Maid Marian, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XIII

What can a young lassie, what shall a young lassie,

What can a young lassie do wi’an auld man?

Burns.

“Here is but five shillings and a ring,” said Little John, “and the young man has spoken true.”

“Then,” said Robin to the stranger, “if want of money be the cause of your melancholy, speak. Little John is my treasurer, and he shall disburse to you.”

“It is, and it is not,” said the stranger; “it is, because, had I not wanted money I had never lost my love; it is not, because, now that I have lost her, money would come too late to regain her.”

“In what way have you lost her?” said Robin: “let us clearly know that she is past regaining, before we give up our wishes to restore her to you.”

“She is to be married this day,” said the stranger, “and perhaps is married by this, to a rich old knight; and yesterday I knew it not.”

“What is your name?” said Robin.

“Allen,” said the stranger.

“And where is the marriage to take place, Allen?” said Robin.

“At Edwinstow church,” said Allen, “by the bishop of Nottingham.”

“I know that bishop,” said Robin; “he dined with me a month since, and paid three hundred pounds for his dinner. He has a good ear and loves music. The friar sang to him to some tune. Give me my harper’s cloak, and I will play a part at this wedding.

“These are dangerous times, Robin,” said Marian, “for playing pranks out of the forest.”

“Fear not,” said Robin; “Edwinstow lies not Nottingham-ward, and I will take my precautions.”

Robin put on his harper’s cloak, while Little John painted his eyebrows and cheeks, tipped his nose with red, and tied him on a comely beard. Marian confessed, that had she not been present at the metamorphosis, she should not have known her own true Robin. Robin took his harp and went to the wedding.

Robin found the bishop and his train in the church porch, impatiently expecting the arrival of the bride and bridegroom. The clerk was observing to the bishop that the knight was somewhat gouty, and that the necessity of walking the last quarter of a mile from the road to the churchyard probably detained the lively bridegroom rather longer than had been calculated upon.

“Oh! by my fey,” said the music-loving bishop, “here comes a harper in the nick of time, and now I care not how long they tarry. Ho! honest friend, are you come to play at the wedding?”

“I am come to play anywhere,” answered Robin, “where I can get a cup of sack; for which I will sing the praise of the donor in lofty verse, and emblazon him with any virtue which he may wish to have the credit of possessing, without the trouble of practising.

“A most courtly harper,” said the bishop; “I will fill thee with sack; I will make thee a walking butt of sack, if thou wilt delight my ears with thy melodies.”

“That will I,” said Robin; “in what branch of my art shall I exert my faculty? I am passing well in all, from the anthem to the glee, and from the dirge to the coranto.”

“It would be idle,” said the bishop, “to give thee sack for playing me anthems, seeing that I myself do receive sack for hearing them sung. Therefore, as the occasion is festive, thou shalt play me a coranto.”

Robin struck up and played away merrily, the bishop all the while in great delight, noddling his head, and beating time with his foot, till the bride and bridegroom appeared. The bridegroom was richly apparelled, and came slowly and painfully forward, hobbling and leering, and pursing up his mouth into a smile of resolute defiance to the gout, and of tender complacency towards his lady love, who, shining like gold at the old knight’s expense, followed slowly between her father and mother, her cheeks pale, her head drooping, her steps faltering, and her eyes reddened with tears.

Robin stopped his minstrelsy, and said to the bishop, “This seems to me an unfit match.”

“What do you say, rascal?” said the old knight, hobbling up to him.

“I say,” said Robin, “this seems to me an unfit match. What, in the devil’s name, can you want with a young wife, who have one foot in flannels and the other in the grave?”

“What is that to thee, sirrah varlet?” said the old knight; “stand away from the porch, or I will fracture thy sconce with my cane.”

“I will not stand away from the porch,” said Robin, “unless the bride bid me, and tell me that you are her own true love.”

“Speak,” said the bride’s father, in a severe tone, and with a look of significant menace. The girl looked alternately at her father and Robin. She attempted to speak, but her voice failed in the effort, and she burst into tears.

“Here is lawful cause and just impediment,” said Robin, “and I forbid the banns.”

“Who are you, villain?” said the old knight, stamping his sound foot with rage.

“I am the Roman law,” said Robin, “which says that there shall not be more than ten years between a man and his wife; and here are five times ten: and so says the law of nature.”

“Honest harper,” said the bishop, “you are somewhat over-officious here, and less courtly than I deemed you. If you love sack, forbear; for this course will never bring you a drop. As to your Roman law, and your law of nature, what right have they to say any thing which the law of Holy Writ says not?”

“The law of Holy Writ does say it,” said Robin; “I expound it so to say; and I will produce sixty commentators to establish my exposition.”

And so saying, he produced a horn from beneath his cloak, and blew three blasts, and threescore bowmen in green came leaping from the bushes and trees; and young Allen was the first among them to give Robin his sword, while Friar Tuck and Little John marched up to the altar. Robin stripped the bishop and clerk of their robes, and put them on the friar and Little John; and Allen advanced to take the hand of the bride. Her cheeks grew red and her eyes grew bright, as she locked her hand in her lover’s, and tripped lightly with him into the church.

“This marriage will not stand,” said the bishop, “for they have not been thrice asked in church.”

“We will ask them seven times,” said Little John, “lest three should not suffice.”

“And in the meantime,” said Robin, “the knight and the bishop shall dance to my harping.”

So Robin sat in the church porch and played away merrily, while his foresters formed a ring, in the centre of which the knight and bishop danced with exemplary alacrity; and if they relaxed their exertions, Scarlet gently touched them up with the point of an arrow.

The knight grimaced ruefully, and begged Robin to think of his gout.

“So I do,” said Robin; “this is the true antipodagron: you shall dance the gout away, and be thankful to me while you live. I told you,” he added to the bishop, “I would play at this wedding; but you did not tell me that you would dance at it. The next couple you marry, think of the Roman law.”

The bishop was too much out of breath to reply; and now the young couple issued from church, and the bride having made a farewell obeisance to her parents, they departed together with the foresters, the parents storming, the attendants laughing, the bishop puffing and blowing, and the knight rubbing his gouty foot, and uttering doleful lamentations for the gold and jewels with which he had so unwittingly adorned and cowered the bride.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24