The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Eighth

’Twas when ye raised,’ mid sap and siege,

The banner of your rightful liege

At your she captain’s call,

Who, miracle of womankind,

Lent mettle to the meanest hind

That mann’d her castle wall.

WILLIAM STEWART ROSE.

The morning light was scarce fully spread abroad, when Eveline Berenger, in compliance with her confessor’s advice, commenced her progress around the walls and battlements of the beleaguered castle, to confirm, by her personal entreaties, the minds of the valiant, and to rouse the more timid to hope and to exertion. She wore a rich collar and bracelets, as ornaments which indicated her rank — and high descent; and her under tunic, in the manner of the times, was gathered around her slender waist by a girdle, embroidered with precious stones, and secured by a large buckle of gold. From one side of the girdle was suspended a pouch or purse, splendidly adorned with needle-work, and on the left side it sustained a small dagger of exquisite workmanship. A dark-coloured mantle, chosen as emblematic of her clouded fortunes, was flung loosely around her; and its hood was brought forward, so as to shadow, but not hide, her beautiful countenance. Her looks had lost the high and ecstatic expression which had been inspired by supposed revelation, but they retained a sorrowful and mild, yet determined character — and, in addressing the soldiers, she used a mixture of entreaty and command — now throwing herself upon their protection — now demanding in her aid the just tribute of their allegiance.

The garrison was divided, as military skill dictated, in groups, on the points most liable to attack, or from which an assailing enemy might be best annoyed; and it was this unavoidable separation of their force into small detachments, which showed to disadvantage the extent of walls, compared with the number of the defenders; and though Wilkin Flammock had contrived several means of concealing this deficiency of force from the enemy, he could not disguise it from the defenders of the castle, who cast mournful glances on the length of battlements which were unoccupied save by sentinels, and then looked out to the fatal field of battle, loaded with the bodies of those who ought to have been their comrades in this hour of peril.

The presence of Eveline did much to rouse the garrison from this state of discouragement. She glided from post to post, from tower to tower of the old gray fortress, as a gleam of light passes over a clouded landscape, and touching its various points in succession, calls them out to beauty and effect. Sorrow and fear sometimes make sufferers eloquent. She addressed the various nations who composed her little garrison, each in appropriate language. To the English, she spoke as children of the soil — to the Flemings, as men who had become denizens by the right of hospitality — to the Normans, as descendants of that victorious race, whose sword had made them the nobles and sovereigns of every land where its edge had been tried. To them she used the language of chivalry, by whose rules the meanest of that nation regulated, or affected to regulate, his actions. The English she reminded of their good faith and honesty of heart; and to the Flemings she spoke of the destruction of their property, the fruits of their honest industry. To all she proposed vengeance for the death of their leader and his followers — to all she recommended confidence in God and Our Lady of the Garde Doloureuse; and she ventured to assure all, of the strong and victorious bands that were already in march to their relief.

“Will the gallant champions of the cross,” she said, “think of leaving their native land, while the wail of women and of orphans is in their ears? — it were to convert their pious purpose into mortal sin, and to derogate from the high fame they have so well won. Yes — fight but valiantly, and perhaps, before the very sun that is now slowly rising shall sink in the sea, you will see it shining on the ranks of Shrewsbury and Chester. When did the Welshmen wait to hear the clangour of their trumpets, or the rustling of their silken banners? Fight bravely — fight freely but awhile! — our castle is strong — our munition ample — your hearts are good — your arms are powerful — God is nigh to us, and our friends are not far distant. Fight, then, in the name of all that is good and holy — fight for yourselves, for your wives, for your children, and for your property — and oh! fight for an orphan maiden, who hath no other defenders but what a sense of her sorrows, and the remembrance of her father, may raise up among you.”

Such speeches as these made a powerful impression on the men to whom they were addressed, already hardened, by habits and sentiments, against a sense of danger. The chivalrous Normans swore, on the cross of their swords, they would die to a man ere they would surrender their posts — the blunter Anglo-Saxons cried, “Shame on him who would render up such a lamb as Eveline to a Welsh wolf, while he could make her a bulwark with his body!”— Even the cold Flemings caught a spark of the enthusiasm with which the others were animated, and muttered to each other praises of the young lady’s beauty, and short but honest resolves to do the best they might in her defence.

Rose Flammock, who accompanied her lady with one or two attendants upon her circuit around the castle, seemed to have relapsed into her natural character of a shy and timid girl, out of the excited state into which she had been brought by the suspicions which in the evening before had attached to her father’s character. She tripped closely but respectfully after Eveline, and listened to what she said from time to time, with the awe and admiration of a child listening to its tutor, while only her moistened eye expressed how far she felt or comprehended the extent of the danger, or the force of the exhortations. There was, however, a moment when the youthful maiden’s eye became more bright, her step more confident, her looks more elevated. This was when they approached the spot where her father, having discharged the duties of commander of the garrison, was now exercising those of engineer, and displaying great skill, as well as wonderful personal strength, in directing and assisting the establishment of a large mangonel, (a military engine used for casting stones,) upon a station commanding an exposed postern gate, which led from the western side of the castle down to the plain; and where a severe assault was naturally to be expected. The greater part of his armour lay beside him, but covered with his cassock to screen it from morning dew; while in his leathern doublet, with arms bare to the shoulder, and a huge sledge-hammer in his hand, he set an example to the mechanics who worked under his direction.

