The Forest Lovers
Part 4 out of 6
never so cool as when the swords were flying, and most wary when
seeming mad. Blood was a drink, death your toast, at such a banquet.
And that accounts for twelve out of fourteen.
The thirteenth was Countess of Hauterive, Chatelaine of High March,
Lady of Morgraunt, etc. A very few days inhabitancy where Master Roy
was of the party, had assured this lady that the page must be ridded.
She wished him no ill: you do not wish ill to the earwig which you
brush out of the window. Certainly if a boy had needs be stabbed by an
Egyptian (who incontinent disappears and must be hunted) it were
simpler Roy had fallen than the other. But she had no thought of
amending the mistakes of Providence. Great ladies who are really great
do not go to work to have inconvenient lacqueys stabbed. This at least
was not the Countess of Hauterive's way. If Fulk de Breaute had not
been her lover as well as her husband, if he had been (for instance)
only her husband, she would have despised Earl Roger fully as much for
the affair on Spurnt Heath. No. But she meant Roy to go, and here was
The fourteenth was Melot, a maid of the kitchen. This young woman,
whose love affairs were at least as important in her own eyes as could
possibly be those of the Countess her mistress (whom she had hardly
ever seen), or of Prosper (whom she conceived as a sexless
abstraction, built for the purposes of eating and wearing steel), or
of Roy (who, she assumed, had none)--this young woman, I say, was best
pleased of them all. She was perhaps pretty; she had a certain
exuberant charm, I suppose--round red cheeks, round black eyes, even
teeth, and a figure--and was probably apt to give it the fullest
credit. Roy's indifference, or reticence, or timidity (whichever it
was) provoked her. There was either innocence, or backwardness, or
_ennui_ to overcome: in any case, victory would be a triumph over
a kitchenful of adepts, and here was a chance of victory. So far she
owned to failure in all the essays she had made. She had tried
comradeship, a bite of her apple--declined. She had put her head on
his shoulder more than once--endured once, checked effectively by
sudden removal of the shoulder and upsetting of the lady a final time.
She leaned over him to see what he was reading--he ceased reading.
Comradeship was a mockery; let her next try mischief. For happy
mischief the passionist must fume: he had looked at her till she felt
a fool. She had tried innuendo--he did not understand it; languishing
--he gladly left her to languish; coquetry elsewhere--he asked nothing
better. She thought she must be more direct; and she was.
Isoult was in the pantry alone the second day of Prosper's quest. She
stood at gaze out of the window, seeing nothing but dun-colour and
drab where the sunlight made all the trees golden-green. Melot came in
with a great stir over nothing at all, hemmed, coughed, sighed,
heighoed. The block of a fellow stood fast, rooted at his window--
gaping. Melot was stung. She came to close quarters.
"Oh, Roy," she sighed, "never was such a laggard lad with me before.
Where hast thou been to school?"
Thereupon she puts hands upon the dunce, kisses him close, grows
sudden red, stammers, holds off, has the wit to make sure--and bundles
out, blazing with her news.
In twenty minutes it was all over the castle; Prosper's flag was
higher, and Isoult's in the mire. In thirty it had come to my lady's
dresser. Isoult, in the meantime, purely unconscious of anything but a
sick heart, had wandered up into the ante-chamber, and was poring over
a Book of Hours of the Blessed Virgin, leaning on her elbows at a
The dresser, having assimilated the news, was only too happy to impart
to the Countess. This she did, and with more detail than the truth
would warrant. Half hints became whole, backstairs whispers shouted in
the corridors; and all went to swell the feast of sound in the lady's
chamber. It would be idle to say that the Countess was furious, and
moreover untrue, for that implies a scarlet face; the Countess grew as
grey as a dead fire. She was, in truth, more shocked than angry,
shocked at such a flagrant insult to her mere hospitality. But
gradually, as the whole truth seemed to shape itself--the figure she
made, standing bare as her love had left her before this satyr of a
man; the figure of Prosper, tongue in the cheek, leering at her; the
figure of Isoult, a loose-limbed wanton sleepy with vice--before this
hideous trinity, when she had shuddered and cringed, she rose up
trembling, possessed with a really imperial rage. And if ever a
grievously flouted lady had excuse for rage, it was this lady.
Her rages were never storms, always frosts. These are the more deadly,
because they give the enraged more time. So she said very little to
her dresser. It came to this--"Ah! And where is the woman now?"
The dresser replied that when she had passed by the woman was in the
"Very well," said the Countess, "you may leave her there. Go." She
pointed to a door which led another way. The dresser felt baulked of
her just reward. But that was to come.
The Countess, still trembling from head to foot, took two or three
swift turns across the room. The few gentle lines about her face were
more like furrows; the skin was very tight over the lips and cheek-
bones. She opened the door softly. Isoult was still in the ante-
chamber, leaning over the Book of Hours, wherein she had found treated
of the 'Seven Sorrowful Mysteries.' Her short hair fell curling over
her cheeks; but she was boyish enough, to sight. The Countess went
quickly behind her, and before the girl could turn about was satisfied
of the amazing truth.
Isoult, blushing to the roots of her hair, stood up. Her troubled eyes
tried at first to meet her accuser's stony pair. They failed
miserably; almost any plight but this a girl can face. She hung her
head, waiting for the storm.
"Why are you here, woman?" came sharp as sleet.
"I came to warn my lord, madam."
"What are you to him?"
Now for it;--no, never! "I am his servant, madam."
"His servant? You would say his--" The Countess spared nothing. Isoult
began to rock. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed dry.
"Answer me, if you please," continued the Countess. "What are you to
Isoult had no voice.
"If you do not answer me I shall treat you for what I know you are.
You know the penalty. I give you three minutes."
There was no more then from the Countess for three minutes by the
glass. The great lady stood erect, cold and white, seemingly frozen by
the frost which burns you. The only sound in the room was the sobbing
of the cowed girl, who also stood with hidden face and drooping knees,
broken with sobs, but tearless. Ah, what under heaven could she do but
as she did? Married to Prosper? How, when he had not declared it; had
received her as his servant, and treated her as a servant? How, when
she knew that the marriage of such as he to such as she was a
disablement far more serious than the relationship thrown at her by
the Countess? How, above all, when he had married her for charity,
without love and without worship, could she bring scorn upon him who
had dragged her out of scorn? Never, never! She must set her teeth
hard, bow her head, and endure. The time was up.
"Your answer, woman," said the Countess. There was none--could be
none. Only the victim raised a white twitching face to a white stony
face, and with desperate eyes searched it for a ray of pity. Again
there was none--could be none.
The Countess went quickly up and struck her on the mouth with her open
hand. The victim shivered, but stood.
"Go, strumpet!" said the lady. She threw open the door, and thrust
Isoult into the crowd of men and maids waiting in the corridor.
Master Jasper Porges, the seneschal, was the man of all the world who
loved to have things orderly done. The hall was at his disposition; he
arranged his tribunal, the victim in the midst, accuser and witnesses
in a body about his stool, spectators to form a handsome ring--to set
off, as it were, his jewel.
"Her ladyship gives me a free hand in this affair," he said in a short
speech. "You could not have a better man; leave it to me therefore.
There must be a judge. By office, by years, by weariness, by
experience of all (or most) ways of evil-doing, I am the judge for
you. Good; I sit in the seat of judgment. There must be next a jury of
matrons, since this is a free and great country where no man or woman
(whichever this prisoner may be) can be so much as suspected of sex
without a judgment. And since we have not matrons enough, we will make
a shift with the maids. A dozen of you to the benches on the table, I
beg. So far, good. We need next an accused person. He, or she, is
there. Put the person well forward, if you please. Good. Now we are
ready for our advocates; we need an _Advocatus Dei_, or accuser,
and an _Advocatus Diaboli_, or common enemy, to be defender.
Melot, my chicken, you are advocate for God Almighty, and the office
is high enough for you, I hope. _Diaboli Advocatus_ we have
naturally none, since this is a Christian land. Believe me, we are
better without such cattle. I proceed, therefore, by the rules of
logic which are well known to be irresistible, so much so that had
there been a devil's advocate present I must have declined to admit
him lest our Christian profession be made a mock. Hence it follows
that there is no defence. One might almost foretell the event; but
that would be prejudice. We proceed then to interpolate the accused,
saying--'Person, you (being a man) are strangely accused of being a
woman. The court invites you to declare yourself, adding this plain
rider and doom, that if you declare yourself a man, you are condemned
in the person of your familiar, the devil, who deceiveth those that
say you are a woman; and that if you prove to be a woman, you are
condemned by those who dealt with you as a man. Therefore, declare.'"
Master Porges waited, but waited in vain. He was pained. "What,
silence?" he whispered awfully. "What, contumacy? Stubborn refusal?
Sinking in sin? Can I believe my ears? Very good, prisoner, very good.
Melot, my bird of paradise, give your evidence."
This had effect. "I confess," said the accused (speaking for the first
time), "I am not a man."
"There now, there now," cried Master Porges in an ecstasy, "the
sleeper awakened! The conscience astir! Oh, infallible fount of
justice! Oh, crown of the generation of Adam too weighty for the
generation of Eve! Observe now, my loving friends, how beautiful the
rills of logic flowing from this stricken wretch. Let me deduce them
for you. As thus. A woman seeketh naturally a man: but this is a
woman; therefore she sought naturally a man. My friends, that is just
what she did. For she sought Messire Prosper le Gai, a lord, the
friend of ladies. Again. A man should cleave unto his wife: but
Messire le Gai is a man, therefore Messire should cleave unto his
wife. 'La, la!' one will say, 'but he hath no wife, owl!' and think to
lay me flat. Oh, wise fool, I reply, take another syllogism conceived
in this manner and double-tongued. It is not good for man to live
alone; neither is it good for a lady to live alone, who hath a great
estate and the cares of it: but Messire Prosper is that man, and her
ladyship is that lady; therefore they should marry; therefore Messire
Prosper should cleave unto her ladyship, and what the devil hath this
woman to do between a man and his wife now? Aha, I have you clean in a
fork. I have purposely omitted a few steps in my ladder of inference
to bring it home. Then, look, cometh crawling this accursed. _O
tempora, O Mores! O Pudor! O Saecula Saeculorum!_ What incontinency,
you will say; and I say, What, indeed! Then cometh fairly your turn.
