The Forest Lovers
Part 5 out of 6
"Galors has been before me again," thought Prosper. "The place is a
skeleton, the husk of a house. Well, there must be a corner left which
will keep the rain out. We shall have more before day, if I am
anything of a prophet."
There was a huge bank of cloud to windward; the wind came uneasily, in
puffs, with a smell of rain. Prosper's horse shivered and shook
himself from head to heels.
"As I live," cried Prosper suddenly, "there is a light in the house."
In a high window there was certainly a flickering light. "Where
there's a light there's a man or a woman. Where there's one there is
room for two. I am for Goltres if I can win a passage."
Riding up the shore of the lake he found an old punt.
"Saracen," said he to his horse, "I shall take to the water. Thou
shalt go thy will this night, and may heaven send thee the luck of thy
master." So saying he unbridled him, took off his saddle and let him
go, himself got into the punt and pushed out over the mere.
The great hulk of Goltres rose threatening above him, fretted by
little waves, staring down from a hundred empty eyes. He made out a
water-gate and drove his punt towards it. It was open. He pushed in,
found a rotting stair, above it a door which was broken away and
hanging by one hinge.
"The welcome, withal free, is cold," quoth Prosper, "but we cannot
stand on ceremony. It might be well to make sure of my punt." He
manoeuvred it under the stair with some trouble, lashed it fore and
aft, and entered Goltres by the slippery ascent, addressing himself as
he went to God and Saint Mary the Virgin.
The wooden stair led him into a flagged passage which smelt strongly
of fungus. He went down this as far as it would go, found a flight of
stone steps with a swing door a-top, pushed up here, and burst into a
vast hall. It was waste and empty, echoing like a vault, crying
desolation with all its tongues. There seemed to have been wild work;
benches, tables, tressles, chairs, torn up, dismembered and scattered
abroad. There were the ashes of a fire in the midst, some broken
weapons and head-pieces, and many dark patches which looked uncommonly
like blood. Prosper made what haste he could out of this haunted
place; the rats scuttled and squeaked as he traversed it from end to
Beyond its great folding doors he found another corridor hung with the
ribbons of arras; in the midst of it a broad stone staircase. Up he
went three steps at a time, and stood in the counter-part of the lower
passage--a corridor equally flagged, equally gloomy, and smelling
equally of damp and death. There were, so far as he could see, open
doors on either side which stretched for what seemed an interminable
distance. But at the far end was the light he was after; he cared
little how many empty chambers there might be so that there was one
tenanted. He started off accordingly in pursuit of the light. The
passage ran the whole length of the house; the empty doors as he
passed them gave on to bare walls and broken windows. Over many of
them hung thick curtains of cobwebs and dust; white fungus cropped in
the cracks; the rats seemed everywhere. Now and then he caught sight
of a shredded arras on the walls; in one room a disordered bed; on the
floor of another a woman's glove. Never a sight of life but rats, and
never a sound but his own steps, the shrieking of the wind, the rattle
of crazy windows.
The door of the lighted chamber was set open. Prosper stood on the
threshold and looked in.
It was a narrow dusty place heaped with books on tables, chairs, and
floor. The lamp which had beaconed him from over the water was of
brass, and hung from the ceiling by a chain. At the window end sat a
young man with long yellow hair, which was streaked over his bowed
back; he was reading in a Hebrew book. The book was on a reading-
stand, and the young man kept his place in it with his thin finger. He
seemed short-sighted to judge by the space betwixt his nose and his
book. By his side on a little lacquered table was a deepish bowl of
dull red porphyry filled with water. Every now and again the young
man, having secured his place firmly with his finger, would gaze into
the bowl through a little crystal mace which he kept in his other
hand. Then he would fetch a deep sigh and return to his book.
Beyond the man, his bowl, and his books, Prosper could see little else
in the room. There was, it is true, a shelf full of bottles, and
another full of images; but that was all.
Prosper stepped lightly into the room and laid a hand upon the
reader's shoulder. The young man did not start; he carefully recorded
his place before he lifted a thin face from his work to his visitor.
You were conscious of an extravagantly peaked nose, like the beak of
some water-fowl, of the wandering glance of two pale eyes, and of
little else except a mild annoyance.
"What is your pleasure, fair sir?" asked the young man.
"Sir," began Prosper, "I fear I have intruded upon your labours."
"You have," said the young man.
It was an uncompromising beginning. The young man beamed upon him,
"Nevertheless, sir," Prosper went on, "I am driven to force myself
upon your hospitality for the night. Your house is large and
apparently roomy. It is dark and wild weather, with a prospect of
tempest. I must sleep here or on the moors."
"Sir," said the other, "you shall be welcome to my poor house, and
that notwithstanding the last guests I harboured murdered everybody in
it but myself. If it had not been for the intercession of a very
charming lady, who has but now left me, I had been dead ere this and
unable to play the host either to her or you. This I say not as
casting any imputation upon you, of whom I am willing to believe as
much as, nay, more than, our limited acquaintance may warrant. Regard
it rather as my excuse for affording you little more than a roof."
"By my faith," said Prosper, "I had believed the castle to be deserted
or sacked. But I am sorry enough to hear that my foreboding was so
near the truth."
"It was a certain lord calling himself Galors de Born, he and his
company, who did these harms upon my house," the young man explained.
"Me too he will assuredly murder before many days. Unless indeed the
lady of whom I spoke just now should return."
"I think I may say that she will not return, and that it will be
better for you if she do not. Galors, too, has other fish to fry. But
if he should happen to come, I pray God that I may be by with a
company to fight at your back." So Prosper.
"If God hear your prayer, which I should have thought more than
dubious," returned his host, "I only hope He may see fit to help you
to a company as well, for I have none. And as to fighting at my back,
I promise you I am a most indifferent leader, being, as you see,
somewhat immersed in other affairs."
Prosper had really very little to say in answer to this. By way of
changing the talk, he asked if the castle were not Goltres.
"You are quite right, sir," replied the other, "it is Goltres; and I
am Spiridion, the lord of Goltres, of a most ancient stock--yet much
at your service."
Prosper bowed to his host, who at once resumed his prying and gazing.
This did not suit the other's temper at all, for he was above all
things a sociable soul. So after a minute he cut in again on another
"You are a great student, fair sir," said he.
"Yes, I am," said the young man.
"Then may I know what it is you search out so diligently, first in the
book, and then in your bowl of water?"
"Most certainly you may," replied his host. "I seek to find out what
God may be."
Prosper grew grave. "I had thought you a student of fishes," said he,
"but I find you dive deeper. Yet indeed, sir, for my part I think we
had best be content to love and serve God as best we may, discerning
Him chiefly in the voice of honour and in His fair works. Moreover,
Holy Church biddeth us nourish a lively faith. Therefore, as I think,
the harder our understanding of God is to come at, the more abundant
our merit who nevertheless believe."
"That may be so," said the other. "But I can hardly be expected to
love that which I know not, or to believe that which I cannot express.
And as for Holy Church, what Holy Church may consider I know not; but
when you speak of discerning God in honour and fair works, I
understand you, and take up your argument in this manner. For what you
think most eloquent of God may be a beautiful lady."
"God is truly there for me," said Prosper, and thought of Isoult's
"And for me, fair sir," cried his host kindling, "if all women were as
lovely and wise as my friend of late. There indeed was a woman
redolent of God."
"Ah, you are out there, sir," said Prosper; "you are terribly out."
The young man smiled. "Look now, my friend, where we are with our
definitions," said he. "We divide at the onset. Now, say that instead
of a woman, I found a turnip-field the most adorable thing in the
world. Can we both be right? No, indeed. Now my reading tells me of
all the gods whom men have worshipped--of Klepht and Put and Ra; of
Melkarth also, and Bel; of Moloch, Thammuz, and Astarte (a Phoenician
deity). I learn next of the gods of Olympus, of those of Rome and
Etruria; of the Scandinavians, and of many modern gods. Now either
these peoples have made their own gods, in which case I too can make
one; or God hath revealed Himself to some one alone--and then He would
seem to have dealt ungenerously with the others, equally His
creatures, and left blind; or He hath never revealed Himself, which is
against Nature; or He is not. These are the questions I would solve,
if Galors give me time."
"Sir, sir," cried Prosper, "you do but fog yourself to little purpose!
But you should live honestly and sanely, going much abroad, and you
would have no doubts."
"My author," said Spiridion calmly, indicating his Hebrew text, "tells
me that there are one-and-thirty different ways of finding God out. Of
which crystal-gazing, says he in a famous passage, is the readiest.
But as yet I have not found it so. Maybe I shall try yours another
day--if I have another day."
Whereupon, as if reminded of his delaying, he would have turned again
to his work; but Prosper clapped a hand to his shoulder.
"Have done with groping in books, Spiridion," cried he, "and tell me
if you think this a time for such folly, when your life is threatened
by Galors and his riders?"
"It is the time of all times," returned Spiridion; "for if I know not
who is really God of all the host with claims to His rank, how shall I
pray when my visitation comes, or how pray that it come not? It was
for lack of this knowledge that my people were murdered the other day.
So you see that the affair is urgent."
"I think the defence of the house and a long sword would fit your case
better," said Prosper dryly. "Meanwhile, you must forgive me if I
remind you that I have ridden all day without food or rest, and beg of
you to afford me one or the other."
"Ten thousand pardons!" said Spiridion, getting up at once, "that my
little griefs should make me forget your serious claims upon my
hospitality. Come, sir, here are bread and olives, here is a flask of
a very passable wine--all at your service. Afterwards we will share a
They sat on books, and ate what there was. Outside the wind had
freshened; it buffeted fitfully but fiercely at the window, and came
with dashes of rain. Down the corridor they could hear the casements
swinging and banging, and over all the wind itself roaring through the
great bare passages as if they had been tunnels.
"A wild night, Spiridion," said Prosper. "And what a night," thought
he, "for a surprise."
