Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Distributed Proofreaders
THE FOREST LOVERS
MRS. W. K. CLIFFORD
THE AUTHOR'S HOMAGE
I. PROSPER LE GAI RIDES OUT
II. MORGRAUNT, AND A DEAD KNIGHT
III. HOLY THORN AND HOLY CHURCH
IV. DOM GALORS
V. LA DESIROUS
VI. THE VIRGIN MARRIAGE
VII. GALORS ABJURES
VIII. THE SALLY AT DAWN
IX. THE BLOOD-CHASE AND THE LOVE CHASE
X. FOREST ALMS
XII. BROKEN SANCTUARY
XIII. HIGH MARCH, AND A GREAT LADY
XIV. A RECORDER
XV. THREE AT TORTSENTIER
XVI. BOY AND GIRL
XVIII. BOY'S LOVE
XIX. LADY'S LOVE
XX. HOW PROSPER HELD A REVIEW
XXI. HOW THE NARRATIVE SMACKS AGAIN OF THE SOIL
XXII GALORS CONQUAESTOR
XXIII. FALVE THE CHARCOAL-BURNER
XXIV. SECRET THINGS AT HAUTERIVE
XXV. THE ROAD TO GOLTRES
XXVI. GUESS-WORK AT GOLTRES
XXVII. GALORS RIDES HUNTING
XXVIII. MERCY WITH THE BEASTS.
XXIX. WANMEETING CRIES, 'HA! SAINT JAMES!'
XXX. THE CHAINED VIRGIN OF SAINT THORN
XXXI. 'ENTRA PER ME'
XXXII 'BIDE THE TIME'
XXXIII. SALOMON IS DRIVEN HOME
XXXIV. LA DESIREE
XXXV. FOREST LOVE
XXXVI. THE LADY PIETOSA DE BREAUTE
THE FOREST LOVERS
PROSPER LE GAI RIDES OUT
My story will take you into times and spaces alike rude and uncivil.
Blood will be spilt, virgins suffer distresses; the horn will sound
through woodland glades; dogs, wolves, deer, and men, Beauty and the
Beasts, will tumble each other, seeking life or death with their
proper tools. There should be mad work, not devoid of entertainment.
When you read the word _Explicit_, if you have laboured so far,
you will know something of Morgraunt Forest and the Countess Isabel;
the Abbot of Holy Thorn will have postured and schemed (with you
behind the arras); you will have wandered with Isoult and will know
why she was called La Desirous, with Prosper le Gai, and will
understand how a man may fall in love with his own wife. Finally, of
Galors and his affairs, of the great difference there may be between a
Christian and the brutes, of love and hate, grudging and open humour,
faith and works, cloisters and thoughts uncloistered--all in the green
wood--you will know as much as I do if you have cared to follow the
argument. I hope you will not ask me what it all means, or what the
moral of it is. I rank myself with the historian in this business of
tale-telling, and consider that my sole affair is to hunt the argument
dispassionately. Your romancer must be neither a lover of his heroine
nor (as the fashion now sets) of his chief rascal. He must affect a
genial height, that of a jigger of strings; and his attitude should be
that of the Pulpiteer:--Heaven help you, gentlemen, but I know what is
best for you! Leave everything to me.
It is related of Prosper le Gai, that when his brother Malise, Baron
of Starning and Parrox, showed him the door of their father's house,
and showed it with a meaning not to be mistaken, he stuck a sprig of
green holly in his cap. He put on his armour; his horse and sword also
he took: he was for the wilds. Baron Jocelyn's soul, the priests
reported, was with God; his body lay indubitably under a black effigy
in Starning Church. Baron Malise was lord of the fee, with a twisted
face for Prosper whenever they met in the hall: had there been scores
no deeper this was enough. Prosper was a youth to whom life was a very
pretty thing; he could not afford to have tarnish on the glass; he
must have pleasant looks about him and a sweet air, or at least scope
for the making of them. Baron Malise blew like a miasma and cramped
him like a church-pew: then Adventure beaconed from far off, and his
heart leapt to greet the light. He left at dawn, and alone. Roy, his
page, had begged as hard as he dared for pillion or a donkey. He was
his master's only friend, but Prosper's temper needed no props. "Roy,"
said he, "what I do I will do alone, nor will I imperil any man's
bread. The bread of my brother Malise may be a trifle over-salt to my
taste, but to you it is better than none at all. Season your tongue,
Roy, enure it. Drink water, dry your eyes, and forget me not."
He kissed him twice and went his way without any more farewells than
the boy's snivelling. He never looked behind at Starning demesne,
where he had been born and bred and might have followed his father to
church, nor sideways at the broad oaks, nor over to the well-tilled
fields on either side his road; but rather pricked forward at a nimble
pace which tuned to the running of his blood. The blood of a lad sings
sharpest in the early morning; the air tingles, the light thrills, all
the great day is to come. This lad therefore rode with a song towards
the West, following his own shadow, down the deep Starning lanes,
through the woods and pastures of Parrox, over the grassy spaces of
the Downs, topping the larks in thought, and shining beam for beam
against the new-risen sun. The time of his going-out was September of
the harvest: a fresh wet air was abroad. He looked at the thin blue of
the sky, he saw dew and gossamer lie heavy on the hedge-rows. All his
heart laughed. Prosper was merry.
Whither he should go, what find, how fare, he knew not at all.
Morgraunt was before him, and of Morgraunt all the country spoke in a
whisper. It as far, it was deep, it was dark as night, haunted with
the waving of perpetual woods; it lay between the mountains and the
sea, a mystery as inviolate as either. In it outlaws, men desperate
and hungry, ran wild. It was a den of thieves as well as of wolves.
Men, young men too, had ridden in, high-hearted, proud of their
trappings, horses, curls, and what not; none had ever seen them come
out. They might be roaming there yet, grown old with roaming, and
gaunt with the everlasting struggle to kill before they were killed:
who could tell? Or they might have struck upon the vein of savage
life; they might go roaring and loving and robbing with the beasts--
why not? Morgraunt had swallowed them up; who could guess to what wild
uses she turned her thralls? That was a place, pardieu! Prosper, very
certain that at twenty-three it is a great thing to be hale and
astride a horse, felt also that to grow old without having given
Morgraunt a chance of killing you young would be an insipid
performance. "As soon be a priest!" he would cry, "or, by the Rood,
one of those flat-polled monks kept there by the Countess Isabel."
Morgraunt then for Prosper, and the West; beyond that--"One thing at a
time," thought he, for he was a wise youth in his way, and held to the
legend round his arms. Seeing that south of him he could now smell the
sea, and beyond him lay Morgraunt, he would look no further till
Morgraunt lay below him appeased or subjugate.
A tall and lean youth was Prosper le Gai, fair-haired and sanguine,
square-built and square-chinned. He smiled at you; you saw two capital
rows of white teeth, two humorous blue eyes; you would think, what a
sweet-tempered lad! So in the main he was; but you would find out that
he could be dangerous, and that (curiously) the more dangerous he was,
the sweeter his temper seemed to be. If you crossed him once, he would
stare; twice, he would laugh; three times, you would swear he was your
humble servant; but before you could cross him again he would have
knocked you down. The next moment he would give you a hand up, and
apologize; after that, so far as he was concerned, you might count him
your friend for life. The fact is, that he was one of those men who,
like kings, require a nominal fealty before they can love you with a
whole heart: it is a mere nothing. But somebody, they think, must
lead. Prosper always felt so desperately sure it must be he. That was
apt to lend a frenzy to his stroke and a cool survey to his eye (as
being able to take so much for granted), which made him a good friend
and a nasty enemy.
It also made him, as you will have occasion to see, a born fighter. He
went, indeed, through those years of his life on tiptoe, as it were,
for a fight. He had a light and springing carriage of the head, enough
to set his forelock nodding; his eye roved like a sea-bird's; his lips
often parted company, for his breath was eager. He had a trick of
laughing to himself softly as he went about his business; or else he
sang, as he was now singing. These qualities, little habits,
affectations, whatever you choose to call them, sound immaterial, but
they really point to the one thing that made him remarkable--the
curious blend of opposites in him. He blent benevolence with savagery,
reflectiveness with activity. He could think best when thought and act
might jump together, laugh most quietly when the din of swords and
horses drowned the voice, love his neighbour most sincerely when about
to cut his throat. The smell of blood, the sight of wounds, or the
flicker of blades, made him drunk; but he was one of those who grow
steady in their cups. You might count upon him at a pinch. Lastly, he
was no fool, and was disposed to credit other people with a balance of
He disliked frippery, yet withal made a brave show in the sun. His
plain black mail was covered with a surcoat of white and green linen;
over this a narrow baldrick of red bore in gold stitches his device of
a hooded falcon, and his legend on a scroll, many times repeated and
intercrossed--_I bide my time_. In his helmet were three red
feathers, on his shield the blazon of his house of Gai--_On a field
sable, a fesse dancettee or_, with a mullet for difference. He
carried no spear; for a man of his light build the sword was the arm.
Thus then, within and without, was Messire Prosper le Gai, youngest
son of old Baron Jocelyn, deceased, riding into the heart of the noon,
pleased with himself and the world, light-minded, singing of the
movement and the road.
Labourers stayed their reaping to listen to him; but there was nothing
for them. He sang of adventure. Girls leaned at cottage doorways to
watch him down the way. There was nothing for them either, for all he
sang of love.
"She who now hath my heart
is so in every part;" etc., etc.
The words came tripping as a learnt lesson; but he had never loved a
girl, and fancied he never would. Women? Petticoats! For him there was
more than one adventure in life. Rather, my lady's chamber was the
last place in which he would have looked for adventure.
On the second day of his journey--in a country barren and stony, yet
with a hint of the leafy wildernesses to come in the ridges spiked
with pines, the cropping of heather here and there, and the ever-
increasing solitude of his way--he was set upon by four foot-pads, who
thought to beat the life out of his body as easily as boys that of a
dog. He asked nothing better than that they should begin; and he asked
so civilly that they very soon did. The fancy of glorious youth
transformed them into knights-at-arms, and their ashen cudgels into
blades. The only pity was that the end came so soon.
His sword dug its first sod, and might have carved four cowards
instead of one; but he was no vampire, so thereafter laid about him
with the flat of the tool. The three survivors claimed quarter.
"Quarter, you rogues!" cried he. "Kindly lend me one of your staves
for the purpose." He gave them a drubbing as one horsed his brother in
turn, and dropped them, a chapfallen trio, beside their dead. "Now,"
said he, "take that languid gentleman with you, and be so good for the
rest of your journey as to imitate his indifference to strangers. Thus
you will have a prosperous passage. Good day to you."
