THE GESTE OF
with illustrations in color by
BT LITTLE, BBOWN, AND COMPANY.
All rights reserved Published September, 1920
Set up and electrotyped by J. S. Cushing Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.
My GILLIAN, thou child that budding woman art For whom to-day and yesterday lie far apart Already thou, my dear, dost longer dresses wear And bobbest in most strange, new-fangled ways thy hair; Thou lookest on the world with eyes grown serious And rul'st thy father with a sway imperious Particularly as regards his socks and ties Insistent that each with the other harmonise. Instead of simple fairy-tales that pleased of yore Romantic verse thou read'st and novels by the score And very oft I've known thee sigh and call them "stuff" Vowing of love romantic they've not half enough. Wherefore, like fond and doting parent, I Will strive this want romantic to supply. I'll write for thee a book of sighing lover Crammed with ROMANCE from cover unto cover; A book the like of which 't were hard to find Filled with ROMANCE of every sort and kind. I'll write it as the Gestours wrote of old, In prose, blank-verse, and rhyme it shall be told. And GILLIAN— Some day perhaps, my dear, when you are grown A portly dame with children of your own You'll gather all your troop about your knee And read to them this Geste I made for thee.
"Nobles of Brocelaunde, salute your Duchess Yolande"
They saw afar the town of Canalise
"Brave soldier, I do thank thee well!" she sighed
"Hush, poor Motley!" whispered the maid.
With mighty bound, bold Robin leaping came
The long blades whirled and flashed
Long, long ago when castles grim did frown, When massy wall and gate did 'fend each town; When mighty lords in armour bright were seen, And stealthy outlaws lurked amid the green And oft were hanged for poaching of the deer, Or, gasping, died upon a hunting spear; When barons bold did on their rights insist And hanged or burned all rogues who dared resist; When humble folk on life had no freehold And were in open market bought and sold; When grisly witches (lean and bony hags) Cast spells most dire yet, meantime, starved in rags; When kings did lightly a-crusading fare And left their kingdoms to the devil's care— At such a time there lived a noble knight Who sweet could sing and doughtily could fight, Whose lance thrust strong, whose long sword bit full deep With darting point or mighty two-edged sweep. A duke was he, rich, powerful—and yet Fate had on him a heavy burden set, For, while a youth, as he did hunt the boar, The savage beast his goodly steed did gore, And as the young duke thus defenceless lay, With cruel tusk had reft his looks away, Had marred his comely features and so mauled him That, 'hind his back, "The ugly Duke" folk called him—
My daughter GILLIAN interposeth:
GILL: An ugly hero?
MYSELF: That is so.
GILL: An ugly hero, father? O, absurd! Whoever of an "ugly" hero heard?
MYSELF: I'll own, indeed, I've come across but few—
GILL: But a duke—and ugly! Father, this from you?
MYSELF: My duke is ugly, very, for good reason, As shall appear in due and proper season!
GILL: I'm sure no one will want to read him then, For "heroes" all should be most handsome men. So make him handsome, please, or he won't do.
MYSELF: By heaven, girl—no, plain heroes are too few!
GILL: Then ev'ry one will leave him on the shelf!
MYSELF: Why, then, I'll read the poor fellow myself.
GILL: I won't!
MYSELF: Then don't! Though, I might say, since you're set on it, child, My duke was not so ugly when he smiled—
GILL: Then make him smile as often as you can.
MYSELF: I might do that, 't is none so bad a plan.
GILL: And the lady—she must be a lady fair.
MYSELF: My dear, she's beautiful beyond compare.
GILL: Why, then—
MYSELF: My pen!
So here and now I do begin The tale of young Duke Jocelyn, For critics, schools, And cramping rules, Heedless and caring not a pin.
The title here behold On this fair page enrolled, In letters big and bold, As seemeth fit— To wit:—
Upon a day, but when it matters not, Nor where, but mark! the sun was plaguy hot Falling athwart a long and dusty road In which same dust two dusty fellows strode. One was a tall, broad-shouldered, goodly wight In garb of motley like a jester dight, Fool's cap on head with ass's ears a-swing, While, with each stride, his bells did gaily ring; But, 'neath his cock's-comb showed a face so marred With cheek, with brow and lip so strangely scarred As might scare tender maid or timid child Unless, by chance, they saw him when he smiled, For then his eyes, so deeply blue and bright, Did hold in them such joyous, kindly light, That sorrow was from heavy hearts beguiled— This jester seemed less ugly when he smiled.
Here, O my Gill, right deftly, in a trice I've made him smile and made him do it—twice. That 't was the Duke of course you've guessed at once Since you, I know, we nothing of a dunce. But, what should bring a duke in cap and bells? Read on and mark, while he the reason tells.
Now, 'spite of dust and heat, his lute he strummed, And snatches of a merry song he hummed, The while askance full merrily he eyed The dusty knave who plodded at his side. A bony fellow, this, and long of limb,
His habit poor, his aspect swart and grim; His belt to bear a long broad-sword did serve, His eye was bold, his nose did fiercely curve Down which he snorted oft and (what is worse) Beneath his breath gave vent to many a curse. Whereat the Duke, sly laughing, plucked lutestring And thus, in voice melodious did sing:
"Sir Pertinax, why curse ye so? Since thus in humble guise we go We merry chances oft may know, Sir Pertinax of Shene."
"And chances woeful, lord, also!" Quoth Pertinax of Shene.
"To every fool that passeth by These foolish bells shall testify That very fool, forsooth, am I, Good Pertinax of Shene!"
"And, lord, methinks they'll tell no lie!" Growled Pertinax of Shene.
Then spake the Knight in something of a pet, "Par Dex, lord Duke—plague take it, how I sweat, By Cock, messire, ye know I have small lust Like hind or serf to tramp it i' the dust! Per De, my lord, a parch-ed pea am I— I'm all athirst! Athirst? I am so dry My very bones do rattle to and fro And jig about within me as I go! Why tramp we thus, bereft of state and rank? Why go ye, lord, like foolish mountebank? And whither doth our madcap journey trend? And wherefore? Why? And, prithee, to what end?" Then quoth the Duke, "See yonder in the green Doth run a cooling water-brook I ween, Come, Pertinax, beneath yon shady trees, And there whiles we do rest outstretched at ease Thy 'wherefores' and thy 'whys' shall answered be, And of our doings I will counsel thee."
So turned they from the hot and dusty road Where, 'mid green shade, a rill soft-bubbling flowed, A brook that leapt and laughed in roguish wise, Whereat Sir Pertinax with scowling eyes Did frown upon the rippling water clear, And sware sad oaths because it was not beer; Sighful he knelt beside this murmurous rill, Bent steel-clad head and bravely drank his fill. Then sitting down, quoth he: "By Og and Gog, I'll drink no more—nor horse am I nor dog To gulp down water—pest, I hate the stuff!"
"Ah!" laughed the Duke, "'tis plain hast had enough, And since well filled with water thou dost lie To answer thee thy questions fain am I. First then—thou art in lowly guise bedight, For that thou art my trusty, most-loved knight, Who at my side in many a bloody fray, With thy good sword hath smit grim Death away—" "Lord," quoth the Knight, "what's done is past return, 'Tis of our future doings I would learn."
"Aye," said the Duke, "list, Pertinax, and know 'Tis on a pilgrimage of love we go: Mayhap hast heard the beauty and the fame Of fair Yolande, that young and peerless dame
"For whom so many noble lovers sigh And with each other in the lists do vie? Though much I've dreamed of sweet Yolanda's charms My days have passed in wars and feats of arms, For, Pertinax, this blemished face I bear, Should fright, methinks, a lady young and fair. And so it is that I have deemed it wiser To hide it when I might 'neath casque and visor—"
Hereat Sir Pertinax smote hand to knee And, frowning, shook his head. "Messire," said he, "Thou art a man, and young, of noble race, And, being duke, what matter for thy face? Rank, wealth, estate—these be the things I trow Can make the fairest woman tender grow. Ride unto her in thy rich armour dight, With archer, man-at-arms, and many a knight To swell thy train with pomp and majesty, That she, and all, thy might and rank may see; So shall all folk thy worthiness acclaim, And her maid's heart, methinks, shall do the same. Thy blemished face shall matter not one jot; To mount thy throne she'll think a happy lot. So woo her thus—"
"So will I woo her not!" Quoth Jocelyn, "For than I'd win her so, Alone and loveless all my days I'd go. Ha, Pertinax, 'spite all thy noble parts, 'Tis sooth ye little know of women's hearts!"
"Women?" quoth Pertinax, and scratched his jaw, "'Tis true of dogs and horses I know more, And dogs do bite, and steeds betimes will balk, And fairest women, so they say, will talk."
"And so dost thou, my Pertinax, and yet, 'Spite all thy talk, my mind on this is set— Thus, in all lowliness I'll e'en go to her And 'neath this foolish motley I will woo her. And if, despite this face, this humble guise, I once may read love's message in her eyes, Then Pertinax—by all the Saints, 'twill be The hope of all poor lovers after me, These foolish bells a deathless tale shall ring, And of Love's triumph evermore shall sing.
"So, Pertinax, ne'er curse ye so For that in lowly guise we go, We many a merry chance may know, Sir Pertinax of Shene." "And chances evil, lord, also!" Quoth Pertinax of Shene.
Now on a sudden, from the thorny brake, E'en as Sir Pertinax thus doleful spake, Leapt lusty loons and ragged rascals four, Rusty their mail, yet bright the swords they bore.
Up sprang Sir Pertinax with gleeful shout, Plucked forth his blade and fiercely laid about. "Ha, rogues! Ha, knaves! Most scurvy dogs!" he cried. While point and edge right lustily he plied And smote to earth the foremost of the crew, Then, laughing, pell-mell leapt on other two. The fourth rogue's thrust, Duke Joc'lyn blithely parried Right featly with the quarter-staff he carried. Then 'neath the fellow's guard did nimbly slip And caught him in a cunning wrestler's grip. Now did they reel and stagger to and fro, And on the ling each other strove to throw;
Arm locked with arm they heaved, they strove and panted, With mighty shoulders bowed and feet firm-planted. So on the sward, with golden sunlight dappled, In silence grim they tussled, fiercely grappled. Thus then Duke Jocelyn wrestled joyously, For this tall rogue a lusty man was he, But, 'spite his tricks and all his cunning play, He in the Duke had met his match this day, As, with a sudden heave and mighty swing, Duke Jocelyn hurled him backwards on the ling, And there he breathless lay and sore amazed, While on the Duke with wonderment he gazed: "A Fool?" he cried. "Nay, certes fool, per De, Ne'er saw I fool, a fool the like o' thee!"
But now, e'en as the Duke did breathless stand, Up strode Sir Pertinax, long sword in hand: "Messire," he growled, "my rogues have run away, So, since you've felled this fellow, him I'll slay."
"Not so," the Duke, short-breathing, made reply, "Methinks this rogue is too much man to die."
"How?" cried the Knight; "not slay a knave—a thief? Such clemency is strange and past belief! Mean ye to let the dog all scathless go?"
"Nay," said the Duke, square chin on fist, "not so, For since the rogue is plainly in the wrong The rogue shall win his freedom with a song, And since forsooth a rogue ingrain is he, So shall he sing a song of roguery. Rise, roguish rogue, get thee thy wind and sing, Pipe me thy best lest on a tree ye swing!"
Up to his feet the lusty outlaw sprang, And thus, in clear melodious voice, he sang:
"I'll sing a song not over long, A song of roguery. For I'm a rogue, and thou'rt a rogue, And so, in faith, is he. And we are rogues, and ye are rogues, All rogues in verity.
