Stories from Chaucer Told to the Children - Janet Kelman
Once upon a time a young knight, whose name was Arviragus, dwelt in Brittany. In the same country lived a beautiful lady called Dorigen. And the knight loved the lady.
For years Arviragus did not know whether she loved him or not. She was a great lady and very fair, and he was afraid to ask her. But she knew that he loved her, for when he rode past her window on his way to the wars, she could see her colors streaming from his helmet. At first she did not think much of this, for many knights fought for love of her; but as she heard of new and greater deeds that this noble knight did year by year, she began to care for him a great deal. When she thought of his goodness and of the honor in which he held her, she knew that there was no one else that she could love as she loved Arviragus. And when Arviragus knew that she loved him and was willing to be his wife, his heart was full of joy. So greatly did he wish to make Dorigen happy with him, that he said to her that he would obey her and do what she wished as gladly all his life as he had done while he was trying to win her love. To this she replied:
"Sir, since in thy great gentleness thou givest me so high a place, I pray to God that there may never be strife between us two by any fault of mine. Sir, I will be thy true and humble wife until I die."
Then Arviragus took his bride home with him to his castle by the sea. He honored Dorigen as much as he had done before his marriage, and tried to fulfil her wishes in everything. Dorigen was just as eager to please Arviragus as he was to please her, and they were happy together in all their work and play.
Arviragus stayed quietly at home for a year, but after that he grew restless. He felt that no true knight had a right to live on quietly at home, with nothing to do except to order his castle and to hunt. So he sailed away to England that he might win honor and renown in the wars there.
Dorigen stood by the castle and watched his sails disappear in the north. Poor Dorigen! Her husband was gone, and she did not know if he would ever come back to her. For weeks she wept and mourned. At night she could not rest, and by day she would not eat. All the things that she had cared most to do were now dull and worthless to her because Arviragus was away.
Her friends saw her sorrow, and tried to comfort her in every way they could. When they found she would not be comforted, they spoke harshly to her, and told her that it was very wrong of her to kill herself with sorrow, when Arviragus hoped to come home again strong and famous. Then they began to comfort her again, and to try to make her forget her sadness.
After a long time Dorigen's sorrow began to grow quieter. She could not have lived if she had always felt her grief as deeply as she did at first. Indeed, as it was, this sorrow would have broken her heart if letters had not come from Arviragus. They brought her tidings of his doings, and of the glory he had won. But what comforted her most was that he told her that he would soon return.
When Dorigen's friends saw that she was less hopeless, they begged her to come and roam with them to drive away the last of her dark fears. This she did. Often she walked with them by the edge of the cliffs on which her castle stood. But there she saw the white ships and the brown barges sailing, one north, another south, to the havens for which they were bound. Then she would turn away from her friends and say to herself:
"Alas! of all the ships I see, is there never one that will bring my lord home? Then should I need no comfort. My heart would be cured of this bitter smart."
At times as she sat and thought, she leant down and looked over the brink of the cliffs. But, when she saw the grisly, black rocks, her very heart trembled within her. Then she would sink down on the grass and wail:
"O God, men say Thou hast made nothing in vain, but, Lord, why hast Thou made these black, grisly rocks? No man nor beast is helped by them in all the world. Rocks have destroyed a hundred thousand men, and which of all Thy works is so fair as man? No doubt wise men will say, $$"All is for the best."$$ But, oh Thou God, who makest the winds to blow, keep Thou my lord! And—would to God that these black rocks were sunk in the deep for his sake! They slay my heart with fear."
Dorigen's friends saw that the sea brought back her sorrow. They led her then by rivers and springs, and took her to every lovely place they knew, from which there was no glimpse of the sea.
In the valley, to landward of the castle, lay many beautiful gardens. One day in May, when the soft showers of spring had painted in brightest colors the leaves and flowers, they spent the whole day in the fairest of these gardens. They had games there, and they dined under a spreading tree. The breath of the fresh green leaves and the sweet scent of the flowers blew round them.
After dinner they began to dance and sing,—everyone except Dorigen. She had no heart to sing, and she would not dance because, of all who joined in the dance, not one was Arviragus. But, though she would not dance, she watched her friends and some-times forgot her sorrow for a little.
Amongst the dancers there was a young squire named Aurelius. He was much beloved because he was young, and strong, and handsome. Men thought him wise and good, but he was not always wise and good. When the dancing was over, Aurelius came up to Dorigen and asked her to give him a beautiful jewel that she wore on her breast. He said to her, "Madam, of what use is thy jewel to thee when thou wearest it on thy bosom? Give it to me, and I will share with thee the price of it."
'ALAS! OF ALL THE SHIPS I SEE IS THERE NEVER ONE THAT WILL BRING MY LORD HOME?'
Dorigen turned and gazed at him.
