My uncle had with great ease overcome, as a high noble may, all obstacles in our path; and assuring all who questioned, that indeed we came on business that could not wait, he won his way in an hour where I alone might have wasted days, such walls of state there are around the great ones of the earth.
But with a smile and a good word to one, a meaning whisper of secret import to another, a high hand and a proud look to a third, he passed through all barriers with me at his heels; and at length we were led by a high noble through sundry gates into a broad level mead, all green and close-shaven by the scythe, where many targets stood, and amid a bevy of noble gentlemen Duke William himself saw to the training of his archers.
Now it was easy, even in that noble throng, to see who was the duke and master of the company, not by rich apparel or device of royalty, but by simple glory of manhood. He stood well above the tallest there, gentle or simple. His great bulk had not yet hid his fair proportions, though in girth and weight he outstripped the rest. On a strong neck like a broad column his full round head rested, and frank and straight his wide-open eyes gazed forth on men, masterful and proud.
Here was a man that hid not his passion or his feeling—one that could hide naught. Afterwards the very force of mastery and passion left their impress on William’s face, but when I first saw him there, in the full glory of a man’s honour and strength, I gave him my boyhood’s worship, for that I knew he was a king of men.
He was busy with his archers, and minded not our approach.
“Blind dolt!” he cried. “Such a flight would harm none! See here!” He drew the great wooden bow he carried right back to the breast, and the arrow sped sharp and clean from the twanging cord, and hit the mark plain in the middle with a mighty force. “Now—hard and straight!” he said, as the archer essayed his shot again. Then seeing us approach, “Vicomte, good morrow.”
“My lord duke,” said mine uncle, “with pain I disturb thee; but thou wilt agree that our matter would not wait.”
“Then tell it quickly,” said William.
“My lord of Bee sends forth my nephew with this letter,” said the Vicomte.
“Then let him ope and read it.”
With a great awe I read Lanfranc’s sage words to the duke. Careless and moody he stood when I began with his high titles, but he let me read. But he awoke as he heard of the Sarrasin, and hot anger filled his face. I read on steady and slow till I came to the name of Maugher, and at that there was a very storm in his eyes.
“Give me the letter!” said he; and he snatched it, gazed an instant on it, and ground it the next moment into the sod with his iron heel.
He raged up and down in a passion, heedless of us and of his archers. Then he recovered himself.
“And the monks are shut in by the Moors?” he said to me.