"As die we must and turn to dust, Since each is Adam's son, A rogue was he, so rogues are we, And rascals every one.
"The Abbot sleek with visage meek, With candle, book and bell, Our souls may curse, we're none the worse, Since he's a rogue as well.
"My lord aloft doth hang full oft Poor rogues the like o' me, But all men know where e'er he go A greater rogue is he.
"The king abroad with knight and lord Doth ride in majesty, But strip him bare and then and there A shivering rogue ye'll see,
"Sirs, if ye will my life to spill, Then hang me on a tree, Since rogue am I, a rogue I'll die, A roguish death for me.
"But i' the wind the leaves shall find Small voices for my dole,
"And when I'm dead sigh o'er my head Prayers for my poor rogue soul; For I'm a rogue, and thou 'rt a rogue, And so in faith is he, As we are rogues, so ye are rogues, All rogues in verity."
The singing done, the Duke sat lost in thought, What time Sir Pertinax did stamp and snort: "Ha, by the Mass! Now, by the Holy Rood! Ne'er heard I roguish rant so bold and lewd! He should be whipped, hanged, quartered, flayed alive—"
"Then," quoth the Duke, "pay him gold pieces five," "How—pay a rogue?" the Knight did fierce retort. "A ribald's rant—give good, gold pieces for't? A plague! A pest! The knave should surely die—" But here he met Duke Joc'lyn's fierce blue eye, And silent fell and in his poke did dive, And slowly counted thence gold pieces five, Though still he muttered fiercely 'neath his breath, Such baleful words as: "'S blood!" and "'S bones!" and "'S death!"
Then laughed the Duke and from the greenwood strode; But scarce was he upon the dusty road, Than came the rogue who, louting to his knee: "O Fool! Sir Fool! Most noble Fool!" said he. "Either no fool, or fool forsooth thou art, That dareth thus to take an outlaw's part. Yet, since this day my rogue's life ye did spare, So now by oak, by ash, by thorn I swear—
"And mark, Sir Fool, and to my saying heed— Shouldst e'er lack friends to aid thee in thy need Come by this stream where stands a mighty oak, Its massy bole deep-cleft by lightning stroke, Hid in this cleft a hunting-horn ye'll see, Take then this horn and sound thereon notes three. So shall ye find the greenwood shall repay The roguish life ye spared a rogue this day."
So spake he; then, uprising from his knees, Strode blithe away and vanished 'mid the trees. Whereat Sir Pertinax shook doleful head: "There go our good gold pieces, lord!" he said. "Would that yon rogue swung high upon a tree, And in my poke our gold again might be. Full much I marvel, lord, and fain would know Wherefore and why unhanged didst let him go?"
Then answered the Duke singing on this wise:
"Good Pertinax, if on a tree Yon rogue were swinging high A deader rogue no man could see— 'He's but a rogue!' says you to me, 'But a living rogue!' says I.
"And since he now alive doth go More honest he may die, Yon rogue an honest man may grow, If we but give him time, I trow, Says I to you, says I."
At this, Sir Pertinax growled in his beard—
My daughter GILLIAN interrupteth:
GILL: A beard? O father—beard will never do! No proper knight a beard ever grew.' No knight could really romantic be Who wore a beard! So, father, to please me, No beard; they are, I think, such scrubby things—
MYSELF: Yet they are worn, sometimes, by poets and kings.
GILL: But your knight—
MYSELF: Oh, all right, My Gill, from your disparagement to save him, I, like a barber, will proceed to shave him.
Sir Pertinax, then, stroked his smooth-shaved chin, And thus to curse he softly did begin, "Par Dex, my lord—"
My daughter GILLIAN interposeth:
GILL: Your knight, dear father, seems to love to curse.
MYSELF: He does. A difficult matter, child, in verse—
GILL: Of verse I feel a little tired—
MYSELF: Why, if you think a change desired, A change we'll have, for, truth to tell, This rhyming bothers me as well. So here awhile we'll sink to prose. Now, are you ready? Then here goes!
"Par Dex, my lord!" growled Sir Pertinax. "A malison on't, says I, saving thy lordly grace, yet a rogue is a rogue and, being rogue, should die right roguishly as is the custom and the law. For if, messire, if—per De and by Our Sweet Lady of Shene Chapel within the Wood, if, I say, in thy new and sudden-put-on attitude o' folly, thou wilt save alive all rogues soever, then by Saint Cuthbert his curse, by sweet Saint Benedict his blessed bones, by—"
"Hold now, Pertinax," said the Duke, slipping his lute into leathern bag and slinging it behind wide shoulders, "list ye, Sir Knight of Shene, and mark this, to wit: If a rogue in roguery die then rogue is he forsooth; but, mark this again, if a rogue be spared his life he may perchance and peradventure forswear, that is, eschew or, vulgarly speaking, turn from his roguish ways, and die as honest as I, aye, or even—thou!"
Here Sir Pertinax snorted as they strode on together, yet in a little they turned aside from the hot and dusty road and journeyed on beneath the trees that grew thereby.
"By all the fiends, my lord, and speaking vulgarly in turn, this belly o' mine lacketh, these my bowels do yearn consumedly unto messes savoury and cates succulent—"
Whereat the Duke, smiling merry-eyed, chanted roguishly:
"A haunch o' venison juicy from the spit now?" "Aha!" groaned the Knight, "Lord, let us haste—" "A larded capon to thee might seem fit now?" "Saints!" sighed the Knight, "but for one little taste." "Or, Pertinax, a pasty plump and deep—" "Ha—pasty, by the Mass!" the Knight did cry. "Or pickled tongue of neat, Sir Knight, or sheep—" "Oh, for a horse! For wings wherewith to fly—" "Or breast of swan—"
"Stay! nay, my lord, ha' mercy!" groaned Sir Pertinax, wiping moist brow. "Picture no more toothsome dainties to my soul lest for desire I swoon and languish by the way. I pray thee, let us haste, sire, so may we reach fair Canalise ere sunset—yet stay! Hearken, messire, hear ye aught? Sure, afar the tocsin soundeth?"
Now hearkening thus, they both became aware Of distant bells that throbbed upon the air, A faint, insistent sound that rose and fell, A clamour vague that ominous did swell. As thus they stood, well hidden from the road, Footsteps they heard of feet that briskly strode. And, through the leaves, a small man they espied, Who came apace, a great sword by his side. Large bascinet upon his head he bore, 'Neath which his face a scowl portentous wore; While after toiled a stout but reverend friar Who, scant of breath, profusely did perspire And, thus perspiring, panted sad complaints Thus—on the heat, his comrade and the Saints.
"O Bax, O Bax! Saint Cuthbert aid me now! O Bax, see how to sweat thou'st made me now! Thy speed abate! O sweet Saint Dominic! Why pliest thou thy puny shanks so quick; O day! O Bax! O hot, sulphurous day, My flesh betwixt ye melteth fast away. Come, sit ye, Bax, in shade of yon sweet tree, And, sitting soft, I'll sagely counsel thee."
"Not so, in faith," the small man, scowling, said, "What use for counsel since the cause be fled? And since she's fled—Saints succour us!" he cried; As 'mid the leaves all suddenly he spied Sir Pertinax in his unlovely trim, His rusty mail, his aspect swart and grim— "Ha!" gasped the little man, "we are beset!" And starting back, off fell his bascinet. Whereat he fiercely did but scowl the more,
And strove amain his ponderous sword to draw. "Hence, dog!" he cried, "lest, with my swashing blow, I make thee food for carrion kite and crow." But in swift hands Sir Pertinax fast caught him And, bearing him on high, to Joc'lyn brought him, Who, while the captive small strove vain aloft Reproved him thus in accents sweet and soft:
"Right puissant and potential sir, we do beseech thee check thy ferocity, quell now thy so great anger and swear not to give our flesh for fowls to tear, so shalt thou come down to earth and stand again upon thine own two legs. And thou, most reverend friar, invoke now thy bloody-minded comrade that he swear to harm us not!"
The stout friar seated himself hard by beneath a tree, mopped moist brow, fetched his wind and smiled.
"Sir Fool," said he, "I am thy security that thou and thy brawny gossip need quake and tremble nothing by reason of this Bax, our valiant reeve—he shall harm ye no whit." Here, meeting Jocelyn's eye, Sir Pertinax set down the small Reeve, who having taken up and put on his great bascinet, scowled, whereupon Duke Jocelyn questioned him full meek:
"Good master Reeve, of your courtesy pray you tell us why yon bells do ring so wild alarm."
The small Reeve viewed him with disdainful eye; Sniffed haughty nose and proudly made reply: 'Our bells we ring and clamour make, because We've lost our lady fair of Tissingors. Our Duchess Benedicta hath this day From all her worthy guardians stole away. Thus we for her do inquisition make, Nor, 'till she's found, may hope our rest to take, And thus we cause such outcry as we may, Since we lose not our Duchess ev'ry day. So then we'd have ye speak us—aye or no, Saw ye our errant lady this way go? And, that ye may her know for whom we seek, Her just description fully I will speak: Her hair night-black, her eyes the self-same hue, Her habit brown, unless 't were red or blue, And if not blue why then mayhap 'tis green, Since she by turns of all such hues is seen—"
"Stay, sir," quoth Jocelyn, "'tis plain to see No maid but a chameleon is she, For here we have her brown and green and blue, And if not brown then rosy is her hue, And, if not red, why then 'tis very plain That brown she is or blue or green again. Now fain, sir, would I ask and question whether She e'er is seen these colours all together?
"O fain would I a lady spy, By countryside or town, Who may be seen all blue and green, Unless she's red or brown."
But now, while fierce the little man did scowl, The rosy Friar, sly-smiling 'neath his cowl, His visage meek, spake thus in dulcet tone: "Sir Fool, our Reeve is something mixed, I'll own, Though he by divers colours is bemused, Learn ye this truth, so shall he stand excused: Our Duchess Benedicta, be it known, Hath this day from her several guardians flown. Ten worthy men her several guardians be, Of whom the chief and worthiest ye see, As first—myself, a friar of some report, Well-known, methinks, in country, town and court. Who as all men can unto all men speak, Well read beside in Latin and in Greek, A humble soul albeit goodly preacher, One apt to learn and therefore learned teacher, One who can laugh betimes, betimes can pray, Who'll colic cure or on the bagpipe play. Who'll sing—"
"Stay!" cried the Reeve. "Friar, what o'me?" "Patience, O Bax, too soon I'll come to thee! Who'll sing ye then blithe as a bird on bough—" "Friar!" growled the Reeve, "the time for me is now!" "So be it, then," the Friar did gently say, "I'll speak of thee as truly as I may: Here then behold our port-reeve, Greg'ry Bax, Who, save for reason, naught in reason lacks, Who, though he small and puny seems to shew, In speech he is Goliath-like, I trow, Chief Councillor of Tissingors is he, And of the council second but—to me. For with the townsfolk first of all come I—"
REEVE: Since thy fat finger is in every pie— "Saving your reverend grace," Duke Joc'lyn said, "What of this maid that turneth green and red?"
REEVE: Fool, then learn this, ere that our lord duke died, Ten guardians for his child he did provide, The Friar and I, with men of lesser fame, Co-guardians are of this right puissant dame.
JOCELYN: Beseech ye, sir, now tell us an' ye may, Why hath thy youthful Duchess run away?
