The Blanket of the Dark, by John Buchan

Chapter xii

Of the Vision in the Snow

Next day they were in the saddle soon after dawn, Lord Avelard muffled in three cloaks and wearing an extra surcoat. The snow had not begun to fall, but the world lay under the spell of its coming. The sky was leaden grey and, though there was no frost, the earth seemed to be bound in a rigor like an ague; nothing stirred, not a leaf on the tree or a bird in the bush; the very streams seemed to hush their flow in a palsy of expectancy. Even on Peter’s young blood the cold smote like a blow.

The old man said not a word of their talk of yesterday. He seemed to cherish no resentment, and, so far as the discomfort of the weather permitted, to be in a cheerful humour.

“I am taking you to Neville,” he told Peter. “My lord of Abergaveny is the greatest man on the Marches and can horse five thousand spears, besides what he can bring from his Welsh dales. The man is sick — has long been sick — but his spirit burns the more fiercely in his frail body, and he is also a skilled soldier. What he lacks in bodily strength will be supplied by his brethren Sir Thomas and Sir Edward. . . . My lord is your near kin, for he married your sister by blood, the Lady Mary, now dead.”

“Why is he one of us?” Peter asked. “He stands high at court.”

A laugh like a frog’s croak came from the old man.

“He has some matter of private grievance against the Welshman. Likewise he would increase his estates. He is the richest man in the west country, for he heired the broad Beauchamp lands, but he would leave his son still vaster possessions. Speak him fair, my son, for he has a temper spoiled by much dealing with slippery Welsh.” And he shot at Peter a glance of many meanings.

“Bethink you, my lord, while there is still time,” said Peter, for in the night watches he had been pondering his position. “Am I the man for your purpose? Would not my lord of Exeter better serve it?”

“May the mercy of God forbid!” Lord Avelard cried. “The Nevilles would be posting to London to lay their swords at the King’s feet. The name of Courtenay is not the name of Bohun, and has no spell to summon England.”

They found the chief of the Nevilles in his house of Marchington by the Severn. He was of the old school, wearing the clothes of another age, and eschewing the shaven fashion of the Court, for he had a forked grey beard like the tushes of a boar. His massive figure had grown bulky, his legs tottered, the colour of his face was that of his hair, but he had the old habit of going always armed, and supported indoors a weight of body armour that might have been at Agincourt. The house had not been changed since the time of the Edwards, and was a rough draughty place, very different from the comfort of Avelard. There was a pale woman flitting in the background, his latest wife, who had once been his mistress, but she did not come near the strangers, and the party of three sat in the chilly hall on bare stools, as if they had met at a leaguer.

Neville looked at Peter long and searchingly.

“Ned’s son, by God!” he exclaimed. “I would know that nick in the upper lip out of ten thousand. You have kept him well hidden, or some spy of Henry’s would have unearthed him, and he would have tested Henry’s mercies. . . . Hark ye, lad, you are my brother, child though you be, for in your sister, now with God, I had as good a wife as a man of my habits deserves. You are abbey-bred and no soldier? So much the better, say I, for you will leave the business of war to such as understand it. Half Henry’s bungling has come from his belief that he is a new Cæsar. . . . ”

To Peter’s surprise this man, whom, according to report, greed spurred to action in spite of age and sickness, spoke no word of those ill-omened parchments at Avelard. He was new back from Wales, and had much to say of the levies due from thence; they would march on a certain day, so as to be at the meeting-point in Cotswold by St Lucy’s eve. His brother, Sir Thomas, would lead them; he was even now busy on Usk and Wye. All Gwent and Powysland would march, and many of the new-settled English would wear saffron. There was still good fighting stuff in the dales — bowmen like those of the old wars and squires like Sir Davy Gam. The grandson of old Rhys ap Thomas was with them, him who had put Harry’s father on the throne — he had seen at Dynevor the great stirrups used at Bosworth — and as the grandsire had set up the Tudor so the grandson would help to pull him down. . . . Then he outlined the plan of campaign, and Peter listened with some stir in his heart. They would march swiftly on Oxford, which would at once be surrendered, for they had friends within. It was altogether needful for their security to have a docile Oxford in their rear, for the city was the key of the route between Thames and Severn. . . . But they would not tarry there, though it might be necessary to hang a few rogues for the general comfort — some of Crummle’s dogs — Dr John London and others. . . . After that they would not take the valley road to London by way of Windsor; but would move on the capital in two bodies, one going by the backside of Chiltern and coming down from the north, the other keeping the Berkshire and Surrey downs and attacking from the south.

