BY MARGARET SHERWOOD
THE gray old man sat so silent day after day in the gray cloister that, to the young knight who went each morning with tablets in his hand, his armor laid aside, to the scriptorium of the monastery, he had grown to seem part of the delicately cut stone. Under pale sunshine or drizzling rain, oftenest under a mist-dimmed sky, with folded hands he waited, and always with his feet crossed in odd fashion. Young Geoffrey of the White Towers had grown to love the bowed head, and the face with its look of half defeat, but had never thought to see the drooping eyelids lifted; yet one day as he lingered near, where the shadow of fine-carven leaf-tendrils fell on his eager face, alive with the immortal hunger of the young, he saw the eyes of the old man fixed upon him, and, answering their invitation, drew near.
‘Ay, I have the right to cross them,’ said the aged voice, in answer to the unspoken question; ‘in death as in life they shall be crossed.’
There was high triumph in the answer.
‘Because I am one of those who fought for the tomb of our Lord.'
‘You failed,’ said the young man softly, his mind busy with splendid visions wherein triumph always crowned the prowess of the knight. ‘Defenders of the Tomb, you failed to hold it.’
‘Yea,’ answered the aged Templar, ‘but defeat was holy in the holy spot.’
Geoffrey stood long lost in thought as to what this might mean, and he drew a great, troubled sigh. Trained by those alert for spirit-values to look beyond the shows of sense for inner meanings, almost he understood. The old man eyed him kindly, noting the wistfulness of the deep-set eyes, and the curved lips and chin, for the youth was one who jousted well and feasted well in hall; but for him, beyond the jousting and the feasting, there was ever a yearning, and because there were for him no words to voice this, it was written in his eyes. There was long silence, wherein swallows darted low above the Gothic traceries, and skimmed the clouded sky.
‘What dost lack, lad?’
’I know not what nor why,’burst out the young seigneur, ‘ but something I have found not at the spear-point, so I have turned again to my Latin books, if haply I might find it written there. My knight’s vows promised me high adventure, which has not come.’
‘Nay, but I can tell it thee!’ cried the aged crusader in a deep voice. ‘ ’T is for such as thou to win where we have failed. Go fight!’
So, in the saddened autumn air, under the northern sky, with the chilly green of the cloister grass at his feet, the thought of the quest crept shining into the heart of Geoffrey of the White Towers, and all his face grew flame. Born a seeker, gifted beyond his fellows with sensitiveness of eye and ear, he listened ahvays for some dominant melody among the discords, and sighed, not finding it. In passion for holiness lie gave himself now and again to the rigor of extreme fast, of vigil, of long prayer, aware of his own need among the overmastering temptations in the many-colored life of the court; and, in the austerity of physical strain and stress, he outdid his peers, always with an unconfessed sense of escape from lurking danger to the spirit. That part of existence which meant music and song but floated lightly on the surface of his mind, as a feather floats on the surface of a deep moat; for, already, though he had not lived, life had made him sad, creating, on the hither side of him, one who longed to fulfill each formal duty, fit into his place in the great order of things, yet, on the further side, one who yearned unceasingly for he knew not what. Ever he obeyed more scrupulously the laws of church and court, in this little world shut in by gray walls of stone, as his entanglement of mind increased and he grew more uncertain of the way.
Now, both lute and spear were set; aside and forgotten, and in the scriptorium of the monastery, the red and gold tracery of the Latin pages lay open where he had left them, for he knew that vellum held no longer for him a hope of the secret. Instead, he read the healed scars on the Templar’s face, and listened eagerly to tales of fierce and losing battles with the infidel about the sacred tomb of the Highest. lie saw the crusaders at their first glimpse of the Holy City fall on their knees, and, weeping, kiss the ground; he followed their weary march over blistering Syrian sands; he watched them fighting, sword to sword, while the smoke and flame of burning grass scorched hands and feet; and, in the white and purple clouds, for him, as for those earlier seekers, white-robed armies of foot and horse sped to the relief of a city highpinnacled against the blue.
While Christendom lay quiet, silently he made ready for the moment that should come. Close-meshed new armor was wrought for him, and his sword ground very sharp by Mark the Smith in Our Lady’s Lane. From boyhood he had lived as one whose hand must ever be upon his sword, and, from the vigil of fast and prayer that had made him knight, had held himself prepared for every foe.
So, when the great call came, he was with those who, shriven by holy hands, pure in desire, passed along the pale white ribbon of Roman road, king and peasant, serf and noble, side by side, stepping to unheard music, their faces toward the Holy Sepulchre, the cross upon their shoulders. That morning they had knelt at solemn mass in the lasting dusk of the great cathedral, broken only by rich rays of crimson, gold, and purple from the tall windows, and Geoffrey had followed with reverent heart the long drama of suffering moving on to death. Strange, through the show of rich broidery and elaborate symbol, the naked and utter simplicity of this worship of sorrow and failure!
Then came to him again the thrill of spirit, by his father’s open grave, and the memory of human grief blended with the thought of that great worldsorrow which had turned into the consolation of the world. The yearning sadness of the music was answered by the greater comfort yearning through the hurt; notes of triumph, echoing through the Gothic arches, thrilled all his mortal dust with prescient sense of immortality, and he knew the gates of death as the very gates of life that should endure when all visible things had shriveled like dried leaves and blown away before the wind of the spirit. In this great faith, he vowed himself to hunger and thirst, to smarting wounds, to death, if God would, and sweet was the glory of the thought.
The clashing of steel armor, the fretting of the steeds, the swift blows given when a robber baron with outlaw troops set on them at a ford, and tried to bar their way with force of arms, he relished as part of his wonted life, for courage was high and muscles were strong in the early days of the march, and surely the army of God was invincible. Much provision they carried with them at the first, and silver coins rang merrily from well-filled pouches; no monastery gates or stores were closed; here, and at homely inns, they feasted, for capons roasted for them on long spits, great haunches steamed on trenchers; and they shared my lord’s wine or peasant’s ale, the part of Christendom through which they were passing giving them God speech At night, as they drew about the fire, in baron’s hall or cot of serf, they listened to strange tales of marvels and portents of the East; of enchanters who would come against them, invisible; of towers that could not be seen by mortal eye, where Christian knights had lain, bound by chains stronger than iron. Geoffrey laughed to himself, and touched with his finger his fine sword-blade, while his young blood exulted at the thought of the wounds he would give to pagan foes. And if he fell? At least there was no woman’s face to grow pale for him, save the high-browed one of his mother, who had brought stern courage with her from her southern home, and faith that was like a sword.
The march led by reed-grown marshes, over vast level plains, and down long rivers with brown castles clinging to scarred hillsides, and ever, far ahead in the sunlight, or gleaming against dull cloud, led the cross. For these travelers the air was full of signs and portents; they found divine guidance in drifting leaf or tuft of thistle-down, and in the falling of a star. The ragged lad who found them lost in the darkness, and refused a penny for showing them the way, was surely sent by Saint Michael; the ferryman who took them across a dark stream at midnight, Saint Christopher’s very self. Once, at dawn, upon a hilltop touched by the rising sun, they met a gray palmer who had traveled many dusty leagues, the palm of Palestine upon his staff; and greatly he whetted their courage, telling them, with tears upon his cheeks, that he had won to a sight of the Holy City, but had not entered. there, because of the drawn sword of the turbaned Saracen who had won it again. Now and then a monk, in black habit or in white, would pace with them for a little way along the road, and stop with them as they offered vows at the stone chapel of some great bridge over a swift river, or knelt at the roadside to pray at a hermit-guarded shrine. If Geoffrey sometimes saw cruelty shown by these companions in arms to those that barred their way, or heard boastful tales of wanton slaughter done the infidel, it still escaped his higher mood, for he journeyed with eyes withdrawn, his spirit already at the goal.
