Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Forest Lovers by Maurice Hewlett

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

confusion. He could not stay her lips; they moved, working against
him, as he knew well. "Mother of God, send him, send him, send him!"
It was ill fighting against a girl's soul, it slacked his rein and
drugged his heel. By God, let the boy come and be damned; let him
fight! "Mother of God, send, send, send!" breathed Isoult. The horse
below them shuddered, failed to come up to the rein, bowed his head to
the jerked spur. Galors left off spurring, and slackened his rein.
Though he would not look behind him he heard the plash of the ford,
heard also Prosper's low, "Steady, mare, hold up!" Prosper was over;
Galors halfway up the hill. It would be soon.

The black and white gained hand over hand; the red and green felt him
come. The soul of Isoult hovered between them. Black and white drew
level; red and green held on. Side by side, spears erect and tapering
into the moon, plumes nodding, eyes front, they paced; the soul of
Isoult took flight, the body crouched in the steel's hug. The gleam of
the white wicket-gates caught their master's eye; they were risen in
judgment against him. _Entra per me_ was to play him false. This
trifling thing unnerved him till it seemed to speak a message of doom.
But doom once read and accepted, nerve came back. By God, he would die
as he had lived, strenuously, seeking one thing at a time! But to be
killed by his chosen arm, overshrilled by his own shout--that sobered
him, little of a sentimentalist as he was. As for love-lorn Prosper,
he had still less sentiment to waste. True, he had not chosen his
arms, his motto had been found for him by his ancestors--they were
cut-and-dried affairs, so much clothing to which Galors at this moment
served as a temporary peg. Sweet Saviour! the Much-Desired was near
him, close by. He could have touched her head. She never moved to look
at him; he knew so much without turning his own head. And he knew
further that she knew him there. The soul of Isoult, you see, had
taken wings. Thus they gained the ridge and halted. Backing their
beasts, they were face to face, and each looked shrewdly at the other,
waiting who should begin the game.

Then it was that Isoult suddenly sat up and looked at Prosper. He
could not read her face, but knew by her stiff-poised head that she
was quivering. He said nothing, but made a motion, a swift jerk with
his head, to wave her out of the way. Galors responded by first
tightening, finally relaxing, his hold upon her waist. She slipt down
from the saddle, and stood hesitating what to do. She had waited for
this moment so long, that the natural thing had become the most
unnatural of all. Prosper never glanced at her, but kept his eyes
steadily on Galors. The times--in his mannish view--were too great for
lovers. Isoult stept back into the shadows.

The two men at once saluted in knightly fashion, wheeled, and rode
apart. The lists were a long alley between the pines, all soft moss
and low scrub of whortleberry and heather. Galors had the hill behind
him, but no disadvantage in that unless he were pushed down it; the
place was dead level. They halted at some thirty yards' interval,
waiting. Then Prosper gave a shout--_"Bide the time!" "Entra per
me!"_ came as a sombre echo; and the two spurred horses flung
forward at each other.

Each spear went true. Prosper got his into the centre of Galors'
shield, and it splintered at the guard. Galors' hit fair; but Prosper
used his trick of dropping at the impact, so that the spear glanced
off over his shoulder. Galors recovered it and his seat together. It
would seem that Prosper had taught him some civility by this, for he
threw his lance away as soon as the horses were free of each other.
Both drew their swords. Then followed a bout of wheeling and darting
in, at which Prosper had clear advantage as the lighter horseman on
the handier horse. Galors' strength was in downright carving;
Prosper's in his wrist-play and lightning recovery. He, moreover, was
cool, Galors hot. At this work he got home thrice to the other's once,
but that once was for a memory, starred the shoulder-piece and bit to
the bone. Left arm luckily. Prosper made a feint at a light canter,
spurred when he was up with his man, and, as his horse plunged, got
down a back-stroke, which sent Galors' weapon flying from his hand. He
turned sharply and reined up. Galors dismounted slowly, picked up his
sword, and went to mount again. He blundered it twice, shook the blood
out of his eyes, tried again, but lurched heavily and dropped. He only
saved himself by the saddle. Prosper guessed him more breathed than
blooded.

"Galors," said he, "we have done well enough for the turn. Rest, and
let me rest."

"As you will," said Galors thickly.

The two men sat facing each other on either side of the way. Galors
unlaced his helm and leaned on his elbows, taking long breaths.
Prosper unlaced his; and then followed a lesson to Isoult in warfare,
as he understood it. The girl had run down the hill-side to the brook,
so soon as she saw they must give over. She now came back, bearing
between her hands a broad leaf filled with water. This she brought to
her lord. Prosper smiled to her.

"Take it to Galors, Isoult, whom we must consider as our guest," he
whispered.

She turned at once and went dutifully, with recollected feet and bosom
girt in meekness, to give him the cold water cupped in her palms.
Galors drank greedily, and grunted his thanks. As for Prosper, he
praised men and angels for a fair vision.

She came back after another journey to feed her lover, and afterwards
stood as near to him as she dared. Galors, the alien, looked ever at
the ground.