“We must have hard ground for our march,” said the old campaigner, “for at this season the valleys are swamps. . . . Also by this device we achieve two mighty ends. Our northern force cuts in between London and the King’s armies in Lincoln and York, which by all tales are already in some straits, and it will hinder Henry, too, from drawing support from Suffolk and Norfolk. Our southern force will sever London from the King’s friends in Kent and on the sea-coast. We shall build a dyke on each side of him, and the only open country will be to the west, which is the road of our own folk.”

There was immense vigour in the speech and eyes of the old man, but the strength of his body soon ebbed, and he had to be laid every now and then on a leathern settle till his breath came back to him. At the end of one of these bouts Peter found the sufferer’s eyes fixed on him.

“The new brother you have brought me is to my liking, my lord. He is as handsome a babe as you will see in a year of Sundays. Have you found him a wife?”

“It is proposed,” said Lord Avelard gravely, “that if our venture succeed, he shall marry the King’s daughter, the Lady Mary.”

The old man chuckled.

“Policy, policy! A wise step, doubtless, for the commons have a weakness for the lady and her sad mother. Also, if she has the Tudor in one half of her, she has the high blood of Emperors in the other. But, by the rood of Asseline, she hath an ugly face and the tint of Cheshire whey. . . . Yet cheer up, brother. ’Tis no bad thing to have a plain wife, for it whets a man’s zest for other and fairer women. I, who speak, have proved it.”

As they rode homeward in the late afternoon Peter’s thoughts were busy. He believed that he read Lord Avelard’s purpose — to allow the matter of the parchments to sleep, but by this very silence to let Peter commit himself unconsciously, so that, in the event of victory, he should find over him that stiffest of compulsions, the will of a victorious army. He had accompanied him to Marchington to prevent undue candour on his part towards Neville, though, as it had fallen out, Neville’s thoughts had been on another bent. But why this tale of the daughter of Catherine, who was devout among the devout?

“You would marry me to the Queen’s daughter?” he said to his companion after a long spell of silence.

“Ay,” was the answer, and there was a dry bitterness in the tone. “You are unworthy of beauty, so we fall back on piety. We must reap what vantage we can out of your monkish tastes.”

The other journeys Peter made alone, for in them it seemed that Lord Avelard scented no danger. Some were to the houses of strong squires, who received him as Buckingham’s son and would have kissed his stirrups. At Stanway the family priest, a man like an ancient prophet, blessed him solemnly, and old Sir John Tracey and his five sons knelt as at a sacrament. At Burwell he found a lord so bitter against the King that he asked for no reward except the hope of seeing the Tudor green and white in the mire. At Abbots-lease he was met by a hundred men of those deep pastures, all girt for war, and the banner of the Five Wounds was consecrated and exalted, and in the burr of Gloucestershire he heard the old recruiting song of the Crusaders,

“O man, have pity upon God.”

As he travelled the roads, he realised that Lord Avelard knew but little of one side of the movement he controlled. The great lords might rise for worldly profit or private vengeance, but here in the west, in outland places and among plain men, there was smouldering the same passion which in Lincoln and the Yorkshire dales was now bursting into flame. They were ready to fight, not for the abbeys, maybe, or even for the Church, but for what they deemed their souls’ salvation. In the churchyard of Ashton-under-Bredon he had listened to the parson chanting to a pale and weeping crowd of armed peasants the tremendous prophecies of Zephaniah, and had felt in his own heart the solemn exaltation of a crusader.

“Juxta est dies Domini magni,” the hoarse voice had risen and fallen like a wandering wind, “dies tribulationis et angustiæ . . . dies tenebrarum et caliginis . . . dies tubæ et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos.”

For certain these were dies tenebrarum, for the snow still tarried, though its shadow darkened. On his journeys Peter was accompanied by six of the Avelard men-at-arms, and by Dickon, mounted on a grey palfrey, and wearing the black and gold Avelard liveries. The hill country lay in a gloom, which was not a fog, for distances could be perceived, but everything was drained of colour and frozen into a tenebrous monotony. Daily the sky seemed to sink nearer the earth. The first utter silence had gone. Now, though there was no wind, the trees and grasses shook and shivered eerily as if some tremor had passed through the ground. It was weather to lie heavy on a man’s spirits, for not only was the cold enough to freeze the marrow, but there seemed to be in the air a dull foreboding. The Avelard varlets never whistled or sang; there was no merriment at the wayside taverns; the horses, well fed on grain and therefore likely to be fractious in the cold air, now plodded like oxen; the sheep had been brought in from the wolds to wattled shelters, where they huddled shivering with scared eyes.