"Is this what thou dost wish? I knew not what thou didst mean when thou didst look at me, but now I know. Listen, this is all I have to say to thee. I shall never part with my jewel, not though I were in rags and without food."
Then she remembered how Arviragus had loved to see her wear her jewel, as she always did, on a chain of gold that he had given to her on her wedding day. She thought of the sea that separated him from her, and of the cruel black rocks, and said in play:
"Aurelius, I will freely give thee my jewel when thou dost remove every rock on the shore from end to end of Brittany."
Then her anger at the selfishness of Aurelius rose again, and she bade him begone.
"Madam," he said, "it is impossible to move the rocks."
With that word he turned away, and went home to his own house. There his brother Austin found him in a trance, for Aurelius wished Dorigen's jewel more than he wished anything else on earth, and the thought that he could not get it made him so sad that he became dazed. Austin carried him to bed, and tried to soothe him in his grief and vexation.
The jewel that Aurelius wished to get from Dorigen was no common one. It had been given to her at her birth. It was clear as crystal, but far more rare, and it shone in the daylight like the sun. When Dorigen was a little child her mother told her of this wonderful stone. She told her that it would bring her joy and peace and the love of all who were good and true, if she kept it bright and pure; but that, if she ever gave it away, she would lose her youth and her beauty, and would be hidden away from all her friends and left alone in the world.
Dorigen shuddered at the thought of parting with her jewel. She did not know how her mother's words could come to pass, if she did give it away, nor by what magic power she could be so lost that no one who loved her could find her again. But she was sure that what her mother had said must be true.
And that was why Dorigen was so angry with Aurelius. She knew that he must have heard what sorrow she would suffer if she gave him her jewel, for all the court knew the story of the wonderful stone.
Not long after this, Arviragus came home. He had won more honor than before, and was now the very flower of chivalry. I cannot tell you how great the joy was, with which he greeted Dorigen, nor how soon she forgot her fears of the sea and the grisly rocks.
For two years, while they lived a joyful life together, Aurelius lay in bed unable to rise, with no one to take care of him except his brother Austin. This brother mourned over Aurelius in secret and wept at his unhappy fate, till one day he remembered a book of magic that he had seen when he was a student in Orleans. In that book he had read of the strange ways in which Magicians can make things seem what they are not. His heart leapt up. He said to himself, "My brother shall be cured. I am sure I have heard of stranger things than that the rocks should seem to vanish. Once I heard of a Magician who made every one believe that a great brown barge was rowing up and down a sheet of water inside the hall of a castle! If he could do that, then surely we shall be able to find a Magician who will make those black rocks seem to vanish. Then Dorigen will have to keep her promise and give Aurelius her wonderful jewel."
Austin then ran to his brother's room and told him about the book of magic at Orleans. No sooner had Aurelius heard him than he leapt out of bed. In less time than one would think possible he was ready to start on the long ride to Orleans.
When they came near the city they met a Magician. They knew him to be a Magician because of the strange look in his eyes, and because of his curious dress. When they rode up to him he bowed before them and wished them "Good-day." Then he began to tell them why they had come to Orleans. Aurelius wondered how it was that this stranger knew so much about him and his errand. He thought he must be a very wise man indeed, and, leaping from his horse in surprise and joy, he went home with the Magician to his house. His brother went too.
The house was the finest that Aurelius had ever seen. When he entered the study he looked in wonder at the rows of books that lined the walls, and at the quaint pictures and the strange old armor.
In one corner a curious light burned. It was not like the light of a lamp or of a candle, but cold and blue. Above it hung a map of the stars, and other strange drawings. Below the light stood a table, and on it lay a great book which was chained to the wall.
Austin saw Aurelius look at this book. He whispered to him, "It is the same book from which I read long ago."
This corner with its blue light made Aurelius frightened. A shudder passed over him when he saw the Magician cross over into the circle of the light and wave his wand.
In a moment Aurelius forgot all about the Magician and his own fear, for he and his brother saw before them the edge of a forest with a park stretching from the trees far, far away.
The sun shone, and the branches waved a little in the breeze. In the park the brothers saw herds of deer. Beautiful animals they were, with the highest antlers deer ever had. At first the deer fed in peace and safety. Then archers, clad in green, came to the edge of the forest. They glided out and in amongst the trees to see where they could best take aim with their arrows. When the archers had let their arrows fly, hounds broke out from behind them, and soon there was not one living deer of all the herd left in sight.
In a moment a calm river flowed where the park had been. In the shallow water at the river's edge tall herons stood.
They watched for the little fishes that swam in the river. Again, into this quiet place a hunter came. He had no arrows. He had no dogs. But on his wrist he had an iron bracelet to which one end of a chain was fastened. The other end of the chain was round a hawk's foot, and the hawk sat on his master's wrist. When the hunter came near the river he loosed the chain from the bird's foot. The hawk flew over the river and swooped down amongst the herons. In a moment they had all vanished.