"Fair Fool," quoth the Friar, fanning himself with a frond of bracken, "'tis a hot day, a day reminiscent of the ultimate fate of graceless sinners, and I am like the day and languish for breath, yet, to thy so pertinent question I will, straightly and in few words, pronounce and answer thee, as followeth: Our Lady Benedicta hath run away firstly, brethren, for that being formed woman after Nature's goodly plan she hath the wherewithal to walk, to leap, to skip or eke to run, as viz.: item and to wit—legs. Secondly, inquisitorial brethren, she ran for an excellent good reason—as observe—there was none to let or stay her. And thirdly, gentle and eager hearers, she did flit or fly, leave, vacate, or depart our goodly town of Tissingors for that she had—mark me—no mind to stay, remain or abide therein. And this for the following express, rare and most curious reason as—mark now—in a word—"
"Hold—hold, Friar John!" exclaimed the Reeve; "here sit ye here a-sermonising, venting words a-many what time our vanished Duchess fleeth. Knew I not the contrary I should say thou didst countenance her flight and spent thyself in wordy-wind wherewith to aid her!"
Now here, chancing to meet Duke Jocelyn's shrewd gaze, Friar John slowly and ponderously winked one round, bright eye.
"Hark to our valiant port-reeve Greg'ry Bax Who, save for reason, nought of reason lacks!" "Howbeit," fumed the Reeve, stamping in the dust, "here sit ye at thy full-bodied ease, fanning flies and animadverting—"
"Animadverting!" nodded Friar John. "A good word, Reeve, a fair, sweet word; in verity a word full-bodied as I, wherefore it liketh me well. So sit I here animadverting whiles thou kicketh up a dust in fashion foolish and un-reeve-like."
"A plague o' words!" cried the Reeve. "A pest o' wind! Enough—enough, contain thy prolixities and rodomontade and let me to the point explain—"
"Aha!" quoth the Friar. "Good sooth, here's a noble word! A word round i' the mouth, rolling upon the tongue. Ha, Reeve, I give thee joy of rodomontade!"
"Thus then," continued the Reeve, "I will, with use of no verbiage circumlocutory, explain."
"Ho-oho!" cried Friar John, rubbing plump hands ecstatic. "Good Bax, ne'er have I heard thee to so great advantage—verbiage circumlocutory—and thou—thou such small man to boot! O most excellent, puny Reeve!"
Here the little man turned his back upon the Friar and continued hastily thus:
"A lord there is, a lord of lofty pride, Who for our lady oft hath sued and sighed—"
FRIAR JOHN: Whom she as oft hath scornfully denied!
THE REEVE: A mighty lord who seeketh her to wife—
FRIAR JOHN: Though he, 'tis said, doth lead most evil life! THE REEVE: To which fair lord our wilful maid we'd wed—
FRIAR JOHN: Since this fair lord the council holds in dread!
THE REEVE: But she, defying us, this very day Like wicked thief hath stole herself away. Thus this poor lord such deeps of gloom is in Vows he'll not wash, nor shave again his chin Till found is she: He groaneth, sheddeth tears—
THE FRIAR: And swears her guardians ten shall lose their ears!
THE REEVE: Wherefore are we in mighty perturbation, Amazed, distraught and filled with consternation. Thus do our bells ring out their wild alarms, Our civic bands do muster under arms; Drums shall be drummed the countryside around, Until our truant Duchess we have found, And we have wed this most elusive dame Unto Sir Agramore of Biename.
THE FRIAR: And yield her thus to woes and bitter shame!
THE REEVE: So speak me, fellows; as ye came this way Saw ye aught of this wilful, errant may?
Answered JOCELYN: "Neither to-day nor any other day."
"Why then," fumed the Reeve, "here have we been at great expense o' breath and time and all to no purpose. Come, Friar, beseech thee, let us haste to begone."
So Friar John got slowly to his feet Complaining loud of hurry and of heat, But paused behind the hasteful Reeve to linger, And to plump nose he slyly laid plump finger.
Now stood Sir Pertinax thoughtful, chin on fist, insomuch that Jocelyn, thrumming his lute, questioned him:
"Good Pertinax, how now What pond'rest thou With furrowed brow? Thy care, Sir Knight, avow!"
Saith Pertinax: "I meditate the way wondrous of woman, the frowardness of creatures feminine. For mark me, sir, here is one hath guardians ten, yet despite them she is fled away and they ten!"
"Why truly, Pertinax, they are ten, so is she fled."
"Aye, but if they be ten that ward her and she one that would flee, how shall this one flee these ten?"
"For that they be ten."
"Nay, lord, here be twenty eyes to watch one young maid and twenty legs to pursue the same, yet doth she evade them one and all, and here's the wonder on't—she's but one maid."
"Nay, there's the reason on't, Pertinax—she is a maid."
"The which is great matter for wonder, lord!"
"Spoke like a very Pertinax, my Pertinax, for here's no wonder at all. For perceive, the lady is young, her wardens ten grave seniors, worthy wights —solemn, sober and sedate, Pertinax, wise and wearisome, grave yet garrulous, and therefore they suffice not."
"Aye, prithee and wherefore not?"
"For their divers worthy attributes and because they be—ten. Now had these ten been one and this one a very man—the man—here had been no running away on part of the lady, I 'll warrant me?"
"Stay, my lord," said Pertinax, in deep perplexity, "how judge ye so—and wherefore—why and by what manner o' reasoning?"
"Ha, Pertinax!" laughed the Duke, "my lovely, loveless numskull!" So saying, he kicked the good Knight full joyously and so they trudged on again.
Till presently, beyond the green of trees, They saw afar the town of Canalise, A city fair, couched on a gentle height, With walls embattled and strong towers bedight. Now seeing that the sun was getting low, Our travellers at quicker pace did go. Thus as in haste near to the gate they came, Before them limped a bent and hag-like dame, With long, sharp nose that downward curved as though It beak-like wished to peck sharp chin below. Humbly she crept in cloak all torn and rent, And o'er a staff her tottering limbs were bent. So came she to the gate, then cried in fear, And started back from sudden-levelled spear; For 'neath the gate lounged lusty fellows three Who seldom spake yet spat right frequently.
"Kind sirs, good sirs," the ancient dame did cry, "In mercy's name I pray ye let me by—" But, as she spoke, a black-jowled fellow laughed, And, spitting, tripped her with out-thrust pike-shaft,
That down she fell and wailed most piteously, Whereat the brawny fellows laughed all three. "Ha, witch!" they cried, as thus she helpless lay, "Shalt know the fire and roasted be one day!" Now as the aged creature wailed and wept, Forth to her side Duke Joc'lyn lightly stepped, With quarter-staff a-twirl he blithely came. Quoth he: "Messires, harm not this ancient dame, Bethink ye how e'en old and weak as she, Your wives and mothers all must one day be. So here then lies your mother, and 't were meeter As ye are sons that as sons ye entreat her. Come, let her by and, fool-like to requite ye, With merry jape and quip I will delight ye, Or with sweet song I 'll charm those ass's ears, And melt, belike, those bullish hearts to tears—"
Now the chief warder, big and black of jowl, Upon the Duke most scurvily did scowl. "How now," quoth he, "we want no fool's-heads here—" "Sooth," laughed the Duke, "you're fools enow 't is clear, Yet there be fools and fools, ye must allow, Gay fools as I and surly fools—as thou."
"Ha, look 'ee, Fool, Black Lewin e'en am I, And, by my head, an ill man to defy. Now, motley rogue, wilt call me fool?" he roared, And roaring fierce, clapped hairy fist on sword.
"Aye, that will I," Duke Joc'lyn soft replied, And black-avised, swart, knavish rogue beside."
But now, while thus our ducal jester spoke, Black Lewin sprang and fetched him such a stroke
That Jocelyn saw flash before his eyes, More stars that e'er he'd noticed in the skies. Whereat Sir Pertinax did gaping stare, Then ground his teeth and mighty oaths did swear, And in an instant bared his trusty blade, But then the Duke his fiery onslaught stayed.
"Ha!" cried the Knight, "and wilt thou smitten be By such base knave, such filthy rogue as he?"
"Nay," smiled the Duke, "stand back and watch, good brother, A Rogue and Fool at buffets with each other."
And speaking thus, he leapt on Black Lewin, And smote him twice full hard upon the chin, Two goodly blows upon that big, black jowl, Whereat Black Lewin lustily did howl And falling back, his polished bascinet With ringing clash the cold, hard flagstones met. Whereat his fellows, shouting fierce alarms, Incontinent betook them to their arms; And thus it seemed a fight there must have been But that a horseman sudden spurred between— A blue-eyed youth with yellow, curling hair, Of slender shape, of face and feature fair, A dainty knight was he in very truth, A blue-eyed, merry, laughter-loving youth.
"Ha, knaves, what do ye with the Fool?" lisped he, "Wilt strike a motley, dogs—a Fool? Let be! Though faith,'t would seem, Sir Fool, thou hast a fist That surly Lewin to his dole hath kissed. If it can strum thy lute but half as well, Then gestours all methinks thou should'st excel—
Ye rogues, pass Folly in, no man shall say That from our town we folly turned away. Come, follow, Fool, into the market-square, And give us earnest of thy foolish ware."
Now it was market day, and within the goodly square were people come from near and far, a notable concourse, country folk and folk of the town, farmers and merchants, rustic maids, fair ladies, knights and esquires on horseback or a-foot, but who, hearing the jingle of the Duke's tinkling bells, seeing his flaunting cock's-comb, with one accord gathered to him from every quarter:
For when this long-legged gestour they espied, They, laughing, hemmed him in on every side, And, "See, a Fool! A Fool! The Fool must sing," And "Fool! A Fool!" upon the air did ring, Wherefore the Duke betook him to his lute, And strummed until the chattering crowd was mute. Then while all folk did hold their peace to hear, In golden voice he sang, full rich and clear:
"'A fool! A fool!' ye cry, A fool forsooth am I. But tell me, wise ones, if ye can, Where shall ye find a happy man? Lived there one since the world began? Come, answer ye To me!
"'What of the king?' says you. Says I to you—'Go to! A king despite his crown and throne, Hath divers troubles all his own. Such woes, methinks, as are unknown To such as ye, Or me!'
"'Ha, then—the rich!' ye cry, 'Not so in truth,' says I. 'The rich man's gold is load of care, That day and night he needs must bear; Less care he'd know if poor he were, As poor as ye, Or me!'
"For, sirs, as I do guess This thing called 'Happiness' Man leaveth with his youth behind; So keep ye all a youthful mind, Thus happiness ye all shall find If wit have ye, Like me!
"O list ye, great and small, Proud knight, free man and thrall, True happiness, since life began, The birthright is of every man; Seize then your birthright if ye can, Since men are ye— Like me!
"Thus I forsooth, a Fool, Do now ye wise ones school; Since of my folly, full and free, I wisely thus admonish ye, Be wise—or eke fools learn to be In verity— Like me!"
Now when the song was ended some there were who laughed and some looked grave, some talked amain and some wagged solemn heads, while many a good coin rang heartily at Duke Jocelyn's feet; smiling, he bade Sir Pertinax take them up, joying to see the proud Knight stooping thus to pouch the money like any beggar. But now, when he would fain have gone his way into the town, the people would by no means suffer it and clamoured amain on all sides, insistent for more; wherefore, lifting his scarred face to the sunset sky, Duke Jocelyn sang as here followeth:
"When man is born he doth begin With right good will, to daily sin, And little careth. But when his grave he thinketh near, Then grave he groweth in his fear And sin forsweareth.
"This life that man doth cherish so, Is wondrous frail and quick to go, Nor will it stay. Yet where's the man that will not give All that he hath so he might live Another day.
