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Beltane The Smith (Chapter66)

2006-08-28 16:42

  Chapter LXVI. COncerning a Blue Camlet Cloak

  Next morning, ere the sun was up, came Beltane into the minster and hiding within the deeper gloom of the choir, sat there hushing his breath to listen, trembling in eager anticipation. Slowly amid the dimness above came a glimmer from the great window, a pale beam that grew with dawn until up rose the sun and the window glowed in many-hued splendour.

  And in a while to Beltane's straining senses came the faint creak of a door, a soft rustle, the swift light tread of feet, and starting forth of his lurking place he stepped forward with yearning arms outstretched——then paused of a sudden beholding her who stood at gaze, one slender foot advanced and white hands full of roses and lilies, one as fair, as sweet and pure as the fragrant blooms she bore. Small was she and slender, and of a radiant loveliness, red of lip and grey-eyed: now beholding Beltane thus suddenly, she shrank and uttered a soft cry.

  "Nay," quoth he, "fear me not, sweet maid, methought thee other than thou art——I grieve that I did fright thee——forgive me, I pray," so saying, he sighed and bowing full humbly, turned, but even so paused again: "Thou art methinks the Reeve's fair daughter——thou art the lady Genevra?" he questioned.

  "Aye, my lord."

  "Then, an thou dost love, gentle maid, heaven send thee happier in thy love than I." At the which Genevra's gentle eyes grew softer yet and her sweet mouth full pitiful and tender.

  "Art thou so unhappy, lord Beltane?"

  "Aye, truly!" he sighed, and drooped mournful head.

  "Ah, messire, then fain would I aid thee an I might!" said she, soft-voiced.

  "Then where, I pray you, is she that came here yesterday?"

  "Nay, lord, how may I tell thee this? There be many women in Belsaye town."

  "For me," quoth Beltane, "in all the world there is but one and to this one, alas! thou canst not aid me, yet for thy kind intent I thank thee, and so farewell, sweet maid." Thus saying, he took three steps away from her, then turning, came back in two. "Stay," quoth he, slipping hand in wallet, "know you this shoe?"

  Now beholding this, Genevra's red lips quivered roguishly, and she bowed her little, shapely head:

  "Indeed, my lord, 'tis mine!" said she.

  "Then pray you, who was she did wear it yesterday——?"

  "Aye, messire, 'twas yesterday I——missed it, wilt not give it me therefore? One shoe can avail thee nothing and——and 'tis too small for thee to wear methinks——"

  "Did she——she that lost this yesterday, send thee to-day in her stead?"

  "Wilt not give a poor maid her shoe again, messire?"

  "O Genevra, beseech thee, who was she did wear it yesterday——speak!"

  "Nay, this——this I may not tell thee, lord Beltane."

  "And wherefore?"

  "For that I did so promise——and yet——what seek you of her, my lord?"

  "Forgiveness," said Beltane, hot and eager, "I would woo her sweet clemency on one that hath wrought her grievous wrong. O sweet Genevra, wilt not say where I may find her?"

  A while stood the maid Genevra with bowed head as one in doubt, then looked on him with sweet maiden eyes and of a sudden smiled compassionate and tender.

  "Ah, messire," said she, "surely thine are the eyes of one who loveth greatly and well! And I do so love her that fain would I have her greatly loved——so will I tell thee despite my word——hearken!" And drawing him near she laid white finger to rosy lip and thereafter spake in whispers. "Go you to the green door where yesterday thou didst meet with Gi——with the captain of the archers——O verily we——she and I, my lord, did see and hear all that passed betwixt you——and upon this door knock you softly three times. Go——yet, O prithee say not 'twas Genevra told thee this!" and again she laid white finger to roguish, pouting lip.

  Then Beltane stooped, and catching that little hand kissed it, and thereafter hasted blithely on his way.

  Swift of foot went he and with eyes a-dance, nor paused in his long stride until he was come to a certain high wall wherein was set the small, green door, whereon he knocked three times. And presently he heard the bar softly raised, the door was opened slow and cautiously, and stooping, Beltane stepped beneath the lintel and stood suddenly still, staring into the face of Black Roger. And even as Beltane stared thus amazed, so stared Roger.