He slept on the scene of his exploit, rose early, rode fast, and by
noon was plainly in the selvage of the great woods. The country was
split into bleak ravines, a pell-mell of rocks and boulders, and a
sturdy crop of black pines between them. An overgrowth of brambles and
briony ran riot over all. Prosper rode up a dry river-bed, keeping
steadily west, so far as it would serve him; found himself quagged ere
a dozen painful miles, floundered out as best he might, and by evening
was making good pace over a rolling bit of moorland through which ran
a sandy road. It was the highway from Wanmouth to Market Basing and
the north, if he had known. Ahead of him a solitary wayfarer, a brown
bunch of a friar, from whose hood rose a thin neck and a shag of black
hair round his tonsure--like storm-clouds gathering about a full moon
--struck manfully forward on a pair of bare feet.
"God be with you, brother gentleman," cried the friar, turning a crab-
apple face upwards.
"And with you, my brother, who carry your slippers," Prosper replied.
"Eh, eh, brother! They go softer than steel for a gouty toe."
"Poor gout, Master Friar, I hope, for Saint Francis' peace of mind."
"My gentleman," said the friar, "let me tell you the truth. I am a
poor devil out of Lucca, built for matrimony and the chimney corner,
as Grandfather Adam was before me. Brother Bonaccord of Outremer they
call me in religion, but ill-accord I am in temper, by reason of the
air of this accursed land, and a most tempestuous blood of my own. For
why! I go to the Dominicans of Wanmouth, supplicating that I am new
landed, and have no convent to my name and establishment in the
Church. They take me in. Ha! they do that. Look now. 'A sop of bread
and wine,' I cry, 'for the love of God.' It is a Catholic food, very
comfortable for the stomach. Ha! they give me beer. Beer? Wet death! I
am by now as gouty as a cardinal, and my eye is inflamed. I think of
the Lucchese--those shafts of joy miscalled women--when I should be
thinking of my profession. I am ready as ever to admit two vows, but
Saint Paul himself cannot reconcile me to the third. Beer, my friend,
"You will do well enough, friar, if you are going the forest road. You
will find no Lucchesan ladies thereabouts."
"I am none so sure, gentleman. There were tales told at the Wanmouth
hostel. Do you know anything of a very holy place in these parts, the
Abbey of Saint Giles of the Thorn? Black monks, my brother; black as
"I think they are white monks," said Prosper, "Bernardines."
"I spoke of the colour of their deeds, young sir," answered Brother
"I know as little of them as of any monks in Christendom, friar,"
Prosper said. "But I have seen the Abbot and spoken with him. Richard
Dieudonne is his name, well friended by the Countess."
"He is well friended by many ladies, some of account, and some of none
at all, by what I hear," said the friar, rather dryly for such a
"Ah, with ladies," Prosper put in, "you have me again; for I know less
of them than of monks, save that both have petticoats. Your pardon,
"Not a bit, not a bit, brother again," replied the friar. "I admit the
hindrance; and could tell you of the advantages if I had the mind. But
as to the ladies, suffer me to predict that you will know more of them
before you have done."
"I think not," said Prosper. Brother Bonaccord began to laugh.
"They will give you no peace yet awhile," said he. "And let me tell
you this, from a man who knows what he is talking about, that if you
think to escape them by neglecting them, you are going the devil's way
to work. If you wish them to let you alone, speak them fair, drop
easily to your knee, be a hand-kisser, a cushion-disposer, a goer on
your toes. They will think you a lover and shrug you away. Never do a
woman a service as if to oblige her; do it as if to oblige yourself.
Then she will believe you her slave. Then you are safe. That is your
"You have studied ladies, friar?"
"Ah, ah! I have indeed. They are a wondrous fair book. I know no
other. Why should I?"
"Oh, why indeed?" Prosper assented. "For my part, I find other studies
With such talk they went until they reached a little wood, and then
disposed of themselves for the night. When Prosper woke next morning
the good man had gone. He had left a written message to the effect
that, petticoats or none, he had stolen a march on steel, and might be
looked for at Malbank.
"I wonder how much stuff for his mind that student of ladies will win
at Malbank," laughed Prosper to himself, little knowing, indeed.
MORGRAUNT, AND A DEAD KNIGHT
Leaving the high road on his right hand, Prosper struck over the heath
towards a solemn beech-wood, which he took to be the very threshold of
Morgraunt. As a fact it was no more than an outstretched finger of its
hand, by name Cadnam Thicket. He skirted this place, seeking an entry,
but found nothing to suit him for an hour or more. Then at last he
came to a gap in the sandy bank, and saw that a little mossy ride ran
straight in among the trees. He put his horse at the gap, and was soon
cantering happily through the wood. Thus he came short upon an
adventure. The path ran ahead of him in a tapering vista, but just
where it should meet in a point it broadened out suddenly so as to
make a double bay. The light fell splashing upon this cleared space,
and he saw what he saw.
This was a tall lady, richly dressed in some gauzy purple stuff,
dragging a dead man by the heels, and making a very bad business of
it. She was dainty to view, her hands and arms shone like white
marble; but apart from all this it was clear to Prosper that she
lacked the mere strength for the office she had proposed herself. The
dead man was not very tall, but he was too tall for the lady. The
roughness of the ground, the resistance of the underwood, the
incapacity of the performers, made the procession unseemly.
Prosper, forgetting Brother Bonaccord, quickened his horse to a
gallop, and was soon up with the toiling lady. She stopped when she
heard him coming, stood up to wait for him, quick-breathing and a
little flushed, and never took her eyes off him.
It was clearly a time for discretion: so much she signalled from her
brown eyes, which were watchful, but by no means timid. He remembered
afterwards that they had been apt to fall easily into set stares, and
thus to give her a bold look which seemed to invite you to be bold
also. But though he could not see this now, and though he had no taste
for women, it was certain she was handsome in a profuse way. She had a
broad full bust; her skin, dazzling white at the neck, ran into golden
russet before it reached the burnt splendour of her cheeks; her mouth,
rather long and curved up at the corners, had lips rich and crimson;
of which, however, the upper was short to a fault, and so curled back
as to give her, a pettish or fretful look. Her dark hair, which was
plentiful and drawn low over her ears into a heavy knot at the nape of
her neck, was dressed within a fine gold net. Her arms were bare to
the elbow, large and snowy white; from her fingers gems and gold
flashed at him. Prosper, who knew nothing whatever about it, judged
her midway between thirty and forty. Such was the lady; the man he had
no chance of overlooking, for the other had dropped her handkerchief
upon his face before she left him. "Sir," she now said, in a smooth
and distinguishable voice, when Prosper had saluted her, "you may do
me a great service if you will, which is to carry this dead man to his
grave in the wood."
"By the faith I have," Prosper replied, "I will help you all I can.
But when we have buried him you shall tell me how he came by his
death, and how it is that his grave is waiting for him."
"I can tell you that at once," she said quickly; "I have but just dug
it with a mattock I was so lucky as to find by a stopped earth on the
bank yonder. The rest I will gladly acquaint you with by and by. But
first let us be rid of him."
Prosper dismounted and went to take up his burden. First of all,
however, he deliberately removed the handkerchief and looked it in the
face. The dead man lay stiff and staring, with open eyes and a wry
mouth. Hands and face were livid, a light froth had gathered on his
lips. He looked to have suffered horribly--as much in mind as body:
the agony must have bitten deep into him for the final peace of death
never to have come. Now Prosper knew very little of death as yet, save
that he had an idea that he himself would never come to endure it; but
he knew enough to be sure that neither battle nor honour had had any
part here. The man had been well-dressed in brown and tawny velvet,
was probably handsome in a sharp, foreign sort. There was a ring upon
his finger, a torn badge upon his left breast, with traces of a device
in white threads which could not be well made out. Puzzling over it,
Prosper thought to read three white forms on it--water-bougets,
perhaps, or billets--he could not be sure. The whole affair seemed to
him to hold some shameful secret behind: he thought of poison, or the
just visitation of God; but then he thought of the handsome lady, and
was ashamed to see that such a conclusion must involve her in the
mess. Pitying, since he could not judge, he lifted the body in his
arms and followed the lady's lead through the brushwood. At the end of
some two hundred yards or more of battling with the boughs, she
stopped, and pointed to a pit, with a mattock lying on the heaped
earth close by. "There is the grave," she said.
"The grave is a shallow grave," said Prosper.
"It is deeper than he was," quoth the lady. There was a ring in this
rather ugly to hear, as all scorn is out of tune with a dead presence.
You might as well be contemptuous of a baby. But Prosper was no fool,
to think at the wrong time. He laid the body down in the grave, and
busied himself to compose it into some semblance of the rest there
should be in that bed at least. This was hard to be done, since it was
as stiff as a board, and took time. The lady grew impatient, fidgeted
about, walked up and down, could not stand for a moment: but she said
nothing. At last Prosper stood up by the side of the grave, having
done his best.
"I am no priest," says he, "God knows; but I cannot put a man's body
into the earth without in some sort commending his soul. I must do
what I can, and you must pardon an indifferent advocate, as God will."
"If you are advised by me," said the lady, "you will leave that affair
where it is. The man was worthless."
"We cannot measure his worth, madam: we have no tools for that. The
utmost we can do is to bury part of him, and pray for the other part."
"You speak as a priest whom I had thought a soldier," said she with
some asperity. "If you are what you now seem, I will remind you of a
saying which should be familiar--Let the dead bury their dead."
"As I live by bread," Prosper cried out, "I will commend this man's
soul whither it is going."
"Then I will not listen to you, sir," she answered in a pale fume. "I
cannot listen to you."
Prosper grew extremely polite. "Madam, there is surely no need," he
said. "If you cannot you will not. Moreover, I should in any case
address myself elsewhere."
He had folded the dead man's arms over his breast, and shut his eyes.
He had wiped his lips. The thing seemed more at peace. So he crossed
himself and began, _In nomine patris_, etc., and then recited the
_Paternoster_. This almost exhausted his stock, though it did not
satisfy his aspirations. His words burst from him. "O thou pitiful
dead!" he cried out, "go thou where Pity is, in the hope some morsels
may be justly thine. Rest thou there, who wast not restful in thine
end, and quitted not willingly thy tenement; rest thou there till thou
art called. And when thou art called to give an account of thyself and
thine own works, may that which men owe thee be remembered with that
which thou dost owe! _Per Christum dominum_," etc.
