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Title: Uther and Igraine
Author: Deeping, Warwick
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           UTHER AND IGRAINE

                            [Illustration:
  "PELLEAS WATCHED HER AS HER GREY GOWN WENT AMID THE GREEN AND RED"]



                           UTHER AND IGRAINE


                                  BY

                            WARWICK DEEPING


                       _ILLUSTRATED BY W. BENDA_


                               NEW YORK
                          THE OUTLOOK COMPANY
                                 1903



                          COPYRIGHT, 1903, BY

                         THE OUTLOOK COMPANY.


                         ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


                       PUBLISHED OCTOBER, 1903.



                                  To

                             MAUDE MERRILL

                       WITH THE AUTHOR'S HOMAGE



  CONTENTS


      BOOK I

                                                                    PAGE

  THE WAY TO WINCHESTER                                                1

      BOOK II

  GORLOIS                                                             93

      BOOK III

  THE WAR IN WALES                                                   199

      BOOK IV

  TINTAGEL                                                           325



BOOK I

THE WAY TO WINCHESTER



I


Beneath the dark cornices of a thicket of wind-stunted pines stood a
small company of women looking out into the hastening night. The half
light of evening lay over the scene, rolling wood and valley into
a misty mass, while the horizon stood curbed by a belt of imminent
clouds. In the western vault, a vast rent in the wall of grey gave out
a blaze of transient gold that slanted like a spear-shaft to a sullen
sea.

A wind cried restlessly amid the trees, gusty at intervals, but tuning
its mood to a desolate and constant moan. There was an expression of
despair on the face of the west. The woods were full of a vague woe,
and of troubled breathing. The trees seemed to sway to one another, to
fling strange words with a tossing of hair, and outstretched hands. The
furze in the valley--swept and harrowed--undulated like a green lagoon.

The women upon the hill were garbed after the fashion of grey nuns.
Their gowns stood out blankly against the ascetic trunks of the pines.
They were huddled together in a group, like sheep under a thorn hedge
when storms threaten. The dark ovals of their hoods were turned towards
the south, where the white patch of a sail showed vaguely through the
gathering grey.

Between the hill and the cliffs lay a valley, threaded by a meagre
stream, that quavered through pastures. A mist hung there despite
the wind. Folded by a circle of oaks rose the grey walls of an
ecclesiastical building of no inconsiderable size, while the mournful
clangour of a bell came up upon the wind, with a vague sound as of
voices chanting. Valley, stream, and abbey were rapidly melting into
the indefinite background of the night.

Suddenly a snarling murmur seemed to swell the plaining of the bell.
A dark mass that was moving through the meadows beneath like a herd
of kine broke into a fringe of hurrying specks that dissolved into
the shadows of the circle of oaks. The bell still continued to toll,
while the women beneath the pines shivered and drew closer together as
though for warmth and comfort. There was not one among them who had not
grasped the full significance of the sinister sound that had come to
them from the valley. A novice, taller than her sisters, stood forward
from the group, as though eager to catch the first evidence of the
deed that was to be done on that drear evening. She held up a hand to
those behind her, in mute appeal to them to listen. The bell had ceased
pulsing. In its stead sounded a faint eerie whimper, an occasional
shrill cry that seemed to leap out of silence like a bubble from a pool
where death has been.

The women were shaken from their strained vigilance as by a wind. The
utter grey of the hour seemed to stifle them. Some were on their knees,
praying and weeping; one had fainted, and lay huddled against the trunk
of a pine. It was such a tragedy as was often played in those days of
disruption and despair, for Rome--the decrepit Saturn of history--had
fallen from empire to a tottering dotage. Her colonies--those Titans
of the past--still quivered beneath the doom piled upon them by the
Teuton. In Britain, the cry of a nation had gone out blindly into the
night. Vortigern had perished in the flames of Genorium. Reculbuum,
Rhutupiæ, and Durovernum had fallen. The fair fields of Kent were open
to the pirate; while Aurelius, stout soldier-king, gathered spear and
shield to remedy the need of Britain.

The women upon the hill were but the creatures of destiny. Realism had
touched them with cynical finger. The barbarians had come shorewards
that day in their ships, and at the first breathing of the news the
abbey dependants had fled, leaving nun and novice to the mercies of the
moment. It had become a matter of flight or martyrdom. Certain fervent
women had chosen to remain beside their abbess in the abbey chapel, to
await with vesper chant and bell the coming of sword and saexe. Those
more frail of spirit had fled with the novices from the valley, and
now knelt numb with a tense terror on the brow of that windswept hill,
watching fearfully for the abbey's doom. They could imagine what was
passing in the shadowy chapel where they had so often worshipped. The
face of the Madonna would be gazing placidly on death--and on more than
death. It was all very swift--very terrible. Thenceforward cloister and
garden were theirs no more.

A red gleam started suddenly from the black mass in the valley. The
nuns gripped hands and watched, while the gleam became a glare that
poured steadily above the dark outline of the oaks. A long flame leapt
up like a red finger above the trees. The belfry of the chapel rose
blackly from a circlet of fire, and gilded smoke rolled away nebulously
into the night. The barbarians had set torch to the place. The abbey of
Avangel went up in flame.

The tall novice who had been kneeling in advance of the main company
rose to her feet, and turned to those who still watched and prayed
under the pines. The girl's hood had fallen back; the hair that
should have been primly coifed rolled down in billowy bronze upon her
shoulders. There was infinite pride on the wistful face--a certain
scorn for the frailer folk who wept and found sustenance in prayer. The
girl's eyes shone largely even in the meagre light under the trees, and
there was a straight courage about her lips. She approached and spoke
to the women who knelt and watched the burning abbey in a cataleptic
stupor.

"Will you kneel all night?" she said.

The words were scourges in their purpose. Several of the nuns looked up
from the flames in the valley.

"Shame on you, worldling!" said one of thin and thankless visage;
"down on your knees, brat, and pray for the dead."

The novice gave a curt, low laugh. The reproofs of a year rankled in
her like bitter herbs.

"Let the dead bury their dead," quoth she. "I am for life and the
living."

"Shame, shame!" came the ready response. "May the Mother of Mercy melt
your proud heart, and punish you for your sins. You are bad to the
core."

"Shame or no shame," said the girl, "my heart can grieve for death as
well as thine, Sister Claudia; and now the abbey's burnt, you may couch
here and scold till dawn if you will. You may scold the heathen when
they come to butcher you all. I warrant they will give such a beauty
short shrift."

The lean nun ventured no answer. She had been worsted before by this
rebellious tongue, and had discovered expediency in silence. Several
of the women had risen, and were thronging round the novice Igraine,
querulous and fearful. Implicit faith, though pious and admirable in
the extreme, neither pointed a path nor provided a lantern. Southwards
lay the sea and the barbarians; the purlieus of Andredswold came down
to touch the ocean. There was night in the sky; no refuge within miles,
and wild folk enough in the world to make travelling sufficiently
perilous. Moreover, the day's deed had harried the women's emotions
into a condition of vibrating panic. The unknown seemed to hem them in,
to smother as with a cloak. They were like children who fear to stir in
the dark, and shrink from impalpable nothingness as though a strange
hand waited to grip them to some spiritual torture. As it was, they
were fluttering among the pines like birds who fear the falcon.

"It grows dark," said one.

"Let Claudia pray for us."

"Igraine, you are wiser in the world than we!"

"Truth," said the girl, "you may bide and snivel with Claudia if you
will. I am for Anderida through the woods."

"But the woods," said a child with wide, dark eyes, "the woods are
fearful at night."

"They are kinder than the heathen," said Igraine, taking the girl's
hand. "Come with me; I will mother you."

Even as she spoke the novice saw a point of fire disjoint itself from
the dark circle of the oaks below. Another and another followed it, and
began to jerk hither and thither in the meadows. The dashes of flame
gradually took a northern trend, as though the torch-bearers were for
ascending the long slope that idled up to the ragged thicket of pines.
She turned without further vigil, and made the most of her tidings in
an appeal to the women under the trees.

"Look yonder," she said, pointing into the valley. "Let Sister Claudia
say whether she will wait till those torches come over the hill."

There was instant hubbub among the nuns. Cooped as they had been within
the mothering arms of the Church, peril found them utterly impotent
when self-reliance and natural instinct were needed to shepherd them
from danger. The night seemed to sweep like a wheel with the burning
pyre in the meadows for axle. The torches were moving hither and
thither in fantastic fashion, as though the men who bore them were
doubling right and left in the dark, like hounds casting about for a
scent. The sight was sinister, and stirred the women to renewed panic.

"Igraine, help us," came the cry.

Even tyranny is welcome in times of peril. Witless, resourceless, they
gathered about her in a dumb stupor. Even Claudia lost her greed for
martyrdom and became human. They were all eager enough for the forest
now, and hungry for a leader. Igraine stood up among them like a tall
figure of hope. Her eyes were on the east, where a weird glow above the
tree tops told her that the moon was rising.

"See," she said, "we shall have light upon our way. There is a
bridle-path through the wold here that goes north, and touches the
road from Durovernum. I am going by that path, follow who will."

"We will follow Igraine," came the answer.

North, east, and west lay Andredswold, sinister as a sea at night. The
hill, tangled with gorse and bracken, and sapped by burrows, dipped to
it gradually like an outjutting of the land. To the east they could see
a wide tangle of pines latticing the light of the moon. It was dark,
and the ground more than dubious to the feet. The women, nine in all,
herded close on Igraine, who walked like an Eastern shepherdess with
the sheep following in her track. First came Claudia, who had held sway
over the linen, with Malt, the stout cellaress, next Elaine and Lily,
twin sisters, two nuns, and two novices. There was much stumbling, much
clutching at one another in the dark; but, thanks to holy terror, their
progress was in measure ungracefully speedy.

The girl Igraine led with a keen gleam in her eyes and a queer
cheerfulness upon her face, as she stepped out blithely for the dark
mass where the wold began. Her sojourn in the abbey had been brief
and stormy, a curt attempt at discipline that had failed most nobly.
One might as well have sought to hem in spring with winter as to curb
desire that leapt towards greenness and the dawn like joy. She had ever
thought more of a net for her hair than of her rosary. The little pool
in the pleasaunce had served her as her mirror, casting back a full
face set with amber shadowed eyes, and a bosom more attuned to passion
than to dreams of quiet sanctity. She had been the wayward child of the
abbey flock, flooded with homilies, surrendered to eternal penances,
yet holding her own in a fair worldly fashion that left the good women
of the place wholly to leeward.

Thrust out into the world again she took to the wild like a fox to
the woodland, while her more tractable comrades were like caged doves
baffled by unaccustomed freedom. Matins, complines, vespers were no
more. Cold stone arched no more to tomb her fancies. Above stretched
the free dome of the sky; around, the wilderness free and untainted; in
lieu of psalms she heard the gathering cry of the wind, and the great
voice of the forest at night.

In due course they came to where a dark mass betokened the rampart
thickets of the wold, rising like a wall across the sky. Igraine hoped
for the track, and found it running like a white fillet about the brow
of a wood. They followed till it thrust into the trees, a thin thread
in the shadows. As they went, great oaks overreached them with sinuous
limbs. The vault was fretted innumerably with the faint overdome of
the sky. Now and again a solitary star glimmered through. To the women
that place seemed like an interminable cavern, where grotto on grotto
dwindled away into oblivious gloom. But for the track's narrow comfort,
Igraine and her company would have been impotent indeed.

The prospect was sad for these folk who had lived for peace, and had
tuned their lives to placid chants and the balm of prayer. In Britain
Christ was worshipped and the Cross adored, yet abbeys were burnt,
and children martyred, and strong towns given over to sack and fire.
Truth seemed to taunt them with the apparent impotence of their creed.
The abbess Gratia had often said that Britain, for its sloth and sin,
deserved to meet the scourge of war, and here were her words exampled
by her own stark death. The nuns talked of the state of the land, as
they plodded on through the night. There was no soul among them that
had not been grossly stirred by the fate that had overtaken Avangel,
Gratia, and her more zealous nuns. It was but natural that a cry for
vengeance should have gained voice in the hearts of these outcast
women, and that a certain querulous bitterness should have found tongue
against those in power.

Igraine, walking in the van, listened to their words, and laughed with
some scorn in her heart.

"You are very wise, all of you," she said presently over her shoulder.
"You speak of war and disruption as though the whole kingdom were in
the dust. True, Kent is lost, the heathen have burnt defenceless places
on the coast, and have stormed a few towns. The abbey of Avangel is not
all Britain. Have we not Aurelius and the great Uther? Our folk will
gather head anon, and push these whelps into the sea."

"God grant it," said Claudia, with a smirk heavenward.

"We need a man," quoth Igraine.

"Perhaps you will find him, pert one."

"Peril will," said the girl; "there is no hero when there is no dragon
or giant in need of the sword. Britain will find her knight ere long."

"Lud," said Malt, the cellaress, "I wish I could find my supper."

Thereat they all laughed, Igraine as heartily as any.

"Perhaps Claudia will pray for manna dew," she said.

"Scoffer!"

"It will be cranberries, and bread and water, till better seasons come.
I have heard that there are wild grapes in the wold."

"Bread!" quoth Malt; "did some kind soul say bread?"

"I have a small loaf here under my habit."

"Ah, Igraine, girl, I would chant twenty psalms for a morsel of that
loaf."

"Chant away, sister. Begin on the 'Attendite, popule.' I believe it is
one of the longest."

"Don't trifle with a hungry wretch."

"The psalms, Malt, or not a crust."

"Keep it yourself, greedy hussy; I can go without."

"We will share it, all of us, presently," said the girl, "unless Malt
wants to eat the whole."

They held on under the ban of night, following the track like Theseus
did his thread. At times the path struck out into a patch of open
ground, covered with scrub and bracken, or bristling thick with furze.
Igraine had never seen such timid folk as these nuns from Avangel.
If a stick cracked they would start, huddle together, and vow they
heard footsteps. They mistook an owl's hoot for a heathen cry, and a
night-jar's creaking note made them swear they caught the chafe of
steel. Once they suffered a most shrewd fright. They drove a herd
of red deer from cover, and the rush and tumultuous sound of their
galloping created a most holy panic among the women. It was some time
before Igraine could get them on the march again.

As the night wore on they began to lag from sheer weariness. Two or
three were feeble as sickly children, and the abbey life had done
little for the body, though it had done much to deform the mind.
Igraine had to turn tyrant in very earnest. She knew the women looked
to her for courage and guidance, and that they would be hopeless
without her stronger mind to lead them. She put this knowledge to
effect, and held it like a lash over their weakly spirits.

Igraine found abundant scope for her ingenuity. When they voted a halt
for rest, she vowed she would hold on alone and leave them. The threat
made the whole company trail after her like sheep. When they grumbled,
she told tales of the savagery and lust of the heathen, and made their
fears ache more lustily than did their feet. By such devices she kept
them to it for the greater portion of the night, knowing that the
shrewdest kindness lay in seeming harshness, and that to humour them
was but mistaken pity.

At last--heathen or no heathen--they would go no further. It was
some hours before dawn. The trees had thinned, and through more open
colonnades they looked out on what appeared to be a grass-grown valley
sleeping peacefully under the moon. A great cedar grew near, a pyramid
of gloom. Malt, the cellaress, grumbling and groaning, crept under its
shadows, and commended Igraine to purgatorial fire. The rest, limp
and spiritless, vowed they would rather die than take another step.
Huddling together under the branches, they were soon half of them
asleep in an ecstasy of weariness. Igraine, seeing further effort
useless, surrendered to the inevitable, and lay down herself to sleep
under the tree.



II


Day came with an essential stealth. The great trees stood without a
rustling leaf, in a stupor of silence. A vast hush held as though the
wold knelt at orisons. Soon ripple on ripple of light surged from the
hymning east, and the night was not.

The sleep of the women from Avangel had proved but brief and fitful,
couched as they had been under so strange a roof. They were all awake
under the cedar. Igraine, standing under its green ledges, listened to
their monotonous talk as they rehearsed their plight dismally under
the shade. The nun Claudia's voice was still raised weakly in pious
fashion; she had learnt to ape saintliness all her life, and it was a
mere habit with her. The cellaress's red face was in no measure placid;
hunger had dissipated her patience like an ague, and she found comfort
in grumbling. The younger women were less voluble, as age and custom
behoved them to be. Unnaturally bred, they were like images of wax,
capable only of receiving the impress of the minds about them. Such a
woman as Malt owed her individuality solely to the superlative cravings
of the flesh.

About them rose the slopes of a valley, set tier on tier with trees,
nebulous, silent in the now hurrying light. Grassland, moist and
spangled, lay dew-heavy in the lap of the valley, with the track
curling drearily into a further tunnel of green.

Igraine, scanning the trees and the stretch of grassland, found on a
sudden something to hold her gaze. On the southern side of the valley
the walls of a building showed vaguely through the trees. It was so
well screened that a transient glance would have passed over the line
of foliage without discovering the white glimmer of stone. She pointed
it out to her companions, who were quickly up from under the cedar
at the thought of the meal and the material comforts such a forest
habitation might provide. They were soon deep in the tall grass, their
habits wet to the knee with dew, as they held across the valley for the
manor amid the trees.

The place gathered distinctness as they approached. Two horns of
woodland jutted out--enclosing and holding it jealously from the
track through the valley. There were outhouses packed away under the
trees. A garden held it on the north. The building itself was modelled
somewhat after the fashion of a Roman villa, with a porch--whitely
pillared--leading from a terrace fringed with flowers.

The silence of the place impressed itself upon Igraine and the women as
they drew near from the meadowlands. The manor seemed lifeless as the
woods that circled it. There were no cattle--no servants to be seen,
not even a hound to bay warning on the threshold. Passing over a small
stone bridge, they went up an avenue of cypresses that led primly to
the garden and the terrace. They halted at the steps leading to the
portico. The garden, broken in places, and somewhat unkempt, glistened
with colour in the early sun; terrace and portico were void and silent;
the whole manor seemed utterly asleep.

The women halted by the stairway, and looked dubiously into one
another's faces. There was something sinister about the place--a
prophetic hush that seemed to stand with finger on lip and bid the
curious forbear. After their march over the meadows, and considering
the hungry plight they were in, it seemed more than unreasonable to
turn away without a word. None the less, they all hesitated, beckoning
each to her fellow to set foot first in this house of silence. Igraine,
seeing their indecision, took the initiative as usual, and began to
climb the steps that led to the portico. Claudia and the rest followed
her in a body.

Within the portico the carved doors were wide. The sun streamed down
through a latticed roof into a peristylum, where flowers grew, and a
pool shone silverly. There were statues at the angles; one had been
thrown down, and lay half buried in a mass of flowers. The place looked
wholly deserted, though, by the orderly mood of court and garden, it
could not have been long since human hands had tended it.

The women gathered together about the little font in the centre of the
peristylum, and debated together in low tones. They were still but
half at ease with the place, and quite ready to suspect some sudden
development. The house had a scent of tragedy about it that was far
from comforting.

Said Malt, "I should judge, sisters, that the folk have fled, and that
we are to be sustained by the hand of grace. Come and search."

Claudia demurred a moment.

"Is it lawful," quoth she, "to possess one's self of food and raiment
in a strange and empty house?"

"Nonsense," said the cellaress with a sniff.

"But, Malt, I never stole a crust in my life."

"Better learn the craft, then. King David stole the shewbread."

"It was given him of the priests."

"Tut, sister, then are we wiser than David; we can thieve with our own
hands. I say this house is God-sent for our need. May I stifle if I
err."

"Malt is right," said Igraine, laughing; "let us deprive the barbarians
of a pie or a crucifix."

"Aye," chimed Malt, "want makes thieving honest. _Jubilate Deo._ I'm
for the pantry."

A colonnade enclosed the peristylum on every quarter. Beneath the
shadows cast by the architrave and roof, showed the portals of the
various chambers. Igraine led the way. The first room that they essayed
appeared to have been a sleeping apartment, for there were beds in it,
the bedding lying disordered and fallen upon the floor as though there
had been a struggle, or a sudden wild flight. It was a woman's chamber,
judging by its mirror of steel, and the articles that were scattered
on floor and table. The next room proved to be a species of parlour or
living-room. A meal had been spread upon the table, and left untouched.
Platter and drinking cups were there, a dish of cakes, a joint on a
great charger, bread, olives, fruit, and wine. Armour hung on the
walls, with mirrors of steel, and paintings upon panels of wood.

The women made themselves speedily welcome after the trials of the
night. Each was enticed by some special object, and character leaked
out queerly in the choosing. Malt ran for a beaker of wine; the cakes
were pilfered by the younger folk; Claudia--whispering of Saxon
desecration--possessed herself with an obeisance of a little silver
cross that hung upon the wall. Igraine took down a bow, a quiver
of arrows, and a sheathed hunting knife; she slung the quiver over
her shoulder, and strapped the knife to her girdle. The clear kiss
of morning had sharpened the hunger of a night, and the meal spread
in that woodland manor proved very comforting to the fugitives from
Avangel.

Satisfied, they passed out to explore the rooms as yet unvisited. A
fine curiosity led them, for they were like children who probe the dark
places of a ruin. The eastern chambers gave no greater revealings than
did those upon the west. The kitchen quarters were empty and soundless,
though there was a joint upon the spit that hung over the ashes of a
spent fire. It seemed more than likely that the inmates had fled in
fear of the barbarians, leaving the house in the early hours of some
previous dawn.

As yet they had not visited a room whose door opened upon the southern
quarter of the peristyle. Judging by its portal, it promised to be a
greater chamber than any of the preceding, probably the banqueting or
guest room. The door stood ajar, giving view of a frescoed wall within.

Malt, who had waxed jovial since her communion with the tankard, pushed
the door open, and went frankly into the half light of a great chamber.
She came to an abrupt halt on the threshold, with a fat hand quavering
the symbol of a cross in the air. The women crowded the doorway, and
looked in over the cellaress's stout shoulders.

In a gilded chair in the centre of the room sat the figure of a man.
His hands were clenched upon the lion-headed arms of the siege, and
his chin bowed down upon his breast. He was clad in purple; there were
rings upon his fingers, and his brow was bound with a band of gold. At
his feet crouched a great wolf-hound, motionless, dead.

The women in the doorway stared on the scene in silence. The man in the
chair might have been thought asleep save for a certain stark look--a
bleak immobility that contradicted the possibility of life. Here they
had stumbled on tragedy with a vengeance. The mute face of death lurked
in the shadows, and the vast mystery of life seemed about them like a
cold vapour. It was a sudden change from sunlight into shade.

Igraine pushed past Malt, and ventured close to the crouching hound.
Bending down, she looked into the dead man's face. It was pinched and
grey, but young, none the less, and bearing even in death a certain
sensuous haughtiness and dissolute beauty. The man had been dark, with
hair turbulent and lustrous. In his bosom glinted the silver pommel of
a knife, and there were stains upon cloak and tessellated pavement.
Clasped in one hand was a small cross of gold that looked as though it
had been plucked from a chain or necklet, and held gripped in the death
agony. The wolf-hound had been thrust through the body with a sword.

"Hum," said Malt, with a sniff,--"Christian work here. And a comely
fellow, too--more's the pity. Look at the rings on his fingers;
I wonder whether I might take one for prayer money? It would buy
candles."

Igraine was still looking at the dead man with strange awe in her heart.

"Keep off," she said, thrusting off Malt; "the man has been stabbed."

"Well, haven't I eyes too, hussy?"

Claudia came in, white and quavering, with her crucifix up.

"Poor wretch!" said she; "can't we bury him?"

"Bury him!" cried Malt.

"Yes, sister."

"Thanks, no. It would spoil my dinner."

Claudia gave a sudden scream, and jumped back, holding her skirts up.

"There's blood on the floor! Holy mother! did the dog move?"

"Move!" quoth Malt, giving the brute a kick; "what a mouse you are,
Claudia."

"Are you sure the man's dead?"

"Dead, and cold," said Igraine, touching his cheek, and drawing away
with a shiver. "Come away, the place makes my flesh creep. Shut the
door, Malt. Let us leave him so."

The women from Avangel had seen enough of the manor in the forest.
Certainly, it held nothing more perilous than a corpse, perched
stiffly in a gilded chair; but the dead man seemed to exert a sinister
influence upon the spirits of the company, and to stifle any desire for
a further sojourn in the place. Folk with murder fresh upon their hands
might still be within the purlieus of the valley. The women thought
of the glooms of the forest, and of the strong walls of Anderida, and
discovered a very lively desire to be free of Andredswold, and the
threats of the unknown.

They left the man sitting in his chair, with the hound at his feet,
and went to gather food for the day's journey. Bread they took, and
meat, and bound them in a sheet, while Malt filled a flask with wine,
and bestowed it at her girdle. Igraine still had her bow, shafts,
and hunting knife. Before sallying, they remembered the dead. It was
Igraine's thought. They went and stood before the door of the great
chamber, sang a hymn, and said a prayer. Then they left the place, and
held on into the forest.

Nothing befell them on their way that morning. It was noon before they
struck the road from Durovernum to Anderida, a straight and serious
highway that went whitely amid wastes of scrub, thickets, and dark
knolls of trees. The women were glad of its honest comfort, and blessed
the Romans who had wrought the road of old. Later in the day they
neared the sea again. Between masses of trees, and over the slopes,
they caught glimpses of the blue plain that touched the sky. From a
little hill that gave broader view, they saw the white sails of ships
that were ploughing westward with a temperate wind. They took them for
the galleys of the Saxons, and the thought hurried them on their way
the more.

Presently they came to a mild declivity, with a broken toll-house
standing by the roadside, and two horsemen on the watch there, as the
distant galleys swept over the sea towards the west. The men belonged
to the royal forces in Anderida. They were reticent in measure, and in
no optimistic mood. They told how the heathen had swept the coast, how
their ships had ventured even to Vectis, to burn, slay, and martyr. The
women learnt that Andred's town was some ten miles distant. There was
little likelihood, so the men said, of their getting within the walls
that night, for the place was in dread of siege, and was shut up like a
rock after dusk.

Igraine and the nuns elected, none the less, to hold upon their way.
Despite their weariness, the women preferred to push on and gain
ground, rather than to lag and lose courage. For all they knew, the
Saxons might be soon ashore, ready to raid and slay in their very path.
They left the soldiers at the toll-house, and went downhill into a long
valley.

Possibly they had gone a mile or more when they heard the sound of
galloping coming in their wake. On the slope of the hill they had left,
they could see a distant wave of dust curling down the road like
smoke. The two men from Andred's town were coming on at a gallop. They
were very soon within bowshot, but gave no hint of halting. Thundering
on, they drew level with the women, shouted as they went by, and held
on fast,--dust and spume flying.

"God's curse upon the cravens," said Malt, the cellaress.

Cravens they were in sense; yet the men had reason on their side,
and the women were left staring at the diminishing fringe of dust.
There was much frankness in the phenomenon, a curt hint that carried
emphasis, and advised action. "To the woods," it said; "to the woods,
good souls, and that quickly."

The road ran through the flats at that place, with marsh and meadowland
on either hand. Further westward, the wold thrust forth a finger from
the north to touch the highway. Southward, scrub and grassland swept
away to the sea. It was when looking southwards that the nuns from
Avangel discovered the stark truth of the soldier's warning. Against
the skyline could be seen a number of jerking specks, moving fast over
the open land, and holding north-west as though to touch the road. They
were the figures of men riding.

The outjutting of woodland that rolled down to edge the highway was a
quarter of a mile from where the women stood. A bleak line of roadway
parted them from the mazy refuge of the wold. They started away at
a run; Igraine and another novice dragging the nun Claudia between
them. The display was neither Olympic nor graceful; it would have been
ridiculous but for the stern need that inspired it. Igraine and her
fellows made the best of the highway. In the west, the wold seemed to
stretch an arm to them like a mother.

The heathen raiders were coming fast over the marshes. Igraine,
dragging the panting Claudia by the hand, looked back and took measure
of the chase. There were some score at the gallop three furlongs or
more away, with others on foot, holding on to stirrups, running and
leaping like madmen. The girl caught their wild, burly look even at
that distance. They were hallooing one to another, tossing axe and
spear--making a race of it, like huntsmen at full pelt. Possibly there
was sport in hounding a company of women, with the chance of spoil and
something more brutish to entice.

Igraine and her flock were struggling on for very life. Their feet
seemed weighted with the shackles of an impotent fear, while every
yard of the white road appeared three to them as they ran. How they
anguished and prayed for the shadows of the wood. A frail nun, winded
and lagging, began to scream like a hare when the hounds are hard on
her haunches. Another minute, and the trees seemed to stride down to
them with green-bosomed kindness. A wild scramble through a shallow
dyke brought them to bracken and a tangled barrier about the hem of the
wood. Then they were amid the sleek, solemn trunks of a beech wood,
scurrying up a shadowed aisle with the dull thudding of the nearing
gallop in their ears.

It was borne in upon Igraine's reason as she ran that the trees would
barely save them from the purpose of pursuit. The women--limp, witless,
dazed by danger--could hardly hold on fast enough to gain the deeper
mazes of the place, and the sanctuary the wold could give. Unless the
pursuit could be broken for a season, the whole company would fall to
the net of the heathen, and only the Virgin knew what might befall them
in that solitary place. Sacrifice flashed into the girl's vision--a
sudden ecstasy of courage, like hot flame. These abbey folk had been
none too gentle with her. None the less she would essay to save them.

She cast Claudia's hand aside, and turned away abruptly from the rest.
They wavered, looking at her as though for guidance, too flurried for
sane measures. Igraine waved them on, with a certain pride in her that
seemed to chant the triumph song of death.

"What will you do, girl? Are you mad?"

"Go!" was all she said. "Perhaps you will pray for me as for Gratia the
abbess."

"They will kill you!"

"Better one than all."

They wavered, unwilling to be wholly selfish despite their fear and
the sounding of pursuit. There shone a fine light on the girl's face
as they beheld her--tyrannical even in heroism. Her look awed them and
made them ashamed; yet they obeyed her, and like so many winging birds
they fled away into the green shadows.

Igraine watched them a moment, saw the grey flicker of their gowns
go amid the trees, and then turned to front her fortune. Pursing her
lips into a queer smile, she took post behind a tree bole, and waited
with an arrow fitted to her string. She heard a sluthering babel as
the men reined in, with much shouting, on the forest's margin. They
were very near now. Even as she peered round her tree trunk a figure
on foot flashed into the grass ride, and came on at the trot. The bow
snapped, the arrow streaked the shadows, and hummed cheerily into the
man's thigh. Igraine had not hunted for nothing. A second fellow edged
into view, and took the point in his shoulder. Igraine darted back some
forty paces and waited for more.

In this fashion--slipping from tree to tree, and edging north-west--she
held them for a furlong or more. The end came soon with an empty
quiver. The wood seemed full of armed men; they were too speedy for
her, too near to her for flight. She threw the empty quiver at her
feet, with the bow athwart it, put a hand in the breast of her habit,
and waited. It was not for long. A man ran out from behind a tree and
came to a curt halt fronting her.

He was young, burly, with a great tangle of hair, and a yellow beard
that bristled like a hound's collar. A naked sword was in his hand,
a buckler strapped between his shoulders. He laughed when he saw the
girl--the coarse laugh of a Teuton--and came some paces nearer to her,
staring in her face. She was very rich and comely in a way foreign to
the fellow's fancy. There was that in his eyes that said as much. He
laughed again, with a guttural oath, and stretched out a hand to grip
the girl's shoulder.

An instant shimmer of steel, and Igraine had smitten him above the
golden torque that ringed his throat. Life rushed out in a red
fountain. He went back from her with a stagger, clutching at the place,
and cursing. As the blood ebbed he dropped to his knees, and thence
fell slantwise against a tree. He had found death in that stroke.

A hand closed on the girl's wrist. The knife that had been turned
towards her own heart was smitten away and spurned to a distance. There
were men all about her--ogrish folk, moustachioed, jerkined in skins,
bare armed, bare legged. Igraine stood like a statue--impotent--frozen
into a species of apathy. The bearded faces thronged her, gaped at her
with a gross solemnity. She had no glance for them, but thought only of
the man twitching in the death trance. The wood seemed full of gruff
voices, of grotesque words mouthed through hair.

Then the barbaric circle rippled and parted. A rugged-faced old man
with white hair and beard came forward slowly. There was a tense
silence over the throng as the old man stood and looked at the figure
at his feet. There were shadows on the earl's face, and his hands
shook, for the smitten man was his son.

Out of silence grew clamour. Hands were raised, fingers pointed, a
sword was poised tentatively above the girl's head. The wood seemed
full of bearded and grotesque wrath, and the hollow aisles rang with
the clash of sword on buckler. But age was not for sudden violence,
though the blood of youth ebbed on the grass. The old man pointed to a
tree, spoke briefly, quietly, and the rough warriors obeyed him.

They stripped Igraine, cast her clothes at her feet, and bound her to
the trunk of the tree with their girdles. Then they took up the body of
the dead man, and so departed into the forest.



III


It was well towards evening when the men disappeared into the wood,
leaving the girl bound naked to the tree. The day was calm and
tranquil, with the mood of June on the wind, and a benign sky above.
Igraine's hair had fallen from its band, and now hung in bronze masses
well-nigh to her knees, covering her as with a cloak. Her habit, shift,
and sandals lay close beside her on the grass. The barbarians had
robbed her of nothing, according to their old earl's wishes. She was
simply bound there, and left unscathed.

When the men were gone, and she began to realise what had passed, she
felt a flush spread from face to ankle, a glow of shame that was keen
as fire. Her whole body seemed rosily flaked with blushes. The very
trees had eyes, and the wind seemed to whisper mischief. There were
none to see, none to wonder, and yet she felt like Eve in Eden when
knowledge had smitten the pure flesh with gradual shame. Though the
place was solitary as a dry planet, her aspen fancy peopled it with
life. She could still see the heavy-jowled barbaric faces staring at
her like the malign masks of a dream.

The west was already prophetic of night. There was the golden glow of
the decline through the billowy foliage of the trees, and the shadows
were very still and reverent, for the day was passing. A beam of gold
slanted down upon Igraine's breast, and slowly died there amid her
hair. The west flamed and faded, the east grew blind. Soon the day was
not.

Igraine watched the light faint above the trees, wondering in her heart
what might befall her before another sun could set. She had tried her
bonds, and had found them lacking sympathy in that they were staunch
as strength could make them. She was cramped, too, and began to long
for the hated habit that had trailed the galleries of Avangel, and had
brought such scorn into her discontented heart. There was no hope for
it. She was pilloried there, bound body, wrist, and ankle. Philosophy
alone remained to her, a poor enough cloak to the soul, still worse for
things tangible.

Her plight gave her ample time for meditation. There were many chances
open to her, and even in mere possibilities fate had her at a vantage.
In the first place, she might starve, or other unsavoury folk find her,
and her second state be worse than her first. Then there were wolves in
the wold; or country people might find and release her, or even Claudia
and the women might return and see how she had fared. There was little
comfort in this last thought. She shrewdly guessed that the abbey folk
would not stop till they happened on a stone wall, or the heathen took
them. Lastly, the road was at no very great distance, and she might
hear perchance if any one passed that way.

Presently the moon rose upon Andredswold with a stupendous splendour.
The veil of night seemed dusted with silver as it swept from her
tiar of stars. Innumerable glimmering eyes starred the foliage of
the beeches. Vague lights streamed down and netted the shadows with
mysterious magic. Here and there a tree trunk stood like a ghost,
splashed with a phosphor tunic.

The wilderness was soundless, the billowy bastions of the trees
unruffled by a breath. The hush seemed vast, irrefutable, supreme. Not
a leaf sighed, not a wind wandered in its sleep. The great trees stood
in a silver stupor, and dreamt of the moon. The solemn aisles were
still as Thebes at midnight; the smooth boles of the beeches like ebony
beneath canopies of jet.

The scene held Igraine in wonder. There was a mystery about a moonlit
forest that never lessened for her. The vasty void of the night,
untainted by a sound, seemed like eternity unfolded above her ken. She
forgot her plight for the time, and took to dreaming, such dreams as
the warm fancy of the young heart loves to remember. Perhaps beneath
such a benediction she thought of a pavilion set amid water lilies, and
a boy who had looked at her with boyish eyes. Yet these were childish
things. They lost substance before the chafing of the cords that bound
her to the tree.

Presently she began to sing softly to herself for the cheating of
monotony. She was growing cold and hungry, too, despite all the magic
of the place, and the hours seemed to drag like a homily. Then with
a gradual stealthiness the creeping fear of death and the unknown
began to steal in and cramp even her buoyant courage. It was vain for
her to put the peril from her, and to trust to day and the succour
that she vowed in her heart must come. Dread smote into her more
cynically than did the night air. What might be her end? To hang there
parched, starved, delirious till life left her; to hang there still,
a loathsome, livid thing, rotting like a cloak. To be torn and fed
upon by birds. She knew the region was as solitary as death, and that
the heathen had emptied it of the living. The picture grew upon her
distraught imagination till she feared to look on it lest it should be
the lurid truth.

It was about midnight, and she was beginning to quake with cold, when
a sound stumbled suddenly out of silence, and set her listening. It
dwindled and grew again, came nearer, became rhythmic, and ringing in
the keen air. Igraine soon had no doubts as to its nature. It was the
steady smite of hoofs on the high-road, the rhythm of a horse walking.

Now was her chance if she dared risk the character of the rider. Doubts
flashed before her a moment, hovered, and then merged into decision.
Better to risk the unknown, she thought, than tempt starvation tied to
the tree. She made her choice and acted.

"Help, there! Help!"

The words went like silver through the woods. Igraine, listening
hungrily, strained forward at her bonds to catch the answer that might
come to her. The sound of hoofs ceased, and gave place to silence.
Possibly the rider was in doubt as to the testimony of his own hearing.
Igraine called again, and again waited.

Stillness held. Then there was a stir, and a crackling as of trampled
brushwood, followed by the snort of a horse and the thrill of steel.
The sounds came nearer, with the deadened tramp of hoofs for an
underchant. Igraine, full of hope and fear, of doubt and gratitude,
kept calling for his guidance. Presently a cry came back to her in turn.

"By the holy cross, who are you that calls?"

"A woman," she cried in turn, "bound here by the heathen."

"Where?"

"Here, in a grass ride, tied to a tree."

The words that had come to her were very welcome, heralding, as they
did, a friend, at least in race, and there was a manly depth in the
voice, too, that gave her comfort. She saw a glimmer of steel in the
shadows of the wood as man and horse drew into being from the darkness.
Moonlight played fitfully upon them, weaving silver gleams amid a smoke
of gloom, making a white mist about the man's great horse. A single
ray burnt and blazed like a halo about the rider's casque, and his
spear-point flickered like a star beneath the vaultings of the trees.
He had halted, a solitary figure wrapped round with night, and rendered
grand and wizard by the misty web of the moon.

The sight was pathetic enough, yet infinitely fair. Light streamed
through, and fell full upon the tree where Igraine stood. The girl's
limbs were white and luminous against the dark bosom of the beech,
and her rich hair fell about her like mist. As for the strange rider,
he could at least claim the inspiration accorded to a Christian.
The servant of the Galilean has, like Constantine, a symbol in the
sky, prophetic in all need, generous of all guidance. The Cross is a
perpetual Delphi oracular on trivial matters as on the destinies of
kingdoms. The man dismounted, knelt for a moment with sword held before
him, and then rose and strode to the tree with shield held before his
face.

Igraine was looking at the figure in armour, kindly, redly, from amid
the masses of her hair. The small noblenesses of his bearing towards
her had won her trust with a flush of gratitude. The man saw only
the white feet like marble amid the moss as he cut the thongs where
they circled the tree. The bands fell, he saw the white feet flicker,
a trail of hair waving under his shield. Then he turned on his heel
without a word, and went to tether his horse.

The interlude was as considerate as courtesy had intended. Igraine
darted for her habit with a rapturous sigh. When the man turned
leisurely again, a tall girl met him, cloaked in grey, with her hair
still hanging about her, and sandals on her feet.

"Mother Virgin, a nun!"

The words seemed sudden as an echo. Igraine bent her head to hide
the half-abashed, half-smiling look upon her face. It had been thus
at Avangel. Nun and novice had worn like habits, and there had
been nothing to distinguish them save the final solemn vow. The
man's notions were plainly celibate, and, with a sudden twinkling
inspiration, she fancied they should bide so. It would make matters
smoother for them both, she thought.

"My prayers are yours, daily, for this service," she said.

The man bent his head to her.

"I am thankful, madame," he answered, "that I should have been so good
fortuned as to be able to befriend you. How came you by such evil
hazard?"

"I was of Avangel," she said.

"You speak as of the past," quoth he, with a keen look.

"Avangel was burnt and sacked but yesterday," she said. "Many of the
nuns were martyred; some few escaped. I was made captive here, and
bound to this tree by the heathen."

Igraine could see the man's face darken even in the moonlight, as
though pain and wrath held mute confederacy there. He crossed himself,
and then stood with both hands on the pommel of his sword, stately and
statuesque.

"And the Lady Gratia?" he said.

"Dead, I fear."

A half-heard groan seemed to come from the man's helmet. He bent his
head into the shadows and stood stiff and silent as though smitten into
thought. Presently he seemed to remember himself, Igraine, and the
occasion.

"And yourself, madame?" he said, with a twinge of tenderness in his
voice.

The girl blushed, and nearly stammered.

"I am unscathed," she hastened to say, "thanks to heaven. I am safe and
whole as if I had spent the day in a convent cell. My name is Igraine,
if you would know it. I fear I have told you heavy tidings."

The man turned his face to the sky like one who looks into other worlds.

"It is nothing," he said, gazing into the night; "nothing but what
we must look for in these stark days. Our altars smoke, our blood is
spilt, and yet we still pray. Yet may I be cursed, and cursed again, if
I do not dye my sword for this."

There was a sudden bleak fierceness in his voice that betrayed his
fibre and the strong thoughts that were stirring in his heart that
moment. His face looked almost fanatical in the cold gloom, gaunt,
heavy-jawed, lion-like. Igraine watched this thunder-cloud of thought
and passion in silence, thinking she would meet the man in the wrack of
life rather as friend than as foe. The brief mood seemed to pass, or at
least to lose expression. Again, there was that in the kindness of his
face that made the girl feel beneath the eye of a brother.

"You will ride with me?" he asked.

Igraine hesitated a moment.

"I was for Anderida," she said, "and it is only three leagues distant.
Now that I am free I can go through the wold alone, for I am no child."

"An insult to my manhood," said the stranger.

"But the heathen are everywhere, and I should but cumber you."

"Madame, you talk like a fool."

There was a sheer sincerity about the speech that pleased Igraine. His
spirit seemed to overtop hers, and to silence argument. Proud heart!
yet without thought of debate she gave way in the most placid manner,
and was content to be shepherded.

"I might walk at your stirrup," she said meekly.

The man seemed to ponder. He merely looked at her with dark, solemn
eyes, showing a quiet disregard for her humility.

"Listen to me," he said, "you, a woman, must not attempt Anderida
alone. The town will be beleaguered, or I am no prophet. To Anderida
I cannot go, for I have folk at Winchester who wait my coming. If you
can put trust in me, and will ride with me to Winchester, you will find
harbour there."

She considered a moment.

"Winchester," she said, "yes, and most certainly I trust you."

The man stretched out a hand to her with a smile.

"God willing," he said, "I will bear you safe to the place. As for your
frocks and vows, they must follow necessity, and pocket their pride. It
will not damn you to ride before a man."

"I trow not," she said, with a little laugh that seemed to make the
leaves quiver. So they took horse together, and rode out from the beech
wood into the moonlight.



IV


When they were clear of the solemn beeches, and saw the road white
as white before them, Igraine began to tell the man of the doom of
Avangel, and the great end made by Gratia the abbess. The knight had
folded his red cloak and spread it for her comfort. Her tale seemed
very welcome to him despite its grievous humour, and he questioned
her much concerning Gratia, her goodness and her charity. Now it had
been well known in Avangel that Gratia had come of noble and excellent
descent, and seeing that this stranger had been familiar with her in
the past, Igraine guessed shrewdly that he himself was of some ancient
and goodly stock. To tell the truth, she was very curious concerning
him, and it was not long before she found a speech ready to her tongue
likely to draw some confession from his lips.

"I have promised to pray for you," she said, "and pray for you I will,
seeing that you have done me so great a blessing to-night. When I bow
to the Virgin and the Saints, what name may I remember?"

The man did not look at her, for her face was in the shadow of her hood
and his clear and white in the light of the moon.

"To some I am known as Sir Pelleas," he said.

"And to me?"

"As Sir Pelleas, if it please you, madame."

Igraine understood that she was to be pleased with the name, whether
she liked it or not.

"Then for Sir Pelleas I will pray," she said, "and may my gratitude
avail him."

There was silence for a space, broken by the rhythmic play of hoofs
upon the road, and the dull jar of steel. Igraine was meditating
further catechism, adapting her questions for the knowledge she wished
for.

"You ride errant," she said presently.

"I ride alone, madame."

"The wold is a rude region set thick with perils."

"Very true," quoth the man.

"Perhaps you are a venturesome spirit."

"I believe that I am often as careful as death."

Igraine made her culminating suggestion.

"Some high deed must have been in your heart," she said, "or probably
you would not have risked so much."

The man Pelleas did not even look at her. She felt the bridle-arm that
half held her tighten unconsciously, as though he were steeling himself
against her curiosity.

"Madame," he said very gravely, "every man's business should be for his
own heart, and I do not know that I have any need to share the right or
wrong of mine with others. It is a grand thing to be able to keep one's
own counsel. It is enough for you to know my name."

Igraine none the less was not a bit abashed.

"There is one thing I would hear," she said, "and that is how you came
to know of the abbess Gratia."

For the moment the man looked black, and his lips were stern--

"You may know if you wish," he said.

"Well?"

"Madame, the Lady Gratia was my mother."

Igraine felt a flood of sudden shame burst redly into her heart. Gratia
was the man's mother, and she had been plying him with questions,
cruelly curious. She caught a short, shallow breath, and hung her head,
shrinking like a prodigal.

"Set me down," she said. "I am not worthy to ride with you."

"Pardon me," quoth the man; "you did not think, not knowing I was in
pain."

"Set me down," was all she said; "set me down--set me down."

The man Pelleas changed his tone.

"Madame," he said, with a sudden gentleness that made her desire to
weep, "I have forgiven you. What, then, does it matter?"

Igraine hung her head.

"I am altogether ashamed," she said.

She drew her hood well over her face, and took her reproof to heart
like a veritable penitent. Even religious solemnities make little
change in the notorious weaknesses of woman. Igraine was angry, not
only for having blundered clumsily against the man's sorrow, but also
because of the somewhat graceless part she seemed to have played after
the deliverance he had vouchsafed her. As yet her character seemed to
have lost honour fast by mere brief contrast with the man's.

Pelleas meanwhile rode with eyes watching the wan stretch of road to
the west. On either hand the woods rose up like nebulous hills bowelled
by tunnelled mysteries of gloom. He had turned his horse to the grass
beside the roadway, so that the tramp of hoofs should fall muffled on
the air. Igraine, close against his steeled breast, with his bridle-arm
about her, looked into his face from the shadows of her hood, and found
much to initiate her liking.

If she loved strength, it was there. If she desired the grand reserve
of silent vigour, it was there also. The deeply caverned eyes watching
through the night seemed dark with a quiet destiny. The large, finely
moulded face, gaunt and white in its meditative repose, seemed fit to
front the ruins of a stricken land. It was the face of a man who had
watched and striven, who had followed truth like a shadow, and had
found the light of life in the heavens. There was bitterness there,
pain, and the ghost of a sad desire that had pleaded with death. The
face would have seemed morose, but for a certain something that made
its shadows kind.

Instinctively, as she watched the mask of thought beneath the dark arch
of his open casque, she felt that he had memories in his heart at that
moment. His thoughts were not for her, however much she pitied him or
longed to tell him of her shame and sympathy. Nothing could come into
that sad session of remembrances, save the soul of the man and the
memories of his mother. That he was grieving deeply Igraine knew well.
His was a strong nature that brooded in silence, and felt the more;
it must be a terrible thing, she thought, to have the martyrdom of a
mother haunting the heart like a fell dream at night.

Slipping from such a reverie, the turmoil and weariness of the past
days returned to take their tribute. Despite the strangeness of the
night, Igraine began to feel sleepy as a tired child. The magnetic
calm of the man beside her seemed to lull to slumber, while the motion
of the ride cradled her the more. The noise of hoofs, the dull clink
of scabbard against spur or harness, grew faint and faint. The woods
seemed to swim into a mist of silver. She saw, as in a dream, the
strong face above her staring calmly into the night, the long spear
poised heavenwards. Her head was on the man's shoulder. With scarcely a
thought she was asleep.

It was then that Pelleas discovered the girl heavy in his arms, and
looked down to find her sleeping, with hood fallen and a white face
turned peacefully to his. Strangely enough, the sorrow that had taken
him seemed to make his senses vibrate strongly to the more human things
of life. The supple warmth of the girl's slim body crept up the sinews
of his arm like a subtle flame. From her half-parted lips the sigh of
her breathing came into his bosom. Over his harness clouded her hair,
and her two hands had fastened themselves upon his sword-belt with a
restful trust.

The man bent his head and watched her in some awe. Her lips were like
autumn fruit fed wistfully on moonlight. To Pelleas, woman was still
wonderful, a creature to be touched with reverence and soft delight.
The drab, the scold, and the harlot had failed to debase the ideals
of a staunch spirit, and the fair flesh at his breast was as full of
mystery as a woman could be.

He took his fill of gazing, feeling half ashamed of the deed, and half
dreading lest Igraine should wake suddenly and look deeply into his
eyes. He felt his flesh creep with magic when she stirred or sighed,
or when the hands upon his belt twitched in their slumber. Pelleas
had seen stark things of late, burnt hamlets, priests slaughtered and
churches in flames, children dead in the trampled places of the slain.
He had ridden where smoke ebbed heavenwards, and blood clotted the
green grass. Now this ride beneath the quiet eyes of night, with the
bosomed silence of the woods around, and this lily plucked from death
in his arms, seemed like a passage of calm after a page of tempest.
Little wonder that he looked long into the girl's face, and thrilled
to the soft sway of her bosom. He thanked God in his heart that he
had plucked her blemishless from gradual death. It was even thus, he
thought, that a good soldier should ride into Paradise bearing the soul
of the woman he loved.

Igraine stirred little in her sleep. "Poor child," thought Pelleas,
"she has suffered much, has feared death, and is weary. Let her sleep
the night through if she can." So he drew the cloak gently about her,
said his prayers in his heart, and, holding as much as possible under
the shadows of the trees, kept watch patiently on the track before him.

All that night Pelleas rode, thinking of his mother, with the girl
sleeping in his arms. He saw the moon go down in the west, while the
grey mist of the hour before dawn made the forest gaunt like an abode
of the dead. He heard the birds wake in brake and thicket. He saw the
red deer scamper, frightened into the glooms, and the rabbits scurrying
amid the bracken. When the east mellowed he found himself in fair
meadowlands lying locked in the depths of the wold, where flowers were
thick as on some rich tapestry, and where the scent of dawn was as the
incense of many temples. With a calm sorrow for the dead he rode on,
threading the meadowland, till the girl woke and looked up into his
face with a little sigh. Then he smiled at her half sadly, and wished
her good-morning.

Igraine, wide-eyed, looked round in a daze.

"Day?" she said, "and meadows? It was moonlight when I fell asleep."

"It has dawned an hour or more."

"Then I have slept the night through? You must be tired to death, and
stiff with holding me."

"Not so," said Pelleas.

"I am sorry that I have been selfish," she said. "I was asleep before I
could think. Have you ridden all night?"

"Of course," quoth he, with a smile, "and not a soul have I seen. I
have been watching your face and the moon."

Igraine coloured slightly, and looked sideways at him from under her
long lashes. Her sleep had chastened her, and she felt blithe as a
bird, and ready to sing. Putting the man's scarlet cloak from her, she
shook her hair from her shoulders, and sprang lightly from her seat to
the grass.

"I will run at your side awhile," she said, "and so rest you. Perhaps
you will halt presently, and sleep an hour or two under a tree. I can
watch and keep guard with your sword."

Pelleas smiled down at her like the sun from behind a cloud.

"Not yet," he said; "a soldier needs no sleep for a week, and I feel
lusty as Christopher. We will go awhile before breakfast, if it please
you. There is a stream near where I can water my horse, and we can make
a meal from such stuff as I have. When you are tired, tell me, and I
will mount you here again."

She nodded at him gravely. Grass and flowers were well-nigh to her
waist. Her gown shook showers of dew from the feathery hay. Foxgloves
rose like purple rods amid the snow webs of the wild daisy. Tangled
domes of dogrose and honeysuckle lined the white track, and there were
countless harebells lying like a deep blue haze under the green shadows
of the grass.

Presently they came to where red poppies grew thickly in the golden
meads. Igraine ran in among them, and began to make a great posy, while
Pelleas watched her as her grey gown went amid the green and red. In
due course she came back to him holding her flowers in her bosom.

"Scarlet is your colour," she said, "and these are the flowers of sleep
and of dreams for those that grieve. Hold them in the hollow of your
shield for me."

Pelleas obeyed her mutely. She began to sing a soft slumberous dirge
while she walked beside the great black horse and plaited the flowers
into its mane. The man watched her with a kind of wondering pain. The
song seemed to wake echoes in him, like sea surges wake in the caverns
of a cliff. He understood Igraine's grace to him, and was grateful in
his heart.

"How long were you mewed in Avangel?" he said, presently.

"Long enough," quoth she, betwixt her singing, "to learn to love life."

"So I should judge," said Pelleas, curtly.

His tone disenchanted her. She threw the rest of the flowers aside, and
walked quietly beside him, looking up with a frank seriousness into his
face.

"I was placed there by my parents," she said, by way of explanation,
"and against my will, for I had no hope in me to be a nun. But the
times were wild, and my father--a solemn soul--thought for the best."

"But your novitiate. You had your choice."

"I had my choice," she answered vaguely. "Did ever a woman choose for
the best? Avangel was no place for me."

Pelleas eyed her somewhat sadly from his higher vantage. "The nun's is
a sorry life," he said, "when her thoughts fly over the convent walls."

A level kindness in the words seemed to loose her tongue like magic.
Twelve long months had her sympathies been outraged, and her young
desires crushed by the heel of a so-called godliness. Never had so kind
a chance for the outpouring of her discontent come to her. Women love
an honest grumble. In a moment all her bitterness found ready flight
into the man's ears.

"I hated it!" she said, "I hated it! Avangel had no hold on me. What
were vigils, penitences, and long prayers to a girl? They made us kneel
on stone, and sleep on boards. The chapel bell seemed to ring every
minute of the day; we had vile food, and no liberty. It was Saint This,
Saint That, from morning till night. We saw no men. We might never
dress our hair; and, believe me, there were no mirrors. I had to go to
a little pool in the garden to see my face.

"And they were so dull,--so dismal. No one ever laughed; no one ever
told romances; all our legends were of pious things in petticoats. And
what was the use of it all? Was any one ever a jot the better? I used
to get into my cell and stamp. I felt like a corpse in a charnel-house,
and the whole world seemed dead."

Pelleas scanned her half smilingly, half sadly.

"I am sorry for your heart," he said.

"Sorry! You needs must be when you are a soldier, with life in your
ears like a clarion cry."

"Life is a sorry ballad, Sister Igraine, unless we remember the Cross."

"Ah, yes, I have all the saints in mind--dear souls; but then, Sir
Pelleas, one cannot live on one's knees. I was made to laugh and
twinkle, and if such is sin, then a sorry nun am I."

"You misunderstand me," said the man. "I would that a Christian held
his course over the world, with a great cross set in the west to lead
him. He can laugh and joy as he goes, sleep like the good, and take
the fruits of life in his time. Yet ever above him should be the glory
of the cross, to chasten, purge, and purify. There is no sin in living
merrily if we live well, but to plot for pleasure is to lose it. Look
at the sun; there is no need for us to be ever on our knees to him, yet
we know well it would be a sorry world without his comfort."

"Ah," she said, with a little gesture. "I see you are too devout for
me, despite my habit. Take me up again, Sir Pelleas, and I will ride
with you, though I may not argue."

Pelleas halted his horse, and she was soon in the saddle before him,
somewhat subdued and pensive in contrast to her former vivacity. The
man believed her a nun, and she had a character to play. Well, when she
wearied of it, which would probably be soon, she could tell him and
so end the matter. It was not long before they came to the ford across
the stream Pelleas had spoken of. It was a green spot shut in by thorn
trees, and here they made a halt as the knight had purposed.

Before the meal Pelleas knelt by the stream and prayed. Igraine, seeing
him so devout, did likewise, though her eyes were more on the man than
on heaven. Her thoughts never got above the clouds. When they were at
their meal of meat and bread, with a horn of water from the stream, she
talked yet further of her life at Avangel, and the meagre blessing it
had been to her. It was while she talked thus that she saw something
about the man's person that fired her memory, and set her thinking of
the journey of yesterday.

Pelleas was wearing a gold chain that bore a cross hanging above the
left breast, but with no cross over the right. Looking more keenly,
Igraine saw a broken link still hanging from the right portion of the
chain. Instinctively her thoughts fled back to the silent manor in the
wood, and the dead man seated stiffly in the great carved chair.

Without duly weighing the possible gravity of her words, she began to
tell Pelleas of the incident.

"Yesterday," she said, "I saw a strange thing as we fled through the
wold. We came to a villa, and, seeking food there, found it deserted,
save for a dead man seated in a chair, and stricken in the breast. The
dead man had a small gold cross clutched in his fingers, and there was
a dead hound at his feet."

The man gave her a keen look from the depths of his dark eyes, and then
glanced at the broken chain.

"You see that I have lost a cross," he said.

Igraine nodded.

"Your reason can read the rest."

She nodded again.

"There is nothing like the truth."

Igraine stared at the man in some astonishment. He was cold as a frost,
and there was no shadow of discomfort on his strong face. Knowledge
had come to her so sharply that she had no answer for him at the
moment. Yet there stood a sublime certainty in her heart that this
violent deed was deserving of absolute approval, so soon had her faith
in him become like steel.

"The man deserved death," she said presently, with a curt and ingenuous
confidence.

Pelleas eyed her curiously.

"How should you know?" he asked.

"I have faith in you," was all she said.

Pelleas smiled, despite the subject.

"No man deserved death better."

"And so you slew him."

He nodded without looking at her, and she could see still the embers of
wrath in his eyes.

"I slew him in his own manor, finding him alone, and ready to justify
himself with lies. Honour does not love such deeds; but what would
you?--Britain is free of a viper."

"And you have blood on your hand."

He winced slightly, and glanced at his fingers as though she had not
spoken in metaphor.

"All is blood in these days," he said.

"And what think you of such laws?" she ventured, with a supreme
reaching after the requirements of her Order. "What of the Cross?"

"There was blood upon it."

"But the blood of self-sacrifice."

Her words moved him more than she had purposed. His dark face flushed,
and light kindled in his eyes as though the basal tenets of his life
had been called in question. He glowed like a man whose very creed
is threatened. Igraine watched the fire rising in him with a secret
pleasure,--the love of a woman for the hot courage of a man.

"Listen to me," he said strongly; "which think you is the worthier
life: to dream in a stone cell mewed from the world like a weak weed
in a cellar, or to go forth with a red heart and a mellow honour; to
strive and smite for the weak and the wounded; to right the wrong; to
avenge the fatherless? Choose and declare."

"Choose," she said, with a shrill laugh and a kindling colour, "truth,
and I will. Away with the rosary; give me the sword."

Like a wild echo to her human choice came the distant cry of a horn
borne hollowly over the sleeping meadows. Both heard it and started.
The great war-horse, grazing near by, tossed his head, snorted, and
stood listening with ears twitching and head to the east. Pelleas rose
up and scanned the road from under his hand, with the girl Igraine
beside him.

"A Saxon horn," he said laconically; "the heathen are in the woods."



V


As they watched, looking down betwixt two thorn trees, a faint puff
of dust rose on the road far to the east, and hung like a diminutive
cloud over the meadows. This danger signal counselled the pair. Pelleas
caught his horse and sprang to selle; Igraine clambered by his stirrup,
and was lifted to her seat before him. Pelleas slung his shield
forward, and loosened his sword.

"If it comes to battle," he said, "I will set you down, and you must
hide in the meadows or woods, while I fight. You would but cumber me,
and be in great peril here. Rest assured, though, that I shall not
desert you while I live."

With that he turned his horse to the road, and halted, gazing down amid
the placid fields to where the little cloud of dust had hinted at life.
It was there still, only larger, and sounded on by the distant triple
canter of horses at the gallop. Pelleas and Igraine could see three
mounted figures coming up the road amid a white haze, moving fast, as
though pressed by some as yet unseen enemy. It was soon evident to
Pelleas and the girl that one of the fugitives was a woman.

"We will abide them," said the man, "and learn their peril. We shall be
stronger, too, for company, and may succour one another if it comes to
smiting. Look! yonder comes the heathen pack."

A second and larger cloud of dust had appeared, a mile or less beyond
the first. Pelleas watched it awhile, and then turned and began riding
at a trot towards the west, so that the three fugitives should overtake
him. He bade Igraine keep watch over his shoulder while he scanned the
meadows before them for sign of peril or of friendly harbour.

"Have no fear, child," he said; "I could vow, by these fields, that
there is a manor near. I trust confidently that we shall find refuge."

Igraine smiled at him.

"I am no coward," she said.

"That is well spoken."

"I would, though, that you would give me your dagger, so that, if
things come to an evil pass, I shall know how to quit myself."

"My dagger!" he said, with a sudden stare. "I left it in the man's
heart in Andredswold."

"Ah!" said Igraine; "then I must do without."

The dull thunder of the nearing gallop came up to them--a stirring
sound, full of terse life and eager hazard. Pelleas spurred to a
canter, while Igraine's hair blew about his face and helmet as they
began to meet the kiss of the wind. She clung fast to him with both
hands, and told what was passing on the road in their rear.

"How they ride," she said; "a tangle of dust and whirling hoofs.
There is a lady in blue on a white horse, with an armed man on either
flank. They are very near now. I can see the heathen far away over the
meadows. They are galloping, too, in a smoke of dust. Our folk will be
with us soon."

In a minute the lady and her men were hurtling close in Pelleas's wake.
He spurred to a gallop in turn, and bade Igraine wave them on to his
side. The three were soon with them, stride for stride. The girl on the
white horse drew up on Pelleas's right flank. She was habited in blue
and silver--a flaxen-haired damosel, with the round face of a child.
Seemingly she was possessed of little hardihood, for her mouth was a
red streak in a waste of white, and her blue eyes so full of fear that
Igraine pitied her. She cried shrilly to Pelleas, her voice rising
above the din like the cry of a frightened bird.

"The heathen!" she cried.

"Many?" shouted the man.

"Two score or more. There is a strong manor near. If we gain it we may
live."

"How far?"

"Not a mile over the meadows."

"Lead on," said Pelleas; "we will follow as we may."

The damosel on the white horse turned from the road, and headed
southwards over the meadows, with her men galloping beside her. The
long grass swayed, water-like, before them, its summer seed flying like
a mist of dew. Wood and pasture slid back on either hand. The ground
seemed to rise and fall before them as a sea, while rocks here and
there thrust up bluff noses in the grass like great lizards stirred by
the hurtling thunder of the gallop.

On they went, with white spume on breast and bridle; leaping, swerving
where rough ground showed. To Igraine the ride was life indeed,
bringing back many a whistling gallop from the past. She felt her heart
in her leaping to the horse's stride. Now and again she took a sly look
at Pelleas's face, finding it calm and vigilant--the face of a man
whose thought ran a silent course unruffled by the breeze of peril.
She felt his bridle-arm staunchly about her like a girdle of steel.
Although she could see the dust gathering thickly on the distant road,
she felt blithe as a new bride in the man's company, and there was no
fear at all in her thought.

The grassland began to slope gradually towards the south. A quavering
screech of joy came back to them from the woman riding in the van.
Pelleas spoke his first word during the gallop.

"Courage," he said. "Southwards lies our refuge."

Igraine looked over his shoulder, and saw how their flight tended down
the flank of a gentle hill into the lap of a fair valley. The grass
stretch was broken by great trees--oaks, beeches, and huge, corniced
cedars. Down in the green hollow below them a mere shone with the soul
of the sky steeped in its quiet waters. It was ringed with trailing
willows, and an island held its centre, piled with green shadows and
the grey shape of a fair manor. The place looked as peaceful as sleep
in the eye of the morning.

The woman on the white horse bade one of her men take his bugle-horn
and blow a summons thereon to rouse the folk upon the island. Twice the
summons sounded down over the water, but there was no answering stir to
be marked about the house or garden. The place was smokeless, lifeless,
silent. Like many another home, its hearths were cold for fear of the
barbarian sword.

As they held downhill, Igraine wove the matter through her thought like
swift silk through a shuttle.

"Should there be no boat," she said, giving voice to her misgivings,
"what can you do for us?"

"We must swim for it," said Pelleas, keenly.

"It is a broad, fair water, and the horse cannot bear us both."

"He shall, if needs be."

She felt that the brute would, after Pelleas had spoken so. She patted
the arched black neck, and smiled at the sky as they came down to the
mere's edge at a canter. The water was lapping softly at the sedges
amid a blaze of marsh marigolds and purple flags, the surface gleaming
like glass in the sun. Half a score water-hens went winging from the
reeds, and skimming low and fast towards the island. A heron rose from
the shallows, and laboured heavenwards with legs trailing.

Riding round the margin, they found to their joy a barge grounded in
a little bay, with sweeps ready upon the thwarts, and a horse-board
fitted at the prow. A purple cloak hung over one bulwark, trailing in
the water; a small crucifix and a few trinkets were scattered on the
poop, as though those who had used the ferry last had fled in fear,
forgetful of everything save flight.

Then came the embarkation. The barge would but hold three horses at one
voyage, so Pelleas ordered Igraine and the rest into the boat, and bade
the men row over and return. Igraine demurred a moment.

"Leave your horse," she said; "they may come before the boat can take
you."

Pelleas refused her with a smile, running his fingers through the
brute's black mane.

"I have a truer heart than that," he said.

The men launched away, and pulled at the sweeps with a will, Igraine
helping, and doing her devoir for the man Pelleas's sake. The barge
slid away, with ripples playing from the prow, and a gush of foam
leaping from each smile of the blades. It was a hundred yards or more
to the island, and the craft was ponderous enough to make the crossing
slow.

Pelleas sat still and watched the meadows. Suddenly--bleakly--a figure
on horseback topped the low hill on the north, and held motionless on
the summit, scanning the valley. A second joined the first. Pelleas
caught a shout, muffled by the wind, as the two plunged down at full
gallop for the mere, sleeping in its bed of green. Here were two
gentlemen who had outstripped their fellows, and were as keen as could
be to catch Pelleas before the barge could recross, and set the mere
betwixt them. Pelleas saw his hazard in a moment. Even if the barge
came before the heathen, there would be some peril of its capture in
the shallows.

He would have to fight for it, unless he cared to swim the mere.
Provided he could deal with these two outriders before the main company
came up, well and good, the raiders would find clear water between
the quarry and their swords. He thought of Avangel, and grew iron of
heart. Then there was the nun, Igraine, with the wonderful eyes, and
hair warm as the dun woods in autumn. He was her sworn knight as far
as Winchester. God helping him, he thought, he would yet see her face
again. So he rode out grimly to get fair field for horsecraft, and
waited for the two who swept the meadows.

Igraine, standing on the wooden stage at the water's edge, saw Pelleas
taking ground and preparing for a tussle. The barge had put off again
and had already half spanned the water. She was alone with the woman
of the white horse, who stood beside her still quaking like a reed,
and almost voiceless from the fulsome terror of an unshrived death.
Igraine had no heed for her at the moment. Her whole thought lurked
with the red shield and the black horse in the meadows. Worldly heart!
her desire burnt redly in her own bosom, and found no flutter for the
powers above.

She saw Pelleas gathering for the course, while the heathen slackened
so as not to override their mark. A crescent of steel flashed as the
foremost man launched his axe at the knight's head. The red shield
caught and turned it. In a trice Pelleas's spear had picked the rogue
from the saddle, despite his crouching low and seeking to shun it. The
second fellow came in like a whirlwind. His horse caught the black
destrier cross counter and rolled him down like a rammed wall. Pelleas
avoided, and was up with bleak sword. Smiting low, he caught the man's
thigh, and broke the bone like a lath. The Saxon lost his seat, and
came down with a snarling yell. The rest was easy as beating down a
maimed wolf.

The main company had just topped the hill. Pelleas, with the skirmish
ended to his credit, shook his sword at them, and led his horse into
the shallows. The barge swept in, took its burden from the bank, and
held back for the island, where Igraine stood watching on the stage,
ready with her welcome. She was glad of Pelleas in her heart, as though
the comradeship of half a day had given her the right to share his
honour, and to chime her joy with his. The woman in her swamped the
assumed sanctity of the nun. As the water stretch lessened between
them, Pelleas, silent and dark-browed as was his wont, found himself
beneath the beck of eyes that gazed like the half-born wonder of the
sky at dawn. It was neither joy nor great light in them, but a kind of
quiet musing, as though there were strange new music in her soul.

"Are you hurt?" she asked, as he sprang from the barge and stood beside
her, with head thrown back and his great shoulders squared.

"Not a graze."

"Two to one, and a fair field," quoth she, with a quaver of triumph;
"my heart sang when those men went down. That was a great spear thrust."

"Less and less of the rosary!"

She caught his deep smile, and laughed.

"I am a greater heathen than either," she said. "God rest their souls."

Meanwhile the lady in the blue tunic had somewhat recovered her
squandered wits and courage. She came forward with a simpering dignity,
walking daintily, with her gown gathered in her right hand, and her
left laid over her heart. Her eyes were very big and blue, their
brightness giving her an eager, sanguine look that was upheld the more
by an assumed simpleness of manner. Her childish bearing, winsomely
studied, exercised its subtleties with a lavish embellishment of smiles
and blushes. Looked at more closely, and in repose, her face belied
in measure the perspicuous personality she had adopted. A sensual
boldness lurked in mouth and nostrils, and there was more carnal
wisdom there than a pretended child should possess.

"Courtesy fails me, sir," she said, letting her shoulders fall into a
graceful stoop, and turning her large eyes to Pelleas's face; "courtesy
fails me when I would most praise you for your knightly deed in yonder
meadows. I am so frightened that I cannot speak as I would. My heart is
quite tired with its fear and flutter. Think you--you can save us from
these wolves?"

Pelleas had neither the desire nor the leisure to stand juggling
courtesies with the woman.

"Madame," he said, "we shall fight. Leave the rest to Providence. I can
give you no better comfort."

"No," she said, "no"--as in a daze.

Pelleas, reading her misery, repented somewhat of his abrupt
truthfulness.

"Come," he said, with a kind strength and a hand on her shoulder; "go
to the house and rest there with Sister Igraine. I see you are too much
shaken. Go in and pray if you can, while we hold the island."

The girl looked at him unreservedly for a moment. Then she gave a
little laugh that was half a sob, and, bending to him, kissed his hand
before he could prevent her. Giving him yet another glance from her
tumbled hair, she stepped aside to Igraine, and they turned together
towards the manor, and the trees and gardens that ringed it. The
girl had set her hand in Igraine's with a little gesture that was
intended to be indicative of confidence in the supposed nun's greater
intelligence.

"Let us go and sit under that yew tree," she suggested. "I cannot
stifle within walls now. You are named Igraine. I am called
Morgan--Morgan la Blanche,--and I am a lord's daughter. I almost envy
you your frock now, for death cannot frighten you as it frightens me.
Of course you are very good, and the Saints guard and watch over you.
As for me, I have always been very thoughtless."

"Not more than I," said Igraine, with a smile. "I have often hummed
romances when I should have praised Paul or Peter."

"But doesn't the fear of death blight you like a frost?"

"I never think of death."

"It seems so near us now that I can hardly breathe. Do you think we are
tortured in the other world, if there be one?"

"How should I know, simple one?"

"I wish the mere were a league broad. I should feel further from the
pit."

"Is your conscience so unkind?"

"Conscience, sister? It is self-love, not conscience. I only want to
live. Look!--the heathen are coming down to the mere. How their axes
shine. Holy Mother!--I wish I could pray."

Igraine, catching the girl's pinched face, with lips drawn and
twitching, pitied her from her very heart.

"Come then, I will pray with you," she said.

"No, no, my prayers would blacken heaven. I cannot, I cannot."

The wild company had swept down between the great trees in disorderly
array. Their weapons shone in the sunlight, their round bucklers
blickered. They were soon at the place where Pelleas had slain his men
in fair and open field. Dismounting, they gathered about their dead
fellows, and sent up, after their custom, a vicious, dismal ululation,
a sound like the howling of wolves, drear enough to make the flesh
tingle under the stoutest steel. Lining the bank among the willows,
they shook buckler and axe, gesticulating, threatening, their long hair
blowing wild, their skin-clad bodies giving them a wolfin look not
pleasant to behold. Round the margin they paddled--searching--casting
about for a boat. They seemed like beasts behind the gates of some
Roman amphitheatre--caged from the slaughter. The girl Morgan looked
at them, screamed, and hid her face in her tunic. Igraine found the
girl's quaking hand, and held it fast in hers.