  "Why, master——" quoth he, pushing back his mail-coif to rumple his black hair, "why, master, you——you be early abroad——though forsooth 'tis a fair morning and——"

  "Roger," quoth Beltane, looking round upon a fair garden a-bloom with flowers, "Roger, where is the Duchess Helen?"

  "Ha, so ye do know, master——who hath discovered it——?"

  "Where is she, Roger?"

  "Lord," quoth Roger, giving a sudden sideways jerk of his head, "how should Roger tell thee this?" Now even as he spake, Roger must needs gesture again with his head and therewith close one bright, black eye, and with stealthy finger point to a certain tall hedge hard by; all of which was seen by one who stood beyond the hedge, watching Beltane with eyes that missed nought of him, from golden spur to golden head; quick to note his flushing cheek, his parted lips and the eager light of his blue eyes; one who perceiving him turn whither Roger's sly finger pointed, gathered up her flowing robe in both white hands that she might flee the faster, and who, speeding swift and light, came to a certain leafy bower where stood a tambour frame, and sitting there, with draperies well ordered, caught up silk and needle, yet paused to close her eyes and set one hand upon rounded bosom what time a quick, firm step drew near and ever nearer with clash and ring of heavy mail until Beltane stood before her. And how was he to know of the eyes that had watched him through the hedge, or that the hand that held the needle had paused lest he should see how direfully it trembled: how should my Beltane know all this, who was but a very man?

  A while stood he, viewing her with eyes aglow with yearning tenderness, and she, knowing this, kept her face down-bent, therefore. Now beholding all the beauty of her, because of her gracious loveliness, his breath caught, then hurried thick and fast, insomuch that when he would have spoken he could not; thus he worshipped her in a look and she, content to be so worshipped, sat with head down-bent, as sweetly demure, as proud and stately as if——as if she ne'er in all her days had fled with hampering draperies caught up so high!

  So Beltane stood worshipping her as she had been some young goddess in whose immortal beauty all beauty was embodied.

  At last he spake, hoarse and low and passionate:

  "Helen!" said he, "O Helen!"

  Slowly, slowly the Duchess lifted stately head and looked on him: but now, behold! her glance was high and proud, her scarlet mouth firm-set like the white and dimpled chin below and her eyes swept him with look calm and most dispassionate.

  "Ah, my lord Beltane," she said, sweet-voiced, "what do you here within the privacy of Genevra's garden?"

  Now because of the sweet serenity of her speech, because of the calm, unswerving directness of her gaze, my Beltane felt at sudden loss, his outstretched arms sank helplessly and he fell a-stammering.

  "Helen, I——I——O Helen, I have dreamed of, yearned for this hour! To see thee again——to hear thy voice, and yet——and yet——"

  "Well, my lord?"

  Now stood Beltane very still, staring on her in dumb amaze, and the pain in his eyes smote her, insomuch that she bent to her embroidery and sewed three stitches woefully askew.

  "O surely, surely I am mad," quoth he wondering, "or I do dream. For she I seek is a woman, gentle and prone to forgiveness, one beyond all women fair and brave and noble, in whose pure heart can nothing evil be, in whose gentle eyes her gentle soul lieth mirrored, whose tender lips be apt and swift to speak mercy and forgiveness. Even as her soft, kind hands did bind up my wounds, so methought she with gentle sayings might heal my grieving heart——and now——now——"

  "O my lord," she sighed, bending over idle fingers, "methinks you came seeking an angel of heaven and find here——only a woman."

  "Yet 'tis this woman I do love and ever must——'tis this woman I did know as Fidelis——"

  "Alas!" she sighed again, "alas, poor Fidelis, thou didst drive him from thee into the solitary wild-wood. So is poor Fidelis lost to thee, methinks——"

  "Nay, Helen——O Helen, be just to me——thou dost know I loved Fidelis——"

  "Yet thou didst spurn and name him traitor and drave him from thee!"

  Now of a sudden he strode towards her, and as he came her bosom swelled, her lashes drooped, for it seemed he meant to clasp her to his heart. But lo! being only man, my Beltane paused and trembled, and dared not touch her, and sinking before her on his knees, spake very humbly and with head low-bowed.