"Fain would I know the reason why All men so fearful are to die And upward go? Since Death all woes and ills doth end, Sure Death, methinks, should be a friend, Not hated foe.
"So when Death come, as come he must, Grieve not that we this sorry dust Do leave behind. For when this fleeting life be run,
By Death we all of us—each one, True life shall find."
Now while he sang melodious and clear Amid the throng that closer pressed to hear, Duke Joc'lyn of a sudden did espy The "wherefore" of his coming and the "why." Yolande herself he, singing, did behold, Her eyes, red lips, her hair of ruddy gold; And all her warm and glowing loveliness Did sudden thus his raptured vision bless; While she, in gracious ease, her horse did sit That pawed round hoof and champed upon his bit, Arching proud neck as if indeed he were Proud of the lovely burden he did bear. As Joc'lyn gazed upon her thus, she seemed A thousand times more fair than he had dreamed. Now while he sang, she viewed him, gentle-eyed, And quite forgot the gallant by her side, A tall, dark-featured, comely lord was he, With chin full square and eyes of mastery, Who, when the Duke made of his song an end Did from his saddle o'er Yolanda bend. With eyes on her warm beauty he stooped near To touch white hand and whisper in her ear; Whereat she laughed and frowned with cheek flushed red Then, frowning still, she turned her horse's head, And rode away with dame and squire and knight, Till lost she was to Joc'lyn's ravished sight.
"Ha, lord!" quoth Sir Pertinax, as they came within a quiet thoroughfare, "this lady is grown more fair since last we saw her Queen of Beauty at Melloc joust, concerning whom Fame, in troth, doth breed a just report for once. But, messire, didst mark him beside her—with touch o' hand, lord, whispers i' the ear—didst mark this wolf, this Seneschal, this thrice accurst Sir Gui?"
"Aye, forsooth," answered the Duke, "but thou'rt an hungered, methinks?"
"To touch her hand, lord—aha! To whisper in her ear, lord—oho! A right puissant lord, Seneschal of Raddemore, Lord of Thorn and Knight of Ells! A lord of puissance and power potential."
"And thou, my Pertinax, art but a hungry Knight, that trampeth with a hungry Fool, wherefore let us forthwith—"
"Aye, but mark me, lord, if this puissant lord with pomp and high estate doth woo the lady—"
"So then, my Pertinax, will I woo this lady also."
"How, in this thy foolish guise?"
"Why, then, thou art like to be whipped for froward Fool and I for ragged rogue, and this our adventure brought to ill and woeful end—so here now is folly, lord, indeed!"
"Aye, forsooth!" smiled the Duke,
"Whereto these bells give heed. But come, amend thy speed, Methinks thy fasting-need These gloomy vapours breed. Thy inner man doth plead Good beef with ale or mead Wherein, thou Fool decreed, I am right well agreed 'T were goodly thing to feed, Nor will I thee impede, So follow Folly's lead And food-wards we'll proceed."
How Pertinax mine host's large ears did wring, And Jocelyn of these same ears did sing.
Now the town was full, and every inn a-throng with company—lords, both great and small, knights and esquires and their several followings, as archers, men-at-arms, and the like, all thither come from far and near to joust at the great tournament soon to be, to honour the birthday of Benedicta, Duchess of Tissingors, Ambremont, and divers other fair cities, towns and villages. Thus our travellers sought lodgment in vain, whereat Sir Pertinax cursed beneath his breath, and Duke Jocelyn hummed, as was each his wont and custom; and ever the grim Knight's anger grew.
Until, at last, an humble inn they saw— A sorry place, with bush above the door. This evil place they straightway entered in, Where riot reigned, the wild, unlovely din Of archers, men-at-arms, and rogues yet worse, Who drank and sang, whiles some did fight and curse. An evil place indeed, a lawless crew, And landlord, like his inn, looked evil too: Small was his nose, small were his pig-like eyes, But ears had he of most prodigious size, A brawny rogue, thick-jowled and beetle-browed, Who, spying out our strangers 'mid the crowd,
Beholding them in humble, mean array, With gestures fierce did order them away. "Nay," quoth Sir Pertinax, "here will we bide, Here will we eat and drink and sleep beside. Go, bring us beef, dost hear? And therewith mead, And, when we've ate, good beds and clean we 'll need." "Ho!" cried the host. "Naught unto ye I'll bring Until yon Fool shall caper first and sing!" Said Jocelyn: "I'll sing when I have fed!" "And then," quoth Pertinax, "we will to bed!" "And wilt thou so?" the surly host replied; "No beds for likes o' ye do I provide. An' ye will sleep, knave, to the stable go, The straw is good enough for ye, I trow."
"Ha!" roared Sir Pertinax. "A stable? Straw? This to me, thou filthy clapper-claw, Thou fly-blown cod's-head, thou pestiferous thing!" And, roaring, on the brawny host did spring;
By his large ears Sir Pertinax did take him, And to and fro, and up and down, did shake him; He shook him quick and slow, from side to side, While loud for aid the shaken landlord cried. Whereat the vicious crowd, in sudden wrath, Shouted and cursed and plucked their daggers forth. But, ere to harm our bold Knight they were able, Duke Joc'lyn lightly sprang on massy table; Cock's-comb a-flaunt and silver bells a-ring, He laughing stood and gaily plucked lute-string, And cut an antic with such merry grace That angry shouts to laughter loud gave place.
Thereafter he sang as followeth:
"Bold bawcocks, brave, bibulous, babbling boys, Tall tosspots, come, temper this tumult and noise; So shall I sing sweetly such songs as shall sure Constrain carking care and contumacy cure. Thus, therefore—"
But here the surly landlord raised much clamour and outcry, whiles he touched and caressed his great ears with rare gentleness.
"Oho, my yeres!" roared he. "My yeres do be in woeful estate. Oho, what o' yon fierce-fingered rogue, good fellows, what o' yon knave—'a did twist my yeres plaguily and wring 'em roguishly, 'a did! Shall 'a not be beaten and drubbed out into the kennel, ha? What o' poor Nykins' yeres, says I—my yeres, oho!"
"Thine ears, unsavoury scullion," laughed Jocelyn; "thine ears, forsooth? Hark ye, of thy so great, so fair, so fine ears I'll incontinent make a song. List ye, one and all, so shall all here now hear my song of ears!" Forthwith Duke Jocelyn struck his lute and sang:
"Thine ears, in sooth, are long ears, Stout ears, in truth, and strong ears, Full ears, I trow, and fair ears, Round ears also and rare ears. So here's an ear that all eyes here Shall see no beauty in, 'tis clear. For these o' thine be such ears, Large, loose, and over-much ears, Ears that do make fingers itch, Ears to twist and ears to twitch.
If thine ears had gone unseen, Pulled forsooth they had not been; Yet, since pulled indeed they were, Thine ears plain the blame must bear. So of thine ears no more complain, Lest that thine ears be pulled again. So hide thine ears as best ye may, Of which same ears, to end, I say Thine ears indeed be like my song, Of none account, yet over long!"
Now hereupon was huge laughter and merriment, insomuch that the thick-jowled landlord betook himself otherwhere, and all men thronged upon our jester, vociferous for more.
"Aye, but, bold tosspots," laughed Jocelyn, "how now, sit ye without wine in very truth?"
"Not so, good Fool," they cried. "Here be wine a-plenty for us and for thee!"
"Go to, tall topers," quoth the Duke, "ye are witless, in faith, for there is no man here but is without wine, as in song will I shew—mark now:
"'Tis plain that ye are wine without, Since wine's within ye, topers stout. Without your wine, ye whineful show, Thus wine-full, wine without ye go. Being then without your wine, 'tis true, Wine-less, ye still are wine-full too. But, mark! As thus ye wine-full sit, Since wine's within, out goeth wit. Thus, truth to tell, tall topers stout, Both wine and wit ye go without!"
By such tricks of rhyme, jugglery of words, and the like, Duke Jocelyn won this fierce company to great good humour and delight; insomuch that divers of these roysterers pressed wine upon him and money galore. But, the hour growing late, he contrived at last to steal away with Sir Pertinax, which last, having fed copiously, now yawned consumedly, eager for bed. Howbeit, despite the Knight's fierce threats, they found no bed was to be had in all the inn, and so, perforce, betook them at last to the stable.
There, while our Knight cursed softly, though full deep, Soon in the straw our Duke fell fast asleep.
My daughter GILLIAN propoundeth:
GILL: O, father, dear, I greatly fear You 'll never be a poet! MYSELF: Don't be too hard upon the bard, I know it, girl, I know it! These last two lines, I quite agree, Might easily much better be. Though, on the whole, I think my verse, When all is said, might be much worse. GILL: Worse, father? Yes, perhaps you're right, Upon the whole—perhaps, it might. MYSELF: But hark now, miss! Attend to this! Poetic flights I do not fly; When I begin, like poor Lobkyn, I merely rhyme and versify. Since my shortcomings I avow, The story now, you must allow, Trips lightly and in happy vein? GILL: O, yes, father, though it is rather Like some parts of your "Beltane." MYSELF: How, child! Dare you accuse your sire Of plagiary—that sin most dire? And if I do, small blame there lies; It is myself I plagiarise.
GILL: Why, yes, of course! And, as you know. I always loved your "Beltane" so.
MYSELF: But don't you like the "geste" I'm writing?
GILL: Of course! It's getting most exciting, In spite of all the rhymes and stuff—
MYSELF: Stuff? Enough! My daughter, you're so sweetly frank. Henceforth my verses shall be blank. No other rhyme I'll rhyme for you Till you politely beg me to. Now then, your blank-verse doom you know, Hey, presto, and away we go!
Tell'th how Duke Jocelyn of love did sing, And haughty knight in lily-pool did fling.
Upon a morn, when dewy flowers fresh-waked Filled the glad air with perfume languorous, And piping birds a pretty tumult made, Thrilling the day with blended ecstasy; When dew in grass did light a thousand fires, And gemmed the green in flashing bravery— Forth of her bower the fair Yolanda came, Fresh as the morn and, like the morning, young, Who, as she breathed the soft and fragrant air, Felt her white flesh a-thrill with joyous life, And heart that leapt responsive to the joy. Vivid with life she trod the flowery ways, Dreaming awhile of love and love and love; Unknowing all of eyes that watched unseen, Viewing her body's gracious loveliness: Her scarlet mouth, her deep and dreamful eyes, The glowing splendour of her sun-kissed hair, Which in thick braids o'er rounded bosom fell Past slender waist by jewelled girdle bound.
So stood Duke Jocelyn amid the leaves, And marked how, as she walked, her silken gown Did cling her round in soft embrace, as though Itself had sense and wit enough to love her. Entranced he stood, bound by her beauty's spell, Whereby it seemed he did in her behold The beauty of all fair and beauteous things.
Now leaned she o'er a pool where lilies pale Oped their shy beauties to the gladsome day, Yet in their beauty none of them so fair As that fair face the swooning waters held. And as, glad-eyed, she viewed her loveliness, She fell to singing, soft and low and sweet, Clear and full-throated as a piping merle, And this the manner of her singing was:
"What is love? Ah, who shall say? Flower to languish in a day, Bird on wing that will away. Love, I do defy thee!
"What is love? A toy so vain 'T is but found to lose again, Painful sweet and sweetest pain; Ah, love, come not nigh me.
"But, love, an thou com'st to me, Wert thou as I'd have thee be, Welcome sweet I'd make for thee, And weary of thee never.
"If with thy heart thou could'st endure, If thou wert strong and thou wert sure, A master now, and now a wooer, Thy slave I'd be for ever."