"Courage, courage," she said; "there is no boat, and, even if they
swim, Sir Pelleas is a great knight."

"What can he do against fifty?" whined the girl, with her face still
covered.

"Fifty? There are but a score. I have numbered them myself."

"I would give all the jewels in the world to be in Winchester."

"Ah! girl, I have no jewels to give; but this, I promise you, is better
than a convent."

The barbarians had gathered in a group beneath a great willow. Plainly
they were in debate as to what should be done. Some, by their gestures,
their tossing weapons, and their bombast, were for swimming the mere.
Their councils were palpably divided. Possibly the sager folk among
them did not think the venture worth the loss to them it might entail,
seeing that one of those cooped upon the island had already given proof
of no mean prowess. They could see the three armed men waiting grimly
by the water's edge, ready to strike down the swimmer who should crawl
half-naked from the water weeds and mire. Gradually, but surely, the
elder tongues held the argument, and the balance went down solemnly for
those upon the island.

Pelleas and the two men, watching keenly for any movement, saw the
circle of figures break and melt towards the horses. They saw them
pick up the bodies of their two dead fellows, and lay them across the
saddle. In a minute the whole troop turned, and held away southwards
at a trot, flinging back a last wild cry over the water. The meadows
rolled away behind them; the gradual trees hid them from moment to
moment. Pelleas and the two servants stood and watched till the black
line had gone southwards into the thickening woods.

Under the yew tree Morgan la Blanche had uncased her white face, and
was smiling feebly.

"I am glad I did not pray," she said; "it would have been so weak.
Look! I have torn my tunic, and my belt's awry. Bind my hair for me,
sister, quickly,--before Sir Pelleas comes."



VI


With the heathen lost in the distant woods, Pelleas and the women
essayed the house, leaving the two servants to sentinel the island.

The great gates of the porch were ajar. Pushing in, they crossed
into the atrium, and found it sleepy as solitude. The water in the
impluvium gleamed with the gold flanks of the fish that moved through
its shadows. Lilies were there, white and wonderful, swooning to their
own images in the pool. The tiled floor was rich with colour. Venturing
further, they found the triclinium untouched, rich couches and flaming
curtains everywhere, gilded chairs, and deep-lustred mirrors, urns, and
flowers. In the chapel candles were guttered on the altar; dim lights
came down upon a wealth of solemn beauty--saints, censers, crosses,
frescoed walls all green and azure, gold and scarlet. The viridarium,
set betwixt chapel and tablinum, held them dazed with a glowing
paradise of flowers. Here were dreamy palms, orange trees like mounts
of gold, roses that slept in a deep delight of green. Over all was
silence, untainted even by the silken purr of a bird's wing.

Gynœcium and bower were void of them in turn. Everywhere they found
the relics of a swift desertion. The manor folk had gone, as if to
the ferry of death, taking no worldly store or sumptuous baggage with
them. Not a living thing did they discover, save the fish darting in
the water. The cubicula were empty, their couches tumbled; the culina
fireless, and its hearth cold.

Pelleas and the women marvelled much at the beauty of the place; its
solitude seemed but a ghostly charm to them. As for the girl Morgan,
she had taken Pelleas into her immediate and especial favour, holding
at his side everywhere, a-bubble with delight. The luxury of the place
pleased her at every glance; her vanity ran riot like a bee among
flowers. She eyed herself furtively in mirrors, and put a rose daintily
in her hair while Pelleas was not looking. She had already rifled a
cabinet, strung a chain of amethysts about her neck, and poked her
fingers into numberless rings. Then she would try the couches, queen
it for a moment in some stately chair, or smother her face sensuously
in the flowers growing from the urns. All these pretty vapourings were
carried through with a most mischievous grace. Igraine, who had seen
the girl white and whimpering an hour before and in deadly horror of
the pit, wondered at her, and hated her liberally in her heart.

Nor was Pelleas glad of the change her presence had wrought; for her
childish subtleties had no hold on him, and even her thieving seemed
insipid. With solemn and shadowy thoughts in his heart, her frivolous
worldliness came like some tinkling discord. Igraine seemed to have
dimmed her eyes from him beneath the shadow of her hood. Her face was
set like the face of a statue, and there was no play of thought upon
it. She walked proudly behind the pair--not with them--like one elbowed
out of companionship by a vapouring rival.

In the women's bower Morgan found a lute, and pounced upon it.

"One's whole desire seems here," she chattered. "This bower suits my
fancy like a dream, and I could lodge here a month for love of it.
What think you, Knight Pelleas? I never set foot in a fairer manor. I
warrant you there are meat and wine in the cellars. We will feast and
have music anon."

Pelleas's face looked more suited to a burial. Igraine pitied him, for
his eyes looked tired and sad. Morgan ran on like a jay. In the chapel
she found Igraine a share.

"Here is your portion, holy Sister," she said; "mine the bower, yours
the altar. So you see we are all well suited. Come, though, is it not
very horrible having to look solemn all day, and to wear a grey gown?
I should fade in a week inside such a hood; besides, it makes you look
such a colour."

Igraine could certainly boast a colour at that moment that might have
warned the woman of her rising fume. Pelleas broke in and took up the
argument.

"Men do not consider dress," he said; "everything is fair to the
comely. I look into a woman's face and into her eyes, and take the
measure of her heart. Such is my catechism."

"But you like to see rich silks and a smile, and to hear a laugh at
times. What is a girl if she is not gay? No discourtesy to you, sister;
but you seem so far set from Sir Pelleas and myself."

Igraine, lacking patience, flared up like a torch. "Ha! mark you," she
said, "my habit makes me no coward, nor do I thieve. No discourtesy to
you, my dear lady."

Morgan set up a thrill of laughter.

"How true a woman is a nun," quoth she; "but you are too severe, too
careful. Thieving, too; why, I may as well have a trinket or so before
the place is rifled, even if I take a single ring. And what is more, I
have been turned from my own house with hardly a bracelet or a bodkin.
Come, Sir Pelleas, let us be going; the Sister would be at her prayers.
I see we but hinder her."

Pelleas had lost both pity and patience in the last minute.
Partisanship is inevitable even in the most trivial differences, and
Pelleas's frown was strongly for Morgan la Blanche.

"Perhaps it would be well, madame," said he, "if we all went on our
knees for the day's deliverance. I cannot see that there is any shame
in gratitude."

"Gratitude!" chirped the girl. "Gratitude to whom?"

"To the Lord Saviour, madame, and the Mother Virgin."

She half laughed in his face, but his eyes sobered her. For a moment
she fronted him with an incredulous smirk, then her glance wavered,
and lowered to his breast. It held there with a tense stare, while
her whole face hardened. Pelleas saw her pupils darken, her cheeks
flush and pale in a moment. He thought nothing of it, or ascribed her
distraught and strange look to some sudden shame or shock of penitence.
In a trice the smile was back again, and she seemed pert and pleased as
ever.

"I see you are too devout for me," she said with a glib laugh, "and
that I am too wicked a thing for the moment. I will leave you to Sister
Igraine till you both have prayed your fill." Here she laughed again, a
laugh that made Igraine's cheeks burn. "Remember me to St. Anthony if
you may. If I recollect rightly he was a nice old gentleman, who cured
'the fire' for a miracle, and nearly fell in love with a devil. Till
you have done, I will go and gather flowers."

Pelleas and Igraine looked at one another.

"A devout child," said the man.

"And not bred in a nunnery."

"The world's convent, I should say."

For the moment Igraine was almost for telling him of her own hypocrisy,
but the thought found her more troubled on that score than she could
have guessed. She had acted a lie to the man, and feared his true eyes
despite her courage. "Another day I will tell him," she thought; "it
is not so great a sin after all." So they turned and knelt at their
devotions.

Morgan la Blanche went away like the wind. She ran through atrium and
porch with hate free in her eyes, and her child's face twisted into
a scowl of temper. In the garden she idled up and down awhile in a
restless fume, like one whose thoughts bubble bodingly. Sometimes she
would smite a lily peevishly with her open hand, or pluck a flower and
trample it under her feet as though it had wronged her. Then she would
take something from her bosom and stare at it while her lips worked,
or while she bit her fingers as though galled by some inward barb.
Presently she found her way by a laurel walk to the orchard, and thence
by a wicket-gate to the island's rim, where one of her men kept watch
on the further meadows.

She stood under an apple tree, called to him, and beckoned. He came
to her--a short, burly fellow with the look of a bull, and brute writ
large on his visage. Morgan drew him under the swooping dome of the
tree, plucked something that shone from her bosom, and dangled it
before his eyes.

"The cross," she said, almost in a whisper. "Galerius, the cross."

The man stared at her stupidly. Morgan lifted a finger, ran this way
and that peering into the green glooms and listening. Then she came
back to the man, soft-footed, glib as a cat, with the cross of gold
gripped in her fingers. She smiled at him, a smile that was almost a
leer.

"Galerius," she said, "the knight in the house yonder wears a chain
with one cross missing, and the fellow cross matches this. Moreover,
his poniard sheath is empty. I marked all this as I stood by him a
moment ago. This is the man who slew my lord."

The servant's heavy face showed that he understood her well enough now.

"To-night," she said, almost skipping under the trees with the
intensity of her malice, "it shall be with his own poniard. I have it
here. Galerius, you have always been a good fellow."

The man grinned.

"Keep silence and leave all to me. I shall need your hand and no more."

"Nor shall he," said Galerius curtly.

Morgan grew suddenly bleak and quiet, with the thought of murder
harboured in her heart.

"Look for yourself, Galerius," she said; "see that my eyes have not
deceived me. The man must have come upon Lord Madan when he was alone,
after our hirelings had deserted the house. He slew him in the winter
room--this whelp sent by Aurelius the king. You and I, Galerius,
found the cross in my lord's dead hand, and the poniard in his bosom.
I warrant you we will level this deed before we hold again for
Winchester."

"Trust my hand, Madame Morgan," quoth the man; "if you can have the
fellow sleeping, so much the better, one need not strike in a hurry."

"Leave it to me," she said; "I will give you your knife and your chance
to-night."

With that she sent the fellow back to his watching, and threaded the
orchard to the manor garden. Pelleas and Igraine had long ended their
prayers in the chapel. Morgan found them in the atrium, watching the
fish in the water and their own reflections in the pool. The girl
had quite smothered the bleak look that had held her features in the
orchard. She was the same ingenuous, self-pleased little woman whose
blue eyes seemed as clear and honest as a sleeping sea in summer.
Before, she had flown in Pelleas's face for vanity's sake; now she
seemed no less his woman--ready with smiles and childish flattery, and
all the pleasantness she could gather. She was at his side again--quick
with her eyes and tongue. Probably she guessed that the man despised
her, but then that was of no moment now, seeing that it made the secret
in her heart more bitter.

At noon they dined in the triclinium, with man Galerius to serve. He
had ransacked kitchen and pantry, and from the ample store discovered,
had spread a sufficient meal. His eyes were ever on Pelleas as he
waited. There was no doubt about cross or poniard sheath; and Galerius
found pleasure in scanning the knight's armour and looking for the
place where he might strike.

The afternoon proved sultry, and Pelleas took his turn in keeping watch
by the bank. Cool and placid lay the water in the sun, while vapoury
heat hung over the meadows and the distant woods. There was still
fear lest the heathen might return, thinking to catch the islanders
napping. The very abruptness of their retreat had been in itself
suspicious; and Pelleas was all for caution. Igraine's face seemed to
make him more careful of peril. He thought much of her as he paced the
green bank for three hours or more, before leaving the duty to Galerius
and his fellow.

Returning to the manor he found Igraine cushioned on the tiled floor
beside the impluvium, fingering the lute that Morgan la Blanche had
found. The latter lady was still in the tablinum, so Igraine said,
pilfering and admiring at her leisure, with fruit and a cup of spiced
wine ready at her hand. Pelleas took post on the opposite side of the
pool to Igraine, unarmed himself at his leisure, and began to clean his
harness. No task could have pleased Igraine better. She put the lute
away, took his helmet on her lap, and burnished it with the corner of
her gown. Pelleas had sword, breast-plate, greaves and shoulder pieces
beside him. Their eyes often met over the pool as they sat with the
scent of lilies in the air, and talked little--but thought the more.

Igraine felt queerly happy. There seemed a warm fire in her bosom, a
stealthy, happy heat that crept through every atom of her frame like
the sap into the fibres of some rich rose. Her heart seemed to unfold
itself like a flower in the sun. She looked often at Pelleas, and her
eyes were very soft and bright.

"A fair place, this," she said presently, as the man furbished his
sword.

"Fair indeed," said he; "a rich manor."

"It is strange to me after Avangel."

"Perhaps more beautiful."

"Ah," she said, with a sudden kindling; "I think my whole soul was made
for beauty, my whole desire born for fair and lovely things. You will
smile at me for a dreamer, but often my thoughts seem to fly through
forests--marvellous green glooms all drowned in moonlight. I love to
hear the wind, to watch the great oaks battling, to see the sea one
laugh of gold. Every sunset harrows me into a moan of woe. I can sing
to the stars at night--songs such as the woods weave from the voice of
a gentle wind, dew-ladened, green and lovely. Sometimes I feel faint
for sheer love of this fair earth."

Pelleas's eyes were on her with a strange deep look. His dark face was
aglow with a new wonder, as though his soul had flashed to hers. The
great sword lay naked and idle in his hands.

"Often have I felt thus," he said, "but my lips could never say it.
Thoughts are given to some without words."

"But the joy is there," she answered, with a quiet smile.

"Joy in beauty?"

"Yes."

"Ah, girl, a beautiful face, or a blaze of gold and scarlet over the
western hills, are like strange wine to my heart."

"Yes, yes, it is grand to live," said Igraine.

Pelleas's head went down over his sword as though in thought.

"It would seem," he said presently, "that beauty is a closed book, save
to the few. It is good to find a heart that understands."

"Ah, that know I well," she chimed; "in Avangel they had souls like
clay; they saw nothing, understood nothing. I think I would rather die
than be soul blind."

"So many folk," said the man, "seem to live as though they were ever
scanning the bottom of a pot. They never get beyond reflections on
appetite."

As they talked, Morgan la Blanche came in from behind the looped
curtains, with silks, samites, siclatons, and sarcanets in her arms.
She had found some rich chest in the bower accomplice to her fingers,
and had revelled gloriously. She sat herself down near Pelleas, and
began to laugh and chatter like a pleased child. The dainty stuffs
were tossed this way and that, gathered into scarves or frills, spread
over her lap and eyed critically as to colour, before being bound in
a bale for her journey. Vain and vapid as her behaviour seemed, there
was more in this little woman's heart than either Pelleas or Igraine
could have guessed. Her whole mood was false. Foolish as she seemed on
the surface, she was more keen, more subtle by far than Igraine, whose
whole soul spelt fire and courage.

As the day drew towards evening, Morgan became more stiff and silent.
Her eyes were bright as the jewels round her neck; they would flash
and waver, or fall at times into long, sidelong stares. More than
once Igraine caught the girl's face in hard thought, the pert lips
straight and cruel, the eyes hungry and very shallow. It reminded
her of Morgan's look in the morning, when she was in such stark fear
of the heathen and of death. Yet while she watched her, smiles and
glib vivacity would sweep back again as though there had been but a
transient cloud of thought over the girl's face.

With the shadows lengthening, they turned, all three of them, into
the garden, and found ease on a grass bank beneath the black boughs
of a great cedar. The arch of the dark foliage cut the sky into a
semicircle of azure. All about them the grass seemed dusted with dim
flowers--blue, white, and violet. A rich company of tiger lilies bowed
to the west. Dense banks of laurels and cypresses stood like screens of
blackest marble, for the sun was sinking. As they lay under the tree,
they could look down upon the water, sheeny and glorious in the evening
peace. Further still, the willows slept like a mist of green, with the
fields Elysian and full of sweet stupors, the woods beyond standing
solemn and still at the beck of night.

Morgan, who had brought the lute with her, began to touch the strings,
and to sing softly in a thin, elfin voice--

    My heart is open at the hour of night
    When lilies swoon
    And roses kiss in bed.
    When all the dreams of sad-lipped passion rise
    From sleep's blue bowers
    To die in lover's eyes.
      Come flame,
      Come fire,
    A woman's bosom
    Is but life's desire.
    So, all my treasures are but held for love
    In scarlet silks
    And tapestries of snow.
    I long, white-bosomed like the stars that sigh
    A bed in heaven
    For love's ecstasy.
      Come flame,
      Come fire,
    A woman's bosom
    Is all man's desire.

The birds were nestling and gossiping in the laurel bushes, taking
lodging for the night. From the topmost pinnacle of the cedar, a
thrush, a feathered muezzin, had called the world to prayer. From the
mere came the cries of water-fowl; the eerie wail of the lapwing rose
in the meadows. Presently, all was still and breathless; a vast hush
seemed to hold the world. The west was fast dying.

Under the cedar the light lurked dim and magic. Morgan's fingers were
still hovering on the strings, and she was singing to herself in a
whisper, as though she had care for nothing, save for that which was
in her heart. Pelleas and Igraine were quite near each other in the
shadow. They had looked into each other's eyes--one long, deep look.
Each had turned away troubled, yet with a sudden glory of quick anguish
in their hearts. The night seemed very subtle to them, and the whole
world sweet.



VII


Igraine's thoughts were to music when she went to bed that night.
Pelleas's eyes stayed with her, darkly, sadly; his tragic face seemed
to look out of the night, like the face of one dead. And he more than
liked her. She felt sure of that, even if she did not dream of kinder
things sprung from long looks and quiet sighings. She sat on her bed,
and smiled the whole strange day over to herself again. She had the
man before her in all his looks and poses; how he sat his horse, the
habit he had of looking deeply into nothingness, his strength and quiet
knightliness, and above all his devout soul. He seemed to please her
at every point in a way that set her thrilling within herself with a
delicious wonder. Last, she thought of the weird twilight under the
grand old tree--rare climax to a day of deeds and memories. She felt
her heart leap as she remembered the great wistful look that had shone
out on her from Pelleas's eyes.

The manor house seemed still as the night itself. Morgan la Blanche had
taken herself to a couch in the triclinium, choosing it rather than one
of the cubicles leading from the atrium. Galerius was on guard, pacing
the mere's bank, while his comrade slept in the kitchen. Pelleas,
armed, with sword and shield beside him, had quartered himself on
cushions in the great porch, with the doors open.

It was about ten o'clock. Igraine, full of sweet broodings, crept
into bed, and settled herself for sleep. The night was wonderfully
peaceful. The window of the room was overgrown with a tangle of roses,
the flowers seeming to mellow the air as it came softly in, and there
was a faint shimmer into the shadows that hinted at moonlight. Igraine
lay long awake, with her eyes on the few stars that peeped through
between the jambs. There was too much in her heart to let sleep in for
the while, and her thoughts were a'dance within her brain like wild,
fleet-footed things. As she lay in a happy fever of thought, her face
grew hot upon the pillow, and her tumbled hair was like a lustrous lava
flow over the bed. In course, despite her tossing, she fell into a
shallow, fitful sleep that verged between wakefulness and dreams.

It was well past midnight when she started, wide awake, with the
half-dreamt memory of some eerie sound in her ears. She sat up in bed,
and listened, shivering. There were footfalls, swift and light, on the
pavement of the atrium. From somewhere came a gruff voice, speaking
tersely and in bated tones. Next, there was something that sounded like
a groan, and then silence.

Igraine crept out of bed, hurried on her habit, opened the door gently,
and looked out. Moonlight streamed in through the square aperture in
the roof of the hall, but all else lay in darkness. The porch gates
were ajar, with a band of light slanting through upon the tiles. Eager,
tremulous, she fancied as she stood that she heard the beat of oars.
Then the low, groaning cough that she had heard before thrilled her
into action like a trumpet cry.

She was across the court in a second, and into the darkened porch. The
doors swung back to her hands, and the night streamed in. Clear before
her, lit with a silver emphasis, lay the water, and on it she saw the
dark outline of the barge, moving with foaming oars towards the further
bank. For the moment her heart seemed to halt within her.

"Pelleas!" she cried. "Pelleas!"

A stifled sound answered her from a dark corner of the porch. With a
sudden frost in her bosom she saw a black rill trickling over the tiles
in the moonlight, even touching her feet. Great fear came upon her, but
left her power to think. In the triclinium she had seen a lamp, with
tinder, steel, and flint in a tray beside it, and in her fear she ran
thither, tore her fingers in her haste with stone and steel, but had
the lamp lit with such speed as she had never learnt at Avangel. Then
she went back trembling into the porch.

The knight Pelleas lay in the corner, half propped against the wall.
His head was bowed down upon his chest, and he had both hands clasped
upon the neck-band of his tunic. Blood was trickling from his mouth,
and he seemed to be hardly breathing, while under the left arm-pit
shone the silver hilt of the knife that had been thrust there by
Galerius's hand. To the thought of the girl it seemed as if the man
were in his death agony.

The utter realism of the moment drove all fear from her. She set the
lamp on the tiles, and kneeling by Pelleas, pulled the knife slowly
from his side. A gush of blood followed. She strove to staunch it with
a corner of her gown. The man was quite unconscious, and never heeded
her, though he was still breathing jerkily and feebly, with a rattling
stridor in his throat. She lifted his head and rested it upon her
shoulder, while she knelt and pressed her hand over the wound, dreading
to see him die each moment.

For an hour she knelt, cold and almost bare-kneed, on the stone floor,
holding the man to her, watching his breathing with a tense fear,
pressing upon the wound as though ethereal life would ebb and mock
her fingers. Little by little she felt the warm flow cease, felt her
fingers stiffened at their task, while the minutes dragged like æons,
and the lamp flickered low in the night. At last she knew that the
issue was stayed, and that Pelleas bled no more. Gradually, fearfully,
lest life should fall away like a poised wand, she laid the man
down, and again watched with her hand over the stricken side. He was
breathing more noticeably now, with less of the look of death about
him. Encouraged thus, she dared to meditate leaving him to find wine,
and sheets to cover him there. When she essayed to move she found her
habit clotted to the wound where she had held it. It took her minutes
to cut the cloth through with the knife that had stabbed Pelleas, for
she was palsied lest the wound should break again and lose her her
love's labour.

Free at last, she fled into her room, tore the clothes in which she
had lain from the bed, and carried them trailing into the porch. Then,
lamp in hand, she spoiled the triclinium of rugs and cushions, and
found there the chalice of wine that Morgan had sipped from. Ladened,
she struggled back across the hall, fearing all the while to find the
man parted. No such foul fortune, however. He was breathing better and
better.

Then she set to to make a bed. She spread cushions and rugs; and then,
so slowly, so gently, that she seemed hardly to move, she had the man
laid upon the couch, with two cushions under his head. Next she covered
him with the clothes taken from her own bed. Thus much completed
without mishap, she washed his lips and face with water taken from the
pool, trickled some wine down his throat, and set the doors wide to
watch for dawn.

So pressed had she been by the man's peril, that even the right of
thought had been denied her. Now, seated by the lamp, she began to sift
matters as well as her meagre knowledge would suffer, keeping constant
watch on wounded Pelleas the while. She knew that Morgan and her men
were gone in the barge, but as to who gave Pelleas his wound, she could
come to no clear understanding in her heart. There must have been some
deep feud for such a stroke, though she could find no reason for the
deed. Still, she could believe anything of that chit Morgan la Blanche,
and there the riddle rested for a season.

Before long she saw the summer dawn stealing silently and mysteriously
into the east. The face of the sky grew grey with waking light, and the
hold of the moon and night relaxed on wood and meadow. Then the birds
began in the garden, till she thought their shrill piping must wake
Pelleas from his swoon, so blithe and lusty were they. The east was
forging day fast in its furnace of gold. The glare touched the clouds
and rolled them into wreaths of amber fire.

A sigh from the couch brought her to her feet like magic. She went and
knelt by the bed in quite a tumult of expectation. Pelleas's hands
were groping feebly over the coverlet like weak, blind things. Igraine
caught them in hers, thrilled as they closed upon her fingers, and,
bending low, she waited with her lips almost on the man's, her hair on
his forehead, her eyes fixed on his closed lids. All her soul seemed
to droop above him like a lily over a grave. Presently he sighed again,
stirred and opened his eyes full on Igraine's, as she knelt and mingled
her breath with his.

"Pelleas," she whispered. "Pelleas."

He looked at her for a moment with a dazed stare that dawned into a
smile that made her long to sing.

"It is Igraine," she said.

Pelleas caught a deep breath, and groaned as his stricken side twinged
to the quick.

Igraine put two fingers on his lips.

"Lie still," she said, "lie still if you love earth. You must not
speak, no, not one little word. I must have you quiet as a child,
Pelleas. You have been so near death."

She felt the man's hand answer hers. He did not speak or move, but lay
and looked at her as a little child in a cradle looks at its mother, or
as a dog eyes his master. Igraine put his hands gently down upon the
coverlet, and smiled at him.

"Lie so, Pelleas," she said; "be very quiet, for I am to leave you, for
a minute and no more. You must not move a finger, or I shall scold."

She beamed at him, started up and ran straight to the chapel, her heart
a-whimper with a joy that was not mute. She went full length on the
altar steps with her face turned to the cross above--the cross whose
golden arms were aglow with the sun through the eastern window. In her
mood, the white Christ's face seemed to smile on her with equal joy.
She learnt more in that moment than Avangel had taught her in a year.

Hardly five minutes had passed before she was with Pelleas again,
bearing fruit and olives, bread and oil. She made a sweet dish of bread
and berries, with some wine in it for his heart's sake, and then knelt
at his side to feed him. She would not let him lift a finger, but
served him herself with silver spoon and platter, smiling to give him
courage as he obeyed her like a babe. It seemed very pitiful to her
that so much strength and manliness should have been smitten so low
in one brief night. None the less, the man's feebleness brought her
more joy than ever his courage had done, and his peril had discovered
clear wells of ruth in her that might have been months hidden but for
the hand of Galerius. When Pelleas had finished the bread and fruit,
she gave him more wine, and then set to to bathe his hands and face
with scented water taken from the tablinum. Pelleas's eyes, with deep
shadows under them now, watched her all the while with a kind of
wondering calm. The sunlight flooded in, and lit her hair like red
gold, and made her neck to shine like alabaster. Meeting his look, she
reddened, and turned to hide her face for a moment, that he might not
see all that was writ there in letters of flame.

"Now you must sleep, Pelleas," she said, crossing his hands upon the
quilt.

He shook his head feebly.

"I am going to leave you," she persisted, "so you must not flout me,
Pelleas. I shall be here, ready, when you wake."

She smiled at him, and closed his lids gently with her finger tips.

"Sleep," she said, brushing her hand softly over his forehead, "for
sleep will give you strength again. You may need it."

She left him there, and taking bread and olives with her, she closed
the porch gates to shade him, and went herself into the garden. After a
meal under the old cedar, she went down to the water's edge and washed
her feet from the stains of Pelleas's blood, and bathed her hands and
face. She saw the barge amid the reeds and rushes on the further bank.
There was no sign of life in the meadows, and the woods were deep with
peace.

Then she remembered Pelleas's horse. Going to the stable behind the
manor, she found the beast stalled there, though Morgan's horses had
been taken by the men in the barge. Igraine took hay from the rack,
gave him a measure of oats in his manger, and watered him with water
from the mere. Then she stood and combed his mane with her fingers
as he fed. Some of the poppies she had plaited there were dead and
drooping in the black hair. She thought as she unbound the withered
things how nearly Pelleas's life had withered with theirs. She was very
happy in her heart, and she sang softly the low tender songs women love
when their thoughts are maying.

Igraine passed the whole morning in the garden, going every now and
again to the porch to open the doors gently, and peep in upon the
sleeper. She gathered a basket of fruit and a lapful of flowers. About
noon she went in, and bringing jars from the triclinium, she filled
them with water and garnished them with flowers. These jars she set in
array about Pelleas's bed, one of tiger lilies and one of white lilies;
a bowl of roses at his head, a jar of hollyhocks and one of thyme, and
fragrant herbs at the foot. Moreover, she strewed the coverlet with
pansies, and scattered rose leaves on his pillow. Then she went to the
chapel to pray awhile, before sitting down to watch beside his bed.

Pelleas woke about an hour after noon had turned. At his first
stirring, Igraine was hanging over him like a mother, with her hands
on his. Pelleas looked up at her, saw the flowers about his bed, and,
risking her menaces, spoke his first word.

"Igraine," he said.

She put her face down to his.

"I am much stronger," he said; "I can talk now."

"Perhaps a very little," she answered, with her eyes on his.

"Igraine!"

"Yes, Pelleas."

"You are very wonderful."

"Pelleas!" she said redly.

"I should have died without you, for I was witless, and coughing blood."

"I thought you would die," she said very softly, with her eyes
downcast. "I held you in my arms and, God helping me, staunched the
flow from your wound. But tell me, Pelleas, who was it stabbed you?"

The man smiled at her.

"There, I am as ignorant as you," he said. "I woke with a fiery twinge
in my side, and saw a man running out of the porch in the dark. I
struggled to rise. Blood came into my mouth, and betwixt coughing and
hard breathing I must have fainted. What of the others?"

Igraine knelt up from stooping over him, and thought.

"Morgan and her men," she said presently, "fled across the mere in the
barge just after you had been stabbed. I saw them go in the moonlight.
It was your cry that woke me in bed. I came and found you senseless in
the corner, and the woman and her rascals making off in the boat. One
of the men must have smitten you while you slept."

Pelleas kept silence for a while, as though he were thinking hard.

"Show me the knife," he said anon.

Igraine had washed away the stains, and laid it aside in a corner. She
held it up now before Pelleas's eyes as he lay in bed. He took it from
her with trembling hands, and handled it, his face darkening.

"This is my own poniard," he said, "the poniard I left in the heart of
the man in Andredswold. Look, girl, look! Search and see, mayhap you
may find a cross."

Igraine did his bidding, and searched the pavement, but found nothing.
Then she came back to the bed, and began to turn the cushions up here
and there, and to scan the tiled floor. Sure enough, under the foot of
the bed, she found a small gold cross lying, smeared lightly with dried
blood. She took it up and gave it to Pelleas. He caught and held it
with a terse cry.



VIII


Pelleas lay the afternoon through in a half dream of shifting thought.
But for the tangible things about him there might have been elfin
mischief in the air, for the last few days had passed with such flash
of new feeling and desire that the man's mind was still in a daze.

He lay in bed, with jars of lilies round him, and a woman tending him
with the grace of a Diana. It was all very strange, very pleasant,
despite the ague in his ribs and his inordinate weakness. He was not so
sure after all that he bore Morgan la Blanche any so fervent a piece of
malice; fortune seemed to beckon him towards generosity, seeing that
his condition was so truly picturesque. Uncouth feelings were swallowed
up for the time being by a benignant stupor of contentment.

But the balance of human happiness is often very nice and subtle.
Leaden reason tumbled into the scale of melancholy may even outscale
the bowl of dreams. Love and law often dangle on either beam of a man's
mind, or philosophy anchored to a rock may sky poor fancy into the
clouds. So it was with Pelleas that day, wisdom being often enough a
miserable nurse. When he thought of Igraine, reason as he would with
himself, his soul began to shimmer like moon-rippled water. When she
looked at him the very pillars of his manhood seemed to quake. When
she passed, light-footed, from garden to porch, she seemed to come
in like the sun, bringing streams of warmth into his wounded flesh.
Of necessity, he soon met other cogitations less pleasant, and no
less imperative. From legal quarters came that inevitable pedagogue
blear-eyed Verity, paunched up with dogma and breathing ethical
platitudes like garlic. "The woman's a nun," quoth Dom Verity, with
a sneer. "Keep your fancy in leash, my good Pelleas, and forswear
romance. Bar your thoughts from a child of the church or you will rue
it. No man may serve a nun. The world has said."

What with his wound and his fractious meditations, Pelleas soon
fell into a most dismal temper. Like most sick folk he had lost for
the time that level sense of proportion that is the sure outcome of
health. His thoughts began to gape at him, and to pull most melancholy
grimaces. Even the dead man squatting in the great chair in the manor
in Andredswold began to haunt him like an ogrish conscience. Hot and
racked, he could stand his own company at last no longer. Calling
Igraine to him, he began to unburden himself to her with regard to the
man he had done to death in the forest.

The girl listened, mild as moonlight, and ready to swear away her soul
to soothe him.

"I am troubled for the deed," he was saying, "though the man deserved
death, twenty deaths, and though I served justice to the echo. His
blood hangs on my hands, and makes me restless at heart."

"Tell me his sin, Pelleas."

"They were many, and too gross for ears such as thine."

"Then palpably he was too gross to live."

"No doubt, child."

"Then why trouble for his death, Pelleas; you would not shrink from
treading out an adder's brains?"

"Ah, but there is the man's soul. I feel for him after my own
down-bringing. What chance had he of penitence?"

"True," she said gravely, "but your mother, the Abbess Gratia, used to
tell us that bad men repented only in legends and in the Bible; never
in grim life. Besides, you prevented the man committing worse offences
in the future, and getting deeper into the pit. Why, Pelleas, hundreds
of good knights have lost life for a mere matter of love; why trouble
for the life of a wretch who perhaps never knew what truth meant. You
would not grieve for men slain in battle."

"In battle the blood is hot and the brain afire. This was a rank and
reasonable stroke."

"And therefore the more deserved. Why trouble about it, Pelleas? In
faith, since your plight makes me tyrant, I forbid such brooding. It is
but the evil fancy of a distraught mind, an incubus I must chase away.
See, your hands are hot, and your forehead too. Will you sleep again,
or shall I sing to you?"

"Presently," he said. "I have more to speak of yet."

Igraine knelt by him on her cushion, serene and tender.

"Say on, Pelleas," she said; "a woman loves a man's confidence. If I
can give you comfort I will gladly listen here till midnight. You are
not yourself, weak from loss of blood, and a gnat's sting is like a
lance thrust to you. Tell me your other troubles."

Pelleas groaned, hesitated, looked up into her eyes, and recanted
inwardly. He furbished up a minor woe to serve the occasion.

"It is my sword and shield," he said; "they were given me blessed and
consecrated by my mother. It is in my thought that I had smirched them
by this deed. What think you, girl?"

"I cannot think so," she said stoutly.

Then since his face was so wistful and troubled, she racked her fancy
for some plan she thought might soothe him. A sudden purpose came to
her like prophecy.

"Listen," she said. "I can do this for you. Give me your shield and
sword, and let me lay them on the high altar under the cross with
candles burning, and let me pray for them there. Will that comfort you,
Pelleas?"

"Yes," he said, with a sudden sad smile; "pray for me, go and pray for
me, Igraine."

It was the impulse of a moment. She bent down with a great thrill of
wonder, and kissed the man's lips. It was soon done, soon sped. She saw
Pelleas's blood stream to his face, saw something in his eyes that made
her heart canter. Then she darted away, took up the great sword and
the shield with its red face, and went to the chapel singing like a
seraph. Her prayers were a strange jumble of worship and recollection.
"Lord Jesu, cleanse his spirit," said her heart one moment; "truth,
how he coloured and looked at me," it sang with more human refrain the
next. "May he be a knight above knights," quoth devotion; "and may I be
ever fair in his eyes," chimed love. Altogether, it was a most quaint
prayer.

Now, a certain mundane matter had been troubling Igraine's thought that
day. The barge, seized and put to use by Morgan and her men, lay amid
the reeds on the nether shore, ready to give passage to any chance
wayfarer, welcome or otherwise, who should choose to cross the mere.
The boat, so fixed, floated as a constant peril to Pelleas and herself.
She felt that peace would flout them so long as the barge lay ready
to play ferry-boat to any casual intruder. Pelleas's wound might keep
them cooped many days in the place. She vowed to herself that the boat
should be regained, and blushed when the oath accused her.

At dusk, when the birds were piping, and there was a green hush over
the world, she went back to Pelleas, a beautiful shameface, accompliced
by the twilight.

"I have prayed," she said simply.

Pelleas touched her fingers.

"I feel happier," he said.

"That is well."

"Stay near me, Igraine. It grows dark fast."

"I shall be with you till you sleep," she said.

Igraine fed him with her own hands, talking little the while, but
feeling very enamoured of her lot. She was thinking of her new surprise
with some mischieful pleasure as she tended Pelleas. The man was
silent, yet very placid and facile to her willing. When she had bathed
his face and neck, and seen him well couched, she took the lute Morgan
had handled, and began to sing to him softly--wistfully, as though the
song was the song of a quiet wind through willows. It was a chant for
the dusk, for the quiet gazing of the first fires of heaven. Pelleas
heard it like the distant touching of strings over charmed water, and
with the breath of lilies over him he fell asleep.

Igraine held by him still as a mouse in the dark, till she knew by his
breathing that he was deep in slumber. Then she set the lute aside, put
the lamp by the porch door, so that it should be ready to hand, and
stole out into the garden.

The moon was just coming up above the distant trees. Igraine waited
under the black-vaulted cedar till the great ring rode bleak above the
fringe of the tops before she went down between laurels to the water's
edge. There was a deep cedarn scent on the warm air, and everything
seemed deathly still. Going to the landing stage, she stood there
awhile looking at the water, dark and mysterious, with pale webs of
light upon its agate surface. Then she began to bind her hair closely
on her head, smiling to herself, and staring down at her vague image in
the water.

Her hair in shackles, she turned to her task in earnest. Soon habit,
shift, and sandals were lying in a heap, and she was standing clean,
rare, gleamingly straight as a statue, with her arms folded upon her
breast. For a moment she stood, making the night to swoon, before
taking to the mere. Pearly white with an aureole of foam, she swam
flankwise with an overhand stroke, one arm thrusting out like a silver
sickle. Here and there, fretted by the willows, long moonbeams glinted
on her round whiteness, as the maddened foam bubbled, and the water
sighed and yearned amid the sedges. A fine glow had leapt through her
body like wine, and the mere seemed to sway and sing as she swam for
the main bank, where the willows stood blackly in a mist of phosphor
glory. Soon she reached the shallows at a pleasant place where stretch
of grassland tongued down into the mere. She climbed out, and stood
like a water nymph, her body agleam and asparkle with its dew, her skin
like rare silk, smooth as a star's glance. Down fell her hair like
smoke. She stretched her arms to the moon, and laughed, aglow with the
warmth gotten of her swim. Then she went to where the barge lay amid
the reeds, and boarding it poled out into the deeps.

Standing on the poop she used an oar as a paddle, and so brought the
cumbrous barge slowly under way. It stole out from the fretted shadows
of the trees, and glided like a great ark over the mere in black
silence, save for the dip of the blade and the drip of water. The
voyage took Igraine longer than her swim. At last, with the boat moored
at the stage, she dried her limbs and body with her hair, and took
again to shift and habit. Then she stole back to the manor, listened a
moment to Pelleas's breathing, and having lit her lamp she went to bed.

Next morning Igraine, with her deed locked up in her heart, was
preparing Pelleas a meal. He had just stirred and roused himself from
sleep with a little cry, and he was watching the girl with the mute
reflective look of one just freed from the visions of the night.

"Igraine," he said.

She turned to him with a soft smile.

"I have been dreaming," he confessed gravely.

"Dreaming, Pelleas?"

"I thought," said he, "that I saw a great dragon of gold come over the
meadows with a naked sword in his mouth, and a collar of rubies round
his throat. And he came to the mere's edge, ramping and breathing fire.
And lo! he entered into the barge there, and the barge went forth
bearing him, while all the mere's water boiled and shone about the
boat like flame. So he came to the island, and all greenness seemed to
wither before him, and with the fear of him I awoke."

Igraine shook her head at the man.

"Your dreams are distraught," she said; "it is your wound, Pelleas. In
faith we should need the great Merlin for such a vision."

"Ah," said he, "I can read you the riddle, Igraine. Our barge lies by
the land bank ready for any foe. That is where the dream touches us."

Igraine brought him a bowl of crushed bread and fruit, and made as
though to feed him.

"Never worry," she said; "the barge is moored safe at the stage."

Pelleas put the bowl aside with one hand, and stared at her from his
pillows.

"Did the barge swim the mere of herself," quoth he, "and anchor for us
so fairly?"

"No."

"Then--"

Igraine went red of a sudden, and looked at her knees.

"Sooth, Pelleas," she said, "I must have been the dragon of your dream;
God pardon me."

"Igraine!"

"I never knew I seemed so fearful a creature."

"Honour and praise--"

He half rose on his pillows in his enthusiasm. Igraine put him gently
back, and took up the bowl of bread and fruit.

"That will do, my dear Pelleas," she said; "now just lie still and have
your breakfast."

What boots it to chronicle at length their sojourn in the island manor.
Twelve days Igraine nursed the man there, giving all her heart for
service, tending him from sunrise to the fall of night. She seemed
to have no other joy than to sit and talk to him, to make music with
voice and hand, to keep his couch posied round with flowers. On waking
Pelleas would find her by him, fresh as the dawn and full of a golden
tenderness; at night his eyes closed upon her gracious figure as she
sat in the gloaming and sang. She was near to hear his voice, quick to
see his needs and to remedy them with soft hands and softer looks. The
very atmosphere about the man seemed touched and mellowed by her, and
the hours seemed to trip to the measure of a golden rhyme.

Pelleas mended very rapidly under her care. His wound, sweet and
innocent, gave him no trouble save some slight feverishness on the
third day. The sixth morning found him so stalwart of temper that
Igraine consented to his leaving bed for a morning provided he obeyed
her to the letter. His first steps were taken in the atrium with
Igraine's arm about his waist, and his upon her shoulders. So well did
he bear himself that the girl led him to the chapel, and there side
by side on the altar steps they winged up their devotion to heaven.
Igraine's prayers, be it known, were all for love; Pelleas's for the
threatening shadows over his own soul.

Daily after this innovation Igraine would make him a couch under the
great cedar tree in the garden, where he could rest shaded from the
sun, and there, morn, noon, and eve, they had much comradeship and
speech together. They would talk of God, the saints, and the souls of
men, of love and honour, and the needs of Britain. Pelleas would tell
her of his own service with Aurelius, of all the fair pomp of Lesser
Britain, where Conan had begun a goodly kingdom years ago, and where
many British folk had taken refuge. He had been to Rome as a boy, and
he described that vast city to her, or told her of the bloody fields he
had seen when the steel of Christendom met the heathen. Fresh streams
from either soul welled out, and mingled much during those summer days.
Pelleas and Igraine looked deep each into the heart of the other,
finding fine store of nobleness, of truth, and of things beautiful,
till the heart of each had treasured everything for love and for love's
desire. They were fair hours and very sweet to the two. The day seemed
a casket of gold, and the night a bowl of ebony ablaze with stars.

About this time the man Pelleas began to go down into deep waters. Many
days had passed with a flare of torches in the west; their sojourn was
drawing to a close, and the night seemed near. The haler Pelleas grew
in body, the more halt and hopeless waxed his soul. The whole world
seemed to grow wounded to his eyes; the west was wistful at evening,
and the starry sky a sob of pain. When Igraine harped and sang, each
note flew like winged death into his heart. He had no joy that was not
smitten through with anguish, no thought that was not crowned with
thorns. It was a very simple matter indeed, but perverse to utter
bitterness. Pelleas saw no hope for himself in the end. He would rock
and toss, and think at night till the darkness seemed to crush him into
a mere mass of misery. Above all there seemed to rise a great hand
holding a cross of gold, and a voice that said, "Beware thy soul and
death."

Not so was it with Igraine. To her life had no shroud, and love
prophesied of love alone. She knew what she knew, and her heart was
full of summer and the song of birds. Pelleas loved her; she would have
staked her soul on it, though she did not realise the desperate turmoil
passing in the man's clean heart. Knowing what she did, she was all for
sun and moods of radiant thought and happiness. Each day she imagined
that she would tell Pelleas of her secret; each day she gave the golden
moment to the morrow. She knew how the man's face would flame up with
the fulness of great wonder, and like a woman she hoarded anticipation
in her heart and waited.

The day soon came when Pelleas declared himself hale enough to
bear armour, though the admission was made with no great amount of
satisfaction. To test his strength he armed himself with Igraine's
help, harnessed his black horse, and rode round the island, first at
a level pace with Igraine running beside him. Then he tried a gallop,
handling spear and shield the while. Lastly, he took Igraine up to him,
and rode with her as he had ridden through the wold. Suffering nothing
from these ventures, and seeming sure in selle as ever, he declared
with heavy heart that they should sally for Winchester on the morrow.

Pelleas and Igraine passed their last evening in the island under the
great cedar in the garden. The place had deep memories for them, and
very loth were they to leave it, so fair and kind a refuge had it
proved to them in peril. Neither said much that evening, for their
thoughts were busy. As for Pelleas, he was glum and heavy-browed as
thunder, with a look in his deep eyes that spelt misery. It was as
though he were leaving his very soul in the place to ride out like a
corpse on a pilgrimage with despair. How much she might have eased him,
perhaps Igraine never knew.

The west was already red and rosy, and there was a green hush over the
meadows, and a canopy of pale porphyry in the east. All the soul of the
world seemed to lift white hands to the night in a stupor of mutest
woe. Yet the girl's mood tended towards mere sensitive regret, for the
future was not dark to her imaginings.

"You are sad, Pelleas," she said.

"I am only thinking, Igraine."

"I am sorry to leave this place."

Pelleas sighed for answer. With a contradictory spirit, born of pain,
he longed for night and the peace it would not bring. Something swore
to him that he was more to the girl than man had ever been, and yet she
seemed happy when he compared her humour with his own. The possibility
that she could dream of broken vows was never in his thought. He could
only believe that her heart was less deep than his, and the thought
only added bitterness to his mead of sorrow.

"Igraine," he said anon.

She turned to him.

"You love life?"

"Truth, Pelleas, I do."

"Then love it not, girl."

"Ah!"

"'Tis a broken bowl."

"How so?" she said, thrilling.

Pelleas turned his face from her to hide the strife thereon. He felt
as though death was in his heart, yet he spoke as quietly as though
he were telling some mundane tale, and not words conjured up by a
desperate wisdom.

"Igraine," he said, "I have lived and learnt something in my time,
and my words are honest. On earth what do we find--a lie on truth's
lips, and anguish on the face of joy. The roses bloom and die, white
hands shrivel, and harness rusts under the green grass. As for fame, it
breeds hate and jealousy, and the curse of the proud. Music is broken
by the laugh of the fool, nor can youth forget the crabbed noisomeness
of age. Women sing and pass. A man marries one night and is tombed the
next. And love, what of love? I tell you love lives only in the eyes of
woe. It is all mockery, cold damned mockery. I have said."



IX


Pelleas and Igraine were stirring soon after dawn on the morning of
their sally for Winchester. It was a summer dawn, still and stealthy;
the meadows were full of a shimmering mist, the mere spirit-wrapped,
and dappled here and there with gold.

Silent and distraught they made their last meal in the quiet manor.
Everything seemed sad and solemn, as though the stones could grieve;
the lilies by the impluvium seemed adroop, and the flowers about
Pelleas's bed were withered. After the meal Pelleas armed himself, and
went to harness his horse, while Igraine put up bread and foodstuff
into a linen cloth for their journey. Before sallying they went all
round the manor, into the chapel, where they prayed before the altar,
into bower, parlour, and viridarium. The porch with its empty bed and
withered flowers they took leave of last. There was such wistfulness
there that even the dumb things seemed to cry out in pain.

Pelleas closed the gates with bowed head, and made the sign of the
cross upon them with the pommel of his dagger. His throat seemed full
of one great muffled sob. Together they wandered for the last time
through the garden, while Igraine plucked some flowers for a keepsake.
Pelleas felt that he loved every leaf in the place like his own soul.
Then they went down to the water's edge, and, getting the horse on
board, they loosed the barge from the bank, and came slowly to the
nether shore. It might have been the fury of death, so stark and solemn
was Pelleas's face.

Before turning their backs and riding away, they stood and looked long
at the place girdled with its quiet waters. The great cedar slept there
with a hood of mist over his green poll. Like a dream island it seemed,
plucked by magic from some southern sea, fair with all fairness. Anon,
despite their grieving, the last strand cracked, and the wrench was
done. They were holding over vapoury meadows with their faces to the
west.

Pelleas was very stoical that morning. As a matter of fact he had been
awake all night, couched with misery and with thoughts that wounded
him. All night through the lagging hours he had tossed and turned,
cursing his destiny in his heart--too bitter for any prayer. What
mockery that he who had passed so long unscathed should fall into
hopeless homage to a nun. Desperate, he left his bed in the dark, and
made the garden a dim cloister until dawn. Yet in the rack of struggle
a clear voice had come to touch and dominate his being, and day had
found him steadfast. He would hold to the truth, he vowed, do his duty,
and let God judge of the measure of his gratitude. He could obey, but
not with humility; he could suffer, but not with resignation.

It was after such a night in the furnace of struggle that he forged his
temper for the days to come. He had thought to meet love with a stark
hardihood, to talk lightly, to go with unruffled brow while his heart
hungered. Nothing should move him to any emotion. He would meet destiny
like a rock, let surges beat and melt back to the sea. It was better
thus, he thought, than to go moaning for the moon.

Such was the determination that met Igraine's lighter humour that
morning. She could make nothing of the man as she rode before him. He
was bleak, dismal, yet striving to seem contented with their lot, now
conjuring up a withered smile, now lapsing into interminable silence.
His eyes were stern in measure, but there was the old light in them
when she looked deeply, and the staunch flame was there still. After
all, Pelleas's quiet humour did not trouble her very vastly. She had
her own reading of the riddle, and a word in her heart that could
unlock his trouble. Moreover, she was more than inclined to put him to
such a test as should bring his manhood to a splendid trial. Perhaps
there was some imp of vanity deep down in her woman's heart. At all
events, she suited herself to the occasion, and passed much of the time
in thought.

A ride of some seventy miles lay before them before they should come
to the gates of Winchester. Much of that region was wild forestland
and moor, bleak wastes of scrub let into woods and gloom. Occasional
meadows, and rare acres of glebe ringing some rude hamlet, broke
the shadowy desolation of the land. Great oaks, gnarled, vast, and
terrible, held giant sway amid the huddled masses of the lesser folk.
Here the boar lurked, and the wolf hunted. But, for the most, it was
dark and calamitous--a ghostly wilderness almost forsaken by man, and
given over to the savagery of beasts.

Pelleas and Igraine came upon the occasional trail of the heathen as
they went. A smoking villa, a burnt village with a dun mist hanging
over it like a shroud, and once a naked man, bruised and bloody, bound
to a tree, and shot through with arrows--such were the few sights that
remembered to them their own need of caution. The wild country had been
raided, and its sparse civilisation scattered to the woods. The crosses
at the cross-roads had been thrown down and broken. A hermitage they
came on in the woods had been sacked, and in it, to their pity, they
found the body of a dead girl. They halted there to pray for her, and
to give her burial. Pelleas dug a shallow grave under an oak, and they
left her there, and went on their way with greater caution.

Not a soul did they meet, yet Pelleas kept under cover as much as
possible for prudence' sake. He scanned well every valley or piece of
open land before crossing it, and kept under the wooelshawe whenever
the track ran near trees. Fear of the unknown, and the dear burden
that he bore, kept him alert as a goshawk for possible peril. By noon,
despite sundry halts and reconnoitrings, they had covered nearly twenty
miles, and by the evening of the same day they had added another score,
for Pelleas's horse was a powerful beast, and Igraine's weight cumbered
him little.

Towards evening it began to rain, a heavy, summer, windless shower,
that made moist rattle in the leaves, and flooded fragrant freshness
into the air. Pelleas gave Igraine his cloak, and made her wear it,
despite her excuses. As luck would have it, they came upon a little inn
built in the grey shelter of a forsaken quarry. The inn folk were still
there--an old woman, and a brat of a boy, her grandson. Seeing so great
a knight, the beldam was ready enough to give them lodgings, and what
welcome she could muster. She spread a supper of goat's milk, brown
bread, and venison--not a bad table for such a hovel. The meal over,
she pointed Pelleas with a leer to a little inner room that boasted a
rough bed, a water-pot, and ewer.

"We will not disturb ye," she said; "my lad has foddered the horse. You
would be stirring early?"

Pelleas gave the woman her orders, and sent Igraine into the inner
room. He made himself a bed of dried bracken before her door, and laid
himself there so that none could enter save over his body. The woman
and the boy slept on straw in a corner. In this wise they passed the
night.

On the morrow, after more goat's milk and brown bread, with some wild
strawberries to smooth it, they sallied early, and held on their way to
Winchester. The shower of the night had given place to fair weather,
and a fresh breeze blowing from the west. Soon the sun was up in such
strength that the green woods lost their dankness, and the leaves their
dew. It was the very morning for a ride.

If possible, Pelleas was even more gloomy than on the day before. There
was such a level air of dejection over his whole being that Igraine
began to have grave qualms of conscience, and to suffer the reproaches
of a pity that grew more clamorous hour by hour. None the less, maugre
the man's sorry humour, there was a certain stealthy joy in it all, for
Pelleas, by his very moodiness, flattered her tenderness for him not a
little. She began to see, in very truth, how staunch the man was; how
he meant to honour to the letter her imagined vows, though his love
grieved like a winged merlion. His great strength became more and more
apparent. A lighter spirit would have gone with the wind, or made great
moan over the whole business. Pelleas, she saw, was striving to buckle
his sorrow deep in his bosom, to save her the pain of knowing his
distress. There was nothing little about the man. Palpably he had not
succeeded eminently in his attempt to spur a wounded spirit into light
courtliness and easy hypocrisy. Still, that was not his fault; it only
said the more for his love.

It was not till noon had passed that Pelleas, with a heavy courage,
constrained himself to speak calmly of their parting. Even then he was
so eager to shape his speech into mere courtesies, that he overdid the
thing, more than betraying himself to the girl's quick wit.

He had questioned her as to her friends in Winchester, and her purposes
for the future. His rambling took somewhat of a didactic turn as he
laboured at his mentorship.

"There is a fair abbey within the walls," he said; "I have heard it
nobly spoken of both as to devoutness and comfort. Their rules are not
of such iron caste as at some other holy houses; the library is good,
and there is a well-planted garden. The abbess is a gracious and kindly
woman, and of high family. I have often had speech with her myself, and
can vouch for her courtliness and benevolence. Assuredly you may find
very safe and peaceful harbour there."

Igraine smiled to herself at the callous benignity of his counsel. He
might have been her grandfather by his manner.

"You see," she said naively, "I do not like being caged; it spoils
one's temper so. I have an uncle in the place--an uncle by marriage--a
man not loved vastly by the proud folk of my own family. He is a
goldsmith by trade, and is named Radamanth."

Pelleas's quick answer was not prophetic of great favour.

"Radamanth," he said--"a gentleman who weighs his religion by the
pound, and is seen much at church. Pardon my frankness, I had this
gold chain of him. He is rich as Rome, and has high rank among the
merchants."

"So I had heard," she answered.

Pelleas looked into space with a most judicial air.

"You do not think of going to a secular house," he said.

Igraine smiled to herself, and halted a moment in her answer.

"Why not?" she said.

"You--a nun?"

"Pelleas, I do not see why it is necessary for holiness to be bricked
up like a frog in a wall in order to escape corruption. Why, you are
eating your own words."

"But you have vows," he said.

"I have; and doubts also."

"Doubts?" quoth the man, with a quick look, thrilling inwardly.

"Doubts, Pelleas, doubts."

She caught his eyes with hers, and gave him one long, deep stare that
made him quake as though all that had been flame within him--that which
he had sought to tread to ashes--had but spread redly into her bosom.
There was no parrying such a message. It smote him blind in a moment.
The spiritual bastions of his soul seemed to reel and rock as though
some chaos had broken on their stones. There was great outcry in his
heart, as of a leaguer when guards and stormers are at grapple on the
walls. "Cross! Holy Cross!" cried Conscience, in the moil. "Yield ye,
yield ye, Pelleas," sang a voice more subtle, "yield ye, and let Love
in!" He sat stiff in the saddle, and shut his eyes to the day, while
the fight boiled on within him. Now Love had him heart and hand; now
Honour, blind and bleeding, struggled in and stemmed the rout. He was
won and lost, lost and won, a dozen times in a minute.

Recovered somewhat, he made bold to question Igraine yet further.

"Tell me your doubts, girl," he said.

"They are deep, Pelleas, deep as the sea."

"Whence came they, then?"

"Some great power put them in my heart, and they are steadfast as
death."

Again the wild flush of liberty swept Pelleas like wind.

"Tell me, Igraine," he said, in a gasp.

She put her fingers gently on his lips. "Patience--patience," she said,
"and perhaps I will tell them to you, Pelleas, ere long."

Thus much she suffered him to go, and no further. Her quick instinct
had read him nearly to the "Explicit," and there she halted, content
for an hour or a day. Her love was singing like a lark in the blue.
She beamed on the man in spirit streams of pride and tumultuous
tenderness. How she would comfort him in the end! He should carry her
into Winchester on his horse, and she would lodge there, but not at the
great inn that harboured souls for heaven. She would have the bow and
the torch for her signs, and possibly the Church might serve her in
other fashion. Like a lotus eater, she dallied with all these dreams in
her heart.

With the sun low in the west, Pelleas and Igraine were still three
leagues or so from Winchester. The day was passing gloriously, with
the radiant acolytes of evening swinging their jasper censers in the
sky. The two were riding on a pine-crowned ridge, and the stretch of
wilderness beyond seemed wrapped in one mysterious blaze of smoking
gold. Hills and woods were glittering shadows, like spirit things in a
spirit atmosphere. The west was a great curtain of transcendent gold.
Pelleas and Igraine could not look at it without great wonder.

Presently they came to a little glade, green and quiet, with a clear
pool in it ringed round with rushes. A lush cushion of grass and moss
swept from the water to the bases of the trees. It was as quaint and
sweet a nook as they had passed that day. The place, with its solitude
and stillness, pleased Igraine very greatly.

"What say you, Pelleas," she said, "let us off-saddle, and harbour here
the night. This little refuge will serve us more kindly than a ride in
the dark to Winchester."

Pelleas looked round about him, knelt for once without struggle to his
own inmost wishes, and agreed with Igraine.

"Very good," he said. "I can build you a bower to sleep in. There are
hazels yonder--just the stuff for a booth. The water in the pool there
looks sweet enough to drink, and we have ample in the cloth for a
supper."

Igraine gave him no more leisure to moralise on such trifles. She
sprang down to the cushiony turf, and took his horse by the bridle.

"I will be master again for once, Pelleas," she said, "since, well of
your wound, you have played the tyrant. At least you shall obey me
to-night."

Pelleas, half in a stupor, gave up fighting his own heart for a while,
and fell in with Igraine's humour. She was strangely full of smiles and
quiet glances; her eyes would meet his, flash, thrill him, and then
evade his soul with sudden mischief. She tethered his horse for him,
and then, making him sit down under a tree, she began to unarm him,
kneeling confidently by his side. Her fingers lingered over-long on the
buckles. When she lifted off his helmet, her hands touched his face
and forehead, and set him blushing like a boy. The very nearness of
her--her breath, her dress, her lips and eyes so near to his--made him
like so much wax--passive, obedient, yet red as fire.

When she had ended her task, she gave him his naked sword and her
orders.

"Now you may cut me hazels for a bower, Pelleas," she said. "I will
have it here under this tree where the moss is soft and dry. This
summer night one could sleep under the stars and never feel the dew."

Pelleas rose up and did her bidding. The green boughs were ready to
his great sword, as it gleamed and glimmered in the wizard light. He
cut two forked stakes, and set them upright in the ground, with a pole
between them. Then he built up branches about this centrepiece till
the whole was roofed and walled with shelving green; he spread his
red cloak therein for a carpet. Igraine sat and watched his labour.
Life seemed to have rushed nearly to its zenith, and her thoughts were
soaring in regions of gold.

The black moth night had come into the sky with his golden-spotted
wings all spread. It was time for idyllic love, pure looks, and the
touch of hands. The billowy bosoms of the trees rolled sombrously
above, and the little pool was like a wizard's glass, black and deep
with sheeny mysteries.

Igraine beckoned Pelleas to a seat on the grass bank at her feet when
he had finished. There was a light on her face that the man had not
seen before, a kind of quiet rapture, a veil of exultation, as though
her maidenhood were flowering gold under a net of pinkest satin. She
had loosened her hair in straight streams upon her shoulders, and her
habit lay open to the very base of her shapely throat. She sat there
and looked at him, with hands clasped in her lap, and her grey gown
rising and falling markedly as she breathed. It seemed to Pelleas that
there was nothing in the whole universe save twilight, two eyes, a
stirring bosom, and two wistful lips.

They had been speaking of their ride, and of the many strange things
that had befallen them during their adventures together. Igraine had
waxed strangely tender in her talk, and had spoken subtle bodeful
words that meant much at such a season. She was flinging bonds about
Pelleas that made him exult and suffer. His heart seemed great within
him and ready to break, for the blood that bubbled and yearned in it in
glorious anguish.

"To-morrow," said the girl, "we enter Winchester, and I have known you,
Pelleas, two weeks and some few hours more. You seem to have been in my
life many years."

Words flooded into Pelleas's heart, and stifled all struggle for a
moment. He was breathing like a hunted thing.

"Igraine," he said.

"Pelleas."

"I never lived till our lives were joined."

Igraine gave a little gasp, and bent over him suddenly, her eyes aglow,
her hair falling down into his face.

"Kiss me, Pelleas," she said; "in the name of God, kiss me."

Pelleas gave a great groan.

"Girl, I dare not."

"You dare."

"Igraine?"

She bent herself till her lips were over his, and both their heads were
clouded in her hair. Her eyes glimmered, her breath beat on his, he saw
the whiteness of her teeth between her half-closed lips.

"Igraine," he said again, half in a groan.

She did not answer him, but simply took his face between her hands and
looked into his eyes.

"Coward, Pelleas."

Power seemed to go from the man in a moment. He put his hands upon
her shoulders and looked at her as in a splendid dream. Her face was
beautifully peevish, and there lurked an infinite hunger on her lips.
Then with a great woe in his heart he drew her face down to his and
kissed her. There was such sweet pain in the grand despair of it all
that he felt faint for strength of loving. Before he had gathered
breath, Igraine had slipped away from him and was in the bower.

"Till dawn, Pelleas, till dawn," she said.

"Ah, Igraine!"

"Go and sleep, Pelleas; I will talk to you on the morrow."



X


With the girl's face lost behind the green eaves of the bower, Pelleas
fell of a sudden into great darkness of soul. It was as though the moon
had passed behind a cloud, and left him agrope in the woods without
light and without guide. Igraine had bidden him to go and sleep. She
might as well have told the sea to be still in the lap of the wind.

Going aside towards the mouth of the glade so that he might not disturb
the girl, he began to tread the grass between brake and brake, while
he held parley with his turbulent and seething thoughts. What was
Igraine to be to him on the morrow? She had broken the back of his
determination, and beaten down his strength in those grand moments of
sudden passion. The rich June of her beauty was still on his sight. Her
grace, her infinite tenderness, the purity of her, were all set about
his soul like angels round a dreamer's bed. She was light and darkness,
sound and silence; she had the round world in her red heart, and the
stars seemed to go about her in companies of gold. Never had Pelleas
thought idolatry so smooth and swift a sin. He had never believed that
love in so brief a space could make such wrack of madness in a hale and
healthy body.

As he walked under the giant limbs of the great trees he tried to
grapple the thing with reason, to untangle this knot by natural logic.
These were the bleak facts, and they stood up like white headstones in
the night. He loved Igraine, and Igraine he knew loved him in turn;
but Igraine was a nun despite her womanliness, and there lay the core
of the whole matter. If he obeyed love he must disgrace the girl
with broken vows, for like a staunchly taught Christian of somewhat
stern and primitive mould he stood in honest awe of things spiritual
and ecclesiastic. His very love for the girl made him fearful of in
any way dishonouring her. If he held to the trite observations of a
prompted conscience, then he must forswear love, and leave Igraine to
the miserable celibacy of the Church, that chrysalid state that never
burgeons into the fuller, fairer life of perfect womanhood. These were
the two forces that held him shaken in the balance.

Long while he went east and west under the trees with the old gloom
flooding back like thunder. His whole thought seemed warped into
bitterness; the blatant mockery of it all grinned and screamed like a
harpy. Again with clarion cry and rosy flush of banners love stormed in
and held law at death's door for a season. Again came the inevitable
repulse, the moaning lapse of desire, while the black banner of the
Church flapped once more over him in dismal sanctity. Pelleas found
no shred of peace wheresoever he looked. Who has not learnt that when
anarchy is in the heart, the whole world seems out of gear?

As the night passed, love seemed to faint and wax pale before an
ever-darkening visage that declared despair. A sense of inevitable
gloom seemed to weigh down desire, and to drown hope in misery. Pelleas
grew calmer at heart, though his thoughts were no less woeful. Love's
voice, stifled and wistful, came like an elfin voice through woods,
while the cry of conscience was like the thundering surge of the wind
through trees. He grew less restless, more apathetic. Coming to a halt
he leant against an oak's bossy trunk, and stood motionless as in a
stupor for an hour or more. The blight of soul-sickness was on him, and
he was like one dazed by a great fever.

Presently he went back slowly to Igraine's shelter of boughs, and stood
near it--thinking. Then he dropped on his hands and knees, crept up
close, and parting the leaves looked in on her as she slept, wrapped in
his red cloak. He could see her face indistinctly white in a wealth of
shadows; he could hear her breathing. Then he crept away again like a
wounded thing, and lay for a time with his face in his arms, grieving
without a sound.

Again, a second time, he crept to the bower, and listened there on his
knees. Turning his face to the night he tried to pray, vainly indeed,
for his heart seemed dumb. A corner of Igraine's gown lay near his
hands at the entry; he went down on hands and knees and kissed it. Then
he took the little gold cross from his bosom, the cross Morgan had
held, and laid it on the grass at Igraine's feet. He also put a purse
with a few gold coins in it beside the cross. When he had done this he
crept away mutely, and began to arm in silence.

Once, as he was buckling on his casque, he thought he heard Igraine
stirring. He kept very still, with a sudden, wild wish in his heart
that she would wake and save him, but the sound proved nothing. He
finished buckling on his harness, girded his sword, and hung his shield
about his neck. Then he went to the little pool, and, kneeling down,
dashed water in his face, and drank from his palms. He felt faint and
bruised after the night's battle.

Once more he went and stood by the hazel shelter as though for a last
leave-taking before the strong wrench came. The little pavilion of
leaves seemed to hold all hope and human joy in its narrow compass.
Pelleas stood and took long leave of the girl in his heart. He wished
her all the fair fortune he could think of, prayed for her as well as
he could in a broken, wounded way, and then with a great sob he turned
and left her sleeping. His black horse was tethered not far away. As
he went he staggered, and seemed blind for a moment. He soon had the
girths tightened, and was in the saddle, riding away dry-eyed and
broken-souled into the night.

Presently the dawn came, redly, gloriously, like a marriage pageant.
Igraine, reft from dreams, woke with a little shiver of joy in her
pavilion of green boughs. She lay still awhile, and let her thoughts
dance like the motes in the shimmer of sunlight that stole in between
the branches. The day seemed warm and glorious, for that morning was
she not to tell Pelleas of the secret she had kept from him so many
days, the words she had hoarded in her heart like love? It would be a
fitting end, she thought, to the rare novitiate each had passed in the
heart of the other.

Hearing no stir about her shelter, she thought Pelleas asleep, and
peeped out presently between the boughs to bid him wake. Glade and pool
lay peacefully in green and silver, but she saw no knight sleeping,
no war-horse standing under the trees. Starting up, the gold cross
glinting on the grass, with the purse beside it, appealed her with mute
tragedy. She caught them up, trembling, and with sudden fear in her
heart she went out into the glade and searched from brake to brake. It
was barren as her joy. Pelleas had gone.



BOOK II

GORLOIS



I


Radamanth the goldsmith was held in no little honour and esteem by the
townsfolk of Winchester. Even the market women and the tavern loungers
stood aside for him in the street as he made his stately march in black
robe and chain of gold. He was a man possessed of those outward virtues
so well suited to commend a character to the favour of the world. He
was venerable, rich, and much given to charity. His coffers were often
open to infirmary and church; his house near the market square was as
richly furnished as any noble's, and he gave good dinners. No man in
Winchester had a finer aptitude for pleasing all classes. He was smooth
and intelligent to the rich, bland and neighbourly to his equals, quite
a father to the poor, and moreover he had no wife. Every Sabbath he
went at the head of his household to the great basilica church in the
chief square, worshipped and did alms as a rich merchant should.

Disinterestedness is a somewhat unique virtue, and it must not be
supposed that Radamanth lived with his eye on eternity alone. It must
be confessed that self-interest was often the dial of his philanthropy,
and expediency to him the touchstone of action. Nothing furthers
commerce better than a pious and merciful reputation, and Radamanth
knew the inestimable value of a solid and goodly exterior. Wise in his
generation, he nailed the Cross to his door, and plied his balances
prosperously behind the counter.

Thus when the girl Igraine trudged sad-eyed into Winchester in her gown
of grey, and appeared before him as a homeless child of the Church,
he took her in like the good uncle of the fairy tale, and proffered
her his house for home. Possibly he pitied her for her plight after
the burning of Avangel, for she seemed much cast down in mind and very
deserving of a kinsman's proper comfort. Then she was of noble family,
a coincidence that no doubt weighed heavily in Radamanth's opinion.
It was good to have so much breeding in the house, to be able to say
with a smirk to his friends and neighbours, "My niece, the daughter
of Malgo, Lord of the Redlands, slain and plundered of the heathen in
Kent." Igraine brought quite a lustre into Radamanth's home. He beamed
on her with sleek pride and satisfaction, gave her rich stuffs for
dress, a goodly chamber, and a little Silurian maid to wait. Moreover,
he gave his one child and daughter Lilith a grave lecture on sisterly
companionship, advised her to study Igraine's gentle manners, and to
profit by her aristocratic and educated influence. Luckily Lilith was a
quiet girl, not given to jealousy or much self-trust, and Igraine found
as warm a welcome as her unhappy heart could wish.

No few days had passed since that dawn on the hill above Winchester
when Igraine had started up from under the green boughs to find
Pelleas gone. They had been days of keen trouble to the girl. Often
and often had she hated herself for her vain delay, her over-tender
procrastination, that had brought misery in place of joy. The past
was now a wounded dream to her, ripe and beautiful, yet fruited with
such mute pain as only a woman's heart can feel. Igraine had conjured
up love like some Eastern house of magic, only to see its domes faint
goldly into a gloom of night. She felt as much for Pelleas as for
herself, and there was a blight upon her that seemed as though it could
never pass. She was not a woman given to tears. Her trouble seemed to
live in her eyes with pride, and to stiffen her stately throat into a
pillar of rebellious strength.

Not a word, not a sign had come to her of Pelleas. Taken into
Radamanth's house, served, petted, flattered, she went drearily
through its daily round, sat at its board, talked with the guestfolk,
while hope waited wide-eyed in her heart and kept her brave. Pelleas
had told her that he was for Winchester, and assuredly, she thought,
she might find him and confess all. She often kept watch hour by hour
at her window overlooking the street. In her walks she had a glance
for almost every man who passed on foot or horseback, till she grew
almost ashamed of herself, and feared for her modesty. Her eyes always
hungered for a red shield and harness, a black horse, a face grieving
in dark reserve and silence. At night she was often quite a child in
herself. She would take the little gold cross from her bosom and brood
over it. She even found herself whispering to the man as she lay in
bed, and stretching out her arms to him in the dark as in pain. For all
her pride and courage she was often bowed down and broken when no one
was near to see.

It was not long before she found a confidant to befriend her in her
distress of heart. Lilith, the goldsmith's daughter, had great brown
eyes, soft and very gentle; her face was wistful and white under
her straightly combed hair; she was a quiet girl, timid, but very
thoughtful for others. The two appealed each other by contrast. Lilith
had soon read trouble in Igraine's eyes, and had nestled to her in
soul, ready with many little kindnesses that were like dew in a dry
season. Igraine unbent to her, and suffered herself to be enfolded by
the other's sympathy.

One day she told her the whole distressful tale. It was in the garden
behind the house, a green and pleasant place opening on the river, and
flanked with stone. The two were in an arbour framed of laurels, its
floor mosaicked with quaint tiles. Igraine sat on the bench with Lilith
on a stool at her feet. They were both sad, for Lilith was a girl whose
heart answered strongly to any tale of unhappy mood. Igraine had made
mere truth of the matter, neither justifying nor embellishing. Her
clear bleak words were the more pathetic for their very simpleness.
Lilith had been crying softly to herself. Her brown eyes were very
misty when she turned her white face to Igraine's with a grievous
little sigh.

"What can I say to you?" she said.

"Nothing," said Igraine, taking her hands and smiling through misery.

"I have never the words I wish for, and when I feel most I can say
little."

"You understand; that is enough for me."

