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THE LOVE SONG

Sound of a guitar playing Greensleeves.

Why Greensleeves?

Because in my and your ineducable, internal, all-encompassing parts there is something about a weary man who sat cold in a stinking tavern with his headsick from the wine of the night before and his heart sick—yes, stomachheartsick—from the love that had once surged below him and for one candle-lit and cobwebbed stairway where he had moved upward behind a swaying skirt toward moontime. Out of this—Greensleeves; and a moment of Time within space, which is good physics not yet discovered but about to be. Herewith:—

A young man in patched hose and doublet under tattered cote-hardi, line-faced, congested-eyed, walked into a wind up a miry street to a place with a green bough above the door. Teeth-thin ran the wind through his clothing’s gaps, his hair-thatched ears and his half-curled hands, curled against the chill. For it was spring.

Cold spring, with the white clouds running fast before the wet spring wind. But a little blue sky. And a little bud on the lilac branch, and a little ancient green glued to the branch above the door of the whitewashed building. The door is closed.

The wind blows cold. The wind.

The dream manned. The dream.

He sat down at one of two tables before the closed door of the whitewashed building. On a wooden bench with four pegs at each end, wooden pegs, brown against grey wood as being ash against oak, tilted back and fisthammered at the door in the whitewashed building.

The door jarred. It jerked ajar, a little bit. Dark a slice of the interior showed and then a moment later, jerked open and the man with the smell of the interior strong upon him, stood in the opening looking down at our man. And he said.

“Have you got the money for it?”

And our man said.

“I’ve two half pence.” And he showed them—coppers brown as brown-golden coins, golden promise coins, bright in his palm which was lined by lines and dirt in the lines. Only the man in the doorway saw not the dirt. He said.

“Where did you get them Hal?”

For the man, Hal, our man, had pawned his lute for a penny. Yet he was a man. And so he answered.

“D’you want them? Or not?”

“I’ll take them,” and the man in the slice of dark doorway reached for the coins, but the man, our man, at the table on the bench with four pegs was too quick for him and closed his fist and moved his arm quickly away and said.

“Ale.”

“New ale.”

“No, no. Old ale. The old ale. Bring it. I’ll taste it. Then you get your penny.”

“Hal,” said the man in the doorway, “I love you after some fashion, but you are a runagate and you owe money—not to me, God knows, but to folk around us. But, for two hapence, I’ll give you two happenies’-worth of the old ale.”

He went in. He brought back a leathern jack. Sour-smelling the leathern jack, which was a black cylinder of badly-tanned cowhide with a circle of brown leather upturned, puckered, and hard-stitched about the bottom. Which would not hold ale, but that over the years it had been swelled and sealed by dregs of ale and other liquids until was like a copper-bottomed mug of now.

He held it out to Hal, holding it.

“Taste—” he said. “But only taste. I’ll hold.”

Hal tasted.

“The true, old ale,” he said, and yielded up the two half-pence. Went back into the whitewashed building, closing the door, the man who had stood in slice of darkness.

Hal drank.

God, the taste of the old ale, the memories of gone youth, with no dirt in the palm lines no burn in the breeches, no smell in the armpits.

Dreamed.

So powered his mind. Across the filtered landscape passed like a shadow a discontinuity in time. Child, father and son and old man, changed Harry into all of these without knowing as he slowly drank his ale—jolly good ale and old.

Weep****** Sing—


I cannot eat but little meat

My stomach is not good

But I can drink with any man

As him that wears a hood.


Back and side, go bare, go bare . . .

Body and bones go cold.

But belly, God send thee good ale enough

Whether’t be new—or old . . .


And the yellow sun went behind a cloud; and the jack, the leathern jack, was empty except for the smell therein, and Hal hammered on the door once more and found it not only closed but locked for the day—and broke his heart. Broke his hope—and began his story. For there is a nest for the fieldmouse and a sheltering bush for the vagabond and a corner of the noisome tavern for Hals, for true Hals . . . and this is why they make songs and the songs sing so that time can never hold them.

Therefore, furious, lo, he would have raised his sword on high and golden the last rays of the sun would have glanced from the dragons, pendragon thereon—but instead he wept, within.

For sword and shield had he none.