"Wild enough," replied Spiridion, "but I am indifferent to weather,
being seldom abroad. How do you find this wine?"
"Excellent," said Prosper, and drained his glass.
"Of this Galors, whom I think you know," Spiridion continued, "I hear
bad reports. Not only has he cut the throats of my household, but from
the account given me by my fair friend (concerning whom," he said with
a bow, "we are agreed to differ), I fear he is otherwise of a wild and
"You are right there, my friend," laughed Prosper.
"If he murders me," the other went on, sipping his wine, "it will be
on some such night as this."
"I have just said as much to myself," Prosper replied; "but I will do
my best to prevent him, I assure you."
"You are so courteous a defender, fair sir," said Spiridion, "I could
wish you a more worthy client."
Prosper inwardly agreed with him. Shortly afterwards Spiridion bowed
him to bed. For himself he carefully undressed and put on his night-
shirt; then, lying down, he was asleep in a moment. The storm was by
this time a gale, the noise of it continuous out doors and in. Prosper
judged it expedient to have his arms within reach; the more so as he
could not help fancying he had heard the sound of rowlocks on the
mere. He stripped himself therefore to his doublet and breeches,
heaped his armour by the bedside, slung his shield and sword over the
foot, and then lay down by his peaceful companion. He had not
forgotten either to look to the trimming and feeding of the lamp.
Sleep, however, was miles from him in such a pandemonium of noise. The
wind wailed and screamed, the windows volleyed, wainscots creaked,
doors rattled on their locks. Sometimes with a shock like a thunder-
clap the body of the storm hurled against the walls; the great house
seemed to shudder and groan; then there would be a lull as if the
spirits of riot had spent themselves. In one of these pauses Prosper
was pretty sure he heard a step on the stairs. Not at all surprised,
for it was just such a night as he would have chosen, he listened
painfully; but the noise drowned all. Came another moment of recoil,
he heard it again, nearer. He got out of bed, went to the door, opened
it silently, and listened. There were certainly movements in the
house, feet coming up the stairs; he thought to catch hoarse
whisperings, and once the clang of metal. There was no time to lose,
He shut, bolted, and locked the door; then turned to his armour. A
swift step undisguised in the corridor put all beyond question; there
was an attack preparing. He had no time to do any more than snatch up
shield and sword, before he saw the flame of a torch under the door
and heard the voices of men.
Prosper stood sword in hand, waiting.
"Spiridion," he said, "wake up!"
Spiridion moaned, stirred a little, and sank again. A high voice
"Spiridion, thou thin traitor, open the door and deliver up him thou
The wind shrieked and mocked; then Spiridion woke up with a shiver.
"The hour is come before my God is ready. Now I must die unknowing,"
said he, and sat up in bed with his yellow hair all about his face.
"It is me they seek," said Prosper. "Now then if it will save thee I
will open and go out to them." He went straight to the door, put his
face against the key-hole, and cried out--"If I come out, will ye save
There followed a babble of voices speaking all at once; afterwards the
same shrill voice took up his challenge, wailing like the wind--
"Spiridion, open the door before we break it in."
Prosper said again--"Will you have me for Spiridion?"
"We will have both, by God," rang a deep note, the voice of Galors.
As if at a signal swords began to batter at the door, pommels and
blades. One pierced the panel and struck through on the inside.
Prosper snapped it off short. "One less," he said; "but they will soon
be done with it."
"My friend," said Spiridion, who was shivering with cold (his night-
shirt being over short for the season), "my friend, I must die. What
can I do for thee? The time is short."
"Brother," answered Prosper, "get a sword and harness, and I will keep
the door till thou art ready. Then we will open it suddenly, and do
what becomes us."
"Dear friend," Spiridion said mildly, "I have no sword. And since I am
to die, I will die as well in my shirt as in a suit of mail."
"Certainly you are a great fool," said Prosper. "Yet I will defend you
as well as I can. Get behind me now, for the door is shaking, and
cannot hold out much longer."
Their assailants, without any further speech among themselves, beat at
the door furiously, or with short runs hurtled against it with their
shoulders. It seemed impossible it should stand, yet stand it did.
Then one, Galors, cried suddenly out, "Fetch a hatchet!" and another
ran helter-skelter down the corridor. The rest seemed to be waiting
for him; the battering ceased.
"Here," said Spiridion, standing in his night-shirt before the shelf
of images, "here are images of Christ on the Cross, of Mahound (made
by a Maltese Jew), of Diana of the Ephesians, and Jupiter Ammon. Here
too, are a Thammuz wrought in jade, and a cat-faced woman sitting
naked in a chair. All are gods, and any one of them may be very God.
Before which should I kneel? For to one I will as surely kneel as I
shall surely die."
Prosper flushed red with annoyance. "Brother," said he, "thou art a
greater fool than I thought possible. Die how you will. God knows how
little of a god am I; but I will do what I can. Hey, now! look about!"
he called out the next minute, and leapt back into the room. The door
split in the midst and fell apart. Two men fully armed, with their
vizors down, burst into the light; they were upon him in a flash.
Prosper up with his shield and drove at them. They were no match for
him with swords, as they very soon found when he penned them back in
the entry. One of the pair, indeed, lost his arm in the first passes
of the game, but the press of men behind forced them suddenly and
violently forward whether they would or no. Prosper skewered one of
them like a capon, against his own will, for he knew what must happen
of that. Precisely; before he could disengage his weapon two more were
at him in front, and one dodging round behind him with the hatchet
slogged at his head with the back of it. Prosper tottered; it was all
up with him. Another assailant slipped in under his guard with a pike,
which he drove into his ribs. A second stinging blow from the hatchet
dropped him. Prone on his face he fell, and never knew of the
trampling he had from the freed pass.
They cut down and slew Spiridion as he was kneeling in his shirt
before the crucifix; and then Galors came into the room to see that
the work was done.
Prosper was lying on his face as he had fallen, with a great hole in
his head. Galors suffered a contempt which he could not afford to such
an enemy. He kicked the body. "Rot there, carrion," he said; then,
with an after-thought, "No--rot in the water. Throw the pair of them
by the window," he ordered his men, "and wait outside the gates for,
me. I have things to do here." This was done.
When he was alone he stripped off all his armour, and put on instead
Prosper's equipment. The defaced shield vexed him. Nothing was left of
the blazon; nothing was left at all but the legend, "_I bide my
"That, is what I will do no longer," said Galors with a heavy oath. "I
have bided long enough; now, friend Prosper, do you bide yours. As for
the cognizance, I know it very well by this; it shall be on again by
the morning. Then we will see if I can do as Prosper what I have
failed to do as Galors."
He headed his troop for Hauterive, reached it before daylight, and
ended (as he thought) a signal chapter in his progress. As for
Prosper, he bided his time with a broken head in Peering Pool.
GALORS RIDES HUNTING
On the morning after the storm at Goltres, July 18, Galors sat in the
hall of his stronghold habited as he had ridden in but a few hours
before. In came a red-haired peasant, asking to be made his man.
"Why so, fellow?" asked Galors.
"Lording," said Falve, "because my mother hath done me a wrong."
"Why, thou dog?" cried Galors. "Would'st thou cut thy mother's throat
under my flag?"
"Lording," Falve answered, "I would not cut my mother's throat under
the Pope's flag. But I know thee to be a great lord, master of all
these walks of Morgraunt. If I were made free of thy company I could
ask thee a mercy; and if I asked thee a mercy it would be that thou
should'st order my mother to give me back my wife."
"How, thy wife, rogue?" said Galors, who was weary of the man.
"Lording, she was to have been my wife this day. But she lay last
night with my mother, and by the show of a certain token, which
unknown to me she wore about her, prevailed upon my mother to let her
go. So now she has escaped into the forest, and I am beggared of her
without thy help."
By this Galors was awake. He leaned forward in his chair, put chin to
hand, and asked quietly--"How was she called, this wife of thine, my
"Lording," replied the poor eager rogue, "she was a boy at first,
called Roy; then she revealed herself a maiden."
"I asked her maiden name, red fool."
"Her name, my lording, was Isoult la Desirous."
"Ah! At last!"
He got up from his chair, saying shortly, "Take me this instant to thy
"Silence, lout, or I swing you sky-high. To your mother without a
Poor Falve, in a cold sweat, obeyed. They found the old lady making
breathless preparations for departure.
"Mother," began Falve, "my Lord Galors--"
"Peace, fool!" broke in Galors. "Dame," he said civilly, "I must thank
you for the great charge you have been at with a certain lady much in
both our hearts. No doubt she has spoken to you of Messire Prosper le
Gai. Madam, I am he."
"As God is great," Falve cried, "I could have sworn the lord of this
town was Messire Galors de Born."
"And so he was but yesterday," said Galors. "But now I hold it for the
The old woman was convinced at this name. She caught Galors by the
"And will you take back the lamb to the dam?" she bleated.
"That is all I ask," replied Galors, speaking the truth.
"You may catch her, Messire--you may catch her. Ah, if I could only
have known of you yester-e'en! She's had but seven hours' start of
you. Take the path for Thornyhold Brush, and you'll find her. Jesu
Christ! when I saw the bleeding bird again I could have died, had
there not been better work before me."
"The bleeding bird? Ah! the token, you would say."
"Yes, Messire, yes! The pelican in piety--the torn breast! The I and
F. Ah! blood enough shed, blood enough. Go quickly, Sir Prosper, and
testify for your name; 'tis of good omen and better report. And have
you killed that sick wolf Galors, Messire? There, there, God will
bless you for that, and prosper you as you have prospered us!"
Galors swallowed the pill and went out with no more ceremony. Falve
ran after him.
"Eh, eh, Messire!" he spluttered. Galors let him splutter till they
were within the courtyard. Then he called to a trooper.
"Take this man and flog him well," said he. Falve was seized.
"Ah, my lording," cried he, "what do you there? Must I be flogged
because I have lost my wife?"
"No, dog. But because you have married mine."
"Nay, nay, mercy, my lording! I have not yet married her."
