Part 6 out of 7
suitor who had chanced across her path, and he mocked at her,
crying, "This is the Proud Rosalind that will not eat at an honest
man's board, choosing rather to dine after the high fashion of the
kine and asses!" Then from his pouch he snatched a crust of bread
and flung it to her, and said, "Proud Rosalind, will you stoop for
She rose, letting the precious herbs drop from her lap, and she trod
them into the earth as weeds gathered at hazard, so that the putting
of the leaf between her lips might wear an idle aspect; and then she
walked away, with her head very high. But she was nearly desperate
at leaving them there, and when she was alone her pain of hunger
increased beyond all bounds. And she sat down on the limb of a great
beech and leaned her brow against his mighty body, and shut her
eyes, while the light changed in the sky. And presently the leaves
of the forest were lit by the moon instead of the sun, and the
spaces in the top boughs were dark blue instead of saffron, and the
small clouds were no longer fragments of amber, but bits of mottled
pearl seen through sea-water. But Rosalind witnessed none of these
slow changes, and when after a great while she lifted her faint
head, she saw only that the day was changed to night. And on the
other side of the beech-tree, touched with moonlight, a motionless
white stag stood watching her. It was a hart of the sixth year, and
stood already higher than any hart of the twelfth; full five foot
high it stood, and its grand soft shining flanks seemed to be molded
of marble for their grandeur, and silk for their smoothness, and
moonlight for their sheen. Its new antlers were branching towards
their yearly strength, and the triple-pointed crowns rose proudly
from the beam that was their last perfection. The eyes of the girl
and the beast met full, and neither wavered. The hart came to her
noiselessly, and laid its muzzle on her hair, and when she put her
hand on its pure side it arched its noble neck and licked her cheek.
Then, stepping as proudly and as delicately as Rosalind's self, it
moved on through the trees; and she followed it.
The forest changed from beech to pine and fir. It deepened and grew
strange to her. She did not know it. And the light of the sky turned
here from silver to gray, and she felt about her the stir of unseen
things. But she looked neither to the right nor the left, but
followed the snow-white hart that went before her. It brought her at
last to its own drinking-place, and as soon as she saw it old rumors
gathered themselves into a truth, and she knew that this was the
lost Wishing-Pool. And she remembered that this night was Midsummer
Eve, and by the position of the ghostly moon she saw it was close on
midnight. So she knelt down by the edge of the mere, and stretched
her hands above it, the palms to the stars, and in a low clear voice
she made her prayer.
"Whatever spirit dwells under these waters," said she, "I know not
whether you are a power for good or ill. But if it is true that you
will answer in this hour the need of any that calls on you--oh,
Spirit, my need is very great to-night. Hunger is bitter in my body,
and my strength is nearly wasted. A hind cast me his crust to-day,
and five hours I have battled with myself not to creep back to the
place where it still lies and eat of that vile bread. I do not fear
to die, but I fear to die of my hunger lest they sneer at the last
of my race brought low to so mean a death. Neither will I die by my
own act, lest they think my courage broken by these breaking days.
On my knees," said she, "I beseech you to send me in some wise a
little money, if it be but a handful of pennies now and then
throughout the year, so that I may keep my head unbowed. Or if this
is too much to ask, and even of you the asking is not easy, then
send some high and sudden accident of death to blot me out before I
grow too humble, and the lofty spirits of my fathers deny one whose
spirit ends as lowly as their dust. Death or life I beg of you, and
I care not which you send."
Then clasping her hands tightly, she called twice more her plea
across the mere: "Spirit of these waters, grant me life or death!
Oh, Spirit, grant me life or death!"
There was a stir in the forest as she made an end, and she remained
stock still, waiting and wondering. But though she knelt there till
the moon had crossed the bar of midnight, nothing happened.
Then the white hart, which had lain beside the water while she
prayed, rose silently and drank; and when it was satisfied, laid
once more its muzzle on her hair and licked her cheek again and
moved away. Not a twig snapped under its slender stepping. Its
whiteness was soon covered by the blackness.
Faint and exhausted, Rosalind arose. She dragged herself through the
wood and presently found the broad road that curled down the
deserted hill and over the bridge, and at last by a branching lane
to her ruined dwelling. The door of her tower creaked desolately to
and fro a little, open as she had left it. She pushed it further
ajar and stumbled in and up the narrow stair. But the pale moonlight
entered her chamber with her, silvering the oaken stump that was her
table; and there, where there had been nothing, she beheld two
little heaps of copper coins.
The gold year waned, and the next passed from white to green; and in
the gold Harding began to hunt his hart, and by the green had not
succeeded in bringing it to bay. Twice he had seen it at a distance
on the hills, and once had started it from cover in Coombe Wood and
followed it through the Denture and Stammers, Great Bottom and
Gumber, Earthem Wood and Long Down, Nore Hill and Little Down; and
at Punchbowl Green he lost it. He did not care. A long chase had
whetted him, and he had waited so long that he was willing to wait
another year, and if need were two or three, for his royal quarry.
He knew it must be his at last, and he loved it the more for the
speed and strength and cunning with which it defied him. It had a
secret lair he could never discover; but one day that secret too
should be his own. Meanwhile his blood was heated, and the Red
Hunter dreamed of the hart and of one other thing.
And while he dreamed Proud Rosalind grew glad and strong on her
miraculous dole of money, that was always to her hand when she had
need of it. Fear went out of her life, for she knew certainly now
that she was in the keeping of unseen powers, and would not lack
again. And little by little she too began to build a dream out of
her pride; for she thought, I am all my fathers' house, and there
will be no honor to it more except that which can come through me.
And whenever tales went about of the fame of the fair young Queen of
Bramber Castle, and the crowning of her name in this tourney and in
that, or of the great lords and princes that would have died for one
smile of her (yet her smiles came easily, and her kisses too, men
said), Rosalind knit her brows, and her longing grew a little
stronger, and she thought: If arrows and steel might once flash
lightnings about my father's daughter, and cleave the shadows that
have hung their webs about my fathers' hearth!
She now began to put by a little hoard of pennies, for she meant to
buy flax to spin the finest of linen for her body, and purple for
sleeves for her arms, and scarlet leather for shoes for her feet,
and gold for a fillet for her head; and so, attired at last as
became her birth, one day to attend a tourney where perhaps some
knight would fight his battle in her name. And she had no other
thought in this than glory to her dead race. But her precious store
mounted slowly; and she had laid by nothing but the money for the
fine linen for her robe, when a thing happened that shattered her
last foothold among men.
For suddenly all the countryside was alive with a strange rumor.
Some one had seen a hart upon the hills, a hart of twelve points,
fit for royal hunting. Kings will hunt no lesser game than this. But
this of all harts was surely born to be hunted only by a maiden
queen, for, said the rumor, it was as white as snow. Such a hart had
never before been heard of, and at first the tale of it was not
believed. But the tale was repeated from mouth to mouth until at
last all men swore to it and all winds carried it; and amongst
others some wind of the Downs bore it across the land from Arun to
Adur, and so it reached the ears of Queen Maudlin of Bramber. Then
she, a creature of quick whims, who was sated with the easy
conquests of her beauty, yet eager always for triumphs to cap
triumphs, devised a journey from Adur to Arun, and a great summer
season of revelry to end in an autumn chase. "And," said she, "we
will have joustings and dancings in beauty's honor, but she whose
knight at the end of all brings her the antlers of the snow-white
hart shall be known for ever in Sussex as the queen of beauty;
since, once I have hunted it, the hart will be hart-royal." For
this, as perhaps you know, dear maidens, is the degree of any hart
that has been chased by royalty.
However, before the festival was undertaken, the Queen of Bramber
must needs know if the Arun could show any habitation worthy of her;
and her messengers went and came with a tale of a noble castle
fallen into ruins, but with its four-square walls intact, and a
sward within so smooth and fair that it seemed only to await the
coming of archers and dancers. So the Queen called a legion of
workmen and bade them go there and build a dwelling in one part of
the green court for her to stay in with her company. "And see it be
done by midsummer," said she. "Castles, madam," said the head
workman, "are not built in a month, or even in two." "Then for a
frolic we'll be commoners," said the Queen, "and you shall build on
the sward not a castle, but a farm." So the workmen hurried away,
and set to work; and by June they had raised within the castle walls
the most beautiful farmhouse in Sussex; and over the door made a
room fit for a queen.
But alas for Proud Rosalind!
When the men first came she confronted them angrily and commanded
them to depart from her fathers' halls. And the head workman looked
at the ruin and her rags and said, "What halls, girl? and where are
these fathers? and who are you?"--and bade his men get about the
Queen's work. And Rosalind was helpless. The men from the Adur asked
the people of the Arun about her, and what rights she had to be
where she was. And they, being unfriendly to her, said, "None. She
is a beggar with a bee in her bonnet, and thinks she was once a
queen because her housing was once a castle. She has been suffered
to stay as long as it was unwanted; but since your Queen wants it,
now let her go." And they came in a body to drive her forth. But
they got there too late. The Proud Rosalind had abandoned her
conquered stronghold, and where she lived from this time nobody
knew. She was still seen on the roads and hills now and again, and
once as she passed through Bury on washing-day the women by the
river called to her, "Where do you live now, Proud Rosalind, instead
of in a castle?" And Rosalind glanced down at the kneeling women and
said in her clear voice, "I live in a castle nobler than Bramber's,
or even than Amberley's; I live in the mightiest castle in Sussex,
and Queen Maudlin herself could not build such another to live in."
"Then you'll doubtless be making her a great entertainment there,
Proud Rosalind," scoffed the washers.
"I entertain none but the kings of the earth there," said Rosalind.
And she made to walk on.
"Why then," mocked they, "you'd best seek one out to hunt the white
hart in your name this autumn, and crown you queen over young
Maudlin, Proud Rosalind."
