The Forest Lovers
Part 3 out of 6
tongue. He must needs have a silver dish to put it in, so as to
present it honourably to me. He went to the Castle to get this. He got
it; but he was discovered and pursued, and only he escaped--he and the
six bearers of the wicket-gates. That is my story of the coat in
return for yours of the bird. The hero of it took the name of Salomon
de Montguichet after this performance, and my pursuivant devised him a
blazon, with the legend, _Entra per me_."
"He did very well," said Prosper, "though he should have fought with
Renny, and not stabbed him in the dark. But why did he bring the
"He said that since they had for once been held by honest men, he
could not let them backslide. Moreover, they were in his way, and he
knew not what else to do with them."
"And why did he take the man's tongue?"
"He said that the head must stay tongueless at Coldscaur to warn all
traducers of me. True enough, the man has come to be remembered as
"I should have done otherwise," said Prosper.
"What would you have made of it, Prosper?"
"I should have brought the man alive to your feet; I should have
advised you to give him a whipping and let him go."
"That would have been more merciless to Renny, my friend, than what
Salomon de Montguichet did. I have told you that they are the proudest
family in Christendom."
"I never thought of Renny," he answered; "I was thinking of myself in
"Montguichet thought of me, Prosper."
"I also was thinking of you, Countess."
Presently he grew keen on his own thoughts again and asked--
"What became of Salomon de Born?"
"I cannot tell you," she replied, "except this, that he took service
under the King of the Romans and went abroad. Of where he is now, or
how he fares, I know nothing."
"I think he is dead," said Prosper.
"What is your reason?"
"I have seen another carrying his arms."
"But it may have been the man himself. A thin man, hatchet-faced, with
hot, large eyes; a pale man, who looked not to have the sinew he
proved to have."
Prosper looked thoughtful, a little puzzled too. "The description is
familiar to me. I may have seen the man. But certainly it was not he
who carried the Montguichet shield."
Suddenly he sprang up with a shout. He stood holding the table, white
and shaky. The Countess ran to him and put her arm on his shoulder:
"Prosper, Prosper, you have frightened me! What is your thought? Are
you ill? I entreat you to tell me, Prosper."
He collected himself at once to reassure her.
"The man is dead," he said, "and I buried him. I remember his face; I
remember a badge on his breast; I remember it all. But I do not
understand--I do not see clearly as yet. I must think. I beg you to
let me leave you for the present. To-morrow I will go to avenge
Salomon de Montguichet."
The youth was quite wild and out of breath.
"Prosper!" cried the Countess, clinging to him, "I conjure you to tell
me what this means. You will never leave me this night without a word.
You cannot know--"
She could not finish what she longed to say. As for Prosper, he was in
another world; it is doubtful whether he heard her.
"Countess," he said, "I can tell you nothing as yet. I know but half
of the truth. But I must find out the whole, and to-morrow I will tell
you what I mean to do. You must have me excused for this night."
She knew that she could say nothing more, although she had never yet
seen him in this mood. But he reminded her strongly of his father; she
felt that he and she had changed places and ages. So she bowed her
head, and when she lifted it he was gone.
Pacing his room Prosper tried to reason out his tangle. This was not
so easy as fighting, for he was pulled two different ways. Salomon de
Montguichet was the dead man whom the lady had in the wood--that was
clear. Galors had Salomon de Montguichet's arms--that too was clear.
The trouble was to connect the two strings. What had Galors to do with
the lady? Which of them had killed Salomon de Montguichet, or de Born,
to give him his real name? How did this threaten Isoult? For the
massed events of the long day drove him at last face to face with
Isoult. He had sworn upon all knightly honour to save her neck. He
thought he had saved it, but now he was not so sure. There was
something undefinably sinister, some foreboding about the turn matters
had taken (matters so diverse in their beginning) that day. Was he
sure he had saved her? He must certainly be sure, he thought. Had he
not sworn? And after all, she was his wife. That should count for
something. He was not disposed to rate marriage highly; he knew very
little about it, but he felt that it should count for something. The
honour of the man's wife touched the honour of the man. Again, she was
a very good girl. He recalled her--submissive, patient, recollected,
pacing beside him on her donkey, as they brushed their way through
brown beechwoods and stained wet bracken. He remembered her at her
prayers--how kindly she took to the devotion. She was different from
the hour she was a good Christian, he swore. Ah, so he had given her
more than a free neck! He had given her pride in herself; nay, he had
quickened a soul languid for want of spiritual food. And she looked
very well praying. She was good-looking, he thought. Oh, she was a
But surely she was well where she was, could hardly be better. Galors
had a split throat; he would be in Saint Thorn, crying _peccavi_
in chapter, and gaining salvation with every sting of the scourge. The
woman in the wood he had distrusted from the first moment he saw her
watching eyes. She was bad through and through; she might be a worse
enemy than Galors, or a church-load of pursy monks. But it was
impossible that she should have anything to do with Galors, clean
impossible. And if she had--why, he was going to her to-morrow, and
would find out. Meantime, he would go to bed. Yes, he might go to bed.
Was not Gracedieu sanctuary? Ah, he had forgotten that! All was well.
He went to bed; but Tortsentier was not to see him on the morrow. All
was not well. He had a dream which drew all the apprehensions and
suspicions of the day into one head. The hidden things were made
plain, and the crooked things straight; for the first time, it seemed,
he was to see openly--when his eyes were shut. He had, in spite of
himself, centred them one by one in Isoult, and now he dreamed of her
as she was, and of them as they were. This was his dream. He and she
were together, lying under the stars in the open wood with his drawn
sword between them, set edgeways as it had always been. He lay awake,
but Isoult was asleep, and moaning in her sleep. The sound was like
voiced sighs which came quickly with her breath. He lay and watched
her in the perfectly clear light there was, and presently the moaning
ceased, and she opened her eyes to look at him. But though they were
wide, they were blank; he knew that she slept still. She moved her
lips to speak, but without sound; she strained out her arms to him,
but he could not take her. And, leaning more and more towards him, the
edge of the sword pressed her bare bosom, yet she seemed not to heed
it; and presently it broke the skin, and she pressed it in deeper, as
if glad of the sharp pain; and then the blood leapt out and flooded
her night-dress. Her arms dropt, she sighed once, she closed her eyes
languidly as if mortally tired. Then she lay very still, white to the
lips, and Prosper knew that she was dead. So in his own dream he cried
out and tried to come at her, but could not because of the red sword.
He woke in a cold sweat and lay trembling, blenched with fear. The
dream had been so vivid that involuntarily he turned in his bed to
look again at what haunted him, the dying eyes, the white body, and
the blood. Terror, when once he had accepted the fact that she was
dead, gave place to pity--a pity more intense than he had ever
conceived. He had pitied her on the night of their marriage, but never
to such a degree that he felt heart-broken at the mere knowledge of
such things. And now, as the principal actor in a play, she grew in
importance. He began to see that she was more than an incident; she
was of the stuff of his life.
What was more odd was, that in the dream he had wanted her, as she
him; and that he could look back upon it now and understand the
desire. With all the shock that still crowded about him till the
shadowy room seemed full of it, there was this one beam of
remembrance, like sunlight in a dusty place. He too had held out his
arms: he had wanted to take her, to hold her, white and unearthly
though she might be--dying as she certainly was. Waking, this seemed
very strange to him, for he had never wanted her before; and though
(as I say) the remembrance brought a glow along with it, he did not
want her in that way now. Supposing that she were alive and lying
here, he knew that he should not want her. But the red sword! He
shuddered and closed his eyes; there she was, pitifully dead of a
wound in the breast. I suppose he was not more superstitious than most
people of his day, but he knew that he must go to Gracedieu.
He got up at once to arm himself; he had made all his preparations
before sunrise. Then he left word for the Countess that he would
return in a day or two, and set out.
The journey could not be done under three days; that gave him two
nights in the forest, each of which brought the same dream. He arrived
at the convent late in the evening, and asked to see the Abbess at
once. The tranquil monotony of the place, its bells and recurrent
chimes, the subdued voices of the nuns chanting an office in choir,
brought him like a beaten ship into haven. He was reassured before he
saw the Abbess.
"Yes, indeed," said that lady in answer to his outburst of questions,
"the child is well. Not so bright as during the winter season, it may
be; but the spring is no easy time for young people. I may tell you,
Sir Prosper, that we have grown very fond of her. Indeed, I am often
saying that I wonder how to do without her. She is so diligent and of
so toward a disposition. You will find her well cared for, sleek, and
quite good-looking. We have great hopes for her future if she makes a
happy choice. But you will wish to see her and prove my words. I will
send for her this moment."
The Abbess had her hand-bell in her hand. If she had rung it she would
have given Prosper justification of his hurry. But the complacent
youth forestalled her.
"I beg you, mother, to do nothing of the kind," he said. "She is well,
you tell me, she is happy: that is all I cared to know. I have no wish
to unsettle her, but leave her cheerfully and confidently with you,
being well assured that you will not fail to send me word at High
March should need be."
"I understand you, sir, and agree with you. You may be quite easy
about her. We are regular livers, as you may guess, and small events
are great ones to us. So you return to High March? I will beg you to
carry with you my humble duty to her ladyship the Countess. She is
"She is very well," said Prosper, and took his leave.
A frantic Gracedieu messenger started half a night behind him, but was
stopped on Two Manors Waste by a party of outlaws, robbed of his
letters, and hanged. Prosper's dream visited him for two nights of his
journey back, and four nights at High March; but as no word or other
warning came from Gracedieu to give it point, he grew to have some
strange liking for it, since he knew that it meant nothing. It gave
him new thoughts of Isoult; it convinced him, for instance, that since
the girl was so good she must be affectionate when you came to know
her. His own share in the nightly performance he could now set in
humorous comparison with his waking state. He found it difficult to
believe in the self of his dream, and was almost curious to see Isoult
that he might pursue his juxtapositions. At this rate she filled his
waking thoughts as well as his nights. The Countess was not slow to
perceive that Prosper was changed, and she affected. His songs came
less willingly from him, his sallies were either languid or too polite
to be from the heart of the youth, who could make hers beat so fast.