"Ha!" said Galors, "then you shall be flogged for jilting her."
And flogged he was. And the flogging cost Galors his prize.
Galors now bestirred himself. First he sat down and wrote a letter to
the Countess, thus conceived.
"To the high lady, the Lady Isabel de Forz, Countess of Hauterive,
Countess Dowager of March and Bellesme, Lady of Morgraunt--Galors de
Born, Lord of Hauterive, Goltres, and West Wan, sendeth greeting in
the Lord everlasting.
"That which your Serenity lost early is not too late found, and by us.
The crystal locket, having the pelican in the Crown of Thorns, when we
bring it upon the bosom where it hath ever slept waiting for the day
which shall reveal it to you, will testify whether we lie or lie not.
Know, however, that she shall assuredly come, and not unattended; but
as, befits her condition, under the hand of him who, having found her,
will provide that she be not lost again. It is not unknown to you,
High Mightiness, how our power and estate have grown in these days to
the threatening of your own. So it is, indeed, that now, in blood, in
fees, in renown, in power of life and member, we are near enough to
you to seek alliance still more close. And this is the last word of
Galors; let the wearer of the crystal locket come home as the
betrothed of the Lord Galors de Born, and heiress of High March and
Morgraunt, Countess of Hauterive in time to be, and she shall come
indeed. Otherwise she comes not; but Hauterive wears the crown which
High March looks to put on. Thus we commend you to the holy keeping of
God. From our tower of Hauterive, on the feast of Saint Arnulphus,
bishop and martyr, the 15th calends of August, in the first year of
our principality West of Wan."
This letter, sealed with the three wicket-gates and the circumscript,
_Entra per me_, he sent forward at once by a party of six riders,
one of whom carried a flag of truce. Then with but three to follow
him, he rode out of the town, taking the path for Thornyhold Brush.
MERCY WITH THE BEASTS
Isoult, so soon as she had seen the last of old Ursula, turned her
face to the south and the sun. She walked a mile through bush and
bramble with picked-up skirts; then she sat down and took off her
scarlet shoes and stockings, threw them aside, and went on with a
lighter tread. Not that she was above the glory of silk robes and red
slippers, or unconscious that they heightened the charm of her person
--the old woman's glass, the old woman's face had told her better than
that. Indeed, if she could have believed she would meet with Prosper
at the end of that day, she would have borne with them, hindrance or
none. But this was not to be. Her hair was yet a good six inches from
her knees. So now, bare-legged and bare-footed, her skirts pulled back
and pinned behind her, she felt the glad tune of the woods singing in
her veins, and ran against the stream of cool air deeper into the
fountain-heart whence it flowed, the great silence and shade of the
forest. The path showed barer, the stems more sparse, the roof above
her denser. Soon there was no more grass, neither any moss; nothing
but mast and the leaves of many autumns. Keeping always down the
slope, and a little in advance of the sun, by mid-day she had run
clear of the beech forest into places where there grew hornbeams, with
one or two sapling oaks. There was tall bracken here, and dewy grass
again for her feet. She rested herself, sat deep in shade listening to
the murmur of bees in the sunlight and the gentle complaining of wood-
pigeons in the tree-tops far toward the blue. She lay down luxuriously
in the fern, pillowed her cheek on her folded hands, closed her eyes,
and let all the forest peace fan her to happy dreaming. It was
impossible to be ill at ease in such a harbour. The alien faces and
brawl of the town, the grime, the sweat, the blows of the charcoal-
burners, her secret life there in the midst of them, the shame, the
hooting and the stunning of her last day at distant High March,
Maulfry, Galors, leering Falve--all these grim apparitions sank back
into the green woodland vistas; all the shocks and alarums of her
timid little soul were subdued by the rustling boughs and the crooning
voices of the doves. She saw bright country in her dreams. Prosper was
abroad on a spurred horse; his helmet gleamed in the sun; his enemies
fell at his onset. The deer browsed about her, from the branches a
squirrel peeped down, the woodbirds with kindly peering eyes hopped
within reach of her cradled arms. Soon, soon, soon, she should see
him! She would be sitting at his knees; her cheek would be on his
breast, his arm hold her close, his kind eyes read all her love story.
What a reward for what a little aching! She fell asleep in the fern
and smiled at her own dreams. When she awoke two girls sat sentinel
They were ruddy, handsome, cheerful girls, with scarcely a pin's point
of difference between them. They had brown eyes, brown loose hair, the
bloom of healthy blood on their skin. One was more fully formed, more
assured; perhaps she laughed rather less than the other; it was not
noticeable. Isoult, with sleepy eyes, regarded them languidly, half
awake. They sat on either side of her; each clasped a knee with her
two hands; both watched her. Then the elder with a little laugh shook
her hair back from her shoulders, stooped quickly forward, and kissed
her. Isoult sat up.
"Oh, who are you?" she wondered.
"I am Belvisee," said the kissing girl.
"I am Mellifont," said the laugher.
"Do you live here?"
"Is this Thornyhold?"
"Thornyhold Brush is very near."
"Will you take me? I am to wait there."
Belvisee helped her up by the hand. When she was afoot Mellifont
caught her other hand and kissed her in her turn--a glad and friendly
little embrace. Friends indeed they looked as they stood hand-linked
in the fern. All three were of a height, Isoult a shade shorter than
She contrasted her attire with theirs; her own so ceremonious, theirs,
what there was of it, simple in the extreme. A smock of coarse green
flax, cut at a slant, which left one shoulder and breast bare, was
looped on to the other shoulder, and caught at the waist by a leather
strap. It bagged over the belt, and below it fell to brush the knees.
Arms, legs, and feet were bare and brown. Visibly they wore nothing
else. Mellifont laughed to see the scrutiny.
"We must undress you," she said.
"You cannot run like that."
"No, that is quite true. But----"
"Oh," said Belvisee, "you are quite safe. No men come where the king
"King of the herd."
"Ah, the deer are near by."
"All Thornhold is theirs. The great herd is here."
"Do you live with them?"
"And they feed you?"
"Ah," said Isoult, "then I shall be at peace till my lord comes, if
there are no men."
"Have you a lord, a lover?"
"Yes, he is my lord, and I love him dearly."
"We have none. What is your name?"
"I am called Isoult la Desirous."
"Because you are a lover?"
"Yes. I am a lover."
"I will never love a man," said Belvisee rather gravely. "All men are
"I will never have a lover, nor be a lover, until men know what love
is," said Mellifont in her turn.
"And what is love, do you think?" Isoult asked her thrilling.
"Love! Love! It is service," said Belvisee.
"Service and giving," said Mellifont.
Isoult turned aside and kissed Mellifont's cheek.
They had reached the low ground, for they had been walking during this
colloquy. Oaks stood all about them, with bracken shoulder high. Into
this the three girls plunged, and held on till they were stopped by a
shallow brook. The sisters waded in, so did Isoult when she had picked
up her skirts and petticoats. After a little course up stream through
water joyfully cool they reached a place where the brook made a bend
round the roots of an enormous oak; turning this they opened on a pool
broad and deep.
"We will robe you here," said Belvisee, meaning rather to unrobe her.
The great gnarly roots of the oak were as pillars to a chamber which
ran far into the bank. Here the two girls undressed Isoult, and here
they folded and laid by her red silk gown. She became a pearly copy of
themselves in all but her hair. Her hair! They had never seen such
hair. Measuring it they found it almost to her knees.
"You cannot go with it loose," said they. "We must knot it up again;
but we will go first to the herd."
"Let us go now," added Mellifont on an impulse, and took Isoult by the
Crossing the brook below the pool, they climbed the bank and found
themselves in a sunny broad place. The light glanced in and out of the
slim grey trees. The bracken was thinner, the grass rich and dewy.
Here Isoult saw the great herd of red deer--hundreds of hundreds--
hinds and calves with some brockets and harts, busy feeding. Over all
that spacious glade the herd was spread out till there seemed no end
A sentinel stag left feeding as they came on. He looked up for a
moment, stamped his foot, and went back to grass. One or two others
copied him; but mostly the three girls could go among them without
notice. Imperceptibly, however, the herd followed them feeding on
their way to the king, so that by the time they reached him there was
a line of deer behind them, and deer at either flank.
The great hart also stamped his foot and stood at gaze, with towering
antlers and dewy nostrils very wide. Before him Belvisee and Mellifont
let go of Isoult's hand: she was to make her entry alone. She put them
behind her back, hardly knowing what was expected of her, shrank a
little into herself and waited timidly. Slowly then the great hart
advanced before his peering courtiers, pacing on with nodding head and
horns. Exactly in front of Isoult he planted his forefeet, thence he
looked down from his height upon her. She had always loved the deer,
and was not now afraid; but she covered herself with her hair.
The king stag smelt her over, beginning at her feet. He snuffed for a
long time at the nape of her neck, blew in her hair so as to spray it
out like a fountain scattered to the wind; then he fell to licking her
cheek. She, made bold, put a hand and laid it on his mane. Shyly she
stood thus, waiting events. The great beast lifted his head high and
gave a loud bellow; all the deer chorused him; the forest rang. So
Isoult was made free of the herd.
Belvisee and Mellifont lay beside her on the grass. Isoult lay on her
face, while Mellifont coiled and knotted up her hair.
"If love is giving, and you are a lover, Isoult," said she, "you would
give your hair."
"I have given it," said Isoult, and told them her story as they all
lay there together.
"And to think that you have endured all this from men, and yet love a
man!" cried flushed Mellifont, when she had made an end.
But Isoult smiled wisely at her.
"Ah, Mellifont," she said, "the more you saw of men, the more you
would find to love in him."
"Indeed, I should do no such thing," said Mellifont, firing up again.
"You could not help it. Everyone must love him."
"That might not suit you, Isoult," said Belvisee.
"Why should it not? Would it prevent my love to know him loved? I
should love him all the more."
"Hark!" cried Mellifont on a sudden. She laid her ear to the ground,
then jumped to her feet.