"Ah," said Lilith, with a fine blush and a shy look, "I think I can
feel for you, Igraine, almost to the full, though I seem such an Agnes.
I am woman enough to have learnt something that means all to a girl. I
am very sad for your sake."

"Child."

"I will try to comfort you."

Igraine's eyes burned. She kissed Lilith on the lips and was mute.
For a while they sat with their arms about each other, not daring to
look into each other's eyes. Then the girl kissed Igraine's cheek, and
touched her hair with her slim fingers.

"Perhaps I can help you," she said.

"Help me?"

Lilith flushed, and spoke very quickly.

"Yes--to find Pelleas. I tell you what I will do. I will send a friend
of mine to question all the guards at the gates whether they have seen
such a one as you have described ride in."

Igraine hugged the girl.

"And then you say this Pelleas was in the King's service. I have never
heard of a knight so named; but there are so many, and I hear only
gossip. I know a girl in the King's household. I will go and ask her
whether she knows of a tall, dark knight whose colour is red, who rides
a black horse, and is named Pelleas. You do not know how much I may not
learn from her. I feel wise already."

Igraine plucked up heart and spirit. She felt sorry that she had
not spoken of her trouble to Lilith before, for she had lost many
days trusting to her own eyes and her little knowledge of the town.
She kissed the girl again, and almost laughed. Then in a flash she
remembered a speech of Pelleas's which she had forgotten till that
moment.

"Fool that I am," she said; "the very chain he wore he had it from your
father, and here in my bosom I have the little cross that nigh lost him
his life. Surely this may help us in some measure."

Lilith looked at the cross that Igraine had taken from under her tunic,
where it hung by a little chain about her neck.

"We will show it to my father," said the girl, "and ask him thereof. He
may have record of such a chain, and to whom it was sold. Who knows?
Come, Igraine, we will show it him after supper if you wish."

And again Igraine kissed her.

It was Radamanth's custom, after the business of the day had been
capped by an honest supper, to sit in his parlour and drink wine with
certain of his friends. He had a particular gossip, an old fellow named
Eudol, who had been a merchant in his time, and had retired with some
wealth. These two would spend many an evening together over their wine,
taking enough to make their tongues wag, but never exceeding the decent
warmth of moderation. Eudol was a lean old gentleman with a white beard
and a most patriarchal manner. He was much of a woman's creature, and
loved a pretty face and a plump figure, and he would father any wench
who came in his way with a benignity that often made him odious. He had
a soft voice, and a sleek, silken way with him that made folk think him
the most tender-souled creature imaginable.

These two were at their wine together when Lilith and Igraine went in
to them that evening. Radamanth since his spouse's death had grown
as much a father as trade and the getting of gold permitted. In his
selfish, matter-of-fact way he was fond of this timid, brown-eyed
creature he called daughter. His affections boasted more of science
than of sentiment. Lilith, unusually bold, went and sat on the arm of
his chair, and patted his face in a half-shy, half-mischievous fashion.
Eudol laughed, and shook his head with a critical look at Igraine.

"More begging," quoth he. "So, cousin Igraine, you look fresh as a
yellow rose in the sun."

Igraine laughed, and sat down to talk to him, while Lilith questioned
her father. The goldsmith bore his daughter's caresses with a sublime
and patient resignation. She began to tell him about the chain, keeping
Igraine and her tale wholly in the background. When she had said enough
for the sake of explanation, she showed her father the cross, and
waited his words.

Radamanth fingered it, turned it this way and that, and found his own
mark thereon.

"I wrought and sold three such chains as you describe," he said; "but
what is such a chain to you, child, and whence came this cross?"

Lilith flushed, hesitated, and glanced at Igraine.

"The cross is mine," quoth the latter.

Radamanth eyed her as though he were not a little desirous of
questioning her further, but there was a very palpable coldness on his
niece's face that forbade any such curiosity. He had a most hearty
respect for the girl's pride, and never dreamt of any degree of tyranny
that might seem vulgarly plebeian to her more noble notions. The
remembrance of her parentage and estate had always a most emollient
effect upon his mind.

"Well, well," he said, "I'll meddle discreetly, and go no further than
I am asked."

Eudol winked at the company at large.

"Never ask a lady an uncomfortable question," quoth he.

Lilith beamed at him shyly.

"You are very wise," she said.

Radamanth rose from his chair, and going to a great press took a book
from it. He set the book on the table, and after much turning of pages,
discovered the record that he sought. Following the scrawling lines
with his finger, he read aloud from the ledger:

"Gold chain of special weight, large links, two gold crosses pendant
over either breast. Of such three were wrought and sold.

"The first to Bedivere, knight of the King's guard.

"_Nota bene_--unpaid for."

Eudol set up a sudden brisk cackle.

"The man, the very man, I'll swear."

Igraine gave him a look that made his mouth close like a trap and his
body stiffen in his chair. Radamanth continued his reading.

"The second chain was sold to John of Glastonbury. The third to the
most noble Uther, Prince of Britain."

Radamanth closed the book, and returned it to the press--orderly even
in trifles. Lilith and Igraine had exchanged a mute look that meant
everything. Slipping away without a word to either man, they went to
Igraine's bedroom, a great chamber hung with heavy red hangings and
richly garnished. A carved bed stood in the centre. The two girls sat
on it and stared into each other's eyes. Igraine was breathing fast,
and her face was pale.

"Know you Bedivere?" she said.

Lilith shook her head.

"Or John of Glastonbury?"

"No."

"Or Uther?"

Lilith's brown eyes brightened.

"Noble Uther I have often seen," she said, "riding through Winchester
on a black horse. A dark man, and sad-looking. He would be much like
your Pelleas."

Igraine was very white. There seemed a race of thoughts in her as she
played the statue with her eyes at gaze, and her lips drawn into a line
of red. Her hands hung limply over the edge of the bed, and she seemed
stiffened into musings. Lilith sidled close to her, and put her warm
arms round her neck, her soft cheek to Igraine's.

"We may learn yet," she said.

"Uther," said Igraine as in a dream.

"Can it be?"

Igraine drew a long breath and sighed like one waking.

"I must see him," was all she said.

Lilith kissed her.

"I will go to the King's house to-morrow," she said; "the girl may tell
us something of use. I have heard it said that Uther has not been in
Winchester for many a week. Ah, Igraine, if it should be he."

They looked deep in each other's eyes, and smiled as only women can
smile when their hearts are fast in sympathy. Then they went to bed in
Igraine's bed, and slept the night through in each other's arms.

Early next day they went together to the King's house that stood by
the gardens and the river. At the kitchen quarters Lilith inquired for
the girl who served as a maid in the household. Being constrained by a
most polite lackey, she went in to see the woman, while Igraine kept
her pride and herself in the porch, and watched the people go by in
the street. Presently Lilith came out again with a frown on her mild
face, and her brown eyes troubled. She took Igraine aside into the
gardens that lined the great highway skirting the palace, and led her
to where a fountain played in the sun, and stone seats ringed a quiet
pool. White pigeons were there, coquetting and sweeping the ground with
their spread tails, their low cooing mingling with the musical plashing
of the water. An old beggar woman sat hunched in a corner, and three
or four children were feeding the fish in the pool. All about them the
gardens were thickly shadowed with great trees and glistening lusty
laurels.

Igraine looked into Lilith's face.

"I see no news in your eyes," she said.

Lilith brooded at the pool and the children, and seemed disquieted,
even angry.

"I have learnt little, Igraine," she said, "and am disappointed. I
will tell you how it was. The old wretch who oversees the women found
me talking with the girl Gwenith, read me a sermon on interfering with
household work, scolded me for a young gossip, and had me packed off
like a beggar."

"What a harridan!"

"I have learnt a little."

"Quick!--I thirst."

Lilith hurried on for sympathy.

"The girl has never heard of a knight named Pelleas," she said, "and
there are so many dark men about Court that your description was little
guide. As for Uther, no one knows where he is at present. Folk are
not disquieted, for he seems to be ever riding away into the woods on
adventure. So much gossip could read me."

Igraine's face clouded.

"Did you ask of Bedivere?" she said.

"Oh, yes; a silly, vain fellow, with a red beard and sandy hair."

"And John of Glastonbury?"

"Gwenith could tell me nothing of that man. Dame Martha caught us
talking, and it was then she scolded--the ugly, red-faced old hen. She
said"--and Lilith blushed--"that I was an idle, silly hussy to gad and
gossip after Court gentlemen. Now that wasn't fair, was it, Igraine?"

"No, dear. I should like to have a talk with Dame Martha."

Lilith rose to the notion.

"She would never scold you, Igraine. You look far too stately."

"Simpleton! a scold would spatter Gabriel."

"Well, if I were Gabriel I know what I should do to Dame Martha."

"You quiet-faced thing--why, you are quite a vixen after all!"

"Ah, Igraine, was there ever a woman without a temper?"

"No, dear, and I wouldn't give a button for her either."

Suddenly, as they sat and talked, the beggar woman lifted up her head
to listen, and the children turned from feeding the fish in querulous,
childish wonder. There was something strange on the wind. Igraine and
Lilith heard a gradual sound rising afar off over the city--a noise as
of men shouting, a noise that waxed and waned like the roar of surges
on a beach. It grew--rushed nearer like a storm through trees,--deep,
sonorous, triumphant. The girls sat mute a moment, and looked at each
other in conjecture.

"What can it be?"

"God knows!"

"The heathen?"

"Not that shout."

"Then--Uther."

Igraine caught a deep breath.

"Listen! it comes nearer. Come away, I must see."

Passing through the gardens they came again to the highway skirting
the palace. Men, women, brats, monks, all Christendom, seemed swarming
up from the city, and there was already a great throng in the street.
The breeze of shouting came nearer each moment. Igraine climbed the
pediment of a statue that rose above the balustrading of the gardens;
the ledge gave room to both Lilith and herself. Together they stood and
looked down on the crowd that began to swarm at their feet--soldiers,
nobles, dirty craftsmen, courtezans, fat housewives, churchmen--their
small prides lost in one common curiousness. The street seemed
mosaicked with colour. The broken words and cries of the crowd were
flung up to Igraine like so much foam.

"Gorlois, say you?"

"Noble Gorlois."

"A thousand heathen."

"What--all slain!"

"Where?"

"Under the walls of Anderida."

"Come to my house and I will give you red wine, and play to you on the
cithern."

"Thank the Virgin."

"Great Gorlois."

"If it is true I'll burn twenty candles."

"Give over trampling me."

"A thousand heathen."

"Ho! there--some rogue's thieved my purse."

"They are coming."

"Let's shout for him."

"Great Gorlois."

Up between the stone fronts of the palace and the dwindling houses and
the rolling green of the gardens came a blaze of gold and purple, of
white, green, blue, and scarlet, a gross glare of steel thundered on
with the tramp of men and the cry of many voices. A river of armour
seemed to flow with a brazen magnificence between the innumerable heads
of the crowd. Clarions were braying, banneroles adance. The sun flashed
on helmet and shield, and made a brave blaze on the flanks of the great
serpent of war as it swayed through the thundering street, arrogant,
triumphant, glorious.

Well in the van rode a knight on a great white horse. His armour was
all of gold, his trappings white with gold borders, and stars of gold
scattered thereon. His baldric was set with jasper, his sword and
scabbard marvellous with beryl and sardonyx. A coronet gemmed with one
great ruby circled his casque, and shot red gleams at the archer sun.

Behind him came a veritable grove of spears,--lusty knights, their
saddles weighed down with the spoil of battle, with torque, bracelet,
sword, and axe. Further yet came pikemen, mass on mass, bearing each on
his spear-point a heathen head,--pageant of leers, frowns, scowls of
red wrath, wild eyes, blood, and blood-tangled hair.

The great knight on the white horse rode with a certain splendid
arrogance, and his eyes were full of fire under the arch of his casque.
It was easy to see that the noise and pomp were like wine to him, and
that his pride blazed like a beacon in a wind.

"Gorlois, great Gorlois!" thundered the crowd.

By the palace there was such a press that the white horse came to a
halt, hemmed in by a sea of vociferous faces. Igraine, in a gown of
violet, was leaning from her statue, and looking at Gorlois. Her glance
seemed to magnetise him, for he turned and stared full at the girl as
she stood slightly above him in the glory of her beauty and her pride.

Long looked Gorlois, like a man smitten with a sudden charm. Then he
wrenched the coronet from his casque, and spurring his horse through
the crowd, rode close to the statue whose knees were clasped by
Igraine's arm. It was the statue of Fame crowned by Love with a wreath
of laurels. So, Gorlois, with head bowed, held up the coronet on the
cross of his sword, and gave Igraine his glory.



II


Splendid in arms, magnificent in fortune, Gorlois of Cornwall held high
place in the war lore and romances of the green isle of Britain. Ask
any pikeman or gallowglass whose crest he would have advance in the van
in the tough tussle of a charge home, and he would tell you of Gorlois
or of Uther. Question any merchant as to the most prolific purse in the
kingdom, and he would beam seraphically and talk to you of Gorlois. So
much for the man's reputation.

Physically he was tall, big-chested, lean-limbed, with a square jaw and
eyes that shone ever alert, as though watching a knife in an enemy's
hand. You could read the swift, soaring, masterful spirit of him in
the bleak lines of his handsome face, and the soldierly carriage of his
head. He was quick as a hawk, supple and springy as a willow, keen and
eager in his action as a born fighter should be. When you saw him move,
the lean hard fibre of him seemed as tense and tough as the string of a
five-foot bow. Though he might seem to the eye all impulse, there was a
leopard reason in him that made him the more formidable. He was no mere
fighting machine--rather a man of brain and sinew whose cunning went
far to back his strength.

Meliograunt ruled in Cornwall in those days, Meliograunt who was to
rear young Tristram for the plaguing of Mark, and the love of the fair
Isoult. Gorlois was Meliograunt's nephew, holding many castles, woods,
and wild coastlands towards Lyonesse, lording it also over other lands
in Britain, houses in London and Winchester, and some mountainous
regions in Gore, where Urience held sway. Mordaunt had been his father,
a great knight who had done many brave deeds in his day. His grandsire,
Gravaine, famed for his wisdom, had fought abroad and died in battle.
Gorlois had ancestry enough to breed worship in him, and after
Ambrosius and black Uther he held undoubted precedence of all knights
in Britain.

Unblemished fortune is not always the nurse best suited to the dandling
of a man's mind. It had been so with Gorlois. He was one of those
beings whose life seemed to promise nothing but triumphal processions
and perpetual bays of victory. Selfishness is such a glittering garment
that it needs a great light to reveal its true texture to the wearer.
Flattered, praised, obeyed, bent to, it became as natural for Gorlois
to expect the homage of circumstance as to look for the obedience of
his cook. There was much that was Greek about him in the worst sense, a
certain sensuous brilliancy that aimed at making life a surfeit of rare
sensations, with an infinite indifference for the hearts of others.
Gorlois liked to see life swinging round him like a dance while he
stood pedestalled in the centre, an earthly Jove.

The man had given Igraine his coronet on the cross of his great sword.
That meant much for Gorlois. He was not a gentleman who had need to
trouble his wits about women, for there were many enough ready to ogle
their eyes out in his service. Yet in his keen way he had conceived a
strong liking for the girl's face. A species of sudden admiration had
leapt out on him, and brought him in some wonder to a realisation of
the power of a pair of eyes. Igraine was such a one as would attract
the man. In the first place she was very fair to look upon, a point
of some importance. She was tall, big of body, and built for grace
and strength, things pleasant to Gorlois's humour. Above all she was
proud and implacable, no giggling franion hardly worth the kissing, and
Gorlois had grown past the first blush of experiences of heart. He was
sage enough to know that a woman lightly won is often soon lost, or not
worth the winning. Let a man's soul sweat in the taming of her, and
there is some chance of his making an honest bargain.

Moreover, like many a man of restless, soaring spirit, Gorlois ever
hungered for romance, and the mysterious discomforts and satisfactions
that hedge the way into a woman's bosom. Certain men are never happy
unless they have the firebrand of love making red stir for them in
heart and body. Of some such stuff was Gorlois. He had a soul that
doted on nights spent at a window under the moon. All the thousand
distractions, the infinite yet atomic cares, the logical sweats of
reasoning were particularly pleasant to his fancy. He loved the colour,
the exultation, the heroism, the desperate tenderness of it all.
Battle, effort, ambition, lost half their sting for Gorlois when there
was no woman in the coil.

Igraine's home was soon known to him, thanks to the apt vigilance of
a certain page much in favour with Gorlois for mischief and cunning.
The boy had Igraine's habits to perfection in a week or two. By making
love to the girl who served her, he put himself into the way of getting
almost any tidings he required. Every morning he would slip out early,
meet Igraine's girl, Isolde, under the shadow of the garden-wall,
and, under cover of a kiss, he would inquire what her mistress might
be doing that day, pretending, of course, that his interest on such a
subject merely arose from his desire to have Igraine out of the way,
and her girl free. The lad quite enjoyed the game, Isolde being a
giggling, black-eyed wench, who loved mischief. Of course he ended by
falling in love with the reckless earnestness of a boy, but that kept
him well to business. Betimes he would run home and tell his master
where Igraine would probably be seen that day.

Gorlois's proud face began to come into the girl's life at every turn.
Igraine would see him often from her window as he rode by on his white
horse, looking up, and very eager to greet her. He would pass her in
the aisles of the great basilica in the market, walking in gold and
scarlet, amid silks and cloths from the East, vases, armour, skins
of the tiger and camelopard, flowers, fruit, wine, and all manner of
merchandise. On the river which ran by the end of Radamanth's garden
his barge often swept past with the noise of oars and music, and a
gleam of gold over the hurrying water. In the orchards without the
walls his face would come suddenly upon her through a mist of green,
and she would be conscious of his eyes and the nearness of his stride.

One Sunday morning she found him laving his hands in the labrum beside
her before entering the long narthex porch of the church, and he was
near her all through the service, watching her furtively, noting the
graceful curves of her figure as she knelt, the profusion of her hair,
a thousand little things that are much to a man. When the sacrament
was given, he knelt close beside her, and touched the cup where her
lips had been. Apparently Gorlois was content for a while with the
rich delight of gazing. His bearing was courteous enough, and he never
exposed her to any public rudeness that could warrant her in resenting
his persistent, though distant, homage.

The great baths of Winchester stood in a little hollow near the
southern gate of the city, a white pile of stone set about with quiet
gardens. They had fallen into some decay and disrepute, but still in
the summer-time girls and men of the richer classes went thither to
bathe. On sunny mornings, in the great marble bath of the women, girls
would flash their white limbs, and sport like Naiads in the laughing
water. Afterwards they would have their hair dressed and perfumed, and
then go to sun themselves in the rose-walks like eastern odalisques.
The music of flute and cithern might often be heard in the grass-grown
peristyles. The library attached to the place had once boasted many
scrolls and tomes, but it had long ago been pillaged by the monks of
the great abbey.

Lilith had taken Igraine there more than once. One morning Igraine had
bathed, tied her hair, and had passed out into the garden alone. The
place was of some size, boasting twenty acres or more, full of winding
paths, grass glades, and knolls of bushy shrubs, where one might lose
one's self as soon as think. Children often played hide-and-seek there,
and idling up some green walk you might catch a giggling girl, with
hair flying, bursting out of some thicket with a lad in full chase. Or
in some shady lawn you might come upon a company of children dancing as
solemnly as little elves to the sound of a pipe.

Nooks and grass walks were almost deserted at this hour, the gardens
being most favoured towards evening, when the day was marked by a
deepening discretion. Igraine had no purpose in the place. She knew
that Lilith was somewhere within its bounds. She also knew that Lilith
had no particular need of her that morning, and as the day was hot and
slothful, Igraine's only ambition was to waste her time as pleasantly
as possible till noon.

Turning round a holly hedge that hid a statue of Cupid, she came
full upon a woman seated on the stone bench that ringed the statue's
pedestal. The woman wore a light blue tunic, and a purple gown that ran
all along the seat in curling masses. She was combing her fair hair
as though she had only lately come from the bath. Her white glimmering
arms were bare to the elbow, and she was humming a song to the sway of
her hair, while many rings laughed on her slim white fingers. She had
not heard Igraine's step upon the grass, but saw suddenly her shadow
stealing along in the sun. Lifting her face, she stared, knew on the
instant, and went red and grey by turns. Her comb halted, tangled in a
strand of hair, and she was very quiet, and big about the eyes. Igraine
remembered well enough where she had seen that would-be innocent stare,
and that loose little mouth that seemed to bud for lawless kisses.

Morgan, with her face as white as her bosom, drew the comb from
her hair, and flourished it uneasily betwixt her fingers. She was
frightened as a mouse at the tall girl standing big and imperious so
near, and her eyes were furtive for chance of flight. Igraine in her
heart was in no less quandary than was dead Madan's wife. She could
prove nothing against the woman, for Pelleas was lost and away, and
even the man's name might be a myth likely to involve further mystery.
She had as much to fear too from Morgan's tongue, as Morgan had from
her knowledge of that night in the island manor.

Morgan, too flurried for sudden measures, sat biting her lips, while
her blue eyes were fixed on Igraine with a restless caution. Neither
woman said a word for fully a minute, but eyed each other like a couple
of cats, each waiting for the other to move. The shrubs around were so
still that you might imagine they were listening, while Cupid, poised
on one foot, drew his bow very much at a venture.

"Good-morning, holy sister."

Igraine said never a word.

"I am glad to see you so improved in dress, that olive-green gown looks
so well on you."

Still no retort.

"By the saints, sister, you are very silent. I hope you were not kept
long on that island?"

Igraine arched her eyebrows and gave the girl a stare. She knew what
a coward Morgan was, and guessed she was in a holy panic, despite her
cool impudence and seeming ease of mind. Woman-like, she conceived a
sudden strong desire to have Morgan whimpering and grovelling at her
feet, for there is some satisfaction in terrorising an enemy, even if
one can do no more.

"I presume, madame," she said, "you thought me safely packed away in
that island, and likely to die of hunger, or be taken by heathen."

Morgan forced a smile, and began to bind her hair for the sake of
having something to do in the full glare of Igraine's great eyes.

"You did not think I could swim."

"Madame, I could think anything of you. Nuns are so clever."

"After all, I am not a nun."

"Of course not. You could not be bothered with vows in summer-time. I
turned nun myself once for a month, it being convenient."

Igraine began to fret and to lose patience.

"You are over venturesome, madame," she said, "in coming to Winchester."

"So!"

"I believe they hang folk here at times; they might even break your
slim white neck."

Morgan's lips twitched, but she did not blench from the argument.

"You speak of hanging," she said, "and the inference is rather
peculiar. Listen a moment, my good convent saint: your knight on the
black horse would most certainly have needed the rope, if my man had
not mended vengeance with that poniard."

"Pelleas and the gallows! You're a fool!"

Morgan smiled back at her very prettily.

"After all, your man did first murder," she said.

"On a traitor cur in Andredswold!"

"Madame, my husband."

The woman's contention was not so illogical when Igraine came to
consider it in a less personal light. Morgan may have loved the man
Madan for all she knew, and she could feel for her in such a matter.
She looked at her with less scorn for the moment, and less injustice of
thought.

"Perhaps you have grieved much," she said.

Morgan gave a blank stare.

"Grieved?"

"You loved your husband?"

"I did, while he lived."

"And no longer?"

"What is the use of wasting one's youth on a corpse?"

Igraine retracted her late sympathy, and returned to enmity. Morgan had
risen, and was ruffling herself like a swan in her part of the great
lady, and gathering her purple gown round her slim figure with infinite
affectation.

"I cannot see that we have cause to quarrel further," she suggested.

"Indeed!"

"Seemingly we are quits, good Sister Morality. I have lost my man, you
yours."

"You are very logical," said Igraine.

"Why should we women grieve?"

"Why indeed?"

"There are many more men in the world."

"Madame, I do not understand you."

Morgan gave a malicious little laugh that ended in a sneer. She
touched her hair with her jewelled fingers, blew a kiss to Cupid,
and again laughed in her sly mischief-making way. In a moment words
were out of her lips that set Igraine's face ablaze, her heart at a
canter, and mulled all further parley. Morgan saw trouble, dodged,
and ran round the statue. Igraine was too quick for her, and winding
her fingers into the woman's hair, gave her a cuff that would have
set a helmet ringing. Morgan tripped and fell, dragging Igraine with
her, and for a moment there was a struggle, green and purple mixed.
Igraine, the heavier and stronger, came aloft on the other soon. Then a
knife flashed out. Morgan got two quick strokes in, one on the girl's
shoulder, a second in her left forearm. Igraine lost her grip, and
fell aside in a stagger of surprise and pain, while Morgan, taking her
chance, squirmed away, slipped up, and ran like a rabbit. She was out
of sight and sound before Igraine had got back her reason.

Here was a pretty business. The girl's sleeve was already red and
soaked, and the slit cloth showed a long red streak in the plump white
of her flesh. Blood was welling up, and dripping fast to the grass at
her feet. Despite the smart of her wounds and her temper, she saw it
would be mere folly to chase Morgan. Following instinct, she ran for
home, holding her right hand pressed over the gash in her shoulder.

In the main avenue who should she meet but Gorlois, carried in a
litter, and looking out lazily from behind half-drawn curtains. His
quick eyes caught sight of Igraine as she passed. He saw the blood and
the girl's white face, and he was out of the litter like a stag from
cover, and at her side, with spirited concern. Igraine was white and
half dazed, her green gown soaked and stained. Her eyes trembled up at
Gorlois as she showed him her gashed arm, with a smile and a little
whimper that made him storm.

"Who did this?"

He had stripped his cloak off, and was tearing it into strips, while
his jaw stiffened.

"An old foe of mine."

"Describe him."

"A woman, my lord."

"The damned vixen. Her dress?"

"Blue tunic, and gown of purple."

Gorlois turned to certain servants who stood round gaping at the girl
in her blood-stained dress, and their lord tearing his cloak into
bandages with characteristic furor.

"Search the gardens--a woman in blue and purple; have her caught. By my
sword, I'll hang her."

He rent Igraine's sleeve to the shoulder, and wound the strips of his
cloak about her arm with a strength that made her wince.

"Pardon," he said in his quick, fierce way; "this will serve a season;
stern heart, good surgeon."

Igraine smiled, and made light of it, while he knotted the bandage.
Some of his men had scattered among the shrubs and into the dark alleys
of the place, for Igraine could hear them trampling and calling to each
other. While she listened, and before she could hinder him, Gorlois had
lifted her as though she had been but a sheaf of corn, and laid her in
the litter. He drew the curtains. The bearers were at the poles, and
setting off at a good stride they were soon in the town.

By the time they reached Radamanth's doorway Igraine, despite her
spirit, was faint from loss of blood, and all atremble. Gorlois,
tersely imperious, lifted her up as she lay half dazed and stupid,
carried her in his arms into the house, and taking guidance from a
white-faced maid, bore Igraine above to her chamber, and laid her on
her bed. Then he kissed her hand, and leaving her to the women, hurried
off to send skilled succour.



III


It was not long before Gildas, the court physician, a dear old
scoundrel with a white beard and a portentous face, came down in state
to attend on Igraine. He was an old gentleman of most solemn soul. His
dignity was so tremendous a thing, that you might have imagined him a
solitary Atlas holding the whole world's health upon his shoulders.

He soon dabbled his fingers in Igraine's wounds that morning, dropped
in oil, and balmed them with myrrh and unguents under a dressing of
clean cloth. He frowned all the time, as was his custom in the sick
chamber, as though wisdom lay heavy on his soul, or at least as though
he wished folk to think so. The only time you saw Gildas smile was when
you payed him a fee or complimented him upon his knowledge. Tickle
his pocket or his vanity, and he beamed on you. That morning he told
Radamanth that his niece's wounds were serious, but that he trusted
that they would heal innocently, treated as they had been by credited
skill. Gildas always pulled a long face over a patient's possibilities;
such discretion kept him from pitfalls, and enabled him to claim all
the credit when matters turned out happily.

The streaks of scarlet in the white waste of skin soon died cleanly
into mere bands of pink, and Igraine had little trouble from her
wounds, thanks to the great Gildas. In fact, she was in bed but three
days, while Lilith played nurse, chatted and sang to her, or leant at
the open window to tell her of those who passed in the street. Master
Gildas came and went morning and evening with the prodigious regularity
of the sun. The girls aped him behind his back, and Igraine, with some
ingratitude to science, made Lilith empty the ruby-coloured physic
out of the window. It happened to spatter a lean booby of a man as
he passed, who, looking up, flattered himself that Lilith must have
sprinkled him with scented water by way of showing her affection. So
much for Gildas's rose-water and flowers of dill.

The man of physic marched each day like a god into Gorlois's house to
tell how the Lady Igraine fared at his hands. Such patronage was worth
much to Gildas, and knowing how the wind blew, he puffed religiously
upon the new-kindled fire. The girl's glamour had caught up Gorlois in
a golden net. He had loved to look upon her and to dream, but now the
perfume of her hair, the warm softness of her body, the very odour of
her shed and scarlet blood were memories in him that would not fade.

One evening a posy of flowers came tumbling in at Igraine's window.

Lilith looked out, and saw Gorlois.

"For the Lady Igraine," were his words.

Lilith smiled down, and ventured to tell him that Igraine was much
beholden to his courtesy and succour, and would thank him with her own
lips when well of her wounds. She took the flowers to Igraine, who was
listening in bed in the twilight.

"Shall I throw a flower back?" asked the girl.

"It would be courteous."

Lilith did so. The bloom struck Gorlois on the mouth like a blown kiss.
The man put the thing in his bosom with a great smile, and went home to
spend some hours like a star-gazer in his garden, while his musicians
tuned their strings behind the bushes. At such a season Gorlois loved
sound and colour. The voices, sweetly melancholic, thrilled up into the
night--

    "Her head is of brighter gold than the broom-flower,
    Her breast like foam under her green tunic;
    Like a summer sky at night are her glances;
    Her fingers are as wood anemones in a daze of dew;
    Of her lips,--who shall tell!
    The gates of a sunset
    Where love dies.
    Her limbs are like May-blossoms
    Bedded on a green couch:
    The night sighs for her,
    And for the touch of her hand."

Of course Morgan had escaped capture. Gorlois's men had hunted an hour
or more, and had caught nothing, not even a glimpse of the purple
gown for which they searched. Radamanth, who had had the affair from
Gorlois's own lips, came and told Igraine, and began to ask her who
this woman foe of hers was. Igraine put him off with a fable. She had
no thought of letting him have knowledge of her love for Pelleas, and
she was glad in measure that Morgan had escaped capture, and so left
her secret in oblivion. The woman might have proved troublesome if
brought to bay, for she had as much right to claim the truth as had
Igraine. Better let a snake go than take it by the tail.

In a week or so there was nothing left to mark the incident save the
red lines in Igraine's white skin. Flowers and fruit came daily in from
Gorlois, and every evening there was music under the window, till she
began to consider these perpetual courtesies. She was woman enough to
know whither they all tended. As for Radamanth, he was more kind to
her than ever, seeing how the wind might blow favours into his ready
lap. Gorlois was a great and noble gentleman, and the goldsmith had an
intense respect for the nobility.

The very first day that Igraine walked abroad again after her
seclusion, she fell in straight with Gorlois. By Gildas's advice, she
had gone, presumably for her health's sake, to the baths with Lilith;
and Gorlois, warned by the leech himself, followed alone, and overtook
them near the porch. He was very gracious, very sympathetic, very
splendid. He begged a meeting with Igraine after she had bathed, and
since the girl had something in her heart that made her wish to speak
with him, she consented, and left him in the laconicum, proposing to
meet him in the rose-walk an hour later. Truth to tell, she intended
questioning him as to Pelleas, whether Gorlois had heard of a knight so
named; and also as to Uther, whether he had yet been heard of in any
region of Britain. She knew Gorlois would take her consent as favour.
Still, she imagined she could venture a little for her heart's sake
without much prick of conscience.

An hour later, true to her word, she went alone into the rose-walk,
a grassy pathway banked with yews, and hemmed with a rich tangle of
red blooms. Gorlois was there waiting as for a tryst. He was full of
smiles and staunch glances as he led her to a seat that was set back in
an alcove, carved from the dense green of the yews, where they might
talk at leisure, and out of sight. Igraine's hair lay loosened over her
shoulders to dry in the sun. It had been perfumed, and the scent of it
swept over Gorlois like a violet mist. He sat watching her for a while
in silence, as she plied her comb with the sun-shaken masses pouring
over her face like ruddy smoke.

"Lady Igraine," he said at length.

The girl's eyes glimmered at him slantwise from behind her hair.

"I knew your father, Malgo, before his death."

Igraine merely nodded.

"I am claiming to be the friend of his daughter, seeing that I have
learnt the very colour of her several girdles, the number and pattern
of her gowns since I rode into Winchester."

The venture in flattery was perhaps more suggestive than Igraine could
have wished.

"You must waste much time, my lord."

"But little."

"I am sorry I have so poor a wardrobe, that you have fathomed the
whole of it in less than a month. To tell the truth, when I came into
Winchester, I had only one gown, and that rather ragged."

"They did not give you green and gold at Avangel?"

"No, the good women wore grey to typify the colour of their souls."

Gorlois laughed in his keen quiet fashion. The girl's eyes were
wonderfully bright and subtle, and he had never seen such a splendour
of hair. He longed to finger it, to let it run through his fingers like
amber wine. Leaning one elbow on the stone back of the seat, and his
head on his palm, he watched the silver comb rippling at its work, with
a kind of dreamy complacency.

The girl's voice broke out suddenly upon him.

"My lord?"

Gorlois attended.

"You know many of the knights and gentlemen famed for arms in Britain?"

"I may so boast myself."

"I was once befriended, a piece of passing courtesy, yet I have always
been curious to learn the character and estate of the man who did me
this service. Have you heard of a knight named Pelleas?"

Gorlois fingered his sharp-peaked black beard, and looked blankly
irresponsive.

"I have never known such a knight," he said.

"Strange."

"Never so. We men of the woods and moors often ride under false
colours, sometimes to try our friends on the sly, sometimes to escape
cognisance. The man who befriended you may have been Pelleas in your
company."

Igraine cut in with a laugh.

"And Ambrosius at home," she said; "even Princes love masquerading in
strange arms. Meadow-flower that I am, I have never seen the stately
folk of the court--Ambrosius or Uther. I have heard Uther is an ugly
man."

"If strength makes a man ugly, Uther may claim ugliness."

"Well?"

"Picture a dark man with black hair, eyes packed away under heavy
brows, a straight mouth, and a great clean-shaven jaw that looks sullen
as death."

"Not beautiful in words."

Gorlois stretched his shoulders, and half yawned behind his hand.

"Uther is a man with a conscience like a north wind," he said; "always
lashing him into tremendous effort for the sake of duty. He has the
head and neck of a lion, the grip of a bear. You have never known Uther
till you have seen him in battle. Then he is like a mountain thundering
down against a sea, a black flood plunging through a pine forest. A
quaint, gentle, devilish, God-ridden madman; I can paint him no other
way."

Igraine laughed softly to herself.

"A man worth seeing," she said.

"I should judge so."

"Tell me, is it true that Uther has gone into the wilds, and been seen
of no man many days?"

"Uther left Winchester more than two months ago, and no word of him has
come to Ambrosius."

"Curious."

"Madame, nothing is curious in Uther. If I were to hear some day that
he had ridden down to Hades to fight a pitched battle with Satan, I
should say, 'Poor Satan, I warrant he has a sore head.'"

"Indeed!" quoth Igraine.

She shook her hair, tilted her chin, and looked at Gorlois out of the
corners of her eyes. She guessed her power, was young, and a woman. It
tempted her to read this creature called "man" in his various forms and
phases, and hold his heart in the hollow of her hand. Her interest in
Gorlois was no discourtesy to her love for Pelleas. She had seen few
men in her time; they seemed strange beings, strong yet weak, wise yet
very foolish, sometimes heroic, yet utter children.

Gorlois, who had the sun in his eyes, beheld her as in an unusual
mist. He was warming to life, for his brain seemed full of the sound
of harping, and his blood blithe with summer. Stretching out a hand he
touched Igraine's hair as it poured over her shoulders, for the red
gold threads seemed magnetic to his fingers, and the glimmer of her
eyes made his tough flesh creep.

"You have wonderful hair," he said.

"I learnt that long ago," drawing the strand away.

"The dawn of knowledge."

"It reaches not so very far from my feet."

Igraine hung out a flag, as it were, to try the man. She knew the look
of Pelleas's eyes, and she wanted Gorlois for comparison. Standing
up, she shook the glistening shroud about her while it seemed to drop
perfumes and to spark out passion. The man's malady showed plainly
enough on his face, but his eyes did not please Igraine. There was too
much selfishness, not enough abasement. She knew Pelleas would have
looked at her as though she was a saint in a church, and he but a lad
from the brown ploughland. Igraine thought that she loved mute devotion
far better than the bold impatient hunger on Gorlois's face.

The man leant back and tilted his beard at her, while his eyes were
half shut for the sun.

"I have heard it told that women are ambitious. Is it truth?"

Igraine, all gravity again, with her tentative mischief banished,
looked at her knees, and said she could not tell. Gorlois waxed subtle.

"Are you ambitious, Igraine?"

"Ambitious, my lord?"

"Have you never wished to stand out like a bright peak above the world?"

"No."

"Or to have the glory of your beauty filling the gate of fame like a
scarlet sky?"

Igraine forced a titter.

"I suppose you are a poet, sir."

"Only a fool, madame."

"Ah!"

"All poets are fools."

"How do you contrive that?"

"Because they are for ever praising women."

"And yet you are a poet, my lord!"

"How could I be else, madame, since I am a man?"

Gorlois took a deep breath, and smiled at the dark yews, sombre and
mysterious behind their belt of glowing roses. Igraine was watching his
face in some uneasiness. It gave the profile of a strong, stark man,
whose every feature spelt alert daring and great hardihood of mind.
There was a keen, half-cruel look about the tight lips and impatient
eyes. She was contrasting him with Pelleas in her heart, and the dark,
brooding face of lion-like mould that so haunted her left little glory
for Gorlois's lighter, leaner countenance.

They were both strong men, but she guessed instinctively which was the
stronger.

Gorlois turned suavely again, with his courage strung like a steel bow.

"I am a queer fellow," he said.

Igraine began to bind her hair.

"If I ever loved a woman--"

"Well, my lord?"

"She could be ambitious to her heart's content. The more her pride
flamed, the better I should like her."

Igraine frowned.

"She would be intolerable."

Gorlois arched his eyebrows, and covered his convictions with a laugh.

"Shall I tell how I should win her?"

"It would be a quaint tale."

"In the beginning, I should half-kill any man who braved it out that
she was not the comeliest woman in Britain."

"Somewhat harsh, my lord, but emphatic."

"I should make her the envy of every lady, dame, and damoselle in the
land."

"Not wise."

"Like a golden Helen should she rise in the east; blood should flow
about her feet like water; I would tear down kingdoms to pile her up a
throne. Such should be my wooing."

Igraine looked at her lap, and said never a word for a minute or more.
All these heroics were rather hollow to her ear, though she did not
doubt the man's sincerity towards himself, and his earnest mind to
please her. Then she asked Gorlois a very simple question.

"Imagine, my lord, that the woman loved some other man?"

Gorlois's answer came swift off his tongue.

"I should meet him in open field, sword to sword, and shield to shield,
and kill him."

Igraine started suddenly, grave and grey as any beadswoman. She did not
think Pelleas would have taught any such doctrine.

"To you, that is love?" she asked.

"What else!"

Igraine thrust her silver bodkin into her hair with some vigour; there
was no mirth or patience in her.

"I name it murder."

"Madame!"

"Stark, selfish murder."

Gorlois spread his hands and laughed.

"What is love?" he asked.

"Should I know!"

"Stark selfishness,--nothing more."

Igraine thought of Pelleas, and the way he had left her for knowledge
of her imagined vows. Something in her heart told her that that was
love indeed that had clasped thorns in the struggle to embrace truth.
Therewith she wished Gorlois a very formal good-morning, refused his
escort, and went straight home with the clear conviction that she
had learnt something to her credit. Her talk with Gorlois had set a
brighter halo about Pelleas's head.

Gorlois of Cornwall was nothing if not subtle. A selfish man of
diplomatic mind may reach the very zenith of unselfishness to work his
ends. Gorlois had so studied the expediencies and discretions of his
purpose that even his love, headstrong though it may have been, was
for the time being harnessed to the chariot of circumspection, whence
intellect drove with steady hand. He had discovered for himself that
Igraine was of sterner, prouder stuff than the general mob of women,
and that he could not count much upon her vanity. She was to be won
by honour, stark, unflinching honour, and by such alone, and Gorlois,
thanks to the no mean wit that was in him, had judged that to his
credit. He set about winning her at first with a consistency that was
admirable, and a wisdom that would have honoured Nestor.

Naturally enough, Radamanth was amazed. Gorlois, one of the first
men in Britain, sitting in a goldsmith's parlour and soliciting his
patronage and countenance with a modest manliness! Radamanth stroked
his beard, strove to appear at ease under so intense an obligation,
struggled to wed servility with a new-found sense of importance. The
whole business was most astonishing; not that Gorlois should love the
daughter of Malgo of the Redlands, but that he should come frankly to
a Winchester merchant and make such a Minos of him. Radamanth beamed,
stuttered, excused himself, crept, condescended, in one breath. When
Gorlois had gone, the good man sat down to think in a sweat of wonder.
Probably he would find himself feasting with the king before long, and
certainly it might prove excellent for trade.

After a cup of wine and a biscuit to restore his faculties, he sent for
Igraine, who was in the garden, and prepared to parade his news with a
most benevolent pleasure. He took a most solemn and serious mood, bowed
her to a chair in magnificent fashion, and began in style.

"My dear niece, I have great honour to lay before you."

Igraine, who had heard nothing of Gorlois's visit, merely waited for
Radamanth to unfold, with a mild and silent curiosity. The old man was
big and benignant with the news he had, and when he began to speak he
rolled his words with the sonorous satisfaction of a poet reading his
verses to patrons in some Roman peristyle.

"Lady Igraine," he said, "honour is pleasant to an old man, and
reverence welcome as savoury pottage. Yet, honour to those he loves is
even sweeter to him than honour to himself. In honouring a kinswoman of
mine, a certain noble gentleman has poured oil of delicious flattery on
my grey head, and treated me to such an exhibition of grace, frankness,
and courtesy, that my heart still warms to him. Perhaps, my dear niece,
you can guess to whom I refer."

Igraine thrilled to a sudden thought--a thought of Pelleas. "I cannot
tell," she said.

Radamanth could have winked, only in his present exalted frame of
mind he remembered that such an expression was neither dignified nor
courtly. If he were to become the associate of noble folk, it behoved
him to raise up new ideals, and so he contented himself with a most
ingenuous smile.

"Hear, then," he said, "that my noble visitor was the Count Gorlois."

"Gorlois!"

"Exactly."

Radamanth believed Igraine wholly overwhelmed. He waxed more and more
patriarchal, till his very beard seemed to grow in dignity.

"Believe me, a most honourable man. Gentlemen of his position might
well fancy other methods--well, never mind that. Count Gorlois came to
me, like a man, to frankly crave my sanction for a betrothal."

Igraine stared, admired Gorlois's excellent plan for netting Faith,
Hope, and Charity at one swoop, but said nothing. Radamanth prosed on.

"Count Gorlois besought me in most courtly and flattering fashion to
countenance him in his claims. He would have everything done in the
light, he said, in honourable, manly, and open fashion--no secret
loitering after dark, or sly kisses under hedges. Mark the gentleman,
dear niece."

The goldsmith idled over the words as though they were fat morsels
of flattery, and Igraine had never seen him look so eminently happy
before. She understood quite well that Gorlois's move had inspired him
into complete and glowing partisanship, and that she was to have those
sage words of advice that young folk love so much. Radamanth climbed
down, meanwhile, to material things, and began to knock off Gorlois's
possessions in practical fashion on his fingers.

"A grand match," he said. "There are the castles in Cornwall--Terabil
and Tintagel; the lands in Gore and elsewhere; the palace in London;
and the great house here by the river. In Logria he has lands, I have
heard,--miles of fat pastures, woods, and many manors, lying towards
the great oaks of Brederwode. The man is as rich as any in Britain, and
if death took Ambrosius or Uther--"

Igraine cut in upon his verbosity.

"What did you tell him, uncle?"

Radamanth stared at her, with his fingers still figuring.

"Tell him, child?"

"Yes."

"What a thing to ask. Of course I promised to further his cause with
you in every way possible. I said we should soon need the priest."

Igraine groaned in spirit.

"It is all useless," she said.

"What!"

"I have no scrap of love for this man."

Now Radamanth had never heard a word of Pelleas, for Igraine had
cautioned Lilith never to speak to her father on the matter. Like many
old people who have spent their lives in getting and possessing, he
had lost that subtle something that men call "soul." Sentiment to him
was a foolish and troublesome thing when it interfered with material
advantage or profit, or barred out Mammon, with its rod twined with red
roses. Consequently he was taken aback by Igraine's cool reception of
so momentous a blessing. He sat bolt upright in his chair and stared at
her.

"My dear niece."

There was such chagrin in his voice that Igraine, remembering his many
kindnesses, hung her head and felt unhappy.

"Do not be angry," she said; "I do not wish you to speak of this more."

"But, my dear child, the honour, the fame, the noise of it!"

Igraine almost smiled at his palpable dismay, for she knew that her
words must have flustered him not a little. Radamanth mopped his bald
head, for the season was sultry.

"I am astounded," he said.

"Uncle!"

"Let me reason with you."

"Love is not reason."

"No, niece, it is prejudice. Yet I assure you Gorlois is a most noble
soul."

"If he were a seraph, uncle, I could not love him."

"You women are all fancy. Why, you have hardly seen the colour of him.
Come, now!"

"I do not need to see more of Gorlois."

"Why, bless my soul, my wife never loved me till we had been married a
month, and she had learnt my fibre."

Igraine thought a moment. Then she asked Radamanth a question.

"Do you love Lilith?"

"Why, girl, what a question."

"Would you marry her to a man she did not love or trust, simply because
it brought gold?"

Radamanth saw himself rounded in the argument like a rat in a corner.
He sat stroking his beard, and striving to look pleased.

"Think over it, my dear," he said presently.

"There is no need."

"Gorlois will woo you like a hero."

"Let him. He will accomplish nothing."

"It would be a grand match."

Igraine jumped up, kissed him to show she bore no ill will, and ran
away much troubled to find Lilith in the garden. She flung herself down
beside the girl in the bower of laurels, and told her all that passed
that morning in Radamanth's parlour. Lilith listened with her brown
eyes deep with thought, and a quiet wonder. When Igraine had finished,
Lilith took both her hands in hers, and, kneeling before her, looked up
into her face.

"What will you do, Igraine?"

"Need you ask, dear?"

"Forgive me."

"Ah!"

"You love Pelleas."

Igraine put her arms round Lilith's neck, and kissed her.



IV


Radamanth's words to the girl proved very true before many days
had gone; his prophetic belief in Gorlois's mood found abundant
justification in the event. Gorlois had the warm imagination of his
race, an imagination that found extravagance and rich taste ready
ministers to work his purpose. Igraine, met by all manner of devices
on all possible occasions, began to realise the cares of those whom a
purblind world insists on smothering with limitless favours.

Flowers were poured in upon her, worked into posies, garlands, shields,
harps, crosses,--all bearing with them some mute plea for mercy. It
might have been perpetual May-day in Radamanth's house, so flowered
and scented was it. Flowers were followed by things more tangible,
a pearl-set cithern, a great white hound, a gold girdle, a pair of
doves in a cage of silver wire, a necklet of rich stones gotten from
some Byzant mart. Gorlois seemed ready to send her all the finery in
Winchester despite her messages and her words to him,--"My lord, I can
suffer none of these things from you." Servants and slaves came down to
Radamanth's house as though they had been sent from Sheba, while one of
Radamanth's men went back from Igraine like an echo, bearing back the
unaccepted baubles. It was a patient game, and rather foolish.

These were but small flutters in Gorlois's sweep for the sun. Had not
Igraine been stabbed in the public gardens! Gorlois put the incident
to use. He formed a bodyguard of certain of the noble youths who were
under his patronage, and warned Igraine with all reverence that he
had acted for her sanctity, and that a dozen gentlemen would follow
near her when she walked abroad, or went to bath or church. Even her
humblest stroll in the street began to partake of the nature of a
triumphal progress. Children would gather to her in the gardens and
throw flowers and laurel branches at her feet, or she would be followed
by music and some sweet love ditty to the harp. A hundred quaint
flatterers seemed to dog her from door to door, till she hardly dared
to stir out of Radamanth's garden.

Naturally enough, her name was soon the one name in Winchester. The
good folk with their Celtic beauty-loving souls spoke of her with
quaint extravagance; her skin was like the apple-bloom in spring, and
her lips like rich red May; her feet moved soft and swift as sunlight
through swaying branches; her hair was a cloud of gold plucked from
the sky at dawn. She was gaped at and pointed at in the street like a
prodigy. When she went into church on Sunday half the folk turned to
stare at her, and a clear circle was left about her where she sat in
the nave. She was for the season the city's cynosure, its poem, its
gossip. Aphrodite might have stepped out of mythology and taken lodging
at Radamanth's, to judge by the curiosity displayed by the people,
and doubtless many a comfortable piece of business came to Radamanth
thereby.

Many women would have gloried for self's sake in such a pageant of
flattery. It was not so with Igraine. She was a woman who mingled much
warmth of heart with strength of will, and fair measure of innate
wisdom; her feelings were too staunch and vivid to be swayed or
weakened by any fresh circumstance, however strange and magnificent it
might appear. Her love, once forged, could bend to no new craft. Her
thoughts were all for Pelleas, and any glory her beauty received she
kept it in her heart for him. Igraine was so eternally in love that
even worldly prides seemed dead in her, and she had not vanity enough
to be tempted by Gorlois's great homage.

The whole business troubled her not a little. There was a certain
mockery in it that hurt her heart. It was as if she had panted in
thirst for water, and some rude hand from heaven had thrown down
gold. Gorlois had her in measure at his mercy. He seemed to take all
her rebuffs with a sublime stoicism, and she had no one to whom she
could appeal. She wished to bide in Winchester, for the city seemed to
promise her the best chance of seeing Pelleas or Uther, and of learning
if these twain were one.

One night there was music under her window. Flute, harp, and cithern
with deep voices were pleading for Gorlois under the stars. Igraine
listened, lying quiet, and thinking only of Pelleas.

    Take then my heart,
    My soul, my shield, my sword,--

sang the voices under the window. Igraine kissed the gold cross that
hung at her bosom, and longed till her heart seemed fit to break for
yearning. If only the song had come from Pelleas, how fair it would
have sounded in the night. As it was, the whole business made her feel
desperately weary.

Gorlois had begun by holding somewhat aloof. It was part of his purpose
to work behind a glowing and fantastic screen, serving Igraine more at
a distance, in a spirit of melancholy that should web him round with a
mystery that was more splendid than truth. He bore Igraine's passive
antagonism for a while with a spirit of enforced fortitude, going
cheerfully by the old and somewhat foolish saying that a woman's looks
lie against her heart, and that persistence wins entry in the end. To
do credit to Gorlois's self-favour, he never considered the ultimate
shipwreck of his enterprise as possible. He had fame, gold, bodily
favour on his side, and what woman, he thought, could gainsay such a
chorus. There are some men who never fail in anticipating success, and
Gorlois possessed that quality of mind.

As the days went by, and the girl was still stone to him, he began
to chafe and to look for stauncher measures. The gay gentlemen who
served him suggested various expedients; one, a more passionate appeal;
another, sly bribery of servants; a third, who was young in years,
hinted at humble despair that might evoke pity. Gorlois laughed at them
all, and swore he would win the girl, hook or by crook, in a month or
less, or lose all the honour his sword had won. He was tired of mere
courtesies that ran contrary to his more stormy spirit. He had a liking
for insolent daring, for a snatch at love as at an enemy's banner in
the full swing of a gallop on some bloody field. Mere mild homage was
all very well for a season. Gorlois loved mastery, and believed there
was no wine like success.

About this time a horde of heathen ships came from the east, sailed
past Vectis, and began to pour their wild men into the country 'twixt
Winchester and the sea. Hamlets and manors were burnt, peasant folk
driven to the woods, the crops fired, the cattle slain. The noise of it
came into Winchester with a rabble of frightened fugitives who had fled
to the city for refuge. Ambrosius the king was in Caerleon, and Uther
errant, so that the chance fell to Gorlois of driving the heathen into
the sea.

No man could have been more heartily glad of this innovation. Igraine
should see him swoop like a hawk in his strength; she should hear how
he led men, and how his sword drank blood. In making war on the heathen
he would boast himself before her eyes, and show her the merit of
manhood, and the glory of a strong arm. Winchester bustled like a camp.
Troops poured in from Sarum, and the sound of war went merrily through
the streets. Folk boasted how Gorlois would harry the heathen. He rode
out one night with picked men at his back, and held straight for the
coast, while Eldol of Gloucester, a veteran knight, marched southward
before dawn with five thousand footmen. It was Gorlois's plan to cut
the heathen off from their ships, and crush them between his knights
and the spearmen led by Eldol.

It was such a venture as Gorlois loved,--keen, shrill, and full of
hazards. Riding straight over hill and dale they saw the glimmer of
waves as the sun rose, and knew they had touched the sea. Gorlois's
scouts had located the main mass of the Jutes camped in a valley about
a nunnery they had taken, and the British knights coming up through
the woods saw smoke in the valley and men moving like ants about the
reeking ruin of the holy house. Looking north they saw a beacon burning
on a hill,--Eldol's signal that he had closed the woods, north, east,
and west, with his footmen, and that he waited only for Gorlois to
sweep up and drive the heathen on to the hidden spears.

Never was there a finer light in Gorlois's eyes than at such a season.
He loved the dance and noise of steel, the plunging hustle of horses at
the gallop, the grand rage of the shout that curled like the foam on an
ocean billow. His courage sang with the wind as his knights rode down
over the green slopes in a great half-moon of steel, a moving barrier
that rolled the savage folk northwards, and rent them like a harrow of
iron. By the blackened walls of the nunnery Gorlois caught sight of
a line of mutilated bodies tied to posts,--dead nuns, stripped, and
still bleeding. The sight roused the wolf in him. "Kill! kill!" were
his words as they rode in upon the skin-clad horde. It was savage work,
bloody and merciless. Eldol's men closed in on every quarter, and the
heathen were cut down like corn in summer.

Very few went back to their ships that day. Scores lay dead with their
fair hair drabbled in the blood about the ruins, and on the quiet
slopes of the dale. As they had measured out violence to the peasant
folk and women, so it was meted to them in turn,--vengeance, piled up,
great measure, running over with blood. Some sixty maimed men were
taken alive, but mere death was too mild for Gorlois when he remembered
the slain nuns. He had certain of the captured burnt alive, others
hacked limb from limb, the rest crucified near the river for the birds
to feed upon. Then he buried the nuns, and made a great entry into
Winchester, taking care to ride past Igraine's window with his white
horse bloody to the saddle, and his armour splashed as he had come
from the field. She should see his manhood, if she would not have his
presents.

This single slaughter, however, did not end matters on the southern
shores. Bands of Saxons were forraying from Kent, where they had
established themselves, and Gorlois rode out again and again to crush
and kill. There would be battles in the woods, bloody tussles in the
deep shadows of Andredswold, wild flights over moor and waste, triumph
cries at sunset. Three times Gorlois rode out at the head of his
knights from Winchester; three times he came back victorious, hacked
and war-stained, thundered in by the people, past Radamanth's house to
the church in the market-square. Igraine sat at her window and watched
him go by, lowering his spear to her with all his proud love ablaze on
his face. Had he not driven the barbarians into the very heel of Kent,
and left many a tall man from over the seas rotting in sun and rain?

It was customary year by year in Winchester to hold a water pageant
on the river, depicting legendary and historic things that had passed
within the shores of Britain. August was the pageant month, and in
this particular year the display was made more elaborate in order
to celebrate the rout of the heathen by Gorlois, and to please the
common folk who had made him their idol. The pageant was of no little
splendour. Great galleys, fittingly decorated, were rowed down the
narrow stream amid a horde of smaller craft, each great barge bearing
figures famed in British legend lore. The first barge portrayed Brute
the Trojan voyaging for Britain; others, Locrine's death by the river
Severn, Rudhudibras, mythical founder of Winchester, the reunion of
Leyr and Cordelia, Porrex the fratricide done to death by damsels.
One barge, draped in white and purple, moralised the reconciliation
of Brennius and Belenus at the intercession of their mother. A great
galley in red and white bore Joseph of Aramathy and the Holy Grail, and
a choir of angels who sang of Christ's blood. Last of all came Alban
the protomartyr, pictured as he knelt to meet his death by the sword.

The day was blue and quiet, with hardly the shimmer of a cloud over the
intense gaze of the sky, while banners of rich cloth were hung over the
balustrades of the river terraces, and the gardens themselves were full
of gay folk who kept carnival, and watched the boats go by. The great
pageant galleys had hardly passed, and the small craft that had kept
the bank were swarming out into mid-stream, where a great barge with
gilded bulwarks and a carved prow came sweeping down like a swan before
the wind. It was driven by the broad backs of twenty rowers clad in
scarlet and gold. In the stern sat Gorlois, holding the tiller, with a
smile on his keen lips as a quavering clamour went up from the gardens
and the boats that lined the shallows.

By Radamanth's house Gorlois held up a hand, and the blades foamed as
the men backed water. The great barge lost weigh and lay motionless on
the dappled silver of the stream. Slowly it was poled in to the steps
that ran from the water's edge to the terrace of Radamanth's garden. A
light gangway was thrown ashore, and a purple carpet spread upon the
steps, while the men lined the stairway with their oars held spearwise
as Gorlois went up to greet Igraine.

Clad in white and gold, with a rose over her ear, she was sitting
between Radamanth and Lilith on a bench at the head of the stairway.
There was an implacable irresponsive look on her face as Gorlois came
up the steps and stood in front of her like a courtier before a queen's
chair. Radamanth and the merchant folk present were on their feet, and
uncovered; only Igraine kept her seat in the man's presence, and looked
him over as though he had been a beggar.

They were left alone together on the terrace, Radamanth shepherding
his merchant friends aside for the moment with the discreet desire
to please the count. Gorlois stood by the stairhead and told Igraine
the reason of his coming, as though she had not guessed it from the
moment his barge had foamed up beside the steps. He told her frankly
that he wished to speak to her alone, and that his barge gave her an
opportunity of hearing him without his having the advantage of her in
solitude, while the noise of oars would drown their words. Igraine
listened to him with a solemn face. She began to feel that she must
face her destiny and give the man the truth for good. Procrastination
would avail nothing against such a man as Gorlois. Being so minded, she
gave Gorlois her hand and hardened herself to satisfy him that day.

Away went the great barge before the strong sweep of the long oars.
Igraine watched the water slide by--foaming like a mill race as the
blades cut white furrows in the tide. The river gleamed with colour as
innumerable galleys, skiffs, and coracles drifted in the shallows or
darted aside to give passage to Gorlois's barge. Fair stone houses,
gardened round with green, slid back on either side. They passed the
spectacular galleys one by one, and the wooden wharfs packed with the
mean folk of the city, and foaming on under the great water-gate, drew
southward into the open country and the fields.

Igraine looked at Gorlois, and found his face impenetrable with
thought. A fillet of gold bound his hair, and he was wearing his
great sword, and an enamelled belt over his rich tunic. The cushions
of the barge had been sprinkled with perfumes, and the floor covered
ankle deep with flowers. Igraine groaned in spirit, and read the old
extravagance that had persecuted her so long, and made a mockery of her
love for Pelleas.

Gentle meads lapped greenly to the willows, giving place anon to woods
that seemed to stride down and snatch the river for a silver girdle.
The festival folk and their skiffs were out of sight and hearing, yet
Gorlois's barge ran on, to plunge into emerald shadows, tunnels whose
floors seemed of the blackest crystal webbed with nets of green and
blue, whose vaultings were the dense groinings of the trees. Not a
wind stirred. The great curving galleries in the woods were dark and
mysterious, the water like glistening basalt, the trees dreaming over
their own images in an ecstasy of silence. The foam from the oars was
very white, and the moist swish of the blades made the silence more
solemn by contrast, while the water seemed to catch a golden flicker
from the flanks of the barge.

Igraine knew well enough what was in the man's heart as he sat handling
the tiller, and watching her with his restless eyes. She was quite
cold and undisturbed in spite of her being at his mercy, and the
consciousness that in her heart she did not trust him vastly. Gorlois
had spoken only of the town, and they were running on under dense
foliage into the forest solitudes that edged the river. Yet Igraine had
faith in her own wit, and believed herself a match for Gorlois, or any
man, for that matter, save Pelleas. Gorlois passed the time by telling
her of his battles in Andredswold, how he had driven the heathen into
Thanet, and freed Andred's town from leaguer. Igraine began to wonder
how long it would be before he would turn to matters nearer to his
heart. She had marshalled up her courage for the argument, and this
waiting under arms for the bugle-call did not please her.

The day had already slipped into evening, for the water pageant was
ordered late, so that it might merge into a lantern frolic on the river
after dusk. Igraine, seeing how the light lapsed, told Gorlois to have
the barge turned for Winchester. She had hardly spoken when the boat
ran out from the trees into open water. In the west the sky was already
aflame, ridged tier above tier with burning clouds, while the blaze
fainted zenithwards into gold and azure. A queer cry as from a man
weary of torture came down from the west. On a low hill near the river,
bleak against the sky, stood a black concourse of beams set upright in
the ground, looking like the charred pillars of a burnt house. They
were crosses, and the bodies of men crucified.

Gorlois pointed to them with the evening glow on his face, and taking
a horn that hung at his belt, blew a loud call thereon. At the sound a
vulture rose from a crossbeam, and went flapping heavenwards--a black
blot against the scarlet frieze of the west. Others followed, like evil
things driven from their food. Again the cry, the wail from one who had
hung torn and wracked in the parching sun, came down from the darkening
hill.

Igraine shuddered and felt cold at the sound, and watched the figures
against the sky with a kind of awe.

"Who are these?" she said.

"Dogs from over the sea."

"Some are still alive."

"These pirates are hard; they die slowly, despite beak and claw. Such
be the death of all who burn holy houses and homes, and put women and
children to the sword."

"Take them down, or let them be killed outright."

"Never."

"At my prayer."

"What I have done, I have done."

"Cruelly."

"Cruelly, madame! You should have seen twenty dead nuns tied to stakes
as I have seen, and you would gloat and be glad as I am. By God, little
mercy had this offal at my hands in the glades of Andredswold. I burnt,
and crucified, and tore with horses. Mere steel is too good for such as
these."

"My lord!"

"What is hate unless it is hate? I can never brook an enemy to Britain."

Igraine had sudden insight into the core of Gorlois's nature. She
understood, in a vague, swift way, what primæval instincts were hid in
him ready at the beck of baser feelings such as jealousy or smitten
pride. Woman-like, she recoiled from a man whose strength was so
inflexible that it owned no pity or leavening kindness where malice
or anger was concerned. She loved strength, and the natural wrath of
a man, but she had no touch of the Semiramis about her, and her heart
could not echo Gorlois's wolf-like cry.

The rowers had turned the barge, and they were soon back again under
the shadows of the trees. It was dim and ghostly with the onrush of
night, while a faint fire flickered through the trees from the west
and touched the sullen water with a reddish flame. Gorlois's face was
in the shadow. He was leaning over the tiller towards Igraine, and
his eyes seemed to burn out upon her face and to make her heart beat
faster. She sat as much away from him as the gunwale suffered, and
looked ahead over the misty river, or up into the dense, black bosoms
of the trees.

The foamy rush of the oars and the grind of the looms in the rowlocks
half drowned Gorlois's words as he spoke to her.

"Igraine."

"My lord."

"You have read me to the heart."

Igraine turned and looked him full in the face. Now that the brunt had
come, she was strong and ready to tell the man the truth, though it
might be bleak and bitter to his pride. Gorlois was very near her, and
she could see his white teeth between his lips, and the glint of his
eyes as he leant towards her in the shadows.

"Are you ambitious, Igraine?"

"No, my lord."

"Not even a little?"

"My lord, I have no more ambition in me than one of those dead men
hanging athwart the sunset."

"You are a queer woman."

"Pardon, I have a conscience."

Gorlois bit his lip, stared in her face, and set a hand upon her wrist.

"You can never shirk me," he said.

"I never shirk the truth."

"Come now, give me the word."

"My lord, may I save you pain in the telling of it! You can never come
near my heart."

"Woman, never be so sure."

Gorlois drew back, and said never another word. Igraine watched him
furtively as his keen profile hung near her in the dusk clear as
marble. Now and again his eyes gleamed out upon her and made her fear
the moment, while the oars swung out over the smiling stream, and the
black woods started by like night.

Soon the lights of Winchester showed up against the northern sky,
and far ahead over a straight stretch of water they could see the
lanterns and torches of the folk who kept festival. A golden mist and
the noise of music came down to them, as they surged under the great
water-gate and ran on through the city amid a glimmering web of lights
and laughter. Soon the barge found the shallows under white walls, and
Igraine was standing on the steps leading to Radamanth's garden, with a
starry sky sweeping like a wheel above the world.

Gorlois went slowly from her down the steps, with a face that was dark
and brooding. Torchlight glimmered on the fillet of gold about his
hair, on the splendid setting of his baldric, and the scabbard of his
sword. At the water's edge he lifted up his face to her out of the
night.

"It shall be life or death," he said.

Then he was swept away with a red flare of torches over the river, and
Igraine went solemn-eyed to bed.



V


Not a word of Uther yet, no sound of his name in Winchester, though
Igraine lived on in Radamanth's house, and hoped for light in the dark.

Gorlois had had the truth, and she wondered what would come of it.
Lulled by an ingenuous reasoning into the belief that she would be
free of the man, she began to breathe again and to take liberty in her
hand. She did not think Gorlois could plague her longer after the blunt
answer she had given him. His pride would drag him aside, make further
homage impossible, and there the matter would end.

If Igraine believed this, then she was in very gross error. Many men
never show their true fibre till they are given the blunt lie, and
Gorlois was never more himself than when baffled. There was much of the
hawk about him, and Igraine had underrated his pride if she expected it
to take league with her against its kinsman passion. Her measure only
uncovered the darker side of the man's nature, and sounded the doom of
a lighter, gayer chivalry. Gorlois's pride and self-love never dragged
in the wind, but held him taut to the storm, as though determined to
weather all the perversities of which a woman's heart is capable.
In truth, Igraine had done the very thing least likely to free her
from the man's thought; she had taunted his passion and thrown down a
challenge to his pride.

Gorlois kept his own counsel, and frowned down the mischievous
curiousness of his friends when they laughed at him and asked how the
girl framed for a wife. He struck Brastias his squire to the ground for
daring to jest sympathetically on the subject. Those who went about
his house and hunted and diced with him soon found that he was in no
temper for light raillery or the sly privileges of an intimate tongue.
The fabric of a mere nice romance had stiffened into sterner, darker
proportions. There was the look of a dry desire in the man's eyes, a
lean hungry silence about him that made his men whisper. Some of them
had seen Gorlois when he hunted down the heathen. They knew his temper,
and the cast of his features when there was some lust of enterprise in
his heart.

About that time a knight came from Wales thrusting a woman's beauty
upon every man with the point of his spear. As had been his custom
elsewhere, he set up a green pavilion outside the walls, and daily rode
out armed to the sound of a trumpet to declare a certain Amoret of
Caerleon the fairest gentlewoman in Christendom. He was a big man, red
and burly, and had overthrown every like fanatic for love's sake on
this particular adventure. Gorlois heard of the fellow with no little
satisfaction. Every finger of him itched to spill blood, and he took
the deed on him, vowing it should be the last peace-offering to Igraine.

Arming one morning, he rode down and fought the Green Knight in his
meadow outside the walls. It took them an hour to settle the matter. At
the end thereof the errant from Wales was lying impotent and bloody in
his tent, and the name of Amoret aped the ineffectual moon. Afterwards
Gorlois rode into the town, war-stained as he was, found Igraine at her
window, and presented her the Green Knight's token on the point of his
spear.

It was a woman's sleeve in green silk, and edged with pearls. Igraine
saw a crowd of upturned faces about the man on the white horse.
His bright arms seemed to burn in upon her, and to light a sudden
impatience in her heart. She took the green sleeve from the spear, and
looking Gorlois full in the face, in reckless mood she threw the thing
down under his horse's hoofs.

There was a great hush all through the street at the deed, and Gorlois
started red as a man struck across the face with a whip. His eyes
seemed to grow large, like the eyes of an angry dog. Never had folk
seen him look so black. He stared up a moment at Igraine, shook his
spear, and trampling the green sleeve under the hoofs of his horse,
rode away without a word through the glum and gaping crowd.

Igraine had thrown down the glove with a vengeance. It was a mad enough
method of beating off the pride of a man such as Gorlois, whose temper
grew with the blows given, and who knew no moderation in love or in
hate. Gorlois had ridden home through the town that day to have his
wounds dressed, and to spend half the night in a fury of cursing. Yet
for all his bitterness he had the power of level thought, and of taking
ground for the future. He would read this woman a lesson; that much he
swore on the cross of his sword; and the early morning saw him again at
Radamanth's, strenuous to speak his mind.

The goldsmith happened to know that Igraine was alone in the garden.
Without noise or ceremony he sent Gorlois in to her, locked the door
on them both, and went to watch from a narrow window on the stairs. He
swore that Gorlois should have his own way, and not go balked for a
woman's whim.

Igraine was sitting sewing in the arbour of laurels with the little
gold cross hanging down over the bosom of her dress. A grass walk led
to the arbour between beds of flowers. As she sat stitching she heard
the sound of feet in the grass, and saw a shadow slanting across the
entry. She expected Lilith, but looking up, found Gorlois.

He was white from his wounds of yesterday and the blood he had lost
by the Green Knight's sword. His left arm lay in a sling of red silk.
Igraine noted in her sudden half-fear how his eyes were very bright,
and that his beard looked coal-black below his bloodless cheeks. There
was something in his face too that made Igraine cautious.

She rose and folded her embroidery in the most unperturbed and quiet
fashion, though she was thinking hard all the same. Gorlois watched
her, and held back for her to speak, with a hollow fire creeping
into his eyes, for the girl's passionless mood chafed him. He had no
gentleness towards her for the moment; such love as he knew had been
blown into a red beacon by starved and covetous desire.

"A word with you," he said.

The speech was rough and pertinent, showing the trend of the man's
purpose. He had abandoned superficialities. Igraine, gathering up her
silks, turned and faced him with the frankness of a full moon. Gorlois
saw her lips tighten, and there was a temper swimming in her eyes that
promised abundant spirit and no shirking. If he had launched out to
rouse her from passive antagonism, he could not have chosen a better
method.

Igraine made a step towards the house, but two strides put Gorlois in
her path.

"Make way--"

"Not a foot till you have the truth out of me."

"Have a care,--I will be stormed at by no man."

"Woman, look at me."

Igraine was looking at him with all the temper she could summon. If
Gorlois thought to ride straight over her courage, he was enormously
mistaken. She would match him for all his hectoring.

"If you are not a fool," she said, "you will end this nonsense, and go."

"Am I a scullion?"

"You should know, my lord."

"I have not bled for nothing."

"As you will."

"What have you to say to me?"

Igraine lost all patience, tossed her embroidery aside, and simply
flashed out at him with all her soul.

"Say!" she said; "I have somewhat to say, and that bitter; listen if
you will. You, Gorlois of Cornwall, who bade you make my name a byword
in Winchester? Listen to me,--hear the truth, and profit--you who
pestered me with mad tricks till I hated it all and held it insolence.
Who asked you to make me gossip for a city, did I? Who took your
presents? Who told you the truth? Who threw your token under the hoofs
of your horse to shame you? I have mocked you enough, now leave me in
peace, or rue it."

"By God, madame--"

"Don't echo me. Go, get out of my sight; I hate you!"

Gorlois flushed to the temples in this wind of passion. The girl looked
splendid to him in her great anger, her head thrown back and her eyes
steady on him as stars. The scorn of her beauty leapt over him like
crimson light, and he was more a sensation than a man. He had a great
thirst in him to grip her with his hands, to bend her straight body
as he would bend a bow, to strangle up the scorn in her throat with his
own breath. He went near her, stooping and staring in her face.

[Illustration: "A SUDDEN MADNESS WHIRLED GORLOIS AWAY"]

"Igraine."

"Mark my words."

"You golden shrew, you temptation of tempers--"

"Hold off--"

"By God! I'll tame you, don't doubt me."

Igraine, very watchful, slipped past him suddenly like light, and
walked for the house with a sweeping air that bade him keep his
distance. Coming to the door of the house, she tried it but found the
lock shot. The red badge of a new anger showed upon either cheek. She
turned on Gorlois; her eyes blazed out at him.

"A pretty trick!"

"What now, madame?"

"You had this door locked."

"Never."

"You lie in your throat."