Thinking that he wanted work, she devised an expedition for him which
might involve some danger and the lives of a dozen men. But she
counted that lightly. He went on the fourth day after his return from
Gracedieu, and the expedition proved effectual in more ways than one.
The dream stopped, and he forgot it.
THREE AT TORTSENTIER
At Tortsentier there was very little daylight, because the trees about
it formed a thick wall. The branches of the pines tapped at the
windows on one side; on the other they linked arms with their
comrades, and so stood for a mile on all sides of the tower. Paths
there were none, nor ways to come by unless you were free of the
place. The winter storms moaned, lashed themselves above it, yet below
were hushed down to a long sighing. The quiet visitations of the snow,
the dripping of the autumn rains, the sun's force, the trap-bite of
the frost, or that new breath that comes stealing through woodlands in
spring, were all strangers alike to the carpet of brown needles about
Maulfry's hold. No birds ever sang there. Death and a great mystery,
the dark, air like a lake's at noon, kept fur and feather from
Tortsentier, and left Maulfry alone with what she had.
Within, it was a spacious place. A great hall ran the whole height
(although not the whole area) of it, having a gallery midway up whence
you gained what other chambers there were. Below the gallery were deep
alcoves hung with tapestry (of which Maulfry was a diligent worker),
and thickened with curtains; between every alcove hung trophies of
shields and arms. Mossy carpets, skins, and piled cushions were on the
floor; the place smelt of musk: it was lighted by coloured torches and
lamps, and warmed with braziers. It was by a spiral stair that you
found the gallery and doors of the other rooms, or as many of them as
it was fitting you should find. There were doors there which were no
doors at all unless occasion served. These rooms had windows; but the
hall had only a lantern in the roof, and its torches. From all this it
will appear that Isoult was a prisoner, since a prisoner you are if,
although you can go out, there is nowhere for you to go; if, further,
your hostess neither goes out herself nor gives you occasion to leave
her. Yet Maulfry made her guest elaborately free of the place.
"Child," she said, "you see how I live here. My trees, my birds--" she
had many birds in cages--"my collections of arms and arras and odd
books, are my friends for want of better. If you can help me to any
such I shall be very much obliged to you. Other friends I have--
yourself I may count among them, one other you know,--but they are of
the world, and refuse to hang upon my walls. Sometimes they pay me a
visit, stay for a little season, remonstrate, argue with me, shrug,
and leave me gladder than I was to receive them. I am a hermit, my
child, when all's said. These other friends, these more constant
friends, on the other hand, suit me better. They talk to me when I bid
them, are silent when I want to think. They have no vapours, unless I
give them of mine, no airs but what I choose to find in them. And they
are complaisant, they seek nothing beyond my entertainment. My friends
from outside come to please themselves and to take what they can of my
store. Sometimes they take each other. One of them (not unknown to my
Isoult!) will come before long--he is overdue now--and find my store
enriched. I doubt he will turn thief. You may well blush, child, for,
apart that it becomes you admirably, thieving is a sin, and naturally
you cannot approve of it. It is to be hoped he has rifled no treasury
already. There, there, I have your word for it; but you know my way!
Living alone in the woods at a distance from men, which makes them
ants in a swarm for me, I become a philosopher. Can you wonder?"
To such harangues, delivered with a pretty air of mockery and
extravagance, which was never allowed to get out of hand, Isoult
listened as she had listened to the cheerful prophetics of the Abbess
of Gracedieu, with her gentle smile and her locked lips. Maulfry
talked by the hour together while she and Isoult sat weaving a
tapestry. For the philosopher which it seemed she was, the subject of
the piece was very pleasant. It was the story of Troilus and
Cresseide, no less, wherein Sir Pandarus, (departing from the custom)
was represented a young man of tall and handsome presence, and the
triangle of lovers like children. Diomede was an apple-cheeked school-
boy, Troilus had a tunic and bare legs, Cresseide in her spare moments
dandled a doll. Calchas, for his part, kept a dame-school in this
piece, which for the rest was treated with a singular freedom. Isoult,
poor girl, was occasionally troubled at her part of the work; but the
philosopher laughed heartily at her.
"What ails thee with the piece, child?" she would cry out in her
hearty way. "Dost thou think lovers are men and women, to be taken
seriously? It is to be hoped they are not, forsooth! For if they are
not innocent, what shall be said of their antics?" and more to the
While affecting to treat her with freedom, Maulfry kept in reality a
"Go out?" she would cry in mock dismay, at the least hint of such a
wish from the girl--"why under the sun should we go out? To see a
thicket of twigs and breathe rotten vapours? Or do you think we have
processions passing in and out of the tree-trunks? Ah, minx, 'tis a
procession of one you would be spying for! Nay, nay, never look big
eyes at me, child. I know your processioner better than you. He will
come in his time; and whether he come through the door or down the
stairs I cannot tell you yet. Who taught you, pray, that he was in the
wood? Not I, I vow. Why should he not be skulking in the blue alcove
awaiting the hour? You look thither; how you kindle at a word! Well,
well, go and see for yourself if he is in the blue alcove."
Poor trembling Isoult went on tiptoe, was fool enough to peep through
the curtains, but good soul enough to take Maulfry's railing in fair
part. She got as much as she deserved, and the joke was none too good
perhaps; but as a trick, it sufficed to keep her on the fine edge of
expectation. She dared not go out for fear of missing Prosper. She
grew so tight-strung as to doubt of nothing. Had Maulfry told her he
would be with them to supper on such and such a night, she would have
come shaking to the meal, rosy as a new bride, nothing doubting but
that the next lift of her shy eyes would reveal him before her. Thus
Maulfry by hints in easy degrees led her on; and not only did she not
dare to go out, but she lost all wish to peer for him in the wood,
because she had been led to the conviction that he was actually in the
tower--a mysterious, harboured visitant who would appear late or soon,
obedient to his destiny. A door even was pointed at, smiled and winked
at, passed by light-foot as they went along the gallery. Maulfry had a
biting humour which sometimes led her further than she was aware.
She kept Isoult in a fever by her tricks; by this particular trick she
risked a different fire--jealousy. For of the four persons who made up
the household, she alone went behind that door. Vincent, the young
page, brought food and wine to the threshold; Maulfry came out and
took them in. But there she was perfectly safe. Isoult could never be
jealous of Prosper; she would despair, but would resent nothing he
might do. Jealousy requires two things exorbitantly--self-love and a
sensitive surface. Isoult loved Love and Prosper--the two in one
glorious image; and as for her surface, that, like the rest of her,
body and soul, was his when Love allowed. Nor was she even curious, at
first. Many thrashings, acquaintance with her world which was close if
not long, and a deeply-driven scorn of herself threw her blindly upon
the discretion of the only man she had ever found to be at once
splendid and humane. What he chose was the law and what he declared
the prophets. But she might get curious on other grounds, on grounds
where destiny and suchlike mannish appendages did not hold up a finger
at her. And in fact she did.
* * * * *
Meantime Maulfry took charge of her body and will. Isoult was obedient
in everything but one. Maulfry, who always saw the girl undress and go
to bed, objected to her prayers.
"Pray!" she would call out, "for what and to what do you pray? Pray to
your husband when you have one, and he will give you according to your
deserts, which he alone can appraise. Trust him for that. But to crave
boons you know little of, from a God of whom you know nothing at all,
save that you made him in your own image--what profit can that be?"
To which Isoult replied, "He told me always to pray, ma'am, and I
cannot disobey any of his words."
"Ah, I remember he was given to the game. Hum! And what else did he
tell you, child?"
"Deal justly, live cleanly, breathe sweet breath," Isoult answered in
a whisper, as if she were in church: "praise God when He is kind, bow
head and knees when He is angry, look for Him to be near at all times.
Do this, and beyond it trust to thine own heart."
Maulfry pished and pshawed at this hushed oracle. "You would do better
to eat well and sleep softly. 'Twould bring you nearer your heart's
desire. Men like a girl to be sleek."
But in this Isoult had her way, though she said her prayers in bed. In
all else she was meek as a mouse. Maulfry made her dress to suit her
own taste, and let down her hair. The dress was of thin silk, fitted
close, and was cut low in the neck. Isoult, who had known pinned rags,
and had gone feet and legs bare without a thought, went now as if she
were naked, or clothed only in her shame. But it was the fashion
Maulfry adopted towards her own person, and there were no others to
convict her. Nanno the old serving-woman and Vincent the page, who was
only a boy, made up the household-except for the closed door. Nanno
never looked at anything higher than the ground; and as for Vincent,
he was in love with Isoult, and would sooner have looked at Christ in
Of those two people Nanno was believed to be dumb; Isoult, at least,
never got speech of her. Vincent, who was treated by Maulfry as if he
had been a mechanism, was a very simple machine. If Maulfry had been
less summary with him she might have prevented the inevitable; but
like all people with brains she thought a simpleton was an ass, and
kicks your only speech with such. Vincent and Isoult, therefore,
became friends as the days went on. Maulfry's cagebirds drew their
heads together, and in Vincent's case, at any rate, it was not long
before the blood began to beat livelier for the contact. Isoult was as
simple as he was, and concealed nothing from him that came up in their
talks together. She knew much more than he about birds, about the
woods, the country beyond the forest--great rolling sheep-pastures,
dim stretches of fen, sleepy rivers, the heaths and open lands about
Malbank. Of all these things which came to him through her voice
almost with a breath of their own roving air, he knew absolutely
nothing, whereas there was very little county-lore which she did not
know. She seemed indeed to him a woodland creature herself, in touch
with the birds and beasts. She could put her hand into a cage full of
them; the little twinkling eyes were steady upon her, but there was no
fluttering or beating at the bars. Her hand closed on the bird, drew
it out: the next minute it was free upon her shoulder, peeping into
her sidelong face. She could hold it up to her lips: it would take the
seed from her. The horses knew her call and her speaking voice. They
would go and come, stand or start, as she whispered in their pricked
ears. Vincent thought she might easily be a fairy. But, "No, Vincent,"
she would say to that, "I am a very poor girl, poorer than you."
