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An Arthurian Miscellany at




May 1. - Mamma sent me up a message early this morning to say that I was to put on my best white gown with my coral necklace, as guests were expected. She didn't say who. Nurse was in a fuss and pulled my hair when she did it, and made my face very sore by scrubbing it with pumice-stone. I can't think why, as there was no hurry. I came down punctually at noon. Mamma and papa were sitting in the hall, waiting. Fresh rushes were strewn on the floor. I was told to get out my harp, and to sit with my back to the light. I hadn't practised for weeks, and I can only play one song properly, "The Mallard," a Cornish song. When I told mamma that was the only song I knew, she said I was on no account to mention it, if I was asked to play; but I was only to play Breton songs. I said I didn't know any. She said that didn't matter; but that I could sing anything I knew and call it a Breton song. I said nothing, but I thought, and I still think, this was dishonest. Besides the only songs that I know are quite new. The stable people whistle them, and they come from Rome.

We waited for a long time. Papa and mamma were both very fidgety and mamma kept on pulling me about, and telling me that my hair was badly done and that she could see daylight between the pleats of my frock. I nearly cried and papa said: "Leave the dear child alone; she's very good." After we'd been waiting about twenty minutes, the trumpets sounded and Morgan, the seneschal, walked in very slowly, and announced: "Sir Tristram of Lyoness."

Rather an oldish man walked in, with a reddish beard, and many wrinkles. One of his front teeth was broken and the other was black. He was dressed in a coat of mail which was too tight for him. He had nice eyes and seemed rather embarrassed. Mamma and papa made a great fuss about him and brought me forward and said: "This is our daughter Iseult," and mamma whispered to me: "Show your hands." I didn't want to do this, as nurse had scrubbed them so hard that they were red.

Sir Tristram bowed deeply, and seemed more and more embarrassed. After a long pause he said: "It's a very fine day, isn't it?"

Before I had time to answer, mamma broke in by saying: "Iseult has been up since six with the falconers." This wasn't true and I was surprised that mamma should be so forgetful. I hadn't been out with the hawkers for weeks.

Then dinner was served. It lasted for hours I thought, and the conversation flagged terribly. Kurneval, Sir Tristram's Squire, had twice of everything and drank much more cider than was good for him. After dinner, mamma told me to fetch my harp and to sing a Breton song. I was just going to say I didn't know one, when she frowned at me so severely that I didn't dare. So I sang the Provençal orchard song about waking up too early that Kerodac the groom taught me. Sir Tristram said: "Charming, charming, that's German, isn't it; how well taught she is. I do like good singing." Then he yawned, although he tried not to, and papa said he was sure Sir Tristram was tired, and that he would take him to see the stables. Sir Tristram then became quite lively and said he would be delighted.

When they'd gone, mamma scolded me, and said that I had behaved like a ninny and that she didn't know what our guests would think of me. It seemd to me we only had one guest; but I didn't say so. Then she told me to go and rest so as to be ready for dinner.

I forgot to say that just as Sir Tristram was going out of the room he said to papa: "Your daughter's name is -- er?" and papa said, "Yes, Iseult, after her aunt." And Sir Tristram said: "Oh! what a pretty name!"

May 6. -- They've been here a week now and I haven't seen much of them; because Sir Tristram has been riding with papa nearly all day, and every day. But every day after dinner mamma makes me sing the Provençal song, and every time I sing it, Sir Tristram says: "Charming, charming, that's German, isn't it?" although I've already told him twice now that it isn't. I like Sir Tristram, only he's very silent, and after dinner he becomes sleepy directly, just like papa.

May 7. -- I've had a most exciting day. Papa and mamma sent for me and when I came into the room they were both very solemn and said they had something particular to say to me. Then mamma cried and papa tried to soothe her and said: "It's all right, it's all right," and then he blurted out that I was to marry Sir Tristram next Wednesday. I cried, and papa cried, and mamma cried, and then they said I was a lucky girl, and mamma said that I must see about my clothes at once.

May 8. -- Nurse is in a fearful temper. She says we shall never be ready by Wednesday and that it's more than flesh and blood can stand to worrit folks like this. But mamma is in the best of tempers. Sir Tristram has gone away -- to stay with some friends -- he is coming back on Tuesday night. My wedding gown is to be made of silver with daisies worked on it. The weavers are working day and night, but most of the stuff is old . It belonged to mamma. I do think they might have given me a new gown. Blanche had a new one when she was married.

May 12. -- The wedding went off very well. I had four maidens and four pages. After Mass, we had a long feast. Papa made a speech and broke down, and Tristram made a speech and got into a muddle about my name, and everybody was silent. Then he said I had beautiful hands and everybody cheered. After supper we were looking out on the sea, and just as Tristram was becoming talkative I noticed that he wore another ring besides his wedding ring, a green one, made of jasper. I said, "What a pretty ring! Who gave it you?" He said, "Oh, a friend," and changed the subject. Then he said he was very tired and went away.

May 13. -- It's the 13th and that's an unlucky number. Nurse said that no child of hers should marry in May, so I suppose that's what brought it about. In any case Tristram, who has been very gloomy ever since he's been here, has got to go and fight in a tournament. He says he won't be away long and that there's no danger; not any more than crossing the sea in an open boat, which I do think is dangerous. He starts tomorrow at dawn.

May 14. -- Nothing particular.

May 15. -- No news.

May 16. -- Kurneval arrived this evening. He says that Tristram was slightly wounded; but would be all right in a day or two. I am very anxious.

May 17. -- Tristram was brought back on a litter in the middle of the night. He has been wounded in the arm. The doctors here say he was bandaged wrong by the local doctor. They say he is suffereing from slight local pain. Kurneval says the horrid henchman hit his arm as hard as he could with a broad sword. Papa and mamma arrive to-morrow with the doctor. Tristram insists on sleeping out of doors on the beach. The doctor says this is a patient's whim and must be humoured. I'm sure it's bad for him, as the nights are very cold.

July 1. -- I've been too busy to write my diary for weeks. Tristram is still just the same. The doctors say there is no fear of immediate change.

August 10. -- Mamma says the Queen of Cornwall (whose name is Iseult the same as mine) is coming for a few days, with her husband and some friends. I do think it's very inconsiderate, considering how full the house is already; and what with Tristram being so ill -- and insisting on sleeping on the beach -- it makes it very difficult for every one.

September 1. -- Papa went out to shoot birds with his new cross-bow; but he came back in a bad temper as he'd only shot one, and a hen. Tristram is no better. He keeps on talking about a ship with a black sail.

September 19. -- To-day I was on the beach with Tristram and he asked me if I saw a ship. I said I did. He asked me if the sail was black, and as the doctor had told me to humour him, I said it was. Upon which he got much worse, and I had to call the doctors. They said he was suffering from hypertrophy of the sensory nerves.

September 20. -- Tristram unconscious. The Queen of Cornwall just arrived. Too busy to write.

Next: Ballade of Tristram's Last Harping, by Gertrude Bartlett [1916]