The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Seventeenth.

Ring out the merry bell, the bride approaches,

The blush upon her cheek has shamed the morning,

For that is dawning palely. Grant, good saints,

These clouds betoken nought of evil omen!

OLD PLAY.

The day of the fiancailles, or espousals, was now approaching; and it seems that neither the profession of the Abbess, nor her practice at least, were so rigid as to prevent her selecting the great parlour of the convent for that holy rite, although necessarily introducing many male guests within those vestal precincts, and notwithstanding that the rite itself was the preliminary to a state which the inmates of the cloister had renounced for ever.

The Abbess’s Norman pride of birth, and the real interest which she took in her niece’s advancement, overcame all scruples; and the venerable mother might be seen in unwonted bustle, now giving orders to the gardener for decking the apartment with flowers — now to her cellaress, her precentrix, and the lay-sisters of the kitchen, for preparing a splendid banquet, mingling her commands on these worldly subjects with an occasional ejaculation on their vanity and worthlessness, and every now and then converting the busy and anxious looks which she threw upon her preparations into a solemn turning upward of eyes and folding of hands, as one who sighed over the mere earthly pomp which she took such trouble in superintending. At another time the good lady might have been seen in close consultation with Father Aldrovand, upon the ceremonial, civil and religious, which was to accompany a solemnity of such consequence to her family.

Meanwhile the reins of discipline, although relaxed for a season, were not entirely thrown loose. The outer court of the convent was indeed for the time opened for the reception of the male sex; but the younger sisters and novices of the house being carefully secluded in the more inner apartments of the extensive building, under the immediate eye of a grim old nun, or, as the conventual rule designed her, an ancient, sad, and virtuous person, termed Mistress of the Novices, were not permitted to pollute their eyes by looking on waving plumes and rustling mantles. A few sisters, indeed, of the Abbess’s own standing, were left at liberty, being such goods as it was thought could not, in shopman’s phrase, take harm from the air, and which are therefore left lying on the counter. These antiquated dames went mumping about with much affected indifference, and a great deal of real curiosity, endeavouring indirectly to get information concerning names, and dresses, and decorations, without daring to show such interest in these vanities as actual questions on the subject might have implied.

A stout band of the Constable’s spearmen guarded the gate of the nunnery, admitting within the hallowed precinct the few only who were to be present at the solemnity, with their principal attendants, and while the former were ushered with all due ceremony into the apartments dressed out for the occasion, the attendants, although detained in the outer court, were liberally supplied with refreshments of the most substantial kind; and had the amusement, so dear to the menial classes, of examining and criticising their masters and mistresses, as they passed into the interior apartments prepared for their reception.

Amongst the domestics who were thus employed were old Raoul the huntsman and his jolly dame — he gay and glorious, in a new cassock of green velvet, she gracious and comely, in a kirtle of yellow silk, fringed with minivair, and that at no mean cost, were equally busied in beholding the gay spectacle. The most inveterate wars have their occasional terms of truce; the most bitter and boisterous weather its hours of warmth and of calmness; and so was it with the matrimonial horizon of this amiable pair, which, usually cloudy, had now for brief space cleared up. The splendour of their new apparel, the mirth of the spectacle around them, with the aid, perhaps, of a bowl of muscadine quaffed by Raoul, and a cup of hippocras sipped by his wife, had rendered them rather more agreeable in each other’s eyes than was their wont; good cheer being in such cases, as oil is to a rusty lock, the means of making those valves move smoothly and glibly, which otherwise work not together at all, or by shrieks and groans express their reluctance to move in union. The pair had stuck themselves into a kind of niche, three or four steps from the ground, which contained a small stone bench, whence their curious eyes could scrutinize with advantage every guest who entered the court.

Thus placed, and in their present state of temporary concord, Raoul with his frosty visage formed no unapt representative of January, the bitter father of the year; and though Gillian was past the delicate bloom of youthful May, yet the melting fire of a full black eye, and the genial glow of a ripe and crimson cheek, made her a lively type of the fruitful and jovial August. Dame Gillian used to make it her boast, that she could please every body with her gossip, when she chose it, from Raymond Berenger down to Robin the horse-boy; and like a good housewife, who, to keep her hand in use, will sometimes even condescend to dress a dish for her husband’s sole eating, she now thought proper to practise her powers of pleasing on old Raoul, fairly conquering, in her successful sallies of mirth and satire, not only his cynical temperament towards all human kind, but his peculiar and special disposition to be testy with his spouse. Her jokes, such as they were, and the coquetry with which they were enforced, had such an effect on this Timon of the woods, that he curled up his cynical nose, displayed his few straggling teeth like a cur about to bite, broke out into a barking laugh, which was more like the cry of one of his own hounds — stopped short in the explosion, as if he had suddenly recollected that it was out of character; yet, ere he resumed his acrimonious gravity, shot such a glance at Gillian as made his nut-cracker jaws, pinched eyes, and convolved nose, bear no small resemblance to one of those fantastic faces which decorate the upper end of old bass viols.