One day Vincent disputed this point.
"You go in silks and have pearls on your head."
"They are not mine, Vincent."
"My mistress loves you."
"Oh, in love I am very rich," said the girl.
"Everybody would love you, I think," he dared.
But she shook her head at this.
"I have not found that. I am not sure of anybody's love."
"I know of one person of whom you may be very sure," said the boy, out
"But I never meant that when I said I was rich. I meant that I was
rich in love, not in being loved. Ah, no!"
"You ask not to be loved, Isoult?"
"Oh, it would be impossible to be loved as I mean, as I love."
"I would like to know that. Whom do you love?"
"Why, my lord, of course! Must I not love my lord?"
"Your lord!" stammered Vincent, red to the roots of his hair. "Your
lord! I never knew that you loved a lord." He gulped, and went on at
random--"And where is your lord?"
"I cannot tell. He may be in this castle. I only know that I shall see
him when his time comes."
"If he is in this castle, Isoult," said Vincent, sober again, "his
time is not yet."
She caught her breath.
"How do you know that?" she panted.
"I know that there is a great lord in the Red Chamber, him that Madam
Maulfry tends with her own hands."
"Ah, ah! You have seen him?"
"No, I have never seen him. He is very ill."
Isoult gazed at him, shocked to the soul. Ill, and she not near by!
"Oh, Vincent," she whispered. "Oh, Vincent!"
"Yes, Isoult,"--Vincent had caught some breath of her horror, and
whispered,--"Yes, Isoult, he is very ill. He has been ill since the
autumn, with bleeding and bleeding and bleeding. I know that is true,
though I have never seen him since he was brought here swathed up in a
litter; but I once saw Madam Maulfry bury something in the wood, very
early in the morning. And I was frightened. Ah! I have seen strange
things here, such as I dare not utter even now. So I watched my time
and dug up what she had concealed. They were bloody clothes, Isoult,
very many of them, and ells long! So it is true."
Isoult swayed about like a broken bough. Vincent ran to catch her,
fearing she would fall. He felt the shaking of her body under his
hands. That frightened him. He began to beseech.
"Isoult, dear Isoult, I have hurt you, I who would rather die, I who--
am very fond of you, Isoult. Look now, be yourself again--think of
this. He may not be ill by now; he is likely much better. I will find
out for you. Trust me to find it all out."
"No, no, no," she whispered in haste; "you must do nothing, can do
nothing. This is mine. I will find out"
"Will you ask Madam Maulfry?" said Vincent. "She will kill me if she
knows that I have told you. Not that I mind that," he added in his own
excuse, "but you will gain nothing that way."
"No," Isoult answered curtly. "I will find out by myself. Hush! Some
one is coming. Go now."
Vincent went slowly away, for he too heard the sweep of Maulfry's
robe. There was a long looking-glass in the wall, flickering over
which Isoult's eyes encountered their own woeful image-brooding,
reproachful, haunted eyes; this would never do for her present
business. Determined to meet craft with craft, she wried her mouth to
a smile, she drove peace into her eyes, took a bosomful of breath, and
turned to be actress for the first time in her life. This meant to
realize and then express herself. She was like to become an artist.
Towards the end of that night her brain swam with fatigue. She had had
to study, first Maulfry, second, her new self, third, her old self. In
studying Maulfry she began unconsciously to prepare for the shock to
come--the shock of a free-given faith, than which no crisis can be
more exquisite for a child. So far, however, she had no cause to
distrust her chatelaine's honour, nor even her judgment. Both, she
doubted not, were in Prosper's keeping.
Maulfry was in a gay, malicious humour. She pinched Isoult's cheek
when she met her.
"Tired of waiting, my minion?" she began.
"No, ma'am, I am not tired at all."
"That is well. I went by the eye-shine. So you are still patient for
the great reward! Well, build not too high, my dear. All men are
alike, as I find them."
"My reward is to serve, ma'am, not to win."
"It is a reward one may weary of with time. There may be too much
service where the slave is willing, child. But to win gives an
appetite for more winning; and so the game goes on."
Again, later on, she said--
"I should like him to see you tonight, child. He would be more
malleable set near such a fire. Your cheeks are burning bright! As for
your big eyes, I believe you burnish them. Do you know how handsome
you are, I wonder?"
"No one has ever told me that but you, ma'am," said Isoult, demure.
"Pooh, your glass will have told you. They don't lie."
"I never had a glass till I came here. Not even at the convent."
"And did you never get close enough to use somebody's eyes?" said
Maulfry, with a sly look.
Isoult had nothing to say to this. Touch her on the concrete of her
love, and she was always dumb.
"Well then, I will stay flattering you, and advise," Maulfry pursued.
"When that august one chooses to unveil, do you present yourself on
knees as you now are. In two minutes you will not be on your own, but
on his, if I know mankind."
Isoult changed the talk.
"Do you know, or can you tell me, when my lord will come out, ma'am?"
"Come out, child? Out of what? Out of a box?" Maulfry cried in mock
rage. "'Tis my belief you know as much as I do. 'Tis my belief you
have been at a keyhole."
Mockery gave way; the matter was serious.
"Remember now, Isoult, in doing that you will disobey a greater than
I, and as good a friend. And remember what disobedience may mean."
Again she changed her tone in view of Isoult's collapse.
"You look reproaches," she said; "your eyes seem to say, like a
wounded hare's, 'Strike me again. I must quiver, but I will never
run.' So, child, so, I was but half in earnest. You are an obedient
child, and so I will tell Messire, if by any chance I should see him
first." And so on, until they went to bed.
When at last that breathing space came, Isoult was nearly choked with
the fatigue of her artistic escapades; but there was no time to lose.
As soon as she dared she got up in the dark, put her cloak over her
night-dress, and crept out into the gallery. The door creaked as she
opened it; she stood white and quailing, while her heart beat like a
hammer. But nothing stirred. She went first to Maulfry's door and
listened. She heard her breathing. All fast there. Then like a hare
she fled on to the door she knew so well. There was a light under it:
she heard a rustle as of paper or parchment. Whoever was there was
turning the leaves of a book. In the silence which seemed to press
upon her ears and throb in them, she debated with herself what she
should do. She knew that there was indeed no question about it. If he
was ill, everything--all her humility and all his tacit authority--
must give way. There was but one place for a wife. Maulfry did not
know she was his wife. She listened again. Inside the room she now
heard some one shift in bed, and--surely that was a low groan. Oh,
Lord! Oh, Love! She turned the handle; she stood in the doorway; she
saw Galors sitting up in bed with a book on his knees, a lamp by his
side. His sick face, bandaged and swathed, glowered at her, with great
hollow eyes and a sour mouth dropped at one corner.
She stood unable to move or cry.
"All is well, dear friend," said Galors; "I did but shift and let a
little curse. Go to bed, Maulfry."
Isoult had the wit to withdraw. What little she had left after that
pointed a shaking finger at one thing only--flight. She had been
unutterably betrayed. Her conception of the universe reeled over and
was lost in fire. There was no time to think of it, none to be afraid;
she did what there was to do swiftly, with a clearer head than she had
believed herself capable of. She slipt back to her room without doubt
or terror, and put on the clothes in which she had come from the
convent, a grey gown with a leather girdle, woollen stockings, thick
shoes--over all a long red hooded cloak. This done she stood a moment
thinking. No, she dare not try the creaking door again; the window
must serve her turn. She opened it and looked out. Through the fretty
tracery of the firs she could see a frosty sky, blue-grey fining to
green, green to yellow where the moon swam, hard and bright. There was
not a breath of air.
She climbed at once on to the window-ledge, and stood, holding to the
jamb, looking down at the black below.
A great branch ran up to the wall at a right angle; it seemed made for
her intent. Sitting with your legs out of the window it was easy to
take hold of a branch. She tried; it was easy, but not in a cloak. So
she sat again on the sill, took off her cloak, and tried once more.
Soon she was out of the window, swinging by the branch. Then her feet
touched another, and very slowly (for she was panic-stricken at the
least noise) she worked her way downwards to the trunk of the great
tree. Once there it was easy; she was soon on the ground. But she had
no notion what to do next, save that she must do it at once--whither
to turn, how to get out of the wood the best and safest way. Then
another thing struck her. She would be chased, that was of course. She
had been chased before, and tracked, and caught. Little as she could
dare that, what chance had she, a young girl flying loose in this part
of the forest, a young girl decently dressed, looking as she knew now
that she looked; what chance had she indeed? Well, what was she to do?
She remembered Vincent.
Vincent and Nanno did not sleep in the tower: that would have been
inconvenient in Maulfry's view. They had a little outhouse not ten
paces from it, and slept there. Thither went Isoult, jumping at every
snapt twig; the door yielded easily, but which bed should she try?
Nanno, she knew, snored, for Vincent had once made her laugh by
recounting his troubles under the spell of it. Well, the left-hand bed
was undoubtedly Nanno's at that rate; Isoult went to the right-hand
bed and felt delicately with her hand at its head. Vincent's curls!