He bowed his head, crossed himself very piously; then stood still,
smiling gently upon the man he knew nothing of, save that he had been
young and had lost his race. He did not see the lady; she was,
however, near by, not looking at the man at the grave, but first at
Prosper and then at the ground. Her fingers were twisting and tangling
together, and her bosom, restless as the sea, rose and fell fitfully.
She was pale, save at the lips; like Prosper she smiled, but the smile
was stiff. Prosper set to work with the shovel and soon filled up the
grave. Then he turned to the lady.
"And now, madam, we will talk a little, if you please." He had a cool
and level voice; yet it came upon her as if it could have but one
She looked at him for some seconds without reply. For his part,
Prosper had kept his eyes fixed equally on her; hers fell first.
She coloured a little as she said-"Very willingly. You have done me a
service for which I am very much in your debt. You shall command me as
you will, and find me ready to recompense you with what I have." She
stopped as if to judge the weight of her words, then went on slowly--
"I know not, indeed, how could I deny you anything."
Prosper could have seen, if he would, the quickened play of her
"Let us go into the open," said he, "and find my horse. Then you shall
tell me whence you are, and whither I may speed you, and how
safeliest--with other things proper to be known."
They went together. "My lord," said she then, "my lodging is far from
here and ill to come by. Nevertheless, I know of a hermitage hard at
hand where we could rest a little, and thereafter we could find the
way to my house. Will you come with me thither?"
"Whither?" asked Prosper.
"Ah, the hermitage, or wheresoever you will."
Prosper looked steadily at her.
"Tell me the name and condition of the dead man," said he.
"Ranulf de Genlis, a knight of Brittany."
"The badge on his breast was of our blazonry," said Prosper, half to
himself, "and he looked to have been of this side the Southern Sea."
"Do you doubt my word, Sir Knight?"
"Madam, I do not question it. Will you tell, me how he came by his
"I was hunting very early in the morning with my esquires and ladies,
and by ill-hap lost them and my way. After many wanderings in search
of either, I encountered this man now dead, and inquired news of him.
He held me some time in talk, delayed me with sham diligence, and at
last and, suddenly professed an ardent love for me. I was frightened,
for I was alone in the wood with him, in a glade not far from here.
And it seemed that I had reason, since from words he went on to force
and clamour and violence. I had almost succumbed--I know not how to
hint at the fate which threatened me, or guess how long I could have
struggled against it. He had closed with me, he held me in a vice;
then all at once he loosed hold of me and shuddered. Some seizure or
sudden stroke of judgment overtook him, I suppose, so that he fell and
lay writhing, with a foam on his lips, as you saw. You may judge," she
added, after waiting for some comment from Prosper, which did not
come, "you may judge whether this is a pleasant tale for me to tell,
and whether I should tell it willingly to any man. For what one
attempted against me another might also try--and not fail."
She stopped and glanced at her companion. The manner in each of them
was changed; the lady was not the scornful beauty she had seemed,
while Prosper's youth was dry within him. She seemed a suppliant, he a
judge, deliberate. Such a story from such an one would have set him on
fire an hour ago; but now his words came sharply from him, whistling
like a shrill wind.
"The grave was dug overnight," was what he said.
The lady started and paled. Then she drew a deep breath, and said--"Do
you again doubt my word, sir?"
"I do not question it," he replied as before. It is a fact that he had
noticed the turned earth by the pit. There was gossamer upon it, but
that said little. Rabbits had been there also, and that said
The lady said nothing more, and in silence they went on until they
reached a fork in the path. Prosper stopped here. One path led north,
the other west.
"Here is my road," said he, pointing to the west.
"The hermitage is close by, my lord," urged the lady in a low voice.
"I pray my lord to rest him there."
"That I cannot do," says he.
She affected indignation. "Is it then in the honour of a knight to
desert a lonely lady? I am learning strange doctrine, strange
chivalry! Farewell, sir. You are young. Maybe you will learn with
years that when a lady stoops to beg it is more courtly to forestall
Prosper stood leaning on his shield. "The knight's honour," he said,
"is in divers holds--in his lady's, in God's, and in the king's. These
three fly not always the same flag, but two at least of them should be
"Ah," said she slyly, "ah, Sir Discreet, I see that you have the lady
Prosper grew graver. "I said 'his lady,'" he repeated.
"And could not I, for such service as yours, be your lady, fair sir?"
she asked in a very low and troubled voice. "At least I am here--
alone--in the wood--and at your mercy."
Prosper looked straight in front of him, grave, working his mouth.
Those who knew him would have gone by the set of his chin. He may have
been thinking of Brother Bonaccord's prediction, or of the not very
veiled provocation of the lady's remarkable candour. There grew to be
a rather bleak look in his face, something blenched his blue eyes. He
turned sharply upon the woman, and his voice was like a frost.
"Having slain one man this day," he said, "I should recommend you to
be wary how you tread with another."
She stared open-mouthed at him for a full minute and a half. Then,
seeing he never winked or budged, she grew frightened and piteous,
threw her arms up, turned, and fled up the north path, squealing like
a wounded rabbit.
Prosper clapped-to his spurs and made after her with his teeth
grinding together. Very soon, however, he pulled up short. "The man is
dead. Let her go for this present. And I am not quite sure. I will
bide my time."
That was the motto of the Gais--"I bide my time." He was,
nevertheless, perfectly sure in his private mind; but then he was
always perfectly sure, and recognized that it was a weakness of his.
So the woman went her way, and he his for that turn...
Riding forward carelessly, with a loose rein, he slept that night in
the woods. Next day he rode fast and long without meeting a living
soul, and so came at last into Morgraunt Forest, where the trees shut
out the light of the day, and very few birds sing. He entered the east
purlieus in the evening of his fifth day from Starning, and slept in a
rocky valley. Tall black trees stood all round him, the vanguards of
the forest host.
HOLY THORN AND HOLY CHURCH
In South Morgraunt stands Holy Thorn, more properly the Abbey of Saint
Giles of Holy Thorn, a broad and fair foundation, one of the two set
up in the forest by the Countess Isabel, Dowager of March and
Bellesme, Countess of Hauterive and Lady of Morgraunt in her own
right. Where the Wan river makes a great loop, running east for three
miles, and west again for as many before it drives its final surge
towards the Southern Sea, there stands Holy Thorn, Church and Convent,
watching over the red roofs of Malbank hamlet huddled together across
the flood. Here are green water-meadows and good corn-lands, the abbey
demesne; here also are the strips of tillage which the tenants hold;
here the sluices which head up the river for the Abbey mills, make
thunderous music all day long. Over this cleared space and over some
leagues of the virgin forest, the Abbot of Saint Thorn has sac and
soc, tholl and theam, catch-a-thief-in, catch-a-thief-out, as well as
other sovereign prerogatives, all of which he owes to the regret and
remorse of the Countess Isabel over the death of her first husband and
only lover, Fulk de Breaute. Further north, in Mid-Morgraunt, is
Gracedieu, her other foundation--equally endowed, but holding white
nuns instead of white monks.
Now it so happened that as Prosper le Gai entered the purlieus of
Morgraunt, the Countess Isabel sat in the Abbey parlour of Saint
Thorn, knitting her fine brows over a business of the Abbot's, no less
than the granting of a new charter of pit and gallows, pillory and
tumbril to him and his house over the villeins of Malbank, and the
whole fee and soke. The death of these unfortunates, or the manner of
it, was of little moment; but the Countess, having much power, was
jealous how she lent it. She sat now, therefore, in the Abbot's great
chair, and before her stood the Abbot himself, holding in his hands
the charter fairly written out on parchment, with the twisted silk of
three colours ready to receive her seal. It was exactly this which she
was not very ready to give, for though she knew nothing of his
villeins, she knew much of the Abbot, and was of many minds concerning
him. There was yet time; their colloquy was in secret; but now she
tapped with her foot upon the stool, and the Abbot watched her
narrowly. He was a tall and personable man, famous for his smile,
stout and smooth, his skin soft as a woman's, his robe, his ring, his
cross and mere slippers all in accord.
At length, says he, "Madam, for the love of the Saints, but chiefly
for Mary's love; to the glory of God and of Saint Giles of Holy Thorn;
to the ease of his monks and the honour of the Church, I beseech your
Ladyship this small boon."
The clear-cold eyes of the Countess Isabel looked long at him before
she said--"Do I then show love to the Saints and give God honour, Lord
Abbot, by helping you swing your villeins? Pit and gallows, pillory
and tumbril! You go too far."
"Dear lady," said he, "I go no further, if I have them, than my
Sisters of Gracedieu. That hedged community of Christ's brides hath
all these commodities and more, even the paramount privilege of
Sanctuary, which is an appanage of the very highest in the Holy Fold.
And I must consider it as scarcely decent, as (by the Mass) not seemly
at all, that your Holy Thorn, this sainted sprig of your planting,
should lack the power to prick. Our people, madam, do indeed expect
it. It is not much. Nay!"--for he saw his Lady frown and heard her
toe-taps again--"indeed, it is not much. A little pit for your female
thief to swim at large, for your witch and bringer-in of hell's
ordinances; a decent gallows a-top for your proper male rascal; a
pillory for your tenderer blossom of sin while he qualify for an airy
crown, or find space for repentance and the fruits of true contrition;
lastly, a persuasive tumbril, a close lover for your incorrigible
wanton girls--homely chastisement such as a father Abbot may bestow,
and yet wear a comely face, and yet be loved by those he chasteneth.
Madam, is this too much for so great a charge as ours? We of Holy
Thorn nurture the good seed with scant fortune, being ridden down by
evil livers, deer-stealers, notorious persons, scandalous persons. A
little pit, therefore! a little limber gallows!"
But the Countess mused with her hand to her chin, by no means
persuaded. She was still a young woman, and a very lonely one; her
great prerogatives (which she took seriously) tired her to death, but
the need of exercising them through other people was worst of all. Now
she said doubtfully, "I have no reason in especial to trust you,
The Abbot, who knew better than she how true this was, bit his lip and
remained silent. He was a very comely man and leaned much to
persuasion, particularly with women. He was always his own audience:
the check, therefore, amounted to exposure, almost put him to open
shame. The Countess went on to ask, who in particular of his villeins
he had dread of, who was turbulent, who a deer-stealer, who notorious
as a witch or wise woman, who wanton and a scandalous liver? And here
the Abbot was apt with his names. There was Red Sweyn, half an outlaw
already, and by far too handy with his hunting-knife; there was
Pinwell, as merry a little rogue as ever spoiled for a cord. There
were Rogerson and Cutlaw; there was Tom Sibby, the procuress. Mald
also, a withered malignant old wife, who had once blighted a year's
increase by her dealing with the devil. Here was stuff for gallows,
pit and pillory, all dropping-ripe for the trick. For tumbril, he went
on (watching his adversary like a cat), "who so proper as black-haired
Isoult, witch, and daughter of a witch, called by men Isoult la
Desirous--and a gaunt, half-starved, loose-legged baggage she is," he
went on; "reputed of vile conversation for all the slimness of her
years--witch, and a witch's brat."
