The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Eighteenth.

Oh, were I seated high as my ambition,

I’d place this naked foot on necks of monarchs!

MYSTERIOUS MOTHER.

The most anxious and unhappy moment of Hugo de Lacy’s life, was unquestionably that in which, by espousing Eveline with all civil and religious solemnity, he seemed to approach to what for some time he had considered as the prime object of his wishes. He was assured of the early possession of a beautiful and amiable wife, endowed with such advantage of worldly goods, as gratified his ambition as well as his affections — Yet, even in this fortunate moment, the horizon darkened around him, in a manner which presaged nought but storm and calamity. At his nephew’s lodging he learned that the pulse of the patient had risen, and his delirium had augmented, and all around him spoke very doubtfully of his chance of recovery, or surviving a crisis which seemed speedily approaching. The Constable stole towards the door of the apartment which his feelings permitted him not to enter, and listened to the raving which the fever gave rise to. Nothing can be more melancholy than to hear the mind at work concerning its ordinary occupations, when the body is stretched in pain and danger upon the couch of severe sickness; the contrast betwixt the ordinary state of health, its joys or its labours, renders doubly affecting the actual helplessness of the patient before whom these visions are rising, and we feel a corresponding degree of compassion for the sufferer whose thoughts are wandering so far from his real condition.

The Constable felt this acutely, as he heard his nephew shout the war-cry of the family repeatedly, appearing, by the words of command and direction, which he uttered from time to time, to be actively engaged in leading his men-at-arms against the Welsh. At another time he uttered various terms of the manege, of falconry, and of the chase — he mentioned his uncle’s name repeatedly on these occasions, as if the idea of his kinsman had been connected alike with his martial encounters, and with his sports by wood and river. Other sounds there were, which he muttered so low as to be altogether undistinguishable.

With a heart even still more softened towards his kinsman’s sufferings from hearing the points on which his mind wandered, the Constable twice applied his hand to the latch of the door, in order to enter the bedroom, and twice forebore, his eyes running faster with tears than he chose should be witnessed by the attendants. At length, relinquishing his purpose, he hastily left the house, mounted his horse, and followed only by four of his personal attendants, rode towards the palace of the Bishop, where, as he learned from public rumour, the Archprelate Baldwin had taken up his temporary residence.

The train of riders and of led-horses, of sumpter mules, and of menials and attendants, both lay and ecclesiastical, which thronged around the gate of the Episcopal mansion, together with the gaping crowd of inhabitants who had gathered around, some to gaze upon the splendid show, some to have the chance of receiving the benediction of the Holy Prelate, was so great as to impede the Constable’s approach to the palace-door; and when this obstacle was surmounted, he found another in the obstinacy of the Archbishop’s attendants, who permitted him not, though announced by name and title, to cross the threshold of the mansion, until they should receive the express command of their master to that effect.

The Constable felt the full effect of this slighting reception. He had dismounted from his horse in full confidence of being instantly admitted into the palace at least, if not into the Prelate’s presence; and as he now stood on foot among the squires, grooms, and horseboys of the spiritual lord, he was so much disgusted, that his first impulse was to remount his horse, and return to his pavilion, pitched for the time before the city walls, leaving it to the Bishop to seek him there, if he really desired an interview. But the necessity of conciliation almost immediately rushed on his mind, and subdued the first haughty impulse of his offended pride. “If our wise King,” he said to himself, “hath held the stirrup of one Prelate of Canterbury when living, and submitted to the most degrading observances before his shrine when dead, surely I need not be more scrupulous towards his priestly successor in the same overgrown authority.” Another thought, which he dared hardly to acknowledge, recommended the same humble and submissive course. He could not but feel that, in endeavouring to evade his vows as a crusader, he was incurring some just censure from the Church; and he was not unwilling to hope, that his present cold and scornful reception on Baldwin’s part, might be meant as a part of the penance which his conscience informed him his conduct was about to receive.

After a short interval, De Lacy was at length invited to enter the palace of the Bishop of Gloucester, in which he was to meet the Primate of England; but there was more than one brief pause, in hall and anteroom, ere he at length was admitted to Baldwin’s presence.