"Radamanth--"

"Open it."

"I have no key."

Igraine's figure seemed to dilate and grow taller, and her eyes shone
well-nigh as bright in colour as her hair.

"Obey me."

"Not if I had the key."

"Obey me."

"I will be master before the sun is at noon."

"You dog!"

A sudden madness whirled Gorlois away. He went red from the neck,
clutched at Igraine's wrist and held it. For a moment they stood rigid.
The girl could not shake him off although he had but one hand to hold
her. His breath was hot upon her face as he pressed her back against
the wall, and held her there till his lips touched her neck. Igraine,
breathing fast and straining from him with all her strength, set a
hand on his face and thrust him away. She twisted her wrist free,
and slipped from between him and the wall. Then the door opened, and
Radamanth stood by them.

Igraine slipped away with a white face, and running above to her
chamber threw herself down on the bed, and cried for Pelleas. She heard
Gorlois stride through the house, heard the gate crash as he went out
into the street. Shame and loneliness were on her like despair, and
she was weak and shaken after her anger, and very hungry for love and
comfort. The world seemed a dull blank about her, cold, irresponsive,
and grey as a November evening. Every hand seemed against her. Even
Radamanth, the man of serious years, had turned the key upon her, more
kind to Gorlois than herself. Her thoughts were very bitter as she lay
and brooded over it all.

Presently she heard some one coming up the stairs. Darting to the door,
she bolted it, and went back to the bed, while a hand rapped out a
somewhat diffident summons, and Radamanth's voice came in to her.

"My dear niece," it said.

Igraine made no answer.

"My dear niece, let me have a word with you."

Still no answer. Radamanth tried the door and found it fastened.

"Gorlois is gone," he said.

Igraine remained obdurate, with face drawn and sullen-eyed. She heard
him shuffle down the stairs again, go into his parlour, and shut the
door very gently, like a man who is ashamed. Then all was quiet save
for casual footsteps in the street, and the garrulous chatter of a
starling on the tiles.

Noon had come and gone a long while, and still Igraine lay in her room
and moped. She felt sore and grieved to the heart, all her sanguine
courage was at low ebb. Winchester seemed a prison-house where she was
shut up with Gorlois. The man's greed and power of soul seemed to stare
upon her till white honour folded its hands over its breast and turned
to flee. Oh for Pelleas and the brave look of those honest eyes, the
staunch touch of those great hands. He seemed to stand up above the
world, above the selfishness, the lust, the violence, like a pine on
some lonely hill. She could trust, she could believe. To find him would
give her peace.

As she lay there that noontide a new purpose came to her, and lighted
up hope. It was frail and flickering enough, but still, it burned. She
would leave Radamanth's house and go afoot into the world to find a
shadow. Anything was better than lying cooped in the place for dread of
Gorlois. She had long contemplated such a measure, and that morning in
Radamanth's garden gave her decision and made her strong.

She rose up from the bed and hunted out her old Avangel habit from a
cupboard in the wall. Then she set to to doff the rich stuffs Radamanth
had given her, the embroidered tunic, the coloured leather shoes,
the goodly enamelled girdle. In their stead she stood again in the
old grey gown, hood, and sandals, with a little thrill of delicious
recollection. It was like stepping back into the dream of an enchanted
past.

She had hardly ended the transformation when there came a shy tap at
her door, and a mild voice calling to her from the landing. It was the
girl Lilith. Igraine felt a sudden warmth at her heart as she let her
in and barred the door again. Lilith stood and stared at her, her great
brown eyes wide with astonishment.

"Why this old dress, Igraine?"

"I will tell you, dear."

"And you have been crying, for your eyes are red."

Igraine took the soft-voiced little woman to the window-seat and told
her sadly enough all the doings of the morning. Even Lilith looked
ashamed and showed her anger openly. Radamanth had confessed nothing of
what had passed in the garden.

"I never loved my father less before," she said. "I should never have
thought this mean trick of him. I am ashamed, Igraine."

"Never trouble, dear, you are my joy in Winchester."

"And why this old nun's habit?"

"I am going to leave you, child."

Lilith clutched at her with both hands, her face suddenly white and
almost piteous.

"Oh, no, no, Igraine!"

"I must, dear."

"Forgive--"

"It is not that alone. I cannot rest here longer. Gorlois and the city
have crushed the heart out of me."

Lilith lifted up her child's face to her, and then began to sob
unrestrained on Igraine's bosom.

"It seems cruel," she whimpered.

"No, no, it is best for me after all."

"But where will you go, Igraine?"

"Heaven knows, dear. I cannot rest here longer after this morning. I
feel as if I should stifle."

"Don't go, Igraine."

"Hush, dear, don't weaken me. I am hard put as it is."

They were both weeping now. Lilith's slim body shook as she lifted up
her face to Igraine's, and looked at her through her tears. She had
learnt to love Igraine, and jealousy of her tall and splendid kinswoman
had had no place in her heart. Lilith possessed to perfection the power
of sympathy, and being a simple little soul who lived wholly for the
present, she perhaps felt the more for that very reason. She could not
say evil enough of Gorlois, nor put too much kindness into her kisses
as she sat with her head on Igraine's shoulder.

"You cannot go out alone in the world," she said presently.

Igraine was silent.

"I know father would never forgive himself."

"There are convents, child. They would guard and give me harbour for a
time."

"A convent--but you hate the life."

"If I could only hear of Uther, I would--"

"Yes, yes, I know. But will you go, Igraine?"

"My mind is made up; nothing can change it."

"Then let me come with you."

Igraine kissed her, but shook her head at the suggestion.

"I love you for the wish, dear, but I could never drag you into my own
troubles, and it would be very wrong to Radamanth."

That afternoon they had many words together in Igraine's room, and
dusk caught them still talking. Igraine had made Lilith promise that
Radamanth should know nothing of her flight till the following morning.
Lilith proved a little obstinate at first, but yielded in the end
for fear of grieving Igraine. With the dusk she crept downstairs and
brought up food. Igraine made a meal, while Lilith, with her tears
still falling, put up food and a few trifles into a bundle, slipping in
all the little store of money she had. Then she ran softly downstairs
to see if the way were clear. Radamanth had gone to supper with a
merchant friend, and the house seemed quiet and very lonely. In the
passage-way the two girls took leave of each other, Lilith clinging to
Igraine for a moment with all her heart. With sad eyes Igraine left
her, and went out into the night.



VI


Igraine found lodging that night in the great abbey of St. Helena that
Pelleas had spoken of on their ride from the island manor. Posing
to the portress as one who had wandered long after her escape from
Avangel, she was taken to the refectory, where supper was being spread
by the juniors. The women of the place gathered round her, and Igraine
inquired with some qualms for any chance news of Malt, Claudia, and
the rest, but getting nothing she felt more confident. She told them
her name was Melibœa, and she recounted at length the burning of
Avangel and her subsequent wanderings, carefully purging the tale of
all that might seem strange to their virgin ears, or set their tongues
a-clacking. The women were very kind to her, partly for her own sake,
and partly for the interesting gossip she had brought them.

At supper she sat next a young and merry nun who shared her misericords
with her. The good women of the place were suffered to talk between
vespers and complines, and Igraine, sly at heart, edged the talk to a
tone for which she thirsted, and began to speak to her neighbours of
Gratia, Abbess of Avangel.

"Did any of you know her?" she asked.

"Only by fame," said a fat nun opposite Igraine.

"I have heard she was near of kin to the King," said another, who
drooped her lids in very modest fashion.

Igraine started in thought.

"Aurelius?" she said.

The nun nodded.

"How were they related?"

"I have heard Gratia was his aunt."

"And aunt to Uther also?"

"Of course, seeing they are brothers."

Igraine looked at her wooden platter, and pressed the little gold cross
to her bosom with her hand. And now a strange thing happened. The old
nun opposite Igraine, who was the Mistress of the Novices, brought out
news that she had heard in the Abbess's parlour that very morning.

"Uther has been seen again," she said.

"Uther?"

The word snapped out like a bolt from a bow, and brought the nuns' eyes
on Igraine across the table.

"The man comes and goes like a shadow. He is ever riding alone to do
some great deed against the beasts, or against the heathen. A great
soul is Uther."

Here were tidings dropped like dew out of heaven at the very hour she
stood in need of them. Igraine felt the mist lighten appreciably in her
brain. She popped an olive into her mouth and spoke almost carelessly.

"Where is Uther?"

"At Sarum town. He rode, they say, to the great camp there looking like
a ghost, or as though he had been playing Simeon on a pillar."

Igraine merely nodded.

"Uther always looks a serious soul. Have you ever seen him, sister?"

"Never. A dark man?"

"With a face like a sun and a thunder-cloud rolled into one."

"A good man!"

"So they say; he has a clean look."

A little bell began to sound to call them away to complines. Igraine
went with the rest into the solemn chapel, and let the chant sweep into
her soul, and the prayers take her heart to heaven. Incense floated
down, colours shone and glimmered on the walls, the dim lamps shivered
like stars under the roof. Igraine felt her hollow heart warm as a rose
in the full blaze of a golden noon. She said her prayers very fervently
that night, for love was awake in her and glad of her new-blossomed
hope. She would go to the great camp at Sarum and see this Uther for
herself.

She had little comradeship with sleep in the great dormitory that
night. When the matins bell rang she was up and ready for her flight
like a young lark in the day. After chapel she begged a pittance from
the cellaress and stowed it with her bundle in the little wallet Lilith
had given her, excusing her early going on the plea that she had far to
walk that day. She set out briskly from the grey shadows of the abbey.
The place lay quite close by the western gate, so that she was soon
beyond the walls and in the fields and orchards where all was goldly
quiet at that early hour.

Winchester stood like a prison-house, void and fooled, in the east.
Igraine turned and looked down at it awhile huddled in its great girdle
of stone, a medley of towers, roofs, and mist-wrapped trees. She shook
her fist at it with a noiseless little laugh when she thought of
Gorlois. Further yet to the east she could see the blue pine-smirched
ridge where Pelleas had built her that little bower on the night he
had left her sleeping. Her eyes grew deep with desire as she thought
of it all, even as she had thought of it a thousand times since then.
Pelleas's dark face was garlanded with green in her memory, and
trouble, as it ever does, had made love take deeper root in her bosom.

Cheeriness comes with action. Igraine, fettered no longer, footed it
along the road with snatches of song on her lips, and her eyes full of
summer. A quiet wind came up from the west, and the clear morning air
suited her courage. All the wide world seemed singing; the trees had
an epithalamium on their whispering tongues, and the sky seemed strewn
with white garlands. The tall corn in its occasional cohorts bowed down
to her with murmuring acclaim as though it guessed her secret.

When she had gone a league or so she sat down under a tree and made a
meal from the stuff in her wallet. Country folk went by on the road,
for it was market-day in Winchester. One apple-cheeked lad seeing a nun
sitting there came devoutly with his palms full of fruit taken from his
ass's pannier, and made his offering with a shy smile and a bend of the
knee. Igraine, touched, blessed him most piously, and gave him a kiss
to cap it. The lad blushed and went away thinking he had never seen
such a pretty nun before, and wondering if there were many like her in
the great abbey. Igraine watched him towards Winchester, and wished
some country girl joy of a good husband.

Presently she held on again in great spirits, nor had she gone very far
when a tinkling of bells came up behind her with a merry clatter of
hoofs. Turning aside to give passage, she looked back and saw an old
gentleman riding comfortably on a white mule with two servants jogging
along behind him on cobs. The old man's bridle was fringed with
little silver bells that made a thin jingle as he rode; he was solidly
gowned in plum-coloured cloth turned over with sable, and seemed of
comfortable degree, judging by his trappings. Igraine looked up in his
face as he passed by, while the old gentleman stared down to see what
sort of womanhood lurked under a nun's hood. The man on the mule was
Eudol, Radamanth's bosom gossip.

"Hey now, on my soul," said the little merchant, reining in with
a will; "what have we here, my dear, gadding about nunwise on a
high-road? My faith, I must hold a catechism."

Igraine, knowing the old man's vulnerability, answered with a smile.

"Ah, Master Eudol, you are a very lady's man, a gem of discretion."

"So, and truth," said the merchant, with a chuckle.

Igraine went close to him and patted the white mule's neck, while the
serving men held at a wise distance.

"I am running away from Winchester," she said.

"Strange sport, my dear."

"Now you must not tell a soul, on your honour."

"Not a living soul, on my honour."

Igraine let her eyes flit a laughing look up at him.

"Why then, Master Eudol," she said, "if you will order one of your men
to walk, I will get up and ride along with you for a league or two.
There is trust for you."

Eudol appeared entranced with the suggestion. He ordered one of his
fellows to dismount, to spread a cloak over the saddle, to shorten a
stirrup leather and give Igraine his knee. The girl was soon mounted,
seated side fashion with one sandalled foot in the stirrup and one hand
on the pommel to steady her. She flanked Eudol's white mule, and they
rode on side by side at a level tramp, with the henchmen some twenty
paces in the rear.

Eudol soon waxed fatherly, as was his custom. He twitted Igraine on the
temerity of her venture with the senile and pedantic jocosity of an
old man. He said things that would have been impertinent on the tongue
of a youngster, and exerted to the full that eccentric fad of age, the
supposition that youth needs pleasant patronage and nothing more. Old
men, holding young folk to be fools, reserve to their rusty brains the
privilege of seeming wise. They are content to straddle the crawling,
leather-jointed circumspection that they call knowledge. The bird
flutters to his mate, sings, soars, and is taken before night by the
fowler. The snail creeps his rheumy round covered with the slime and
slobber of prudence, to rot in the end under a tree-stump, unless some
good throstle cracks him prematurely on a stone. Eudol had something of
the snail about him, but he assayed none the less to ape the soaring
of youth with a very ragged pair of wings. That morning he flew with a
senile eagerness for Igraine's favour, and thought himself a match for
any young man in the matter of light chivalry.

"Come now, my dear," he said, "let us have a good look at you."

"Well, sir?"

"My word, you make a gorgeous nun. Who ever saw such eyes under a hood
before! My dear, you are quite foolhardy to go pilgrimaging alone; men
are such rogues, and you have such a pretty face."

There was a cringing tone about the old sinner that made Igraine
thoroughly despise him. He seemed to combine elderly bravado with
smooth servility, qualities peculiarly obnoxious to the girl's spirit.
She had never liked or trusted Eudol overmuch in the past, but she
was at pains to be civil to him now, seeing that he might serve her
in sundry ways. She took his speeches with outward graciousness, and
laughed at him hugely in her heart.

He began to lecture her in rather egotistical fashion.

"You must remember, my dear," he said, "that I am a man of the world,
and one whose experience may be relied upon. I may tell you that my
judgment is much valued by your good uncle Radamanth, a man of much
sagacity, but yet one who lacks just that subtle insight into events
that I may say has always been my special characteristic. I am so
experienced that I may deserve the infinite honour of advising you if
you care to tell me where you are going. I have had so much to do with
the world, that I can tell you the best tavern in any town this side
of the Thames where clean and honest lodging may be had. I can inform
you as to tolls, prices, customs, bye-laws. Are you soon returning to
Winchester?"

Igraine shook her head at him.

"Who have you been quarrelling with, my dear?"

"Myself most."

"To think of it, syrup quarrelling with honey! What will your Lord
Gorlois do?"

Igraine stifled the question on the instant.

"Master Eudol, leave that name alone if you want more of my company."

"Pardon, my dear, pardon. I did not know it was so unpleasant a topic."

"I hate the very name of him."

"My dear, such a splendid fellow."

"Detestable boaster."

"Tut, tut,--a very popular nobleman; just the very man for you, and
vastly rich. Now when I heard that he--that gentleman--"

"For God's sake, Master Eudol, leave your chatter."

The old merchant for the moment looked a little taken aback. Then he
smiled, pulled his goat's beard, and grew epigrammatic.

"She who wears a gilded shoe," he said, "will find it pinch in the
wearing. Stick to your sandals, my dear, and let your pretty white feet
go brown in the sun. Better breathe in the open than freeze in a marble
house. Just play the savage and let ambition go hang."

Igraine thanked him as though she held his counsel to be of the most
inestimable value to herself. She was wise enough to know that to
please an old man you must take his words in desperate earnest, and
appear much caught by his supreme sagacity. Eudol smacked his lips and
was comfortably warm within himself. He went on to tell the girl that
he was riding to a little country manor that he owned some few leagues
from Winchester. He informed her sentimentally that he was a very
Virgil over his farm and garden. Igraine thought "Virgil" might well be
Greek for "fool," but she hid her ignorance under her hood. Eudol ran
on to dilate on the subtleties of husbandry, making a fine parade of
expert phraseology in the doing of it.

"I see you do not follow me," he said presently. "Young folk are not
fond of turning over the sods; they love grass for a scamper, not clay
and dull loam. Shall we talk of petticoats or sarcenet that runs down a
pretty figure like water? Eh, my dear? You set the tune, I'll follow."

Igraine contented herself with keeping him to his hobby.

"My father loved his violet beds," she said.

"Wise man--wise man. A garden makes thoughts sprout as though they
would keep time to the leaves. You shall see my garden. Let me see,
what road are you for following?"

"The road to fortune, Master Eudol."

"Truth, then, it must run near my doorway. The good woman who keeps
house for me will make you most welcome. You must rest on your journey."

"You are very good."

"Not a bit of it, my dear. I shall call you St. Igraine--hee, hee!--and
you will ripen all the apples in my orchard by looking at 'em. Faith,
am I not a wag?"

"You ought to be at court, sir."

"Hee, hee!"

"You would make all the young squires red with envy."

"My dear, my dear!"

"Truth."

"To flatter an old man so--"

"But you are really such a courtier."

Eudol squirmed and chuckled in the grotesquest fashion.

"Assuredly we make very good friends," he said.

Eudol's manor nearly halved the mileage between Sarum and the royal
town of Winchester, and Igraine found his suggestion quite a happy help
to her plans. If needs be, she could bide the night there and make
Sarum next day with but trivial trouble. She was glad in a way that
she had fallen in with Eudol, for the ride had proved quite a charity
to her, and his antique vanities had passed the time better than more
modest characteristics could have done. Her only fear was lest he
should cheat her, and send word to Radamanth. Accordingly she spoke to
him again about her flight, and made him promise on the Cross that he
would not betray her whereabouts. Eudol, silly soul, was ready enough
by now to promise her almost anything.

About noon they halted and made a meal, with a flat stone lying under
the shade of a tree for table. Eudol drank quite enough wine to quicken
his failings, and to lull what common sense he had to sleep. He became
so maudlin, so supremely sentimental, that Igraine had much ado to
throttle her laughter. She quite feared for him when they had to get
to horse again. His men had to hoist him into the saddle between them.
Once there he seemed quite arrogantly confident of his seat, and being
a hardy old gentleman at the pot he soon steadied down into comparative
docility, managing his mule as though there had been no such luxury as
dinner. He was more garrulous and fatherly than ever; now and again he
had to quench a hiccough; otherwise he was only an exaggerated portrait
of himself.

An hour's ride brought them to Eudol's own pastures. He pointed out his
sheep to Igraine amid the clanking of their diverse bells, and told her
the profits of the last shearing. Soon the house edged into view, a
homely place set back an arrow's flight from the road, and ringed round
with a score or so old trees. It was a green and quiet spot, mellow
with the warm comfort of pastureland and wood. A pool twinkled in the
meadows, through which ran a small stream.

There was no bridge over the brook; the track crossed it by a shallow
ford where the water gurgled over pebbles. The banks were loose and
crumbling, and the trackway littered with stones. Eudol's mule went
over sure-footed as a goat, but Igraine's horse, slipping on the slope,
set a fore-hoof on a shifting stone, and rolled down with a crash. The
girl did not avoid in time, and the brute's body pinned her ankle. She
felt the sinews crack, and the stones bruise her flesh. For a moment
she was in danger of the animal's plunges to rise, but one of the men
came up and seized the bridle, while his fellow drew Igraine clear.

Eudol climbed down, splashed through the water, and came up puffing
sympathy. Igraine tried to walk, but gave up with a wry face. The men
helped her to the grass bank, where she sat down, with Eudol fussing
round her like an old woman. He sent the men on to the manor to bring
a bed; and seeing that Igraine had grown white from the wrench, he ran
for the wine-flask at his saddle-bow and urged her to drink. The girl
had more fear of a spoilt journey than a cracked bone, and feeling
faint for the moment, she suffered Eudol, and took the wine. The old
man was on his knees by her stroking her hand, his thin beard wagging,
and his glazed eyes vinously sympathetic. When the men came back with
the bed they laid Igraine thereon, and bore her through the meadows to
the house, Eudol following like a spaniel at their heels.



VII


While Igraine slept in the abbey dormitory and dreamt of Pelleas, the
man Gorlois burnt on the grid of his own passions, and found no peace
for his soul.

The night sky was not a whit more black than his spirit, and his
sinister cogitations were chequered ever with palpitating points of
fire. The restless fever of an unfed leopard seemed his, and he was
in and out of his tumbled, sleepless bed ten times before dawn. Only
a boar-hound kept him company, a savage red-eyed brute whose temper
suited that of his master; the dog followed Gorlois as he wandered from
bed-chamber to atrium, out from the peristyles to the garden, down
walks of yew and cypress, between the beds of helicryse and asphodel,
over the smooth lawns clear in the eye of the moon. There was an evil
thing in Gorlois's thought, a thing fit for beggarly disrelish, yet
very white and lovely to look upon. He stalked like a ghost in the
night, biting his lips, looking into the dark with red and eager eyes.
How often he reached out in naked thought and clasped only the air. He
cursed himself and the woman, honoured and abused her in one breath,
grew hot and cold like a live coal played upon by a fickle wind.

As soon as dawn came he had a plunge and a swim in a pool in the
garden, and having suffered the ceremony of a state toilet, went out
unattended into the town. It was the very hour when Igraine was shaking
her fist at Winchester for thought of him, but Gorlois was spared the
prick of self-knowledge and the frank truth of the girl's distaste. He
thought her nothing more than a shrew, and the possessor of a splendid
temper. His long legs and the heat at his heart soon took him down
through the quiet streets and the market square to Radamanth's house.

Early as was the hour, the goldsmith had escaped sloth and was busy at
his ledgers in his little counting-house behind the parlour. Gorlois
came in in great state, with the serving wench who announced him
feasting her curiosity on his face with a sheepish giggle. Radamanth,
fetched from his figures, bowed very low, and made the gentleman a
most obsequious welcome. He was wondering what Gorlois's humour might
be after the repulse of yesterday. To tell the truth, Radamanth felt
somewhat ashamed of the trick he had served Igraine, and he was none
too eager to meet his niece, seeing that she still seemed determined to
hide her anger in her room. His doubts as to Gorlois's mood were set at
rest by that gentleman's somewhat saturnine opening.

"Radamanth!"

"Your honour's servant."

"I have come to make peace."

"Your lordship's magnanimity is phenomenal."

"Was I over hasty, goldsmith?"

"A young man's way, my lord; no fault at all. Many's the time I had my
face smacked as a youngster, and was none the worse in favour. Take no
serious view, sir, but press her the harder. She'll give in--my faith,
yes, being young and full of bone. You are troubled, my lord, with too
much conscience."

"Have you seen the woman since?"

Radamanth raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

"Well, no," he said. "I am afraid my niece has rather a hot
spirit--breeding, my lord--proud blood in her."

"I know that part of her nobleness well enough."

Radamanth refrained a moment from a sense of discretion.

"My lord would see her?"

"I'll not budge till I have done so."

"You understand women?"

Gorlois smiled a peculiar smile.

"I have wit enough," he said. "I have my plan."

"If it please you, sir, to go into the garden, I will endeavour to send
her to you."

"No more locking of doors, goldsmith."

"Sir, I contemn my late indiscretion in your service."

Gorlois passed out by a long passage into the gardens, with its green
leaves shelving to the river, while Radamanth, half a coward at heart,
went towards the stair that led to Igraine's chamber. Halfway up he
met the girl Lilith coming down, very white and frightened looking, as
though she dreaded her father's face. Radamanth kissed her, and asked
for Igraine. Then her distraught look dawned on him in the twilight of
the stairway, and made him suddenly suspicious.

"Is Igraine awake?"

Lilith hid her face in his sleeve.

"Speak, girl, what's amiss?"

"The room is empty."

"What!"

"Igraine has left us," said the girl with a stifled whimper.

Radamanth, sage and solemn soul, lapsed into the sin of blasphemy.

"When did you learn this, girl?"

"Father--"

"Quick now, don't lie."

He shook her by the shoulder.

"Father, be gentle with me."

"Quick, hussy."

"I can't, I can't."

Radamanth took her firmly by the wrist and brought her with no very
considerate care into the parlour.

"Now," he said, thrusting her into a chair, "you atom of ingratitude,
tell me what you know."

Lilith began to sob. She hid her face behind her fingers and dared not
look at Radamanth. The goldsmith chafed and paced the room, hectoring
her.

"Don't think to fool me," he said; "you know more yet; you would have
answered before if there had been any truth in you."

Radamanth's harshness seemed certainly to calm the girl, and to conjure
up some passing antagonism in her heart.

"The blame is yours, father."

"Impertinent child."

"Igraine was angry with you."

"Well, have I not treated her like a daughter?"

"She fled away last night."

"Where?"

"I don't know."

"You do."

"I don't, father; 'tis truth."

The girl's brown eyes appealed to him tearfully; she was honest enough,
and Radamanth knew it. He took her sincerity for granted and proceeded
to question her further.

"How was she clothed, child?"

Lilith looked at the floor and plucked at her gown with her fingers.

"Do you hear me?"

"Yes, father."

"Then answer at once."

"I can't."

"Upon my soul--"

"Igraine made me promise."

Radamanth lost his temper again and began to bluster like a March wind.
Lilith's cheeks were wet with her tears; they ran down and dropped into
her lap like little crystals. She shook and sobbed in her chair, but
answered not a word, a martyr to her promises. Then Radamanth, man of
money-bags and craft, found something wherewith to loose her tongue.

"Listen," he said; "a certain lad never enters this house again, and
you never again have speech with him, unless you answer me this at
once."

The mean measure triumphed. Lilith's tears never ceased, but she gave
way at last, and hating herself, told Radamanth what he wanted. Then he
left her there to whimper by herself, and went into the garden to speak
with Gorlois.

The Count of Cornwall guessed from the merchant's face that matters had
fallen out ill for him somewhere. He forestalled Radamanth's confession
with an impatient gust of words.

"She is still in a deuce of a temper?"

"My lord, it is otherwise."

"Then why so glum--man, have I not uncovered ingots of gold for you if
I wed?"

Radamanth held his hands up like a priest giving a blessing. Any one
might have thought him grieved to death by the ingratitude of his
niece's desertion. The goldsmith dealt in coarser sentiment.

"My lord, the girl has forsaken my house and fled."

Gorlois had half expected some such news. He said nothing, but merely
stared at Radamanth with dark masterful eyes, while his fingers played
with the tassels of his belt. His heart was already away over moor and
dale chasing the gleam of a golden head of hair.

"When did you miss her, goldsmith?"

"She crept away at dusk yesterday."

"Whither?"

"Heaven knows, my lord."

"How dressed?"

"As a grey nun."

"Has she gone back to the Church?"

"She did not love such a life, my lord."

"By God, no."

Gorlois frowned a moment in thought. The scent of the girl's dress was
still in his nostrils, and her eyes haunted him. Then he turned past
Radamanth to go, hitching up his sword belt, a significant habit he had
learnt long ago.

"I shall find her," he said.

"Good, my lord."

"I have your countenance."

"Be kind to the girl, sir."

"I could go to hell for her."

"My lord, why not try heaven?"

"A good jest."

"Men always go to hell for things," said the goldsmith.

There was life and stir enough in Gorlois's great house when its master
came back that morning. Gorlois's orders were like a torch to tinder.
Men went to every wind, some to the gates, some to the market, others
to the religious houses and the inns, all bent on striking the trail of
a nun's grey gown. The men knew their master's mood, and the measure of
his pulse on such occasions. Gorlois bided quiet in his garden, more
like a leopard than a lover. He had made up his mind to catch Igraine,
and to win mastery of her, hook or by crook, since she chose to play
the shrew and mar his wooing. It was not likely that one of the first
men in Britain should be baffled by the temper of a goldsmith's niece.

About noon a certain slave who had gone out to net news came back with
much elation and claimed his lord's ear. Brought in before Gorlois, he
told how he had talked with a boy selling fruit in the market-place,
and how the boy, when questioned, had told him of a nun he had seen
sitting under a tree by the road to Sarum that very morning. The lad
had described her as a very beautiful lady with large eyes, and a cloud
of red-brown hair, and that she wore a grey nun's habit somewhat torn
and travel-stained. Gorlois thought he recognised Igraine, and gave the
slave fifty acres and his freedom on the instant. Waiting for further
news, word was brought him that a grey nun had been marked by the guard
going out of the western gate not very long after dawn. Later still
Gorlois heard of such a nun, calling herself Melibœa, having lodged the
night at the great abbey of St. Helena.

Gorlois held himself in leash no longer. He buckled on his richly gilt
armour, and his great white horse was saddled and brought into the
court. Not a knight would he have at his back, neither groom nor page.
Getting to horse in the full welt of the afternoon sun, he rode out
of Winchester alone by the western gate, watched of many people. Once
clear of the town he pricked incontinently for Sarum, lusting much to
catch Igraine upon the way.

About that very same hour Eudol was exerting himself in Igraine's
service in the manor farm in the meadows.

The men had carried her up from the ford and set her at her own seeking
in a shady place in the garden where she might lie at peace. It was
a pleasant nook enough where they had set her bed, a patch of bright
green grass with a bank of flowers on one hand and dense laurel hedge
hiding it from the track to the house on the other. A vine trained upon
poles raised a pleasant pavilion there. Autumn would soon be whispering
in the woods, and already some few leaves were ribbed with gold and
maroon.

Eudol played the physician and made a very critical examination of her
ankle. He prided himself, among his other vanities, on having studied
Galen, and since the healing craft is often a matter of phenomenal
words and wise nothings, Eudol might have outphysicked Gildas at his
own game. The art of medicine is the art of hypocrisy, and the sage
apothecary is often a broken reed trembling in the wind of ignorance.
Eudol, having no reputation at stake, pronounced Igraine's hurt to be
a mere strain of the ankle-joint, and, as it happened, he was right.
He swathed her foot in wet linen and set it on a pillow, while the
woman who kept house for him, a red-cheeked piece of buxomness, brought
wine and food-stuff on a tray. Seeing a nun's habit the good woman was
comforted, and indulged Igraine with many smiles and much motherly care.

Eudol came and sat beside her with a great book on his knee, Virgil's
Bucolics, as he told her, and writ most learnedly for the edification
of the wise. Eudol read very little of the book that afternoon. The
volume abode with him for effect, but he preferred rather to dwell upon
the more Ovidian interest of the girl beside him, and to talk to her
in his familiar and fatherly fashion. He made many sly attempts to get
the purpose of her pilgrimage from her, but Igraine had enough wit to
keep him discreetly mystified on the subject. She was wondering all the
while how long her strained ankle would keep her to her bed.

Eudol smothered her with offers of hospitality.

"On my word you shall not be dull," he said, "though there is only an
old man to entertain you. One day you shall ride out in a litter to my
vineyards, another you shall be carried out a-hunting. I have a little
wench here who can harp and sing like a mermaid. By the poets, I can
make you quite a merry time."

Igraine made the best smile she could, and thanked him.

"You must not put yourself out for me."

"Nonsense."

"You are very good."

Eudol shook his finger with most earnest expression.

"My dear lady, it is duty, duty," he said.

They had not been so very long in the garden when Igraine's quick
ear caught the sharp and rhythmic smite of hoofs on the stony track
across the meadows. The sound disquieted her, for she was in the mood
for dreads and suspicions. Listening to make sure that the sound
approached, she appealed to Eudol and asked him to look and see who
rode for the manor. There was a little wicket-gate some way down the
laurel hedge carefully screened by shrubs. Eudol went to it, and
scanned the meadows under his hand. He came back somewhat flustered to
Igraine, and told her that a knight in gilded armour mounted on a white
horse was riding up the track to the house.

Igraine started up on her bed with her eyes very big and suspicious.

"It is Gorlois," she said.

"Heavens, my dear!"

"You have not been lying to me?"

"On my soul--no."

Igraine touched her forehead with her hand, and looked askance at the
sun.

"Master Eudol, if you would serve me, go and fool the man--send him
away."

"My dear child--"

"He must not see the servants or have speech with them."

"But--"

"I command you, go and speak to him; he is very near."

Eudol looked at her with his lower lip a-droop. His grey-green eyes met
Igraine's, gleamed, and faltered. He bent over the bed.

"I will do my best. Give me a kiss, my dear. By Augustus, I will get
rid of Gorlois if I can."

He went out quickly by the wicket-gate, and closing it after him,
waited for the knight to approach. There were no slaves about, and
Eudol remembered with confidence that his men were in the corn fields,
well away to the north. Gorlois came up with the splendid arrogance
that so suited him, his rich armour glowing above the white flanks of
his horse, his spear balanced on his thigh. Eudol went forward some
paces to meet him, as though to learn his business. Igraine, listening
behind the laurel hedge, heard their words as plainly as though the two
men were but three paces away.

"Greeting, sir," said Eudol's thin voice.

Then she heard Gorlois's clear sharp tenor questioning him. She heard
him ask whether a grey nun had called for food, or whether Eudol had
seen or heard of such a person. She heard the old man's meandering
negative, and Gorlois's retort that a grey nun had been seen riding
beside a merchant on a white mule. Igraine's heart seemed to race and
thunder. Eudol, rising to the event, suggested that the merchant might
be a certain fabulous person from Aquæ Sulis; a man of means, he said,
who often came by Sarum to Winchester in the fur trade. He hinted that
the knight might overtake them on the road, or discover them at Sarum
that evening. Gorlois fell to the suggestion. Igraine heard him inquire
further of Eudol, speak to his horse, and ride away with a ringing
clatter. She sat on her couch behind her laurel rampart and laughed.

Eudol came back to her, pleased as possible.

"How was that done,--sweeting?"

"Nobly," laughed Igraine.

"The Virgin pardon me; what perjury for a pair of lips."



VIII


Nothing is more chafing to the patience than to lie abed crippled,
knowing the while that coveted hours are slipping through one's fingers
like grains of gold. To Igraine, her maimed ankle was a very thorn
in the flesh. Her thoughts were tugging to be at Sarum, and she was
in continual fear lest Radamanth or Gorlois should track her to her
temporary refuge, and attempt to mar her freedom. She was not a woman
who could take hindrance with perfect philosophy, comforting herself
with the reflection that care never yet salved unrest. She chafed at
delay, and even blamed Eudol with great unreason because he had obliged
her with a horse not proof against stumbling.

The knowledge that Gorlois rode in search of her did not tend to the
easing of her mind. She began to understand Gorlois to the full. He had
betrayed so much of himself in Radamanth's garden that her dread grew
nearly as great as her disrelish.

Eudol had made her comfortable enough in his manor, she had no need to
find fault with his hospitality. She had her own room, a little girl to
wait and sing to her, fruit and food of the best. She spent the greater
part of each day in the garden, her bed being set under the vine
leaves; two of Eudol's slaves would carry her down in the morning and
bear her back again at night, so that she should not be too venturesome
in trying her ankle. The old merchant kept his folk close on the farm
and suffered none to go to Winchester or Salisbury, for fear lest the
knowledge of Igraine's whereabouts should leak into interested channels.

The more the girl saw of Eudol the less she relished him in her heart.
The lean look of him, his little green eyes, his thin goat-like beard,
reminded her much of the picture of some old Satyr she had seen in
the frescoes on the walls of the triclinium at Winchester. He grew
more fatherly and kind to her, would smile like some old saint as he
sat and read moralities to her from the lives of some of the Fathers.
He was very fond of holding her hand and stroking it while he purred
sentiment, and made her colour to hear his nonsense. He was quite
wickedly delighted when he had fetched a blush to her face. He would
sit and chuckle and hug himself, while his little eyes glistened and
his beard shook. Igraine, though her cheeks often tingled, did her
best to suffer him, knowing well enough that she was greatly dependent
for her peace of mind upon his good-will. She would laugh, turn his
senile flatteries into jest, and assume his humour as the most vapoury
and fanciful piece of fun possible. She often hinted that Eudol must
be neglecting his farm for her sake, though her suggestions were
absolutely to no purpose, seeing that Eudol had forgotten all about
such mundane matters as harvesting or the pressing of cider.

One afternoon they had a shrewd fright, and the incident led in its
final development to Igraine's leaving the manor in the meadows. She
was in the garden with Eudol when two horsemen wearing Gorlois's livery
rode up to the gate and demanded entertainment with much froth and
bombast. They were sturdy hot-tongued rogues, quick at liquor, quicker
still at blasphemy. Eudol, much flustered, had them brought into the
house and set loose upon a wine flask while he smuggled Igraine out of
the garden. There was a barn standing on the other side of a little
meadow near the house, and the building was screened by a fringe of
pines and a thorn hedge. Eudol hurried Igraine to the barn, saw her
couched on a pile of hay, closed the door on her, and scampered back to
take great care of Gorlois's gentlemen.

Eudol proved a most obsequious and attentive host. He kept the men
primed with wine, watched them like a lynx, forbade his slaves and
servants the room so that there should be no chance of gossip. The
fellows thought themselves well harboured. Eudol, hardy old tipster,
kept them going with a will, till they swore he was the best old
gentleman at his cups they had met this side of the Thames. He
out-drank, out-yarned, out-jested the pair of them. Grown very mellow
towards evening, they vowed by all the calendar that they loved him so
much they would make a night of it, and not go to bed till they were
carried. Eudol could have denied himself their great esteem, but there
was nothing for it but to humour them.

He got rid of the fellows next morning, when they went away sadly, very
glazed about the eyes, swearing they would pay him another visit at
their very earliest opportunity. Eudol, when they were out of sight,
went out to the barn and found Igraine comfortably couched there on
a mass of hay. The little maid who served her had brought her supper
on the sly the night before, and she had fared well enough in her new
quarters.

As a matter of fact Eudol had had a parting cup with the men that
morning, and had hardly outbreathed as yet the maudlin heritage gotten
the previous night. He kissed Igraine's hand, mumbled his usual
courtesies, excused his long absence with a warmth that nearly brought
him to tears. He was somewhat flushed over the cheek bones; his eyes
were bright, and his breath pregnant with the heavy scent of wine.
Igraine wiped the hand he had kissed on her gown, looked at him with
little love or gratitude, and told him that she had been trying to
walk, and that her ankle bore her passably.

Eudol, edging near, proceeded to narrate at preposterous length how
he had kept Gorlois's men employed, made them drunk as cobblers, and
packed them off innocently to Winchester that morning. He was hugely
sly over it all. He came and climbed up beside Igraine on the hay, and
pinched her arm with his lean fingers as he talked. There was a gaunt,
red, eager look about his face. It was quite twilight in the great
barn, and a mingled smell of hay and pitch-pine filled the air, while
dusty beams of light filtered through in steady streams.

Eudol's vinous and fatherly solicitude developed abruptly into an
absurd revelation of his inner self. He had hold of Igraine's arm with
one hand. Leaving go suddenly, he reached for her waist, poked his grey
beard into her face, and made a clumsy dab at her cheek. In a moment
the girl's arm had swept him backwards like an impotent bag of bones.
She saw him overbalance and roll off the haycock on to the edge of a
scythe. Without waiting for more, and with a glimpse of the old fool's
slippers still in the air, she slipped down from the hay and out of the
barn, and shutting the door, pegged the catch with a piece of wood.
Then she went laughing half resentfully towards the house, and told
Dame Phœbe that her master had gone to the fields to oversee his slaves.

The woman had taken a remarkable dislike to Igraine, being sulky-eyed
and dumb-saucy in her presence as far as she dared. The grey nun told
her that she was ending her sojourn at the farm that morning, and was
going on foot for the west. The woman's face changed as suddenly as a
spring sky. She was suave and smiling instanter, ready with queries
as to Igraine's ankle, very eager to pack her wallet with stuff from
Eudol's larder. Igraine, with an inward flush, saw how the wind blew.
She was keen to be gone before Eudol should be loosed from the barn;
even the woman's changed mood seemed a tacit insult in itself.

She was soon treading the meadows where the backs of Eudol's sheep
stood out like white boulders on the solitary stretch of green. The
country began to be as flat as a table, though there were still masses
of woodland piled on either side the great white road. Igraine kept in
among the trees with just a glimpse of the highway to keep her to her
mark. Her grey gown passed almost unperceptibly among the mould-grown
trunks as she went in the chequered light like a grey mouse through
green corn. Her ankle bore her better than she had prophesied, and
she made fair travelling at a modest pace. Later in the afternoon the
strain began to tell in measure, and her ankle ached and felt hot, as
though she had done enough. Sitting down on a fallen tree she watched
the road, and waited for some one to pass.

A charcoal burner went by with a couple of asses panniered up with a
comfortable load. Then came two soldiers and a couple of light wenches
who haunted camp and castle and lived to the minute. Next, a great wain
half ladened up with faggots came lumbering along, drawn by a pair of
sleepy horses, and driven by a peasant in a green smock and leather
breeches. Igraine took her choice, and going down from the trees, stood
by the roadside, and begged of the man a lift.

Seeing a nun looking up at him the man reined in, climbed down cap in
hand, and louted low to her. There was some clean straw spread over
the boards at the bottom of the cart. The man helped her up on to the
tail-board and raked the straw into a heap to make her a seat. Then
they lumbered on again towards Sarum.

In due course she began to talk to the man as he sat on a couple of
faggots and held the ropes. He was an honest, ignorant fellow, with a
much whiskered face that wore a perpetual look of kindly stupidity.
Igraine sought to know whether he was going as far as Sarum. The man
shook his bushy head like an amiable ogre, and told her that he was for
his lord's manor some two leagues distant, where he served as woodman
and ranger, or soldier when there was need of steel. He commended his
lord's house to her for lodging, with a solid faith in the generosity
of its board. Questioned as to other habitations, he told her of a
hermit's cell set in a little dale in the woods, a cell where wandering
folk often found harbour for the night. Igraine made up her mind to
choose the ascetic's bread and water, having had enough of the world's
welcome. Possibly in some dim and distant way she began to realise the
intense and engrained selfishness of the human heart.

The man of faggots, believing her a holy woman, soon began to relate
his domestic troubles to her with a most touching reverence. He told
her how his wife had been abed two months from her last childbirth, and
how sad and dirty his little cabin was for lack of her hands. He asked
Igraine to put the woman in her bede-role, a simple favour that she
granted readily enough. Then the fellow with some stolid pathos went
on to describe how his eldest lad, a boy of eight, had caught a fever
through sleeping in the woods after rain, and how he had fallen sick.

"I went to a good monk," said the man, "and bought holy water and a
pinch of dust from a saint's coffin. Pardy! but it cost me a year's
savings. The good father bade me pour the water on the boy's head and
shake the dust over his body. Glad I was, holy sister; I ran five miles
home to cure the lad."

"And he is well?"

The man gave a doleful whistle.

"The boy died," said he with pathetic candour, and a short catch in his
voice. "I didn't sleep two whole nights. Then I kissed my woman, mopped
her eyes, and went and told the priest."

Igraine merely nodded.

"Ah, the dear father, he told me 'twas God's will, and that the blessed
dust had drifted the lad straight to heaven, where he would be singing
next King David like any lord. So he came and buried the boy, and there
was an end on't."

Igraine for the moment felt heavy about the eyes.

"I should like to see him there in his little white stole," she said.
"Do you know, goodman, why so many children die?"

"Faith, madame, I have no learning," said the fellow with a dumb stare.

"Because the great God loves to have children laughing for love of him
in heaven."

"Is't so?"

"That is why he took your boy."

The man's face brightened with a new dignity.

"Little Rual was ever a gentle child," he said. "I must tell my woman;
it will just make her happy."

"I will pray for her health."

"God bless you, holy lady, you have a wise, kind heart."

Igraine blushed, but said nothing.

Presently the man stopped his horses, and pointed her to a little path
that led, he said, to the hermitage. He helped Igraine out of the cart,
and knelt on the road for her to give him a blessing. Igraine had
a Latin phrase or two from Avangel, and the benediction was earnest
enough in spirit, though it lacked genuine authority. Then she took
the path through trees, and left the man standing cap in hand by his
waggon. Her brief ride with him had done her heart good.

A mile's walk through unkempt pastures and straggling thickets brought
her to an open dale set beneath the shoulder of a wooded hill. On the
grass slope over against her she saw the hermitage--a grey cell of
unfaced stone standing in a garden in a grove of ancient thorns. By the
rivulet that ran half hid by undergrowth a figure in a brown cassock
was drawing water. Passing down over the water, Igraine overtook the
recluse halfway up the slope to the hermitage garden. She remarked
his bald head fringed with a mournful halo of hair, his stooping
shoulders, his ungainly weak-kneed gait. Hearing her tread behind him
he turned a tanned face to her, a face that brought forth a smile of
brotherly greeting at sight of a nun. Igraine, by way of creating good
feeling, took his water pot and carried it for him, pleading youth in
extenuation of the service.

There was a keen yet kindly sapience about the old man's big-nosed face
that caught her fancy. He was a bit of a cynic on the surface, but warm
as good earth at heart. Igraine confessed her need of a lodging for the
night, and the man retorted bluntly with the remark that the hermitage
was not his house,--but only a refuge to bury strangers in. Pointing to
a great slab of stone that stood near the little cell, he told her that
the stone had been his bed, summer and winter, these fifteen years, and
that dew, rain, frost, and snow had worked their will upon his body
and found it leather. The confession, pithily--almost humorously--put,
without a trace of rodomontade, set the girl smiling. She looked at the
man's brown buckram skin and congratulated him, embodying her flattery
in a little jest that seemed to catch the ascetic fancy. He commended
it with a patriarchal twinkle, and throwing open the door of his cell
surrendered her its shelter.

Igraine soon fathomed the shallow compass of the hermitage. It held
two pallet beds, some rude furniture and crockery, and such things as
were necessary to the old man's craft, namely a scourge, a calthrop set
on the end of an iron chain, a coat made of furze, a garland of thorn
twigs, and a pair of spiked sandals. Gardening tools were piled in a
corner. Over the doorway hung a rusty suit of harness and a red crusted
sword. Here in this narrow place the war tools of world and church were
mingled.

Igraine turned back into the hermitage garden. It was a quiet spot,
webbed with the faery tracery of flowers and flowering shrubs, golden
with helichryse, full of the mist of unshorn grass, bright with the
water of its little fish-pool, where the ferns grew thick. A low wattle
fence, climbed about by late-seasoned roses of red, shut the whole
within its rustic pale. Some of the herb beds were cut into symbols of
holy things, and a bay tree had been laboriously pruned into the rude
image of a cross. A number of doves peopled the place, flocking about
the hermit as he worked, often lighting on his hands or shoulders,
while an old hound dozed in the sun, or followed at his heels. Peace
seemed over the little refuge like a tranquil sky.

The hermit handed Igraine a hoe, as a matter of custom, and set her
to work on the weeds in a neglected corner, while he busied his hands
with pruning some of his rose trees, and removing the clay and linen
from his grafts. He was by no means the solemn, dismal soul or the
kindly simpleton Igraine might have expected. He had a keen, world-wise
air about him that made him seem a sort of Christian Diogenes, and it
was plain that he had lived much among men. The mingled austerity and
happiness of his habits, when set beside his inwardly sympathetic yet
somewhat cynic humour, gave a strong interest to his personality that
quite commanded Igraine's liking. Despite the vast responsibilities of
man, as he himself put it, he was not above having a jest at life in
general. "For," said he, as he pruned his rose bushes, "he who knows
and obeys the truth can of all men afford to be merry."

Igraine, smiling through the boughs, agreed with him from her heart.

"There are no sour faces in heaven," she said.

"Assuredly not," said the hermit almost fiercely.

"Then why such mortifications of the flesh, father?"

Looking up from his pruning, he beamed over the world.

"I am a very human rogue."

"Human!"

"Well, you see, sister, _mea culpa_, I loved the world when I was in it
like my own life, and even now if I did not gnash upon myself I should
grow frivolous at times. When I have spent a night in the rain, or
plied my scourge, it is marvellous how swiftly vain the fabrics of a
vaunting pride become. 'I am dust, I am dust,' I cry, and am sound at
heart again. I look upon bread and olives and a draught of river water
as true godsends. Having endured exceeding discomfort of the flesh, I
am as happy in the sun here among my flowers as a mortal could be."

Igraine rested on her hoe, and put her head back, while the evening
light gave her hair a rare metallic lustre.

"You believe in a life of contrasts, father?"

The old man became suddenly more serious.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "I have found that by making myself
fanatically uncomfortable so many hours a day, I can attain for the
rest of it that simple, contented, and heaven-soaring mood that belongs
to the honest Christian. Man's great peril is apathy, and my customs
save me from sleepy ease. There is such a thing as living to pander
to the flesh; it is the creed of the majority. In order to enjoy a
truly spiritual end, I annihilate the appetites of the body, and _ecce
homo_,--merry, conscience whole, clean."

Igraine resumed her harrowing of reprobate green-stuff.

"I suppose your doctrine is right for yourself," she said.

An answer came back to her leisurely over the rose bush.

"To the backbone, sister. Yet I am not one who would thrust my habits
down other men's throats simply because the said habits happen to suit
my soul. All religious methods are a matter of individual experiment.
One man may feel more Christian if he drinks wine instead of water;
if so--by all the prophets--let him have his wine. I hold doctrinal
tyranny to be the greatest curse in Christendom."

Igraine agreed with him like a sister.

Soon the sun went down with a flood of gold over the trees, the little
pool put off sheeny samite for black velvet, and the doves flew up to
roost. The hermit in a genial mood went to his vesper meditations.
Igraine saw him kneel down before the great stone with his scourge and
crucifix beside him. She was still carnal enough to prefer the thin
comfort of a pallet bed in the hermitage to stone or mother earth.
When it had grown dark and very still she heard the swish of the steel
scourge, and the man's mutterings mingled with the occasional baying
of his dog. This phase of mind was, at her age, quite incomprehensible
to her. She remembered to pray that night for the peasant's wife who
had been sick in bed so long, and for the little lad who lay under the
green grass. Then she went to sleep thinking of Pelleas.



IX


Radamanth the goldsmith had not wasted the hours since his niece had
fled Winchester and his house in the dark. He was a man who did not let
an enterprise slip into the limbo of the past till he had attempted
honestly, and dishonestly, for that matter, to bring it to a successful
issue. He had set his heart on getting Igraine married to one of the
first lords in the island, and he also had skew ideas as to brimming up
his own coffers. Taking it for granted that Lilith and the girl had
not been close friends for weeks together without sharing secrets, and
being also strongly of the opinion that Igraine's perversity arose out
of some previous affair, he laid methodical siege to his daughter's
confidences, and cast a parental dyke about her that should compel her
to open every gate and alley to his scrutiny.

Lilith, amiable, but weak as milk, was soon worn into surrender by her
father's methods. He had an unfailing lash wherewith to quicken her
apprehension, in that young Mark, the armourer's son, should be barred
the house unless she bent to the parental edicts. Lilith soon brought
herself to believe that after all there could not be so much disloyalty
in telling certain of Igraine's adventures to her father. Radamanth,
bit by bit, had the whole tale of the way from Avangel to Winchester.
Seeing how often Igraine--woman-wise--had pictured her man to Lilith,
the goldsmith won a clear perception of the strange knight's person,
how he rode a black horse, wore red armour, bore a red dragon on a
green shield, and was called Pelleas. Radamanth made a careful note
of all these things, and laid the knowledge of them before Gorlois.
Various subtleties resulted from these facts--subtleties carefully
considered to catch Igraine.

To turn to Eudol. That lean old satyr had fallen gravely into error
in the conviction that he had fooled Gorlois's men so cleverly over
the wine-pot. The deceit had been deeper on the other side, and more
effectual, seeing that there had been a kirtled traitor in the manor
camp. If Eudol had been stirring just after daybreak on the morning
after the carouse, he might have caught one of Gorlois's men coming
down a little winding stair that led to a certain portion of the
house. A little earlier still he would have found the fellow with his
arm round Dame Phœbe's waist in a dark entry on the stairs. The woman
did not love Igraine, nor did she want her in the house; moreover,
Gorlois's man was young, and had fine eyes, and a most wicked tongue.
Eudol, like most diplomats, was far from being infallible when there
was a woman in the coil, and Dame Phœbe was very much a woman.

Gorlois's fellows had no sooner cleared the meadows that morning than
they were away for Winchester at a dusty rattle. It was fast going over
the clean, straight road, and the grey walls were not long in coming
into view. The pair swung through the western gate, and went straight
through the streets in a way that set the city folk staring and dodging
for the pathway. At the gate of Gorlois's house the porter had a
vexatious damping for the spirits of these fiery gentlemen. Gorlois had
ridden out. The men swore, off-saddled, and made the best of the matter
over a game of dice in the kitchen.

There was great bustle when Gorlois had heard the men's tale. They
excused their not having taken Igraine on the plea that Gorlois had
forbidden any to approach her save himself. The man was in a smiting
mood, and he swore Eudol should rue giving him the lie and sending him
a wild chase miles into the west. Getting to horse at once, and taking
the two men with some ten more spears, he rode out and held for Sarum.

There was a swirl of dust before Eudol's gate, and a sharp scattering
of shingle as Gorlois and his troop rode up. A slave, who had seen them
from the garden, and had taken them for robbers, was prevented from
closing the gate by a brisk youth wedging it with his foot. There was
a short scuffle at the tottering door. Then Gorlois and his men burst
it in, and cut down those slaves on the threshold who had tried to
close the door. The women folk were herded screeching into the kitchen,
and penned there like sheep. Out of a cupboard in an upper room they
dragged the woman Phœbe, limp with fright, and hurried the truth out of
her that Igraine had gone that very morning, and that Eudol was still
in the fields. Gorlois, believing her a liar, had the house searched,
beds overturned, cupboards torn open, every nook and cranny probed.
Then they tried the garden and the stables, with like fortune. One of
the fellows catching sight of the barn across the meadows, half-hidden
by pines, they made a circle round it, closed in, and forced the door.
A blinking, red-eyed face came up out of the shadows, its beard and
thin thatch of hair whisped with hay.

Eudol, collared with little kindness, began to wonder after his drunken
sleep who these rough folk could be. A word as to Igraine brought him
to his senses. He saw Gorlois, a dark-bearded, black-eyed man, with
a frown that he did not like the look of. He began to shake in his
slippers, to excuse himself, and to deny all knowledge of the girl
since the morning. Matters were against Eudol. Gorlois thought that
he had plucked the old man from hiding, and that he was a liar to the
bone; his shrift was short, measured out by the man's hard malice. They
struck him down at the door of his own barn, covering his grey head
with his hands, and screaming for mercy. His blood soaked the hay, and
shot black streaks into the dusty floor. Then they cast back to the
manor, and half-throttled the woman Phœbe, till Gorlois was satisfied
that he had got all the truth from her he could. In half an hour they
were at gallop again for Sarum.

Gorlois reined in cruelly more than once to fling hot questions at
the folk they passed upon the road. His horse was all sweat and foam,
and its mouth bloody with the heavy hand that played on the bridle.
Wayfarer after wayfarer looked up half in awe at the iron-faced man
towering above them in the stirrups. Their blank, irresponsive faces
chafed Gorlois's patience to the bone. Not a word did he win of Igraine
and her grey gown. Waxing sullen as granite, and very silent, he looked
neither to right nor left, but plodded on like a baffled sleuth-hound
with the rest of the pack trailing at his tail. The girl's hair seemed
tossing over the edge of the world, like a golden hue from the west,
and there was a passionate wind through the man's moody thought.

It was towards evening when Gorlois with his men--a bunch of
spears--came upon the peasant in the green smock driving his wain-load
of faggots slowly towards the setting sun. Gorlois drew up and hailed
him, and began his catechism anew. The fellow pulled in his team,
and eyeing the horseman with some caution, acknowledged curtly that
he had carried in his cart a league or more such a woman as Gorlois
had pictured. To further quick queries he proved stubborn and boorish.
Gorlois had lost his temper long ago. "Speak up, you devil's dog!"

The man looked sullen. Gorlois's sword flashed out. He spurred close
up, and held three feet of menacing steel over the peasant's head.

"Well, you be damned!" he said.

"What want you with the woman, lording?"

"Am I to argue with a clod of clay? The woman is marked for great
honour, and must be taken. Will you spoil her fortune?"

The man fingered the reins, looking hard at Gorlois with his stupidly
honest face. He guessed he was some great lord, by his harness and his
following. It was not for him to gainsay such a gentleman, especially
when he flourished a naked sword.

"I would do my best for the good nun, lording," he said.

"Then speak out."

"She promised to pray for my woman."

Gorlois gave a laugh, and scoffed at the notion.

"Let prayers be," he said; "tell me where she went."

The man told Gorlois of the hermitage in the dale where Igraine had
gone for a night's lodging. He described how the path could be found,
a mile or more nearer Winchester. Gorlois threw a gold piece into the
cart, and let the man drive on. Then he sat still on his black horse
with his sword over his shoulder, and looked into the wood with dark,
glooming eyes. For a minute he sat like a statue, staring on nothing in
keen thought. His men watched him, looking for some swift swoop from
such a pinnacle of pondering; they knew his temper. His sword shot back
into its scabbard, and he was keen as a wolf.

"Galleas of Camelford."

A man with a hooked nose and high cheek bones heeled his horse forward,
and saluted.

"Ride hard, find the hermitage, be wary, watch at a distance for sight
of the Lady Igraine. If she is at the hermitage, gallop back to Sarum
before nightfall. I shall be in Sir Accolon's house. Attend me there."

The man saluted again, turned his horse instanter, and rode hard into
the east. Gorlois, with a half smile on his lips, rode on with his
troop for Sarum.

In Sarum town there was a queer house of stone, very dark and very
saturnine. It was hid away behind high walls, and hedged so blackly
with yews and hollies that it seemed to stand in the gloom of a
perpetual twilight. After dark a sullen glow often hung above the
trees; casements would blaze blood-red light into boughs creaking and
clutching in the wind; or there would be a moony glimmer on the glass,
and belated folk passing near might hear voices or elvish music about
them as though dropped from the stars. It was the house of Merlin,--the
man of dreams,--wrapped in the gloom of immemorial yews.

That night Gorlois sat in a room hung with black velvet, where a
brazier held a dying fire, and a bowl thereon steamed up perfumes in
a heavy vapour. A man with a face of marble and eyes like an eternal
night was chaired before him, with his long, lean, restless fingers
continually touching the cloud of hair that fell blackly over his
ears. His fingers were packed with rings gemmed with all manner of
stones--jasper, sardonyx, chrysolite, emerald, ruby, and the like. His
gown was of black velvet, twined all about with serpent scrolls of
white cloth. On his breast was brooched a great diamond that blazed and
wavered back the glow from the fire.

Gorlois sat in his carved chair stiff as any image. His strenuous
soul seemed mewed up by the psychic influence of the man before him.
He spoke seldom, and then only at the other's motion--at a curious
gesture of one of those long, lean hands. The room was as silent as the
burial hall of a pyramid, and it had the air of being massed above by
stupendous depths of stone.

Presently the man in the black robe began to speak with deliberate
intent, holding his voice deep in his throat so that it sounded much
like the voice of an oracle declaring itself in the noise of a wind.

"The woman is beautiful beyond other women."

"Like a golden May."

"And true."

"As a sapphire."

"Yet will not have you."

"Not a shred of me."

The man with the rings smiled out of his impenetrable eyes, and
fingered the brooch on his breast.

"The woman has great destiny before her."

"Ah!"

"I have seen her star in the night. You dare take her fate on you?"

"Like ivy holds a tree."

"As a wife?"

Gorlois laughed.

"How else?"

"As a wife--by the church."

"Ah!"

"Or no help of my hand."

Again there was silence. A coal fell in the brazier, and seemed like
a rock down a precipice. The black eyes that stared down Gorlois were
full of light, and strangely scintillant. Gorlois listened, with his
limbs asleep and his brain in thrall, while the man spoke like a
very Michael out of a cloud. The clear glittering plot given out of
Merlin's lips came like a dream vivid to the thought of the dreamer.
If Gorlois obeyed he should have his desire, and catch Igraine to a
white marriage-bed by law and her own willing. The fire died down in
the brazier, and the bowl ceased to smoke perfumes. Gorlois saw the
man gather his black robe with his glittering fingers, and move like
a wraith round the room, to stand beckoning by the door. In another
minute Gorlois was under the stars, with the house and its yews a black
mound against the sky. Like a sleeper half wakened he took full breath
of the night air, and stretched his arms up above his head. But it was
not to sleep that he passed back through the void streets to the house
of the knight Accolon.

To return to Igraine housed for the night in the little hermitage. At
the first creep of dawn, when daffodils were thrown up against the
eastern sky, she left her pallet bed in the cell and went out into
the hermit's garden. The recluse was down at the brook drawing water,
whither the dog and the doves had followed him. Igraine passed through
the garden--spun over as it was with webs of dew. To her comfort she
found her ankle scarcely troubling her, for she had feared pain or
stiffness after the walk of yesterday. Going down the dale, she patted
the old dog's head, and picked up the pitcher as the recluse gave her
good-morning.

"You are an early soul, sister. My dog and I come down to the brook
each morning as the sun peeps over the hill."

"You are not lonely," said Igraine.

The old man tightened his girdle, looked over the solemn piers of the
woods, sniffed the air, and hailed an autumn savour.

"Not I," he said. "I have my dog and my doves, and folk often lodge
here, and I have word of the world and how the Saxons vex us. The good
people near bring me alms and pittances, or come to ask prayers for
their souls, and"--with a twinkle--"for their bodies, too."

Igraine remembered the peasant's little son.

"Was it you," she said, "who gave a peasant fellow near here a saint's
dust to scatter over a sick child?"

The old man shook his head and smiled enigmatically.

"I have no dealings in such marvels," he said.

"The boy died."

"Of course."

"They will sell your dust some day."

A keen look, cynical with beaming scorn, spread over the man's gaunt
face.

"Much good may it do them," he said; "death is monstrous flatterer of
mere clay. I may feed a rose bush with my bones; a better fate than the
cheating of superstitious women."

He made a sign with his hand, and the birds went wheeling in circles
above him. The dog crept up and thrust his snout into the old man's
palm. The garden lay above them, ripe with an autumn mellowness; yet
there was no regret though winter would soon be piping, and the man's
hair was grey.

"What think you of life?" said Igraine.

"You should know, sister, as well as I."

"But you see, father, I am not a nun,--only a novice."

He stared at her a moment with a slight smile.

"Remain a novice," he said.

"You advise me so!"

"Why subordinate your soul to chains forged of men."

"These seem strange words."

He patted his dog's head, and, half stooping, looked at her with keen
grey eyes.

"Have you ever loved a man?"

"Yes," she said, with a clear laugh and a slight colour.

"Is he worthy?"

"I believe him a noble soul."

"Naturally."

"He ran away and left me because he thought I was a nun."

The hermit applauded.

"That sounds like honour," he said critically.

"I am seeking him to tell him the truth."

"And I will pray that you may soon meet," said the old man, "for there
is nothing like the love of a good man for a clean maid. If I had
married a true woman, I should never have taken to the scourge or the
stone bed. Marry wisely and you are halfway to Heaven."

They broke fast that morning in the garden, it being the man's custom
to make his meals on the granite slab that served him as a bed. The
little dale looked very green and gracious in the tranquil light, with
its curling brook and dark barriers of trees. Igraine, as she sat on
the great stone and ate the hermit's bread, followed the brook with
her thoughts, wondering whether it became the stream that ran through
Eudol's meadows. She was for Sarum that day, where she would throw off
her grey habit and take some dress more likely to baffle Gorlois. She
had enough money in her purse. Worldling again, she could give herself
to winning sight of this Uther, and to learning whether he was the
Pelleas she sought or no.

As she sat and fingered her bread, something she saw down the dale made
her rigid and still as a priestess smitten with the vision of a god in
some heathen oratory. Her eyes were very wide, her lips open and very
white, her whole air as of one watching in a sudden stupor of awe.
Another moment and she had broken from the mood like a torrent from a
cavern. With eyes suddenly amber bright, she touched the hermit's hand
and pointed down the dale, gave him a word or so, then left him and ran
down the hill.

A man on a black horse had ridden out from the trees, and was pushing
his horse over the brook at a shallow spot not far away. His red armour
glowed in the sun with a metallic lustre. Even at that distance Igraine
had seen the red dragon rampant on a shield of green. As she ran down
the grass slope she called the man by name, thinking to see him turn
and come to her. Pushing on sullenly as though he had not heard the
cry that went after him like winged love, he drew up the further slope
without wavering, and sank like a red streak into the dense green of
the trees.



X


Igraine forded the brook and followed the man by the winding path that
curled away into the wood.

She was ever a sanguine soul, and the mere sinister influences that
might have discouraged her in her purpose that morning were impotent
before the level convictions of her heart. She had seen Pelleas ride
in amid the trees; she was sure as death as to his cognizance and his
armour. Now Pelleas, she could vow, had not heard her call to him,
and if he had heard he had not understood; if he had seen he had not
recognised. Doubts could have no place in the argument before such a
justification by faith.

It was not long before she caught sight of the red glint of armour
going through the trees. It came and went, grew and disappeared, as
the path folded it in its curves or thrust out a heavy screen of green
to hide it like a heavy curtain. The man was going as he pleased, now
a walk, now a casual jog, now a short burst of a canter over an open
patch. One moment Igraine would see him clearly, then not at all.
Sometimes she gained, sometimes lost ground, yet the knight of the red
harness never seemed to come within lure of her voice.

In due course she reached the place where the path ended bluntly on the
Winchester high-road, and where the way ran straight as a spear-shaft,
so that she could see Pelleas riding for Winchester with a lead of a
quarter of a mile. The distant ringing tramp of hoofs came up to her
like a mocking chuckle. Putting her hands to her mouth, she hallooed
with all the breath left her by her run through the wood; yet, as far
as she might see, the man never so much as turned in the saddle, while
the smite of hoofs died down and down into a well of silence.

Another halloo and no echo.

"He's asleep, or deaf in his helmet."

She forgot the distance and the din of hoofs that might well have
drowned the thin cry that could have reached the rider. Maugre her heat
and her flushed face Igraine had no more thought of giving in than she
had of marrying Gorlois. With Pelleas so near she had made her vow to
follow him, and follow him she would like a comet's tail. If needs be
she would wear her sandals to the flesh, but catch the man she must in
the end.

A mile more on the high-road, with her feet and the hem of her gown
dust-drenched, and she was still little nearer the man in the red
harness for all her hurrying. She could have vowed more than once that
he turned in his saddle and looked back at her as though to see how
near she had come to him on the road. A mile from the hermitage path
he turned his horse southwards from the track into a grass valley
headed by a ruined tower and hedged densely on either hand by pine
woods. Igraine, seeing from a slight rise in the road this change of
course, cut away crosswise with the notion of getting near the man or
of intercepting him before he should win clear law again. After all,
the effort added only more vexation. She saw the black horse pressed to
a canter and cross the point where she might have cut him off, while a
great stretch of furze that rolled away to the black palisading of the
pines came down and threw a promontory in her path. Pelleas was a mile
to the good when she had skirted the furze and the bend of the wood,
and taken a straight course southwards down the valley between the
pines.

All that morning the sport of hunter and hunted went on between the
novice in grey and the man on the black horse. For all her trouble
Igraine won little upon him, lost little as the hours went by; while
the rider in turn seemed in no wise desirous of being rid of her for
good. They passed the pine woods with their midnight aisles, forded a
stream, climbed up a heath, went over it amid the heather. From the
last ridge of the heath Igraine saw the country sloping away into
undulating grasslands, piled here and there with domes of thicketed
trees. Far to the south a dense black mass rose like a rounded hill
against the sky. The man in red was still about a mile in front of her,
riding slowly, a red speck in a waste of green. Igraine, having him in
view from her vantage point, lay down full length to rest and take some
food. She was tired enough, but dogged at heart as ever. She vowed that
if the man was playing with her she would tell him her mind, love or no
love, when she came up with him in the end.

As the sun swam into the noontide arc she went on again downhill,
and found in turn that the man had halted, for he had been hidden by
trees, and getting view of him suddenly she saw him sitting on a stone
with his horse tethered near. As soon as Igraine was within measurable
distance she took advantage of a hollow, dropped on her hands and
knees, and began to crawl like a cat after a bird. Edging round a
thicket she came quite near the man, but could not see his face. His
spear stood in the ground by his horse, and he had his shield slung
about his neck, and a bare poniard in his hand. It was clear that he
was watching for Igraine, for despite her craft he caught sight of her
face peering white under the hem of a bush, and climbed quickly into
the saddle. Igraine started up, made a dash across the open, calling
to him as she ran. Perverse as hate his horse broke into a canter
and left her far in the rear. The girl shook her fist at him with a
sudden burst of temper. She was standing near the stone where the man
had been sitting. Looking at its flat face she saw the reason of the
naked poniard in his hand, for he had been carving out thin straggling
letters in the stone.

"Sancta Igraine," she read--

"Ora pro nobis."

The screed dispelled the doubts in Igraine's mind on the instant.
Palpably the man knew well enough who was following him, and was
avoiding her of set purpose; but for what reason Igraine racked her wit
to discover. She ran through many things in her heart, the possible
testing of her devotion, a vacillating weakness on Pelleas's part
that would not let him leave her altogether, a freakish wish to give
her penance. Then, she knew that he was superstitious, and the thought
flashed to her that he might think her a wraith, or some evil spirit
that had taken her shape to have him in temptation. Maugre her vexation
and her pride she held again on the trail, eating as she went some
dried plums that she had in her wallet. The man had slackened down
again and was less than half a mile away, now limned against the sky,
now folded into a hollow or shut out by trees. Like a marsh-fire he
tantalised her with a mystery of distance, holding steadily south at a
level tramp, while Igraine plodded after him, her hair down and blowing
out to the casual wind, her eyes at gaze on the red lure in the van.

So the mellower half of the day passed, and towards evening they neared
the mount of trees Igraine had seen from the last ridge of the heath
at noon. The black horse was heading straight for the cloudy mass in a
way that set Igraine thinking and casting about for Pelleas's motive.
Perhaps he had some quest in the solitary place that needed his single
hand. Would he take to the wood and let her follow as before, or had he
any purpose in leading her thither? Drowned in conjecture she gave up
prophecy with a vicious sense of mystification, and accepted inevitable
ignorance for the time being as to the man's moods and motives. She was
no less obstinate to follow him to the death. If she only had a horse
she would come near the man, pride or no pride, and tell him the truth.

Pressing on, with her strained ankle beginning to limp, she topped
the round back of a grass rise and came full in view of the wood she
had long seen in the distance. It looked very solemn in the declining
light. The great trunks of giant beeches were packed pillar upon pillar
into an impenetrable gloom. The foliage above, densely green, billowy,
touched with red and gold, rolled upwards cloud on cloud as the ground
ascended to the south and east. A great bronze carpet of dead leaves
swept away into the night of the trees. There was an eternal hush, a
gross silence, over the glooming aisles that seemed to beckon to the
soul, to draw the heart into the night of foliage as into a cavern.
Over all was the glowing ægis of the setting sun.

Igraine saw the man on the forest's edge where an arch of gloom struck
into the inner shadows. He was facing the west, motionless as stone on
his black horse, with the slanting light plucking a dull red gleam from
his harness. There was a mystery about him that seemed to harmonise
with the stillness of the trees and the black yawn of the forest
galleries. Igraine imagined that he might be in a mood at last to speak
with her if he believed her human. At all events, if he took to the
trees, and she did not lose him, she would have the vantage of him and
his horse in such a barricaded place.

It began to grow dark very quickly as she passed down the gradual slope
towards the forest. The trees towered above her, a black mass rising
again towards the east. Keen to see the man's mood, she hurried on
and found him still steadfast in the great arch, that seemed like the
gate of the wilderness, ready to abide her. A hundred paces more and
her heart began to beat the faster, and the moil of the day's march
dwindled before the influx of a rosier idyl. Every step towards Pelleas
seemed to take her higher up the turret stair of love till her lips
should meet those that bent at last from the gloom to hers. Pride and
vexation lay fallen far below, dropped incontinently like a ragged
cloak; a more generous passion shone out like cloth of gold; she was no
longer weary. Her eyes were very bright, her face full of a splendid
wistfulness, as she neared the man under the trees, looking up to see
his face.

Twilight lay deep violet under the wooelshawe, while horse and man were
dim and impalpable, great shadows of themselves. Igraine could not see
the man's face for the mask over the mezail of his helmet, and he was
silent as death. She was quite close to him now and ready to speak his
name, when he wheeled suddenly, looked back at her, and pointed into
the wood with his long spear. She ran forward and would have taken hold
of his bridle, but he waved her back and slanted his spear at her in
mute warning. Igraine, heart-hungry, could hold herself no longer.

"Man--man, are you stone?"

