Lady Sybil’s Choice: A Tale of the Crusades

Lady Sybil’s Choice: A Tale of the Crusades

Author:
Emily Sarah Holt
Author:
Emily Sarah Holt
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Holt, Emily Sarah, 1836-1893
Historical fiction
Crusades — Fiction
Lady Sybil’s Choice: A Tale of the Crusades

Lady Sybil’s Choice

A Tale of the Crusades

BY

EMILY SARAH HOLT

AUTHOR OF “MISTRESS MARGERY,” “SISTER ROSE,” ETC.

“This Tale in ancient Chronicle,—

In wording old and quaint,

In classic language of the past,

In letters pale and faint,—

This tale is told. Yet once again

Let it be told to-day—

The old, old tale of woman’s love,

Which lasteth on for aye.”

NEW EDITION

LONDON

JOHN F. SHAW AND CO.

48 PATERNOSTER ROW

1879

PREFACE.

“Why, seeing times are not hidden from the
Almighty, do they that know Him, not see His days?”

From the earliest ages of the world, the needs-be
of suffering has been a mystery. Down to the
latest, it will be a mystery still. Truly, the more
we “know Him,” the less mystery it is to us: for
even where we cannot see, we can trust His love.
Yet there are human analogies, which may throw
some faint light on the dark question: and one of
these will be found in the following pages. “What
I do, thou knowest not now”—sometimes because
it is morally impossible,—our finite capacity could
not hold it: but sometimes, too, because we could
not be trusted with the knowledge. In their case,
there is one thing we can do—wait. “O thou of
little faith!—
wherefore didst thou doubt?”

“Oh restful, blissful ignorance!

‘Tis blessed not to know.

It keeps me still in those kind arms

Which will not let me go,

And hushes my soul to rest

On the bosom that loves me so!

“So I go on, not knowing,—

I would not, if I might.

I would rather walk in the dark with God

Than walk alone in the light;

I would rather walk with Him by faith,

Than walk alone by sight.

“My heart shrinks back from trials

Which the future may disclose;

Yet I never had a sorrow

But what the dear Lord chose:

So I send the coming tears back

With the whispered word, ‘He knows!'”

CONTENTS.

CHAP.

  1. GUY TAKES THE CROSS

  2. TWO SURPRISES FOR ELAINE

  3. ALL IS NOT GOLD THAT GLITTERS

  4. A JOURNEY—AND THE END OF IT

  5. CURIOUS NOTIONS

  6. THE PERVERSITY OF PEOPLE

  7. A LITTLE CLOUD OUT OF THE SEA

  8. AS GOOD AS MOST PEOPLE

  9. ELAINE FINDS MORE THAN SHE EXPECTED

  10. PREPARING FOR THE STRUGGLE

  11. THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

  12. WILL SHE GIVE HIM UP?

  13. WAITING FOR THE INEVITABLE

  14. SYBIL’S CHOICE

LADY SYBIL’S CHOICE

CHAPTER I.

GUY TAKES THE CROSS.

“But what are words, and what am I?

An infant crying in the night;
An infant crying for the light;

And with no language but a cry.”

—TENNYSON.

Alix says I am a simpleton. I don’t think it is
particularly pleasant. Sometimes she says I am
a perfect simpleton: and I cannot say that I like
that any better. Nor do I think that it is very civil
in one’s sister to put her opinion on record in this
certainly perspicuous, but not at all complimentary
manner. Still, I have heard her say it so many
times that I might almost have come to believe it, if
she did not say so of anybody but me. But when—as
she did this morning—she says Guy is a
simpleton, that I cannot stand with any patience.
Because there is nobody like Guy in all the world.
He is the best, kindest, dearest brother that ever
a girl had or could have. And it is a shame of Alix
to say such things. I am sure of it.[#]

[#] The brothers in this family are historical persons;
the sisters fictitious.

