The Sundering Flood, by William Morris

Chapter xx. Osberne Fares to Eastcheaping and Brings Gifts for Elfhild

But when June was, Master Nicholas would ride to Eastcheaping, and he took Osberne with him; and a great wonder it was to see so many houses built of stone and lime all standing together, and so fair, as he deemed them, though it was but a little cheaping. Howsoever, without the walls was an abbey of monks, which was both fair and great, and the church thereof as well fashioned as most; and when the lad went thereinto he was all ravished with joy at the great pillars and arches and the vault above, and the pictures on the walls and in the windows, and the hangings and other braveries about the altars. And when he was at high mass, and the monks and the minstrels fell to singing together, he scarce knew whether he were in heaven or on earth. Yet whether in one or the other, he longed to have his friend from over the river with him, that she might see and hear it all, and tell him what she thought of it. Wondrous also was the market wherein they did their chaffer, and the chapmen in their fine coats of strange fashion to him and their outland faces, and the carts and wains of the country folk and their big sleek horses. And when it was all done he found that he had more than a silver penny or two in his pouch; for a deal of the wares sold were his own, to wit the peltries he had gotten by his shooting and his valour. For a great bear had he slain with spear and shield, he by himself, and two more with the help of Stephen the Eater, and wolves and foxes and ermines and beavers a great many. But when he had his money it burnt a hole in his pocket; for he must needs go to the booths and buy for Elfhild, as far as his money went, such things as he deemed he could shoot across the Flood to her, as fair windowed shoon, and broidered hosen and dainty smocks and silken kerchiefs, and a chaplet for her head. And when this was done, he was along with his grandsire in the street, and there came down from the Castle a company of riders, all in jack and sallet and long spears, and two knights in white armour all gleaming in the sun, and the banner of the good town with them. Then his heart rose so high at the sight, and he yearned so for deeds of fame, that he smote his hands together and called good luck on them, and some of them turned about and laughed to each other, and praised the goodly boy, and knew not that he had slain a stouter man than e’er a one of them.

Withal his eyes might be no longer while off the gay-clad young women (for it was holy day, and they dressed out in their best), and he stared so downrightly on them that his grandsire rebuked him aloud. And that heard some of the women, and they who were fair amongst them laughed and praised him, for they deemed him right welcome to look on all he might see of them, so fair a boy as he was: and one of them, a goodly woman of some thirty summers, came up to him and bade the old carle hold his peace and not scold at the boy: “For,” said she, “the lad is so well-liking that he hath good right already to deal with any woman as he will; and when he groweth older by a half-score years, God-a-mercy, which of us shall be able to say him nay! Would I were younger by that tale of years, that I might be able presently to follow him all over the world.” And therewith she kissed him betwixt the eyes and went her ways. But as before, he was but half pleased to be so kissed, as a mere child. Shortly to say, there they made great feast for the joy of all these things, and rode back to the Dale in a day or two and came safe and sound to Wethermel.

Now at the next meeting ‘twixt the two children Osberne bore down all those fair things; and he found Elfhild on the ness, and she looking shy and dear, for he had told her that he was going to the cheaping. And now was her hair no longer spread abroad but bound up close to her head, and she was clad in a seemly gown of homespun, with black hosen and skin shoes well laced.

Straightway after the first greetings was great ado about shooting those fair things across the water; and when they were all across, Elfhild undid them, and wept for sheer joy of them and for love of her valiant friend, and at last she sat nigh the edge hugging them all to her bosom, and said: “Now, sweetheart, is the tale on thy side; for thou must tell me all that thou hast seen and done.” So he fell to, nought loth, and told everything at large, and the little maiden’s eyes sparkled and her face glowed; but when he had told last of all about the women and of her who had kissed him, she said: “Ah, all that is just what my carline saith of thee, that all women shall love thee; and that is most like, and what shall I do then, I who shall be so far away from thee?” Then he swore to her that whatever betid he would always love her, and she made as if she were gladdened again thereby; but in her heart she could not but deem that he made somewhat light of it, and was nought so anxious as she was.

But ere they parted that day, she went aback a little, and did on her all those fair things which he had brought, such as she might get upon her body; and a green gown of fine cloth was one of them, which he had made a shift to cast across bundled up, by dint of his new strength. So dight, she stood for him to look at, and he was well pleased, and praised her in such wise that it was clear he looked at her wisely and closely. So they parted. But when he was gone, she sat down and wept, she knew not why. And in a while, she arose and did on her everyday raiment and went home.

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