CHAPTER IV ~ OF THE LOVE OF GERARD'S SONS AND OF JACOBUS FOR BIRDALONE
Now dwelt Birdalone in rest and peace when she had been taken into the guild along with her mother, and they had taken the due apprentices to them; and they began to gather much of goods to them, for of fine broidery there was little done in the Five Crafts, and none at all that could be put beside their work, either for beauty of the draught of it, or for skill of handiwork. She declared unto all folk how that the poor-wife (who had to name Audrey) was her very mother, from whom she had been stolen in her youngest days; but she told none any tale of how she was stolen. And the twain dwelt together in the greatest loving-kindness; and it was with Audrey as she had forecast, that now her days were happy, and she living in all ease and content, that the goodliness of her youth came back to her, and she became a fair woman as for her years; and therewith it grew to be clear that the two were so much alike one to the other, that all might see that they were mother and daughter.
Gerard and his two sons she maintained yet as her men; and not only were they of much use to her in fetching and carrying, but also true it is that her beauty was so manifest, that she whiles needed a stout lad weaponed at her back when she was in the streets or amidst the throng of the market; and many were they, and whiles of the highest, who craved love of her, some with honour, and some with lack of it.
Of these, forsooth, were but two that anywise troubled her; and the most trouble was this, that she might not fail to see that the love of her had entered into the hearts of the two Gerardsons, Robert and Giles; so that times were when she deemed she must even send them away, but when it came to the point she had not the heart thereto; though none other remedy there seemed, so sorely as their souls were wounded by longing for her. It is not to be said that they ever spake to her thereof, or wittingly wearied her with signs of love; but they could not so easily cover it up but that it was ever before her eyes. But she suffered it all for friendship’s sake and for their true service, and in all friendliness did what she might to solace their grief. Forsooth so good and true she found that father-kind, and the young men so goodly and kind, that she said to herself, had she not another man lying in her heart, she might well have chosen one of those twain for her very speech-friend and true lover.
The second wooer that troubled her was the master, Jacobus, who, when but three months were worn of her dwelling in her house, did all openly crave her love and offer her marriage, he being a man unwedded. Sore was her heart that she must needs gainsay him, so kind and courteous as he had been to her at their first coming together; though this indeed is sooth, that straightway, so soon as he saw her, he fell into the captivity of her love. Howsoever, gainsay him she needs must, and he took the naysay so hardly that he was scarce like a man before her, and wept and prayed and lamented many times over, till she wearied of it, and well-nigh fell to loathing him. So that it came to this at last, that one day she spake to him and said that she might no longer bear it, but must seek another house and leave his. There then was the to-do, for he fell on his knees before her, and kissed her feet, would she, would she not, and cried out in his grief, till at last for pure weariness of his folly she gave way unto him, and said that she would still abide there; whereon he rose up from her and went away with all the grief run off him for that time, and as glad a man to look on as you might see on a summer’s day.
But the next morning he came unto her again, and she thinking all was begun afresh, made him no glad countenance; but he stood up before her and spake friendly, and said how that she was in the right of it, and that if they both dwelt in one house together they were like to have but a weary time of it, both she and he. But, said he, I will not that thou shouldst depart out of this house, for a goodly one it is, and full meet for thee; it is for me to depart, and not for thee. I tell thee, forsooth, that I had from the first meant this house as a gift from me to thee. And therewith he drew from his pouch a scroll, which was a deed of gift of the said house, duly sealed and attested, and he gave it into her hands; but she was sore moved thereat, and at the demeanour of him that morning, and she let the scroll fall to the floor and wept for pity of him, and reached out both her hands, and he kissed them, and then her lips also, and sithence he sat down beside her. But she said: Alas! that thou wilt give me what I may not take, and wouldst have of me what I may not give.
But now he waxed hotter, and said: This once I command thee to do my will, and take my gift. It will be nought to my gain if thou take it not; for I may not live in this house when thou art gone from it; and I swear by All-hallows that I will not let any have it to hire, nor will I sell it, since thou hast made it holy by dwelling therein.
Yet was she sore moved by his generous fashion, and she said: I will take thy gift then, and live here in honour of thee and thy friendship; for well I wot thou hadst no mind to buy me with thy gift.
So she spake, and he stood up stark and stern, and so departed, and kissed her not again; though meseems she would have suffered him had he offered it. Nay, belike had he at that moment pressed his wooing somewhat masterfully, it is not so sure but she might have yeasaid it, and suffered him to wed her and lead her to bed; though it would have gone ill both with him and with her thereafter.
Thenceforth dwelt Birdalone with her mother and her maidens and her men in that house, and it became famous in the Five Crafts because of her beauty and her wisdom, which minished not, but waxed day by day; but therewithal as the time wore, waxed her longing and sadness. But all this she hid in her own heart, and was debonair to all about her, and so good to poor folk that none had a word save of blessing on her beauty and her wisdom.