One afternoon on the road between Avelard and Colne Peter saw an encampment by the wayside — half a dozen shelters of boughs and straw around a great fire which burned cheerfully in the brume. Tending it was a man with a vast fat face and a paunch like a promontory, in whom he recognised Timothy Penny-farthing, him whom they called True Timothy, the master of the palliards. Peter bade his men ride on with Dickon, and turned aside to the blaze.

It was as if he had trod on a wasps’ nest. Timothy, unperturbed, continued to feed the fire, but from the beehive shelters appeared a swarm of foul faces and verminous rags, and the glitter of many knives.

Peter sat his horse and waited, till Timothy turned his face towards him, which was not till he had adjusted properly an iron kettle.

“How far is it to the skirts of Wychwood?” he asked.

“As far as to Peter’s Gate,” came the answer, delivered cavalierly, almost insolently.

“Alack,” said Peter, “I . . . shall . . . not . . . be . . . there . . . in . . . time.”

The words wrought a miracle. Every foul head disappeared into its burrow, and Timothy’s flitch of a face assumed an expression of gravity and respect. He came forward from the fire, and bent his forehead till it touched Peter’s left stirrup. Then he led him a little way apart.

“You have the Word, master. Have you also the message? Solomon Darking told us that the hour for it was nigh.”

“Nigh, but not yet. My command is that you and all wandering men be ready against the feast of St Lucy.”

“Your command, my lord? Then are you he we look for?”

“The same. The same who with Darking attended your parliament at Little Greece.”

“Yon forest lad! Soft in the wits, said Darking. ’Twas a good jape to put upon the Upright Men.” Timothy chuckled. “Have you any orders for us palliards?”

“Not yet. How go things underground in England?”

“We be awake — awake like badgers in April. When the hour comes, there will be a fine stirring among our old bones. The word has gone out among the Upright Men from the Black Mountain to Ivinghoe Beacon, and south to the seashore, and north to the Derwent dales. There be much ado, likewise, among the great folk, but that your lordship knows better than me. . . . There is one piece of news I had but this morning. They say that the King’s grace is disquieted about the westlands, and may come himself to cast an eye over them. They say it is his purpose to keep Christmas at Woodstock.”

Peter cried out. “I had heard nothing of that.”

The palliard shook his head wisely. “True it may be, natheless. I had it from a sure hand. ’Twill serve our purpose nobly, my lord. ’Tis better if the fox blunder into the hounds than to have to dig him out of his earth.”

“Let the word go out,” said Peter, “that any further news of this be brought to me at Avelard.”

Timothy nodded.

“It shall go by Solomon Darking.” Then he sniffed the air. “There is but one danger to your cause, my lord. This devil’s weather may upset the wisest plan of lording and vagabond, for there is no striving against the evil humour of the skies.”

“What do you make of it?” Peter cast his eye over the darkening landscape, which seemed void of life as a sepulchre.

“There will be snow,” was the answer, “a cruel weight of snow. Look ye, the hedgehog, when he snuggles down in winter-time, makes two vents to his cell, one north, one south. He will stop up neither except for the sternest need. Now he hath stopped up the north vent. We have seen it in every wood, for we know his ways and often dig him out for our supper, since a winter hedgehog will fry like an eel in his own fat. That means snow such as you and I have not known, for the thing has not happened in my lifetime, though I have heard my father tell how he saw it in the black winter of ‘87. . . . I will tell you another thing. The dotterels have all gone from High Cotswold. When they come in flocks it means good weather, but when they leave it means death to beast and man.”

“Snow might serve our purpose well,” said Peter.

“Ay, a modest snow, with a frost to bind it. That were noble weather for armed men. But not mountains of snow which smother the roads, and above all not melting snow. Your folk will come from far places and must ford many streams. I dread the melting wind which makes seas of rivers and lakes of valleys. Robin Hood feared little above ground, but he feared the thaw-wind.”

That night came a message from Darking, who was in south Cotswold near the Stroud valley, and begged that Peter should go to him to meet certain doubting squires of those parts. Lord Avelard approved. “They are small folk in that quarter,” he said, “and therefore the more jealous. ’Twere well to confirm their loyalty by a sight of you.”

