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- Via Crucis - 3/55 -

but it had never ripened into the confidence of friendship on Warde's side, while on Sir Arnold's it had been but a well-played comedy to hide his rising hatred for the Lady Goda's husband. And she, on her side, played her part as well. An alliance in which ambition had held the place of heart could not remain an alliance at all when ambition had been altogether disappointed. She hated her husband for having disappointed her; she despised him for having made nothing of his many gifts and chances, for clinging to an old cause, for being old- fashioned, for having seen much and taken nothing--which makes 'rich eyes and poor hands'--for being slow, good-natured, kind-hearted, and a prey to all who wished to get anything from him. She reflected with bitterness that for a matter of seven or eight years of waiting, and a turn of chance which would have meant happiness instead of misery, she might have had the widowed Sir Arnold for a husband and have been the Archbishop of Canterbury's cousin, high in favour with the winning side in the civil war and united to a man who would have known how to flatter her cold nature into a fiction of feeling, instead of wasting on her the almost exaggerated respect with which a noble passion envelops its object, but which, to most women, becomes in the end unspeakably wearisome.

Many a time during those six years had she and Sir Arnold met and talked as on the first night. Once, when the Empress Maud had taken King Stephen prisoner, and things looked ill for his followers, Warde had insisted that his neighbour should come over to Stoke Regis, as being a safer place than his own castle; and once again, when Stephen had the upper hand, and Sir Raymond was fighting desperately under Gloucester, his wife had taken her son, and the priest, and some of her women, and had ridden over to ask protection of Sir Arnold, leaving the manor to take care of itself.

At first Curboil had constantly professed admiration for Warde's mental and physical gifts; but little by little, tactfully feeling his distance, he had made the lady meet his real intention half way by confiding to him all that she suffered, or fancied that she suffered-- which with some women is the same thing--in being bound for life to a man who had failed to give her what her ambition craved. Then, one day, the key-word had been spoken. After that, they never ceased to hope that Raymond Warde might come to an untimely end.

During these years Gilbert had grown from a boy to a man, unsuspicious, worshipping his mother as a kind of superior being, but loving his father with all that profound instinct of mutual understanding which makes both love and hatred terrible within the closer degrees of consanguinity. As time went by and the little Beatrix grew tall and straight and pale, Gilbert loved her quite naturally, as she loved him--two young people of one class, without other companions, and very often brought together for days at a time in the isolated existence of mediaeval castles. Perhaps Gilbert never realized just how much of his affection for his mother was the result of her willingness to let him fall in love with Beatrix. But the possibility of discussing the marriage was another excuse for those long conversations with Sir Arnold, which had now become a necessary part of Goda's life, and it made the frequent visits and meetings in the hawking season seem quite natural to the unsuspecting Sir Raymond. In hunting with Sir Arnold, he had more than one narrow escape. Once, when almost at close quarters with an old boar, he was stooping down to meet the tusker with a low thrust. His wife and Sir Arnold were some twenty paces behind him, and all three had become separated from the huntsmen. Seeing the position and the solitude, the Lady Goda turned her meaning eyes to her companion. An instant later Sir Arnold's boar-spear flew like a cloth- yard arrow, straight at Sir Raymond's back. But in that very instant, too, as the boar rushed upon him, Warde sprang to one side, and, almost dropping to his knee, ran the wild beast through with his hunting sword. The spear flew harmless over his head, unseen and unheard, and lost itself in the dead leaves twenty yards beyond him. On another day, Raymond, riding along, hawk on wrist, ten lengths before the others, as was his wont, did not notice that they gradually fell behind, until he halted in a narrow path of the forest, looked round, and found himself alone. He turned his horse's head and rode back a few yards, when suddenly three masked men, whom he took for robbers, sprang up in his path and fell upon him with long knives. But they had misreckoned their distance by a single yard, and their time by one second, and when they were near enough to strike, his sword was already in his hand. The first man fell dead; the second turned and fled, with a deep flesh wound in his shoulder; the third followed without striking a blow; and Sir Raymond rode on unhurt, meditating upon the uncertainty of the times. When he rejoined his wife and friend, he found them dismounted and sitting side by side on a fallen tree, talking low and earnestly, while the footmen and falconers were gathered together in a little knot at some distance. As they heard his voice, Goda started with a little cry, and Arnold's dark face turned white; but by the time he was beside them, they were calm again, and smiled, and they asked him whether he had lost his way. Raymond said nothing of what had happened to him, fearing to startle the delicate nerves of his lady; but late on the following night, when Sir Arnold was alone in his bedchamber, a man ghastly white from loss of blood lifted the heavy curtain and told his story in a low voice.


Now Raymond and his son had gone over into Berkshire, to the building of the great castle at Faringdon, as has been said; and for a while Sir Arnold remained in his hold, and very often he rode over alone to Stoke, and spent many hours with the Lady Goda, both in the hall and in the small garden by the moat. The priest, and the steward, and the men- at-arms, and the porter, were all used to see him there often enough, when Sir Raymond was at home, and they thought no evil because he came now to bear the lonely lady company; for the manners of those days were simple.