The successor of the celebrated Becket had neither the extensive views, nor the aspiring spirit, of that redoubted personage; but, on the other hand, saint as the latter had become, it may be questioned, whether, in his professions for the weal of Christendom, he was half so sincere as was the present Archbishop. Baldwin was, in truth, a man well qualified to defend the powers which the Church had gained, though perhaps of a character too sincere and candid to be active in extending them. The advancement of the Crusade was the chief business of his life, his success the principal cause of his pride; and, if the sense of possessing the powers of eloquent persuasion, and skill to bend the minds of men to his purpose, was blended with his religious zeal, still the tenor of his life, and afterwards his death before Ptolemais, showed that the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre from the infidels was the unfeigned object of all his exertions. Hugo de Lacy well knew this; and the difficulty of managing such a temper appeared much greater to him on the eve of the interview in which the attempt was to be made, than he had suffered himself to suppose when the crisis was yet distant.

The Prelate, a man of a handsome and stately form, with features rather too severe to be pleasing, received the Constable in all the pomp of ecclesiastical dignity. He was seated on a chair of oak, richly carved with Gothic ornaments, and placed above the rest of the floor under a niche of the same workmanship. His dress was the rich episcopal robe, ornamented with costly embroidery, and fringed around the neck and cuffs; it opened from the throat and in the middle, and showed an under vestment of embroidery, betwixt the folds of which, as if imperfectly concealed, peeped the close shirt of hair-cloth which the Prelate constantly wore under all his pompous attire. His mitre was placed beside him on an oaken table of the same workmanship with his throne, against which also rested his pastoral staff, representing a shepherd’s crook of the simplest form, yet which had proved more powerful and fearful than lance or scimetar, when wielded by the hand of Thomas a Becket. A chaplain in a white surplice kneeled at a little distance before a desk, and read forth from an illuminated volume some portion of a theological treatise, in which Baldwin appeared so deeply interested, that he did not appear to notice the entrance of the Constable, who, highly displeased at this additional slight, stood on the floor of the hall, undetermined whether to interrupt the reader, and address the Prelate at once, or to withdraw without saluting him at all. Ere he had formed a resolution, the chaplain had arrived at some convenient pause in the lecture, where the Archbishop stopped him with, “Satis est, mi fili.

It was in vain that the proud secular Baron strove to conceal the embarrassment with which he approached the Prelate, whose attitude was plainly assumed for the purpose of impressing him with awe and solicitude. He tried, indeed, to exhibit a demeanour of such ease as might characterize their old friendship, or at least of such indifference as might infer the possession of perfect tranquillity; but he failed in both, and his address expressed mortified pride, mixed with no ordinary degree of embarrassment. The genius of the Catholic Church was on such occasions sure to predominate over the haughtiest of the laity.

“I perceive,” said De Lacy, collecting his thoughts, and ashamed to find he had difficulty in doing so — “I perceive that an old friendship is here dissolved. Methinks Hugo de Lacy might have expected another messenger to summon him to this reverend presence, and that another welcome should wait him on his arrival.”

The Archbishop raised himself slowly in his seat, and made a half-inclination towards the Constable, who, by an instinctive desire of conciliation, returned it lower than he had intended, or than the scanty courtesy merited. The Prelate at the same time signing to his chaplain, the latter rose to withdraw, and receiving permission in the phrase “Do veniam,” retreated reverentially, without either turning his back or looking upwards, his eyes fixed on the ground, his hands still folded in his habit, and crossed over his bosom.

When this mute attendant had disappeared, the Prelate’s brow became more open, yet retained a dark shade of grave displeasure, and he replied to the address of De Lacy, but still without rising from his seat. “It skills not now, my lord, to say what the brave Constable of Chester has been to the poor priest Baldwin, or with what love and pride we beheld him assume the holy sign of salvation, and, to honour Him by whom he has himself been raised to honour, vow himself to the deliverance of the Holy Land. If I still see that noble lord before me, in the same holy resolution, let me know the joyful truth, and I will lay aside rochet and mitre, and tend his horse like a groom, if it be necessary by such menial service to show the cordial respect I bear to him.”

“Reverend father,” answered De Lacy, with hesitation, “I had hoped that the propositions which were made to you on my part by the Dean of Hereford, might have seemed more satisfactory in your eyes.” Then, regaining his native confidence, he proceeded with more assurance in speech and manner; for the cold inflexible looks of the Archbishop irritated him. “If these proposals can be amended, my lord, let me know in what points, and, if possible, your pleasure shall be done, even if it should prove somewhat unreasonable. I would have peace, my lord, with Holy Church, and am the last who would despise her mandates. This has been known by my deeds in field, and counsels in the state; nor can I think my services have merited cold looks and cold language from the Primate of England.”

