List Of Contents | Contents of The Little Duke by Charlotte M. Yonge
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again, praised every word he said--Fru Astrida was nothing to him;
and Richard began to say to himself how strange and unkind it was of
Bernard de Harcourt to like to find fault with him, when, on the
contrary, he deserved all this praise from the King himself.


Duke Richard of Normandy slept in the room which had been his
father's; Alberic de Montemar, as his page, slept at his feet, and
Osmond de Centeville had a bed on the floor, across the door, where
he lay with his sword close at hand, as his young Lord's guard and

All had been asleep for some little time, when Osmond was startled by
a slight movement of the door, which could not be pushed open without
awakening him.  In an instant he had grasped his sword, while he
pressed his shoulder to the door to keep it closed; but it was his
father's voice that answered him with a few whispered words in the
Norse tongue, "It is I, open."  He made way instantly, and old Sir
Eric entered, treading cautiously with bare feet, and sat down on the
bed motioning him to do the same, so that they might be able to speak
lower.  "Right, Osmond," he said.  "It is well to be on the alert,
for peril enough is around him--The Frank means mischief!  I know
from a sure hand that Arnulf of Flanders was in council with him just
before he came hither, with his false tongue, wiling and coaxing the
poor child!"

"Ungrateful traitor!" murmured Osmond.  "Do you guess his purpose?"

"Yes, surely, to carry the boy off with him, and so he trusts
doubtless to cut off all the race of Rollo!  I know his purpose is to
bear off the Duke, as a ward of the Crown forsooth.  Did you not hear
him luring the child with his promises of friendship with the
Princes?  I could not understand all his French words, but I saw it
plain enough."

"You will never allow it?"

"If he does, it must be across our dead bodies; but taken as we are
by surprise, our resistance will little avail.  The Castle is full of
French, the hall and court swarm with them.  Even if we could draw
our Normans together, we should not be more than a dozen men, and
what could we do but die?  That we are ready for, if it may not be
otherwise, rather than let our charge be thus borne off without a
pledge for his safety, and without the knowledge of the states."

"The king could not have come at a worse time," said Osmond.

"No, just when Bernard the Dane is absent.  If he only knew what has
befallen, he could raise the country, and come to the rescue."

"Could we not send some one to bear the tidings to-night?"

"I know not," said Sir Eric, musingly.  "The French have taken the
keeping of the doors; indeed they are so thick through the Castle
that I can hardly reach one of our men, nor could I spare one hand
that may avail to guard the boy to-morrow."

"Sir Eric;" a bare little foot was heard on the floor, and Alberic de
Montemar stood before him.  "I did not mean to listen, but I could
not help hearing you.  I cannot fight for the Duke yet, but I could
carry a message."

"How would that be?" said Osmond, eagerly.  "Once out of the Castle,
and in Rouen, he could easily find means of sending to the Count.  He
might go either to the Convent of St. Ouen, or, which would be
better, to the trusty armourer, Thibault, who would soon find man and
horse to send after the Count."

"Ha! let me see," said Sir Eric.  "It might be.  But how is he to get

"I know a way," said Alberic.  "I scrambled down that wide buttress
by the east wall last week, when our ball was caught in a branch of
the ivy, and the drawbridge is down."

"If Bernard knew, it would be off my mind, at least!" said Sir Eric.
"Well, my young Frenchman, you may do good service."

"Osmond," whispered Alberic, as he began hastily to dress himself,
"only ask one thing of Sir Eric--never to call me young Frenchman

Sir Eric smiled, saying, "Prove yourself Norman, my boy."

"Then," added Osmond, "if it were possible to get the Duke himself
out of the castle to-morrow morning.  If I could take him forth by
the postern, and once bring him into the town, he would be safe.  It
would be only to raise the burghers, or else to take refuge in the
Church of Our Lady till the Count came up, and then Louis would find
his prey out of his hands when he awoke and sought him."

"That might be," replied Sir Eric; "but I doubt your success.  The
French are too eager to hold him fast, to let him slip out of their
hands.  You will find every door guarded."

"Yes, but all the French have not seen the Duke, and the sight of a
squire and a little page going forth, will scarcely excite their

"Ay, if the Duke would bear himself like a little page; but that you
need not hope for.  Besides, he is so taken with this King's
flatteries, that I doubt whether he would consent to leave him for
the sake of Count Bernard.  Poor child, he is like to be soon taught
to know his true friends."

"I am ready," said Alberic, coming forward.

