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PAGE 2

Out Of The Rose
by [?]

An hour passed, and they did not return; and now the knight could stand on guard no longer, but had to lie down upon the grass. A half- hour more went by, and then a young lad with what appeared to be a number of cock’s feathers stuck round his hat, came out of the path behind him, and began to move about among the dead thieves, cutting their heads off, Then he laid the heads in a heap before the knight, and said: ‘O great knight, I have been bid come and ask you for the crowns you promised for the heads: five crowns a head. They bid me tell you that they have prayed to God and His Mother to give you a long life, but that they are poor peasants, and that they would have the money before you die. They told me this over and over for fear I might forget it, and promised to beat me if I did.’

The knight raised himself upon his elbow, and opening a bag that hung to his belt, counted out the five crowns for each head. There were thirty heads in all.

‘O great knight,’ said the lad, ‘they have also bid me take all care of you, and light a fire, and put this ointment upon your wounds.’ And he gathered sticks and leaves together, and, flashing his flint and steel under a mass of dry leaves, had made a very good blaze. Then, drawing of the coat of mail, he began to anoint the wounds: but he did it clumsily, like one who does by rote what he had been told. The knight motioned him to stop, and said: ‘You seem a good lad.’

‘I would ask something of you for myself.’

‘There are still a few crowns,’ said the knight; ‘shall I give them to you?’

‘O no,’ said the lad. ‘They would be no good to me. There is only one thing that I care about doing, and I have no need of money to do it. I go from village to village and from hill to hill, and whenever I come across a good cock I steal him and take him into the woods, and I keep him there under a basket until I get another good cock, and then I set them to fight. The people say I am an innocent, and do not do me any harm, and never ask me to do any work but go a message now and then. It is because I am an innocent that they send me to get the crowns: anyone else would steal them; and they dare not come back themselves, for now that you are not with them they are afraid of the wood-thieves. Did you ever hear how, when the wood-thieves are christened, the wolves are made their god-fathers, and their right arms are not christened at all?’

‘If you will not take these crowns, my good lad, I have nothing for you, I fear, unless you would have that old coat of mail which I shall soon need no more.’

‘There was something I wanted: yes, I remember now,’ said the lad. ‘I want you to tell me why you fought like the champions and giants in the stories and for so little a thing. Are you indeed a man like us? Are you not rather an old wizard who lives among these hills, and will not a wind arise presently and crumble you into dust?’

‘I will tell you of myself,’ replied the knight, ‘for now that I am the last of the fellowship, ‘I may tell all and witness for God. Look at the Rose of Rubies on my helmet, and see the symbol of my life and of my hope.’ And then he told the lad this story, but with always more frequent pauses; and, while he told it, the Rose shone a deep blood-colour in the firelight, and the lad stuck the cock’s feathers in the earth in front of him, and moved them about as though he made them actors in the play.