"Come to the herd, come to the herd," she whispered.
Belvisee was on her feet also in a trice. Both girls were hot and
"What disturbs you?" asked Isoult, who had heard nothing.
"Horsemen! quick, quick." They all ran between the trees to regain the
deer. Isoult could hear no horses; but the sisters had, and now she
saw that the deer had. Every head was up, every ear still, every
nostril on the stretch. Listening now intently, faint and far she did
hear a muffled knocking--it was like a beating heart, she thought.
Whatever it was, the deer guessed an enemy. Upon a sudden stamp, the
whole herd was in motion. Led by the hart-royal, they trotted
noiselessly down the wood, till in the thick fern they lay still. The
girls lay down with them.
The sound gained rapidly upon them. Soon they heard the crackling of
twigs, then the swish of swept brushwood, then the creaking of girths.
Isoult hid her face, lying prone on her breast.
Galors and his men came thundering through the wood. Their horses were
reeking, dripping from the flanks. The riders, four of them, looking
neither right nor left, past over the open ground, where a few minutes
before she whom they desperately sought had been lying at their mercy.
But Galors, fled by all things living in Morgraunt, scourged on like a
destroying wind and was gone. Isoult little knew how near she had been
to the unclean thing. If she had seen him she would have run straight
to him without a thought, for he bore the red feathers in his helmet,
and behind him, on the shield, danced in the glory of new gilt the
It may be doubted if the instincts of the earth-born can ever pierce
the trappings of a knight-at-arms. They trust in emotions which such
gear is designed to hide or transfigure. Isoult, observe, had caught
Prosper out of his harness, when before the face of the sky she had
thrilled him to pity. But when once he had stooped to her, for the
very fact, she made haste to set him up on high in her heart, and in
more seemly guise. There and thenceforward he stood on his pedestal
figured, not as a pitiful saviour (whom a girl must be taught to
worship), but as an armed god who suffered her homage. She was no
better (or no worse, if you will) than the rest of her sex in this,
that she loved to love, and was bewildered to be loved. So she would
never get him out of armour again. Her god might not stoop.
WANMEETING CRIES, 'HA! SAINT JAMES!'
The story returns to Prosper le Gai and his broken head. The blow had
been sharp, but Peering Pool was sharper. It brought him to
consciousness, of a sort sufficient to give him a disrelish for
drowning. Lucky for him he was unarmed. He found himself swimming,
paddling, rolling at random; he swallowed quantities of water, and
liked drowning none the better. By the little light there was he could
make out the line of the dark hull of Goltres, by the little wit he
had he remembered that the water-gate was midway the building or
thereabouts. He turned his face to the wall and, half clinging, half
swimming, edged along it till he reached port. The last ebb of his
strength sufficed to drag him up the stair; then he floated off into
When he stirred he was stiff, and near blind with fever. A cold light
silvered the pool; it was not yet dawn. His plight was pitiable. He
ached and shivered and burned, he drowsed and muttered, dreamed
horribly, sweated and was cold, shuddered and was hot. One of his arms
he could not lift at all; at one of his sides, there was a great stiff
cake of cloth and blood and water. He became light-headed, sang,
shouted, raved, swore, prayed.
"To me, to me, Isoult! Ah, dogs of the devil, this to a young maid!
Yes, madam, the Lady Isoult, and my wife. Love her! O God, I love her
at last. Hounded, hounded, hounded out! Love of Christ, how I love
her! Bailiff, Galors will come--a white-faced, sullen dog. Cut him
down, bailiff, without mercy, for he hath shown no mercy. The man in
the wood--ha! dead--Salomon de Born. Green froth on his lips--fie,
poison! She has killed Galors' only son. Galors, she has poisoned him
--oh, mercy, mercy, Lord, must I die?" And then with tears, and the
whining of a child--"Isoult, Isoult, Isoult!"
In tears his delirium spent itself, and again he was still, in a
broken sleep. The sun rose, the sky warmed itself and glowed, the
crispy waves of Peering Pool glittered, the white burden it bore
floated face upwards, an object of interest and suspicion for the
coots; soon a ray of generous heat shot obliquely down upon the
sleeper on the stairs. Prosper woke again, stretched, and yawned. Most
of his pains seemed now to centre in the pit of his stomach, a
familiar grief. Prosper was hungry.
"Pest!" said the youth, "how hungry I am. I can do nothing till I have
He tried to get up, and did succeed in raising himself on all fours.
But for the life of him he could do no more. He sat down again and
thought about eating. He remembered the bread and olives, the not
unkindly red wine of the night before. Then he remembered Spiridion,
dispenser of meat and many questions.
"That poor doubting rogue!" he laughed. But he sobered himself. "I do
ill to laugh, God knows! The man must be dead by now, and all his
doubts with him. I must go find him. But I must eat some of his bread
and olives first."
Once more he got on all fours, and this time he crawled to the stop of
the stairway. Clinging to the lintel and hoisting himself by degrees,
he at last stood fairly on his feet--but with a spinning head, and a
sickness as unto death. He tottered and flickered; but he stuck to his
"Bread and olives!" he cried. "I am to die, it seems, but by the Lord
I will eat first."
He made a rush for it, gained so the great hall, dizzied through it
somehow, and out into the corridor. He flung himself at the stone
stairs with the desperation of his last agony, half crawled, half
swarmed up to the top (dragging his legs after him at the end, like a
hare shot in the back), and finished his course to Spiridion's chamber
on hands and knees. He had probably never in his life before worked so
hard for a breakfast. He was dripping with sweat, shaking like
gossamer; but his fever had left him. Bread and a bottle of wine did
wonders for him. He felt very drunk when he had done, and was
conscious that pot-valiancy only gave him the heart to tear off his
clothes. A flask of sweet oil from Spiridion's shelf helped him here.
Next he probed the rents. He found a deepish wound in the groin, a
sword-cut in the fleshy part of his left arm; then there was his head!
He assured himself that the skull was whole.
"I never respected my ancestors before," he cried. "Such a headpiece
is worthy of a Crusader."
He kindled a fire, heated water, washed out his hurts, oiled them and
bound them up with one of Spiridion's bed-sheets.
"Now," he reflected, "by rights I should go and hunt for my poor host.
But I am still drunk unfortunately. Let me consider. Spiridion must
pass for a man. If he is dead he will wait for me. If he is not dead
he is no worse off than I am. Good. I will sleep." And he slept round
Next morning when he awoke he was stiff and sore, but himself. He
finished the bread, drank another bottle of wine, and looked about for
his armour. It was not there. Instead, the white wicket-gates gleamed
at him from a black shield, white plumes from a black headpiece, and
the rest of a concatenation.
"_Entra per me_," he read. "Enter I will," said Prosper, "and by
you. This device," he went on, as he fitted the _cuisses_, "this
device is not very worthy of Dom Galors. It speaks of hurry. It
speaks, even, of precipitation, for if he must needs wear my harness,
at least he might have carried his own. Galors was flurried. If he was
flurried he must have had news. If, having news, he took my arms, it
must have been news of Isoult. He intended to deceive her by passing
for me. Good; I will deceive his allies by passing for himself. But
first I must find Spiridion."
He had too much respect for his enemy, as you will observe if I have
made anything of Galors. Galors was no refiner, not subtle; he was
direct. When he had to think he held his tongue, so that you should
believe him profound. When he got a thought he made haste to act upon
it, because it really embarrassed him. None of Prosper's imaginings
were correct. If the monk had been capable of harbouring two thoughts
at a time, there would not have been a shred of mail in the room.
That sodden thing lipped by the restless water was Spiridion. He lay
on his back, thinner and more peaked than ever in life; his yellow
hair made him an aureole. He looked like some martyred ascetic, with
his tightened smile and the gash half-way through his neck.
Prosper leaned upon his punt-pole looking sorrowfully at him.
"Alas, my brother," he said half whimsically, "do you smile? Even so I
think God should smile that He had let such a thing be made. And if,
as I believe, you know the truth at last, that is why you also smile.
But shut your eyes, my brother," he added, stooping to do the office,
"shut your eyes, for you wore them thin with searching and now can see
without them. Let them rest."
Very tenderly he pulled him out of the water, very reverently took
him to land. He buried him before his own gates, and over him set the
crucifix, which in the end he had found grace to see. He was too good
a Christian not to pray over the grave, and not sufficient of a hero
to be frank about his tears. At the end of all this business he found
his horse. Then he rode off at a canter for Hauterive.
* * * * *
It is one thing to kindle military fires in the breast of a High
Bailiff, quite another to bid them out. Prosper had overstepped his
authority. The High Bailiff of Wanmeeting held himself in check for
the better part of a week after his generalissimo's departure; at the
end of five days he could endure it no more. His harness clamoured,
his sword tarnished for blood; he had fifteen hundred men in steel.
That would mean fifteen hundred and one tarnishing blades, and the
unvoiced reproaches of fifteen hundred and one suits of mail. In a
word, the High Bailiff itched to try a fall with the redoubtable
Galors de Born.
He sent, therefore, a man to ring the great bell of the parish church.
This assembled the citizens pell-mell, for the times were stirring.
The High Bailiff, being assured of his auditory, summoned the
garrison, put himself at the head of them on a black stallion, sounded
trumpets, and marched into the Market-place. The cheers clipped him
like heady wine; but it was the eloquence of the women's handkerchiefs
that really gave him heart. Standing in his stirrups, hat in hand, he
made a short speech.
"Men of Wanmeeting and brothers," he said, "to-day you shall prove
yourselves worthy of your Lady Paramount, of your late master, and of
me. Galors de Born, the arch-enemy, is skulking in his strong tower,
not daring to attack us. Men of Wanmeeting, we will go and bait him.
Hauterive is ours. Follow me, crying, Ha! Saint James!"
"Ha! Saint James!" shouted the men, with their caps pike-high.
The Bailiff glowed in his skin. He drew his sword.