Singing the crusaders went, more often when the touch of hunger came to them, the long sweet, sacred notes sounding through silent woodlands, or crowded city streets. Once, in a turbulent town, they were set upon by the people with hiss and shout and ribald songs, yet steadily they marched onward, a mighty mass with but a single will, and dominant above the clamor rose the clear, triumphing hymn, for there was no concert among their opposers, nor could single outcries still the sound of many voices rising as one.
Danda fidelibus est ibi civibus, hic peregrinis.
When the early days with their first flush of strength and plenty were over, and the later days of weariness came upon them, they but sang the more.
Geoffrey learned to know the joy of hunger and thirst, and of limbs spent with walking, after his steed dropped by the way. Earth proved greater, and roads longer than he had dreamed, yet it was sweet to march, uplifted in spirit, forgetful of his body, while his shoes wore through and fell apart, and his tender feet bled upon the stones of the road. With strips from his clothing he bound them; the money left within his pouch he gave to a sick beggar who called on him in the name of Christ; his drinking-cup he left as a votive offering in a white stone chapel beside an ilex tree, and thereafter drank from his hand, subdued in body and in soul to a single passion.
Then, after weeks of marching, a long land traversed, came spread sails and blue water, for him who had never known the sea. Soberly he went about the business of making ready, gathering store of wine and bread for the voyage, as his fellows did, purchasing quilt and pillow with gold pieces lent him by an earl who had been his father’s friend, and who had not given all away; and all was done with a detachment of mind that kept him calm in the hurry and confusion of setting sail.
It was a splendid fleet of broadsailed galleys, of great three-masted vessels that rode the water proudly, and many smaller craft, into one of which he stepped unnoticed. Then came the weary tossing of endless waves, the sickness and the hunger of the heart that salt paths bring. Lying, weak and spent, it seemed to him he saw afar, where clouds lay low at the sea-horizon, Saint George or Saint Theodore mounted upon a white steed carrying a white banner, and leading on the host. All was calm wide water at the first; after, they drifted past southern shores, faint and far, whose mountains, in delicate outlines of purple or rose at evening, wore beauty that might guard the very Holy Land.
Then shrill winds rose; the sky grew dark with purple clouds; and everywhere was wrack of storm. Driven this way and that, with broken masts or rent sails, the vessels of the fleet separated, were tossed to northward or to south, as the capricious wind-gods willed. The frail skiff to which Geoffrey had trusted life and hope, least, lightest of them all, drifted farthest, was caught in the teeth of a northwest wind, in stormy night, and carried toward a rocky shore. Armor and weapons cast aside, the young knights waited, on their knees, and, when the great crash came, went down into the waves with prayers on their lips.
From long unconsciousness the young seigneur wakened, with the first beams of the rising sun upon his eyelids; wakened, bruised, suffering, but with senses slowly answering to warmth and light. He lay on a narrow strip of sandy beach, the curling waves that had tossed him there in their fury beating near at hand in slow retreat. Above, though he was too weak to see, rose a cliff where pine trees, clinging to the rock, were outlined against the golden dawn.
Slowly the shipwrecked man’s fingers loosened their hold upon the piece of mainmast which had saved him in a night of storm, while, full of a bruised sense of his body, long forgotten and ignored, through half-closed eyes he saw, as in a dream, against the growing blue, the hardships of the past weeks; his wounded feet halting along the rough way, the roadside death of his friend and companion, felled by a chance-flung stone; and all his strength went out in pity for those gallant comrades with whom he had stepped shoulder to shoulder, — and in pity for himself.
As the glad warmth thrilled him, he heard sweet notes of music falling from the air above, and to his drowsing ears it seemed to come nearer and more near, a magic sound, such as, he had heard old wives tell, before now had lured knights away to fairyland. Soon he felt upon his outstretched arm the swift impact of small, hard hoofs, and saw about him the startled faces and soft fleecy breasts of many sheep.
Half sitting, he leaned upon his elbow, groaning with pain, while the frightened animals scudded this way and that. There, motionless among the running flock, stood a tall shepherd lad, bare of head, with face browner than the sun-bleached hair upon his forehead. A crook was in his hand; across the shoulder of his blue jacket was slung a white shaggy cloak of wool; his leggings were of white sheepskin. He spoke no word, but, drawing near, held out a rough cake that he had begun to eat for his morning meal, and smiled a wide and sudden smile, betraying whitest teeth, for he understood the stranger’s word of thanks. Geoffrey, struggling to his feet, still girded with his sword, and wearing yet a cloak whereon the cross was broidered, grew faint, and would have fallen, save for the swiftly outstretched hands of the lad.
Leaning upon his strong shoulder, the sick man struggled up the hill-path, the nimble sheep and goats climbing ahead over stone and heather, shepherded by the anxious dog; and, when the top was reached, he threw himself upon the shepherd’s bed of pine, under a rude protecting roof of reed and flag. Closing his eyes, the better to bear his pain, he felt the air upon his eyelids, cool and sweet. When he opened them, the brown lad was milking a black goat into a shallow, rounded vessel, which he carried to a wide-branched oak, bending in all reverence to pour the milk out at the hoary roots, and saying in a clear voice: —
‘To great Pan, Pan the Deliverer.'
In marvel as to what this might mean, knowing only that all was most lovely and most strange, the knight fell asleep. Opening his eyes as the sun was going down, he saw spreading before him a country that seemed all color and light, a dream of many-tinted mountains floating on a beautiful dream of a sea. Almost he wondered if he had suffered death, and had wakened a spirit in a land of blessed spirits.
For many days and night s he lay soft on pine branches, full of a sense of healing in this pure air, to body and to tired soul. Water was poured out for him from earthen amphoræ, whose curves go back to the dawn of time for their beauty; sheep’s milk he drank, when the fever left him, from a rude cup of wood, and all service he repaid with that rare smile that had won other hearts before this of Delphis, the shepherd lad of the southern island. Many an hour the lad stole from his sheep, leaving them to the care of the brown dog that barked joyously at the greatness of his trust, to sit by the sick man, and to test, with shouts of laughter, that speech, so like yet so unlike his rude patois, which Geoffrey had learned from the lips of his southern mother.
Other shepherd-folk, in coats of sunfaded blue or skirts of red, with faces full of color, but not of the light that he had seen on those in yon far gray cloister, or those at his side in the long march, peered at him as he lay, sleeping or awake, under his green shelter. One maiden, with a smiling, sunbrowned face, brought healing herbs, ‘the gift of Pan,’ she whispered, as one who worships in joy and fear; and, kindling upon the stones, with cunning stealth of flint, a little fire, made a lotion that brought health again to his bruised limbs.
Watching the kerchiefed head bending anxiously over the cauldron, and the brightly broidered gown that became her so well, he often found the eyes of Delphis upon him, and learned that this was Ino, his betrothed, who was making ready her store of linen and spun wool for her dowry in the autumn. The homely comfort of her presence pleased him; once, in gratitude, he kissed the strong hand that had gently dressed his wounds, and now was piling soft fern beneath his aching head; but not again, for the flash of anger in the lad’s brown eyes met a more vivid flash in her own of deeper brown.
