Maid Marian, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter V

‘T is true, no lover has that power

To enforce a desperate amour

As he that has two strings to his bow

And burns for love and money too.

Butler.

The friar had often had experience of the baron’s testy humour; but it had always before confined itself to words, in which the habit of testiness often mingled more expression of displeasure than the internal feeling prompted. He knew the baron to be hot and choleric, but at the same time hospitable and generous; passionately fond of his daughter, often thwarting her in seeming, but always yielding to her in fact. The early attachment between Matilda and the Earl of Huntingdon had given the baron no serious reason to interfere with her habits and pursuits, which were so congenial to those of her lover; and not being over-burdened with orthodoxy, that is to say, not being seasoned with more of the salt of the spirit than was necessary to preserve him from excommunication, confiscation, and philotheoparoptesism, 1 he was not sorry to encourage his daughter’s choice of her confessor in brother Michael, who had more jollity and less hypocrisy than any of his fraternity, and was very little anxious to disguise his love of the good things of this world under the semblance of a sanctified exterior. The friar and Matilda had often sung duets together, and had been accustomed to the baron’s chiming in with a stormy capriccio, which was usually charmed into silence by some sudden turn in the witching melodies of Matilda. They had therefore naturally calculated, as far as their wild spirits calculated at all, on the same effects from the same causes. But the circumstances of the preceding day had made an essential alteration in the case. The baron knew well, from the intelligence he had received, that the earl’s offence was past remission: which would have been of less moment but for the awful fact of his castle being in the possession of the king’s forces, and in those days possession was considerably more than eleven points of the law. The baron was therefore convinced that the earl’s outlawry was infallible, and that Matilda must either renounce her lover, or become with him an outlaw and a fugitive. In proportion, therefore, to the baron’s knowledge of the strength and duration of her attachment, was his fear of the difficulty of its ever being overcome: her love of the forest and the chase, which he had never before discouraged, now presented itself to him as matter of serious alarm; and if her cheerfulness gave him hope on the one hand by indicating a spirit superior to all disappointments, it was suspicious to him on the other, as arising from some latent certainty of being soon united to the earl. All these circumstances concurred to render their songs of the vanished deer and greenwood archery and Yoicks and Harkaway, extremely mal-a-propos, and to make his anger boil and bubble in the cauldron of his spirit, till its more than ordinary excitement burst forth with sudden impulse into active manifestation.

1 Roasting by a slow fire for the love of God.

But as it sometimes happens, from the might

Of rage in minds that can no farther go,

As high as they have mounted in despite

In their remission do they sink as low,

To our bold baron did it happen so. 2

2 Of these lines all that is not in italics belongs to Mr. Wordsworth: Resolution and Independence.

For his discobolic exploit proved the climax of his rage, and was succeeded by an immediate sense that he had passed the bounds of legitimate passion; and he sunk immediately from the very pinnacle of opposition to the level of implicit acquiescence. The friar’s spirits were not to be marred by such a little incident. He was half-inclined, at first, to return the baron’s compliment; but his love of Matilda checked him; and when the baron held out his hand, the friar seized it cordially, and they drowned all recollection of the affair by pledging each other in a cup of canary.

The friar, having stayed long enough to see every thing replaced on a friendly footing, rose, and moved to take his leave. Matilda told him he must come again on the morrow, for she had a very long confession to make to him. This the friar promised to do, and departed with the knight.

Sir Ralph, on reaching the abbey, drew his followers together, and led them to Locksley Castle, which he found in the possession of his lieutenant; whom he again left there with a sufficient force to hold it in safe keeping in the king’s name, and proceeded to London to report the results of his enterprise.

Now Henry our royal king was very wroth at the earl’s evasion, and swore by Saint Thomas-a-Becket (whom he had himself translated into a saint by having him knocked on the head), that he would give the castle and lands of Locksley to the man who should bring in the earl. Hereupon ensued a process of thought in the mind of the knight. The eyes of the fair huntress of Arlingford had left a wound in his heart which only she who gave could heal. He had seen that the baron was no longer very partial to the outlawed earl, but that he still retained his old affection for the lands and castle of Locksley. Now the lands and castle were very fair things in themselves, and would be pretty appurtenances to an adventurous knight; but they would be doubly valuable as certain passports to the father’s favour, which was one step towards that of the daughter, or at least towards obtaining possession of her either quietly or perforce; for the knight was not so nice in his love as to consider the lady’s free grace a sine qua non: and to think of being, by any means whatever, the lord of Locksley and Arlingford, and the husband of the bewitching Matilda, was to cut in the shades of futurity a vista very tempting to a soldier of fortune. He set out in high spirits with a chosen band of followers, and beat up all the country far and wide around both the Ouse and the Trent; but fortune did not seem disposed to second his diligence, for no vestige whatever could he trace of the earl. His followers, who were only paid with the wages of hope, began to murmur and fall off; for, as those unenlightened days were ignorant of the happy invention of paper machinery, by which one promise to pay is satisfactorily paid with another promise to pay, and that again with another in infinite series, they would not, as their wiser posterity has done, take those tenders for true pay which were not sterling; so that, one fine morning, the knight found himself sitting on a pleasant bank of the Trent, with only a solitary squire, who still clung to the shadow of preferment, because he did not see at the moment any better chance of the substance.