Then she knelt down and put her face close to the boy's, whispering in
"Whisper, Vincent, whisper," she said; "whisper back to me. Do you
love me, Vincent? Whisper."
"You know that I love you, Isoult," Vincent whispered. "Hush! not too
loud," said she again. "Vincent, will you get up and come into the
wood with me? I want to tell you something. Will you come very quietly
"Yes," said Vincent. The whole breathless intercourse worked into his
dreams of her; but he woke and sat up.
"Come," said Isoult. She crept out again to wait for him.
Vincent came out in his night-gown. The moon showed him rather scared,
but there was no doubt about his sentiments. Love-blind Isoult herself
could have no doubt. She lost no time.
"Vincent, I must tell you everything. I shall be in your hands, at
your mercy. I must go away at once, Vincent. If I stay another hour I
shall never see the daylight again. They will kill me, Vincent, or do
that which no one can speak of. Then I shall kill myself. This is
quite true. I have seen something to-night. There is no doubt at all.
Will you help me, Vincent?"
Vincent gaped at her. "How--what--why--what shall I do?" he murmured,
beginning to tremble. "Oh, Isoult, you know how I--what I whispered--!"
"Yes, yes, I know. That is why I came. You must do exactly what I tell
you. You must lend me some of your clothes, any that you have, now, at
once. Will you do this?'
"My clothes!" he began to gasp.
"Yes. Go and get them, please. But make no noise, for the love of
Vincent tip-toed back. He returned, after a time of dreadful rummaging
in the dark, with a bundle.
"I have brought what I could find. They are all there. I could not
bring what I put on every day, for many reasons. These are the best I
have. How will you--can you--? They are not easy to put on, I think,
for a girl."
Poor Vincent! Isoult had no time nor heed for the modesty proper to
"I will manage," she said. "Turn round, please."
Vincent did as he was bid. He even shut his eyes. Presently Isoult
"Could you find me a pair of scissors, Vincent?" She had been quick to
learn that beauty must be obeyed. She would have asked Vincent for the
moon if she had happened to want it, and would have seen him depart on
the errand without qualm. Sure enough, he brought the scissors before
her held-out hand had grown tired.
"Cut off my hair," she said, "level with my shoulders."
"Your hair!" cried the poor lad. "Oh, Isoult, I dare not."
It reached her knees, was black as night, and straight as rain. It
might have echoed Vincent's reproach. But the mistress of both was
"Cut it to clear my shoulders, please."
He groaned, but remembered that there would be spoils, that he must
even touch this hedged young goddess. So as she stood, doubleted,
breeched, and in his long red hose, he hovered round her. Soon she was
lightened of her load of glory, and as spruce as a chamber-page.
"Now," she said, "you must tell me the way to the nearest shelter.
There is a place called St. Lucy's Precinct, I have heard. Where is
He told her. Keep straight away from the moon. It was just there: he
pointed with his hand. As long as the moon held she could not fail to
hit it. Beyond the pine-wood there was an open shaw; she could keep
through that, then cross a piece of common with bracken cut and
stacked. Afterwards came a very deep wood, full of beech-timber. You
crossed a brook at Four Mile Bottom,--you could hear the ripples of
the ford a half-mile away,--and held straight for the top of Galley
Hill. After that the trees began again, oaks mostly. A tall clump of
firs would lead you there. Beyond them was the yew-tree wood. The
precinct was there. But the moon was her best lamp. He was talking to
her in language which she understood better than he. She could never
miss the road now.
She thanked him. Then came a pause.
"I must go, Vincent," said she. "You have been my friend this night. I
will tell my lord when I see him. He will reward you better than I."
"He can never reward me!" cried Vincent.
She sighed and turned to go, but he started forward and held her with
both hands at her waist. She seemed so like a boy of his age, it gave
"Isoult," he stammered, "Isoult!"
"Yes, Vincent," says she.
"Are you going indeed?"
"I must go at once."
"Shall I see you again?"
"Ah, I cannot tell you that."
"Do you care nothing?"
"I think you have been my friend. Yes, I should like to see you again,
"Will you give me something?"
"What have I, Vincent? If I could you know that I would."
He had her yet by the waist. There was no blinking what he wanted.
"You may kiss me there," she said with the benignity of a princess,
and gave him her hand.
The boy's mouth was very near her cheek. Something--who knows what?--
checked him. He let go her waist, dropped on his knees and kissed the
hand, turned little prince in his turn. Isoult was as near loving him
then as she could ever be. This was no great way, perhaps, but near
enough for immediate purposes. When Vincent got up she gave him her
hand frankly to hold. They were two children now, and like two
children kissed each other without under-thought. Then, as she sped
away from the moon, Vincent crept back to his cold bed with an armful
of black hair.
BOY AND GIRL
The woodland Mass in the yew-tree glade was served next morning by an
acolyte in cassock and cotta. The way of it was this. Alice of the
Hermitage was setting the altar in the light of a cloudy dawn, when
she heard a step and the rustling of branches behind her. Looking
quickly round, she saw a boy come out of the thicket, who stood
echoing her wonder. He was a dark-haired slim lad, in leather jerkin
and breeches, had crimson hose on his long legs, on his head a green
cap with a pheasant's tail-feather in it. The cap he presently took
off in salutation. He said his name was Roy. He had a simple direct
way of answering questions, and such untroubled eyes; he was moreover
so plainly a Christian, that when he asked Alice if he might serve the
Mass she went advocate for him to the priest. So it came about that
Isoult, having breakfasted, lay asleep in Alice's bed when a knight
came cantering into the precinct followed by a page on a cob. His
gilded armour blazed in the sun, a tall blue plume curtesied over his
casque. He was so brave a figure--tall and a superb horseman--and so
glittering from top to toe, that the old hermit, who came peering out
to see, thought him a prince.
"What may your Highness need of Saint Lucy's poor bedesman?" said the
hermit, rubbing his hands together.
"My Highness needs the whereabouts of a flitted lady," said the knight
in a high clear voice.
Isoult, whom the clatter had awakened, lay like a hare in her form. At
this time she feared Maulfry more than Galors.
"Great sir, we have no flitted ladies here. We are very plain folk."
So much reproof of gilded armour and its appurtenances the hermit
ventured on. But the knight was positive.
"She would have passed this way," he called out. "I know whither she
would go. This hold of yours is dead in her road. So advise, hermit."
"I will call Alice," said the hermit.
"Call the devil if he will help you," the other replied.
Isoult heard Alice go out of the cottage.
"Child," said the hermit, "this gentleman seeks a flitted lady who
should have passed by here on her way. Have you seen aught of such an
one? Your eyes are better than most."
There followed a pause, which to the trembler in the bed seemed time
for a death-warrant. Then the quiet voice of Alice told out--
"I have seen no lady. Wait. I will ask."
Isoult heard her returning step. When Alice came into the room she saw
Isoult standing ready, all of a tremble.
"Oh, Alice," says she, clinging to her and speaking very fast, "I am
the girl they are hunting. I am not a boy. I have deceived you. If
they find me they will take me away."
"Will they kill you?"
"Ah, no! There is not enough mercy with them for that."
"Ah, you have done no ill?"
"I served God this morning. I could not have dared."
"True. Who is that knight?"
"I will tell you everything. No man could be so wicked as that knight.
It is a woman, desperately wicked. She is in league with a man who
would do the worst with me. Save me! save me! save me!" She began to
wring her hands, and to blubber, without wits or measure left.
Alice put her hands on her. "Yes, I will save you. Get into bed and
lie down. There is a page with the knight. Do you know him?"
"Yes, yes. He will do no harm. He is good."
"Very well. Lie down, and you shall be saved."
Alice went out again into the open.
"Sir knight," she was heard to say, "I have asked Roy, who came hither
this morning early to serve our Mass. He has seen no one."
"Who is Roy?" said the knight sharply.
"He was server this morning. He is asleep after a long journey."
"Sir, we have little enough room. He is in my own chamber lying on my
The knight gave a dry laugh.
"You mean that I may not venture into a lady's chamber, shameface?
Well, a boy may go where a boy is, I suppose. Vincent, go and explore
"The page may come," said Alice, and watched him go, not without
interest, perhaps not without amusement.
The unconscious Vincent was Isoult's next visitant, stepping briskly
into the room. He came right up to the bed as in his right and
element, a boy dealing with a boy's monkey tricks. One watchful grey
eye, the curve of one rosy cheek peering from the blankets, told him a
"Oh, Isoult," says he in a twitter, "is it you indeed?"
"Yes, hush! You will never betray me, Vincent?"
"Betray!" he cried. "Ah, Saints! My tongue would blister if I let the
truth on you. But you are quite safe. The damsel won't let her in; she
thinks she has a man to deal with. Me she let in!" Vincent chuckled at
the irony of the thing. Then he grew anxious over his beloved.
"You had no mishaps? You are not hurt? Tired?"
"All safe. Not tired now. What will she do next?"
"Ah, there! She is for High March. That I know. She means to find you
there. She means mischief. You must take great care. You have never
seen her in mischief. I have. Oh, Christ!" He winced at the
"I will go advisedly," said Isoult. "Have no fear for me. I shall be
there before she is."
Vincent sighed. "I must go. Good-bye, Isoult. I shall see you again, I
am very sure."
"I hope you will. Good-bye."
He did not dare so much as touch the bed, but went out at once to make
his report. He had questioned the boy--a dull boy, but he thought
honest. Assuredly he had seen no lady on his way. His lies deceived
Maulfry, who would have known better but for her proneness to think
everybody a fool. Soon Isoult heard the thud of hoofs on the herbage;
then Alice came running in to hear the story at large.