And Rosalind stopped and looked at them, longing to say, "The white
hart? What do you mean?" Yet for all her longing to know, she could
not bring herself to ask anything of them. But as though her
thoughts had taken voice of themselves, she heard the sharp
questions uttered aloud, "What white hart, chatterers? Of what hunt
are you talking?" And there in mid-stream stood Harding in his boat,
keeping it steady with the great pole of the oar.
"Why, Red Boatman," said they, "did you not know that the Queen of
Bramber was coming to make merry at Amberley?"
"Ay," said Harding.
"And that our proud lady Rosalind, having, it seems, found a grander
castle to live in, has given hers up to young Maudlin?"
Harding glanced to and from the scornful tawny girl and said,
"Well, Red Boatman! On Midsummer Eve the Queen comes with her court,
and on Midsummer Day there will be a great tourney to open the
revels that will last, so they say, all through summer. But the end
of it all is to be a great chase, for a white hart of twelve points
has been seen on the hills, and the Queen will hunt it in autumn
till some lucky lord kneels at her feet with its antlers; and him,
they say, she'll marry."
Then Harding once more looked at Rosalind over the water, and she
flung back a look at him, and each was surprised to see dismay on
the other's brow. And Harding thought, "Is she angry because SHE is
not the Queen of the chase?" And Rosalind, "Would HE be the lord who
kneels to Queen Maudlin?" But neither knew that the trouble in each
was really because their precious secret was now public, and the
white hart endangered. And Rosalind's thought was, "It shall be no
Queen's quarry!" And Harding's, "It shall be no man's but mine!"
Then Harding plied his way to the ferry, and Rosalind went hers to
none knew where; though some had tried vainly to track her.
In due course June passed its middle, and the Queen rode under the
Downs from Bramber to Amberley. And early on Midsummer Eve, while
her servants made busy about the coming festival, Queen Maudlin went
over the fields to the waterside and lay in the grass looking to
Bury, and teased some seven of her court, each of whom had sworn to
bring her the Crown of Beauty at his sword's point on the morrow.
Her four maidens were with her, all maids of great loveliness. There
was Linoret who was like morning dew on grass in spring, and
Clarimond queenly as day at its noon, and Damarel like a rose grown
languorous of its own grace, and Amelys, mysterious as the spirit of
dusk with dreams in its hair. But Maudlin was the pale gold wonder
of the dawn, a creature of ethereal light, a vision of melting stars
and wakening flowers. And she delighted in making seem cheap the
palpable prettiness of this, or too robust the fuller beauty of
that, or dim and dull the elusive charm of such-an-one. She would
have scorned to set her beauty to compete with those who were not
beautiful, even as a proved knight would scorn to joust with an
unskilled boor. So now amongst her beautiful attendants, knowing
that in their midst her greater beauty shone forth a diamond among
crystals, she laughed at her seven lovers; and her four friends
laughed with her.
"You do well, Queen Maudlin, to make merry," said one of the
knights, "for I know none that gains so much service for so little
portion. What will you give to-morrow's victor?"
"What will to-morrow's victor think his due?" said she.
The seven said in a breath, "A kiss!" and the five laughed louder
Then Maudlin said, "For so great an honor as victory, I should feel
ashamed to bestow a thing of such little worth."
"Do you call that thing a little worth," said one, "which to us were
more than a star plucked out of heaven?"
"The thing, it is true," said Maudlin, "has two values. Those who
are over-eager make it a thing of naught, those from whom it is
hard-won render it priceless. But, sirs, you are all too eager, I
could scatter you baubles by the hour and leave you still desiring.
But if ever I wooed reluctance to receive at last my solitary favor,
I should know I was bestowing a jewel."
"When did Maudlin ever meet reluctance?" sighed one, the youngest.
A long shadow fell upon her where she lay in the grass, and she
looked up to see the great form of Harding passing at a little
"Who is that?" said she.
"It must be he they call the Red Smith," said Damarel idly.
"He looks a rough, silent creature," remarked Amelys. And Clarimond
added in loud and insolent tones, "He knows little enough of
kissings, I would wager this clasp."
"It's one I've a fancy for," said young Queen Maudlin. "Red Smith!"
Harding turned at the sweet sound of her voice, and came and stood
beside her among the group of girls and knights.
"Have you come from my castle?" said she, smiling up at him with her
"Ay," he answered.
"What drew you there, big man? My serving-wench?"
The Red Smith stared down at her light alluring loveliness.
"Serving-wenches do not draw me."
"What metal then? Gold?" Maudlin tossed him a yellow disc from her
purse. He let it fall and lie.
"No, nor gold." His eyes traveled over her gleaming locks. "The
things you name are too cheap," said he.
Maudlin smiled a little and raised herself, till she stood, fair and
slender, as high as his shoulder.
"What thing draws you, Red Smith?"
"Steel." And he showed her a fine sword-blade, lacking its hilt. "I
was sent for to mend this against the morrow."
"I know that blade," said Maudlin, "it was snapped in my cause. Have
you the hilt too?"
"In my pouch," said Harding, his hand upon it.
Hers touched his fingers delicately. "I will see it."
He brushed her hand aside and unbuttoned his pouch; but as he drew
out the hilt of the broken sword, she caught a glimpse of that
within which held her startled gaze.
"What jewels are those?" she asked quickly.
"Old relics," Harding said with sudden gruffness.
"Show them to me!"
Reluctantly he obeyed, and brought forth a ring, a circlet, and a
girdle of surpassing workmanship, wrought in gold thick-crusted with
emeralds. A cry of wonder went up from all the maidens.
"There's something else," said Maudlin; and without waiting thrust
her hand into the bottom of the pouch and drew out a mesh of silver.
It was so fine that it could be held and hidden in her two hands;
yet when it fell apart it was a garment, as supple as rich silk. The
four maids touched it softly and looked their longings.
"Are these your handicraft?" said Maudlin.
"Mine?" Harding uttered a short laugh. "Not I or any man can make
"You are right," said Maudlin. "Wayland's self might acknowledge
them. Smith, I will buy them of you."
"You cannot give me my price."
"Gold I know does not tempt you." She smiled and came close beside
"Then do not offer it."
"Shall it be steel?"
Harding's eyes swept her flower-like beauty. "Not from Queen
"True. My bid is costlier."
"A kiss from my mouth."
At the sound of his laughter the rose flowed into her cheek.
"What, a bauble for my jewel, too-eager lady?" he said harshly. "Do
the women of this land hold themselves so light? In mine men carve
their kisses with the sword. Hark ye, young Queen! set a better
value on that red mouth if you'd continue to have it valued."
"I could have you whipped for this," said Maudlin.
"I do not think so," Harding answered, and stepped down the river-
bank into his waiting boat.
"I keep my clasp," said Clarimond.
Seven men sprang hotly to their feet. "What's your will, Queen?"
"Nothing," said Maudlin slowly, as she watched him row over the
water. "Let the smith go. This test was between him and me and no
man's business else. Well, he is of a temper to come through fire
unmelted." She flashed a smile upon the seven that made them
tremble. "But he is a mannerless churl, we will not think of him.
Which among YOU would spurn my kiss?" She offered her mouth in turn,
and seven flames passed over its scarlet. Maudlin laughed a little
and beckoned her watching maids. "Well!" she said, taking the path
to the castle, "He that had had strength to refuse me might have
worn my favor to-morrow and for ever."
And meanwhile by the further river-bank came Rosalind, with
mushrooms in her skirt. And as she walked by the water in the
evening she looked across to her lost castle-walls, and touched the
pennies in her pouch and dreamed, while the sun dressed the running
flood in his royalest colors.
"Linen and purple and scarlet and gold," mused she; "and so I might
sit there to-morrow among the rest. But linen and purple!" she said
in scorn, "what should they profit my fathers' house? It is no
silken daughter we lack, but a son of steel."
And as she pondered a shadow crossed her, and out of his boat
stepped Harding, new from his encounter with the Queen. He did not
glance at her nor she at him; but the gleam of the broken weapon he
carried cut for a single instant across her sight, and her hands
hungered for it.
"A sword!" thought she. "Ay, but an arm to wield the sword. Nay, if
I had the sword it may be I could find an arm to wield it." She
dropped her chin on her breast, and brooded on the vanishing shape
of the Red Smith. "If I had been my fathers' son--oh!" cried she,
shaken with new dreams, "what would I not give to the man who would
strike a blow for our house?"
Then she recalled what day it was. A year of miracles and changes
had sped over her life; if she desired new miracles, this was the
night to ask them.
So close on midnight Proud Rosalind once more crept up to Rewell
Wood; and on its beechen skirts the white hart came to her. It came
now as to a friend, not to a stranger. And she threw her arm over
its neck, and they walked together. As they walked it lowered its
noble antlers so cunningly that not a twig snapped from the boughs;
and its antlers were as beautiful as the boughs with their branches
and twigs, and to each crown it had added not one, but two more
crockets, so that now its points were sixteen. Safe under its guard
the maiden ventured into the mysteries of the hour, and when they
came to the mere the hart lay down and she knelt beside it with her
brow on its soft panting neck, and thought awhile how she would
shape her wish. And feeling the strength of its sinews she said
aloud, "Oh, champion among stags! were there a champion among men to
match you, I think even I could love him. Yet love is not my prayer.
I do not pray for myself." And then she stood upright and stretched
her hands towards the water and said again, less in supplication
"Spirit, you hear--I do not pray for myself. Of old it may be
maidens often came in sport or fear, to make a mid-summer pastime of
their love-dreams. Oh, Spirit! of love I ask nothing for myself. But
if you will send me a man to strike one blow in my name that is my
fathers' name, he may have of me what he will!"
Never so proudly yet had the Proud Rosalind held herself as when she
lifted her radiant face to the moon and sent her low clear call
thrice over the mystic waters. Gloriously she stood with arms
extended, as though she would give welcome to any hero stepping
through the night to consummate her wish. But none came. Only the
subdued rustling that had stirred the woods a year ago whispered out
of the dark and died to silence.
The arms of the Proud Rosalind dropped to her sides.