He rode straight ahead into the night of the trees and said never a
word. Igraine drew her breath.

"Pelleas."

"Ah, Igraine."

The voice that came to her was muffled like the voice of a mourner, yet
the girl thought she caught the old deep tone of it like the low cry of
the wind.

"Why do you vex me?"

"Follow!"

"Pelleas, Pelleas, I am no nun!"

"Follow!"

"I kept this truth from you too long."

"Follow!"

"Pelleas, would you hurt my heart more?"

"Follow; God shall make all plain and good."

She gave in with a half-sob, and bent quietly to the man's mood, though
she had no notion what he purposed in his heart, or what his desires
were in mystifying her thus. No doubt it would be well in the end if
Pelleas bade her follow like a penitent and promised ultimate peace. At
least he had not turned her away, and she trusted him to the death. He
was a strong, deep-sensed soul, she knew, and her deceiving may have
made him bitter in measure, and not easily appeased. In this queer
trial of endurance, this tempting of her temper, she thought she read a
penance laid upon her by the man for the way she had used his love.

They were soon far into the wood, with the western sky dwindling
between the innumerable pillars of the trees. It began to be dark and
utterly silent save for the rustle of the dead leaves as they went, and
the shrilling chafe of bridle or scabbard, or the snort of the great
horse. Wherever the eye turned the forest piers stood straight and
solemn as the columns in a hypostyle hall in some Egyptian temple. The
fretwork of boughs roofed them in with hardly a glimmering through of
the darkening sky above. There was a pungent autumn scent on the air
that seemed to rise like the incense of years that had fallen to decay
on the brown flooring of the place, and there was no breath or vestige
of a wind.

Presently as the day died the wood went black as the winter night,
and Igraine kept close by the man, with his armour giving a dull
gleam now and again to guide her. They were passing up what seemed to
be a great arcade cut through the very heart of the wood, as though
leading to some shrine or altar, relic of Druid days, or times yet more
antique. The tunnel ran a curved course, bending deeper and deeper as
it went into the dense horde of trees. So dark was the wood that it
was possible to see but a few paces in advance, and Igraine wondered
how the man kept the track. She was close at his stirrup now, with the
dark mass of him and his horse rising above her like a statue in black
basalt. Though he never spoke to her, and though she touched no part of
him, his horse, or his harness, she felt content with the queer sense
of trust and proximity that pervaded her. There was magic in the mere
companionship. As she had humbled her will to Pelleas's the night when
he had taken her from the beech tree in Andredswold, so now in like
fashion she surrendered pride and liberty, and became a child.

Suddenly the trackway straightened out into a great colonnade that
ran due south between trees of yet vaster girth. Igraine felt the man
rein in and abide motionless beside her as she held to the stirrup
and waited for what next should chance. Silence seemed like depths
of black water over them, and they could hear each other take breath
like the faint flux and reflux of a sea. Igraine saw the man lift his
spear, a dim streak less black than the vault above, and hold it as a
sign for her to listen. Her blood began to tingle a very little. There
was something far away on the dead, stagnant air, a sort of swirl of
sound, shrill and harmonious, like a wind playing through the strings
of a harp. It was very gradual, very impalpable. As the volume of it
grew it seemed to rush nearer like a wind, to swell into a swaying
plaintive song smitten through with the wounded cry of flutes. It gave
a notion of wood-fays dancing, of whirling wings and flitting gossamer
moonbright in the shadows. Igraine's blood seemed to spin the faster,
and her hand left the stirrup and touched the man's thigh. He gave
never a word or sign in the dark. She spoke to him very softly, very
meekly.

"What place is this, Pelleas?"

She saw him bend slightly in the saddle.

"It is called the Ghost Forest," he said.

"What are the sounds we hear?"

"Who can tell!"

Igraine had hardly heard him, when a streak of phosphor light flickered
among the trees, coming and going incessantly as the great trunks
intervened. It neared them in gradual fashion, and then blazed out
sudden into the open aisle, a man in armour riding on a great white
horse, his harness white as the moon, his face pale and wide-eyed, his
hair like a mass of twisted silver wire. A misty glow haloed him round,
and though he rode close there seemed no sound at all to mark his
passing. As he had come, so he went, with streaks of flickering light
that waxed less and less frequent till they died in the dark, and left
the place empty as before. Igraine thought the air cold when he had
gone.

She felt the black horse move beside her, and they went on as before
into the night of the trees. The noise of flute and harp that had
ceased awhile bubbled up again quite near, so that it was no longer
the ghost of a sound, but noise more definite, more discrete. It had a
queer way of dying to a sighing breath, and then gathering gradually
into an ascending burst of windy melody. Igraine could almost fancy
that she heard the sweep of wings, the soft thrill of silks trailing
through the trees, yet the man on the horse said never a word as they
went on like a pair of mutes to a grave.

The colonnade opened out abruptly on a great circular clearing in the
wood shut in by crowded trunks, its open vault above cut by a dense
ring of foliage. A grey light came down from the sky, showing great
stones piled one upon another, others fallen and sunk deep in rank
grass and brambles. The man halted his horse in the very centre of the
clearing, with Igraine beside him, watchful for what should happen, and
for the moment when Pelleas should unbend.

Hardly had she looked over the great cromlechs, black and sinister in
that solitary wilderness, than the whole wood about them seemed dusted
suddenly with points of fire. North, south, east, and west torches and
cressets came jerking redly out of the night, flitting behind the trees
in a wide circle, gathering nearer and nearer without a sound. They
might have been great fireflies playing through the aisles and ways,
or goblin lamps carried by fairy folk. Igraine drew very close to the
man's horse for comfort, and looked up to see his face, but found it
dark and hidden. Her hand crept up past the horse's neck, rested on the
mane a moment, and ventured yet further to meet the man's hand, where
it gripped the bridle. For a minute they abode thus without a sound,
watching the weird torch-dance in the wood.

With a sudden gibber of laughter and a swirl of pipes the throng of
lights seemed to seethe to the very margin of the clearing. Queer
phantastic shapes showed amid the trees, and the great circle grew wide
with light, and the grey cromlechs surprised in sleep by the glare and
piping. At that very moment Igraine had a thought of some one looking
deep into her eyes, of a will, a power, streaming in upon her like
sunlight into a sleepy pool. Her desire went from the man on the black
horse into the square shadow of the great central cromlech, where an
indefinite influence seemed to lurk. Looking long under the roofing
stone, she grew aware of a tall something standing there, of a pair of
eyes like the eyes of a panther, of a lean white hand moving in the
shadows.

The eyes under the cromlech seemed to follow Igraine like fire, and to
burn in upon her a foreign influence. Rebellious and wondering, she
stiffened herself against a spiritual combat that seemed moving upon
her out of the dark. She could have smitten the eyes that stared her
down, and yet the magnetic stupor of them kindled up things in her
heart that were strange and newly sensuous. She felt her strength sway
as though her soul were being lifted from her, and she was warmed from
top to toe like one who has taken wine, and whose being swims into an
idyllic glorification of the senses. Again her desire seemed turned to
the man in red harness, yet when she looked the saddle was empty, and
the horse held by an armed servant, who wore a wolfs head for covering.
Still mute with fear, desire, and wonder, she saw a tall figure move
into the full glare of the torches, a figure in red harness with a
shield of green, and a red dragon thereon, and with head unhelmed. The
armour was like the armour of Pelleas, but the face was the face of the
man Gorlois.

And now the eyes under the shadow of the cromlech were full and strong
upon Igraine. Breathing fast with a hand at her throat she stepped back
from Gorlois--hesitated--stood still. She was very white, and her eyes
were big and sightless like the eyes of one walking in a dream. For all
her strength, her scorn, and the tricking of her heart, she was being
swept like a cloud into the embraces of the sun. Reason, power, love,
sank away and became as nothing. A shudder passed over her. Presently
her hands dropped limp as broken wings, and her body began to sway like
a tall lily in a breeze. A gradual stupor saw her cataleptic; she stood
impotent, played upon by the promptings of another soul.

Gorlois went near to her with hands outstretched, stooping to look into
her face. A sudden light kindled in her eyes, her lips parted, and new
life flooded red into her cheeks as at the beck of love. She bent to
Gorlois full of a gracious eagerness, a wistful desire that made her
face golden as dawn. Her hand sought his, while the shadowy shape under
the cromlech watched them with never-wavering eyes. Gorlois's arms were
round her now all wreathed in her hair; her face was turned to his; her
hands were clasped upon his neck. Another moment and he had touched her
lips with his.

A sound of flutes, the tinkling of a bell, and a solemn company
came threading from the trees, guests, acolytes, torch-bearers, in
glittering cloth of gold, with a great crucifix to lead them. Gorlois
and Igraine were hand in hand near the stone that hid the frame of
Merlin. A priest in a gorgeous cape drew near, and began his patter.
The vows were taken, the pact sealed, with the noise of a chant and
music. Thus under the benedictions of the great trees, and the spell of
Merlin, Gorlois and Igraine were made man and wife.



BOOK III

THE WAR IN WALES



I


Aurelius Ambrosius the king was dead, taken off in Winchester by
the hand of a poisoner. He had been found stark and cold in his
great carved bed, with an empty wine-cup beside him, and a tress of
black hair and a tress of yellow laid twined together upon his lips.
The signet-ring had gone from his finger, and by the bed had been
discovered a woman's embroidered shoe dropped under the folds of the
purple quilt. The truth, sinister enough in its bare suggestions, was
glossed over by the court folk out of honour to Aurelius, and of love
to Uther the king's brother. It was told to the country how an Irish
monk sent by Pascentius, dead Vortigern's son, had gained audience of
the king, and treacherously poisoned him as he drank wine at supper.
The tale went out to the world, and was believed of many with a sincere
and honest faith. Yet a certain child-eyed woman, wandering on the
shores of Wales for sight of Irish ships, could have spoken more of the
truth had she so dared.

Uther Pendragon had been hailed king at York before the bristling
spears of a victorious host. But a week before he had marched against
the heathen on the Humber, and overthrown them with such slaughter as
had not been seen in Britain since the days when Boadicea smote the
Romans. At the head of his men he had marched south in a snowstorm to
be thundered into Winchester as king and conqueror. Twelve maidens of
noble blood, clad in ermine and minever, had run before him with boughs
of mistletoe and bay. Five hundred knights had walked bareheaded, with
swords drawn, behind his horse. The city had glistened in a white web
of frosted samite, sparkled over by the clear visage of a winter sun.

There were many great labours ready to the king's hand. Britain lay
bruised by the onslaughts of the barbarians; her monks had been slain,
her churches desecrated. The pirate ships swept the seas, and poured
torch and sword along the sunny shores of the south. Andredswold,
dark, saturnine, mysterious, alone waved them back with the sepulchral
threatening of its trees. Yet, for all the burden of the kingdom upon
his broad shoulders, Uther gave his first care to the honouring of
the dead. Aurelius Ambrosius was buried with great pomp of churchmen
and nobles at Stonehenge, and a royal mound raised above the tomb. At
Christmastide, with snow upon the ground, a great gathering was made at
Sarum of all the petty kings, princes, and nobles of the land. Hither
came Meliograunt, king of Cornwall, and Urience of the land of Gore.
Fealty was sworn with solemn ordinance to Uther Pendragon the king, and
common league bonded against the heathen and the whelps of the north.

There were other perils brewing for Britain over the sea. Pascentius,
dead Vortigern's son, had been an outcast and a wanderer since the
days when the sons of Constantine had sailed from Armorica to save
the land from the blind lust and treason of his father. He had been a
drifting fire beyond the seas, an intriguer, a sower of sedition, a
man dangerous alike to friend and foe. Beaten like a vulture from the
coasts of Britain, he had turned with treasonable hope to Ireland and
its king, Gilomannius the Black, a strenuous potentate, boasting little
love for Ambrosius the king. Here, in Ireland, a kennel of sedition
had arisen. Pascentius, keen, hungry plotter, had toiled at the task
of piling enmity against those who had destroyed his father amid the
flames of Genorium. A great league arose, a banding of the barbarians
with the Irish princes, a union of the Saxons who ravaged Kent with the
wild tribesmen over the northern border. Month by month a great host
gathered on the Irish coast. Many ships came from the east and from the
south. Mid-winter was past before Gilomannius embarked, and, setting
sail with a fair wind, turned the beaks of his galleys for the shores
of Wales.

Noise of the gathering storm had been brought to Uther as he journed
through the southern coasts, rebuilding the churches, recovering abbey
and hermitage from their desolate ashes. His zeal was great for God,
and his love of Britain well-nigh as noble. Warned thus in due season,
he marched for the west, calling the land to arms, assigning for the
gathering of the host Caerleon upon Usk, that fair city bosomed in the
fulness of its woods and pastures. Many a knight had answered to his
call; many a city had sent out her companies; the high-roads rang with
the cry of steel in the crisp winter weather.

Duke Gorlois had come from Cornwall from his castle of Tintagel,
bringing many knights and men-at-arms by sea, and the Lady Igraine
his wife, in a great galley whose bulwarks glistened with shields. In
Caerleon Gorlois had a house built of white stone, set upon a little
hill in the centre of the city. To Caerleon he brought this golden
falcon of a woman, this untamable thing that he had kept prisoned in
the high towers of Tintagel. He mewed her up like a nun in his house
of white stone, so that no man should see the fairness of her face.
She was wild as an eyas from the woods, fierce and unapproachable,
and sharp of claw. Robbed of her liberty, had she not sought to take
her own life with a sword, and to throw herself from the battlements
of Tintagel? Gorlois had won little love by Merlin's subtlety, and he
feared the woman's beauty and the spell of her large eyes.

It was the month of February and clear crisp weather. The white bellies
of the Irish sails had shown up against the grey blue stretch of the
sea, a white multitude of canvas that had sent the herdsmen hurrying
their flocks to the mountains. Horsemen had galloped for Caerleon, and
the cry of war went up over wood and water. Flames licked the night
sky. From Caerleon to St. Davids, from St. Davids to Eryri, the red
blaze of beacon-fires told of the ships at sea.

The cry of the storm arose in Caerleon, and the tramp of armed men
sounded all day in her streets. The great host lodged about the city
broke camp and streamed westwards along the high-road into Wales.
Bugles blew, banners flapped, masses of sullen steel rolled away into
purple of the winter woods. Bristling spears and lines of skin-clad
shields vanished into the west like the waves of a solemn sea. On the
walls of Caerleon stood many women and children watching the host march
for the west, watching Uther the king ride out with his great company
of knights and nobles.

At the casement of an upper room in Gorlois's house stood a woman
looking out over Caerleon towards the sea. She was clad in a mantle of
furs, and in a tunic of purple linked up with cord of gold. A tippet
of white fur clasped with a brooch of amethysts circled her throat.
Her hair was bound up in a net of fine silk, and there was a girdle of
blue silk about her loins, and an enamelled cross upon her bosom. She
stood with her elbows resting on the stone sill, and her peevish face
clasped between her hands. Her eyes looked very large and lustrous as
she stared out wistfully over the city.

In the great court below horses champed the bit and struck fire from
the ringing flags. Men in armour clanged to and fro; rough voices
cried questions and counter-questions; bridles jingled; spear-shafts
clattered on the stones. Now a clarion blared as a troop of horse
thundered by up the street, their armour gleaming dully past the
courtyard gate. The growl of war hung heavy over Caerleon, a grim
sullen sound that seemed in keeping with the restless chiding of the
wind.

Igraine's face was hard as stone as she watched the men moving in the
courtyard below. She looked older than of yore, whiter, thinner in
cheek and neck, her great eyes staunch though sad under her netted
hair. Her face showed melancholy mingled with a constant scorn that
had rarely found expression with her in the old days, save within the
walls of Avangel. She looked like one who had endured much, suffered
much, yet lost no whit of pride in the trial. Though she may have been
blemished like a Greek vase smitten by some barbaric sword, she was
her self still, brave, headstrong, resolute as ever. The shame of the
things she had suffered had perhaps wiped out the gentler outlines of
her character and left her more stern, more wary, less honest, more
deep in her endeavours. There was no passive humility or patience about
her soul, and she was the falcon still, though caged and guarded beyond
her liberty.

As she stood at the casement with the prophetic murmur of war in her
ears, it seemed to her as though life surged to her feet and mocked her
bondage like laughing water. The desire of liberty abode ever with her
even to the welcoming of stagnant death. She thirsted for her freedom,
plotted for it, dreamt of it with a zeal that was almost ferocious. Her
life seemed a speculation, a perpetual aspiration after a state that
still eluded her. In the Avangel days she had been wild and petulant.
Then Pelleas had come through the green gloom of early summer to
soften her soul and inspire all the best breath of the woman in her.
Again, thanks to Gorlois, she had fallen with the usual reaction of
circumstance upon evil times; the change had discovered the peevish
discontent of the girl hardened into the strong wilfulness of the woman.

She hated Gorlois with a fanatical immensity of soul. When the man was
near her she felt full of the creeping nausea of a great loathing, and
she waxed faint with hate at the veriest touch of his hands. His breath
seemed to her more unsavoury than the miasma of a gutter, and it needed
but the sound of his voice to bring all her baser passions braying and
yelping against him. He had driven the religious instinct out of her
heart, and she was in revolt against heaven and the marriage pact
forged by the authority of the Church. She had often vowed in her heart
that she could do no sin against Gorlois, her husband. He had no claim
upon her conscience. The bondage had been of his making; let God judge
her if she scorned his honour.

Standing by the window watching the knights saddling for their lord's
sally, she heard heavy footsteps mounting up the stairs, and the ring
of steel-tipped shoes along the gallery. The footsteps were deliberate,
and none too fast, as though the man walked under a burden of thought.
A shadow seemed to pass over Igraine's face. She slipped from the
window, ran across the room, shot the bolt of the door, and stood
listening. A hand tried the latch. She knew well enough whose fist it
was that rattled on the oaken panels. Her face hardened to a kind of
cold malevolence, and she laughed noiselessly in her sleeve.

A terse summons came to her from the gallery.

"Wife, we ride at once."

The man could not have made a worse beginning. There was a suggestion
of tyranny in a particular word that was hardly temperate. Igraine
leant against the door; she was still smiling to herself, and her hands
fingered the embroidered tassel of the latch.

"We are late on the road; I can make no tarrying."

The door quivered a moment as though shaken by a gusty wind. Everything
was quiet again, and Igraine could hear the man breathing. Putting her
mouth to the crack between post and hinge-board she laughed stridently
as though in scorn.

"Igraine!"

The voice was half-imperative, half-appealing.

"My very dear lord!"

"Are you abed?"

"No, dear lord."

"Open to me; I would kiss your lips before I sally."

"You have never kissed me these many days."

"True, wife; is it fault of mine?"

"Nor shall again, dear lord, if I have strength."

She heard the man muttering to himself a moment, but this time there
was no smiting of the door, no fume and tempest. His mood seemed more
temperate, less masterful, as though he were half heavy at heart.

"Igraine--"

"Why do you whimper like a dog?" she said; "go, get you to war. What
are you to me?"

"When will you learn reason?"

"When you are dead, sire."

"Perhaps I deserve all this."

"Are you so much a penitent?"

Her mockery seemed to lift Gorlois to a higher range of passion, and
there was great bitterness in his voice as he tossed back words to her
with a quick kindling of desire.

"Woman, I have been hard in the winning of you, but, God knows, you are
something to me."

"God knows, Gorlois, I hate you."

His hand shook the door.

"Let me in, Igraine."

"Break down the door; you shall come at me no other way."

"Woman, woman, I am a fool; my heart smarts at leaving you."

"You sound almost saintly."

"I have left Brastias in charge of you."

"Thanks, lord, for a jailer."

Igraine drew back from the door and stood at her full height with
her hands crossed upon her bosom. She quivered as she stood with the
intense effort of her hate. Gorlois still waited without the door,
though she could not hear him moving. The silence seemed like the deep
hush that falls between the blustering stanzas of a storm.

"Igraine!"

It was a hoarse cry, quick and querulous. Igraine had both her fists to
her chin in an attitude of inward effort, as though she racked herself
to give utterance to the implacable temper of her scorn. Her face
had a queer parched look. When she spoke, her voice was shrill like a
piping wind.

"Gorlois."

"Wife."

"Would you have my blessing?"

"Give it me, Igraine."

"Go then, and look not to me for comfort. When you are in battle, and
the swords cry on your shield, I shall pray on my knees that you may
get your death."

Gorlois gave never a sound as he stood by the barred door with his
hand over the mezail of his helmet. It seemed dark and gloomy in the
gallery, and the staunch oak fronted him like fate. His eyes were full
of a dull light as he turned and went clanging down the stairway with
slow, heavy tread. His sounding footsteps died down into the din of
arms that came from the great court. Igraine ran to the window and
watched him and his men ride out, smiling a bleak smile as the last
mailed figure gleamed out by the gate.



II


When Gorlois and his knights had gone, Igraine unbarred the door, and
passed down the narrow stair to the state chamber of the house, where
a fire was burning. It was a solemn room, shadowed with many arches,
with vaults inlaid with marble, its walls painted green and gold, its
glimmering casements lozenged with fine glass. Furs were spread upon
the mosaic floor; painted urns held flowers that bloomed in the mock
summer of the room.

Igraine stood and warmed herself before the fire. From an altar-like
pillar near she took storax and galbanum from brazen bowls, and
scattered the resinous tears upon the flames. A pungent fragrance rose
up into her nostrils. The flicker of the fire played upon her face, and
set a lustre in her eyes. It was winter weather, and the warmth was
welcome.

The refrain of her talk with Gorlois still ran at fever heat like a
wild song through her brain. She was stirred to the deeps of her strong
soul. For Gorlois she had no measure of pity. He was a rotten tree to
her, a slab of granite, anything but quick flesh and blood capable of
aspiration and desire. She hated him more for his pleading than for his
tyranny, fearing to be pleased by one she dreaded. He was strenuous and
obstinate. She knew that it would be great joy to her if she saw his
face no more, and if his body crumbled in the rain on some bleak coast
in Wales.

As she stood by the fire and looked into it with pondering eyes she
heard a curtain drawn and the sound of a footstep on the threshold.
Turning briskly, like one accustomed to suspicions, she saw the man
Brastias in the doorway looking at her half-furtively, as though none
too proud of the office thrust upon him. He had great grey eyes and a
calm face. Bending stiffly to Igraine with his hand over his heart,
he turned aside to a cabinet by the wall, took therefrom an illumined
scroll of legendary tales, and sat down on a bench to read, as though
he had no other business in the room.

Igraine's long lip curled. She knew the meaning of the man's presence
there shrewdly enough. Going to a window she opened the casement frame
and looked out on the winter scene. Usk winding silver to the sea, the
purple roll of the bleak bare woods, the far sea itself dying a sullen
streak into a sullen sky. It was dreary enough, and yet it suited her;
she could have welcomed thunder and the rend of forked fire above the
woods. Thought was fierce in her with the wind crying about the house
like a wistful voice, the voice of days long dead.

To be free of Gorlois!

To cast off her present self like a rotten cloak!

To adventure liberty, though the peril were shrill as the wind through
the swaying pines on the hillside!

To deal with Brastias!

Now Brastias was a grave-faced knight, neither young nor old, but
a very boy in the matter of the mock wisdom of the world. He was
possessed of one of those generous natures that looks kindly on
humanity with a simple optimism born of a contented conscience. He
was a devout man, a soldier, and a gentleman. Moreover, he owned a
holy reverence for women, a reverence that led him into a somewhat
extravagant belief in the sincerity of their truth and virtue. He was
blessed too in being nothing of a cynic in his conceptions of honour.

Gorlois knew the man to the heart, and trusted him, a fact well proven
by the faith imposed upon him in his wardenship of the Lady Igraine.
Brastias hated the task as much as he hated the telling of a lie. There
are some men whose whole instinct is towards truth. They are golden
souls, often too easily deceived with a gross dross that makes an
outward show of kindred colour.

Brastias was no stranger to Igraine, for he had served her as one of
the knights of the guard in the great castle of Tintagel. He was a man
who could look into a woman's eyes and make her feel instinctively
the clear honour of his soul. There was nothing of the flesh about
Brastias. And it was in this chivalrous faith of his that Igraine
discovered a credulity that might make him prone to believe a certain
profession of faith that was taking sudden and subtle form within her
mind. Months ago, she would have hesitated before the man's grey eyes.
But feeling herself sinned against, and stirred by the shame of the
past, she found ample justification for herself in the lie Gorlois had
practised for her undoing.

She left the window, and went and stood by the fire, with her back to
the man.

"Brastias," she said, quite softly.

The man looked up from the scroll, and seemed ill at ease.

"I trust your duty is pleasant to you?"

Brastias's eyelids flickered nervously, and he cleared his throat.

"May the Virgin witness," he said, "I have no love of the task."

"My Lord Gorlois trusts you?"

"He has said so, madame."

"And am I not his wife?"

Brastias put the scroll aside with a constrained deliberation. He felt
himself wholly in the wrong, as he always did before a woman, and his
wit ran clumsily on such occasions. It had needed but the observation
of a child to mark the gulf between Gorlois and his wife. Gorlois had
spoken few words on the matter, had given commands and nothing more.
Brastias was not the man to tamper officiously with the confidences of
others. He thought much, said little, and bided quiet for Igraine to
speak.

She stood half-turned towards the fire, with her face in profile, and
her hands hanging limply at her side. Looking for all the world like a
penitent, she spoke with a certain unconscious pathos, as though she
touched on a matter that was heavy upon her heart.

"Brastias, I may call you a friend?"

"I trust so, madame."

"Then there is no reason for me to be backward in speaking of the
truth?"

The man bowed and said nothing.

"Come then, Brastias, tell me honestly, have I seemed to you like a
woman who loved her husband?"

The girl's blue eyes were staring hard into the man's grey ones. There
was little chance of prevarication before so blunt a question, and
Brastias's courtesy, like Balaam's ass, refused to deny the scrutiny
of truth. Igraine could read the man's face like a piece of blazened
parchment.

"Never fear to be frank," she said; "your belief hangs on your face
like an alphabet, and that shows me how much you know of a woman's
heart."

"Pardon me, madame."

"Never blush, man, you would have said that I had as little love for
Gorlois as for the dirtiest beggar in Caerleon?"

Brastias frowned mildly and agreed with her, remembering as he did a
certain wild scene on the battlements of Tintagel.

"And doubtless you would say that it pained me not a whit to see
Gorlois my lord ride out from Caerleon into the wilds of Wales?"

There was such reproach in her voice that Brastias fell into confusion
before her eyes, reddened, and began to excuse himself.

"Your ladyship's behaviour," he said, with an ingenuous look and an
intense striving after propitiation,--"your ladyship's behaviour would
hardly warrant me in believing that my Lord Gorlois was vastly dear
to you. And, pardon me, a woman does not seek to run away from her
husband."

"You insinuate--"

Brastias felt himself in the mire, and groaned in spirit.

"Madame, I would say--"

"Yes, yes, I understand you."

"Give me leave--"

"Not another word."

Igraine smiled softly to herself, turned her back on Brastias and
stared long into the fire. The man stood by, watching her with a
humbled look, his fingers twisting restlessly at the broidery of his
black tunic. Igraine traced out the mosaic patterns on the floor with
the point of her shoe.

"I think you men are all fools," she said.

Brastias's silence might have suggested contradiction.

"Have you ever loved a woman?"

The man shifted, and went red under his straight fair hair. His eyes
took a dreamy look.

"Yes," he said, as though half-ashamed.

Igraine hung her head and sighed.

"Perhaps," she said, growing suddenly shy and out of countenance,
"perhaps you may have learnt the lesson of the froward heart, the
heart that comes by love when it is in peril of great loss."

Brastias drew a quick, deep breath.

"By the Virgin, that's true," he said.

Igraine turned to the fire and hid her face from the man. There was a
pathetic droop about her shoulders, a listless curving of her neck,
that made Brastias picture her as burdened with some immoderate sorrow.
He was an impressionable man, not in any amorous sense, but in the
matter of sympathy towards his fellows. He thought he heard a catch in
the girl's breathing that boded tears. Her hair looked very soft and
lustrous as it curved over her ears and neck.

"Madame Igraine."

No answer. Brastias went a step nearer.

"Listen to me."

A slight turning of the head in response.

"What ails you, madame?"

"Never trouble."

"I beseech you, tell me."

The man was quite afire; his face looked bright and eager, and his eyes
shone.

"Gorlois has gone to the war."

The words were jerked out one by one.

"Madame!"

"War--and death."

"Courage, madame, courage. On my soul, you are not going to say--"

"Brastias, you understand."

"Then?"

"Man, man, don't drag it out of me; don't you see? are you blind?"

Brastias invoked a certain saint by the name of Christopher, and
straightway emphasised his words by falling down on his knees beside
Igraine. She had contrived to conjure up tears as she bent over the
fire. Brastias found one of her hands and held it.

"This will be my lord's salvation."

"Think you so?"

"On my soul, my dear lady, I thank our Lord Jesu from my heart. For I
know my Lord Gorlois, and the bitterness that weighed him down, though
he spoke little to me on this matter, being staunch to you, and to his
courtesy. And by our Lord's Passion, madame, I love peace in a house,
and quiet looks, and words like laughing water, for there is never a
home where temper rules."

"Brastias, you shame me."

"God forbid, dear lady, there's no gospel vanity in my heart. I speak
but out."

The man's quaint outburst of gladness touched Igraine's honesty to the
core, but she had no thought of recantation, for all the pricking of
her conscience. She passed back to the open window and leant against
the mullion, while Brastias rose from his knees and followed her.

"I am faint," she said, "and the fresh wind comforts me."

"Courage, madame; Duke Gorlois fights for Britain and the Cross; what
better blessing on his shield?"

Igraine was looking out toward the sea and the grey curtain of the
sky cut in places by dark woods and the sweep of dull green hills.
There was a wistful droop about her figure that made Brastias molten
with intent to comfort, and dumb with words of sympathy that died
inarticulate in his throat. He stood there, a man muzzled by his own
sincerity, bankrupt of a syllable, though he commanded his wit to be
nimble with stentorian cry of conscience. He felt hot in his skin and
vastly stupid. By the time he had lumbered up some passable fancy,
Igraine had turned from the window with a quick intelligence kindling
in her eyes.

"Brastias."

"Madame."

"Listen to me, I have come by a plan."

A sudden flood of sunlight streamed through a rent in the grey canopy
of clouds. The landscape took a warmer tinge, the purple of the woods
deepened. Brastias saw the sudden gleam of light strike on Igraine's
hair. Her head was thrown back upon her splendid neck, and her eyes
seemed large with love.

"I will show Gorlois how I love him," she said.

Brastias's face was still hazed in conjecture.

"I will wipe out the past."

"Ah!"

"We will follow Gorlois to the war, you and I, Brastias, together. What
say you to that?"

The man looked at her with clear grey eyes, and with a transient
immobility of feature that changed swiftly to a glow of understanding.
The words had gone home to him like a trumpet-cry; their courage warmed
him, and he was carried with the wind.

"A great hazard--and a noble," he said, with a flush of colour; "the
peril is on my neck, and yet--I'll bear it."

Igraine's face blazed.

"Brastias, you will go with me?"

"By my sword, to the death."

"Come hither, man; I must kiss your forehead."

Brastias knelt to her again with crossed hands. She looked into his
grey eyes and touched his forehead with her lips.

"Thus I salute honour," she said.

"My lord's lady!"

"You have trusted me."

"Else had I been ashamed."

The man went away to arm, warm at heart as any boy. Igraine stood a
moment looking into the fire with an enigmatic calm upon her face. For
Brastias she felt a throttled pity, an impossible admiration that only
troubled her. Her lust for liberty bore her like a storm-wind, and her
hate of Gorlois made her iron at heart. She could dare anything to
fling off the moral bondage that cramped and bound her like a net.

While Brastias was away arming and ordering horses, she went to a
little armoury on the stairs and filched away a short hauberk and a
sheathed poniard. She wore these under a gown of black velvet bound
with a silver girdle, and a cloak of sables hooded and lined with
sky-blue cloth. She had a strange joy of the knife at her girdle as she
passed down the stairway to the court.

A few silent servants gaped at her as she passed from the house.
Brastias came out to her in armour. In the court she heard the cry of
steel bridles, the sparking of hoofs on the stones. They were soon
mounted and away under the great gate and free of Caerleon in the
decline of the day. The west had no colour, and a wind pined in the
trees as they swept into the twining shadows of the woods, and saw the
boughs clutch each other against the sullen sky. Soon night came in
a black cowl, and with a winter wind that roamed the woods like the
moan of a prophecy. Igraine, riding with her bridle linked in that of
Brastias, pressed on for the west with a mood that echoed the roar of
the trees.



III


A man in black armour, a lady in a cloak of sables, a pine forest under
a winter sky.

Myriad trunks interminably pillared, grey-black below, changing to
red beneath the canopy of boughs; patches of grey-blue sky between;
a floor overgrown with whortleberry and heather, and streaked seldom
by the sun. Through the tree-tops the veriest sighing of a wind, a
sound that crept up the curling galleries like the softly-taken breath
of a sleeping world. Away on every hand oblivious vistas black under
multitudinous green spires.

The woman's face seemed white under the sweep of her sable hood. Its
expression was very purposeful, its mouth firm and resolute, its air
indicative of a deliberate will. Her eyes stared into the wood over
her horse's head with a constant care, dropping now and again a quick
side-glance at the man in black armour riding on her flank. She spoke
seldom to him, and then with a certain assumption of authority that
seemed to trouble his equanimity but little. Often she would lean
forward in the saddle as though to listen, her eyes fixed, her mouth
decisive, her hand hollowed at her ear to concavitate some sound other
than the wind-song of the trees. It was evident that she was under the
spell of some strong emotion, for she would smile and frown by turns as
though vexed by perpetual alternatives of feeling.

The man at her side watched with his grey eyes the path curling uphill
between the trees. Having his own inward exposition of the woman's
mood, he contented himself wisely with silence, keeping his reflections
to himself. He was not a man who blurted commonplaces when lacking
the means of inspiration. And he was satisfied with the fancy that he
understood completely the things that were passing through the woman's
mind. He believed her troubled by those extreme anxieties of the heart
that come with war and the handiwork of the sword. Perhaps he was
fortunate in being ignorant of the truth.

The interminable trees seemed to vex the woman's spirit as their trunks
crowded the winding track and shut the pair in as with a never-ending
barrier. But for an occasional patch of heathland or scrub, no lengthy
vista opened up before them. Tree-boles stood everywhere to baulk their
vision, silent and stiff like sullen sentinels. The horses plodded on.
Igraine's impatience could be read upon her face, and discovered in
her slighter gestures. It was the impatience of a mind at war within
itself, a mind prone through the chafe of trouble to be vexed with
trifles; sore, sensitive, and hasty. Brastias watched her, pretending
to be intent the while on the path that wandered away into the mazes of
the wood. He was a considerate creature, and he suffered her petulance
with a placid good-humour, and a certain benevolence that was the
outcome of pity.

Igraine jerked her bridle, and eyed the trees as though they were the
members of a mob thrusting themselves between her and her purpose. She
was inclined to be unreasonable, as only a woman can be on occasions.
Brastias, calm-faced and debonair, contented himself with sympathy, and
refrained from reason as from the handling of a whip.

"That peasant fellow was a liar," he said, by way of being
companionable.

"Yes, the whelp."

"I'll swear we've ridden two leagues, not one."

"The fellow should have a stripe for every furlong."

"Rough justice, madame."

Igraine laughed.

"If justice were done to liars," she said, "the world would be
hideless, scourged raw."

Brastias edged his horse past an intruding tree and chuckled amiably.

"It would be a pity to spoil so much beauty."

"Eh!"

"The women would come off worst."

Igraine flashed a look at him.

"Balaam's ass spoke the truth," she said.

They had not gone another furlong when Brastias reined in suddenly and
stood listening. He held up a hand to Igraine, looking at her with
prophetic face, his black armour lustreless under the trees.

"Hark!"

Igraine stared into his eyes. Neither moved a muscle for fully a minute.

"A trumpet-cry!"

Brastias lowered his hand.

"From the host. And the 'advance,' by the sound on't."

"Then we shall be out of the woods soon."

"Go warily, madame; it would be poor wisdom to stumble on an Irish
legion."

"Brastias, I would not miss the day for a year in heaven."

As they pushed uphill through the solemn shadows of the forest, a sound
like the raging of a wind through a wood came down to them faintly from
afar. It was a sullen sound, deep and mysterious as the hoarse babel
of the sea, smitten through with the shrill scream of trumpets like
the cry of gulls above a storm. In the alleys of the pine forest it was
still as death, and calm beneath the beniscus of the tall trees.

Igraine and Brastias looked meaningly at each other as they rode. The
sound needed no words to christen it. The two under the trees knew that
they heard the roar of host breaking upon host, the cataractine thunder
of a distant battle.

Pushing on as fast as the forest suffered, the din became more
definite, more human, more sinister in detail. It stirred the blood,
challenged the courage, racked conjecture with the infinite chaos it
portended. Victory and despair were trammelled up together in its
sullen roar; life and death seemed to swell it with the wind-sound of
their wings; it was stupendous, sonorous, chaotic, a tempest-cry of
steel and many voices merged into the grand underchant of war.

Igraine's face kindled to the sound like the face of a girl who hears
her lover's lute at night under her window. Blood fled to her brain
with the wild strength of the strain humming like a wind through the
trees. She was in the mood for war; the tragedy of it solemnised her
spirit, and made her look for the innumerable flash of arms, the
rolling march of a multitude. For the moment it was life, and the
glorious strength of it; death and the dust were hid from sight.

Yet another furlong and the red trunks dwindled, and the sombre boughs
fringed great tracts of blue, and to the north mountains rose up dim
and purple under an umbrage of clouds. To the west the sea appeared
solemn and foamless, set with pine-spired aisles, and a great company
of ships at anchor. Nigh the shore the grey pile of a walled town stood
out upon green meadows. Igraine and the man pushed past the outlying
thickets, and drew rein upon a slope that ran gradually down from them
like the great swell of a sea.

Tented by the dome of the sky lay a natural amphitheatre, shelving
towards the sea, but rising in the east by rolling slopes to a ridge
that joined the mountains with the forest. The valley was a medley of
waste land, scrub, gorse, and thicket, traversed by the white streak
of a road, and closed on the west by the grey walls of the town rising
up above the green. It was a wild spot enough. However still and
solitary it may have seemed in its native desertedness, however much
the haunt of the wolf and the boar, it seethed now like a cauldron with
the boiling stir of battle. Men swarmed through scrub and thicket;
masses of steel moved hither and thither, met, mingled, broke, and
rallied. Wave rushed on wave. Bodies of horsemen smoked over the open
with flashing of many colours and the glittering pomp of mail, to roll
with clanging trumpets into some vortex of death. The whole scene was
one shifting mass of steel and strife, dust and disorder, galloping
squadrons, rolling spears, rank on rank of shields a-flicker in the
sun. And from this whirlpool of humanity rose the dull grinding roar of
war, fierce, stupendous, clamorous, grand.

To the trained eye of the soldier the chaos took orderly and
intelligent meaning, and Brastias stood in his stirrups and pointed out
to Igraine the main ordering of the hosts. Uther Pendragon held the
eastern ridge with his knights and levies; Gilomannius and Pascentius
thrust up at him from the sea; while the valley between held the wreck
of the countercharges of either host, and formed debatable ground where
troop ran against troop, and man against man.

The masses of Uther's army swept away along the ridge, their arms
glittering over the green slopes, their banners and surcoats colouring
the height into a terraced garden of war, the whole, a solemn streak
of gold against the blue bosoms of the hills. To the north stood
Meliograunt with his levies from Wales, and next him Duke Eldol and
King Nentres headed the men of Flavia Cæsariensis. South of all the
great banner of Tintagel showed where Gorlois and the southern levies
reared up their spears like a larch-wood in winter. Brastias pointed
them all out to the girl in turn, keeping keen watch the while on the
shifting mob of mail in the valley.

Igraine, stirred by the scene, urged on from the forest, and the
knight following her, they crossed some open scrubland, wound through
a thicket of pines, and stood at gaze under the boughs. Igraine's
eyes were all the while turned on the banner of Tintagel, and from
the common mob of mailed figures she could isolate a knight in gilded
harness on a white horse, Gorlois, her husband. The mere sight of him
set her hate blazing in her heart, and seemed to pageant out all the
ills she had suffered at his hands. Her feud against the man was a
veritable insanity, a species of melancholia that wrapped all existence
in the morbid twilight of self-centred bitterness. As she looked down
upon the host there was a kind of overmastering madness of malice on
her face, an emotion whose very intensity paled her to the lips, and
made her eyes hard and scintillant as crystal. She was discreet for all
her violence of soul. Turning to Brastias, who was scanning the valley
under his hand, she pointed to the banner with a restless eagerness of
manner that might have hinted at her solicitude for Gorlois, her lord.

"See yonder," she said, "is not that the Lord Gorlois on the white
horse by yonder standard?"

Brastias turned his glance thither, considered for a moment, and then
agreed decisively.

"Love is quick of eye," he said with a smile.

"Let us ride down nearer."

"I care not for the hazard, madame."

"Who fears at such a season?"

"By my sword, madame, not your servant; I am but careful of your
safety."

"Fear for me, Brastias, when I fear for myself."

"Methinks, madame, that would be never."

"Brastias, I believe you."

Igraine's courage had risen to too high an imperiousness for the
moment to brook baffling or to endure restraint. She had been lifted
out of herself, as it were, by the storm-cry of battle, and by the
splendour of the scene spread out before her eyes. A furlong or more
down the hillside a little hillock stood up amid a few wind-twisted
thorns, proffering rare vantage for outlook over wood and dale. She was
away like a flash, and several lengths ahead before Brastias had roused
up, put spur to horse, and cantered after her. The man saw the glint of
her horse's hinder hoofs spurning the sod, and though the wind whistled
about his ears, he was left well in the rear for all his spurring.
Igraine, with her hair agleam under her tossed-back hood, and her
cheeks ruddied by the wind, headed for the rising ground at a gallop,
gained it, and drew rein on the very verge of a small cliff that
dropped sheer to the flat below. The hillock was like a natural pulpit,
its front face a perpendicular some twenty feet high, while its hinder
slope tailed off to merge into the hillside. Gorlois's mailed masses
stood but a hundred paces away, and Igraine could see him clearly in
his gilded harness under the banner of Tintagel.

Brastias galloped up to her with a mild bluster of expostulation.

"You court danger, madame."

"What if I do, Brastias, to be near my lord."

"Your sanctity lies upon my conscience."

"I take all such care from you."

"Madame, that is impossible; duty is duty both night and day, in battle
and in peace; duty bids me fear for my lord's wife."

Igraine found certain logic invincible in the argument, and made good
use of it; she meant to rule Brastias for her own ends.

"Fear," she said; "I forget fear when I am nigh Gorlois, my husband;
and who can gainsay me the right of watching over him? I forget fear
when I think of Britain, the king, and my lord, and had I a hundred
lives I could cast them down to help to break the heathen, and serve
my country."

"Amen," said Brastias, signing the cross upon his breast.

Sterner interests quashed any further polite bickerings that might have
risen from Igraine's pride of purpose, for Brastias, with the instinct
of a soldier, marked some large development in the struggle that had
been passing in the valley below them. The scattered lines of horse
and foot that had been thrown forward by Uther to try the strength and
spirit of the Irish host, were falling back sullenly uphill before the
masses of attack poured up from the flats by Gilomannius the king. The
whole battle had shifted to the east. Bodies of horse were spurring
uphill, driving in Uther's men, cutting down stragglers, harrowing
the slopes for the solid march of the black columns of foot that were
creeping up between the thickets, winding like giant dragons amid furze
and scrub. It was a grand sight enough, the advance of a great host,
a rocking sea of spears pouring up in the lull that had fallen over
the valley as though the battle took breath and waited. Uther's men
kept their ground upon the ridge, watching in silence the advance of
Gilomannius's chivalry. Only a brief wild cry of trumpets betokened the
gathering of the waves of war.

Even at this juncture Brastias racked his wit and courtesy to persuade
Gorlois's lady to fall back and watch from the shelter of the woods.
He pointed out her peril to Igraine, besought, argued, cajoled,
threatened. All he gained was a blunt but half-smiling declaration
from the woman that she would hold to her post on the hillock till the
battle was over, or some mischance drove her from the place. Brastias
caught her bridle, spurred round, and tried to drag her back by main
force, but she was out of the saddle instanter, and obstinate as ever.
In the end the man capitulated, and gave his concern to the fortunes of
war.

The sudden uproar that sounded out along the hillside made mere
individual need dull and impossible for the moment. The shock of the
joining of the hosts had come like the fall of snow from a mountain--a
sound sweeping down the valley, echoing among the silent fastnesses of
the hills. Men had come pike to pike, shield to shield, upon the ridge.
Mass rushed upon mass, billow upon billow. From the mountains to the
forest the sweat and thunder of strife rolled up from the long line
of leaping steel, from the living barrier, steady as a cliff. It was
one of the many Marathons of the world where barbarism clawed at the
antique fabric of the past.

Igraine's glance was stayed on Gorlois and the southern levies about
the banner of Tintagel. Her hate surged up the green slope with the
onrush of the Irish horde, and brandished on the charge in spirit
towards the tall figure in the harness of gold. She saw Gorlois in the
press smiting right and left with the long sweep of his sword. In her
thirst for his destruction she grudged him strength, harness, sword,
the very shield he bore. She was glad of his courage, for such would
militate against him. Moment by moment her desire honoured him with
death as she thought him doomed to fall beneath the surge of steel.

A sudden shout from Brastias brought her stare from this chaos of
swords. The man was standing in his stirrups, and pointing to the west
with his face dead white and his mouth agape.

"By God, look!"

Truth to tell, there was little need of the warning. A dull rumble of
hoofs came up like thunder above the shriller din around. Igraine,
looking to the west, saw a black mass of horsemen at the gallop,
swaying, surging, rocking uphill full for Gorlois's flank. The sight
numbed her reason for the moment. She was still as stone as the column
swept past the very foot of the hillock--a flood of steel--and plunged
headlong upon Gorlois's lines, hewing and trampling to the very banner
of Tintagel. An oath from Brastias made her turn and look at him. He
had his hand on his sword, and his face was twisted into a snarl of
wrath and shame as he stood in his stirrups and watched the fight.

"My God!" he cried, "my God! they run."

It was palpable enough that the southern line was breaking and
crumbling ominously before the rush of Gilomannius's knights. Little
bunches of men were breaking away from the main mass like smoke, and
falling back over the ridge. Igraine guessed at Brastias's pride and
fury, saw her chance of liberty, and took it. She set up a shrill cry
that stirred his courage like a trumpet-cry.

"My Lord, my Lord Gorlois, Brastias, what of him?"

The man's sword had flashed out.

"Send me to death, lady, only to strike a blow for Britain."

Igraine spread her hands to him like a Madonna, and made the sign of
the cross in the air. Brastias lifted up his drawn sword, kissed it,
and saluted her with the look of a hero. Then he wheeled his horse,
plunged down from the hillock, and rode full gallop into the battle.
Igraine soon lost sight of his black harness in the mêlée, and since he
met his death there, she saw Brastias alive no more.

Despite the grim uproar of the overthrow, despite the taunts of a
patriot pride, there was an under-current of gladness through her
thought as she watched Gorlois's men giving ground upon the ridge.
Her lord's shame was her gratification. To such a pitch of passion
was she tuned that she could find laughter for the occasion, and a
shrill cry of joy that startled even her own ears when the banner
of Tintagel quivered and went down into the dust. Men were falling
like leaves in autumn, and the southern wing of Uther's host seemed
but a rabble--trampled, overridden, herded, and smitten over the
ridge. Everywhere the swords and spears of Gilomannius's knights and
gallowglasses spread rout and panic, while the wavering mass gave
ground, rallied, gave again, and streamed away in flight over the
hillside. She could see no sign of Gorlois, and with a whimper of
hate the strong doubt of his escaping the slaughter took hold on her
heart, and found ready welcome there. She was rid of Brastias--good
fellow that he was--and though she honoured him, she loved liberty
better. Liberty enough! Gorlois her lord had been slain. Such were her
reflections for the moment.

Pendragon's host seemed threatened with overthrow. The southern wing
had been driven off the field by a charge of horse; Gilomannius held
the southern portion of the ridge, and pressed hard on Meliograunt,
both flank and face. The imminent need of Britain was plain enough even
to Igraine, yet a sense of calm and liberty had come upon her like the
song of birds or the gush of green in springtide. Even her patriotism
seemed dim and unreal for the moment before the treasonable gratitude
that watched the overthrow of Gorlois's arms. She was alone at last,
solitary among thousands, able after the bitterness of past months to
pluck peace from the very carnage of battle. Trouble had so wrought
upon her mind that it seemed a negation of all probable and natural
sentiment, a contradiction of the ethical principles of sense.

The day was fast passing, and the grand fires of a winter sunset were
rolling all the caverns of the west into a blaze of gold and scarlet.
The pine forest, black and inscrutable as night, stood with its spines
like ebony to the fringe of the west, while the slanting light lit
the glimmering masses of steel on hill and valley with a web of gold.
To the north the mountains towered in a mystery of purple, a gleam of
amber transient on their peaks.

Sudden and shrill came a cry of trumpets from the hills, a sinister
sound that seemed to issue in the climax of the last phase of a
tragedy. Igraine's eyes were turned northwards to the green slopes
of the higher ground where the great banner of the Golden Dragon had
flapped over Uther the King. Here a great company of knights, the
flower of the host, had stood inactive throughout the day. With a
cry of trumpets this splendid company had moved down to charge the
masses of Gilomannius's men, who now filled the shallow valley east
of the ridge, and threatened King Meliograunt and the whole host with
overthrow. Uther had ridden out to lead the charge with his own sword.
It was one of those perilous hours when some great deed was needed to
grapple victory from defeat.

The rest of the scene seemed blotted out as Igraine watched from her
hillock the glittering mass rolling downhill with the evening sun
striking flame from its thousand points of steel. On over the green
slopes, past the pavilions of the camp, it gathered like a wave lifting
its crest against a rock, on towards the swarm of men squandered in
pursuit of Gorlois's broken line, on to where Gilomannius formed his
knights for the charge. The green space dwindled and dwindled with
the rush and roar of the nearing gallop. Igraine saw the rabble of
Saxons, light-armed kerns and Irish gallowglasses, split and crack
like a crumbling wall. For a short breath the black mass held, with
Uther's storm of mail cleaving cracks and wedges in it--streaks of
tawny colour like lava through the vineyards and gardens of a village.
Then as by magic the whole mass seemed to deliquesce, to melt, to
become as mist. All visible was a thunderstorm of horsemen tearing like
wind through a film of rain with scattering fringes of cloud scudding
swiftly to the west. The knights had passed the valley and were riding
up the slope, hewing, trampling, crushing, as they came. Gilomannius's
columns that had pushed Gorlois's men into rout had become a rabble in
turn--wrecked, scattered to the wind, trodden down in blood and dust.
They were streaming away in flight over the ridge, scampering for
scrub and thicket, no lust in them save the lust of life. Igraine saw
them racing past on every quarter, a blood-specked, dust-covered herd,
their hairy faces panting for the west and the ships on the beach. Not
a hundred paces away came the line of trampling hoofs and swinging
swords, a demoniac whirlwind of iron wrath that hunted, slew, and gave
no quarter.

Beyond the summit of the ridge, and all about the hillock where Igraine
stood, the glittering horde of knights came to a halt with a great
shout of triumph. Right beneath Igraine and the straight face of the
hillock a man in red armour on a black horse, with a golden dragon
on his helmet, stood out some paces before the ranks of the splendid
company. A great cry rolled up, a forest of swords shook in the sun.
The knight on the black horse stood in his stirrups, and with sword and
helmet upstretched in either hand lifted his face to the red triumph
fire of the west. Igraine knew him--Pelleas, Uther, the King.



IV


The sun had rolled back between the pylons of the west. Night was
in the sky, night in her winter austerity--keen, clear, aglitter
with stars as though her robe were spangled with cosmic frost. The
mountains' rugged heads were dark to the heavens, and the sea lay a
faintly glimmering plain open to the beck of the moon.

The Irish host had broken and fled at sunset before Uther's charge and
the streaming spears of Eldol and King Nentres. The green meadows, the
wild scrubland, had been chequered over with the black swarm of the
flying soldiery; the whole valley had surged with swords and the sound
of the slaughter. By the grey walls of the town it had beleaguered,
the driven host had turned and rallied in despair to stave off to
the last the implacable doom that poured down from the hills. It was
the vain effort of a desperate cause. Broken and scattered like dust
along a highway, there had been no hope left them but their ships.
The battle had ended in the very foam of the breaking waves. Crag and
cliff, rock-citadel and yellow sand, had had their meed of blood and
the shrill sound of the sword. The great ships had saved but a remnant,
and had put out to sea in the dusk, their white sails like huge ghosts
treading the swell of the twilight waters. Yet with night there had
come no ceasing of the carnage. Despair had turned to front victory;
Irish gallowglass and heathen churl, forsaken by their ships and hemmed
in by sea and sword, had fought on to the end, finding and knowing no
mercy. Gilomannius the King and Pascentius were dead, and the blood of
invasion poured out like water.

Now it was night, and in the clear passionless light of the moon a
figure in a cloak of sables moved towards the mound where Gorlois of
Cornwall had flown his banner early in the day's battle. Everywhere
the dead lay piled like sheaves in a cornfield, their harness glinting
with a ghastly lustre to the moon--piled in all attitudes and postures,
staring blankly with white faces to the sky, or prone with their lips
in blood, contorted, twisted, clutching at throat and weapon, mouths
agape or clenched into a grin, man piled on man, barbarian upon Briton.
Dark quags chequered the grass with the sickly odour of shed blood, and
sword and spear, shield and helmet, flickered impotently among the dead.

Igraine went among the bodies like a black monk seeking some still
quick enough to be shriven before their souls took flight from the
riven clay. Her cloak was gathered jealously about her as she threaded
her way among the huddled figures, peering under helmets, scanning
harness narrowly in her death-inspired quest. Casting hither and
thither in the moonlight, she came to a tangled bank of furze, and
beyond it a low hillock that seemed piled and paved with the bodies
of the slain. Here had stood the banner of Tintagel, and here the
prowess of Gorlois's household knights had fallen before the charge
of Gilomannius's chivalry. Igraine saw the medley of mail, the dead
horses, jumbled figures, wreck of shield and spear rising out above
her in the moonlight, cloaked with a silence grim and irrefutable,
as though Death himself sat sentinel on the pyramid of carnage. Half
shuddering at the sight like an aspen, for all the intent that was in
her heart, she drew near, determined and resolved to search the mound.
Compelled to climb over the dead and to set her foot on the breasts
and shoulders of the slain, her tread lighted more than once on a body
that squirmed like a dying snake. Strong to do the uttermost after that
day of revelation she struggled on, loathing the task, her shoes clammy
with the blood-sweat of death. On the summit of the mound she came upon
Gorlois's white horse lying dead by the wreathing folds of the fallen
banner of his house.

A whimper of joy came up into Igraine's heart. Sinister as the sign
seemed, she was soon searching the mound with an alert desire in her
eyes that prophesied no vestige of pity for the thing for which she
sought. Hunt as she would, and she was marvellously patient over the
gruesome business, no glint of Gorlois's golden harness flattered her
hate as she searched the mound. Many a good knight lay there, some that
she had known at Tintagel, and hated because they served her husband,
but of Gorlois she found no trace. As a last hope, she dragged aside
the great standard and found a dead man there sheeted in its folds, a
man in black armour with his face to the sky--Brastias, who had ridden
with her from Caerleon.

She stood a moment looking down at him with a sudden feeling of awe
such as had not come upon her through all that day. A white face lay
turned to the sky,--a face that had looked kindly into hers with a
level trust,--and smiled with a wealth of manly sympathy. It was a
simple thing enough, nothing but one death among many thousands, but it
touched Igraine to the core, and made her ashamed of the lies she had
given him. She found herself wondering like a child whether Brastias
was in heaven, and whether he watched her and her thoughts with his
calm grey eyes. The notion disquieted her. She bent down, took his
naked sword from his hand, and shrouded him again in the gorgeous
blazonry of the flag for which he had died, and so left him with a sigh.

As she climbed back again from the mound, a gashed and clotted face
heaved up and stared at her from a heap of slain. It was the face of
a man who had struggled up on his hands to look at her with mouth
agape, dazed after a sudden waking from the stupor of a swoon. For a
moment in the moonlight she thought it was Gorlois by certain likeness
of feature, but discovered her error when the man spoke to her in
gibberish she did not understand. He began to crawl towards her with a
certain air of menace that made her start back and rear up the sword
she had taken from dead Brastias. The threat of steel proved needless
enough, for the man dropped again with a wet groan, and seemed dead
when she went and bent over him with thoughts of succour.

Passing back again to her hillock, she stood there brooding and looking
out towards the west. A great bell in the town by the sea was pulsing
heavily as though for the dead, and there were many cressets flaring
on the walls, and torches going to and fro in the meadows. The sound
of a triumph hymn chanted by hundreds of deep voices floated up like a
prayer from the western meadows.

At the sound Igraine's eyes were strangely full of tears. By some
strange echoing of the mind the idyls of past days woke like the song
of birds after a storm of rain. Clear in the dusk she seemed to see
the red figure on the black horse, his face lit like a god's by the
slanting light from the west as he stretched his sword to heaven. Again
the scene changed, and she saw him riding through the flowering meads
of Andredswold, looking down on her with a grave and luminous pity. She
was glad of him, glad of his great glory, glad that he had kissed her
lips, and bewrayed the love to her that was in his heart. The scene and
the occasion were strange enough for such broodings, yet her eyes were
very dim as she stood in a half-dream and let the picture drift across
her mind.

The revelation had come upon her with such suddenness that she had been
for the moment like one dazed. She had watched Uther sweep on with his
horde of knights, and had stood mute and impotent as one smitten dumb
while the red harness and the golden dragon of Britain vanished again
into the moil of war. Now her whole soul yearned out with a wistfulness
born of infinite regret. If he had only come to her alone; if he had
only come to her as Pelleas in some gloom of green, she could have
fallen down before his horse's feet, kissed the scabbard of his sword,
wept over his helmet, and burnished it with her hair. Sight of that
dark sad face had made a beacon of her on the instant.

And Gorlois! If she had hated him yesterday, she hated him with
a tenfold vigour since she had looked again upon Pelleas's face.
Certainly her malice had grown with an Antæan strength with each
humbling of her heart to the dust, and the very thought of Gorlois
seemed blasphemy against her soul at such an hour.

With the memory of Gorlois a cloud dulled the clear mirror of her mind,
and her mood of dreams melted into mist. The strong sense of bondage,
of ineffectual treason, came back with a fuller force as though to
menace her with the fateful realism of her lot. A hand seemed to sweep
down and wave her back with a meaning so sinister that even her hate
stood still a moment as in sudden fear; she had some such feeling as
of standing on the brink of a mysterious sea whose waves sang to her a
song of peril, of misery and desire cooped up together in the dim green
twilight of some coral dungeon. The lure of the unknown beat upon her
eyes, while love and hate, like attendant spirits, beckoned her over
the yawn of an open grave.

For the moment the importunity of her immediate need drew her from
meditations alike bitter and divine. A battlefield after dark, with all
its lust and pillage, was no pleasant place for a woman. The lights of
the town still showed up brightly in the west, but Igraine had little
desire of the teeming streets where victory would be matching blood
with wine, and where the revels of the soldiery would celebrate the day
in primal fashion. She was content to be alone under the stars, and
even the dead seemed more sympathetic than the living at such an hour.

A wind had risen, and she heard the hoarse "salvé" of the forest in
the night. The thousand voices of the trees seemed to call to her
with a weird perpetual clamour. She saw their spectral hands jerking
and clutching against the sky, and heard the creak and gibber of the
criss-cross boughs swaying in the wind. Leaving the hillock, and still
bearing Brastias's sword, she held across the open, seeing as she went
the dark streaks that dotted the hillside--the bodies of men fallen in
the flight. She gained the trees, and was soon deep among the crowded
trunks, pondering on her lodging for the night.

Wandering hither and thither, looking for some more sheltered spot,
her glance lighted on a dim swelling of the ground that proved to be
an ancient mound or barrow. It had been opened in times past, probably
in the search for buried treasure or for weapons. Brambles, weeds, and
heather had roofed the shallow cutting into a little recess or cave
that gave fair shelter from the wind, and Igraine, braving the notion
of barrow ghost or spirit, claimed the place as a God-send, and took
cover therein.

The last crumbs in her wallet finished, she sat with her face between
her palms, brooding, big-eyed, in the night, like any Druidess
wreathing spells in her forest solitude. The wind was crying through
the trees, swaying them restlessly against the starry sky, making
plaintive moan through all the myriad aisles. Igraine listened like
one huddled among her thoughts to keep out the cold. Miserable as was
her lodging, her mind seemed packed with the day's battle; the whirl
and thunder of it were still moving in her brain, a wild scene towered
over by a man bare-headed on a black horse, holding his helmet to the
setting sun. Often and often she heard the roar of hoofs and saw the
rush of the charge that had trampled the banner of Tintagel and hurled
Gorlois and his men in rout from the ridge. Had it been death or life
with the man? Was he with the King hearing holy mass and lifting up the
wine cup to heaven under a flare of lights, or lying stiff and pinched
under the mild eyes of night? It was this thought, holding hope and
doubt in common yoke, that abode with her all the night in her refuge
under the trees.

It was bleak enough, with a silvering of frost over the land, when
darkness had rolled back over the western sea, uncovering the wreck of
death that lay huddled on ridge and slope. Igraine was stirring early
from the barrow. With the cold and her own thoughts she had slept but
an hour, and at the first filtering of light through the branches she
was glad and ready for the day. She wandered through the forest towards
the open land that showed glimmering through the tree-boles, with no
certain purpose moving in her mind. The future as yet was a blank to
her, lacking possibilities, jealous of its secrets, saturnine as death
itself. There shone one light above her that seemed to burn through the
unknown; it had long led her from distant hills, yet even her red lamp
of love beckoned her over a sepulchre.

Coming to the forest margin, she came full upon the incontestable
handiwork of war. Under the sweep of a great pine lay the body of a
knight in black harness, all blazoned with gold, while his grey horse
was still standing with infinite patience by his side, nosing him
gently from time to time. The man's helmet, a visored casque, somewhat
gladiatorial in type, had fallen off, and a young beardless face was
turned placidly up to the blue, a white oval pillowed upon a tuft of
heather. There was no blood or sign of violence visible save a blue
bruise on his left temple; it seemed more than probable that he had
been pitched from the saddle and found death in the fall.

Igraine stood and looked at him in some pity while the horse snuffed at
her, staring with great wistful eyes as though for help or sympathy.
The man was young, with a certain nobility of early manhood on his
face, and it seemed to her very pitiful that he should be cut off thus
in life's spring. As she looked at him she noted that he was slim of
figure, and not much above middle height. A sudden fancy took her on
the instant. She tethered the horse, and kneeling down by the man
her fingers were soon busy at the buckles and joints of his armour.
Ungirding his sword, she drew it from the scabbard and set it upright
at his head, sheathing Brastias's in its place. Having stripped off
his armour and long surcoat she covered him reverently with her cloak,
slung the horse's bridle round her wrist, and gathering up his arms and
helmet went back to the barrow where she had passed the night.

The wood had received a woman in the dress of a woman; it gave in
exchange a knight on a grey horse--a knight in black armour blazoned
with gold under a surcoat of violet cloth. The brazen helmet, visored
and hooded with mail over nape of neck and throat, gleamed and flashed
under the green boughs. There were three lilies, snow-white, and a
cloven heart upon the shield, and the horse trappings were bossed and
enamelled gold and blue.

Igraine rode out from the trees with the pomp of a Launcelot. The grey
horse's mane tossed in the wind, the furze rippled on the hillside, the
cloud-ships sailed the blue with white sails spread. The girl was aglow
with new life under her guise of steel. The essence of manhood seemed
to have created itself within her as from the soul of the dead knight,
and she suffered the glory of arms with a pride that was almost boyish.

Holding out from the trees at a solemn pace, she headed westward down
the valley along the grass slopes that slid between scrub and thicket
to the sea. On the road below her a company of spears trailed eastward
uphill in a snakelike column that glittered through the green. Pushing
on boldly across ground where the battle had raged hotly the night
before, she reached the road as the head of the column swung up at a
dull tramp on their march home for Caerleon. Gruffing her voice in
her throat she hailed the knight who headed the troop for news of the
battle of yesterday, posing as one late on the scene, and sore at
having struck no blow for Britain.

The knight drew aside, and letting his men tramp by, he gave tersely
the tale of the fight as he had seen it from King Nentres's lines.

"St. Jude be blessed," said Igraine at the end thereof. "I am glad,
friend, of these tidings. As for the field, it looks to have been as
bloody a one as ever I set eyes on."

"Bloody enough," quoth the man, giving his moustache a twirl; "too
bloody for Gilomannius and dead Vortigern's whelp."

"What of Uther?"

"Scarce a scratch."

"King Meliograunt?"

"Wounded, but drunk as the devil."

"And Gorlois of Cornwall?"

The man laughed as at a jest.

"Bedded in an abbey," said he, "with a split face; mere flesh, mere
flesh, nothing deeper."

Igraine thanked him with her helm adroop, and turning her horse, rode
back towards the forest heavy of heart.



V


The King's house at Caerleon stood out above the Usk on a little hill
whose slopes were set with shrubberies and gardens, the white pillars
and broad façade glimmering above the filmy cloud of green that covered
the place as with a garment. A great stairway ran to the river from
the southern terrace that blazed in summer with flower-filled urns and
stacks of roses that overspread the balustrade with crimson flame. It
was a place of dawns and sunsets; of lights rising amber in the east
over purple hills and amethystine waters; of quiet glows at evening
in the west, with cypresses and yews carven in ebony against primrose
skies; while in the burgeoning of the year birds made the thickets deep
with melody; and all beyond, Caerleon's solemn towers, roofs, casements
bowered in green, rested within the battlemented walls that touched
the domes and leaf-spires of the woods.

It was noontide in Caerleon, and down the great stairway, with its
rows of cypresses, its banks of yew and myrtle, a fair company was
passing to the river, where many barges clustered round the water-gate
like gilded beetles sunning their flanks in the shallows. Knights and
churchmen in groups moved down from the palace talking together as they
went. There had been a council of state in the King's hall, a great
assembling of the noble folk and prelatry, to consider the need of
Britain, the cry of the martyred and the homeless from Kentlands and
the east. Anderida, that great city of the southern shores, had fallen
in a tempest of fire and sword; no single soul had escaped from its
smoking walls; the barbarian had entered in and made great silence over
the whole city. Now it was told that more galleys had come bearing the
fair-haired churls from the sand-dunes and pinewoods, the rude hamlets
of that Angle land over the sea. Vectis had been overrun, Porchester
burnt to the ground, even the noble city of Winchester threatened
despite its walls. Beast and robber had sole rule in Andredswold;
much of nether-Britain was a wilderness, a wistful land given over to
solitude and the wild creatures of the forest. Churches were crumbling;
gillyflowers grew on the high altars, and ivy wrapped the tombs;
sanctuary bells were silent, homes empty and still as death. Desolation
threatened the south, while the valleys of Armorica oversea gave refuge
to many who fled before the Saxon sword.

In the great hall of the palace Uther still sat in his chair of ivory
under a gilded roof that mingled huge beams with banners, spears, and
rust-rotted harness. The walls were frescoed with Homeric scenes--Helen
meeting Paris in the house of Menelaus, Achilles slaying Hector,
Ulysses and Calypso. Twelve painted pillars held the crossbeams of the
hall, and from the fire on the great hearth a fragrant scent of burning
cedar wood drifted upon the air. A long table covered with parchment,
tablets, quills and inkhorns, and an array of empty benches testified
to the number of noble folk who had assembled at the royal conclave.
A single councillor remained before the King--Dubricius, Bishop of
Caerleon, a tall spare man, whose white hair and sensitive ascetic face
bore testimony to an inward delicacy of soul.

Uther was clad in a tunic of scarlet, with a dragon in gold thread
blazoned upon his breast. No crown, coronet, or fillet was on his brow;
on his finger he wore the signet of Ambrosius, and his sword was girded
to him with a girdle of embroidered leather. His look was much the same
as when he rode as Pelleas in Andredswold and was nursed of his wound
by Igraine in the island manor. Possibly there were more lines upon his
face, a deeper dignity of sadness in his eyes. Circumstance had put
upon him the cherishing of an imperilled kingdom, and with the charge
his natural stateliness of soul had risen into a heroism of benignant
chivalry. No more kingly man could have taken a land under the strong
sweep of his sword. With the grand simplicity of a great heart he had
grappled the task as a thing given of God, bending ever in prayer like
a child before the inscrutable wisdom of heaven.

There had been grave business on his mind that day, and his face was
dark with a cloud of care as he talked with Dubricius on certain
matters that lay near his heart. Uther, like the men of old time, was
superstitious and ever prone to regard all phenomena as possessing
certain testamentary authority from the Deity. In mediæval fashion he
referred all human riddles to religious instinct for their solving, and
searched in holy writ for guidance with a faith that was typical of his
character. Wholly a Christian in a superstitious sense, he gained from
the very fervour of his belief a strength that seemed to justify his
very bigotry.

It was a certain experience, that to his mystic-loving instinct omened
history still dark in the womb of the future, and kept him closeted
with Dubricius that day after knight and churchman had filed out from
the conclave. In the twilight of the hall, with its painted frescoes
and glimmering shields, Dubricius listened to the King as he spoke of
portents and visions of the night. Uther, with his elbow resting on the
arm of his chair and his chin upon his palm, stared at the cedar wood
burning pungently upon the hearth and catechised Dubricius on visionary
belief. The old man looked keenly at the King under his arched white
brows. He was as much a mystic in his creed as this son of Constantine,
a believer in miracles and in manifestations in the heavens. Certainly
unusual powers had been given to the early Church, and it was not for
the atomic mind of man to deny their presence in any later age.

"My lord dreamed a dream," said Dubricius tentatively when he had heard
the tale to the end.

Uther quashed the suggestion with the calm confidence of a man sure of
his reason.

"Never a dream, Dubricius."

The old man's eyes were very bright, and his face seemed full of a
luminous sanctity.

"A vision, then, my lord?"

"I am no woman, Dubricius; I must believe the thing a vision, or damn
my senses."

"My lord, it is no mere woman's part to see visions; search holy writ
where the chosen of God--the great ones--were miraculously blessed with
portent and with dream."

Uther looked into the old man's face as though for succour.

"I am troubled to know what God would have me know," he said.
"Dubricius, you are aged in the service of the Church!"

"My lord, I have no privilege from heaven in the rendering of dreams."

"Am I then a Pharaoh disappointed of mine own soothsayers?"

"Sire, what of Merlin?"

"Merlin--"

"The man has the gift of prophecy and can speak with tongues. Send for
him, my lord; he is a child of the Church, though a mage."

Uther warmed himself before the fire of cedar wood, his face motionless
in contemplative calm. Presently he turned, and looked deep into
Dubricius's vigil-hollowed eyes as though to read the thoughts therein.

"Merlin, the black-haired man who told Vortigern of the future!"

"He spoke the truth, my lord."

"Sad truth for Vortigern."

"Yet who should fear the truth?"

"Dubricius, to hear of death!"

"Death, my lord?"

"Remember Vortigern."

"My lord, he was a planet lurid with murder, and so damned to darkness.
Need the sun fear light?"

Uther smiled sadly in the old man's face.

"You are too faithful a courtier, Dubricius."

"My lord, you are the pillar of a distraught land; God be merciful and
spare you to us."

"I have done my duty."

"Amen, sire, to that."

Uther went and stood by the great window of the room with his arms
folded upon his breast. His hollow eyes looked out over the city, and
there was a gaunt grandeur of thought upon his face. He was not a man
who galloped down destiny like a huntsman on the trail of a stag;
deliberation entered into his motives, and he never foundered reason
with over-use of the spur. Dubricius stood and watched him with the
smile of a father, for he loved the man.

Presently Uther turned back towards the fire. Dubricius saw by his face
that he had come by decision, and that his mind was steadfast.

"Merlin is at Sarum, my lord."

"I shall not play Saul at Endor."

"No, sire."

"The man shall come to me with no jugglery in dark corners."

"Wise forethought, my lord king."

"I remember me, Dubricius, that you have little leisure to hear of
dreams. I have given you the names of the holy houses to be rebuilt and
consecrated in the name of God. We will save Britain by the help of the
cross. God speed you."

Alone in the half light of the hall Uther stood and stared into the
fire, his eyes luminous in the glow, while the pungent scent of the
burning wood swept up like a savour of eastern spices. There was
intense feeling on his face, a kind of passionate calm, as he gazed
into the red bosom of the fire. Presently, as though turning in thought
from some enchantment of the past, he sighed wearily, put his black
hair from his forehead with both hands, and looked at his image in a
mirror of steel that hung from a painted pillar. There was a wistful
look upon his strong face; he had a soul that remembered, a soul not
numbed by time into mere painless recollection of the past. As in some
mysterious temple, love, with solemn sound of flute and dulcimer, kept
fire unquenched night and day upon the altar of his heart.