"Galors," said Prosper presently, "how do you find my harness?"

"It has served me its turn," he answered.

"That also I can say of yours," replied Prosper, with a little laugh;
"for it has taken me into places where, without it, I should have
found a strait gate in. For that I can thank you more than for the
head-ache and cold bath at Goltres."

"Ha!" said the other, "that was a sheer knock. I thought it had
finished you, to be plain. But do not lay it to my door. I fight truer
than that."

"Truly enough you have fought me this night," Prosper allowed
heartily, "and I ask no better. But will you now tell me one thing
about which I have been curious ever since our encounter in this place
a year ago?"

"What is it?"

"Your arms--the blazon--do you bear them as of right?"

"I bear them by the right a fighter has. They have carried me far, and
done my work."

"They are not of your family?"

"My family? Messire, you should know that a monk carries no arms. My
family, moreover, was not knightly, till I made it knightly."

"The arms you assumed with your new profession?"

"I did."

"May I know whence you took them?"

"No, I cannot tell you that. They are the arms of a man now dead,
Salomon de Montguichet"

"They are the arms," said Prosper slowly, "of a man now dead. I saw
him dead, and helped to bury him. I knew not then how he died, though
I have thought to be sure since. But you are wrong in one thing. The
bearer of those arms was not Salomon de Montguichet."

"It is you who are wrong, Messire. It is beyond doubt; and the proof
is that on the shield are the _guichets_, taken from the name."

"Galors, the name was taken from the _guichets_, and the
_guichets_ from Coldscaur in the north. The man's name was
Salomon de Born."

Galors gave a dry sob, and another, and another. He threw up his arms,
twisting with the gesture of a man on the rope. Prosper and Isoult
rose also, Prosper pale and hard, the girl wide-eyed. Galors seemed to
tear at himself, as if at war with a fiend inside him. Prosper stepped
forward; you would not have known his voice.

"Man," he said, "our account is not yet done. But I know what I know.
If you have accounts to settle, settle them now. I will bear you
company and wait for you where you will."

The words steadied Galors, sobered and quieted him. He began to mutter
to himself. "God hath spoken to me. Out of my own deeds cometh His
judgment, and out of my own sowing the harvest I shall reap. _Entra
per me_, saith God." He turned to Prosper. "Sir, I accept of your
allowance. I will not take you far. One more thing I will ask at your
hands, that you give me back my own sword--Salomon's sword. After a
little you shall have it again."

"I will do it," said Prosper, knowing his thought.

They changed swords. Prosper set Isoult on his horse and himself
walked at her stirrup. The three of them moved forward without another
word given or exchanged. Galors led the way.

Instead of following the line of the chase, which had been north, they
now struck east through the heavy woodland. So they went for some
three hours. It must have been near midnight, with a moon clear of all
trees, when they halted at a cross-ride which ran north and south.
Before them, over the ride, rose a thick wall of pine-stems, so
serried that there was no room for a horse to pass in between them.
Isoult started, looked keenly up and down the ride, then collected
herself and sat quite still. Prosper took no notice of anything.

"Prosper," said Galors quietly, "you will wait here for me. You know
that I shall return. It will be within half-an-hour from now."

"Good. I shall be here."

Galors dismounted and plunged into the wall of pines; they seemed to
move and fold him in their mazes, and nothing spoke of him thereafter
but the sound of his heavy tread on dry twigs. When this was lost an
immense stillness sat brooding.

Neither Prosper nor Isoult could speak. Her presence was to him a warm
consolation, to be apprehended by flashes in the course of a long
battle with black and heavy thoughts; her also the pause (more fateful
than the battle it had interrupted) affected strangely, the more
strangely because she did not know the whole truth. I may say here
that Prosper never told her of it; nor did she ask it of him. It was
the one event of their lives, joint and disjoint, upon which they were
always as dumb as now when they thought apart. Thoughtful apart though
they were, they felt together. Prosper's hand stole upwards from his
side; Isoult's drew to it as metal to magnet; the rest of that heavy
hour they passed hand-in-hand. So children comfort each other in the
dark.

Very faint and far off a solitary cry broke the vast dearth of the
night. It rose like an owl's hooting, held, shuddered, and then died
down. Prosper's clasp on the girl's hand suddenly straightened; it
held convulsively while the call held, relaxed when it relaxed. Then
the former hush swam again over the wood, and so endured until, after
intolerable suspense, they heard the heavy tread of Galors de Born.

His bulk, his white impassive mask, were before them.

"I have settled my account, Prosper," he said. "Now settle yours."

Prosper shivered.

"I am quite ready," said he.