Aurelius had scarcely time to sigh, when the river itself was gone, and a plain lay where it had been. There he saw the knights of King Arthur's Table jousting. Beautiful ladies sat and watched the struggle, and one more fair than all held the prizes the knights might win.
Then the figures of the knights began to grow dim and uncertain. The plain changed into a great hall where knights and ladies danced. Everything was bright and sparkling. Mirrors lined the walls, and their cut edges flashed back the light that fell on them. As Aurelius watched the dance, he started. There, before him, more beautiful than ever, was Dorigen. His heart gave a great leap, for, as he watched her, he saw that she no longer wore her jewel. In his delight he swayed to the music of the dance. Clap! Clap! went the Magician's hands, and all was gone.
The great room that had seemed so splendid to Aurelius when he entered it, looked cold and plain now when he returned to it from fairyland.
The Magician called his servant and asked for supper. Then he led the brothers away and feasted them royally.
After supper the three men began to talk about what the Magician should get from Aurelius if he made the rocks vanish. The Magician said, "I cannot take less than a thousand pounds, and I am not sure if I can do it for that!" Aurelius was too delighted to bargain about what the cost would be. He said gladly: "What is a thousand pounds? I would give thee the whole round world, if I were lord of it. The bargain is made. Thou shalt be paid in full. But do not delay. Let us start to-morrow morning without fail."
"Thou mayest count on me to-morrow," said the Magician.
They went to bed, and Aurelius slept soundly and well, because of the hope he had that the Magician would make the rocks vanish.
Next morning they rose early. It was Christmas time, and the air was cold and frosty as they rode away. The very sunlight was pale, and the trees were bare. When they reached home the neighbors gathered round and wished them a Merry Christmas. "Noel, Noel," they said, but they would not have done so had they known what sorrow the riders brought to their beautiful lady Dorigen.
For many days the Magician worked with his maps and figures. Aurelius waited impatiently. There was nothing for him to do except to make the Magician as comfortable as he could, and to show him as much kindness as possible.
HE SAW THE MAGICIAN STANDING ON THE SHORE.
One morning Aurelius looked from his window towards the sea. He saw the Magician standing on the shore. As Aurelius gazed out to sea, the rocks vanished from north to south. His heart stood still. Then he rushed out and away to the edge of the cliffs for fear some rocks might still lie close to the land. But no, there was not one.
He went to meet the Magician and fell at his feet with the words, "Thanks to thee, my lord, thanks to thee, my cares are gone!"
After he had thanked the Wise Man, he hurried away to meet Dorigen. When he saw her he trembled. She was so pure and beautiful. His heart sank. Then he looked out to sea and saw the smooth surface of the water, and he grew selfish again.
Dorigen came quietly on. She had not noticed that the rocks had vanished, for Arviragus was safe on land, and she did not fear the sea any more. She had almost forgotten Aurelius and his selfish, greedy words. It was more than two years since she had seen him, and she had not heard of him since then.
She started back when he greeted her. Before she had time to speak he said, "My lady, give me thy jewel."
He saw Dorigen's face grow cold and angry, and said, "Think well lest thou break thy word, for, madam, thou knowest well what thou didst say. In yonder garden in the month of May thou didst promise to give me thy jewel when I should move the rocks. I speak to save thine honor. I have done as thou didst command me. Go thou and see if thou wilt, but well I know the rocks are vanished!"
He left her then. She stood still, white and sick. She had never dreamt that such a trap as this could close on her.
"Alas," she said, "that such a thing could happen! I never thought a thing so strange and unheard-of could come to pass!"
Home she went in sadness and dismay. She was so weak with fear that she could scarcely walk. She had to suffer her sorrow alone for three days, for Arviragus was away, and she would tell no one but him. Her ladies saw her distress, but they could not comfort her. To herself she moaned, "Alas, O Fortune, I lay the blame on thee; thou hast so bound me in thy chain, that I see no help nor escape save only in death."
Arviragus came home on the third day after the rocks had vanished. He came at night, so he noticed nothing strange about the shore. Though everyone was talking of the curious thing that had happened, no one liked to tell him. They knew he would not like to hear of it. He would think his country was bewitched.
Arviragus looked for Dorigen in the hall. When he could not see her there, he hurried to her room, to make sure that she was safe and well. As he sprang up the broad staircase, the sheath of his sword and the spurs at his heels clanked harshly on the stone steps.
Dorigen heard him, but, instead of going to meet him, she buried her head deeper in her cushions and wept. Arviragus crossed the room to where she sat, and knelt before her. He drew her hands from her eyes and said, "Dorigen, what is it? Why dost thou weep like this, my beloved?"
For a little time Dorigen's tears only fell the faster, then she said brokenly: "Alas, that ever I was born! I have said it! Arviragus! I have promised!"