But life had he. In all men life walks like a spirit in the night. And life had he. Strength therefore had he. So strength flowed back to him, and called back understanding.

—To you, Hal, drunken Hal, unbedrunken, thirsty Hal, in the wind and the darkening clouds and the icy rain to come, came understanding of that discontinuity in time, which has been experienced by all—yes, by all of us, in our educable, all-encompassing parts—and all at once he felt the bench beneath him and the earth below the bench and the world below the earth.

And there came on him suddenly out of his great need and hunger and sorrow-wishing for another leathern jack of the old ale, the knowledge that time is only an illusion measured by cowardice, otherwise we would none of us die—this same knowledge that we all have, but we, all of us are cowards, and afraid to call on time to stay.

But Hal called. Out of his great need, he called on time and stood up and walked, out of the village and down the long timal road . . . and he was suddenly therefore in a place called Tony’s.

A bar, it was, this place called Tony’s. He sat up on a red, padded stool at the bar.

“What’ll you have?” said the bartender, round-faced, hardfat-faced, older than Hal, but with all his teeth and clean hands.

“Ale,” said Hal.

“Carling, Neuberger, Hotchkiss, Ballantine . . .” sang the bartender.

“Carling,” said Hal. And a brown glass bottle and a silver-transparent glass were put before him. The bartender poured into the glass, and Hal, putting his hand toward his belt, found a pocket, and in the pocket, small, tiny coins and bits of paper, and he laid them on the counter. The bartender took from his pile what was needed and went away.

Hal drank from the glass and the ale was bitter cold and burned his tongue with many white-hot tiny needles. For it was like no ale he knew. And he looked around . . .

Tony’s was like a tunnel. Opposite the long bar was the long line of dark-wood, high-backed booths, running down to the end of the room, where was a door, three doors, one with a gents sign, one with a ladies sign and a door only which led back into a storeroom.

Where the bar ended there were round tables and silvery-metal, legs and curved backs and red, puffy seats on them and the tables were black-topped and gleaming with liquid recently wiped off and at these tables sat some men dressed in checked shirts and pants of a color impossible to tell in the dim light, as others sat also in the booths, with fat women of several ages and some that were not so fat, but acted as if they owned the place; and Hal looked down at himself and saw that he wore trowsers of some dark material and a thin, pale blue shirt of something that was neither wool nor cotton and that was all he needed for it was much warmer inside here than in any inn he had ever visited before.

—And suddenly at one of the tables two check-shirted men started fighting over one of the fat women, in a pink-grey dress.

But Hal had not called the bluff of time for a fat woman and therefore he turned to the man on the barstool next to him and said.

“Where can I find beauty?”

“Beauty?”

The man on the other bar stool looked at him.

“I don’t know this town here,” he said. “Ask the bartender.”

Hal did.

“Beauty . . . ?” and the bartender looked at Hal’s pale blue shirt and laughed. “You want some place with a carpet. You want Richie’s.”

“Where is it—Richie’s?” asked Hal.

“Up the street—“ and the bartender jerked with his thumb. And Hal went out, leaving part of his ale, so deep was his hunger. Up the street outside he went, going to his right in the direction indicated by the bartender’s thumb, and came to a place where the lights flashed above a door.

“It may not be here,” he told himself. “But they may as hell is sure, be able to put me on the right path to Richie’s, still.”

So he went in. But it was a bar full of homosexuals—and there was despair hanging above all the busy noisy, huge room with its circular bar, hanging above it all as the cigarette smoke was hanging there; and Hal had not called time’s bluff for despair, and so he left again.

Farther up the street were more lights and another place. He went in and asked the bartender if this was Richie’s.

“No,” said the bartender, a thin, dry man, “but it’s better. They spend more here. Wait and see.”

Hal waited, and drank ale, paying with it from the stuff in his pockets; but this was a barfull of men who called themselves sale-managers, and women who gave their first names only. Also, the men were sarcastic to the waitresses and argued with the bartenders, and they got staggering drunk and one man got sick; and Hal went out. For time . . .

So, at last, after many adventures, came he to the place where an imitation waterfall spilled from the front of a tiled wall, and in the tiled wall, a double door and above the door the golden-lettered legend—RICHIE’S

And he went in.