  "Helen——show me a little mercy!" he pleaded. "Would'st that I abase myself? Then here——here behold me at thy feet, fearing thee because of my unworthiness. But O believe——believe, for every base doubt of thee this heart hath known, now doth it grieve remorseful. For every harsh and bitter word this tongue hath spoke thee, now doth it humbly crave thy pitiful forgiveness! But know you this, that from the evil hour I drave thee from me, I have known abiding sorrow and remorse, for without thee life is indeed but an empty thing and I a creature lost and desolate——O Helen, pity me!"

  Thus spake he, humble and broken, and she, beholding him thus, sighed (though wondrous softly) and 'neath her long lashes tears glittered (though swift dashed away) but——slowly, very slowly, one white hand came out to him, faltered, stopped, and glancing up she rose in haste and shrank away. Now Beltane, perceiving only this last gesture, sprang up, fierce-eyed:

  "How?" quoth he, "am I then become a thing so base my presence doth offend thee——then, as God liveth, ne'er shalt see me more until thou thyself do summon me!"

  Even as he spake thus, swift and passionate, Giles clambered the adjacent wall and dropping softly within the garden, stared to behold Beltane striding towards him fierce-eyed, who, catching him by the arm yet viewing him not, spun him from his path, and coming to the green door, sped out and away.

  Now as Giles stood to rub his arm and gape in wonderment, he started to find the Duchess beside him; and her eyes were very bright and her cheeks very red, and, meeting her look, poor Giles fell suddenly abashed.

  "Noble lady——" he faltered.

  "Foolish Giles!" said she, "go, summon me my faithful Roger." But as she spake, behold Roger himself hasting to her through the roses.

  "Roger," said she, frowning a little, "saw you my lord go but now?"

  "Aye, verily, dear my lady," quoth he, ruffling up his hair, "but wherefore——"

  "And I," said Giles, cherishing his arm, "both saw and felt him——"

  "Ha," quoth Roger, "would'st have him back, sweet mistress?"

  "Why truly I would, Roger——"

  "Then forsooth will I go fetch him."

  "Nay——rather would I die, Roger."

  "But——dear lady——an thou dost want him——"

  "I will bring him by other means!" said the Duchess, "aye, he shall come despite himself," and her red lips curved to sudden roguish smile, as smiling thus, she brought them to a certain arbour very shady and remote, and, seating herself, looked from one tanned face to the other and spake them certain matters, whereat the archer's merry eyes grew merrier yet, but Roger sighed and shook his head; said he:

  "Lady, here is tale shall wring his noble heart, methinks, wherefore the telling shall wring mine also——"

  "Then speak not of it, Roger. Be this Giles's mission."

  "Aye, Rogerkin, leave it to me. In faith, noble lady, I will with suggestion soft and subtle, with knowing look and wily wag of head, so work upon my lord that he shall hither hot-foot haste——"

  "At moonrise," said the Duchess softly, "this evening at moonrise!"

  "Verily, lady, at moonrise! And a blue camlet cloak, say you?"

  "Come, Giles, and I will give it thee."

  Meanwhile, Beltane, hurt and angry, betook him to the walls where bow and perrier had already begun their deadly morning's work; and coming to a quiet corner of the battlement, he leaned him there to watch where the besiegers, under cover of the cat that hourly crept more nigh, worked amain to dam the moat.

  Now as he leaned thus, a hand slipped within his arm, and turning, he beheld Sir Benedict.

  "A right fair morning, my Beltane," quoth he.

  "Aye, truly, Benedict," sighed Beltane, "though there be clouds to the west. And the causeway across the moat groweth apace; I have watched yon cat creep a full yard——"

  "Aye, verily, by mid-day, Beltane, 'twill reach our wall, then will they advance their ram to the battery, methinks."

  "And what then, Benedict?"

  "Then shall we destroy their ram forthwith with devil-fire, dear lad!"

  "Aye, and how then, Benedict?"

  "Then, belike will they plant ladders on the causeway and attempt the wall by storm, so shall we come to handstrokes at last and beset them with pitch and boiling oil and hew their ladders in sunder."

  "And after, Benedict?"