Rising up out of his mood of gloom, an earthly Hyperion whose face
shone anew over Britain, he passed out, and calling to the guards
lounging on the terrace, descended the stairway that sloped through
gardens to the river. His state barge was in waiting at the gate, and
entering in he was borne downstream towards the town whose white walls
rose up amid the emerald mist of spring. Over all Uther cast his eye
with a lustre look of love, a love that shone like the smile of a child
at a mother's face. Caerleon was dear to him beyond all other cities;
its white walls held his heart with the whispered conjure word of
"home."

Landing at the great quay, where many ships and galleys lay moored,
he passed up towards the market square with the files of his guard,
smiling back on the reverences of the people, throwing here and there
a coin, happy in the honour that echoed to him from every face. Before
the walls of a pilastered house his guards halted with a fanfare of
trumpets, a sound that rolled the gates wide and brought a mob of
servants to line the outer court. Knights came down from the house with
heads uncovered. It was the King's first entry into Gorlois's atrium
since the disbanding of the host after the war in Wales.

A face scarred with red across cheek and chin, with nose askew, one
lower lid turned down, came out to Uther from the doorway of an inner
room. There was a drawn look upon the man's face, a sullen saturnine
air about him as though he were vexed inwardly with the chafe of some
perpetual pain. The pinched frown, the restless bloodshot eyes, the
hunched shoulders, were all strange to Uther, who looked for Gorlois,
the man of arrogant and imperial pride, whose splendour of person,
carriage of head, and long lithe stride had marked him a stag royal
from the herd of meaner men.

Uther, grave as a god, gripped the other's thin sinewy fingers, his
eyes searching Gorlois's face with a large-minded scrutiny inspired
by the natural sympathies of his heart. Gorlois, for his part, half
crooked the knee, and drew a carved chair before the ill-tended fire.
He had an Asmodean pride, and the look in Uther's eyes was more
troublesome to him than a glare of hate. His face never lightened from
the murk of reserve that covered it like a mask, and it was the King
who spoke the first word over the flickering fire.

"What of your wounds?" he said.

Gorlois's black beard was down on his breast, and he looked only at the
fire. He seemed like a man furtive beneath the consciousness of some
inward shame, mocking his honour.

"My wounds are well, sire."

"You look like a man newly risen from a sick bed."

"If I look sick, sire, blame my physician; he has tinctured me to the
level of perdition. Bodily I never felt in better fettle. I could hew
down a horse, and thrust my spear through a pine trunk. A man's face is
a fallacy."

Uther saw the scars, the harsh smile, and caught the twinge in the
seemingly careless voice. He could comprehend some humiliation in the
marring of personal comeliness, but not the humiliation that seemed
to lurk deep beneath Gorlois's pride. There was more here than the
scarring of a cheek.

"There is some care upon you, Gorlois," he said.

"Sire, you have much observation."

"Your men have spoken of the change to you."

"They are too discreet, God save their skins."

"Pride, pride."

"Sire, you are right; my pride suffers the inquisitiveness of kings,
not subjects. Eagle calls to eagle; men are mere magpies. Chatter
maddens me."

"I grip your hand in spirit."

Both men were silent for a while, the fire crackling sluggishly at
their feet. Gorlois's eyes were on the window and the scrap of green
woodland in the distance; Uther's eyes were on Gorlois's face. The
latter, with the sore sensitiveness of a diseased spirit, felt the look
and chafed at it. His petulance was plain enough to Uther as he sat and
watched him, and pondered the man's trouble in his heart.

"Gorlois."

"Sire."

"I am no gabbler."

"True, my lord."

"You are trouble ridden."

Gorlois's eyes flashed up to Uther's, faltered, and fell.

"What of that, sire?" he said curtly.

"You have a deadly pride."

"I own it."

Uther leant forward in his chair, and looked earnestly into the other's
face.

"I too am a proud man in my trouble," he said, "buckling up
unutterable things from the baseness of the world, jealous of my inward
miseries. Yet when I see a strong man and a friend chained with the
iron of a silent woe, I cannot keep my sympathy in leash, so tell him
to unburden to a man whose pride feels for the pride of others."

The words seemed to stir Gorlois from his lethargy of reserve and
silence. Uther's very largeness of soul, his stately faith and
courtesy, were qualities that won largely upon the mind, lifting it
above factious things to the serene level of his own soul. Gorlois,
impulsive spirit, could not rebuff such a man as Uther. There was a
certain calm disinterestedness in the King's nature that made trust
imperative and condemned secretiveness as churlish. Gorlois was an
obstinate man in the extreme rendering of the epithet. He had spoken to
no one of his trouble, leaving his thoughts to be inferred. Yet staunch
sympathy like Gige's ring has power over most hidden things of the
heart, and Gorlois was very human.

"It is a woman, sire."

"Mine was a woman, too."

Gorlois scattered the half-dead embers with his foot.

"I married a wife," he said.

"I had never heard it."

"Few have."

"The woman's name?"

"Never ask it, sire; it will soon lie with her in the dust."

"These are grim words."

"Grim enough for the man of my own house,--my own familiar friend."

"Mother of Christ,--your friend!"

"My brother in arms, sire."

"The shedding of such blood seems like justice. Had I suffered thus--"

"Sire, you warm to my temper."

"It should be the sword."

"Mine yet waits white for blood."

Gorlois, implacable, grim as a werewolf, threw open the door of a
closet and led Uther within the narrow compass of its walls. It was a
little oratory, dim and fantastic, with lamps hanging from the roof,
and black curtains over the narrow casement. Two waxen candles burnt
with steady, windless flames upon the altar, and beneath their light
glimmered a great sword, naked, and a cup half filled with purple wine.
Gorlois took up the sword and touched it with his lips.

"For the man," he said.

Then he set the sword down beneath its candle and touched the goblet
with his fingers; his black eyes glittered.

"For the woman, sire."

"And the candles?"

"I burn them till I have crushed the life out of two souls; then I can
pinch the wicks between my fingers, and snuff them out in smoke."



VI


It was spring at Caerleon, and a web of green had swept upon the
empty purple of the woods and shut the naked casements to the sun.
The meadowlands were plains of emerald that glimmered gold; the gorge
blazed with its myriad lamps lighting the dark gateways of the pine
forests, and covering all the hillsides as with a garment of yellow. In
the woods the birds sang, and hyacinths and dog violets spread pools
of blue beneath the infinite greenness of the boughs. In Caerleon's
orchards the fruit trees stood like mounts of snow flecked with
ethereal pink and a prophecy of green. Yew, cypress, cedar, reared
their dark bosoms betwixt the gentler foliage, and many a bronze-leafed
oak made mimic autumn with a mist of leaves.

In a forest glade that opened upon the high-road some three leagues
eastward of Caerleon, an old man sat beside a shallow spring, whose
waters lay a pool of tarnished silver within the low stone wall that
compassed them. The old man by the pool was clad in a ragged cloak of
coarse brown cloth lined with rabbit skin; he had sandals on his feet,
a staff and wallet by his side, and under the shadow of his hood of
fur a peaky white beard hung down like an icicle under the eaves of a
house. His hands were thin and white, and he seemed decrepit as he sat
hunched by the well with a crust of brown bread in his lap and a little
bronze pannikin that served him as a cup.

It was late in the day, and the great oaks that reached out their arms
over the well stood solemn and still in the evening calm, while the
cloud masses bastioned overhead were radiant with the lustre of the
hour. The road curled away right and left into the twilight of the
woods; no folk passed to and from Caerleon to throw alms to the beggar
who squatted there like any old goblin man out of a tomb. From time to
time he would turn and look long into the pool as into a mirror, as
though he watched the future glimmering dimly in a magic well. He had
finished his crust of bread, and his head nodded over his lap as though
sleep tempted him after a day's journey. Rabbits were scampering and
feeding along the edge of the forest; a snake slid by in the grass like
a streak of silver; far down the glade a herd of fallow deer browsed as
though caring nothing for the huddled scrap of humanity by the well.
The beggar man might have been dead, for all the heed he gave to the
forest life that teemed so near.

Yet it was soon evidenced that his faculties were keenly alive to all
that passed about him by a marvellous perception of sound, a perception
that made itself plain before the sun had drifted much further down the
west. The old man had heard something that had not stirred the fallow
deer browsing in the glade. A thin metallic sound shimmered on the air,
the clattering cadence of hoofs far away upon the high-road. The beggar
by the pool had lifted his head, and was listening with his hooded face
turned towards the west, his thin fingers picking unconsciously at his
beard.

Presently the deer browsing in the glade reared up their heads to
listen, snuffed the air, and swept back at a trot into the forest.
Jays chattered away over the trees; rabbits stopped feeding and sat up
with their long ears red in the sunlight. The indifferent suggestion
of a sound had grown into a ringing tramp that came through the trees
like a blunt challenge to the solitary spirit of the place. Through
the indefinite and mazy screens of green a glitter of harness and a
streaking of colour glimmered from the wizard amber glow of the west.
Three horsemen were coming under the trees,--one in lurid arms before,
and two abreast behind in black. The beggar by the pool pulled his cowl
down over his face, and stood by the roadside with his bronze pannikin
held in a shaky right hand to pray for alms.

The knights drew rein by the pool, and he in the red harness flung down
money from his belt, and required tidings in return:

"The Lord Jesus have mercy on your soul in death," came the whine of
gratitude; "what would your lordship learn from an old man?"

Uther considered him from the shadow of his casque. He had his
suspicions, and was half wise in his conjectures. He could see nothing
of the old man's face, and so elected to be innocent for the moment.

"Grandfather, have you heard in your days of Merlin the prophet?"

"Have I heard of the devil, lording!"

"Were he to ride here, should you know his face?"

"Sir, I have seen no man these three hours. Yet, in truth, I did but
now smell a savour as of hell; and there was a raven here, a black
villain of a bird that croaked 'Abracadabra to the letter.'"

Uther smiled.

"Are you from Caerleon?" he said.

"No, sire, it is Uther the King who comes from the City of Legions."

"Uther, say you? Put back that hood."

"My lord, lo! I bow myself; I have kept the tryst."

The cowl fell back, the cloak was unwrapped, the beard twitched
from the smooth, strong chin. The bent figure, feeble and meagre,
straightened and dilated to a stature and bulk beyond mere common
mould. A man with hair black as a raven's wing, and great glistening
eyes, stood with his moon-face turned up to Uther Pendragon. A smile
played upon his lips. He was clad in a cloak of sombre purple, wreathed
about with strange devices, and a leopard's skin covered his shoulders;
his black hair was bound with a fillet of gold, and there were gold
bracelets upon his wrists. It was Merlin who stood before Uther under
the arch of the great trees.

"The benisons of all natural powers be upon you; the God of the stars
and the spirit fires of the heavens keep you. Great is your heart, O
King, and great your charity. Bid me but serve you, and the beggar's
pence shall win you a blessing."

The man bowed himself even to the ground. Uther left his horse tethered
to a tree, and faced Merlin over the pool. Both men were solemn as
night in their looks.

"Merlin," said the King.

"Sire."

"I have a riddle from the stars."

"Speak it, O King."

"To your ear alone."

"Sire, pass with me into the forest."

"Blessed be thy head if thou canst read the testament of the heavens."

It was towards sunset, and the place was solemn and still as some vast
church. In the white roadway the black knights stood motionless, with
spear on thigh, their sable plumes sweeping like cloudlets under the
dark vault of the foliage. Merlin, with the look of an eternity in his
eyes, bowed down once more before Uther, and pointed with his hand into
the dim cloister of the trees. Red and purple passed together from the
pool, and melted slowly into an oblivion of leaves.

In a little glade under a great oak, whose roots gripped the ground
like talons, Uther told to Merlin the vision that had come to him in
the watches of the night. He had stood late at his window, looking
over Caerleon shimmering white under the moon, and had seen a star of
transcendent glory smite sudden through the blue vault of the heavens.
A great ray had fallen from the star, and from the ray had risen a
vapour, a golden mist that had shaped itself into a dragon of gold, and
from the dragon's mouth had proceeded two smaller rays that had seemed
to compass Britain between two streams of fire. Then, like smoke, both
star and dragon had melted out of the heavens, and only the moon had
looked down on Usk and the sleeping woods about Caerleon.

When Uther had spoken his whole soul in this mystery of the night,
Merlin withdrew himself a little and looked long into the sky, his
tall figure and strong face clear as chiselled stone in a slant gleam
of the sun. For fully the third part of an hour he stood thus like a
pillar of basalt, neither moving nor uttering a sound, while the sky
fainted over the tree tops and flashed red fire from the armour of the
King. Suddenly, as though he had caught inspiration from the heavens,
prophecy came upon him like a wind at sunset. He stretched his hands to
the sky. His body quivered; his eyes were as rubies in a mask of marble.

"I have seen, O King! I have looked into the palpitating web of the
stars, into the glittering aisles of the infinite."

Uther strode out from the tree trunk where he had leant watching the
man's cataleptic pose grow into the quick furor of prophecy.

"Say on," he said.

Merlin swept a hand towards him with a magnificence of gesture.

"Thou art the star, the dragon is thy son. He shall compass Britain
with a band of steel, beat back the wolves of heathendom, and cast
stupendous glory over Britain's realm. His name shall shine in history,
sun-bright, magnificent, and pure; his name shall be Arthur. Thus, O
King! Uther of the Dragon, read I this vision of the night."

Uther, a gradual lustre in his eyes, looked long at the sun behind
the swart pillars of the forest. He seemed to gather vigour from the
glow. Prophecy was in his thought, a prophecy that tempted the inmost
dreamings of the heart, and linked up the past with promise of the
future. To love, to be loved, to win the woman among women! To beget
a son, a warrior, a king; to harden his body like to an oak, temper
his heart like steel; to set the cross in his hands and send him forth
against the beast and the barbarian like a god! Such, indeed, were the
idyls of a King!

"Merlin, I have no wife, and you speak to me of a son," was his sole
answer.

The retort echoed from the man.

"The King must wed."

"This is no mere choosing of a horse."

"Sire, you can learn to love. It is not so difficult a thing, no more
than falling down upon a bed of roses."

The retort was in no wise suited to Uther's humour.

"I am no boy to be married on the moment to cap the reading of a
vision."

"Sire!"

"Bring me the woman I may love, if you are magical enough,--then bid me
wed."

"My lord, you mock me with a dream."

"Not so."

"She is dead then?"

"On my soul I know not."

"Then, sire--"

"All women are dead to me save one. Conjure her into my being, and I
will give you the wiser half of myself, even my heart."

For an instant Merlin smiled--a smile like an afterglow in a winter
sky,--clear, cold, and steely. He drew nearer Uther, his purple robe
with its fantastic scroll-work dim in the twilight, his black hair
falling down about his face. His words were like silken things purring
from his lips.

"My lord, tell me more."

"You are a prophet. Read my past."

"Sire, my vision fails at such a depth."

"But not thy flattery."

"Her name, sire?"

"I will read you a fable."

Uther, his eyes lit as with a lustre of recollection, turned from
Merlin and the ken of his impenetrable face. He leant against a tree
trunk, and looked far away into the dwindling vistas of the woods. His
voice won emphasis from the absolute silence of the place, and he spoke
with the level deliberation of one reading aloud from some antique book.

"A woman befriended a knight who was smitten of a dread wound. It was
summer, and a sweet season full of the scent of flowers,--odours of
grass knee deep in dreamy meadows. The woman had red-gold hair, and
eyes like a summer night; her mouth was more wistful than an opening
rose; her voice was like a flute over moonlit waters. And the knight
lost his soul to the woman. But the woman was a nun, and so, to save
his vows, he battled down his love and left her."

Merlin's eyes took a sudden glitter.

"A nun, sire?"

"A nun."

"With hair of red gold and eyes of amethyst. Her convent, sire?"

"Avangel. Burnt by the heathen on the southern shores."

"And the nun's name?"

"Igraine, Igraine."

Merlin gave a shrill, short cry; badges of colour had stolen into his
cheeks, and he looked like a Bacchanal for the moment.

"Sire, sire, the woman is no nun."

Uther still leant against the tree, and looked into the distance
with his hand shadowing his eyes. It might have seemed that he had
not heard the words spoken by Merlin, or at least had not understood
their meaning, so unmoved was his look, so motionless his figure.
Unutterable thoughts were moving in his mind. There was a grandeur of
self-suppression on his face as he turned and fronted Merlin with the
quiet of a great strength.

"Man, what words are these?"

Merlin had recoiled suddenly within himself. He was silent again,
subtle as steel, and very debonair.

"My lord, I swear she is no nun."

"Give me fact, not assertion."

"The woman is but a novice. I had the whole tale from one who knew her
well at Radamanth's in Winchester, where she found a home. She had
grieved, sire, for Pelleas."

"Pelleas--Igraine! My heart is great in me, Merlin; where saw you her
last?"

"Wandering in a wood by Winchester."

"Alone?"

"Alone in heart."

"Where now?"

"My lord--I know not."

"O God!--to see her face again."

Merlin cast his leopard skin across his visage and stood like a statue,
even his immense grandeur of reserve threatened for the moment with
summary overthrow. In the taking of twenty breaths he had calmed
himself again to stand with bare head and frank face before the King--a
promise on his lips.

"My lord, give me a moon's season to stare into this mystery. On the
cross I swear it--I will bring you good news at Caerleon."

"On the cross!"

"On the cross of your sword."

"Merlin, if this thing should come to be, if life returns to one whose
hopes were dead, you of all men in Britain shall be next my heart.
Behold--on the cross--I swear it."

A certain season of youth seemed to have come down upon Uther, and
lighted up the solemn tenor of his mood. His face grew mellow with
the calm of a great content; he was reasonable as to the future, not
moved to any extravagant outburst of unrest; the constant overshadowing
of the cross seemed to give his faith a tranquil greenness--a
rain-refreshed calm that pervaded his being like moist quiet after a
wind.

"Merlin, what of the night?"

"Sire, I am well provided; I have a pavilion near a brook where a
damsel serves me."

"I go to Caerleon. You have conjured me back into the spring of life;
my heart is beholden to you. Take my hand--and remember."

"Sire, I am your servant."

When Uther had passed, a streak of scarlet, into the blue twilight of
the darkening wood; when the dull clatter of hoofs had dwindled into
an ecstasy of silence, Merlin, white as the faint moon above, found
again the pool under the trees by the high-road to Caerleon. Going
on his knees by the brink he looked into its waters, black, sheeny,
mysterious, webbed with a flickering west-light, sky mosaics dim and
ethereal between swart-imaged trees. Still as a mirror was the pool,
yet touched occasionally with light as from a rippling star-beam, or
a dropped string from the moon's silver sandals. Merlin bent over it,
his fateful face making a baleful image in the water. Long he looked,
as though seeking some prophetic picture in the pool. When night had
come he rose up with a transient smile, folded his cloak about him, and
passed like a wraith into the forest.



VII


While Gorlois was lowering over an imagined shame, and Uther given
to brooding on a vision, the Knight of the Cloven Heart wandered
through wild Wales and endured sundry adventures that were hardly in
concatenation with the distaff or the cradle.

In rough ages might was right, and every man's inclination law unto
himself. To strike hard was to win crude justice; to ride a horse,
to wear mail, to carry a sword, were characteristics that ensured
considerable reverence from men less fortunate, by maintaining at least
an outward arrogance of strength. Not only on these grounds alone
did the Knight of the Cloven Heart hold at a disadvantage those folk
of the wilderness who went--to speak metaphorically--naked. She made
brave show enough, had a strong arm and a strong body, and could match
any man in the mere matter of courage. The moral effect of her great
horse, her shield and harness, and the sword at her side, carried her
unchallenged through wood and valley where meaner wayfarers might have
come to grief, or suffered a tumbling. The forest folk assumed her a
knight under her helmet and her harness; a certain bold magnificence of
bearing in no wise contradicted the assumption.

It would be wearisome to record the passage of two months or more,
to construct an itinerary of her progress, to chronicle the events
of a period that was solitary as the wilds through which she passed.
She never slept a night under populous roof the whole time of these
wanderings. Luckily it was fair weather, and a mild season; forest
shade, such as it was, and the caves of the wilderness, a ruined villa,
the forsaken hut of a charcoal burner, an empty hermitage,--such in
turn gave her shelter from the placid light of the moon, or the black
stare of a starless sky. She never ventured even among peasant folk
unhelmeted. Her food was won from cottager or herdsman by such store of
money as she had about her, though many she came across were eager to
appease so formidable a person with milk, and pottage, and the little
delicacies of the rude home. Often her fine carriage and youthful voice
won wonders from the bosom of some peasant housewife. She had her
liberty, and was free to roam; the life contented her instincts for a
season, and at least she was saved the sight of Gorlois. Since war had
failed to loose her from the man, she would essay her best to keep him
at a distance.

If hate repelled, love drew with dreams. Yet had Igraine been asked
of peace at heart, she would have smiled and sighed together. There
are degrees of misery, and solitary suffering is preferable to that
publicity which is very torture in itself, a galling whip to the tender
flanks of pride. In being free of Gorlois she was happy; in thinking
of Uther and in contemplation of the shadows of the unknown she was of
all women most miserable. A mood of self-concentration was settling
slowly upon her like an inevitable season upon the face of the earth.
Day by day a dream prophetic of the future was pictured in the imagery
of thought till it grew familiar as an often looked on landscape that
awakes no wonder and no strange unrest. The ordinances of man had
thrust on her a damnable tyranny, and she was more than weary of the
restrictions of the world. The inevitable scorn of custom had long
taken hold upon her being, and she had been driven to that state when
the soul founds a republic within itself, and creates its ethics from
the promptings of the heart.

Uther was at Caerleon; she had heard the truth from many a peasant
tongue. Caerleon therefrom drew her with magic influence, as a lamp
draws a golden moth from the gloom, or the light in the night sky wings
on the wild-fowl with the prophecy of water. Caerleon became the bourn
of all her holier thoughts; strange city of magic, it held love and
hate for her, desire and obloquy; though its walls were as a luring net
scintillant with spirit gossamer, her very reason lulled her fears to
sleep, and turned her southwards towards Uskland and the sea.

It came to pass, on the very day that Uther spoke with Merlin in the
forest, that Igraine rode over a stretch of hills by a sheep-track, and
came down into a valley not many leagues from Caerleon. The place stood
thick with woodland, ranged tier on tier with the peaked bosses of huge
trees. That impenetrable mystery of solitude that abides where forests
grow was deeply hallowed in this silent dale. The infinite majesty of
nature had cast a spell there, and the vast oaks, like pyramids of
gloom, caverned a silence that was utter and divine.

Glimmering beneath the huge, stupendous boughs, through darkling aisles
and the colossal piers that held the innumerable roofing of the leaves,
Igraine passed down through umbrage and still ecstasies of green, by
colonnade and gallery,--interminable tunnels, where stray light struck
slantwise on her armour, that it seemed a moving lustre in the solemn
shade.

Deep in the woodland lay a valley, a pastureland girt round with trees,
and where the meadows, painted thick with flowers, seemed all enamelled
white and azure, green, purple, pink, and gold. A peace as from the
sun shone over it like saffron mist. A pool gleamed there, tranquil
and deep with shadows; all the trees that Britain knew seemed girdled
round it--oak, beech and holly, yew, thorn and cedar, the elfin pine,
the larch, whose delicate kirtle shames even broidery of silk. No sound
save the cuckoo's cry, and the uncertain twittering of birds, disturbed
the sanctuary of that forest solitude.

Igraine, halting on the brink of the meadowland, looked down over wood
and water. The quiet of the place, the clear glint of the pool, the
scent of the meadows, brought back the valley in Andredswold, and the
manor in the mere. She loved the place on the instant. Even a blue
plume of smoke rising straight to the sky, and the grey-brown backs of
a few sheep in the meadows, evidencing as they did the proximity of
man, failed to disenchant the solitary grandeur of the scene.

There is no stable perpetuation of peace in the world; care treads
upon the heels of Mammon, and lust lies down by the side of love. Even
in the quiet of the wilderness the hawk chases the lark's song out of
the heavens, and wind scatters the bloom from the budding tree. Thus
it was that Igraine, watching from under the woods, saw the sheep
scampering suddenly in the meadows as though disturbed by something as
yet invisible to her where she stood. Their bleating came up with a
tinge of pathos, to be followed by a sound more sinister, the cry of
one in whom pain and terror leapt into an ecstasy of anguish--a shrill,
bird-like scream that seemed to cleave the silence like the white blade
of a sword. Igraine's horse pricked its ears with a snort of wrath,
as though recognising the wounded cry of some innocent thing. The
girl's pulses stirred as she scanned the valley for explanation of this
discord, sudden as the sweep of a falcon from the blue. Nor was she
long at gaze. A flickering speck of colour appeared in the meadowlands,
the figure of a woman running through the grass like a hunted rabbit,
darting and doubling with a whimpering outcry. Near as a shadow a tall
streak of brown followed at full stride, terrible even in miniature.
Hunter and hunted passed before the eye like the figures of a dream,
yet with a fierce realism that whelmed self in an objective pity.

Never did Britomart herself, with splendid soul, find fitter cause in
faerie-land than did the Knight of the Cloven Heart in that woodland
dale. Igraine rode down from the trees, a burning figure of chivalry
that galloped through the green, and bore fast for the scudding forms,
that skirted round the pool. Like a stag pressed to despair, the hunted
one had taken to the water, and was already waist deep in ripples that
seemed to catch the panic of the moment. Plunging on past tree and
thicket, Igraine held on, while sheep scattered from her, to turn and
stare with the stupidest of white faces at the horse thundering over
the meadows. The pursuer had passed the water-weeds, and was to his
knees in the pool when the Knight of the Cloven Heart came down to the
bank and halted, like a mailed statue of succouring vengeance.

The white heat of the drama seemed cooled for the moment. Over the
flickering scales of the little mere the girl's white face, tumbled
hair, and blue smock showed, as she half-floated and half-paddled with
her hands. Nearer still, the leather-jerkined, fur-breeched figure of
the man bent like a baffled satyr baulked of evil. On the green slope
of the bank the mailed splendour of chivalry waited like Justice to
uphold the right.

The man in the mere wore the short Roman sword, or parazonium; any more
effective weapon that he had possessed had been thrown aside in the
heat of the chase and in the imagined security of his rough person. He
had the face of a wolf. In girth and stature he seemed a young Goliath,
a savage thing bred in savage times and savage places, and blessed with
the instincts of mere barbarism. Igraine's disrelish equalled her heat
as she looked at him, and slanted her great sword over her shoulder.

In another instant the scene revived, and ceased to be a mere picture.
The girl in the pool had found a footing, and her half-bare shoulders
showed above the water. The man, with his short sword held behind him,
was splashing through the shallows with a grin on his hairy face that
meant mischief. Igraine, every whit as hot as he, held her horse well
in hand, and put her shield before her. Matters went briskly for a
minute. The man made a rush; Igraine spurred up and sent him reeling
with the charging shoulder of her horse; the short sword pecked at
nothing, the long one struck home and drew blood. A second panther
leap, a blow turned by the shield, a counter cut that made good carving
of the fellow's skull. The shallows foamed and crackled crimson; hoofs
stirred up the mire; a plunge; a noise of crossed steel; a last sweep
of a sword, and then victory. Igraine's horse, neighing out the spirit
of the moment, trampled the fallen body as it had been the carcase of a
slaughtered dragon.

The girl in the pool waded back at the sight, her blue smock clinging
about her, and showing an opulent grace of shoulder, arm, and bosom--a
full figure swept by the damp tangle of her dark brown hair. She had
full red lips, eyes of bright blue, a round and ruddy face, that told
of a mind more for tangible pleasures than for spiritual aspiration.
She came up out of the shallows like a water-nymph, her frightened face
already all aglow with a smile of gratitude, mild shame, and infinite
reverence. Going down on her knees amid the water-weeds and flags, she
held up her playful hands as to a deliverer direct from heaven. "Grace,
Lord, for thy servant."

With the peril past, Igraine could not forego the sly scrap of mischief
that the occasion offered; her white teeth gleamed in a smile under her
helmet, as she wiped her sword on the horse's mane, before sheathing it.

"Give Heaven thy thanks," she said, with a quaint sententiousness of
gesture. "Be sure in thy heart that it was a mere providence of God
that I heard thy screaming. As for yon clod of clay, we will bury it
later, lest it should pollute so goodly a pool. For the rest, child, I
am an old man, and hungry, and would taste bread."

The girl jumped up instantly, with a shallow and half-puzzled smile.
The voice from the helmet was young, very young, and full of the
free tone of youth; yet both manner and matter were sage, practical,
leavened with a hoary-headedness of intention that seemed to baulk the
inferences suggested by such panoply of arms. With a bob of a curtsey,
she took the knight's bridle, and led the horse some fifty paces round
the pool, where, under the imminent shoulder of a cedar tree, a little
cabin nestled under a hood of ivy. It was built of rough timber from
the forest, and thatched with reeds; honeysuckle clustered over its
rude façade, and thrust fragrant tendrils into its reed-latticed
windows, where an early rose or so shone like a red star against the
russet-wood. A garden full of flowers lay before the rustic porch that
arched the threshold; and an outjutting of the pool brought a little
fiord of dusky silver up to the very green of the path, a streak of
silver blazoned with violet flags, golden marigolds of the marsh, and
a lace-like fringe of snowy water-weed in bloom. All around, the great
trees, those solemn senators, stood with their green shoulders bowed in
a strong dream of deep eternal thought.

Igraine left the saddle and suffered the girl to tether her horse to a
cedar bough. Her surcoat of violet and gold swept nearly to her ankles,
and saved from any marring the infinite art of the anomaly that veiled
her sex. Her man's garb seemed every whit as worthy of a woman, nor
did it hinder that loving grace that made her beauty of body the more
admirable and rare.

The girl came back with more bendings of the knee, and led Igraine amid
the flowers to the porch of the forest dwelling. Once within, she drew
a settle close to the doorway, spread a rug of skins thereon, and again
bowed herself in homage.

"Let my lord be seated, and I will serve him."

"I am hungry, child; but first put off that wet smock of thine."

The girl crept behind the door of a great cupboard, with a blush of
colour in her cheeks. Cloth rustled for a moment; a circle of blue and
a slim pair of legs showed beneath the cupboard door; soon she was back
again in a gown of apple green, fastening it with her fingers over the
full swell of her bosom.

"What will my lord eat?"

"What you have, child."

"Bread and dried fruit, the flesh of a kid, new milk and cheese, a
little cider."

"Give me milk, child, a mere flake of meat, some cheese and bread, and
I ask nothing more. I will pay you for all I take."

"Lord, how should you pay me, when I owe more than life to your sword?"

The little shepherdess went about her business with a barefooted tread,
soft as any cat's. The cottage proved a wonder of a place. The great
cupboard disgorged a silver-rimmed horn, wooden platter, a napkin white
as apple blossom, red fruit piled up in a brazen bowl. The girl set the
things in order on the table, with an occasional curious look stolen
at the figure in mail on the settle--splendid visitant in so humble a
place. And what a rich voice the knight had,--how mellow, with its many
modulations of tone. His hands too were wonderfully shapen, fingers
long and tapering, with nails pink as sea-shells. There surely must be
a face worth gazing at, for its very nobility, under that great brazen
helmet that glinted in the half light of the room.

The meal was spread, but the guest still unprepared. The forest child
dropped a curtsey, and a mild suggestion that the knight should make a
beginning.

"Will not my lord unhelm?"

A rich, mischief-loving laugh startled her for answer.

"Child, take the thing off if you will."

The little shepherdess obeyed, and nearly dropped the helmet in the
doing of it. A mass of gold fell rippling down over the violet surcoat;
a pair of deep eyes looked up with a sparkling laugh; a satin upper lip
and chin gave the lie to the nether part of the picture.

"Christ Jesu!" quoth the girl with the helmet, and again "Christ Jesu,"
as though she could get no further.

Igraine caught her smock and drew her nearer.

"Come, little sister, kiss me for--'thank you.'"

With a contradictory impulse the girl fell down on her knees and began
to cry, with her brown hair tumbled in Igraine's lap.

When persuasion and comforting had quieted her somewhat, she sat on the
floor at Igraine's feet, her round eyes big with an unstinted wonder.
Even Igraine's hunger and the devoir done upon the new milk could
hardly persuade the girl that this being in armour was no saint, but a
very real and warm-blooded woman. She even touched Igraine's fingers
with her lips, to satisfy herself as to the warmth and solidity of the
slim strong hand. She had never heard of such a marvel, a woman, and
a very beautiful woman, riding out as a man, and doing man's bravest
work with courage and cleverness. The girl made sure in her heart
that Igraine was some princess at least, who had been blessed with
miraculous power by reason of her maidenhood and the magic innocence of
her mind.

Igraine talked to the girl and soon began to win her to less devotional
attitude with that graciousness of manner that became her so well at
such a season. She forgot herself for the time, in listening to this
child of solitude. The girl's father--an old man--had died two winters
ago, and she had buried him with her own hands, under a tree in the
dale. Since his death, she had lived on in the cabin, alone, a forest
child nurtured in forest law. Every Sabbath, Renan, a shepherd lad in
a lord's service, would come over the hills and pass the day with her.
They were betrothed, and the lord of those parts had promised Renan
freedom next Christmastide; then Renan and Garlotte were to be married,
and the cabin in the dale was to serve them as a home.

Garlotte was soon chattering like any child. She talked to Igraine
of her sheep and goats, her little corn-field on a sunny slope, her
garden, her wild strawberry beds and vine, her fruit trees, and her
marigolds. The lad Renan, bronze-haired and brown-eyed, sprang in here
and there with irresistible romance. He could run like a hound, swim
like an otter, fish, shoot with the bow, and throw the javelin a great
many paces. He had such eyes, too, and such gentle hands. Igraine's
sympathies were quick and vivid on matters of the kind. The girl's head
was resting against her knees before an hour had gone.

The evening was still and sultry and the sky overcast. When Igraine
went to the porch after supper, rain had begun to fall, and there was
the moist murmur of a heavy, windless shower through all the valley.
The sheep had huddled under the trees. Infinite freshness, unutterable
peace, brooded over the green meadows and the breathless leaf-clouds
of the woods. For all the sweet, dewy silence a bitter discontent lay
heavy upon Igraine's heart, and woe made quiet moan in her inmost soul.
Green summer swooned in the branches and breathed in the odours of
honeysuckle, musk, and rose, yet for her there seemed no burgeoning, no
bursting of the heart into song.

The girl Garlotte stood by and looked with a quaint awe into the proud,
wistful face.

"What are you thinking of, lady?" she said.

Igraine's lips quivered.

"Of many things, child."

"Tell me of them."

"What should you know, child, of plagues and sorrow, of misery in high
places, of despair coroneted with gold, of hearts that ache, and eyes
that burn for the love of the world that never comes?"

"I am very ignorant, dear lady, but yet I think you are not happy."

"Is any woman happy on earth?"

"Yet you are so good and beautiful."

"Child, child, beauty brings more misery than joy; it is a bright fire
that burns upon itself."

"Renan has told me I am beautiful."

"So you are, and to Renan."

"I never think of it, lady, save when Renan looks into my eyes and
touches my mouth with his lips; then say in my heart, 'I am beautiful,
and Renan loves me, God be thanked!'"

The words echoed into Igraine's soul. There was such pain in her great
eyes that the girl was startled from the simple contemplation of her
own affairs of heart.

"You are sad, lady."

"Child, I am tired to death."

"Bide with me and rest. See, I will feed your horse and give him water;
he will do famously under the tree. There is my bed yonder in the
corner; I spread a clean sheet on it this very morning. Shall I help
you to unarm?"

"Thanks, child. How the rain hisses into the pool."

"I love the sound, and the soft rattle on the green leaves. All will be
fresh and aglister to-morrow, and the flowers will smile, and the trees
shake their heads and laugh. How clumsy my fingers are; I am so slow
over the buckles; ah! there is the last. I will put the sword and the
shield by the bed. Shall we say our prayers?"

"You pray, child; I have forgotten how to these many months."



VIII


There is a charm in simplicity of soul, and in sympathies green in
the first rich burgeoning of the mind, unshrivelled and untainted by
the miserable misanthropies of the world. The girl Garlotte was as
ignorant as you will, but she loved God, had the heart of a thrush
in spring-time, and was possessed naturally of a warm and delicate
appreciation of the feelings of others that would have put to utter
shame the majority of court ladies.

Women of a certain gilded class are prone to judge by superficialities.
Living often in an artificial air of courtesy, the very life about them
is a cultured, perfumed atmosphere unstirred by the deeper wind-throbs
of true passion, or the solemn sweep of the more grand emotions.
Hypocrisy, veneered with mannerisms, propped with etiquette, pegged up
with gold, passes for culture and the badge-royal of fine breeding.
Of such things the girl Garlotte was indeed flagrantly ignorant; she
had lived in solitudes, and had learnt to comprehend dumb things--the
cry of a sheep in pain, the mute look from the eyes of a sick lamb.
Her life had made her quick to see, quick to discover. She had all
the latent energy of a child, and her senses were the undebauched
handmaids of an honest heart. She knew nothing of the trivial prides,
the starched and petty arrogances, the small self-satisfactions, that
build up the customs of the so-called cultured folk. She thought her
thoughts, and they were generous ones, mark you, and spoke out on the
instant without fear, as one whose words were in very truth the audible
counterpart of the vibrations of her mind.

To Igraine at first there was some embarrassment in the ingenuous
methods of this child of the forest. It was in measure disturbing to be
confronted with a pair of blue eyes that looked at one like two pools
of truth, and a pair of lips that naively remarked: "You seem pale,
lady, and in pain; you slept little, and talked even when you slept. I
am rosy and cheerful, and I sleep from dusk till dawn. What is there
in your heart that is not in mine?" Still, with the abruptness once
essayed, there was a refreshing sincerity in Garlotte's openness of
heart. It was as the first plunge into a clear, cool pool--a gasp at
the first moment, then infinite warmth, intense kindling of all the
senses, with the clean ripples bubbling at the lips and the swinging
water buoying up the bosom. Garlotte recalled Lilith--Radamanth's
daughter--to Igraine, only that she had more penetration, more liberty
of thought and character. The one was as a warm wind that lulled, the
other a breeze blowing over open water--clean, invigorating, kind.

Igraine's mood of unrest found refuge in the valley, and in Garlotte's
cottage. She won some measure of inward calmness in the simple life,
the simple tasks, that kept the more sinister energies of the mind at
bay. It contented her for a season with its companionship, its air of
home, its green quiet and tranquil beauty. Garlotte's cheerfulness of
soul, like some penetrating essence, suffused itself upon Igraine,
despite the militant savour of things more turbulent. She fell into
temporary contentment almost against her will, even as sleep enforces
itself upon a brain extravagantly possessed by the delirium of fever.

For all the quiet of the place, circumstances were gathering and
moving down upon her with that ghostly and inevitable fatefulness that
constitutes true tragedy. No one could have seemed more hidden from the
eye of fate than she in the deep umbrage of the trees, yet often when
the heart imagines itself most secure from the factious meddling of the
world, the far, faint cry of destiny smites on the ear like some sudden
stirring of a wind at night.

It was late evening, on the fifth day of Igraine's sojourn in the
valley. The day had been dull, grey, and colourless, wrapped in a blue
haze of rain that had fallen heavily, drenching the woods and making
monotonous music on the water. Towards evening the sky had melted to a
serene azure; the air was a web of shimmering amber, the west streamed
through a mist of gold, and every leaf glittered with dew. A luminous
vapour hovered over the little mere, and there were rain pools in the
meadows that burnt with a hundred sunsets like clear brass.

Garlotte and Igraine had been bathing in the mere. They had come up
from the water to dry themselves upon a napkin of white cloth, the
bronze-gold and brown hair of each meeting like twin clouds, while
their linen lay like snow on the trailing branches of a tree near
the pool. Their limbs and shoulders gleamed against the silver-black
mirror spread by the mere; their voices made a mellow sound through the
valley as they talked. Igraine had fastened her violet surcoat about
her beneath her breasts; Garlotte's blue smock still hung from a branch
above her head.

As they sat under the tree, drying their hair and looking over the
pool to the forest realm beyond, Igraine told the girl much of the
outer world as she had seen it; nor was her instruction unleavened by a
certain measure of cynicism--a bitterness that surprised Garlotte not
a little. The girl had great dreams of the glories of old cities, the
splendour of court life, the zest of a mere material existence.

"You do not love the great world," she said.

"Once, child, I did. Everything outside a convent wall seemed good
to me; I thought men heroes, and the world a faerie place; who has
not! Thoughts change with time: that which I once hungered for, now I
despise."

"I have never been into a great city, not even into Caerleon. My father
loved the country and said it was God's pasture."

"I would rather have a dog for a friend than most men, child. Man is
always thinking of his stomach, his strength, or his passion; he is
vain, dull, and surly often; takes delight in slaying dumb things;
drinks beer, and sleeps like a log save for his snoring."

"But Renan doesn't."

"There are some _men_, child, among the swine."

"And the women?"

"I have known good women."

"In the convent?"

"I suppose there they were good, just as stones that lie in the grass
are good in that they do very little harm."

"But they served God!"

"Mere habit, just as you eat your dinner."

"A hard saying."

"Your sayings would be hard, child, if you had learnt what I have
learnt of the world."

Garlotte pulled her blue smock from the tree and wrapped it round her
shoulders.

"But you love God?" she said.

"What is God?"

"The Great Father who loves all things."

"Methinks then I am nothing."

"Nothing, Igraine?"

"You say God loves all men and women. Why, then, have I been cursed
with perversities ever since I was born, tormented with contradictions,
baffled, and mocked, till the eternal trivialities of life now make my
soul sick in my body?"

"Sorrow is heaven sent to chasten, just as rain freshens the leaves."

"Old, old proverb. Rain comes from clouds; clouds hide the sun; how can
sorrow be good, child, when it darkens the light of life, hides God
from the heart, and makes the soul bitter?"

"That seems the wrong spirit, Igraine."

"So meek folk say; we are not all mild earth to be smitten and make no
moan. There are sea-spirits that lash and foam, fire-spirits that leap
and burn. My spirit is of the flame; am I to be cursed, then, because I
was born with a soul of fire?"

"We cannot answer all this, Igraine."

"I hate to bow down blindly, to cast ashes on the head because a
superstition bids us so."

"I have faith!"

"I cannot see with my heart."

"I would you could, Igraine."

"Perhaps you are right."

Garlotte put on her shift and frock with a sigh, and straightway went
and kissed Igraine on the forehead. They sat close together under the
tree and watched the valley grow dim as death, and the pool black and
lustrous as a mirror turned to the twilight. Garlotte's warm heart
was yearning to Igraine; her arm was close about her, and presently
Igraine's head rested upon her shoulder. She began to tell the girl
many things in a still, stifled voice; her bitterness gushed out like
fermented wine, and for a season she was comforted--with no lasting
balm indeed, for there was but one soul in the world that could give
her that.

"Believe, Igraine, believe," said Garlotte very softly.

"Believe--child!"

"That there is good for every one in the world if we wait and watch in
patience."

"I seem to have watched years go by, and life stretches out from me as
a sea at night."

"Look not there, Igraine, but into your own heart and into the gold of
faith."

"I have no heart to look to, child."

"Save into a man's. And it was a good heart."

"Good as a god's."

"Then look into it still."

"You speak like a mother."

They had talked on into the dusk of night, forgetful of time, hearing
only the dripping from the leaves, seeing nothing but the short stretch
of water and herbage at their feet. Yet an hour ago a figure in a
palmer's cloak and cowl had come out from the western forest and stood
leaning upon its staff, to stare out broodingly over the valley. The
laurel green of the man's cloak harmonised so magically with the green
of grass and tree that it was difficult to isolate his figure from the
framing of wood and meadow.

The pilgrim had stood long in the shadows and watched the two white
forms come up out of the waters of the pool. He had seen them sit
and dry their hair under the tree as the dusk crept down. While they
talked he had passed down towards the cottage, accompliced by the
trees, slipping from trunk to trunk, to enter the cottage itself while
the girls' faces were turned from it towards the pool. From one of
the narrow casements his cowled face had looked out; he had marked
Igraine's red gold shimmering hair; he had seen her face for a moment,
also the shield hanging in the room with its cloven heart and white
lilies, the sword and helmet, the harness of workmanship so subtle.
When he had seen all this he had stolen out again into the gloaming,
a thin gliding streak of green under the gnarled thorns and the
night-bosomed cedars. The forest had taken him to its depths again and
the unutterable silence of its shades. The girls by the pool had heard
no sound, nor dreamt of the thing that had been so near, watching like
a veritable ghost through the mist of the mere's twilight.

Caerleon slept under the moon, a dream city in a land of dreams. Its
walls were like ivory in a dark gloom of green. The tower of the palace
of the king caught a coronet from the stars, while in the window of an
upper room a thin flame flickered like a yellow rose blown athwart the
black foliage of the night. Within blood-red curtains breathed over the
arched door; a little altar stood against the eastern wall, guarded
above by angels haloed with gold, standing in a mist of lilies with
wings of crimson and green. The silence of the hour seemed embalmed in
silver--so pure, so still, so hallowed was it.

Uther knelt before the little altar in prayer; the light from the
single lamp slanted down upon him, but left his face in the shadow.
It was past midnight, yet the man's head was still bowed down in
his devotion. He was in an ecstasy of spiritual ascent to heaven, a
mood that made the world a Patmos, and his own soul a revelation to
itself. At such a time his imagination could mount with a mystery of
poetic rapture. Angels drumming on golden bells or bearing diamond
chalices of purple wine seemed to gaze deep-eyed on him from a paradise
of snow and amethyst. Above all shone the Eternal Face, that clear
sun of Christendom shining with wounded love through the crimson
transgressions of mankind.

Deliberate footfalls and the rustle of a drawn curtain intervened
between solitude and devotion. The curtain fell again; footfalls echoed
away to die down into a well of silence; a tall man wrapped in a cloak
stood motionless in the oratory. Uther, still upon his knees, turned to
the window and the moonlight, with big prayerful eyes that questioned
the intruding figure.

"Merlin," he said, with a breath of prophecy.

"Even so, sire."

"I was praying but now for such a thing."

"Sire, pray no longer. I have kept my tryst."

Uther rose up straightway from before the altar and stood before the
square of the casement. The moonlight made a halo of his hair, and lit
his face with a whiteness that seemed almost supernatural. Strong as he
was, his hands shook like aspen leaves; his lips were parted, and his
eyes wide with the shadow of the night. Merlin stood in the dark angle
of the room; his voice seemed to come as from a tomb; the single lamp
flame shook and quivered in a fickle draught.

"Sire, the moon is not yet full."

"And Igraine?"

"Sire."

"Where?"

"Suffer me, sire, a moment."

"Speak quickly. God knows, I have prayed like a Samson."

Merlin cast his mantle from him, and stood out in the moonlight wrapped
in the mystic symbolism of his robe. Sapphire and emerald, ruby and
sardonyx, flashed with a ghostly gleam in the pale light, and caught
the moonbeams in their folds. Merlin's thin hands quivered like a spray
of May blossom waving in the night wind, and his eyes were like the
eyes of a leopard.

"Sire, thou wert Pelleas once."

"I should remember it."

"Thou art Pelleas again."

"Again?"

"In thy red harness with thy painted shield, thy black horse; take them
all."

"The past rushes back like dawn."

"Near Caerleon lies a valley."

"There are twenty valleys."

"Go north, sire, in thought. Pass the Cross on Beacon Hill, hold on for
the Abbey of the Blessed Mary, take to the hills, go by a ruined tower,
ford Usk, where there is a hermitage. Pass through a waste, cross more
hills, go down into a valley that runs north and south."

"I follow."

"Go alone, sire."

"Alone."

"The valley is piled steep with forestland. Go down and fear not. In
the valley's lap lie meadowlands, a pool, a cottage. In that cottage
you shall find a knight; his armour is gilded gold, his horse a grey,
his shield shows a cloven heart set amid white lilies. Speak with that
knight."

"Yet more!"

"Speak with that knight, sire."

"In peace?"

"If you love your soul."

"And Igraine--Merlin, what of her?"

"That knight shall lead you to her. Sire, I have said."



IX


It was early and a clear dewy morning when Uther rode down alone from
the palace by a narrow track that curled through the shrubberies
clothing the palace hill. A generous sky piled its blue dome with
mountainous clouds that billowed up above the horizon. The laurels
in the shrubbery flickered their leaves like innumerable scales of
silver in the sun; amber sun rays slanted through the dense branches of
the yews, and flashed on the red harness that burnt down the winding
track. The wind sang, the green larches tossed their 'kerchiefs, in the
distance the sea glimmered to the white frescoes of the sky.

Uther--Pelleas once more--tossed his spear to the tall trees, and burst
into the brave swing of a _chant d'amour_. With caracole and flapping
mane his horse took his lord's humour. It was weather to live and love
in, weather for red lips and the clouding down of perfumed hair. God
and the Saints--what a grand thing to be strong, to have a clean heart
to show to a woman's eyes! What were all the baser fevers of life
balanced against the splendid madness of a great passion!

Down through Caerleon's streets he rode unknown of any on his tall
black horse. It was pleasant to be unthroned for once, and to put
a kingdom from off his shoulders. With what a swing the good beast
carried him, how the towers and turrets danced in the sun, how bright
were the eyes of the women who passed him by. All the world seemed
greener, the sky bluer, the city merrier; the laughter of the children
in the gutter echoed out of heaven; the old hag who sold golden lemons
under a beech tree seemed almost a madonna--a being from a better
world. Uther laughed in his heart, and blessed God and Merlin.

It is one of the rare reflections of philosophy dear to the
contemplative mind, how joy jostles pain in the world, and pleasure in
gold and scarlet elbows the grey-cloaked form of grief. Even innocent
merriment may throw a rose in the face of one who mourns, innocent
indeed of the desire to mock. The throstle sings in the tree while
the beggar lies under it dying. So Uther the King flashed hate in the
eyes of one who watched,--knowing him only that morning as Pelleas
the knight. In an old play the jealous man saw the devil ride by, and
promptly followed him on the chance of finding his lost wife, deeming,
indeed, the devil's guidance propitious for such a quest.

It was the shield that caught Gorlois's eye as he stood on a balcony
of his house and looked out over Caerleon. The device smote him sudden
as the lash of a whip. The red harness, the black horse, the painted
shield, mingled a picture that burnt into his brain with a vividness
that passed comprehension. He knew well enough to whom such arms should
belong; had he not carried them fraudulently to his own doubtful
profit? This knight must be that Pelleas whose past had worked such
mischief with his own machinations, that Pelleas who had won Igraine
the novice fresh from the shadow of her convent trees. Gorlois watched
the man go by with a kind of superhuman envy twisting in him like a
colic. The smart of it made him stiffen, go pale, gnaw his lip.

If this was the knight Pelleas, what then? Gorlois could not reason
for the moment; his brain seemed a mass of molten metal in a bowl
of iron. Convictions settled slowly, hardened and took form. Igraine
had loved the man Pelleas; Igraine was his wife; he had lost her and
Brastias also; poison and the sword waited to do their work. Supposing
then this Pelleas was in quest of Igraine; supposing they had come to
know each other again; supposing Brastias and Pelleas were one and the
same man. Hell and furies--what a thought was this! It goaded Gorlois
into action. He would ride after the man, hunt him, track him, in hope
of some fragment of the truth. Hazard and hate, blood and battle, these
were more welcome than chafing within walls as in a cage, or frying on
a bed as on a gridiron.

Gorlois's voice rang through gallery and hall like a battle-cry.

"Ho, there!--my sword and harness."

There was a grimness in the sound that made those who came to arm him
bustle for dear life. They knew his black, furious humour, the hand
that struck like a mace, the tyranny that took blood for trifles. The
stoutest of them were cowards before that marred and moody face. Be as
brisk as they would, they were too slow for Gorlois's temper, a temper
vicious as a wounded bear's.

"God and the Saints--was ever man served by such a pack of
stiff-fingered fools! The devil take your fumbling. Go and gird up
harlots, or hold cooking-pots. On with that helmet."

A fellow, very white about the mouth, clapped the casque on, and drew
a quick breath when the angry eyes withered him no longer. Armlets,
breastplates, greaves, cuishes, all were on. Gorlois seemed to emit
fire like metal at white heat. He went clanging down stairway and
through atrium to the courtyard, where a horseboy held a white charger.
Gorlois cuffed the lad aside, mounted with a spring, took his spear
from an esquire, and rode straight for the gate, his horse's hoofs
sparking fire from the courtyard stones. Half an hour or more had gone
since Pelleas had passed by on his black horse, and Gorlois spurred at
a gallop through Caerleon, bent on catching sight of the red knight
before he should have ridden into the covering masses of the woods.

Pelleas meanwhile rode on like a lad whose first quest led him into the
infinite romance of the unknown. Woods and waters called; bare night
and the blink of the stars summoned up that strangeness in life that
is like wine to the heart of the strong and the brave. He was young
again--young in the first glory of arms; the world shone glamoured as
of old as he turned from the high-road to a bridle-track that led up
through woods towards the north.

Holding on at a level pace he passed the woods and saw them rolling
back like a green cataract towards the sea. Bare hills saluted him;
the beacon height with its great wooden cross stood out against the
sky; mile on mile of wooded land billowed out before him, clouded with
a blue haze where the domes of the trees rose innumerably rank on
rank. The Abbey of the Holy Mary lay low in meadows on his left, its
fish pools shimmering in the sun, its orchards densely green about its
walls. Two leagues or more of wood and wild, a climb over hills, a long
descent, and Usk again shone out trailing distant in the hollows. A
crumbling tower stood up above the trees. Pelleas passed close to it,
giving antiquity due reverence as was his custom, looking up at its
ivied walls, its crown of gillyflowers, its windows wistful as a blind
man's eyes. Another mile and Usk ran at his feet. A hermitage stood
by the ford. Pelleas gave the good man a piece of silver and besought
his prayers before he rode down and splashed through the river to the
further bank. Heathland and scrub rolled to the east, merging into the
blue swell of a low line of hills. It was wild country enough, haunted
by snipe and crested plover, an open solitude that swept into a purple
streak against the northern sky.

It was noon before Pelleas had made an end of its shadeless glare
and taken to the hills that rose gently towards the east. His red
harness moving over the green was lost to Gorlois, who had missed the
trail long ago in the woods beyond St. Mary's. It was dusk when the
Cornishman came guided to the ford, and learnt from the hermit there
that the chase lay across Usk and eastward over the heath. Gorlois
gave the man no piece of silver, only a savage curse to gag his
alms-seeking. Night came and caught him in the open, and rather than
wander astray in the dark he spent the night under a whin bush, calming
his incontinent temper as best he might.

An hour past noon Pelleas stood on the last hill slope and looked down
upon the massed woodland at his feet. Here at last was Merlin's valley
choked up with trees--a green lake of foliage that rippled from ridge
to ridge. Pelleas, with the sun at his back, stood and looked down on
it with a kind of quiet awe. So Godfrey and his knights looked down
upon the holy city, so Dante saw Beatrice in his vision, and Cortez
gazed at the Pacific in the west. Pelleas had taken his helmet from
his head and hung it at his saddle-bow; there was a grand hunger on
his face, a passionate calm, as he abode on the hill top with his tall
spear a black streak against the sun.

Mystery waved him on to the great oaks whose tops rose like green
flames to the blue of the sky. Could Igraine be in this valley? Would
he set eyes on her that day, and see the bronze gloss of her hair go
shimmering through some woodland gallery? It was nigh upon a year since
he had seen her. It had been summer then, and it was summer now; his
heart was singing as it had sung on that mere island when Igraine had
looked into his eyes under the cedar tree. He had borne much, endured
much, since then; time had hallowed memory and shed a crimson lustre
over the past. Manwise, for the great love that was in him, he almost
feared to look on her again lest she should have changed in face or in
heart. Great God, what a thought was that! It had never smitten him
before. Stiffened by his own strong constancy, he had dowered Igraine
with equal loyalty of soul, nor had considered the lapse of time and
the crumbling power of hours. The thought brought a dew of sweat to his
forehead and made him cold even in the sun. No, honour to God, the girl
had a heart to be trusted, or he had never loved her as he did!

Shaking the bridle, he rode down into the murk of the trees. He had to
slant his spear and to bow his head often as the great boughs swooped
to the ground. The dim glamour of the place had a sinister effect upon
his mind; it solemnised him, touched the spiritual chords of his heart,
uncovered the somewhat gloomy groundwork of philosophy that lay deep
under the fabric of religious habit. Merlin had told a tale and nothing
more. God's blessings were not man's blessings, God's ways not man's
ways. Pelleas had learnt to look for what he might have called the
contradictions of divine charity. We are smitten when we pray for a
blessing, chided when desirous of comfort. Life would seem at times a
gigantic tyranny for the creation of patience. Pelleas remembered the
past, and kept his hopes and desires well in hand.

Betimes he judged himself not far from the bottom of the valley, for
through gaps in the foliage overhead he could see the woods on the
further slope towering up magnificently to touch the sky. Still further
the long galleries of the wood arched out upon grassland gemmed with
summer flowers. Showers of sunlight told of an open sky. He was soon
out of the shadows and standing under the wooelshawe, with the dale
Merlin had pictured stretching north and south before his eyes.

The scene smiled up at him from its bath of sunlight--the green meadows
flecked white, blue, and gold, the diverse foliage of the trees, the
little pool smooth as crystal, the solemn barriers of the surrounding
woods. He looked first of all for the cottage built of timber, and
could not see it for its overshadowing trees. None the less, by the
pool a girl in a blue smock stood looking up towards him, her face
showing oval white from her loosened hair. Pelleas held his breath for
the moment, then saw well enough that it was not Igraine. Meanwhile the
figure in blue had disappeared as though in fear of him; he could no
longer see the girl from where he watched on the edge of the wood.

Riding out, he sallied down through the long grass with its haze of
flowers, his eyes turned with a steadfast eagerness to the pool in the
meadows. His impatience grew with every step, but he was outwardly cool
as any veteran. First the brown thatch of the cottage came into view,
then the blue smock of the girl who stood by the porch and watched.
Last of all Pelleas saw a gleam of armour through the gloom of a cedar
tree, heard the neigh of a horse, the jar of a swinging shield. The
sight made his heart beat more briskly than ever ghost or goblin could
have done. Pushing through the trees he came full upon a knight mounted
on a grey horse, who was advancing towards him bearing on his shield
the cognisance of a cloven heart.

The knight on the grey horse reined in and abode stone still in the
meadows, the sunlight flashing on his helmet and such points of his
harness uncovered by his surcoat. Pelleas as he rode down took stock
of the stranger with an eagerness that was half jealous maugre his
perspicuity of soul. What had this splendid gentleman to do with
Igraine the novice? Truth to tell, Pelleas would rather have had some
humbler person to serve as guide on such a quest.

The knight on the grey horse never budged a foot. Pelleas saw that he
carried no spear and that his sword was safe in his scabbard. This
looked like peace. Drawing up some three paces away, he scanned the
strange knight over from head to foot, voted him a passable man, and
admired his armour. And since his whole soul was set on a certain
subject, he made no delay over courteous generalities, but came at once
to the point at issue.

"Greeting, sir; I have ridden from Caerleon to speak with you."

The knight in the violet surcoat swayed in the saddle as though shaken
by a spear thrust on his painted shield. Pelleas noted that both his
hands were tangled up in the grey horse's mane, though nothing could be
seen of the face behind the fixed vizor of the helmet. A voice, husky,
toneless, feeble, answered him after a moment's silence.

"What would you with me, knight of the red shield?"

"There is a lady whose name is Igraine; I seek her. I have been
forewarned that a knight lodging in this valley has knowledge of her,
and you, messire, seem to be that knight."

"That is the truth," quoth the cracked, husky voice from the helmet.

Pelleas considered a moment and held his peace. There was something
strange about this knight, something tragical, something that touched
the heart. Pelleas's instinct for superb miseries took hold of him with
a queer, twisting grip that made him shudder. His dark eyes smouldered
as he watched the strange knight, and gave voice to the grim thought
that lay heavy on his mind.

"The lady is not dead?"

"No," said the husky voice with blunt brevity.

"And she is well fortuned?"

"Passably."

"Thank God," said Pelleas.

There was a dry sob in the brazen helmet, but Pelleas never heard the
sound. He was staring into the woods with large, luminous eyes, and a
half smile on his lips, as though his thoughts pleased him.

"Is the Lady Igraine far from hence?" he asked presently.

"If you will follow me, my lord, I can bring you to her in less than an
hour."

Pelleas flushed red to the forehead, his dark eyes beamed. He looked a
god of a man as he sat bareheaded on his black horse, his face aglow
like the face of a martyr. The Knight of the Cloven Heart looked at
him, flapped his bridle, and rode on.

Pelleas said never a word as they passed up the valley. There were deep
thoughts in his heart, yearnings, and ecstasies of prayer that held
him in a stupor of silence. His was a grandeur of mind that grew the
grander for the majesty of passion. There was no blurting of questions,
no gabbling of news, no chatter, no flurry. Like a mountain he was
towering, sable-browed, impenetrable, while the thunder of suspense
lasted. The knight on the grey horse watched him narrowly with a white
look under his helmet that was infinitely plaintive.

At the northern end of the valley, on the very edge of the forest,
stood a thicket of gnarled thorns still smothered with the snow of
early summer. The Knight of the Cloven Heart drew rein in the long
grass and pointed Pelleas to these white pavilions under the near
umbrage of the oaks.

"Look yonder," said the voice.

Pelleas answered with a stare.

"Would you see your lady?"

"Be careful how you jest, my friend."

"I jest not, Uther Pendragon. Get you down and tether your horse; go in
amid yon trees and look into the forest. I swear on the cross you shall
see what you desire."

Pelleas gave the knight a long look, said nothing, dismounted, threw
the bridle over a bough. Then he thrust his spear into the ground and
went bareheaded in among the trees. Standing under the shadow of a
great oak, he peered long into the glooms, saw nothing living but a
rabbit feeding in the grass.

Suddenly a voice called to him.

"Pelleas, Pelleas."

It was a wondrous cry, clear and plaintive, yet tremulous with feeling.
It rang through the woods like silver, bringing back the picture of a
solemn beech wood under moonlight, and a girl tied naked to the trunk
of a tree. A great lustre of awe swept over Pelleas's face; his eyes
were big and luminous as the eyes of a blind man; he groped with his
hands as he passed back under the May trees to the valley.

In the long grass stood a woman in armour, her helmet thrown aside, and
her red gold hair pouring marvellous in the sunlight over her violet
surcoat. Her head was thrown back so as to show the full sweep of her
shapely throat; her face was very pale under her parted hair, while
her lids drooped over eyes that seemed to swim with unshed tears. Her
hands, slightly outstretched, quivered as with a shuddering impulse
from her heart, and her half-parted lips looked as though they were
moulded to breathe forth a moan.

Pelleas stood and stared at her as a dead man might look at God. He
drew near step by step, his face white as Igraine's, his eyes as deep
with desire as hers. Neither of them said a word, but stood and looked
into each other's faces as into heaven--awed, solemnised, silenced.
Above them towered the green woods; the meadows rippled from them with
their broidery of flowers; the scent of the white May swept fragrant on
the air. Solitude was with them, and the mild smile of Nature glimmered
with the sunlight over the trees.

Igraine spoke first.

"Pelleas," was all she said.

The man gave a great sob, fell on his knees, and would have kissed her
surcoat. Igraine bent down to him with eyes that shone like two deep
wells of love. Both her hands were upon Pelleas's shoulders, his face
was turned to hers.

"Kneel not to me."

"Igraine."

"Pelleas."

"Let me touch you."

"There, there, you have my hand."

"My God, my God!"

Igraine gave a low cry, half knelt, half fell before him. Pelleas's
arms caught her, his face hung over hers, her hair fell down and
trailed a golden pool upon the grass. She put her hands up and touched
his hair, smiled wonderfully, and looked at him as though she were
dying.

"Kiss me, Pelleas."

Pelleas drew a deep breath; his body seemed to quake; his whole soul
was sucked up by the girl's lips.

"Igraine," was all he said.

Her face blazed, her hands clung about his neck.

"Again, again."

"My God, have I not prayed for this!"

His eyes were large and wonderful to look upon. There was such awe and
love in them that an angel might have looked thus upon the Christ and
have earned no reproach. Igraine kissed his lips, crept close into his
bosom, hid her face, and wept.



X


When Igraine had ended her tears, and grown calm and quiet, Pelleas
took her hand and led her to a grass bank painted thick with flowers
that sloped to the white boughs of a great May tree. He was radiant in
his manhood, and his eyes burnt for her with such a splendour of pride
and tenderness that she trembled in thought for the secret she had kept
from him in her heart. He could know nothing of Gorlois, or he would
not have come thus to her. The mocking face of fate leered at her like
a satyr out of the shadows, yet with the joy of the moment she put the
thoughts aside and lived on the man's lips and the great love that
brimmed for her in his eyes.

Pelleas sat in the long grass at her feet and looked up at her as at
a saint. Never had she seen such glory of happiness on human face,
never such manhood deified by the holier instincts of the heart. The
sheer strength of his devotion carried her above her cares and made her
content to live for the present, and to gird time with the girdle of an
hour.

"You are no nun, Igraine?"

She smiled at him and shook her head.

"No, no, Pelleas."

"Would to God you had told me that a year ago."

"Would to God I had."

"It would have saved much woe."

Igraine hung her head. The man's words were prophetic in their
honest ignorance, and the whole tale had almost rushed from her that
moment but for a certain selfishness that held her mute, a fear that
overpowered her. She knew the fibre of Pelleas's soul. To tell him the
truth would mean to call his honour to arms against his love, and she
dreaded that thought as she dreaded death.

"I was a fool, Pelleas," she said, with a queer intensity of tone that
made the man look quickly into her eyes.

"You did not know."

"Pardon, Pelleas, I knew your soul, how true and strong it was. God
knows I tried you to the end, and bitter truth it proved to me. If you
had only waited."

"Ah, Igraine."

"Only a night; you would have had the truth at dawn."

"I struggled for your soul and for mine, as I thought."

"Yes, yes, you chose the nobler part, thinking me a mere woman, a frail
thing blown about by my own passion. I loved you, Pelleas, for the
deed, though it nigh brought me to my death."

"God knows I honoured you, Igraine."

"Too well; it had been better for us both if you had been more human."

There was an anguish of regret in her voice, a plaintive accusation
that made Pelleas wince to the core. He bent down and kissed her hand
as it lay in her lap, then looked into her face with a mute appeal that
brought her to the verge of tears.

"Courage, courage, dear heart."

"God bless you, Igraine."

"I am very glad of your love."

"Come now, tell me how the year has passed."

Igraine held his hand in hers and began to twist her hair about his
wrist into a bracelet of gold. Her eyes faltered from his, and were hot
and heavy with an inward misery of thought. The man's words wounded her
at every turn, and in his innocence he shook her happiness as a wind
shakes a tree.

"There is little I can tell you," she said.

"Every hour is as gold to me."

"Would I had them lying in my lap."

"We are young yet, Igraine."

There was a joyousness in his voice that sounded to the girl like a
blow struck upon empty brass, or like the laugh of a child through a
ruined house. His rich optimism mocked her to the echo.

"I took refuge in Winchester," she began, "with Radamanth my uncle, and
lodged there many months. I watched for you and waited, but got no news
of a knight named Pelleas. Week by week as my knowledge grew I began to
think and think, to piece fragments together, to dream in my heart. I
longed to see this Uther of whom all Britain talked. Ah, you remember
the cross, Pelleas, which you left at my feet?"

Pelleas smiled. She put her hand into her bosom with a little blush of
pride and looked into the man's eyes.

"I have it here still," she said, "where it has hung these many months.
This scrap of gold first taught me to look for Uther."

"Ah, Igraine, am I a king!"

"My king, sire. And oh! how long it was before I could get news of
you; yet in time tidings came. Then it was that I left Winchester,
went on foot through the land, and hearing again of you I set out for
Wales and Caerleon with rumours of war in my ears. Even from Caerleon
I followed you, even to the western sea, where I saw the great battle
with Gilomannius, and the noble deeds you did there for Britain."

Pelleas's dark eyes flashed up to hers. A man loves to be noble in deed
before the face of the woman he serves, a species of divine vanity that
begets heroes. The girl's staunch faith was a thing that proffered the
superbest flattery.

"You are very wonderful, Igraine."

"It was all for my own heart; and what greater joy could I have than to
see you a king before the thundering swords of your knights."

"You saw that, Igraine?"

"Do you remember a hillock by the pine forest on the ridge, where you
reined in after the charge and uncovered your head to the sun?"

"As it were yesterday."

"I stood on that hillock, Pelleas, and saw your face after many months."

"Ah, Igraine, said I not you were very wonderful?"

"No, no, I am only a woman, only a woman."

"God give me such a wife."

The word was keen as the barb of a lance. Pelleas's head was bowed over
the girl's hand as he pressed his lips to the gold circlet of hair, and
he did not see the frown of pain upon her face. Wife! What a mockery,
what bitterness! The sky seemed black for a moment, the valley bare
with the blasts of winter and the moan of tortured trees. She half
choked in her throat, and her heart seemed to fail within her like a
bowl that is broken. Yet there was a smile on her face when Pelleas
looked up from the circlet of her hair with the pride of love in his
large eyes.

"What ails you, Igraine?"

"A mere thought of the past."

"Tell it me."

"No, no, it is a nothing, a mere vapour, and it has passed. How warm
your lips are to my fingers. Tell me of yourself, Pelleas."

"But this armour, Igraine?"

"I took it from a dead knight, God rest his soul. I have wandered long
in Wales, yet ever drew to Caerleon where folk spoke your name, yet
never might I come near you, lest--lest you were too great for me."

"Child, child!"

"Uther Pendragon, King of Britain!"

"Let the world die."

"And let us live; Pelleas, tell me of yourself."

The man looked long over the valley in silence. His face was very
grave, and his eyes were deep with thought as though the past awed him
with the recollection of its bitterness.

"May I never pass such another night," he said.

The words were curt and calm enough as though leaving infinite things
unsaid. Igraine sat silent by him and still plaited her hair about his
wrist.

"I went away in the dark, for I thought you were a nun, Igraine, and
I would not break your vows. I was nearly blind for an hour. Twice my
horse stumbled and fell with me in the woods, and once I was smitten
out of the saddle by a tree. Dawn came, and how I cursed the sun. I
seemed to see your face everywhere, and to hear your voice in every
sound. Days came and went, and I hated the sight of man; as for my
prayers, I could not say them, and I was dumb in my heart towards God.
I rode north into the wilds, and into the fenlands of the east. Strange
things befell me in many places. I fought often, beast and wild men and
robber ruffians out of the woods. Fighting pleased me; it eased the
wrath in my heart that seemed to rage up against the world, and against
all things that drew breath. I wandered in the night of the forests,
waded through swamps, took my food by the sword, and never blessed man
or woman. I felt bitter and evil to the core."

Igraine bent down and touched his forehead with her lips.

"Brave heart," she said.

"You shall hear how I came by my own soul again."

"Ah, tell me that."

"It was as though a still voice came to me out of heaven. I was riding
in the northern wilds not far from rough coastland and the sea, and
riding, came upon a little house of timber all bowered round with
trees. It was a peaceful spot, flowers grew around, and the sun was
shining, and I drew near, moved in my heart to beg food and rest, for
I was half starved and gaunt as a monk from an African desert. What
did I see there? A dead man tied to a tree and gored with many wounds;
a woman kneeling dead before his feet, thrust through with a sword; a
little child lying near with its head crushed by a stone or a club. The
sword was a Saxon sword, and I knew who had done the deed; but sight
of the dead folk by their empty home seemed to smite my pity like the
thought of the dead Christ. I had pitied but myself and you, Igraine,
and had wandered through the land like a brute beast mad with the
smart of my own wound. Here was woe enough, agony enough, to shame my
heart. Straightway I went down on my knees and prayed, and came through
penitence and fire to a knowledge of myself. 'Rise up,' said the voice
in me, 'rise up and play the man. There is much sorrow in Britain, much
shedding of innocent blood, much violence, and much brute wrath. Rise
up and strike for woman and for babe, let your sword shine against the
wolves from over the sea, let your shield hurl them from the ruined
hearths of Britain, the smoking churches, and the children of the
cross.' So I rose up strong again and comforted, and rode back into the
world to do my duty."

When Pelleas had made an end of speaking, Igraine's eyes were full of
tears. The simplicity of the man's words had awakened to the full all
the pathos of the past in her, and she was as proud of him as when she
saw him hurl Gilomannius and his host down the green slopes towards the
sea. Her lips quivered as she spoke to him--looking into his face with
her eyes dim and shadowy with tears.

"Forgive me all this."

"It has been good for me, Igraine, nor would I alter the days that are
gone."

"No, no."

"We have found love again."

"Ah, Pelleas!"

"What more need we ask?"

"What more?"