Within was a hall, a carpeted foyer, and to the right was a hatcheck opening, with a girl behind it although there was nothing to check but the straw hats that some bald-headed, elder men had checked. Only, at Richie’s nothing was ever lacking, noon or evening, winter or summer, so the hatcheck girl was always there; and she was a slight brown girl with hazel eyes and soft, timid breasts in a green dress tight around her back under her armpits; but her eyes were not shy so Hal knew that the breasts could not be so timid as they seemed, though she wore a wedding ring large on her finger—or at least some beautiful and fantastic ring upon the sacred finger.

He crossed the foyer. To his left was a room with many tables under a beamed ceiling, but to his right was a doorway leading into a barroom with glass softly gleaming in bottles and mirrors behind the bar itself, a few tables with bowls of peanuts floating in the midst of the black circles of their tabletops and armchairs padded in the arms, and behind and beyond the bar through an open doorway, the dining room with three-piece orchestra, where sat people eating. Also there were people at the bar and at the round tables.

He took a round table. He, Hal.

A waitress in short, ruffled black skirt, and long black stockings, brought him more of the carlingsale. Drinking it he sat, watching those who also sat or passed. They were lean, plump and fat men, all in suits and ties, and the women were in strange scents and fitted short dresses, sitting and drinking and passing by Hal to the dining room, where as in a far, darkened corner discreetly played the orchestra, with now and then a voice singing. So watched he, Hal—until unawares he woke suddenly to the fact that the room seemed misted with a mist and his head buzzed with drinking.

He could not believe it—that these small bottles, this tasteless, prickly ale-stuff, could swim his mind so soon. But yet it was.—Drunkenly, muzzily, he turned about and focused on the people coming in and passing on through the heavy, carved doorway into the dining room of white-clothed tables and waiters in black. And lo—

Coming in, amongst several of them moving in party, was one who was beautiful—light-bodied, bright-haired and seraph-faced, girl in black, filmy dress with great, gauzy, black sleeves that spread like wings from wrist to body as she lifted her arms, talking, laughing, coming on, past Hal’s table.

And the courage that had sent him down the timal road lifted in Hal, so that he reached out and caught hold—with fingertips—of her sleeve as she passed his table. And checked her. And she turned—

“Oh, thou art beautiful,” said Hal, still holding her, looking up into her seraph-face, “Thou art—art beautiful—”

Stared, the seraph-face at him, and he let go of her sleeve. But still she stood, staring.

“Lady, lady, do not leave me . . .” said Hal, thickly against the carlingsale on his tongue, “beauty, do not leave me, . . . drink with me, lady . . .”

One of the party, one suited man came back and pulled at the lady, but she pushed him off, still gazing long at Hal, saying she would be with the others in a moment, and sat down with Hal at the table. Sudden, she laughed at Hal.

“You’re drunk,” she said, laughing. “Drunk, drunk, drunk!”

Hal waggled head.

“Drunk, my lady,” he said, “for many days, many years, cold years and many days. Life-drunk—life-cold—cold-drunk for all my years that I have lived. But warm now, with your great beauty and drunk, yes; but thou art beautiful and so, no matter.”

The waitress was beside them.

“Martini, straight up,” said the beautiful lady, smiling. “My God, you’re drunk. And crazy . . .” she giggled. Hal put his hand on hers upon the table and leaned forward to focus his eyes on the seraph-face.

“Have you seen light on the water of a shallow stream—running fast and broken?” he said earnestly. “So beautiful art thou. And have you seen two birds that fly together just at twilight into the beech trees?—So paired art thou, soul to my soul. For though I could sing you many songs if I had not put my lute in pawn, none would do. Never was like thee, never was like to thee, never . . .”

He spoke on, stumbling, thick-tongued, but with great desperation that she should understand. And the seraph-lady sat watching him, head a little cocked, mouth open a little, lips almost smiling . . . until the waitress came back with the martinistraightup. The seraph-lady drank, still watching, watching him, as he kept desperately talking, for it was hard in him that if he stopped speaking she would go, and leave him there.

But even he could not talk forever; and at last he tangled in his own words and stopped; and appeared once more by them the suited man who tried to carry her off. And once more, she denied him but “—only for a minute,” she said; so that he went, and left them still alone together.

