The Roots of the Mountain - Chapter 24
FACE-OF-GOD GIVETH THAT TOKEN TO THE BRIDE
Now on the morrow, when Face-of-god arose and other men with him, and the Hall was astir and there was no little throng therein, the Bride came up to him; for she had slept in the House of the Face by the bidding of the Alderman; and she spake to him before all men, and bade him come forth with her into the garden, because she would speak to him apart. He yeasaid her, though with a heavy heart; and to the folk about that seemed meet and due, since those twain were deemed to be troth-plight, and they smiled kindly on them as they went out of the Hall together.
So they came into the garden, where the pear-trees were blossoming over the spring lilies, and the cherries were showering their flowers on the deep green grass, and everything smelled sweetly on the warm windless spring morning.
She led the way, going before him till they came by a smooth grass path between the berry bushes, to a square space of grass about which were barberry trees, their first tender leaves bright green in the sun against the dry yellowish twigs. There was a sundial amidmost of the grass, and betwixt the garden-boughs one could see the long grey roof of the ancient hall; and sweet familiar sounds of the nesting birds and men and women going on their errands were all about in the scented air. She turned about at the sundial and faced Face-of-god, her hand lightly laid on the scored brass, and spake with no anger in her voice:
‘I ask thee if thou hast brought me the token whereon thou shalt swear to give me that gift.’
‘Yea,’ said he; and therewith drew the ring from his bosom, and held it out to her. She reached out her hand to him slowly and took it, and their fingers met as she did so, and he noted that her hand was warm and firm and wholesome as he well remembered it.
She said: ‘Whence hadst thou this fair finger-ring?’
Said Face-of-god: ‘My friend there in the mountain-valley drew it from off her finger for thee, and bade me bear thee a message.’
Her face flushed red: ‘Yea,’ she said, ‘and doth she send me a message? Then doth she know of me, and ye have talked of me together. Well, give the message!’
Said Face-of-god: ‘She saith, that thou shalt bear in mind, That to-morrow is a new day.’
‘Yea,’ she said, ‘for her it is so, and for thee; but not for me. But now I have brought thee here that thou mightest swear thine oath to me; lay thine hand on this ring and on this brazen plate whereby the sun measures the hours of the day for happy folk, and swear by the spring-tide of the year and all glad things that find a mate, and by the God of the Earth that rejoiceth in the life of man.’
Then he laid his hand on the finger-ring as it lay on the dial-plate and said:
‘By the spring-tide and the live things that long to multiply their kind; by the God of the Earth that rejoiceth in the life of man, I swear to give to my kinswoman the Bride the second man-child that I beget; to be hers, to leave or cherish, to love or hate, as her will may bid her.’ Then he looked on her soberly and said: ‘It is duly sworn; is it enough?’
‘Yea,’ she said; but he saw how the tears ran out of her eyes and wetted the bosom of her kirtle, and she hung her head for shame of her grief. And Gold-mane was all abashed, and had no word to say; for he knew that no word of his might comfort her; and he deemed it ill done to stay there and behold her sorrow; and he knew not how to get him gone, and be glad elsewhere, and leave her alone.
Then, as if she had read his thought, she looked up at him and said smiling a little amidst of her tears:
‘I bid thee stay by me till the flood is over; for I have yet a word to say to thee.’
So he stood there gazing down on the grass in his turn, and not daring to raise his eyes to her face, and the minutes seemed long to him: till at last she said in a voice scarcely yet clear of weeping:
‘Wilt thou say anything to me, and tell me what thou hast done, and why, and what thou deemest will come of it?’
He said: ‘I will tell the truth as I know it, because thou askest it of me, and not because I would excuse myself before thee. What have I done? Yesterday I plighted my troth to wed the woman that I met last autumn in the wood. And why? I wot not why, but that I longed for her. Yet I must tell thee that it seemed to me, and yet seemeth, that I might do no otherwise—that there was nothing else in the world for me to do. What do I deem will come of it, sayest thou? This, that we shall be happy together, she and I, till the day of our death.’
She said: ‘And even so long shall I be sorry: so far are we sundered now. Alas! who looked for it? And whither shall I turn to now?’
Said Gold-mane: ‘She bade me tell thee that to-morrow is a new day: meseemeth I know her meaning.’
‘No word of hers hath any meaning to me,’ said the Bride.
‘Nay,’ said he, ‘but hast thou not heard these rumours of war that are in the Dale? Shall not these things avail thee? Much may grow out of them; and thou with the mighty heart, so faithful and compassionate!’
