The Ghost Knight
A Romatic Story of a Fair Lady in Distress, and of a Gallant Knight who Rescued her from Dire Peril.
"DECEIT, deceit," cried the swallows, skimming the water, and gliding about the grey tower in the meadows.
“Deceit—deceit.” And their wings kissed ripples upon the broad, still moat, or flashed in the sunlight amid the aspen trees.
And upon the hills the pine woods were dark under the sunset, with streamers of crimson vapor afloat across the west.
When Gareth of Avranches reined in his horses before the rough hostel that stood by the wayside in the valley, with a few hovels to keep it company, an old woman came out to him, and bobbed to him for service. She had a cold, white face, with a skin like wrinkled vellum, and her eyes gave never a twinkle as she looked up at the knight.
“A night’s lodging, lording?”
Gareth cast a glance over the rotten thatch, and at an old sow that came grunting out by the hostel door. There would be more to be gathered than spent in such a hovel, nor did the old woman’s hard face please him.
Therefore he pointed with his spear to the tower that rose grey amid the aspens across the meadows, with the sheen of its broad moat catching the gold of the western sky.
“Whose tower is that—yonder— 4*me?”
The woman crossed herself and shook her head.
“My lord would not lodge yonder," she said, making a mouth of mystery. “And—why not?” asked he.
“There is a curse upon the place, lording, the wailing of the woes is heard in the tower.”
Gareth gazed at the place under his hand.
“The sun shines on it,” he said. “Who is the lord of the place?”
“A year ago Sir Rene ruled there," said the woman, “but he is dead. And then his eldest son took the father's place, but he—lording—died also. Then Guillaume, the second, ruled, but death soon took him, and he was seen no more in this world. Now Raymond —the third—is left, and Yvette, his sister. But it is not a month since Messire Guillaume died, and the curse is there still—they say.”
“How did they die, dame?”
“No man knows, lording. They went, and were seen no more. That is all.”
Gareth looked at her keenly, as though he mistrusted the woman's tongue.
“I would hear more of this,” he said curtly. “Such happenings are not to be missed,” and he left the woman standing in the road, and passed on over the meadows towards the tower.
It was growing dusk when Gareth reached the bridge over the moat, and blew his horn as a summons. The place seemed very dolorous and silent with its dark windows, and its grey
walls that were cold now against the twilight.
The bridge was lowered, the gate opened, and Gareth rode in. A breeze stirred in the aspen trees, so that they chattered at his back, and Gareth, peering about him in the dusk, looked for the porter who had opened the gate.
A shadowy figure stood stiffly against the wall. It waved a hand to the knight, but did not speak. And Gareth passed through into the base court of the house.
Now, from the doorway of the hail a girl came forth in a robe of some black stuff ; her hair had the color of a full moon seen through mist, and her eyes looked dark in her pale face. She stood looking at Gareth for a moment as though she had learnt to live with some shadow of fear haunting her. But the Cross that he wore in his surcoat seemed to lighten her distrust.
“Welcome, Messire,” she said, “if you would lodge the night with us.”
And Gareth, when he had dismounted, went to kiss her hands.
“I am on the homeward road,” he said, laying a hand over the Cross on his coat. “It is many months since I have seen the orchards of Normandy.”
So he followed Yvette into the house, marvelling at the color of her hair.
Gareth sat down to supper in the solar that evening with the girl and Raymond her brother, an old man serving them, and the old man was dumb. A great sadness seemed upon the house, and upon Yvette and her brother, the sadness of those who grieve, the dread of those who watch continually for some horror in the dark. Yet they did their best to be debonair and courteous for Gareth’s sake, questioning him as to his adventures, and how the Christians fared in Syria, and how the wars went against the Saracens. For Gareth had come over sea from Acre by Cyprus and Crete in a Venetian ship. He had ridden through Lombardy and Genoa 34
into Provence, and so northwards to.wards the Loire.
They had talked of the Kings, Philip and Richard, when Raymond of the Tower spoke of a neighbor who had taken the Cross.
“Malvo de la Montagne was with certain lords who sailed a year ago he said, “you two may have met— yonder—in Syria?”
Gareth thought a moment, and then shook his head.
“I remember no such name.”
“A big man with a dark forehead, and four big teeth as large as hazel nuts. We knew him here, and had good cause. But that is our own tale.”
