The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xci.

Of the doings of Thorstein and the Lady Spes.

In those days was Harald Sigurdson at Micklegarth, and Thorstein fell into friendship with him. Of much account was Thorstein held, for Spes let him lack no money; and greatly they turned their hearts one to the other, Thorstein and Spes; and many folk beside her deemed great things of his prowess.

Now her money was much squandered, because she ever gave herself to the getting of great friends; and her husband deemed that he could see that she was much changed, both in temper and many other of her ways, but most of all in the spending of money; both gold and good things he missed, which were gone from her keeping.

So on a time Sigurd her husband talks with her, and says that she has taken to strange ways. "Thou givest no heed to our goods," says he, "but squanderest them in many wise; and, moreover, it is even as if I saw thee ever in a dream, nor ever wilt thou be there whereas I am; and I know for sure that something must bring this about."

She answered, "I told thee, and my kinsfolk told thee, whenas we came together, that I would have my full will and freedom over all such things as it was beseeming for me to bestow, and for that cause I spare not thy goods. Hast thou perchance aught to say to me concerning other matters which may be to my shame?"

He answers, "Somewhat do I misdoubt me that thou holdest some man or other whom thou deemest better than I be."

"I wot not," says she, "what ground there may be thereto; but meseems thou mayest speak with little truth; and yet, none-the-less, we two alone shall not speak on this matter if thou layest this slander on me."

So he let the talk drop for that time; she and Thorstein went on in the same way, nor were they wary of the words of evil folk, for she ever trusted in her many and wise friends. Oft they sat talking together and making merry; and on an evening as they sat in a certain loft, wherein were goodly things of hers, she bade Thorstein sing somewhat, for she thought the goodman was sitting at the drink, as his wont was, so she bolted the door. But, when he had sung a certain while, the door was driven at, and one called from outside to open; and there was come the husband with many of his folk.

The goodwife had unlocked a great chest to show Thorstein her dainty things; so when she knew who was there, she would not unlock the door, but speaks to Thorstein, "Quick is my rede, jump into the chest and keep silent."

So he did, and she shot the bolt of the chest and sat thereon herself; and even therewith in came the husband into the loft, for he and his had broken open the door thereof.

Then said the lady, "Why do ye fare with all this uproar? are your foes after you then?"

The goodman answered, "Now it is well that thou thyself givest proof of thyself what thou art; where is the man who trolled out that song so well e'en now? I wot thou deemest him of far fairer voice than I be."

She said: "Not altogether a fool is he who can be silent; but so it fares not with thee: thou deemest thyself cunning, and art minded to bind thy lie on my back. Well, then, let proof be made thereof! If there be truth in thy words, take the man; he will scarce have leapt out through the walls or the roof."

So he searched through the place, and found him not, and she said, "Why dost thou not take him then, since thou deemest the thing so sure?"

He was silent, nor knew in sooth amid what wiles he was come; then he asked his fellows if they had not heard him even as he had. But whereas they saw that the mistress misliked the matter, their witness came to nought, for they said that oft folk heard not things as they were in very sooth. So the husband went out, and deemed he knew that sooth well enough, though they had not found the man; and now for a long time he left spying on his wife and her ways.

Another time, long after, Thorstein and Spes sat in a certain cloth-bower, and therein were clothes, both cut and uncut, which the wedded folk owned; there she showed to Thorstein many kinds of cloth, and they unfolded them; but when they were least ware of it the husband came on them with many men, and brake into the loft; but while they were about that she heaped up clothes over Thorstein, and leaned against the clothes-stack when they came into the chamber.

"Wilt thou still deny," said the goodman, "that there was a man with thee, when such men there are as saw you both?"

She bade them not to go on so madly. "This time ye will not fail, belike; but let me be at peace, and worry me not."

So they searched through the place and found nought, and at last gave it up.

Then the goodwife answered and said, "It is ever good to give better proof than the guesses of certain folk; nor was it to be looked for that ye should find that which was not. Wilt thou now confess thy folly, husband, and free me from this slander?"