The two girls became very friendly. Their heads got close together
over Prosper and Galors and Maulfry--the Golden Knight who was a
woman! The escape savoured a miracle, was certainly the act of some
heavenly power. An Archangel, Alice thought, to which Isoult,
convinced that it was Love, assented for courtesy.
"Though for my part," she added, "I lean hardly upon Saint Isidore."
"You do well," said Alice, "he is a great saint. Is he your patron?"
"I think he is," said Isoult.
"Then it is he who has helped you, be sure. No other could know the
ins and outs of your story so well, or make such close provision. The
Archangels, you see, are few, and their business very great." Isoult
Of Prosper Alice could not get a clear image. When Isoult was upon
that theme her visions blinded her, and sent her for refuge to
abstractions. She candidly confessed that he did not love her; but
then she did not ask that he should.
"But you pray, 'Give him me all,'" Alice objected.
"Yes, I want to be his servant, and that he should have no other. I
cannot bear that any one should do for him what I can do best. That is
what I tell the Holy Virgin."
"And Saint Isidore, I hope," said Alice gently; but Isoult thought
"It would be useless to tell Saint Isidore," she explained.
"He is a man, and men think differently of these matters. They want
more, and do not understand to be contented with much less."
"Forgive me, Isoult. I know nothing of love and lovers. But if you
marry this lord--as I suppose you might?"
"He might marry _me_," said Isoult slowly.
"Well, then, is there no more to look for in marriage but the liberty
"I look for nothing else."
"But he might?"
"Ah, ah! If he did!"
"Oh, Alice, I love him so!"
"Darling Isoult--I see now. Forgive me."
The two friends cried together and kissed, as girls will. Then they
talked of what there was to do. Isoult was resolute to go.
"She will ride straight to High March," she said. "I know her. My lord
is there. If she finds not me, she will find him, and endanger his
ease. I must be there first. She must follow the paths, however they
wind, because she is mounted on a heavy horse. I shall go through the
brakes by ways that I know. I shall easily outwit her in the forest."
"But you cannot walk, dearest. It is many days to High March."
"I shall ride."
"What will you ride, goose?"
"A forest pony, of course."
"Will you go as you are--like a boy, Isoult?"
Alice was aghast at the possibility; but Isoult, who had many reasons
for it apart from her own safety (forgotten in the sight of
Prosper's), was clear that she would. Prosper she knew was the guest
of the Countess Isabel, a vaguely great and crowned lady; probably he
was one of many guests. "And how shall I, a poor girl, come at him in
the midst of such a company?" she asked herself. But if she went with
a tale of being his page Roy he might admit her to some service, to
hand his cup, or just to lie at his door of a night. The real Roy had
done more than this; he would never refuse her so much. So she thought
at least; and at the worst she would have space to tell her message.
At noon, the forest pony captured and haltered with a rope, she
started. Alice was tearful, but Isoult, high in affairs, had no time
to consider Alice. She gave her a kiss, stooping from the saddle,
thanked her for what she had done on Prosper's account, and flew. She
never looked back to wave a hand or watch a hand-waving; she was in a
fever for action. Going, she calculated profoundly. There was a choice
of ways. The great road from Wanmouth to High March skirted Marbery
Down (where she had watched the stars and heard the sheep-bells many a
still night), and then ran east by the forest edge to Worple. It only
took in Worple by a wide divagation; after that it curved back to the
forest, ran fairly clean to Market Basing, thence over ridges and
coombs, but climbing mostly, it fetched up at High March. It was a
military road. Well, she might follow Maulfry on this road till within
a couple of days of the castle; it would ensure safety for her, and a
good footing for her beast. On the other hand, if she rode due north
over everything (as she knew she could), she would steal at least one
more day. And could she afford to lose a clear day with Prosper? Ah,
and it would give a margin against miscarriage of the news by any
adverse fate on either of them. Before she framed the question she
knew it answered. Her road then was to be dead north across the edge
of Spurnt Heath (where her father's cottage was), past Martle Brush,
stained with the black blood of Galors, then on to the parting of the
ways, and by the right-hand road to High March. Thinking it over, she
put her journey at three, and Maulfry's at four days. Maulfry's was
actually rather less, as will appear.
If all this prove dull to the reader, I can only tell him that he had
better know his way about Morgraunt than lose it, as I have very often
done in the course of my hot-head excursions. There are so many
trackless regions in it, so many great lakes of green with never an
island of a name, that to me, at least, it is salvation to have solid
verifiable spots upon which to put a finger and say--"Here is
Waisford, here Tortsentier, here is the great river Wan, here by the
grace of God and the Countess of Hauterive is Saint Giles of Holy
Thorn." Of course to Isoult it was different. She had been a forester
all her life. To her there were names (and names of dread) not to be
known of any map. Deerleap, One Ash, the Wolves' Valley, the Place of
the Withered Elm, the Charcoal-Burners', the Mossy Christ, the Birch-
grove, the Brook under the Brow--and a hundred more. She steered by
these, with all foresters. What she did not remember, or did not know,
was that Maulfry had also lived in Morgraunt and knew the ways by
heart. Still, she had a better mount than the Lady of Tortsentier, and
Love for a link-boy.
However fast she rode for her mark, her way seemed long enough as she
battled through that shadowed land, forded brooks, stole by the edge
of wastes or swamps, crossed open rides in fear what either vista
might set bare, climbed imperceptibly higher and higher towards the
spikes of Hauterive, upon whose woody bluffs stands High March. Not
upon one beast could she have done what she did; one took her a day
and a night going at the pace she exacted. She knew by her instincts
where the herds of ponies ran. It was easy to catch and halter any one
she chose; no forest beast went in fear of her who had the wild-wood
savour in her hair--but it meant more contriving and another stretch
for her tense brain. For herself, she hardly dared stay at all.
Prosper's breast under a dagger! If she had stayed she would not have
slept. The fever and the fever only kept her up; for a slim and tender
girl she went through incredible fatigues. But while the fever lasted
so did she, alert, wise, discreet, incessantly active. Part of her
journey--for the half of one day--she actually had Maulfry in full
view; saw her riding easily on her great white Fleming, saw the glint
of the golden armour, and Vincent ambling behind her on his cob,
catching at the leaves as he went, for lack of something better. She
was never made out by them,--at a time like this her wits were finer
than her enemy's,--so she was able to learn how much time she had to
spare. That night she slept for three hours. As for her food, we know
that she could supply herself with that; and when the deer failed her,
she scrupled nothing (she so abject with whom she loved!) to demand it
of whomsoever she happened to meet. She grew as bold as a winter
robin. One evening she sat by a gipsy fire with as shrewd a set of
cut-throats as you would wish to hang. She never turned a hair.
Another night she fell in with some shaggy drovers leading cattle from
March into Waisford, and shared the cloak and pillow of one of them
without a quiver. Having dozed and started half-a-dozen times in a
couple of hours, she got up without disturbing her bed-fellow and took
to the woods again. So she came to her last day, when she looked to
see the High March towers and what they held.
On that day at noon, as she sat resting near a four-went-way, she
heard the tramp of horses, the clatter of arms. She hid herself, just
in time, in a thicket of wild rose, and waited to see what was
threatening. It proved to be a company of soldiers--she counted fifty,
but there were more--well armed with spears, whose banneroles were
black and white. They rode at a trot to the crossways; there one cried
halt. They were within ten yards of her, but happily there were no
dogs. Then she heard another horse--that of the captain, as she
guessed. She saw him come round the bend of the ride, a burly man,
black upon a black horse. There were white feathers in his helmet; on
his shield three white wicket-gates. Galors! At this moment her heart
did not fail her. It scarcely beat faster. She was able to listen at
They debated of ways; Galors seemed in doubt, and vexed at doubting.
One of them pointed the road to High March.
"No, by the Crucified," said Galors, "that is no road for me just yet,
who once showed a shaven crown upon it. I leave High March to the
Golden Knight for the hour. He shall make my way straight, bless him
for a John Baptist. We are for Wanmeeting, my friends. Wanmeeting,
Said another--"Sir, if that road lead to High March, we must go
straight forward to fetch at Wanmeeting."
So they disputed at large. Isoult made out that Galors had raised a
company of outlaws (no hard job in Morgraunt at any time, and raised
for her ravishment, if she had known it), and was bound for Goltres,
where there was a castle, and a lord of it named Spiridion. She could
find out little more. Sometimes they spoke of Hauterive town and a
castle there, sometimes of Wanmeeting and a high bailiff; but Goltres
seemed most in Galors' mind.
Finally they took the road to Wanmeeting. Isoult waited till the sound
of the horses died in the swishing of trees, and then sped forward on
her feet towards her lord. She knew she was near by, and would not
risk time or discovery by catching her pony. By four in the afternoon
she had her first view of the great castle rising stately out of the
black pines and bright green of the spring foliage, warm grey in the
full light of the sun, and solid as the rock it was of. In another
hour she was demanding of the porter at the outer bailey Messire
Prosper le Gai, in the name of his servant Roy.
That clear and mild evening, fluted as April by a thrush in the
lilacs, Prosper and the Countess walked together on the terrace. A
guard or two, pike in hand, lounged by the balustrade; the deer-hound,
with his muzzle between his paws, twitched his ears or woke to snap at
a fly: it seemed as if the earth, sure of the sun at last, left her
conning tower with a happy sigh. It turned the Countess to a tender
mood, where she suffered herself to be played upon by the season--
_L'ora del tempo e la dolce stagione._ The spring whimpered in
her blood. Prosper felt her sighing as she leaned on his arm, and made
stress to amuse her, for sighs always seemed to him unhealthy. He set
himself to be humorous, sang, chattered, told anecdotes, and succeeded
in infecting himself first and the lady afterwards. She laughed in
spite of herself, then with a good will. They both laughed together,
so that the guards nudged each other. One prophesied a match of it.