I do not know how it is, but Alix seems vexed
that I should like Guy best of all my brothers. She
says I ought to make companions of Amaury and
Raoul, who are nearer me in age. But is that any
reason for liking people? At that rate, I ought to
love Alix least of all, because she is furthest off.
And—though I should not like her to know that I
said so—I am not at all sure that I don’t.

Being like you in character, it seems to me, is a
much better reason for choosing companions, than
being near you in age. And I think Guy is much
more like me than Amaury or Raoul either. They
don’t care for the same things that I do, and Guy
does. Now, how can you like a man’s company
when you can never agree with him?

Alix says my tastes—and, of course, Guy’s—are
very silly. I believe she thinks there is no sense in
anything but spinning and cooking and needlework.
But I think Amaury and Raoul are quite as foolish
as we are. Amaury admires everything that shines
and glitters, and he is not at all particular whether
it is gold or brass. I believe, this minute, he knows
more about samite, and damask, and velvet, than I
do. You would think the world was coming to an
end by the wail he sets up if his cap has a feather
less than he intended, or the border of his tunic is
done in green instead of yellow. Is that like being
a man? Guillot says Amaury should have been a
woman, but I think he should have stayed a baby.
Then Raoul cares for things that bang and clash.
In his eyes, everybody ought to be a soldier, and no
tale is worth hearing if it be not about a tournament
or the taking of a city.

Now I do think Guy and I have more sense.
What we love to hear is of deeds really noble,—of
men that have saved their city or their country at
the risk of their own lives; of a mother that has
sacrificed herself for her child; of a lady who was
ready to see her true knight die rather than stain his
honour. When we were little children at old
Marguerite’s knee, and she used to tell us tales as a
reward when we had been good,—and who ever
knew half so many stories as dear old
Marguerite?—while Raoul always wanted a bloody battle, and
Amaury a royal pageant, and Alix what she called
something practical—which, so far as I could see,
meant something that was not interesting—and
Guillot, he said, “Something all boys, with no girls
in it”—the stories Guy and I liked were just those
which our dear old nurse best loved to tell. There
was the legend of Monseigneur Saint Gideon, who
drove the heathen Saracens out of his country with
a mere handful of foot-soldiers; and that of
Monseigneur Saint David, who, when he was but a youth,
fought with the Saracen giant, Count Goliath, who
was forty feet high—Guillot and Raoul used to like
that too; and of Monseigneur Saint Daniel, who on
a false accusation was cast to the lions, and in the
night the holy Apostle Saint Peter appeared to him,
and commanded the lions not to hurt him; and the
lions came and licked the feet of Monseigneur Saint
Peter. The story that Amaury liked best of all was
about Madame Esther, the Queen of Persia, and how
she entreated her royal lord for the lives of certain
knights that had been taken prisoners; but he
always wanted to know exactly what Madame
Esther had on, and even I thought that absurd, for
of course Marguerite had to make it up, as the
legend did not tell, and he might have done that
for himself. Raoul best loved the great legend of
the wars of Troy, and how Monseigneur Achilles
dragged Monseigneur Hector at the wheels of his
chariot: which I never did like, for I could not help
thinking of Madame the Queen, his mother, and
Madame his wife, who sat in a latticed gallery
watching, and remembering how their hearts would
bleed when they saw it. The story Guy liked best
was of two good knights of Greece, whose names
were Sir Damon and Sir Pythias, and how they so
loved that each was ready and anxious to lay down
his life for the other: and I think what I best loved
to hear was the dear legend of Madame Saint
Magdalene, and how she followed the blessed steps of
our Lord wherever He went, and was the first to
whom He deigned to appear after His resurrection.

I wish, sometimes, that I had known my mother.
I never had any mother but Marguerite. If she
heard me, I know she would say, “Ha, my
Damoiselle does not well to leave out the Damoiselle
Alix.” But I am sure Alix was never anything like
a mother. If she were, mothers must be queer
people.