“Do you upbraid the Church with your services, vain man?” said Baldwin. “I tell thee, Hugo de Lacy, that what Heaven hath wrought for the Church by thy hand, could, had it been the divine pleasure, have been achieved with as much ease by the meanest horseboy in thy host. It is thou that art honoured, in being the chosen instrument by which great things have been wrought in Israel. — Nay, interrupt me not — I tell thee, proud baron, that, in the sight of Heaven, thy wisdom is but as folly — thy courage, which thou dost boast, but the cowardice of a village maiden — thy strength weakness — thy spear an osier, and thy sword a bulrush.”

“All this I know, good father,” said the Constable, “and have ever heard it repeated when such poor services as I may have rendered are gone and past. Marry, when there was need for my helping hand, I was the very good lord of priest and prelate, and one who should be honoured and prayed for with patrons and founders who sleep in the choir and under the high altar. There was no thought, I trow, of osier or of bulrush, when I have been prayed to couch my lance or draw my weapon; it is only when they are needless that they and their owner are undervalued. Well, my reverend father, be it so — if the Church can cast the Saracens from the Holy Land by grooms and horseboys, wherefore do you preach knights and nobles from the homes and the countries which they are born to protect and defend?”

The Archbishop looked steadily on him as he replied, “Not for the sake of their fleshly arm do we disturb your knights and barons in their prosecution of barbarous festivities, and murderous feuds, which you call enjoying their homes and protecting their domains, — not that Omnipotence requires their arm of flesh to execute the great predestined work of liberation — but for the weal of their immortal souls.” These last words he pronounced with great emphasis.

The Constable paced the floor impatiently, and muttered to himself, “Such is the airy guerdon for which hosts on hosts have been drawn from Europe to drench the sands of Palestine with their gore — such the vain promises for which we are called upon to barter our country, our lands, and our lives!”

“Is it Hugo de Lacy speaks thus?” said the Archbishop, arising from his seat, and qualifying his tone of censure with the appearance of shame and of regret —“Is it he who underprizes the renown of a knight — the virtue of a Christian — the advancement of his earthly honour — the more incalculable profit of his immortal soul? — Is it he who desires a solid and substantial recompense in lands or treasures, to be won by warring on his less powerful neighbours at home, while knightly honour and religious faith, his vow as a knight and his baptism as a Christian, call him to a more glorious and more dangerous strife? — Can it be indeed Hugo de Lacy, the mirror of the Anglo-Norman chivalry, whose thoughts can conceive such sentiments, whose words can utter them?”

“Flattery and fair speech, suitably mixed with taunts and reproaches, my lord,” answered the Constable, colouring and biting his lip, “may carry your point with others; but I am of a temper too solid to be either wheedled or goaded into measures of importance. Forbear, therefore, this strain of affected amazement; and believe me, that whether he goes to the Crusade or abides at home, the character of Hugo de Lacy will remain as unimpeached in point of courage as that of the Archbishop Baldwin in point of sanctitude.”

“May it stand much higher,” said the Archbishop, “than the reputation with which you vouchsafe to compare it! but a blaze may be extinguished as well as a spark; and I tell the Constable of Chester, that the fame which has set on his basnet for so many years, may flit from it in one moment, never to be recalled.”

“Who dares to say so?” said the Constable, tremblingly alive to the honour for which he had encountered so many dangers.

“A friend,” said the Prelate, “whose stripes should be received as benefits. You think of pay, Sir Constable, and of guerdon, as if you still stood in the market, free to chaffer on the terms of your service. I tell you, you are no longer your own master — you are, by the blessed badge you have voluntarily assumed, the soldier of God himself; nor can you fly from your standard without such infamy as even coistrels or grooms are unwilling to incur.”