  "Hey-day, Beltane, here be a many questions——"

  "Aye, Benedict, 'tis that I do look into the future. And what future can there be? Though we maintain our walls a year, or two, or three, yet in the end Belsaye must fall."

  "And I tell thee, Beltane, were Ivo twice as strong Belsaye should yet withstand him. So gloom not, lad, Belsaye is safe, the sun shineth and behold my arm——'tis well-nigh healed, thanks to——to skilful nursing——"

  "Of the Duchess Helen, Benedict?"

  "Ha——so hast found it out——at last, lad——"

  "Knew you she was here?"

  "Aye, verily."

  "And told me not?"

  "For that she did so command, Beltane."

  "And wherefore came she hither?"

  "For thy dear sake in the first place, and——"

  "Nay, mock me not, friend, for I do know myself of none account."

  "And in the second place, Beltane, to save this fair city of Belsaye."

  "Nay, how mean you?"

  "I mean that Belsaye cannot fall whiles it holdeth Helen the Proud. And the reason this——now mark me, Beltane! Since her father's death Duke Ivo hath had his glutton eye on fair Mortain, whereof her counsellors did ken, yet, being old men and averse to war, would fain have had her wed with him. Now upon a day word reached me in Thrasfordham bidding me come to her and Waldron of Brand at Winisfarne. So, as thou dost know, stole I from my goodly castle and marched north. But on the way she came to me bedight in mail, and she and I took counsel together. Wherefore came she hither to Belsaye and sent speedy messengers to Sir Jocelyn of Alain and others of her greatest lords and knights, bidding them come down with all their powers——nay, why shake ye gloomy head, fond boy? Body o' me, Beltane, I tell thee this——to-day she——"

  "To-day," sighed Beltane, frowning, "to-day she spurneth me! Kneeling at her feet e'en as I was she shrank away as I had leprous been!"

  "Aye, lad, and then——didst woo as well as kneel to her, didst clasp her to thee, lift her proud head that needs must she give to thine her eyes——she is in sooth very woman——did you this, my Beltane?"

  "Ah, dear Benedict, she that I love was not wont to shrink from me thus! 'Tis true I am unworthy——and yet, she spurned me——so is her love dead, methinks!"

  "So art thou but youth, and foolish youth, and belike, foolish, hungry youth——so come, let us break our fast together."

  "Not I, Benedict, for if love be dead, no mind have I to food."

  "O lad——lad!" sighed Sir Benedict, "would I had one as fair and noble to love me in such sort!" And turning, he gazed sad-eyed towards Belsaye's great minster, and sighing, went his way.

  And presently, as Beltane leaned thus, grieving and alone, cometh Giles that way, who, pausing beside him, peered down where the besiegers, but ill-sheltered by battered mantlet and palisades, strove amain to bring up one of their rams, since the causeway across the moat was well-nigh complete.

  "Holy saints!" quoth Giles, "the rogues grow bold and venturesome, methinks!" So saying, he strung his powerful bow, and laying arrows to his hand fell to drawing and loosing amain. So swift shot he and with aim so true, that in a while the enemy gave over their attempt and betook them to cover what time their archers and cross-bowmen plied the wall with a storm of shafts and bolts.

  Upon this Giles, laying by his bow, seated himself in corner well screened from harm, beckoning Beltane to do the like, since the enemy's missiles whizzed and whistled perilously near. But sighing, Beltane closed his vizor and heedless of flying bolt and arrow strode to the narrow stair that led up to the gate-tower and being come there sat him down beside the great mangonel. But lo! very soon Giles was there also and even as Beltane sighed, so sighed Giles.

  "Heigho——a sorry world, brother!" quoth he, "a sorry world!" and forthwith fell to his archery, yet now, though his aim was true as ever, he sighed and murmured plaintively 'twixt every shot: "Alack, a sorry world!" So deep and oft were his sighs, so plaintive his groans, that Beltane, though plunged in bitter thought, must needs at length take heed of him.

  "Giles," quoth he, looking up, "a heaven's name, what aileth thee, man?"

  "'Tis my eyes, lord."

  "Thine eyes are well enough, Giles, and see wondrous well to judge by thy shooting."