"Is the time not yet?" said she, "and will it never be? Why, then,
let me belong for ever to the champion that strikes for me to-morrow
in the lists. A sorry champion," said she a wan smile, "yet I will
hold me bound to him according to my vow. But first I must win him a
Then she kissed the white hart between the eyes and said, "Go where
you will. I shall be gone till daylight." And it rose up to run the
moonlit hills, and she went down through the trees, and left the
Wishing-Pool to its unruffled peace.
Straight down towards sleeping Bury Rosalind went, full of her
purpose; and after an hour passed through the silent village.
Her errand was not wholly easy to her, but she thought, "I do not go
to ask favors, but plain dealings; and it must be done secretly or
not at all." As she came near the ferry a red glow broke on her
"Does the water burn?" she said, and quickened her steps. To her
surprise she saw that Harding's forge was busy; the light she had
seen sprang from it. She had expected to find it locked and silent,
but now the little space it held in the night was lit with fire and
resounded with the stroke of the Red Smith's hammer. Proud Rosalind
stood fast as though he were fashioning a spell to chain her eyes.
And so he was, for he hammered on a sword.
He did not turn his head at her approach; but when at last she stood
beside his door, and did not move away, he spoke to her.
"You walk late," said he.
"May not people walk late," said she, "as well as work late?"
Without answering he set himself to his task again and heeded her no
more. "Smith!" she cried imperiously.
"I came to speak with you."
"Even so?" She barely heard the words for the din of his great
"You are unmannerly, Smith."
"Speak then," said he, dropping his tools, "and never forget, maid,
that it is not I invited this encounter."
At that she cried out hotly, "Does not your shop invite trade?"
"Ay; but what's that to you?"
"My only purpose in talking with you," she said in a flame of wrath.
"I require what you have, but I would rather buy it of any man than
"What do you require?"
"That!" She pointed to the sword.
"I cannot sell it. It is a young knight's blade I am mending against
"Have you no other?"
"You cannot give me my price," said the Red Smith.
She took from her girdle the little purse containing all her store.
"Do you think I am here to bargain? There's more than your price."
"However much it be," said Harding, "it is too little."
"Then say no more that I cannot buy of you, but rather that you will
not sell to me."
"And yet that is as the Proud Rosalind shall please."
She flushed deeply, and as though in shame of seeming ashamed said
firmly, "No, Smith, it is not in my hands. For I have offered you
every penny I possess."
"I do not ask for pence." Harding left his anvil and stepped outside
and stood close, gazing hard upon her face. "You have a thing I will
take in exchange for my sword, a very simple thing. Women part with
it most lightly, I have learned. The loveliest hold it cheap at the
price of a golden gawd. How easily then will you barter it for an
inch or so of steel!"
"What need of so many words?" she said with a scornful lip, that
quivered in her own despite at his nearness. "Name the thing you
"A kiss from your mouth, Proud Rosalind."
It was as though the request had turned her into ice. When she could
speak she said, "Smith, for your inch of steel you have asked what I
would not part with to ransom my soul."
She turned and left him and Harding went back to his work and
laughed softly in his beard. "Dream on, my gold queen up yonder,"
said he, and blew on his waning fires. "You are not the metal I work
in," said he, and the river rang again to his hammer on the steel.
But Rosalind went rapidly down to the waterside saying in her heart,
"Now I will see whether I cannot get me a lordlier weapon of a
better craftsman than you, and at my own price, Red Smith." And when
she had come to the ferry she laid her full purse on the bank and
cried softly into the night:
"Wayland Smith, give me a sword!"
And then she went away for awhile, and paced the fields till the
first light glimmered on the east; and not daring to wait longer for
fear of encountering early risers, she turned back to the ferry. And
there, shining in the dawn, she found such a blade as made the
father in her soul exult. In all its glorious fashioning and
splendid temper the hand of the god was manifest. And in the grass
beside it lay her purse, of its full store lightened by one penny-piece.
Now to this tale of legends revived and then forgotten, gossips'
tales of Wishing-Pools and Snow-white Harts and a God who worked in
the dark, we must begin to add the legend of the Rusty Knight. It
lasted little longer than the three months of that strange summer of
sports within the castle-walls of Amberley. It was at the jousting
on Midsummer Day that he first was seen. The lists were open and the
roll of knights had answered to their names, and cried in all men's
ears their ladies' praises; and nine in ten cried Maudlin. And as
the last knight spoke, there suddenly stood in the great gateway an
unknown man with his vizard closed, and his coming was greeted with
a roar of laughter. For he was clothed from head to foot in antique
arms, battered and rusted like old pots and pans that have seen a
twelvemonths' weather in a ditch. Out of the merriment occasioned by
his appearance, certain of the spectators began to cry, "A champion!
a champion!" And others nudged with their elbows, chuckling, "It is
the Queen's jester."
But the newcomer stood his ground unflinchingly, and when he could
be heard cried fiercely, "They who call me jester shall find they
jest before their time. I claim by my kingly birth to take part in
this day's fray; and men shall meet me to their rue!"
"By what name shall we know you?" he was asked.
"You shall call me the Knight of the Royal Heart," he said.
"And whose cause do you serve?"
"Hers whose beauty outshines the five-fold beauty in the Queen's
Gallery," said he, "hers who was mistress here and wrongly ousted--
the most peerless lady of Sussex, Proud Rosalind."
With that the stranger drew forth and flourished a blade of so
surpassing a kind that the knights, in whom scorn had vanquished
mirth, found envy vanquishing scorn. As for the ladies, they had
ceased to smile at the mention of Rosalind, whom none had seen,
though all had heard of the girl who had been turned from her ruin
at Maudlin's whim; and that this ragged lady should be vaunted over
their heads was an insult only equaled by the presence among their
shining champions of the Rusty Knight. For by this name only was he
Now you may think that the imperious stranger who warned his
opponents against laughing before their time, might well have been
warned against crowing before his. And alas! it transpired that he
crowed not as the cock crows, who knows the sun will rise; for at
the first clash he fell, almost unnoticed. And when the combatants
disengaged, he had disappeared. He was a subject for much mirth that
evening; though the men rankled for his sword and the women for a
sight of his lady.
But from this day there was not a jousting held in Maudlin's revels
at which the Rusty Knight did not appear; and none from which he
bore away the crown. The procedure was always the same: at the last
instant he appeared in his ignominious arms, and stung the mockers
to silence by the glory of his sword and his undaunted proclamation
of his lady. So ardent was his manner that it was difficult not to
believe him a conqueror among men and her the loveliest of women,
until the fray began; when he was instantly overcome, and in the
confusion managed to escape. He was so cunning in this that though
traps were laid to catch him he was never traced. By degrees he
became, instead of a joke, a thorn in the flesh. It was the women
now who itched to see his face, and the men who desired to find out
the Proud Rosalind; for by his repeated assertion her beauty came to
be believed in, and if the ladies still spoke slightingly of her,
the lords in their thoughts did not. But the summer drew to its
close without unraveling the mystery. The Rusty Knight was never
followed nor the Proud Rosalind found. And now they were on the eve
of a different hunting.
For now all the days were to be given up to the pursuit of the
rumored hart, whom none had yet beheld; and Queen Maudlin said, "For
a month we will hunt by day and dance by night, and if by that time
no man can boast of bringing the hart to bay and no woman of owning
his antlers, we will acknowledge ourselves outwitted; and so go back
to Adur. And it may prove that we have been brought to Arun by an
idle tale, to hunt a myth; but be that as it may, see to your
bowstrings, for to-morrow we ride forth."
And the men laid by their swords and filled their quivers.
And in the midnight Rosalind came once more from her secret lair to
Bury, and laying her purse by the ferry called softly:
"Wayland Smith, give me a bow!"
And in the dawn, before people were astir, she found a bow the
unlike of any fashioned by mortal craft, and a quiverful of true
arrows; and for these the god had taken his penny fee.
On a lovely day of autumn the chase began. And the red deer and the
red fox started from their covers; and the small rabbits stopped
their kitten-play on the steep warrens of the Downs, and fled into
their burrows; and birds whirred up in screaming coveys, and the
kestrel hovered high and motionless on the watch. There was game in
plenty, and many men were tempted and forgot the prize they sought.
The hunt separated, some going this way and some that. And in the
evening all met again in Amberley. And some had game to show and
some had none. And one had seen the hart.
When he said so a cry went up from the company, and they pressed
round to hear his tale, and it was a strange one.
"For," said he, "where Great Down clothes itself with the North Wood
I saw a flash against the dark of the trees, and out of them bounded
the very hart, taller than any hart I ever dreamed of, and, as the
tale has told, as pure as snow; and the crockets spring from its
crowns like rays from a summer cloud. I could not count them, but
its points are more than twelve. When it saw me it stood motionless,
and trembling with joy I fitted my arrow to the string; but even as
I did so out of the trees ran another creature, as strange as the
white hart. It was none other than the Rusty Knight; I knew him by
his battered vizard, which was closed. But for the rest he wore now,
not rust, but rags--a tattered jerkin in place of battered mail. Yet
in his hands was a bow which among weapons could only be matched by
his sword. He took his stand beside the snow-white hart, and cried
in that angry voice we have all heard, These crowns grow only to
the glory of the Proud Rosalind, the most peerless daughter of
Sussex, and no woman but she shall ever boast of them!' And before I
could move or answer for surprise, he had set his arrow to his bow,
and drawn the string back to his shoulder, and let fly. It was well
I did not start aside, or it might have hit me; for I never saw an
arrow fly so wild of its mark. But the whole circumstance amazed me
too much for quick action, and before I could come up and chastise
this unskillful archer, or even aim at the prize which stood beside
him, he and the hart had plunged through the wood again, the man
running swiftfoot as the beast; and when I followed I could not find
them, and unhappily my dogs were astray."
The strange tale stung the tempers of all listeners, both men and
"Well, now," laughed Maudlin, "it has at least been seen that the
hart is the whitest of harts."
"But it has not yet been seen," fumed Clarimond, "that this Rosalind
is the most beautiful of women."