“Is not this better than laying your dog-leash on your loving wife, as if she were a brach of the kennel?” said August to January.

“In troth is it,” answered January, in a frost-bitten tone; —“and so it is also better than doing the brach-tricks which bring the leash into exercise.”

“Humph!” said Gillian, in the tone of one who thought her husband’s proposition might bear being disputed; but instantly changing the note to that of tender complaint, “Ah! Raoul,” she said, “do you not remember how you once beat me because our late lord — Our Lady assoilzie him! — took my crimson breast-knot for a peony rose?”

“Ay, ay,” said the huntsman; “I remember our old master would make such mistakes — Our Lady assoilzie him! as you say — The best hound will hunt counter.”

“And how could you think, dearest Raoul, to let the wife of thy bosom go so long without a new kirtle?” said his helpmate.

“Why, thou hast got one from our young lady that might serve a countess,” said Raoul, his concord jarred by her touching this chord —“how many kirtles wouldst thou have?”

“Only two, kind Raoul; just that folk may not count their children’s age by the date of Dame Gillian’s last new gown.”

“Well, well — it is hard that a man cannot be in good-humour once and away without being made to pay for it. But thou shalt have a new kirtle at Michaelmas, when I sell the buck’s hides for the season. The very antlers should bring a good penny this year.”

“Ay, ay,” said Gillian; “I ever tell thee, husband, the horns would be worth the hide in a fair market.”

Raoul turned briskly round as if a wasp had stung him, and there is no guessing what his reply might have been to this seemingly innocent observation, had not a gallant horseman at that instant entered the court, and, dismounting like the others, gave his horse to the charge of a squire, or equerry, whose attire blazed with embroidery.

“By Saint Hubert, a proper horseman, and a destrier for an earl,” said Raoul; “and my Lord Constable’s liveries withal — yet I know not the gallant.”

“But I do,” said Gillian; “it is Randal de Lacy, the Constable’s kinsman, and as good a man as ever came of the name!”

“Oh! by Saint Hubert, I have heard of him — men say he is a reveller, and a jangler, and a waster of his goods.”

“Men lie now and then,” said Gillian dryly.

“And women also,” replied Raoul; —“why, methinks he winked on thee just now.”

“That right eye of thine saw never true since our good lord-Saint Mary rest him! — flung a cup of wine in thy face, for pressing over boldly into his withdrawing-room.”

“I marvel,” said Raoul, as if he heard her not, “that yonder ruffler comes hither. I have heard that he is suspected to have attempted the Constable’s life, and that they have not spoken together for five years.”

“He comes on my young lady’s invitation, and that I know full well,” said Dame Gillian; “and he is less like to do the Constable wrong than to have wrong at his hand, poor gentleman, as indeed he has had enough of that already.”

“And who told thee so?” said Raoul, bitterly.

“No matter, it was one who knew all about it very well,” said the dame, who began to fear that, in displaying her triumph of superior information, she had been rather over-communicative.

“It must have been the devil, or Randal himself” said Raoul, “for no other mouth is large enough for such a lie. — But hark ye, Dame Gillian, who is he that presses forward next, like a man that scarce sees how he goes?”

“Even your angel of grace, my young Squire Damian” said Dame Gillian.

“It is impossible!” answered Raoul —“call me blind if thou wilt; — but I have never seen man so changed in a few weeks — and his attire is flung on him so wildly as if he wore a horse-cloth round him instead of a mantle — What can ail the youth? — he has made a dead pause at the door, as if he saw something on the threshold that debarred his entrance — Saint Hubert, but he looks as if he were elf-stricken!”

“You ever thought him such a treasure!” said Gillian; “and now look at him as he stands by the side of a real gentleman, how he stares and trembles as if he were distraught.”

“I will speak to him,” said Raoul, forgetting his lameness, and springing from his elevated station —“I will speak to him; and if he be unwell, I have my lancets and fleams to bleed man as well as brute.”

“And a fit physician for such a patient,” muttered Gillian — “a dog-leech for a dreamy madman, that neither knows his own disease nor the way to cure it.”