As he watched from his high restingplace, there was ever with him a sense of great blue spaces; and the world of out-of-doors, island upon island, ringed by quiet sea, seemed exquisite and wide as he remembered the walled-in life of the north. Here was soft silence, after all the sound and strife of early days, and the great peace of utter weariness. Time there would be to dream again of conquest in the name of the spirit when this lingering pain was gone; in these magic hours of this magic land, earth and its ethereal beauty seemed enough.
Through the wonderful brief twilights, and the evenings, under the great stars shining from a sky of dusky blue, the shepherd, lying on his sheepskin coat, told him old tales from out the storied past, of lovely indwelling spirits of tree and flower; of dryads and of nymphs, still living in tree and stream, with power to take what human forms they will; of the mortal who, not many days gone by, broke a lily-stalk, and, hearing a plaintive cry, knew that he had brought death to one dwelling therein. With lowered breath he told him too of Pan, great Pan, the guardian of flocks and herds, and of green living things, to whom all folk prayed; and the young seigneur learned in unspoken wonder of old beliefs still fresh as the new leaves of spring in these forgotten lands.
One day the shepherd host, on his strong shoulders that had known the weight of many a sheep and goat, carried him forth from the shelter and placed him on soft brown fallen needles beneath a fragrant pine. As he lay there, he heard, far in the valley, the music of a flute, and, as it came nearer, a joyous sound of singing floated to his ears. Lifting his eyes, he saw, in slow procession against the blue and green, one by one, barefooted youths and maidens, and old, weather-beaten men, winding up the hill, each carrying upon the neck a young lamb garlanded with flowers, and flowers they bore in their hands. To Pan’s sacred tree they came with their offerings, where hung upon the branches the gifts of many worshipers, rude figures in wood and clay, a shepherd’s crook, the image of a child, thank-offerings to Pan for help in the matter of the flock, or a child’s illness, Pan the Comforter; ‘Pan the Deliverer,’whispered the shepherd, ‘who saved you from the sea.’
Upon the soft grass they strewed their garlands, and the lambs, let free, played for a little space as the sacred rites went on, but none were slain; it was the consecration of the first-fruits of the flock, with prayers for great fertility. Leaving the ground strewn with many-colored flowers, they carried the young lambs again down the hill, and Geoffrey listened until the last glad notes of their voices died, remembering in half-dismay the solemn cathedral procession of sorrowful faces shown by dim taper-light, and the sad voices chanting a great grief.
Lapped in sweet content, he lay thinking of the coolness of the shadow, the warmth of the sun, all different from his northern home where shade and sunshine were near a kin. Hecaught a glimpse of a white-kerchiefed head below the treetops, and wondered if it. were Ino, coming to bring something for their evening meal from her father’s farmstead in the valley. Ino it was not. It was a shepherd maiden who climbed the hill, holding in her hands curious shining things; and Geoffrey saw that, she carried his steel armor and helmet; and, as he gazed, he half wondered at his old joy in wearing them, half yearned to put them on.
Asking where she had found them, he got no answer, for the maiden shook her head, as one who fails to understand; but, in a silence that seemed full of subtle meanings, with white, uplifted arms that wore the very grace of swaying branches, she hung them on Pan’s tree.
Delphis, who watched, wide-eyed, would not come near to speak with her, but drew away, as one abashed; yet was she but a barefooted maiden, whose skirt of blue bore its broad embroidered band, as did the skirts of other shepherd lasses. Only, from under the white kerchief that she wore over her dark hair, he caught the light from wonderful gray-green eyes; surely she was the same as the others, yet why was the shepherd awed ? Or was there a radiance about her? was it not merely the way of the southern sun with all it touched, — with yonder pineneedles, for instance, — transmuting them to beams of light?
When she had gone, he questioned the shepherd who she might be, but got no answer; he but shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head, t hen added, with lowered breath, ‘Perhaps a friend of Pan.'
A little later Geoffrey, who had marveled at the scant courtesy shown the stranger, marveled still more as he saw the lad pour out, from a shallow earthen vessel, a libation of wine upon the spot where she had stood a few moments before with bare white feet.
Then he forgot his wonder, and laughed out, seeing the fingers of Delphis touch curiously the fine-meshed steel, and awkwardly lift the sword which lay forgotten on the grass. Cutting his finger as he drew it on the blade, he cast the sword from him, laughing to see it crush the hyacinth sprays and violets the worshipers had left.
‘What do you with these?’ he asked.
‘I fight,’ said Geoffrey of the White Towers, ‘for our Lord’s sake.'
The shepherd looked long at him. ‘Now what thy god may be I know not,’ he said slowly, ‘but mine is better than thine, for he is god of peace, and of flocks that feed in safety. I have heard of them that worshiped long ago a god of fighting and of battles, for my father’s father crossed t he sea, and saw his face of stone; but here we know him no longer. Thou shalt forget, thy cruel god of war, and worship Pan with us. As for this thing of blood,’ and he took up the sword, ‘we will give it to Pan with the others’; so he made good his word.
The high mood of the young crusader was broken by weakness and the sweet strength of sunshine, and awe fell on him.
‘Where dwells he?' he whispered.
‘Hist, dost not hear him?’ asked the lad, his finger on his lip. ‘In yon forest, here in the nearer grass, and in the shaken reeds’; and, across the silence, the music of the wind in the pine trees told them the god was near.
Geoffrey noted, that day and the next, that the eyes of the shepherd when he was near the shelter kept wandering to the path up which the strange maiden had come, and there was fear in them, fear touched with longing. Near noonday, hearing the soft rustle of a woman’s dress, he started, and Delphis listened too with paling cheek. Soon the comely face of Ino appeared above the rock that guarded the path; she walked erect, bearing a copper vessel on her head, while behind her trudged her barefooted brother, with face as merry as a faun’s. The shepherd drew a great sigh, whether of relief or of disappointment would be hard to say, and together they sat down on the grass to eat their simple meal. They had brought in the comb-honey whose taste was fragrance, freshly baked bread, and olives cured in oil; and the young crusader, watching, rejoiced in the spare simplicity that; lent a grace to homely things. Content with little, these shepherd-folk received the values of much. Ino’s eyes were ever on her lover, noting the whiteness of his cheek beneath the tan, and the fingers that crumbled bread instead of carrying it to his mouth. When she drew from her bosom a bit of rude lace, finished toward her dowry, and would have shown it to him, she knew that his eyes wandered far, though he made a feint of looking. With honey still clinging to her lip, she cried out in fear:
‘Your eyes have looked on something strange, and you do not tell me.’
The little ragged lad was frightened, and nestled closer to his sister, until her broidered bodice left its mark of leaf and flower on his cheek. Delphis shook his head, but was silent, and Ino, grasping his blue coal-sleeve, questioned in fierce whisper: —
‘Have those unseen ones who can steal woman’s shape come to you?’
But he said nothing, save, with downcast head, ‘I know not’; and she went sorrowing away, while sorrowing he looked after her.
‘Now what was her meaning?’ questioned Geoffrey, breaking the wondering silence between them.
But the lad answered with a shrug, ‘Who knows?’
‘Why called you the stranger maid a friend of Pan?’ persisted Geoffrey; and he noted that into Delphis’s face came a look of fear, of which he had no understanding, and a look of longing which was even as his own.
That night, as they lay in the soft darkness upon the bed of pine, the shepherd trembled as he talked of the spirits of woodland and of stream, the ministers and messengers of Pan, who shared his reveling, and whose fearful beauty stole away men’s wit.
‘ May one see them,’ asked the young crusader, ‘or know their touch?’