"Nor have we seen," said the knight who told the tale, "who it is
that insults our manhood with valiant words and no deeds to prove
them. Yet with such a sword and such a bow a man might prove
The next day all rode forth on fire with eagerness. And at the end
of it another knight brought back the selfsame tale. He sword that
in the tattered archer was no harm at all but his arrogance, since
he was clearly incapable of hitting where he aimed. But his very
presence and his swift escape, running beside the hart, made failure
seem double; for the derision he excited recoiled on the deriders,
who could not bring this contemptible foe to book. After that day
many saw him, sometimes at a great distance, sometimes near enough
to be lashed by his insolent tongue. He always kept beside the
coveted quarry, as though to guard it, and ran when it ran, with
incredible speed; but once when he flagged after a longer chase than
usual, he had been seen to leap on its back, and so they escaped
together. From dawn to dusk through that bright month of autumn the
man and the hart were hunted in vain; and in all that while their
lair was never discovered. It was now taken for granted that where
one would be the other would be; and in all likelihood Proud
At last the final day of the month and the chase arrived, and
Maudlin spoke to her mortified company. Among them all she was the
only one who laughed now, for her nature was like that of running
water, reflecting all things, retaining none; she could never retain
her disappointments longer than a day, or her affections either.
"Sirs and dames," said she, "I see by your clouded faces it is time
we departed, but we will depart as we came in the sun. If this day
bring no more fruit than its fellows, neither victory to a lord nor
sovereignty to his lady, we will to-morrow hold the mightiest
tourney of the year, and he who wins the crown shall give it to his
love, and she shall be called for ever the fairest of Sussex; but
for that, if her lord desire it, she shall wed him--yes, though it
be myself she shall!"
And at this the hearts of nine men in ten leapt in their breasts for
longing of her, and in the tenth for longing of Linoret or Clarimond
or Damarel or Amelys; and all went to the chase thinking as much of
the morrow as of the day.
It was the day when the forests burned their brightest. The earth
was fuller of color than in the painted spring; the hedgerows were
hung with brilliant berries in wreaths and clusters, luminous briony
and honeysuckle, and the ebony gloss of the privet making more vivid
the bright red of the hips and the dark red of the haws. The smooth
flat meadows and smooth round sides of the Downs were not greener in
June; nor in that crystal air did the river ever run bluer than
under that blue sky. The elms were getting already their dusky gold
and the beeches their brighter reds and golds and coppers; where
they were young and in thin leaf the sun-flood watered them to
transparent pinks and lemons, as bright, though not as burning, as
the massed colors of the older trees. That day there was magic on
the western hills, for those who could see it, and trees that were
So Rosalind who, like all the world, was early abroad, though not
with all the world, saw a silver cloud pretending to be white
flowers upon a hawthorn; never in spring sunlight had the bush shone
whiter. But when Maudlin rode by later she saw, not a cloud in
flower, but a flowerless tree, dressed with the new-puffed whiteness
of wild clematis, its silver-green tendrils shining through their
Then Rosalind saw a sunset pretending to be a spindle-tree,
scattering flecks of red and yellow light upon the ground, till the
grass threw up a reflection of the tree, as a cloud in the east will
reflect another in the west. But when Maudlin came riding the spots
of light upon the ground were little pointed leaves, and the sunset
a little tree as round as a clipped yew, mottled like an artist's
palette with every shade from primrose to orange and from rose to
And last, in a green glade under a steep hollow overhung with ash,
Rosalind saw a fairy pretending to be a silver birch turned golden.
For her leaves hung like the shaking water of a sunlit fountain, and
she stood alone in the very middle of the glade as though on tip-toe
for a dance; and all the green trees that had retreated from her
dancing-floor seemed ready to break into music, so that Rosalind
held her breath lest she should shatter the moment and the magic,
and stayed spell-bound where she was. But an hour afterwards
Maudlin, riding the chalky ledge on the ash-grown height, looked
down on that same sight and uttered a sharp cry; for she saw, no
fairy, but a little yellowing birch, and under it the snow-white
hart with the Rusty Knight beside him. Then all the company with her
echoed the cry, and the forest was filled with the round sounds of
horns and belling hounds. And while in great excitement men sought a
way down into the steep glen, the hart and his ragged guard had
started up, and vanished through the underworld of trees.
The hue and cry was taken up. Not one or two, but fifty had now seen
the quarry, and panted for the glory of the prize. And so, near the
very beginning of the day, the chase began.
The scent was found and lost and found again. The stag swam the
river twice, once at South Stoke, and once at Houghton Bridge, and
the man swam with it; and then, keeping over the fields they ran up
Coombe and went west and north, over Bignor Hill and Farm Hill,
through the Kennels and Tegleaze. They were sighted on Lamb Lea and
lost in Charlton. They were seen again on Heyshott and vanished in
Herringdean Copse. They crossed the last high-road in Sussex and ran
over Linch Down and Treyford nearly into Hampshire; and there the
quarry turned and tried to double home by Winden Wood and Cotworth
Down. The marvel was that the Rusty Knight was always with it,
sometimes beside it, often on its back; and even when he bestrode
it, it flew over the green hills like a white sail driven by a wind
at sea, or a cloud flying the skies. When it doubled it had shaken
off the greater part of the hunt. But through Wellhanger and over
Levin some followed it still. In the woods of Malecomb only the
seven knights who most loved Maudlin remained staunch; and they were
spurred by hope, because when they now sighted it it seemed as
though the hart began to tire, and its rider drooped. Their own
steeds panted, and their dogs' tongues lolled; but over the dells
and rises, woods and fields, they still pressed on, exulting that
they of all the hunt remained to bring the weary gallant thing to
Once more they were in the home country, and the day was drawing to
a glorious close. In the great woods of Rewell the hart tried to
confuse the scent and conceal itself with its spent comrade, but it
was too late; for it too was nearly spent. Yet it plunged forward to
the ridge of Arundel with its high fret of trees like harp-strings,
filled with the music of the evening sky. And here again among the
dipping valleys, the quarry sought to shake off the pursuit; but as
vainly as before. In that exhausted close for hunters and hunted,
the first had triumph to spur the last of their strength, and the
second despair to eke out theirs. At Whiteways the hart struck down
through a secret dip, into the loveliest hidden valley of all the
Downs; and descending after it the knights saw suddenly before them
a great curve of the steely river, lying under the sunset like a
scimitar dyed with blood. And in a last desperate effort the hart
swerved round a narrow footway by the river, and disappeared.
The knights followed shouting with their baying dogs, and the next
instant were struck mute with astonishment. For the narrow wooded
path by the water suddenly swung open into a towering semi-circle of
dazzling cliffs, uprising like the loftiest castle upon earth: such
castles as heaven builds of gigantic clouds, to scatter their solid
piles with a wind again. But only the hurricanes of the first day or
the last could bring this mighty pile to dissolution. The forefront
of the vast theater was a perfect sward, lying above the water like
a green half-moon; beyond and around it small hills and dells rose
and fell in waves until they reached the brink of the great cliffs.
At the further point of the semi-circle the narrow way by the river
began again, and steep woods came down to the water cutting off the
And somewhere hidden in the hemisphere of little hills the hart was
hidden, without a path of escape.
The men sprang from their horses, and followed the barking dogs
across the sward. At the end of it they turned up a neck of grass
that coiled about a hollow like the rim of a cup. It led to a little
plateau ringed with bushes, and smelling sweet of thyme. At first it
seemed as though there were no other ingress; but the dogs nosed on
and pointed to an opening through the thick growth on the left, and
disappeared with hoarse wild barks and yelps; and their masters made
But at the same instant they heard a voice come from the bushes, a
voice well known to them; but now it was exhausted of its power,
though not of its anger.
"This quarry and this place," it cried, "are sacred to the Proud
Rosalind and in her name I warn you, trespassers, that you proceed
at your peril!"
At this the seven knights burst into laughter, and one cried, "Why,
then, it seems we have brought the lady to bay with the hart--a
double quarry, friends. Come, for the dogs are full of music now,
and we must see the kill."
As they moved forward an arrow sped far above their heads.
Then a second man cried, "We could shoot into the dark more surely
than this clumsy marksman out of it. Let us shoot among the trees
and give him his deserts. And after that let nothing hold us from
the dogs, for their voices turn the blood in me to fire."
So each man plucked an arrow from his quiver.
And as he fitted it, lo! with incredible swiftness seven arrows shot
through the air, and one by one each arrow split in two a knight's
yew-bow. The men looked at their broken bows amazed. And as they
looked at each other the dogs stopped baying, one by one.
One of the knights said, breathing heavily, "This must be seen to.
The man who could shoot like this has been playing with us since
midsummer. Let us come in and call him to account, and make him show
us his Proud Rosalind."
They made a single movement towards the opening; at the same moment
there was a great movement behind it, and they came face to face
with the hart-royal. It stood at bay, its terrible antlers lowered;
its eyes were danger-lights, as red as rubies. And the seven
weaponless men stood rooted there, and one said, "Where are the
But they knew the dogs were dead.
So they turned and went out of that place, and found their horses
and rode away.
And when they had gone the hart too turned again, and went slowly
down a little slipping path through the bushes and came to the very
inmost chamber of its castle, a round and roofless shrine, walled
half by the bird-haunted cliffs and half by woods. Within on the
grass lay the dead hounds, each pierced by an arrow; and on a
bowlder near them sat the Rusty Knight, with drooping head and body,
regarding them through the vizard he was too weary to raise. He was
exhausted past bearing himself. The hart lay down beside him, as
exhausted as he.
But a sound in the forest that thickly clothed the cliff made both
look up. And down between the trees, almost from the height of the
cliff, climbed Harding the Red Hunter, bow in hand. He strode across
the little space that divided them still, and stood over the Rusty
Knight and the white Hart-Royal. And both might have been petrified,
for neither stirred.
After a little Harding began to speak. "Are you satisfied, Rusty
Knight," said he, "with what you have done in Proud Rosalind's
The Rusty Knight did not answer.
