softly, “A great happiness, a great happiness,” as if they could conjure away her fears, clinging with her eyes to the king, and resisting with all her strength the challenging gaze of Agnes of Solier. The latter, no less surprised than Passe Rose, stared back in wonder.

“Who art thou, and what dost thou wish?” asked the king, astonished at her sudden appearance and agitated face.

At the sound of his voice, the words broke like a torrent from Passe Rose’s lips: “This one I found by the fish-ponds,”—she had thrust the papers in his hand,—“and this the Saxon gave the monk for the prior. Read, read!” and drawing the cord through the wax seal with her trembling fingers, she spread the parchment on his knee. “I was in the tower; there came two, the prior and another,—then the Saxon maid who sat at supper at Immaburg. I heard what they said. Look! there are the prints of her knife! the knife was for thee.”

“Peace!” exclaimed the king, rising to his feet, and crushing the parchment in his hand. It was a cry rather than a command, for incoherent as were the words he heard, they were sharper than any knife to his pride. He stood for a moment in doubt, and then, as if convinced by the girl’s fearless manner, sank back into his chair, opening the papers slowly, and fixing from time to time, as he read, a searching look upon Passe Rose. Her heart was beating violently, but her fear was over, and she watched the king’s face boldly. Every trace of anger and distress had fallen from it, as a mantle falls from the shoulder to the ground. He neither started nor frowned, as she had thought to see him do; nevertheless, she was content, for his eyes were good to look at, and she felt the happiness of which she had been foretold running, as the tide runs in the sea-meadows, to her finger-tips. She wished to laugh aloud, to dance, to sing, and at the same time tears of which she could give no account dimmed her vision, causing the garnet in the clasp of the king’s cloak to swell and glisten like a bubble of blood. She heard the clerk closing his book and retiring softly behind her, but when the king turned to Agnes of Solier with a sign that she should go also, Passe Rose reached out her hand.

“I pray thee let this lady listen,” she said entreatingly.

Surprised beyond measure, the king knit his brow, looking from Passe Rose’s eager face to the flushed countenance of Agnes of Solier, who had risen to her feet, and stood beside his chair, her hand resting upon his.

“Speak on,” he said, feeling the hand trembling upon his own.

Anxious lest his patience should be exhausted, divided in her mind as to what was trivial and what important, Passe Rose began, relating her meeting with Gui of Tours in the wood of Hesbaye, her adventure in the abbey and consultation with the sorceress (though this were a forbidden thing), and then her return to the abbey at midnight to tell Friedgis what the gospels had said, and how the captain had promised to seek the Saxon maid in the household of the king. “It was going down the hill after the prior was gone that I found the paper,” she said, pointing to the parchment, “for the moon came up while I was hid.”

So candid was her speech and so eager her haste that the king listened in silent wonder, though he saw her oft bewildered between two stories, one for him and one for Agnes of Solier. But here she paused, and a sob rose in her throat.

“Father and mother have I none,” she continued, “because of the pest; and they being dead, I went wherever the wind blew, with dancing-girls and jugglers,—it was then I danced at Chasseneuil, before Queen Hildegarde,—and afterwards with merchants. But I parted from these at the fair of St. Denis because of a certain Greek,”—here Passe Rose looked full at Agnes of Solier; “for love is like God’s winds, coming at no man’s bidding and dispelled by no command, except it be the Christ’s, as told in the gospels. Afterwards, till now,”—for the first time she hesitated,—“I lived with Werdric, the goldsmith of Maestricht, and his wife, Jeanne, till—till I came to Immaburg.”

“What brought thee to Immaburg?” interrupted Agnes of Solier quickly.

The question was rude, and Passe Rose grew hot and cold by turns. A defiant light flashed in her eyes, but she kept them fixed upon the king. “If one should mock thee to thy face, what wouldst thou do?” she said, lip and voice quivering together.

“By the Lord of Heaven!” cried the king, startled by this unexpected question, but liking well her boldness, “were I the stronger”——

“Nay, the weaker.”

Perplexed, the king observed her in silence.