"What hast thou promised, my wife?" Then Dorigen told Arviragus all that had happened; told him that she had promised to give her jewel to Aurelius when he would take all the rocks away.
Arviragus leapt up and went to the window. The moon had burst through a cloud, and everything was bright and clear. He looked away north, as Dorigen had so often looked to watch for his coming. In the moonlight Arviragus saw the sea lie smooth and cold. His eyes swept the skyline. It seemed as if all the rocks had sunk into his heart, it was so heavy.
He turned towards Dorigen, and saw how great was her sorrow.
Then he said very gently: "Is there aught else than this, that thou shouldst weep, Dorigen?"
"Nay, nay, this is indeed too much already," she sighed.
"Dear wife," he said, "something as wonderful as the sinking of the rocks may happen to save us yet. God grant it! But whether or not, thou must keep thy troth. I had rather that my great love for thee caused me to die, than that thou shouldest break thy promise. Truth is the highest thing that man may keep."
Then his courage broke down, and he began to sob and weep along with Dorigen.
Next morning he was strong and brave again. He said to Dorigen, "I will bear up under this great sorrow."
He bade her farewell, and she set out with only a maid and a squire to follow her. Arviragus could not bear to see Dorigen as she went down from the castle, so he hid himself in an inner room. But someone saw her go out. It was Aurelius. For three days he had watched the castle gate to see what she did, and where she went. He came forward and said, "Whither goest thou?"
Dorigen was almost mad with misery, but she said bravely, "To thee, to keep my troth, and give my jewel to thee, as my husband bids me. Alas! alas!"
Aurelius was full of wonder when he heard this. He began to be sorry for Dorigen and for Arviragus the worthy knight, who would rather lose his wife than have her break her word. He could be cruel no longer.
"Madam," he said, "say to thy lord Arviragus that since I see his great honor and thy sad distress, I had rather bear my own sorrow than drive thee away from him and all thy friends. I give thee back thy promise. I shall never trouble thee more. Farewell, farewell! thou truest woman and best that I have ever seen."
Down on her knees, on the roadway, fell Dorigen to thank Aurelius. Her blessing followed him as he turned and left her. But how can I tell of Dorigen's return? She seemed to be treading on air. When she reached the room where her husband sat with his head sunk on his arms, she paused. She had not known the greatness of his love till then. He looked old and forlorn after the night of sorrow.
She spoke and he raised his eyes to gaze on her, as if she had been a lady in a dream. But when she told him all, when he knew that she was there herself, and for always, he could not speak for joy.
Aurelius wished he had never been born when he thought of the thousand pounds of pure gold that he owed to the Magician.
He said to himself, "What shall I do? I am undone! I must sell my house and be a beggar. I will not stay here and make my friends ashamed of me, unless I can get the Magician to give me time. I will ask him to let me pay him part of my debt year by year till all is paid. If he will, my gratitude will know no bounds, and I will pay him every penny I owe."
With a sore heart he went to his coffer and took out five hundred pounds of gold. These he took to the Wise Man, and begged him to grant him time to pay the rest.
"Master," said he, "I can say truly, I never yet failed to keep a promise. My debt shall be paid to thee, even if I go begging in rags. But if thou wilt be so gracious as to allow me two years, or three, in which to pay the rest, I will rejoice. If not, I must sell my house; there is no other way."
When the Magician heard this he said, "Have not I kept my promise to thee?"
"Yes, certainly, well and truly!"
"Hast thou not thy jewel?"
"No, no," said Aurelius, and sighed deeply.
"Tell me, if thou mayest, what is the cause of this?"
"Arviragus in his honor had rather die in sorrow and distress than that his wife should break her word. Dorigen would rather die than lose her husband and wander alone on the earth. She did not mean to give me her promise. She thought the rocks would never move. I pitied them so much that I gave her back her promise as freely as she brought her jewel to me. That is the whole story!"
The Magician answered, "Dear brother, you have each behaved nobly. Thou art a squire, he is a knight, but by God's grace I can do a noble deed as well as another. Sir, thou art free from thy debt to me, as free as if thou hadst this moment crept out of the ground, and hadst never known me till now. For, sir, I will not take a penny from thee for all my skill, nor for all my work. It is enough! Farewell! Good day to thee!"
Whereupon the Magician bowed once and again, mounted his horse, and rode away.
Dorigen and Arviragus were walking on the cliffs as the Magician parted front Aurelius. They noticed the two men, and when the horseman rode away they saw a strange white mist rise from the sea and follow the rider.
Dorigen caught her husband's arm, for there, there, out at sea, and close by the cliffs, were the rocks, grisly and black and fearsome as before. The sunlight fell on her jewel, and it shone more brightly than of old, nor did its light ever grow dim in all the happy years that followed.