I was more content then, for I could not have reached our king, had I returned from Normandy, as it seemed. And now it was possible that he might make headway against the divided forces of the Danes. I might join him yet in time to share in some final victory.
So the early summer days at Penhurst became very pleasant to me, for I had little care that need sit heavily on my mind. Indeed, I think that I should almost have forgotten that I had any, but for the foolishness of Sexberga, which bid fair to turn all things to sadness at one time.
I had spoken with her mother about my search for Hertha, telling her plainly all that had passed between me and Ailwin, and I asked her to tell me what she thought I must do now.
“Wait yet longer,” she answered; “peace will come, and he will bring Hertha back to Bures.”
That ought to have been my own plan, but I had rather hoped to hear her say that I was right in holding myself free to choose afresh as I would. The thought of being bound seemed irksome to me; though why I, landless and luckless, should have found it so, I could not say. It mattered not at all at present. So I said:
“That is all one can do, lady; it matters not.”
“What thinks Sexberga?” I asked presently.
“You have not spoken to her of your search, then?” the lady said. “I had thought that she would ask you of it first of all.”
She had asked nothing, and I had said nothing.
Then the lady said:
“She and I spoke thereof with Uldra but yesterday, and they were both full of your praises for wishing to seek for your Hertha. They will be glad to hear that you have done so, and sad that you have failed to find her.”
Then there came over me a wish that Uldra knew nought about it. And that angered me with myself, because it was plain that I cared overmuch for the company and pleasant voice and looks of this maiden who was friendless as I.
So that was all that was said at the time, and I met Uldra in my foolishness as if this were going to make some difference in her way with me. Which of course it did not. Whereupon I was angrier yet with myself for deeming that it would.
Now, there was another person who should have known of this betrothal of mine, and that was Edred, but Sexberga never told him, and her mother did not, for she thought that Sexberga would do so.
Of all the foolish things that a maiden can do, the most foolish is to try to make the man who is to wed her jealous. For it is playing with edged tools in two ways—if the man, being an honest man and trustful, is not jealous, the maiden thinks that he cares not, and so is herself wretched. But if he is jealous, why, then every thought of his towards the maiden is changed and spoilt, and it will be long, if ever, before full trust is won again between those two.