"And no bad thing for High March if it were so," said the other, "and
we with a man at the top. I never knew a greater-hearted lord. He is
voiced like a peal of bells in a frolic."
"He's a trumpet in a charge home."
"He's first in."
"Fights like a demon."
"Snuffs blood before 'tis out of the skin."
"Ah, a great gentleman!"
"What would his age be?"
"Five-and-twenty, not an ounce more. So ho! What's this on the road?"
The other man looked up, both looked together. The porter came on to
the terrace, followed by a dark youth who walked with a limp.
"A boy to speak with Messire," said the porter, and left his convoy.
"Name and business?" asked one of the guards.
"Roy, the page from Starning, to speak with my lord."
"Wait you there, Roy. I will ask for you."
The guard went off whistling. Isoult fixed long looks again on the two
at the end of the terrace. She was nearly done,
"You have made a push for it, my shaver," said the second guard, after
a study from head to toe.
"My business pushed me."
"Ah, trouble in the forest, eh? Are the roads clear?"
"I met with a company."
"How many pikes?"
"Nearer sixty than fifty."
"Goltres, I understood."
"A black knight."
"Ah. Were you mounted, my lad?"
"Not then. I was in hiding."
"Ah. You know what you're about, it seems."
"Yes," said Isoult.
The messenger returned.
"You are to go and speak to Messire," he said.
Isoult saw Prosper coming towards her. Her heart's trouble began; her
knees knocked together, she swayed a little as she walked.
"That boy's had as much as he can stand," said the guard who had
"What, a'ready?" laughed his mate.
"Not beer, you fool--travel. He's extended--he will hardly reach
The fact was wholly, the reasoning partly true. Doubt had lain as
dregs at the bottom of the draught which had fed her. Now she was at
the lees--brought so low that she had to depend upon the worth of her
news for assurance of a hearing. True, she had asked no more, nor
looked for it--but you cannot tame hopes. A dry patch in her throat
burned like fire, but she fought her way. He was close: she could see
the keen light in his eyes. Alas! alas! he looked for Roy. A thick
tide of despair came surging over her, closing in, beating at her
temples for entrance. She lost her sight, fluttered a very rag in the
wind, held out her hands for a balance. Prosper saw her feeling about
like a blind man. He quickened.
"Danger! danger!" she breathed, and fell at his feet.
He picked her up as if she had been a baby and carried her into the
house. As he passed the guards one of them came forward to help.
"The lad's been pushed beyond his strength, my lord," the man
"So I see," said Prosper, and shook him off. The business must be got
"A great gentleman," said the man to his mate. "But he fags his
"Bless you, Jack, they like it!" the other assured him, with a laugh
at the weakness of his own kind.
Wine on her lips and brows brought her to, but it was a ghost of a boy
that lay on the bed and held fixed upon Prosper a pair of haunted
eyes. But Prosper stayed at his post. He was very tender to weak
things. Here in all conscience was a weak thing! That look of hers,
which never wavered for a second, frightened him. He thought she was
going to die; reflected that death was not safe without a priest: the
thought of death suggested his dream, the dream his old curiosity to
see again that which had so stirred him asleep. Well, here she was
before him--part of her at least; for her soul, which he had helped
her to win, was fighting to escape. The sounds of the duel, the
shuddering reluctance of the indrawn breath, the moan that told of its
enlargement, these things, and the motionless open eyes which seemed
to say, Look! Body and soul are fighting, and we can only watch!
turned him helpless, as we all are in actual audience of death. He
sat, therefore, waiting the issue; and if he had any thought at all it
was, "God, she was mine once, and now I have let her go!" For we do
not pity the dying or dead; but ourselves we pity, who suffer longer
and more than they.
Presently Isoult fetched a long sigh, and moved a hand ever so
slightly. Prosper took it, leaning over her.
"Isoult," he said, "child, do you not know me?"
He affected more roughness than he felt, as a man's way is. He will
always dictate rather than ask. At his words a shiny veil seemed to
withdraw from her eyes, whereby he learned that she had heard him. He
put the cup to her lips again. Some was spilt, but some was swallowed.
She motioned an answer to his question. "Yes, lord," he made of it.
"Isoult, I ought to be angry with you," said he; and she looked
untroubled at him, too far gone to heed the blame of lords or men.
"No, no," her lips framed as she closed her eyes.
She fell asleep holding his hand, and he watched by the bed till
midnight, warning off with a lifted finger any who came from the
Countess for news of him. Hard thinking sped the vigil: he wondered
what could have happened to bring her so near her death or ever he
could have word of her. Galors, he was pretty sure, had got to work
again; it was good odds that he had been running in couple with the
lady of the dead knight. Their connection was proved to his mind. Then
Isoult, having escaped by some chance, had naturally headed straight
for him--very naturally, very properly. It was his due: he would fight
for her; she was his wife. Ah, Heaven, but she was more than that!
There were ties, there were ties now. What more precisely she was he
could not say; but more, oh, certainly more. Weak things moved him
always: here was a weak enough thing, white and shadowy in a bed! He
felt the stirring of her hand in his, like a little mouse. Poor
frightened creature, flying from all the forest eyes to drop at his
feet at last! By God, he would split Galors this time. And as for the
woman--pooh, give her a branding and let her go.
At midnight Isoult woke up with a little cry. Her first words were as
"You are safe with me, dear," said Prosper.
"Danger to you, my lord!"
"To me, my child? Who can be dangerous to me?"
"Maulfry and Galors. Maulfry most of all."
"Maulfry? Maulfry?" he echoed. Ah, the lady!
She told him everything that had passed from the hour she left
Gracedieu, and even Prosper could not but see that she had had one
thought throughout and one stay. Maulfry's smiling treachery had
shocked her to the soul; but the very shock had only quickened her
alarms about his safety. He could not avoid the reflection that this
startled creature loved him. Prosper would have been more grateful
than he was, and more shrewdly touched, had he not also felt
astonishment (tinged, I think, with scorn) that any one should be
anxious about his conduct of the war. Women's ways! As if a man-at-
arms did not live in danger; and for danger, pardieu. He did not show
any of this, nor did he leave the girl's hand. Besides, the affair was
very interesting. So he heard her to the end, adding nothing by way of
comment beyond an occasional "Good child," or "Brave girl," or the
wine cup to her dry lips. Seeing too how deeply her alarms had sunk
into her, he had tact enough not to let her guess his intent, which
very nakedly was to follow up Galors towards Goltres or Wanmeeting.
Upon this matter he contented himself with asking her one question--
whether she had ever heard speak of a knight called Salomon de Born?
The answer made him start. Isoult shook her head.
"I never heard of him, my lord; but I know that Dom Galors' name is De
"Hum," said Prosper; "he has taken all he can get, it appears. And
does he still carry the shield and arms he had before?"
She told him, yes; and that all his company carried his colours, black
and white, upon their banneroles and the trappings of their horses.
"In fact our monk sets up for a lord--Messire Galors de Born?"
"So he is named among his men, lord," said Isoult.
"But wait a minute. Do you know the man's name before he entered
"It was De Born, my lord, as I understood. But I have heard him also
Prosper thought again, shook his head, made nothing of it, and so kept
it for his need.
Next day before dinner he came into the hall leading a black-haired
boy by the hand. He went up to the Countess's chair between the ranked
"My lady Countess," says he, "suffer my page Roy to kiss your hand. He
loves me, and I him, if for no better reason than that he does me so
much credit. He alone in my father's house has dared it, I may tell
you. Take him in then for my sake, madam. The master's master should
be the servant's master."
The Countess smiled.
"He is certainly welcome on this showing," she said, "as well as on
others. That must be a good servant for whom his master forsakes not
only his friends but his supper." Then turning to Isoult, "Well, Roy,"
she asked, "and art thou whole again?"
"Yes, please my lady," said Isoult.
"Then thou shalt kiss my hand for thy master's sake!" returned the
Countess, after looking keenly at the girl.
Isoult knelt and kissed the white hand. The Countess beckoned to one
of her pages.
"Go now, Roy, with Balthasar," said she. "He will show thee whatever
is needful to be known. Afterwards thou shalt come into hall and serve
at thy lord's chair. And so long as he is here thou shalt serve him,
and sleep at his chamber door. I am sure that thou art faithful and
worthy of so much at my hands. And now, Prosper," she turned to say,
as if that business were happily done, "you shall finish your story of
the Princess of Tunis and the Neapolitan barber, which you broke off
so abruptly yestereven. Then we will go to supper."
The audience was over; Prosper received his wife's reverence with a
blush, sighed as he saw her back out of the presence, and sighed still
more as he turned to his task of entertaining the great lady his
Isoult was led away by Balthasar into the pages' quarters, and escaped
thence with an examination which was not so searching as it might have
been had she not passed for squire to such a redoubtable smiter. She
was not long finding out that Prosper was the god of all the youth in
High March. His respect won her respect, though it could win him no
more from her. She heard their glowing reports, indeed, with a certain
scorn--to think that they should inform her of him, forsooth! From the
buttery she was taken to run the gauntlet of the women in the
servants' hall. Here the fact that she made a very comely boy--a boy
agile, dark-eyed, and grave, who looked to have something in reserve--
worked her turn where Prosper's prowess might have failed her. The
women found her frugality of speech piquant; it laid down for her the
lines of a reputation for experienced gallantry--the sort which asks a
little wearily, Is this worth my while? It seemed to them that in
matters of love Roy might be hard to please. This caused a stir in one
or two bosoms. A certain Melot, a black-eyed girl, plump, and an easy
giggler, avowed in strict confidence to her room-fellow that night,
that her fate had been told her by a Bohemian--a slight and dark-eyed
youth was to be her undoing. You will readily understand that this was
duly reported by the room-fellow to Balthasar, and by him to Isoult,
following the etiquette observed in such matters. Isoult frowned, said
little of it, and thought less.