The Baron de Centeville repeated his instructions, and then undertook
to guard the door, while his son saw Alberic set off on his
expedition.  Osmond went with him softly down the stairs, then
avoiding the hall, which was filled with French, they crept silently
to a narrow window, guarded by iron bars, placed at such short
intervals apart that only so small and slim a form as Alberic's could
have squeezed out between them.  The distance to the ground was not
much more than twice his own height, and the wall was so covered with
ivy, that it was not a very dangerous feat for an active boy, so that
Alberic was soon safe on the ground, then looking up to wave his cap,
he ran on along the side of the moat, and was soon lost to Osmond's
sight in the darkness.

Osmond returned to the Duke's chamber, and relieved his father's
guard, while Richard slept soundly on, little guessing at the plots
of his enemies, or at the schemes of his faithful subjects for his

Osmond thought this all the better, for he had small trust in
Richard's patience and self-command, and thought there was much more
chance of getting him unnoticed out of the Castle, if he did not know
how much depended on it, and how dangerous his situation was.

When Richard awoke, he was much surprised at missing Alberic, but
Osmond said he was gone into the town to Thibault the armourer, and
this was a message on which he was so likely to be employed that
Richard's suspicion was not excited.  All the time he was dressing he
talked about the King, and everything he meant to show him that day;
then, when he was ready, the first thing was as usual to go to attend
morning mass.

"Not by that way, to-day, my Lord," said Osmond, as Richard was about
to enter the great hall.  "It is crowded with the French who have
been sleeping there all night; come to the postern."

Osmond turned, as he spoke, along the passage, walking fast, and not
sorry that Richard was lingering a little, as it was safer for him to
be first.  The postern was, as he expected, guarded by two tall
steel-cased figures, who immediately held their lances across the
door-way, saying, "None passes without warrant."

"You will surely let us of the Castle attend to our daily business,"
said Osmond.  "You will hardly break your fast this morning if you
stop all communication with the town."

"You must bring warrant," repeated one of the men-at-arms.  Osmond
was beginning to say that he was the son of the Seneschal of the
Castle, when Richard came hastily up.  "What?  Do these men want to
stop us?" he exclaimed in the imperious manner he had begun to take
up since his accession.  "Let us go on, sirs."

The men-at-arms looked at each other, and guarded the door more
closely.  Osmond saw it was hopeless, and only wanted to draw his
young charge back without being recognised, but Richard exclaimed
loudly, "What means this?"

"The King has given orders that none should pass without warrant,"
was Osmond's answer.  "We must wait."

"I will pass!" said Richard, impatient at opposition, to which he was
little accustomed.  "What mean you, Osmond?  This is my Castle, and
no one has a right to stop me.  Do you hear, grooms? let me go.  I am
the Duke!"

The sentinels bowed, but all they said was, "Our orders are express."

"I tell you I am Duke of Normandy, and I will go where I please in my
own city!" exclaimed Richard, passionately pressing against the
crossed staves of the weapons, to force his way between them, but he
was caught and held fast in the powerful gauntlet of one of the men-
at-arms.  "Let me go, villain!" cried he, struggling with all his
might.  "Osmond, Osmond, help!"

Even as he spoke Osmond had disengaged him from the grasp of the
Frenchman, and putting his hand on his arm, said, "Nay, my Lord, it
is not for you to strive with such as these."

"I will strive!" cried the boy.  "I will not have my way barred in my
own Castle.  I will tell the King how these rogues of his use me.  I
will have them in the dungeon.  Sir Eric! where is Sir Eric?"

Away he rushed to the stairs, Osmond hurrying after him, lest he
should throw himself into some fresh danger, or by his loud calls
attract the French, who might then easily make him prisoner.
However, on the very first step of the stairs stood Sir Eric, who was
too anxious for the success of the attempt to escape, to be very far
off.  Richard, too angry to heed where he was going, dashed up
against him without seeing him, and as the old Baron took hold of
him, began, "Sir Eric, Sir Eric, those French are villains! they will
not let me pass--"

"Hush, hush! my Lord," said Sir Eric.  "Silence! come here."

However imperious with others, Richard from force of habit always
obeyed Sir Eric, and now allowed himself to be dragged hastily and
silently by him, Osmond following closely, up the stairs, up a second
and a third winding flight, still narrower, and with broken steps, to
a small round, thick-walled turret chamber, with an extremely small
door, and loop-holes of windows high up in the tower.  Here, to his
great surprise, he found Dame Astrida, kneeling and telling her

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