CHAPTER XXVII ~ SIR ARTHUR COMETH TO THE HOUSE UNDER THE WOOD
So came Arthur into the meadows, and went eagerly but warily over the dewy grass. And here and there a cow rose before him and went bundling down the mead a little way, and the owls cried out from behind him, and a fox barked from the thicket’s edge. Then he found himself on the stream-side, and he stayed and looked from side to side, and lo! on the other side of the stream a little house that looked familiar to him as a yeoman’s dwelling in the builded lands, and the thatch thereon shone under the moon and its windows were yellow with candle-light; and so homely it seemed to him, that he thrust his sword into the sheath and lightly crossed the brook, and came to the door and laid his hand upon the latch and lifted it and shoved the door, and all was open before him.
His eyes, coming from the night, dazzled with the bright light of the candles, but he saw a fair woman rising up in her place, and he said: May a traveller in the woodland be welcome here to-night, dealing with all in all honour?
But the woman came toward him holding out her two hands, and ere he could cry out that he knew her, she had thrown herself upon him, and had cast her arms about him and was kissing his face, and murmuring: O welcome indeed! welcome, welcome, and welcome! And so sore did his past grief and his desire move him, that he was weak before her, and held down his hands and let her do. And both those were breathless with wonder and joy and longing; and they stood aloof a little in a while and looked on each other, she with heaving bosom and streaming eyes, and he with arms stretched forth and lips that strove with his heart’s words and might not utter them; but once more she gave herself to him, and he took her in his arms strongly now, so that she was frail and weak before him, and he laid his cheek to her cheek and his lips to her lips, and kissed her eyes and her shoulders and murmured over her. And then again they stood apart, and she took him by the hand and led him to the settle, and set him down by her, and herself by him; and a while they said nought. Then she spake as one who had come to herself and was calm, though her heart was aflame for love: Tell me, love, when thine hand was on the latch didst thou look to find me here in this house? for thine hand it was that waked me; I heard not thy foot before the threshold, for I was weary and slumbering. Alas! that I lost the sound of thy feet! He spake, and his voice sounded false unto him, as if it came from another’s mouth: I wot not; the woman that led me nearby seemed to bid me hope. Then he said: Nay, the sooth is that I should have died if I had not found thee here; I have been sick so long with hoping.
Again were they silent till she said: I would that I had heard thee crossing the brook. But the wood-wife bade me look for thee no earlier than tomorrow; else had I time enough; and I would have made the house trim with the new green boughs, and dighted our bed with rose blooms; and I would have done on me my shining gown that the wood-wife gave me. For indeed she was but clad in her scanty smock and nought else.
But he laid his head on her bosom and kissed her all about, and said: Nay, my own love, it is well, it is better. And she murmured over him: O friend, my dear, think not that I had will to hide me from thee. All that is here of me is thine, and thine, and thine.
And she took his hand and they arose together, and she said: O friend, I fled from thee once and left thee lonely of me because I deemed need drave me to it; and I feared the strife of friends, and confusion and tangle. Now if thou wilt avenge thee on me thou mayest, for I am in thy power. Yet will I ask thee what need will drive thee to leave me lonely?
He said: The need of death. But she said: Mayhappen we shall lie together then, as here to-night we shall lie.