The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Tenth

They bore him barefaced on his bier,

Six proper youths and tall,

And many a tear bedew’d his grave

Within yon kirkyard wall.

THE FRIAR OF ORDERS GRAY.

While these matters took place in the castle-yard, the young squire, Damian Lacy, obtained the audience which he had requested of Eveline Berenger, who received him in the great hall of the castle, seated beneath the dais, or canopy, and waited upon by Rose and other female attendants; of whom the first alone was permitted to use a tabouret or small stool in her presence, so strict were the Norman maidens of quality in maintaining their claims to high rank and observance.

The youth was introduced by the confessor and Flammock, as the spiritual character of the one, and the trust reposed by her late father in the other, authorized them to be present upon the occasion. Eveline naturally blushed, as she advanced two steps to receive the handsome youthful envoy; and her bashfulness seemed infectious, for it was with some confusion that Damian went through the ceremony of saluting the hand which she extended towards him in token of welcome. Eveline was under the necessity of speaking first.

“We advance as far as our limits will permit us,” she said, “to greet with our thanks the messenger who brings us tidings of safety. We speak — unless we err — to the noble Damian of Lacy?”

“To the humblest of your servants,” answered Damian, falling with some difficulty into the tone of courtesy which his errand and character required, “who approaches you on behalf of his noble uncle, Hugo de Lacy, Constable of Chester.”

“Will not our noble deliverer in person honour with his presence the poor dwelling which he has saved?”

“My noble kinsman,” answered Damian, “is now God’s soldier, and bound by a vow not to come beneath a roof until he embark for the Holy Land. But by my voice he congratulates you on the defeat of your savage enemies, and sends you these tokens that the comrade and friend of your noble father hath not left his lamentable death many hours unavenged.” So saying, he drew forth and laid before Eveline the gold bracelets, the coronet, and the eudorchawg, or chain of linked gold, which had distinguished the rank of the Welsh Prince. [Footnote: Eudorchawg, or Gold Chains of the Welsh. These were the distinguished marks of rank and valour among the numerous tribes of Celtic extraction. Manlius, the Roman Champion, gained the name of Torquatus, or he of the chain, on account of an ornament of this kind, won, in single combat, from a gigantic Gaul. Aneurin, the Welsh bard, mentions, in his poem on the battle of Catterath, that no less than three hundred of the British, who fell there, had their necks wreathed with the Eudorchawg. This seems to infer that the chain was a badge of distinction, and valour perhaps, but not of royalty; otherwise there would scarce have been so many kings present in one battle. This chain has been found accordingly in Ireland and Wales, and sometimes, though more rarely, in Scotland. Doubtless it was of too precious materials not to be usually converted into money by the enemy into whose hands it fell.]

“Gwenwyn hath then fallen?” said Eveline, a natural shudder combating with the feelings of gratified vengeance, as she beheld that the trophies were speckled with blood — “The slayer of my father is no more!”

“My kinsman’s lance transfixed the Briton as he endeavoured to rally his flying people — he died grimly on the weapon which had passed more than a fathom through his body, and exerted his last strength in a furious but ineffectual blow with his mace.” “Heaven is just,” said Eveline; “may his sins be forgiven to the man of blood, since he hath fallen by a death so bloody! — One question I would ask you, noble sir. My father’s remains ——” She paused unable to proceed. “An hour will place them at your disposal, most honoured lady,” replied the squire, in the tone of sympathy which the sorrows of so young and so fair an orphan called irresistibly forth. “Such preparations as time admitted were making even when I left the host, to transport what was mortal of the noble Berenger from the field on which we found him amid a monument of slain which his own sword had raised. My kinsman’s vow will not allow him to pass your portcullis; but, with your permission, I will represent him, if such be your pleasure, at these honoured obsequies, having charge to that effect.”

“My brave and noble father,” said Eveline, making an effort to restrain her tears, “will be best mourned by the noble and the brave.” She would have continued, but her voice failed her, and she was obliged to withdraw abruptly, in order to give vent to her sorrow, and prepare for the funeral rites with such ceremony as circumstances should permit. Damian bowed to the departing mourner as reverently as he would have done to a divinity, and taking his horse, returned to his uncle’s host, which had encamped hastily on the recent field of battle.