Seneschal, you go on threatening me, this is a Christian castle under
a Christian lady, the laws whereof are fixed and stable so that no
man may blink them. I say, Aye. You go on to plead, noble seneschal
(say you), give us our laws lest we perish. I see the tears; I say, Aye.
The penalty of incontinency is well known to you; I say, Aye. It is just.
I bow my head. I say, Take your incontinent incontinently, and deal!"
Master Porges got off the table, and, ceasing to be a justice, became
a creature of his day. Now, his day was a wild one as his dwelling a
barbarous, where the remedy for most offences was a drubbing.
Isoult bowed her head, set her teeth hard, and bent to the storm. The
storm burst over her, shrilled, whistled, and swept her down. In her
unformulate creed Love was, sure enough, a lord of terrible aspect,
gluttonous of blood, in whose service nevertheless the blood-letter
should take delight. No flagellant scored his back more deeply nor
with braver heart than she her smitten side. It would appear that she
was a better Christian than she suspected, since she laid down her
life for her friend, and found therein her reward. And her reward was
this, that Prosper le Gai, the gallant fighter, remained for Melot and
her kind a demi-god in steel, while she, his wife, was adjudged to the
black ram. To the black ram she was strapped, face to the tail, and so
ran the gauntlet of the yelling host in the courtyard, and of the
Countess of Hauterive's chill gaze from the parvise. By this time she
had become a mere doll, poor wretch; and as there is no pleasure in a
love of justice which is not quickened by a sense of judgment, the
pursuers tired after the first mad bout. Some, indeed, found that they
had hurt themselves severely by excess of zeal. This was looked upon
as clear evidence of the devil's possession of a tail, in spite of the
Realists. For if he had not a tail, how could he injure those who
drove him out? This is unanswerable.
The end of it all was that no more than three great hearts pursued the
black ram with its wagging burden into the forest. Of whom one,
feeling the fatuity of slaying the slain, or having, it may be, some
lurking seed of nominalism fomenting within, beat off the others and
unstrapped the victim's arms and legs.
"Though you are a wanton, God knows," he said, "you are flesh and
blood, or were so an hour ago. Be off with you now, and learn honest
This was irony of fact, though not of intention. It was prompted by
that need which we all have of fortifying ourselves. But it probably
saved the girl's life. The men withdrew, and she lay there quiet
enough, with a bloody foam on her mouth, for two nights and a day.
It is said, I know not how truly, that the ram stayed by her, was
found standing there when she was found. It is like enough; there was
a good deal of the animal, beyond the wild-beast savour, about Isoult.
She was certainly no formularist; nor had she the reward of those who
do well to be angry, which lies, I suppose, in being able to drub with
a whole heart.
HOW PROSPER HELD A REVIEW
Messire Prosper le Gai with his dozen men had scoured the forest
country from March on the east to Wanmeeting on the west, and from
March-Gilbert among the hills of the north to Gracedieu in Mid-
Morgraunt, without any sign of the Egyptian. But at Wanmeeting there
had been news of a golden knight, who, unattended, rode into the
market-place at sunset asking the whereabouts of Galors de Born and
his force. Having learned that they had taken the Goltres road the
knight had posted off at a gallop, hot foot. Now Prosper knew what
sort of a force Galors might have there, and guessed (from what
intelligence Isoult had added to his own) that the golden knight would
make at least two brains in it. To follow, to get his dozen men
killed, were nothing; but could he be certain Galors would be dropped
and Maulfry secured for the appointed branding before the last of them
fell? As for his own life, we know that he considered that arranged
for. He habitually left it out of the reckoning. On the whole,
however, he decided that he could not successfully attack. He must
return for reinforcements, taking with him a report which, he relied,
would secure them. Waisford had been raided, the fields about it laid
waste. There were evidences of burnings and slaughterings on all
hands. He put what heart he could into the scared burgesses before he
left, and what common-sense. But Galors had gone through like a hot
So Prosper and his men returned to High March. On the morning in which
Isoult stirred to open her loaded eyes, and began to moan a little, he
and they went by within some forty yards of her--the troopers first,
then himself riding alone behind them. He heard the moaning sound and
looked up; indeed, he saw the black ram standing, alone as he thought,
with drooped head. Prosper was full of affairs. "Some ewe but lately
yeaned," he thought as he rode on. The glaze swam again over Isoult's
eyes, and the moaning grew faint and near its death. The ram fell to
licking her cheek. In this pass she was presently found by a charcoal-
burner, who had delivered his loads, and was now journeying back with
his asses into the heart of the forest. He also heard the moaning; he
too saw the ram. Perhaps he knew more of the habits of ewes or had
them readier in mind. He may have had no affairs. The beast, at any
rate, was a ram for him, and the licked cheek that of a murdered boy
who lay with the other cheek on the sward. The blood about his eyes
and hair, the blood on the grass, was dry blood; nevertheless the man
turned him over, felt his bones, listened at his heart, and made up
his mind that he was not dead. A little wine to his lips brought him
to. The charcoal-burner looked into the wounds and washed them,
produced black bread, goat's-milk cheese, with a little more wine,
finally helped the beaten lad to his feet and to one of his asses. He
assumed it was a fight and not a failure to murder: that was safer for
him. With the same view he asked no questions. It was a pity to leave
the ram, he thought. Butcher's meat was scarce. He killed it then and
there, having plenty of asses to hand. In that category, with little
doubt, must be placed the ram in question, who, had he had a proper
abhorrence of persons who rode him face to the tail, would have kept
his skin and lived to found a family.
The charcoal-burner, when all was made fast, set his team in motion.
Man, woman, and asses, they ambled off down the green alley towards
the middle holds of Morgraunt.
Prosper and his men, lords of those parts, went on their way home to
High March. The men disposed in their lodging, Prosper himself rode
under the gateway of the castle, crossed the drawbridge, and entered
the courtyard amid the mock salutes of the grinning servants. Full of
thought as he was, vexed at his check, curiously desiring to see
Isoult again (who had such believing eyes!), he took no heed of all
this, but dismounting, called for his page. At this there was a hush,
as when the play is to begin. Then Master Porges, the seneschal,
solemnly awaiting him, solemnly blinked at him, and cleared his throat
for a speech.
"Messire," he said, "Messire, to call for a page is an easy matter,
but to answer for a page is a difficult matter." He loved periphrasis,
the good Porges.
"What do you mean by that, my dear friend?" said Prosper blandly,
"Messire," went on Master Porges, hard put to it, "to answer you were
to defile the tongue God hath given me for her ladyship's service. To
obey is better than sacrifice. Her present obedience is that I should
request your presence in the ante-chamber the instant of your
appearing before these halls."
"You will do me the honour, seneschal," said Prosper, growing polite,
"to answer my question first."
"I will send for the girl Melot, Messire," answered Master Porges.
"You shall send for whom you please, my friend, but you shall answer
my question before you move from that step."
The seneschal did not move from the step. He sent a loiterer to fetch
Melot from the kitchen, while Prosper waited, the centre of an
"Ah, the suffering maid!" cried the seneschal as he saw Melot near at
hand. "My maid, you must speak to Messire in answer to a question he
put me but a few minutes since. Messire, my girl, asked for his page."
Melot's heart began to thump. The steel demigod was before her, she
unprepared. The fire was laid, but wanted kindling. Prosper kindled it
for his own consuming.
"Pray what has this woman to do here?" he asked.
"Woman indeed!" rounded Melot, breathing again. "Woman! do you call me
names, Messire? Keep them for the baggage you fetched in!"
Prosper saw the whole thing in a flash. He grew still more polite.
"Seneschal," he said, "have the goodness to inform your mistress of my
coming. Pray that I may wait upon her immediately.... I think," he
added after a pause, "I think that you had better go at once."
The seneschal agreed that he had. He went.
Prosper waited in silence, in a crowd equally silent.
The seneschal shortly returned.
"Her ladyship will see Messire at once. I beg Messire to follow me."
He entered the Countess's chamber, and, lifting his head, looked at a
white lady on a throne. He had never seen her so before. She was
dressed in pure white, with a face near as dead as her clothes. All
that was dark about it haunted her masked eyes. She sat with her chin
in her hand, looking and waiting for him; when he came, and the
seneschal was dismissed with a curt nod, she still sat in the same
dead fashion, watchful of her guest, unwinking, pondering. Prosper,
for his part, bided the time. He guessed what was coming, but a word
from him might have put him in the wrong.
In the end the Countess broke the long silence. He thought he had
never heard her voice; it sounded like that of a tired old woman.
"I had thought to find in you, my lord, the son of an old friend, like
in spirit as in blood to him whom at first I sought to honour in you.
I find I have been mistaken, but for your father's sake I will not
tell you how much nor by what degrees. Rather I will beg you go at
once from my house."
"Madam, for my father's sake, if not for mine, you will tell much more
than this to his son. Have your words any hint of reference to the
Lady Isoult? Speak of her, madam, as you would speak of my mother, for
she is my wife."
The Countess shrank back in her throne as if to avoid a whip. She
cowered there. Her eyes dilated, though she seemed incapable of seeing
anything at all; her mouth opened gradually--Prosper expected her to
scream--till it formed a round O, a pale ring circling black. Prosper,
having delivered his blow, waited in his turn; though his breath
whistled through his nostrils his lips were shut, his head still very
high. The blow was a shrewd one for the lady. You might have counted
twenty before she began to talk to herself in a whisper. Prosper
thought she was mad.
"I should have known--I should have known--I should have known," she
whispered, very fast, as people whisper on a death-bed.
"Madam," he broke in, "certainly you should have known had it seemed
possible to tell you. Even now I can tell you no more than the bare
fact, which is as I have stated it. And so it must be for the moment,
until I have completed an adventure begun. But so much as I tell you
now I might have told you before. It is shame to me that I did not.
Marriage to me is a new thing, love still a strange thing. Had I
thought then as I now do, be sure you would never have seen me here
without my wife, whom now, madam, I will pray leave to present to you,
the Lady Isoult le Gai."
During this narration the Countess had risen slowly to her feet. She
was labouring under some stress which Prosper could not fathom. For a
little she stood, working her torture before him. Then she suddenly
smote herself on the breast and cried at him--"You have done more
misery than you can dream." And again she struck herself, and then,
coming down from her throne like a wild thing, she shrieked at him as
if possessed--"You fool, you fool! Look at me!"