They changed, then crossed swords, and began their second rally on
foot. You would have said that they were sluggish at the work, as if
their blood had cooled with the long wait or sense of still more
dreadful business in the background, and needed a sting to one or
other to set it boiling again. They fenced almost idly at first; it
was cut and parry--formalism. Galors was very steady; Prosper,
breathing tightly through his nose, very wary. Gradually, however,
they warmed to it. Galors got a cut in the upper arm, and began making
ugly rushes, blundering, uncalculated bustles, which could only end
one way. Prosper had little difficulty in evading most of these;
Galors lost his breath and with it his temper. The sight of his own
shield and sword, ever at point against him, made him mad. He could
never reach his adroit enemy, it seemed. For a supreme effort he
feigned, drew back, then made a rush. Prosper parried, recovered, and
let in with a staggering head-cut which for the time dizzied his
opponent. Galors lowered his head under his shield, made another
desperate blind rush, and got to close quarters. The two men struggled
together, fighting as much with shields as swords, and more with legs
and arms than anything else. They were indistinguishable, a twisting
and flashing tangle; they locked, writhed, swayed, tottered--then rent
asunder. Galors fell heavily. He got on his feet again, however, for
another rush. As he came on Prosper stepped aside, knocked out his
guard and slashed at the shoulder--a dreadful thirsty blow. Galors
staggered, his shield dropped; but he came on once more. Another side-
cut beat his weapon down, and then a back-handed blow crashed into his
gorget. He threw up his arms and staggered backwards; a last cut
finished him. Galors with a cough that ended in a wet groan fell like
lead. He never spoke nor moved again.

Prosper sank on his knees, beaten out. Isoult started from the wood to
hold him, but he waved her back. All was not done. He put his sword in
his mouth and crept on all fours to his enemy, lifted his visor,
looked in his face. Then he got up and stood over him. He swung back
the bare sword of Salomon de Born with both hands. It came down, did
its last work and broke.

Prosper threw the pommel from him and lifted up the head of Galors.
The times were grim times. He tied it to his saddle-bow. Then he
turned to Isoult.

"Come," he said, "the fight is done."

They did not stay. He took his own shield and sword from the dead,
girt on the first and slung the latter to the spare saddle. He took
his wife in his arms, not daring to kiss her in such a place, and put
her on Galors' horse; and so they went their way into the misty woods.

Dark Tortsentier took up the watch amid the sighing of its pine-tree
host. Its array of shields, its swords and mail kept their counsel.
The figures in the singular tapestry of Troilus went through their
aping unadmired, and the grey dawn found them at it. Then you might
see how idle Cresseide, peering askance at Maulfry with her sly eyes,
watched the black pool drown her hair.

CHAPTER XXXIV

LA DESIREE

Prosper broke the silence there was between them.

"Whither should we go?" he said.

Isoult took the lead. "Follow me, I will lead you. I know the ways."

A great constraint kept him tongue-tied. The prize was his; the
silence, the emptiness, the night, gave him what his sword had earned.
He trembled but dared not put out his hand. What was he--good Lord!--
to touch so rare a thing? He hardly might look at her. The moon showed
him a light muffled figure swaying to the rhythm of the march, the
round of her hooded head, the swing of her body, the play of her white
hand on the rein. Whenever he dared to look her face was turned to
his; he saw the moon-glint in her eyes. He absolutely had nothing to
say, and for the first time in his life felt a clumsy fool.

By all which it would seem that love is a virtue going out of a man as
much as any that enters in.

Isoult was in very different plight, enjoying her brief moment of
triumph, making as it were the most of it. When a woman loves she
humbles herself, and every prostration is matter for an ecstasy. Her
love returned, she ventured to be proud; but this is against the
grain. It is more blessed to give. The freed soul welcomes the prison-
gates and hugs the yoke and the chain.

Just now she was on the verge of her freedom. In thus looking at him
who had been her lord yesterday and would be her lord to-morrow, she
was taking his measure. In her exalted mood she found that she could
read him like a book. There was no doubt about his present docility,
but could she dare to mould it? She must woo, she saw; dare she trail
this steel-armed lord of battles, this grim executant, this trumpet of
God, as a led child by her girdle-ribbons? If hero he had proved in
his own walk, to be sure he shambled pitifully on the edge of hers.
Her superiority sparkled so hard and frosty-bright that she began to
pity him; and so the maid was thawed to be the mother of her man.
Isoult knew she must beguile him now for his soul's ease and her own.

When the ride grew broad and ran like a spit into a lake of soft dark
she stopped. There was moss here, there were lichened heather-roots,
rowan bushes, and a ring of slim birches, silver-shafted, feather-
crowned and light; more than all there was a little pool of water
which two rills fed.

"We will stay here," said Isoult.

Prosper dismounted and helped her down. She felt him trembling as he
held her, whereat her courage rose clear and high.

"I will disarm you"--had she not done it, indeed!--"and dress your
hurts. Then you shall rest and I look at you at last."

"I am not much hurt. We could well go on."

"Nay, you must let me do as I will now. I must disarm you. 'Tis my
right."

She did it, kneeling at his knees or standing before him. For once he
was that delight of a woman in love, her plaything, her toy--her baby,
in a word. She girdled him with her arms at need; her fingers busy at
neck or cheek-pieces unlaced the helm.

"Now kneel."

He obeyed her, and she grew tenderly deft over his wounds. She washed
them clean, bound them up with strips torn from her skirt. She pushed
back his hair from eyes and brows, and washed him clean of blood and
sweat and rage. Her petticoat was her towel; she would have used her
hair, but that she dared not lose command of herself and him. She
wished for once to draw him, not to be drawn.

