List Of Contents | Contents of The Little Duke by Charlotte M. Yonge
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could eat again, Osmond would not hear of his touching what was sent
for him from the royal table, but always went down himself to procure
food in the kitchen, where he said he had a friend among the cooks,
who would, he thought, scarcely poison him intentionally.  When
Richard was able to cross the room, he insisted on his always
fastening the door with his dagger, and never opening to any summons
but his own, not even Prince Carloman's.  Richard wondered, but he
was obliged to obey; and he knew enough of the perils around him to
perceive the reasonableness of Osmond's caution.

Thus several days had passed, the King had returned, and Richard was
so much recovered, that he had become very anxious to be allowed to
go down stairs again, instead of remaining shut up there; but still
Osmond would not consent, though Richard had done nothing all day but
walk round the room, to show how strong he was.

"Now, my Lord, guard the door--take care," said Osmond; "you have no
loss to-day, for the King has brought home Herluin of Montreuil, whom
you would be almost as loth to meet as the Fleming.  And tell your
beads while I am gone, that the Saints may bring us out of our

Osmond was absent nearly half an hour, and, when he returned, brought
on his shoulders a huge bundle of straw.  "What is this for?"
exclaimed Richard.  "I wanted my supper, and you have brought straw!"

"Here is your supper," said Osmond, throwing down the straw, and
producing a bag with some bread and meat.  "What should you say, my
Lord, if we should sup in Normandy to-morrow night?"

"In Normandy!" cried Richard, springing up and clapping his hands.
"In Normandy!  Oh, Osmond, did you say in Normandy?  Shall we, shall
we really?  Oh, joy! joy!  Is Count Bernard come?  Will the King let
us go?"

"Hush! hush, sir!  It must be our own doing; it will all fail if you
are not silent and prudent, and we shall be undone."

"I will do anything to get home again!"

"Eat first," said Osmond.

"But what are you going to do?  I will not be as foolish as I was
when you tried to get me safe out of Rollo's tower.  But I should
like to wish Carloman farewell."

"That must not be," said Osmond; "we should not have time to escape,
if they did not still believe you very ill in bed."

"I am sorry not to wish Carloman good-bye," repeated Richard; "but we
shall see Fru Astrida again, and Sir Eric; and Alberic must come
back!  Oh, do let us go!  O Normandy, dear Normandy!"

Richard could hardly eat for excitement, while Osmond hastily made
his arrangements, girding on his sword, and giving Richard his dagger
to put into his belt.  He placed the remainder of the provisions in
his wallet, threw a thick purple cloth mantle over the Duke, and then
desired him to lie down on the straw which he had brought in.  "I
shall hide you in it," he said, "and carry you through the hall, as
if I was going to feed my horse."

"Oh, they will never guess!" cried Richard, laughing.  "I will be
quite still--I will make no noise--I will hold my breath."

"Yes, mind you do not move hand or foot, or rustle the straw.  It is
no play--it is life or death," said Osmond, as he disposed the straw
round the little boy.  "There, can you breathe?"

"Yes," said Richard's voice from the midst.  "Am I quite hidden?"

"Entirely.  Now, remember, whatever happens, do not move.  May Heaven
protect us!  Now, the Saints be with us!"

Richard, from the interior of the bundle heard Osmond set open the
door; then he felt himself raised from the ground; Osmond was
carrying him along down the stairs, the ends of the straw crushing
and sweeping against the wall.  The only way to the outer door was
through the hall, and here was the danger.  Richard heard voices,
steps, loud singing and laughter, as if feasting was going on; then
some one said, "Tending your horse, Sieur de Centeville?"

"Yes," Osmond made answer.  "You know, since we lost our grooms, the
poor black would come off badly, did I not attend to him."

Presently came Carloman's voice:  "O Osmond de Centeville! is Richard

"He is better, my Lord, I thank you, but hardly yet out of danger."

"Oh, I wish he was well!  And when will you let me come to him,
Osmond?  Indeed, I would sit quiet, and not disturb him."

"It may not be yet, my Lord, though the Duke loves you well--he told
me so but now."

"Did he?  Oh, tell him I love him very much--better than any one
here--and it is very dull without him.  Tell him so, Osmond."

Richard could hardly help calling out to his dear little Carloman;
but he remembered the peril of Osmond's eyes and the Queen's threat,
and held his peace, with some vague notion that some day he would
make Carloman King of France.  In the meantime, half stifled with the
straw, he felt himself carried on, down the steps, across the court;
and then he knew, from the darkness and the changed sound of Osmond's
tread, that they were in the stable.  Osmond laid him carefully down,
and whispered--"All right so far.  You can breathe?"