Meanwhile the old huntsman made his way towards the entrance, before which Damian remained standing, in apparent uncertainty whether he should enter or not, regardless of the crowd around, and at the same time attracting their attention by the singularity of his deportment.

Raoul had a private regard for Damiah; for which, perhaps, it was a chief reason, that of late his wife had been in the habit of speaking of him in a tone more disrespectful than she usually applied to handsome young men. Besides, he understood the youth was a second Sir Tristrem in silvan sports by wood and river, and there needed no more to fetter Raoul’s soul to him with bands of steel. He saw with great concern his conduct attract general notice, mixed with some ridicule.

“He stands,” said the town-jester, who had crowded into the gay throng, “before the gate, like Balaam’s ass in the Mystery, when the animal sees so much more than can be seen by any one else.”

A cut from Raoul’s ready leash rewarded the felicity of this application, and sent the fool howling off to seek a more favourable audience, for his pleasantry. At the same time Raoul pressed up to Damian, and with an earnestness very different from his usual dry causticity of manner, begged him for God’s sake not to make himself the general spectacle, by standing there as if the devil sat on the doorway, but either to enter, or, what might be as becoming, to retire, and make himself more fit in apparel for attending on a solemnity so nearly concerning his house.

“And what ails my apparel, old man?” said Damian, turning sternly on the huntsman, as one who has been hastily and uncivilly roused from a reverie.

“Only, with respect to your valour,” answered the huntsman, “men do not usually put old mantles over new doublets; and methinks, with submission, that of yours neither accords with your dress, nor is fitted for this noble presence.”

“Thou art a fool!” answered Damian, “and as green in wit as gray in years. Know you not that in these days the young and old consort together — contract together — wed together? and should we take more care to make our apparel consistent than our actions?”

“For God’s sake, my lord,” said Raoul, “forbear these wild and dangerous words! they may be heard by other ears than mine, and construed by worse interpreters. There may be here those who will pretend to track mischief from light words, as I would find a buck from his frayings. Your cheek is pale, my lord, your eye is blood-shot; for Heaven’s sake, retire!”

“I will not retire,” said Damian, with yet more distemperature of manner, “till I have seen the Lady Eveline.”

“For the sake of all the saints,” ejaculated Raoul, “not now! — You will do my lady incredible injury by forcing yourself into her presence in this condition.”

“Do you think so!” said Damian, the remark seeming to operate as a sedative which enabled him to collect his scattered thoughts. —“Do you really think so? — I thought that to have looked upon her once more — but no — you are in the right, old man.”

He turned from the door as if to withdraw, but ere he could accomplish his purpose, he turned yet more pale than before, staggered, and fell on the pavement ere Raoul could afford him his support, useless as that might have proved. Those who raised him were surprised to observe that his garments were soiled with blood, and that the stains upon his cloak, which had been criticised by Raoul, were of the same complexion. A grave-looking personage, wrapped in a sad-coloured mantle, came forth from the crowd.

“I knew how it would be,” he said; “I made venesection this morning, and commanded repose and sleep according to the aphorisms of Hippocrates; but if young gentlemen will neglect the ordinance of their physician, medicine will avenge herself. It is impossible that my bandage or ligature, knit by these fingers, should have started, but to avenge the neglect of the precepts of art.”

“What means this prate?” said the voice of the Constable, before which all others were silent. He had been summoned forth just as the rite of espousal or betrothing was concluded, on the confusion occasioned by Damian’s situation, and now sternly commanded the physician to replace the bandages which had slipped from his nephew’s arm, himself assisting in the task of supporting the patient, with the anxious and deeply agitated feelings of one who saw a near and justly valued relative — as yet, the heir of his fame and family — stretched before him in a condition so dangerous.

But the griefs of the powerful and the fortunate are often mingled with impatience of interrupted prosperity. “What means this?” he demanded sternly of the leech. “I sent you this morning to attend my nephew on the first tidings of his illness, and commanded that he should make no attempt to be present on this day’s solemnity, yet I find him in this state, and in this place.”

“So please your lordship,” replied the leech, with a conscious self-importance, which even the presence of the Constable could not subdue —“Curatio est canonica, non coacta; which signifieth, my lord, that the physician acteth his cure by rules of art and science — by advice and prescription, but not by force or violence upon the patient, who cannot be at all benefited unless he be voluntarily amenable to the orders of his medicum.”

“Tell me not of your jargon,” said De Lacy; “if my nephew was lightheaded enough to attempt to come hither in the heat of a delirious distemper, you should have had sense to prevent him, had it been by actual force.”