He looked sideways at the great lady as he spoke of this creature, and
saw that all was going exactly as he would wish it. He had not been
the Countess' confessor for nothing, nor had he learnt in vain the
story of her secret marriage with Fulk de Breaute, and of the murder
of this youth on Spurnt Heath one blowy Bartlemy Eve. And for this
reason he had dared to bring the name of Isoult into his catalogue of
rogues, that he knew his woman, and all woman-kind; how they hate most
in their neighbours that which they are tenderest of in themselves.
Let there be no mistake here. The Countess had been no luxurious
liver, though a most unhappy one. The truth is that, beautiful woman
as she still was, she had been a yet more beautiful girl, Countess of
Hauterive in her own right, and as such betrothed to the great Earl
Roger of March and Bellesme. Earl Roger, who was more than double her
age, went out to fight; she stayed at home, in the nursery or near it,
and Fulk de Breaute came to make eyes. These he made with such
efficacy that Isabel lost her heart first and her head afterwards,
wedded Fulk in secret, bore him a child, and was the indirect means of
his stabbing by the Earl's men as he was riding through the dark over
Spurnt Heath. The child was given to the Abbot's keeping (whence it
promptly and conveniently vanished), the Countess was married to the
Earl; then the Earl died. Whereupon she, still young, childless so far
as she could learn, and possessed of so much, founded her twin abbeys
in Morgraunt to secure peace for the soul of Fulk and her own
conscience. This will suffice to prove that the Abbot had some grounds
for his manoeuvring. The breaking of her troth to the Earl she held to
make her an adulteress; the stabbing of Fulk by the Earl to prove her
a murderess. There was neither mercy nor discernment in these
reproaches. She believed herself a wanton when she had been but a
lover. For no sin, therefore, had she so little charity as for that
which the Abbot had imputed to his candidate for the tumbril. Isoult
la Desirous it was who won the charter, as the Abbot had intended she
should, to serve his end and secure her own according to his liking.
For the charter was sealed and seisin delivered in the presence of Dom
Galors, almoner of the Abbey, of Master Porges, seneschal of High
March, and of one or two mesne lords of those parts. Then the Countess
went to bed; and at this time Prosper le Gai was also lying in the
fringes of Morgraunt, asleep on his shield with his red cloak over
him, having learned from a hind whom he met on the hill that at
Malbank Saint Thorn he would find hospitality, and that his course
must lie in such and such a direction.
Next day, as soon as the Countess had departed for High March, the
Abbot Richard called Dom Galors, his almoner, into the parlour and
treated him in a very friendly manner, making him sit down in his
presence, and putting fruit and wine before him. This Galors, who I
think merits some scrutiny, was a bullet-headed, low-browed fellow,
too burly for his monkish frock (which gave him the look of a big boy
in a pinafore), with the jowl of a master-butcher, and a sullen slack
mouth. His look at you, when he raised his eyes from the ground, had
the hint of brutality--as if he were naming a price--which women
mistake for mastery, and adore. But he very rarely crossed eyes with
any one; and with the Abbot he had gained a reputation for astuteness
by seldom opening his lips and never shutting his ears. He was
therefore a most valuable book of reference, which told nothing except
to his owner. With all this he was a great rider and loved hunting.
His _Sursum Corda_ was like a view-holloa, and when he said,
_Ite missa est_, you would have sworn he was crying a stag's
death instead of his Saviour's. In matters of gallantry his reputation
was risky: it was certain that he had more than a monk, and suspected
that he had less than a gentleman should have. The women of Malbank
asseverated that venison was not his only game. That may or may not
have been. The man loved power, and may have warred against women for
lack of something more difficult of assault. He was hardly the man to
squander himself at the bidding of mere appetite; he was certainly no
glutton for anything but office. Still, he was not one to deny himself
the flutter of the caught bird in the hand. He had, like most men who
make themselves monks by calculation, a keen eye for a girl's shape,
carriage, turn of the head, and other allies of the game she loves and
always loses: such things tickled his fancy when they came over his
path; he stooped to take them, and let them dangle for remembrances,
as you string a coin on your chain to remind you at need of a
fortunate voyage. At this particular moment he was tempted, for
instance, to catch and let dangle. The chance light of some shy eye
had touched and then eluded him. I believe he loved the chase more
than the quarry. He knew he must go a-hunting from that moment in
which the light began to play will-o'-the-wisp; for action was his
meat and dominion what he breathed. If you wanted to make Galors
dangerous you had to set him on a vanishing trail. The girl had been a
fool to run, but how was she to know that?
To him now spoke the Abbot Richard after this fashion. "Galors," he
said, "I will speak to you now as to my very self, for if you are not
myself you may be where I sit some day. A young monk who is almoner
already may go far, especially when he is young in religion, but in
years ripe. If you prove to be my other self, you shall go as far as
myself can push you, Galors. Rest assured that the road need not stop
at a mitred abbey. In the hope, then, that you may go further, and I
with you, it is time that I speak my full mind. We have our charter,
as you have seen--and at what cost of sweat and urgency, who can tell
so surely as I? But there, we have it: a great weapon, a lever whereby
we may raise Holy Thorn to a height undreamed of by the abbots of this
realm, and our two selves (perched on the top of Holy Thorn) yet
higher. Yet this charter, gotten for God's greater glory (as He
knoweth who readeth hearts!), may not work its appointed way without
an application which poor and frail men might scarcely dare for any
less object. There is abroad, Galors, dear brother, a most malignant
viper, lurking, as I may say, in the very bosom of Holy Church; warmed
there, nesting there, yet fouling the nest, and grinding her tooth
that she may strike at the heart of us, and shiver what hath been so
long a-building up. Of that viper you, Galors, are the chosen
instrument--you and the charter--to draw the tooth."
The Abbot spoke in a low voice, and was breathless; it was not hard to
see that he was uncommonly in earnest. Galors turned over in his mind
all possible plots against an Abbey's peaceful being--tale-bearing to
the Archbishop, a petition for a Papal Legate, a foreshore trouble, a
riot among the fishermen of Wanmouth, some encroachment by the ragged
brethren of Francis and Dominic--and dismissed them all as not serious
enough to lose breath about.
"Who is your viper, father?" was what he said.
"It is the girl Isoult of Matt-o'-the-Moor; Isoult whom they call La
Desirous," replied his spiritual father. The heart of Galors gave a
hot jump; he knew the girl well enough--too well for her, not well
enough yet for himself. It was precisely to win the woeful beauty of
her that he had set his snares and unleashed his dogs. Did the Abbot
know anything? Impossible; his reference forbad the fear. Was the girl
something more than a dark woodland elf, a fairy, haggard and
dishevelled, whose white shape shining through rags had made his blood
stir? The mask of his face safeguarded him through this maze of
surmise; nothing out of the depths of him was ever let to ruffle that
dead surface. He commanded his voice to ask, How should he find such a
girl? "For," said he, "in Malbank girls and boys swarm like dies on a
sunny wall." The deceit implied was gross, yet the Abbot took it in
"Thus you shall know her, Galors," he said. "A slim girl, somewhat
under the common size of the country, and overburdened with a curtain
of black hair; and a sullen, brooding girl who says little, and that
nakedly and askance; and in a pale face two grey eyes a-burning."
All this Galors knew better than his Abbot. Now he asked, "But what is
her offence, father? For even with power of life and member the law of
the land has force, that neither man nor maid, witch nor devil, may be
put lightly away."
For this "put away" the Abbot thanked him with a look, and added, that
she was suspected of witchcraft, seeing Mald her mother was a
notorious witch, and the wench herself the byword and scorn of all the
country-side. Sorcery, therefore, or incontinence--"whichever you
will," said he. "Any stick will do to beat a dog with."
Galors had much to say, but said nothing. There was something behind
all this, he was sure, knowing his man by heart. He judged the Abbot
to be bursting with news, and watched him pace the parlour now
struggling with it. Sure enough the murder was out before he had taken
a dozen turns. "Now, Galors," he said, in a new and short vein,
"listen to me. I intend to do what I should have done fourteen years
ago, when I held this girl in my two hands. I let slip my chance, and
blame myself for it; but having slipt it indeed, it was gone until
this charter of ours brought it back fresh. You know how we stand
here, you and I and the Convent-all of us at the disposition of her
ladyship. A great lady, my friend, and a young one, childless, it is
said, without heir of her own. Morgraunt may go to the Crown or Holy
Thorn and Gracedieu may divide it."
"She may marry again," put in Galors.
"She is twice a widow," the Abbot snapped him up, and gave his first
shock. "She is twice a widow, once against her will. She will never
"Then, my father," said Galors, "we should be safe as against the
Crown, which the Countess probably loves as little as the rest of her
"The Countess Isabel," said the Abbot, speaking like an oracle, "is
"Do not misunderstand me in this, Brother Galors," said the Abbot. "We
will do the girl no unnecessary harm. We will slip her out of the
country if we can get any one to take her. Put it she shall be married
or hanged." Galors again thought that he understood. The Abbot went
on. "There shall be no burning, though that were deserved; not even
tumbril, though that were little harm to so hot a piece. There shall
be, indeed, that which the Countess believes to have been already-a
sally at dawn and a flitting. There will then be no harm done. The
tithing will be free of a sucking witch, and the heart of our
benefactress turned from the child of her sin (for such it was to
break troth to the earl, and sin she deems it) to the child of her
spiritual adoption, to wit, our Holy Thorn." He added "You are in my
obedience, Galors. I love you much, and will see to your advancement.
You have a great future. But, my brother, remember this. Between a
woman's heart and her conscience there can be no fight. There is,
rather, a triumph, wherein the most glorious of the' victor's spoils
is that same conscience, shackled and haled behind the
. That you
should know, and on that you must act. Remember you are fighting for
Saint Giles of Holy Thorn, and be speedy while the new tool still
burns in your hand."
So with his blessing he dismissed Dom Galors for the day.