So early next morning Peter set out — this time unattended, for the journey was short, and he proposed to return well before the darkening.

To his surprise Sabine declared that she would accompany him for part of the road. She wished to accustom two young eyases to the hood, and to try the mettle of a new Norway falcon. So, with a couple of falconers in attendance, the two rode out of Avelard towards the scarp of the hills and the open country. It meant for Peter some slight deviation from his route, which should have lain nearer the valley bottom. The girl was muffled in furs, her horse had a frieze blanket beneath its saddle, and on her head she wore a close-fitting bonnet of white ermine.

The weather was changing. The clouds hung closer to earth than ever, but it was no longer a still cold. Something which was less a wind than an icy shiver seemed to be coming out of the north. There was a deathly oppression in it, which weighted Peter’s spirits and kept the chattering falconers dumb. Sabine alone did not appear to feel it. Her cheeks glowed, her eyes sparkled within their ermine cincture. She looked the one thing alive in a world of death.

The hawking proved a farce. For one thing there was no game. Not a rabbit stirred from the clumps of furze, or hare from the bracken; there was nowhere the flutter of a wing or the rustle of a moving beast. The hawks, too, behaved oddly. The eyases clung dully to their leashes, as if they were mewing, and seemed to have no wish to get rid of their rufter-hoods. The splendid Norway tiercel, when cast free, instead of ringing up the sky, returned to its perch after a short wavering flight, as if it sought the protection of man. There was no chance of serving it by showing a quarry, for there was no quarry to show. The cold bit into the bone, and every now and then came that ominous shudder from the northern sky.

Even Sabine’s youth and health were not proof against the oppression.

“The world is dead,” she said, and there was awe in her light tones. “I and my hawks must needs go home, for they cannot hunt in a desert.”

Then something in the muffled sky and the menacing air frightened her.

“This is no weather to be out in, my lord,” she turned to Peter. “Come home with us, for there is mischief afoot. I can hear its hoofs drumming on the hills.” There was anxiety in her eye, almost kindness.

“I must keep tryst,” said Peter. “But I will be back at Avelard within four hours, and I think I will forestall the snow.”

“At any rate, take one of my men with you,” she pled.

He shook his head. “I thank you for your kindness, mistress. But he would only delay me, since I am better mounted. But do you go back to the fireside, and have a hot posset ready for my return. I am like to be chilly enough.”

“A wilful man must have his way,” she said, as she swung her horse round. “Heaven send the snow tarries. If it come, take the valley road home, for these hills will be death.”

Peter set spurs to his horse, and as his pace quickened the air cut his face like a file. But he did not regard it, for his heart was hot within him. Longing for Sabine engulfed him like a flood. The sudden kindness in her eyes, her glowing figure, instinct with youth and life among the drooping hawks and pinched falconers, her soft voice which was like a fire in the winter cold — these things made him sick with regret. Here was a woman who was life incarnate, and he had renounced her for a scruple. Here was one who would be like a lamp in the darkness that awaited him, and he had rejected that light. . . . He choked down the thoughts, but they made a weight on his heart and a confusion in his brain.

He reached the appointed place by noon, and found Darking in the company of a half-dozen loutish squires who had been passing the time with dice and strong ale. It is likely that the sight of Peter was well fitted to impress them, for he came among them ruddy from the road, and his preoccupation made his manner high and his speech peremptory as befitted Buckingham’s son. There was no trace of the Oseney clerk in the young lord who spoke as one accustomed to obedience, and gave orders as sharp and clear as a huntsman’s call to his hounds. Nor was he without graciousness — the graciousness of one who is ready to give favours since he is too great to seek them. He could see Darking’s eye on him in the conclave, and in that eye there was a pleased surprise.

Peter drank a cup with the company, and then called for his horse. “I must haste me back to Avelard,” he told the gaping squires, “for there are many tasks before me, and the weather threatens.”

Darking looked anxious. “I will accompany my lord,” he said. “I think the snows will break ere the dark.”

The others disputed. One older man maintained that there would be no fall for twenty-four hours, and his neighbours agreed with him. “The heavens have been frozen,” he said, “and now they are melting, but the drip of them will not reach us before to-morrow.”

“You will stay here,” Peter told Darking, “and complete the business of which you have told me. These are not the times to think about weather.”

Darking was still anxious. “You will take the low road, my lord? There are woods there which will give shelter if the snow overtakes you.”