She knelt down on the moss, touching her lap meaningly as she did so.

"Rest here," said the gesture; "rest here, my dear heart," said the
smile that flew with it.

He knelt beside her--all went well up to this. The moon was low, the
night wearing; but the pure light came flowing through a rent in the
trees, and she caught his look upon her. She tried, but she could not
meet it. Then it befell her that she would not meet it if she could.

Prosper took something from his breast.

"Look," he said, as he held it up.

She watched it quivering in the moonbeams; her eyes brimmed; she grew
blush-red, divinely ashamed.

"Hold your hand out," said Prosper. She had risen to her knees; they
were kneeling face to face, very near.

Isoult's hands were crossed at her neck. Prosper remembered the
gesture. Now she held out her left hand and let him crown it. He held
on--alas! he was growing master every minute.

"Isoult."

"Yes."

"Oh, my dear love, Isoult! Now I shall wed thee, Isoult the Much-
Desired."

She began to shake. But she put her hands up till they rested on his
shoulders. She laughed in a low thrilled tone.

"I am La Desiree now, and no longer La Desirous. For what I desired
was another's desire." Also she said--"Kiss my mouth, and I shall
believe that thou speakest the truth of the heart."

He held her with his hands, looking long and steadily; nor did her
eyes refuse him now. Love was awake and crying between the pair. He
drew her nearer, kissed her on the eyes and on the mouth; and she grew
red and loved him dearly.

So in the soft night, under the forest trees, in the hush that falls
before dawn, those two kissed and comforted one another. It was as in
a field of blood that the rod of love thrust into flower at last. But
the forest which had seen the graft held the flower by right. None
watched their espousal save the trees and the mild faces of the stars.

CHAPTER XXXV

FOREST LOVE

With the sun rose Isoult, transfigured and glorified, Love's rosy
priest. She slipped from her man's arms, hung over him wonderfully,
lightly kissed his forehead without disturbing his deep sleep. Then
she went to bathe herself in the pool, and to bind up her hair. The
woodland was jewelled with dew, it went in misty green and yellow, all
vocal of the joy she had. She was loved! she was loved!

Fresh and full of light she came dancing back, without a trace of the
haggard beauty upon her which had stolen about the ways of Holy Thorn.
Her mouth had the divine childishness, the rippling curves of the
naked god's bow; her eyes were glossy-soft and rayed a light from
within. Warm arms stole round Prosper, a warm cheek was by his, warm
lips kissed him awake. The duet, as of two low-answering doves,
began--

"Is this Isoult la Desirous who cometh?"

"You called me Desiree."

"How long sought, how long prayed for!"

"Found now, and close at last."

"Closer yet, closer yet."

"Oh heart, oh desire! Prosper!"

"Yes."

"Tell me one thing."

"Ask."

"When began you to think of me?"

"Will you put me to shame, Isoult?"

"Never, never! There is no shame in you. Look what I am."

"The purest, the loveliest, the bride of all delight!"

"You are a great lord; and I----"

"The great lord's lady--out of his reach."

"Prosper! No, no. If I am out of reach, reach not for me. Tell me
instead what I ask you."

"But you know when I began, and what you said."

"Ah, it was then?"

"No, it was not then. It was after that. It was when I knew that you
loved me."

"Did you not know from the first? Oh, what men must be! And I called--
as I was called."

"La Desirous? Ah, yes. Tell me now why that was?"

"Yes, I will tell you now." She hid her face on his breast and
whispered her story. "I was twelve years old--a sheepgirl on Marbery
Down. There are many, many herds there, and five of us that kept them
that day, huddling together to be warm. For I was cold enough--in rags
as you have seen me, but worse; my shoulder and side went bare then.
Then there came riding over the brow a company of lords having falcons
on their wrists; and I stood up to watch them fly their birds. There
was an old man, tall and very noble, with white hair and beard, and a
brown keen face; and there were others, young men, and one was a lad,
his son. The lad it was who flew his bird at a heron. The falcon shot
up into the air; she towered over my head where I stood, and after
stooped and fell upon me, and clung to my raiment, pecking at my
heart. And I cried out at the sharpness of the pain, and wrestled with
the falcon to get her off me, but could not for the battling of her
sails. Then the lad, the owner of the hawk, rode up to me and took
away the bird and killed her. He was a ruddy lad, with the bright blue
eyes of his father; but his hair was long and yellow as gold. To me he
gave money, and what was dearer than money and rarer, gentle words.
For he said--'Maiden, my haggard hath done thee a wrong, and I through
her. But when I am a man I will amend it.' Now the wound over my heart
kept fresh and could never be healed; and I was thought shameful for
that, because men said I went bleeding for love. And God knows it was
a true saying."

"Oh, Isoult, was it true, was it true? For that old man was my father,
and the lad was I."

