Stories from Chaucer Told to the Children - Janet Kelman
Very long ago there lived in Rome an Emperor who had a daughter called Constance. She was fair and good, and was loved by all who knew her.
When she was eighteen years of age a company of merchants came to Rome from Syria. They were treated with respect and honor, for they were very great merchants.
Their ships had often come to the port of Rome, and the people had pressed each other on the shore to see the bales of satin, dyed in rich colors of purple and blue and scarlet, that the Syrian seamen threw on land. The Romans enjoyed the heavy scent of the Eastern spices that filled the air. They liked to handle the elephants' tusks, that lay white and shining on the beach beside dark strips of ebony wood. So they welcomed the Eastern merchants; and those who had traded with them wished now to show them how beautiful the satin hangings they had bought from them still were, or how dainty the carving was on the ivory tusks.
Soon the merchants were made to feel at home in Rome. While they enjoyed themselves there, and made new friends, they heard the praise of the Emperor's daughter every day.
Something like this was what they heard: "Our Emperor of Rome, God bless him, bath a daughter so fair and good, that never since the world began hath there been one like her. May fortune smile upon her! She is worthy to be the queen of all the world. She is beautiful without pride, and young without folly. A pure conscience is her guide in all her ways. Humility hath made her gentle. She is the mirror of all courtesy. Her heart is the home of truth, and her hand the giver of kindnesses without number."
The merchants wondered why it was that they heard so much about Constance until they saw her themselves. Then they too loved her.
After many days they laded their ships with all that Rome could give them, and set sail for Syria. They reached their haven in safety and good fortune. When they came to their own town, all the neighbors gathered to see the beautiful things that they had brought from the West. Little amber-colored babies tumbled about amongst the blocks of white marble. Dark-eyed men and women leaned forward to see pictures made of stones and jewels of beautiful colors, and stood breathless before white alabaster statues.
Towards evening the merchants looked up and saw their camels as they returned across the desert, one behind another. The long line stretched far away into the east. As the first camel sailed into the courtyard, and knelt to be unladed, the merchants knew that they really were at home. They touched the packets of spices, and the ivory tusks from India, more tenderly than they had touched the rare things they had brought from Rome.
A few days after this a message came to them from the Sultan of Syria. The message bade them come at once to see him, and to tell him of their visit to Rome and of the great Emperor who reigned there, who sent out his armies into every country under the sun.
The merchants came to the palace. They saluted the Sultan, and bowed to the ground before him. When he asked them about Rome and about the Emperor, they told him many strange stories of the buildings and of the people of the city, and of the great battles of the Emperor. But no matter where they began, before their tale was ended, they always spoke of the Emperor's fair daughter Constance. If they spoke of the court, they said that she was the flower of it, more beautiful by far than any other,—so gracious too that even the stranger and the foreigner felt at ease in her presence. If they spoke of the people of Rome, then they said that everyone loved Constance, and that the poor owed their lives to her gifts. They told too that those who were sad thought of the gentleness with which she shared their grief, and those who were glad of the brightness with which she heard of their joy.
These merchants painted so bright a picture of this fair lady, that the Sultan loved the very thought of Constance, and wished to marry her and to share his throne with her.
He called his wise men and his courtiers to him, and told them that they must go to Rome in great ships and take gifts with them, and ask the Emperor to allow him to marry Constance.
The courtiers were greatly astonished when they heard this. They feared that the Emperor would not allow his daughter to marry the Sultan, because the laws of the two countries were not the same. The Syrians had not heard much about Christ, nor learned to do His will; they obeyed the prophet Mahomet. But the Emperor of Rome and his daughter worshipped Christ.
The courtiers tried to prove to the Sultan that the Emperor would never let his daughter marry one who did not serve Christ. But the Sultan only said, "I will become a Christian, and be baptized rather than lose Constance. I have no choice. My heart is hers. Peace to your words! Do my will!"
At last the ships were ready, and the Sultan watched his vessels sail away into the West to go to Rome.
When the Emperor heard why all the ships had come from Syria, he was sad. He did not wish to let his daughter go so far away to live amongst strangers. But when he heard that the Sultan had promised to serve Christ, he thought how grand a thing it would be if all the land of Syria became Christian, and he agreed to the marriage of Constance with the Sultan.