Five minutes later, his horse refreshed by a mash of grain and hot ale, Peter swung out of the manor gates and rode south along the lower slopes of the hills. He was back again among the bitter thoughts of the morning, but their sting was less sharp. Sabine was no longer the melting figure that had tortured his fancy on his outward ride. . . . He remembered now the hard agate edge of her. She sought that which he could not give her — the giving of which would mean the loss for ever of his peace. That was the naked fact, and there was no road round it. And yet, if she were only a Delilah to tempt him, why did the memory of her so hearten him? Why did the thought of her seem to brace him to a keener life, a manlier resolution, if to love her was to lose his soul?

He was in a wood now, one of the patches of native forest which clad the western slopes of Cotswold. He knew that the hour was no more than two o’clock in the afternoon, but already the darkness seemed to be falling. The sky, seen through the leafless canopy of oaks, was the sky of night, though below there was light enough near the ground to discern the path . . . .

A memory cut like a sunbeam into the entanglements of his thought. It was the memory of some words of St Augustine. How did they go? Nondum amabam et amare amabam; quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare. The wise Father had known his mood. Was not this his own case? “I did not yet love, but I sought something to love, for I was in love with love.” And then there flowed in on him other recollections, the tale of Eros and Psyche, the wandering soul and the wandering heart brought at last together. . . . He had been hungering for something of which Sabine had been only a shadow.

A strange solemn joy took possession of him. He was being weaned from the lesser that he might attain the greater. The sight of Lovell’s bones had shattered one kind of earthly ambition, and now in the girl he had renounced another. He felt a great tenderness warm him so that the cold, which he had felt acutely at the start of the afternoon’s journey, seemed a trivial thing. . . .

He noticed that the snow had begun. A thin powder was filtering down through the branches.

The road left the patch of wood for open hill, and there he rode into a new world. It was dark with a misty white gloom, for the air was thick with snow. The powder had changed to heavy flakes, but he saw them only on his horse’s neck and on his saddle, for what descended seemed to be a solid thing, as if a cloud had taken material form and enveloped the earth. The weight of it pressed down on him like a blanket, and he noted that the ground seemed to be rising towards him. Already his horse’s feet were sunk above the hocks. “At this pace,” he thought, “there will be six feet of snow in an hour, and I shall assuredly be buried.”

Presently the wall did not drop vertically, but seemed to sway towards him, as if under the compulsion of a secret wind. The impact took the breath from him, and his horse stumbled. He felt himself encrusted with ice, which filled eyes and mouth and nose, and sent cold fingers under his garments. These swaying onrushes were intermittent, but at the impact of each his horse crouched and slipped, and he bent his head as if to avoid a blow. There was as yet no wind — only a shivering of earth and sky. “It looks as if I must find a shelter,” he thought — and there was no fear in his heart, but a comfortable confusion —“for another hour of this will destroy me.”

He was among trees again, but he only knew it by the struggles of his horse among the lower scrub and the scraping of laden branches in his face. . . . And then the shuddering, which had bent the snowfall against him like a billow, changed to a fury of wind. He was in a patch of forest at the foot of a cleeve of the hills, and the northern blast, from which the slopes had hitherto sheltered him, swept down the cleeve as through a funnel. The trees bent on him and shook off avalanches. He felt himself smothered, stifled, his wits dazed by the ceaseless lashing of boughs and the steady buffets of the snow. His horse was in desperate case, for the track had long been lost, and the two floundered among dead trunks and holes, with no purpose except to escape, though it were only for a moment, that torturing blast.

He tried to think, to plan. Progress was impossible — was there no chance of a shelter? . . . But this wood seemed to be swept to its roots, for the turmoil in the air was matched by a like turmoil on the ground, where the snow was being swirled by the wind into fantastic heaps and hollows. His head was confused, but his heart was calm. “This looks like death,” he thought. “This beast of mine will soon go down, and we shall both lie cold in a drift.”

What time he parted company with his horse he did not know. The struggle for mere breath was so cruel that he was scarcely conscious of the rest of his body. But somewhere in a drift the animal slipped and did not rise, and Peter must have been thrown, and gone forward on foot, under the impulse which demanded movement to escape from torment. At any rate he found himself engulfed to the middle in whirling snow, every step a task for Hercules. . . . He had a pain in his left shoulder, where some branch had struck him. Of this he was dimly conscious, and he was conscious too of a great weakness. It would have been despair if he had had any fear; but fear there was none, so it was only weakness — a creeping lassitude which bade him drop down and sleep. But as there was no shelter anywhere he could not sleep, because of the sting of the gale, so he kept moving like a marionette whose limbs are jerked by some alien power. “If I once lie down, I shall never rise,” he told himself, with conviction but without panic. It did not seem to matter greatly — if only this blizzard would stop scourging him.