But on a morning at the end of April, there came a messenger from King Stephen, bidding all earls, barons, bannerets, and knights, upon their oath of fealty, join him with their fighting men in Oxford. For form's sake, the messenger came to Stoke Regis, as not admitting that any Norman knight should not be on the king's side; and the drawbridge being down, he rode under the gateway, and when the trumpeter who was with him had blown three blasts, he delivered his message. Then the steward, bowing deeply, answered that his lord was absent on a journey; and the messenger turned and rode away, without bite or sup. But, riding on to Stortford Castle, he found Sir Arnold, and delivered the king's bidding with more effect, and was hospitably treated with meat and drink. Sir Arnold armed himself slowly in full mail, saving his head, for the weather was strangely warm, and he would ride in his hat rather than wear the heavy steel cap with the broad nose-guard. Before an hour had passed he was mounted, with his men, and his footmen were marching before and behind him on the broad Hertford road. But he had sent a messenger secretly to the Lady Goda, to tell her that he was gone; and after that she heard nothing for many days.

In the morning, and after dinner, and before sunset, she came every day to the little garden under the west wall of the manor, and looked long toward the road--not that she wished Sir Raymond back, nor that she cared when Gilbert came, but she well knew that the return of either would mean that the fighting was over, and that Sir Arnold, too, would be at leisure to go home.

On that fifth of May, as the sun was going down, she stood still and looked out toward the road for the tenth time since Curboil had gone to join the king. The sun sank lower, and still she saw nothing; and she felt the chill of the damp evening air, and would have turned to go in, but something held her. Far up the road, on the brow of the rising ground, she saw a tiny spark, a little dancing flame like the corpse- candles that run along the graves on a summer's night--first one, then all at once three, then, as it seemed to her, a score at least, swaying a little above a compact dark mass against the red sky. The lights were like little stars rising and falling on the horizon, and always just above a low, black cloud. A moment more, and the evening breeze out of the west brought a long-drawn harmony of chanting to the Lady Goda's ear, the high sweet notes of youthful voices sustained by the rich counterpoint of many grown men's tones. She started, and held her breath, shivered a little, and snatched at the rose bush beside her, so that the thorns struck through the soft green gauntlet and pricked her, though she felt nothing. There was death in the air; there was death in the moving lights; there was death in the minor wail of the monks' voices. In the first moment of imperfect understanding, it was Arnold whom they were bringing home to her, slain in battle by her lawful husband, or by Gilbert, her son; it was Arnold whom they were bringing back to her who loved him, that she might wash his wounds with her tears, and dry his damp brow with her glorious hair. Wide-eyed and silent, as the train came near, she moved along by the moat to meet the procession at the drawbridge, not understanding yet, but not letting one movement of the men, one flicker of the lights, one quaver of the deep chant, escape her reeling senses. Then all at once she was aware that Gilbert walked bareheaded before the bier, half wrapped in a long black cloak that swept the greensward behind him. As she turned the last bastion before reaching the drawbridge, the funeral was moving along by the outer edge of the moat, and between the procession and her there was only the broad water, reflecting the lights of the moving tapers, the dark cowls of the monks, the white surplices of the song- boys. They moved slowly, and she, as in a dream, followed them on the other side with little steps, wondering, fearing, starting now with a wild thrill of liberty at last, now struggling with a half conventional, half hysterical sob that rose in her throat at the thought of death so near. She had lived with him, she had played the long comedy of love with him, she had loathed him in her heart, she had smiled at him with well-trained eyes; and now she was free to choose, free to love, free to be Arnold's wife. And yet she had lived with the dead man; and in the far-off past there were little tender lights of happiness, half real, half played, but never forgotten, upon which she had once taught her thoughts to dwell tenderly and sadly. She had loved the dead man in the first days of marriage, as well as her cold and unawakened nature could love at all--if not for himself, at least for the hopes of vanity built on his name. She had hated him in secret, but she could not have hated him so heartily had there not once been a little love to turn so fiercely sour. She could not have trained her eyes to smile at him so gently had she not once smiled for his own sake. And so, when they brought him dead to the gate of his own house, his wife had still some shreds of memories for weeds to eke out a show of sorrow.

She passed through the postern in the small round tower beside the gateway, knowing that when she came out under the portcullis, the funeral train would be just reaching the other end of the bridge. The little vaulted room in the lower story of the tower was not four steps in width across, from door to door; but it was almost dark, and there the Lady Goda stopped one moment before she went out to meet the mourners. Standing still in the dimness, she pressed her gloved hands to her eyes with all her might, as though to concentrate her thoughts and her strength. Then she threw back her arms, and looked up through the gloom, and almost laughed; and she felt something just below her heart that stifled her like a great joy. Then all at once she was calm, and touched her eyes again with her gloved hands, but gently now, as though smoothing them and preparing them to look upon what they must see presently. She opened the little door, and was suddenly standing in the midst of the frightened herd of retainers and servants, while the

Via Crucis - 3/55

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