Why don’t I like Alix better? Surely the only
reason is not because she is my half-sister. Our
gracious Lord and father was twice married,—first
to the Lady Eustacie de Chabot, who was mother
of Alix, and Guillot, and Guy, and Amaury, and
Raoul: and then she died, soon after Raoul was
born; and the year afterwards Monseigneur married
my mother, and I was her only child. But that
does not hinder my loving Guy. Why should it
hinder my loving Alix?

Most certainly something does hinder it,—and
some tremendous thing hinders my loving Cousin
Hugues de la Marche. I hate him. Marguerite
says “Hush!” when I say so. But Hugues is so
intensely hateable, I am sure she need not. He is
more like Guillot than any other of us, but rougher
and more boisterous by far. I can’t bear him. And
he always says he hates girls, and he can’t bear me.
So why should I not hate him?

O Mother, Mother! I wish you had stayed with me!

Somehow, I don’t think of her as I do of any one
who is alive. I suppose, if she were alive, I should
call her “Fair Madame,” and be afraid to move
in her presence. But being dead seems to bring
her nearer. I call her “Mother,” and many a time
I say her pretty, gentle name, Clémence,—not aloud,
but in my thoughts. Would she have loved me if
she had stayed?

Does she love me, where she is with God? They
say she was so gentle and pious, I am sure she must
be in Heaven. She stayed only a very little while
with us; I was not two years old when she died.
Marguerite says she used to carry me up and down
the long gallery, looking tenderly down at my baby
face, and call me her darling, her dove, her precious
Elaine. Oh, why could I not have heard her, to
remember it, only once?

There is no need to ask why I feel lonely and
desolate, and muse on my dead mother, as I always
do when I am miserable. I can never be anything
else, now that Guy is gone. Monseigneur, our
gracious Lord and father, gave consent a month
since that Guy should take the holy cross, and
yesterday morning he set forth with a company
on his perilous journey. Was there no one in
all the world but my Guy to fight for our Lord’s
sepulchre? And does our Lord think so very much
about it, that He does not care though a maiden’s
heart be broken and her life desolate, if she give
up her best beloved to defend it?

Well, I suppose it is wrong to say that. The
good God is always good, of course. And I suppose
it is right that Guy should put the sepulchre before
me. He is the true knight, to sacrifice himself to
duty; and I am not the noble-hearted damsel, if
I wish he had done otherwise. And I suppose the
great tears that fell on that red cross while I was
broidering it, were displeasing to the good God.
He ought to have the best. Oh yes! I see that,
quite clearly. And yet I wonder why He wanted
my best, when He has all the saints and angels
round Him, to do Him homage. And I had only
Guy. I cannot understand it.

Oh dear! I do get so puzzled, sometimes. I
think this is a very perplexing world to live in.
And it is of no use to say a word to Alix, because
she only calls me a simpleton, and that does not
explain anything: and Marguerite says, “Hush!
My Damoiselle would not speak against the good God?”

And neither of them helps me a bit. They do
not see that I never mean to speak against the
good God. I only want to understand. They do
not feel the same sort of want, I suppose, and so
they think it wicked in me to feel it.

Does my mother understand it all? Must one
die, to understand? And if so, why?

Guy would let me ask him such questions. I
do not know that he saw the answer any better
than I did, but at least we could agree in feeling
them, and could try to puzzle the way out. But
Alix appears not even to see what I mean. And
it is disheartening, when one takes the trouble to
brace up one’s courage to ask such questions from
somebody above one, of whom one feels ever so
little afraid, only to be told in reply what the same
person had told one a hundred times before—that
one is a simpleton.

I wish somebody would listen to me. If I could
have seen a saint,—some one who lived in perpetual
communion with our Lord, and knew all things!
But do saints know all things? If so, why could
not I be a saint myself, and then I should know too?

Well, I have no doubt of the answer to that
question. For if I were a saint, I must first be a
nun; and that would mean to go away from home,
and never, never see Guy any more.

Oh no! that would not do. So it is plain I can
never be a saint.

