From Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard by Eleanor Farjeon
(to Part 1)
(to Part 1)
He raised his staff, but Young Gerard thrust it aside so violently that he staggered, and the boy went away to his sheep and they met no more till evening. The whole of that day Young Gerard sat on the Mount, not looking as usual to the busy north dreaming of the unknown land beyond the water, but over the silent slopes and valleys of the south, whose peoples were only birds and foxes and rabbits, and whose only cities were built of lights and shadows. Somewhere beyond them was Combe Ivy, and little Thea getting married to the Rough Master of Coates, in the midst of feasting and singing and dancing. He thought of her dancing over the Downs for joy of being free, he thought of her singing to herself as she gathered flowers in his copse, and he thought of her feasting on wild berries he had helped her to find--that also was a feasting and singing and dancing. All day long his thoughts ran, "She will not come any more in the mornings to bathe in the river over the hill. She will not come with her little basket to gather flowers and berries. She will not stop and ask for a cup of milk, or say, Let me see the young lambs, or say, Is your cherry-tree in flower yet, shepherd? She will not ask me with her eyes to come with her--oh, she will not ask me by turning her eyes away, with her little head bent. You! you Rough Master of Coates, what are you like, what are you like?"|
In the evening when he gathered his sheep, one was missing. He had to take the flock back without it. Old Gerard was furious with him; it seemed as though on this last night that separated him from the long fulfillment of his hopes he must be more furious than he had ever been before. He was furious at being thwarted of the fun in the valley, furious at the loss of the lamb, most furious at young Gerard's indifference to his fury. He told the boy he must search on the hills, and Young Gerard only sat down by the side of the shed and looked to the south and made no answer. So he went himself, leaving the boy to prepare the mess for supper; for he feared that if he went to Combe Ivy that night with a bad tale to tell, his master for a whim might say that a young sheep was a fair deal for an old shepherd, and take his gold, and keep him a bondman still. For the Lord of Combe Ivy lived by his whimsies. But Old Gerard could not find the lost sheep, and when he came back the boy was where he had left him, looking over the darkening hills.
"Is the mess ready?" said Old Gerard.
Old Gerard slashed at him with a rope he had taken in case of need. "That will make you remember"
And he began to thrash Young Gerard will all his might, talking between the blows. "Haven't you been the curse of my life for twenty-one years?" snarled he. "Can I trust you? Can I leave you? Would the sheep get their straw? Would the lambs be brought alive into the world? Bah! for all you care the sheep would go cold and their young would die. And down yonder they are getting drunk without me!"
"Where have I seen you before, hag?" he said.
The shepherds looked after her, the old one stupidly, the young one with lighted eyes.
"Will you get supper?" growled Old Gerard.
Away in the hollows and shadows he saw splashes of moving light, and heard far-off snatches of song and laughter, but the movements and sounds were still so distant that they seemed to be only those of ghosts and echoes. Nearer they came and nearer, and now in the night he could discern a great rabble stumbling among the dips and rises of the hills.
"They're heading this way," said Old Gerard. "Why, tis the wedding-party," he said amazed, "if it's not witchcraft. But why are they coming here?"