“You deal all too hardly with us, my lord,” said Hugo de Lacy, stopping short in his troubled walk. “You of the spirituality make us laymen the pack-horses of your own concerns, and climb to ambitious heights by the help of our over-burdened shoulders; but all hath its limits — Becket transgressed it, and ——”

A gloomy and expressive look corresponded with the tone in which he spoke this broken sentence; and the Prelate, at no loss to comprehend his meaning, replied, in a firm and determined voice, “And he was murdered! — that is what you dare to hint to me — even to me, the successor of that glorified saint — as a motive for complying with your fickle and selfish wish to withdraw your hand from the plough. You know not to whom you address such a threat. True, Becket, from a saint militant on earth, arrived, by the bloody path of martyrdom, to the dignity of a saint in Heaven; and no less true is it, that, to attain a seat a thousand degrees beneath that of his blessed predecessor, the unworthy Baldwin were willing to submit, under Our Lady’s protection, to whatever the worst of wicked men can inflict on his earthly frame.”

“There needs not this show of courage, reverend father,” said Lacy, recollecting himself, “where there neither is, nor can be, danger. I pray you, let us debate this matter more deliberately. I have never meant to break off my purpose for the Holy Land, but only to postpone it. Methinks the offers that I have made are fair, and ought to obtain for me what has been granted to others in the like case — a slight delay in the time of my departure.”

“A slight delay on the part of such a leader as you, noble De Lacy,” answered the Prelate, “were a death-blow to our holy and most gallant enterprise. To meaner men we might have granted the privilege of marrying and giving in marriage, even although they care not for the sorrows of Jacob; but you, my lord, are a main prop of our enterprise, and, being withdrawn, the whole fabric may fall to the ground. Who in England will deem himself obliged to press forward, when Hugo de Lacy falls back? Think, my lord, less upon your plighted bride, and more on your plighted word; and believe not that a union can ever come to good, which shakes your purpose towards our blessed undertaking for the honour of Christendom.”

The Constable was embarrassed by the pertinacity of the Prelate, and began to give way to his arguments, though most reluctantly, and only because the habits and opinions of the time left him no means of combating his arguments, otherwise than by solicitation. “I admit,” he said, “my engagements for the Crusade, nor have I— I repeat it — farther desire than that brief interval which may be necessary to place my important affairs in order. Meanwhile, my vassals, led by my nephew ——”

“Promise that which is within thy power,” said the Prelate. “Who knows whether, in resentment of thy seeking after other things than HIS most holy cause, thy nephew may not be called hence, even while we speak together?”

“God forbid!” said the Baron, starting up, as if about to fly to his nephew’s assistance; then suddenly pausing, he turned on the Prelate a keen and investigating glance. “It is not well,” he said, “that your reverence should thus trifle with the dangers which threaten my house. Damian is dear to me for his own good qualities — dear for the sake of my only brother. — May God forgive us both! he died when we were in unkindness with each other. — My lord, your words import that my beloved nephew suffers pain and incurs danger on account of my offences?” The Archbishop perceived he had at length touched the chord to which his refractory penitent’s heart-strings must needs vibrate. He replied with circumspection, as well knowing with whom he had to deal — “Far be it from me to presume to interpret the counsels of Heaven! but we read in Scripture, that when the fathers eat sour grapes, the teeth of the children are set on edge. What so reasonable as that we should be punished for our pride and contumacy, by a judgment specially calculated to abate and bend that spirit of surquedry? [Footnote: Self-importance, or assumption.] You yourself best know if this disease clung to thy nephew before you had meditated defection from the banner of the Cross.”

Hugo de Lacy hastily recollected himself, and found that it was indeed true, that, until he thought of his union with Eveline, there had appeared no change in his nephew’s health. His silence and confusion did not escape the artful Prelate. He took the hand of the warrior as he stood before him overwhelmed in doubt, lest his preference of the continuance of his own house to the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre should have been punished by the disease which threatened his nephew’s life. “Come,” he said, “noble De Lacy — the judgment provoked by a moment’s presumption may be even yet averted by prayer and penitence. The dial went back at the prayer of the good King Hezekiah — down, down upon thy knees, and doubt not that, with confession, and penance, and absolution, thou mayst yet atone for thy falling away from the cause of Heaven.”

Borne down by the dictates of the religion in which he had been educated, and by the fears lest his delay was punished by his nephew’s indisposition and danger, the Constable sunk on his knees before the Prelate, whom he had shortly before well-nigh braved, confessed, as a sin to be deeply repented of, his purpose of delaying his departure for Palestine, and received, with patience at least, if not with willing acquiescence, the penance inflicted by the Archbishop; which consisted in a prohibition to proceed farther in his proposed wedlock with the Lady Eveline, until he was returned from Palestine, where he was bound by his vow to abide for the term of three years.