"Not well.  Can't you let me out?"

"Not yet--not for worlds.  Now tell me if I put you face downwards,
for I cannot see."

He laid the living heap of straw across the saddle, bound it on, then
led out the horse, gazing round cautiously as he did so; but the
whole of the people of the Castle were feasting, and there was no one
to watch the gates.  Richard heard the hollow sound of the hoofs, as
the drawbridge was crossed, and knew that he was free; but still
Osmond held his arm over him, and would not let him move, for some
distance.  Then, just as Richard felt as if he could endure the
stifling of the straw, and his uncomfortable position, not a moment
longer, Osmond stopped the horse, took him down, laid him on the
grass, and released him.  He gazed around; they were in a little
wood; evening twilight was just coming on, and the birds sang

"Free! free!--this is freedom!" cried Richard, leaping up in the
delicious cool evening breeze; "the Queen and Lothaire, and that grim
room, all far behind."

"Not so far yet," said Osmond; "you must not call yourself safe till
the Epte is between us and them.  Into the saddle, my Lord; we must
ride for our lives."

Osmond helped the Duke to mount, and sprang to the saddle behind him,
set spurs to the horse, and rode on at a quick rate, though not at
full speed, as he wished to spare the horse.  The twilight faded, the
stars came out, and still he rode, his arm round the child, who, as
night advanced, grew weary, and often sunk into a sort of half doze,
conscious all the time of the trot of the horse.  But each step was
taking him further from Queen Gerberge, and nearer to Normandy; and
what recked he of weariness?  On--on; the stars grew pale again, and
the first pink light of dawn showed in the eastern sky; the sun rose,
mounted higher and higher, and the day grew hotter; the horse went
more slowly, stumbled, and though Osmond halted and loosed the girth,
he only mended his pace for a little while.

Osmond looked grievously perplexed; but they had not gone much
further before a party of merchants came in sight, winding their way
with a long train of loaded mules, and stout men to guard them,
across the plains, like an eastern caravan in the desert.  They gazed
in surprise at the tall young Norman holding the child upon the worn-
out war-horse.

"Sir merchant," said Osmond to the first, "see you this steed?
Better horse never was ridden; but he is sorely spent, and we must
make speed.  Let me barter him with you for yonder stout palfrey.  He
is worth twice as much, but I cannot stop to chaffer--ay or no at

The merchant, seeing the value of Osmond's gallant black, accepted
the offer; and Osmond removing his saddle, and placing Richard on his
new steed, again mounted, and on they went through the country which
Osmond's eye had marked with the sagacity men acquire by living in
wild, unsettled places.  The great marshes were now far less
dangerous than in the winter, and they safely crossed them.  There
had, as yet, been no pursuit, and Osmond's only fear was for his
little charge, who, not having recovered his full strength since his
illness, began to suffer greatly from fatigue in the heat of that
broiling summer day, and leant against Osmond patiently, but very
wearily, without moving or looking up.  He scarcely revived when the
sun went down, and a cool breeze sprang up, which much refreshed
Osmond himself; and still more did it refresh the Squire to see, at
length, winding through the green pastures, a blue river, on the
opposite bank of which rose a high rocky mound, bearing a castle with
many a turret and battlement.

"The Epte! the Epte!  There is Normandy, sir!  Look up, and see your
own dukedom."  "Normandy!" cried Richard, sitting upright.  "Oh, my
own home!"  Still the Epte was wide and deep, and the peril was not
yet ended.  Osmond looked anxiously, and rejoiced to see marks of
cattle, as if it had been forded.  "We must try it," he said, and
dismounting, he waded in, leading the horse, and firmly holding
Richard in the saddle.  Deep they went; the water rose to Richard's
feet, then to the horse's neck; then the horse was swimming, and
Osmond too, still keeping his firm hold; then there was ground again,
the force of the current was less, and they were gaining the bank.
At that instant, however, they perceived two men aiming at them with
cross-bows from the castle, and another standing on the bank above
them, who called out, "Hold!  None pass the ford of Montemar without
permission of the noble Dame Yolande."  "Ha! Bertrand, the Seneschal,
is that you?" returned Osmond.  "Who calls me by my name?" replied
the Seneschal.  "It is I, Osmond de Centeville.  Open your gates
quickly, Sir Seneschal; for here is the Duke, sorely in need of rest
and refreshment."

"The Duke!" exclaimed Bertrand, hurrying down to the landing-place,
and throwing off his cap.  "The Duke! the Duke!" rang out the shout
from the men-at-arms on the battlements above and in an instant more
Osmond had led the horse up from the water, and was exclaiming, "Look

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