Her voice was half a wail. Again it was winter, and the wind blew as
though at midnight; the flowers and the green woods were blurred before
the girl's eyes. Gorlois's hard face and the grey walls of Tintagel
came betwixt her and the summer. And, though the mood lasted but for a
moment, it seemed like the long agony of days crushed into the compass
of a minute.

Evening stood calm-eyed in the east. A tranquil heat hung over wood
and valley, a warm silence that seemed to bind the world into a golden
swoon. Not a ripple stirred in the grass with its tapestries of
flowers; every leaf was hushed upon the bough; nothing moved save the
droning bee and the wings of the butterflies hovering colour-bright
over the meadows. The sky was a mighty sapphire, the woods carved
emeralds piled giantwise to the sun. There was no discord and no sound
of man, as though the curse of Adam was not yet.

Igraine had drawn Pelleas's great sword from its sheath. She held it
slantwise before her, and pressed her lips to the cold steel.

"Old friend," she said, "be ever true to me."

Pelleas laughed and touched her hair with his hand. A kind of
exaltation came upon them, and the zest of life crept through the
bodies like green sap in spring. Igraine had filled her brazen helmet
to the brim with flowers, and she scattered them and sang as they
roamed into the hoar shadows of the woods:--

    "Dear love of mine,
    Where art thou roaming?
    The west is red,
    My heart is calling."

Never had the vaults seemed greener, the half light more mysterious
under the massive trees. The far world was out of ken; they alone lived
and had their being; the toil of man was not even like the long sob of
a moonlit sea, or the sound of rivers running in the night.

The infinite strangeness of beauty shone over them like a wizard light
out of the west. Igraine's lips were very red, her face white in the
shadows, her eyes deep with mute desire. Hand held hand, body touched
body. Often she would lie out upon Pelleas's arm, her head upon his
shoulder, her hair clouding over his red harness. They were content
to be together, to forget the world save so much of it as came within
the ken of their eyes, and the close grip of their twined fingers.
They said little as they swayed together under the trees. Soul ebbed
into soul upon their lips, and a deep ecstasy possessed them like the
throbbing pathos of some song.

As the day deepened Pelleas and Igraine turned back into the valley,
hand in hand. The west burnt gold above the tree tops, the gnarled
trunks were pillars of agate bearing Byzant domes of breathless leaves.
By the white May trees the two horses stood tethered, black and grey
against the grass. Loosing them, and taking each a bridle, they passed
down through flowers to the cottage and the pool.

Garlotte met them there with her brown hair pouring over her shoulders,
and a clean white kerchief over her throat and bosom. She came to
them through a little thicket of fox-gloves that were budding early,
white and purple. Her blue eyes quivered for a moment over Pelleas's
face as she made him a deep curtsey, and bent to kiss Igraine's hand.
There was a vast measure of sympathy in Garlotte's heart, and yet for
all her well-wishing she was troubled for the two, fearing for them
instinctively with even her small knowledge of the world. She had
learnt enough from Igraine to comprehend in measure that element of
tragedy that had entered with Gorlois into her life. Her interest in
the man Pelleas was no mere vulgar curiosity, rather an intense pity
that permeated her warm innocence of spirit to the core.

She had spread supper on the table, a much meditated feast that had
kept her eagerly busy since she had guessed the name of the strange
knight who had ridden down out of the woods. She had the pride of a
young housewife in her creamy milk, her bread. She had made a tansy
cake, and there was a rich cream cheese ready in the cupboard, and a
fat rabbit stewing by the fire. Yet for all her ingenuous pride she
felt much troubled when it came to the test lest her fare should seem
rude and meagre to the great knight in the red harness. Certainly he
had a kind face and splendid eyes, but would he not smile at her humble
supper, her horn cups, and her plates of hollywood? Her cares were
empty enough, but they were very real to the sensitive child who feared
to seem shamed before Igraine.

Half the happiness of life lies in the kindly sensibility of others
to our desire for sympathy. A surly word, a trivial ungraciousness,
a small deed passed over in thankless silence, how much these things
mean to a sensitive heart! Garlotte, standing in her cottage door, half
shy and timid, found her small fears mere little goblins of her own
invention. Igraine, radiant as the evening, came and kissed her on the
lips.

"Little sister, you have been very good to me."

The great knight too was smiling at her in quite a fatherly fashion.
What a strong face he had, and what a noble look; she felt sure that he
was a good man, and her heart went out to him like an opening flower.
When he took her hand, and a lock of her hair and kissed it, she went
red as one of her own roses, and was dumb with an impulsive gladness.

"Little sister, you have been very good to me."

"Good, my lord, to you!"

"Child, Igraine can tell you how."

"But the Lady Igraine, she saved my life!"

"Ah, I had not heard that. Tell me."

Garlotte found her ease in a moment. The whole tale came bubbling up
like water out of a spring. Pelleas's strong face beamed; he touched
Igraine's hair with his fingers and looked into her eyes as only a
man in love can look. Garlotte saw that she was giving pleasure, and
felt a glow from head to heart. Surely this great, grave-faced knight
was a noble soul; how gentle he was, and how he looked into Igraine's
eyes and bent over her like a tall elm over a slim cypress tree. She
caught the happiness of the two, and from that moment her heart was
singing and she had no more fear for herself and her poor cottage. Even
the horn cups took a golden dignity, and her tansy cake and her cream
seemed fit for a prince.

The three were soon at supper together round the wooden table, with
honeysuckle and roses climbing close above their heads. Garlotte would
have stood and waited on Pelleas and Igraine, but they would have none
of it; so she was set smiling at the head of her little table, and
constrained to play the lady under her own roof. It was a dull meal so
far as mere words were concerned. Pelleas's eyes were on Igraine in
the twilight, and he had no hunger save hunger of heart; yet that the
supper was a success there was no doubt whatever. Garlotte watched them
both with a quiet delight; young as she was she was wise in the simple
love of love, and so she mothered the pair to her heart's content in
her own imagination. If only Renan had been there to help her serve,
and touch her hand under the table, what a perfect guest-hour it would
have been.

When the meal was over she jumped up with a shy smile, took a rush
basket from the wall, and went out into the garden. Igraine called her
back.

"Where are you going, child?"

"Up the valley to the dead oak tree where herbs grow. I must make a
stew to-morrow."

"It will soon be dark."

Garlotte swung her basket and laughed from her cloud of hair.

"You gathered herbs on Sunday, Igraine."

"You squirrel!"

"Renan was here; you came home after dusk; good-by, good-by."

They heard her go singing through the garden, a soft _chant d'amour_
that would have gone wondrously to flute and cithern. It died away
slowly amid the trees like an elf's song coming from woodlands in the
moonlight. Pelleas drew a deep breath and listened in the shadow of
the room with his hands clasped before him on the table. He looked as
though he were praying. Igraine's eyes were glooms of violet mystery as
she watched him, her hands folded over a breast that rose and fell as
with the restless motion of a troubled sea. She called the man softly
by name; her body bent to him like a bow, her hair bathed his face with
dim ripples of gold as mouth touched mouth.

They went out into the garden together and stood under the cedar tree.

"Pelleas, my love, my own."

"Heart of mine."

"You will never leave me?"

"How should the sea put the earth from his bosom, or the moon pass from
the arms of the night?"

"I am faint, Pelleas; hold me in your arms."

"They are strong, Igraine."

"There, let me rest so, for ever. Look, the stars are coming out, and
there is the moon flooding silver over the trees. My lips burn, and I
am faint."

"Courage, courage, dear heart."

"How close you hold me! I could die so."

"What is death to us, Igraine?"

"Or life?"

"God in heaven, and heaven on earth."

"Your words hurt me."



XI


How the birds sang that evening as a saffron afterglow fainted over the
forest spires, and when all was still with the hush of night how the
cry of a nightingale thrilled from a tree near the cottage!

The glamour of the day had passed, and now what mockery and bitterness
came with the cold, calculating face of the moon. Igraine tossed and
turned in her bed like one taken with a fever; her brain seemed afire,
her hair like so much flame about her forehead. As she lay staring
with wide, wakeful eyes, the birds' song mocked her to the echo, the
scent of honeysuckle and rose floated in like a sad savour of death,
and the moonlight seemed to watch her without a quaver of pity. Her
heart panted in the darkness; she was torn by the thousand torments
of a troubled conscience, wounded to tears, yet her eyes were dry and
waterless as a desert. Gorlois's face seemed to glare down at her out
of the idle gloom, and she could have cried out with the fear that lay
like an icy hand over her bosom.

Pelleas slept under the cedar tree, wrapped in an old cloak, relic of
Garlotte's father. How Igraine's heart wailed for the man, how she
longed for the touch of his hand! God of heaven, she could not let him
go again, and starve her soul with the old cursed life. His lips had
touched hers, his arms had held her close, she had felt the warmth of
his body and the beating of his heart. Was all this nothing--a dream,
a splendid phantasm to be rent away like a crimson cloud? Was she to
be Gorlois's wife and nothing more, a bitter flower growing under a
gallows, sour wine frothing in a gilded cup?

God of heaven, no! What had the world done for her that she should obey
its edicts and suffer for its tyrannies? Gorlois had cheated her of her
liberty, let him pay the price to the fates; what honour, indeed, had
she to preserve for him? If he was a brute piece of lust, a tyrant,
a demagogue, so much the better, it would ease her conscience. She
owed no fealty, no marriage vow, to Gorlois. Her body was no more his
than was her soul, and a dozen priests and a dozen masses might as
well marry granite to fire. How could a fool in a cape and frock by
gabbling a service bind an irresponsible woman to a man she hated more
than the foulest mud in the foulest alley? It was a stupendous piece
of nonsense, to say the least of it. No God calling himself a just God
could hold such a bargain holy.

And then--the truth! What a stumbling-block truth was on occasions!
She knew Pelleas's intense love of honour, the fine sensibility of his
conscience, the strong thirst for the highest good, that made him the
victim of an ethical tyranny. If he had left her after Andredswold
because he thought her a nun, what hope now had she of holding him if
he knew her to be a wife? And yet for all her love she could not bring
herself to keep him wholly from the truth. For all her passion and the
fire in her rebellious heart she was not a woman who could fling reason
to the winds, and stifle up her conscience with a kiss. Besides, she
loved Pelleas to the very zenith of her soul. To have a lie understood
upon her lips, to be shamed before the man's eyes, were things that
scourged her in fancy even more than the thought of losing him. She
trembled when she thought how he might look at her in later days if a
passive lie were proven against her with open shame.

But to tell him of Gorlois, and the humiliation of that darkest hour
of her life! Could such a man as Pelleas serve her longer after such a
confession? He would become a king again, a stranger, a man set in high
places far beyond the mere yearning of a woman's white face. And yet,
it was possible that his love might prove stronger than his reason; it
was possible that he might front the world and frown down the petty
judgments of men. Glorious and transcendent sacrifice! She could face
calumny beside him as a rock faces the froth of waves; she could look
Gorlois in the eyes, and know neither shame nor pity.

Her mood that night was like the passage of a blown leaf, tossed up to
heaven, whirled over the tree tops, driven down again into the mire.
Strong woman that she was, her very strength made the struggle more
indecisive and more racking. She could not renounce Pelleas for the
great love she bore him, and yet she could not will to play a false
part by reason of this same great love. Her soul, like a wanderer in
the wilds, halted and wavered between two tracks that led forward into
the unknown.

Garlotte was sleeping in the far corner of the cottage. The girl
had given up her bed to Igraine, who envied her her quiet, restful
breathing as she lay and listened. In her doubt she called and woke
Garlotte from her sleep, hardly knowing indeed what she desired to say
to her, yet half fearful of lying alone longer in the night with her
own thoughts for company. Garlotte rose up and came across the room to
the bigger bed. She knelt down; two warm arms crept under the coverlet,
and a soft cheek touched Igraine's.

"Why are you awake, Igraine?"

The warmth of the girl's body, her quiet breathing, the sweep of her
hair, seemed to bring a scent of peace and human sympathy into the
moonlit room. Igraine put her arms about her, and drew her down to her
side. Their white faces and clouding hair lay close together on the
pillow.

"You are in trouble, Igraine?"

"How should I be in trouble?"

"You breathe like one in pain, and your voice is strange."

"Hush, Garlotte."

"Am I not right?"

"Pelleas must not hear us talking."

They were silent awhile, lying in each other's arms with no sound
save that of their breathing. Igraine's misery burnt in her and cried
out for sympathy; Garlotte, half wise by instinct, yearned to share a
trouble which she did not wholly comprehend, to advise where she was
partly ignorant. The girl felt a great stirring of her heart towards
Igraine, but could say nothing for the moment. Having no better
eloquence at command she raised her head and kissed the other's lips, a
warm, impulsive kiss that seemed as rich in sympathy as a rose in scent.

Igraine's confidence woke at the touch of the girl's lips; she hungered
even for this child's comfort, her simple guidance in this matter of
life and love. It was easy enough to die, hard to exist as a mere
spiritless Galatea devoid of soul.

"Garlotte!"

"Yes, Igraine."

"Imagine that you were married to a man you hated, and you loved Renan."

Garlotte raised herself in bed.

"And Renan loved you and knew nothing?"

"Yes."

"Would you tell Renan the truth?"

Garlotte remained motionless, propped on her two hands, and looking
out of the window into the streaming moonlight. Her brown hair touched
Igraine's face as she lay still and watched her. The room was very
silent, not a breeze seemed stirring, the roses athwart the window were
still as though carved in wood.

Garlotte spoke very softly, looking up with her face white and solemn
in the moonlight.

"I should tell Renan," she said.

"Why?"

"Because I love him."

"Yes--go on."

"I should not love him rightly in God's eyes if I kept him from the
truth."

The coverlet rose and fell over Igraine's bosom, and there was a queer
twisting pain at her heart.

"But if you were never to see Renan again?" she said.

"If I told him the truth?"

"Yes, child."

Garlotte dared not look into Igraine's face; her lips were twitching,
and her eyes were hot with tears.

"I do not know," she faltered.

"Think, child, think!"

"I should not tell him."

In half a breath she had contradicted herself with a little gasp.

"Yes, yes, I should tell him."

"The truth?"

"Because I should not be happy even with him if I were acting a lie."

Igraine gave a dry sob, and drew Garlotte down again to her side. They
lay very close, almost mouth to mouth, their arms about each other's
bodies.

"I love Pelleas."

"Yes, yes."

"I will tell him the truth."

"Ah, Igraine, it is best, it is best."

"But it will kill me if I lose him."

"Ah, Igraine, but he will love you all the more."

It was Garlotte who broke into tears, and hid her face in the other's
bosom. Igraine's eyes were as dry as a blue sky parched with a summer
sun, and her voice failed her like the slack string of a lute. The
moonlight slanted down upon them both. Before dawn they had fallen
asleep in each other's arms.

How many a heart trembles with the return of day; what fears rise with
the first blush of light in an empty sky! The cloak of night is lifted
from weary faces; the quiet balm of darkness is withdrawn from the
moiling care of many a heart. To Igraine the dawn light came like a
message of misery as she lay beside the sleeping Garlotte, and watched
the gloom grow less and less in the little room. This dawn seemed
a veritable symbol of the truth that she feared to look upon--and
recognise. The night seemed kinder, less implacable, less grave of
face. Day, like a pale justiciary, stalked up out of the east to call
her to that assize where truth and the soul meet under the eye of
heaven.

How different was it with Pelleas under the eaves of the great cedar.
He had slept little that night for mere wakeful happiness; the moon had
kept carnival for him above the world; at dawn the stars had crept back
from the choir stalls into the chambers of the night. He had known no
weariness, no abatement of his deep calm joy. His heart had answered
blithely to the dawn-song of the birds as though he had risen fresh
from a dreamless sleep. The day to him had no look of evil; the sky
was never grey; the flush in the east recalled no flashing of torches
over a funeral bier. He rose up in the glory of his clean manhood, the
strong kindliness of his great love. His prayers went to heaven that
morning with the lark, and the Spirit of God seemed like a wind moving
softly in the green boughs above his head.

Very early before it was light he had taken a plunge and a swim in
the pool, a swinging burst through the still water that had made him
revel in his great strength. He had come up from the pool like a god
refreshed, and had put on his red harness while the mists rose from the
valley, and the birds chanted in the ghostly trees. When the day was
fully awake he walked the grass-path in the garden like a watchman,
with the scent of honeysuckle and thyme in his nostrils, and a blaze
of flowers at his feet. As he paced up and down with his face turned
to the sky, he sang in a mellow bass a song of Guyon's, the Court
minstrel--

    "When the dawn has come,
    My heart sighs for thee and the gleam of thy hair;
    Eyes deep as the night
    When the summer sky arches the world."

So sang Pelleas as he paced the grass with his eyes wandering ever
towards the doorway of the cottage.

Presently Igraine came out to him, and stood under the shadow of the
porch. Her hair hung lustrous about a face that was white and drawn,
despite a smile. Certainly a haze of red flushed her cheeks when
Pelleas came up with a glory of love in his eyes, took her hands and
kissed them, as though there was no such divine flesh in the whole wide
world. How wonderful it was to be touched so, to have such eyes pouring
out so strong a soul before her face, to know the presence of a great
love, and to feel the echoing passion of it in her own heart!

After the barren months of winter, and the long bondage in Tintagel,
it seemed ah idyllic thing to be so served, so comforted. And was this
faery time but for an hour, a day, and no longer? Was she but to see
the man's face, to feel the touch of his hands, the grand calm of his
love, before losing him, perhaps for life? Her heart fluttered in her
like a smitten bird. And Pelleas, too, what a thrust lurked for the
man, a blow to be given in the name of truth. How could she speak to
him of Gorlois when he came and looked at her with those eyes of his?

Igraine had never felt such misery as this even in the gloomy galleries
of Tintagel. It tried her courage to the death to face Pelleas's
wistful gaiety, and the adoration that beamed on her from his eyes.

"Dear heart, it is dawn--it is dawn!"

Pelleas held her hands, and waited for her lips to be turned to his.
Instead, he saw lowered lids and quivering lashes, lips that were
plaintive, a face white beneath a wealth of hair.

"Ah, Igraine, you do not look at me."

Her eyes trembled up to his with a sudden infinite lustre.

"Pelleas!"

"Girl, girl!"

"Ah, I have hardly slept."

"Nor I, Igraine."

"I think I am worn out with thinking of you."

"Ha, little woman, you are extravagant; you will die like a flower even
while I hold you in my bosom."

Garlotte came out from the cottage, and was kissed by Pelleas on the
lips. The girl's eyes were red and heavy; she had been crying but a
moment ago in the shadow of the cottage room, and she was timid and
very solemn. Pelleas looked at her like a big brother.

"Come now, little sister," he said, with a rare smile; "methinks you
must be in love too by your looks."

"Yes, lord."

"Said I not so? You women take things so to heart."

"Yes, lord."

"What a solemn face, little sister!"

Garlotte mastered herself for a moment, then burst into tears and ran
back into the cottage. Pelleas coloured, looked troubled, glanced
at Igraine, thinking he had hurt the girl's heart with his words.
Igraine's face startled him as if the visage of death had risen up
suddenly amid the flowers. He stood mute before her watching her
starved lips, her drawn face, her eyes that stared beyond him with a
kind of cold frenzy.

"Pelleas, Pelleas!"

It was like the wild cry of a woman over her dead love. The sound
struck Pelleas with a vague sense of stupendous woe, a dim prophecy
of evil like the noise of autumn in the woods. Before he could gather
words, Igraine had turned and run from him as in great fear, skirting
the pool and holding for the black yawn of the forest aisles. Pelleas
started to follow her in a daze of wonder. Was the girl mad? Had love
turned her brain? What was there hid in her heart that made her wing
from him like a dove from a hawk?

By the trees Igraine slackened and turned breathless on the man as
he came towards her through the long grass. Her eyes were dim and
frightened, her lips twitching, and there was a bleak hunted look upon
her face that made her seem white and old. Pelleas's blood ran cold in
him like water; a vague dread sapped his manhood; he stared at Igraine
and was speechless.

The girl put her arm before her eyes and shook as she stood. Pelleas
fell on his knees with a cry, and reached for her hand.

"Igraine, Igraine!"

She snatched her arm away and would not look at him.

"My God, what is this, Igraine?"

"Don't touch me; I am Gorlois's wife!"

A vast silence seemed to fall sudden on the world. It might have been
dead of night in winter, with deep snow upon the ground and no wind
stirring in the forest. To Igraine, swaying in an agony with her arm
over her face, the silence came like the hush that might fall on heaven
before the damning of a lost soul to hell. She wondered what was in
Pelleas's heart, and dared not look at him or meet his eyes. God in
heaven! would the man never speak; would the silence crawl on into an
eternity!

At last she did look, and nearly fell at the wrench of it. Pelleas was
standing near her looking at her with his great solemn eyes as though
she had given him his death. His face seemed to have gone grey and
haggard in a moment.

"Gorlois's wife!" was all he said.

Igraine hung her head, shivered, and said nothing. Pelleas never
stirred; he seemed like so much stone, a mere pillar of granite misery.
Igraine could have writhed at his feet and caught him by the knees only
to melt for a moment that white calm on his face that looked like the
mask of death.

A voice that was almost strange to her startled her out of her stupor
of despair.

"How long have you been wed, Igraine?"

"Nine months, Pelleas."

The man seemed to be struggling with himself as though he strove after
the truth, yet could not confront it for all his strength. When he
spoke his voice was like the voice of a man winded by hard running. He
appeared to urge himself forward, to goad his courage to a task that
he dreaded. There was great anguish on his face as he looked into the
girl's eyes.

"I must speak what I know, Igraine."

The words seemed slow with effort. Igraine watched him in silence, full
of a vague dread.

"Gorlois has spoken to me of his wife."

"Say on, Pelleas."

Pelleas hesitated.

"The truth--tell me the truth."

She was almost clamorous. Pelleas plunged on.

"Gorlois told me how his wife was faithless to him, how she had fled
with Brastias, the knight who had ward over her at Caerleon. I never
knew her name until this hour."

The words might have fallen like the strokes of a lash. Igraine
stood and stared at the man, her open mouth a black circle, her eyes
expressionless for the moment, like the eyes of one smitten blind. The
full meaning of the words numbed her and hindered her understanding. A
babel of shame sounded in her ears. The sinister intent of the man's
accusation rose gradual before her reason like the distorted image of a
dream. She felt cold to the core; a strange terror possessed her.

"Pelleas, what have you said to me?"

Her voice was a mere whisper. Pelleas hung his head and said never a
word. His silence seemed to fling sudden fire into Igraine's eyes, and
her face flamed like a sunset. It might have been Gorlois who stood and
challenged the honour of her soul.

"Man, tell me what is in your heart."

Her voice was shrill--even imperious. Pelleas hung his head.

"Gorlois keeps poison for his wife," were his words.

Igraine's lips curled.

"A sword for Brastias."

"Generous man."

Pelleas was watching her as a prisoner watches a judge. He had a great
yearning to believe. Fear, anguish, anger, were in Igraine's heart,
but she showed none of the three as she stood forward and looked into
the man's eyes with a steadfastness no honour could gainsay.

"Pelleas!" she said.

"Girl!"

"Look into my eyes."

He did so without flinching. Igraine took his sword and gave it naked
into his hand.

"Listen! Gorlois told you a lie."

"Igraine!"

"Do you believe me, Pelleas? If not, strike with the sword, for I will
live no longer."

The man gave a sudden cry, like one who leaps over a precipice, threw
the sword far away into the grass, and falling on his knees, buried his
face in his hands.



XII


Igraine stood and watched Pelleas as he knelt in the grass at her feet
with his face hidden from her by his hands. She saw the curve of his
strong neck, the sweep of his great shoulders. She even counted the
steel plates in his shoulder pieces, and marked the tinge of grey in
his coronal of hair.

Calm had come upon her with the trust won by the confessional of
the sword. She felt sure of the man in her heart, and eased of a
double burden since she had told him the truth and brought him to a
declaration of his faith. She knew well from instinct that her honour
stood sure in Pelleas's heart.

Going to him, she bent and touched his head with her hand.

"Pelleas," she said very softly.

The man groaned and would not look at her.

"Mea culpa, mea culpa!" was his cry.

Igraine smiled like a young mother as she put his hands from his face
with a gradual insistence. It was right that he should kneel to her,
but it was also right that she should forgive and forget like a woman.
Yet as she stood and held his hands in hers, Pelleas hung his head and
would not so much as look into her face. He was convicted in his own
heart, and contrite according to the deep measure of his manhood.

Igraine touched his hair softly with her fingers, and there was a great
light in her eyes as she bent over him.

"Come, Pelleas, and sit by me under the trees, and I will tell you the
whole tale."

Never had she seemed so stately or so superb in Pelleas's eyes as she
stood before him that morning, strong and sorrowful with the burden
of her past. He knelt and looked up at her, knowing himself pardoned,
humbled to see love in the ascendent so soon upon her face as she
looked down at him from her golden aureole of hair.

"I am forgiven?" he said.

"Ah, Pelleas!"

"You have shamed me; I am a broken man."

He rose up half wearily and stood looking at her as though some
mysterious influence had parted them suddenly asunder. So expressive
were his eyes, that Igraine read a distant anguish in them on the
instant, and fathomed his thoughts, to the troubling of her own heart.

"Look not so," she said, "as though a gulf lay deep between us here."

"How else should I look at you, Igraine, when you are wife to Gorlois?"

"Never in my soul."

"How can that help us?"

Igraine winced at the words and took refuge in silence. She went and
seated herself at the foot of a gnarled oak. Pelleas followed her and
lay down more than a sword's length away, leaving a stretch of green
turf between, a thing insignificant in itself, yet full of meaning to
the girl's instinctive watchfulness. The man's face too was turned
from her towards the valley, and she could only see the curve of his
cheek and chin as she began to speak to him of that which was in her
heart.

"You know the man Gorlois?" she said.

Pelleas nodded.

"In Winchester Gorlois saw my face and straightway pestered me as
he had been turned into my shadow. By chance he had rendered me
service, and from the favour casually conferred plucked the right of
thrusting his perpetual homage upon me. I trusted Gorlois little from
the beginning, and trusted him less as the weeks went by. His eyes
frightened me, and his mouth made my soul shiver; the more importunate
he grew the more I began to fear him."

Pelleas shifted his sword and said nothing.

"A day came when the man Gorlois grew tired of courtesies, and would be
gainsaid no longer. It was in Radamanth's garden; we quarrelled, and
the man laid hands upon me and crushed me against the wall to thieve
a kiss. In my anger I broke from him and ran into my uncle's house.
The same night I fled to an abbey, the abbey of St. Helena, and left
Winchester in my dress at dawn."

Igraine could see the muscles of Pelleas's jaw standing out contracted
as though his teeth were clenched in an access of anger. He was
breathing deeply through his nostrils, and his hands plucked at the
grass with a terse snapping sound. These things pleased Igraine, and
she went on forthwith.

"I left Winchester on foot at dawn and travelled towards Sarum, for I
heard that Uther the King was there, and it was greatly in my mind,
sire, to see his face. An old merchant friend of Radamanth's overtook
me on the road; at a ford the horse he had lent me fell and twisted
my ankle. I was carried to Eudol's house, and lay abed there many
days, learning little to my comfort that Gorlois had ridden out and
was hunting me through the countryside. Recovered of my strain, and
fearful of Gorlois's trackers, I held on for Sarum through the woods,
and lodged the same night in a hermitage in a little valley. Here the
first piece of craft overtook me, for early in the morning outside the
hermitage I saw a knight ride by on a black horse, bearing red harness,
and armed at all points like to you."

Pelleas turned his head for the first time and looked at her as though
with some sudden suspicion of what was to follow. Igraine saw something
in his dark eyes that made her heart hurry. His face was like the face
of a man who fronts a storm of wind and rain with brows furrowed and
eyes half-closed. There was much that was threatening in his look, a
subdued ominous wrath like a storm nursed in the bosom of a cloud.

Igraine told the whole quaint tale, how she followed Gorlois in faith,
how she was led into the forest, bewitched there, and made a wife,
mesmerised into a false affection for the man by Merlin's craft. It
was a grim tale, with a clear contour of truth, and credible by reason
of its very strangeness. It was sufficient to manifest to Pelleas how
Igraine's strong love for him had lost her her liberty and made her the
victim of a man's lust.

When she had ended the tale Pelleas left the grass at her feet and
began to pace under the trees like a sentinel on a wall. His scabbard
clanged occasionally against his greaves. Masses of young bracken
covered the ground between the trees with a rich carpet of green, and
his armour shone like red wrath under the wreathing arcs of foliage.
His face was dark and moody with the turmoil of thought, but there
was no visible agitation upon him; nothing of the aspen, more of the
unbending oak. Igraine leant against her tree and watched him with a
curious care, wondering what would be the outcome of all this silence.
Down in the valley the pool glistened, and she could see Garlotte
walking in the cottage garden. How different was this child's lot to
hers. With what warm philosophy could she have changed Pelleas into a
shepherd, and taken the part of Garlotte to herself.

Presently Pelleas stayed in his stride through the bracken, and came
and stood before her, looking not into her face but beyond her into the
deeps of the wood.

"Tell me more, Igraine."

"What more would you hear from me?"

"That which is bitterest of all."

"God, must I tell you that!"

"Let us both drink it to the dregs."

Igraine's face and neck coloured rich as one of Garlotte's red roses,
and she seemed to shrink from the man's eyes behind the quivering
sunlight of her hair. She put her hands to her breast and stood in a
strain of thought, of struggle against the infinite unfitness of the
past.

Pelleas saw her trouble, and his strong face softened on the instant.
He had forgotten milder things in his grappling of the truth. Igraine's
red and troubled look revived the finer instincts of his manhood.

"Never trouble, child," he said; "I know enough of Gorlois to read the
rest."

But Igraine, as by inspiration, had come by other reasons for telling
out the whole to the last pang. She was at pains to justify herself
to Pelleas, nor was she undesirous of inflaming him against Gorlois,
her lord. She had wit enough to grasp the fact that Pelleas's wrath
might be roused into insurrection against custom and the edicts of the
Church. A volcanic outburst might throw down the barriers of man and
leave her at liberty to choose her lot. Moreover, her hate of Gorlois,
an iconoclastic passion, had crushed the reverence of things existing
out of her heart. A contemplation of her evil fortune had brought her
to the conviction that she was exiled from the sympathies of men, a
spiritual bandit driven to compass the instincts of a rebellious soul.
In her hot impulse for liberty and the justification of her faith, she
did not halt from making Pelleas feel the full malignity of truth. She
neither embellished nor emphasised, but portrayed incidents simply in
their glaring nakedness in a fashion that promised to inflame the man
to the very top of her desire.

Igraine's cheeks kindled, and she could not look at the man for the
words upon her lips. Pelleas's face was like the face of man in
torture. The woman's words entered into him like iron; his wrath
whistled like a wind, and the very air seemed tainted in his mouth.
What a purgatory of passion was let loose into the calm precincts of
the place! This burning vault of blue, was it the same as roofed the
world of yesterday? The feathery mounts of green dappled with amber,
and these flowers, had they not changed with the noon lust of the sun?
There was a rank savour of fleshliness over the whole earth, and all
life seemed impious, passionate, and unclean.

"My God, my God!"

The man's cry shook Igraine from her rage for truth. In her
confessional she had been carried like a bird with the wind. Looking
into Pelleas's face she saw that he was in torment, and that her words
had smitten him in a fashion other than she had foreseen. It was not
wrath that burnt in his eyes, only a deep grieving, a frenzy of shame
and anguish that seemed to cry out against her soul. A sudden stupor
made her mute. With a great void in her heart she fell down amid the
bracken with a sense of ignominy and abasement overwhelming her like a
deluge.

Pelleas stood and shut his eyes to the sun. A red glare smote into his
brain; love seemed numb in him and his blood stagnant. Prayer eluded
him like a vapour. Looking out again over wood and valley, the golden
haze, the torpor of the trees mocked him with a lethargy that smiled at
the impotence of man.

And Igraine! He saw her prone beneath the green mist of the fern
fronds, lying with her face pillowed on her arms, her hair spread like
a golden net over the brown wreckage of the bygone year. To what a pass
had their love come! Better, he thought, to have lived a king solitary
on a throne than to have wandered into youth again to give and win
such dolor.

His face was dark as he stood and looked at the woman's violet surcoat
gleaming low under the bracken. How symbolical this attitude seemed of
all that had fallen upon his heart--love cast down upon dead leaves!
Igraine had feared his honour. Pelleas feared for it in another sense
as he looked at the woman, and felt his pity clamouring for life.
He could have given his soul to comfort her if no shame could have
come upon her name thereby. As it was, some spiritual hand seemed at
his throat stifling aught of love that found impulse on his lips. A
superhuman sincerity chilled him into silence, and held him in bondage
to the truth.

A face stared up from the bracken, wan, tearless, and tragic. The
wistfulness of the face made him quail within his harness. He knew too
well what was in Igraine's heart, and the look that questioned him like
the look of a wounded hare. Her eyes searched his face as though to
read her doom thereon. There was no whimpering, no noise, no passionate
rhetoric. A great quiet seemed to take its temper from the silence of
the woods.

"Pelleas."

"Yes, Igraine."

"Tell me what is in your heart."

Pelleas hung his head; he could not look at her for all his courage.
She was kneeling in the bracken with her hands crossed over her breast
and her face turned to his with the white wistfulness of a full moon.
Pelleas felt death in his heart, and he could not speak nor look into
her eyes.

"Pelleas."

"Child."

"You do not look at me."

"Great God, would I were blind!"

The truth came crying to her like the wild cry of a bird taken by a
weasel in the woods. A great sobbing shook her; she fell down and
caught Pelleas by the knees.

"Pelleas, Pelleas!"

"My God, Igraine, I stifle!"

"Don't leave me, don't send me away."

"What can I say to you?"

"Only look into my eyes again."

Pelleas put his fists before his face; the girl felt him quiver, and he
seemed to twist in an agony like a man dangling on a rope. Igraine's
hands crept to his shoulders; she drew herself by his body as by a
pillar till her face met his and she lay heavy upon his breast.

"Pelleas!"

Her breath was on his lips, and her hair flooded over his hands like
golden wine.

"Pelleas, Pelleas!"

The words came with a windless whisper.

"Have pity, Igraine."

"I will never leave you."

"Gorlois's wife!"

"Never, never!"

"My God!"

"I am not his. Pelleas, take me body and soul; take me and let me be
your wife."

"How can I sin against your soul, Igraine?"

"Is it sin, then, to love me?"

"You are Gorlois's wife before God."

"There is no God."

"Igraine!"

"I will have no God but you, Pelleas."

The man took his hands from his face and looked into Igraine's eyes. A
strong shudder passed over him, and he seemed like a great ship smitten
by a wave, till every fibre groaned and quivered in his massive frame.

A green calm covered the valley, and the whole world seemed to faint
in the golden bosom of the day. Not the twitter of a bird broke the
vast hush of the forest. The sunlit aisles climbed into a shadowland
of mysterious silence, and an azure quiet hung above the trees. As for
Pelleas and Igraine, their two lives seemed knotted up with a cord of
gold. They had mingled breath, and taken the savour of each other's
souls. Yet for all the glory of the moment it was but autumn with
them--a pomp of passion, a red splendour dying while it blazed into the
grey ruin of a winter day.

Igraine read her doom in the man's face. It was the face of a martyr,
pale, resolute, yet inspired. A dry sob died in her throat, and her
hands dropped from the man's shoulders. Pelleas stood back and looked
at her with a warm light in his dark eyes, the green woods rising
behind him like a bank of clouds.

"Igraine."

She nodded, felt miserable, and said nothing.

"I cannot love you easily."

Igraine's eyes stared at him with a mute bitterness. She was a woman,
and thought like a woman; mere saintly philosophy was beyond her.

"You are too good a man, Pelleas," she said.

"I would hold my love in my heart like a great pearl in a casket of
gold."

"What comfort is there in mere splendid misery, and in such words?"

"How should I love you best?"

"Ah, Pelleas, ask your own heart."

The man was an impossible being for mere mortal argument. He seemed to
bear spiritual pinions that tantalised the intelligence of the heart.
Igraine felt herself adrift and beaten, and she was hopeless of him to
the core.

"Think you I shall be a saint, Pelleas," she said, "when you have given
me back to myself?"

"I shall pray for you."

"And for a devil!"

She gave a shrill laugh, and twined her hair about her wrist.

"Ah, Pelleas! you know not what you do."

"Too well, Igraine."

"You are too strong for me, and yet--and yet--I should not have loved
you so well if you had not been strong."

"That is how I think of you, Igraine."

"You love me more by leaving me."

"I love you more by keeping you pure before my soul."

A great calm had come upon Igraine. She was very pale and firm about
the lips, and her eyes were staunch as steel. Her voice was as clear
and level as though she spoke of trivial things.

"I shall not go back to Gorlois," she said.

"Beware of the man."

"Doubtless you would speak to me of a convent."

Pelleas fell into thought, with his dark eyes fixed upon her face.

"As a novice."

Igraine almost smiled at him.

"And not a nun?"

For answer he spoke three simple words.

"Gorlois might die."

The stillness of the woods seemed like the hush of a listening
multitude. A blue haze of heat hung over the rolling domes of
the western trees, and never a wind-wave stirred the long grass.
Mountainous clouds sailed radiant over ridge and spur, and it might
have been Elysium where souls wandered through meads of asphodel.

Igraine looked long over the valley with its stately trees, its
flowering grass and quiet pool in the meadows. She was vastly calm,
though her eyes were full of a woe that seemed to well up like water
out of her soul. She still twisted and untwisted a strand of her hair
about her wrist, but for all else she was as quiet as one of the trees
that stood near and overshadowed her.

"Pelleas," she said.

The man came two steps nearer.

"Go quickly."

"Igraine!"

"Man, man, how long will you torture me? I am only a little strong."

The calm of tragedy seemed to dissolve away on the instant. Pelleas
thrust his hands into the air like a swimmer sinking to his death. His
heart answered Igraine's exceeding bitter cry.

"Would we had never come to this!"

"I cannot say that, though my heart breaks."

Pelleas fell down and clasped her with his arms about the knees. His
face was hidden in the folds of her surcoat. Presently he loosed his
hold, looked up, took a ring from his hand and thrust it into her palm.

"The signet of a king," he said; "keep it for need, Igraine. Have you
money?"

"I have money, Pelleas."

"God guard you!"

Igraine was white to the lips, but she never wavered.

"Heaven keep you!" she said.

Her voice was hoarse in her throat, and she began to shiver as though
chilled by a sleety wind.

"Go quickly, Pelleas; for God's sake hide your face from me!"

"It is death; it is death!"

He sprang up and left her without a look. Igraine saw him go through
the long grass with his hand over his eyes, staggering like one
sword-smitten to the brain. He never stared back at her, but held
straight for the cottage and the cedar tree where his black horse was
tethered under the shade. She watched him mount and gallop for the
forest, nor did she move till his red harness had died into the gloom
of the trees.



XIII


Down through the woods that morning rode Gorlois on his great white
horse, with helmet clanging at saddle-bow, shield hung at his left
shoulder, spear trailing under the trees. He was hot, thirsty, and in
a most evil temper. His bronzed face glistened with sweat, and the
chequered webs of light flickering through the leaves flashed fitfully
upon his golden harness. Since dawn he had ridden the hills in the
glare of the sun till his armour blazed like an oven; it was June
weather, and hot at that; his tongue felt like wood rubbing against
leather; it was a damnable month for bearing harness.

Casting about over the hills he had come upon Garlotte's valley, and
seeing it green and shadowy, had plunged down to profit by the shade.
Since the Red Knight was lost to him, it was immaterial whether he rode
by wood or hill. On this account, too, Gorlois's temper was as hot as
his skin. He hated a baulking above all things; he was moved to be
furious with trifles, and like the savage who gnashes at the stone that
bruises his foot, he cursed creation and felt thoroughly at war with
the world. A grim unreason had possession of him, such a mood as makes
murder a mere impulse of the hand, and malice the prime instinct of the
heart.

As he rode with loose rein the trees thinned suddenly, and the forest
gloom rolled back over his head. Gorlois halted mechanically under the
wooelshawe, and scanned the valley spread before him under the brown
hollow of his hand. He had expected no such open land in this waste
of wood--open land with water, a cottage, sheep feeding, and horses
tethered under the trees. One of the horses tethered there was a black.
The coincidence livened Gorlois's torpid, sunburnt face with a cool
gleam of intelligence. He sat motionless in the saddle and took the
length and breadth of the valley under the keen ken of his black eyes.

The man swore a little oath into his peaked black beard. His face grew
suddenly rapacious as he stared out under the hollow of his hand. He
had seen a streak of red strike through the green wall far up the
eastern slope that fronted him, a scrap of colour metallic with the
hint of armour. It went to and fro under the distant trees like a
torch past the windows of a church. Gorlois's hand tightened on the
bridle. He watched the thing as a hawk watches a young rabbit in the
grass.

Betimes he gave a queer little chuckle, and turned his horse into the
deeper shade of the trees. He began to make a circuit round the valley,
holding northwards to compass the meadows. He cast long, wary glances
into the wood as he went; tried his sword to see that it was loose in
the scabbard; took his helmet from the saddle-bow, and let down the
cheek-pieces from the crown. Before long he kicked his stirrups away,
rolled out of the saddle, and tied his horse to an oak sapling in a
little dell. Going silently on foot over the mossy grass, stopping
often to stare into the sunny vistas of the forest, moving more or
less from tree to tree, he worked his way southwards along the eastern
slope. Streaks of meadowland and the glint of water showed below him,
and he heard the bleat of sheep far away, and the tinkling of a bell.

Presently the murmur of voices came to him through the woods. He
ventured on another fifty paces, then stopped behind a tree to listen.
There were two voices, he was sure of that: one was a woman's, and the
other had the sonorous vibration of a man's bass. Gorlois's eyes took a
queer, far-away look, and his strong teeth showed between his lips.

He worked his way on through the trees with the cautious and deliberate
instinct of a hunter. The two voices gained in timbre, character, and
expression. Their talk was no jays' chatter; Gorlois could tell that
from the emphasis of sound, and a certain dramatic melody that ran
through the whole. Soon the voices were very near. Going on his belly,
with his sword held in his left hand, he crawled like a gilt dragon
through a forest of springing fern. He crawled on till he was quite
near the two who stood and talked under the trees. Lying flat, never
venturing to lift his head, he crouched, breathing hard through his
nostrils and holding his scabbarded sword crosswise beneath his chin.

Gorlois's face, scarred and drawn as it was, seemed as he listened a
clear mirror for the portrayal of human passion. His black moustachios
twitched above his angular jaw; his eyes took a rapacious and glazed
look, and a shadow seemed to cover his face. He turned and twisted as
he lay, and dug the points of his iron-shod shoes into the soft ground
as though in the crisis of some pain. It was the woman's voice that did
all this for him. Every word seemed like the wrench of a hook in his
flesh, as he cursed and twisted under the bracken.

Presently he lay still again, as though to listen the better. He could
hear something of what was said to the man in the red harness, but the
main drift of their talk was beyond him. Pelleas! Pelleas! He squirmed
like a crushed snake at each sounding of the name. The bracken hardly
swayed as he crawled on some twenty paces and again lay still, with his
cheek resting upon the scabbard of his sword.

"Gorlois might die."

Gorlois heard the words as plainly as though they had been spoken into
his ear. A vast silence hung like thunder over the forest. Gorlois lay
as though stunned with a stone, his dry mouth pressed to the cold steel
of the sword. His eyes took a stubborn stare under the sweep of his
casque. With gradual labour he raised himself upon his elbows, drew his
knees up under his body, and lifted his head slowly above the sweep of
green.

The ground fell away slightly from where Gorlois knelt in the bracken,
and he could look down on the two who stood under the trees, while the
fern fronds hid his harness. He saw a woman in violet and gold, her
hair falling straight on either side of her face, and her arms folded
crosswise over her breast. He saw also the knight in red harness, with
his locked hands twisting above his head as in an agony, while his face
was hidden by his arm. A passionate whisper of words passed between the
two. Even when Gorlois watched, the man in the red harness jerked
round and fell on his knees at the woman's feet. Gorlois suddenly saw
his face; it was the face of Uther the King.

[Illustration: "LIFTED HIS HEAD SLOWLY ABOVE THE SWEEP OF GREEN"]

Gorlois dropped back under the bracken as though smitten through with a
sword. He lay there a long while with his head upon his arms. A sudden
breeze came up the valley, sounding through the trees, swaying the
green fronds above the man's harness, calling a gradual clamour from
the woods. The overmastering image of the King seemed to frown down
Gorlois for the moment, and he crouched like a dog--with the courage
crushed out of his soul.

Betimes Gorlois's reason revived from the stroke that had stunned it
for a season. Like Jonah's gourd a quick purpose sprang up and shadowed
him from the too hasty heat of his own passions. He was a virile
man, capable of great wrath and great resentment. Yet he was no mere
firebrand. His malice, strangely enough, was one-handed and reached out
only against the woman. For Uther he conceived a superhuman envy, a
passion that rose above mere bloody expiation by the sword. Gorlois had
the wit to remember the finer cruelties of a spiritual vengeance, the
gain of wounding the soul rather than the flesh. His malice was a thing
fanatical in itself, yet taken from the forge to be cooled and tempered
like steel.

When he lifted his head again above the bracken, Uther had gone, and
Igraine stood alone under the trees. She stood straight and motionless
as some tall flower, her hair falling like quiet sunlight, unshaken by
a wind. Her great beauty leapt out into Gorlois's blood and maddened
him. As she looked out over the valley, Gorlois, straining his neck
above the bracken, could see that she watched Uther as he went down
from her towards the pool. Even to Gorlois there was something tragic
about the solitary figure under the trees, a stiff, grievous look as
though woe had transformed her into a pillar of stone. To him the
affair seemed a mere assignation, a hazardous passage of romance.
Measuring the souls of others by his own morality, he guessed nothing
of the deeper throes that surged through the tale like the long moan of
a night wind.

Gorlois saw Uther and his black horse disappear into the opposing bank
of woodland. Viciously satisfied, he lay in the bracken and watched
Igraine, coming by a queer pleasure in considering her beauty, and
in the knowledge that her very life was poised on the point of his
sword. How little she thought of the man-dragon lying in his gilded
scales under the green of the feathery fronds. Gorlois felt a kind of
arrogance of ownership boasting itself in his heart. Certainly he held
a means more sinister than the sword wherewith to perfect his vengeance
and to preserve his honour. A very purgatory, bolgia upon bolgia,
stretched out in prospect for the souls of the two who had done him
this great evil. Gorlois made much of it, with a joy that was hard and
durable as iron.

Igraine stirred at last from her stupor of immobility. Walking
unsteadily, as though faint in the heat, she passed out from the
trees with their mingling of sun and shadow, and went down through
the long grass towards the pool and the cottage. Gorlois knelt in the
bracken, and watched her with a smile. There was little chance of her
escaping, and he could be as deliberate as he pleased over the matter.
He inferred with reason that the cottage served her as a lodging in
this woodland solitude, where she lay hid from all the world save
from Uther, whose courtezan she was. Gorlois laughed--a keen, biting
laugh--at the thought of it all. At least he would go back for his
horse and spear, and make a fitting entry before the woman who was his
wife.

Igraine, walking as though in her sleep, came into the cottage, and
almost fell into Garlotte's arms. The girl looked frightened, and very
white about the lips. She could find nothing in her heart to say to
Igraine; she helped her to the bed, and ran to the cupboard to get wine.

"Drink it," she said, the cup rocking to and fro in her hand.

Igraine did her best, but spilt much of the stuff upon her bosom,
where it made a stain like blood. She sat on the edge of the bed, and
looked into the distance with expressionless eyes. Her hands were very
cold. Garlotte chafed them between her own, murmured a word or two, but
could not bring herself to look into Igraine's face. From the valley
the bleating of sheep came up with a sudden wind, and the red roses
flung their faces across the latticed casement.

Igraine was looking through the window into the deep green of the
woods. She could see the place where Pelleas had left her, even the
tree under which she had stood when she had pleaded with him without
avail. How utterly quiet everything seemed. Surely June was an evil
month for her; had it not brought double misery--and well-nigh broken
her heart? And the end of it all was that she was to go back to a
convent, to grey walls, vigils, and the sounding of a bell. Even that
was better than being Gorlois's wife.

Suddenly, as she sat and stared out of the casement, her body grew
tense and eager as a bent bow. Her eyes hardened, lost their dreamy
look; the hands that had rested in Garlotte's gripped the girl's wrists
with a force that made her wince.

"Saddle the horse."

The words came in a hard whisper. Garlotte stared at her, and did not
stir.

"Child, never question me; be quick, on your life."

Igraine, a different woman in a moment, had started up and taken her
shield and helmet from the wall. Her sword was girded to her. Quick
as thought, she gathered up her trailing hair, thrust on the casque,
strapped it to the neck-plate under her surcoat. Garlotte, vastly
puzzled, but inspired by Igraine's earnestness, had hurried out with
saddle and bridle over her shoulder. As she ran through the garden, she
looked up to the woods and saw the reason of Igraine's flurry. A knight
had come out from the forest on a white horse, his armour flashing and
blazing in the noonday sun. He had halted motionless at the edge of
the woodland, as though to mark what was passing beneath him in the
valley.

Garlotte found Igraine armed beside her, as she stood by the grey
horse under the cedar, and tugged with trembling fingers at the saddle
straps. Bit and bridle were quickly in place. Igraine, moved by a
hurried tenderness, gripped Garlotte to her with both arms.

"God guard you, little sister."

"Where are you going, Igraine?"

"God knows!"

"Who is yonder knight?"

"Gorlois, my husband."

Igraine climbed into the saddle from the girl's knee. She dashed in
the spurs and went at a gallop over the meadows towards the south.
Gorlois's white horse was coming at full stride through the feathery
grass. The man was riding crosswise over the valley, bent on cutting
off Igraine from the southern stretch of meadows, and driving her back
upon the woods. It was Igraine's hope to overtake Pelleas, and to put
herself behind the barrier of his shield. Gorlois, guessing her desire,
drove home the spurs, and hunted her in earnest.

Igraine headed the man and won a lead in the first half mile. Her grey
horse plunged like a galley in a rough sea, and she held to the pommel
of her saddle to keep her seat. Gorlois thundered at full gallop in her
wake, the long grass flying before his horse's hoofs like foam. He had
thrown away his spear, and his eyes were set in a long stare on the
galloping horse ahead. The zest of the chase had hold of him, and he
used the spurs with heavy heel.

The green woods rolled down on them as the valley narrowed to its
southern end. Igraine had never wandered so far from Garlotte's
cottage, and the ground was strange to her, nor did she know how the
country promised. Riding at full gallop, she saw with a shudder of
fear a barrier of rock running serrate across her path and closing the
narrow valley like a wall. Gorlois saw it too, and sent up a shout
that made Igraine's hate flame up into a kind of rapture. To have
turned right or left up the steep grass slope towards the woods, would
have given back to Gorlois the little start she had of him. With a numb
chill at her heart she abandoned all hope of Pelleas, and turned to
face the inevitable, and Gorlois her lord.

The man came up like a wind through the grass, and drew rein roughly
some ten paces away. He laughed as he stared at Igraine, an uncouth,
angering laugh like the yapping of a dog. He looked big and burly in
the saddle, and the muscles stood out in his neck as he tilted his
square jaw and stared down at his wife. Igraine had not looked upon his
face since he had been smitten in battle. Its ugliness seemed to match
his soul.

Gorlois lifted up his voice and mocked her.

"Ha, my brave, you are trapped, are you? Mother of God, but you make
a good figure of a man. These many months I have missed you, wife in
arms. And you have served in the pay of my lord the King. Good service
and good pay, I warrant, and plenty of plunder. I will have that
harness of yours hung over my bed."

Igraine suffered him not so much as a word. She was furious, and in no
mood to be scoffed down and cowed by mere insolent strength. She looked
into Gorlois's libidinous face from behind the vizor of her helmet,
and thought her thoughts. Gorlois ran on in his mocking fashion. His
bronzed face gleamed with sweat, and a rough lascivious smile showed up
his strong white teeth to her.

"Ha, now, madame! deliver, and let us have sight of you. The King loves
your lips, eh! They are red, and your arms are soft. I warrant he found
your bosom a good pillow. Uther was ever such a solemn soul, such a
monk, such a father. It is good for the heart to hear of him knotted up
in a woman's hair."

Igraine shook with the immensity of her hate.

"You were ever a foul-tongued hound," she said.

"Am I your echo?"

"I wish you were dead."

"So said the King."

"So you spied on us?"

Gorlois set up a scoffing laugh, showing his red throat like a hungry
bird.

"And saw my wife the King's courtezan; ha, what a jest! Come, madame,
let us be going; your honest home waits for you. I will chatter to you
of moralities by the way."

He had hardly delivered himself of the saying, when Igraine's hand
clutched at the handle of her sword. She jerked the spurs in with her
heels. Her grey horse started forward like a bolt; blundered into
Gorlois; caught him cross-counter, and rolled his white stallion down
into the grass. Igraine had lashed out at the shock. Her sword caught
Gorlois's arm, and cut through sleeve and arm-guard to the bone. As he
rolled with his horse in the grass, she wheeled round, and clapping in
the spurs, rode hard uphill for the forest.

Gorlois, hot as a furnace, scrambled to his feet, and dragged his horse
up by the bridle. Half off the saddle, with empty stirrups dangling,
he went at a canter for the yawn of the wood. His slashed arm burnt as
though it had been touched with a branding-iron; blood dripped down
upon his horse's white shoulder. He was soon steady in the saddle
and galloping full pelt after Igraine, the ground slipping under his
horse's hoofs like water, the long grass flying like spray.

Igraine's horse lost ground up the slope; he had less heart than
Gorlois's beast, and was weaker in the haunches. By the time they
reached the trees, Igraine had twenty yards to her credit and no more.
She saw her chance gone, and heard Gorlois close in her wake, caught
sideways a glimpse of plunging hoofs and angry harness. Drawing aside
suddenly with all her strength, she let Gorlois sweep up on her flank
and pass her by some yards. Before he could turn, she rode into him as
fast as she could gather; her sword clattered on his helmet,--sparks
flew.

Gorlois wrenched round and put his shield above his head.

"By God,--hold off,--would you have me fight a woman?"

A swinging cut rattled on his shoulder-plate for answer.

Gorlois rapped out an oath and drew his sword.

"Hold off!"

His roar seemed to shake the trees. To Igraine it was the mere
meaningless threatening of a sea. She struck home again and again while
Gorlois foined with her; more than once she reached his flesh.

Gorlois's grim patience gave way at last; a clean cut drew spurting
blood from his shoulder.

"God curse you!--take it then."

He swung his sword with a great downward sweep, a streak of steel that
struck crackling fire from the burnished casque. Igraine's arm dropped
like a broken bough; for half a breath she sat straight in the saddle,
swayed, sank slantwise, and slid down into the long grass. Her horse
stood still at her side, looking at her with mild blue eyes.

Gorlois gave a queer short laugh. He looked frightened for the moment;
the flush of anger had passed and left him pale. He dismounted, bent
over Igraine, unstrapped her helmet. She was only dazed by the blow;
blood trickled red amid her hair, and her blue eyes stared him in the
face.

She lifted up a hand with a bitter cry of defiance.

"Strike, strike, and make an end."

Gorlois's grimness came back, and his eyes hardened.

"That were too good for you."

"Devil!"

"By God, I shall tame you--never fear!"



BOOK IV

TINTAGEL



I


The castle of Tintagel stood out above the sea on a headland that rose
bluffly above the white foam that girdled it. The waves swinging in
from the west seemed to lift ever a hoarse chant about the place with
their perpetual grumbling against the cliff. Colour shifted upon the
bosom of the sea. Blue, green, and grey it would sweep into the west,
netted gold with the sun, banded with foam, or spread with purple
beneath the drifting shadow of a cloud. Hills rose in the east. Between
these crags and the sea rolled a wilderness cloven by green valleys and
a casual stream. Tintagel seemed to crown a region grand and calamitous
as the sea itself.

The sun was going down over the waters, watched by a flaxen-haired lad
squatting on the wall of an outstanding turret. His legs dangled over
the battlements, and his heels smote against the weathered stone. There
was a premature look of age upon his face, a certain wistful wisdom
as though he had completed his novitiate early in the world. His blue
eyes, large and sensitive as a dog's, stared away over the golden edge
of the sea.

This was Jehan the bastard, a pathetic shred of humanity, thin and
motherless, blessed with nothing save a dreamy nature that stood him in
poor stead in such a hold as Tintagel. Like any mongrel owned of none,
he was given over largely to the cuffs and curses of the community.
Men called him a fool, and treated him accordingly. He was scullion,
horse-boy, pot-bearer, by turns. The men of the garrison could make
nothing of a lad who wept at a word, never showed fight, but crept
away to mope and snivel in a corner. He had earned epithets enough, but
little else; and the rude Philistines of the place, beings of beer and
bone, knew little of those finer instincts with which Nature chooses on
occasion to endow a soul.

At times Jehan would creep away up this turret stair to live and
breathe for a season with no friend save the ever-complaining sea.
He would perch himself on the battlements with the salt wind blowing
through his hair, the rocks beneath him boiling foam from the waves
that swept in from the west. The perch was perilous enough, but the lad
had no fear of the windy height, or of the waves breaking against the
pediment of the cliff. To him man alone was terrible. There appeared
to be a confident understanding between Nature and himself, a sense of
good fellowship with his surroundings, such as the chamois may feel for
its mountain pinnacle, and the bird for the tree that bears its nest.

Jehan's thin face was turned often towards the central tower of the
castle, a square campanile that stood in the centre of the main court,
forming a species of citadel or keep. High up in the wall there was
a window, a streak of gloom that showed nothing of the room within.
Over Jehan this window possessed a peculiar influence. It was the
casement-royal of romance. Day by day, ever since Gorlois had come
south again, the lad had watched for the white oval of a face that
would look out momentarily from the shadow. Sometimes he saw a woman's
hand, a golden head glimmering in the sun. Jehan had seen Gorlois's
wife brought a second time into Tintagel. Her staring grief had taken
strange hold upon his heart. Ever since, with the kindled chivalry of a
boy, he had done great deeds in dreams, handled a sword, taken strong
men by the throat. The imagined event had fired the soul in him, and
made him the disciple of these sad and wistful eyes.

A bell smote in the court below. Its iron clapper dinned the fancies
out of Jehan's head, calling him to the menial realities of life. It
was the supper hour, and the men of the guard would be strenuously
inclined over the steaming pot, the wine-jar, and the twisting spit.
Jehan left his turret with the pathetic cynicism of an autumn twilight.
Little drudge that he was, he yet had the inward independence to
despise the folk who fed like swine, and terrorised him with pure
blatant barbarism. He could listen to their blasphemy, their ribald
songs, and breathe the moral garlic of their tongues with a disrelish
that never wavered. He had none of the innate impudence of youth.
Had he been of coarser fibre the men would soon have made a lewd
and insolent imp of him, but he was spared such a fate by a certain
spiritual instinct that recoiled from the vapouring brutality of it all.

There seemed more ribaldry abroad in the guard-room that night than was
customary even in so pious a place. The company, much like a pack of
hounds, hunted jest after jest from cover, and gave tongue royally with
a zest that would have been admirable in any other cause. Lamps swirled
ill-smelling smoke about the room. There was a lavish scattering of
armour along the benches, and the floor was dirtier than the floor of
any tavern.

Jehan's ears tingled as he went among the men, climbing over sprawling
legs, edging between stools and benches. The air reeked of mead, and
the miasma of loose talk rising from twenty throats. A woman's name was
tossed from tongue to tongue, bandied about with a familiar insolence
that made him blush for her like a brother. His heart burnt with the
bestial impudence, the sweat, the foul breath of it all. Yet before
these red-bearded faces, these vociferous mouths, he was a coward,
hating himself for his fear, hating the men for the sheer tyranny of
the flesh that awed him.

To hear in this den such things spoken of a woman, and of such a woman!
That she was true his quick instinct could aver in the very maw of the
world. There was the silver calm of the full moon in her face, and
she had for him the steadfastness, the incomprehensible eloquence, of
the stars. Were these men blind, that the staring grief, the divine
scorn, that had smitten him from the first with a vague awe, were
invisible to them? Their coarse cynicism was brutally incomprehensible
to Jehan. Having a soul, he could not see with the eyes of the sot or
the adulterer, nor had he learnt to mistrust the intelligence of his
own heart.

As he laboured from man to man with his jug of mead to keep the brown
horns brimming, he thought of the golden head that had glimmered in
the criss-cross light of the yews in the castle garden. The woman had
been faithless, to put popular report mildly; and Gorlois was a hard
man; he would see her dead before he pitied her. Jehan was so far gone
in dreams for the moment that he tripped over an outstretched pair of
legs, and shattered his stone jar on the floor.

A "God curse you," and lavish largesse in the way of kicks, recompensed
the dreamer for this contempt of office. Jehan, bruised, spattered
with mead, crawled away under the benches, and took refuge in a dark
corner, where he could recover his wits behind the piled pikes of the
gentlemen who cursed him. Such incidents were the trivialities of a
menial existence. Jehan wiped his face on his sleeve, choked down his
sobs with a dirty fist, and devoutly hoped to be forgotten.

Meanwhile a broad figure had stood framed in the doorway, and drawn the
attention of the company from the boy squirming like an eel along the
floor. Jehan, peeping round the pile of pikes, saw a woman in a scarlet
gown standing under a lamp that flared on the threshold. The woman was
of unusual girth and height. Her black hair streamed about her sensual
red face like clouds about a winter sun. Her neck was like the neck of
a bull, and her bare arms would have shamed the arms of a smith. Jehan
watched her as he would have watched a natural enemy, a thing whose
destiny was to be brutish and to destroy.

Men called her Malmain, the evil-handed. She was a cub of the forest,
strong as a bear, cruel as any wolf. Years ago she had been caught as a
child in the woods, tracked down to a rocky hole, a whelp that clawed
and bit, and knew nothing of the speech of men. She had been brought
to Tintagel and bred in the place, the pet of the soldiery, who had
taught her the use of arms and the smack of wine. In ten years she had
grown to her full strength, a creature wise in all the uncomely things
of life, coarse, bold, and violent. Last of all, Gorlois, with a genius
for vengeance, had given her charge of Igraine, his wife.

The woman was good to look upon in a large, florid fashion. She came in
and sat herself down on a stool at the end of one long wooden table,
and stared round with her hard brown eyes. One man passed her a cup,
another the wine jar. She tossed the former aside with an air of scorn,
and buried her face in the mouth of the jar. When she had taken her
pull she spat on the floor with a certain quaint deliberation, and
wiped her mouth on the back of her bare arm.

A wicked innuendo came from a man grinning at her elbow. Malmain
laughed and pulled at her lip. Her presence conferred no leavening
influence upon the place, and her sex made no claim for decorum. She
was more than capable of caring for herself in the company of these
gentlemen of the guard, for she could take her laugh and liquor with
the best of them, and claim a solid respect for a fist that could smite
like a mace.

She flustered up a sigh that ended in a hiccough. "I am tired," she
said, stretching her arms and showing the breadth and depth of her
great chest.

"Go to bed, fragile one, and shake the castle."

"Little chance of that; who says I snore?"

"Gildas the trumpeter."

"Curse him; how should he know?"

The man questioned grinned, and shrugged his shoulders.

"I meddle no further," he said. "How is the lord's wife?"

Malmain licked her lips and reached for the pot. She tilted it with
such gusto that the liquor overflowed and ran down her chin. After more
cat's-pawing and a snivel she waxed communicative with a matter-of-fact
coarseness, and like an old hound soon had the rest tonguing in her
track.

"Gorlois will break her yet," quoth one.

"Or bury her."

"A fit fellow, too,--and a gentleman; why can't she knuckle to him and
play the lady?"

"The woman's worth three of that chit with the white face; a fine brat
ought to come of it."

Malmain showed her strong white teeth.

"Somehow," she said, "there's no more cross-grained creature than a
woman with a grievance, especially when she has been baulked of her
man. Let a woman speak for a woman, though I break the spirit of her
with a whip. There's less fighting now; by Jesus, you should see her
bones staring through her skin."

Jehan had listened to their talk behind the pile of pikes in the
corner. The blatant cynicism of it all chilled him like a March wind.
He thought of the sad, strong face, the patient scorn, the youth, the
prophetic May of her of whom they spoke. There was a certain terrible
realism here that tore the tender bosom of his dreams.

The room stifled him with its smoke and stew. Crawling round by the
wall on all fours, he gained the door and crept out unnoticed into the
dark. In the sky above the stars were shining. The world seemed big
with peace, and the face of the heavens shone mild and clear as the
face of God.

Jehan stood under the shadow of the wall and looked at the window high
up in the tower. It was black and lustreless, and only the dust of the
stars shone up in the vast canopy of gloom. Jehan shook his fist at the
dark pile of stone. Then he went up to the roof of the little turret
and watched the sea foaming dimly on the rocks below.



II


"I would have you know, madame, that every woman is pleasing to
man,--saving his own wife."

"Who in turn is pleasing to his friend,--even if he chance to be a
king."

The woman on the couch tossed her slipper from her small foot, and
struck a series of snapping chords from the guitar that she held in
her bosom. There was a certain rich insolence in her look,--a sensuous
wickedness that was wholly poetic. The man bent forward from his stool,
lifted the slipper, and kissed the foot whence it had fallen. He won a
smile from the face bowered up in cushions, a smile like sunlight on
a brazen mirror, brilliant, clear, metallic. There was a fine flush
on her face, and the star on her bosom rose and fell as her breathing
seemed to quicken and deepen for the moment. Her fingers plucked
waywardly at the strings as she looked out from the window towards the
sea.

"I love life," she said.

"Surely."

"The pomp, the pride, the glory of being great. I have a future for
you."

A kind of spiritual echo burnt in the man's eyes.

"And my wife?"

"You are still something of a madman."

"So you say."

"I--indeed!"

He bent forward with a sudden eruption of passion and kissed her foot
again, till she drew it away under the folds of her dress.

"Ah, you are still a little mad," she said, turning and smiling at him
with her quick eyes; "bide so, my dear lord; I can suffer it."

"And yet--"

"I hate her! I hate her! I hate her!"

"Bah!--she cannot harm you."

"I hate her for being a martyr, for being strong, for thinking herself
a saint. Pah!--how I could scratch her proud, big face. She humiliates
me because of her misery, because she is contented to suffer. It is
impossible to trample such a woman underfoot."

The man gave a queer laugh.

"You are still envious."

"I envious,--I!"

"Because she is never humbled, never asks mercy."

"Curse her, let her die! Come and fan me, I am sleepy."

On the southern side of the central tower, between it and the State
quarters of the castle, lay the garden of Tintagel. It was a lustrous
nook, barriered by grey walls, sheltered from the sea wind, and open to
the full stare of the sun. Sombre cypresses lifted their spires above
flower-beds mosaicked red, gold, and blue. The paths were tiled with
coloured stones, and bordered with helichryse. In the centre of all a
pool glimmered from a square of bright green grass.

The window in the tower that had so seized upon the lad Jehan's heart
looked out upon this square of colour that shone beneath the extreme
blue of the summer sky. The casement was an open mihrab whence tragedy
could look out upon the world. The glory of the sea, the sky, the
cliffs, contrasted with the twilight tint of the prison room.

Gorlois's wife sat in the window-seat and watched the waves and the
horizon with vacant eyes. She was clad in a tattered gown of grey. Her
hair had been shorn close, leaving but a golden aureole over neck,
ears, and forehead. One hand was wrapped in a blood-stained cloth, and
there were marks left by a whip upon her face. Her gown reached hardly
to her ankles, showing bare feet and wheals, where the scourge had
been. She was very frail, very worn, very spiritual.

Her face was the face of one who looks into the solemn sadness of the
past. Her lips were pressed together as in pain, and a certain divine
despair dwelt in her deep eyes like light reflected from some twilight
pool. The muscles stood limned in her neck like cords, and the fingers
of one hand were hooked in the neck-band of her gown.

Many days had passed since the life in Garlotte's valley. They had
taught Igraine the deeds that might result from the stirring of the
passions of such a man as Gorlois. It was a strenuous age, and men's
souls were cast in large mould either to the image of good or evil.
Even Boethius could not escape the malice of a great king. Attila had
scourged the nations with a scourge of steel. Old things were passing
amid disruption and despair. Gorlois had caught the Titanic, violent
spirit of the age. His personality had won a lurid emphasis from
tragedies that shook the world.

Igraine had suffered many things, shame, torture, famine, since she had
fallen again into his power. The man had shown no pity, only a fine
fecundity in his devices for the breaking of her spirit. He could be
barbarous as any Hun, and though she had guessed his fibre, it was not
till these latter days that she learnt to know him more fully to her
own distress. It was not the physical alone that oppressed her; Gorlois
had imagination, ingenuity; he made her moral sufferings keener than
the lash, and subordinated the flesh to the spirit. Igraine withstood
him through it all. She felt in her heart that she was going to die.

As she sat at the window, the sound of laughter came up suddenly from
the garden, glowing in the sunlight. Mere mockery might have been its
inspiration, so light, so merry, and so mellow was it. Igraine heard
it, and leant forward over the sill to gain a broader view of the tiled
walks and flower-beds below. She saw a woman dart out of a doorway in
the wall opposite, and run in very dainty fashion, holding her skirts
gathered in one hand, the other flourishing a posy of red roses. As
she ran she laughed with an unrestrained extravagance that had in it
something sensual and alluring.

Igraine watched her with a badge of colour in her cheeks. The woman
in the garden was clad in a tunic of sky-blue silk that ran down her
body like flowing water. The tunic was cut low at the neck so as to
show her white breast, whereon shone a little cross of gold. Her hair
shimmered loose about her in the sunlight like an amber veil. Her
lips were tinctured with vermilion; her face seemed white as apple
blossom, and shadows had been painted under her lids. She moved with
a graceful, sinuous air, her blue gown rippling about her, her small
feet, slippered with silver embroidery, flashing glibly over the stones.

A man was following her among the cypresses, and Igraine saw that it
was Gorlois, sunburnt and strong, with ruddy arms, and the strenuous
zest of manhood. There was something unpleasing in the muscular
movement of his mood. He was Græcian and antique, a Mars striding with
the red face of no godly love; sheer bovine vigour in the curves of his
strong throat.

Igraine saw the woman run round the garden, laughing as she went, her
hair blowing behind her in the sunlight. She turned up the central
path that led to the pool, with its little lawn closed by a balustrade
of carved stone. Morgan la Blanche stood by the water and watched
Gorlois abjuring the paths and striding towards her, knee-deep in blue
and purple. He leapt the balustrade, and stood looking at the woman
laughing at him through her hair.

The red roses were thrust into Gorlois's face as he came to closer
quarters. There was a short scuffle before the girl abandoned herself
to him with a kind of sensuous languor. Igraine saw her body wrapped up
in the man's brown arms.

It was a minute or more before the two became aware of the face at
the window overhead. Igraine found them staring up at her, Gorlois's
swarthy face close to the woman's light aureole of hair as she stood
buttressed against his broad chest. By instinct Igraine drew back
into the room, till pride conquered this shrinking impulse. She leant
forward upon her hands and stared down at the two, allegorical as Truth
shaming Falsehood.

The woman, meanwhile, had drawn aside from Gorlois's arms. She was
pulling the roses to pieces, and scattering the red petals on the
water, and there was a peevish sneer upon her lips.

"Ever this white death," she said.

Igraine saw the impatient gesturing of Morgan's hands, the tap of
the embroidered slipper on the grass. The woman's words seemed to
trouble Gorlois; he stood aside, and did not look at her, even when
she edged away, watching him over her shoulder. It was a conflict of
dishonourable sensations. Morgan jerked a quick look from her large
blue eyes at the window overhead. There was nothing but rampant egotism
upon her face, and it was evident that she trusted on Gorlois to follow
her. He was staring swarthily into the water as though he watched the
fish moving in the shallow basin. He hardly heeded Morgan as she picked
up her pride and left him. Other thoughts seemed to have strong hold
upon his mind, and he stood at gaze till the blue gown disappeared
under the arch of the door it had so lately quitted.

Gorlois leant against the balustrade and pulled his moustachios. His
eyes had no very spiritual look, and his red lower lip drooped like an
unfurled scroll. More than once he cast a quick, restless glance at
the window in the tower. Irresolution seemed to run largely through
his mood, and it was some while before he gathered his manhood and
passed up an avenue of cypresses towards the tower. At the foot of the
stairway he stood pulling his lip, and staring at the stones, oppressed
by a certain dubiousness of thought.

Climbing the stairs, he found the woman Malmain in an alcove, asleep
on a settle. Her head had fallen back against the wall, her mouth was
agape, and she was snoring with her black hair tumbled over her face.
Gorlois woke her with his foot.

The woman started up with the growl of a watch-dog, stared, and stood
silent. Gorlois, curt as a man burdened with a purpose, spoke few words
to her. She opened a door by a certain, mechanical catch, went in, and
closed it after her.

Half an hour passed.