“It may be,” said, Randal de Lacy, joining the crowd, who, forgetting the cause which had brought them together, were now assembled about Damian, “that more powerful was the magnet which drew our kinsman hither, than aught the leech could do to withhold him.”

The Constable, still busied about his nephew, looked up as Randal spoke, and, when he was done, asked, with formal coldness of manner, “Ha, fair kinsman, of what magnet do you speak?”

“Surely of your nephew’s love and regard to your lordship,” answered Randal, “which, not to mention his respect for the lady Eveline, must have compelled him hither, if his limbs were able to bear him. — And here the bride comes, I think, in charity, to thank him for his zeal.”

“What unhappy case is this?” said the Lady Eveline, pressing forward, much disordered with the intelligence of Damian’s danger, which had been suddenly conveyed to her. “Is there nothing in which my poor service may avail?”

“Nothing, lady,” said the Constable, rising from beside his nephew, and taking her hand; “your kindness is here mistimed. This motley assembly, this unseeming confusion, become not your presence.”

“Unless it could be helpful, my lord,” said Eveline, eagerly. “It is your nephew who is in danger — my deliverer — one of my deliverers, I would say.”

“He is fitly attended by his chirurgeon,” said the Constable, leading back his reluctant bride to the convent, while the medical attendant triumphantly exclaimed,

“Well judgeth my Lord Constable, to withdraw his noble Lady from the host of petticoated empirics, who, like so many Amazons, break in upon and derange the regular course of physical practice, with their petulant prognostics, their rash recipes, their mithridate, their febrifuges, their amulets, and their charms. Well speaketh the Ethnic poet,

‘Non audet, nisi qua didicit, dare quod medicorum est;

Promittunt medici — tractant fabrilia fabri,’”

As he repeated these lines with much emphasis, the doctor permitted his patient’s arm to drop from his hand, that he might aid the cadence with a flourish of his own. “There,” said he to the spectators, “is what none of you understand — no, by Saint Luke, nor the Constable himself.”

“But he knows how to whip in a hound that babbles when he should be busy,” said Raoul; and, silenced by this hint, the chirurgeon betook himself to his proper duty, of superintending the removal of young Damian to an apartment in the neighbouring street, where the symptoms of his disorder seemed rather to increase than diminish, and speedily required all the skill and attention which the leech could bestow.

The subscription of the contract of marriage had, as already noticed, been just concluded, when the company assembled on the occasion were interrupted by the news of Damian’s illness. When the Constable led his bride from the court-yard into the apartment where the company was assembled, there was discomposure and uneasiness on the countenance of both; and it was not a little increased by the bride pulling her hand hastily from the hold of the bridegroom, on observing that the latter was stained with recent blood, and had in truth left the same stamp upon her own. With a faint exclamation she showed the marks to Rose, saying at the same time, “What bodes this? — Is this the revenge of the Bloody-finger already commencing?”

“It bodes nothing, my dearest lady,” said Rose —“it is our fears that are prophets, not those trifles which we take for augury. For God’s sake, speak to my lord! He is surprised at your agitation.”

“Let him ask me the cause himself,” said Eveline; “fitter it should be told at his bidding, than be offered by me unasked.”

The Constable, while his bride stood thus conversing with her maiden, had also observed, that in his anxiety to assist his nephew, he had transferred part of his blood from his own hands to Eveline’s dress. He came forward to apologize for what at such a moment seemed almost ominous. “Fair lady,” said he, “the blood of a true De Lacy can never bode aught but peace and happiness to you.”

Eveline seemed as if she would have answered, but could not immediately find words. The faithful Rose, at the risk of incurring the censure of being over forward, hastened to reply to the compliment. “Every damsel is bound to believe what you say, my noble lord,” was her answer, “knowing how readily that blood hath ever flowed for protecting the distressed, and so lately for our own relief.”

“It is well spoken, little one,” answered the Constable; “and the Lady Eveline is happy in a maiden who so well knows how to speak when it is her own pleasure to be silent. — Come, lady,” he added, “let us hope this mishap of my kinsman is but like a sacrifice to fortune, which permits not the brightest hour to pass without some intervening shadow. Damian, I trust, will speedily recover; and be we mindful that the blood-drops which alarm you have been drawn by a friendly steel, and are symptoms rather of recovery than of illness. — Come, dearest lady, your silence discourages our friends, and wakes in them doubts whether we be sincere in the welcome due to them. Let me be your sewer,” he said; and, taking a silver ewer and napkin from the standing cupboard, which was loaded with plate, he presented them on his knee to his bride.