Thus sang she sweet beside the lily-pool, Unknowing any might her singing hear, When rose another voice, so rich, so full As thrilled her into rapt and pleasing wonder; And as she hearkened to these deep-sung words, She flushed anon and dimpled to a smile:
"What is love? 'Tis this, I say, Flower that springeth in a day, Bird of joy to sing alway, Deep in the heart of me.
"What is love? A joyous pain That I ne'er may lose again, Since for ever I am fain To think and dream of thee."
Now hasted she to part the leafy screen, And one in motley habit thus beheld. But when 'neath flaunting cock's-comb she did mark His blemished face, she backward from him drew And caught her breath, and yet upon him gazed 'Neath wrinkled brow, the while Duke Jocelyn Read the expected horror in her eyes: Wherefore he bowed his head upon his breast And plucked at belt with sudden, nervous hand As, cold and proud and high, she questioned him: "What thing art thou that 'neath thy hood doth show A visage that might shame the gladsome day?"
Whereto he answered, low and humble-wise: "A Fool! The very fool of fools am I— A Fool that fain would pluck the sun from heaven."
"Begone!" she sighed. "Thy look doth make me cold, E'en as I stand thus i' the kindly sun. Yet, an thou 'rt poor as thy mean habit speaks thee, Take first this dole for tender Jesu's sake."
Then answered Jocelyn on lowly knee: "For thy sweet bounty I do thank thee well, But, in good sooth, so great a fool am I, 'Stead of thy gold I rather would possess
Yon happy flower that in thy bosom bloometh. Give me but this and richer fool am I Than any knight-like fool that coucheth lance— Greater I than any lord soever, Aye—e'en Duke Jocelyn of Brocelaunde."
Smiled now Yolande with rosy lip up-curving, While in soft cheek a roguish dimple played. Quoth she: "Duke Jocelyn, I've heard it said, Is great and rich, a mighty man-at-arms, And thou but sorry Fool in mean array, Yet"—from white fingers she let fall the flower— "Be thou, Fool, greater than this mighty Duke! And now, since mighty Fool and rich I've made thee, In quittance I would win of thee a song."
Now sat Yolande, white chin on dimpled fist, Viewing him o'er with cruel, maiden-eyes, So swift to heed each outward mark and blemish (Since maids be apt to sly disparagement, And scorn of all that seems un-beautiful) While he did lean him by the marble rim, His wistful gaze down-bent upon the pool, Feeling her look and knowing while she looked: What time he touched his lute with fingers skilled, And so fell singing, wonder-low and sweet:
"Though foul and harsh of face am I, Lady fair—O lady! Fair thoughts within my heart may lie, As flowers that bloom unseen to die, Lady fair—O lady!
"Though this my hateful face may fright thee, Lady fair—O list! My folly mayhap shall delight thee, A song of fools I will recite thee, Lady fair—O list!"
Herewith he sighed amain, but smiled anon, And fell anon to blither, louder note:
"Sing hey, Folly—Folly ho, And here's a song of Folly, All 'neath the sun, Will gladly run Away from Melancholy.
"And Fool, forsooth, a Fool am I, Well learned in foolish lore: For I can sing ye, laugh or sigh: Can any man do more? Hey, Folly—Folly, ho! 'Gainst sadness bar the door.
"A Fool am I, yet by fair leave, Poor Fools have hearts to feel. Poor Fools, like other fools, may grieve If they their woes conceal. Hither, Folly—Folly, ho! All Fools to Folly kneel.
"What though a Fool be melancholy, Sick, sick at heart—heigho! Pain must he hide 'neath laughing Folly, What Fool should heed his woe! Hither, Folly—Folly, ho! Fool must unpitied go.
"E'en though a Fool should fondly woo, E'en though his love be high, Poor Folly's fool must wear the rue, Proud love doth pass him by. Heigho, Folly—Folly, ho! Poor Fool may love—and die.
"Though Wisdom should in motley go, And fools the wise man ape; Who is there that shall Wisdom know Beneath a 'scalloped cape? Heigho, Folly—Folly, ho! Life is but sorry jape.
"So, hey, Folly—Folly, ho! And here's a song o' Folly, All 'neath the sun Do gladly run Away from Melancholy."
The singing done, she viewed him kinder-eyed, Till eyes met eyes—when she did pout and frown, And chid him that his song was something sad, And vowed so strange a Fool was never seen. Then did she question him in idle wise As, who he was and whence he came and why? Whereto the Duke—
My daughter GILLIAN interposeth:
Dear father, if you're in the vein, I'd like a little rhyme again; For blank verse is so hard to read, And yours is very blank indeed!
Girl, when blank verse I write for thee, I write it blank as blank can be. Stay, I'll declare (no poet franker) No blank verse, Gill, was ever blanker. But: Since, with your sex's sweet inconstancy, Rhymes now you wish, rhymes now I'll rhyme for thee: As thus, my dear— Give ear:
Whereto the Duke did instant make reply:
"Sweet lady, since you question me, Full blithely I will answer thee; And, since you fain would merry be, I'll sing and rhyme it merrily:
"Since Mirth's my trade and follies fond, Methinks a fair name were Joconde; And for thy sake I travail make Through briar and brake, O'er fen and lake, The Southward March beyond.
"For I an embassage do bear, Now unto thee, Yolande the fair, Which embassy, Now unto thee, Right soothfully, And truthfully, Most full, most free, Explicit I 'll declare.
"Thus: videlicit and to wit, Sith now thou art to wedlock fit— Both day and night In dark, in light A worthy knight, A lord of might, In his own right, Duke Joc'lyn hight To thine his heart would knit.
"But, since the Duke may not come to thee, I, in his stead, will humbly sue thee; His love each day I will portray As best I may; I'll sue, I'll pray, I'll sing, I'll play, Now grave, now gay, And in this way, I for the Duke will woo thee."
Now, fair Yolanda gazed with wide-oped eyes, And checked sweet breath for wonder and surprise; Then laughed full blithe and yet, anon, did frown, And with slim fingers plucked at purfled gown:
"And is it thou—a sorry Fool," she cried. "Art sent to win this mighty Duke a bride?"
"E'en so!" quoth he. "Whereof I token bring; Behold, fair maid, Duke Joc'lyn's signet ring." "Heaven's love!" she cried. "And can it truly be The Duke doth send a mountebank like thee, A Fool that hath nor likelihood nor grace From worn-out shoon unto thy blemished face— A face so scarred—so hateful that meseems At night 't will haunt and fright me with ill dreams; A slave so base—"
"E'en so!" Duke Joc'lyn sighed, And his marred visage 'neath his hood did hide. "But, though my motley hath thy pride distressed, I am the Fool Duke Joc'lyn loveth best. And—ah, my lady, thou shalt never see In all this world a Fool the like of me!"
Thus spake the Duke, and then awhile stood mute, And idly struck sweet chords upon his lute, Watching Yolande's fair, frowning face the while, With eyes that held a roguish, wistful smile. She, meeting now these eyes of laughing blue, Felt her cheeks burn, and sudden angry grew.
So up she rose in proud and stately fashion, And stamped slim foot at him in sudden passion; And vowed that of Duke Joc'lyn she cared naught; That if he'd woo, by him she must be sought; Vowed if he wooed his wooing should be vain, And, as he came, he back should go again. "For, since the Duke," she cried, "dare send to me A sorry wight, a very Fool like thee, By thy Fool's mouth I bid thee to him say, He ne'er shall win me, woo he as he may; Say that I know him not—"
"Yet," spake Duke Joc'lyn soft, "E'er this, methinks, thou'st seen my lord full oft. When at the joust thou wert fair Beauty's queen Duke Joc'lyn by thy hand oft crowned hath been." "True, Fool," she answered, 'twixt a smile and frown, "I've seen him oft, but with his vizor down. And verily he is a doughty knight, But wherefore doth he hide his face from sight?"
"His face?" quoth Joc'lyn with a gloomy look, "His face, alack!" And here his head he shook; "His face, ah me!" And here Duke Joc'lyn sighed, "His face—" "What of his face?" Yolanda cried. "A mercy's name, speak—speak and do not fail." "Lady," sighed Joc'lyn, "thereby hangs a tale, The which, though strange it sound, is verity, That here and now I will relate to thee— 'T is ditty dire of dismal doating dames, A lay of love-lorn, loveless languishment, And ardent, amorous, anxious anguishment, Full-fed forsooth of fierce and fiery flames; So hark, And mark: In Brocelaunde not long ago, Was born Duke Jocelyn. I trow Not all the world a babe could show, A babe so near divine: For, truth to tell, He waxed so well, So fair o' face, So gay o' grace, That people all, Both great and small, Where'er he went, In wonderment Would stare and stare To see how fair A lad was Jocelyn.
And when to man's estate he came, Alack, fair lady, 't was the same! And many a lovely, love-lorn dame Would pitiful pant and pine. These doleful dames Felt forceful flames, The old, the grey, The young and gay, Both dark and fair Would rend their hair, And sigh and weep And seldom sleep; And dames long wed From spouses fled For love of Jocelyn.
Therefore the Duke an oath did take By one, by two, by three, That for these love-lorn ladies' sake No maid his face should see. And thus it is, where'er he rideth His love-begetting face he hideth."
Now laughed Yolande, her scorn forgotten quite, "Alas!" she cried. "Poor Duke! O woeful plight! And yet, O Fool, good Fool, full fain am I, This ducal, love-begetting face to spy—" Quoth Joc'lyn: "Then, my lady, prithee, look!" And from his bosom he a picture took.
"Since this poor face of mine doth so affright thee Here's one of paint that mayhap shall delight thee. Take it, Yolande, for thee the craftsmen wrought it, For thee I from Duke Jocelyn have brought it. If day and night thou 'lt wear it, fair Yolande," And speaking thus, he gave it to her hand. Its golden frame full many a jewel bore, But 't was the face, the face alone she saw. And viewing it, Yolanda did behold A manly face, yet of a god-like mould. Breathless she sate, nor moved she for a space, Held by the beauty of this painted face; 'Neath drooping lash she viewed it o'er and o'er, And ever as she gazed new charms she saw. Then, gazing yet, "Who—what is this?" she sighed. "Paint, lady, paint!" Duke Joc'lyn straight replied, "The painted visage of my lord it shows— Item: one mouth, two eyes and eke a nose—" "Nay, Fool," she murmured, "here's a face, meseems, I oft have seen ere now within my dreams; These dove-soft eyes in dreams have looked on me!"
Quoth Joc'lyn: "Yet these eyes can nothing see!"
"These tender lips in accents sweet I've heard!"
Quoth Joc'lyn: "Yet—they ne'er have spoke a word! But here's a face at last doth please thee well Yet hath no power to speak, see, sigh or smell, Since tongueless, sightless, breathless 't is—thus I A sorry Fool its needs must e'en supply. And whiles thou doatest on yon painted head My tongue I'll lend to woo thee in its stead. I'll woo with wit As seemeth fit, Whiles there thou sit And gaze on it. Whiles it ye see Its voice I'll be And plead with thee, So hark to me: Yolande, I love thee in true loving way; That is, I'll learn to love thee more each day, Until so great my growing love shall grow, This puny world in time 't will overflow. To-day I love, and yet my love is such That I to-morrow shall have twice as much. Thus lovingly to love thee I will learn Till thou shalt learn Love's lesson in thy turn, And find therein how sweet this world can be When as I love, thou, love, shall so love me."