He could not help himself; look he must. She came creeping up to him.
She caught at his two hands and peered into his face with her blind
"Do you love Isoult, Prosper?"
He could hardly hear her. But he raised his head.
"By God and His Christ, I believe that I do," said he.
The Countess took a dagger from her girdle, unsheathed it, and put it
in his hand. She knelt down before him as a woman kneels to a saint in
a church. With a sudden frenzy she tore open the front of her gown so
that all her bosom was bare, and then as suddenly whipt her hands
behind her back.
"Now kill me, Prosper," she whined; "for I love thee, and I have
killed thy love Isoult."
So she bowed her head and waited.
But Prosper gave a terrible cry, and turned and left her kneeling. He
ran down the corridor blindly, not knowing how or whither he fared. At
the end of it was a door which gave on to the Minstrel Gallery over
the great hall. Into this trap he ran and fetched up against the
parapet. Below him in the hall were countless faces--as it seemed, a
sea of white faces, mouthing, jeering, and cursing. He stood glaring
blankly at them, fetching his breath. Words flew about--horrible! Out
of all he caught here and there a scrap, each tainted with hate and
"Come down, thou polluter." Again, "Serve him like his wench."--
"Trounce him with his woman."--"Send the pair to hell!"
The dawning attention he began to pay sobered his panic, quenched it.
What he learned by listening struck him cold. He took pains; he could
hear every word now, surely. He was really very attentive. The
chartered rascals packed in the hall took this for irresolution, and
howled at him to their hearts' content. Once more Prosper held to his
motto--bided the time. The time came with the coming of Master Porges
--that smug and solemn man--into the assembly. The seneschal looked
round him with a benignant air, as who should say, "My children all!"
The listening man in the gallery watched all this.
Suddenly his sword flashed out. Prosper vaulted over the gallery,
dropped down into the thick of them, and began to kill. Kill indeed he
did. Right and left, like a man with a scythe, he sliced a way for
himself. There were soldiers, pikemen, and guards in the press: there
was none there so tall as he, nor with such a reach, above all, there
was none whose rage made him cold and his anger merry. However they
were, they could scarcely have faced the hard glitter of his blue
eyes, the smile of his fixed lips. He could have carved with a dagger,
with a bludgeon, a flail, or a whip. As it was, to a long arm was
added a long sword, which whistled through the air, but through flesh
went quiet. There had been blows at first from behind and at the side
of him. The long mowing arms stayed them. It became a butchery of
sheep before he was midway of the hall, thence the rest of his passage
to the door was between two huddled heaps, with not a flick in either.
He reached his goal, shot the bolt, and turned, leaning against the
door. The heaped walls of that human sea had by this flowed over his
lane; now they stood eyeing him who faced them and wiped his blade
with a piece cut from the arras--eyeing him askance with silly,
shocked faces. Behind them a few grunted or sobbed; but for the most
part he had done his work only too well.
Having wiped exquisitely his sword and sheathed it, Prosper took a
step forward. The heap of men huddled again.
"Let one go to fetch Melot," he said softly.
No one stirred.
"Let one go to fetch Melot."
No motion, no breath.
"Ah," said he as if to himself, and laid hand to pommel. The heap
shuddered and turned on itself. It swarmed. Finally, like a drop from
a sponge, Master Porges exuded and stood out, a sweating monument.
"Seneschal," said Prosper, with a bow, "I am for the moment about to
ask a favour of you. Have the goodness to oblige me." He unbolted the
door and held it open for the man.
Master Porges gasped, looked once to heaven, thought to pray.
"_In manus teas, Domine!_" he sighed.
"Exactly," said Prosper, and kicked him out. The breathless audience
A timid knocking--a mere flutter--at the door ushered in as tip-toe a
couple as you might easily see. Master Porges fell to his knees and
prayers; Melot was too far gone for that. She simply did everything
she was told.
"Melot," said Prosper, "you will tell me the whole tale from the
beginning. It was you who first knew the Lady Isoult?"
"It was you who told the others?"
"Your mistress then saw the Lady Isoult?"
"What happened next?"
"My lady struck her, and pushed her into the corridor, Messire."
"Ah! And then?"
"And we were all there, Messire."
"Ah, yes. Waiting?"
"Then we had a procession, Messire."
"Who ordered it?"
"The seneschal had the ordering, Messire."
"_O Pudor!_ O afflicted liar!" prayed Master Porges.
But the tale went on. The afflicted liar forgot nothing except Master
Porges' syllogisms. These she took for granted. At the end Prosper
said to her--
"Melot, you may go. I do not punish women, and you have only done
after your kind. Go to the others."
The pack opened and swallowed her up. Prosper turned to Master Porges,
who was gabbling prayers for his enemies.
"Master Seneschal," he said, "since it is you who have driven this
herd of hogs to do your work, now I shall drive them to do mine. And
in teaching you through them what it is to do villainy to ladies, I
teach them through you. They could not have a better guide than their
headman; and as for you, I will take care that you are well grounded
in what you have to teach."
"Ah, Messire," babbled the shiny rogue, "have I not done after my kind
"You have indeed, my friend," Prosper replied. "Now I will do after
To be short, he had Master Porges stripped, horsed, and stoutly
flogged then and there. This he did by the simple device of calling up
his agents by name, having the general's knack of judging men. Master
Porges was a pursy man, but there were burlier than he; a couple of
lean stablemen made good practice with the stirrup-leathers. At the
end the entire herd were his slaves. One fetched his horse, another
his shield and spear, three fought for the stirrup. A dozen would have
shown him the way to the last scene of the martyrdom (for so, by vivid
comparison, the common enthusiasm conceived it); but for this he chose
the man who had unstrapped the girl. This worthy had not failed to
recommend himself to notice on that score. He received his reward.
Prosper addressed him two requests. The first was, "Lead," and the man
led him. The second was, "Go," and the man fled back. Prosper was left
alone before a form of bruised bracken to make what he could of it.
He was a man of action, not given to reflections, not imaginative,
essentially simple in what he thought and did. What he did was to
dismount and doff his helmet. Next, with the butt of his spear, he
battered out the cognizance on his shield till no _fesse
dancettee_ rippled there. "I will bear you next when I have won
you," said he to the maimed arm. Bare-headed then he knelt before the
form in the fern and prayed.
"Lord God of heaven and earth, now at last I know what the love of
woman is. Let my wife learn of me the love of an honest man. And to
that end, Father of heaven, suffer me to be made a man. _Per
Christum Dominum_," etc.
At the end of his prayer he knelt on, and what drove in his brain I
know not at all. The unutterable devotion of that meek and humble
creature who called him master and lord, who had lain by his side,
walked at his heels, sat at his knee, served at his table, put his
foot to her neck (she so high in grace, he so shameless in brute
strength!), bowed to a yoke, endured scorn, shame, bleeding, stripes,
blindness, and the swoon like death--all this was something beyond
thought: it was piercingly sweet, but it beat him down as a breath of
flame. He fell flat on his face upon the black fern and blood, and so
stayed crying like a boy.
When he got up he buckled on his helm, mounted, and rode straight for
Master Porges knew an image-maker at March, and paid him a visit. He
caused to be made a little stone figure of a lady, very beautiful,
with a brass aureole round her victorious head. She was depicted
trampling on a grinning knight--evidently the devil in one of his many
disguises, though as like Prosper as description could provide.
Underneath, on the pedestal, ran the legend--_Sancta Isolda Dei
Genetricis Ancilla Ora Pro Nobis_. He set this up in his chamber
over a faldstool, and said three _Paters_ and nine _Aves_ before
it daily. He reported that he derived unspeakable comfort from the
practice, and for my part I believe that he did.
HOW THE NARRATIVE SMACKS AGAIN OF THE SOIL
The charcoal-burner's convoy, bearing at once the evidence and the
reward of his humanity, a battered lady on one ass and her flayed
friend on another, jogged leisurely through the forest glades. The
time was the very top of spring, the morning soft and fair, but none
of the party took any heed: the charcoal-burner because he was by
habit too close to these things, Isoult because she was in a faint,
the black ram because he had been skinned. When Isoult did finally
lift her head and begin to look timidly about her, she found herself
in a country unfamiliar, which, for all she knew, might be an hour's
or a week's journey from High March, where Prosper was. Prosper! She
knew that every mincing step of the donkey took her further from him,
but she was powerless to protest or to pray; life scarce whispered in
her yet. And what span of miles or hours, after all, could set her
wider from him than discovery, the shame, the yelling of her foes, had
In this new blank discomfiture of hers, she was like one who has been
taught patiently to climb by a gentle hand. The hand trusts her and
lets go--down, down she falls, and from the mire at the bottom can see
the sunny slopes above her, and the waiting guide stretched at rest
until she come. The utter abasement of her state numbed her spirit;
any other spirit would have been killed outright. But to her one thing
remained, that dull and endless patience of the earth-born, poor clods
without hope or memory, who from dwelling so hidden in the lap of the
earth seem to win a share of its eternal sufferance. Your peasant will
bow his back as soon as he can stand upright, and every year draws him
nearer to the earth. The rheumatics at last grip him unawares, and
clinch him in a gesture which is a figure of his lot. The scarred
hills, the burnt plains, the trees which the wind cows and lays down,
the flowers and corn, meek or glad at the bidding of the hour--the
earth-born is kin to these, more plant than man. I have done ill if I
have not thus expounded Isoult la Desirous, for without such knowledge
of her you will hardly understand her apathy. She had been lapped so
long on the knees of earth; her flights in the upper air had been so
short, and her tumble with a broken wing so sharp, that she resumed
the crouch, the bent knees, the folded arms, the face in hands of the
earth-born, with hardly a struggle. If she had been meant for the air,
she would be in the air; if she was meant to die a serf as she had
lived, why, at the rate she was spending, death would be quick--
_ecco_! The word comes pat when you talk of such lives as hers,
for the Italian peasant is the last of the earth-born, invincibly
So Isoult, it seems, had the grace to know how far she had fallen, but
not the wit to try for redemption once more. In accepting her tumble
for a fate, I think it is clear that she was so far earthy as to be
meek as a woodflower. Says she, If the rain fall, the dew rise, the
sun shine, or wind blow mild, each in their due season--well, I will
look up, laugh and be glad. You shall see how lovely I can be, and how
loving. If the frost bind the ground in May, if you parch me with
frozen wind, or shrivel me with heat, or let me rot in the soak of a
wet June--well, I will bend my neck; you will see me a dead weed; I
shall love you, but you shall hardly know it. If you are God, you
should know; but if you are a man--ah, that is my misfortune, to love
you in spite of common-sense.