She said: ‘What sayest thou? What may grow out of them? Yea, I have heard those rumours as a man sick to death heareth men talk of their business down in the street while he lieth on his bed; and already he hath done with it all, and hath no world to mend or mar. For me nought shall grow out of it. What meanest thou?’
Said Gold-mane: ‘Is there nought in the fellowship of Folks, and the aiding of the valiant, and the deliverance of the hapless?’
‘Nay,’ she said, ‘there is nought to me. I cannot think of it to-day nor yet to-morrow belike. Yet true it is that I may mingle in it, though thinking nought of it. But this shall not avail me.’
She was silent a little, but presently spake and said: ‘Thou sayest right; it is not thou that hast done this, but the woman who sent me the ring and the message of an old saw. O that she should be born to sunder us! How hath it befallen that I am now so little to thee and she so much?’
And again she was silent; and after a while Face-of-god spake kindly and softly and said: ‘Kinswoman, wilt thou for ever begrudge our love? this grudge lieth heavy on my soul, and it is I alone that have to bear it.’
She said: ‘This is but a light burden for thee to bear, when thou hast nought else to bear! But do I begrudge thee thy love, Gold-mane? I know not that. Rather meseemeth I do not believe in it—nor shall do ever.’
Then she held her peace a long while, nor did he speak one word: and they were so still, that a robin came hopping about them, close to the hem of her kirtle, and a starling pitched in the apple-tree hard by and whistled and chuckled, turning about and about, heeding them nought. Then at last she lifted up her face from looking on the grass and said: ‘These are idle words and avail nothing: one thing only I know, that we are sundered. And now it repenteth me that I have shown thee my tears and my grief and my sickness of the earth and those that dwell thereon. I am ashamed of it, as if thou hadst smitten me, and I had come and shown thee the stripes, and said, See what thou hast done! hast thou no pity? Yea, thou pitiest me, and wilt try to forget thy pity. Belike thou art right when thou sayest, To-morrow is a new day; belike matters will arise that will call me back to life, and I shall once more take heed of the joy and sorrow of my people. Nay, it is most like that this I shall feign to do even now. But if to-morrow be a new day, it is to-day now and not to-morrow, and so shall it be for long. Hereof belike we shall talk no more, thou and I. For as the days wear, the dealings between us shall be that thou shalt but get thee away from my life, and I shall be nought to thee but the name of a kinswoman. Thus should it be even wert thou to strive to make it otherwise; and thou shalt NOT strive. So let all this be; for this is not the word I had to say to thee. But hearken! now are we sundered, and it irketh me beyond measure that folk know it not, and are kind, and rejoice in our love, and deem it a happy thing for the folk; and this burden I may bear no longer. So I shall declare unto men that I will not wed thee; and belike they may wonder why it is, till they see thee wedded to the Woman of the Mountain. Art thou content that so it shall be?’
Said Face-of-god: ‘Nay, thou shalt not take this all upon thyself; I also shall declare unto the Folk that I will wed none but her, the Mountain-Woman.’
She said: ‘This shalt thou not do; I forbid it thee. And I WILL take it all upon myself. Shall I have it said of me that I am unmeet to wed thee, and that thou hast found me out at last and at latest? I lay this upon thee, that wheresoever I declare this and whatsoever I may say, thou shalt hold thy peace. This at least thou may’st do for me. Wilt thou?’
‘Yea,’ he said, ‘though it shall put me to shame.’
Again she was silent for a little; then she said:
‘O Gold-mane, this would I take upon myself not soothly for any shame of seeming to be thy cast-off; but because it is I who needs must bear all the sorrow of our sundering; and I have the will to bear it greater and heavier, that I may be as the women of old time, and they that have come from the Gods, lest I belittle my life with malice and spite and confusion, and it become poisonous to me. Be at peace! be at peace! And leave all to the wearing of the years; and forget not that which thou hast sworn!’
Therewith she turned and went from that green place toward the House of the Face, walking slowly through the garden amongst the sweet odours, beneath the fair blossoms, a body most dainty and beauteous of fashion, but the casket of grievous sorrow, which all that goodliness availed not.
But Face-of-god lingered in that place a little, and for that little while the joy of his life was dulled and overworn; and the days before his wandering on the mountain seemed to him free and careless and happy days that he could not but regret. He was ashamed, moreover, that this so unquenchable grief should come but of him, and the pleasure of his life, which he himself had found out for himself, and which was but such a little portion of the Earth and the deeds thereof. But presently his thought wandered from all this, and as he turned away from the sundial and went his ways through the garden, he called to mind his longing for the day of the spring market, when he should see the Sun-beam again and be cherished by the sweetness of her love.