“When I returned from the abbey,” continued Passe Rose in a hard voice, “the night was far gone, and the goldsmith met me at the garden gate. ‘Wanton!’ he said. For that reason,” looking at Agnes of Solier, “I left my home, wandering two days in the wood of Hesbaye, and came to Immaburg, as thou sawest, not knowing where I was. There it was I first saw the Saxon maid. She came by stealth into the strangers’ hall, and gave these papers to the monk as he sat by the fire, bidding him deliver them to the prior. Why I took them from him I know not, except it were God’s will, for I thought no more of them till yesternight, being distraught at what the page told me.”

“What did he tell thee?” asked Agnes of Solier.

“That thou wert a king’s daughter, and betrothed to Gui of Tours.”

The king’s face flushed red, but Agnes of Solier, pale as the holy napkin, neither spoke nor stirred.

“What happened at supper thou knowest,” continued Passe Rose.

“But what happened afterwards I know not!” cried Agnes of Solier, torn between her jealousy and her pride.

“I am come to tell thee,” answered Passe Rose with dignity. “When thou wert gone, I said to the captain, ‘Though I were the meanest slave in the kingdom, what God hath given the king’s daughter he hath given to me, and I yield it to none except at his altar.’ With that I ran to the chapel to pray and seek counsel of the priest. But because in my anger I had cast down the image of the Virgin above my bed, God would not listen to me; the priest at Immaburg is witness that he took away my senses, and when I got them back I was in the wagon on the high-road. Dost thou remember how the stream was swollen at the ford? I was there, and while they sounded the water I heard the voices of women in the wagon next to mine. One said that the heart of the captain was plainly mine, and could not be had of me for all the gold of the Huns.”

“Insolent!” murmured Agnes of Solier, tightening her fingers on the king’s hand. But the king, chary of words, waited.

“Another,” pursued Passe Rose, “replied that it were easier for a dancing-girl to give herself to a captain than for a king’s daughter to forget an injury. ‘Mark well what I tell thee,’ she said: ‘one hath his heart; the other will have his head.’ ‘Liar!’ I said to myself. ‘What a king’s daughter will do I know not, but what a dancing-girl can do I will show thee.’ So, when the ford was passed, I cut a hole through the skins with my knife, and went mine own way.”

A gesture of surprise escaped the king, who had risen from his chair, and was pacing slowly to and fro between the door and the window. At this moment the troop was filing through the archway info the square, and the Gascon, followed by the prior, was opening the wicket gate leading to the room where the body of Rothilde lay.

It were idle to deny that Passe Rose was conscious of the greatness of her action, for even the angels serve God with pleasure; and if it be that they rejoice over the sinner’s repentance, some echo, as it were, of this rejoicing is borne to the soul which doeth well, for its encouragement and satisfaction. Yet so little did Passe Rose think to win applause that she mistook the king’s gesture for a sign of impatience. “I am coming to it fast,” she said, pointing to the parchment, and hurrying on to tell how she hid in the sheepfold, how Jeanne came bereft of reason and without the power to know her own, and all she saw and heard from the tower while Jeanne slept.

Not once during this recital did the king cease his walk or lift his eyes from the floor till Passe Rose told how Friedgis was slain; “I heard a sword drawn, and the rustle of leaves under foot; afterwards, from the wood, a cry—and then the Saxon maid said”——

She stopped short. The king stood before her, his brow knit as with pain and his face gloomy with suppressed passion. “Well, what said she?” he asked, fixing upon Passe Rose his piercing eye.

“‘Bring me now thy Greek, and I will show him the way to the king’s bed.’”

The king drew himself up to his full height. For a moment he was silent, his eyes shining with points of flame. Then he struck his palms together, whispering a few words to the page who at this signal came in haste from the adjoining room, and, returning to the window, gazed thoughtfully into the court.

Passe Rose, motionless, stood speechless. It was one of those silences which one does not dare to break. “Continue,” said the king at length, in a calm voice.

“When the Saxon was gone into the wood, the prior concerted with his companion how they should get the papers from the captain that night, by fair means or foul,” pursued Passe Rose, stealing a glance at Agnes of Solier. “‘Ask her where this captain lies,’ said the soldier. ‘Nay,’ replied the prior, ‘it will alarm her. Hist! she comes.’”