Gareth remembered no such man. But he saw Raymond look at Yvette, and the girl flushed hotly, and hid her eyes from them.
For Malvo de la Montagne had sought her in love, roughly, and her brothers had taken the man and beaten him with their sword belts, so that he had gone home bloody, half naked, and savage as a wounded bear. And the next that they heard of Malvo was that he had taken the Cross, and gone, perhaps for penance, to fight in the Holy Wars.
So they went to their rest that night, Gareth still wondering at the curse that seemed to hang over the house, at its silence and emptiness, and at the sad and watchful faces of the girl and the man. There seemed no servants in the house, save only the dumb porter, and one old woman. And Gareth lay down on a truss of straw in the hall, and drew his cloak about him in the darkness and the silence.
The Norman had not slept an hour when he awoke suddenly, like a man called by a trumpet cry. Starting up on the bed, he laid a hand on his sword, and sat there listening, with a vague ghostly sense of fear. A moon had risen, and the beams thereof came slanting through the narrow windows of the hall. Yet the silence of the night covered everything for the moment, and Gareth wondered what had awakened him.
He was putting the sword aside, as though he had been roused by nothing more than a trick of the brain, when a strange cry thrilled up out of the silence of the night, a cry that seemed to make the moonlight quiver as it poured into the darkness of the half.
The cry held in one long-drawr note, to break at last and fade into nothingness like the smoke from a candle that wavers into the night. Then, again—all was silence. Yet Gareth, who was no coward, felt his hair bristling, and longed to hear something moving in the house, for he remembered what the woman at the inn had told him.
He was rising from his bed, when he heard a voice calling outside the tower, a thin, faint voice, that seemed to come from beyond the moat. And so clear were the words it uttered, that Gareth heard them in the hall.
“Follow, follow, follow. Blood of thy blood calls thee, Raymond. Accursed art thou, if thou follow me not. And Rene, thy father, shall abide in hell.”
The voice died away, and in its place Gareth heard the sound of movement in the tower above. The door at the end of the hall swung open ; the figure of a man stood in the dark entry, and by the glimmer of his body Gareth knew that he was armed. The Norman had taken down his shield from the wall, and stood ready and alert for what might happen.
The figure moved forward, till the moonlight was upon its face, and Gareth recognised the lad Raymond, his face white as swan’s down, his eyes like the eyes of one walking in his sleep. He had a shield uoon his arm. and a naked sword in his right hand. Nor did he so much as notice Gareth, as he moved down the hall, and unbarred the door leading into the court. And Gareth, who followed him cautiously, and without a sound, saw him cross the court towards the stables as though to saddle and bridle a horse.
The lad came forth in due course frpm thç stable, leading a black horse
by the bridle, the moonlight shining upon the flagstones of the court, and upon the mists that rose from the moat. -Gareth, keeping within the shadow of the hall, saw Raymond walk his horse towards the gate. And so wrapped was the knight of Avranches in watching this midnight sally that he did not hear footsteps crossing the hall.
A hand touched his shoulder. He turned with a start, and a grip of the sword, to find the girl Yvette standing there, a cloak covering her white shift, her feet in sandals, her hair falling down about her like so much tawny smoke. *
She seemed silent, tongue-tied, dumb for the moment as with some great fear. Her eyes looked into Gareth’s, like the eyes of some wild thing pleading for life.
Gareth pointed with his sword towards the gate.
“He has gone?” And even in the moonlight he saw the pupils of her eyes dilate.
They heard the sound of a chain falling. Yvette ran out, with one backward glance at Gareth, and her eyes said “Follow !” And the Norman followed her and the gleam of her hair.
But Yvette went faster than the man, for love winged her heels. She disappeared under the dark entry of the gateway just as her brother swung the heavy gate open. Gareth heard her give a low, eager cry, and when he came to them Yvette was clinging to her brother, and looking up passionately into his face.
“You shall not go,” she said. “No, on my life, you shall not.”
Raymond, who had dropped his horse’s bridle, was trying to thrust the girl from him.
“I will see the end of this,” he said. “Let go, child: would you have Rene, our father, left in hell?”
But Yvette still clung to him, fastening her arms again upon him when he had forced them away.