"Hush, hush!" she sighed, and to her ruddy lip She sudden pressed one rosy finger-tip. And then, O happy picture! Swift from sight She hid it in her fragrant bosom white. "O Fool," she cried, "get thee behind yon tree, And thou a very Fool indeed shall see, A knightly fool who sighs and groans in verse And oft-times woos in song, the which is worse." For now they heard a voice that sung most harsh, That shrilled and croaked like piping frog in marsh, A voice that near and ever nearer drew Until the lordly singer strode in view. A noble singer he, both tall and slender,
With locks be-curled and clad in pompous splendour; His mantle of rich velvet loose did flow, As if his gorgeous habit he would show; A jewelled bonnet on his curls he bore, With nodding feather bravely decked before; He was a lover very point de vice, And all about him, save his voice, was nice. Thus loudly sang, with lungs both sound and strong This worthy knight, Sir Palamon of Tong.
"O must I groan And make my moan And live alone alway? Yea, I must sigh And droop and die, If she reply, nay, nay!
"I groan for thee, I moan for thee, Alone for thee I pine. All's ill for me Until for me She will for me be mine."
But now, beholding Yolande amid her flowers, herself as sweet and fresh as they, he made an end of his singing and betook him, straightway, to amorous looks and deep-fetched sighs together with many supple bendings of the back, elegant posturings and motitions of slim legs, fannings and flauntings of be-feathered cap, and the like gallantries; and thereafter fell to his wooing on this fashion:
"Lady, O lady of lovely ladies most loved! Fair lady of hearts, sweet dame of tenderness, tender me thine ears, suffer one, hath sighed and suffered for sake of thee, to sightful sue. Lovely thou art and therefore to be loved, and day and night thou and Love the sum of my excogitations art, wherefore I, with loving art, am hither come to woo thee, since, lady, I do love thee."
"Alack, Sir Palamon!" she sighed, "and is it so?"
"Alack!" he answered, "so it is. Yest're'en I did proclaim thee fairer than all fair ladies; to-day thou art yet fairer, thus this day thou art fairer than thyself; the which, though a paradox, is yet wittily true and truly witty, methinks. But as for me—for me, alas for me! I am forsooth the very slave of love, fettered fast by Dan Cupid, a slave grievous and woeful, yet, being thy slave, joying in my slavery and happy in my grievous woe. Thus it is I groan and moan, lady; I pine, repine and pine again most consumedly. I sleep little and eat less, I am, in fine and in all ways, 'haviours, manners, customs, feints and fashions soever, thy lover manifest, confessed, subject, abject, in season and out of season, yearly, monthly, daily, hourly, and by the minute. Moreover—"
"Beseech thee!" she cried, "Oh, beseech thee, take thy breath."
"Gramercy, 'tis done, lady, 'tis done, and now forthwith resolved am I to sing thee—"
"Nay, I pray you, sir, sing no more, but resolve me this mystery. What is love?"
"Love, lady? Verily that will I in truth!" And herewith Sir Palamon fell to an attitude of thought with eyes ecstatic, with knitted brows and sage nodding of the head. "Love, my lady—ha! Love, lady is—hum! Love, then, perceive me, is of its nature elemental, being of the elements, as 'twere, composed and composite, as water, air and fire. For, remark me, there is no love but begetteth first water, which is tears; air, which is sighings and groanings; and fire, which is heart-burnings and the like. Thus is love a passion elemental. But yet, and heed me, lady, love is also metaphysical, being a motition of the soul and e'en the spirit, and being of the spirit 'tis ghostly, and being ghostly 'tis—ha! Who comes hither to shatter the placid mirror of my thoughts?"
So saying, the noble knight of Tong turned to behold one who strode towards them in haste, a tall man this whose black brows scowled fierce upon the day, and who spurned the tender flowers with foot ungentle as he came.
A tall, broad-shouldered, haughty lord was he, With chin full square and eyes of mastery, At sight of whom, Yolanda's laughter failed, And in her cheek the rosy colour paled.
Quoth he: "Sir Palamon, now of thy grace, And of thy courteous friendship yield me place, To this fair lady I a word would say. Thus do I for thy courteous-absence pray, I am thy friend, Sir Knight, as thou dost know, But—"
"My lord," quoth Sir Palamon, "I go— Friendship methinks is a most holy bond, A bond I hold all binding bonds beyond, And thou 'rt a friend right potent, my lord Gui, So to thy will I willingly comply. Thus, since thy friendship I hold passing dear, Thou need but ask—and lo! I am not here." Thus having said, low bowed this courtly knight, Then turned about and hasted out of sight.
"And now, my lady," quoth Sir Gui, frowning upon her loveliness, "and now having discharged yon gaudy wind-bag, what of this letter I did receive but now—behold it!" and speaking, he snatched a crumpled missive from his bosom. "Behold it, I say!"
"Indeed, my lord, I do," she answered, proud and disdainful; "it is, methinks, my answer to thy loathed suit—"
"Loathed!" he cried, and caught her slender wrist, And held it so, crushed in his cruel fist; But proud she faced him, shapely head raised high. "Most loathed, my lord!" she, scornful, made reply. "For rather than I'd wed myself with thee, The wife of poorest, humblest slave I'd be, Or sorriest fool that tramps the dusty way—" "Ha! Dare thou scorn me so?" Sir Gui did say, "Then I by force—by force will sudden take thee, And slave of love, my very slave I 'll make thee—"
Out from the leaves Duke Joc'lyn thrust his head, "O fie! Thou naughty, knavish knight!" he said. "O tush! O tush! O tush again—go to! 'T is windy, whining, wanton way to woo. What tushful talk is this of 'force' and 'slaves', Thou naughty, knavish, knightly knave of knaves? Unhand the maid—loose thy offensive paw!" Round sprang Sir Gui, and, all astonished, saw A long-legged jester who behind him stood With head out-thrust, grim-smiling 'neath his hood.
"Plague take thee, Fool! Out o' my sight!" growled he, "Or cropped thine ugly nose and ears shall be. Begone, base rogue! Haste, dog, and get thee hence, Thy folly pleadeth this thy Fool's offence—
Yet go, or of thy motley shalt be stripped, And from the town I 'll have thee shrewdly whipped, For Lord of Ells and Raddemore am I, Though folk, I've heard, do call me 'Red Sir Gui,' Since blood is red and—I am Gui the Red." "Red Gui?" quoth Joc'lyn. "Art thou Gui the dread— Red Gui—in faith? Of him Dame Rumour saith, His ways be vile but viler still—his breath. Now though a life vile lived is thing most ill, Yet some do think a vile breath viler still."
Swift, swift as lightning from a summer sky, Out flashed the vengeful dagger of Sir Gui, And darting with a deadly stroke and fierce, Did Joc'lyn's motley habit rend and pierce, Whereat with fearful cry up sprang Yolande, But this strange jester did grim-smiling stand. Quoth he: "Messire, a fool in very truth, The fool of foolish fools he'd be, in sooth, Who'd play a quip or so, my lord, with thee Unless in triple armour dight were he; And so it is this jester doth not fail With such as thou to jest in shirt of mail. Now since my heart thy foolish point hath missed Thy dagger—thus I answer—with my fist!" Then swift he leapt and, even as he spoke, He fetched the knight so fierce and fell a stroke That, reeling, on the greensward sank Sir Gui, And stared, wide-eyed, unseeing, at the sky. Right firmly then upon his knightly breast Duke Joc'lyn's worn and dusty shoe did rest, And while Yolande stood white and dumb with fear, Thus sang the Duke full blithely and full clear:
"Dirt thou art since thou art dust, And shalt to dust return; Meanwhile Folly as he lust Now thy base dust doth spurn.
"Yea, lord, though thy rank be high, One day, since e'en lords must die, Under all men's feet thou'lt lie."
Now, fierce, Sir Gui did curse the Fool amain, And, cursing, strove his dagger to regain. But Joc'lyn stooped, in mighty arms he swung him, And down into the lily-pool he flung him.
With splash resounding fell the noble knight, Then gurgling rose in damp and sorry plight, Whiles Joc'lyn, leaning o'er the marble rim, With lifted finger thus admonished him:
"Red Gui, Dread Gui, Lest a dead Gui, Gui, I make of thee, Understand, Gui, Fair Yolande, Gui, Humbly wooed must be.
"So, Gui, Know, Gui, Ere thou go, Gui, Gui they call the Red; And thou'lt woo, Gui, Humbly sue, Gui, Lest Love strike thee dead.
"Now while thou flound'rest in yon pool, Learn thou this wisdom of a Fool; Cold water oft can passion cool And fiery ardours slake; Thus, sir, since water quencheth fire, So let it soothe away thine ire. Then—go seek thee garments drier Lest a rheum thou take."
Sir Gui did gasp, and gasping, strove to curse, Whereat he, gasping, did but gasp the worse, Till, finding he could gasp, but nothing say, He shook clenched fist and, gasping, strode away. Then Joc'lyn turned and thus beheld Yolande, Who trembling all and pale of cheek did stand.
"O Fool!" she sighed. "Poor Fool, what hast thou done?"
Quoth he: "Yolande, to woo thee I've begun, I better might have wooed, it is most true, If other wooers had not wooed thee too."
"Nay, Fool!" she whispered. "O beware—beware! Death—death for thee is in the very air. From Canalise, in haste, I bid thee fly, For 'vengeful lord and cruel is Sir Gui. Take now this gold to aid thee on thy way, And for thy life upon my knees I'll pray, And with the holy angels intercede To comfort thee and aid thee in thy need. And so—farewell! "Thus, speaking, turned Yolande. But Joc'lyn stayed her there with gentle hand, Whereat she viewed him o'er in mute surprise, To see the radiant gladness of his eyes.
Quoth he: "Yolande, since thou wilt pray for me, Of thy sweet prayers fain would I worthy be. This I do know—let Death come when he may, The love I bear thee shall live on alway.
Nor will I strive to leave grim Death behind me, Since when Death wills methinks he sure will find me; As in the world Death roameth everywhere, Who flees him here perchance shall meet him there. Here, then, I'll bide—let what so will betide me, Thy prayers like holy angels, watch beside me. So all day long and in thy pretty sleeping 'Till next we meet the Saints have thee in keeping."
My daughter GILLIAN animadverteth:
GILL: The last part seems to me much better. I like Yolande, I hope he'll get her.
MYSELF: Patience, my dear, he's hardly met her.
GILL: I think it would be rather nice To make him kiss her once or twice.
MYSELF: I'll make him kiss her well, my dear, When he begins—but not just here. I'll later see what I can do In this matter to please you.
GILL: And then I hope, that by and by He kills that frightful beast, Sir Gui.
MYSELF: Yes, I suppose, we ought to slay him, For all his wickedness to pay him.
GILL: And Pertinax, I think—don't you? Should have a lady fair to woo. To see him in love would be perfectly clipping. It's a corking idea, and quite awfully ripping—
MYSELF: If you use such vile slang, miss, I vow I will not—
GILL: O, Pax, father! I'm sorry; I almost forgot.
MYSELF: Very well, if my warning you'll bear well in mind, A fair damsel for Pertinax I 'll try to find.
GILL: Then make her, father, make her quick, I always knew you were a brick.
How Pertinax plied angle to his sport And, catching him no fish, fish-like was caught.