With the other pages she waited behind her master's chair at supper.
He still sat at the Countess's right hand as the principal guest
(evidently) in her esteem, if not in degree. Isoult had prepared
herself for what was to come as best she could. She had expounded, as
you have been told, her simple love-lore to Alice of the Hermitage;
but it is doubtful if she had known how much like a cow beset by flies
in a dry pasture a lover may be made. Every little familiar gesture
was a prick. Their talk of things which had happened to them
counselled her to despair. When the Countess leaned to Prosper's chair
she measured how long this could be borne; but when by chance her hand
touched on his arm, to rest there for a moment, Isoult was as near
jealousy as a girl, in the main logical by instinct and humble by
conviction, could ever be. Then came doubt, and brought fear to drag
her last hand from the rock and let her fall. Fear came stealthily to
her, like a lurking foe, out of the Countess's unconscious eyes.
Isoult had nothing to hope for that she had not already: she knew that
now she was blessed beyond all women born; she loved, she was near her
beloved; but her heart was crying out at the cold and the dark. There
was love in the Countess's looks; Isoult could not doubt it. And
Prosper did not take it amiss. Here it was that Isoult was blind, for
Prosper had no notions whatever about the Countess's looks.
He was in very high spirits that supper. He liked Isoult to be by him
again, liked it for her sake as well as for the sake of the escapade.
He had watched her a good deal during the day, and found her worth
perusal. She had picked up her good looks again, went bravely dressed
in his livery of white and green, with his hooded falcon across her
bosom and embroidered slantwise upon the fold of her doublet. Thus she
made a very handsome page. She was different though. He thought that
there was now about her an allure, a grave richness, a reticence of
charm, an air of discretion which he must always have liked without
knowing that he liked it. Yet he had never noticed it before. The
child was almost a young woman, seemed taller and more filled out. No
doubt this was true, and no doubt it braved her for the carrying of
her boy's garnish, otherwise a risky fardel for a young woman. He was
pleased with her, and with himself for being pleased. So he was very
merry, ate well, drank as the drink came, and every time Isoult
brought him the cup he looked at her trying to win an answer. Since no
answer was to be had he was forced to be satisfied with looking. Once
or twice in serving him their hands touched. This also pleased him,
but he was shocked to find this rosy girl with the shining eyes had
hands as cold as ice. And he so well disposed to her! And she his
wife! He pursued his researches in this sort at the cost of more
stoups of wine than were needful or his rule. He grew enthusiastic
over it, and laid up a fine store of penalties for future settlement.
The enthusiast must neglect something; Prosper, being engrossed with
his page and his wine, neglected the Countess. This lady, after
tapping with her foot in her chamber till the sound maddened her,
withdrew early. Immediately she had gone Prosper announced great
fatigue. He sent for his page and a torch. Isoult escaped from the
noisy herd round the buttery fire, lit her torch at a cresset,
disregarded Melot languishing in a dark corner, and met her lord in
"Take me to bed, Roy," said he, looking at her strangely.
Isoult led the way; he followed her close.
She went into the dark room with her torch while Prosper stood in the
doorway. She lighted the candles: he could see how deliberately she
did it, without waver or tremor. His own heart thumping at such a
rate, it was astounding to him to watch. Then she beat out the torch
on the hearth, and waited. Three strides brought him into the middle
of the room, but the look of her stopped him there. She was rather
pale, very grave, looked taller than her height; her eyes seemed like
twin lakes of dark water, unruffled and unwinking. Neither of them
spoke, though there was fine disorder in two hearts, and one was
crying inwardly to Love and the Virgin. Isoult spoke first in a very
"Lord, now let me go," she said.
The next minute he had her in his arms.
She had been prepared for this, and now suffered what she must,
lifeless and pleasureless, with a dull pain in her heart. This was the
stabbing pain (as with a muffled knife) with which true love maims
itself in its own defence. His aim for her lips was parried; as well
he might have embraced a dead woman. Soon his passion burned itself
out for lack of fuel; he set her down and looked moodily at her,
"Are you my wife? By the saints, are you not my wife? Why are you
"To serve my lord."
"Serve! serve! And is this the service you do me? Are you not my
"I am she, lord. I am what you made me. I serve as you taught."
"Does a wife not owe obedience? Hath a lord--hath a husband no right
"Love is a great lord--"
"By Heaven, do I not love you?"
He could have sworn he did; but Isoult knew better.
"Yesterday my lord loved me not; to-morrow he will not love me. I am
his servant--his page."
"Isoult, you know that you are my wife."
"I am your servant, lord," said Isoult. "Listen."
As he stood hiding his face in his hand, this tall and lordly youth,
Isoult took up her parable, but so low you could hardly hear it.
"Lord," she said, "when you wed me in the cottage it was for honour
and to save my body from hanging. And when you had saved my body you
showed me soul's salvation, and taught me how to pray, saying, Deal
justly, live cleanly, breathe sweet breath. And when you went away
from Gracedieu saying you would come again, I waited for you there,
doing all that you had taught me. So I did when I was made a prisoner
in the dark tower, and so I would do now that I am blest with sight of
you and service. But when I cried for you at Gracedieu you came not,
and when I came to warn you of your peril you hoped for Roy, and
seeing me your looks fell. And I knew this must be so, and would have
gone back to Gracedieu had you told me. For then I should still have
been rich with what you had given me once. Now even I will go, asking
but one thing of you for a mercy, that you do not send me away
beggared of what you gave me before."
"And what did I give you, Isoult?" he whispered.
"'Twas your honour to keep, my lord," said the girl.
He had been looking at her long before she made an end, but not before
she had gathered strength from her theme. When he did look he saw that
her eyes were large and dark; honesty and clear courage burned
steadily there; the candles reflected in them showed no flickering.
She had her hands crossed over her bosom as if to hold a treasure
close: her treasures were her ring and her faithful heart. He knew now
that he could not gain her for this turn, wife or no wife; in this
great mood of hers she would have killed herself sooner than let him
touch her; and when she had ended her say he knew that she had spoken
the truth, a truth which put him to shame. Like a spoilt boy rather
than a rogue he began to plead, nevertheless. He went on his knees,
unbound her two hands and held them, trying to win his way by
protestations of love and desire. The words, emptied of all fact by
this time (for the boy was honest enough), rang hollow. She looked
down at him sadly, but very gently, denying him against all her love.
The fool went on, set on his own way. At last she said--
"Lord, such love as thou hast for me Galors hath also. And shall I let
my looks undo me with thee, and thee with me? I will follow thee as a
servant, and never leave thee without it be thy will. I beseech of
thee deface not thine own image which I carry here. Now let me go."
She touched herself upon the breast. This was how she drove the evil
spirit out of him. He got up from his knees and thanked her gruffly.
His words came curt and sharp, with the old order in the tone of them;
but she knew that he was really ordering himself. She held out her
hand, rather shyly--for, the battle won, the conquered had resumed
command--he took and kissed it. She turned to go. The evil spirit
within him lifted up a bruised head.
"By God!" cried he, "you shall lie in the bed and I at the door."
And so it was, and so remained, while High March held the pair of
them. By which it will appear that the evil spirit was disposed in
Maulfry did not appear at High March either the next day, or the next.
In fact, a week passed without any sign from her, which sufficed
Isoult to avoid the tedious attentions of the maids, and to attract
those of the Countess of Hauterive. This great lady had been prepared
to be gracious to the page for the sake of the master. She had not
expected the master to show his appreciation of her act by leaving her
alone. The two of them were very much together; Prosper was beginning
to court his wife. The Countess grew frankly jealous of Roy; and the
more she felt herself slipping in her own esteem, the more irritated
with the boy did she grow. She had long admitted to herself that
Prosper pleased her as no man had ever done, since Fulk de Breaute was
stabbed on the heath. In pursuance of this she had waived the ten
years of age between herself and the youth. It seemed the prerogative
of her rank. If she thought him old enough, he was old enough,
pardieu. If she went further, as she was prepared to do; if she said,
"You are old enough, Prosper, for my throne. Come!" and he did not
come, she had a sense that there was _lese majeste_ lurking where
there should only be an aching heart. The fact was, that she began to
hate Roy very heartily; it would not have been long before she took
steps to be rid of him, had not fortune saved her the trouble, as must
now be related. Isoult, it is to be owned, saw nothing of all this.
Having once settled herself on the old footing with her lord and
master, wherein, if there was nothing to gain, there was also nothing
to lose, the humble soul set to work to forget her late rebellion, and
to be as happy as the shadow of Maulfry and the uncompromising shifts
of the enamoured Melot would allow. As for Prosper's courting, it
shall be at once admitted that she discerned it as little as the
Countess's malevolent eye. He hectored her rather more, expected more
of her, and conversed with her less often and less cheerfully than had
been his wont. It is probable that he was really courting his wounded
About a week after the adventure of the bed-chamber, as she was
waiting in the hall with the crowd of lacqueys and retainers, some one
caught her by the arm. She turned and saw Vincent.
He was hot, excited, and dusty, but very much her servant, poor lad.
"Dame Maulfry is here," he whispered her.
"You will see her soon. She is tricked in the figure of a dancing
woman, an Egyptian. She will come telling fortunes and shameful tales.
And she means mischief, but not to you."
"Ah! How do you know that, Vincent?"
"She talked very often to herself when we were in the forest. We have
been to many places--Wanmeeting, Waisford. There is no doubt at all.
`Kill the buck and you have the doe': she said it over and over again.