"He's taking her home across the river," said the guest. "I wouldn't be she. There she sat, her pretty face fixed and frozen, but a fright in her that shook her whole body. You could see it shake. And we drank, how we drank! to the bride and the groom and their daughters and sons, to the sire and the priest, and the ring and the bed, to the kiss and the quarrel, to love which is one thing and marriage which is another--Lord, how we drank! But she drank nothing. And for all her terror the Rough could do no more with her than with a stone. Something in her turned him cold every time. Suddenly up he gets. We'll have no more of this,' he says, we'll go.' Combe Ivy would have had them stay, but She's where she's used to lord it here,' says Rough, I'll take her where I lord it, and teach her who's master,' And he pushes down his chair and takes her hand and pulls her away; and out we tumble after him. Combe Ivy cries to him to wait for the horses, but no, We'll foot it,' says he, up hill and down dale as the crow flies, and if she hates me now without a cause I swear she'll love me with one at the end of the dance.' We're dancing them as far as the Wildbrooks; on t'other side they may dance for themselves. Here they come dancing--dance, you!" cried the guest, and whirled his torch like a madman. And as he whirled and staggered, up the hill came the wedding-party as tipsy as he was: a motley procession, waving torches and garlands, winecups, flagons, colored napkins, shouting and singing and beating on trenchers and salvers--on anything that they could snatch from the table as they quitted it. They came in all their bravery--in doublets of flame-colored silk and blue, in scarlet leather and green velvet, in purple slashed with silver and crimson fringed with bronze; but their vests were unlaced, their hose sagged, and silk and velvet and leather were stained bright or dark with wine. Some had stuck leaves and flowers in their hair, others had tied their forelocks with ribbons like horses on a holiday, and one had torn his yellow mantle in two and capered in advance, waving the halves in either hand like monstrous banners, or the flapping wings of some golden bird of prey. In the midst of them, pressing forward and pressed on by the riot behind, was the Rough Master of Coates, and with him, always hanging a little away and shrinking under her veil, Thea, whose right wrist he grasped in his left hand. Breathless she was among the breathless rabble, who, gaining the hilltop seized each other suddenly and broke into antics, shaking their napkins and rattling on their plates. Their voices were hoarse with laughter and drink, and their faces flushed with it; only among those red and swollen faces, the bridegroom's, in the flare of the torches, looked as black as the bride's looked white. The night about the newly-wedded pair was one great din and flutter.
Then in a trice the dancers all lost breath, and the dance parted as they staggered aside; and at the door of the shed Young Gerard stood, and gazed through the broken revel at little Thea, and she stood gazing at him. And behind and above him, along the walls of the hut, and over the doorway, and making lovely the very roof, she saw a cloud of snowwhite blossom.
Somebody cried, "Here's a boy. He shall dance too. Boy, is there drink within?"
Again the night reeled with their laughter. They surrounded the wedded pair crying, "Kiss her! kiss her! kiss her!" Then the Rough Master of Coates pulled her round to him, dark with anger, and tried to kiss her. But she turned sharply in his arms, bending her head away. And despite his force, and though he was a man and she little more than a child, he could not make her mouth meet his. And the laughter of the guests rose higher, and infuriated him.
Then he who had spoken before said, "By Hymen, the bride should kiss something. If the lord's not good enough, let her kiss the churl!" At this the revelers, wild with delight, beat on their trenchers and shouted, "Ay, let her!"
And suddenly they surged in, parting Thea from the Rough; while some pulled him back others dragged Young Gerard forward, till he stood where the bridegroom had stood; and in that seething throng of mockery he felt her clinging helplessly to him, and his arm went round her.
Then the tumult of laughter passed all bounds, so that it was a wonder if it was not heard at Combe Ivy; and the guests clashed their trenchers one against another, and whirled their torches till the sparks flew, yelling, "The bride's kiss! He, ha! the bride's kiss!"
But the Rough Master of Coates had had enough; snarling like a mad dog he thrust his way through the crowd on one side, as Old Gerard, seeing his purpose, thrust through on the other, and both at the same instant fell on the boy, the one with his scabbard, the other with his staff.
But Young Gerard raised himself a little, and groaned, "The Wildbrooks--are they going to the Wildbrooks?"
But Young Gerard lay with his face pressed to the turf. "And that was the bridegroom," he said, and shook where he lay.
Now as they sat the hilltop once more began to waver with shadows and voices, but this time the shadows came on heavy feet and weary, and the voices were forlorn. One feebly cried, "Hola!" And round the belt of trees straggled the rout that had left them an hour or so earlier. But now they were sodden and dejected, draggled and woebegone, as sorry a spectacle as so many drowned rats.
"In the water," he answered heavily, "because--there was--no wine"
Young Gerard stood for one instant listening and holding his breath. Suddenly he said, "My lost lamb, crying on the hills." He ran into the shed and looked about, and snatched from the settle the green and cherry cloak, and from the wall the crystal and silver lantern. He struck a spark from a flint and lit the wick. It burned brightly and steadily. Then he ran out of the shed. The old woman rose up in his path.