"Forward!" He gave the word.
The entire ardent garrison marched out of the town, and Wanmeeting was
left with its women and elders, anybody's capture.
The consequence of these heroical attitudes was, that Prosper, riding
hard to Hauterive, came in sight of a besieging army round about it--a
tented field, a pavilion, wherefrom drooped the saltire of De Forz, a
long line of attack, in fine, a notable scheme of offence. He saw a
sortie from the gates driven back by as mettlesome a cavalry charge as
he could have wished to lead.
"The Bailiff of Wanmeeting, as I live by bread!" he cried out.
He stayed for some time watching the fray from a little rising ground.
The cavalry, having beaten in the defenders, retired in good order;
the archers advanced to cover a party of pikemen with scaling-ladders.
"Now is my time to board the Bailiff," said Prosper, and rode coolly
across the field.
The High Bailiff saw, as he thought, Galors himself riding unattended
"Ha! negotiations," said he; "and in person! I have hit a mark it
seems. I may take a high tone. Unconditional surrender and all arms,
Prosper rode up, saluting.
"Messire de Born," said the Bailiff.
"Prosper le Gai," said the other.
"Madam Virgin! I thought you had perished, Messire."
"Not at all, Bailiff. Was that why you took over my command?"
The Bailiff bowed. "I gladly relinquish it, Messire."
Prosper nodded pleasantly.
"That last charge of yours could hardly have been bettered, though I
think you might have got in. How many men did you drop?"
"Ten, Messire. We brought off the wounded."
"Ten is enough. You shall lose no more. Call off that scaling party."
The Bailiff repeated the order.
"Your men know their work," said Prosper; "but why do they cry for
The High Bailiff coloured.
"Well, Messire," he said, "there is undoubtedly a Saint James, an
Apostle and a great Saint."
"Of the greatest," said Prosper. "But, pardon. I thought your burgh
was devoted to Saint Crispin?"
"Messire, it is so. But there were reasons. First, your battle-cry
should be familiar----"
"As Saint Crispin to Wanmeeting?"
"As the name of James, Messire. For it is my own poor name."
"Ah," said Prosper, "I begin to see."
"Then," said the Bailiff, pursuing his reasons, "a battle-cry should
be short, of one syllable----"
"Like Saint Dennis?" Prosper asked.
"Like Saint George, Messire."
"Or Saint Andrew?" said Prosper sweetly.
Or Montjoy, or Bide the Time, eh, Bailiff?"
"Messire, you have me at a disadvantage for the moment. The name is,
however, that of a Saint."
"Say no more, Bailiff, but listen. There need be no more bloodshed
over this place. Get your men together, to advance at a signal from
within. I will go alone into the town. Now, do you notice that little
square window in the citadel? When you see the Saltire hang there you
will march in and meet me at the Bishop's Gate."
"Oh, Messire, what will you do?"
"Leave that to me," Prosper said, as he rode off.
He rode close to the moat and kept by it, making a half circuit of the
walls. He had calculated on Galors' armour, and calculated well, for
nobody molested him from the defenders' side. At the Bishop's Gate he
reined up, and stood with his spear erect at the length of his arm.
"Who comes?" cried the sentry.
"_Entra per me_," growled Prosper, with a shot for Galors' sulky
The gate swung apart, the bridge fell, the portcullis was drawn up.
Prosper rode through the streets of Hauterive amid the silence of the
inhabitants and the cheers of the garrison--two very different sets of
persons. He went into the citadel, displayed the appointed signal,
then returned on horseback to the Bishop's Gate. He had not a word to
say, but this was quite in character. So he stood waiting.
There was presently a fine commotion at the gate; a man came running
up to him.
"Messire, they are going to attack the gate!"
"Open it," said Prosper.
"Open it, hound!"
The man reeled, but carried the order. Prosper rode stately out; and
when he returned a second time it was at the head of the Countess
"Bailiff," said he, when they were in the citadel and all the news
out, "I am no friend of your mistress, as you know; but I am not a
thief. Hauterive is hers. To-morrow morning I shall declare it so;
until then Galors, if you please, is Lord. Let me now say this," he
continued. "I admire you because you have a high heart. But you lack
one requisite of generalship, as it appears to me. You have no head.
Get back at once to Wanmeeting with one thousand of your men, and
leave me five hundred of them to work with. You may think yourself
lucky if you find one stone on another or one man's wife as she should
be. By the time you are there you will no doubt have orders from High
March. You may send news thither that this place is quiet and
restored, as from to-morrow morning, to its allegiance. Good morning,
The Bailiff was very much struck with Prosper's sagacity, and went at
once. Prosper and his five hundred men held the citadel.
He confided his secret to those whom he could trust; the remainder
fraternized in the wine shops and dealt liberally in surmise. The
general opinion seemed to be that Galors had married the Countess
* * * * *
Having thus ridded him of all his charges, Prosper could steer the
ship of his mind whither his soul had long looked--to Isoult and
marriage. Marriage was become a holy thing, a holy sepulchre of peace
to be won at all costs. No crusader was he, mind you, fighting for
honour, but a pitiful beaten wayfarer longing for ease from his
aching. He did not seek, he did not know, to account for the change in
him. It had come slowly. Slowly the girl had transfigured before him,
slowly risen from below him to the level of his eyes; and now she was
above him. He shrined her high as she had shrined him, but for
different reasons as became a man. What a woman loves in man is
strength, what a man loves in women is also strength, the strength of
weak things. The strength of the weak thing Isoult had been that, she
had known how to hold him off because of her love's sake. There is
always pity (which should become reverence) in a man's love. He had
never pitied her till she fought so hard for the holiness of her
Oddly enough, Isoult loved him the more for the very attack which she
had foiled. Odd as it may be, that is where the truth lies. As for
him, gratitude for what she had endured for his sake might go for
nothing. Men do not feel gratitude--they accept tribute. But if they
pity, and their pity is quickened by knowledge of the pitiful, then
they love. Her pleading lips, her dear startled eyes stung him out of
himself. And then he found out why her eyes were startled and why her
lips were mute. She was lovely. Yes, for she loved. This beseeching
child, then, loved him. He knew himself homeless now until she took
THE CHAINED VIRGIN OF SAINT THORN
The Abbot Richard of Malbank Saint Thorn went hunting the deer in
Morgraunt with a good company of prickers and dogs. In Spenshaw he
unharboured a stag, and he followed him hard. The hart made straight
for Thornyhold Brush where the great herd lay; there Mellifont, who
was sentry for the time, heard him and gave the alarm. Fern brakes
will hide man from man, but here were dogs. The hunted hart drove
sheer into the thicket on his way to the water; a dog was at his
heels, half-a-dozen more were hard on him. The herd had scattered on
all hands long before this. Mellifont saved herself with them, but
Belvisee tarrying to help Isoult was caught. A great hound snapped at
her as he passed; she limped away with a wounded side. Isoult, too
much of a woman and too little of a hind, stood still. She had closed
with Fate before.
Up came the Abbot's men with horns and shouting voices for the baying
of the deer. He, brave beast, was knifed in the brook and broken up,
the dogs called off and leashed. Then one of the huntsmen saw Isoult.
She had let down her hair for a curtain and stood watching them
intently, neither defiant nor fearful, but with a long, steady,
unwinking gaze. Her bosom rose quick and short, there was no other
stressful sign; she was flushed rather than white. One of the men
thought she was a wood-girl--they all knew of such beings; he crossed
himself. Another knew better. Her mother Mald was a noted witch; he
A third thought she was uncommonly handsome; he could only look. The
dogs whimpered and tugged at the leash; they doubtless knew that there
was blood in her. So all waited till the Abbot came up much out of
Isoult, cloaked in her panoply of silence, saw him first. In fact the
Abbot had eyes only for the dead hart which had led him such a race.
One of the prickers ran forward and caught at his stirrup-leather.
"Lord Abbot, here is the strangest thing my eyes have ever seen in
Morgraunt. As we followed the chase we drove into a great herd which
ran this way and that way. And in the thick of the deer were three
young women scantily attired, as the one you see yonder, going with
the beasts. Of whom two have got clear (one bitten by the mouse-
coloured hound), and this one remains speechless. And who the others
were, whether flesh and blood or wind and breath, I cannot tell you;
but if this laggard is not Isoult, whom we call La Desirous, Matt-o'-
the-Moor's daughter, I am no fit servant for your Holiness'
The Abbot had pricked up his ears; now he looked sharply at Isoult.
"You are right, Sweyn," he said; "leave her to me. Girl," he turned to
her, "this time it shall likely go hard with thee. Trees are plenty
and ropes easy to come by. I warned thee before. I shall not warn thee
Isoult bowed her head.
"What dost thou do here, herding in the wood with wild beasts?" he
"Lord, none but the beasts will give me food or rest or any kindness
at all. There is no pity in man nor woman that I have seen, save in
two, and one is dead. Prosper le Gai, my lord, and husband, hath pity,
and will come to me at last. And whether he shall come to my body
alone or my spirit alone, he will come. And now, lord, hang me to a
"Dost thou want to be hanged?" he asked.
"Nay, lord, I am too young to be hanged," she said. "Moreover, though
I am wedded to my lord, I am not a wife. For only lately he hath loved
me, and that since we were put apart."
"Wed, and a virgin, girl? Where is thy husband?"
"Lord, he is searching for me."
"Where hath he been, what hath he done--or thou, what hast thou done,
for such a droll fate as this?"
