The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Sixth.

What! fair and young-, and faithful too?

A miracle if this be true.

WALLER.

Rose, by nature one of the most disinterested and affectionate maidens that ever breathed, was the first who, hastily considering the peculiar condition in which her lady was placed, and the marked degree of restraint which had hitherto characterized her intercourse with her youthful guardian, became anxious to know how the wounded knight was to be disposed of; and when she came to Eveline’s side for the purpose of asking this important question, her resolution well-nigh failed her.

The appearance of Eveline was indeed such as might have made it almost cruelty to intrude upon her any other subject of anxious consideration than those with which her mind had been so lately assailed, and was still occupied. Her countenance was as pale as death could have made it, unless where it was specked with drops of blood; her veil, torn and disordered, was soiled with dust and with gore; her hair, wildly dishevelled, fell in, elf-locks on her brow and shoulders, and a single broken and ragged feather, which was all that remained of her headgear, had been twisted among her tresses and still flowed there, as if in mockery, rather than ornament. Her eyes were fixed on the litter where Damian was deposited, and she rode close beside it, without apparently wasting a thought on any thing, save the danger of him who was extended there.

Rose plainly saw that her lady was under feelings of excitation, which might render it difficult for her to take a wise and prudent view of her own situation. She endeavoured gradually to awaken her to a sense of it. “Dearest lady,” said Rose, “will it please you to take my mantle?”

“Torment me not,” answered Eveline, with some sharpness in her accent.

“Indeed, my lady,” said Dame Gillian, bustling up as one who feared her functions as mistress of the robes might be interfered with —“indeed, my lady, Rose Flammock speaks truth; and neither your kirtle nor your gown are sitting as they should do; and, to speak truth, they are but barely decent. And so, if Rose will turn herself, and put her horse out of my way,” continued the tire-woman, “I will put your dress in better order in the sticking in of a bodkin, than any Fleming of them all could do in twelve hours.”

“I care not for my dress,” replied Eveline, in the same manner as before.

“Care then for your honour — for your fame,” said Rose, riding close to her mistress, and whispering in her ear; “think, and that hastily, how you are to dispose of this wounded young man.”

“To the castle,” answered Eveline aloud, as if scorning the affectation of secrecy; “lead to the castle, and that straight as you can.”

“Why not rather to his own camp, or to Malpas?” said Rose — “dearest lady, believe, it will be for the best.”

“Wherefore not — wherefore not? — wherefore not leave him on the way-side at once, to the knife of the Welshman, and the teeth of the wolf?-Once — twice — three times has he been my preserver. Where I go, he shall go; nor will I be in safety myself a moment sooner than I know that he is so.”

Rose saw that she could make no impression on her mistress, and her own reflection told her that the wounded man’s life might be endangered by a longer transportation than was absolutely necessary. An expedient occurred to her, by which she imagined this objection might be obviated; but it was necessary she should consult her father. She struck her palfrey with her riding-rod, and in a moment her diminutive, though beautiful figure, and her spirited little jennet, were by the side of the gigantic Fleming and his tall black horse, and riding, as it were, in their vast shadow. “My dearest father,” said Rose, “the lady intends that Sir Damian be transported to the castle, where it is like he may be a long sojourner; — what think you?-is that wholesome counsel?”

“Wholesome for the youth, surely, Roschen,” answered the Fleming, “because he will escape the better risk of a fever.”

“True; but is it wise for my lady?” continued Rose.

“Wise enough, if she deal wisely. But wherefore shouldst thou doubt her, Roschen?”

“I know not,” said Rose, unwilling to breathe even to her father the fears and doubts which she herself entertained; “but where there are evil tongues, there may be evil rehearsing. Sir Damian and my lady are both very young-Methinks it were better, dearest father, would you offer the shelter of your roof to the wounded knight, in the stead of his being carried to the castle.”

“That I shall not, wench,” answered the Fleming, hastily —“that I shall not, if I may help. Norman shall not cross my quiet threshold, nor Englishman neither, to mock my quiet thrift, and consume my substance. Thou dost not know them, because thou art ever with thy lady, and hast her good favour; but I know them well; and the best I can get from them is Lazy Flanderkin, and Greedy Flanderkin, and Flemish, sot —— I thank the saints they cannot say Coward Flanderkin, since Gwenwyn’s Welsh uproar.”