Prosper le Gai--all Morgraunt before him--rose from his bed before the
Countess had turned in hers; and long before the Abbot could get alone
with Dom Galors he was sighing for his breakfast. He had, indeed, seen
the dawn come in, caught the first shiver of the trees, the first
tentative chirp of the birds, watched the slow filling of the shadowy
pools and creeks with the grey tide of light. From brake to brake he
struggled, out of the shade into the dark, thence into what seemed a
broad lake of daylight. He met no living thing; or ever the sun kissed
the tree-tops he was hungry. He was well within Morgraunt now, though
only, as it might be, upon the hem of its green robe; the adventurous
place opened slowly to him like some great epic whose majesty and
force dawns upon you by degrees not to be marked. It was still
twilight in the place where he was when he heard the battling of
birds' wings, the screaming of one bird's grief, and the angry purr of
another, or of others. He peered through the bush as the sound
swelled. Presently he saw a white bird come fluttering with a dropt
wing, two hen-harriers in close pursuit. They were over her, upon her,
there was a wrangle of wings--brown and white--even while he watched;
then the white got clear again, and he could see that she bled in the
breast. The sound of her screaming, which was to him like a girl
crying, moved him strangely. He jumped from his saddle, ran to the
entangled birds and cuffed the two hawks off; but seeing that they
came on again, hunger-bold no doubt, he strangled them and freed the
white pigeon. He took her up in his hands to look at her; she was too
far gone for fear; she bled freely, but he judged she would recover.
So she did, after he had washed out the wound; sufficiently at least
to hop and flutter into covert. Prosper took to his horse and journey
with her voice still ringing in his head.
In another hour's travel he reached a clearing in the wood, hedged all
about with yew-trees and holm oaks very old; and in the midst of it
saw a little stone altar with the figure of a woman upon it. He was
not too hungry to be curious, so he dismounted and went to examine.
The saint was Saint Lucy the Martyr, he saw; the altar, hoary as it
was with lichen and green moss, had a slab upon it well-polished, with
crosses let into the four corners and into the middle of the stone;
there were sockets for tapers, and marks of grease new and thick.
Before he approached it a hind and her calf had been cropping the
grass between the cracks of the altar-steps; all else was very still,
yet had a feeling of habitancy and familiar use.
His instinct when he saw an altar being to say his prayers, he knelt
down then and there, facing the image, yet a little remote from it. A
very soft tread behind him broke in upon his exercises; some one was
coming, whence or how he did not then know. The comer was a young girl
clothed in a white woollen garment, which was bound about her waist
with a green cord; she was bareheaded; on her feet were thick sandals,
bound also with thongs of green. Prosper watched her spread a white
cloth upon the altar-slab, and set a Mass-book upon a stand; he saw
her go and return with two lighted tapers for the sockets, he saw a
silver crucifix shine between them. The girl, when all this business
was done, stepped backwards down the steps, and stood at the foot of
the altar with hands clasped upon her bosom and head bent lowly. "By
the Saints," thought Prosper, "Morgraunt is a holy place, it seems.
There is to be a Mass."
So it was. An old priest came out of the thicket in a vestment of
yellow and gold thread, bearing in his hands the Sacrament under a
green silk veil. The girl knelt down as he passed up the steps; he
began his Mass, but in so low a voice that it hardly touched the
Rabbits came creeping out of bush and bracken, a wood-dove began her
moan, two or three deer stood up. Then Prosper thought--"If the beasts
come to prayers, it behoves me as a Christian man to hear Mass also.
Moreover, it were fitting that adventure should begin in that manner,
to be undertaken in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." He went
forward accordingly, flush with the girl, and knelt down by her. When
it was the time of Communion, both drew nearer and received Christ's
body. Prosper, for his part, did not forget the soul of the dead man,
De Genlis or another, whose body he had buried in Cadnam Wood, but
commended it to God together with the sacrifice of the altar. The
woman came into his mind. "No, by God," thought he; "she is the devil,
or of him; I will never pray for her," which was Prosper all over.
Mass done, he remembered that he had the honour to be uncommonly
hungry. The priest had gone back into the wood, the girl was removing
the altar furniture, and seemed unconscious of his presence; but
Prosper could not afford that.
"My young gentlewoman," he said with a bow, "you will see before you,
if you turn your head, a very hungry man."
"Are you hungry, sir?" she said, looking and smiling at him, "then in
three minutes you shall be filled." Whereupon she went away with her
load, and quickly returned with another more to Prosper's mind. She
gave him bread and hot milk in a great bowl, she gave him a dishful of
wild raspberries, and waited on him herself in the prettiest manner.
Without word said she watered his horse for him; and all the while she
talked to him, but of nothing in the world but the birds and beasts,
the falling of the leaf, and the thousand little haps and chances of
her quiet life. Prosper suited his conversation to her book. He told
her of the white bird's rescue, and she opened her blue eyes in
"Why, I dreamed of it last night," she said very solemnly.
"You dreamed of it, Alice?" he echoed. She was called, she had told
him, Alice of the Hermitage.
"Yes, yes. A white bird and two hen-harriers. Ah, and there was more.
You have not yet done all. You have not yet begun!" She was full of
"By my faith, I have wrung the necks of the pair of them," said
Prosper. "I know not how they can expect more of me than that."
"Listen," said Alice of the Hermitage, "the bird will be again chased,
again wounded. Morgraunt is full of hawks. You will see her again. My
dream was very precise. You will see her again; but this time the
chase will be long, and achievement only at the peril of your own
honour. But it seems that you shall win in the end what you have
thought to have won already, and the wound in the breast will be
"Hum," said Prosper. "Now you shall tell me what I ought to do, how I
ought to begin. For you know the saw--'The sooner begun, the sooner
"Oh, sir,". cries she, "you shall ride forward in the name of God,
remembering your manhood and the vows you made when you took up your
arms." She blushed as she spoke, kindling with her thoughts.
"I will do that," said Prosper, kindled in his turn. And so he left
her, and travelled all day towards Malbank Saint Thorn. He lay at
night in the open wood, not far, as he judged, from Spurnt Heath, upon
whose westernmost border ran Wan; there, or near by, he looked to find
He spent the night at least better than did Dom Galors, whose thoughts
turned equally to Spurnt Heath. That strenuous man had taken the
Abbot's counsel to bed with him, a restless partner. An inordinate
partner also it proved to be, not content to keep the monk awake.
Turning every traffic of his mind to its own advantage, it shook out
the bright pinions of adventure over the dim corridors of Holy Thorn,
and with every pulse of the ordering bell came a reiteration of its
urgency. All night long, through all the task work of the next
morning, the thought was with him--"By means of this woman I may be
free. Free!" he cried. "I may be set up on high through her. Lord of
this land and patron of Holy Thorn; a maker and unmaker of abbots to
whom now I must bow my knees. Is it nothing to be master of a lovely
wife? Ha, is it nothing to rule a broad fee? A small thing to have
abbots kiss my hands? Lord of the earth! is this not worth a broken
vow, which in any case I have broken before? Oh, Isoult la Desirous,
if I desired you before when you went torn and shamefaced through the
mire, what shall I say to you going in silk, in a litter, with a
crown, Isoult la Desiree!" He called her name over and over, Isoult la
Desiree, la Moult-Desiree, and felt his head spinning.
Matins, Lauds, and Prime, he endured this obsession. The day's round
was filled with the amazing image of a crowned, hollow-eyed, tattered
little drab, the mock and wonder of throngs of witnesses, appreciable
only by himself as a pearl of priceless value. The heiress of
Morgraunt, the young Countess of Hauterive, La Desirous, La Desiree.
Desirable she had been before, but dealing no smarter scald than could
be drowned in the well of love which for him she might have been for
an hour. But now his burn glowed; the Abbot had blown it red. Ambition
was alight; he was the brazier. It danced in him like a leaping flame.
Certainly Prosper slept better on his side of Spurnt Heath.
At dusk the monk could bear himself and his burden of knowledge no
longer. He went to look for Isoult on the heath in a known haunt of
hers. He found her without trouble, sitting below the Abbot's new
gallows. She was a girl, childishly formed, thin as a haggard-hawk,
with a white resentful face, and a pair of startled eyes which, really
grey, had a look of black as the pupil swam over the iris. The rags
which served her for raiment covered her but ill; her legs were bare,
she was without head-covering; all about her face her black hair fell
in shrouds. She sat quite still where she was, with her elbows on her
knees, and chin between her two hands, gazing before her over the
heath. Above her head two thieves, first-fruits of the famous charter,
creaked as they swung in their chains. If Isoult saw Galors coming,
she made no effort to escape him; when her eyes met his her brooding
stare held its spell.
The monk drew near, stood before her, and said--"Isoult la Desirous,
you shall come with me into the quarry, for I have much to say to
"Let it be said here," she replied, without moving. But he answered--
"Nay, you shall come with me into the quarry."
"I am dead tired. Can you not let me be, Dom Galors?"
"I have what will freshen you, Isoult. Come with me."
"If I must, I must."
Then he led her away, and she went tamely enough to the quarry.
There he took her by both her hands, and so held her, waiting till she
should be forced to look up at him. When at last, sick and sullen, she
raised her eyes, he could hardly contain himself. But he did.
"What were you doing by the Abbot's new gallows, Isoult?"
"I would rather be there now than here. The company is more to my
"You may be near enough by to-morrow, if what I have learned be true."
The girl's eyes grew larger and darker. "Are they going to hang me?"
"Are you not a witch?"
"It is said."
"Your mother Mald is a witch--eh?"
"Yes, she is a witch."
"And are not you? You know Deerleap--eh?"
"It is said that I do."
"And you know what must be done to witches."
"They will hang me, Dom Galors! Will they hang me by Cutlaw and
"There is room for you there."
"What can they prove?"
"Pshaw! Is proof needed? Are you not a baggage?"
"I know not."
"Ah, you should know that!"
"If it depended upon me, Isoult, I could save you. But the Abbot means
to make an example and set a terror up before the evil-doers in this
walk of Morgraunt. What am I before the Abbot, or what is my love for
you to be brought to his ears? It is doom more certain still, my
"Then I shall be hanged."
"Listen to me now, Isoult. Listen close. No, leave your hands where
they are; they are safer there than elsewhere. So leave them and
listen close. No soul in Malbank but myself and the Lord Abbot knows
of what I have told you now. Me he told this morning. Judge if that
was good news for your lover's ear!"
Isoult shivered and hung her head. Galors went on--"At the risk of
everything a monk should fear, and of everything, by God, that such a
monk as I am should care to win, I contended with my spiritual father.
Spare me the particulars; I got some shrewd knocks over it, but I did
win this much. You are to be hanged to-morrow, Isoult, or noosed in
another way. A ring is to play a part. You shall be bride of the tree
or a man's bride. I won this, and left the Abbot chuckling, for much
as he knows he has not guessed that the goose-girl, the tossed-out
kitchen-girl, the scarecrow haunter of the heath, should be sought in
marriage. But I knew more than he; and now," he said, stooping over
the bent girl,--"and now, Isoult la Desirous, come with me!"
