CHAPTER XVIII ~ OF SPRING-TIME AND THE MIND OF BIRDALONE
Now was the winter gone and the spring-tide come again, and with the blossoming of the earth blossomed Birdalone also. Nought sweeter of flesh might she be than erst, but there was now a new majesty grown into her beauty; her limbs were rounded, her body fulfilled, her skin sleeked and whitened; and if any mother’s son had beheld her feet as they trod the meadow besprinkled with saffron and daffodil, ill had it gone with him were he gainsaid the kisses of them, though for the kissing had he fared the worse belike.
That spring-tide, amidst of April, she followed the witch-wife down to the Sending Boat for the third time; and there went everything as erst, and she deemed now that the lesson was well learned, and that she was well-nigh as wise as the witch herself therein.
But the day after she went about somewhat pensive, as though a troublous thought were on her; and when, three days thereafter, she met the wood-mother, she spake to her even as they parted, and said: Mother, much wisdom hast thou learned me, and now this at the last withal, that hitherto there has been shame in my life; and now fain were I to be done with it. Fair child, said Habundia, little is the shame though this woman hath had the upper hand of thee and hath used thee cruelly: how mightest thou, a child, strive with her? But now I see and know that there is an end of that; that she feareth thee now, and will never again raise a hand against thee save thou fall wholly into her power; as thou shalt not, my child. Be comforted then for what is gone by! Nay, mother, said Birdalone, it is not that which troubleth me; for, as thou sayest, what else might I do? But thy wisdom which thou hast set in my heart hath learned me that for these last months I have been meeting guile with guile and lies with lies. And now will I do so no more, lest I become a guileful woman, with nought good in me save the fairness of my body. Wherefore hearken, sweet mother! What is done, is done; but when it cometh to the day, which is speedily drawing nigh, that I must part from thee, it may be for a long while, then will I not fare to the Sending Boat by night and cloud and with hidden head, but will walk thither in broad day, and let that befall which must befall.
Changed then Habundia’s face and became haggard and woeful, and she cried out: O if I could but weep, as ye children of Adam! O my grief and sorrow! Child, child! then will betide that falling into her hands which I spake of e’en now; and then shall this wretch, this servant of evil, assuredly slay thee there and then, or will keep thee to torment thee till thy life be but a slow death. Nay, nay, do as I should do, and fare with hidden head, and my ring on thy finger. Or else, O child, how wilt thou hurt me!
Birdalone wept; but presently she fell to caressing the mother’s hand, and said: This is thy doing, wherein thou hast made me wise. Yet fear not: for I deem that the witch-wife will not slay me, whereas she looketh to have some gain of me; moreover, in the evil of her heart is mingled some love toward me, whereof, as erst I told thee, I have a morsel of compassion. Mother, she will not slay me; and I say that she shall not torment me, for I will compel her to slay me else. It is my mind that she will let me go. Said the mother: Yea, mayhappen, yet but as a bird with a string to its leg. If it be so, said Birdalone, then let my luck prevail over her guile; as well it may be, since I have known thee, O wise mother!
The wood-wife hung her head and spake nought for a while; then she said: I see that thou wilt have it so, and that there is something in thine heart which we, who are not children of Adam, may not understand; yet once wert thou more like unto us. Now all I may say is, that thou must rule in this matter, and that I am sad.
Then she looked down again and presently raised a brighter face, and said: Belike all shall be better than I thought. Then she kissed Birdalone and they parted for that time.