“My God, you can’t just go on sitting, drinking like this,” she said. “You’ve got to go home. Get them to call you a cab.” She laughed again. “I’ll help you.—First, you’ve got to pay the check.—The check!—My God, don’t you understand? I’ll call the waitress and you find your money . . .”

“Money?” Hal searched at his belt for his purse and the two half-pennies. But neither purse nor coin were there—and then he remembered the little coins and paper in his trowser pocket, and fumbled for it, pulling it out, spilling it on the table.

“—There,” said the lady, pushing part of the coin and paper to the waitress, who had appeared. “Call him a cab, will you? I’ll help him to the front doo—”

“Lady, lady, don’t leave me . . .” pleaded Hal, but she was already on her feet and pulling at him… so that somehow he was on his feet and leaning on her, while the floor tilted and the room rocked.

“. . . Straighten up!” she panted. “That’s right . . . this way . . .” she giggled, helping to hold him up, leading him through the room which was now only a blur of light and darkness and her touch. Then Hal’s seeing cleared and he stood in the carpeted foyer with the green-dressed hatcheck girl, watching.

“Time lies . . .” said Hal to the green-dress, to the filmy-sleeves holding him up, watching seraph-face and timid breasts as he perilously swayed. “All time lies. Beauty never . . .”

Then a cool air chilled him; and he was suddenly held upright, not by his lady, but by a thick man in a blue overcoat and brass buttons and a peaked cap.

. . . Only the wraith of a laugh behind him . . .

“Here –“ A strange, closed yellow cart stood horseless before him; and a door opened, and he fell in, onto a soft bench within. “Here—“ said the man in the blue overcoat again. “Get your feet in.”

“Where to?” asked the man on the front bench of the cart.

“Where to?” asked the man in the blue overcoat, shaking Hal.

“To my lady . . .” answered Hal, thickly, faintly.

“Melody?” said the man on the front bench.

“Melody Lounge,” probably,” said the man in the blue overcoat. “That’s in the Statler Cross. He’s staying there at the hotel, must be . . .”

“He got money?” said the man on the front bench.

“Here—” the man in the blue overcoat passed something to the man on the front bench. “His wife gave me the fare. She’ll be coming along later, she says, so see he gets there all right.”

“He’s got a wife?—Still here? What shape’s she in?”

“Fine. Just fine.”

“You know I mean. She’s sober?”

“High—that’s all. So she’ll be checking probably. See he’s all right.”

“All right. I’ll deliver him.”

Door slam. Cart move. Dancing lights pass swiftly . . .

Darkness . . .

So moved he through darkness as time is, and was, and coldness came upon him, so that he felt himself frigid, freezing, frozen still and unable to move. And there was a hand on his shoulder, shaking, painfully shaking his stiffened body.

“…up!” the voice was a woman’s voice. “Not here! You’ve got to get under cover, fool-sot! Wake! Oh wake, fool-drunkard!”

He woke, at least enough to look up and over him was a woman’s face bending down and the bench—the old familiar bench outside the ale-house—was cold and the wind was cold and cold was he. Therefore, he let himself be lifted and pulled—strong she was, that wench—along dark ways and through a door into darkness.

There was click of flint and steel, spark and sudden light—and the smell of tallow. They stood in a small cramped place facing wooden stairsteps, a stairladder steep enough to lead to heaven.

“Quiet anow,” she said. “Tom Stableboy sleeps below.” And she went before him up the ladder, skirt asway past cobwebs, and he followed, looking up and past her to a chink in the roof and a little lightness of moonbright sky…heaven and moontime; and, following to the head of the stairs, tumbled forward into hay; with she kneeling a little aside, putting the candle’s lower end in a wax-puddle on axed rafterend under steep roof slope.

Then dug she under the straw and came out with a long and heavy length of old cloth, a red-black hanging from somewhere and spread it, patting it down over the lumps of hay. Then turned and lay on her back upon it, anigh the candle; and spread her arms, saying—

“Come lie with me, love . . .”

Still shuddering with the cold, he lay down by the warm stoutness of her; and she put her strong arms around him and wrapped them both in the stiff and heavy cloth and blew out the candle. He shivered himself, warming, at last, against the good, thick heat of her bottled around them both by the heavy cloth. So life came back into him, but a soft, drowning, drowsy life it was, as the heat moved in and the funes of the carlingsale, revived, mounted once more into his head and blurred all.