TO THEM SHE SEEMED A MARTYR.
All through Rome the command went that everyone must pray that God would bless the marriage and speed the voyage.
Constance was very sad. Her heart sank when she thought that she must leave her father and her mother and all her friends. She gazed at every room in her beautiful home and said good-bye to the trees and flowers in the garden she had played in so often. She walked through Rome and looked up at the buildings she had known from her childhood. She knelt for the last time in the church where she had first promised to serve and follow Christ. The poor people who loved her crept to her side in sorrow and kissed her robe, or gazed at her as she passed by. To them she seemed a martyr.
Too soon her wedding robes and her treasures were ready for her. Ships of Italy, with knights, ladies, and bishops from Rome, lay alongside the Syrian vessels, that Constance might arrive at her new home in such state as became an Emperor's daughter.
On the morning of the day on which she was to sail, Constance was overcome with sorrow. What wonder that she wept? "Father," she said, "thy poor child Constance, the daughter of thy tender care, Constance, thy child, commends herself to thy grace. These eyes shall never see thee more! Alas that I must go to Syria to strangers! May Christ, Who died for us, give me strength to do His will. What then will it matter though I perish!"
They led her to the ship. There she stepped forward bravely. "Christ be with you all!" she said.
"Farewell, fair Constance!" they answered, and watched her sail away into the distance. The Sultan of Syria wished to receive his bride royally. While he planned how he could please her best, a message came to him from his mother to say that she wished to welcome his young wife. She said also that she hoped he would bring his bride and all her friends to feast with her.
The Sultan was glad to find that his mother meant to be so kind, and he promised to bring Constance and the courtiers to her feast. Then he knelt to thank her, but he could scarcely speak for joy because he had feared that she would be unkind to his wife.
But the Sultan did not know what a wicked woman his mother was. Nor did he know that she had called many of his people to her, and had said to them:
"Ye know that my son means to marry this Roman woman and to cease to obey Mahomet. He has vowed that he will serve Christ. This is a fearful thing, but we cannot defy the Sultan openly, so let us pretend that we too will become Christians. Then I shall make a great feast, and while the feast is at its height, do you burst into the room, and slay every Christian man and woman."
It was not because this old woman cared about the worship of Mahomet that she planned this horrible thing. It was because she wished to rule the whole country herself.
When the Sultan heard that his ships from Rome had reached the Syrian shore, he sent messages through all the country to bid his nobles ride forth to welcome his bride. The first message he sent was to his mother.
Horses and camels with richly clad riders came from every side to meet the company from the ships. Foremost of all, and gayest of all, was the mother of the Sultan.
She received Constance as gladly and as kindly as her own mother could have done, but within her heart hate and cruelty raged. Constance tried to return her welcome graciously, but something made her shrink from it. She was very sad, and did not care for the great pomp and show with which she was welcomed. But when the Sultan himself came and knelt before her, a little hope sprang up in her heart. She was sure he was a true man. She thought she might learn to love him, and that it might not be so difficult as she had feared to be good and happy in Syria. As the days went on she became certain of it, and her smile was bright and sweet. She gave her Roman friends many messages to take to her father and mother. Each day these messages were brighter.
The Sultan's mother wished to hold her feast before the Romans sailed away. Everything was planned so that they might go on the morning after the feast. Constance did not like to think of the feast, because she did not trust the Sultan's mother, and she was sad to think that her friends must sail away when it was over. But when the day came, she put on her most royal robes, and looked bright and glad for her husband's sake.
In the midst of the feast a noise was heard. For some moments swords flashed and all was confusion. Then Constance was left alone with her wicked enemy. Her husband and many another lay dead beside her; and the men who had done this thing had fallen back out of sight. For a moment the two women stood face to face, and the Syrian trembled before the Roman girl.
Then Constance was seized and carried hastily to the shore, and on board a ship that lay in the harbor. In the ship there were clothes, food, and the treasure that she had brought with her. Her guards sprang off into a little boat that lay alongside. The anchor was hauled up into the boat, and the chain that fastened it to the ship was sawn across.
"Now you may learn to sail with none to steer, far from Syria back to Rome!" they shouted.