The shepherd, shivering, clung to him in panic terror. ‘It is not well,’ he whispered, ‘to draw too near the gods.’
The first step that the young seigneur could take told him of joy in the firm earth, after the dreariness of the unstable sea; and the grass was sweet and cool to his bared feet. Then, with returning strength, the glory of sunshine and of spring burst upon him as something never known before under gray northern skies. Flowers, undreamed by him whose life had been shut far from flowers within grim city walls, bloomed at his feet, red tulips, anemones, purple and white; nor dared he tread on one, or break a stem, because of those who dwelt therein. It was no longer strange to him that tree and leaf and blossom were sentient; he marveled only that he had not known it before.
The music of silence and the music of sweet sound, came to him as he lay for idle days under the fragrant pines, for the wind was in their branches; and, far below, on either side, the murmuring of the waves upon the sand mingled with the bleating of the sheep, and to each melody he listened with new reverence as one who harkens to the voice of a god. Thrushes were nesting in his helmet upon the branch of oak, and the crusader’s cloak, the cross rolled inward, made him a soft pillow. All his soul was at rest in the thought of these green hills and valleys, where old faiths still blossomed with the flowers and rooted with the vine; where, to mortal questioning and fear, had been vouchsafed a sense of the human graciousness of sunlight and rainfall, and of protecting mother-power in the fields of earth.
Knight and shepherd over the curds made vows of friendship, nor did it seem to the young seigneur strange: for he had marched shoulder to shoulder with a wood-cutter’s son in that great army where all were of one rank under the cross; nor could he win back to his old sense of distance between silkclad arm and that clad in sheepskin: he but wondered that this could seem so homelike which was so unlike home. Together they drank precious water from the distant spring, or milk from the ewes; they broke bread together, and half his flock Delphis gave into the stranger’s keeping, showing him where to lead forth his sheep to the juiciest grass. Great was Geoffrey’s joy in the long-haired goats, and greatest in the clever one that stood erect on his hind legs to reach the willow branches, or climbed the crooked olive tree to the very top to nibble the leaves.
Oftentimes, at dusk, to the sound of the pipe, the two lads danced on the hillside or in the valley, with homely folk who pastured their flocks upon the neighboring slopes, while the sheep lay about them, quietly chewing the cud. The shepherds, who cared not for the wistful eyes of the stranger, that ever searched beyond them, yet loved him for the sweetness of his voice, and the swiftness of his foot in dance. Him it did not surprise to see that hairy folk crept often in among them from the neighboring wood, with rough and shaggy faces, and odd, goat-like shanks, now stepping swiftly on hoofed feet with the dancers, now lying prone among the flocks as they that are at home among their kin. When they stole near him, with eyes staring in wonder, and touched him with rough, questioning fingers, he but laughed aloud, remembering the dainty silken figures moving in that last dance where he had stepped to different music; and they laughed also, finding herein their kinship with him. If he marveled at them and their laughter, he marveled at himself the more, who had heard many a grandam tale of this whimsical people, without realizing that they were still alive and fain to dance. Now naught seemed strange in the magic of strange blue water on an alien shore, save the bonds and hardships of his past life.
Ay, there was witchery abroad, and his sense of wonder was constant laughter on his lips. One day, returning to the flock, which he had left in care of his white dog, he found him low-crouching, with hair bristled along his back, giving short, sharp barks of fear. The young knight, gazing, could see before him nothing save gray bare rock, and yet, as he looked, he was conscious that that which had been but empty stone was winning to sweet shape.
In fashion of a shepherdess, demure of face, she was guarding the sheep in his stead, with broidered gown, and kerchiefed head, a distaff in her hand; and, sitting on the rock, her feet demurely crossed, she cherished in her lap a weakling lamb, while her hands were busy drawing out the thread, as the most industrious maiden of them all.
Slowly he went toward her, now pausing to look the other way as one who knew not she was there, yet glancing hurriedly again that his eyes might make sure of her. Spinning, spinning, she drew the white woolen thread, and now he saw the wonderful, unfathomed eyes, that wore the color of sky and sea; now, when his hand might almost touch her, she looked upon him with a sudden, radiant smile, then vanished, not on mortal feet, while the weak lamb she had cherished stood upon trembling legs, bleating feebly.
Close on his breast he fondled it, in the warmth of his blue mantle, and, with caressing hands, questioned it of its last resting-place; but the foolish one, as happy under mortal as under immortal care, gave back no answer.
Suddenly on the rock he saw her distaff, and, bewildered, watched it unwinding; clearly, she still held it fast, wherever she was running in air or on earth, on slender, swift, white feet. Shifting the lamb to his shoulder, he bent and grasped the spindle; still it turned upon his outstretched palm.
Holding fast the clue, he followed swiftly, gathering the thread in his hands, wondering if she might not lead him into the very haunts of Pan. Firm held, it guided him beyond the meadow, athwart the pine grove, catching upon the resin-dripping trunks, and still he felt his way along the thread, which still was hers, until, as he sped over the brow of the hill, her grasp slackened, and he found himself standing with the end of the white thread in his hand. Long he stood, pondering on the tangled skein he held; then, going sadly home, he hung it on Pan’s tree as an offering, and the nesting birds plucked strands from it for the home they were building in the helmet.
Ever the new amazement of beauty lingered with him, from radiant sunrise of transfigured hills to sunset that left long beams of light pulsing across the clear blue of the sky. The shepherd lad, on distant hill or near, sitting under oak tree or cedar, sang of the fresh grass of the pasture, and of cool water from the spring, sang of his sheep upon the hillsides, the laughter of his brown maiden, of lily and of hyacinth, and of all fragrant things of spring. And he who had sung in a king’s court, stung by memory of that which grew often dim in his mind, made answer from the deep shadow of the pine.
‘Nor hillside nor fed ewes have I, nor brown cheek of maiden against my own.
‘Only a path, lying long like a ribbon against the green, or lost in the thick shade of forest trees, where last year’s leaves lie thick over the leaves of many earlier years.
‘If I smell the violet, I pass it; the lily stands for me unbroken; shadow of beech and of oak tree have I forsaken, treading my way onward in the burning of the sun.
‘The music that I hear is heard but hardly; with strained ears I listen; it is always beyond.
‘The music that I hear hath no fullness of sound. Faint and very far it comes, beyond the utmost hill, calling me, I know not whither, winning me, I know not why.
‘The face that draws me hath no brownness nor laughter; but dimly I see it, yet it compels me. I may not forget.’
Delphis leaned on his crook to listen, in the warmth of the sun, disdaining what he heard; yet he loved this comrade for the sadness of his song, and the high beauty of his face.
‘It seemeth thou hast nothing, and less than nothing,’ he cried, wondering. ‘What seek ye at the end of your long road ?’
‘A tomb,’ the young knight answered; ‘the tomb of our Lord.’
‘A dead god!’ cried the shepherd, with intaken breath of great wonder. ‘You pour libations to a god who is dead?’
Geoffrey was silent. In very truth, at that moment the solemn music of the mass, leading from sadness to sadness, seemed one with the memory of clods of earth falling upon the coffinlid of stone.
‘How died he?’ asked the shepherd, pitying.
‘Upon a cross of wood,’ answered Geoffrey, and of the two shepherd’s crooks he made a cross.
‘Now how can a god who is dead help you?’ cried Delphis. ‘Libations pour I to Pan, great Pan, who dieth not, nor will die, so long as grass is green, and trees put forth their leaves.’