Isoult very simply told him everything. Of Galors he already had some
news--enough to dread more. But when he heard that the girl had
actually been in High March Castle, had been expelled from it, he
crossed himself and thanked God for all His mercies. He became a
devout Christian at this critical point in Isoult's career, whereby
her neck was saved a second time from the rope. He felt a certain
pity--she a handsome girl, too, though his type for choice was blonde
--for her simplicity, and, as he certainly wished to obtain mercy,
reflected upon the possible blessings of the merciful. Besides, Galors
was at large, Galors who knew the story, to say nothing of Prosper,
also at large, who did not know the story, but did know, on the other
hand, the Countess Isabel. Difficult treading! But so the habits of a
lifetime for once chimed in with its professions. Even as he stood
pitying he roughed out another set of shifts. Prosper and his
unconsummated marriage might be set aside--the fool, he thought with a
chuckle, deserved it. There remained Galors. He would get the girl
married to a mesne of the abbey, or stay! he would marry her elsewhere
and get a dowry. She had filled out astonishingly, every line of her
spoke of blood: there would be no trouble about a dowry. Then he might
supplant Galors by being beforehand with him at the Countess's ear.
Gratitude of the mother, gratitude of the daughter, gratitude of the
son-in-law! Thus Charity walked hand in hand with Policy. The girl was
a beauty. What a picture she made there, short-frocked, flushed and
loose-haired, like an Amazon--but, by Mars, not maimed liked an
Amazon. The Abbot was a connoisseur of women, as became a confessor
and man of the world.
"If I do not hang thee, Isoult, wilt thou come with me to Saint Thom?"
"Yes, lord, I will come."
"Up with you then before me," said the Abbot, and stooped to lift her.
Her hair fell back as she was swung into the saddle. "My lady,"
thought the Abbot, "it is clear you are no Amazon; but I should like
to know what you wear round that fine little neck of yours."
He bided his time, and sent the men and dogs on ahead. Then at
starting he spurred his horse so that the beast plunged both his
riders forward. The burden of the chain slipt its harbourage, and the
next minute the Abbot had ring and locket in the palm of his hand.
"What is this ring, my girl?" he asked.
"My lord, it is my wedding-ring, wherewith I was wed in the cottage."
"Ah, is that it? Well, I will keep it until there is need."
Isoult began to cry at this, which cut her deeper than all the
severances she had known. She could confess to the ring.
"Don't cry, child," said the Abbot, whom women's tears troubled;
"believe me when I say that you shall have it for your next wedding."
"Oh, my ring! my ring! What shall I do? It is all I have. Oh, my lord,
This pained the Abbot extremely. He got what satisfaction there was
from the thought that, having dropt it behind him, he could not give
it back for all the tears in the world. He was busy now examining the
other token--a crystal locket whereon were a pelican in piety circled
with a crown of thorns, and on the other side the letters I and F
interlaced. He knew it better than most people.
"Isoult, stop crying," he said. "Take off this chain and locket and
give them to me."
So she did.
"Ah, my lord," she pleaded as she tendered, "I ask only for the ring."
"Plague take the ring," cried the Abbot very much annoyed. "I will
throw it away if you say another word about it."
The threat chilled her. She dried her eyes, hoping against hope, for
even hope needs a sign.
When he had his prize safe in Holy Thorn, the Abbot Richard, who had a
fantastic twist in him, and loved to do his very rogueries in the
mode, set himself to embroider his projects when he should have been
executing them. His lure was a good lure, but she would be none the
worse for a little gilding; there must be a pretty cage, with a spice
of malice in its devising, to excite the tenderer feelings. It should
be polite malice, however--a mere hint at a possible tragedy behind a
He dressed her in green silk because she was fresh-coloured and had
black hair. If she had been pale, as when he first knew her, and as
she was to be again before he knew her no more, the dress would have
been red, depend upon it. He put a gold ring on her finger, a jewel on
her forehead, a silver mirror and a Book of Hours bound in silver
leaves to swing at her girdle. Her chamber was hung with silk arras,--
the loving history of Aristotle and a princess of Cyprus;--she had two
women to wait upon her, to tire her hair in new ways and set new
crowns upon it; she had a close garden of her own, with roses and a
fountain, grass lawns, peacocks. She had pages to serve her kneeling,
musical instruments, singing boys and girls. He gave her a lap-dog.
Finally he kissed her and said--
"You are to be queen of this place, Isoult the Much-Desired."
All this the Abbot did. This also he did--his crowning piece. He
caused her to wear round her waist a girdle made of bright steel in
which was a staple. To the staple he fixed a fine steel chain--a toy,
a mimicry of prisons, but in fact a chain--and the other end of a
chain was fixed to a monk's wrist. The chain was fine and flexible, it
was long, it could go through the keyhole--and did--but it was a
chain. Wherever the girl went, to the garden, to table, to music, to
bed, abroad, or to Mass, she was chained to a monk and a monk to her.
The Abbot Richard rested on the seventh day, contemplating his labours
with infinite relish. It seemed to him that this was to be politic
with an air. So far as he might he did everything in that manner.
Isoult bore the burden much as she had borne the thwackings of the
charcoal-burners, with ingrained patience. Seriously, one only cross
fretted her--the loss of her ring. This indeed cried desertion upon
her. Prosper had never seemed so far, nor his love so faint and ill-
assured. It would seem that kindness really killed her by drugging her
spirit as with anodyne. As she had fallen at Gracedieu, so she fell
now into a languid habit where tears swam in flood about the lids of
her eyes, where the eyes were too heavy for clear sight and the very
blood sluggish with sorrow. She grew pale again, hollow-eyed,
diaphanous--a prism for an unearthly ray. Her beauty took on its elfin
guise; she walked a ghost. Night and day she felt for the ring; though
she knew it was not there, her hand was always in her vest, her bosom
always numb and cold. Sometimes her urgent need was more than she
could bear. A trembling took her, an access of trembling which she
could not check. At such times, if others were about her, she would
sit vacant and speechless, smiling faintly for courtesy; her eyes
would brim over, the great drops fall unchecked. There would be no
sobbing, very little catching of the breath. The well of misery would
fill and overflow, gently and smoothly irresistible. Then the shaking
would cease and the fount be dry for a season. So she grew more a
spirit and less a maid; her eyes waxed larger, and the pupils whelmed
the grey in jet.
The people of Malbank frankly took her for a saint. Martyrs, virgins,
and such rare birds do not hop in every cage; but what more reasonable
than that the famous Abbot of Saint Thorn should catch one in his own
springes? Those who maintained that the chained white creature, who
knelt folded at the Mass, or on a white palfrey rode out on the heath
guarded by two monks, was the stormy girl who had kept swine about the
middens, Matt's bad daughter Isoult la Desirous, those were leagued
with the devil and his imps, who would not see a saint if all heaven
walked the earth.
The report fell in excellently with the Abbot's calculation. No one
believed in the Isoult fable save Mald, whom the girl had seen once or
twice, and himself; every one talked rather of the Chained Virgin of
Saint Thorn. She became an object of pilgrimage. The Abbot grew to
call her chamber the feretory; the faithful gave alms, particularly
the seamen from Wanmouth. Then others came to behold, more to his
liking, proposing barter. She was observed of the Lord of Hartlepe,
the young Lord of Brokenbridge, the Lord of Courthope Saint James; of
the Baron of Starning and Parrox, also, from the East Demesne. This
Baron Malise, thin and stooping, having Prosper's quick eyes without
his easy lordship over all who met them, and Prosper's high voice
twisted querulous, came to view his young brother's wife. She pleased,
but the price did not please. He and the Abbot haggled over the dowry;
Malise, as obstinate as Prosper, would not budge. So they haggled.
Finally came Galors de Born, Lord of Hauterive and many other places
in the north, not to be denied.
'ENTRA PER ME'
When Galors overshot his mark in Thornyhold he flew very wide. It is
well known there are no roads. Thornyhold is but the beginning of the
densest patch of timber in all the forest. Malbank is your nearest
habitation; Spenshaw, Heckaby, Dunsholt Thicket, Hartshold, Deerleap
are forest names, not names of the necessities of men. You may wander
a month if you choose, telling one green hollow from another; or you
may go to Holy Thorn at Malbank, or endure unto Wanmouth and the sea.
If you were Galors and needed counsel you would not choose the wood;
naturally you would avoid Malbank. There would remain to you Wanmouth.
Galors went to Wanmouth. It was the Countess's country of course; but
his disguise was good enough. People read the arms and hailed a le Gai
or one of that house. It was at Wanmouth that he learned what he
wanted. Malise, after one of his interminable chafferings with the
Abbot Richard, took it on his way to the east.
"My Lord Baron of Starning," said the Vice-Admiral of the port, "we
have had a friend of your house here a week or more."
"Eh, eh!" said Malise, feeling his pocket, "what does the rogue want
with his friendship? I'm as poor as a rat. Who is he?"
"Oh, for that," replied the other, "he seems a great lord in his way,
wears your blazon, is free with his money, and he swears like a
"Bring him to me, Admiral, bring him to me. I shall like this man."
So Galors was brought in, to be graciously received by the head of the
house of Gai. His blunt manner deceived Malise at once. In his
experience people who wanted to borrow dealt differently. Here was a
lofty soul, who might, on the other hand, be guided to lend! In the
course of a long conversation Melise unbosomed. He was newly a lover
and liked the part. The Baron ended his confession thus--
"So, my dear friend, you see how it is with me. I have never met you
before--the more's the pity. I accept your civilities, but I make no
promises--you know our legend? Well, I bide my time--he--he! No
boasting, but upon my honour, my reputation does not make me out
ungrateful. I say to you, go to Malbank; observe, watch, judge, then
report to me. The detail I leave to you. I should recommend a
disguise. The place has become one of pilgrimage--go as a pilgrim! You
will see whether the prize is worth my while. I am sure you have
taste--I know it. Observe, report. Then we will act."
"Ravishment of ward?" asked Galors dryly.
"Ward! She is not his ward. How can she be? Who is she? Nobody knows.
The thing is a crying scandal, my dear friend. A woman in an abbey
parlour! An alcove at Holy Thorn! Are we Mohammedans, infidels, Jews
of the Old Law? Fie!"
"You do not know her name, Baron?"
"She is the Chained Virgin of Saint Thorn, I tell you. She has no
other name. She sits in a throne in choir, pale as milk, with burning
grey eyes as big as passion-flowers! She is a chained Andromeda on the
rock of Peter. Be my Perseus!"