The door rolled again on its hinges. Malmain came out and stood before
Gorlois on the threshold. She was breathing hard, and sweat stood on
her face. Gorlois gave her a look and a word, passed in, and slammed
the door after him. Malmain sat down on the settle, wiped her face, and
listened.

For a minute or more she heard nothing. An indefinite sound broke the
silence, like the moving of branches in a wind at night. There was the
sound of hard breathing, and the creaking of wood. Something clattered
to the floor.

"God judge between you and me."

The voice was half-stifled as with the choking bitterness of great
shame. Malmain grinned in her corner, and leant her head against the
door to listen the better.

"What of God!" said the man's voice with a certain hot scorn; "what is
God?"

"Take your knife and end it."

"Madame wife, there is good in you yet."

There was silence again, like a lull betwixt ecstasies of rain.
Presently the woman's voice was heard, low, sullen, shamed.

"Man--man, let me die!"

"Own me master."

"You--you! How can I lie in my throat!"

"Is truth so new a thing?"

"You have taught me to love death."

Malmain heard Gorlois's hand upon the door. She opened it forthwith;
he came out upon the threshold. His hands were trembling, and his face
seemed dull, his eyes passionless.

"I shall tame you yet," he said.

"You can kill me!" came the retort from the room.



III


There was in Tintagel a certain man named Mark, a legionary of the
guard. The castle had known him two months or less, when he had come
south into Cornwall with Gorlois's troop from Caerleon. He was an
olive-skinned mercenary, black of beard and black of eye. In the
guard-room he had become vastly popular; he could harp, tell a tale,
hurl the bar, with any man in the garrison. He was strong and agile as
a panther, and as ready with his tongue as he was with his sword. His
comrades thought him a merry rapscallion enough, a good fellow whose
life was rounded comfortably by the needs of the flesh. He could drink
and jest, eat, sleep, and be happy.

Women have quick instinct for a man of mettle, one whose capabilities
for pleasing are somewhat of a perilous kind. Malmain of the Forest
had taken note of Mark's black eyes, his olive skin, the immense
self-control that seemed to bridle him. He had a fine leg, and a most
gentlemanly hand. Moreover, his inimitable impudence, his supple wit,
took her fancy, seeing that he was a man who professed a superb scorn
for petticoats, and posed as being wise beyond his generation. There
was a certain insolent independence about him that seemed to make of
him a philosopher, a person pleased with the puerilities of others.

It came about that Malmain--clumsy, lumbering creature--took to heaving
stupendous sighs under the very nose of Mark of the guard. She had not
been bred to reservations. If she liked a man, she told him the truth,
with a certain admirable frankness. If she hated him, he could always
rely upon her fist. Any ethical principle was like a book to her--very
curious, no doubt, but absolutely beyond her understanding.

Now the man Mark was a person of intelligence and discretion. He needed
the woman's friendship for diplomatic reasons snared up in his own
long skull, and since such partisanship could be won by a look and a
word, he soon had Malmain very much at his service. Shrewd and cunning
wench that she was in the course of nature, she was somewhat easily
fooled by the man's suave impudence. She haunted Mark like a shadow
when off her duty,--a very substantial shadow, be it noted,--and made
it extravagantly plain that she was blessed after all with some of the
sentiments of a woman.

One evening, being in the mood, she caught him in a bye-passage as he
came off guard. He was in armour, and carried a spear slanted over his
shoulder. His burnished casque seemed to give a fine setting to his
strong, sallow face.

Malmain, generous creature, filled the passage like a gate. Her face
matched her scarlet smock, and she was grinning like some grotesque
head from the antique. Mark came to a halt, and leaning on his spear,
looked at her in the most bland manner possible. He did not trust
women overmuch, and he mistrusted Malmain in particular. Moreover, she
smacked of the wine-cask.

The woman edged close, and shook a fist in his face with a certain
bluff enthusiasm.

"A bargain! a bargain!"

The passage was open to the west, and a glare of sunlight shimmered
into Mark's eyes. He could only see the woman as a great blur, a mass
of trailing hair, a loose, exuberant smock haloed with gold.

"Ha! my cherub, you seem in fettle."

The fist still flickered in his face.

"A bargain! a bargain!"

"Mother of mercy! you are in such a devil of a hurry."

"A kiss for what's in my hand."

"A buffet--big one--a rush-ring, or a garter?"

"That tongue of yours; look and see, look and see!"

Malmain spread her fingers. The man saw a ring of gold carved in the
form of a dragon, with rubies for eyes, and a collar of emeralds about
its throat. Lying in the woman's moist, fat palm, it glimmered in the
slant light of the sun. Mark's eyes glittered as he looked at it.

"I had the thing from the woman above," quoth Malmain, jerking her
thumb over her shoulder.

"A bribe?"

"Who'd bribe me? Not a woman!"

"Honest soul."

"'That ring looks well on your finger,' said I. 'I shall have it.'
'Never!' said she. 'That's too big a word,' said I. So I forced it off,
for all her temper, and broke her finger in the doing of it."

A transient shadow seemed to pass across the man's face, the wraith of
a ghost-wrath insensible to the world.

"Close the bargain, cherub."

"A buss for it."

"Twenty kisses in a week, and my mug of supper beer." He had the ring.

Malmain did not stand alone in her devotion to Mark of the guard. The
man had come by another friend in Tintagel, a friend without influence,
it is true, but one, at least, who possessed abundant individuality,
and the charm of an ingenuous nature. Mark was no mere bravo when he
turned partisan to the lad Jehan, and took him within the pale of his
mothering wit. He had a profound knowledge of men, and a philosophic
insight into character that had not been gained solely on the march or
in the ale-house. By profession he appeared a devil-may-care gentleman
of the sword, a man of bone and muscle, the possessor of a vigorous
stomach. These attributes were mere stage properties, so to speak,
necessary to him for the occasion. For the rest, he knew what he knew.

Mark had seen more than cowardice in the sensitive face of the lad.
He had discovered the soul beneath the surface, the warmer, bolder
personality behind the deceit of the flesh. Jehan appealed to him as
a friendless thing, a vial of glass jostled in the stream of life by
rough potsherds and sounding bowls. Mark took the lad in hand and made
a disciple of him in less than a week. He humoured the lad, encouraged
him, treated him like a comrade, drew the soul out of his limp,
starved body. Jehan had never fallen upon such a friend before. He was
bewitched by the man's personality. This Mark with the strong face and
the falcon's eye seemed to see deep into the finer sentiments of life,
to think as he thought, to conceive as he conceived. Jehan, unconscious
little idealist that he was, bubbled over into innumerable confidences
and confessions of feeling. This dark-eyed man, who never laughed at
him, whose voice was never blatant and threatening, seemed to exert
a magnetic influence upon his spirit. Jehan throned him a species of
demigod, and idolised him as he had idolised few living things on earth
before.

There was more method in Mark's friendship than his comrades of the
guard ever dreamt of in their thick noddles. They had many a laugh at
Malmain and many a jest at her expense, but their wit never worked
beyond vulgar banality. As for Jehan, his existence certainly seemed
to better itself so far as they were concerned, though what the man
Mark could see worth patronising in the lad, they were at a loss
to discover. Jehan grew less servile, less diffident, more open of
countenance. He hided a cook-boy of his own age in a casual scuffle.
Mark had used a strong arm and a stronger wit for him on occasion, and
the little bastard was no longer cuffed at the random pleasure of every
gentleman of Gorlois's guard.

Jehan often spoke to Mark of the lady of the tower whose hair was like
the red-gold cloak of autumn. The man seemed ready to hear of her
beauty and her distress, and all the multitudinous tales concerning her
given from the guard-room. He kindled to the romantic possibilities
of the affair, and was as full of sentiment as Jehan himself could
wish. Saying little at first, he watched the lad with keen, discerning
eyes, as though tracing out the trend, depth, and sincerity of his
sympathies; nor was he long ignorant of the strain of chivalry that was
sounding in the lad's heart. The more generous sentiments leapt out
in a look, a word, a colouring of the cheek. Given inspiration, it was
possible to make a fanatic of the boy, a hero in the higher rendering
of the term.

In due course the man grew more communicative, less of a listener.
Jehan heard of Avangel, of the island manor in Andredswold, of Pelleas,
and of the days in Winchester. The whole tragedy was spread before
him like a legend, some mighty passion throe of the past. He listened
open-mouthed, with blue eyes that searched the man's face. Mark had
taken to himself of a sudden an air of mystery and peril. Jehan knew by
intuition that these matters were to be kept secret as the grave. Great
pride rose in him at being held worthy of such trust. He felt even
aggrieved when Mark spoke to him of discretion, with a finger on his
lip. Such a secret was like a hoard of gold to the lad. It pleased him
with a sense of responsibility and of faith, and Jehan loved honour,
for all his novitiate amid the morals of the guard-room.

He had drunk deep of old songs, and of the heroics of the harp. Such
things were like moonlight to him, touching his soul with a lustre of
idyllic truth. He began to dream dreams, and to speculate extravagantly
as to the things that were yet hid from his knowledge. It was borne
in upon his mind that Mark was this Pelleas in disguise, come to save
Igraine from Gorlois and the towers of Tintagel. The notion took his
heart by storm, and his sympathies hovered over the woman like so many
scarlet-winged moths. He desired greatly to speak to Mark of that
which was in his heart, but feared to seem mischievous and lacking in
discretion.

Some three days after Malmain had given Mark the Lady Igraine's ring,
Gorlois rode hunting with Morgan la Blanche and a train of knights
and damsels. Half the castle turned out to see them sally with their
ten couple of hounds in leash, and a goodly company of prickers and
beaters. Gareth the minstrel rode with the company on a white horse
and sang to the harp a hunting song, and then a chant d'amour.
Morgan's laugh was as clear as a bell pealing over water as she rode at
Gorlois's side in the sunlight, her silks and samites and gold-green
tissues fluttering in the wind.

Jehan ran over the bridge to see them go down into the valley. The dogs
tugged at the thongs, the boar spears glittered, the dresses threaded
the maze of green as roses thread a briar. Jehan climbed a rock,
exulting in the life, the spirit, the colour of it all. Gareth's strong
voice came up from the valley as he sang of love and of the fairness of
women. Jehan envied him his harp and the honour that it won him. It was
his own hope to sing of the beauty of the world, the green ecstasy of
spring, of autumn forests flaming to the sky, the eternal sorrow of the
tortured sea. He came by this same desire in later years when he sang
to Arthur and Guinevere and Launcelot of the Lake in the gardens of
Caerleon.

A hand plucked him by the heel as he lay curled on the rock watching,
the cavalcade flickering away into the green. Looking down, he saw the
strong face of Mark of the guard. There was a smile on the man's lips,
and to Jehan there seemed something prophetic in his eyes. He climbed
down and stood looking into the other's face, the mute, trusting look
of a dog.

Mark took him by the shoulder.

"The sea is blue and gold, and the 'Priest's Pool' like a violet well."

"There is time for a swim."

"We will watch for a sail from the cliffs."

"And you will tell me more of Pelleas and Igraine."

Mark was in a visionary mood; he used his spear as a staff and talked
little. A sleepy sea bubbled a line of foam along the shore. Bleak
slopes rolled greenly against an azure sky, and landwards crag and
woodland stood steeped in a mist of sunlight. Jehan, sedulous and
reverent, watched the passionless calm of thought upon the man's face.
His eyes were turned constantly towards the sea with the hope of one
waiting for a white sail from the underworld.

When they had gone a mile or more along the cliffs, they came to a
path leading to a bay whose lunette of sand shone red gold above the
foam. It was a place of crags and headlands, poised sea billows, purple
waters pressing from the west. Jehan sat on a stone and waited. Mark
took his cloak and bound it to the staff of his spear. Jehan watched
him as he stood at his full height like a tall pine on the edge of the
cliff and lifted his spear at arm's length above his head. Seawards,
dim and distant like a pearl over the purple sea, Jehan saw a sail
strike out of the vague west. Mark still held the cloak upon his spear.
Jehan understood something of all this. His mind, packed with plots and
subtleties, shone with the silvery aureole of romance.

The sail grew against the sky, and a ship loomed gradual out of the
west. Mark shook the cloak from his spear, and climbed down the path
that curled from the cliff with Jehan at his heels. Below, the waves
swirled in amid the rocks and ran ripple on ripple up the yellow sand.
The whole place seemed filled with the hoarse underchant of the sea.

In a narrow part of the track Mark stopped suddenly, and stood leaning
on his spear. Jehan nearly blundered into him, but saved himself by the
help of a tuft of grass. The man's face was on a level with the lad's,
and his eyes seemed to look into Jehan's soul.

He pointed to the distant headland, where the towers of Tintagel rose
against the sky.

"Death waits yonder," he said.

"For whom?"

"Igraine,--Gorlois's wife."

Jehan looked at him with all his soul. The man was no longer the
quaint, vapouring soldier, but a being of different mould, keen,
solemn, even magnificent. Jehan felt himself on the verge of romance;
the man's face seemed to stare down fear.

"And Pelleas!" he said.

"Pelleas?"

"Art thou not Pelleas?"

Mark smiled in his eyes.

"Your dreams fly too fast," he said.

"And yet--"

"You would see some one play the hero. Who knows but that a bastard may
save a kingdom."

Mark moved on down the path, stopping now and again to watch the ship
at sea; Jehan followed at his heels. They reached the beach, and saw
the waves rolling in on them from the west, with the white belly of
a sail showing over the water. Mark made no further tarrying in the
matter. Standing on a stretch of sand levelled smooth by the water, he
traced a cross thereon with the point of his spear.

"Swear by the cross."

Jehan's face was turned to the man's, eager and enquiring.

"To whom shall I swear troth?" he said.

"To Gorlois's wife."

"Ah!"

"And to the King."

"The King!"

Jehan crossed himself with great good-will.

"By the blood of the Lord Jesu, I swear troth."

They went down close to the waste of waters, and let the spume sweep
almost to their feet. A vast blue bank of clouds mountained the far
west; the sea seemed deep in colour as an amethyst. Gulls were winging
and wailing about the cliffs. Tintagel stood out in its strength
against the sky, and they could see the waves white upon its rocks.

Mark took the ring Malmain had given him from a pouch at his belt, and
held the gold circle before the lad's eyes.

"From the hand of Gorlois's wife," he said.

Jehan nodded.

"This ring was given her by that Pelleas."

"Yes."

"Who is Uther Pendragon, the King."

Jehan's blue eyes seemed to dilate till they looked strangely large in
his thin white face.

"The King!" he said, in a kind of whisper.

Mark made all plain to him in a few words.

"The Lady Igraine loved Pelleas, as well she might, not knowing him to
be Ambrosius's brother. It was this same great love that brought her in
peril of Gorlois's sword. It is this same love that draws her down to
her death--there in Tintagel. Uther Pendragon is at Caerleon; her hope
is with him. You, Jehan, shall carry word of this to the King."

The lad's heart was beating like the heart of a giant. The world seemed
to expand about him, to grow luminous with the glory of great deeds;
he had the braying of a hundred trumpets in his ears. He heard swords
ring, saw banners blow, and towers topple like smitten trees.

"I am the King's servant," he said.

"You have sworn troth; so be it. You shall go to the King, to Uther
Pendragon, at Caerleon. Tell him you had this ring from a soldier,
bribed to deliver it by the Lady Igraine. Tell him the evil that is
done to her in the castle of Tintagel. Tell him all--withhold nothing."

Jehan flushed to the temples; his lips moved, but no words came from
them. He stood stiff and erect, looking out to sea, following with his
eyes the sweep of Mark's spear.

"I am the King's servant," he said.

The ship had drawn in towards the shore. She was lying to with her
sails put aback, her black hull rising and falling morosely against
the tumultuous purple of the clouds. Nearer still a small galley came
heading for the shore with a gush of foam at her prow as the men in her
bent to the oars. The galley came swinging in on the broad backs of the
sluggish waves, and shooting the surf, grounded on the sands, the men
in her leaping out and dragging her beyond the reach of the sea.

There was a more mellow light on Mark's face as he pointed Jehan to
the boat, and the ship swaying on the sun-gilded waves.

"They will carry you to Caerleon," he said.

"And you, sire?"

"There is need of me at Tintagel."

"I have sworn troth."

Jehan stood and looked into the west at the clouds gold-ribbed, domed,
snow, and purple. His face might have been lit by the warm glow of a
lamp, so clear and radiant was it. He had thrust the King's ring into
his bosom.

"The Lord Jesu speed me," he said; "through the Lady Igraine's face I
am no longer a coward. God speed me to save her!"

Mark kissed him on the forehead.

"You have a soul in you," he said.

The man stood on the strand under the black cliffs and watched the boat
climb the waves. He saw the galley hoisted up, the sails flapping in
the wind as the ship sheered out and ran for the open sea. Her sails
gleamed white against the tumultuous west, and the ridged waters hid
her hull. Overhead, the gulls screamed and circled. Mark, shouldering
his spear, turned back and climbed the cliff, with his face towards the
towers of Tintagel.



IV


A galley came up the Usk towards dawn, towards dawn when the woods were
hung with mist, and a vast quiet brooded over the world. The river made
a moist murmur through reeds and sedge, seeming to chant of golden
meads as it ran to wed the sea. All the eastern casements of Caerleon
glimmered gold as the dawn struck over wood and hill; the city's walls
smiled out of the night; her vanes and towers were noosed as with fire.
The galley drew to the great quay, and poled to the steps as the city
awoke.

A lad, with his russet mantle turned up over his girdle, passed up
from the galley and the quay towards the southern gate of the city of
Caerleon. His step was sanguine, his face deep with dreams. He seemed
to personate "Youth" entering that city of woeful magic that poets and
painters name "Romance."

Within the walls the stir of life had been sounded in by the clarions
of the dawn. Seafaring men went down to the river and their ships. At
the gate arms rang, tumbrils rumbled. Slim girls passed out into the
orchards and the fields, under the trees all heavily grained, russet
and green and gold. Women drew water at the wells. The merchant folk in
the market square spread their stalls for the day--fruit, flesh, fish,
cloth, and the fabrics of the East, armour and brazen jars, vases of
strange device.

The city pleased the lad as he passed through its stirring streets, and
took the vigour of it, the human symbolism, into his soul. His idealism
shed a glamour over the place; how red and white were its maidens;
how fair its stately houses; how splendid the clashing armour of its
guards. In the market square he asked a wizened apple-seller concerning
the palace, and was pointed to the wooded hill where white walls rose
above the green. Jehan solaced himself with a couple of ruddy apples
from the stall. It was early yet for the palace, so the seller said,
and Jehan sat down by a fountain where doves flew, and thought of his
errand as he watched the folk go by.

The sun was high before he came to the great gate leading to the
gardens of the King. It chanced to be a great day at Caerleon, a day
of public appeal, when Uther played patriarch to his people, and sat
to hear the prayers of the wronged or the oppressed. Hence it followed
that Jehan, pressing in at the gate, found himself one among many,
one of a herd, a boy among his elders. In the antechamber of the
palace he was edged into a corner, elbowed and kept there by stouter
clients who, as a mere matter of course, shouldered a boy to the wall.
Argument availed nothing. Men were used to plausible tales for winning
precedence, and each considered his especial matter the most pressing
in the eyes of justice. The crowd overawed him. The doorkeepers thrust
him back with their staves when he waxed importunate and attempted to
parley. Often he bethought him of the ring, but, being quick to suspect
theft in such a mob, he kept the talisman tight in his tunic, and
trusted to time and the powers of patience.

What with giving way to women whose sex commended them, and men whose
strength and egotism seemed vested in their elbows, Jehan was fended
far from the door all day. A squabbling, querulous crowd filled the
place; women with grievances, merchants who had been plundered on the
road; peasants, priests, soldiers; beggars and adventurers; a Jew
banker whom some Christian had taken by the beard; a farmer whose
wife had taken a fancy to a gentleman's bed. It was a stew of envy,
discontent, and misfortune. Jehan, whose none too sumptuous clothing
did him little service, was shouldered casually into the background.
"Take second place to a brat of a boy! God forbid such an indignity!"
The vexed folk believed vigorously in the premiership of years.

It was well towards evening when Jehan, who had gone fasting save for
a rye-cake, found himself the last to claim audience of the King. A
fat pensioner, yawning phenomenally and dreaming of supper, eyed him
with little favour from the top step of the stair. The day had been a
crowded one, and the savoury scent of roast flesh assailed the senses
of the gentleman of the "white wand." Jehan braved the occasion with
heart thumping, produced the ring, and held it as a charm under the
doorkeeper's nose.

There was an abrupt revulsion in the methods of this domestic demigod.
Doors opened as by a magic word; servants went to and fro; bells
sounded. A grey-bearded Pharisee appeared, scanned the lad over with an
aristocratic contempt, beckoned him to follow. The man with the white
wand refrained for a moment from yawning over the paltriness of the
world at large.

Jehan, taken by galleries and curtained doors, and disenchanted
somewhat with the palatial régime, found himself in a chapel casemented
towards the west. Lamps burnt upon the altar, and a priest knelt upon
the steps as in prayer. Sacramental vessels glimmered at the feet of
the frescoed saints. A fragrant scent of musk and lavender lay heavy on
the air.

Jehan saw a man standing by a window, a man girded with a sword, and
garbed in no light and joyous fashion. The man's face possessed a kind
of sorrowful grandeur, a solemn kindliness that struck home into the
lad's heart. The eyes that met his were eyes such as women and children
trust. Jehan guessed speedily enough that this was the King.

There was a certain intuition big in him, prophesying of the pain that
burdened his message. He faltered for the moment, knelt down, looked
into the man's eyes, and took courage. There was a questioning calm in
them that quieted him like the dew of prayer. He took the ring and gave
it into the King's hand.

"From the Lady Igraine," was his plea.

Now Jehan, though he looked no higher than Uther's knees, saw him rock
and sway like some great poplar in a storm. A strange lull seemed to
fall sudden upon the world. The lad listened to the beating of his own
heart, and wondered. He had soul enough to imagine the large utterance
of those few words of his.

A deep voice startled him.

"Your message."

He knelt there and told his tale, simply, and without clamour.

"It is the truth, sire," he said at the end thereof, "so may I drink
again of the Lord's blood, and eat his bread at the holy table."

"My God, what truth!"

The man's voice swept the chapel like a wind, deep, sonorous, and
terrible. The large face, the broad forehead, the deep-set eyes were
turned to the casement and the west. The face was like the face of one
who looks into hell. Jehan, on his knees, looked up and shivered. He
had told the truth, and the storm awed him like a miracle. It seemed
almost impious to be witness of a wrath that was as the righteous
passion of a god.

"Gorlois tortures her?"

"To her death, sire."

"The whole--spare nothing."

"She is starved and scourged, and harlots mock her."

"God!"

"They drag her soul in the mire."

It was sunset, and all the sky burnt gold and crimson in the west.
Every lozenge of glass in the casement shone red as with fire. Beyond
Caerleon a mysterious gloom of trees rolled blackly against the chaos
of the decline. The whole world seemed glamoured and steeped in a
ghostly quiet. Usk, a band of shadowy gold, ran with vague glimmerings
to the sea.

The King spread his arms to the west, and under his black brows his
eyes smouldered.

"Am I Uther of Britain--and a King?"

And again in a deep half-heard whisper--

"Igraine! Igraine! thou art true unto death."

From the terrace below came sudden the sound of harping. It was
Rivalin, the Court minstrel, singing as the sun went down--

    "Quenched be all the bitter pain,
    When the roses bloom again
    Eyes shall smile through glimmering tears."

The face of the King was like the face of a man who sees a vision.
All the glow of the hills seemed in his eyes. His hands shook as he
stretched them to the west, the west that was a chasm of torrential
gold.

"Igraine," he said, as in a dream.

And again--

"Tintagel will I hurl into the sea."

Jehan knelt and looked mutely at the King. The gloom of the roof seemed
to cover him like a canopy, and the frescoes glimmered through the
blue shadows. Uther wore a small crucifix about his neck. Jehan, full
of a sense of tragedy, saw him tear the crucifix from its chain, and
cast it at his feet. The priest at the altar, haloed by the glowing of
his lamps, looked at the King, white and wondering. It was an exultant
voice that made the chalice quiver.

"Hitherto I have served a God," it said; "now I will serve my own soul!"



V


The woman's face, haloed by the gloom of the casement, still looked out
from Tintagel over the solitary grandeur of sea and cliff. Igraine saw
ships pass seldom athwart the west, but they brought no hope for her,
for she thought herself alone, and served of none. How should Uther the
King know that she was mewed in Tintagel at Gorlois's pleasure! Had he
not commended her to the calm orchards and cloisters of a nunnery? Even
the ring he had given her had been stolen by sheer force. Days came and
went, dawn flooded the eastern woods with gold, and evening tossed her
torches in the west. To Igraine they were as alike as the gulls that
wheeled and winged white over the blue waters.

There are few men of such despicable fibre that they are wholly ruled
by the egotism of the flesh. Your complete villain is no frequent
prodigy, being more the denizen of the regions of romance than of the
common, trafficking, trivial world. There are bad men enough, but few
Neros. Give a human being passions, pride, and intense egotism, and
his potential energy for evil is unbounded. Virtue is often a mere
matter of habit or circumstance. Joseph might have ended otherwise if
Potiphar's wife had had more wit; and as for Judas, he was unfortunate
in being made banker to a God.

Gorlois of Cornwall was beholden to his own strenuous, north-winded
nature for any trouble he might incur in his madness against Igraine.
However much he braved it out to his own conscience, he knew well
enough whether he was content or no. He was a strong man, and selfish,
resentful, and very human. He was no Oriental monster, no mere Herod.
What magnanimity he possessed towards his wife had been frozen into a
wolfish scorn by the things that had passed in Garlotte's valley in
Wales. Moreover, he had a bad woman at his elbow. Like many a vexed and
restless man, he had turned to ambition, and the darker features of his
character were being developed thereby. A king had wronged him; it was
easy for a great noble to lay plots against a king. War and the clamour
of war became like the prophetic sound of a storm from afar in his ears.

Little comment had followed upon the disappearance of the lad Jehan on
the day when Gorlois and his knights had ridden hunting. No one cared
for the lad; no one missed him materially. Casual gossip arose thereon
in the guard-room. The lad had risked the halter or the branding-iron,
and sundry threats were launched after him at random. Mark of the guard
shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

"There's pluck in the lad," he said, "for all your bullying. By my
faith, I guess he grew tired of kicks and leavings, and of being cursed
by so many sons of the pot. Bastard or no bastard, the lad's no fool."

The guard-room scoffed complacently at the notion. Jehan do anything in
the world but snivel! Not he! These gentlemen judged of a man's worth
by the animal propensities of the creature. They weighed a man as they
would weigh an ox--for flesh, and the breed in him. Mark, making a
show of warming to his wine, enlightened his men further as to Jehan's
disappearance.

"The lad and I went to bathe," he said; "there was a ship in the
offing, and sailors had come ashore to get water by St. Isidore's
spring. They wanted a lad for cabin service, so I took two gold pieces,
and told them to kidnap Jehan."

A laugh hailed the confession, a laugh that changed to a cheer when
Mark won accomplices by casting largesse for a scramble on the
guard-room floor.

"I wish them luck of him," said the captain, pocketing silver; "devil
of a spark could I ever knock out of the lad."

"May be you hit too hard."

"May be not. I'll lay my fist against a rope's-end for education."

"Mark takes his wine like a gentleman," quoth one.

"May he get drunk on pay day."

"And sell another Joseph into Egypt."

The woman Malmain came in to join them, corpulent and thirsty.
Superabundant and colossal, she impressed a strenuous and didactic mood
upon the company, grumbling like a volcano, emitting a smoke of mighty
unfeminine gossip. Her black eyes wandered continually towards Mark of
the guard. She watched him with a certain air of possession amid all
her sweat and jabber, laughing when he laughed, making herself a coarse
echo to his will.

Some one spoke of Gorlois's wife. So personal a subject moved Malmain
to mystery on the instant. She tapped her forehead with her finger;
shook her head with a significance that was sufficient for the occasion.

"Mad!" said the captain of the guard.

Malmain sucked her lips and yawned with her great chasm of a mouth.

"She was always that," she said with a hiccough.

"Paradise, eh?"

"And golden harps!"

"And, damme, no beer!"

There was a certain flavour in the last remark that made the men roar.

"I wonder where they'll bury her," said the captain.

"Throw her into the sea."

"Gorlois's little wench won't weep her eyes out."

Malmain smote a stupendous hip, and tumbled to the notion. The settle
shook and creaked under her as though in protest.

"We'll all get married," she said; "Mark, my man, don't blush."

Babylon was compassed round! The same evening a soldier on the walls
of Tintagel saw a dim throng of sails rise whitely out of the west.
The streaks of canvas stood above the sea touched by the light of
the setting sun. There was something ominous in these gleaming sails
sweeping in a wide half-circle out of the unknown. A motley throng of
castle folk gathered on the walls. Men spoke of the barbarians and of
Ireland as they watched the ships rising solemn and silent from the
west. Gorlois himself climbed up into a tower and gazed long at these
sails whose haven was as yet unknown. He learnt little by the scrutiny.
The ships had hardly risen above the purple twilight when night came
and shrouded the whole in vague and impenetrable gloom.

Gorlois ordered the castle into a state of siege, and with the night an
atmosphere of suspense gathered about Tintagel.

About midnight some dozen points of fire burst out redly on the hills.
Sudden and sinister they shone like beacon fires, but by whom lit
the castle folks could not tell. Men idled on the walls, shoulder to
shoulder, talking in undertones, with now and again a bluff oath to
invoke courage. The black infinite, above, around, seemed to hem the
place as eternity hems the soul. War and death lurked in the dark, and
on the rocks the sea kept up a perpetual moan.

Gorlois walked the walls with several of his knights. He was restless,
and in no Christian temper, for the dark muzzled him. Not that he
feared the unknown, or the perils that might lurk on hill or sea. He
had the soul of a soldier, loved danger for its own sake, and took a
hazard as he would take wine. Yet there are certain thoughts that haunt
a man for all his hardihood, thoughts that may not weaken him though
they may chafe his temper. Such to Gorlois was the memory of a starved
face looking out at him scornfully from the gloom, the face of Igraine,
his wife.

That night Gorlois's mind was prophetic in dual measure. Like a good
captain he scanned the human horizon for snares and enmities, old feuds
and the vengeances of men. The dark sky seemed to hold out two scrolls
to him tersely illumined as to the near future. To Gorlois they read--

THE BARBARIANS,

OR

THE KING!

Forewarned thus in spirit, he kept to the walls till dawn. The sea sang
for him stern epics of tumult and despair. Large projects were moving
in his mind like waters that bubble up darkly in a well. He was in a
mood for great deeds, alarms and plottings, lusts, gnashings, and the
splendid agonies of war.

When the grey veil rose from the world many faces looked out east and
west from Tintagel for sign of legions or of ships at sea. Strange
truth! not a sail showed upon the ocean, not a spear or shield
glimmered on the eastern hills. The threatenings of the night seemed to
have cleared like the leaden cloudscape of a stormy sky.

Gorlois, scarred, brooding, sinister, appealed his knights as to the
event.

"Not a ship, not a shield," he said, "yet I'll swear we saw watchfires
on the hills. Were we scared for nothing?"

"Devil's beacons," quoth one.

"I have heard sailors tell of the phantom fleet of the Phœnicians."

"Have a care," said Sir Isumbras of the wrinkled face; "I remember me
of the taking of Genorium; given the chance of an ambuscado, the good
captain--"

Gorlois cut in upon his prosings.

"Scour the country, well and good," he said, "send out your riders; we
will see whether there is a Saxon betwixt Tintagel and Glastonbury."

Gorlois had hardly delivered himself, and the company was passing from
the battlements, when a trumpet-cry thrilled the solitary morning
air. Gorlois and his knights halted at the head of the turret-stair,
and looked out from the walls towards the east. A single figure on
horseback was moving along the ridge leading to the headland. The rider
was clad in black, and his horse-trappings were of sable. He carried
neither spear nor shield, but only a herald's long trumpet balanced
upon his thigh. He rode very much at his leisure, as though the whole
world could abide his business.

Gorlois eyed him blackly under his hand.

"I was wrong, sirs," he said.

Old Isumbras's wrinkles deepened. He tapped the walls with the scabbard
of his sword, and waxed oracular after an old man's fashion. Gorlois
turned his broad back on him.

"There is trouble in yonder gentleman's wallet," he said.

They passed with clashing arms down the black well of the stairway to
the court. Gates were rumbling on their hinges. The herald had ridden
over the bridge, and the guards had given him passage. He was brought
into the court where Gorlois stood in the centre of a half-circle of
knights. The herald wore a cap of crimson velvet and a mask over his
face. He walked with a certain stately swagger; it was palpable that he
was no common fellow.

There was no parley on either part. Those who watched saw that this
emissary carried a case of scarlet cloth and a naked poniard. He gave
the case into Gorlois's hands, but threw the poniard on the stones at
his feet. A fine insolence burnt in his stride and gesturing. Gorlois's
scar seemed to show up duskily upon his cheek, and he looked as though
tempted to tear the mask from the stranger's face. An incomprehensible
dignity waved him back, and while he dallied with his wrath, the man
turned his back on him and marched unconcernedly for the gate. The
court bristled with steel, but none hindered or molested him. They
heard the gate roll to, and the rattle of hoofs on the bridge. The
sound died rapidly away, leaving Tintagel silent as a ruin.

Gorlois picked up the poniard, for none of his men stirred, and cut
the woven band that held the lappets of the case. The white corner of
a waxen tablet came to light. Gorlois drew the tablet out, held it at
arm's length, and read the inscription thereon. His face grew hard and
vigilant as he read, and he seemed to spell the thing over to himself
several times before satisfied to the letter. He stood awhile in
thought, and then leaving his knights to their conjectures, walked away
to that quarter of the castle where Morgan la Blanche had her lodging.

He found the woman couched by the window that looked out towards the
sea. Though dawn had but lately come, she was awake, and sat combing
her hair, while a kitten slept on the blue coverlet covering her lap.
Wine and fruit stood on the table near the bed, with scented water, a
rouge-pot, and a bowl of flowers. Morgan was smothered in fine white
linen, banded at neck and wrists with sky-blue silk. A kerchief of gold
gossamer work covered her shoulders.

Gorlois touched her lips, and let her hair run through his fingers like
water.

"Minion, you are awake early."

Morgan's face shone white, and her eyes looked tired and faded.
She had heard rumours and had watched the night through, being
tender-conscienced as to her own skin. Adversity, even in its meaner
forms, was a thing insufferably insolent, a cloud in the absolute gold
of a sensuous existence. Being quick to mark any shadowing of the
horizon, she was undeceived by Gorlois's mere smile. She caught his
hand and stared up at him.

"Well!"

"What troubles you?"

"Is it to be a siege?"

Gorlois stretched his strong neck, laughed, and eschewed subtlety. It
interested him to see this worldling ruffled, Morgan, whose chief care
was how the world might serve her.

"Read," he said, putting the tablet into her hands.

Morgan sat up in bed with her fair hair streaming over her shoulders.
She traced out the words hurriedly with a white finger-tip. Her eyes
seemed to grow large as she read; her hands trembled a very little.
At the end thereof she dropped the tablet into her lap and looked at
Gorlois with a certain petulant dread.

"How did the man hear of all this?"

"God knows!"

"Treachery!"

Gorlois jerked his belt and said nothing.

The woman Morgan sat and hugged her knees. She looked out to sea with a
frown on her face, and the blue coverlet dragged in tight folds about
her waist. The kitten woke up and began to play with Morgan's hair as
it trailed down upon the bed. She cuffed the little beast aside, and
looked at Gorlois. Her eyes now were steely and clear, and very blue
under her white forehead.

"Obviously, he has learnt all," she said.

Gorlois nodded morosely.

"And this matter is to be between you alone?"

"I have his word."

"And he is a fool for truth."

Silence held them both awhile, and Morgan seemed to dally with her
thoughts. Her lips worked loosely as though moving with her mind. The
kitten clawed its way up the coverlet and rubbed its glossy flank
against the woman's arm.

"What of an ambush?" she suggested mildly.

Gorlois darted a look at her and shook his head.

"No; it shall be fair between us."

"Honour!"--with a sneer.

"I am a soldier."

"By the prophet, that is the strange part of it all. You go out to kill
a man, and yet trouble about the method."

"There honour enters."

"You kill him, all the same."

Morgan tossed the quilt aside, thrust a pair of glimmering feet out of
the bed, and stood at Gorlois's elbow. She took the tablet of wax and
held it over a lamp that was burning till the wax softened and suffered
the lettering to be effaced. Gorlois's great sword hung from the carved
bed-post. Morgan took it and buckled it to the man with her plump,
worldly little hands.

"Let it not fail," she said.

Gorlois kissed her lips.

"There will be no King; and the heir--well, you are a great soldier,
and men fear your name."

She kept him with her awhile and then bade him farewell. The sun was
high in the heavens when Gorlois, in glittering harness, rode out alone
from Tintagel, and passed away into the wilds.



VI


There was a preternatural brightness over sea and cliff that day.
Headland and height stood limned with a luminous grandeur; the sea was
a vast opal; mountainous clouds sailed solemn and stupendous over the
world. Towards evening it grew still and sultry, and storms threatened.
A vapoury leviathan lowered black out of the east, devouring the blue,
with scudding mists spray-like about his belly. The sky changed to a
sable cavern. In the west the sun still blazed through mighty crevices,
candescent gold; the world seemed a chaos of glory and shadow.
Sea-birds came screaming to the cliffs. The walls of Tintagel burnt
athwart the west.

Presently out of the blue bosom of an unearthly twilight a vague wind
rose. Gusts came, clamoured, and died into nothingness. The world
seemed to shudder. The dry bracken and grass on the hillsides hissed
as the wind came seldom and tumultuous. The roadway smoked. In the
valleys the trees moaned, shivered, and stood still.

Mark of the guard stood in the garden leaning on his spear, watching
the storm gathering above. It was his guard that night over the
stairway leading to Igraine's room, and he stood under the shadow of
the tower.

A red sword flashed sudden out of the east, and smote the hills.
Thunder followed, growling over the world. Then rain came, and a
whirlwind seemed to fly from the face of the storm. In the west a
burning crater still poured gold upon a restless and afflicted sea.

It grew dark very rapidly, and a thundering canopy soon overarched
Tintagel. Now and again flaming cracks of fire ran athwart the dome
of the night, lighting battlements and sky with a weird momentary
splendour. Rain rattled on the stones and drifted whirling against door
and casement. Small torrents formed along the walks; every spout and
gully gushed and gurgled. Like an underchant came the hoarse cry of the
sea.

Mark had withdrawn under the arch of the tower's entry. A cresset
flamed and spluttered higher up the stairway, throwing down an
ineffectual gleam upon the man's armour as he stood and looked into the
night. The storm fires lit his face, making it start out of the dark
white and spiritual, with largely luminous eyes. He held motionless at
his post like a Roman soldier watching the downfall of Pompeii.

Solitude possessed garden, court, and battlement, for no one stirred
on such a night. The knights of the garrison were making merry in the
great hall, and the men of the guard, unpestered by their superiors,
had gathered a great company in the guard-room to emulate their
officers. The scullion knaves and wenches had fled the kitchen; the
sentinels had sneaked from the walls. There was no fear now of a
leaguer. Had not Duke Gorlois declared as much before his sally?

Mark alone stood to his post, listening to the laughter that reached
him between the stanzas of the storm. His face was like the face of
a statue, yet alert and eager for all its calm. More than once he
went out through the storm of rain to the great gate and stood there
listening while the wind howled overhead. About midnight the noise of
gaming and revelling seemed suddenly to cease, as when folk hear the
tolling of a bell for prayer. Only the wind kept up its hooting over
the walls.

Mark stood a long while by the guard-room door with his ear to the
planking. Seldom a quavering cry came out to him, and the place grew
empty of human sound. All Tintagel seemed asleep, though many casements
still shone out yellow against the gloom. Mark slipped to the main
gate. There was a postern in it for service after dark. He drew back
the bolts and loosed the chain from the staple, and leaving the small
door ajar, passed back to the tower's entry.

Thunder went rolling over the sea. Mark left his spear by the porch and
went up the first few steps of the stairway. He took the cresset from
its bracket, carried it down, and tossed it into the court, where the
flames spluttered out in the rain. Darkness accomplished, he went up
the stairway to the short gallery leading to Igraine's room. At the top
he stood and listened. He heard the sound of breathing, and knew that
it came from the woman Malmain who slept in the alcove before the door.

Mark smote the wall a ringing blow with the handle of his poniard. A
bench creaked; some one yawned and began to grumble. It was so dark
that the very walls were part of the prevailing gloom.

"Who's there?"

Mark stood aside.

"The cresset's out on the stairs."

Two arms came groping along the wall.

"You've been asleep, cherub."

"Mark!"

"You were forgetting our tryst."

A thick sensual laugh sounded from the stairhead. Something opaque
moved in the dark; a pair of arms felt along the passage; a hand
touched Mark's face. Malmain's arms wrapped the man's body; she lifted
him to her with her great strength, and kissed his lips.

"Rogue!"

Once, twice, a streaking shadow rose and fell with the faintest
glinting of steel. There was a staggering sound, a wet cough, a
sharp-drawn breath, and then silence. Malmain fell against the wall
with her hands to her side, held rigid a moment, and then slid into a
heap. Mark bent over the woman and gripped her wrist.

In a short while he left the body lying there and moved to the door.
Sliding his long fingers over the panels, he found the spring that
marked the catch. Light streamed through into the gallery and fell upon
Malmain as she lay huddled against the wall, her hair trailing along
the floor like rills of blood.

A lamp burnt in the room, showering a thin silvery lustre from its
pedestal, leaving the angles in dull brown shadow. The room was bare
and bleak as a beggar's attic. The one window had been shuttered up
against the rain, and the crazy lattice shook in the wind. The whole
tower seemed to quake, pressed upon by the broad shoulders of the storm.

Gorlois's wife lay asleep on a rough bed in the centre of the room.
Mark went forward and stood over her. The light fell upon Igraine's
face and haloed it with a quiet radiance. Her hands were folded over
her breast, and the man looking upon her face saw it drawn and haggard
even in sleep. It had a kind of tragic fairness, a stained beauty like
the wistful strangeness of an autumnal garden. It was pale, piteous,
thin, and spiritual. The flesh shone like white wax; the short hair
glimmered like a net of gold.

So changed, so ethereal, was the face of the sleeper, that the man
stood and looked at her with gradual awe. Passed indeed was the
blood-red rose of life, green summer with its ecstasy of song.
Autumn's rich tapestries of bronze and gold were falling before the
wind of winter and the shrill sword of death. The woman on the bed
looked like some pale princess slumbering out her doom in some baleful
tower.

Igraine's sleep was shallow and ineffectual, a restless stupor
impressed upon a troubled mind. The storm seemed to figure in her
dreams. A kind of splendid misery played upon her face, such misery as
floods forth from some old legend, strange and sad. Her hands tossed to
and fro over the coverlet like fallen flowers stirred by a wind. Her
lids drooped over half-opened eyes.

A sudden gust broke the catch of the casement, and swung the frame into
the room. All the boisterous laughter of the storm seemed to sweep in
with the wind. With the racket Igraine woke and started up in bed upon
her elbow. The lamp flame, draught-slanted over the rim, gave but a
feeble light; the room was filled with wavering darkness.

Mark stood back from the bed. There was blood upon his tunic. For a
moment he was speechless like a man caught in a theft.

In the dim light and to the half-awakened senses of the sleeper,
the intruder stood for Gorlois, beard, face, and figure. A moment's
hesitancy lost Mark the lead. The door stood wide. What ensued came
crowded into the compass of a few seconds.

Igraine, quick to conceive, jerked the coverlet from the bed. Before
Mark could prevent her, she had thrown it over the lamp and smothered
the flame. The room sank into instant darkness and confusion. Mark's
voice sounded above the storm. Then came the slamming of a door, and
silence save for the blustering of the wind.

Igraine stood on the threshold in the dark, and drew her breath fast.
She had shut the man in the room, and the door opened only from without
by a spring catch. Mark of the guard was trapped.

And Malmain!

Igraine remembered the woman, and heeding nothing of the voice that
called to her from the room, groped her way to the stairhead, expecting
at every step to hear the woman's challenge start out of the gloom. At
the end of the gallery she nearly tripped and fell over some inanimate
thing. Reaching down out of curiosity she drew her hand back with a
half cry, her fingers fouled with a thick warm ooze. An indefinite
terror seized her in the dark. She went reeling down the stairway,
clutching at the walls, grasping the air. A faint outcry still followed
her from the room above.

In the garden rain still rattled, and scud blew from the pools. Igraine
stood motionless under the shadow of a cypress, with her face turned
to the sky. Her ragged gown blew about her bare ankles, and the wind
whirled rain into her face. She drew deep breaths and stretched out her
hands to the night, for there was the kiss of liberty in this cold,
shrill shower.

Anon the old fear urged her on, companioned now by a reawakened
courage. She was weak and starved, but what of that! The storm seemed
to enter into her soul with its blustery vigour, crying to her with the
multitudinous echoes of the night. What was the mere peril of the flesh
to one who had faced spiritual torture more keen than death!

Creeping round under the shadow of the wall with quick glances darted
into the dark she made her way round the court to the great gate. The
gate-house was dark as the sky, and there was no tramping of sentinels
from wall to wall. Igraine crept into the yawn of the archway, brushing
along the stones. With each step she listened for the rattle of a
spear, and looked for the armed figure that should clash out on her
from the gloom. She won the gate and leant against it, breathless from
mere suspense. Her fingers groped over the great beams, touched an
outstanding edge, and tugged at it. The edge moved; a door came open
and let in the wind.

Igraine stood a moment and pondered this mystery in her heart. She had
chanced on nothing in the whole castle save one man and a corpse. Some
strange doom might have fallen upon the place like the doom that smote
the Assyrians in their sleep.

Plain before her stood the open gate and liberty. The hint was
sufficient for the occasion. Igraine, leaving Tintagel to the unknown,
gathered her rags round her and passed out into the night.



VII


A rolling country spread with moor, wood, and crag. A storm creeping
black out of the east over the tops of a forest of pines. On the slope
of a hill covered with a mauve mist of nodding scabei and bronzed
tracts of bracken, two horsemen motionless in armour. Far away, the
glimmer of a distant sea.

Uther the King wheeled his horse and pointed northwards towards the
pine woods with his sword. The challenge came plainly in the gesture.
There was no need for vapouring or for heroics; a quick stare--eye for
eye--said everything a soldier could desire.

Uther, on his black horse, rode with loose bridle, looking straight
ahead into the darkness of the woods. He carried his naked sword
slanted over his shoulder. Frequent streams of sunlight flashed down
upon his harness and made it burn under the boughs, leaving his face
calm and solemn under the shadow of his helm. Gorlois held some
paces away, stiff and arrogant, watching the man on his flank with
restless, smouldering eyes. It was a silent pilgrimage for them both,
a pilgrimage to a shrine whence, for one of them, there might be no
return.

A shimmering curtain of sunlight spread itself suddenly before them
among the pines. The two men rode out into an oval glade palisaded by
the innumerable pillars of the wood, bowered in by rolling heights of
dusky green. On all sides the spires made a jagged circle of the sky.
A pool, black as obsidian, slept in the sun. Heather bloomed there,
girdling the confines of wood and water with a blaze of purple.

Uther dismounted and tied his horse to a tree. His deliberation in no
way pandered to Gorlois's self-esteem; there was to be no flurry or
bombast in the event. No one was to witness this judgment of the sword;
chivalry and malice alike were to be locked up in the heart of the
forest. A smooth circle of grass lay on the northern side of the pool,
promising well to the two who moved thither with nothing more eloquent
than an exchange of gestures.

The heather swept away, a purple dirge to the black sounding of the
pines, and a whorl of storm-laden clouds swam towards the sun. Uther,
with a face strong as a god's, swung his sword from his shoulder and
grounded the point in the sod. His destiny waxed great in him in that
hour. There was something inevitable in the quiet of his eyes.

"You are ready," he said very simply.

Gorlois jerked a quick glance at him, and licked his lips. He, too, was
in no mood for words or matters ethical. Temporal lusts ran strong in
his blood.

"For a woman's honour!"

"As you will, sire," with a shrug.

"We have no need of courtesies."

"Over a harlot!"

"Guard, and God pardon you."

Both swords flickered up hotly in the sunlight. Gorlois, sinewy and
full of fettle, gave a half-shout and sprang to engage. He had vast
faith in himself, having come scatheless out of many such tussles; nor
had he ever been humbled by man or beast. Vigorous as a March morning
he launched the first blow, a grim cut laid in with both hands, a cut
that rattled home half-parried on the other's shoulder. Uther, quick
for all his calmness, gave the point in retort, a lunge that slid
under the Cornishman's sword and made the muscles gape in Gorlois's
neck. There was blood to both.

The swords began to leap and sing in the sunlight, and the forest
echoed to the clangour of arms. Both men fought without shields, and
for a season well within themselves, and there was much craft on either
part. Cut and counter-cut rang through the pine alleys like the cry of
axes whirled by woodmen's hands. As yet there was no bustle, no wild
smiting. Every stroke came clean and true, lashed home with the weight
of arms and body.

Hate overset mere swordsmanship anon, and reason grew less and less
as the men waxed warm. Gorlois, running in with a swinging buffet,
stumbled over a heather tuft and caught a counter full in the face.
The smart of it and a split lip quickened him immeasurably. The
blades began to whirl with more malice, less precision. Matters grew
tumultuous as leaves in a whirlwind. For some minutes there seemed
nothing but a tangle of swords in the sun, a staggering chaos of red
and gold.

Such fighting burnt itself to a standstill in less than three minutes.
Uther drew back like a boar pressed by hounds. There was no whit of
weakening in his mood, only a reassertive reason that would trust
nothing to the fortune of a moment. The muscles stood out in his strong
throat, blood ran from his slashed tunic, and he was breathing hard;
but his manhood burnt strong and true. Gorlois, with mouth awry, eyed
him with sword half up, and drew back in turn. His face streamed. He
spat blood upon the heather.

"God! what work."

It was Gorlois's testimony, wrung from him by the stress of sheer
hard fighting. The storm-cloud crept across the sun and overcharged
the world with gloom. The pool grew more black in its purple bed; the
forest began to weave the twilight into its columned halls.

"You lack breath, sire."

"I wait for you," Uther said.

But the man of Tintagel was in a sinister mood for the moment. Genius
moved his sweating brain. He dropped into philosophic brevities as he
spat blood from his bruised lips.

"All for a woman," he said thickly.

"True."

"Are you much in love, sire?"

Uther answered him nothing, but waited with his sword over his shoulder.

"She made fuss enough."

Still silence.

"I never knew a woman so obstinate in making an end. And we buried her
in the sand, where the waves roll at flood. Now, you and I lose our
brains over a corpse."

Uther's sword shone again.

"Guard," he said quietly.

A sudden gust came clamouring through the wood. The darkening boughs
tossed and jerked against the sky, breathing out a multitudinous moan,
a hoarse cry as of a smitten host. The east piled thunder over the
world. It was the same storm that swept the battlements of Tintagel.

By the pool swords rang; red and gold strove and staggered over the
heather. It was the death tussle and a sharp one at that. Destiny or
not, matters were going all against Gorlois; his blows were out of
luck; he was rent time on end and gave little in return. Rabid, dazed,
he began making blind rushes that boded ill for him. More than once he
stumbled, and was mired to the knees in the pool.

The end came suddenly enough as the light failed. Both men smote
together; both swords met with a sound that seemed to shake the woods,
Gorlois's blade snapped at the hilt.

He stood still a moment, then plucked out his poniard and made a
spring. A merciless down-cut beat him back. The fine courage, the
strenuous self-trust, seemed to ebb from him on a sudden as though the
blow had broken his soul. He fell on his knees and held his hands up
with a thick, choking cry.

"Mercy! God's mercy!"

"Curse you! Had you pity on the woman?"

"Sire, sire!"

Thunder rolled overhead, and the girdles of the sky were loosed. A
torrent of rain beat upon the man's streaming face; he tottered on his
knees, and still held his hands to the heavens.

"I lied," he said. "God witness, I lied."

"Ah--!"

"The woman lives--is at Tintagel."

"Man--"

"Give me life, sire, give me life; you shall have her."

Uther looked at him and heaved up his sword. Gorlois saw the King's
face, gave a great cry, and cowered behind his hands. It was all ended
in a moment. The rain washed his gilded harness as he lay with his
blood soaking into the heather.



VIII


As the world grew grey with waking light Uther the King came from the
woods, and heard the noise of the sea in the hush that breathed in the
dawn. The storm had passed over the ocean, and a vast quiet hung upon
the lips of the day. In the east a green streak shone above the hills.
The sky was still aglitter with sparse stars, and an immensity of gloom
brooded over the sea.

Gaunt, wounded, triumphant, he rode up beneath the banners of the dawn,
eager yet fearful, inspired and strong of purpose. Wood and hill slept
in a haze of mist; the birds were only beginning in the thickets, like
the souls of children yet unborn calling to eternity. Beyond, on the
cliffs, Tintagel, wrapped round with night, stood silent and sombre
athwart the west.

Uther climbed from the valley as the day came with splendour, a glow
as of molten gold streaming from the east. Wood and hillside glimmered
in a smoking mist, dew-brilliant, wonderful. As the sun rose the sea
stretched sudden into the arch of the west--a great pavement of gold.
A mysterious lustre hovered over the cliffs; waves of light beat like
saffron spray upon Tintagel.

The dawn-light found an echo on Uther's face. He came that morning the
ransomer, the champion, a King indeed; Spring bursting the thongs of
Winter; Day thrusting back the Night. His manhood smote in him like the
deep-throated cry of a great bell, voluminous and solemn. The towers on
the cliff were haloed with magic hues. Life, glory, joy, lay locked in
the grey stone walls. His heart sang in him, and his eyes were afire.

As he walked his horse with a hollow thunder of hoofs over the bridge,
he took his horn and blew a blast thereon. There was a quiet, a
lifelessness, about the place that smote his senses, bodying forth
mystery. The walls were void against the sky. At the sound of the
horn there came no stirring of armed men, no answering fanfare, no
glimmering of faces at the casements. Only the gulls circled from the
cliffs, and the sea made its moan along the strand.

Uther sat in the saddle and looked from tower to battlement, from
battlement to gate. There was something tragic about the place, the
silence of a sacked town, the ghostliness of a ship sailing the seas
with a dead crew upon her deck. Uther's glance rested on the open
postern, an empty streak in the great gate. His face darkened somewhat;
his eyes lost their sanguine glow. There was something betwixt death
and treachery in all this quiet.

He dismounted and left his horse on the bridge. The postern beckoned
him. He went in like a man nerved for peril, with sword drawn and
shield above his head, ready for blows in dark corners. Again he blew
his horn. The blast rang and resounded under the arch of the gate. No
man came to answer or avenge it.

The guard-room door stood ajar; Uther thrust it open with the point
of his sword and looked in. A grey light filtered through the narrow
windows. The place was like the cave of the Seven Sleepers. Men, women,
guards, servants, were huddled on the benches and on the floor. Some
lay fallen across the settles; others sat with their heads fallen
forwards upon the table; a few had crawled towards the door. They were
cast in every posture, every attitude, bleak, stiff, and motionless.
Some had froth upon their lips, glistening eyes, clenched fingers. The
shadow of death was over the whole.

The King's face was as grey as the faces of the dead. He had looked for
human throes, perils, strong hands, and the vehemence of man. There
was something here, a calm horror, a mystery that hurled back the warm
courage of the heart. Prophecy lurked open-mouthed in the shadows.
Uther shouldered his sword, passed out, and drew to the door.

In the great court he looked round him like a traveller who has
stumbled upon a city wrapped in a magic sleep. Urged on by manifold
forebodings, and knowing the place of old, he went first to the State
quarters and hunted the rooms through and through. The same silence met
him everywhere. In the great hall he came upon a ring of corpses round
a table, a ring of men in armour, stiff and rigid as stone, with wine
and fruit mocking their staring eyes. In the lodging of the women he
found a lady laid on a couch by an open window. Her fair hair swept the
pillow; her eyes were wide and glazed; an open casket lay on the bed,
and strings of jewels were scattered on the coverlet. The woman's face
was white as apple blossom; she had a half-eaten pomegranate in her
hand.

Uther passed from the death-chamber of Morgan la Blanche to the garden.
The shadows of the place, the staring faces, the stiff hands clawing
at things inanimate, were like phantasms of the night. He took the sea
air into his nostrils, and looked into the blue realism of the sky.
All about him the garden glistened in the dawn, the cypresses shimmered
with dew, the pool was like a steel buckler on cloth of green. Here was
the placid life of flowers making very death the more apparent to his
soul.

As he stood in deep thought, half dreading what he still half knew,
a voice called to him, breaking suddenly the ponderous silence of
the place. A face showed overhead at the upper window in the tower;
a hand beckoned and pointed towards the tower's entry. Here at last
was something quick and tangible in the flesh, something that could
speak of the handicraft of death. Uther climbed the stairs and found
Malmain's body by the well. When he had looked at the woman's face and
seen blood he paid no more heed to her. She was only one among many.

Guided by a voice, Uther unlatched the door and passed in with sword
drawn. A man met him on the threshold, a man with the face of a Dante,
and shaven lip and chin. It was the face of Merlin.



IX


Without the gate of Tintagel stood Uther the King looking out towards
the eastern hills clear against the calm of the sky. He stood
bare-headed, like one in prayer; his face was strong, yet wistful and
patient as a sick child's. At his elbow waited Merlin, silent and
inscrutable. Much had passed between them in that upper room, that room
more hallowed to Uther than the rock tomb of the Christ.

"Ever, ever night," he said, stretching out his hands as to an eternal
void.

Merlin's eyes seemed to look leagues away over moor, hill, and valley.
A strange tenderness played upon his lips, and there was a radiance
upon his face impossible to describe. It was like the face of a lover,
a dreamer of dreams.

"A man is a mystery to himself," he said.

"But to God?"

"I know no God, save the god my own soul. Let me live and die, nothing
more. Why curse one's life with a 'to be'?"

Uther sighed heavily.

"It is a kind of fate to me," he said, "inevitable as the setting of
the sun, natural as sleep. Not for myself do I fear it."

"Let Jehovah follow Jupiter into the chaos of fable. Sire, look yonder."

Merlin's eyes had caught life on the distant hillsides, life surging
from the valleys, life, and the glory of it. Harness, helm, and shield
shone in the sun. Gold, azure, silver, scarlet, were creeping from the
bronzed green of the wilds. Silent and solemn the host rolled gradual
into the full splendour of the day.

Uther's eyes beheld them through a mist of tears.

"King Nentres, King Urience, and the host," he said.

"Even so, sire."

"They were bidden to follow."

"Loyal to their king."

Uther watched them with a great pride stealing into his eyes; he smiled
and held his head high.

"All these are mine," he said.

Merlin's face had kindled.

"Grapple the days to come," he said; "let Scripture and old ethics rot.
You have a thousand knights; let them ride by stream and forest, moor
and mere. Let them ride out and sunder like the wind."

"The quest of a King's heart!"

"Sire, like a golden dawn shall she rise out of the past. Blow thy
horn. Let us not tarry."



X


Six days had passed. Once more the sun had tossed night from the sky,
and kindled hope in the hymning east. The bleak wilderness barriered by
sea and crag had mellowed into the golden silence of autumnal woods.
The very trees seemed tongued with prophetic flame. The world like a
young lover leapt radiant out of the dawn.

Through the reddened woods rode Uther the King with Merlin silent at
his side. Gloom still reigned on the gaunt, strong face, and there was
no lustre in the eyes that challenged ever the lurking shade of death.
Six nights and six days had the quest been baffled. Near and far armour
glimmered in the reddened sanctuaries of the woods. Not a trumpet
brayed, though the host had scattered in search of a woman's face.

At the seventh dawn the trees drew back before the King, where the
shimmering waters of a river streaked the meads. Peace dwelt there, and
a calm eternal, as of the Spirit that heals the throes of men. Rare and
golden lay the dawn-light on the valley. The song of birds came glad
and multitudinous as in the burgeoning dawn of a glorious May.

Uther had halted under a great oak. His head was bare in the
sun-steeped shadows; his face was as the face of one weary with long
watching under the voiceless stars. Hope, like a dewless rose, drooped
shaken and thirsty with desire. Great dread possessed him. He dared not
question his own soul.

A horn sounded in the woods, wild, clamorous and exultant. It was as
the voice of a prophet cleaving the despair of a godless world. Even
the trees stood listening. Far below in the green shadows of the valley
a horseman moved brilliant as a star that portents the conception of a
king.

Uther's eyes were on the horseman in the valley.

"I am even as a child," he said.

Merlin's lips quivered.

"The dawn breaks, sire, the night is past. Tidings come to us. Let us
ride on."

Uther seemed sunk in thought; he bowed his head, and looked long into
the valley.

"Am I he who slew Gorlois?"

"Courage, sire."

"My blood is as water, my heart as wax. Death and destiny are over my
head."

"Speak not of destiny, sire, and look not to the skies. In himself is
man's power. Thou hast broken the crucifix. Now trust thine own soul.
So long as thou didst serve a superstition, thou didst lose thy true
heaven."

"And yet--"

"Thou hast played the god, sire, and the Father in heaven must love
thee for thy strength. God loves the strong. He will let thee rule
destiny, and so prosper."

"Strange words!"

"But true. Were I God, should I love the priest puling prayers in a
den? Nay, that man should be mine who moved godlike in the world, and
strangled fate with the grip of truth. Great deeds are better than
prayers. See! it is young Tristan who comes."

The horseman in the valley had swept at a gallop through a sea of
sun-bronzed fern. He was a young knight on a black horse, caparisoned
in green and gold. A halo of glistening curls aureoled his boyish face;
his eyes were full of a restless radiance, the eyes of a man whose
heart was troubled. He sprang from the saddle, and leading his horse by
the bridle, kissed the scabbard of Uther's sword.

"Tidings, sire."

"Tristan, I listen."

The knight looked for a moment into the King's face, but dared not
abide the trial. There was such a stare of desperate calm in the dark
eyes, that the lad's courage whimpered, and quailed from the truth. He
hung his head, and stood mute.

"Tristan, I listen."

"Sire--"

"My God, man, speak out!"

"Sire--"

"The truth."

"She lives, sire!"

A great silence fell within the hearts of the three, an ecstasy of
silence such as comes after the wail of a storm. Merlin stroked his
lip, and smiled, the smile of one who dreams. The King's face was as
the face of one who thrusts back hope out of his soul. He sat rigid
on his horse, a scarlet image fronting Fate, grim-eyed and steadfast.
There were tears in the eyes of Tristan the knight.

"What more?"

Tristan leant against his horse, his arm hooked over the brute's neck.

"In the valley, sire, is a sanctuary; you can see it yonder by the
ford. Two holy women dwell therein. To them, sire, I commend you."

"You know more!"

"Sire, spare me. The words are for women's lips, not for mine."

"So be it."

The three rode on in silence; Merlin and Tristan together, looking
mutely in each other's faces. Uther's chin was bowed on his breast. The
reins lay loose on his horse's neck.

A grey cell of unfaced stone showed amid the green boughs beyond the
water. At its door stood a woman in a black mantle. A cross hung from
her neck, and a white kerchief bound her hair. She stood motionless,
half in the shadow, watching the horsemen as they rode down to the
rippling ford.

Autumn had touched the sanctuary garden, and the King's eyes beheld
ruin as he climbed the slope. The woman had come from the cell, and
now stood at the wicket-gate, with her hands folded as in prayer.
Tristan took Uther's bridle. The King went on foot alone to speak with
the anchoress.

"Sire," she said, kneeling at his feet, "God save and comfort you."

The man's brow was twisted into furrows. His right hand clasped his
left wrist. He looked over the woman's head into the woods, and
breathed fast through clenched teeth.

"Speak," he said.

"Sire, the woman lives."

"I can bear the truth."

The anchoress made the sign of the cross.

"She came to us, sire, here in this valley, a tall lady, with golden
hair loose upon her neck. Her feet were bare and bleeding, her robe
rent with thorns. And as she came, she sang wild snatches, such as
tell of love. We took her, sire, and gave her meat and drink, bathed
her torn feet, and gave her raiment. So, she abode with us, gentle and
lovely, yet speaking like one who had suffered, even to death. And yet,
even as we slept, she stole away from us last night, and now is gone."

The woman had never so much as lifted her eyes to the man's face. Her
hands held her crucifix, and she was pale as new-hewn stone.

"And is this all?"

The man's voice trembled in his throat; his face shone in the sun.

"Not all, sire."

"Say on."

The anchoress had buried her face in her black mantle; her voice was
husky as with tears.

"Sire, you seek one bereft of reason."

"Mad!"

"Alas!"

"My God, this then is the end!"



XI


An indefinite melancholy overshadowed the world. Autumn breathed in the
wind; the year was rushing red-bosomed to its doom.

On the summit of a wood-crowned hill, rising like a pyramid above moor
and forest, two men stood silent under the shadow of an oak. In the
distance the sea glimmered; and by a rock upon the hillside, armed
knights, a knot of spears, shone like spirit sentinels athwart the
west. Mists were creeping up the valleys as the sun went down into the
sea. A few stars, dim and comfortless, gleamed out like souls still
tortured by the platitudes of Time. An inevitable pessimism seemed to
challenge the universe, taking for its parable the weird afterglow in
the west.

Deep in the woods a voice was singing, wild and solitary in the
gathering gloom. Like the cry of a ghost, it seemed to set the silence
quivering, the leaves quaking with a windless awe. The men who looked
towards the sea heard it, a song that echoed in the heart like woe.

"Sire, there is yet hope."

"Life grows dim, and dreams elapse in fire."

Merlin pointed into the darkening woods. His eyes shone crystal bright,
and there was a great radiance upon his face.

"Sire, trust thine own heart, and the god in thee. Through superstition
thou hast been brought nigh unto death and to despair. Trust not in
priestcraft, grapple God unto thy soul. The laws of men are carven upon
stone, the laws of heaven upon the heart. Be strong. From henceforth
scorn mere words. Trample custom in the dust. Trust thyself, and the
god in thy heart."

The distant voice had sunk into silence. Uther listened for it with
hand aloft.

"Yonder--heaven calls," he said.

"Go, sire."

"I must be near her--through the night."

"And lo!--the moon stands full upon the hills. You shall bless me yet."

Dim were the woods that autumn evening, dim and deep with an ecstasy of
gloom. Stars flickered in the heavens; the moon came, and broidered the
trees with silver flame. A primæval calm lay heavy upon the bosom of
the night. The spectral branches of the trees were rigid and prayerful
towards the sky.

Uther had left Merlin gazing out upon the shimmering sea. The voice
called him from the woods with plaintive peals of song. The man
followed, holding to a grass-grown track that curled purposeless into
the gloom. Moonlight and shadow were alternate upon his armour. Hope
and despair were mimicked upon his face. His soul leapt voiceless and
inarticulate into the darkened shrine of prayer.

The voice came to him clearer in the forest calm. The gulf had
narrowed; the words flew as over the waters of death. They were pure,
yet reasonless, passionate, yet void, words barbed with an utter pathos
that wounded desire.

For an hour the King followed in the woods, drawing ever nearer, waxing
great with prayer. Anon the voice failed him by a little stream that
quivered dimly through the grass. A stillness that was ghostly held
the woods. The moonlight seemed to shudder on the trees. A stupendous
stupor weighed upon the world.

A hollow glade opened sudden in the woods, a white gulf in the forest's
gloom. Water shone there, a mere, rush-ringed, and full of mysterious
shadows, girded by the bronzed foliage of stately beeches. Moss grew
thick about the roots; dead leaves covered the grass.

The man knelt in a patch of bracken, and looked out over the glade.
A figure went to and fro by the water's brim, a figure pale in the
moonlight, with a glimmering flash of unloosed hair. The man kneeling
in the bracken pressed his hands over his breast; his face seemed to
start out of the gloom like the face of one who struggles in the sea,
submerged, yet desperate.

Uther saw the woman halt beside the mere. He saw her bend, take water
in her palms, and dash it in her face. Standing in the moonlight she
smoothed her hair between her fingers, her hands shining white against
the dark bosom of her dress. She seemed to murmur to herself the while,
words wistful and full of woe. Once she thrust her hands to the sky and
cried, "Pelleas! Pelleas!" The man kneeling in the shadow quivered like
a wind-shaken reed.

The moon climbed higher, and the woman by the mere spread her cloak
upon a patch of heather, and laid herself thereon. Not a sound
ravaged the silence; the woods were mute, the air rippleless as the
steel-surfaced water. An hour passed. The figure on the heather lay
still as an effigy upon a tomb. The man in the bracken cast one look at
the stars, crossed himself, and crept out into the moonlight.

Holding the scabbard of his sword, he skirted the mere with shimmering
armour, went down upon his knees, and crawled slowly over the grass.
Hours seemed to elapse before the black patch of heather spread crisp
and dry beneath his hands. Breathing through dilating nostrils, he
trembled like a craven who creeps to stab a sleeping friend. The
moonlight showered vivid as with a supernatural glory. Tense anguish
crowded the night with sound.

Two more paces, and he was close at the woman's side. The heather
crackled beneath his knees. He held his breath, crept nearer, and
knelt so near that he could have kissed the woman's face. Her head lay
pillowed on her arm, her hair spread in a golden sheet beneath it. Her
bosom moved with the rhythmic calm of dreamless sleep. Her lips were
parted in a smile. One hand was hid in the dark folds of her robe.

Uther knelt with upturned face, his eyes shut to the sky. He seemed
like one faint with pain; his lips moved as in prayer. A hundred
inarticulate pleadings surged heavenwards from his heart.

[Illustration: "SHALL I NOT BE YOUR WIFE"]

Again he bowed himself and watched the woman as she slept. A strange
calm fell for a season upon his face; his eyes never wavered from the
white arm and the glimmering hair. Vast awe possessed him. He was like
a child who broods tearless and amazed over the calm face of a dead
mother.

Hours passed, and the man found no sustenance save in prayer. The
unuttered yearnings of a world seemed molten in his soul. The moon
waned; the stars grew dim. Sounds oracular were moving in the forest,
the mysterious breathing of a thousand trees. Life ebbed and flowed
with the sigh of a moon-stupored sea. Visions blazed in the night sky.
The portals of heaven were open; the sound of harping fell like silver
rain out of the clouds; the faces of saints shone radiant through
purple gloom.

Hours passed, and neither sleeper nor watcher stirred. The night grew
faint, the water flickered in the mere. The very stars seemed to gaze
upon the destinies of two wearied souls. Death hid his countenance.
Christ walked the earth.

A sudden sound of light, and the stirring of a wind. Far and faint came
the quaver of a bird's note. Grey and mysterious stood the forest's
spires. Light! Spears of amber darting in the east. A shudder seemed to
shake the universe. The vault kindled. The sky grew great with gold.

It was the dawn.

Even as the light increased the man knelt and lifted up his face unto
the heavens. Hope, glorious, seemed to fall sudden out of the east, a
radiant faith begotten of spirit power. Banners of gold were streaming
in the sky. The gloom elapsed. A vast expectancy hung solemn upon the
red lips of the day.

Igraine sighed in her sleep. Her mouth quivered, her hair stirred
sudden in the heather, tendrils of gold that shivered in the sun.
Uther, kneeling, lifted up his hands with one long look to heaven.
Prayer burnt upon his face. He strove, Jacob-like, with God.

A second sigh, and the long lashes quivered. The lips moved, the eyes
opened.

"Igraine! Igraine!"

Sudden silence followed, a vast hush as of hope. The woman's eyes were
searching silently the man's face. He bent and cowered over her like
one who weeps. His hands touched her body, yet she did not stir.

"Igraine! Igraine!"

It was a hoarse, passionate cry that broke the golden stupor of the
dawn. Sudden light leapt lustrous in the woman's eyes; her face shone
radiant amid her hair.

"Pelleas!"

The man's arms circled her. She half crouched in his bosom, her face
peering into his.

"Pelleas!"

"At last!"

A great shudder passed through her; her eyes grew big with fear.

"Speak!"

"Igraine."

"Gorlois?"

"Gorlois is dead."

Great silence held for a moment. The woman's head sank down upon the
man's shoulder; madness had passed; her eyes were fixed on his with a
wonderful earnestness, a splendid calm.

"Is this a dream?"

"It is the truth."

Presently she gave a great sigh, and looked strangely at the sun. Her
voice came soft as music over water.

"I have dreamed a dream," she said, "and all was dark and fearful.
Death seemed near, and shadows, and things from hell. I knew not what
I did, nor where I wandered, nor what strange stupor held my soul. All
was dark about me, horrible midnight peopled with foul forms. It has
passed; now, I behold the dawn."

The man lifted up his voice and wept.

"My God! my God! out of hell hast thou brought my soul. Never again
shall my vile lips blaspheme."

And Igraine comforted him.

"Shall I not be your wife?" she said.


THE END


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

Minor punctuation and printer errors repaired.

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as
possible, including obsolete and variant spellings, inconsistent
hyphenation, and other inconsistencies.





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