"Did ever lady have a sorrier champion?" Harding laughed roughly.
"She would have beggared herself to get you a sword. And she got you
a sword the like of which no knight ever had before. And how have
you used it? All through a summer you have brought laughter upon
her. She would have beggared herself again to get you a bow that
only a god was worthy to draw. And how have you drawn it? For a
month you have drawn it to men's scorn of her and of you. You have
cried her praises only to forfeit them. You have vaunted her beauty
and never crowned it. And what have you got for it?" The Rusty
Knight was as dumb as the dead. Harding stepped closer. "Shall I
tell you, Rusty Knight, what you have got for it? Last Midsummer Eve
by the Wishing-Well the Proud Rosalind forswore love if heaven would
send her a man to strike a blow in her name for her fathers' sake.
She did not say what sort of man or what sort of blow. She asked in
her simplicity only that a blow should be struck. And like a woman
she was ready to find it enough, and in gratitude repay it with that
which could only in honor be exchanged for what honored her. Yet I
myself heard her swear to hold herself bound to the sorry champion
who should strike for her in the tourney. And you struck and fell.
Did you tell her you fell when you came to her, crownless? And how
did she crown you for your fall, Rusty Knight?"
The Knight sprang to his feet and stood quivering.
"That moves you," said Harding, "but I will move you more. The Proud
Rosalind is not your woman. She is mine. She was mine from the
moment her eyes fell. She was only a child then, but I knew she was
mine as surely as I knew this hart was mine and no other's, when
first I saw it as a calf drink at its pool. But I was patient and
waited till he, my calf, should become a king, and she, my heifer, a
queen. And I am her man because I am of king's stock in my own land,
and she of king's stock in hers. And I am her man because for a year
I have kept her, without her knowledge, with the pence I earned by
my sweat, that were earned for a different purpose. And I am her man
because the hart you have defended so ill, and hampered for a month,
was saved to-day by my arrows, not yours. It was my arrows slew the
hounds from the top of the cliff. It was my arrows split the bows of
the seven knights. And it is my arrow now that will kill the White
Hart that in all men's sight I may give her the antlers to-morrow,
and hear my Proud Rosalind called queen among women."
And as he spoke Harding drew back suddenly, and fitted a shaft to
his string as though he would shoot the hart where it lay.
But the Rusty Knight sprang forward and caught his hands crying,
"Not my Hart! you shall not shoot my Hart!" And he tore off his
casque, and the great tawny mantle of Rosalind's hair fell over her
rags, and her face was on fire and her bosom heaving; and she sank
down murmuring, "I beg you to spare my Hart."
But Harding, uttering a great laugh of pride and joy, caught her up
before she could kneel, saying, "Not even to me, my Proud Rosalind!"
And without even kissing her lips, he put her from him and knelt
before her, and kissed her feet.
("Will you be so good, Mistress Jane," said Martin, "as to sew on my
"I will not knot my thread, Master Pippin," said Jane, "till you
have snapped yours."
"It is snapped," said Martin. "The story is done."
Joscelyn: It is too much! it is TOO much! You do it on purpose!
Martin: Oh, Mistress Joscelyn! I never do anything on purpose. And
therefore I am always doing either too much or too little. But in
what have I exceeded? My story? I am sorry if it is too long.
Joscelyn: It was too short--and you are quibbling.
Martin: I?--But never mind. What more can I say? It is a fault, I
know; but as soon as my lovers understand each other I can see no
Joscelyn: There are a thousand things more you can say. Who this
Harding was, for one.
Joyce: And what he meant by saying his pennies had kept her, for
Jennifer: And for what other purpose he had intended them.
Jessica: And you must describe all that happened at the last
Jane: And what about the ring and the girdle and the circlet and the
"I would so like to know," said little Joan, "if Harding and
Rosalind lived happily ever after. Please won't you tell us how it
"Will women NEVER see what lies under their noses?" groaned Martin.
"Will they ALWAYS stare over a wall, and if they're not tall enough
to try to stare through it? Will they ONLY know that a thing has
come to its end when they see it making a new beginning? Why, after
the first kiss all tales start afresh, though they start on the
second, which is as different from the first as a garden rose from a
wild one. Here have I galloped you to a conclusion, and now you
would set me ambling again."
"Then make up your mind to it," said Joscelyn, "and amble."
"Dear heaven!" went on Martin, "I begin to believe that when a woman
is being kissed she doesn't even notice it for thinking, How sweet
it will be when he kisses me next Tuesday fortnight!"
"Then get on to Tuesday fortnight," scolded Joscelyn, "if that be
"The end indeed!" said Martin. "On Tuesday fortnight, at the very
instant, the slippery creature is thinking, How delicious it was
when he kissed me two weeks ago last Saturday! There's no end with a
woman, either backwards or forwards!"
"For goodness' sake," cried Joscelyn, "stop grumbling and get on
"There's no end to a man's grumbling either," said Martin; "but I'll
get on with it.")
The tale that Harding had to tell Proud Rosalind was a long one, but
I will make as short of it as I can. He told her how in his own
country he was sprung of the race of Volundr, who was a God and a
King and a Smith all in one; but he had been ill-used and banished,
and had since haunted England where men knew him as Wayland, and he
did miracles. But in his own northern land his strain continued,
until Harding's father, a king himself, was like his ancestor
defeated and banished, and crossed the water with his young son and
a chest of relics of Old Wayland's work--a ring, a girdle, a crown,
and a silver robe; a sword and bow which Rosalind knew already; and
other things as well. And the boy grew up filled with the ancient
wrongs of his ancestor, and he went about the country seeking
Wayland's haunts; and wherever he found them he found a mossy
legend, neglected and unproved, of how the god worked, or had
worked, for any man's pence, and put his divine craft to laborers'
service. And as in Rosalind the dream had grown of building up her
fathers' honor again, so Harding had from boyhood nursed his dream
of establishing that of the half-forgotten god. And he, who had
inherited his ancestor's craft in metal, coming at last through
Sussex settled at Bury, where the legend lay on its sick-bed; and he
set up his shop by the ferry so that he might doctor it. And there
he did his work in two ways; for as the Red Smith he did such work
as might be done better by a hundred men, but as Wayland he did what
could only have been done better by the god. And the toll he
collected for that work he saved, year-in-year-out, till he should
have enough to build the god a shrine. And, leaving this visible
evidence behind him, he meant to depart to his own land, and let the
faith in Wayland wax of itself. And then Harding told Rosalind how
he had first seen the hart when it was a calf six years before at
midsummer, and how it had led him to the Wishing-Well; and he had
marked it for his own. And how in the same year he had first noticed
Rosalind, a girl not yet sixteen, and, for the fire of kings in her
that all her poverty could not extinguish, chosen her for his mate.
"And year by year," said Harding, "I watched to see whether the
direst want could bring you to humbleness, and saw you only grow in
nobleness; and year by year I lay in wait for my four-footed quarry
each Midsummer Eve beside the Wishing-Pool, and saw it grow in
kingliness. And last year, as you know, I saw you come to the Pool
beside the hart, and heard you make your high prayer for life or
death. And if I had not been able to give you the life, I would have
given you the death you prayed for. But I went before you, and going
by the ferry put my old god's money in your room before you could be
there. And from time to time I robbed his store to keep you. But
when in spring they drove you from the castle I did not know where
to find you; and I hunted for your lair as I hunted for the hart's,
and never knew they were the same. Then this year came the wishing-
time again, and lying hidden I heard you cry for a man to strike for
you. And I was tempted then to reveal myself and make you know to
what man you were committed. But I decided that I would wait and
strike for you in the tourney, and come to you for the first time
with a crown. And so I went back to the ferry and set to work; and
to my amazement you followed me, and for the first time of your own
will addressed me. I wondered whether you had come to be humble
before your time, and if you had been I would have let you go for
ever; but when you spoke with scorn as to a servant who had once
forgotten himself so far as to play the man to you, I laughed in my
heart and prized your scorn more dearly than your favor; and said to
myself, To-morrow she shall know me for her man. But when you went
down to the water and made your demand of Wayland, for his sake and
yours I was ready to give you a weapon worthy of your steel. So I
gave you the god's own sword and waited to see what use you would
make of it. And you made as ill an use as after you made of the
god's bow. And while men spoke betwixt wrath and mockery of the
Rusty Knight, I loved more dearly that champion who was doing so ill
so bravely for a championless lady." Then Harding looked her
steadily in the eyes, and though her face was all on fire again as
he alone had power to make it, she did not flinch from his gaze, and
he took her hand and said, "No man has ever struck a blow for you
yet, Proud Rosalind, but the Rusty Knight will strike for you to-
morrow; and as to-day there was no marksman, so to-morrow there
shall be no swordsman who can match him. And when he has won the
crown of Sussex for you, you shall redeem your pledge of the
Wishing-Well and give him what he will. Till then, be free." And he
dropped her hand again and let her go.
She turned and went quickly into the bushes and soon she came out
bearing the miserable arms of the Rusty Knight and the glorious
"These are all that were in my fathers' castle for many years," she
said, "and I took them when I went away and the white hart brought
me to his own castle. But though these are big for me, they will be
small for you."
And Harding looked at them and laughed his short laugh. "The casque
alone will serve," he said. "By that and the sword men shall know
me. I have my own arms else; and I will take on myself the shame of
this ludicrous casque, and redeem it in your name. And you shall
have these in exchange." And he handed her his pouch and bade her
what to do in the morning, and went away. He still had not kissed
her mouth, nor had she offered it.
Now there is very little left to tell. On the morrow, when the roll
of knights had been called, all eyes instinctively turned to the
great gateway, by which the Rusty Knight had always come at the last
moment. And as they looked they saw whom they expected, but not what
they expected. For though his head was hidden in the rusty casque,
and though he held the sword which all men covet, he was clad from
neck to foot in arms and mail so marvelously chased and inwrought
with red gold that his whole body shone ruddy in the sunshaft. And
men and women, dazzled and confused, wondered what trick of light
made him appear more tall and broad than they remembered him; so
that he seemed to dwarf all other men. The murmur and the doubt went
round, "Is it the Rusty Knight?"