"Hum," said Galors, half to himself, "hum! Yes, I will go at once."
"My dear friend----"
"Not a word more, Baron. Go home to Starning, go where you like, and
wait. If you see me again the lady will be with me."
"You shall not find me ungrateful, I promise," cried Malise, going
"Damn your gratitude," said Galors, when the door was shut.
A mortified Perseus in drab cloak and slouch hat, he went to Malbank
next day and verified his prognosis. The Abbot sang Mass, his old
colleagues huddled in choir; the place echoed with the chastened
snuffling he knew so well. Galors had no sentiment to pour over them.
Standing, bowing, genuflecting, signing himself at the bidding of the
bell, he had no eyes for any but the frail apparition whose crown of
black seemed to weigh her toward the pavement. The change wrought in
her by a year's traffic might have shocked, as the eyes might have
haunted him; but she was nothing but a symbol by now. A frayed ensign,
she stood for an earldom and a fee. The time had been when her beauty
had bewitched him; that was when she went flesh and blood, sun-
browned, full of the sap of untamed desires. Now she was a ghost with
a dowry; stricken, but holding a fief.
He judged the chain, the time, the place, the chances. He had three
men. It was enough. Next Sunday he would act. Then for the forest
roads and High March!
That next Sunday was Lammas Day and a solemn feast. All Malbank was in
the nave, a beaten and weather-scarred bundle of drabs packed in one
corner under the great vaulting ribs. Within the dark aisles the
chapels gloomed, here and there a red lamp made darkness darker; but
the high altar was a blaze of lights. The faces, scared or sharp-set,
of the worshippers fronted the glory open-mouthed, but all dull.
Hunger makes a bad altar-flame; when it burns not sootily it fires the
Afterwards came something which they understood--Isoult between her
two women, the monk behind. A girl chained by the middle to a monk--
Oh, miracle! She sat very still in her carved chair, folding her
patient hands. So thin, so frail, so transparent she was, they thought
her pure spirit, a whisp of gossamered breath, or one of those gauzy
sublimations which the winter will make of a dead leaf. The cowed
audience watched her wonderfully; some of the women snivelled. The
white monks, the singing boys, the banners and tapers, Ceremoniar,
Deacon, Subdeacon, the vested Abbot himself, passed like a shining
cloud through the nave. All their light came from the Chained Virgin
of Saint Thorn. And then the Mass began.
There was a ring of hoofs outside, but no one looked round, and none
came in. A shadow fell across the open door. At a _Dominus
Vobiscum_ you might have seen the ministrant falter; there might
have been a second or two of check in his chant, but he mastered it
without effort, and turned again with displayed hands to his affair.
The choir of white hoods, however, watched the shadow at the west
door. Isoult saw nothing and heard nothing; she was kneeling at
prayer. It may be doubted if any prayed but the girl and the priest.
The holy office proceeded; the Sanctus bell shrilled for the first
time. Hoofs shattered scandalously on the flags, and Galors, with an
armed man on either hand of him, rode into the nave. The choir rose in
a body, the nave huddled; Isoult, as she believed, saw Prosper, spear,
crest, and shield. Her heart gave a great leap, then stood still.
Perhaps there was a flicker in the Abbot's undertone; his lips may
have been dry; but his courage was beyond proof. He held on.
Isoult was blanched as a cloth; lips, fingers and ears, the tongue in
her open mouth--all creeks for the blood were ebbed dry. Her awful
eyes, fixed and sombre stars, threatened to gulf her in their dark.
Love was drowned in such horror as this.
Galors swung out of the saddle. In the breathless place the din of
that act came like a thunder-peal, crackling and crashing, like to
wreck the church. He drew his sword, with none to stay him, and strode
forward. If the Abbot Richard heard his step up the choir the man is
worthy of all memory, for he went on with his manual acts, and his
murmur of prayer never ceased. He may have heard nothing--who knows
what his motions were? He was a brave man.
The bell rang--rang again--God beamed in the Host. The people wavered,
but use held. They bowed prone before God in His flake of new flesh.
"_Deus in adjutorium_," muttered the Abbot to himself.
"_Entra per me!_" thundered Galors, and ran him through the body.
After the first shudder had swept through the church there was no
sound at all, until some woman hidden began a low moan, and keened the
Abbot Richard. No one dared to stir while those grim horsemen in the
nave sat like rocks.
Galors turned to Isoult where she froze rigid in her throne, severed
the chain at a blow, and went to take her. Some sudden thought struck
him; he turned her quickly round to the light and without ceremony
fumbled at her neck. She grew sick to feel him touch her.
"The Abbot hath it." Her lips formed the words. Galors went back to
the dead priest and pulled off chain and locket.
"Oh, my ring, my ring!" whined the girl as he slipt the chain over
her. He did not seem to hear her, but snatched her up in his arms as
if she had been a doll and set her on his horse. He swung himself into
the saddle behind her as he had swung himself out of it, reined up
short and turned. The three men rode out with their burden. When they
had gone the Deacon (who got a mitre for it) solemnly laid the fallen
host between his lord's lips. The act, at once pious and sensible,
brought up the congregation from hell to earth again. At such times
routine is the only saving thing.
Once free of the Abbey precincts the three horsemen forded Wan. At a
signal pre-arranged one of them fell back to keep watch over the
river. Galors went forward with one in his company on to the heath,
dropped him after three or four hours' steady going, and rode on
still. His third man was to meet him at the edge of Martle Brush.
Never a word had he spoken since his great "_Entra per me!_" but
without that the act had been enough to tell his prize, that whatever
her chains had been before, the sword-stroke had riveted them closer.
There had been no chain like his mailed arm round her body.
Nothing could be done. Indeed she was as yet paralyzed; for wild work
as had been done in her sight, this was savagery undreamed. She could
get no comfort, she never thought of Prosper. Even Prosper, her lord,
could not stand before such a force as this. As for good Saint
Isidore, the pious man became a shade, and vanished with his Creator
into the dark.
Night came on, but a low yellow moon burnt the fringe of the rising
woods. They were retracing almost the very stones of the track she and
Prosper had followed a year before.
Matt's intake they passed, she saw a light in the window. The heath
loomed ghostly before them, with the dark bank of trees rising
steadily as they neared. Athwart them rose also the moon; there was
promise of a fine still night. They entered the trees, heading for
Suddenly Galors pulled up, listening intently. There was no sound save
that strange murmur the night has (as if the whole concave of heaven
were the hollow of a shell), and the secret rustling of the trees.
Still Galors listened. It was so quiet you might almost have heard two
As an underchant, sinister accompaniment to the voices of the night,
there came to them the muffled pulsing of a horse's hoofs; a quick and
regular sound--a horse galloping evenly with plenty in hand.
Both heard it. Galors drove in the spurs, and the chase began. They
were yet a mile away from Martle Brush. If they could cross the brook
and gain the ridgeway, it was long odds on their being overtaken that
'BIDE THE TIME'
Walking the rounds at Hauterive the night of his coming there, a man
sprang out at Prosper from a black entry and stabbed at him between
the shoulders. "For the ravisher of Isoult!" was all the message that
did not miscarry, for Galors' mail of proof stopped the rest. Prosper
whipt round in an instant, but the assassin had made up the passage-
way. There was a quick chase through the break-neck lanes of the steep
little town, then blood told. Prosper ran his man to earth in a
churchyard. He proved to be a red-haired country lout, whose bandy
legs had been against him in this work. He asked for no quarter,
seemed beside himself with rage.
"Friend," said Prosper, "you struck me from behind. You must have
wished to make very sure. Why?"
Said Falve, "Thou ravisher, Galors."
"I cannot be called Galors to my face; politics may go to the devil.
Keep my secret, countryman; I am in Galors' shell, but I will be
Galors no more."
Falve dropped on his knees. "Oh, my lord, my lord--" he began to cry
"Enough of lords," said Prosper. "Some of them do not very lordly, I
grant you. Your words touched me nearly. Be so good as to make
yourself plain. Who is Isoult?"
"Isoult la Desirous, my wife, Messire."
"Your wife!" cried Prosper, grinding his teeth.
"As good as that, my lord. I should have married her in the morning if
my mother hadn't played the Turk on me."
So he had the whole story out of him. Prosper learnt that Isoult had
been put in her way to safety by the old woman, who immediately after
had made that way the most perilous of all--with the best intentions
"Master Falve, I am your debtor," said Prosper at the end; "I wish you
"Messire, will you not find my wife?"
"Your wife again, sirrah!" cried he, turning sharply.
"Ah, my lord, if you have any ill-will to that----"
"I have the greatest possible ill-will, my man, because she is already
"Heaven round about us, was there ever such a married woman!" cried
poor Falve, tearing his hair.
The politics of a lady to whom, so far as he then knew, he owed no
service held Prosper till the morning. The rest of the night he spent
walking the ramparts. At the first flutter of light he beat up the
garrison, assembled the men of both parties, and declared himself.
"Hauterive returns to its allegiance," said he. "Conradin de Lamport
is commandant. The former garrison will deliver up all arms and take
the oath of fealty. A declaration of hue-and-cry is posted for Galors,
with a reward for his head. In three days' time the Countess will send
her Viceroy to claim the keys. Gentlemen, I bid you good morning."
Conradin de Lamport was the name of the man who had accompanied him
into Wanmeeting. Prosper knew he was to be trusted. Then with
conscience cleared he mounted his horse and left Hauterive.
Keeping a sharp look-out as he went, he was rewarded by the find of a
shoe, glowing like a crimson toadstool in the moss. Not far off were
its fellow, and a pair of drenched silk stockings. He kissed the
vestiges of the feet of Isoult, hung them to the peak of the saddle,
and forward again like a westerly gale. After this came a fault which
delayed him the best part of three days. The deer were dumb animals
for him, whose business had hitherto been to bleed not milk them.