He said, "The less will I free thee from it in that I trow thou art in very sooth guilty of that which I have laid to thy charge; and thou wilt have to put forth all thy might in this case, if thou art to get this thrust from thee."

She said that that was in nowise against her mind, and therewithal they parted.

Thereafter was Thorstein ever with the Varangians, and men say that he sought counsel of Harald Sigurdson, and their mind it is that Thorstein and Spes would not have taken to those redes but for the trust they had in him and his wisdom.

Now as time wore on, goodman Sigurd gave out that he would fare from home on certain errands of his own. The goodwife nowise let him herein; and when he was gone, Thorstein came to Spes, and the twain were ever together. Now such was the fashion of her castle that it was built forth over the sea, and there were certain chambers therein whereunder the sea flowed; in such a chamber Thorstein and Spes ever sat; and a little trap-door there was in the floor of it, whereof none knew but those twain, and it might be opened if there were hasty need thereof.

Now it is to be told of the husband that he went nowhither, save into hiding, that he might spy the ways of the housewife; so it befell that, one night as they sat alone in the sea-loft and were glad together, the husband came on them unawares with a crowd of folk, for he had brought certain men to a window of the chamber, and bade them see if things were not even according to his word: and all said that he spake but the sooth, and that so belike he had done aforetime.

So they ran into the loft, but when Spes heard the crash, she said to Thorstein,

"Needs must thou go down hereby, whatsoever be the cost, but give me some token if thou comest safe from the place."

He said yea thereto, and plunged down through the floor, and the housewife spurned her foot at the lid, and it fell back again into its place, and no new work was to be seen on the floor.

Now the husband and his men came into the loft, and went about searching, and found nought, as was likely; the loft was empty, so that there was nought therein save the floor and the cross-benches, and there sat the goodwife, and played with the gold on her fingers; she heeded them little, and made as if there was nought to do.

All this the goodman thought the strangest of all, and asked his folk if they had not seen the man, and they said that they had in good sooth seen him.

Then said the goodwife, "Hereto shall things come as is said; thrice of yore have all things happed, and in likewise hast thou fared, Sigurd," says she, "for three times hadst thou undone my peace, meseems, and are ye any wiser than in the beginning?"

"This time I was not alone in my tale," said the goodman; "and now to make an end, shall thou go through the freeing by law, for in nowise will I have this shame unbooted."

"Meseems," says the goodwife, "thou biddest me what I would bid of thee, for good above all things I deem it to free myself from this slander, which has spread so wide and high, that it would be great dishonour if I thrust it not from off me."

"In likewise," said the goodman, "shalt thou prove that thou hast not given away or taken to thyself my goods."

She answers, "At that time when I free myself shall I in one wise thrust off from me all charges that thou hast to bring against me; but take thou heed whereto all shall come; I will at once free myself from all words that have been spoken here on this charge that thou now makest."

The goodman was well content therewith, and got him gone with his men.

Now it is to be told of Thorstein that he swam forth from under the chamber, and went aland where he would, and took a burning log, and held it up in such wise that it might be seen from the goodwife's castle, and she was abroad for long that evening, and right into the night, for that she would fain know if Thorstein had come aland; and so when she saw the fire, she deemed that she knew that Thorstein had taken land, for even such a token had they agreed on betwixt them.

The next morning Spes bade her husband speak of their matters to the bishop, and thereto was he fully ready. Now they come before the bishop, and the goodman put forward all the aforesaid charges against her.

The bishop asked if she had been known for such an one aforetime, but none said that they had heard thereof. Then he asked with what likelihood he brought those things against her. So the goodman brought forward men who had seen her sit in a locked room with a man beside her, and they twain alone: and therewith the goodman said that he misdoubted him of that man beguiling her.

The bishop said that she might well free herself lawfully from this charge if so she would. She said that it liked her well so to do, "and good hope I have," said Spes, "that I shall have great plenty of women to purge me by oath in this case."

Now was an oath set forward in words for her, and a day settled whereon the case should come about; and thereafter she went home, and was glad at heart, and Thorstein and Spes met, and settled fully what they should do.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 22:07