Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories HTML version
Edward Ii. At Berkeley Castle
By An Eye-Witness (With Apologies To Mr. H. Belloc)
The King had not slept for three nights. He looked at his face in the muddy pool of water
which had settled in the worn flagstones of his prison floor, and noticed that his beard
was of a week's growth. Beads of sweat stood on his forehead, and his eyes were
bloodshot. In the room next door, which was the canteen, the soldiers were playing on a
drum. Over the tall hills the dawn was ruffling the clouds. There was a faint glimmer on
the waters of the river. The footsteps of the gaolers were heard on the outer rampart. At
seven o'clock they brought the King a good dinner: they allowed him burgundy from
France, and yellow mead, and white bread baked in the ovens of the Abbey, although he
was constrained to drink out of pewter, and plates were forbidden him. Eustace, his page,
timidly offered him music. The King bade him sing the "Lay of the Sussex Lass," which
Triumphant, oh! triumphant now she stands,
Above my Sussex, and above my sea!
She stretches out her thin ulterior hands
Across the morning . . .
But the King, to whom memories were portentous, called for another song and Eustace
sang a stave of that ballad which was made on the Pyrenees, and which is still unfinished
(for the modern world has no need of these things), telling of how Lord Raymond drank
in a little tent with Charlemagne:
Enormous through the morning the tall battalions run:
The men who fought with Charlemagne are very dearly done;
The wine is dark beneath the night, the stars are in the sky,
The hammer's in the blacksmith's hand in case he wants to try.
We'll ride to Fontarabia, we'll storm the stubborn wall,
And I call.
And Uriel and his Seraphim are hammering a shield;
And twice along the valley has the horn of Roland pealed;
And Cleopatra on the Nile, Iseult in Brittany,
And Lancelot in Camelot, and Drake upon the sea;
And behind the young Republic are the fellows with the flag,
And I brag!
The King listlessly opened his eyes and said that he had no stomach for such song, and
from the next door came the mutter of the drums. For on that night--which was
Candlemas--Thursday, or as we should now call it "Friday"--the gaolers were keeping
holiday, and drinking English beer brewed in Sussex; for the beer of West England was