Isoult believed she was abandoned by Prosper; she believed that she
deserved it. She must be graceless, would die disgraced, having served
her turn, she supposed. If, nevertheless, she persisted in loving, who
was hurt? Besides, she could not help it any more than she could help
being a scorn and a shame. Fatalist! So it was with her.
The charcoal burner had no curiosity. She hadn't been quite murdered;
she was a boy; boys do not readily die. On the other side, they are
handy to climb woodstacks, labour saving appliances--with the aid of
an ash plant. And he was a clear fat sheep to the good. So he asked no
questions, and made no remarks beyond an occasional oath. They slept
one night in the thicket, rose early, travelled steadily the next day,
and in course reached a clearing, where there were three or four black
tents, some hobbled beasts, a couple of lean dogs, and a steady column
of smoke, which fanned out into a cloud overhead. Here were the coal
stacks; here also she found the colliers, half-a-dozen begrimed
ruffians with a fortnight's beard apiece. No greetings passed, nor any
introduction of the white-faced boy shot into their midst. One of
them, it is true, a red-haired, bandy-legged fellow, called Falve,
looked over the newcomer, and swore that it was hard luck their
rations should be shortened to fatten such a weed; but that was all
for the hour.
At dusk, suppertime, there was a cross examination, held by Falve.
"What's your name, boy?"
"To hell with your echoes. Where do you come from?"
"I don't know."
"What can you do?"
"As I am bid."
"Can you climb?"
"Wink at a woman?"
"I see none."
"Take a licking?"
"I have learnt that."
"By God he has, I'll warrant," chuckled the man who had found her.
"Hum," said Falve. "Are you hungry, Roy?"
"Then do you cook the supper and I'll eat it. Do you see this little
belt o' mine?"
"It's a terror, this belt. Don't seek to be nearer acquaint. Go and
The ram proved excellent eating--tender and full of blood. Humane,
even liberal, counsels prevailed over the sated assembly. The boy
seemed docile enough, and likely; just a Jack of the build needful to
climb the stacks of smouldering boughs, see to the fires, cord the cut
wood and the burnt wood, lead the asses, cook the dinner, call the men
--to be, in fact, what Jack should be. Jack he was, and Jack he should
be called. Falve held out for a thrashing as a set-off; it seemed
unnatural, he said, to have a belt and a boy at arms'-length. It was
outvoted on account of the lateness of the hour, but only delayed. The
beds were made ready, and Jack and his masters went to sleep.
The argument, which, holding as I do steadfastly with Socrates, I must
follow whithersoever it runs, assures me that charcoal-burning is a
grimy trade, and the charcoal-burners' Jack the blackest of the party;
for if he be not black with coal-smoke, he will be black and blue with
his drubbings. Isoult, in the shreds of Roy, grew, you may judge, as
black and uncombed as any of the crew. She had not a three-weeks'
beard, but her hair began to grow faster; the roses in her cheek were
in flower under the soot. Her hair curled and waved about her neck,
her eyes shone and were limpid, her roses bloomed unawares; she grew
sinewy and healthy in the kind forest airs. She worked very hard, ate
very little, was as often beaten as not. All this made for health; in
addition, she nursed a gentle thought in her heart, which probably
accounted for as much as the open air. This was the news of Prosper's
return to High March, and of the fine works he performed there in the
hall. It came to her in a roundabout way through some pony drovers,
who had it from Market Basing. The pietist at March, who made the
image of Saint Isolda, may have spread the news. At any rate it came,
it seeded in her heart, and as she felt the creeping of the little
flower she blushed. It told her that Prosper had avenged her--more,
had owned her for his. This last grain of news it was which held her
seed. If he owned her abroad--amazing thought!--it must be that he
loved her. As she so concluded, a delicate, throbbing fire fluttered
in her side, and stole up to burn unreproved and undetected in her
cheeks. Her reasoning was no reasoning, of course; but she knew
nothing of knightly honour or the dramatic sense, so it seemed
incontrovertible. At this discovery she was as full of shame as if she
had done a sin. A sin indeed it seemed almost to be in her, that one
so high should stoop to one so low, and she not die at once.
Sacrilege--should not one die rather than suffer a sacrilege to be
thrust upon one? So Clytie may have felt, and Oreithyia, when they
discerned the God in the sun, or wild embraces of the wind.
Yet the certainty--for that it was--coincided with her lurking
suspicion of the virtue lying in her own strong love. It made that
suspicion hardy; it budded, as I have said, and bore a flower. She
could feel and fondle her ring again, and talk to it at night. "Lie
snug," she would say, "lie close. He will come again and put thee in
place, for such love as mine, which endureth all things, is not to be
gainsaid." Thus she grew healthy as she grew full of heart, and gained
sleek looks for any who had had eyes to see them.
Luckily for her, at present there was none. It is providence for the
earth-born that their mother's lap soon takes furrows in which they
may run. The charcoal-burners' life was no exception: hard work from
dawn to dusk, food your only recreation, sleep your only solace. The
weather is no new thing to you, to gape at and talk about. As well
might the gentry talk about the joys of their daily bath. You have no
quarrels, do no sins, for you have neither women nor strong waters in
your forest tents. And if you knew how, you would thank God that you
are incapable of thought, since a thinking vegetable were a lost
vegetable. To think is to hope, and to hope is to sin against
religion, which says, God saw that it was good. More than any
reflecting man your earth-born believes in God, or the devil. It comes
to much the same, if you will but work it out. He is a deist, his God
Isoult, the demure little freethinker, had another secret god--him of
the iris wings. She loved, she was loved; she dared hope to be happy.
So far of the earth as to be humble, so far from it as to hope, she
grew in the image of her god and was lovely; she remembered the
precepts of her mother earth and was patient. Whenever she could she
washed herself in the forest brooks; so woods and running water saw in
her the blossoming rod. At these times she could have hymned her god
had she known how; but Prosper had only taught her what his priests
had taught him, that this was a world where every one is for himself,
and to him that asks shall be given. To him that asks twice should be
twice given. The consequence is that life is a great hunting, with no
time for thanksgiving unalloyed. You must end your _Gloria_ in a
whining petition. Having, however, nothing to ask, she sat at these
times in ecstasy inarticulate, her rags laid by for a season, looking
long and far through the green lattice towards the blue, bent upon
exploration of the joyful mysteries. A beam of the sun would fall upon
her to warm her pale beauty and make it glow, the wind of mid-June
play softly in her hair, and fold her in a child's embrace. Then again
she would toy with her ring. "Ring, ring, he will come again, and put
thee where thou shouldest be. Meantime lie still until he lie there
instead of thee."
July heats stilled the forest leaves; the coal-stacks grew apace. The
charcoal-burners' Jack had hair to his waist and had to hide it in his
cap; the charcoal-burners' beards were six weeks old. There was talk
of nights of a market in Hauterive, where Falve's mother kept a
Prosper's aim on leaving High March after his gests of arms had been
Goltres, for there he had believed to find Galors. But Galors was a
man of affairs just now who had gone far since Isoult overheard his
plans. His troop of some sixty spears had grown like the avalanche it
resembled. For what the avalanche does not crush it turns to crushing.
Galors harrying had won harriers. In fact, he headed within a
fortnight of his coming into North Morgraunt a force which was the
largest known since Earl Roger of Bellesme had made a quietness like
death over those parts. By the time of Prosper's exodus, that is by
mid-May, his tactical situation was this--it is as well to be precise.
He had Hauterive and Waisford. Goltres was in the hollow of his hand.
If he could get Wanmeeting he would be master of the whole of the
north forest, west of Wan. Here would be enormous advantage. By a
forced march and a night surprise he might get Market Basing, on the
east side of the river; and if he did that he would cut the Countess
of Hauterive practically off the whole of Morgraunt. Going further, so
far as to cut her off March, whence she drew her supplies, she would
be at his mercy. He could pen her in High March like a sheep, and make
such terms as a sheep and a butcher were likely to arrange.
For, strategically, North Morgraunt would be his; with that to the
good South Morgraunt could await his leisure. The key will show how
the Hauterive saltire stood with the Galors pale.
Now the whole of this pretty scheming was based upon one simple
supposed fact, that the Countess's daughter was then actually in her
mother's castle. Galors knew quite well that he could not hold
Morgraunt indefinitely without the lady. Even Morgraunt was part of
the kingdom; and though rumour of the King's troubles came down, with
wild talk of Aquardente from the north and Bottetort from the south-
west combining to slaughter their sovereign, the King's writ would
continue to run though the king that writ it were under the earth: it
was unlikely that a shire would be let fall to a nameless outlaw when
five hundred men out of Kings-hold could keep it where it was. But a
name would come by marriage as well as by birth. All his terms with
his penned Countess would have been, amnesty and the heiress.
At first he prospered in everything he undertook. Waisford and
Hauterive were under-garrisoned, and fell. Goltres, very remote, was
unimportant except as a base. The Countess at this time, if not
engaged philandering with Prosper, was troubled on the northern
borders. As a matter of fact Galors had been able to secure that no
messengers to High March should cross Wan, and that none from it,
having once crossed, should ever re-cross. This was the state of
affairs when Prosper passed the edge of the High March demesnes and
took the road for Wanmeeting and Goltres.
He had not gone far out of the Countess's borders before he saw what
had happened. The country had been wasted by fire and sword: cottages
burnt out, trampled gardens, green cornlands black and bruised--
desolation everywhere, but no life. Death he did come upon. In one
cottage he saw two children dead and bound together in the doorway; at
a four-went way a man and woman hung from an ash-tree; of a farmstead
the four walls stood, with a fire yet burning in the rick-yard; in the
duck-pond before the house the bodies of the owners were floating amid
the scum of green weed. That night he slept by a roadside shrine, and
next morning betimes took the lonely track again. Considering all this
as he rode, he reached a sign-post which told him that here the ways
of Wanmeeting and Waisford parted company. "Wanmeeting is my plain
road," thought he, "but plainer still it is that of Galors--and not of
Galors alone. I think the longer going is like to be my shorter. I
will go to Waisford." He did so. After a patch of woodland was a sandy
stretch of road fringed with heather and a few pines. A man was
sitting here, by whose side lay his dead young wife with a
handkerchief over her face. Prosper asked him what all this misery
meant; for at High March, he added, they had no conception of it.
