But when this Copeland spoke he was like one transfigured. His voice was grave and very tender, and he said:
“As the fish have their life in the waters, so I have and always shall have mine in love. Love made me choose and dare to emulate a lady, long ago, through whom I live contented, without expecting any other good. Her purity is so inestimable that I cannot say whether I derive more pride or sorrow from its preeminence. She does not love me, and she will never love me. She would condemn me to be hewed in fragments sooner than permit her husband’s finger to be injured. Yet she surpasses all others so utterly that I would rather hunger in her presence than enjoy from another all which a lover can devise.”
Sire Edward stroked the table through this while, with an inverted pen. He cleared his throat. He said, half-fretfully:
“Now, by the Face! it is not given every man to love precisely in this troubadourish fashion. Even the most generous person cannot render to love any more than that person happens to possess. I have read in an old tale how the devil sat upon a cathedral spire and white doves flew about him. Monks came and told him to begone. ’Do not the spires show you, O son of darkness’ they clamored, ‘that the place is holy?’ And Satan (in this old tale) replied that these spires were capable of various interpretations. I speak of symbols, John. Yet I also have loved, in my own fashion,—and, it would seem, I win the same reward as you.”
The King said more lately: “And so she is at Stirling now? hobnob with my armed enemies, and cajoling that red lecher Robert Stewart?” He laughed, not overpleasantly. “Eh, yes, it needed a bold person to bring all your tidings! But you Brabanters are a very thorough-going people.”
The King rose and flung back his high head. “John, the loyal service you have done us and our esteem for your valor are so great that they may well serve you as an excuse. May shame fall on those who bear you any ill-will! You will now return home, and take your prisoner, the King of Scotland, and deliver him to my wife, to do with as she may elect. You will convey to her my entreaty—not my orders, John,—that she come to me here at Calais. As remuneration for this evening’s insolence, I assign lands as near your house as you can choose them to the value of L500 a year for you and for your heirs.”
You must know that John Copeland fell upon his knees before King Edward. “Sire—” he stammered.
But the King raised him. “No, no,” he said, “you are the better man. Were there any equity in fate, John Copeland, your lady had loved you, not me. As it is, I must strive to prove not altogether unworthy of my fortune. But I make no large promises,” he added, squinting horribly, “because the most generous person cannot render to love any more than that person happens to possess. So be off with you, John Copeland,—go, my squire, and bring me back my Queen!”