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   Chapter 28 THE STORY OF THE KNIGHT WHO SPOKE THE TRUTH.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 11276

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


There was once a country in which dwelt a knight whom no lady of the land would love, and that because he spake the truth. For the other knights, all in that land, would say to the ladies they loved, that of all ladies in the world they were the most beautiful, and the most gracious, yea in all things the very first; and thereby the ladies of that land were taught to love their own praise best, and after that the knight who was the best praiser of each, and most enabled her to think well of herself in spite of doubt. And the knight who would not speak save truly, they mockingly named Sir Verity, which name some of them did again miscall SEVERITY,-for the more he loved, the more it was to him impossible to tell a lie.

And thus it came about that one after another he was hated of them all. For so it was, that, greedy of his commendation, this lady and that would draw him on to speak of that wherein she made it her pleasure to take to herself excellences; but nowise so could any one of them all gain from him other than a true judgment. As thus: one day said unto him a lady, "Which of us, think you, Sir Verity, hath the darkest eyes of all the ladies here at the court of our lord the king?" And he thereto made answer, "Verily, methinketh the queen." Then said she unto him,

"Who then hath the bluest eyes of all the ladies at the court of our lord the king?"-for that her own were of the colour of the heavens when the year is young. And he answered, "I think truly the Lady Coryphane hath the bluest of all their blue eyes."

Then said she, "And I think truly by thine answer, Severity, that thou lovest me not, for else wouldst thou have known that mine eyes are as blue as Coryphane's."

"Nay truly," he answered; "for my heart knoweth well that thine eyes are blue, and that they are lovely, and to me the dearest of all eyes, but to say they are the bluest of all eyes, that I may not, for therein should I be no true man." Therewith was the lady somewhat shamed, and seeking to cover her vanity, did answer and say, "It may well be, sir knight, for how can I tell who see not mine own eyes, and would therefore know of thee, of whom men say, some that thou speakest truly, other some that thou speakest naughtily. But be the truth as it may, every knight yet saith to his own mistress that in all things she is the paragon of the world."

"Then," quoth the knight, "she that knoweth that every man saith so, must know also that only one of them all saith the thing that is true. Not willingly would I add to the multitude of the lies that do go about the world!"

"Now verily am I sure that thou dost not love me," cried the lady; "for all men do say of mine eyes-" Thereat she stayed words, and said no more, that he might speak again. "Lady," said Sir Verity, and spake right solemnly, "as I said before I do say again, and in truth, that thine eyes are to me the dearest of all eyes. But they might be the bluest or the blackest, the greenest or the grayest, yet would I love them all the same. For for none of those colours would they be dear to me, but for the cause that they were thine eyes. For I love thine eyes because they are thine, not thee because thine eyes are or this or that." Then that lady brake forth into bitter weeping, and would not be comforted, neither thereafter would hold converse with the knight. For in that country it was the pride of a lady's life to lie lapt in praises, and breathe the air of the flatteries blown into her ears by them who would be counted her lovers. Then said the knight to himself, "Verily, and yet again, her eyes are not the bluest in the world! It seemeth to me as that the ladies in this land should never love man aright, seeing, alas! they love the truth from no man's lips; for save they may each think herself better than all the rest, then is not life dear unto them. I will forsake this land, and go where the truth may be spoken nor the speaker thereof hated." He put on his armour, with never lady nor squire nor page to draw thong or buckle spur, and mounted his horse and rode forth to leave the land. And it came to pass, that on his way he entered a great wood. And as he went through the wood, he heard a sobbing and a crying in the wood. And he said to himself, "Verily, here is some one wronged and lamenteth greatly! I will go and help."

So about he rode searchingly, until he came to the place whither he was led. And there, at the foot of a great oak, he found an old woman in a gray cloak, with her face in her hands, and weeping right on, neither ceased she for the space of a sigh. "What aileth thee, good mother?" he said.

"I am not good, and I am not thy mother," she answered, and began again to weep.

"Ah!" thought the knight, "here is one woman that loveth the truth, for she speaks the truth, and would not that aught but the truth be spoken!"-

"Howcan I help thee, woman," he said then, "although in truth thou art not my mother, and I may not call thee good?"

"By taking thyself from me," she answered.

"Then will I ride on my way," said the knight, and turning, rode on his way. Then rose the woman to her feet, and followed him.

"Wherefore followest thou me," said the knight, "if I may do nothing to serve thee?"

"I follow thee," she answered him, "because thou speakest the truth, and because thou art not true."

"If thou speakest the truth, in a mystery speakest thou it," said he.

"Wherefore then ridest thou about the world?" she asked.

And he replied, "Verily, to succour them that are oppressed, for I have no mistress to whom I may do honour."