The man turned his gaunt eyes upon him. "We call it the hand of God,
"Do you though? I see only the hand of man or the devil," said
"May be you are in the right, Messire. Only we think that if God is
Almighty He might stay all this havoc if He would. And since He stays
it not we say He winks at it, which is as good as a nod any day."
"You are out, sir," said Prosper. "As I read, God hath given men wits,
and suffers the devil in order that they may prove them. If they fail
in the test, and of two ways choose the wrong, is God to be blamed?"
"Some of us have no such choice. It is hard that the battle of the
wits should be over our acres, and that our skulls should be cracked
to prove which of them be the tougher."
"God is mighty enough to make laws and too mighty to break them, as I
understand the matter," said Prosper. "But who, under God or devil,
hath done this wrong?"
"Sir," said the man, "it is the Lord of Hauterive (so styled), who
hath taken Waisford and destroyed it with the country for ten miles
round about it, and killed all the women who could not run fast
enough, and such of the men as did not run to him. And this he did
upon the admirable conceit that the men, having no women of their own,
would take pains that they should not be singular in the country, but
full of lessons in butchery, would become butchers themselves. It
seems that there was ground for the opinion. As for me, I should
certainly have been killed had he found me, for butchering is not to
my taste--or was not then. But I was on a journey, and came back to
find my house in ashes and my new wife, what you see."
"But who," cried Prosper, "in the name of the true Lord, is your lord
of Hauterive? And how dare he take upon himself the style and fee of
the Countess of Hauterive, Bellesme, and March? I have no reason to
love that lady, but I thought all Morgraunt was hers."
"Morgraunt is hers, and Hauterive, and all the country from March unto
Wanmouth," said the countryman. "But this lord is an outlaw who was
once a monk down at Malbank in the south; and hath renounced his flock
and gathered together a crew as unholy as himself. And the story goes
that he did it all for the sake of a girl who scorned him. Now then he
holdeth Hauterive as his tower of strength, has harried Waisford, and
threatens Wanmeeting town, giving out that he will edge in the lady,
besiege High March itself, wed the Countess, and have the girl (when
he finds her) as his concubine. So he will be lord of all, and God of
no account so far as I can see. And the name of this almighty scamp,
"Is Galors de Born," put in Prosper.
The countryman got up and faced him.
"Are you a fellow of his?" he asked. "For, look you, though I must die
for it, I will die killing."
"Friend," Prosper said gently, "the man is my enemy whom I had thought
disabled longer by a split throat which he got of me. I see I have yet
to deal with him. Tell me now where he is."
"I can tell you no more," said the fellow, "than that his tower is in
Hauterive. He hath guards along the river and a post at Waisford. We
shall have trouble to cross the water. He is said to be for
Wanmeeting; but I know he has High March in his eye, because the girl
he wants is believed to be there. He has been here also, as you see,
God damn him."
"God hath damned him," said Prosper, "but the work is in my hands."
"You will need more than your hands for the business, my gentleman. He
hath five hundred spears."
"The battle is between his and mine nevertheless."
"Then there is the Golden Knight, as they call him, come from hell
knows where; not a fighter but a schemer; and swift, my word! And
cruel as the cold. Will you tackle him?"
"I shall indeed," said Prosper. "Farewell, I am for my luck at
"I would come with you if I might," said the man slowly.
"Come then. Two go better than one against five hundred."
"Let me bury my pretty dead and I am yours, Messire."
"Ah, I will help you there if I may," Prosper replied.
They dug a shallow grave and laid in it the body of the young girl.
Prosper never saw her face, nor did her husband dare to look again on
what he had covered up. Prosper said the prayers; but the other lay on
his face on the grass, and got up tearless. Then they set off.
Five miles below Waisford they swam the river without any trouble from
Galors' outposts: a wary canter over turf brought them to the flank of
the hill; they climbed it, and from the top could see the Wan valley
and what should be the town. It was a heap of stones, scorched and
shapeless. The church tower still stood for a mockery, its conical cap
of shingles had fallen in, its vane stuck out at an angle. Prosper,
whose eyes were good, made out a flag-staff pointing the
perpendicular. It had a flag, _Party per pale argent and sable_.
A dun smoke hung over the litter.
"We shall do little good there," said he; "we are some days too late.
We will try Wanmeeting."
Agreed. They fetched a wide detour to the north-west, climbed the long
ridge of rock which binds Hauterive to the place of their election,
and made way along the overside of it, taking to cover as much as they
could. By six o'clock in the evening they were as near as they dared
to be until nightfall. As they stood they could see the ridge rear its
ragged head to watch over the cleft where-through the two Wans race to
be free. Upon the slope of this bluff was the town itself, a walled
town the colour of the bare rock, with towers and belfries. The
westering sun threw the whole into warmth and mellow light.
"The saltire still floats," cried Prosper; "we are not too late for
They were let in at dusk by the Martin Gate, not without some parley.
The only word Prosper would give had been, "Death to Galors de Born."
This did not happen to be the right word. Matters were not to be
adjusted either by "Life to the Countess," for Prosper did not happen
to wish it her.
The High Bailiff and the Jurats argued at some length whether what he
had said did not imply the other of necessity.
"If you talk of necessity, gentlemen," finally said the High Bailiff,
"in my advice it is written that our necessity is too fine for
dialectic. Our present need is to kill the common enemy. Here is a
gentleman who asks for no other pleasure. Let him in." And they did.
Prosper was in love at last; but he did not lose his head on that
account. It was not his way. The girl he had first pitied, next
desired, then respected, then learned, finally adored, was gone. Well,
he would find her no doubt. She had but two enemies, Galors and
Maulfry; who hunted in couple just now. She might be anywhere in the
world, but it was most likely that where she was they were also. If he
found them he should find her. That was why, without having any desire
to befriend the Countess, who had in his judgment made a fool of
herself first and an enemy of him afterwards, he undertook the
defences of Wanmeeting.
For it came to that. He found a thin garrison, a pompous bailiff,
wordy and precise, headboroughs without heads, and a panic-stricken
horde of shopkeepers with things to lose, who spent the day in crying
"Danger," and the night in drinking beer. Outside, somewhere, was an
enemy who might be a rascal, but was certainly a man. Professional
honour was touched on a raw. Since he was in, in God's name let him do
something. After a day spent in observing the manners and customs of
Wanmeeting in a state of semi-siege, he got very precise ideas of what
they were likely to be in a whole one. He called on the High Bailiff
and spoke his mind.
"Bailiff," he said very quietly, "your defences are not good, but they
are too good to defend nothing. I am sorry I cannot put your citizens
at a higher figure. There does not seem to me to be a man among them.
They chatter like pies, they drink like fishes, they herd like sheep,
they scream like gulls. They love their wives and children, but so do
rabbits; they are snug at home, but so are pigs in a stye; they say
many prayers, they give alms to the poor. But no prayers will ever
stay Galors, and the alms your people want I spell with an 'r.' I know
Master Galors, and he me. If he comes here the town will be carried,
the men hanged, the women ravished, and I shall be killed like a rat
in a drain. Now I set little store by my life, but I and the man I
have brought with me intend to die in the open. Do what you choose,
but understand that unless things alter to my liking, I take myself,
my sword, and my head for affairs into the country."
"And who are you, Messire, and what do I know of your head for
affairs?" cried the High Bailiff, on his dignity.
"My name is Prosper le Gai, at your service," the youth replied; "and
as for my head, it becomes me not to speak."
"If you will not speak of it, why are you here?" asked the High
Bailiff, at the mercy of his logic.
"I am here, sir, for the purpose of killing Dom Galors de Born."
"You speak very confidently, young gentleman."
"There is no boasting where there is no doubt."
"Is there no doubt, pray, whether he might kill you?"
"I intend to remove that doubt," said Prosper.
"Pray how, sir?"
"By killing him first."
The end of it all was that the High Bailiff, in the presence of the
Jurats and citizens, solemnly girt on Prosper the sword of the
borough, and declared Messire Prosper le Gai of Starning to be
generalissimo of its forces. Prosper at once paraded the garrison.
He rated the men roundly, flogged two of them with his own hand for
some small insubordination, and made fast friends in all ranks. Having
established a pleasant relationship by these simple means, he spoke to
them as follows.
"Gentlemen," he said, "have the goodness to remark that I have taught
you how to parade. In time I doubt not you will follow me with as good
a will as you have hitherto followed your own devices. These, I take
leave to tell you, were very foolish. If you follow me I shall lead
you in the thick of the fighting, should there be any. If you leave
me, or if I have the honour to be killed, you will all have your
throats cut. I do not mean to be killed, gentlemen, and rely upon you
in the alternative which remains."
He took a guard and went the round of the defences. Wherever he went
he brought heart with him. As for the burgesses and the burgesses'
wives, they thought him a god. The result was, that in six weeks he
had half the place under arms, a fighting force of one thousand pikes
and five hundred archers, an outer wall of defence ten feet by six,
and provision to stand a two months' siege. This brought the time to
On July 14 one of his scouts brought home the news that Galors had
concentrated on Hauterive, while keeping close watch along Wan. He
himself was no one knew where, scouring the country for traces of the
girl Isoult la Desirous, who had escaped from High March. Meantime a
detached force under the Golden Knight had surprised Goltres, and put
the inhabitants to the sword. They held that stronghold, and were said
still to be there.
Prosper sent for his horse, and rode down to the council house to see
the High Bailiff.
"Bailiff," he said, "Galors will not be here yet awhile. If he comes
you will know what to do. But I do not think he will come just yet."
"Ah, Messire, will you desert us?" cried the good soul.
"If you put it so, yes."
"You are tired of warfare, Messire?"
"Warfare, pardieu! I am tired of no warfare. I am going to make some
for default of it."
"And leave us all here?"
"And leave you all here."
"Would you have us assume the offensive, sir?"
