“Now, look you,” said Hugo, “we shall have no more storming, unless they find greater forces.”
“What then?” said I.
“Next will they come like Brother Mole,” he said, “with his long tunnel under earth. And then, if that fail—as God grant it may—they will trust to a surer aide-de-camp that I fear the most. His step is heard already—”
“And who is he—this friend who will aid them best?”
“Hush! Whisper it not, Nigel, abroad to dishearten any; but we have but three weeks’ provisions here for so many mouths, or a month’s at the most, if we be wary in giving rations.”
“Then their friend is——”
“Famine!” said Hugo, grimly.
How I was sent forth by my lord abbot to seek the
protection of Duke
William, and of what befell me by the way of the pirates.
That night there was restless sleeping in Vale Castle and but rough quarters, but no assault nor alarm.
Next morning there was singing of “Non nobis” and “Te Deum” to boot by the brethren assembled in martial conclave on the open lawn. Their church was destroyed and its beauty perished; but said Abbot Michael—
“Lo, brethren, here be your choir these days, here your House of God. See, its pillars are the Lord’s, and they fear no sacrilegious hand; see, its arch is the heaven, and its roof the sunlit sky, and for music to our chant hear the lapping of the waves that God hath set in their bed below.” So, with comforting words, did he restore our courage, as we thought sadly of the ruined cloister, whose smoke yet went up pitifully to the sky.
And shortly after these solemn offices I was taken by Hugo to the abbot’s presence, in the little chamber he had on the seaward wall. Very strange and careworn he was.
“Son,” he said, greeting me with a sweet dignity, “thou hast done well already in the profession thou hast chosen, as I hear by good report of all, and indeed so comes out in thee the prowess of a noble race. Thou seest what straits the brethren are in by this blockade and siege?” He pointed seaward and landward. “And that, should help come not, a deadlier enemy than the Sarrasin himself will strive with us—the famine with the sword. Thou knowest all this?”
Now, as he spake, I guessed why he spake thus, and so right boldly I replied, with a straight look in his eyes—
“Ay, my lord, right well I know. Send me, therefore, now, whither thou thinkest well, for succour in this day of extremity!”
His eye brightened at my words, and he and Hugo looked gladly at one another, and Hugo said, with low voice, proudly—
“Our Father, the abbot, hath chosen thee, my esquire, and a proud mission it is, being assured of thy strength and truth of heart, to be his messenger to our sovereign lord the duke, and to inform him of the dangers of his faithful bedesmen here, and of the arrogance of their foes and his own. To-night thou wilt start on a noble and knightly enterprise.”