Said Isoult--

"Ah, when thou didst ride into the quarry and foundest me with Galors
there, I knew thee again; and when thou didst wed me the wound stayed
bleeding, but remained fresh. But now--now it is healed."

They turned their lips to each other and murmured comfort with kisses.

"By the Lord," cried he, "I could eat a meal."

"O greedy one, I will put you to shame. All my desire is to take God's
body. For I know that we have had no marriage-mass."

"That is a true saying. But the Host is harder to come by. There is a
place in Morgraunt, nevertheless, where you may hear Mass and break
good bread after. I have been there, but not from here."

"But I have been there too, Prosper, and from here, or near here. I
remember. I know the road."

"Come then, lead me, my bride."

She armed her lord, being now entered into her old self, radiant,
softly fair, guarded, and demure. He also was the man of her choosing,
invincibly lord. They found their beasts near by and were soon on the
way, with their pale trophy hidden in a cloth.

Mass was said by the time they reached the yew-tree close, and saw the
shrine and image of Saint Lucy of the Eyes. Alice of the Hermitage
came out into the open, shading her face against the sun. Prosper she
remembered not, but when she saw Isoult she gave a little cry. The two
girls were in each other's arms in no time.

"Oh, you!"

"Yes, yes, I have come back. And you know me like this?"

"I would know you anywhere, by what you can never cut off"

"Now you must know my lord," said Isoult with a great heart.

Prosper came up.

"Ah, damsel," says he, "you sped me into your forest, and so sped me
to my happiness in spite of myself. Have you forgotten the white bird?
Look again and tell me if I have redeemed the quest."

"Ah, ah," said glowing Alice, "now I remember my dream of the bird. Is
this possible?"

She looked at Isoult. Isoult blushed; but she was all for blushing
just now.

"If it is true," Alice continued, "you make me very happy. Now let me
serve you."

"You shall," said Prosper. "Pray give us something to eat."

"Alice," said Isoult, "it was my lord who taught me how to pray--to
Mother Mary and Saint Isidore. We have had no marriage-mass."

"Ah, that is serious. You are not yet wedded then?"

Isoult blushed again.

"Will the father wed us?" she contented herself to ask.

But Prosper would not have it.

"Nay, by God and His Christ, but we are one soul by now!" he cried.
"The year of agony for her, the year of schooling for me, is past. God
has upheld my arm, and her heart is mine. But I beg of you, Alice,
prevail upon the priest to give us his God and ours. For though we
have been wedded by a Churchman, we have not been wedded by the
Church."

"The father shall do it," said Alice. "Fear nothing."

There were two scruples in the good man's way. If he said Mass twice
in the morning he broke the law of the Church; if he put off his
breakfast, he broke that of nature, which bids a man fill when he is
empty. And the priest was a law-abiding man. In the end, however, the
bride and bridegroom had their marriage-mass. Kneeling on the mossy
stone they received the Sop. Alice of the Hermitage brought two crowns
of briony leaves and scarlet berries; so Morgraunt anointed what
Morgraunt had set apart; the postulants were adept. Afterwards, when
the priest had gone and all things were accomplished, Alice of the
Hermitage kissed a sister and a brother; and then very happily they
broke their bread sitting in the sun.

"Whither now, my lord?" asked Isoult when they had done.

"Ah, to High March, pardieu!" Prosper said; "there is a little work
left for me there. You shall go in as a queen this time. Clothe her as
a queen, Alice, and let us be off."

Alice took her away to be dressed in the red silk robe; she drew on
the silk stockings, the red slippers. Then she went to tire her hair.

"Stay," said Isoult, "and tell me something first."

"What is it, dearest?"

"My hair, how far does it reach by now?"

"Oh! it is a mantle to you, a dusky veil, falling to your knees."

"Now bind it up for me, Alice; it has run to its tether."

The glossy tower was roped with sequins, the bride was ready. Alice
adored her.

"Come and meet the bridegroom," said she.

Prosper watched them coming over the sunny plat. He was not lettered,
yet he should have heard the whisper of the Amorist--_"Behold, thou
art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair, thou hast dove's eyes."_

At least he bowed his knee before her. She could have answered him
then--_"I am as a wall, and my breasts like towers; then was I in
his eyes as one that found favour."_

"Good-bye, my sister Desiree," said Alice of the Hermitage. Tears and
kisses met and answered each other.

"Surely now, surely here is love enough!" she cried as they rode away.
For my part, I am disposed to agree with her. But Prosper found her
glorious.

"Can our lord have enough of incense, or his mother weary of songs?
Can La Desirous sicken of desire?"

For two more nights green Morgraunt made their bed.

CHAPTER XXXVI

THE LADY PIETOSA DE BREAUTE

Evidently they were expected at High March; for no sooner the white
plumes had cleared the forest purlieus and came nodding over the heath
in view of the solemn towers, than a white flag was run up the keep.
It floated out bravely--a snow patch in a pure sky.

"Peace, hey?" quoth Prosper, asking. "Well then, there shall be peace
if they will take it. It is for them to settle."

