“Son,” said he, “thou hast been happy here?”
The keen eyes were fixed upon me, and I could not but answer the truth, even had I wished to lie.
“Yes, holy father,” I answered.
“And thou wouldst stay here ever?” The eyes were still upon me, and they searched my soul as a bright flush, I knew, rose to my cheek, and I hesitated how to answer. Then suddenly, as I stood in doubt, they seemed to change, and it was as if sunlight gleamed over a landscape that before lay dark and grim, for the abbot smiled upon me with the kindest of all smiles. “Thou feelest no calling to the cloister and the cowl, the book and the pen, the priesthood, and the life of prayer?”
“Ah, no, holy Father.” I had gained my tongue, and spoke boldly, if reverently. “Books and prayer are good; but I am young, and there is a world beyond these grey walls, and my kinsmen fight and do rather than pray or read.”
“The eaglet beats his wings against his cage already,” said the abbot, kindly; “it is indeed a shapely bird. Thou art right, lad. There is a world outside, where men strive and fight and do—how blindly and how wildly thou knowest not. But the battle is not to the strong or the race to the swift, though so it seem. Go, then, out into the world boldly but warily, and be thou a good soldier, as thou art a good scholar. Thine uncle shall know of these words between us.”
I knelt again and kissed his hand, and left his broad and pleasant chamber.
And outside I strolled upon the green, dim vague thoughts surging up swift into my mind, as I went striding on swifter than I knew. Ere long I reached the extreme limit of the land, the high-piled rocks of L’Ancresse. I looked out upon the sea to where Auremen lay flat and wide against the sky, and I thought I could descry the Norman shores and La Hague Cape stretching towards me; and, though I knew no home but the Vale Cloister, another voice of home seemed calling me over thither. A voice in which battlecries and trumpet-blasts were strangely mingled; and I seemed to see men fighting and striving, and banners and pennons flying; and a voice seemed to spring up from my soul, bidding me go forth, and fight and strive with them, and gain something—I knew not what.
I knew not then; but I know now, what that voice was, that yearning, that discontent with the past. It was the Norman blood rising within me, the blood of force, and battle, and achievement. Surely there is something in us Normans—a hidden fire, which sends us forth and onwards, and makes us claim what we will for our own! And having claimed it, we fight for it, and fighting we win it. So with Tancred of Hauteville, so with Rou, so with William. Will of iron, heart of fire! A grand thing it is to be born a Norman.
Of Vale Castle, hard by the Abbey, and how I was sent with a letter to Archbishop Maugher, and by the way first saw the Sarrasin pirates at work.