“I had ever thought, my father,” answered Rose, “that your spirit was too calm to regard these base calumnies. Bethink you we are under this lady’s banner, and that she has been my loving mistress, and her father was your good lord; to the Constable, too, are you beholden, for enlarged privileges. Money may pay debt, but kindness only can requite kindness; and I forebode that you will never have such an opportunity to do kindness to the houses of Berenger and De Lacy, as by opening the doors of your house to this wounded knight.”

“The doors of my house!” answered the Fleming —“do I know how long I may call that, or any house upon earth, my own? Alas, my daughter, we came hither to fly from the rage of the elements, but who knows how soon we may perish by the wrath of men!”

“You speak strangely, my father,” said Rose; “it holds not with your solid wisdom to augur such general evil from the rash enterprise of a Welsh outlaw.”

“I think not of the One-eyed robber,” said Wilkin; “although the increase and audacity of such robbers as Dawfyd is no good sign of a quiet country. But thou, who livest within yonder walls, hearest but little of what passes without, and your estate is less anxious; — you had known nothing of the news from me, unless in case I had found it necessary to remove to another country.”

“To remove, my dearest father, from the land where your thrift and industry have gained you an honourable competency?”

“Ay, and where the hunger of wicked men, who envy me the produce of my thrift, may likely bring me to a dishonourable death. There have been tumults among the English rabble in more than one county, and their wrath is directed against those of our nation, as if we were Jews or heathens, and not better Christians and better men than themselves. They have, at York, Bristol, and elsewhere, sacked the houses of the Flemings, spoiled their goods, misused their families, and murdered themselves. — And why? — except that we have brought among them the skill and industry which they possessed not; and because wealth, which they would never else have seen in Britain, was the reward of our art and our toil. Roschen, this evil spirit is spreading wider daily. Here we are more safe than elsewhere, because we form a colony of some numbers and strength. But I confide not in our neighbours; and hadst not thou, Rose, been in security, I would long ere this have given up all, and left Britain.”

“Given up all, and left Britain!”— The words sounded prodigious in the ears of his daughter, who knew better than any one how successful her father had been in his industry, and how unlikely one of his firm and sedate temper was to abandon known and present advantages for the dread of distant or contingent peril. At length she replied, “If such be your peril, my father, methinks your house and goods cannot have a better protection than, the presence of this noble knight. Where lives the man who dare aught of violence against the house which harbours Damian de Lacy?”

“I know not that,” said the Fleming, in the same composed and steady, but ominous tone —“May Heaven forgive it me, if it be sin! but I see little save folly in these Crusades, which the priesthood have preached up so successfully. Here has the Constable been absent for nearly three years, and no certain tidings of his life or death, victory or defeat. He marched from hence, as if he meant not to draw bridle or sheathe sword until the Holy Sepulchre was won from the Saracens, yet we can hear with no certainty whether even a hamlet has been taken from the Saracens. In the mean-while, the people that are at home grow discontented; their lords, with the better part of their followers, are in Palestine — dead or alive we scarcely know; the people themselves are oppressed and flayed by stewards and deputies, whose yoke is neither so light nor so lightly endured as that of the actual lord. The commons, who naturally hate the knights and gentry, think it no bad time to make some head against them — ay, and there be some of noble blood who would not care to be their leaders, that they may have their share in the spoil; for foreign expeditions and profligate habits have made many poor; and he that is poor will murder his father for money. I hate poor people; and I would the devil had every man who cannot keep himself by the work of his own hand!”

The Fleming concluded, with this characteristic imprecation, a speech which gave Rose a more frightful view of the state of England, than, shut up as she was within the Garde Doloureuse, she had before had an opportunity of learning. “Surely,” she said — “surely these violences of which you speak are not to be dreaded by those who live under the banner of De Lacy and of Berenger?”

“Berenger subsists but in name,” answered Wilkin Flammock, “and Damian, though a brave youth, hath not his uncle’s ascendency of character, and authority. His men also complain that they are harassed with the duty of watching for protection of a castle, in itself impregnable, and sufficiently garrisoned, and that they lose all opportunity of honourable enterprise, as they call it — that is, of fight and spoil — in this inactive and inglorious manner of life. They say that Damian the beardless was a man, but that Damian with the mustache is no better than a woman; and that age, which has darkened his upper lip, hath at the same time blenched his courage. — And they say more, which were but wearisome to tell.”

“Nay, but, let me know what they say; let me know it, for Heaven’s sake!” answered Rose, “if it concern, as it must concern, my dear lady.”