Isoult said nothing. She had no reason to welcome High March, or to
attend a welcome. She might have doubted the wisdom of their adventure
had she been less newly a wife. As it was, she would have followed her
man into the jaws of hell.

When they drew closer still, they could see that the great gates were
set open and the drawbridge let down. Soon the guard turned out and
presented arms. Then issued in good order a white-robed procession,
girls and boys bare-headed, holding branches of palm. A rider in green
marshalled them with a long white wand which he had in his right hand.
It was all very curious.

"I should know that copper-headed knave," said Prosper.

"It is the seneschal, dear lord," said Isoult, who would know him
better, "with his white rod of office."

Prosper gave a mighty shout. "Master Porges, by the Holy Rood! Oh,
Master Porges, Master Porges, have you not yet enough of rods white or
black? Look how the rascal wags the thing. Why, hark, child, he has
set them singing."

The shrill voices, in effect, rose and fell along the devious ways of
a litany to Master Porges' household gods. Mention has already been
made of his curiosity in these commodities. The present times he had
judged to be times of crisis, big with fate. Who so apt as his newest
saint to propitiate the hardy outlaw Galors de Born, and the young
Demoiselle de Breaute?

For the shocked soul of Porges had fled into religion as your only
cure for esteem and a back cruelly scored. In such stresses as the
present it still took wing to the same courts. "_Sancta Isolda,
Sancta Isolda, Genetricis Ancilla,_" went the choir, "_Ora, ora
pro nobis._"

And then--

"_Quoe de coelis volitans,
Sacras manus agitans,
Foves in suppliciis
Me, ne extra gregulo
Tuo unus ferulo
Pereat in vitiis._"...

and so on. The youngsters sang with a good will, while Master Porges,
as poet and man of piety, glowed in his skin. The verse limped, the
Latin had suffered, perhaps, more violence than Latin should be asked
to suffer even of a Christian: but what of that? It was the pietist's
own; and as his pupils sang it, they bore before his eyes the holy
image of the saint trampling under her feet the hulking thief Prosper.
And gaily they bore it, and gaily sang their unwitting way towards the
unwitting couple of lovers, who never let go hands until they were
near enough to feel all eyes burn into them to read their secret.

This was vastly well; but Master Porges' present bent was towards
policy. Her ladyship had advised with him in her new occasions. "Sir
Galors de Born," she had said, "is a late enemy of mine no longer to
be feared, since I have won back all my fiefs by the readiness and
prudent discretion of the High Bailiff of Wanmeeting."

This good man had indeed made the most of his achievements, and,
reflecting that Prosper had gone alone to tackle Galors,--whereof he
was indubitably dead,--and that it was a pity no one should be any the
better for such a mishap, had told the whole story to his mistress,
carefully leaving the hero's name out of account. "For why," said the
Bailiff, "cause a woman to shed unavailing tears?"

"Remember, however," the Countess went on, "that this Galors may be
the escort of the Lady Pietosa de Breaute, my daughter and your
mistress, to her home. Pay him then the respect due to such an
esquire, but no more. Receive from him my Lady Pietosa, and put
yourself between her and him--yourself at her right hand and in the
middle. She is not his; at the worst of all he is hers."

Master Porges bowed, observing. Here was need of a high stroke of
policy. Now policy to him meant mastery, and mastery when it did not
mean a drubbing, as it had done with Prosper (the greatest politician
he had ever known), meant a snubbing. With a cue from Prosper's
handling of the science, Master Porges thought he could show Galors,
politically, his place.

The white-robed throng of singers stopped, with wondering simple
faces, before the great black knight and his rose-clad lady. Prosper
doubtless looked grim--he hardly filled the headpiece of Galors: the
white wicket-gates, with many a dint across them, gleamed harshly from
the coal-black shield. _Entra per me_ had an uncompromising ring
about it. His visor was down; he did not wish them to see a too good-
humoured face until he had exacted a tribute.

But Master Porges cantered up with many a sweep of hand and cap to the
lady.

"My lady, welcome to your halls and smiling goodly lands. We have done
what honour we might. Your ladyship will read it for an earnest of our
duties and good-will."

Thus Porges. Isoult sat wondering, very much confused. She was coming
in as a queen indeed. Master Porges went on to handle the esquire.

"Master Galors, good-day to you," he said. "My lady the Countess of
Hauterive hath heard of you. She may possibly send for you anon. In
the meantime, in the pendency of her motions to that grace, I am to
receive from you the Lady Pietosa, who has suffered your attentions so
far, and who thanks you, through me, her inherited minister. At your
ladyship's pleasure now. Follow us, good Master Galors."

Unfortunately Prosper saw no need for playing Galors just then. But
the seneschal always pleased him.

"Master Porges," he said in his suavest tones, "the gentleman you name
is indisposed to wait very long--he must not indeed be delayed--and is
wholly incapable of travel unattended. He must therefore ride where I
ride. As for the lady upon whom you bestow so decorous a name, I
cannot answer. The lady whom I escort will please herself. Step behind
us, Master Porges, I entreat of you. You would not ask so much of Sir
Galors de Born if you knew him as well as I do."