He stumbled into an aisle of the forest where, by some freak of the wind, the ground had been swept almost bare of snow. Here his limbs moved more freely, and this freedom brought a momentary clearness to his brain. . . . He knew that he was very near the end of his strength; if he dropped here on the bare ground he would freeze to death, if in the drifts he would soon be buried. His spirit seemed to hover above him, careless and incurious, watching the antics of his feeble body. The misery now was less acute, for his senses were numbing. It occurred to him that this was an occasion for prayer — occurred merely as a notion of the mind, without any tremor of the heart. The prayer which came to his lips was that invocation to the Mother of God which had been his favourite in childhood:

“Imperatrix supernorum,

Superatrix infernorum.”

Suddenly there came a great peace in the world. The inferno of the gale seemed to be stilled, and the darkness to lighten . . . something lifted from his brain and his eyes opened. He saw that he was in a forest aisle like a cave in an ice-wall, and before him a light was glowing. And in that light was a figure. . . .

Once a Florentine, who had come to Oxford to study a codex in Duke Humphry’s library, had told him of the great statues of the Greeks, destroyed these thousand years by barbarian hands. The Athene of the Parthenon, he said, had been no colourless pale marble, but had had a face of ivory, and eyes of flaming jewels, and delicate tresses of wrought gold. Peter had dreamed of this marvel, and now in this icy place it stood before him. . . . It was a woman’s figure, a woman with a celestial face, helmed and panoplied with gold, her garments shining with other colours than those of earth. In her face was a great peace and a great gentleness. . . . He had one half-moment of clarity. “Am I dead?” he asked, “and in Paradise?” He told himself that that could not be, for he was conscious of an aching left shoulder, and the blessed do not suffer pain.

Then his soul lost its frozen calm, and life of a kind returned to the channels of his heart. For suddenly it seemed to him that what he saw was no statue, but a living presence. The gold and jewels dimmed and shone again in a milder light, the face melted to a human softness, and in the unearthly radiance that surrounded her he saw that the draperies about her breast were that heavenly blue which it is given to one alone to wear. . . . He knew that he was looking upon the Mother of God.

He stood, or lay, or knelt — he was beyond consciousness of the body — and gazed upward with wondering rapture. He had heard it said that the Blessed Trinity ruled in turn, and that the reign of the Father and of the Son had passed, and that now was the reign of the Holy Spirit. But, since men must have their special worship, his had always been for the Virgin, who stood between man and the harshness of eternal justice. She was Woman, Mother and Queen alike, who loved beauty and simple things and did not greatly relish the cold cloisters of piety. She was divine, but like Prometheus she had brought fire to men. . . . Her face was grave, for she had known infinite sorrow, and it was proud, since she carried the keys of Heaven; but it had tenderness and humour, too, for she had been human and loved humanity. She was stronger than the greatest warriors, and wiser than the wisest, the woman enthroned to whom all men must bow in the end. She was the hope of the world, for she made even mortality divine; she was the Power above the Law, who brought mercy into justice and tenderness into the sublimities of Son and Father. She was the protectress of man against fate, his one way of escape from the punishment of soul and body. . . .

As he gaped, it seemed to him that in that face he saw every dream of his childhood and youth — the dim heights of devotion to which in Oseney Great Church he had mounted on waves of music — the glory of the fields in May — the joy of young blood — the vision of shimmering nymphs and slim goddesses out of old poets — the solemn rapture of the philosophers. Sabine, too, was in her, for she was very woman — Sabine’s witchery and Mother Sweetbread’s tenderness; queen she was, but peasant too — peasant and gipsy. To those immortal eyes the little conventions of mankind were folly, but even to folly they were kind. . . .

As his senses slipped from him, he thought clearly for one moment, “I have seen the Queen of Heaven. Now I know that I shall not die, but live.”

It took True Timothy and his palliards, who were encamped in the wood, a good two hours to bring life back to Peter, though they wrought hard with strong hands and rough cordials.

“’Twas lucky that the grew-bitch went hunting,” said Timothy, shivering under his mountain of rags, for fat chills fast. “Else there had been a stiff lording in Batt’s Wood and a new-comer at Peter’s gate.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32