He tried to draw her towards him, but she trembled in his hands so
much that he had to give over. He began his arguments again, reasoned,
entreated, threatened, cajoled; he could not contain himself now,
being so near fruition. The spell of the forest was upon him. "Let
Love be the master," he said, "for there is no gainsaying him, nor can
cloister walls bar his way; but his flamy wings top even these. Ah,
Isoult!" he cried out in his passion; "ah, Isoult la Desiree, come,
lest I die of love and you of the tree."
The girl, who feared him much more than the death he had declared, was
white now and desperate. But she still held him off with her stiffened
arms and face averted. She tried to cheapen herself. "I am Matt's bad
daughter, I am Matt's bad daughter! All the tithing holds me in scorn.
Never speak of love to such as I am, Galors." And when he tried to
pull her she made herself rigid as a rod, and would not go.
So love made the man mad, and spread and possessed him. Contest goaded
Galors: action was his meat and dominion what he breathed; by
resisting she had made the end more sure. By her imprisoned wrists he
drew her in, and when she was so close that her head was almost upon
his breast, he breathed over her. "A mitred abbey have I trampled down
for your love; yes, and to be bishop of a see. Therefore you must
She fell to whining and entreaty, white to the lips and dry with fear.
All that she could say was, "I am bad. I am bad, but not so bad! Never
ruin me, Dom Galors." Then it was that she heard the voice of Prosper
singing afar off on the heath. Prosper sang--
"What if my metal
Be proved as high as a hawk's in good fettle!
Then you shall see
The world my fee, And the hearts of men for my Seigniory."
And the girl thought to herself, "Help cometh!" and changed the voice
of her grief and the beating of her heart. By this the guile a woman
has always by her tongue had play: she could talk more gently to her
gaoler, and beg a little time--a short hour or so--to plan and arrange
their affairs. He thought her won and grew very tender; he kissed her
hands many times, called her his dear heart, became, in a word, the
clumsy gallant he claimed to be. All this too she endured: she began
to gabble at random, sprightly as a minion, with all the shifts of a
girl in a strait place ready at command. Her fear was double now: she
must learn the trend of the singer and his horse, and prevent Galors
from hearing either. This much she did. The sound came steadily on.
She heard the horse's hoofs strike on a flint outside the quarry, she
heard Prosper, singing softly to himself. Her time had come. She
sprang at arm's-length from Galors and called out, "Help, for
charity!" with all her might.
Prosper started, drew his sword, and headed his horse for the quarry.
In the mouth of it he reined up to look about him. He was sure of his
direction, but not of his way, "Help is here!" he cried with his sword
on high and red plumes nodding. Air and the light of the sun seemed to
follow him, as if he had cut a slit in a shroud and let in the day.
Then it was that Isoult found strength to shake free from her enemy,
to run to Prosper, to clasp his knee, to babble broken words,
entreaties for salvation, and to stoop to his foot and kiss it.
"What is all this about, my child?" asked Prosper wondering.
"Oh" cried the girl, "my lord! the monk seeks to do me a wrong, and a
shame greater than all!"
Prosper looked deeper into the quarry. There he saw Galors, the white
monk, who stood fixed, biting his nails keenly there. Then he laughed,
saying, "I cannot fight a monk," and sheathed his sword. He did not
love monks, none of his house did. He had seen the new gallows, could
measure the build of the fellow in the quarry; and though he could not
plumb the girl's soul through her misty eyes, he could read her
shaking lips and clinging hands; he could see, and be shocked to see,
how young she was to be acquainted with grief, and with sin how likely
familiar. The hint of the thing revolted him; he dared not leave her
"See here, child," said he, "I will set you before me, and we will
ride together for a while. Perhaps the evening chills will temper the
monk; but if not, I am to lodge at his abbey this night, and may
prepare that for him which will cool him. Will you come up to me?"
The ghost of a smile hovered over her white drawn face for a minute.
"I will go where you will take me, my lord," said she.
"Come up with you then," he replied. He stooped there and then, took
her below the arms, and lightly swung her into the saddle before him.
There she sat, modern fashion, with his sword arm for her stay. "I
should like to read that hulk a lesson," said her protector wistfully,
"but I doubt he will have it before night. Oh, let him hang!" So he
turned and rode out of the quarry on to the heath.
Galors stood a long time in the place where they left him, drawing
blood from his bitten fingers. Darkness gathered fast with a storm of
wind and rain. Nevertheless he stayed on; and night came down to find
him still there.
THE VIRGIN MARRIAGE
He had to talk, and as the girl gave him no help, Prosper found
himself asking questions and puzzling out the answers he got, trying
to make them fit with the facts. He was amazed that one so delicately
formed should go barefooted and bareheaded, clad in torn rags. To all
his questions she replied in a voice low and tremulous, and very
simply--that is to say, to such of them as she would answer at all. To
many--to all which touched upon Galors and his business with her in
the quarry--she was as dumb as a fish. Prosper was as patient as you
He asked her who she was, and how called. She told him--"I am Matt-of-
the-Moors child, and men call me Isoult la Desirous."
"That is a strange name," said he. "How came you by such a name as
"Sir," said Isoult, "I have never had any other; and I suppose that I
have it because I am unhappy, and not at peace with those who seek
"Who seeks you, Isoult?"
To that she gave no reply. So Prosper went on.
"If many sought you, child," he said, "you were rightly called Isoult
la Desiree, but if you, on the other hand, sought something or
somebody, then you were Isoult la Desirous. Is it not so?"
"My lord," said Isoult, "the last is my name."
"Then it must be that you too seek something. What is it that you seek,
that all the tithing knows of it?"
But she hung her head and had nothing to say. He went on to speak of
Galors, to her visible disease. When he asked what the monk wanted
with her, he felt her tremble on his arm. She began to cry, suddenly
turned her face into his shoulder, and kept it there while her sobs
shook through her.
"Well, child," said he, "dry your tears, and turn your face to such
light as there is, being well assured of this, that whatever he asked
of you he did not get, and that he will ask no more."
"I fear him, I fear him," she said very low--and again, "I fear him, I
"Drat the monk," said Prosper, laughing, "is he to cut me out of a
Whereupon she turned a very woebegone and tearful face up to his. He
looked smilingly down; a sudden wave of half-humbrous pity for a thing
so frail and amazed swam about him; before he knew he had kissed her
cheek. This set her blushing a little; but she seemed to take heart,
smiled rather pitifully, and turned again with a sigh, like a baby's
The night gathered apace with a chill wind; some fine rain began to
fall, then heavy drops. Gradually the wind increased, and the rain
with it. "Now we shall have it," said Prosper, sniffing for the storm.
He covered Isoult with his cloak, folded it about her as best he
could, and tucked it in; she lay in his arms snug enough, and slept
while he urged his horse over the stubbed heath. The water hissed and
ran over the baked earth; where had been dry channels, rents and
scars, full of dust, were now singing torrents and broad pools fetlock
deep. Prosper let his good beast go his own gait, which was a sober
trot, and ever and again as he heard the ripple of running water and
the swirl and suck of the eddies in it, he judged that he must soon or
late touch the Wan river, whereon stood the Abbey and his bed. What to
do with the girl when he got there? That puzzled him. "A well-ordered
abbey," he thought, "has no place for a girl, and one ill-ordered has
too many. In the first case, therefore, Holy Thorn would leave her at
the gate, and in the second, that is where I myself would let her
stay. So it seems that she must needs have a wet skin." He felt
carefully about the sleeping child; the cloak kept her dry and warm as
a toast. She was sound asleep. "Good Lord!" cried Prosper, "it's a
pity to disturb this baby of mine. Saracen and I had better souse.
Moreover, I make no nearer, by all that appears, to river Wan or Holy
Thorn. Come up, horse; keep us moving."
The stream he had followed he now had lost. It was pitchy dark, with a
most villainous storm of rain and wind. Saracen caught the infection
of his master's doubts; he stopped short, and bowed his head to snuff
the ground. Prosper laughed at the plight they were both in, and
looked about him, considering what he should do. Very far off he could
see a feeble light flickering; it was the only speck of brightness
within his vision, and he judged it too steady for a fen-flame.
Lodging of some sort should be there, for where there is a candle
there is a candlestick. This was not firelight. To it he turned his
tired beast, and found that he had been well advised. He was before a
mud-walled hovel; there through the horn he saw the candle-flame. He
drew his sword and beat upon the door. For answer the light was blown
swiftly out, and the darkness swam about him like ink.
"Scared folk!" he laughed to himself, hammering at the door with a
Then Isoult stirred on his arm and awoke with a little whimper, half
dreaming still, and not knowing where she was. She sat up in the
saddle dazed with sleep.
"The night is wild," said Prosper, "and I have found us the shadow of
a shade, but as yet we lack the substance." Then he set-to, pounding
at the door again, and crying to those within to open for the sake of
all the saints he could remember.
Isoult freed herself from the cloak, and slid down from her seat in
the saddle. Putting her face close to the door she whistled a low
note. The candle was re-lit, many bolts were withdrawn; finally the
door opened a little way, and an old man put his head through the
chink, staring out into the dark.
"God's life, you little rip," said the anxious rogue, "you gave us a
Isoult spoke eagerly and fast, but too low for Prosper to hear what
she said. The man was in no mind to open further, and the more he
speered at the horseman the less he seemed to like it. Nevertheless,
after a time the girl was let into the hut, and the door slammed and
bolted as before. Between the shocks of the storm Prosper could now
hear a confusion of voices--Isoult's, low, even, clear and quick; the
grating comments of the old rogue who kept the door, and another voice
that trembled and wailed as if passion struggled with the age in it,
to see which should be master. Once he thought to catch a fourth--a
brisk man's voice, with laughter and some sort of authority in it,
which seemed familiar; but he could not be sure about this. In the
main three persons held the debate.
After a long wrangle it seemed that the women were to have their way.
Again the door-bolts were drawn, again the door opened by the old man,
and this time opened wide. With bows lower than the occasion demanded,
Prosper was invited to be pleased to enter. He saw to his horse first,
and made what provision he could for him in an outhouse. Then he
stooped his head and entered the cottage.
He came directly into a bare room, which was, you may say, crouched
under a pent of turves and ling, and stank very vilely. The floor was
of beaten clay, like the walls; for furniture it had a table and
bench. Sooty cobwebs dripped from the joists, and great spiders ran
nimbly over them; there were no beds, but on a heap of rotting skins
in one corner two rats were busy, and in another were some dry leaves
and bracken. There was no chimney either, though there was a peat fire
smouldering in what you must call the hearth. The place was dense with
the fog of it; it was some time, therefore, before Prosper could leave
blinking and fit his eyes to see the occupants of his lodging....