‘Mine liveth,’ said the young crusader, ‘and will live when grass and trees are dust, a life beyond the life of those who have not known death.’ As he spoke, he felt that for which one might give in glad exchange the whole of delight in visible beauty, a thrill throughout the mortal flesh of life too poignant fine for eye or ear to know.
‘You speak folly,’ said the shepherd. ‘The dead are dead.’
Pan, Pan, everywhere Pan! Slowly the young crusader learned to know his ceaseless presence, and to share the joy and fear of his worshipers, who felt him near in coolness, in shadows, in delicate sights and sounds, the veil of green things seeming to them but the screen that held him. The wind stirred the long flags; a sense of freshness came; the shepherd, his finger on his lip, nodded, as who would say, ‘The god is near! ’ If any rough reed pipe gave out a more absolute note of joy than the rest, they cried, ‘The gift of Pan!’
Wonderful to him, who had dreamed of pain as the fine flower of life, seemed this worship of gladness. The spirit sense of one earlier aware of soul than of body brought a keener sense to new delight, a finer edge to cut from the bough the apples of Hesperides. The shepherd knew no such exquisite thrill from the sunshine touching his cheek or outstretched hand, nor felt perhaps so poignantly the coming of Pan, fragrance by fragrance, breeze by breeze. For the first time since, as a little lad, Geoffrey had become aware of it, the inner yearning ceased, and the fine, searching look died out of his eyes; consolation for the long hurt of boyhood was his. Sometimes, sitting in the shade beside his sheep, he was fretted by visions of the Holy Land, the hot hillsides, the drooping palms, the lurking Saracens with their thricesharpened swords; but, still lame and weary, with a hurt sense of body, an almost resentful consciousness of soul, he thrust these thoughts away. Within his heart there reigned a truce of God.
Ever more and more, as he drove his sheep afield along the pleasant hillsides, or rested with them at the edge of the deep and shady wood, he felt subtle presences about him, here, everywhere, in tree and fern and flower. The wind upon his face was more than wind; he lifted his cheek to it, reverently, as something divine. How close they were, the friendly gods, in this sweet land! In the silences, reaching forth his hand to touch leaf or flower, he was aware of intimacies delicate, beyond sight or words, and he stepped lightly across the grass, as one walking always on the verge of great discovery. Now and then, as the shepherd-folk danced to sweet music, a sound of sweeter music came far through the forest, and awe fell on them.
‘It is Pan,’ they whispered in the twilight, ‘Pan, who dances with the dryads among the trees.’
One night he lay beneath a great beech tree at the forest’s edge, whither of late he had been often drawn, his head gently pillowed by moss-grown roots. Sleeping a sleep full of sweet visions of pleasant things, he dreamed, though he knew not if the dream were real, of cool fingers resting delicately on his eyelids. When he wakened, in the clear twilight of dawn, and sitting upright, gazed upon the fresh leaves above him, through which one great planet in the morning sky looked down upon his rest, he was sure of a presence other than that of the sheep and goats that lay quietly about him, as of the very bodily nearness of joy. His bared arm still felt the imprint of a cool, slender hand upon it, and, in the rustling leaves, he fancied he heard the sound of retreating steps.
Starting to his feet, as one who would pursue, he heard a sound of laughter, merry as young wind in leaves of May, and, trying to go all ways at once to reach it, knew that it led him back to the starting-point, and came from behind the gray, lichen-haunted beech. About the trunk he caught a glimpse of a shimmering green robe, of dark hair floating free; but, though he circled the trunk, he could find no trace of the maiden, whose half-seen face had driven all thoughts of other beauty from his mind.
Long he sat beside his sheep, while the gray of the water below the pine trees grew bluer and more blue, and range upon range of barren mountaintops, bewitched by light, turned to opal and amethyst. Dreaming, he watched the path of light leading to the sun as it rose from the sea; sweet imaginings stirred within him, and desire was awake, for he knew that the blue-green eyes that had looked at him from behind the beech were the eyes of her who had brought the armor to him, and had lured him with her unraveled skein.
That day a shadow lay between him and his shepherd friend. High and higher on the hillside they climbed with their sheep and goats, and ever he was aware — or was it waking dream — of a presence among the trees, and of many musical footsteps sweeping about her in unison. Swaying branches dimly took the form of fluttering garments, and never were his ears without music, were it far or near, sometimes the very music of her laugh. In awe he asked Delphis, whispering, if the gods were near; but the lad shrugged his shoulders and turned away, saying he did not know. Geoffrey saw in his eyes the ever-watching look that he had learned to know, and noted brief absences from his flock, from which he came back with the shamefaced air of one who, searching, has not found.
Strolling at nightfall down the valley, an old song on his lips, he read the story of Delphis in the brown eyes of the maiden Ino, whom he found beneath an ancient gnarled olive tree at the edge of the field left fallow by her father in honor of the wind-god, who once, unasked, had helped him in winnowing the grain. At the door of the little farmhouse stood her withered grandam with dark brown face and snow-white hair, spinning upon a distaff; near by, a patient donkey circled, turning the wheel that brought water from the well, and all these homely things stood out with odd unreality before him whose eyes were full of beauty that ever escaped. In the desolate silence the dog watched the worn path, but his mistress’s eyes looked nowhere, and, although she gave a gay laugh when she saw the knight approaching, the quiver of her lip was pitiful before the laugh had ceased. When he asked if aught troubled her, there were sudden tears on the white covering of her breast, and she confessed that she was waiting, an hour beyond the appointed time, for Delphis, who never before had forgotten tryst.
Comforting her, as best he might, with broken speech that brought a smile through tears, he saw her trudge toward home, murmuring a prayer to the god of friendly breezes, from his consecrated field, that he would follow her lover, wherever he might be, and whisper her love in his ear. Turning back, he met upon the hillside his shepherd friend, wandering this way and that, as one who had lost his path; then suddenly he started, as if seeing something to pursue, and sped away among the trees.
Was the boy mad, the young seigneur wondered, for Delphis sang no more, nor stood, as quiet as a cypress tree, among his sheep, but ever wandered restlessly, until they, too, were full of unrest, lifting their heads from the grass, and straying hither and yon. What peace for the flock if the shepherd knows no peace? One night, as the two sat side by side, while the stars shone out in the sudden dusk, the shepherd lad, in lowered voice, made known his pain.
‘But once have I seen her, and I see naught else,’ he moaned. ‘All my life have I feared that this might come upon me.’
Geoffrey marveled that that which was keen joy to him was terror to the other, who yet could give no explanation of his fear of so much beauty.
As the days went on, the other shepherd-folk, older and more wise, shook often their heads in foreboding, saying that there was some being among them who would bring trouble, and they one and all brought more frequent gifts to Pan, hanging them upon his oak tree on the hill, or climbing to his cave on the mountain-side, over a path worn deep by his worshipers, the gray heads ever busy with the old task of guarding the young.
Geoffrey, ever more conscious how through and through the shepherd life thrilled the name of Pan, watched swaying green branch and waving grass with deepening sense of their kinship, and the image of the sacred spot grew fainter, veiled by the presence of her whose fluttering garments wore the iridescent beauty of sunrise and sunset on the hills. Straying afield with his flock, he pondered in silence on the words, ‘the friend of Pan,’ feeling an ever greater longing. Could he, too, but be a friend of Pan! What richness of earth-wisdom, what joy, what sense of rising sap and waving leaf would deepen life within him, for even in these short weeks he had grown to understand the mighty comfort of that name. Passionate with desire for the uttermost revelation of this worship, he questioned further his shepherd host.