Then in a voice of thunder he replied, "Ay, if you will, it is the
Rusty Knight; or the Red Knight, or the Knight of the Royal Heart,
or of the Hart-Royal; but by any name, the knight of the Proud
Rosalind, who is the proudest and most peerless of all the maids of
Sussex, as this day's work shall prove."
And none laughed.
The joust began; and before the Rusty Knight the rest went down like
corn beaten by hail. And all men marveled at him, and all women
likewise. And the young Queen Maudlin of Bramber, a prey to her
whims, loved him as long as the tourney lasted. And when it was
ended, and he alone stood upright, she rose in her seat and held out
to him the crown of gold and flowers upon a silken pillow, crying,
"You have won this, you unknown, unseen champion, and it is your
right to give it where you will; and none will dispute her supremacy
in beauty for ever." And as he strode and knelt to receive the crown
she added quickly, "And I know not whether the promise has reached
your ears which yesterday was made--that she who accepts the crown
is to wed the victor, although he choose the Queen herself to wear
And she smiled down at him like morning smiling out of the sky; and
her beauty was such as to make a man forget all other beauty and all
resolutions. But Harding took the crown from her and touched her
hand with the rusty brow of his casque and said, "A Queen will wear
it, for my lady's fathers were once Kings of Amberley."
Then Maudlin stamped her foot as a butterfly might, and cried,
"Where is this lady whom you keep as hidden as your face?"
And Harding rose and turned towards the gateway, and all turned with
him; and into the arch rode Rosalind on the white hart. And she was
clothed from her neck to the soles of her naked feet in a sheath of
silver that seemed molded to her lovely body; and about her waist a
golden girdle hung, set with green stones, and from her finger a
great emerald shot green fire, and on her head a golden fillet lay
in the likeness of close-set leaves with clusters of gleaming green
berries that were other emeralds; and under it her glory of hair
fell like liquid metal down her back and over the hart's neck, as
low as her silver hem. And the hart with its splendid antlers stood
motionless and proud as though it knew it carried a young Queen. But
indeed men wondered whether it were not a young goddess. And so for
a very few moments this carven vision of gold and silver and ivory
and molten bronze and copper and green jewels stood in their gaze.
And then Harding bore the crown to her and knelt, and stood up again
and crowned her before them all; and laying his hand upon the white
hart's neck, moved away with it and its beautiful rider through the
gateway. And no one moved or spoke or tried to stop them. But by the
footway over the water-meadows they went, and at the river's edge
found Harding's broad flat boat with the bird's beak. And Harding
said, "Will you come over the ferry with me, Proud Rosalind?"
And Rosalind answered, "What is your fee, Red Boatman?"
Then Harding answered, "For that which flows I take only that which
And Rosalind, stooping of her own accord from the white hart's back,
I shall be very uncomfortable, Mistress Jane, till you have sewed on
The milkmaids had not thought of their apples for the last hour, but
now, remembering them, they fell to refreshing their tongues with
the sweet flavors of fruit and talk.
Jessica: I cannot rest, Jane, till you have pronounced upon this
Jane: I never found pronouncement harder, Jessica. For who can
pronounce upon anything but a plain truth or a plain falsehood? and
I am too confused to extricate either from such a hotch-potch of
magic as came to pass without the help of any real magician.
Martin: Oh, Mistress Jane! are you sure of that? Did not Rosalind's
wishes come true, and can there be magic without a magician?
Jane: Her wishes came true, I know, both by the pool and by the
ferry; but that the pool and the ferry were supernatural remains
unproved. Because in both cases her wishes were brought about by a
man. And if there was any other magician at all, you never showed
him to us.
Martin: Dear Mistress Jane, where were your eyes? I showed you the
greatest of all the magicians that give ear to the wishes of women;
and when it is necessary to bring them about, he puts his power on a
man and the man makes them come true. Which is a magic you must
often have noticed in men, though you may never have known the
Joscelyn: We have never noticed any magic whatever in men. And we
don't want to know the magician's name. We don't believe in anything
so silly as magic.
Martin: I hope, Mistress Joscelyn, there were moments in my story
not too silly to be believed in.
Joscelyn: Silliness in stories is more or less excusable, since they
are not even supposed to be believed. And is there still a Wishing-
Pool on Rewell and a ferry at Bury?
Martin: The ferry is there, but Harding's hammer is silent. And
where his shop stood is a little cottage where children live, who
dabble in summer on the ferry-step. And their mother will run from
her washing or cooking to take you over the water for the same fee
that Wayland asked for shoeing a poor man's donkey or making a rich
man's sword. And this is the only miracle men call for from those
banks to-day; and if ever you tried to take a boat across the Bury
currents, you would not only believe in miracles but pray for one,
while your boat turned in mid-stream like a merry-go-round. So
there's no doubt that the ferry-wife is a witch. But as for the
Wishing-Pool, it is as lost as it was before the white hart led two
lovers to discover it at separate times, and having brought them
together passed with them and its secret out of men's knowledge. For
neither it nor Harding nor Rosalind was seen again in Sussex after
that day. And yet I can tell you this much of their fortunes: that
whatever befell them wherever they wandered, he was a king and she a
queen in the sight of the whole world, which to all lovers consists
of one woman and one man; and their lives were crowned lives, and
they carried their crown with them even when they came in the same
hour to exchange one life for another. But this was only a long and
cloudless reign on earth.
Jane: Well, it is a satisfaction to know that. For at certain times
your story seemed so overshadowed with clouds that I was filled with
Joan: Oh, but Jane! even when we walk in the thickest clouds on the
Downs, we are certain that presently some light will melt them, or
some wind blow them away.
Joyce: Yes, it never once occurred to me to doubt the end of the
Jennifer: Nor to me. And so the clouds only kept one in a delicious
palpitation, at which one could secretly smile, without having to
Jessica: Was it possible, Jane, that YOU could be deceived as to the
conclusion of this love-story? Why, even I saw joy coming as plain
as a pikestaff.
Martin: And I, with love for its bearer. For that magician, who
touches the plainest things with a radiance, makes plain girls and
boys look queens and kings, and plain staves flowering branches of
joy. And in this case I can think of only one catastrophe that could
have obscured or distorted that vision.
Two of the Milkmaids: What catastrophe, pray?
Martin: If Rosalind had refused to believe in anything so silly as
The silence of the Seven Sleepers hung over the Apple-Orchard.
Joscelyn: Then she would have proved herself a girl of sense,
singer, and your tale would have gained in virtue. As it stands, I
should not have grieved though the clouds had never been dispersed
from so foolish a medley of magic and make-believe.
Martin: So be it, if it must be so. We will push back our lovers
into their obscurities, and praise night for the round moon above
us, who has pushed three parts of her circle clear of all obstacles,
and awaits only some movement of heaven to blow the last remnant of
cloud from her happy soul. And because more of her is now in the
light than in the dark, she knows it is only a question of time. But
the last hours of waiting are always the longest, and we like
herself can do no better than spend them in dreams, where if we are
lucky we shall catch a glimpse of the angels of truth.
Like the last five leaves blown from an autumn branch, the milkmaids
fluttered from the apple-tree and couched their sleepy heads on
their tired arms, and went each by herself into her particular
dream; where if she found company or not she never told. But Jane
sat prim and thoughtful with her elbow in her hand and her finger
making a dimple in her cheek, considering deeply. And presently
Martin began to cough a little, and then a little more, and finally
so troublesomely that she was obliged to lay her profound thoughts
aside, to attend to him with a little frown. Was even Euclid
impervious to midges?
"Have you taken cold, Master Pippin?" said Jane.
"I'm afraid so," he confessed humbly; "for we all know that when we
catch cold the grievance is not ours, but our nurse's."
"How did it happen?" demanded Jane, rightly affronted. "Have you
been getting your feet wet in the duckpond again?"
"The trouble lies higher," murmured Martin, and held his shirt
together at the throat.
Jane looked at him and colored and said, "That is the merest
pretense. It was only one button and it is a very warm night. I
think you must be mistaken about your cold."
"Perhaps I am," said Martin hopefully.
"And you only coughed and coughed and kept on coughing," continued
Jane, "because I had forgotten all about you and was thinking of
something quite different."
"It is almost impossible to deceive you," said Martin.
"Oh, Master Pippin," said Jane earnestly, "since I turned seventeen
I have seen into people's motives so clearly that I often wish I did
not; but I cannot help it."
Martin: You poor darling!
Jane: You must not say that word to me, Master Pippin.
Martin: It was very wrong of me. The word slipped out by mistake. I
meant to say clever, not poor.
Jane: Did you? I see. Oh, but--
Martin: Please don't be modest. We must always stand by the truth,
don't you think?
Jane: Above all things.
Martin: How long did it take you to discover my paltry ruse? How
long did you hear me coughing?
Jane: From the very beginning.
Martin: And can you think of two things at once?
Jane: Of course not.
Martin: No? I wish two was the least number of things I ever think
of at once. Mine's an untidy way of thinking. Still, now we know
where we are. What were you thinking about me so earnestly when I
was coughing and you had forgotten all about me?
Jane: I--I--I wasn't thinking about you at all.
And she got down from the swing and walked away.
Martin: Now we DON'T know where we are.
And he got down from the branch and walked after her.
Martin: Please, Mistress Jane, are you in a temper?
Jane: I am never in a temper.
Jane: Being in a temper is silly. It isn't normal. And it clouds
Martin: So do lots of things, don't they? Like leapfrog, and mad
bulls, and rum punch, and very full moons, and love--
Jane: All these things are, as you say, abnormal. And I have no more
use for them than I have for tempers. But being disheartened isn't
being in a temper; and I am always disheartened when people argue
badly. And above all, men, who, I find, can never keep to the point.
Although they say--
Martin: What do they say?
Jane: That girls can't.