The sun was now high, and the whole plain presented the appearance of a bustle, equally different from the solitude of the early morning, and from the roar and fury of the subsequent engagement. The news of Hugo de Lacy’s victory every where spread abroad with all alacrity of triumph, and had induced many of the inhabitants of the country, who had fled before the fury of the Wolf of Plinlimmon, to return to their desolate habitations. Numbers also of the loose and profligate characters which abound in a country subject to the frequent changes of war, had flocked thither in quest of spoil, or to gratify a spirit of restless curiosity. The Jew and the Lombard, despising danger where there was a chance of gain, might be already seen bartering liquors and wares with the victorious men-at-arms, for the blood-stained ornaments of gold lately worn by the defeated British. Others acted as brokers betwixt the Welsh captives and their captors; and where they could trust the means and good faith of the former, sometimes became bound for, or even advanced in ready money, the sums necessary for their ransom; whilst a more numerous class became themselves the purchasers of those prisoners who had no immediate means of settling with their conquerors.

That the spoil thus acquired might not long encumber the soldier, or blunt his ardour for farther enterprise, the usual means of dissipating military spoils were already at hand. Courtezans, mimes, jugglers, minstrels, and tale-tellers of every description, had accompanied the night-march; and, secure in the military reputation of the celebrated De Lacy, had rested fearlessly at some little distance until the battle was fought and won. These now approached, in many a joyous group, to congratulate the victors. Close to the parties which they formed for the dance, the song, or the tale, upon the yet bloody field, the countrymen, summoned in for the purpose, were opening large trenches for depositing the dead — leeches were seen tending the wounded — priests and monks confessing those in extremity — soldiers transporting from the field the bodies of the more honoured among the slain — peasants mourning over their trampled crops and plundered habitations — and widows and orphans searching for the bodies of husbands and parents, amid the promiscuous carnage of two combats. Thus wo mingled her wildest notes with those of jubilee and bacchanal triumph, and the plain of the Garde Doloureuse formed a singular parallel to the varied maze of human life, where joy and grief are so strangely mixed, and where the confines of mirth and pleasure often border on those of sorrow and of death.

About noon these various noises were at once silenced, and the attention alike of those who rejoiced or grieved was arrested by the loud and mournful sound of six trumpets, which, uplifting and uniting their thrilling tones in a wild and melancholy death-note, apprised all, that the obsequies of the valiant Raymond Berenger were about to commence. From a tent, which had been hastily pitched for the immediate reception of the body, twelve black monks, the inhabitants of a neighbouring convent, began to file out in pairs, headed by their abbot, who bore a large cross, and thundered forth the sublime notes of the Catholic Miserere me, Domine. Then came a chosen body of men-at-arms, trailing their lances, with their points reversed and pointed to the earth; and after them the body of the valiant Berenger, wrapped in his own knightly banner, which, regained from the hands of the Welsh, now served its noble owner instead of a funeral pall. The most gallant Knights of the Constable’s household (for, like other great nobles of that period, he had formed it upon a scale which approached to that of royalty) walked as mourners and supporters of the corpse, which was borne upon lances; and the Constable of Chester himself, alone and fully armed, excepting the head, followed as chief mourner. A chosen body of squires, men-at-arms, and pages of noble descent, brought up the rear of the procession; while their nakers and trumpets echoed back, from time to time, the melancholy song of the monks, by replying in a note as lugubrious as their own.

The course of pleasure was arrested, and even that of sorrow was for a moment turned from her own griefs, to witness the last honours bestowed on him, who had been in life the father and guardian of his people.

The mournful procession traversed slowly the plain which had been within a few hours the scene of such varied events; and, pausing before the outer gate of the barricades of the castle, invited, by a prolonged and solemn flourish, the fortress to receive the remains of its late gallant defender. The melancholy summons was answered by the warder’s horn — the drawbridge sunk — the portcullis rose — and Father Aldrovand appeared in the middle of the gateway, arrayed in his sacerdotal habit, whilst a little way behind him stood the orphaned damsel, in such weeds of mourning as time admitted, supported by her attendant Rose, and followed by the females of the household.