‘Seen him have I not,’ said Delphis in answer, ‘ but my father’s father, who was lost on yonder hills, met one day the god himself, and was brought safely home. And he raised an altar on the hillside — it still is white beyond the pine tree—to Pan of the Safe Journey.’
‘Where may one draw more near?’ whispered the crusader.
‘High on yon mountain to the east is a cave, long sacred to Pan, whither we go to bear him offerings. There is the very image of the god, and his ministers, the dryads.’
And, as he spoke, the fear that now lurked always in the depth of his eyes sprang to the surface. Unwilling to go himself, too busy with the sheep, he would gladly send offerings: a fleece of his first shearing, milk in a wide amphora of narrow mouth; and, as he made them ready, he murmured prayers to Pan the Deliverer for help against the spell of the dryad, who might be messenger of good or of ill.
So Geoffrey, bearing gifts upon his back and in his careful hands, went down the mountain-path to the valley, past the altar to Pan of the Safe Journey, ever full of a sense of dryad guidance. Along the margin of the hill he followed a narrow trail, then climbed a steep and rocky path, where tangling vines and sharp acanthus often stayed his feet, yet ever he was drawn onward by the sweep of a green garment beside the shimmering birch tree, or a soft voice that called from beyond the gray rocks, and in this sweet companionship he knew her longing to lead him to the secret place of Pan. Once, upon a broad ledge of rock, he found some piping satyr-folk who gave back his smile with gladness, then begged impudently for the wine and milk he carried, and one twitched stealthily at the fleece of wool, as if he coveted it for his own bare back.
At length, beyond a grim, forbidding cliff, came a space of level grass, where a spring of water trickled ceaselessly, and lo, overhung with vines, remote, the cave of Pan! Stepping softly, he lifted the ivy and entered, not without awe, pouring out wine and milk, as he had been requested, and hanging the yellow fleece upon a sharply jutting stone. As his eyes grew wonted to the dim light, he saw votive gifts upon the walls, and among them, carved in relief in rude gray stone, the image of the god. He stood piping among his ministers, the nymphs, who with bare feet and unbound tresses danced before him, and though the hint of rough horns and rude hoofs of this woodland deity brought Geoffrey a sudden shock, the kindly sweetness of the face arrested him. It was indeed the god of the flock and of sweet shaded ways that the rude artist fingers had wrought, and about the lips curled the wise smile of one who understands all of life, down to the tail and hoofs. The very comfort of his lowness brought a sense of safety and of home, as of a child at his mother’s knee, after the vast loneliness of the spirit-quest.
Musing on the tenderness of the shepherd-folk for this piper upon reeds, he realized how far their indwelling sense of him had outstripped their power to picture one whose name was melody, and who had become for them the melody of all things living. In the silence of the dusky cave, he won to understanding of the very god of peace, the outer peace of banished sword, the inner peace that knows no questioning.
Homeward, though he saw nothing, he was aware of a light footstep here and there beside him on rock or grass, of an enfolding sense of nearness, and he yearned, with deeper longing, to see her who had come to him in waking hours and in dream, the delicate messenger of the god, leading him yet nearer to that further revelation beyond her touch. Longing to feel her fingers again upon his eyelids, he came, and gladly enough, to the folded flock, and supper.
Delphis but asked if he had found the way, and receiving the brief answer, ‘I was guided,’ nodded, as one who understands.
Thereafter, day by day, she came and went between him and the world of the unseen; now faintest blue, now green her garment; now with bare locks, now with discreetly kerchiefed head. In whatever form she came, bringing him a black kid that had escaped from the flock, or offering him, in the heat of noonday, from hands held cupwise, a draught of fresh water, though he knew she was but wraith, but lovely, unsubstantial shape, all his warm young passion rose and followed her flying feet. Through the green forest, hither and thither, he sped after the gleam of her white shoulder, the witchery of her back-turned face, more and more enmeshed by tangling threads of the old spirit-quest, and of this elusive, escaping charm of the soul of plant and tree.
So, shape by shape, she teased him, vanishing at his approach, mocking him, the crudest mocking being no shape at all, yet the feeling of her nearness the most intense. It was no longer strange to him that these transformations could be, for that which once would have seemed beyond the reach of sense was natural and lovely as the curve of shore, or the great stars at night above his rock-pillowed head. If these many forms in which she masqueraded were so full of charm, what of her real self? Ah, for that garlanded head, and the immortal sweetness that was she!
The older folk of hillside and valley drew more apart from the two lads, whose eyes betrayed them. Swift disaster too often followed those who became companions of the immortals; might not Pan be moved to jealousy and smite them? With red eyes the maiden Ino came and went between the valley and the hill-shelter, and the crusts of bread she brought well-nigh choked her lover, yet still he forgot her in the dance, or, remembering, remembered too late; nor had he for many a day brought her any gift of scarf or trinket, for he turned from the maid of flesh and blood to the maiden of spirit and laughter.
As the days passed, the mood of Delphis changed many times, and once he flung himself upon the breast of Geoffrey, confessing a fear that the dryad was angered by his pursuit, which yet he could not stop. Disaster came to those who followed uninvited, and perchance she was unwilling that he should see her when she wished only to reveal herself to another; did not the knight know some spell that would charm away his longing? Yet again he looked upon his friend as an enemy, nor would share his supper of whey and crust. The two, one noonday, sat down upon the oak leaves, and, breaking a crust together, spoke wonderingly of this strange madness that had come upon them, and, with clasped hands, vowed to protect each other and to forget.
Even as they made this vow, a merry laugh rang all through the forest, with all the ripple of young leaves sounding in it, and to the two who listened it seemed as if a hundred voices echoed the mirth. Surely the dryads and the nymphs were laughing in unison, and that deep note of immortal laughter, mellow, irresistible, — could it be the voice of Pan? With shaken sides the satyr-folk were roaring in deep mirth; a very tempest of merriment swept through the forest, and knight and shepherd knew that their vow was mocked.
More and more often, as the long days drifted past, the young crusader, forgetful of his vow, haunted the beech tree, which was the dryad’s home. Often she led him thither, and, as she vanished within the trunk, there came back the sound as of a half-human voice. He, who tore at the bark with eager fingers, won naught but cuts and bruises on his skin, and sometimes came a little cry, as if she were torn with the tree that sheltered her; so he desisted, but touched his lips to the delicate bark, quick with her life. Her voice was in the murmuring leaves, which shivered as the breeze passed through; the soft branch caressing his forehead thrilled him with her.
Lying prone upon the grass, now gazing upward through green leaves, transfigured by sunshine, now with closed eyelids whereon leaf-shadows fell, he grew to know her as the very soul of this forest tree, and idly wondered if the indwelling spirits of olive and of oak wore such individual charm as she. Hers was the secret grace of motion in twig and branch, and hers the loveliness of green leaves dreaming against the infinite blue. Hers, too, the long sweet length of a tree’s life, from the day of putting forth its first tiny shoot, through unnumbered centuries of sunlight and of soft darkness with the great stars shining through, on to the day when strong wind tears the deep roots from the soil, and the dryad life goes out with the fading of the leaves. He knew, beyond all doubting, as he waited, motionless, that they drew nearer together, perchance a touch of spirit in organic life meeting his own, while there came to him a wholly pleasant sense of putting roots down into the soil, spreading leaf-wise on the air.
Something was set singing within him, something which had been dumb before; it sang in the pulses in wrist and forehead; it burst in sweetest music from his throat. Sitting bareheaded on the beechen roots one day, his crook laid aside, his white dog panting at his feet, he poured out to her, invisible, an old troubadour love-song. Sweet echoes came back to him from among the branches, and he heard her voice in song, so full of yearning that it drew his very heart from him. Well that the shepherd-folk were far away, for they would think him mad, who stood with closed eyes listening at the branches where centred all his life and hope.