"Now, who is this? What am I then, Messire?" the seneschal gasped.

"You are the most worshipful Master Porges, if I am right, by the
grace of God Seneschal of High March, and so forth."

"Ah! Good! And you, sir?"

"I am not Galors de Born," replied Prosper modestly, "though he is not
far removed from me."

"You bear his coat, Messire."

"Ah, Saint Mary! I bear more than that of his."

"Messire, I have it in command----"

"And I have it to command. Behind, sir," said Prosper shortly and
finally. Then he rode forward with Isoult and met the minstrels.

"My little singers," cried he, "sing your blithest now, and take us
happily to the Castle. Come--

"'Love is Lord of the land,
Master of maid and man;
Goeth in green with a ruddy face,
Heartening whom he can,'" etc., etc.

The thing was a country catch which he had himself caught up from the
High March maids. It went to a free breathless measure, ran easily
into a gallop, must be jigged to. The fluttering cavalcade came
skipping home, all save the boy who carried Sancta Isolda, and he at
last tucked her under his arm and tripped with the rest. So it befel
that the man of policy came in the rear; so also it befel that, when
at the gates Prosper demanded his audience, Master Porges went in
chastened with the message, and came back still more chapfallen to
report--that her ladyship, his mistress, would receive the messenger
of Sir Galors de Born at once, with the lady in his escort. Thus
finally Prosper, with Isoult behind him, stood in the great hall, and
saw the Countess Isabel trembling on the dais.

She came down the way left her by the assembled household, pale and
misty with tears to meet them. Prosper was softened at once, but
before he could speak she was holding out her hands to him as a
suppliant, striving to steady her voice.

"Oh, Galors," she began, "thou hast been my enemy declared for no
fault of mine, and dreadful wrong hast thou done to many harmless folk
who had never wronged thee. Yet, if I had never won back what was
mine, and still owed thee a living grudge instead of a grudge for the
unhappy dead, for the sake of her thou bringest me I must receive thee
here. Now give me that which thou didst promise. Let me see her."

Prosper stood melted by the pent passion of the woman, but by her
words stricken dumb. He understood that she should think him Galors,
and cared little if she did, for discovery must make his case the
stronger. But what she wanted with Isoult, what Galors had promised on
her score, passed all comprehension. He thought he knew enough of the
Countess to be sure she would not lightly forgive; yet here was the
Countess asking to see the girl who had made a fool of her! Withal her
need was painfully plain. He therefore took Isoult by the hand and led
her forward.

The Countess, shaking so that she could hardly stand, caught the girl
from him. But she could not look at her, only steadied herself by
clutching at her arms.

"Let me see the token," says she in an eager whisper.

So then Isoult unfastened her gown and took it out by its golden
chain.

The Countess received it in both hands as a relic. Yet hand and head
shook too much that she might see it. The poor lady held her wrist
with the other hand, lifted it up near her face; then she blinked her
eyes close to it. So for some time she remained, looking upon the
jewel, but seeing nothing, seeming to love the feel of it in her
hands, and crying all the while freely and noiselessly with streams of
tears down her cheeks. Next she dropped the crystal and took Isoult by
the shoulders, to peer in the same blind fashion into the girl's
wondering eyes. And then at last, with a little smothered cry, she
caught her to her bosom, straining her there with desperate hunger of
affection, while her tears and passionate weeping shook and shuddered
through her. In broken words, with sobs, half-moaning prayers, and
half-crazy thanksgivings, she spoiled herself of the tenderness and
frantic love a mother has, but no other under heaven.

Commanding herself in time, she raised her marred face high above her
daughter, who lay close in her arms, and turning to Prosper, said
steadily enough--

"Galors, now declare thyself. Thou hast spoken so far the truth. This
is my true daughter, Pietosa de Breaute, the daughter of my murdered
lord, Fulk de Breaute, born in wedlock, and by me suffered to be
stolen away by him who first stole my body (but never my soul) from my
lord. Now ask of me, and I will give thee all, even to this treasure
at my breast. Declare thyself."

Prosper forgot everything but to blurt out his wonder.

"Galors, madam, Galors! But I am not Galors, good Lord! Ah!" (and he
pulled up his visor). "Look upon me, madam, and judge if I am Galors."

The Countess gasped, then blushed: all the household grew dumb. Master
Porges went out suddenly into the air. The first to recover breath was
the lady paramount.

"Ah, my Lord Prosper le Gai," she said, "in your revenge I see your
father's son. Should I not have known? I am at your mercy, my lord.
You have struck me hard at last, harder than before, but may be not
harder than I deserve."

"Madam," said Prosper, "it seems I have struck you harder and nearer
than I knew. For your present joy has given me the most wondrous news
that ever I had in the world."

"But the letter of Galors, was it not from you?" she cried out.

"I know nothing of letters from Galors, Countess. When I write it is
in my own name."

"There is mystery here. He wrote me of my daughter, that he would
bring her--ah, and take her again. She has come as he said. But where
is Galors?"

Prosper lifted on high the head of his enemy. "Here he is," said he.