* * * * *
By sleepy stream where bending willows swayed, And, from the sun, a greeny twilight made, Sir Pertinax, broad back against a tree, Lolled at his ease and yawned right lustily. In brawny fist he grasped a rod or angle, With hook wherefrom sad worm did, writhing, dangle. Full well he loved the piscatorial sport, Though he as yet no single fish had caught. Hard by, in easy reach upon the sward, Lay rusty bascinet and good broadsword. Thus patiently the good Knight sat and fished, Yet in his heart most heartily he wished That he, instead of fishing, snug had been Seated within his goodly tower of Shene. And thinking thus, he needs must cast his eye On rusty mail, on battered shoon, and sigh, And murmur fitful curses and lament That in such base, unknightly garb he went— A lord of might whose broad shield bravely bore Of proud and noble quarterings a score. "And 't was forsooth for foolish ducal whim That he must plod abroad in such vile trim!" Revolving thus, his anger sudden woke, And, scowling, to the unseen fish he spoke:
"A Duke! A Fool! A fool-duke, by my head! Who, clad like Fool, like Fool will fain be wed,
For ass and dolt and fool of fools is he Who'll live in bondage to some talk-full she. Yet, if he'll wed, why i' the foul fiend's name, Must he in motley seek the haughty dame?"
But now, while he did on this problem dwell, Two unexpected happenings befell: A fish to nibble on the worm began, And to him through the green a fair maid ran. Fast, fast amid the tangled brake she fled, Her cheeks all pale, her dark eyes wide with dread; But Pertinax her beauty nothing heeded, Since both his eyes to watch his fish were needed; But started round with sudden, peevish snort As in slim hands his brawny fist she caught; "Ha, maid!" he cried, "Why must thou come this way To spoil my sport and fright mine fish away?" "O man—O man, if man thou art," she gasped, "Save me!" And here his hand she closer grasped, But even now, as thus she breathless spake, Forth of the wood three lusty fellows brake; Goodly their dress and bright the mail they wore, While on their breasts a falcon-badge they bore. "Oho!" cried one. "Yon dirty knave she's met!" Sir Pertinax here donned his bascinet. "But one poor rogue shan't let us!" t' other roared. Sir Pertinax here reached and drew his sword. "Then," cried the third, "let's at him now all three!" Quoth Pertinax: "Maid, get thee 'hind yon tree, For now, methinks, hast found me better sport Than if, forsooth, yon plaguy fish I'd caught." So saying, up he rose and, eyes a-dance He 'gainst the three did joyously advance, With sword that flashed full bright, but brighter yet The eyes beneath his rusty bascinet;
While aspect bold and carriage proud and high, Did plainly give his mean array the lie. Thus, as he gaily strode to meet the three, In look and gesture all proud knight was he; Beholding which, the maid forgot her dread, And, 'stead of pale, her cheek glowed softly red.
Now at the three Sir Pertinax did spring, And clashing steel on steel did loudly ring, Yet Pertinax was one and they were three, And once was, swearing, smitten to his knee, Whereat the maid hid face in sudden fear, And, kneeling so, fierce cries and shouts did hear, The sounds of combat dire, and deadly riot Lost all at once and hushed to sudden quiet, And glancing up she saw to her amaze Three rogues who fleetly ran three several ways, Three beaten rogues who fled with one accord, While Pertinax, despondent, sheathed his sword. "Par Dex!" he growled, "'Tis shame that they should run Ere that to fight the rogues had scarce begun!" So back he came, his rod and line he took, And gloomed to find no worm upon his hook. But now the maiden viewed him gentle-eyed; "Brave soldier, I do thank thee well!" she sighed, "Thou, like true knight, hast fought for me today—" "And the fish," sighed he, "have stole my worm away, Which is great pity, since my worms be few!" And here the Knight's despond but deeper grew. "Yon rogues," he sighed, "no stomach had for fight, Yet scared the fish that had a mind to bite!" "But thou hast saved me, noble man!" said she. "So must I use another worm!" sighed he.
And straightway with his fishing he proceeded While sat the maid beside him all unheeded; Whereat she frowned and, scornful, thus did speak With angry colour flaming in her cheek: "What man art thou that canst but fight and fish? Hast thou no higher thought, no better wish?" "Certes," quoth he, "I would I had indeed A goodly pot of foaming ale or mead." "O base, most base!" the maid did scornful cry, And viewed him o'er with proud, disdainful eye. "That I should owe my life to man like thee! That one so base could fight and master three! Who art thou, man, and what? Speak me thy name, Whither ye go and why, and whence ye came, Thy rank, thy state, thy worth to me impart, If soldier, serf, or outlawed man thou art; And why 'neath ragged habit thou dost wear A chain of gold such as but knights do bear, Why thou canst front three armed rogues unafraid, Yet fear methinks to look upon a maid?"
But to these questions Pertinax sat dumb— That is, he rubbed his chin and murmured, "Hum!" Whereat she, frowning, set determined chin And thus again to question did begin:
SHE: What manner of man art thou?
HE: A man.
SHE: A soldier?
HE: Thou sayest.
SHE: Art in service?
SHE: Whom serve ye?
HE: A greater than I.
SHE: Art thou wed?
HE: The Saints forfend!
SHE: Then art a poor soldier and solitary.
HE: I might be richer.
SHE: What dost thou fishing here?
HE: I fish.
SHE: And why didst fight three men for me—a maid unknown?
HE: For lack of better employ.
SHE: Rude soldier—whence comest thou?
HE: Fair maiden, from beyond.
SHE: Gross Knight, whither goest thou?
HE: Dainty damosel, back again.
SHE: Dost lack aught?
SHE: How, would'st have me hold my peace, ill fellow?
HE: 'T would be a marvel.
HE: Thou'rt a woman.
SHE: And thou a man, ill-tongued, ill-beseen, ill-mannered, unlovely, and I like thee not!
HE: And what is worse, the fish bite not.
Now here, and very suddenly, she fell a-weeping, to the Knight's no small discomfiture, though she wept in fashion wondrous apt and pretty; wherefore Sir Pertinax glanced at her once, looked twice and, looking, scratched his ear, rubbed his chin and finally questioned her in turn:
HE: Distressful damosel, wherefore this dole? SHE: For that I am weary, woeful and solitary. And thou—thou'rt harsh of look, rough of tongue, ungentle of—HE: Misfortunate maiden, thy loneliness is soon amended, get thee to thy friends—thy gossips, thy—
SHE: I have none. And thou'rt fierce and ungentle of face.
Here she wept the more piteously and Sir Pertinax, viewing her distress, forgot his hook and worm, wherefore a fish nibbled it slyly, while the Knight questioned her further:
HE: Woeful virgin, whence comest thou?
SHE: From afar. And thou art ofeatures grim and—
HE: And whither would'st journey?
SHE: No where! And thou art—
HE: Nay, here is thing impossible, since being here thou art somewhere and that within three bowshots of the goodly town of Canalise wherein thou shalt doubtless come by comfort and succour.
SHE: Never! Never! Here will I weep and moan and perish. And thou—
HE: And wherefore moan and perish?
SHE: For that I am so minded, being a maid forlorn and desolate, a poor wanderer destitute of kith, of kin, of hope, of love, and all that maketh life sweet. And thou art sour-faced and—
HE: Grievous maid, is, among thy many wants, a lack of money?
SHE: That also. And thou art cold of eye, fierce of mouth, hooked of nose, flinty of heart, stony of soul, and I a perishing maid.
At this Sir Pertinax blinked and caught his breath; thereafter he laid down his rod, whereupon the fish incontinent filched his worm all unnoticed while the Knight opened the wallet at his girdle and took thence certain monies.
HE: Dolorous damsel, behold six good, gold pieces! Take them and go, get thee to eat—eat much, so shall thy dolour wax less, eat beef—since beef is a rare lightener of sorrow, by beef shall thy woes be comforted.
SHE: Alas! I love not beef.
Now here Sir Pertinax was dumb a space for wonder at her saying, while she stole a glance at him betwixt slender fingers.
HE (after some while): Maid, I tell thee beef, fairly cooked and aptly seasoned, is of itself a virtue whereby the body is strengthened and nourished, whereby cometh content, and with content kindliness, and with kindliness charity, and therewith all other virtues small and eke great; therefore eat beef, maiden, for the good of thy soul.
"How?" said she, viewing him bright-eyed 'twixt her fingers again. "Dost think by beef one may attain to paradise?"
SHE: Then no beef, for I would not live a saint yet awhile.
HE: Nathless, take thou these monies and go buy what thou wilt.
So saying, Sir Pertinax set the coins beside her shapely foot and took up his neglected rod.
SHE: And is this gold truly mine?
SHE: Then I pray thee keep it for me lest I lose it by the way and so—let us begone.
Here Sir Pertinax started.
"Begone?" quoth he. "Begone—in truth? Thou and I in faith? Go whither?"
SHE: Any whither.
HE: Alone? Thou and I?
"Nay, not alone," she sighed; "let us go together."
Sir Pertinax dropped his fishing-rod and watched it idly float away down the stream:
"Together, maiden?" said he at last.
"Truly!" she sighed. "For thou art lonely even as I am lonely, and thou art, methinks, one a lonely maid may trust."
"Ha—trust!" quoth he. "And wherefore would'st trust me, maiden?"
SHE: For two reasons—thou art of age mature and something ill-favoured.
Now, at this Sir Pertinax grew angered, grew thoughtful, grew sad and, beholding his image mirrored in the waters, sighed for his grim, unlovely look and, in his heart, cursed his vile garb anew. At last he spoke:
HE: Truly thou may'st trust me, maiden.
SHE: And wherefore sighest thou, sad soldier?
HE: Verily for thy two reasons. Though, for mine age, I am not forty turned.
Saying which, he sighed again, and stared gloomily into the murmurous waters. But presently, chancing to look aside, he beheld a head low down amid the underwood, a head huge and hairy with small, fierce eyes that watched him right bodefully, and a great mouth that grinned evilly; and now as he stared, amazed by this monstrous head, it nodded grimly, speaking thus:
"Lob, Lobkyn he Commandeth thee To let her be And set her free, Thou scurvy, cutpurse, outlaw knave, Lest hanged thou be Upon a tree For roguery And villainy, Thou knavish, misbegotten slave; For proud is she Of high degree, As unto ye Explicitly—"
"Ha!" quoth Sir Pertinax, rising and drawing sword. "Now, be thou imp of Satan, fiend accursed, or goblin fell, come forth, and I with steel will try thee, Thing!"
Out from the leaves forthwith crawled a dwarf bowed of leg, mighty of shoulder, humped of back, and with arms very long and thick and hairy. In one great fist he grasped a ponderous club shod with iron spikes, and now, resting his hands on this and his chin on his hands, he scowled at the Knight, yet grinned also.
"Ho!" he cried, rolling big head in threatening fashion:
"Vile dog, thy rogue's sconce cracked shall be, Thy base-born bones be-thwacked shall be. I'll deal thee many a dour ding For that thou darest name me—Thing!"
"Now, as I live!" said Sir Pertinax, scowling also. "Here will I, and with great joyance, cleave me thine impish mazzard and split thee to thy beastly chine. And for thy ill rhyming:
"I with this goodly steel will halve thee And into clammy goblets carve thee. So stand, Thing, to thy club betake thee, And soon, Thing, I will no-thing make thee."
But, as they closed on each other with eager and deadly intent, the maid stepped lightly betwixt.
"Stay, soldier—hold!" she commanded. "Here is none but Lobkyn Lollo—poor, brave Lob, nor will I suffer him to harm thee."
"How, maiden?" snorted the good Knight fiercely. "Harm me, say'st thou—yon puny Thing?"
"Truly, soldier!" said she, roguish-eyed. "For though thou art very ungentle, harsh of tongue, of visage grim and manners rude—I would not have Lob harm thee—yet!"