“It is a devil’s trick,” she said, “no warning from God. Geoffrey went as you are going, and came not again; and Guillaume followed Geoffrey. They were bewitched—taken— And I shall lose you—Raymond—also !”
The lad was a brave lad, though his face was white and his voice husky. He put his sister’s hands away from him, thrust her back against the wall, and caught at his horse’s bridle. The gate stood open, and he was in the saddle, and ready to spur across the bridge, but a stronger hand than his took the peril from him that night, and turned ' the horse 'into the court.
Raymond was out of the saddle, hot with a boy’s anger, but Gareth caught him in his arms.
“Softly, lad ; I am not here to quarrel. But I have a wish to have a hand in this.”
He let Raymond go, seeing Yvette ready to plead once more with the stiff-necked youth.
“Child,” he.said to her, “what is it that you have to fear? Who is it who comes and calls to you—at midnight ?”
She had gone to Raymond, and put an arm about him, but she looked at Gareth with eyes that shone.
“God knows, Messire !” she said. “But there is some curse over us, some power that has lured my father and my brothers to their death. First my father—went—as though a Spirit had taken him ; then we heard cries— and a voice at midnight,, calling on my brothers to seek their sire. Two have gone where the voice led, and we have never seen their faces again. Now Raymond is called, and if he goes—I—Yvette—shall be left alone.”
Gareth stood holding the bridle of Raymond’s horse. His brows were knitted, and his eyes were grim and keen in the moonlight.
“Come,” he said suddenly. “There is some devil’s trick here. A stroke of the sword may end the mystery. I will take Raymond’*, place to-night.” The lad’s face flashed up to Gareth’s with a generous denial;
“No—Messire—no. Am I a coward that—?”
“I know that, lad, but I have come to my full strength. Let be—I will try my fortune. Lend me your horse, and fetch me my helmet out from the hall. The Cross I wear will keep the Devil from harming me.”
Raymond looked at him, and then his arms fell to his side.
“So be it, Messire,” he said sullenly, as though half glad, and half ashamed.
But Yvette had run into the hall to search for Gareth’s spear and helmet. lí 1
She came out, bearing them, her hair flooding over the burnished casque. Gareth had turned his surcoat so that the Cross should not betray him. He took the spear from Yvette’s hand and knelt for her to put the helmet upon him.
But before she covered his head with the casque, she stooped and kissed him, smiling a mysterious smile.
“God shall guard you, Messire,” she said, and Gareth felt his heart grow great and strong within him. .
Now Raymond left them, being sore with himself, and a little ashamed, and passing through the moonlit hall, made for the tower, to watch from its battlements what might happen. Gareth had ridden out before the lad had reached the platform, and holding his horse well in hand, was looking right and left over the moonlit meadows.
He had not seen a slight figure dart after him across the bridge, and follow at a little distance over the grass. It was Yvette, with her cloak drawn over her bosom, and her white feet wet with the heavy dew.
Gareth, alert as a man who knows not what manner of peril may be his at any moment, rode forward slowly, his eyes searching every bush and tree. About a furlong from the moat stood a clump of aspens, their leaves flickering very faintly in the moonlight, the straight stems of the tree* splashed with white light or blacken* ed with shadows. And Gareth heard
a voice calling to him from amid the aspen trees.
“Follow—follow!” it cried, “to the Monk’s Grave; there shall thy father meet with thee, and thy brethren— whom thou thinkest dead.” ,
And Gareth, reining in for the moment, saw a figure on a white horse go riding out across the meadows, spectral and strange through the mists that rose from the wet grass. The rider on the white horse looked to him like a woman, and the clothes of the rider were all a-glisten as though powdered over with frost. Moreover, the eyes of the horse seemed to shine as with fire, and the breath from his nostrils rose like smoke.
Gareth crossed himself, muttered a Pater Noster, and, seeing that his sword was loose in its scabbard, rode on after the figure on the white horse. And at a little distance Yvette of the Tower followed Gareth of Avranches, shivering with the cold of the misty meadows, yet strong in her faith to watch over the man who had taken this curse upon his head.
Now, this midnight rider led Gareth on towards the pine woods that rolled like a black flood from the hill-tops into the valley. A thousand pinnacles were touched by the moonlight, a wild tangle of branches latticed the light of the moon. The tall trunks rose like the pillars of some vast temple. A great silence covered the place, save for the trampling of Gareth’s horse.