Isoult, he saw, stood in the middle of the room leaning on the table
with both her hands; her bead was hanging, and her hair veiled all her
face. Near her, also standing, was the old man--a sturdy knowing old
villain, with a world of cunning and mischief in his pair of pig's
eyes. His scanty hair, his beard, were white; his eyebrows were white
and altogether monstrous. He blinked at Prosper, but said nothing. The
third was a woman, infinitely old as it seemed, crouched over the
fired peats with her back to the room. She never looked up at all, but
muttered and sighed vainly to herself and warmed her hands. Lastly, in
a round-backed chair, cross-legged, twirling his thumbs, twinkling
with comfortable repletion, sat Prosper's friend of the road, Brother
Bonaccord of Lucca.
"God save you, gentleman," he chirped. "I see we have the same taste
in lodgings. None of your Holy Thorns for us--hey? But a shakedown
under a snug thatch, with a tap of red wine such as I have not had out
of my own country. What a port for what a night--hey?"
Prosper nodded back a greeting as he looked from one to another of
these ill-assorted hosts of his, and whenever he chanced on the
motionless girl he felt that he could not understand it. Look at her!
how sweet and delicate she was, how small and well-set her head, her
feet and hands how fine, her shape how tender. "How should a lily
spring in so foul a bed?" thought he to himself. Morgraunt had already
taught him an odd thing or two; no doubt it was Morgraunt's way.
The old man set bread and onions on the table, with some sour red wine
in a jug. "Sit and eat, my lord, while you may," he said.
So Prosper and Isoult sat upon the bench and made the most of it, and
he, being a cheerful soul, talked and joked with Brother Bonaccord.
Isoult never raised her eyes once, nor spoke a word; as for the numbed
old soul by the fire; she kept her back resolutely on the room,
muttered her charms and despair, and warmed her dry hands as before.
When they had eaten what they could there came a change. The friar
ceased talking; the old man faced Prosper with a queer look. "Sir,
have you well-eaten and drunken?" he asked.
Prosper thanked him; he had done excellently.
"Well, now," said the man, "as I have heard, after the bride-feast
comes the bridal. Will your worship rest with the bride brought home?"
Prosper got up in an awkward pause. He looked at the man as if he were
possessed of the devil. Then he laughed, saying, "Are you merry, old
"Nay, sir," said the ancient, "it is no jest. If she mate not this
night--and it's marriage for choice with this holy man--come sunrise
she'll be hanged on the Abbot's new gallows. For, she is suspected of
witchcraft and many abominations."
"Is she your daughter, you dog, and do you speak thus of your
daughter?" cried Prosper in a fury.
"Sir," said the man, "who would own himself father to a witch?
Nevertheless she is my daughter indeed."
"What is the meaning of all this? Would you have me marry a witch, old
fool?" Prosper shouted at him. The man shrugged.
"Nay, sir, but I said it was marriage for choice--seeing the friar was
to hand. We know their way, to marry as soon as look at you. But it's
as you will, so you get a title to her, to take her out of the
Prosper turned to look at Isoult. He saw her standing before the
board, her head hung and her two hands clasped together. Her breathing
was troubled--that also he saw. "God's grace!" thought he to himself,
"is she so fair without and within so rotten? Who has been ill-
ordering the world to this pass?" He watched her thoughtfully for some
time; then he turned to her father.
"See now, old scamp," he said, "I have sworn an oath to high God to
succour the weak, to right wrong, and to serve ladies. Nine times
under the moon I sware it, watching my arms before the cross on
Starning Waste. Judge you, therefore, whether I intend to keep it or
not. As for your daughter, she can tell you whether some part of it I
have not kept even now. But understand me, that I do not marry on
compulsion or where love is not. For that were a sin done toward God,
and me, and a maid."
The old rascal blinked his eyes, jerking his head many times at the
shameful girl. Then he said, "Love is there fast and sure. She is all
for loving. They call her Isoult la Desirous, you must know."
"Yes," said Prosper, "I do know it, for she has told me so already.'
"And to-morrow she will desire no more, since she will be hanged,"
Prosper started and flushed, and--
"That is a true gospel, brother," put in the friar. "The Abbot means
to air his gallows at her expense; but there is worse than a gallows
to it. What did I tell you of the Black Monks when you called 'em
White? There is a coal-black among them who'll have her if the gallows
have her not. It is Galors or gallows, fast and sure."
Prosper rubbed his chin, looked at the friar, looked at Matt, looked
at Isoult. She neither lifted her head nor eyes, though the others had
met him sturdily enough. She stood like a saint on a church porch; he
thought her a desperate Magdalen.
"Isoult, come here," said he. She came as obediently as you please,
and stood before him; but she would not look up until he said again,
"Isoult, look me in the face." Then she did as she was told, and her
eyes were unwinking and very wide open, full of dark. She parted her
lips and sighed a little, shivering somewhat. It seemed to him as if
she had been with the dead already and seen their kingdom. Prosper
said, "Isoult is this true that thou wilt be hanged to-morrow?"
"Yes, lord," said Isoult in a whisper.
"Yes, lord," she said again, quivering.
"Save only thy lot be a marriage this night?"
"Yes, lord," she said a third time. So he asked,
"Art thou verily what this old man thy father hath testified against
thee--a witch, a worker of iniquity and black things, and of
abominations with the devil?"
Isoult said in a very still voice--"Men say that I am all this, my
But Prosper with a cry called out, "Isoult, Isoult, now tell me the
truth. Dost thou deserve this death?"
She sighed, and smiled rather pitifully as she said--
"I cannot tell, lord; but I desire it."
"Dost thou desire death, child?" cried he, "and is this why thou art
called La Desirous?"
"I desire to be what I am not, my lord, and to have that which I have
never had," she answered, and her lip trembled.
"And what is that which you are not, Isoult?"
She answered him "Clean."
"And what is that which you have never had, my child?"
"Peace," said Isoult, and wept bitterly.
Then Prosper crossed himself very devoutly, and covered his face while
he prayed to his saint. When he had done he said, "Cease crying,
Isoult, and tell me the truth, by God and His Christ, and Saint Mary,
and by the face of the sky. Art thou such a one as I would wed if love
were to grow between me and thee, or art thou other?"
She ceased her crying at this and looked him full in the face, deadly
pale. "What is the truth to you concerning me?" she said.
He answered her, "The truth is everything, for without it nothing can
have good beginning or good ending."
This made her meek again and her eyes misty. She held out a hand to
him, saying, "Come into the night, and I will tell my lord."
He took it. Hand-in-hand they went out of the cottage, and hand-in-
hand stood together alone under the sky. It was still black and heavy
weather, but without rain. Isoult dropped his hand and stood before
him. She shut her arms over her breast so that her two wrists crossed
at her throat. Looking full at him from under her brows she said--
"By God and His Christ, and Saint Mary, and by the face of the sky, I
will tell you the truth, lord. If the witch's wax be not as abominable
as the witch, or the vessel not foul that hath held a foul liquor,
then thou couldst never point scorn at me."
"Speak openly to me, my child," said Prosper, "and fear nothing."
So she said, "I will speak openly. I am no witch, albeit I have seen
witchcraft and the revelry of witches on Deerleap. And though I have
seen evil also I am a maiden, my lord, and such as you would have your
own sister to be before she were wed."
But Prosper put her from him at an arm's-length. He was not yet
"What was thy meaning then," he asked, "to say that thou wouldst be
that which thou wert not?" He could not bring himself to use the word
which she had used; but she used it again.
"Ah, clean!" she said with a weary gesture. "Lord, how shall I be
clean in this place? Or how shall I be clean when all say that I am
unclean, and so use towards me?" She began to cry again, quite
silently. Prosper could hear the drips fall from her cheeks to her
breast, but no other sound. She began to moan in her trouble--"Ah, no,
no, no!" she whispered, "I would not wed with thee, I dare not wed
"Why not?" said Prosper.
"I dare not, I dare not!" she answered through her teeth, and he felt
her trembling under his hand. He thought before he spoke again. Then
"I have vowed a vow to my saint that I will save you, soul and body;
and if it can be done only by a wedding, then we will be married, you
and I, Isoult. But if by battle I can serve your case as well, and rid
the suspicion and save your neck, why, I will do battle."
"Nay, lord," said the girl, "I must be hanged, for so the Lord Abbot
has decreed." And then she told him all that Galors had given her to
understand when he had her in the quarry.
Prosper heard her to the end: it was clear that she spoke as she
"Well, child," said he, "I see that all this is likely enough, though
for the life of me I cannot bottom it. But how then," he cried, after
a little more thinking, "shall I let you be hanged, and your neck so
fine and smooth!"
"Lord," she said, "let be for that; for since I was born I have heard
of my low condition, and if my neck be slim 'tis the sooner broke. Let
me go then, but only grant me this grace, to stand beside me at the
tree and not leave me till I am dead. For there may be a worse thing
than death preparing for me." Again she cried out at her own thoughts
"Ah, no, no, no, I dare not let thee wed me!" He heard the wringing of
her hands, and guessed her beside herself.
He stood, therefore, reasoning it all out something after this
fashion. "Look now, Prosper," thought he, "this child says truer than
she knows. It is an ill thing to be hanged, but a worse to deserve a
hanging, and worst of all for her, it seems, to escape a hanging. And
it is good to find death sweet when he comes (since come he must), but
better to prove life also a pleasant thing. And life is here urgent,
though in fetters, in this child's breast; but death is not yet here.
Yet if I leave her she gains death, or life (which is worse), and if I
take her with me it can only be one way. What then! a man can lay down
his life in many ways, giving it for the life that needeth, whether by
jumping a red grave or by means slower but not less sure. And if by
any deed of mine I pluck this child out of the mire, put clear light
into her eyes (which now are all dark), and set the flush on her grey
cheeks which she was assuredly designed to carry there; and if she
breathe sweet air and grow in the grace of God and sight of men--why
then I have done well, however else I do."
He thought no more, but took the girl's hand again in both of his.
"Well, Isoult," he said cheerfully, "thou shalt not be hanged yet
awhile, nor shall that worse thing befall thee. I will wed thee as
soon as I may. At cock-crow we two will seek a priest."
"Lord," she said, "a priest is here in this place."
"Why, yes! Brother Bonaccord. Well," said Prosper, "let us go in."