A timely diversion was caused here by a certain red-cheeked girl, by
name Melot. She had already proved the sharpness of her sloe-black
eyes; she proved it now again by seeing, alone of all that company,
the hounded page-boy in the Lady Pietosa de Breaute. After her first
gape of re-discovery, being a girl of parts, conscious that generosity
was afoot, she edged her way to the front, stooped suddenly and caught
at the hem of the red silk robe to kiss it.

"What is this, wench?" said the Countess, glad of the relief.

Then said Melot on her knees, "My lady, I do this because I was the
first who sinfully found out your ladyship's lady daughter when she
was here before like a boy; and I pray her pardon, and yours, my lady,
and yours again, Messire, for the deadly sin I did."

Red-cheeked Melot ran on glibly up to this point on a beaten track.
All maidens of her class wallow in contrition. But when her words
failed her, she sought a distressed lady's proper shelter, and began
to cry. Isoult stooped and caught her up before she could be stayed.
She was too newly a Countess, you see.

"This is Roy's answer to thee, Melot," she laughed, and kissed the
rogue.

But for Isabel, long a Countess--otherwise. This unhappy lady felt
herself whipped. Her abasement was now so deep, so desolately did she
stand among her dependents, a naked woman spoiled of all her robes,
that Prosper's honest heart smote him.

"Countess," he said, smiling, "will you give me what Galors might have
won?"

But Isoult did better still. She came back to her mother's breast, put
up her hand timidly and touched the cold cheek. "Mother," was all she
said. It was all the woman needed to cover her shame in a cloak of
warm tears. The two wept together, and then Prosper knelt to his
mother-in-law's hand.

But the Countess was stronger than he had thought. In truth, she never
spared herself any of her dignities. Her humility now became her
admirably; never was she more certainly the great lady of romance than
when she led Prosper and Isoult to the dais, set them each on a
throne, and then, turning to her people, opened her hands to them, her
heart, and her conscience.

"Lo! you now," she cried out, "heed what I shall speak. This is the
Lady Pietosa, called Isoult le Gai, my daughter indeed, Countess after
me of Hauterive, Lady of Morgraunt and the purlieus, whom I, unknowing
and to my shame, despised and misused--unworthy mother, that in trying
to befoul the spotless but stained herself the deeper. And you,
people, sheep of a hireling shepherd, followed in my ways and became
as I am, most miserable in shame. If now I lead you aright, follow me
also that road. You shall kneel therefore with me to the young
Countess and to the Earl (in her right), my Lord Prosper."

Before either could stop her she was on her knees at her daughter's
foot. Isoult dropped with a little cry, but the elder had her way. She
kissed the foot, and then stood by the throne to watch the homage
paid.

One by one they came sidling up. Melot was pushed into the front rank;
her shrewdness paid so much penalty. She knelt and laid her forehead
on the ground. Isoult lightly set her foot on the bowed head; but he
who watched the ceremony with dimmed eyes saw that the treader was the
humblest there.

Master Porges, flap-cheeked and stertorous, grovelled like a fat
spaniel. Prosper came to the rescue as he swam up to the height of a
man again, gasping for the air. "Ah, seneschal," he said, "we each
love honour and ensue it after our fashion. We should be better
acquainted."

The seneschal kissed his hand, and never doubted for one moment more
but that Prosper was the pattern of knighthood. The image-maker at
March was thereafter busy with the figure of one in the similitude of
an Archangel, under whom ran the legend-"_Properate vias ejus_."
It is reported that he had a further commission for a great bronze
Saint Isidore, destined to the chapel at High March.

Days of festival followed, with jousting and minstrelsy. Isoult sat in
a green silk bower, clothed all in white, her black hair twisted with
pearls, a crown of red roses upon all. The hooded falcon showed again
on baldrick and girdle, the _fesse dancettee_ flickered on a new
shield, the red plumes danced; "Bide the Time" was the cry. After this
came all the mesne lords to do homage for their lands, and among them
was Malise le Gai, Lord of Starning and Parrox. Prosper, when the two
met, laughed at him, made him angry, got forgiven, and shook hands. He
thus put the man at his ease, and won a tolerable friendship with his
brother against the time when the elder would be, in respect of
certain fiefs, the vassal of the younger. But from Goltres came none
to do fealty, nor from Hauterive, nor from Malbank Saint Thorn.
Goltres, in fact, was escheat, and granted out to Prosper's brother
Osric and his new wife from Pre. A new abbot was set over Holy Thorn;
but the charter of pit and gallows was revoked by the Countess, withal
she said--"It was the granting of that charter which won me my child
again."

It does not appear that there is anything more to record.

"What am I to call you, lady wife?" said Prosper, when he had her in
his arms again.

"Ah, lord, thou shouldst know by now!"

"Pietosa?"

"Prosper!"

"Isoult la Desiree?

"If you must."

"Isoult la Desirous?"

"It would be true.

"What will you have then, child?"

"Ah, ah, I will have that!"

It was, after all, but a rosy child that Prosper kissed.

EXPLICIT

Book of the day: