And then our worst fears were realized. It was late one evening, I stood at the cloister gate, and on the white road that led to the chateau I saw a figure I seemed to know; but kind heavens, what a figure I It was good Brother Ralf indeed! But his white skirts were slit in rags, his ankles bleeding with sore wounds; he stooped and tottered as he walked, and, horror! that women’s sons should do such deeds, his ears had been hacked and hewn away, and his head hung bloody on his breast whereon a strip of parchment said—
The envoy of Michael
to William returns from Geoffroy to Michael.
More such will follow, and Geoffroy himself ere long cometh to do
unto Michael likewise for his courtesies. Salut.
In a horror I summoned up the brothers, as they trooped out from compline-prayer, and two of the stoutest bore Ralf gently to the refectory. There, drugs and good care brought the life back to his eyes, and he smiled on us as though half in fear that we were foes.
We would have had him speak; but he spake not. And the abbot came, calm and unmoved yet, but a glitter of keen light kept glancing lightning-like from his eyes, and he said, as he stood by the settle whereon he lay—
“Speak, dear son—speak to us thy brethren.”
Ralf struggled, and raised his heavy hand, and but babbled without meaning.
A quick burst of colour rushed into the abbot’s face. Calm, stately, still, with a very blaze of anger hidden in his eyes, that we trembled again, he stood with that red glow in his cheeks.
“He speaks not—for he is distraught,” he said. “What shall God do to men that rob their brothers of His noblest gift—the gift of reason?”
For a moment he stood in prayer, and then raised his shapely hand and blessed him thrice, and then bid us bear him to the sick-house, where sisters nursed him tenderly to life, and won him back much of strength and health—but never the gift, the abbot called God’s noblest gift—for he had left that for ever behind in the chateau on the hill.
Now, this Brother Ralf had set out three weeks before in a trader’s bark that sailed for Granville Harbour in Normandy. And he had borne most urgent missives from our abbot to Duke William. In them was writ how that a castle of ill-fame was already built, in them that the arch-foe himself, that so harried St. Brieuc with a very fleet of ships, either lay in the harbour, or in the new chateau.
But thus three things we knew. First, that as yet Duke William had had no word of the evil presumption of this foul settler in the isle, and could therefore send none to destroy him, and that therefore we had for the time naught but our own hands and walls to succour us. And next, we understood, that there was indeed between Le Grand Geoffroy and ourselves war that none could stay with prayer or supplication to men or to God. For whereas he knew we had sent to the duke, the sternest sweeper from land or