Martin began to cough again, and Jane looked at him closely, and
Martin apologized and said it was that tickle in his throat, and
Jane said gravely, "Do you think I can't see through you? Come
along, do!" and opened her housewife, and put on her thimble, and
threaded her needle, and got out the button, and made Martin stand
in a patch of moonlight, and stood herself in front of him, and took
the neck of his shirt deftly between her left finger and thumb, and
began to stitch. And Martin looking down on the top of her smooth
little head, which was all he could see of her, said anxiously, "You
won't prick me, will you?" and Jane answered, "I'll try not to, but
it is very awkward." Because to get behind the button she had to
lean her right elbow on his shoulder and stand a little on tiptoe.
So that Martin had good cause to be frightened; but after several
stitches he realized that he was in safe hands, and drew a big
breath of relief which made Jane look up rather too hastily, and
down more hastily still; so that her hand shook, and the needle
slipped, and Martin said "Ow!" and clutched the hand with the needle
and held it tightly just where it was. And Jane got flustered and
said, "I'm so sorry."
Martin: Why should you be? You've proved your point. If I knew any
man that could stick to his so well and drive it home so truly, I
would excuse him for ever from politics and the law, and bid him sit
at home with his work-basket minding the world's business in its
cradle. It is only because men cannot stick to the point that life
puts them off with the little jobs which shift and change color with
every generation. But the great point of life which never changes
was given from the first into woman's keeping because, as all the
divine powers of reason knew, only she could be trusted to stick to
it. I should be glad to have your opinion, Jane, as to whether this
is true or not.
Jane: Yes, Martin, I am convinced it is true.
Martin: Then let the men shilly-shally as much as they like. And so,
as long as the cradle is there to be minded, we shall have proved
that out of two differences unions can spring. My buttonhole feels
empty. What about my button?
Jane: I was just about to break off the thread when you--
Martin: When I what?
Martin: Was it a sigh? Did I sigh? How unreasonable of me. What was
I sighing for? Do you know?
Jane: Of course I know.
Martin: Will you tell me?
Jane: That's enough. (And she tried to break off the thread.)
Martin: Ah, but you mustn't keep your wisdom to yourself. Give me
the key, dear Jane.
Jane: The key?
Martin: Because how else can the clouds which overshadow our stories
be cleared away? How else can we allay our doubts and our confusions
and our sorrows if you who are wise, and see motives so clearly,
will not give us the key? Why did I sigh, Jane? And why does Gillian
sigh? And, oh, Jane, why are you sighing? Do you know?
Jane: Of course I know.
Martin: And won't you give me the key?
Jane: That's quite enough.
And this time she broke off the thread. And she put the needle in
and out of the pinked flannel in her housewife, and she tucked the
thimble in its place. And then she felt in a little pocket where
something clinked against her scissors, and Martin watched her. And
she took it out and put it in his hand. And his hand tightened again
over hers and he said gravely, "Is it a needle?"
"No, it is not," said Jane primly, "but it's very much to the
"Oh, you wise woman!" whispered Martin (and Jane colored with
satisfaction, because she was turned seventeen). "What would poor
men do without your help?"
Then he kissed very respectfully the hand that had pricked him: on
the back and on the palm and on the four fingers and thumb and on
the wrist. And then he began looking for a new place, but before he
could make up his mind Jane had taken her hand and herself away,
saying "Good night" very politely as she went. So he lay down to
dream that for the first time in his life he had made up his mind.
But Jane, whose mind was always made up, for the first time in her
life dreamed otherwise.
It happened that by some imprudence Martin had laid himself down
exactly under the gap in the hedge, and when Old Gillman came along
the other side crying "Maids!" in the morning, the careless fellow
had no time to retreat across the open to safe cover; so there was
nothing for it but to conceal himself under the very nose of danger
and roll into the ditch. Which he hurriedly did, while the milkmaids
ran here and there like yellow chickens frightened by a hawk. Not
knowing what else to do, they at last clustered above him about the
gap, filling it so with their pretty faces that the farmer found
room for not so much as an eyelash when he arrived with his bread.
And it was for all the world as though the hedge, forgetting it was
autumn, had broken out at that particular spot into pink-and-white
may. So that even Old Gillman had no fault to find with the
"All astir, my maids?" said he.
"Yes, master, yes!" they answered breathlessly; all but Joscelyn,
who cried, "Oh! oh! oh!" and bit her lip hard, and stood suddenly on
"What's amiss with ye?" asked Gillman.
"Nothing, master," said she, very red in the face. "A nettle stung
"Well, I'd not weep for t," said Gillman.
"Indeed I'm not weeping!" cried Joscelyn loudly.
"Then it did but tickle ye, I doubt," said Gillman slyly, "to
"Master, I AM not blushing!" protested Joscelyn. "The sun's on my
face and in my eyes, don't you see?"
"I would he were on my daughter's, then," said Gillman. "Does
Gillian still sit in her own shadow?"
"Yes, master," answered Jane, "but I think she will be in the light
"If she be not," groaned Gillman, "it's a shadow she'll find instead
of a father when she comes back to the farmstead; for who can sow
wild oats at my time o' life, and not show it at last in his frame?
Yet I was a stout man once."
"Take heart, master," urged Joyce eyeing his waistcoat. But he shook
"Don't be deceived, maid. Drink makes neither flesh nor gristle;
only inflation. Gillian!" he shouted, "when will ye make the best of
a bad job and a solid man of your dad again?"
But the donkey braying in its paddock got as much answer as he.
"Well, it's lean days for all, maids," said Gillman, and doled out
the loaves from his basket, "and you must suffer even as I. Yet
another day may see us grow fat." And he turned his basket upside
down on his head and moved away.
"Excuse me, master," said Jane, "but is Nellie, my little Dexter
Kerry, doing nicely?"
"As nicely as she ever does with any man," said Gillman, "which is
to kick John twice a day, mornings and evenings. He say he's getting
used to it, and will miss it when you come back to manage her. But
before that happens I misdoubt we'll all be plunged in rack and
And he departed, making his usual parrot-cry.
"I'm getting fond of old Gillman," said Martin sitting up and
picking dead leaves out of his hair; "I like his hawker's cry of
Maids, maids, maids!' for all the world as though he had pretty
girls to sell, and I like the way he groans regrets over his empty
basket as he goes away. But if I had those wares for market I'd ask
such unfair prices for them that I'd never be out of stock."
"What's an unfair price for a pretty girl, Master Pippin?" asked
"It varies," said Martin. "Joan I'd not sell for less than an apple,
or Joyce for a gold-brown hair. I might accept a blade of grass for
Jennifer and be tempted by a button for Jane. You, Jessica, I rate
as high as a saucy answer."
"Simple fees all," laughed Joyce.
"Not so simple," said Martin, "for it must be the right apple and
the particular hair; only one of all the grass-blades in the world
will do, and it must be a certain button or none. Also there are
answers and answers."
"In that case," said Jessica, "I'm afraid you've got us all on your
hands for ever. But at what price would you sell Joscelyn?"
"At nothing less," said Martin, "than a yellow shoe-string."
Joscelyn stamped her left foot so furiously that her shoe came off.
And little Joan, anxious to restore peace, ran and picked it up for
her and said, "Why, Joscelyn, you've lost your lace! Where can it
be?" But Joscelyn only looked angrier still, and went without
answering to set Gillian's bread by the Well-House; where she found
nothing whatever but a little crust of yesterday's loaf. And
surprised out of her vexation she ran back again exclaiming, "Look,
look! as surely as Gillian is finding her appetite I think she is
losing her grief."
"The argument is as absolute," said Martin, "as that if we do not
soon breakfast my appetite will become my grief. But those miserable
And he snatched the crust from Joscelyn's hand and flung it mightily
into the pond; where the drake gobbled it whole and the ducks got
And the girls cried "What a shame!" and burst out laughing, all but
Joscelyn who said under her breath to Martin, "Give it back at
once!" But he didn't seem to hear her, and raced the others gayly to
the tree where they always picnicked; and they all fell to in such
good spirits that Joscelyn looked from one to another very
doubtfully, and suddenly felt left out in the cold. And she came
slowly and sat down not quite in the circle, and kept her left foot
under her all the time.
As soon as breakfast was over Jennifer sighed, "I wish it were
"What a greedy wish," said Martin.
"And then," said she, "I wish it were supper-time."
"Why?" said he.
"Because it would be nearer to-morrow," said Jennifer pensively.
"Do you want it to be to-morrow so much?" asked Martin. And five of
the milkmaids cried, "oh, yes!"
"That's better than wanting it to be yesterday," said Martin, "yet
I'm always so pleased with to-day that I never want it to be either.
And as for old time, I read him by a dial which makes it any hour I
"What dial's that?" asked Joyce. And Martin looked about for a
Dandelion Clock, and having found one blew it all away with a single
puff and cried, "One o'clock and dinner-time!"
Then Jennifer got a second puff and blew on it so carefully that she
was able to say, "Seven o'clock and supper-time!"
And then all the girls hastened to get clocks of their own, and make
their favorite time o'day.
"When I can't make it come right," confided little Joan to Martin,
"I pull them off and say six o'clock in the morning."
"It's a very good way," agreed Martin, "and six o'clock in the
morning is a very good hour, except for lazy lie-abeds. Isn't it?"
"Nancy always looked for me at six of a summer morning," said little
"Yes," said Martin, "milkmaids must always turn their cows in before
the dew's dry. And carters their horses."
"Sometimes they get so mixed in the lane," said Joan.
"I am sure they do," said Martin. "How glad your cows will be to see
you all again."
"Are you certain we shall be out of the orchard to-morrow, Master
Pippin?" asked Jane.
"Heaven help us otherwise," said he, "for I've but one tale left in
my quiver, and if it does not make an end of the job, here we must
stay for the rest of our lives, puffing time away in gossamer."
Then Jessica, blowing, cried, "Four o'clock! come in to tea!"
And Joyce said, "Twelve o'clock! baste the goose in the oven."
"Three o'clock! change your frock!" said Jane.
"Eight o'clock! postman's knock!" said Jennifer.
