William Morris Archive


As to Osberne, I will say nought of him till he comes back in the even, driving all his sheep before him, not one lacking, and two of the lost ones found. He bears with him shield and spear, and has the Dwarf-wrought whittle in his girdle. Over his shoulder to boot he carries a biggish bag, well-nigh big enough for so little a carle; of white linen it is, it hath something heavy in it, and is much stained with blood. So he folds the sheep straightway, and then comes into the hall, he and his bag, and throws the same into the ingle of the hearth fire. Then he casts a sack over his shoulders and sits before the bag, so that it may not be lightly seen. By this time, it was dusking outside, and inside the hall it was pretty much dark save for the fire, where little flames leapt up now and again as some piece of the firing tumbled over. In the hall was no one, for the women were bringing in the kine, and the goodman was not yet come in from the field.

There he sits quietly, stirring little. And the next tidings is, the goodman comes home alone; he hears the sheep a-bleating, and goes glad at heart to the fold; and there is his joy eked, for by the light of the moon, which is now rising, he can see well enough to tell over the sheep, and finds two more than there were yesterday. So he goes speedily toward the hall, and the women now come up after him, having gotten the kine into the byre; so they all three go into the hall together.

Then cries out the goodman: "Is there aught in the hall now?" Osberne answers from where he sat: "There is but little, for I am little." Then they turn and see him hugging himself up in the sack, and something at his back, they cannot see what; and the goodman says: "What hast thou been about all day, kinsman? Thou art forever foolhardy and a truant; of right, stripes should pay the for thy straying." Said Osberne: "I have been shepherding sheep; may it not buy me off the stripes that I have found two of the lost ones, and brought back all safe?" "Maybe," says the master; "but did aught else befal thee?" Says the lad: "Will it not buy me off beating that I have also brought home good catch?"

"Yea, if the catch be good," says the goodman. "It is but a leash of snipes, which I got me in a corner of the bog up yonder," says Osberne. "Snipes!" says Bridget; "deft art thou, fosterling, to take them without either springe or stonebow, and they all flittering like butterflies on a March day."

"Yea, auntie," saith he, "but a stone or two might avail without the bow, were one deft enough. Yet with no such weapon did I slay them; ask me what weapons I bore against them." Therewith he stirs and shakes himself, and off tumbles the sack from his shoulders, and therewith his grandam lights up the candles, and they all see the scarlet and gold of his holiday raiment; and Bridget says: "This also will I ask thee, fosterling, do men go out to take snipes in their holiday raiment?"

"I will tell thee," says the little lad: "the weapons I bore against the catch were the shield to ward, and the spear to thrust, and the knife for the shearing of the heads: and I tell thee that when men go to battle they use to wend in their fair-dyed raiment."

Then he stood up in the hall, the little one, but trim and goodly, with gleaming eyes and bright hair, and a word came into his mouth:

On the wind-weary bent
The grey ones they went,
Growled the greedy and glared
On the sheep-kin afeared;
Low looked the bright sun
On the battle begun,
For they saw how the swain
Stood betwixt them and gain.
'Twas the spear in the belly, the spear in the mouth,
And a warp of the shield from the north to the south,
The spear in the throat, and the eyes of the sun
Scarce shut as the last of the battle was done.

"Well sung, kinsman!" said the goodman: "now shalt thou show us the snipes." But ere the lad might stoop to his bag the two women were upon him, clipping and kissing him as if they would never have enough thereof. He made a shift to thrust them off at last, and stooping to his bag he drew out something and cast it on the board, and lo the sheared-off head of a great grey wolf with gaping jaws and glistening white fangs, and the women shrank before it. But Osberne said: "Lo the first of the catch, and here is the second." And again he drew out a head from the bag and cast it on the board; and so with the third in due course.

"Now," said he, "the bag is empty, and deemest thou, grandsire, that I have bought off my beating? And thou, grandam, I pray thee, give me my meat, for I am anhungered." So now they had nought but praises and caresses for him and they made as it were a new feast of the November day, and were as merry as if they were feasting the best days of Yule.

Continue to Chapter 6

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