"Nay, sir knight," said

she, "but to get thee a name and great glory, thou ridest about the world. Verily thou art a man who loveth not the truth."

At these words of the woman the knight clapped spurs to his horse, and would have ridden from her, for he loved not to be reviled, and so he told her. But she followed him, and kept by his stirrup, and said to him as she ran, "Yea, thine own heart whispereth unto thee that I speak but the truth. It is from thyself thou wouldst flee."

Then did the knight listen, and, lo! his own heart was telling him that what the woman said was indeed so. Then drew he the reins of his bridle, and looked down upon the woman and said to her, "Verily thou hast well spoken, but if I be not true, yet would I be true. Come with me. I will take thee upon my horse behind me, and together we will ride through the world; thou shalt speak to me the truth, and I will hear thee, and with my sword will plead what cause thou hast against any; so shall it go well with thee and me, for fain would I not only love what is truly spoken, but be in myself the true thing." Then reached he down his hand, and she put her hand in his hand, and her foot upon his foot, and so sprang lightly up behind him, and they rode on together. And as they rode, he said unto her, "Verily thou art the first woman I have found who hath to me spoken the truth, as I to others. Only thy truth is better than mine. Truly thou must love the truth better than I!" But she returned him no answer. Then said he to her again, "Dost thou not love the truth?" And again she gave him no answer, whereat he marvelled greatly. Then said he unto her yet again, "Surely it may not be thou art one of those who speak the truth out of envy and ill-will, and on their own part love not to hear it spoken, but are as the rest of the children of vanity! Woman, lovest thou the truth, nor only to speak it when it is sharp?"

"If I love not the truth," she answered, "yet love I them that love it. But tell me now, sir knight, what thinkest thou of me?"

"Nay," answered the knight, "that is what even now I would fain have known from thyself, namely what to think of thee."

"Then will I now try thee," said she, "whether indeed thou speakest the truth or no.-Tell me to my face, for I am a woman, what thou thinkest of that face."

Then said the knight to himself, "Never surely would I, for the love of pity, of my own will say to a woman she was evil-favoured. But if she will have it, then must she hear the truth."

"Nay, nay!" said the woman, "but thou wilt not speak the truth."

"Yea, but I will," answered he.

"Then I ask thee again," she said, "what thinkest thou of me?"

And the knight replied, "Truly I think not of thee as of one of the well-favoured among women."

"Dost thou then think," said she, and her voice was full of anger, which yet it seemed as she would hide, "that I am not pleasant to look upon? Verily no man hath yet said so unto me, though many have turned away from me, because I spoke unto them the truth!"

"Now surely thou sayest the thing that is not so!" said the knight, for he was grieved to think she should speak the truth but of contention, and not of love to the same, inasmuch as she also did seek that men should praise her.

"Truly I say that which is so," she answered.

Then was the knight angered, and spake to her roughly, and said unto her, "Therefore, woman, will I tell thee that which thou demandest of me: Verily I think of thee as one, to my thinking, the worst favoured, and least to be desired among women whom I have yet looked upon; nor do I desire ever to look upon thee again."

Then laughed she aloud, and said to him, "Nay, but did I not tell thee thou didst not dare speak the thing to my face? for now thou sayest it not to my face, but behind thine own back!"

And in wrath the knight turned him in his saddle, crying, "I tell thee, to thy ill-shaped and worse-hued countenance, that-" and there ceased, and spake not, but with open mouth sat silent. For behind him he saw a woman the glory of her kind, more beautiful than man ever hoped to see out of heaven.

"I told thee," she said, "thou couldst not say the thing to my face!"

"For that it would be the greatest lie ever in this world uttered," answered the knight, "seeing that verily I do believe thee the loveliest among women, God be praised! Nevertheless will I not go with thee one step farther, so to peril my soul's health, except, as thou thyself hast taught me to inquire, thou tell me thou lovest the truth in all ways, in great ways as well as small."

"This much will I tell thee," she answered, "that I love thee because thou lovest the truth. If I say not more, it is that it seemeth to me a mortal must be humble speaking of great things. Verily the truth is mighty, and will subdue my heart unto itself."

"And wilt thou help me to do the truth?" asked the knight.

"So the great truth help me!" she answered. And they rode on together, and parted not thereafter. Here endeth the story of the knight that spoke the truth.

Lady Joan ceased, and there was silence in the chamber, she looking back over the pages, as if she had not quite understood, and Cosmo, who had understood entirely, watching the lovely, dark, anxious face. He saw she had not mastered the story, but, which was next best, knew she had not. He began therefore to search her difficulty, or rather to help it to take shape, and thereon followed a conversation neither of them ever forgot concerning the degrees of truth: as Cosmo designated them-the truth of fact, the truth of vital relation, and the truth of action.

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