“Even so, Roschen,” answered Wilkin. “There are many among the Norman men-at-arms who talk, over their wine-cups, how that Damian de Lacy is in love with his uncle’s betrothed bride; ay, and that they correspond together by art magic.”

“By art magic, indeed, it must be,” said Rose, smiling scornfully, “for by no earthly means do they correspond, as I, for one, can bear witness.”

“To art magic, accordingly, they impute it,” quoth Wilkin Flammock, “that so soon as ever my lady stirs beyond the portal of her castle, De Lacy is in the saddle with a party of his cavalry, though they are positively certain that he has received no messenger, letter, or other ordinary notice of her purpose; nor have they ever, on such occasions, scoured the passes long, ere they have seen or heard of my Lady Eveline’s being abroad.”

“This has not escaped me,” said Rose; “and my lady has expressed herself even displeased at the accuracy which Damian displayed in procuring a knowledge of her motions, as well as at the officious punctuality with which he has attended and guarded them. To-day has, however, shown,” she continued, “that his vigilance may serve a good purpose; and as they never met upon these occasions, but continued at such distance as excluded even the possibility of intercourse, methinks they might have escaped the censure of the most suspicious.”

“Ay, my daughter Roschen,” replied Wilkin; “but it is possible to drive caution so far as to excite suspicion. Why, say the men-at-arms, should these two observe such constant, yet such guarded intelligence with one another? Why should their approach be so near, and why, yet, should they never meet? If they had been merely the nephew, and the uncle’s bride, they must have had interviews avowedly and frankly; and, on the other hand, if they be two secret lovers, there is reason to believe that they do find their own private places of meeting, though they have art sufficient to conceal them.”

“Every word that you speak, my father,” replied the generous Rose, “increases the absolute necessity that you receive this wounded youth into your house. Be the evils you dread ever so great, yet, may you rely upon it, that they cannot be augmented by admitting him, with a few of his faithful followers.”

“Not one follower,” said the Fleming, hastily, “not one beef-fed knave of them, save the page that is to tend him, and the doctor that is to attempt his cure.”

“But I may offer the shelter of your roof to these three, at least?” answered Rose.

“Do as thou wilt, do as thou wilt,” said the doating father. “By my faith, Roschen, it is well for thee thou hast sense and moderation in asking, since I am so foolishly prompt in granting. This is one of your freaks, now, of honour or generosity — but commend me to prudence and honesty. — Ah! Rose, Rose, those who would do what is better than good, sometimes bring about what is worse than bad! — But I think I shall be quit of the trouble for the fear; and that thy mistress, who is, with reverence, something of a damsel errant, will stand stoutly for the chivalrous privilege of lodging her knight in her own bower, and tending him in person.”

The Fleming prophesied true. Rose had no sooner made the proposal to Eveline, that the wounded Damian should be left at her father’s house for his recovery, than her mistress briefly and positively rejected the proposal. “He has been my preserver,” she said, “and if there be one being left for whom the gates of the Garde Doloureuse should of themselves fly open, it is to Damian de Lacy. Nay, damsel, look not upon me with that suspicious and yet sorrowful countenance — they that are beyond disguise, my girl, contemn suspicion — It is to God and Our Lady that I must answer, and to them my bosom lies open!”

They proceeded in silence to the castle gate, when the Lady Eveline issued her orders that her Guardian, as she emphatically termed Damian, should be lodged in her father’s apartment; and, with the prudence of more advanced age, she gave the necessary direction for the reception and accommodation of his followers, and the arrangements which such an accession of guests required in the fortress. All this she did with the utmost composure and presence of mind, even before she altered or arranged her own disordered dress.

Another step still remained to be taken. She, hastened to the Chapel of the Virgin, and prostrating herself before her divine protectress, returned thanks for her second deliverance, and implored her guidance and direction, and, through her intercession, that of Almighty God, for the disposal and regulation of her conduct. “Thou knowest,” she said, “that from no confidence in my own strength, have I thrust myself into danger. Oh, make me strong where I am most weak — Let not my gratitude and my compassion be a snare to me; and while I strive to discharge the duties which thankfulness imposes on me, save me from the evil tongues of men — and save — oh, save me from the insidious devices of my own heart!”

She then told her rosary with devout fervour, and retiring from the chapel to her own apartment, summoned her women to adjust her dress, and remove the external appearance of the violence to which she had been so lately subjected.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/betrothed/chapter26.html

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