"By no means, Bailiff. I would have you mind your walls. But forgive
me, I must be off."
"Where are you going, Messire?"
"I am going to find Galors, or at least those who will save me the
trouble. Adieu, Bailiff."
Prosper galloped away as if the devil were in him. The High Bailiff
FALVE THE CHARCOAL-BURNER
While Prosper is galloping after Dom Galors, and Dom Galors is
galloping after Isoult, let us turn to that unconscious lady who hides
her limbs in a pair of ragged breeches, and her bloom under the grime
of coal-dust. Her cloud of hair, long now and lustrous, out of all
measure to her pretence, she was accustomed to shorten by doubling it
under her cap. An odd fancy had taken her which prevented a second
shearing. If Prosper loved her she dared not go unlovely any more. Her
hair curtained her when she bathed in the brook and the sun. Beyond
doubt it was beautiful; it was Prosper's; she must keep it untouched.
This gave her an infinity of bother, but at the same time an infinity
of delight. She took pride in it, observed its rate of growth very
minutely; another fancy was, that before it reached her knees she
should give it with all herself to its master. It is so easy to
confuse desires with gratifications, and hopes with accomplishments,
that you will not be surprised if I go on to say, that she soon made
the growth of her hair _data_ by which to calculate her restoration
to his side. She was to have a rude awakening, as you shall judge.
The July heats lay over the forest like a pall, stilled all the leaves
and beat upon the parched ground. Isoult, seduced by the water and her
joy to be alone with her ring, audacious too by use, took longer
leave. So long leave she took one day that it became a question of
dinner. The one solemn hour of the twenty-four was in peril. Falve was
sent to find her, and took his stick. But he never used it; for he
found, not Roy indeed, but Roy's rags on the brookside, and over the
brook on the high bank a lady, veiled only in her hair, singing to
herself. He stood transported, Actaeon in his own despite, then softly
withdrew. Roy got back in his time, cooked the dinner, and had no
drubbing. Then came the meal, with an ominous innovation.
They sat in a ring on the grass round an iron pot. Each had a fork
with which he fished for himself. Down came Falve smirking, and sat
himself by Isoult. He had a flower in his hand.
"I plucked this for my mistress," says he, "but failing her I give it
to my master."
She had to take it, with a sick smile. She had a sicker heart.
The horrid play went on. Falve grinned and shrugged like a Frenchman.
He fed her with his fork--"Eat of this, my minion;" forced his cup to
her lips--"Drink, honey, where I have drunk." He drank deep and,
blinking like a night-bird, said solemnly--
"We have called you Jack, to our shame. Your name shall properly be
called Roy, for you should be a king."
The men made merry over this comedy, finding appetite for it; but to
the girl came back that elfin look she had almost lost since she had
known Prosper. She had worn it the night she came plump on Galors, but
never since. Now again hers were a hare's eyes, wide and quaking.
From that hour her peace left her, for Falve never did. Escape was
impossible; the man eyed her as a cat a mouse, and seemed to play upon
her nerve as if she had been a fine instrument. He became
astonishingly subtle, dealt in images like a modern poet, had the same
art of meaning more than he said to those who had the misfortune to
understand him. He never declared what he knew, though she could not
but guess it; did not betray her to the others; seemed to enjoy the
equivoque, content to wait. So he kept her on tenterhooks; she felt a
cheat, and what is worse, a detected cheat. This filled her deep with
shame. It made her more coy and more a prude than she had ever need to
be had she gone among them kirtled and coifed. At last came the day
when that happened which she had darkly dreaded. A load of coals went
off to Market Basing; to dinner came herself only, and Falve.
She trembled, and could neither eat nor drink. Falve made amends, ate
for three and drank for a dozen. He grew sportive anon. He sang tavern
songs, ventured on heavy play, would pinch her ear or her cheek, must
have her sit on his knee. But at this her fortitude gave way; she
jumped up to shake herself free. There was a short tussle. Her cap
fell off, and all the dusky curtain of her hair about her shoulders
ran rippling to her middle. No concealment could avail between them
now. She stood a maid confessed, by her looks confessing, who watched
him guardedly with lips a-quiver.
Falve did not hesitate to take her hand. "Come and see," he said, and
led her away. Across the brook he showed her a but newly made, covered
with green boughs--his work, it appeared, under the cover of a week of
sweating nights. He led her in, she saw all his simple preparations:
the new-stamped floor, the new-joisted roof, a great bed in the
corner. Then he turned to her and said--
"Your name is not Roy, but Royne. And you shall be queen of me, and of
the green wood, and of this bed."
Isoult began to shake so violently that she could hardly stand.
"How! does not the prospect please you?" said Falve. She could only
plead for time.
"Time?" asked he, "time for what? There is time for all in the forest.
Moreover, you have had time."
"Would you have me wed you, Falve?" she faltered.
"Why, I set no store by your church-music, myself," rejoined Falve.
"But I set great store by Holy Church. You would never dishonour me,
"My dear," said Falve, "you will have guessed by now that I am a
lady's man. I am wax in their pretty hands--red wax or white wax.
According as you squeeze me, my dear, you make me a Golias or a
bishop, as you wish. You would have me a bishop, eh?"
"I do not understand, Falve."
"The husband of one wife, my lass, as the Scripture saith. Is that
"I would like to be a wife."
"Then a wife you shall be, my honey, though a friend or a bondmaid is
equally good Scripture, to say nothing of simplicity. Now that being
settled, and a bargain a bargain, let us seal."
She escaped with his tarnish on her hand; but he respected her
promise, and troubled her no more by contact. Nevertheless she had to
pay. His dwarfish propensity to wit led him the wildest lengths. The
rogue began to sigh and gesture and slap his ribs. He affected the
lover preposterously; he was over weary of his rough life, he would
say; he must marry and settle down in the hut by the brook.
"And then," he ran on, "thou, Roy, shalt come and live there, serving
me and my wife. For I love thee, boy, and will not leave thee. And I
warrant that she will not be jealous when I play with thee; nor shall
I grudge thy love of her--nay, not if thou shouldst love her as
myself. For thus Moses bade us in the Commandments." And so on. "By
Saint Christopher, that long man of God," he swore at another bout,
"thou and my wife shall sleep in one bed, and I not be dishonoured!"
The other men began to prick up their ears at these speeches, and
looked shrewdly at their boy more than once. As for Isoult, she knew
not where to turn. She seemed to be quavering over an abyss.
Meantime the hour of her wedding, as Falve had appointed it, drew
near. In middle July the whole gang were to go to Hauterive with coal
for the Castle. Falve's mother, I have told you, lived there in a
little huckster's shop she had. Falve's plan was to harbour Isoult
there for the night, and wed her on the morrow as early as might be.
But he told the girl nothing of all this.
They set out, then, betimes in the morning, and by travelling late and
early reached Hauterive in two days. And this in spite of the weather,
which was cold and stormy. The town stands high on the hither shoulder
of that ridge which ends at Wanmeeting, but by reason of the dense
growth of timber in that walk of the forest you do not get a view of
it from below until you are actually under the walls. Isoult, who had
no reason to be interested in any but her own affairs just then, and
was, moreover, wet through and shivering, did not notice the flag
flying over the Castle--_Party per pale argent and sable._ It was
not till the whole caravan stood within the drawbridge that she saw
over the portcullis an escutcheon whereon were the redoubtable three
white wicket-gates, with the legend, _Entra per me._ She realized
then that she was being drawn into the trap-teeth of her grim enemy,
and went rather grey. There was nothing for it, she must trust to her
disguise. It had deceived the colliers, it might deceive Galors. Ah!
but there was Maulfry. It would never deceive her. All the comfort she
could take was that Galors was lord of the town, and she collier's
knave. Now colliers' knaves do not see much of their lords paramount,
nor rulers of cities look into the love-affairs of colliers or seek
for such among them. If Maulfry were there, Heaven help her! But she
began to think she might cope with Galors.
When the asses were unloaded in the inn-yard, and the coal stacked
under cover, Falve took his prisoner by the hand and led her by many
winding lanes to his mother's shop. This was in Litany Row, a crazy
dark entry over against the Dominican convent. The streets and alleys
were empty, the rain coursed down all the gutters of the steep little
town; its music and their own plashy steps were all they could hear.
Knocking at a little barred door in Litany Row, they were admitted by
a wrinkled old woman with wet eyes.
"Mother," said the fellow, "this boy is no boy, but a maid with whom I
intend to marry at cockcrow. Let her sleep with thee this night, and
in the morning dress her in a good gown against I come to fetch her."
The old woman looked her up and down in a way that made the girl
"Well," she said, "thou art a proper boy enough, I see, and I will
make thee a proper girl, if God hath done His part."
"That He hath done, mother," says Falve with a grin. "See here, then."
With that he pulls off Isoult's green cap. All her hair tumbled about
her shoulders in a fan.
"Mother of God," cried the old woman, "this is a proper girl indeed,
if other things are as they should be, to accord with these tresses."
"Never fear for that, mother," said Falve. "Trust me, she will be a
good wife out and in. For, let alone the good looks of the girl, she
is very meek and doeth all things well, even to speaking little."
"And what is she named, this pretty miss?" asked the crone.
"Tell her your fancy name, wife," said Falve, giving her a nudge;
"show her that you have a tongue in your round head."
"I am called Isoult la Desirous, ma'am," said the girl.
"La, la, la!" cried the old dame, "say you so? The name hath promise
of plenty; but for whose good I say not. And who gave you such a name
as that, pray?"
"I have never known any other, ma'am."
"Hum, hum," mumbled the dame. "I've heard more Christian names and
names less Christian, but never one that went better on a bride."
"Mother, a word in your ear," said Falve.
The couple drew apart and the man whispered--
"Keep her close; let her never out of your sight, that I may marry her
to-morrow, for since I set eyes on her as a maiden whom I first took
to be a boy, I have had no peace for longing after her."
"Have no fear, my son Falve," said his mother, "she shall be as safe
with me as the stone in a peach. I'll get her dry and her natural
shape to begin with, and come morning light, if you have not the
comeliest bride in the Nor'-West Walk, 'twill be the Church's doing or
yours, but none o' mine. Have ye feed a priest, boy?"
"Why, no," said the fellow.