But Isoult was troubled afresh, and put her hand against his chest to
stay him; breathing very short.
"Lord," she said, "thou wilt wed me to save my soul from hell and my
body from hanging; but thou hast no love for me in thy heart, as I
know very well."
Here was a bother indeed. The girl was fair enough in her peaked elfin
way; but the fact was that he did not love her--nor anybody. He had
nothing to say therefore. She waited a little, and then, with her
voice sunk to a low murmur, she said--
"We two will never come together except in love. Shall it not be so?"
Prosper bowed, saying--
"It shall be so."
The girl knelt suddenly down and kissed his foot. Then she rose and
stood near him.
"Let us go in," she said.
Looking up, they saw the field of heaven strewn thick with stars, the
clouds driven off, the wind dropt. And then they went into the hovel
hand-in-hand, as they had gone out.
As soon as he saw them come in together the old man fell to chuckling
and rubbing his hands.
"Wife Mald, wife Mald, look up!" cried he; "there will be a wedding
this night. See, they are hand-fasted already."
Mald the witch rose up from the hearth at last and faced the
betrothed. She was terrible to view in her witless old age; her face
drawn into furrows and dull as lead, her bleared eyes empty of sight
or conscience, and her thin hair scattered before them. It was
despair, not sorrow, that Prosper read on such a face. Now she peered
upon the hand-locked couple, now she parted the hair from her eyes,
now slowly pointed a finger at them. Her hand shook with palsy, but
she raised it up to bless them. To Prosper she said--
"Thou who art as pitiful as death, shalt have thy reward. And it shall
be more than thou knowest."
To the girl she gave no promises, but with her crutch hobbled over the
floor to where she stood. She put her hand into her daughter's bosom
and felt there; she seemed contented, for she said to her very
"Keep thou what thou hast there till the hour of thy greatest peril.
Then it shall not fail thee to whomsoever thou shalt show it."
Then she withdrew her hand and crawled back to crouch over the ashes
of the fire; nor did she open her lips again that night, nor take any
part or lot in what followed.
"Call the priest, old man," said Prosper, "for the night is spending,
and to-morrow we should be up before the sun."
The old thief went to a little door and opened it, whispering,
"Come, father;" and there came out Brother Bonaccord of Lucca, very
solemn, vested in a frayed vestment.
"Young sir," he said, wagging a portentous finger, "you are of the
simple folk our good Father Francis loved. No harm should come of
this. And I pray our Lady that I never may play a worse trick on a
maid than this which I shall play now."
"We have no ring," said Prosper to all this prelude.
"Content you, my master," replied Matt-o'-the-Moor; "here is what you
And he gave him a silver ring made of three thin wires curiously
knotted in an endless plait.
"The ring will serve the purpose," Prosper said. "Now, brother, at
Brother Bonaccord had no book, but seemed none the worse for that. He
took the ring, blessed it, gave it to Prosper, and saw that he put it
in its proper place; he said all the words, blessed the kneeling
couple, and gave them a brisk little homily, which I spare the reader.
There they were wedded.
Matt-o'-the-Moor at the end of the ceremony gave Prosper a nudge in
the ribs. He pointed to a heap of leaves and litter.
"The marriage-bed," he said waggishly, and blew out the light.
Isoult lay down on the bed; Prosper took off his body-armour and lay
beside her, and his naked sword lay between them.
Dom Galors knew a woman in East Morgraunt whose name was Maulfry. She
lived in Tortsentier, a lonely tower hidden deep in the woods, and had
an unwholesome reputation. She was held to be a courtesan. Many
gentlemen adventurous in the forest, it was said, had found
dishonourable ease and shameful death at her hands. She would make
them great cheer at first with hunting parties, dancing in the grass-
rides, and love everywhere: so much had been seen, the rest was
surmise. It was supposed that, being tired, or changing for caprice,
she had them drugged, rifled them at leisure, slew them one way or
another, and set her nets for the next newcomer. This, I say, was
surmise, and so it remained. Tortsentier was hard to come at,
Morgraunt wide, death as easy as lying. Men in it had other uses for
their eyes than to spy at their neighbours, and found their weapons
too often needed in their own quarrels to spare them for others. To
see a man once did not set you looking for him to come again. You
might wander for a month in Morgraunt before you got out. True, the
odds were against your doing either; but whose business was that?
Galors probably knew the truth of it, for he was very often at
Tortsentier. He knew, for instance, of Maulfry's taste for armour. The
place was full of it, and had a frieze of shields, which Maulfry
herself polished every day, as brave with blazonry as on the day they
first went out before their masters. Maulfry was very fond of
heraldry. It was a great delight of hers to go through her collection
with such a man as Galors, who thoroughly understood the science,
conning over the quarterings, the legends, the badges and differences,
and capping each with its appropriate story, its little touch of
romance, its personal reference to each owner in turn. There was no
harm in all this, and for Galors' part he would be able to testify
that there was no luxurious company there when he came, and no dark
hints of violence, treachery, or mischief for the most suspicious eye
to catch at. Tortsentier was not so far from the Abbey liberties that
one might not fetch at it in a six hours' ride, provided one knew the
road. Galors was a great rider and knew the road by heart. He was a
frequent visitor of Maulfry's, therefore, and would have seen what
there was to see. If the cavillers had known that it would have
quieted many a whisper over the fire. They might have been told,
further, that Maulfry and he were very old friends, and from a time
long before his entry into religion at Holy Thorn. If there had been
love between them, it had left no scar. Love with Galors was a
pastime: he might make a woman his mistress, but he could never allow
her to be his master. And whatever there had been in this sort, any
love now left in Maulfry for the monk was largely tempered with
respect. They were excellent friends.
It was to Tortsentier and to Maulfry that Dom Galors rode through the
rain when he had finished biting his nails in the quarry. Very late
that night he knocked at her door. Maulfry, who slept by day, opened
at once, and when she saw who it was made him very welcome. She sent
her page up with dry clothes, heaped logs on the fire, and set a table
against his return, with venison, and white bread, and sweet wine.
Galors, who was ravenous by now, needed no pressing: he sat down and
ate without speaking, nor did she urge him for a message or for news,
but kept her place by the fire, smiling into it until he had done. She
was a tall, dark woman, very handsome and finely shaped, having the
neck, arms, and bosom of Juno, or of that lady whom Nicholas the Pisan
sculptor fashioned on her model to be Queen of Heaven and Earth. And
Maulfry suffered no one to be in doubt as to the abundance and glory
of her treasure.
When Galors was well fed she beckoned him with a nod to his place on
the settle. He came and sat by the side of her, blinking into the fire
for some minutes without a word.
"Well, friend," said Maulfry at last, "and what do you want with your
servant at such an hour? For though I am not unused to have guests, it
is seldom that you are of the party in these days."
Galors, who never made prefaces, told her everything, except the real
rank and condition of Isoult. As to that, he said that the lady in
question was undoubtedly an heiress, as she was undeniably a beauty,
but he was careful to make it plain that her inheritance, and not her
person, tempted him. This I believe to have been the truth by now. He
then related what had passed in the quarry, and what he intended to do
next. He added--
"Whether I succeed or not--and as to that much depends upon you--I am
resolved to abjure my frock and my vows, and to aim henceforward for a
"I think the frock is all that need concern you," said Maulfry.
"You are right, pretty lady," he replied "and that shall concern me no
more. You shall furnish me with a suit of mail out of your store, with
a shield, a good spear and a sword. I have already a horse, which I
owe to the vicarious bounty of the Lord Abbot, exercised through me,
his right-hand man. This then will be all I shall ask of you on my
account, so far as I can see at present. With what I know to back them
they may win me an earldom and a pretty partner. At least they will
enable me to pay Master Red-Feather my little score."
The pupils of Maulfry's eyes narrowed to a pair of pin points.
"What is this?" she said quickly. "Red feathers? A surcoat white and
green? A gold baldrick? Did he bear a _fesse dancettee_ upon his
shield, a hooded falcon for his crest?" Her questions chimed with her
"By baldrick and shield I know him for a Gai of Starning," said
Galors. "So much is certain, but which of them in particular I cannot
tell certainly. There were half-a-dozen at one time. Not Malise, I
think. He is too thin-lipped for such work as that. He can do sums in
his head, is a ready reckoner. This lad was quick enough to act, but
not quick enough to refrain from acting. Malise would not have acted.
He can see too far ahead. Nor is it Osric. He would have made speeches
and let vapours. This lad was quiet."
"Quiet as God," said Maulfry with a stare.
"But," Galors went on, "you need not think for him, who or what he
was. I shall meet him to-morrow, and if things go as they should you
shall see me again very soon. You shall come to a wedding. A wedding
in Tortsentier will not be amiss, dame. Moreover, it will be new. If I
fail--well, then also you shall see me, and serve me other ways. Will
you do this?"
Maulfry frowned a little as she thought. Then she laughed.
"You know very well I will do more for you than this. And how much
will you do for me, Galors?"
"Ask and see," said Galors.
"I too may have accounts to settle."
"You will find me a good bailiff, Maulfry. Punctual at the audit."
Maulfry laughed again as she looked up at her armour. Galors' look
"Choose, Galors," she said; "choose, my champion. Choose, Sir Galors
Galors took a long and deliberate survey.
"I will go in black," said he, "and for the rest, since I am no man of
race, the coat is indifferent to me." So he began to read and comment
upon his texts. "_Je tiendray_--why, so I shall, but it savours
of forecast, brags a little."
"None the worse for my knight," said Maulfry.
"No, no," he laughed, "but let me get something of which to brag
first. Hum. _Dieu m'en garde_--we will leave God out of the
reckoning, I think. _Designando_--I will do more than point out,
by the Rood! _Jesus, Amor, Ma Dame_--I know none of these.
_Entra per me_--Oh brave, brave! 'Tis your latest, dame?"
Maulfry's eyes grew hard and bright. "Choose it, choose, my Galors!"
she cried. "And if with that you beat down the red feather, and blind
the hooded hawk, you will serve me more than you dream. Oh, choose,
"_Entra per me_ pleases me, I confess. But what are the arms?
"Three white wicket-gates on a sable field. It was the coat of Salomon
"Salomon?" said Galors all in a whisper. "Never Salomon? Do you not
Maulfry laughed. "I should remember, I think. But there is no
monopoly. What we choose others can choose. The name is free to the
world, and a great name."
Galors, visibly uneasy; thought hard about it. Then he swore. "And I
go for great deeds, by Heaven! Give it me, Dame. I will have it.
_Entra per me_! And shut the wickets when I am in!"
He kissed Maulfry then and there, and they went to bed.