Maid Marian, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XV

O knight, thou lack’st a cup of canary.

When did I see thee so put down?

Twelfth Night.

Several knocks, as from the knuckles of an iron glove, were given to the door of the cottage, and a voice was heard entreating shelter from the storm for a traveller who had lost his way. Robin arose and went to the door.

“What are you?” said Robin.

“A soldier,” replied the voice: “an unfortunate adherent of Longchamp, flying the vengeance of Prince John.”

“Are you alone?” said Robin.

“Yes,” said the voice: “it is a dreadful night. Hospitable cottagers, pray give me admittance. I would not have asked it but for the storm. I would have kept my watch in the woods.”

“That I believe,” said Robin. “You did not reckon on the storm when you turned into this pass. Do you know there are rogues this way?”

“I do,” said the voice.

“So do I,” said Robin.

A pause ensued, during which Robin listening attentively caught a faint sound of whispering.

“You are not alone,” said Robin. “Who are your companions?”

“None but the wind and the water,” said the voice, “and I would I had them not.”

“The wind and the water have many voices,” said Robin, “but I never before heard them say, What shall we do?”

Another pause ensued: after which,

“Look ye, master cottager,” said the voice, in an altered tone, “if you do not let us in willingly, we will break down the door.”

“Ho! ho!” roared the baron, “you are become plural are you, rascals? How many are there of you, thieves? What, I warrant, you thought to rob and murder a poor harmless cottager and his wife, and did not dream of a garrison? You looked for no weapon of opposition but spit, poker, and basting ladle, wielded by unskilful hands: but, rascals, here is short sword and long cudgel in hands well tried in war, wherewith you shall be drilled into cullenders and beaten into mummy.”

No reply was made, but furious strokes from without resounded upon the door. Robin, Marian, and the baron threw by their pilgrim’s attire, and stood in arms on the defensive. They were provided with swords, and the cottager gave them bucklers and helmets, for all Robin’s haunts were furnished with secret armouries. But they kept their swords sheathed, and the baron wielded a ponderous spear, which he pointed towards the door ready to run through the first that should enter, and Robin and Marian each held a bow with the arrow drawn to its head and pointed in the same direction. The cottager flourished a strong cudgel (a weapon in the use of which he prided himself on being particularly expert), and the wife seized the spit from the fireplace, and held it as she saw the baron hold his spear. The storm of wind and rain continued to beat on the roof and the casement, and the storm of blows to resound upon the door, which at length gave way with a violent crash, and a cluster of armed men appeared without, seemingly not less than twelve. Behind them rolled the stream now changed from a gentle and shallow river to a mighty and impetuous torrent, roaring in waves of yellow foam, partially reddened by the light that streamed through the open door, and turning up its convulsed surface in flashes of shifting radiance from restless masses of half-visible shadow. The stepping-stones, by which the intruders must have crossed, were buried under the waters. On the opposite bank the light fell on the stems and boughs of the rock-rooted oak and ash tossing and swaying in the blast, and sweeping the flashing spray with their leaves.

The instant the door broke, Robin and Marian loosed their arrows. Robin’s arrow struck one of the assailants in the juncture of the shoulder, and disabled his right arm: Marian’s struck a second in the juncture of the knee, and rendered him unserviceable; for the night. The baron’s long spear struck on the mailed breastplate of a third, and being stretched to its full extent by the long-armed hero, drove him to the edge of the torrent, and plunged him into its eddies, along which he was whirled down the darkness of the descending stream, calling vainly on his comrades for aid, till his voice was lost in the mingled roar of the waters and the wind. A fourth springing through the door was laid prostrate by the cottager’s cudgel: but the wife being less dexterous than her company, though an Amazon in strength, missed her pass at a fifth, and drove the point of the spit several inches into the right hand door-post as she stood close to the left, and thus made a new barrier which the invaders could not pass without dipping under it and submitting their necks to the sword: but one of the assailants seizing it with gigantic rage, shook it at once from the grasp of its holder and from its lodgment in the post, and at the same time made good the irruption of the rest of his party into the cottage.

Now raged an unequal combat, for the assailants fell two to one on Robin, Marian, the baron, and the cottager; while the wife, being deprived of her spit, converted every thing that was at hand to a missile, and rained pots, pans, and pipkins on the armed heads of the enemy. The baron raged like a tiger, and the cottager laid about him like a thresher. One of the soldiers struck Robin’s sword from his hand and brought him on his knee, when the boy, who had been roused by the tumult and had been peeping through the inner door, leaped forward in his shirt, picked up the sword and replaced it in Robin’s hand, who instantly springing up, disarmed and wounded one of his antagonists, while the other was laid prostrate under the dint of a brass cauldron launched by the Amazonian dame. Robin now turned to the aid of Marian, who was parrying most dexterously the cuts and slashes of her two assailants, of whom Robin delivered her from one, while a well-applied blow of her sword struck off the helmet of the other, who fell on his knees to beg a boon, and she recognised Sir Ralph Montfaucon. The men who were engaged with the baron and the peasant, seeing their leader subdued, immediately laid down their arms and cried for quarter. The wife brought some strong rope, and the baron tied their arms behind them.

“Now, Sir Ralph,” said Marian, “once more you are at my mercy.”

“That I always am, cruel beauty,” said the discomfited lover.

“Odso! courteous knight,” said the baron, “is this the return you make for my beef and canary, when you kissed my daughter’s hand in token of contrition for your intermeddling at her wedding? Heart, I am glad to see she has given you a bloody coxcomb. Slice him down, Mawd! slice him down, and fling him into the river.”

“Confess,” said Marian, “what brought you here, and how did you trace our steps?”

“I will confess nothing,” said the knight.

“Then confess you, rascal,” said the baron, holding his sword to the throat of the captive squire.

“Take away the sword,” said the squire, “it is too near my mouth, and my voice will not come out for fear: take away the sword, and I will confess all.” The baron dropped his sword, and the squire proceeded; “Sir Ralph met you, as you quitted Lady Falkland’s castle, and by representing to her who you were, borrowed from her such a number of her retainers as he deemed must ensure your capture, seeing that your familiar the friar was not at your elbow. We set forth without delay, and traced you first by means of a peasant who saw you turn into this valley, and afterwards by the light from the casement of this solitary dwelling. Our design was to have laid an ambush for you in the morning, but the storm and your observation of my unlucky face through the casement made us change our purpose; and what followed you can tell better than I can, being indeed masters of the subject.”

“You are a merry knave,” said the baron, “and here is a cup of wine for you.”

“Gramercy,” said the squire, “and better late than never: but I lacked a cup of this before. Had I been pot-valiant, I had held you play.”

“Sir knight,” said Marian, “this is the third time you have sought the life of my lord and of me, for mine is interwoven with his. And do you think me so spiritless as to believe that I can be yours by compulsion? Tempt me not again, for the next time shall be the last, and the fish of the nearest river shall commute the flesh of a recreant knight into the fast-day dinner of an uncarnivorous friar. I spare you now, not in pity but in scorn. Yet shall you swear to a convention never more to pursue or molest my lord or me, and on this condition you shall live.”

The knight had no alternative but to comply, and swore, on the honour of knighthood, to keep the convention inviolate. How well he kept his oath we shall have no opportunity of narrating: Di lui la nostra istoria piu non parla.

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