"Seek out Father Bonaccord of the, new Grey Friars. 'Tis the happiest-
go-lucky, ruddiest rogue of a priest that ever hand-fasted a couple.
He'll wed ye and housel ye for a couple of roses. [Footnote: Silver
coins of those parts, worth about three shillings a-piece.] The Black
Friars 'ull take three off ye and tie ye with a sour face at that.
Bonaccord's the man, Brother Bonaccord of the Grey Brothers, hard by
"Bonaccord for ever!" roared Falve. He blew a kiss to his wife and
went off on his errand.
SECRET THINGS AT HAUTERIVE
The first thing the old lady did was to go to an oak chest which was
in the room, and rummage there. With many grunts and wheezes (for she
was eaten with rheumatism) she drew out a bundle done up in an old
shawl. This she opened upon the floor.
"I belonged to a great lady once," said she, "though I don't look like
it, my dear. These fal-lals have been over as dainty a body as your
own in their day; and that was fifteen years ago to a tick. She gave
'em all to me when she took to the black, and now they shall go to my
son's wife. Think of that, you who come from who knows who or where.
If they fit you not like a glove, let me eat 'em."
There were silks and damasks and brocades; webbed tissues of the East,
Coaen gauzes blue and green, Damascus purples, shot gold from
Samarcand, crimson stuffs dipped in Syrian vats, rose-coloured silk
from Trebizond, and embroidered jackets which smelt of Cairo or
Bagdad, and glowed with the hues of Byzantium itself. Out of these she
made choice. The girl shed her rags, and stood up at last in a gown of
thin red silk, which from throat to ankle clung close about her shape.
The dark beauty went imperially robed.
"Wait a bit," said her dresser; "we'll look at you presently when you
are shod and coifed to fit."
She gave her a pair of red stockings and Moorish slippers for her
feet; she massed up her black hair into a tower upon her head, and
roped it about with a chain of sequins which had served their last
chaffer at Venice; she girt a belt of filigree gold and turquoise
about her waist, gave her a finishing pat, and stood out to spy at
"Eh, eh! there you go for a jolly gentlewoman," she chuckled, and
kissed her. "Give you a pair of sloe-black eyes for your violets, tip
your nails with henna red, and you'd be a mate for the Soldan of
Babylon in his glory. As you stand you're my bonny Countess Bel warmed
in the blood--as she might have been if Bartlemy had had no vigil
that one year."
They sat to table and ate together. The old dame grew very friendly,
and, as usual with her class, showed a spice of malice.
"There is one here, let me tell you," she said as she munched her
bacon, "even the lord of this town, who would be glad to know his way
to Litany Row before morning." Isoult paled and watched her
unconscious host; she knew that much already. "Yes, yes," she went on,
the old ruminant, "he hath a rare twist for women, if they speak the
truth who know him. There is one he hath hunted high and low, in
forest and out, they say, and hath made himself a lord for her sake,
whereas he was but a stalled ox in Malbank cloister. He hath made
himself a lord, and killed his hundreds of honest men, and now he hath
lost her. He--he!"
The good woman chuckled at her thoughts over all this irony of events.
"I might do son Falve a sorry turn," she pursued, "if I would. I
should get paid for it in minted money, and Saint Mary knows how
little of that has come my way of late. And I dare say that you would
not take the exchange for a robbery. A lord for a smutty collier." She
looked slyly at Isoult as she spoke. The girl's eyes wide with fear
made her change her tune. If the daughter-elect were loyal, loyalty
beseemed the mother.
"What!" she quavered, "you are all for love and the man of your heart
then? Well, well! I like you for it, child."
Isoult's heart began to knock at her ribs. "Can I trust her? Can I
trust her?" she thought; and her heart beat back, "Trust her, trust
her, trust her."
With bed-time came her chance. The old woman, whose geniality never
endangered her shrewdness, bid the girl undress and get into bed
first. The meek beauty obeyed. She was undressed, but not in bed, when
there came a rain of knocks at the door.
"Slip into bed, child, slip into bed," cried the other; "that's a man
at the door."
Isoult, half-dead with fright, once more obeyed. The knocking
continued till the door was opened.
"Who are you, in the name of Jesus?" said the woman, trembling.
"Jesus be my witness, I come in His name. I am Brother Bonaccord,"
said a man without.
"Save you, father," the woman replied, "but you cannot come in this
night. There's a naked maid in the room."
Isoult's plight was pitiable. She could do absolutely nothing but stay
where she was. She dared not so much as cry out.
"If she is a maid, it is very well," said Brother Bonaccord; "but I am
quite sure she is not."
"Heyday, what is this?" cried Falve's mother, highly scandalized.
"Listen to me, Dame Ursula," the friar went on with a wagging finger.
"Your son came with gossip of a marriage he was to make with a certain
"'Tis so, 'tis so, indeed, father. Isoult la Desirous is her name--a
most sweet maid."
"No maiden at all, good woman, but a wife of my own making."
"Ah, joys of Mary, what is this?"
"Ask her, mistress, ask her."
"I shall ask her, never you fear. Stay you there, father, for your
"Trust me, ma'am."
Dame Ursula went straight up to the bed and whipped off the blankets.
There cowered the girl.
"Tell me the sober truth by all the pains of _Dies Irae_,"
whispered her hostess. "Are you a maiden or none?"
It was a shrewd torment that, double-forked. To deny was infamy, to
affirm ruin. However, there was no escape from it: Isoult had never
been a learned liar.
"I am a maid, ma'am," she said in a whisper.
"Cover yourself warm, my lamb, I'll twist him," said the delighted
mother. She went quickly to the door.
"May our lord the holy Pope of Rome find you mercy, father," she
vowed, "but you'll find none here. The girl has testified against you.
Now will you marry 'em?"
"That I will not, by our Lord," replied the friar.
"There's infamy abroad, and I'll leave it, for it's none of my making.
I wish you good-night, mistress. Bid your son to the Black Brothers.
Saint Dominic may deal with him. Saint Francis was a clean man, and so
must we be clean."
"Then get ye clean tongues lest ye lick others foul, ye brown viper,"
screamed Mrs. Ursula, as he splashed down the kennel.
Isoult was desperate; but luck pointed her one road yet. You will
remember the trinkets round her neck: Prosper's ring was one, the
other was that which old Mald had felt for and found safe in her bosom
on her wedding night. When, therefore, Mrs. Ursula came bridling into
the light full of her recent victory, she saw the girl before her
trembling, and holding out a gold chain at a stretch.
"Lord's name, child, you'll catch your death," cried she. "Slip on
your night-gown and into the bed."
"Trust her now, trust her now," went Isoult's wild heart. "Not yet,
mother," said she, "you must hear me now."
Ursula dropped into a chair. Isoult knelt before her and put the ring
in her old hand.
"Mother, look at this ring," she began, out of breath already, "and
look at me, and then let me go. For with this ring I was wed a year
ago to a certain lord whom I love dearly, and to whom I have never yet
come as a wife. So what I told you was true, and what the Grey Friar
told you was true also, when he said that I was a wife of his wedding.
He wed me to my lord sure and fast to save me from a hanging; but not
for love of me was I taken by my husband, and not for desire of his to
mate his soul to mine. But for love of the love I bore him I dared not
let him come, even when he would have come. We have been a year
wedded, and many days and nights we have wandered the forest and dwelt
together here and there, until now by some fate we are put apart. But
I know we shall come together again, and he whom I love so bitterly
shall set the ring in its place again where he first put it, and
himself lie where now it lies. And so the wound and the pain I have
shall be at last assuaged, and, Love, who had struck me so deep, shall
So said Isoult, kneeling and crying. Whatever else she may have
touched in her who listened, she touched her curiosity. The old woman
dropped the ring to look at the girl. True enough, below her left
breast there was a small red wound, and upon it a drop of fresh blood.
Mrs. Ursula took the wet face between her two chapped hands and
laughed at it, not unkindly.
"My bonny lass," said she, "if this be all thou hast to tell me it
will not stay my son Falve. Here in this forest we think little of the
giving of rings, but much of what should follow it. But thy wedding
stopped at the ringing, from what I can learn. That is no wedding at
all. Doubt not this knight of thine will never return; they never do
return, my lassie. Neither doubt but that Falve will wed thee faster
than any ring can do. And as for thy scratch and crying heart, my
child, trust Falve again to stanch the one and still the other. For
that is a man's way. And now get into bed, child; it grows late."
There was nothing for it but to obey. Her game had been played and had
failed. She got into bed and Ursula followed.
Then as she lay there quaking, crying quietly to herself, her heart's
message went on that bid her trust. Trust! What could she trust? The
thought shaped itself and grew clearer every minute; the answer pealed
in her brain. The token! she recalled her mother's words, the only
words she had spoken on her marriage night. "It shall not fail thee to
whomsoever thou shalt show it."
"Help, Saint Isidore!" she breathed, and sat up in the bed.
This made the old woman very cross.
"Drat the girl," she muttered, "why don't she sleep while she can?"
Isoult leaned over her and put the token in her hand. "Look also at
this token, mother, before we sleep," she said.
Mrs. Ursula, grumbling and only half awake, took the thing in one hand
and hoisted herself with the other. She sat up, peered at it in the
light of the cresset, dropped it to rub her eyes, fumbled for it
again, and peered again; she whispered prayers to herself and
adjurations, called on Christ and Christ's mother, vehemently crossed
herself many times, scrambled out of bed, and plumped down beside it
on her two knees.
"Mild Mary," she quavered, "mild Mary, that is enough! That I should
live to see this day. Oh, saints in glory! Let us look at it again."
Isoult drooped over the edge of the bed; Ursula looked and was
astounded, she wondered and prayed, she laughed and cried. Isoult grew
"Wed her!" cried the old dame in ecstasy. "Wed the Queen of Sheba
next!" Then she grew mighty serious. She got up and dropped a curtesy.
"It is enough, Princess. He dare not look at you again. At dawn you
shall leave this place. Now sleep easy, for if I hurt a hair of your
head I might never hope for heaven's gate."
She made the girl sleep alone.
"This is my proper station before you, madam," said she, and lay down
on the floor at the foot of the bed.
It was no dream. In the morning she was up before the light. Isoult
found a bath prepared, and in her gaoler of over-night a dresser who
was as brisk as a bee and as humble as a spaniel.
