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Beltane The Smith (Chapter50)

2006-08-28 16:38

  Chapter L. Telleth How Beltane Went Forth to His Duty

  Silent went Beltane, his lips firm-set, his wistful eyes staring ever before him, nor paused he once, nor once glanced back towards that happy Mortain which held for him all that was fair and sweet and noble; that pure and faithful heart wherein no evil could exist; that radiant body in whose soft, white loveliness lay all the joy, all the happiness the wide world might ever yield him.

  And now, because of her proved innocence, he was uplifted by a great and mighty joy, and therewith his step was light and swift; anon, because of his base doubt of her, he writhed 'neath the sharp-gnawing tooth of bitter remorse, and therewith his step grew heavy and slow. Now was he proud of her so great love for him, and again, he knew a profound and deep humility because of his so great unworthiness. Thus went he, nothing speaking, now with flying feet, now with steps that dragged, insomuch that watchful Roger fell to solemn wonderment, to a furtive unease, and so, at last, to speech.

  "Lord," quoth he in a voice of awe, but Beltane strode on unheeding, whereat Roger's eyes grew round and his ruddy cheek pale, and clenching his fist, he raised aloft his first and little fingers so that they formed two horns, and with the horns he touched Beltane lightly on the shoulder. "Master!" said he.

  Then Beltane started, and turning, looked at Roger, whereupon Roger immediately crossed his fingers.

  "Ha, Roger, I was deep in my thoughts, what would ye?"

  "Master, hast ever a pricking in the hairs of thy head?"

  "Not I."

  "Dost ever feel a tingling in the soles of thy feet?"

  "Not so, in truth."

  "Why then a shivering, quaking o' the back-bone?"

  "Roger, man, what troubles thee now?"

  "I do fear thou'rt be-devilled and moon-struck, master!"

  "Why so?"

  "Betimes thou dost smile upon the moon——for no reason; scowl upon the earth——for no reason; work with thy lips yet speak no word, and therewith do bite thy fingers-ends, clench thy fists——and all for no reason. Moreover, thou'rt quick and slow in thy gait, sighing gustily off and on——so it is I do sweat for thee."

  "And wherefore?"

  "Master," quoth Roger, glancing furtively about, "in my youth I did see a goodly man be-devilled by horrid spells by an ancient hag that was a noted witch, and he acted thus——a poor wight that was thereafter damnably be-devilled into a small, black rabbit, see you——"

  "Saw you all this indeed, Roger?"

  "All but the be-devilling, master, for being young and sore frighted I ran away and hid myself. But afterwards saw I the old woman with the black rabbit in a cage——wherefore the vile hag was stoned to death, and the black rabbit, that was her familiar, also——and very properly. And, lord, because I do love thee, rather would I see thee dead than a rabbit or a toad or lewd cur——wherefore now I pray thee cross thy fingers and repeat after me——"

  "Nay, my faithful Roger, never fear, here is no witchcraft. 'Tis but that within the hour the blind doth see, the fool hath got him some little wisdom."

  "Master, how mean you?"

  "This night, Roger, I have learned this great truth: that white can never be black, nor day night, nor truth lie——and here is great matter for thought, wherefore as I walk, I think."

  Now hereupon Black Roger halted and looked upon Beltane glad-eyed.

  "Lord," he cried, "is it that ye do know the very truth at last——of Sir Fidelis——that glorious lady, thy Duchess Helen?"

  "Aye, the very truth at last, Roger."

  "Ha!——'tis so I petitioned the good Saint Cuthbert this very night!"

  "And lo! he hath answered thy prayer, Roger."

  "Verily he regardeth poor Roger these days, master, e'en though my belt doth yet bear many accursed notches."

  "They shall be fewer anon, Roger; there be many poor souls for thee to save in woeful Pentavalon."

  Hereafter went they a while in silence, until of a sudden Roger halted and clapped hand to thigh.

  "Master, we go the wrong way, methinks."

  "Not so, we be close upon the forest road, Roger."

  "But thou dost know her faithful, master, pure and holy in mind and body——at sure of this at last!"

  "Aye," sighed Beltane, "at last!"

  "Why then, lord, let us incontinent seek her out."

  "She is in for Mortain, Roger, moreover——"

  "Nay, master, forsooth she is——hum! aye, she's in Mortain, mayhap, but 'tis none so far to Mortain for such legs as thine and mine. And belike we may——chance upon her by the way, or——or she with us, or both!"

  "Even so, needs must I to my duty."

  "Thy duty!——aye, master——thy duty is to woo her, wed her, take her to thy arms and——"

  "I tell thee, Roger, ne'er will I speak word of love to her until I have proved myself in some sense fit and worthy. First will I free Pentavalon as I did swear——"

  "Nay, master, wed first thy Duchess, so shall she aid thee in thy vows, and thereafter——"

  "Enough!" cried Beltane, "think ye 'tis so easy to thus gainsay the love that burns me? But shame were it that I, beggared in fortune, my friends few, should wed her in my dire need, dragging thereby peaceful Mortain to mine aid and the bloody arbitrament of battle. Moreover, hast forgot the oath I sware——that nought henceforth should let or stay me?"

  "Master," sighed Roger, "there be times, methinks, thou dost swear over-many oaths. Art man and woman full of youth and love, wherefore not marry? Wherefore heed a vow here or there? Needs must I wrestle with the good Saint Cuthbert in the matter."

  But here Beltane fell again to meditation and Roger likewise. So came they presently to the forest-road, and turning north towards Winisfarne they strode on, side by side, in silence profound and deep. And of a sudden upon this silence, rose a voice high-pitched and quavering:

  "O ye that have eyes, have pity——show mercy on one that is maimed and helpless, and creepeth ever in the dark."

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