“Aye, she comes,” murmured the king, beckoning to Passe Rose. “See.”

Obeying his motion, she approached, holding her breath with the presentiment of impending shock. The throng had followed the troop into the square, and the court was empty. From the farther angle a litter, borne by soldiers, issued from the shadow of the gallery. Over the litter a cloth was spread, and on the cloth a cross glittered in the sun.

Passe Rose, leaning forward, drew a quick breath. “The Saxon!” she whispered.

“Slain, yesternight, by the monk.”

“By the monk!” gasped Passe Rose.

“Yonder, in the square.”

“Nay, it was I!” she cried vehemently, grasping the king’s arm. “Look, the marks of her knife! My mother spake in her dreams when the prior was gone. I laid my hand to her mouth, but it was too late. Before I could get to my knees, she”—pointing to the bier—“was on the stair. I caught the blade in my hand as her blow fell, and then we locked, without breath to speak, she above, and I below. God is my witness I had done her no harm but that I knew she or I must die, and die I would not till the captain was warned, for the prior’s words were in my ears. Time was lacking to pray, but I saw the stars, and strained leg and arm till her fingers gave way and my throat was free. Then I stood up alone—how it happened I know not, but I heard the waters splash, and, once, a cry.” She stopped, her bosom heaving, her eyes fixed upon the litter. “Jesu!” she murmured, her voice falling to a whisper, “it was I.”

The king regarded her in a stupor of wonder and admiration. He strode back and forth from wall to wall, looking now at Passe Rose, and now, uneasily, at Agnes of Solier, who, pale and speechless, stared back with eyes of stone. Suddenly, with an abrupt gesture, he stopped before Passe Rose.

“If the King of heaven gave thee thy heart’s wish, what wouldst thou ask?”

“The reason of my mother Jeanne,” said Passe Rose.

The king started. “I will ask it this day in my prayers. And of me”—his voice trembling—“what wouldst thou?”

“To give me leave to go in peace to Maestricht, and then to send thither my mother, whom I left in the house by the gate at Frankenburg; for if she see me in the garden combing wool, in my own attire, her reason will return.”

“Afterward,” said the king, a shadow of vexation passing over his face. Indeed, it were hard to say which was suitor to the other, for his voice faltered, and hers was firm and clear. “That is not all. Afterward,” he repeated impatiently.

The color deepened on Passe Rose’s cheeks, she trembled violently, and, no longer able to support his gaze, she turned her shining eyes to Agnes of Solier, and threw herself at her feet.

“By the Mother of God!” exclaimed the king, taking Agnes of Solier’s hand and seating her in his own chair, “thou art right. She is a king’s daughter. Ask her, and thou shalt see what a king’s daughter can do.” And stooping to Agnes of Solier, he kissed her on the forehead, and left the room.

If love and death could be made subject to will and reason, so that instead of loving love and fearing death, as nature and instinct compel us, we should love death and fear love, then had Passe Rose never gotten from her knees when the Saxon’s knife threatened her, nor thrown herself at the feet of Agnes of Solier. But in concerns of love and death nature is stronger than reason, and impulse will countervail consideration; and though at the king’s going Passe Rose felt shame drying the source of her tears, and pride nipping the buds of her heart’s promise, yet, “If I rise,” she said to herself, “all is lost”; and thus bowed down by the weight of her love, before lesser motives could sway her she felt warm arms pressed about her neck, her face was drawn upwards, and she saw two eyes shining in tears like her own. No word was spoken. They thought no more of their grief and joy than of the coarse wool and silken tissue which clothed them, but like two naked souls fresh from God’s hands gazed at one another.

“Thou hast seen him?” murmured Agnes of Solier. Passe Rose’s eyes answered. “And he loves thee—he has told thee”—Passe Rose buried her face in the broidered dress, her shoulders shaken with sobbing. It seemed to her that she could not bear the kiss she felt upon her hair, nor the arms’ tender pressure.

“By the Blessed Jesus,” she exclaimed, struggling to her feet, “would I might die for thee!”