The knight did not despair because of the desertion of his followers: he was well aware that he could easily raise recruits if he could once find trace of his game; he, therefore, rode about indefatigably over hill and dale, to the great sharpening of his own appetite and that of his squire, living gallantly from inn to inn when his purse was full, and quartering himself in the king’s name on the nearest ghostly brotherhood when it happened to be empty. An autumn and a winter had passed away, when the course of his perlustations brought him one evening into a beautiful sylvan valley, where he found a number of young women weaving garlands of flowers, and singing over their pleasant occupation. He approached them, and courteously inquired the way to the nearest town.

“There is no town within several miles,” was the answer.

“A village, then, if it be but large enough to furnish an inn?”

“There is Gamwell just by, but there is no inn nearer than the nearest town.”

“An abbey, then?”

“There is no abbey nearer than the nearest inn.”

“A house then, or a cottage, where I may obtain hospitality for the night?”

“Hospitality!” said one of the young women; “you have not far to seek for that. Do you not know that you are in the neighbourhood of Gamwell–Hall?”

“So far from it,” said the knight, “that I never heard the name of Gamwell–Hall before.”

“Never heard of Gamwell–Hall?” exclaimed all the young women together, who could as soon have dreamed of his never having heard of the sky.

“Indeed, no,” said Sir Ralph; “but I shall be very happy to get rid of my ignorance.”

“And so shall I,” said his squire; “for it seems that in this case knowledge will for once be a cure for hunger, wherewith I am grievously afflicted.”

“And why are you so busy, my pretty damsels, weaving these garlands?” said the knight.

“Why, do you not know, sir,” said one of the young women, “that tomorrow is Gamwell feast?”

The knight was again obliged, with all humility, to confess his ignorance.

“Oh! sir,” said his informant, “then you will have something to see, that I can tell you; for we shall choose a Queen of the May, and we shall crown her with flowers, and place her in a chariot of flowers, and draw it with lines of flowers, and we shall hang all the trees with flowers, and we shall strew all the ground with flowers, and we shall dance with flowers, and in flowers, and on flowers, and we shall be all flowers.”

“That you will,” said the knight; “and the sweetest and brightest of all the flowers of the May, my pretty damsels.” On which all the pretty damsels smiled at him and each other.

“And there will be all sorts of May-games, and there will be prizes for archery, and there will be the knight’s ale, and the foresters’ venison, and there will be Kit Scrapesqueak with his fiddle, and little Tom Whistlerap with his fife and tabor, and Sam Trumtwang with his harp, and Peter Muggledrone with his bagpipe, and how I shall dance with Will Whitethorn!” added the girl, clapping her hands as she spoke, and bounding from the ground with the pleasure of the anticipation.

A tall athletic young man approached, to whom the rustic maidens courtesied with great respect; and one of them informed Sir Ralph that it was young Master William Gamwell. The young gentleman invited and conducted the knight to the hall, where he introduced him to the old knight his father, and to the old lady his mother, and to the young lady his sister, and to a number of bold yeomen, who were laying siege to beef, brawn, and plum pie around a ponderous table, and taking copious draughts of old October. A motto was inscribed over the interior door —

EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY:

an injunction which Sir Ralph and his squire showed remarkable alacrity in obeying. Old Sir Guy of Gamwell gave Sir Ralph a very cordial welcome, and entertained him during supper with several of his best stories, enforced with an occasional slap on the back, and pointed with a peg in the ribs; a species of vivacious eloquence in which the old gentleman excelled, and which is supposed by many of that pleasant variety of the human spectes, known by the name of choice fellows and comical dogs, to be the genuine tangible shape of the cream of a good joke.

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