"Ten o'clock! to bed, to bed!" cried Jessica again.
"Nine o'clock!--let me run down the lane for a moment first," begged
Then Martin blew eighteen o'clock and said it was six o'clock
tomorrow morning. And all the girls clapped their hands for joy--all
except Joscelyn, who sat quite by herself in a corner of the
orchard, and neither blew nor listened. And so they continued to
change the hour and the occupation: now washing, now wringing, now
drying; now milking, now baking, now mending; now cooking their
meal, now eating it; now strolling in the cool of the evening, now
going to market on marketing-day:--till by dinner they had filled
the morning with a week of hours, and the air with downy seedlings,
as exquisite as crystals of frost.
At dinner the maids ate very little, and Jessica said, "I think I'm
getting tired of bread."
"And apples?" said Martin.
"One never gets tired of apples," said Jessica, "but I would like to
have them roasted for a change, with cream. Or in a dumpling with
brown sugar. And instead of bread I would like plum-cake."
"What wouldn't I give for a bowl of curds and whey!" exclaimed
"Fruit salad and custard is nice," sighed Jennifer.
"I could fancy a lemon cheesecake," observed Jane, "or a jam tart."
"I should like bread-and-honey," said little Joan. "Bread-and-
honey's the best of all."
"So it is," said Martin.
"You always have to suck your fingers afterwards," said Joan.
"That's why," said Martin. "Quince jelly is good too, and treacle
because if you're quick you can write your name in it, and picked
walnuts, and mushrooms, and strawberries, and green salad, and
plovers' eggs, and cherries are ripping especially in earrings, and
macaroons, and cheesestraws, and gingerbread, and--"
"Stop! stop! stop! stop! stop!" cried the milkmaids.
"I can hardly bear it myself," said Martin. "Let's play See-Saw."
So the maids rolled up a log from one part of the orchard, and
Martin got a plank from another part, because the orchard was full
of all manner of things as well as girls and apples, and he
straddled one end and said, "Who's first?" And Jessica straddled the
other as quick as a boy, and went up with a whoop. But Joyce, who
presently turned her off, sat sideways as gay and graceful as a lady
in a circus. And Jennifer crouched a little and clung rather hard
with her hands, but laughed bravely all the time. And Jane thought
she wouldn't, and then she thought she would, and squeaked when she
went up and fell off when she came down, so that Martin tumbled too,
and apologized to her earnestly for his clumsiness; and while he
rubbed his elbows she said it didn't matter at all. But little Joan
took off her shoes, and with her hands behind her head stood on the
end of the see-saw as lightly as a sunray standing on a wave, and
she looked up and down at Martin, half shyly because she was afraid
she was showing off, and half smiling because she was happy as a
bird. And Joscelyn wouldn't play. Then the girls told Martin he'd
had more than his share, and made him get off, and struggled for
possession of the see-saw like Kings of the Castle. And Martin
strolled up to Joscelyn and said persuasively, "It's such fun!" but
Joscelyn only frowned and answered, "Give it back to me!" and Martin
didn't seem to understand her and returned to the see-saw, and
suggested three a side and he would look after Jane very carefully.
So he and Jane and Jennifer got on one end, and Jessica, Joyce and
Joan sat on the other, and screaming and laughing they tossed like a
boat on a choppy sea: until Jessica without any warning jumped off
her perch in mid-air and destroyed the balance, and down they all
came helter-skelter, laughing and screaming more than ever. But Jane
reproved Jessica for her trick and said nobody would believe her
another time, and that it was a bad thing to destroy people's
confidence in you; and Jessica wiped her hot face on her sleeve and
said she was awfully sorry, because she admired Jane more than
anybody else in the world. Then Martin looked at the sun and said,
"You've barely time to get tidy for supper." So the milkmaids ran
off to smooth their hair and their kerchiefs and do up ribbons and
buttons or whatever else was necessary. And came fresh and rosy to
their meal, of which not one of them could touch a morsel, she
"Dear, dear, dear!" said Martin anxiously. "What's the matter with
But they really didn't know. They just weren't hungry. So please
wouldn't he tell them a story?
"This will never do," said Martin. "I shall have you ill on my
hands. An apple apiece, or no story to-night."
At this dreadful threat Joan plucked the nearest apple she could
find, which was luckily a Cox's Pippin.
"Must I eat it all, Martin?" she asked. (And Joscelyn looked at her
quickly with that doubtful look which had been growing on her all
"All but the skin," said Martin kindly. And taking the apple from
her he peeled it cleverly from bud to stem, and handed her back
nothing but the peel. And she twirled the peel three times round her
head, and dropped it in the grass behind her.
"What is it? what is it?" cried the milkmaids, crowding.
"It's a C," said Martin. And he gave Joan her apple, and she ate it.
Then Joyce came to Martin with a Beauty of Bath, and he peeled it as
he had Joan's, and withheld the fruit until she had performed her
rite. And her letter was M. Jennifer brought a Worcester Pearmain,
and threw a T. And Jessica chose a Curlytail and made a perfect O.
And Jane, who preferred a Russet, threw her own initial, and Martin
said seriously, "You're to be an old maid, Jane." (And Joscelyn
looked at him.) And Jane replied, "I don't see that at all. There
are lots of lots of J's, Martin." (And Joscelyn looked at her.) Then
Martin turned inquiringly to Joscelyn, and she said, "I don't want
one." "No stories then," said Martin as firm as Nurse at bedtime.
And she shook her shoulders impatiently. But he himself picked her a
King of Pippins, the biggest and reddest in the orchard, and peeled
it like the rest and gave her the peel. And very crossly she jerked
it thrice round her head, so that it broke into three bits, and they
fell on the grass in the shape of an agitated H. And Martin gave her
also her Pippin.
"But what about your own supper?" said little Joan.
And Martin, glancing from one to another, gathered a Cox, a Beauty,
a Pearmain, a Curlytail, a Russet, and a King of Pippins; and he
peeled and ate them one after another, and then, one after another,
whirled the parings. And every one of the parings was a J.
Then, while Martin stood looking down at the six J's among the
clover-grass, and the milkmaids looked anywhere else and said
nothing: little Joan slipped away and came back with the smallest,
prettiest, and rosiest Lady Apple in Gillman's Orchard, and said
softly, "This one's for you."
So Martin pared it slenderly, and the peel lay in his hand like a
ribbon of rose-red silk shot with gold; and he coiled it lightly
three times round his head and dropped it over his left shoulder.
And as suddenly as bubbles sucked into the heart of a little
whirlpool, the milkmaids ran to get a look at the letter. But Martin
looked first, and when the ring of girls stood round about him he
put his foot quickly on the apple-peel and rubbed it into the grass.
And without even tasting it he tossed his little Lady Apple right
over the wicket, and beyond the duckpond, and, for all the girls
could see, to Adversane.
Then Jane and Jessica and Jennifer and Joyce and little Joan, as by
a single instinct, each climbed to a bough of the center apple-tree,
and left the swing empty. And Martin sat on his own bough and waited
for Joscelyn. And very slowly she came and sat on the swing and said
without looking at him:
"We're all ready now."
"All?" said Martin. And he fixed his eyes on the Well-House, where
it made no difference.
"Most of us, anyhow," said Joscelyn; "and whoever isn't ready
"Yet most is not all, and nearly is not quite," said Martin, "and
would you be satisfied if I could only tell you most of my story,
and was obliged to break off when it was nearly done? Alas, with me
it must be the whole or nothing, and I cannot make a beginning
unless I can see the end."
"All beginnings must have endings," said Joscelyn, "so begin at
once, and the end will follow of itself."
"Yet suppose it were some other end than I set out for?" said
Martin. "There's no telling with these endings that go of
themselves. We mean one thing, but they mistake our meaning and show
us another. Like the simple maid who was sent to fetch her lady's
slippers and her lady's smock, and brought the wrong ones."
"She must have been some ignorant maid from a town," said Jane, "if
she did not know lady-smocks and lady's-slippers when she saw them."
"It was either her mistake or her lady's," said Martin carelessly.
"You shall judge which." And he tuned his lute and, still looking at
the Well-House, sang:
The Lady sat in a flood of tears
All of her sweet eyes' shedding.
"To-morrow, to-morrow the paths of sorrow
Are the paths that I'll be treading."
So she sent her lass for her slippers of black,
But the careless lass came running back
With slippers as bright
As fairy gold
Or noonday light,
That were heeled and soled
To dance in at a wedding.
The Lady sat in a storm of sighs
Raised by her own heart-searching.
"To-morrow must I in the churchyard lie
Because love is an urchin."
So she sent her lass for her sable frock,
But the silly lass brought a silken smock
So fair to be seen
With a rosy shade
And a lavender sheen,
That was only made
For a bride to come from church in.
Now as Martin sang, Gillian got first on her elbow, and then on her
knees, and last upright on her two feet. And her face was turned
full on the duckpond, and her eyes gazed as though she could see
more and further than any other woman in the world, and her two
hands held her heart as though but for this it must follow her eyes
and be lost to her for ever.
"So far as I can see," said Joscelyn, "there's nothing to choose
between the foolishness of the maid and that of the mistress. But
since Gillian appears to have risen to some sense in it, for
goodness' sake, before she sinks back on her own folly, tell us your
tale and be done with it!"
"It is ready now," said Martin, "from start to finish. Glass is not
clearer nor daylight plainer to me than the conclusion of the whole,
and if you will listen for a very few instants, you shall see as
certainly as I the ending of The Imprisoned Princess."
THE IMPRISONED PRINCESS
There was once, dear maidens, a Princess who was kept on an island.
(Joscelyn: There are no islands in Sussex.
Martin: This didn't happen in Sussex.
Joscelyn: But I thought it was a true story.
Martin: It is the only true story of them all.)
She was kept on the island locked up in a tower, for the best of all
the reasons in the world. She had fallen in love. She had fallen in
love with her father's Squire. So the King banished him for ever and
locked up his daughter in a tower on an island, and had it guarded
by six Gorgons.