Maid Marian, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter III

Inflamed wrath in glowing breast.

Butler.

The knight and the friar arriving at Arlingford Castle, and leaving their horses in the care of lady Matilda’s groom, with whom the friar was in great favour, were ushered into a stately apartment, where they found the baron alone, flourishing an enormous carving-knife over a brother baron — of beef — with as much vehemence of action as if he were cutting down an enemy. The baron was a gentleman of a fierce and choleric temperament: he was lineally descended from the redoubtable Fierabras of Normandy, who came over to England with the Conqueror, and who, in the battle of Hastings, killed with his own hand four-and-twenty Saxon cavaliers all on a row. The very excess of the baron’s internal rage on the preceding day had smothered its external manifestation: he was so equally angry with both parties, that he knew not on which to vent his wrath. He was enraged with the earl for having brought himself into such a dilemma without his privily; and he was no less enraged with the king’s men for their very unseasonable intrusion. He could willingly have fallen upon both parties, but, he must necessarily have begun with one; and he felt that on whichever side he should strike the first blow, his retainers would immediately join battle. He had therefore contented himself with forcing away his daughter from the scene of action. In the course of the evening he had received intelligence that the earl’s castle was in possession of a party of the king’s men, who had been detached by Sir Ralph Montfaucon to seize on it during the earl’s absence. The baron inferred from this that the earl’s case was desperate; and those who have had the opportunity of seeing a rich friend fall suddenly into poverty, may easily judge by their own feelings how quickly and completely the whole moral being of the earl was changed in the baron’s estimation. The baron immediately proceeded to require in his daughter’s mind the same summary revolution that had taken place in his own, and considered himself exceedingly ill-used by her non-compliance. The lady had retired to her chamber, and the baron had passed a supperless and sleepless night, stalking about his apartments till an advanced hour of the morning, when hunger compelled him to summon into his presence the spoils of the buttery, which, being the intended array of an uneaten wedding feast, were more than usually abundant, and on which, when the knight and the friar entered, he was falling with desperate valour. He looked up at them fiercely, with his mouth full of beef and his eyes full of flame, and rising, as ceremony required, made an awful bow to the knight, inclining himself forward over the table and presenting his carving-knife en militaire, in a manner that seemed to leave it doubtful whether he meant to show respect to his visitor, or to defend his provision: but the doubt was soon cleared up by his politely motioning the knight to be seated; on which the friar advanced to the table, saying, “For what we are going to receive,” and commenced operations without further prelude by filling and drinking a goblet of wine. The baron at the same time offered one to Sir Ralph, with the look of a man in whom habitual hospitality and courtesy were struggling with the ebullitions of natural anger. They pledged each other in silence, and the baron, having completed a copious draught, continued working his lips and his throat, as if trying to swallow his wrath as he had done his wine. Sir Ralph, not knowing well what to make of these ambiguous signs, looked for instructions to the friar, who by significant looks and gestures seemed to advise him to follow his example and partake of the good cheer before him, without speaking till the baron should be more intelligible in his demeanour. The knight and the friar, accordingly, proceeded to refect themselves after their ride; the baron looking first at the one and then at the other, scrutinising alternately the serious looks of the knight and the merry face of the friar, till at length, having calmed himself sufficiently to speak, he said, “Courteous knight and ghostly father, I presume you have some other business with me than to eat my beef and drink my canary; and if so, I patiently await your leisure to enter on the topic.”

“Lord Fitzwater,” said Sir Ralph, “in obedience to my royal master, King Henry, I have been the unwilling instrument of frustrating the intended nuptials of your fair daughter; yet will you, I trust, owe me no displeasure for my agency herein, seeing that the noble maiden might otherwise by this time have been the bride of an outlaw.”

“I am very much obliged to you, sir,” said the baron; “very exceedingly obliged. Your solicitude for my daughter is truly paternal, and for a young man and a stranger very singular and exemplary: and it is very kind withal to come to the relief of my insufficiency and inexperience, and concern yourself so much in that which concerns you not.”