“And now, noble De Lacy,” said the Prelate, “once more my best beloved and most honoured friend — is not thy bosom lighter since thou hast thus nobly acquitted thee of thy debt to Heaven, and cleansed thy gallant spirit from those selfish and earthly stains which dimmed its brightness?”

The Constable sighed. “My happiest thoughts at this moment,” he said, “would arise from knowledge that my nephew’s health is amended.”

“Be not discomforted on the score of the noble Damian, your hopeful and valorous kinsman,” said the Archbishop, “for well I trust shortly ye shall hear of his recovery; or that, if it shall please God to remove him to a better world, the passage shall be so easy, and his arrival in yonder haven of bliss so speedy, that it were better for him to have died than to have lived.”

The Constable looked at him, as if to gather from his countenance more certainty of his nephew’s fate than his words seemed to imply; and the Prelate, to escape being farther pressed on the subject on which he was perhaps conscious he had ventured too far, rung a silver bell which stood before him on the table, and commanded the chaplain who entered at the summons, that he should despatch a careful messenger to the lodging of Damian Lacy to bring particular accounts of his health.

“A stranger,” answered the chaplain, “just come from the sick chamber of the noble Damian Lacy, waits here even now to have speech of my Lord Constable.”

“Admit him instantly,” said the Archbishop —“my mind tells me he brings us joyful tidings. — Never knew I such humble penitence — such willing resignation of natural affections and desires to the doing of Heaven’s service, but it was rewarded with a guerdon either temporal or spiritual.”

As he spoke, a man singularly dressed entered the apartment. His garments, of various colours, and showily disposed, were none of the newest or cleanest, neither were they altogether fitting for the presence in which he now stood.

“How now, sirrah!” said the Prelate; “when was it that jugglers and minstrels pressed into the company of such as we without permission?”

“So please you,” said the man, “my instant business was not with your reverend lordship, but with my lord the Constable, to whom I will hope that my good news may atone for my evil apparel.”

“Speak, sirrah, does my kinsman live?” said the Constable eagerly.

“And is like to live, my lord,” answered the man —“a favourable crisis (so the leeches call it) hath taken place in his disorder, and they are no longer under any apprehensions for his life.”

“Now, God be praised, that hath granted me so much mercy!” said the Constable.

“Amen, amen!” replied the Archbishop solemnly. —“About what period did this blessed change take place?”

“Scarcely a quarter of an hour since,” said the messenger, “a soft sleep fell on the sick youth, like dew upon a parched field in summer — he breathed freely — the burning heat abated — and, as I said, the leeches no longer fear for his life.”

“Marked you the hour, my Lord Constable?” said the Bishop, with exultation —“Even then you stooped to those counsels which Heaven suggested through the meanest of its servants! But two words avouching penitence — but one brief prayer — and some kind saint has interceded for an instant hearing, and a liberal granting of thy petition. Noble Hugo,” he continued, grasping his hand in a species of enthusiasm, “surely Heaven designs to work high things by the hand of him whose faults are thus readily forgiven — whose prayer is thus instantly heard. For this shall Te Deum Laudamus be said in each church, and each convent in Gloucester, ere the world be a day older.”

The Constable, no less joyful, though perhaps less able to perceive an especial providence in his nephew’s recovery, expressed his gratitude to the messenger of the good tidings, by throwing him his purse.

“I thank you, noble lord,” said the man; “but if I stoop to pick up this taste of your bounty, it is only to restore it again to the donor.”

“How now, sir?” said the Constable, “methinks thy coat seems not so well lined as needs make thee spurn at such a guerdon.”

“He that designs to catch larks, my lord,” replied the messenger, “must not close his net upon sparrows — I have a greater boon to ask of your lordship, and therefore I decline your present gratuity.”

“A greater boon, ha!” said the Constable — “I am no knight-errant, to bind myself by promise to grant it ere I know its import; but do thou come to my pavilion tomorrow, and thou wilt not find me unwilling to do what is reason.”

So saying, he took leave of the Prelate, and returned homeward, failing not to visit his nephew’s lodging as he passed, where he received the same pleasant assurances which had been communicated by the messenger of the particoloured mantle.

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