Exerting herself to shake off the alarm into which she had been thrown by some supposed coincidence of the present accident with the apparition at Baldringham, Eveline, entering into her betrothed husband’s humour, was about to raise him from the ground, when she was interrupted by the arrival of a hasty messenger, who, coming into the room without ceremony, informed the Constable that his nephew was so extremely ill, that if he hoped to see him alive, it would be necessary he should come to his lodgings instantly.

The Constable started up, made a brief adieu to Eveline and to the guests, who, dismayed at this new and disastrous intelligence, were preparing to disperse themselves, when, as he advanced towards the door, he was met by a Paritor, or Summoner of the Ecclesiastical Court, whose official dress had procured him unobstructed entrance into the precincts of the abbey.

“Deus vobiscum,“ said the paritor; “I would know which of this fair company is the Constable of Chester?”

“I am he,” answered the elder De Lacy; “but if thy business be not the more hasty, I cannot now speak with thee — I am bound on matters of life and death.”

“I take all Christian people to witness that I have discharged my duty,” said the paritor, putting into the hand of the Constable a slip of parchment.

“How is this, fellow?” said the Constable, in great indignation — “for whom or what does your master the Archbishop take me, that he deals with me in this uncourteous fashion, citing me to compear before him more like a delinquent than a friend or a nobleman?”

“My gracious lord,” answered the paritor, haughtily, “is accountable to no one but our Holy Father the Pope, for the exercise of the power which is intrusted to him by the canons of the Church. Your lordship’s answer to my citation?”

“Is the Archbishop present in this city?” said the Constable, after a moment’s reflection —“I knew not of his purpose to travel hither, still less of his purpose to exercise authority within these bounds.”

“My gracious lord the Archbishop,” said the paritor, “is but now arrived in this city, of which he is metropolitan; and, besides, by his apostolical commission, a legate a latere hath plenary jurisdiction throughout all England, as those may find (whatsoever be their degree) who may dare to disobey his summons.”

“Hark thee, fellow,” said the Constable, regarding the paritor with a grim and angry countenance, “were it not for certain respects, which I promise thee thy tawny hood hath little to do with, thou wert better have swallowed thy citation, seal and all, than delivered it to me with the addition of such saucy terms. Go hence, and tell your master I will see him within the space of an hour, during which time I am delayed by the necessity of attending a sick relation.”

The paritor left the apartment with more humility in his manner than when he had entered, and left the assembled guests to look upon each other in silence and dismay.

The reader cannot fail to remember how severely the yoke of the Roman supremacy pressed both on the clergy and laity of England during the reign of Henry II. Even the attempt of that wise and courageous monarch to make a stand for the independence of his throne in the memorable case of Thomas a Becket, had such an unhappy issue, that, like a suppressed rebellion, it was found to add new strength to the domination of the Church. Since the submission of the king in that ill-fated struggle, the voice of Rome had double potency whenever it was heard, and the boldest peers of England held it more wise to submit to her imperious dictates, than to provoke a spiritual censure which had so many secular consequences. Hence the slight and scornful manner in which the Constable was treated by the prelate Baldwin struck a chill of astonishment into the assembly of friends whom he had collected to witness his espousals; and as he glanced his haughty eye around, he saw that many who would have stood by him through life and death in any other quarrel, had it even been with his sovereign, were turning pale at the very thought of a collision with the Church. Embarrassed, and at the same time incensed at their timidity, the Constable hasted to dismiss them, with the general assurance that all would be well — that his nephew’s indisposition was a trifling complaint, exaggerated by a conceited physician, and by his own want of care — and that the message of the Archbishop, so unceremoniously delivered, was but the consequence of their mutual and friendly familiarity, which induced them sometimes, for the jest’s sake, to reverse or neglect the ordinary forms of intercourse. —“If I wanted to speak with the prelate Baldwin on express business and in haste, such is the humility and indifference to form of that worthy pillar of the Church, that I should not fear offence,” said the Constable, “did I send the meanest horseboy in my troop to ask an audience of him.”

So he spoke — but there was something in his countenance which contradicted his words; and his friends and relations retired from the splendid and joyful ceremony of his espousals as from a funeral feast, with anxious thoughts and with downcast eyes.

Randal was the only person, who, having attentively watched the whole progress of the affair during the evening, ventured to approach his cousin as he left the house, and asked him, “in the name of their reunited friendship, whether he had nothing to command him?” assuring him, with a look more expressive than his words, that he would not find him cold in his service.

“I have nought which can exercise your zeal, fair cousin,” replied the Constable, with the air of one who partly questioned the speaker’s sincerity; and the parting reverence with which he accompanied his words, left Randal no pretext for continuing his attendance, as he seemed to have designed.

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