  "Wondrous well——aye, there it is, tall brother, mine eyes do see wondrous well, mine eyes do see so much, see you, that they do see over-much, over-much, aye——too, too much. Alack, 'tis a sorry and woeful world, brother! beshrew my eyes, I say!"

  "And wherefore, Giles?"

  "For that these eyes do see what other eyes see not——thine, methinks, saw nought of a fine, lusty and up-standing fellow in a camlet cloak within the Reeve's garden this morning, I'll warrant me now? A tall, shapely rogue, well be-seen, see you, soft-voiced and very debonair?"

  "Nay, not I," said Beltane, and sighing he arose and descended to the battlement above the gates. And presently, behold Giles was there also!

  "Brother," quoth he, selecting an arrow with portentous care, "'tis an ill thing to be cursed with eyes such as mine, I tell thee!"

  "Aye, and wherefore, Giles?" said Beltane, yet intent on his own thoughts.

  "For that they do see more than is good for this heart o' mine——as this fellow in the blue camlet cloak——"

  "What fellow, Giles?"

  "The buxom fellow that was in the Reeve's garden this morning."

  "Why then," quoth Beltane, turning away, "go you not to the Reeve's garden, Giles."

  All day long Beltane kept the wall, eating not at all, wherefore his gloom waxed the more profound; so spake he to few men and oft exposed himself to shaft and missile. And so, all day long, wheresoever he came, on tower or keep, in corners most remote, there sure was Giles to come also, sighing amain and with brow of heavy portent, who, so oft as he met Beltane's gloomy eye, would shake his head in sad yet knowing fashion. Thus, as evening fell, Beltane finding him at his elbow yet despondent, betook him to speech at last; quoth he:

  "Giles, art thou sick?"

  "Aye, lord, by reason of this fellow in the blue camlet——"

  "What fellow?"

  "The tall and buxom fellow in the Reeve's garden."

  "Ha!" quoth Beltane, frowning. "In the garden, say you——what manner of man is this?"

  "O brother——a shapely man, a comely man——a man of words and cunning phrases——a man shall sing you sweet and melodious as any bird——why, I myself can sing no sweeter!"

  "Cometh he there often, Giles?"

  "Why lord, he cometh and he goeth——I saw him there this morning!"

  "What doeth he there?"

  "Nay, who shall say——Genevra is wondrous fair, yet so is she that is Genevra's friend, so do I hope belike 'tis she——"

  "Hold thy peace, Giles!"

  Now beholding Beltane's fierce eye and how his strong hands clenched themselves, Giles incontinent moved further off and spake in accents soft and soothing:

  "And yet, tall brother, and yet 'tis belike but some gentle troubadour that singeth songs to their delectation, and 'tis meet to hark to songs sweet-sung——at moonrise, lord!"

  "And wherefore at moonrise?"

  "'Tis at this sweet hour your minstrel singeth best. Aye me, and to-night there is a moon!" Hereupon Beltane must needs turn to scowl upon the moon just topping the distant woods. Now as they sat thus, cometh Roger with bread and meat for his lord's acceptance; but Beltane, setting it aside, stared on Roger with baleful eye.

  "Roger," said he, "wherefore hast avoided me this day?"

  "Avoided thee, master——I?"

  "And what did you this morning in the Reeve's garden?"

  "Master, in this big world are two beings that I do truly love, and thou art one and the other Sir Fidelis thy right sweet and noble lady—— so is it my joy to serve her when I may, thus daily do I go aid her with the sick."

  "And what of him that singeth; saw you this troubadour within the garden?"

  "Troubadour?" quoth Roger, staring.

  "Why verily," nodded Giles, "my lord meaneth the tall and goodly fellow in the cloak of blue camlet, Roger."

  "Ne'er have I seen one in blue cloak!" said Roger, "and this do I swear!"

  "None the less," said Beltane, rising, "I will seek him there myself."

  "At moonrise, lord?" questioned Giles.

  "Aye," said Beltane grimly; "at moonrise!" and scowling he turned away.

  "Aha!" quoth Giles, nudging Roger with roguish elbow, "it worketh, Roger, it worketh!"

  "Aye, Giles, it worketh so well that an my master get his hands on this singing fellow——then woe betide this singing fellow, say I."

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