The meadows had been, ghostly enough, but this moonlit wood seemed full of whisperings and shadows, and strange shapes that moved. The chequer of silver light that fell here and there upon the brown mast and •thin, wiry grass made the grim gloom around appear deeper. The figure on the white horse beckoned ahead, following a narrow way that climbed the long slope of the hill. And Gareth held on áfter it, feeling like a man in a land of ghosts, and wondering whether he would be struck döwn from behind some tree.
The way grew less steep of a sudden, yet Gareth, peering from under-
neath his helmet, found that he could no longer see the rider on the white horse. There was nothing but the straight alleyway between the trees,and a blur of moonlight ahead of him, as though he were coming to an open space amid the pines. And suddenly the woodland way opened before him, and he heard a voice calling :—
“Come—come, here is thy journey’s end.”
Now, before him, Gareth beheld a little clearing in the wood, not more than sixty paces from shade to shade, with the tree trunks like a palisade about it, and the grass short and sleek, and smooth. In the midst of the clearing stood a great black mound or barrow, half as high as Yvette’s tower. And a fir tree grew on the summit thereof, like a black plume on the crown of a helmet.
Gareth was looking about him for the guide who had led him, when suddenly there was a noise like the clashing of iron doors that seemed to come from the deeps of the mound. And a man on a great black horse leapt out as from the very heart of the earth itself, a man armed in black mail, with a blur of light upon his helmet, and a shield that shone like silver upon his arm.
He brandished his spear, and wheeled his horse to and fro, the beast’s hoofs tearing the grass. Then he turned towards Gareth, and laughed, and shook his shield.
“Guard—guard,” he shouted, backing his black horse, and fewtering his spear, “the eyes of Yvette shall look long for thee on the morrow.”
Now Gareth felt that he had mortal man to deal with, and that Yvette’s brothers had been slain here in the midst of the pine wood, and that there was some devilry that deserved the light of day. So he put his shield forward, kicked in the spurs, and charged in on the Black Knight without word or parley. And' the Black Knight’s spear set Gareth’s helm a-ringing, but Gareth smote the Black Knight over his horse’s tail,
Gareth threw his spear aside, and was out of the saddle with sword a-gleam, ready to give his man his quittance. But the Knight of the Mound was on his feet, and breathing hard through the bars of his helmet. He was a Dig man, and strong in the arms, and he came at the Norman with such good-will, that Gareth gave ground, keeping his shield up, hard put to it for a moment to save himself from the whirling sword. So he foined, and dodged, and kept his guard till the Black Knight’s first fury had tired him a little, for he was a man who fought like a giant for a while, but weakened with the weight and the fat he carried. Therefore Gareth watched his man, till he knew by his heavy breathing that the first flush was out of him.
Then the knight of Avranches gave a loud shout.
“Holy Cross—Holy Cross,” and the man in the black harness found lightning playing about his head. Tor Gareth beat about him with long, clean strokes, trying shoulder, thigh, and gorget, and baffling his man with the grim swiftness of his sword play. The Black Knight began to bleed at the throat. He was slow, overmatched, beaten to and fro about the mound.
Now Yvette had come to the clearing, and stood in the shadow, leaning against a tree, watching the men fighting, and dazed by the clangour of their blows. And as she stood there, she saw a figure in white dart out from the mound, pick up Gareth’s fallen spear, and creep forward to smite the Norman in the back.
Yvette’s heart stood still for a moment. Then she gave a shrill cry, and ran out into the moonlight, calling to Gareth to warn him of this treachery.
Gareth heard her voice, despite the hot blood drumming in his ears, and the trampling of their feet upon the grass. He turned, sprang aside two full paces in time to catch the lance point upon his shield. And in a flash he had cut off the head from the staff, and his sword overhung the figure in white, but the thing turned from him,
and fled streaking away into the darkness of the trees.
Again Yvette called to Gareth,
“Guard, Messire, guard!”
For the Black Knight had shaken the blood out of his eyes, and come by his breath again, and he rushed at Gareth, and tried to grapple him, but the Norman beat him back, and thrust at him with his shield. For Gareth had seen Yvette standing and watching in the moonlight, and for her sake his heart was grim in him, and great to make an end.
