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Full Online Book HomeShort StoriesJohn Plantagenet, The Boy Who Broke His Father's Heart
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John Plantagenet, The Boy Who Broke His Father's Heart Post by :rush2pro Category :Short Stories Author :Talbot Baines Reed Date :May 2011 Read :3803

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John Plantagenet, The Boy Who Broke His Father's Heart

A youth was pacing restlessly to and fro in a wood bordering on the old town of Tours, in France. He was scarcely twenty years of age, and of a forbidding countenance. Cruelty and cunning were stamped on his features, and as he strode aimlessly among the trees, muttering to himself, and striking often with his sheathed sword at the bushes and twigs in his path, he seemed to be the victim of an evil passion, with nothing to make a man love him or desire his acquaintance.

His muttering not unfrequently rose to the pitch of talking aloud, when one might have heard sentences like these.

"Why should I longer delay? Am not I John, the son of Henry of England, a man? and shall I submit to be treated for ever as a child? Are my brothers, who have rebelled against their father, to have ah the spoil, and I, who have remained obedient, to go portionless and penniless? What means my father's meeting here with the King of France, who has espoused the cause of Richard, my brother, in his rebellion, if it be not to yield to the traitor the kingdoms _I_ have earned by my obedience? But I will delay no longer. I have been obedient too long! Henceforth this sword shall be my obedience!"

And as he spoke he unsheathed his weapon, and struck savagely at the graceful branch of a fir tree before him, and brought it down crashing at his feet. At the same instant there appeared coming towards him a man of middle age, clad like a soldier, who saluted respectfully the young prince.

"Whence come you, Ralph Leroche?" inquired John.

"From the meeting of the Kings of France and England."

"And what went forward there?" asked the prince, leading his companion in among the trees.

"I know only what I am told," said the knight, "for the meeting of your father and King Philip was secret."

"And what have you been told?" inquired John, impatiently, and with clouding brows.

"I have been told that the King of France demanded that your father should do him homage, and should acknowledge your brother Richard as King of England."

"And what said my father?" broke in John.

"He said that Richard, by his conduct, deserved only the death of a traitor, but--"

John's brow darkened as he seized Ralph's arm, and ejaculated, "But what? did he yield? Speak!"

"But for the sake of peace he would receive him back to the heart which he by his disobedience had wellnigh broken, and make him heir to his crown."

"He said so, did he?" almost shouted the prince, his face livid with fury.

"I am told so by one who knows," replied the other.

"And did he say more?"

"He blessed heaven before them all that he had one son left him who was true to him, and in whose love he might end the shattered remnant of his life."

Loud and cruelly laughed Prince John at those words, till the woods echoed again. "Is it thus you comfort yourself, my father?" he exclaimed. "Ralph," added he, in tones thick with passion, "all my life till now I served my father, and never failed in my duty to him. Henry, my brother, rebelled, and died in his rebellion while I was a child. Geoffrey rebelled too, and is dead. Richard for years has been in arms against his parent. I, of all his sons, have never lifted hand against him. Had not I a right to look for my reward? Had not I a right to count upon the crown which my brothers' disobedience had forfeited? Had not--"

He stopped, unable from the vehemence of his passion to proceed, and Ralph Leroche answered calmly: "Obedience is its own reward, and worth more than a kingdom. It is not obedience that calculates on profit. But you know not, prince, what your father may yet have in store for you."

"Speak not to me of my father," exclaimed John; "I hate him!"

"Heaven forgive you that word!" replied the fearless knight. "Be advised, I entreat; and repent--"

"Dotard!" exclaimed the prince, as in blind rage he struck him in the mouth with his clenched fist. "Keep thy advice for dogs, and not for princes!"

How the scene would have ended, one cannot say. At that moment a flourish of trumpets raised the echoes of the wood, and a gay procession passed down the forest road towards Tours.

Alas, for Prince John! He recognised in the two men who rode at its head, Philip of France, his father's enemy, and Richard, his own rebel elder brother. Goaded by passion, burning with resentment towards his father for the supposed injustice he had suffered, he rushed recklessly into the arms of this sudden temptation. Striding through the thickets, and heedless of the warnings of the loyal Ralph, he emerged on to the road in front of the cavalcade.

The leaders halted their horses in sudden surprise.

"What brave lad have we here?" asked Philip, perplexed.

John stepped forward, and answered for himself.

"I am John Plantagenet, once son of the King of England, but now vassal to the King of France!"

Great was the astonishment on every face, and on none more than on those of Philip and Richard.

The latter flushed, half in anger, half in shame, as he exclaimed, "Boy, thou art mad!"

"Nay," said Philip, "the lad is a lad of sense, and bears a worthy name that will serve our cause exceedingly."

So saying, he summoned one of his knights, and bidding him dismount, gave the young prince his horse, and made him ride beside him.

"But tell us, lad," he said, when they had proceeded a little way, "how is it thy father's dutiful and cherished son (for so I have heard him speak of thee) comes thus among the ranks of his foemen, and that at a time like this, when peace has been almost completed?"

"Ask me no questions," replied the prince, gloomily; "I am here because I choose."

And so they rode into Tours.

A few days later, a silent group was standing round the sickbed of the King of England, listening to the broken utterances which fell from the lips of that old and wellnigh worn-out warrior. Those who thus stood round him were his favourite knights and barons, not a few of whom were moved to tears as he spoke.

"I have sinned, and I have had my punishment. My kingdom is gone, and my glory. Henceforward Henry Plantagenet will be the name but of a vanquished and feeble old man. The one whom I loved, and would have forgiven as many times as they had asked forgiveness, have all, save one, left me and turned against me. I am like a man, wrecked and tempest-tossed, clinging for hope to a single spar. Yet I bless Heaven for that. Ruin I can submit to, dishonour I can survive, defeat I can endure, while yet there is one child left to me of whom it can be said, `He loved his father to the end.' And such a son is John. I charge you all, honour him as you honour me, for though I have sworn to yield the crown of England to his brother, Normandy, and all I possess besides, belongs to _him_. But where is he? Why tarries he? A week has passed since he was here. Where stays he?"

Before any of the attendants could reply, a knocking was heard without, and entrance demanded for the messengers of Philip of France. "We are come," said they, "from our sovereign with the articles of treaty between yourself and him, arranged at your late conference, and which now await your ratification."

Henry motioned to them to proceed to business; and as each article was read--declaring his allegiance to the crown of France and his cession of his own crown to Richard--he inclined his head mechanically in token of his assent, manifesting little or no interest in the proceeding. But his attention became more fixed when the article was read which provided for the free pardon of all who had in any way, secretly or openly, been engaged in the cause of his rebel son.

He turned in his bed towards the reader, and said: "A king must know the names of his enemies before he can pardon them. Read me, therefore, the list of those who have rebelled, that I may forgive them each and all, beginning with the noblest, down to the meanest."

He lay back on his bed, and half closed his eyes as he listened.

The messenger of Philip then said, "The first and foremost of your majesty's enemies is John Plantagenet, your youngest son."

He sprang with a sudden cry of pain into a sitting posture, and trembling in every fibre, and with a voice half choked, cried, "Who says that?" Then glaring wildly at the envoy, he whispered, "Read it again!"

"The first and foremost of your majesty's enemies is John Plantagenet, your youngest son."

"Can it be true?" gasped the poor father, in helpless despair. "Has he also deserted me? Then let everything go as it will; I care no more for myself, nor for the world."

So saying, with his heart broken, he sank back upon the bed, from which he never rose again.


(The end)
Talbot Baines Reed's short story: John Plantagenet, The Boy Who Broke His Father's Heart

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