The Constable of Chester paused upon the threshold of the outer gate, and, pointing to the cross signed in white cloth upon his left shoulder, with a lowly reverence resigned to his nephew, Damian, the task of attending the remains of Raymond Berenger to the chapel within the castle. The soldiers of Hugo de Lacy, most of whom were bound by the same vow with himself, also halted without the castle gate, and remained under arms, while the death-peal of the chapel bell announced from within the progress of the procession.

It winded on through those narrow entrances, which were skilfully contrived to interrupt the progress of an enemy, even should he succeed in forcing the outer gate, and arrived at length in the great court-yard, where most of the inhabitants of the fortress, and those who, under recent circumstances, had taken refuge there, were drawn up, in order to look, for the last time, on their departed lord. Among these were mingled a few of the motley crowd from without, whom curiosity, or the expectation of a dole, had brought to the castle gate, and who, by one argument or another, had obtained from the warder permission to enter the interior.

The body was here set down before the door of the chapel, the ancient Gothic front of which formed one side of the court-yard, until certain prayers were recited by the priests, in which the crowd around were supposed to join with becoming reverence.

It was during this interval, that a man, whose peaked beard, embroidered girdle, and high-crowned hat of gray felt, gave him the air of a Lombard merchant, addressed Margery, the nurse of Eveline, in a whispering tone, and with a foreign accent. —“I am a travelling merchant, good sister, and am come hither in quest of gain — can you tell me whether I can have any custom in this castle?”

“You are come at an evil time, Sir Stranger — you may yourself see that this is a place for mourning and not for merchandise.”

“Yet mourning times have their own commerce,” said the stranger, approaching still closer to the side of Margery, and lowering his voice to a tone yet more confidential. “I have sable scarfs of Persian silk — black bugles, in which a princess might mourn for a deceased monarch — cyprus, such as the East hath seldom sent forth — black cloth for mourning hangings — all that may express sorrow and reverence in fashion and attire; and I know how to be grateful to those who help me to custom. Come, bethink you, good dame — such things must be had — I will sell as good ware and as cheap as another; and a kirtle to yourself, or, at your pleasure, a purse with five florins, shall be the meed of your kindness.”

“I prithee peace, friend,” said Margery, “and choose a better time for vaunting your wares — you neglect both place and season; and if you be farther importunate, I must speak to those who will show you the outward side of the castle gate. I marvel the warders would admit pedlars upon a day such as this — they would drive a gainful bargain by the bedside of their mother, were she dying, I trow.” So saying, she turned scornfully from him.

While thus angrily rejected on the one side, the merchant felt his cloak receive an intelligent twitch upon the other, and, looking round upon the signal, he saw a dame, whose black kerchief was affectedly disposed, so as to give an appearance of solemnity to a set of light laughing features, which must have been captivating when young, since they retained so many good points when at least forty years had passed over them. She winked to the merchant, touching at the same time her under lip with her forefinger, to announce the propriety of silence and secrecy; then gliding from the crowd, retreated to a small recess formed by a projecting buttress of the chapel, as if to avoid the pressure likely to take place at the moment when the bier should be lifted. The merchant failed not to follow her example, and was soon by her side, when she did not give him the trouble of opening his affairs, but commenced the conversation herself.

“I have heard what you said to our Dame Margery — Mannerly Margery, as I call her — heard as much, at least, as led me to guess the rest, for I have got an eye in my head, I promise you.”

“A pair of them, my pretty dame, and as bright as drops of dew in a May morning.”

“Oh, you say so, because I have been weeping,” said the scarlet-hosed Gillian, for it was even herself who spoke; “and to be sure, I have good cause, for our lord was always my very good lord, and would sometimes chuck me under the chin, and call me buxom Gillian of Croydon — not that the good gentleman was ever uncivil, for he would thrust a silver twopennies into my hand at the same time. — Oh! the friend that I have lost! — And I have had anger on his account too — I have seen old Raoul as sour as vinegar, and fit for no place but the kennel for a whole day about it; but, as I said to him, it was not for the like of me, to be affronting our master, and a great baron, about a chuck under the chin, or a kiss, or such like.”

