The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xcii.

Of the Oath that Spes made before the Bishop.

Now that day past, and time wore on to the day when Spes should make oath, and she bade thereto all her friends and kin, and arrayed herself in the best attire she had, and many noble ladies went with her.

Wet was the weather about that time, and the ways were miry, and a certain slough there was to go over or ever they might come to the church; and whenas Spes and her company came forth anigh this slough, a great crowd was there before them, and a multitude of poor folk who prayed them of alms, for this was in the common highway, and all who knew her deemed it was their part to welcome her, and prayed for good things for her as for one who had oft holpen them well.

A certain staff-propped carle there was amidst those poor folk, great of growth and long-bearded. Now the women made stay at the slough, because that the great people deemed the passage across over miry, and therewith when that staff-carle saw the goodwife, that she was better arrayed than the other women, he spake to her on this wise,

"Good mistress," said he, "be so lowly as to suffer me to bear thee over this slough, for it is the bounden duty of us staff-carles to serve thee all we may."

"What then," says she, "wilt thou bear me well, when thou mayst not bear thyself?"

"Yet would it show forth thy lowliness," says he, "nor may I offer better than I have withal; and in all things wilt thou fare the better, if thou hast no pride against poor folk."

"Wot thou well, then," says she, "that if thou bearest me not well it shall be for a beating to thee, or some other shame greater yet."

"Well, I would fain risk it," said he; and therewithal he got on to his feet and stood in the slough. She made as if she were sore afeard of his carrying her, yet nathless she went on, borne on his back; and he staggered along exceeding slowly, going on two crutches, and when he got midmost of the slough he began to reel from side to side. She bade him gather up his strength.

"Never shalt thou have made a worse journey than this if thou easiest me down here."

Then the poor wretch staggers on, and gathers up all his courage and strength, and gets close to the dry land, but stumbles withal, and falls head-foremost in such wise, that he cast her on to the bank, but fell into the ditch up to his armpits, and therewithal as he lay there caught at the goodwife, and gat no firm hold of her clothes, but set his miry hand on her knee right up to the bare thigh.

She sprang up and cursed him, and said that ever would evil come from wretched gangrel churles: "and thy full due it were to be beaten, if I thought it not a shame, because of thy misery."

Then said he, "Meted in unlike ways is man's bliss; me-thought I had done well to thee, and I looked for an alms at thy hands, and lo, in place thereof, I get but threats and ill-usage and no good again withal;" and he made as if he were exceeding angry.

Many deemed that he looked right poor and wretched, but she said that he was the wiliest of old churles; but whereas many prayed for him, she took her purse to her, and therein was many a penny of gold; then she shook down the money and said,

"Take thou this, carle; nowise good were it, if thou hadst not full pay for the hard words thou hadst of me; now have I parted with thee, even according to thy worth."

Then he picked up the gold, and thanked her for her good deed. Spes went to the church, and a great crowd was there before her. Sigurd pushed the case forward eagerly, and bade her free herself from those charges he had brought against her.

She said, "I heed not thy charges; what man dost thou say thou hast seen in my chamber with me? Lo now oft it befalls that some worthy man will be with me, and that do I deem void of any shame; but hereby will I swear that to no man have I given gold, and of no man have I had fleshly defilement save of my husband, and that wretched staff-carle who laid his miry hand on my thigh when I was borne over the slough this same day."

Now many deemed that this was a full oath, and that no shame it was to her, though the carle had laid hand on her unwittingly; but she said that all things must be told even as they were.

Thereafter she swore the oath in such form as is said afore, and many said thereon that she showed the old saw to be true, swear loud and say little. But for her, she said that wise men would think that this was not done by guile.

Then her kin fell to saying that great shame and grief it was for high-born women to have such lying charges brought against them bootless, whereas it was a crime worthy of death if it were openly known of any woman that she had done whoredoms against her husband. Therewithal Spes prayed the bishop to make out a divorce betwixt her and her husband Sigurd, because she said she might nowise bear his slanderous lying charges. Her kinsfolk pushed the matter forward for her, and so brought it about by their urgency that they were divorced, and Sigurd got little of the goods, and was driven away from the land withal, for here matters went as is oft shown that they will, and the lower must lowt; nor could he bring aught about to avail him, though he had but said the very sooth.

Now Spes took to her all their money, and was deemed the greatest of stirring women; but when folk looked into her oath, it seemed to them that there was some guile in it, and were of a mind that wise men must have taught her that way of swearing; and men dug out this withal, that the staff-carle who had carried her was even Thorstein Dromund. Yet for all that Sigurd got no righting of the matter.

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