Now hereupon our bold Sir Pertinax With indignation red of face did wax. The needful word his tongue was vainly seeking, Since what he felt was quite beyond the speaking. Though quick his hand to ward or give a blow, His tongue all times unready was and slow, Therefore he speechless looked upon the maid, Who viewed him 'neath her lashes' dusky shade, Whence Eros launched a sudden beamy dart That 'spite chain-mail did reach and pierce his heart. And in that instant Pertinax grew wise, And trembled 'neath this forest-maiden's eyes; And trembling, knew full well, seek where he might, No eyes might hold for him such magic light, No lips might hold for him such sweet allure, No other hand might his distresses cure, No other voice might so console and cheer, No foot, light-treading, be so sweet to hear As the eyes, lips, hand, voice, foot of her who stood Before him now, cheek flushing 'neath her hood. All this Sir Pertinax had in his thought, And, wishing much to say to her, said nought, By reason that his tongue was something slow, And of smooth phrases he did little know. But yet 't is likely, though he nothing said, She, maid-like, what he spake not, guessed or read In his flushed brow, his sudden-gentle eyes, Since in such things all maids are wondrous wise.
Now suddenly the brawny Dwarf did cry: "Beware, my old great-grand-dam creepeth nigh!" Thus speaking, 'mid the bushes pointed he, Where crook'd old woman crouched beneath a tree Whence, bowed upon a staff, she towards them came, An ancient, wrinkled, ragged, hag-like dame With long, sharp nose that downward curved as though It fain would, beak-like, peck sharp chin below. Mutt'ring she came and mowing she drew near, And straightway seized the Dwarf by hairy ear: Fast by the ear this ancient dame did tweak him, And cuffed his head and, cuffing, thus did speak him:
"Ha, dolt! Bad elf, and wilt thou slay, indeed, This goodly man did aid me in my need? For this was one that fought within the gate And from Black Lewin saved thy grannam's pate! Down, down, fool-lad, upon thy knees, I say, And full forgiveness of this soldier pray."
But Sir Pertinax, perceiving how the old dame did thus tweak and wring at the Dwarf's great, hairy ear even until his eyes watered, interceded, saying:
"Good, ancient soul, humble not the sturdy, unlovely, mis-shapen, rascally imp for such small matter."
"Nay, but," croaked the old woman, tightening claw-like fingers, "kind master, he would doubtless have slain thee." At this, Sir Pertinax scowled, and would have sworn great oath but, meeting the maid's bright eyes, checked himself, though with much ado:
"Art so sure," he questioned, "so sure man of my inches may be slain by thing so small?"
At this the maid laughed, and the old woman, sighing, loosed the ear she clutched:
"Shew thy strength, Lob," she commanded and, drawing the maiden out of ear-shot, sat down beside her on the sward and fell to eager, whispered talk. Meantime the Dwarf, having cherished his ear, sulkily though tenderly, seized hold upon his great club with both hairy hands:
And whirling it aloft, with sudden might A fair, young tree in sunder he did smite, That 'neath the blow it swayed and crashing fell. Quoth Pertinax: "Good Thing, 't is very well. Par Dex, and by the Holy Rood," quoth he, "'T is just as well that I was not yon tree!" And whirling his long sword as thus he spoke, Shore through another at a single stroke. "Here's tree for tree, stout manling!" he did say. "What other trick canst show to me, I pray?" Then Lobkyn stooped the broken stump to seize, Bowed brawny back and with a wondrous ease
Up by the roots the rugged bole he tore And tossed it far as it had been a straw. Sad grew our knight this mighty feat perceiving, Since well he knew't was past his own achieving.
But anon he smiled and clapped the mighty Dwarf on shoulder, saying:
"Greeting to thee, lusty Lob, for by Our Holy Lady of Shene Chapel within the Wood, ne'er saw I thine equal, since thou, being man so small, may do what man o' my goodly inches may nowise perform. Thou should'st make a right doughty man-at-arms!"
Hereupon the Dwarf cut a caper but sighed thereafter: quoth he:
"Aha, good master, and Oho, As man-at-arms fain would I go; Aye, verily, I would be so, But that my grannam sayeth 'No!'
"And, sir, my grand-dam I obey Since she's a potent witch, they say; Can cast ye spells by night or day And charmeth warts and such away.
"Love philtres too she can supply For fools that fond and foolish sigh, That wert thou foul as hog in sty Fair women must unto thee fly.
"Then deadly potions she can make, Will turn a man to wriggling snake, Or slimy worm, or duck, or drake, Or loathly frog that croaks in lake.
"And she can curse beyond compare, Can curse ye here, or curse ye there; She'll curse ye clad or curse ye bare, In fine, can curse ye anywhere.
"And she can summon, so 't is said, From fire and water, spirits dread, Strong charms she hath can wake the dead And set the living in their stead.
"So thus it is, whate'er she say, My grand-dam, master, I obey."
"Now by my head," quoth Sir Pertinax, "an thy grand-dam hath a potency in spells and such black arts—the which is an ill thing—thou hast a powerful gift of versification the which, methinks, is worse. How cometh this distemper o' the tongue, Lobkyn?"
"O master," spake the sighful Dwarf forlorn, "Like many such diseases, 't is inborn. For even as a baby, I Did pule in rhyme and versify; And the stronger that I grew, My rhyming habit strengthened too, Until my sad sire in despair Put me beneath the Church's care. The holy fathers, 't is confessed, With belt and sandal did their best, But, though they often whipped me sore, I, weeping, did but rhyme the more, Till, finding all their efforts vain, They sadly sent me home again."
"A parlous case, methinks!" said Sir Pertinax, staring at the Dwarf's rueful visage. "Learned ye aught of the holy fathers?"
"Aye, sir, they taught me truth to tell, To cipher and to read right well; They taught me Latin, sir, and Greek, Though even then in rhyme I'd speak."
"And thou canst read and write!" exclaimed Sir Pertinax. "So can not I!"
"What matter that? Heaven save the mark, Far better be a soldier than a clerk, Far rather had I be a fighter Than learned reader or a writer, Since they who'd read must mope in schools, And they that write be mostly fools. So 'stead of pen give me a sword, And set me where the battle's toward, Where blood—"
But the ancient dame who had risen and approached silently, now very suddenly took Lobkyn by the ear again.
"Talk not of blood and battles, naughty one!" she cried. "Think not to leave thy old grannam lone and lorn and helpless—nor this our fair maid. Shame on thee, Lob, O shame!" saying the which she cuffed him again and soundly.
"Master," he sighed, "thou seest I may not go, Since that my grand-dam will not have it so."
"Good mother, wise mother," said the maid, viewing Sir Pertinax smilingly askance, "why doth poor soldier go bedight in fine linen 'neath rusty hauberk? Why doth poor soldier wear knightly chain about his neck and swear by knightly oath? Good mother, wise mother, rede me this."
The old woman viewed Pertinax with her bright, quick eyes, but, ere she could answer, he sheathed sword, drew ragged mantle about him, and made to go, but, turning to the maid, bent steel-clad head.
"Most fair damosel," said he gently, "evening cometh on, and now, since thou art no longer forlorn, I will away."
"Nay, first, I pray thee, what is thy name?"
"So then doth Melissa thank Pertinax. And now—out alas! Will Pertinax leave Melissa, having but found her?"
Sir Pertinax looked up, looked down, fidgeted with his cloak, and knew not how to answer; wherefore she sighed again, though with eyes full merry 'neath drooping lashes and reached out to him her slender hand. "Aye me, and shall we meet no more, poor soldier?" she questioned softly.
"This I know not," he answered.
"For thy brave rescue I do give thee my humble thanks, poor soldier."
"Thy rescue, child?" cried the old woman. "Alack and wert thou seen? Thy rescue, say'st thou?"
"Indeed, good mother, from Sir Agramore's rough foresters. But for thee, thou needy soldier, my gratitude is thine henceforth. Had I aught else to give thee, that were thine also. Is there aught I may? Speak."
Now Sir Pertinax could not but heed all the rich, warm beauty of her—these eyes so sombrely sweet, her delicate nose, the temptation of her vivid lips—and so spake hot with impulse:
"Aye, truly, sweet maid, truly I would have of thee a—" Her eyes grew bright with laughter, a dimple played wanton in her cheek, and Sir Pertinax was all suddenly abashed, faint-hearted and unsure; thus, looking down, he chanced to espy a strange jewel that hung tremulous upon her moving bosom: a crowned heart within a heart of crystal.
"Well, thou staid and sorry soldier, what would'st have of me?" she questioned.
"Verily," he muttered, "I would have of thee yon trinket from thy bosom." Now at his words she started, caught her breath and stared at him wide-eyed; but, seeing his abashment, laughed and loosed off the jewel with quick, small fingers.
"Be it so!" said she. But hereupon the old woman reached out sudden hand.
"Child!" she croaked, "Art mad? Mind ye not the prophecy? Beware the prophecy—beware!
'He that taketh Crystal Heart, Taketh all and every part!'
Beware, I say, Oh, beware!"
"Nay, good mother, have I not promised? And for this crystal it hath brought me nought but unease hitherto. Take it, soldier, and for the sake of this poor maid that giveth, break it not, dishonour it not, and give it to none but can define for thee the secret thereof—and so, poor, brave, fearful soldier—fare thee well!"
Saying which this fair maiden turned, and clasping the Witch's bony arm about her slender loveliness, passed away into the denser wood with Lobkyn Lollo marching grimly behind, his mighty club across his shoulder.
Long stood Sir Pertinax, staring down at the strange jewel in his hand yet seeing it not, for, lost in his dreams, he beheld again two eyes, dusky- lashed and softly bright, a slender hand, a shapelyfoot, while in his ears was again the soft murmur of a maid's voice, a trill of girlish laughter. So lost in meditation was he that becoming aware of a shadow athwart the level sunset-glory, he started, glanced up and into the face of a horseman who had ridden up unheard upon the velvet ling; and this man was tall and armed at points like a knight; the vizor of his plumed casque was lifted, and Sir Pertinax saw a ruddy face, keen-eyed, hawk-nosed, thin-lipped.
"Fellow," questioned the haughty knight, "what hold ye there?"
"Fellow," quoth Sir Pertinax, haughty and gruff also, "'t is no matter to thee!" And speaking, he buttoned the jewel into the wallet at his belt.
"Fool!" exclaimed the Knight, staring in amaze, "wilt dare name me 'fellow'? Tell me, didst see three foresters hereabout?"
"Poltroon, I did."
"Knave, wilt defy me?"
"Rogue, I do!"
"Slave, what did these foresters?"
"Villain, they ran away!"
"Ha, varlet! and wherefore?"
"Caitiff, I drubbed them shrewdly."
"Dared ye withstand them, dog?"
"Minion, I did."
"Saw ye not the badge they bore?" demanded the fierce stranger-knight.
"'T was the like of that upon thy shield!" nodded Sir Pertinax grimly.
"Know ye who and what I am, dunghill rogue?"
"No, dog's-breakfast—nor care!" growled Sir Pertinax, whereat the stranger-knight grew sudden red and clenched mailed fist.
"Know then, thou kennel-scourer, that I am Sir
Agramore of Biename, Lord of Swanscote and Hoccom, Lord Seneschal of Tissingors and the March."
"Ha!" quoth Sir Pertinax, scowling. "So do I know thee for a very rogue ingrain and villain manifest."
"How!" roared Sir Agramore. "This to my face, thou vile creeper of ditches, thou unsavoury tavern-haunter—this in my teeth!"
"Heartily, heartily!" nodded Sir Pertinax. "And may it choke thee for the knavish carcass thou art."