The wind blew from the land, and soon the ship was far away out at sea. Constance was alone on the great waters. She knelt in terror. "Thou who art Lord of fortune be my Steersman!" she pleaded. "If it shall be that I must sink in the deep, keep me from all evil things that dwell therein. Keep me and grant me Thy grace, O Christ!"
For a long time she knelt there. She could not tell how long the time had been. She was roused by the tossing of the vessel. A great storm had risen, and the ship danced amongst the waves like a little bit of cork. Every moment it seemed to Constance that the next wave must cover the ship and bury both it and her deep in the water. She crept along the deck a little way to get to the hold of the ship, for the waves wet her through and through. Before she had gone many yards, she stumbled over the anchor chain and fell stunned on the deck.
When she awoke, the sun was shining brightly on her, and the sky was blue above her. At first she could not think where she was, but soon everything came back to her memory. She wondered how it was that she had not been washed over-board in the storm. She tried to rise, but could not. Then she found that the anchor chain over which she had stumbled had caught her and kept her safe. When she freed herself from the chain, she tried to lift it up to wind it round the pillar to which it was fastened, lest it should lash itself about in some other storm as it had done before. But she was too weak and faint to carry the heavy links of the chain. She let them drop again, and stumbled to the hold of the ship to get food.
When she came to the hold, she found two stone pitchers that had been filled with water lying on the ground. She saw that one of them was broken, but she did not think what that meant. She wanted something to eat.
A bunch of dates lay where the pitcher had fallen when the ship tossed so wildly. She sat down and ate them up. Then she looked round to see what else there was. She found some barley-cakes, and when she had eaten them she began to feel thirsty, and went to the pitchers to get water. The broken one had none in it at all, and the other had only a little left in it as it lay on its side. Then Constance thought of what she should do when this little drop of water was gone.
She could let her pitcher over the side of the ship and draw up salt water to wash with, but she could not drink salt water.
Constance took a very little water out of the pitcher and sipped it eagerly. She saw that she must make this water last till rain came again, and that then she must put her pitcher on the deck, where it would catch as much rain water as it could hold.
But it was many days before rain came, and Constance was terribly thirsty. When at last the sky did grow grey, and heavy drops began to fall, Constance took a great box in which her jewels had lain and carried it on to the deck too. She knew that it would hold water enough to last her a long time.
After many days she saw the mountains of Italy. She knew them at once, because she had watched them so long and so sadly as she sailed to Syria.
Her heart beat wildly. Would her ship turn towards them? It was sailing in clear shallow water. Beneath her she could see rocks bedded in sand.
"Ah!" she cried, "if I only had an anchor, that I might stay my vessel's course until the wind blows towards those beautiful mountains!"
With busy haste she gathered all the heaviest things she could find, even the great jeweled crown the Sultan had given her, and fastened them on to the anchor chain. Her hands were torn and bleeding ere she had tied the last rope tight. She could not lift the heavy mass from the ground, so she pushed it to the side of the ship and hurled it overboard. It fell into the water with a great splash and sank. For a few moments the ship still moved on, dragging this strange anchor after it. Then the crown caught tight amongst the rocks, and the ship lay at anchor.
As Constance moved about the ship that day her heart was full of hope. Suddenly the ship sprang forward. Constance ran to the chain. It lay loose on the deck. She pulled it in. It came at once, and the loose end showed the marks of a saw where a link had broken. The link had been half sawn through in the boat on the Syrian shore, and Constance had not noticed when she weighted the chain. Poor Constance! She saw the jewels in her crown sparkling in the water as the ship sailed on under the mountains that meant home to her—on and on, till they were far behind.
Constance stood with her hands clasped tightly, but still she did not give up hope. Some other wind, perhaps, would come to drive her back again!
But no wind ever came to blow Constance back. When her ship did at last stick fast in the sand, it was not on the coast of Italy, but on a dull grey shore in Northumberland. High above her as she looked to landward she saw a castle. She did not know whether to be glad or sad. For though land and safety would be sweet to her, she feared lest the people of this strange country would be as powerful and as cruel as the Syrians had been.
After she had watched the shore for hours, she saw a tall old man come striding down to the ship. He had many servants with him, but he left them behind him and crossed the sands alone. When Constance saw him she hid herself in the hold of the ship and waited. The man climbed up the side of the vessel and searched it. When he came to the hold he was full of wonder. Before him lay gems and gold in a heap. Constance had had to put them on the floor when she emptied the box for the rain water. Beside the jewels lay beautiful dresses of brocade and golden cloth, and behind these Constance herself sat trembling. Her face was worn and weather-beaten, but she was very beautiful still. Her hair lay softly on her forehead, and her tearful eyes shone more brightly than the gems!
She did not know if this stranger would understand her words, but she said to him:
"I pray thee, of thy gentleness, to slay me. So sad am I, that I no longer wish to live." The man could not understand every word that she said, but he knew what she meant, because she spoke in Latin, and he had read some Latin books. He told her that he was keeper of the castle, and that his king, Alla, was far away in Scotland at the wars.
Then he took Constance home with him to his castle. He called for his wife Hermegild and said to her, "See what I have brought to thee from the sea!"
He turned to Constance and said, "Who art thou, and how camest thou hither?" Constance feared to tell who she was lest the mother of the Sultan should hear and trouble her still more, so she said:
"Ask me not, I pray thee: the sea has wearied me, so that many things are forgotten by me. Also of those things that I remember, there are many that I would gladly forget."
So he pressed her no more, but listened while she told of her voyage, and when he and his wife heard of her sufferings they wept for pity.
In shorter time than she could have believed, Constance grew happy and bright in the English castle. All day long she was busy. She tried to please all who dwelt there, and soon they loved her.
Constance heard that all the Christians in that land had been driven into exile, except a few who served Christ in secret.
Hermegild the keeper's wife loved Constance very much. She had never known anyone who was so good and true before, and she wondered what it was that made Constance better than everyone else she knew.
Sometimes she found Constance on her knees. Then she said, "To whom dost thou pray? And is it from thy God that thy goodness comes?"
After that Constance often spoke to her of Christ and told her the story of His life and death, till Hermegild loved Him too, and became His servant.
One day, when Hermegild and Constance passed a hut near the castle, they heard the sound of singing. As they listened they knew that the words were the words of a Christian hymn. They went into the hut and found three old men there, one of whom was blind. Hermegild said, "How is it that ye dare to sing those words in this land?"
"Lady," the blind man replied, "we had no money with which to buy food had we left our home and gone into exile. We serve our Lord in secret. How dost thou know that the words we sing are the words of the followers of Christ?"
"Brothers," said Hermegild, "I know, because I too serve Christ in secret. I would that I had strength to tell my husband of my faith, but I fear his anger."
Not long after this the keeper of the castle and his wife and Constance walked on the shore together. It was a bright sunny day, and they were very happy.
While they talked together they met the blind man they had seen in the hut. He heard Hermegild's voice, but he did not know that her husband was with her. He greeted her joyfully and said, "The blessing of Christ be with thee!" Hermegild was in terror till Constance said quietly to her, "Thou must suffer Christ's will in all things as a little child."
Then the keeper of the castle said, "What meaneth this?"
"Sir," said Constance, "it is the great power of Christ that Hermegild bath felt." Then she began to tell the keeper of the castle the same beautiful story that she had told to Hermegild. Before evening time that day he too had begun to serve and honor Christ.
In the town that lay nearest to the castle dwelt a knight who was cruel and wicked. He wished to marry Constance, and to get her gold and gems for himself. Constance did not wish to marry him. She did not love him, and she was very happy with Hermegild.
When the knight heard that Constance would not marry him, he was so angry that he wished to hurt her. He thought of a most cruel thing to do.
One night, when the keeper of the castle had gone to meet the king, the knight entered the castle and slew Hermegild. Then he threw his weapon into the room where Constance slept, that every one might think that she had killed her friend.
When the keeper of the castle returned with King Alla he found his wife dead. He wept and wrung his hands in sorrow. When the knife was found in Constance's room she knew not what to say. She was dazed with grief.
All that had happened was told to King Alla. He heard too of the strange way in which Constance had come to that land. When he saw her his heart was full of pity that so gentle and beautiful a creature should fall into such misfortune. She stood before the King silent and bewildered like a poor lost lamb. Beside her stood the false knight, who said that she had done this thing.
There was great murmuring amongst the people. They said, "We cannot believe that she hath done this cruel deed."
Those who had lived in the castle with her said, "She loved Hermegild; she could not slay her."
But ever the false knight said, "The knife was found in her room. There was no one else there." The King asked a great many questions, for he was very unwilling to let Constance be put to death.
While he delayed the trial Constance fell on her knees. "Immortal God," she said, "Thou Who hast saved many an one from false blame, if I be guiltless, save Thou me! Otherwise I must die!"
Then this young maid stood up alone in all the crowd. Her face was white, and those who looked on her knew that she faced death; but she was calm and brave.
King Alla was so sorrowful that the tears ran down his cheeks, but he could see no way in which to save her from death.
Once more he called the false knight. He bade him stand beside Constance, where he could be seen by everyone, and said, "Wilt thou swear that this young maid hath slain Hermegild?"
The false knight began:
"I swear that Constance—"
But ere he had spoken another word, he lay still and senseless on the courtyard. The King and all his court were frightened at this strange judgment. The King said sternly to Constance:
"By what means hast thou slain the knight who did accuse thee?"
"I wrought it not," she said, "but Christ Who is my Lord!"
Then once again she told the story of Christ that she had told to Hermegild and to the keeper of the castle. The King and all the people listened eagerly. And before many weeks had passed Christ was worshipped throughout the land.
King Alla often thought of Constance as he had seen her stand before him in her sorrow, and of all her grace and beauty.
He loved her so much that one day he said to her, "Constance, thou holy maid, most fair and radiant, wilt thou be my queen?"
Constance raised her face to his and answered, "I will."
Not long afterwards wedding bells rang joyfully throughout the land. The people who heard them were joyful too for the love that they had to Alla and to Constance.
Only one woman was sad because of this marriage. She was Alla's proud mother Donegild. She could not bear to think that her son had married a woman who had come to his land alone and in so strange a way. She did not pretend to be kind to Constance, but shut herself up in her own castle and kept away from the court.
Alla and Constance lived in joy together for a long time. Then the King had to go to Scotland to fight his foes in the north. While he was away a little son was born. Constance was very happy. She only wished that her husband would come home to see her baby boy.
The keeper of the castle wrote to King Alla and told him of the birth of his son and how beautiful the baby was. Then he called a messenger and sent him off to the camp where the King was, with this letter.
He told him to go in haste and to enter no house by the way.
But the messenger wished to win the goodwill of Donegild. So he went out of his way that he might pass her home. When he came to her castle and stood before Donegild, he said:
"Madam, rejoice and give thanks! My lady queen hath borne a son to the joy of all the land. Behold the letter in which I bear the tidings to the King with all the haste I may! If thou hast any message for the King, I am thy servant."
"Tarry thou here till tomorrow. Then shalt thou bear a packet to the King from me." The messenger replied: "Madam, I dare not; the keeper of the King's castle charged me to tarry no whither. Already I risk my life to bring thee these tidings."
"Dost thou think," said Donegild, "that the King's mother cannot save thee from the power of the keeper of his castle? I command thee to wait my pleasure."
At night the messenger tried to keep awake that he might guard his letter for the King, but he had taken too much of Donegild's wine, and he fell fast asleep.
While he was sleeping Donegild stole up to him and took away his letter. She carried it to another room. There she broke the seal, and read the letter. Then she wrote another letter. She tried to make her writing look like the writing of the keeper of the castle, but the words she wrote were very different. She said:
"The Queen's child is so hateful to look at that no one will stay in the castle beside it. Queen Constance is doubtless a wicked spirit who has come to this land to bewitch us all and to work our ruin." Then she copied the name of the keeper of the castle, in order that the King might think that he had written the letter and sealed the packet with the royal seal. She stole back to the messenger, slipped the letter into his bag, and left him still asleep.
Next morning the messenger hurried on with this letter and the packet from Donegild to the King. He did not know that the keeper's letter was destroyed.
The King was very sad when he read Donegild's letter. He sat down at once and wrote to the keeper of the castle. In his letter he said:
"Welcome be the will of Christ for evermore, to me who now have learned of Him. His will alone I desire in all things. Keep this child, whether it be fair or fearsome, till my return, and keep my wife the Queen safely, I command thee."
He wept as he sealed this letter. Then he sent it to the keeper of the castle by the same messenger. But the man went again by Donegild's castle, and again he was commanded to wait; and again Donegild stole his letter and changed what it said.
Donegild wrote as if it were from the King: "On pain of death I command thee that thou allow not Constance my wife to remain in this country four days longer. Place thou her, and her young child, and all her treasure, in the ship in which she came to this shore. Charge thou her also never to return. Then let the vessel be pushed from the shore, and cast adrift."
When the keeper of the castle took this letter from the messenger and read it, he rose and walked up and down his room.
"Alas," he said, "alas, alas, some terrible judgment shall fall on us for such a wicked deed as this! Alas, fair Constance, that I must torture thee, or die a shameful death!"
When the news of the King's order spread through the land, everyone was full of horror. Even old men and women, who had lived through many hardships, wept when they thought of the fair young child and his mother on the sea.
The keeper of the castle did all he could to lessen the terror of the voyage. He fixed great tanks on the deck that Constance might always have water. He gave her an anchor also that she might throw it out and stay her vessel if she came near any fair land.
On the fourth day Constance walked down from the castle to the ship. The terror of the nights and days of her last voyage came back to her. "This time," she thought, "my little child must suffer too."
Her face was deathly white, but she did not weep nor complain. She turned to the weeping people who crowded around her, and said, "I welcome all the will of Christ. He Who saved me from the death of a murderer while I was with you, can keep me from harm on the deep. Strong is He still as then. In Him I trust. To me He will be wind and sail and pilot."
Her little child lay weeping in her arms. She drew him close to her and whispered, "Peace! little son, I will not harm thee."
Then she covered his eyes with her neckerchief, lulled him to sleep in her bosom, and murmured, "O Thou Who pitiest the sorrowful, pity my child!"
Again she crooned to the child: "O little child, what hast thou done amiss? How can it be that thy stern father wills that thou shouldst die?"
"Have mercy, dear friend!" she cried to the keeper of the castle, "let my babe live with thee if I must go, and if thou darest not save him, yet kiss him once in his father's name!"
She stepped on board the ship and sailed away once more into the darkness. "Farewell, thou pitiless husband!" she cried, as she looked back on the land where she had found so sweet a home.
Meanwhile King Alla hurried home to see his wife and child, and to know for himself what the keeper's letter had failed to tell him. When he saw the keeper of the castle, he asked for them.
The keeper turned cold with fear. His heart beat so that he could scarcely speak. He took the King's letter from his bosom, gave it to him to read, and said, "Lord, I have done as thou didst command me!"
The King was overcome with grief. And when he heard that the child was no fearsome creature, but a lovely boy, he grew terribly angry.
The messenger was called. He confessed that he had gone to Donegild's castle, and that he had slept there.
It was proved that Donegild had written the letters. She was slain, but her death did not help Alla to bear his sorrow for Constance. Night and day he thought of her and of what she might be suffering. When he walked or rode, when he went out or came in, he remembered how sweet everything was when Constance was with him. Then he thought of the beautiful boy, his son, and wondered whether he still lived.
For five years Constance and her boy tossed about on the sea. They were not altogether unhappy, for they had each other. As the boy grew older, his mother thanked God that she was no longer alone.
Through the long days Constance told him many tales of heroes and of saints; but however many questions he asked, she would tell him nothing of his father. She could not bear to speak of him. She loved him. When her boy lay asleep she walked up and down the deck, or knelt at the prow, and wondered what could have made King Alla write so strange a letter. She thought that perhaps he had been bewitched.
WHEN HER BOY LAY ASLEEP AT THE PROW.
Long before this time, the Emperor of Rome had heard of the death of the Christians in Syria, and of the dishonor that had been done to Constance. In his wrath he sent his armies to Syria to punish the mother of the Sultan and those who served her. For years the war had raged. Now the Emperor's ships were on their way back to Rome, crowned with victory, and laden with spoils.
As they sailed towards Rome with gay flags flying from their masts, they met a battered ship that drove helplessly before the wind. In it sat Constance with her little boy.
The general took them on board his ship, but Constance did not dare to tell him who she was. She was sure that if the Emperor, her father, knew how Alla had behaved to her, he would send his armies to destroy him.