The Black Knight tottered with a blow upon the gorget, recovered, only to be smitten a second time upon the throat. He threw up his arms with a hoarse cry, his sword quivering in the moonlight, his shield jerking to and fro like the broken wing of a bird. Suddenly he fell forward upon his knees, and from his knees he sank upon his face. The fight and the life were out of him, and Gareth stood over him, and with his sword-point made certain of the doom.
He turned to Yvette, and the words that he was about to utter died in his throat, for crawling close to the girl, like a snake in the grass, was the white figure that had led him from the tower to the Monk’s Grave. Gareth sprang forward as the figure rose up at Yvette’s back.
“Fall, child—fall on your face!” he shouted.
Yvette gave one side glance and obeyed him, and the knife blade touched her shoulder, but missed the more fatal mark.
There was a flash and the whistle of a sword, flung like a curling brand at the figure in the white hood and tunic. The knife-bearer gave a low, dolorous cry, and fled away, with a red stain spreading upon its bosom. Gareth did not follow, but caught up Yvette in his arms, greatly afraid that the blow had given her her death. “Child—child—”
Her hair fell from her face, and she looked at him and smiled.
“It is nothing—a scratch of the shoulder—”
“Qur Lady be thanked,” said he.
the thanks are
He itood her upon her feet, and looked at her shoulder, finding but a faint red stain upon her sleeve. Then, since she seemed more precious to him because of the perils of the place, he fifted her upon his horse, mounted, and rode at a canter down through the wood-way towards the meadows.
“What does it mean, Messire?” she asked him, looking in his eyes.
“That you have a brave heart, child,” he answered her.
“Not that—but yonder—?”
Gareth stared at the moon.
“I have slain an enemy,” he said shortly. “To-morrow—'when it dawns, we will go and learn the truth.”
And she said no more, but suffered her head to rest upon his shoulder, for she was thinking how Rene, her father, and his two sons had been slain and hidden in those dark woods.
So they came to the tower, and told Raymond all that had passed, and the lad held Yvette in his arms and kissed' her, unable to scold in his gladness for her return.
When the dawn came, Gareth and the lad took their arms and their horses, and leaving Yvette in the tower, rode into the pine woods to the barrow on the hill. The place was very still and silent, with the first flush of the morning touching the tops of the tall trees. The knight’s black horse was still standing there, cropping the grass, with bridle trailing. And the Black Knight lay dead where Gareth’s sword had left him, the grass a deep purple about his body.
They turned him upon his back, and pulled off his helmet. And Raymond, when he saw his face, started up with a quick cry:
“Malvo de la Montagne!”
“He who should have been in Syria?”
But the lad »tood^«wed and silenced, understanding everything as he looked at the dead man’s ^ice.
Gareth had tumid, and walked towards the barrow. He called to Raymond suddenly, and itood pointing to an opening in the mound, an opening that had been concealed with masses of furze and litter. The Norman drew his sword, and went in with his shield forward. For the moment he could see nothing, because of the darkness of the place.
But when his eyes fathomed the deeps of that strange death chamber, he stepped hack suddenly, bearing back Raymond, who had pushed into the passage.
“The dead are here,” he said solemnly.
And sheathing his sword, he put his arm about the lad, and led him out into the sunlight. Then he turned the furze back over the opening, knowing that it was better that Raymond should not see what he had’ seen. For Sir Rene lay there wrapped in a green cloak, and on either side of him— Geoffrey and Guillaume in their armor. ’
So they rode back to the tower, Raymond hanging his head over his horse’s neck, grieving, yet glad that the curse had been dispelled. It was Gareth who told Yvette all that they had found in that barrow amid the pine trees on the hill. She listened to him silently, her hands crossed upon her bosom, realizing the fate from which Gareth had rescued her, and that Raymond’s life had been saved by his sword.
“What are my thanks, Messire!” she said, looking towards the ground, her face very wistful between the glimmerings of her hair.
Gareth of Avranches held' out his hands. .
“In the midst of your sorrow—I must not speak,” he answered, “but in all Normandy there is no hair like to thine.”
But the Normans in after years called Gareth’s lady, “Yvette—Moon in a Mist,” so it would appear that Gareth won his wife.