He ceased to count the days, as he had counted them since first his feet were set upon the holy road. They were measured by the pale gold of morning beyond the hill to eastward, the deeper gold of evening when the sun went down beyond the sea and western hill; and the few weeks of springtime, since first his foot had touched this shore, seemed to him an eternity of joy. He told himself that he was a man of great riches, so many golden days fell into his outstretched hands, for the sun had brought him perfect hours, and memory and regret lay slumbering. Surely she struggled toward him, across the barriers made by flesh and blood, yearning to him, even as he to her. The delicate fingers lingered longer on his eyelids with caressing touch, and that strange speech between them, made up of music and unspoken words and laughter, grew clearer day by day. Imprisonment within the bonds of spirit he knew to be as irksome to her as to him was imprisonment within walls of flesh; and to her, too, it was pain that she might not feel his touch, even while touching him.
Once, in the warm sun of noonday, he felt her encircling arm cling about his neck in wholly human fashion, and the divine dark head rested long against his own. At that moment it seemed to him that he could reach out his hand and touch happiness; through half-closed eyes could see it, green, leafy, against the unfathomed blue; could hear it in the murmur of the pines, the ripple of the little waves upon the beach.
This moment of fullest content merged into a strange fear lest this intense happiness could not be broken. To Geoffrey came a sudden sense of lack of escape, a yearning for the old hunger, for the music of the wind in the branches had changed to militant organ-music, and he heard the vast volume of sound of the crusaders’ voices, with the trumpet-call to holy war. Again he heard the heralds crying at set of sun, ‘Save the Holy Sepulchre!’ while the vast army knelt and prayed. Once more the cross seemed to burn upon his shoulder, with the old fiery call to the fight, and the hunger of love was forgotten in the passionate hunger of the quest. Could it not be, the young crusader asked himself wistfully, that the two poignant yearnings were the same? That which in boyhood had drawn him, had eluded him, had called him far, was it not this appeal for fuller life, this sweet reality in things? Were not the old voices winning to lovely shape? Could he not see his dream in her immortal loveliness?
Troubled again by question, feeling a dim sense of lack in happiness that did not reach to be joy, he went about his tasks, mindful again of Delphis, whose sorrows had been forgotten in his own delight. Upon the shepherd had come stage after stage of woodmadness; wandering through the forest, he let his flock go wild, save that the young knight gathered it and kept it with his own. One day he found Ino sitting on the hillside, her face buried in her hands, sobbing bitterly; nor could the dog that tried to lick her cheeks bring comfort to her. From broken words Geoffrey learned that an hour ago she had seen her lover speeding toward the rocks, yet what he pursued she could not tell; there was none ahead of him, and none behind.
‘Go find him,’ said the knight, ‘and I will wait for you here.'
Drying her eyes on her bare arm, she smiled in sudden thanks, and went across the brow of the hill in search. The afternoon had worn away, and swift dusk come, when the dreamer was roused by the sound of steps, and looking, saw two satyrs who did the bidding of the maid in carrying the unconscious body of Delphis. Along the grass trailed one limp hand; blood on the forehead showed where he had fallen.
‘He is not dead,’ said Ino, with the sweetness of grieving hope in her face; and Geoffrey, feeling the lad’s bosom, knew he was but stunned. With the satyrs’ help he carried the shepherd to Ino’s home in the valley, and laid him on a soft bed of fern. Here, with his head upon her lap, he waked at last, to consciousness, and here she nursed him, keeping wet cloths on his head with fresh water from the well; and in the cone-shaped oven outside the door she brewed him savory broths that brought his strength again. Her eyes, as they rested on him, were now as the eyes of a mother who nurses her firstborn, and now they flamed with sudden fire, fierce as the coals upon the hearth.
The shepherd, growing strong again, rose from his bed of fern, and, looking about, questioned Ino what was amiss, and she told how she had found him lying stunned upon the rocks.
‘How came I there?’ he asked fearfully; but she, wise in woman-fashion, answered that she knew not.
It was clear to her, as his eyes looked on hers, that all memory of his madness had gone from him; and, stealing out at noon or evening, she bore gifts to every god she knew: to great Pan, to the wind-god who had led her to her wounded lover, to the god of the rising and the setting sun, who had no altars here, — for his rude temple, earliest of all, had crumbled, made of sundried brick, — yet was he worshiped upon the hilltops, where come the first ray and the last ray of light; and to all she prayed that Delphis might still forget.
Going about his work, wondering where the black goat had gone, and what had become of the spotted kid, he marveled at all they told him of his brief madness, and ofttimes laughed, sure that it was gone. Then, seeing his home already made in the eyes of Ino, and holding in secret a new fear of unseen dangers when she was not near, he asked her parents if their marriage might not be made more speedily than they had planned, and Ino’s joy was great when they consented. Of linen and of woolen cloths, spun in the winter days, she had great store. Vessels of clay and of copper, ten sheep, twelve hens, a little ass, a pine table, and two wooden stools, — surely her dowry was enough!
So they were wed; lustral water was carried to the maiden in a slender curving jar from the spring before her robing, and Geoffrey walked in that bridal procession, he and all the shepherd lads he knew, to the shrill music of the flute, while beside him paced, unseen, with footsteps on the grass heard only by him, the dryad. Leading, a boy bore on his head a gift cake and flowers; then came, clad in a saffron robe, the bride, a maiden on either side, then Delphis, abashed in new embroidered jacket, and after, the long train. Two by two they climbed from the valley lands of the girl’s home to the snug cot on the hill that should be home for them; and friends and bridesmaids left them there with all their gifts about them, the small, gray, loaded donkey standing patient at the door. Among the gifts was a finely carven beechen bowl, whereon, with dainty footsteps, Pan and his friends the nymphs were dancing, but, though one asked another who had brought it, none could tell.
From the safety and comfort of this low portal, Geoffrey went back alone, and full of sharp loneliness, to the frail shelter of reeds.
And now that human companionship was far, nearer and nearer drew the gods. Across the threshold that knew no doorway, casting no shadow, they came; the air was full of gentle whisperings; and dim green presences peopled for him the hill at twilight, who ever listened for those immortal footsteps treading so close on human life.
That rooted sense of oneness with all growing things was strongest at night as he watched under the southern stars; then the very sap and life-blood of grass and tree seemed flowing through his veins, and all the wide world of nature to be within him. Old dreams and new intermingled in these drowsing hours; the great, stars shining softly down blended with those taper lights by which, all night, he had prayed, fasting, before the altar, keeping holy vigil until the dim dawn came, and, with it, his consecration and his vow. As he remembered, spirit called to spirit across the soft darkness; he seemed to see and touch the holy spot that had become for him the very goal of prayer. Going fasting to his sweet-smelling couch, passionately returning in fancy to her who, he had begun to hope, was but his old prayer made visible, he dreamed of a great joy lying on his lips; yet, lo, it was no kiss of maiden, but the Eucharist!
Waking in the chill dawn he pondered long, then took his cup of milk and broke his bit of bread, going soberly about his work; nor did he see that morning rock and pine against the blue, but only those great Templars lying with crossed feet in the peace of death after the holy war.