The general took Constance and her son home to his wife. She was the Emperor's sister, but Constance was so greatly changed that her aunt did not know her. She was still as good and true as of old, and once more she won the love of all with whom she dwelt.
But far away in Britain King Alla grew more restless as the years passed on. He could not forget Constance, and he mourned for her more sadly day by day. At last he vowed that he would go on pilgrimage to Rome.
His heralds came to Rome before him. When they told that the great King Alla was on his way to Rome on pilgrimage, the general in whose house Constance lived rode forth to meet him and to welcome him. King Alla and the general showed all honor to each other, and in a few days the general was asked to go to feast with King Alla.
During all the time since the heralds had spoken of King Alla's coming, Constance had known neither what to do nor what to say. She longed to know if her husband was still as hard-hearted as he was when he sent her away, but she dared not go herself to find out.
When she heard of this feast she said to the general, "Wilt thou do me this great kindness, that thou take my son Maurice with thee, that he may see the great King Alla?" Maurice was a beautiful boy, and was loved by the general, who gladly took him to the feast.
While everyone ate and drank, King Alla suddenly saw Maurice as he stood before him. He caught the arm of the general to steady himself, for Maurice was so like Constance that the sight of him made King Alla tremble all over.
"Whose is that fair child that standeth yonder?" he said.
"Truly I know not," the general answered. "He hath a mother, but I know nothing of his father." Then he told King Alla how the child was found, and added, "In all my life I have never seen a woman, be she maiden, wife, or mother, so pure and true as is his mother."
The face of Constance lived ever in King Alla's heart, and in this child he saw that face again. Could the child's mother be his wife? he wondered. He was so moved that he fled from the feast. One moment he said to himself, "I am mad, I am mad! My wife is certainly drowned in the salt sea!" The next moment he said, "How do I know? Christ may have brought my wife hither by sea as safely as He sent her to my land."
Alla went home with the general. When Constance heard that he had come, and that he wished to see her, she shook so much that she could scarcely walk, yet for her boy's sake she would not refuse to see him.
When Alla saw his wife he wept. He knew her at the first glance. But she stood silent as marble in her sorrow. Her heart was full of sadness when she thought of his cruelty. He pleaded with her. "Constance, my wife, I am as guiltless of thy harm as is Maurice, my son, with his fair face, so like, so like to thine!"
It was a long time before he could make Constance understand that he had never written the cruel letter which had caused all her sorrows.
When at last she knew that he had always loved her, and that he had suffered as much sorrow through that woeful letter as she had done, and when she let him take her in his arms and kiss her, their joy was greater than all other gladness. Then Constance told her husband that the Emperor was her father, and begged King Alla to ask him to feast with him next day.
King Alla and his little son went together to the Emperor, who promised to come to the feast at Alla's court. But ever as he spoke to them his gaze rested on Maurice, and he sighed as he thought of the young daughter whom he had lost so long ago.
When all was ready for the feast Alla and his wife rode out to meet the Emperor. When Constance saw her father she lighted from her horse and knelt before him.
"Father," she said, "hast thou forgotten thy young child Constance? I am thy daughter, thy little Constance that thou didst send to Syria long ago. It is I, father, that was set afloat to die, alone on the salt sea. Dear father, send me no more to heathen lands, but thank my lord and husband for his care of me."
The old Emperor leapt from his horse and clasped his daughter in his arms. But who can describe the joy and gladness of the feast in Alla's court that day?
Soon King Alla had to leave Rome. Once more Constance sailed away from Italy, but this time her heart was glad and free. Beside her stood her husband and her boy.
In Northumberland the news spread that Alla's ships were in sight. The aged keeper of the castle came to the water's edge to meet his King. Behind him the people old and young pressed forward to welcome their royal master. The keeper of the castle was growing blind. He could not see the ships till they were close at hand. He heard strange whispers in the crowd.
"What is it?" he said. "What say ye amongst yourselves?" "Is the King dead?" he asked another, for he had so often heard evil tidings, that he feared to hear any new thing.
"It is the Queen!" they said.
"And the King is with her."
"At her side stands a beautiful boy."
"He must be Maurice!"
"He is Maurice!"
"May the Prince live!" "May the Prince live!" they shouted; and the feeble voice of the keeper of the castle echoed, "May the Prince live!"