“You misconceive the knight, noble baron,” said the friar. “He urges not his reason in the shape of a preconceived intent, but in that of a subsequent extenuation. True, he has done the lady Matilda great wrong ——”

“How, great wrong?” said the baron. “What do you mean by great wrong? Would you have had her married to a wild fly-by-night, that accident made an earl and nature a deer-stealer? that has not wit enough to eat venison without picking a quarrel with monarchy? that flings away his own lands into the clutches of rascally friars, for the sake of hunting in other men’s grounds, and feasting vagabonds that wear Lincoln green, and would have flung away mine into the bargain if he had had my daughter? What do you mean by great wrong?”

“True,” said the friar, “great right, I meant.”

“Right!” exclaimed the baron: “what right has any man to do my daughter right but myself? What right has any man to drive my daughter’s bridegroom out of the chapel in the middle of the marriage ceremony, and turn all our merry faces into green wounds and bloody coxcombs, and then come and tell me he has done us great right?”

“True,” said the friar: “he has done neither right nor wrong.”

“But he has,” said the baron, “he has done both, and I will maintain it with my glove.”

“It shall not need,” said Sir Ralph; “I will concede any thing in honour.”

“And I,” said the baron, “will concede nothing in honour: I will concede nothing in honour to any man.”

“Neither will I, Lord Fitzwater,” said Sir Ralph, “in that sense: but hear me. I was commissioned by the king to apprehend the Earl of Huntingdon. I brought with me a party of soldiers, picked and tried men, knowing that he would not lightly yield. I sent my lieutenant with a detachment to surprise the earl’s castle in his absence, and laid my measures for intercepting him on the way to his intended nuptials; but he seems to have had intimation of this part of my plan, for he brought with him a large armed retinue, and took a circuitous route, which made him, I believe, somewhat later than his appointed hour. When the lapse of time showed me that he had taken another track, I pursued him to the chapel; and I would have awaited the close of the ceremony, if I had thought that either yourself or your daughter would have felt desirous that she should have been the bride of an outlaw.”

“Who said, sir,” cried the baron, “that we were desirous of any such thing? But truly, sir, if I had a mind to the devil for a son-inlaw, I would fain see the man that should venture to interfere.”

“That would I,” said the friar; “for I have undertaken to make her renounce the devil.”

“She shall not renounce the devil,” said the baron, “unless I please. You are very ready with your undertakings. Will you undertake to make her renounce the earl, who, I believe, is the devil incarnate? Will you undertake that?”

“Will I undertake,” said the friar, “to make Trent run westward, or to make flame burn downward, or to make a tree grow with its head in the earth and its root in the air?”

“So then,” said the baron, “a girl’s mind is as hard to change as nature and the elements, and it is easier to make her renounce the devil than a lover. Are you a match for the devil, and no match for a man?”

“My warfare,” said the friar, “is not of this world. I am militant not against man, but the devil, who goes about seeking what he may devour.”

“Oh! does he so?” said the baron: “then I take it that makes you look for him so often in my buttery. Will you cast out the devil whose name is Legion, when you cannot cast out the imp whose name is Love?”

“Marriages,” said the friar, “are made in heaven. Love is God’s work, and therewith I meddle not.”

“God’s work, indeed!” said the baron, “when the ceremony was cut short in the church. Could men have put them asunder, if God had joined them together? And the earl is now no earl, but plain Robert Fitz–Ooth: therefore, I’ll none of him.”

“He may atone,” said the friar, “and the king may mollify. The earl is a worthy peer, and the king is a courteous king.”

“He cannot atone,” said Sir Ralph. “He has killed the king’s men; and if the baron should aid and abet, he will lose his castle and land.”

“Will I?” said the baron; “not while I have a drop of blood in my veins. He that comes to take them shall first serve me as the friar serves my flasks of canary: he shall drain me dry as hay. Am I not disparaged? Am I not outraged? Is not my daughter vilified, and made a mockery? A girl half-married? There was my butler brought home with a broken head. My butler, friar: there is that may move your sympathy. Friar, the earl-no-earl shall come no more to my daughter.”

“Very good,” said the friar.

“It is not very good,” said the baron, “for I cannot get her to say so.”

“I fear,” said Sir Ralph, “the young lady must be much distressed and discomposed.”

“Not a whit, sir,” said the baron. “She is, as usual, in a most provoking imperturbability, and contradicts me so smilingly that it would enrage you to see her.”

“I had hoped,” said Sir Ralph, “that I might have seen her, to make my excuse in person for the hard necessity of my duty.”

He had scarcely spoken, when the door opened, and the lady made her appearance.

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