“Na’ then . . . na’ then . . .” she murmured; holding him tight to her, pushing her spread fingers through the hair at the back of his head, kneading him gently. But he heard and felt her from some dwindling distance. An effort he made, out of obligation, to summon back wakefulness and body-purpose for her; but the warmth again and the carlingsale became a tide that floated him off and off . . . into sleep.

He woke not some short time after, and lay, hearing breathing and trying to put memory together. He was, deep-buried in hay; but they had rolled apart, he and she, so that the cloth was unwound from around them, and he felt it only, hard and stiff and scratchy, beneath the palms of his hands and at the back of his neck.

In dark, he fumbled for the candle stub and flint and steel and lit a seeing flame. He sat up, pushing hay aside to the open air—which was not all that open, for the hay—by someone (her, no doubt) had been banked in haydrifts high on the wall on all sides, and they lay as at the bottom of a haycup full of their own warm air. Only—from the rafter end, roofslope corner where the wood was bare and an inch or two of candle flickered was a little palms’ width of cold that struck in at him.

He put his face to the corner beyond the candle and sniffed where the cold was—and he smelled the dawn.

He looked back across at where she breathed and slept. In pushing it from himself, he had cleared some hay from her, also and she lay on her back, her skirt twisted up high on her legs. In the haycup, with all things softened by candlelight, with the dawn somewhere outside the heavy eaves, he felt invisible and understanding with old wisdom, looking down at her, watching her sleep.

“Poor lass,” he thought, for she was coarse-gowned and heavy-legged and even a few gray threads in her hair; and she slept with no great loveliness on her back, mouth a little open. But she had brought him in from the cold; otherwise he had surely been dead this morning. A true feeling for her gushed warm inside him. And then he caught sight of a small, brown leathern bag-end, peeping below the bottom of her skirtedge along one leg.

Gently, hardly breathing, he lifted the skirt-edge and saw it, the bag, with a cord around it going up toward her waist to hold it secure. Knotted hard, the dark end of the cord around the bagtop, plainly unknotted these many days. Unknotting it was not possible for his fingers here without wakening her. But a knife at his belt, held gently, handled lightly, cut the cord. Took the bag, loosened the drawstring, shook what was within into his left palm; and it was a silver shilling.

Breath in his throat caught, held, like a plug of wood there. A shilling—bright, actual, whole. Still not breathing, holding the shilling he crept backwards from her across the hay on hands and knees toward ladderstairtop. Set foot on ladder –

Sighed she, almost moaned a little, in dream, fumbled for edge of cloth, not-waking, and pulled it back over her, turning on her side and slept again. Thief-like, he went silent down the ladderstairs into darkness, felt his way along close wall to door and door-latch. Lifted latch and stepped out into chilling dark grayness, closing door behind him.

The dawn was behind the trees. The road from the village was to his right, barely to be seen among the black humps of buildings. Swiftly he went. He ran, the effort warming him against the raw air, the shilling warm in his pocket.

Ran he into the light of the new day . . .

Faded that light, at sunset. Miles distant he, then, drunk in strange tavern. Not his lute, but otherlute, cheap from otherpawnshop. Otherwench. No gray in hair, but smell of rosemary and mint in little cloth bag around her neck. Laugh and sing ye hoyden maid. Rode he her furiously in small innroom as that night came. Slept he.

Woke . . . Room empty, all but he. A faint pillow-smell of rosemary and mint where sweat still dampened.

He fumbled into his breeches and other clothes. Naked bed this last night past. Found lute. Found purse. Empty.

Wine and nuts had he ordered the day before. Wine and nuts and cheese and meat. Neither bread nor beer, nor even old ale. Now the afterwine split his head like a scythe blade and he choked with thirst.

Fumbled he into the main inn room, reckoning what and how much. It was not . . . she had stolen from him, the mint and rosemary. Robbed him.

The common room was empty. The sun had been up some two hours now, coming in a gray-yellow slice through the half-open door. Others of the day before all agone, now. Innkeeper at table by barrel.

“Ale,” croaked he to innkeeper. Innkeeper sat, waiting.

“Pence,” said the innkeeper.