There came a day, a day with sense of life astir, for breezes ran along the hillsides, and, in the valley, touched the reeds to swaying motion; grass and reeds were murmurous as with the voice of a god. Great eagles swayed on outstretched wings about the gray mountain-tops; down rocky paths the streams sped merrily, and uncounted flowers opened petals of white or goid or crimson to the sun. The very soul of spring thrilled through the joyous air, and to the shepherd-folk it seemed the gods were near, walking in the golden sunshine, athwart the unclouded blue. Surely the nymphs were holding festival: through the wood came sweeter, quicker melodies from the dryads whose steps are music on the wind, and a sound of wild dancing echoed from the satyr-folk far and near. The very sheep and goats were leaping high in play; the old wether, forgetting, dreamed himself again a lamb. Pan, what was Pan doing in this air alive and quick with happenings?
As Geoffrey walked alone, seeking his sheep, a sudden yearning kiss, the kiss of which he had been dreaming, was pressed upon his lips, and all the air grew sweet with the presence of her he could not see. Stung with quick passion, he flung out his arms, entreating her, yet clasped but empty air; and his ears were full of caressing murmurs, softer far than words. Following a voice that called, he found himself kneeling beneath the beech that was her home, breathless with swift pursuit up the hill, for she had led him the maddest chase over stream and stone. To what was she luring him? He no longer cared. Follow he must, though she led beyond all hope, all prayer.
He cried aloud for her to come to him, his senses full of her leafy fragrance, and, reaching out his arms, he gathered branch and leaves into close embrace, kissing them with passionate lips. So lost was he, so drawn toward things unseen, that he stood like one on whom a trance has fallen, and, rooted to the spot, it seemed as if he were winning to the life of the tree, his very fingers becoming one with the outstretched leaves, while nearer and nearer the human grew the indwelling soul that was she.
Because of his forgetfulness, his sheep scattered this way and that; two ewes, wandering on the hillside, joined an alien flock; and the lamb that had been sheltered in the dryad’s bosom, stumbling, perhaps, like him, seeking her, fell into the stream that ran across the pasture, and was drowned. The shepherd, coming on this confusion, was seized with sudden anger, in the new prudence of a householder, careful of his goods, and, pursuing, took his friend’s crook from his hands, telling him that he should guard the sheep no longer, since he had betrayed his trust.
The knight, who once would have struck down one that dared such insult, laid his hand upon the shoulder of Delphis, saying simply, ‘There is one who commands me; I may not choose’; and the shepherd’s fearful eyes betrayed his understanding, for the old enchantment whereby he had been driven through inner desire toward what he dreaded, returned. Stumbling he went away, his head bent down upon his breast, and Geoffrey, watching with eyes growing serene as green leaf against the blue, saw him running as from pursuit.
So wistful was the voice that called across the murmuring silences that he knew the dryad longed to hold him, even as mortal woman would; for the hands that laid such sweet caresses on cheek and forehead were tender and real as human hands, and the whispered words that met his ear were pleading with human love. Could he be wholly hers, she told him, forgetting all before, the hope, the long, hard road, the battles yet to be, she would become all human to him, taking mortal form whenever he willed, nestling in his arms, never to say farewell. Instead of the fevered space of human life, the hot heart-beats, death swift upon the track, the long sweet tree-life should be his, that all but immortality, spread leafwise on the air; and then, the centuries past, with her he should bow before the wind, to the peace of falling leaves and crumbling branch. Yes, she would come to him in utmost beauty, would he but promise to leave forever on Pan’s tree sword and armor, and the cloak that bore the symbol of his far path.
Bending, he snatched from the ground this crusader’s cloak, carried with him always as he watched his sheep, and passionately he began his vow, by Pan’s sweet voice among the reeds, to give to his keeping, beyond recall, sword and armor. In the sudden passion of springtime he swore to do her will, renouncing all for her, the beginning and the end of the quest. From out the protecting beech she stepped, divine in the loveliness of her green-veiled form, swept by her long dark hair, the luminous eyes sweet with her struggle to win to mortal love.
Lifting his eyes, shading them with his hand before her as he stepped forward, he caught a glimpse beyond her of white sails riding gallantly over the blue water, widespread to the quick wind, white sails whereon the cross had been woven, and he knew the Crusaders’ fleet. Across the greenclad slopes of pine and of olive sounded faintly the notes of the hymn, chanted by many voices; and, listening with reverent head bent down, he heard in memory the sound of many feet, marching in unison along the far white road. Through encompassing sunshine, through frond and foliage, down to the core of his heart in this moment of fullest sweetness pierced the old call, and the radiance of his shepherd days faded swiftly as a many-tinted rainbow. In a quick flash of revelation he knew the depths within; spite of the pleading face before him, there was no going back for him whose feet had once been set upon the holy way. To him had been given for brief moments the joy of earth, yet naught could wrest from him his deeper heritage of pain, the divine right to suffer. High in the air he waved again, and yet again, the cloak that bore the flaming symbol of the cross, until one upon the foremost vessel saw, and gave back signal for signal.
From the branches of the tree came a sound of hurt sobbing, as, in sharp struggle, he turned away; yet, though he saw woman’s anguish in that face, blended with the look of fear that green branches wear, swayed by wind against dark storm-cloud, he did not stop.
As he sped down the stony hill, his cloak fluttering behind him with the swiftness of his flight, there lingered with him still a sense of white arms stretched out longingly to enfold him, yet all his soul grew an-hungered for the rough places of that way leading to the tomb from whence our Lord, arising, had brought the joy of immortal life. Then he stopped, so suddenly that he almost fell; for there, upon the grass beneath the cliff, lay the shepherd, his crook still in his hand, dead where he had fallen in his mad flight, tall anemones nodding above his quiet face.
Upon his knees Geoffrey kissed the sun-browned cheek, grown strangely white, and placed his head upon the bosom of his friend to listen. Ah, still and cold he lay under the sunshine to which he had never failed to answer! His grief gave way to the wilder grief of Ino, who, coming, flung herself upon the bosom of her lover, and, with loud cries that startled the high-flying eagles, called on him to return, and begged his heart to beat. Wildly she upbraided those unseen ones who had wrought this woe; the howl of the brown dog, who grieved as hopelessly, blended with her cries, and with the wails of the tired mother and aged grandam, still spinning on her distaff. Helpless he listened, face to face with the old question of death among the flowers, full of an overmastering sense of the great need of human life. Comfort there was none for Ino, whose sobbing voice followed down the dim ways of death.
‘Go not down,’ she cried, ‘to darkness where thou shalt not hear, nor see, nor feel my bosom on thine own. Go not into that silence, where thou shalt not eat, nor drink, nor know the sun’s time. Thou shalt not go; my arms shall hold thee back.’
She lay across his breast, and the dark hair, tangled among the grass and flowers, grew dull of hue in her pain. The satyr-folk, frightened, gave back her wail, and from the forest came a sound of scudding feet; nor nymph nor dryad came to help. Pan, where was Pan the Comforter? From murmuring stream, from nestling pine branches, from leaping lambs of the flock no answer came; there was no voice to tell the way he went in this hour of supreme need.
Stung by the grief that knew no solace, the sobs that naught could still, the eyes that saw only lifeless clay, the young knight knelt in prayer for her comfort and her lover’s peace, while, across the green valley, he saw the sails of the fleet draw near, draw near. Then toward Pan’s tree he sped, over the soft grass, past his flock, grazing still and not looking up, past his dog, who whimpered with sudden sense of farewell, past satyr-folk who gave out bleating, questioning cries; past the altar to Pan of the Safe Journey, sped the young crusader, back to the joy and pain of the quest, his to win again, even with the naked sword, the hope of the world.