We have seen the sick man. He is quite well now, and very strong. She
is to kill your lord and take you alive. She seems to hate him. I
can't tell you why. Which is your lord of all those on the dais?"
"Hush. There he sits on the right hand of the Countess. He is talking
to her now. Look, she is laughing."
"Oh, he is tall. He looks light and fierce, like a leopard. How high
he carries his head! As if we were of another world."
"So we are," said Isoult.
Vincent sighed and went on with his story. "I have run away from
Maulfry. She left me to wait for her at the end of the avenue, with
three horses, just as I was at Gracedieu--do you remember? But I could
never do that again. Now I must hide somewhere."
"Come with me. I will hide you."
She took him to the buttery and gave him over to the cook-maids. She
told Melot that this was a fellow of hers who must be tended at all
costs. Melot made haste to obey, sighing like a gale of wind. Isoult
had rather asked any other, but time pressed. She hurried back to the
hall to take her proper place at table, and going thither, made sure
that her dagger slid easily in and out. She was highly excited, but
not with fear--elated rather.
Supper passed safely over. The Countess withdrew to the gallery, and
Prosper followed her as his duty bound him. He was still thoughtful
and subdued, but with a passing flash now and again of his old
authority, which served to make a blacker sky for the love-sick lady.
The sounds of music came gratefully to Isoult; for once she was glad
to be rid of him. She sped back to Vincent, enormously relieved that
the field of battle was to be narrowed. Maulfry would have been
awkward in the open; she knew she could hold her in the passages.
There were two things to be prevented, observe. The knife must not
discover Prosper, nor Maulfry Isoult. The latter was almost as
important on Prosper's account as the former. Isoult knew that. She
knew also that it must be risked of the two; but in the passages she
could deal with it.
Vincent was sitting by the fire between Melot and Jocosa, another of
the maids. Melot bit her lip, and edged away from him as Isoult came
"Girls," said the redoubtable Roy, with scant ceremony, "I have to
speak to my mate."
Melot bounced out of the room. Jocosa loitered about, hoping for a
frolic. A chance look at Master Roy seemed to convince her that she
too had better go.
As soon as they were alone Isoult made haste to eat and drink. Between
the mouthfuls she said--
"She has not come yet."
"No," said Vincent, "but she will come soon. There is time enough for
what she has to do. She had to wait till it was dark. She never works
"We are safe now," Isoult said.
"How is that--safe?"
"She will never see my lord except through me. The doorward will bring
her to me, or me to her. Then I shall be sent to my lord."
"And will you go, Isoult?"
"What will you do?"
Isoult looked down at her belt, whither Vincent's eyes followed hers.
"Ah," he said, "will you dare do that?"
"There is nothing I would not dare for him."
Thereupon Vincent pulls out his dagger as bravely as you please.
"Isoult," says he, "this is man's work. You leave her to me."
"Man's work, Vincent?" But she could not bear to finish the sentence,
so changed it. "Man's work to stab a woman?"
"Man's work, Isoult, to shield the lady one loves--honours I should
"Yes, that is better."
"No, it is worse. Oh! Isoult, may I not love you?"
"But how can I help it? I do love you. What can prevent me?"
"Love itself can prevent you, Vincent."
"Oh! you are right, you are wise, you are very holy. I have never
thought of such things as that. And is that true love?"
"Love should kill love, if need were."
"Love shall," said Vincent in a whisper. Whereupon Isoult smiled on
They fell to chatting again, discussing possibilities, or facts, which
were safer ground. Isoult heard the stroke of ten. Presently after,
the page-in-waiting sang out a challenge. A shuffling step stopped, a
cracked voice asked for Messire Prosper le Gai.
"Maulfry!" said Vincent with a shiver.
"It is late to see Messire," said the page.
"He will see me none the less, young gentleman."
"Wait where you stand. I will fetch his squire."
Isoult got up. Vincent was already on his feet.
"Shall we go?" asked the boy.
"Wait," said the girl. "We must get rid of Balthasar."
Balthasar came in with his message to Roy. Isoult affected to know all
about it. She sent Balthasar off to find a sealed package, which did
not exist, in a turret room where it could not have been. Balthasar
went. He was a dull boy.
"Now," said Isoult, and led the way into the passage.
It was pretty dark there and draughty. A flickering cresset threw a
flare of light one minute, and was shrivelled to a blue spark the
next. It sufficed them to see a tall beribboned shape, a thing of
brown skin and loose black hair--a tall woman standing at a distance.
Side by side Isoult and Vincent went down towards her. Half-way Isoult
suddenly stopped and beckoned Maulfry forward with her hand. The fact
was that she had seen how near the woman stood to the guard-room door;
she wished to do her business undisturbed. Vincent, however, who knew
nothing of the guard-room, had a theory that Isoult was frightened.
Maulfry came bowing forward. Isoult turned and walked slowly away from
her, Vincent in company and on the watch; Maulfry followed, gaining.
By the buttery door Isoult suddenly stopped and faced round. Maulfry
was before her.
"Maulfry," said the girl quietly, "what do you want with my lord?"
Maulfry's eyes shifted like lightning from one to the other. She felt
her rage rising, but swallowed it down.
"You little fool," she said, "you little fool, his life is in danger."
"I have warned him, Maulfry. It was in danger."
"Warned him! I can do better than that. Why, your own is as shaky as
his. You have brought it about by your own folly, and now you are like
to let him be killed. Take me to him, child, for his sake and yours."
"You will never see him, Maulfry."
Maulfry hesitated for a second or two. She was very angry at this
"You are a great fool for such a little body, Isoult," she said; "more
than I had believed. Come now, let me pass." She made to go on:
Isoult, to get ready, stepped back a step, but Vincent slipped in
between them. He was shaking all over.
"Stay where you are, dame," he said.
Maulfry gave a jump.
"Bastard!" She spat at him, and whipped a knife into his heart.
Vincent sobbed, and fell with a thud. In a trice Isoult had struck
with her dagger at Maulfry's shoulder. Steel struck steel: the blade
broke short off at the haft.
A guard came out with a torch, saw the trouble, and turned shouting to
his mates. Half-a-dozen of them came tumbling into the passage with
torches and pikes. There was a great smoke, some blinding patches of
light, everywhere else a sooty darkness. By the time they were up to
the buttery there was nothing to be seen but a boy sitting on the
flags with a dead boy on his knees. Maulfry had gone. As for Vincent,
Love had killed love sure as fate.
When Prosper heard of it all he was very angry. "Is this how you serve
me, child? To fight battles for me? I suppose I should return the
compliment by darning your stockings. I had things to say to this
woman, many things to learn. You have bungled my plans and vexed me."
Isoult humbled herself to the dust, but he would not be appeased.
"Who was this boy?" he asked her. "What on earth had he to do in my
"Lord," she said meekly, "he died to save me from death, and once
before he risked his life to let me escape from Tortsentier."
Prosper felt the rebuke and got more angry.
"A fool meets with a fool's death. Boys and girls have no business
with steel. They should be in the nursery."
"I was in prison, lord."
He remembered then that she might have stayed in prison for all his
help. He began to be ashamed of himself.
"Child," he said more gently, "I did wrong to be angry; but you must
never thwart my plans. The boy loved you?"
"Few have loved me," said she, "but he loved me."
"Ah! Did he tell you so?"
"And what did you say to that, Isoult?"
"I told him how love should be."
"So, so. And how do you think that love should be?"
"Thus, lord," said Isoult, looking to Vincent's heart.
Prosper turned pale. There were deeps, then, of which he had never
"Isoult," he said, "did you love this boy who so loved you?"
She shook her head rather pitifully. "Ah, no!"
"But yet you told him how he should love you?"
"Nay, lord, but I told him how I should love."
"You must have studied much in this science, my child."
"I am Isoult la Desirous, lord."
Prosper turned away. There was much here that he did not understand,
and that night before he went to sleep at her door he kissed her
forehead--it would have been her hand if his dignity had dared--and
then they prayed together as once in the forest.
Afterwards he was glad enough to remember this.
For, notwithstanding all that Isoult could urge (which was very little
indeed), Prosper started next morning with a dozen men to scour the
district for Maulfry. He refused point blank to take the girl with
him, and after her rebuke and abasement of the night before, still
more after the reconciliation on knees, she dared not plead overmuch.
He was a man and a great lord; she could not suppose that she knew all
his designs--any of them, if it came to that. He must go his way--
which was man's way--and she must stop at High March nursing her
heart--which was woman's way--even if High March proved a second
Gracedieu and Isabel a more inexorable Maulfry. No act of her own, she
resolved, should henceforward lead her to disobey him. Ah! she
remembered with a hot flush of pain--ah! her disobedience at Gracedieu
had brought all the mischief, Vincent's death all the anguish. Of
course it had not; of course Maulfry had tricked her; but she was not
the girl to spare herself reproaches. Her loyalty to Prosper took her
easily the length of stultification.
So Prosper went; and it may be some consolation to reflect that his
going pleased fourteen people at least. First it pleased the men he
took with him; for Prosper, that born fighter, was never so humorous
as when at long odds with death. Fighting seemed a frolic with him for
captain; a frolic, at that, where the only danger was that in being
killed outright you would lose a taste of the certain win for your
side. For among the High March men there was already a tradition--God
knows how these things grow--that Prosper le Gai and the hooded hawk
could not be beaten. He was so cheerful, victory so light a thing.
Then his cry--_Bide the time_--could anything be more heartening?
Rung out in his shrill tones over the open field, during a night
attack, say, or called down the darkening alleys of the forest, when
the skirmishers were out of each other's sight and every man faced a
dim circle of possible hidden foes? Pest! it tied man to man, front to
rear. It tied the whole troop to the brain of a young demon, who was
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