“Pence had from me all yesterday,” he cried. “And robbed me, the trull! A shiten sheep would I care for more, were I innkeeper! A fat guest was I and maybe a fat guest again—and you deny me ale for the head you sold me—the thief you sent to bed to rob me?”

Innkeeper, square-bodied, bristle-brown beard, sat thinking.

“Pawn your lute for you,” he said, at last.

“Pawn the lute? I?” Hal held tight to his instrument—“I, who make songs for poorer lutists to sing? I’ll give you a song for ale.”

Innkeeper thought.

Got up, drew one jack of ale, gave it to Hal.

“That for your head,” he said, “and feed yourself. When my guests come, sing for them. If they like you, more food and drink you can get from them. Bring them to eat and drink at my table, and there is a seat for you. If they care not for you, out you go.”

“Done,” said Hal, half-acroak with thirst and his splitting head. He sat heavily at the table in the corner and drank, slowly. Small ale, new ale . . . poor ale. But ale.

Slowly the head eased. The thirst went. A dull comfort came back on him. He began to put his lute in tune, for want of something to do; for the ale was gone. Great, soft, irreparable sadness wrapped him up in his corner as he thought of two coppers, of old ale, of time and carlingsale, of timid breasts and stout warm arms and silver shilling . . . of nuts and wine and cheese, and rosemary-mint . . .

And a little part of a song idea came and went through him, little by little, bit by bit, line by line, coming and going away, then coming, to build the new song, line by line . . .

He sang.


. . . I gave thee kerchers to thy head,

“Which were wrought fine and gallantly.

“I kept thee both at board and bed

“But yet thou wouldst not love me…”


He went on putting it together . . . bit by piece . . . word by word . . . his story and his sadness . . . A good voice had our Hal and a sadness beyond comparison, like a great ruby softly glowing in the dark . . .


. . . They set thee up, they put thee down

“They served thee with humility…

“Thy foot might not once touch the ground,

“And yet though wouldst not love me…”


The innkeeper had sat down at the same table.

“Sing on,” he grunted and passed Hal another jack of ale. Thirstily, Hal drank, but then he set the jack aside and sang again, breaking inside with all of it put together—the old ale, the carlingsale, the green and timid breasts, the winged and gauzy sleeves, the beautiful lady to whom he really sang, in lifewarmth and rosemary scent and mint, all together . . .


. . . Greensleeves was all my joy.

“Greensleeves was my delight.

“Greensleeves was my heart of gold.

“And who, but my lady Greensleeves? . . .


Singing, he sang, sang on . . . singing, dwindling like a light at the end of a long tunnel, gone away from, like telescope image seen wrong-end-to, as the telescope is extended, pulled out and out, the small becomes smaller, smallest, a dot . . . and invisible . . .

But down the telescope, down the long tunnel, unforgettable, growing on through years and centuries, came forward the sadness of Hal, borne on its strength against Time, that same time whose bluff had been called. Unkillable, enduring, man-living, Greensleeves sang Hal, Hal Greensleeves down and down and down, until it sang in a place called Richies.—Where sat I, and you, all of us in our ineducable, internal, all-encompassing parts, knowing something about a weary man who sat cold in a stinking tavern with his headsick from the wine of the night before and his stomachheartsick from the love that had once surged beneath him and in one candle-lit and cobwebbed stairway moved upward behind a swaying skirt toward moontime . . .

—And knowing, watching, saw we a girl in gauzy black sleeves stop at a Ritchie-table where sat a young man drunk, who caught her sleeve; and the three piece orchestra in the dining room beyond the door began to play, softly singing . . .


“Alas, my love, you do me wrong,

“To cast me off, discourteously . . .

“For I have loved you so long,

“Delighting in your company . . .


…And then softly, very softly, defying time as they sat together, her hand in his . . .


“Greensleeves was all my joy,

“Greensleeves was my delight . . .

“Greensleeves was my heart of gold,

“And who but my lady, Greensleeves?”


The End



The Love Song by Gordon R. Dickson is protected under the Copyright Act. Publication or other reproduction is prohibited without the express written consent of the Estate of Gordon R. Dickson.


“As World Scouts, your keenest challenge will be to span the gap between human and alien minds. The risky and delicate business of interspecies contact must never be left to chance.”

Orientations, World Scout Training Tape #011123

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