“No wonder you are so sorry for so kind a master, dame,” said the merchant.

“No wonder, indeed,” replied the dame, with a sigh; “and then what is to become of us? — It is like my young mistress will go to her aunt — or she will marry one of these Lacys that they talk so much of — or, at any rate, she will leave the castle; and it’s like old Raoul and I will be turned to grass with the lord’s old chargers. The Lord knows, they may as well hang him up with the old hounds, for he is both footless and fangless, and fit for nothing on earth that I know of.”

“Your young mistress is that lady in the mourning mantle,” said the merchant, “who so nearly sunk down upon the body just now?”

“In good troth is she, sir — and much cause she has to sink down. I am sure she will be to seek for such another father.”

“I see you are a most discerning woman, gossip Gillian,” answered the merchant; “and yonder youth that supported her is her bridegroom?”

“Much need she has for some one to support her,” said Gillian; “and so have I for that matter, for what can poor old rusty Raoul do?”

“But as to your young lady’s marriage?” said the merchant.

“No one knows more, than that such a thing was in treaty between our late lord and the great Constable of Chester, that came today but just in time to prevent the Welsh from cutting all our throats, and doing the Lord knoweth what mischief beside. But there is a marriage talked of, that is certain — and most folk think it must be for this smooth-cheeked boy, Damian, as they call him; for though the Constable has gotten a beard, which his nephew hath not, it is something too grizzled for a bridegroom’s chin — Besides, he goes to the Holy Wars — fittest place for all elderly warriors — I wish he would take Raoul with him. — But what is all this to what you were saying about your mourning wares even now? — It is a sad truth, that my poor lord is gone — But what then? — Well-a-day, you know the good old saw —

‘Cloth must be wear,

Eat beef and drink beer,

Though the dead go to bier.’

And for your merchandising, I am as like to help you with my good word as Mannerly Margery, provided you bid fair for it; since, if the lady loves me not so much, I can turn the steward round my finger.”

“Take this in part of your bargain, pretty Mistress Gillian,” said the merchant; “and when my wains come up, I will consider you amply, if I get good sale by your favourable report. — But how shall I get into the castle again? for I would wish to consult you, being a sensible woman, before I come in with my luggage.”

“Why,” answered the complaisant dame, “if our English be on guard, you have only to ask for Gillian, and they will open the wicket to any single man at once; for we English stick all together, were it but to spite the Normans; — but if a Norman be on duty, you must ask for old Raoul, and say you come to speak of dogs and hawks for sale, and I warrant you come to speech of me that way. If the sentinel be a Fleming, you have but to say you are a merchant, and he will let you in for the love of trade.”

The merchant repeated his thankful acknowledgment, glided from her side, and mixed among the spectators, leaving her to congratulate herself on having gained a brace of florins by the indulgence of her natural talkative humour; for which, on other occasions, she had sometimes dearly paid.

The ceasing of the heavy toll of the castle bell now gave intimation that the noble Raymond Berenger had been laid in the vault with his fathers. That part of the funeral attendants who had come from the host of De Lacy, now proceeded to the castle hall, where they partook, but with temperance, of some refreshments which were offered as a death-meal; and presently after left the castle, headed by young Damian, in the same slow and melancholy form in which they had entered. The monks remained within the castle to sing repeated services for the soul of the deceased, and for those of his faithful men-at-arms who had fallen around him, and who had been so much mangled during, and after, the contest with the Welsh, that it was scarce possible to know one individual from another; otherwise the body of Dennis Morolt would have obtained, as his faith well deserved, the honours of a separate funeral. [Footnote: The Welsh, a fierce and barbarous people, were often accused of mangling the bodies of their slain antagonists. Every one must remember Shakspeare’s account, how

———“the noble Mortimer,

Leading the men of Herefordshire to fight,

Against the irregular and wild Glendower —

Was, by the rude hands of that Welshman taken,

And a thousand of his people butchered;

Upon whose dead corpse there was such misuse,

Such beastly, shameless transformation,

By these Welshwomen done, as may not be,

Without much shame, retold or spoken of.”]

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29