"Old servants are the best," said the crone in her defence; "they're
not so slippery, but they know how things should go on and off. Ah,
and give me a young mistress and a beauty," she went on to sigh, "such
as God Almighty hath sent me this night."
Either Saint Isidore had entered the token, or the token had been
swallowed by Saint Isidore.
When the girl was dressed in her red silk gown of the night before,
with a hood of the same for her head, her red stockings and her red
shoes, she was set at table, and waited upon hand and foot. No
questions were asked, but very much was taken for granted. Ursula had
her finger to her lip every sentence; she wallowed in mystery.
"You are not safe here, Princess," she whispered, "but I will put you
where only safety is for the moment--in Mid-Morgraunt. Affairs, as you
know, are not well where they should be; but as soon as you are
bestowed, I will go forth with that which will make them as bright as
day. I will see one I never thought to face again; I shall win honour
which God knows I am late a-winning. Leave everything to me."
Isoult asked nothing better, for the very sufficient reason that she
knew nothing. Her earth-born habit of taking all things as they came
in order stood her in good part; she had no temptation to ask what all
this meant. But she did not forget to thank the great Saint Isidore
latent in the crystal.
Everything being ready, the old woman threw a long brown cloak over
her charge before they ventured out into the still twilight streets.
The wet was steaming off the ground, but the day promised fair.
Hauterive was nearly empty: they were not challenged at the gate, met
nobody terrific. Once outside the walls they descended a sharp
incline, struck almost immediately a forest path, and in half-an-hour
from that were deep in the dewy woods. Old Ursula held on briskly for
a mile or so in and out of fern and brake. Then she stopped, out of
breath, but beaming benevolence and humility.
"We are safe enough now, madam," she said, and went on to explain,
"Hold you by that path, Princess, until beech and holly end and oaks
begin. Follow the dip of the land, you will come to Thornyhold Brush;
with those you find there you may stay until you know who shall send
for you. That may be likely a week or more, for I am not so young as I
would be, and the roads are thick with Galordians. Now kiss me quickly
if you will stoop so low: it is the last time I shall ask it of you."
Isoult thanked her with sparkling eyes and warm red lips; then she
stood alone in the wood watching her old friend go. Afterwards she
herself took to the path, wondering, but light-hearted and minded to
The spruce Falve, curled and anointed for the bridal, found no wife,
but his mother, who called him a fool, a knave, a notorious evil-liver
and contemner of holy persons. This was hard to bear, for part of it
at least he knew to be quite true. What was harder was, that hitherto
he had always believed his mother of his party. But there is no
pietist like your reformed rake; so Falve left the huckster's shop
vowing vengeance. The day was July 18, and all the town astir, for
Galors de Born and his riders were just in from a raid.
THE ROAD TO GOLTRES
On July 14 Prosper left Wanmeeting at a gallop, in the driving rain.
There had been thunder and a change in the weather; the roads were
heavy and the brooks brimming; but by noon he was in the plain, and by
night at One Ash, a lonely dead tree as often gallows as not. There he
slept in his cloak. Next morning he was early in the saddle, and had
reached the fringe of Goltres Heath by breakfast time--if the hour
without the thing can be called by such a comfortable name.
He knew there was a cross-road somewhere near by from Goltres to
Hauterive Town. He should go warily, for if the first were invested
there must needs be communications with the base, which was Hauterive.
Sure enough, he had not seen the finger-post before he saw the pikes.
There were three mounted men there, one of whom had his face to the
north and was shading his eyes to spy over the heath. In a dozen more
strides (for he was at no pains to skulk from three troopers) a man
saw him, gave a shout and spurred over the heather. Prosper pulled his
horse into a gallop, resolved to bring things to a quick conclusion.
Spear in rest he came down on his fellow like a gale of wind.
The man swerved at the onset; Prosper rocketed into him; horse and man
went over in a heap. "Bungler," cried Prosper, and went on. The other
two faced him together standing. Prosper drove in between them, and
had one of them off at the cost of a snapt spear. He turned on the
other with his sword whirling round his head.
"Quarter, Messire!" cried the trooper, "here comes one of my betters
In effect, a knight on a chestnut horse was coming from Goltres, a
most resplendent knight in golden armour, with yellow trappings
slashed and fluttering about him.
"The Gold Knight!" said Prosper, drawing a sharpish breath; "this is
better than I looked for. My man," he went on, turning, "I have
measured you with my eye. I think the sign-post will bear you."
"I have no doubt of it, Messire," said the man ruefully. "You shall
put it to the proof so sure as I live," continued Prosper, "if you
stir from where you stand. I have to speak with your master."
"Oh, make yourself quite easy, Messire, and trust me," said the man;
"I see with whom I have to deal."
"Then deal not with him, my friend," said Prosper, and went to meet
the Golden Knight.
The Golden Knight set spear in rest and came cantering down the track.
Prosper let him come. When he was within hail, "Put up your spear,
dame," said he, "and listen."
The Golden Knight pulled up short, but held his spear couched against
the worst. Prosper spoke again quite cheerfully.
"You and I have met, Dame Maulfry."
"You are speaking foolishness and wasting my time, Messire. I neither
know you nor your dame."
"You may have known my shield in more gaudy trim. Did I not turn
grave-digger for you some years ago?"
"Oh, oh! you are Prosper le Gai?"
"That is my name, Madam Maulfry. You know me at last."
"Yes, I know you. Take care. You are in no friendly country."
"I am a very friendly soul, but I will take care. You, I think, have
many friends in these parts--one in special, a holy person, a man of
religion. Is it so?"
"He is a man of many parts, Prosper. He hath an arm."
"He hath a gullet, I know," said Prosper cheerfully. "It is of him I
would speak, dame, at this moment. I shall meet him before long, I
hope, and should like to be advised by an old acquaintance. Will you
tell me why he chose out the arms of the man you and I put into the
"Why would you know that, Prosper?"
"It seems to me an odd choice. There is a story about them. I am
"What is your story, Prosper? I will tell you this, that I tried to
"Well, sir, your story?"
"You told me they were the arms of De Genlis. Surely you were mistaken
"I will be frank with you, Prosper. I was mistaken. They are the arms
of Salomon de Montguichet."
"Pardon me, dame," said Prosper, "they are the arms of Salomon de
He never dealt cleaner blow with a spear. The Golden Knight stood up
rocking in his stirrups. Then he dropped his weapon and began to wail
like a woman.
"Oh no, no, no! Oh, Prosper, be merciful! Oh, God, kill me, kill me,
kill me! Tell me you have lied, Prosper, or I must die."
"I have not lied, madam. You have lied," said Prosper, watching with a
On a sudden the Golden Knight spurred his horse violently. The beast
lunged forward and shot off at a mad gallop with his flanks streaming
blood. Prosper watched him go.
"Follow! follow!" cried the Golden Knight to the man by the sign-post.
"I cannot, my lord," the man shouted as his master flew, "I am a man
of my word."
"Be off with you, you rascal," cheered Prosper; "I have said my say."
The man did not hesitate. Prosper watched the flying pair, a quiet
smile hovering about his mouth. "My shot told it seems," he said to
himself. "If Salomon de Born were not what I believe him to have been,
what is the grief of Madam Maulfry? Well, we will see next what Galors
de Born has to say to it."
He turned his face towards the north and rode on. If he had followed
the two-out of sight by now--he would have got nearer his heart's
desire; but he could not do that. He had formed a judgment calmly. If
he wanted Isoult he must find Galors. Galors had Hauterive but had not
Goltres. Therefore Galors was at Goltres. Prosper always accredited
his enemies with his own quality. So he rode away from Isoult as proud
as a pope.
We will follow the Golden Knight while our breath endures. We can
track him to Hauterive. He never stayed rein till he reached it, and
there at the gates dropped his chestnut dead of a broken heart. In the
hall of the citadel it was no Golden Knight but a grey-faced old woman
who knelt before Galors in his chair. Her voice was dry as bare
"If ever you owe me thanks for what I have done and will yet do for
you, Galors, my lover, you shall pay them now. Prosper is at Goltres.
He and Spiridion will be there alone. I give you back Spiridion. Give
me the life of Prosper, give me his head and his tongue, give me his
heart, and I will be your slave who was once your world. Will you do
it, Galors? Will you do it this night?"
"By God I will," said Galors.
"There is one other thing"--the woman was gasping for breath--"one
little thing. Give me back the arms you bear. You must never wear them
again. I always hated them; no good can ensue them. Give them to me,
Galors, and wear them no more."
"By God again," said Galors, "that is impossible! I will never do it.
What! when the whole forest rings with _Entra per me_, and
wicket-gates dazzle every eye on this side Wan? My friend, where are
your wits? That droll of a Montguichet did me a turn there before you
had him, mistress."
"Ah, Galors," was all she could say, "he has found me again. I am sick
of the work, Galors; let me go home."
"Speed me first, my delight," cried Galors, jumping up. He shouted
through the door, "Ho, there! My horse and arms! Turn the guard out!
In three minutes we are off."
The woman crept away. She had worked her hardest for him, but he
wanted nothing of her.
"Dirty weather, by the Rood," said Galors, looking out at the rain.
"Dirty weather and a smell of worse. Hearken to the wind in the
turrets. Gentlemen, we are for Goltres. Spare no horseflesh. Forward!"
and he was gone through the dripping streets at the falling in of a
wild day. It was the day Falve had brought in his bride-expectant to
Half-an-hour later Maulfry rode out of the east gate alone, and never
held or looked back till she was safe in Tortsentier.
GUESS-WORK AT GOLTRES
A scud of wind and rain hampered Prosper on his ride over Goltres
Heath. The steady increase of both in volume and force kept him at
work all day; but towards dusk the wind dropped a little, the clouds
split and drifted in black shreds over a clear sky full of the yellow
evening light. Just at the twilight he came to a shallow mere edged
with reeds, with wild fowl swimming upon it, and others flying swiftly
over on their way to the nest. At the far end of the lake, but yet in
the water, was a dim castle settling down into the murk. A gaunt shell
it was, rather than a habitable place; its windows were sightless
black; only in the towers you could see through them the pale sky
behind. The wind ruffled the mere, little cold waves lapped in the
reeds; there was no other house in sight whichever way you turned. In
all the dun waste of raw and cold it was Goltres or nothing for a
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