There were deer feeding in the glades of Thornyhold; but Belvisee was
nursing her wound under the oak by the pool, and Mellifont was beside
her. The deer snuffed an enemy in the friend of their friend; they
gave him a lead astray, which unconsciously he took. Thus he found
himself, after two days' aimless wandering and two nights' dreamless
sleep, on the high ground by Deerleap, with the forest behind and the
rolling purple fells stretched out before him, and at last a blue
gauzy ribbon which he knew for the sea. Out of heart he turned and
beat back to Thornyhold, this time to better purpose.
A rustle in the fern, a start, a glint of the sun on a side not furry,
a flash of flying green and russet, a streamer of hair like a litten
cloud--by Heavens, how the brown girl ran! Prosper, laughing but keen,
gave chase. She led him far, in and out of the oak stems, doubling
like a hare; but he rode her down by cutting off the corners: flushed,
panting and wild, defiant she stood, ready to flinch at the blow.
Prosper's horse was properly breathed; as for him he burst into a
"My child, you bolted like a rabbit. But own that I gave you a good
"You beat me," said Mellifont.
"Well, and now I am going to do what I like with you."
"You must be obedient. Answer my question now. Why did you run?"
"Because you came."
"Why did you run?"
"Because you are a man."
"Madam Virgin, what a prude! Did you think I should hurt you?"
"Well, have I?"
"Look at me now. Do I look like hurting you?" He put up his visor. The
softest brown eyes a girl can have trembled over him.
"No--o. Oh!" The negative was drowned in discovery. Prosper followed
her gaze. He held up the red stockings.
"Do you know them, child?"
"I know to whom they belong. Are you going to hunt her?"
"Hunt her! I am going to find her. I think she has had hunting enough,
God bless her."
"Yes, she has," said Mellifont gravely.
Prosper stooped in his saddle and laid a hand on her head.
"My dear," said he, "I love that hunted lady beyond everything in the
world; I never knew how much until I had lost her. But no wrong will
happen to her till she hears me tell her the truth. If you know
anything you must not hide it from me."
Mellifont peered up at him through her hair.
"Are you Prosper?" she asked.
"Yes, I am indeed. Did she speak to you about me?"
"Is she--ah, Lord of Hosts! she is not here?"
"No, not now. She was here. Come with me. But you must leave your
horse and sword behind you."
Prosper obeyed her without a thought. Mellifont took his hand and led
him to the hollow under the oak. Belvisee was there, dumbly nursing
her side, which a stooping hind was licking when the pair came up.
Prosper received the red robe and the sequins from her hands, and in
time pieced the story together. It cut him to the soul.
"Take me to the place where the dogs got her," he said in a whisper.
Belvisee and Mellifont led him there. Once more, then, he wasted his
eyes on crushed herbage, black fern, and stained earth; again loathed
himself very heartily for what he had not done; but in time understood
what he had done. He turned deliberately to the sisters. "Belvisee and
Mellifont, listen to what I shall tell you. There is no strength like
a woman's, and no blindness like that of a man. For the woman is
strong because she is blind and cannot see the man she loves as he is;
therefore she makes him in her own glorious image. But the man is
blind because he is strong, and because he seeth himself so glorious
that he can abide no other near him save as a servant. In that he doth
deadly sin to Love, because the food of Love is service, and he that
serves not Love starves him. But the woman feedeth him with her own
milk; so Love is with her till she dies. I, by the mercy of God, have
learned what Love is, and can feed him with service. And Isoult la
Desirous has taught me, who is now Isoult la Desiree."
Prosper ceased. Mellifont was crying on Belvisee's shoulder. The
"Prosper, if all men were like thee, we might leave the forest and
dwell with them."
"Come with me," he said, "and I will see you safely bestowed."
"No, no; we will stay where we are known and with whom we know. All
men are not like you."
"As you must, it must needs be," replied Prosper. He kissed each on
the cheek, and watched them go hand-in-hand down the glade. The herd
closed in upon them, so neither he nor the Argument knows them any
Prosper knelt down to pray; but what he found set him to better work.
He found Isoult's wedding-ring.
"By God," he cried, "who made men to labour, I will pray with my hands
He ran for his horse and sword. Courage came with his gallop, courage
and self-esteem, without which no man ever did anything yet. With
self-esteem returned sober thought.
"I can do Malbank in three or four hours. There is light enough for
what I have to settle there. I will spare my horse and save time in
the end. Meantime I will think this affair out." So said Prosper
galloping to Prosper on his feet, the late moralist. His plan was very
simply to confront the Abbot with his ring. If that failed he would
scour his own country, raise a troop, and lay leaguer on Saint Thorn.
He had forgotten Galors. He was soon to have a reminder of that grim
The doors of the great church stood open, so Prosper rode in. It was
cold and dark, and smelt of death and candle-fumes. The pilasters of
the nave were already swathed in black velvet; in the choir were great
lights set on the floor, in the midst of them a bier. A priest was at
a little altar by the bier's head, other cowled figures crouched about
it. There was a low murmur of praying, even, whining, and mechanical.
On the bier Prosper saw the comely Abbot Richard Dieudonne, in cope
and mitre, holding in his hand the staff of his high office. This
pastor of the Church was at peace; the man of the world was sober with
access of wisdom; the man of modes smiled pleasantly at his secret
thoughts. Very handsome, very remote, very pure he looked; for so
death purges off the dross which we work into the good clay.
Prosper, meditative always at the sight of death, stood and pondered
upon it. Everything was well, no doubt; such things should be! but the
indifference of the defunct seemed almost shocking. Do they not care
for decent interment? Then he turned to a bystander.
"You mourn for your father?" he asked.
"Master, we do indeed. What! a great lord, a throned and pompous
priest, to be felled like a calf; his body spitted like a lark's! No
leave asked! You may well judge whether we mourn. I suppose there
never was such a mournful affair since a king died in this country."
"Murdered?" cried Prosper, highly scandalized.
"Murdered by Prosper le Gai for the sake of the Chained Virgin."
"By Prosper le Gai?"
"'Tis so indeed. And well he did his work, if there's anything in
wrist play. For first he spits the Abbot, and then he sunders the
chain, and next he overhauls the girl, and next the Abbot. And he puts
her under his arm like a marketable hen, and away he gallops over the
heath. Hot work!"
"Galors' work," said Prosper to himself as he turned away.
He prayed at three altars for the man's soul, turned, mounted, and
galloped. He forded Wan. A horseman met him on the further bank,
shouting. Prosper lowered his head and shot at him as from a catapult.
The spear drove deep, the man threw his arms out, sobbed, and dropped
like a stone. Prosper went on his race.
It was growing dusk when he stood on the threshold of Matt's intake,
battering at the door. The hag-ridden face of old Mald stared out. She
parted her tattered hair from her eyes and pointed a shaky finger at
"Galors," she wailed, "Galors, thou monk forsworn, thinkest thou to
have the Much-Desired? No, but her husband has her at last, and shall
have her with all that is hers--ah, though he have done murder to get
her. Swear back, Galors, and pray for thy dead master."
Prosper held up his hand to stay the tide.
"Mother, I am Prosper, the husband of the Much-Desired. No murder have
I done, though I have seen murder. And I have not my wife; but I
believe she is with Galors."
Old Mald came fawning out to him at this, and took his hands in her
own trembling hands.
"He passed an hour agone," said she. "He will do her no wrong till he
hath her at High March, trust him for that. And by now he should be
near Martle, and she before him on the saddle-bow."
She began to weep and wag her silly head. Prosper made to go, having
no time to waste; but, "Stop," she quavered, "and hear me out. Though
the Abbot Richard was murdered at his prayers, yet withal he got his
deserts, for he hatched a worse wrong than ever Galors did. The child
was chained by the middle, and came to me chained riding a white
palfrey. In green and white she came, and round her middle was a
chain, long and supple, and a monk on horse-back held the end thereof.
She came to me to the hearth at the length of her chain, and held me
in her dear arms, and kissed me, cheeks and forehead. Down I sat on my
stool and she on the knees of me, and she hid her face on my leanness
while she spoke of you, my lord--called you her dear heart, and told
of all the bitter longings she had. Ah, now! Ah, now! If you but
"God forgive me," cried the lacerated wretch, "but I know it all! Yet
tell me what else she said."
"There was little more," said Mald, "for the monk pulled at her, and
she went as she came."
"Have they passed an hour gone?" said Prosper in a dry whisper.
"Ah, and more."
"God be with you," said he; "pray for her."
"Pray!" mocked the crone in a rage; "and pray what will that do?"
"No more than I, mother, just now. God is all about us. Farewell!"
And he was gone amid flying peats.
Midway of the heath a second knight met him, challenged him, and
charged. Prosper was not for small game that night. His head grew
cooler, as always, for his haste, his arm steady as a rock. Thereupon
he ran his man through the breastbone. He broke his spear, but took
the other's, and away. At the edge of the wood the moon-rays gleamed a
third time upon mail. It was Galors' last sentry, who hallooed to stay
him. Prosper was on him before he was ready, and hurled him from the
saddle. He never moved. Prosper galloped through the wood.
The snapping branches, thunder of hoofs, labouring belly and hard-won
breath of his beast, more than all the wind that sang in his ears,
prevented him from hearing what Galors and his prey had already heard.
He went headlong down the slope of the ground; but before anything
more welcome he caught the music of the brook in the bottom.
There was a gap in the trees just there; the moon swam in the midst
large and golden. Then at last he saw what he wanted, and knew that
the hour had come.
SALOMON IS DRIVEN HOME
Galors, too, knew that the hour had come; but his spirit came up to
meet it, and he made a push for it. He was over the brook; if he could
top the ridge he would have the advantage he had a year ago, which
this time he swore to put to better use. The girl knew his thoughts as
she had known the accolade of the thundering hoofs behind them. She
would have thrown herself if the steel trap had loosed ever so little;
as it was, she fluttered like a rag caught in a bush; the filmy body
was what Galors held, the soul shrilled prayers to the man's
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