When I come to think about it, I doubt if there
ever were a saint in our family. Of course we are
one of the oldest families in Poitou, and indeed I
might say, in France; for Count Hugues I. lived
about nine hundred years after our Lord, and that
is nearly as far back as Charlemagne. And
Monseigneur has no one above him but our gracious
Lord the Count of Poitou, who is in his turn a
vassal of our suzerain, the King of England, and
he pays homage to the King of France.

I never did like that, and I don’t now. I cannot
see why our King should pay homage to the King
of France for his dominions on this side of the
sea.[#] The French say there were Kings in France before
there ever were in England. Well, that may be
so: but I am sure it was not long before, and our
King is every bit as good as the King of France.
When Raoul wants to tease me, he says I am a
Frenchwoman. And I won’t be called a Frenchwoman.
I am not a subject of King Louis. I am
a Poitevine, and a subject of the Lord Henry, King
of England and Count of Poitou, to begin with: and
under him, of his son the Lord Richard,[#] who is
now our young Count; and beneath him again, of
Monseigneur, my own father, who has as much
power in his own territory as the King himself.

[#] This homage, exacted by the Kings of France, was always a sore
subject with the Kings of England, who took every opportunity of
evading that personal payment of it which it was the anxiety of the
French monarchs to secure.

[#] Cœur-de-Lion.

It is true, Monseigneur’s territory is not very
large. But Father Eudes told us one day, when
he was giving us our Latin lessons, that the great
Emperor of Rome, Monseigneur Julius Cæsar, who
was such a wonderful man and a great magician,
used to say that he would rather be the first in a
village than the second in imperial Rome itself.
And that is just what I feel. I would rather be the
Damoiselle Elaine, daughter of Monseigneur the
Count of Lusignan, than I would be the niece or
cousin of the Queen of France. I do like to be at
the top of everything. And I would rather be at
the top of a little thing than at the bottom of a
big one.

Marguerite smiles and shakes her head when I
say so to her. She says it is pleasanter down at
the bottom. It makes me laugh to hear her. It
is natural enough that she should think so, as she
is only a villein, and of course she is at the bottom.
And it is very well if she likes it. I could never
bear it. But then I am noble, and it could not be
expected that I should do so.

Though we never had a saint in our House, yet,
as every one knows, we sprang from a supernatural
source. The root of the House of Lusignan was
the Fairy Mélusine, who was the loveliest creature
imaginable, but half woman and half serpent. I do
not know when she lived, but it must have been
ages ago; and she built the Castle of Lusignan by
enchantment. Sometimes, on a still summer
evening, any one who is out alone will catch a glimpse
of her, bathing in the fountain which stands in the
pleasance.[#] I would not cross the pleasance after
dark on a summer evening—no, not to be made a
queen. I should be frightened to death of seeing
the Lady Mélusine. For when any one of our line
is about to die, she is sure to appear, so I should
think I was going to die if I saw her. She comes,
too, when any great calamity is threatening France.
Perhaps I should not be quite sure to die, but I
would rather not risk it. I never did see her, the
saints be thanked; and Marguerite says she never
did. I think she cannot have appeared for a long
time. About forty years ago, before the death of
the Lady Poncette, Countess of Angoulême, who
was a daughter of our House, Arlette, the mother
of our varlet Robert, thought she saw the Lady
Mélusine; but it was nearly dark, and there were
trees between them, and Arlette is near-sighted, so
it was not possible to be sure. But she says her
mother-in-law’s niece’s grand-aunt really did see
her, and no mistake at all about it. She was
bathing in the fountain, and she splashed her long
tail about till the maiden almost lost her wits from
the fright. And the very next year, Count Hugues
the Good was murdered by the Duke of Guienne’s
people. Which shows plainly that there are such
things as ghosts.

[#] Pleasure-grounds.

The night before Guy went away—can it be two
evenings since,—only two?—we crept into the long
gallery, as we two always do when we want a quiet
talk, and sat down in that window from which you
get the lovely view of the church spire through the
trees, across the river. That is always our favourite
window. Guy was trying to comfort me, and I am
rather afraid I was

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