After a short pause she said timidly, "Are you sore, shepherd?"
He kindled his fire; the branches crackled and burned, and she knelt beside the blaze and held her hands to it.
Young Gerard whispered, "Why are you crying?"
Young Gerard said, "I've always wondered if this would happen"
And in a great fit of joy he broke branch after branch from the tree as she sat at its foot, and set them about her, and filled her arms to overflowing, and crowned her with blossoms, and shook the bloom under her feet, till her shy happy face, paling and reddening by turns, looked out from a world of flowers and she cried between laughing and weeping, "Oh, Gerard, oh, you're drowning me!"
And then suddenly he folded her in the green mantle, blossoms and all, and sprang up and lifted her to his breast till she lay like a child in the arms of its mother; and he picked up the lantern and said, "Now we will go away for ever"
And Old Gerard returned to a hut as empty as it had been one-and-twenty years ago. And they say that Combe Ivy, having never set eyes on the boy in his life, swore that the shepherd's tale had been a fiction from first to last, and kept him a serf to the end of his days.
A long while ago, dear maidens, there were Lords in Gay Street, and up and down the Street the cherry-trees bloomed in Spring as they bloomed nowhere else in Sussex, and under the trees sang and danced the loveliest lads and lasses in all England, with hearts like children. And on all their holiday clothes they worked the leaf and branch and flower and fruit of the cherry. And they never wore anything else but their holiday clothes, because it Gay Street it was always holidays.
And a long while ago there were Gypsies on Nyetimber Common, the merriest Gypsies in the southlands, with the gayest tatters and the brightest eyes, and the maddest hearts for mirth-making. They were also makers of lanterns when they were anything else but what all Gypsies are.
And once the son of a Gypsy King loved the daughter of a Lord of Gay Street, and she loved him. And because of this there was wrath in Gay Street and scorn on Nyetimber, and all things were done to keep the lovers apart. But they who attempt this might more profitably chase wild geese. So one night in April they were taken under one of her father's own wild cherries by the light of one of his father's own lanterns. And it was her father and his father who found them, as they had missed them, in the same moment, and were come hunting for sweethearts by night with their people behind them.
Then the Lord of Gay Street pronounced a curse of banishment on his own daughter, that she must go far away beyond the country of the floods, and another on his own tree, that it might never blossom more. And there and then it withered. And the Gypsy King pronounced as dark a curse of banishment on his own son, and a second on his own lantern, that it might never more give light. And there and then it went out.
Then from the crowd of gypsies came the oldest of them all, who was the King's great-grandmother, and she looked from the angry parents to the unhappy lovers and said, "You can blight the tree and make the lantern dark; nevertheless you cannot extinguish the flower and the light of love. And till these things lift the curse and are seen again united among you, there will be no Lords in Gay Street nor Kings on Nyetimber"
And she broke a shoot from the cherry and picked up the lantern and gave them to the lady and her lover; and then she took them one by each hand and went away. And the Lord of Gay Street and the Gypsy King died soon after without heirs, and the joy went out of the hearts of both peoples, and they dressed in sad colors for one-and-twenty years.
But the three traveled south through the country of the floods, and on the way the King's son was drowned, as others had been before him, and after him the Rough Master of Coates. But the crone brought the lady safely through, and how she was at once delivered of her son and her sorrow, dear maidens, you know.
And for one-and-twenty years the crone was seen no more, and then of a sudden she re-appeared at daybreak and bade her people put on their bright apparel because their King was coming with a young Queen; and after this she led them to Gay Street where she bade the folk to don their holiday attire, because their Lord was on his way with a fair Lady. And all those girls and boys, the dark and the light, felt the child of joy in their hearts again, and they went in the morning with singing and dancing to welcome the comers under the cherry-trees.
This story is from Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard by Eleanor Farjeon - first published in 1921. My thanks to Batsy Bybell, who has put this volume Online for us to enjoy.
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