“Could’st not love her first and judge her after, my son? Could not her very motherhood plead her cause with thee? Must she be weighed in the balance ere thou yield her a son’s respect and love? So many weary years—’tis something hard, methinks! Nay, heed me not, my lord—seek out thy mother, unbeknown—prove for thyself her worthiness or falsity, prove for thyself her honour or her shame—’tis but just, aye, ’tis but just in very truth. But I, beholding things with woman’s eyes, know only that a mother’s love shrinketh not for any sin, but reacheth down through shame and evil with sheltering arms outstretched—a holy thing, fearless of sin, more lasting than shame and stronger than death itself.”
So saying, the lady Abbess rose and turned to look up at the lights that burned within the tower.
“’Tis late, my lord,” she sighed, “get thee now to thy rest, for I must begone to my duty till the dawn. There be many sick, and good Sir Bertrand lieth very nigh to death—he ne’er will see another dawn, methinks, so needs must I away. Good night, sweet son, and in thy prayers forget not thy—thy most unhappy mother!”
Then she lifted her hand and blessed him, and, ere he rose up from his knees she set that white hand upon his bowed head and touched his yellow hair—a light touch, furtive and shy, but a touch that was like to a caress.
Thereafter, Beltane, coming into his hut of woven wattle, rolled himself in his weather-worn mantle and presently fell to slumber.
TELLETH HOW SIR BENEDICT WENT A-FISHING
Next day Sir Bertrand died of his hurts, so they buried him beside young Sir John of Griswold and sturdy old Hubert of Erdington and a hundred and twenty and five others of their company who had fallen in that desperate affray; therefore tarried they a while what time their sick and wounded grew towards health and strength by reason of the skill and tender care of the lady Abbess and her nuns.
Now on the afternoon of this day. Sir Benedict being sick a-bed of his wound, Beltane sat in council among the oldest and wisest of the knights, and presently summoned Walkyn and Ulf, Roger and Jenkyn o’ the Ford, speaking them on this wise:
“Good comrades, list ye now! These noble knights and I have hither summoned ye for that ye are of good and approved courage and moreover foresters born and cunning in wood-lore. As ye do know, ’tis our intent to march for Belsaye so soon as our wounded be fit. But first must we be ’ware if our road be open or no. Therefore, Walkyn, do ye and Ulf take ten men and haste to Winisfarne and the forest-road that runneth north and south: be ye wary of surprise and heedful of all things. You, Roger and Jenkyn, with other ten, shall seek the road that runneth east and west; marching due south you shall come to the northern road where ye shall wait two hours (but no longer) for Walkyn. Ye are woodsmen! Heed ye the brush and lower branches of the trees if any be broken, mark well the track in dusty places and seek ye the print of feet in marshy places, learn all ye may from whomsoever ye may and haste ye hot-foot back with tidings good or ill. Is it understood?”