In slow and solid natures there is usually a touch of shamefacedness, and a sensitiveness to the breach of petty observances. Wilkin Flammock had been unmoved even to insensibility at the imputation of treason so lately cast upon him; but he coloured high, and was confused, while, hastily throwing on his cassock, he endeavoured, to conceal the dishabille in which he had been surprised by the Lady Eveline. Not so his daughter. Proud of her father’s zeal, her eye gleamed from him to her mistress with a look of triumph, which seemed to say, “And this faithful follower is he who was suspected of treachery!”

Eveline’s own bosom made her the same reproach; and anxious to atone for her momentary doubt of his fidelity, she offered for his acceptance a ring of value; “in small amends,” she said, “of a momentary misconstruction.” “It needs not, lady,” said Flammock, with his usual bluntness, “unless I have the freedom to bestow the gaud on Rose; for I think she was grieved enough at that which moved me little — as why should it?”

“Dispose of it as thou wilt,” said Eveline; “the stone it bears is as true as thine own faith.”

Here Eveline paused, and looking on the broad expanded plain which extended between the site of the castle and the river, observed how silent and still the morning was rising over what had so lately been a scene of such extensive slaughter.

“It will not be so long,” answered Flammock; “we shall have noise enough, and that nearer to our ears than yesterday.”

“Which way lie the enemy?” said Eveline; “methinks I can spy neither tents nor pavilions.”

“They use none, lady,” answered Wilkin Flammock. “Heaven has denied them the grace and knowledge to weave linen enough for such a purpose — Yonder they lie on both sides of the river, covered with nought but their white mantles. Would one think that a host of thieves and cut-throats could look so like the finest object in nature — a well-spread bleaching-field! — Hark! — hark — the wasps are beginning to buzz; they will soon be plying their stings.”

In fact, there was heard among the Welsh army a low and indistinct murmur, like that of

“Bees alarmed and arming in their hives.”

Terrified at the hollow menacing sound, which grew louder every moment, Rose, who had all the irritability of a sensitive temperament, clung to her father’s arm, saying, in a terrified whisper, “It is like the sound of the sea the night before the great inundation.”

“And it betokens too rough weather for woman to be abroad in,” said Flammock. “Go to your chamber, Lady Eveline, if it be your will — and go you too, Roschen — God bless you both — ye do but keep us idle here.”

And, indeed, conscious that she had done all that was incumbent upon her, and fearful lest the chill which she felt creeping over her own heart should infect others, Eveline took her vassal’s advice, and withdrew slowly to her own apartment, often casting back her eye to the place where the Welsh, now drawn out and under arms, were advancing their ridgy battalions, like the waves of an approaching tide.

The Prince of Powys had, with considerable military skill, adopted a plan of attack suitable to the fiery genius of his followers, and calculated to alarm on every point the feeble garrison.

The three sides of the castle which were defended by the river, were watched each by a numerous body of the British, with instructions to confine themselves to the discharge of arrows, unless they should observe that some favourable opportunity of close attack should occur. But far the greater part of Gwenwyn’s forces, consisting of three columns of great strength, advanced along the plain on the western side of the castle, and menaced, with a desperate assault, the walls, which, in that direction, were deprived of the defence of the river. The first of these formidable bodies consisted entirely of archers, who dispersed themselves in front of the beleaguered place, and took advantage of every bush and rising ground which could afford them shelter; and then began to bend their bows and shower their arrows on the battlements and loop-holes, suffering, however, a great deal more damage than they were able to inflict, as the garrison returned their shot in comparative safety, and with more secure and deliberate aim. [Footnote: The Welsh were excellent bowmen; but, under favour of Lord Lyttleton, they probably did not use the long bow, the formidable weapon of the Normans, and afterwards of the English yeomen. That of the Welsh most likely rather resembled the bow of the cognate Celtic tribes of Ireland, and of the Highlanders of Scotland. It was shorter than the Norman long bow, as being drawn to the breast, not to the ear, more loosely strung, and the arrow having a heavy iron head; altogether, in short, a less effective weapon. It appears, from the following anecdote, that there was a difference between the Welsh arrow and those of the English.

In 1122, Henry the II., marching into Powys-Land to chastise Meredith ap Blethyn and certain rebels, in passing a defile, was struck by an arrow on the breast. Repelled by the excellence of his breast-plate, the shaft fell to the ground. When the King felt the blow, and saw the shaft, he swore his usual oath, by the death of our Lord, that the arrow came not from a Welsh but an English bow; and, influenced by this belief hastily put an end to the war.] Under cover, however, of their discharge of arrows, two very strong bodies of Welsh attempted to carry the outer defences of the castle by storm. They had axes to destroy the palisades, then called barriers; faggots to fill up the external ditches; torches to set fire to aught combustible which they might find; and, above all, ladders to scale the walls.

These detachments rushed with incredible fury towards the point of attack, despite a most obstinate defence, and the great loss which they sustained by missiles of every kind, and continued the assault for nearly an hour, supplied by reinforcements which more than recruited their diminished numbers. When they were at last compelled to retreat, they seemed to adopt a new and yet more harassing species of attack. A large body assaulted one exposed point of the fortress with such fury as to draw thither as many of the besieged as could possibly be spared from other defended posts, and when there appeared a point less strongly manned than was adequate to defence, that, in its turn, was furiously assailed by a separate body of the enemy.

Thus the defenders of the Garde Doloureuse resembled the embarrassed traveller, engaged in repelling a swarm of hornets, which, while he brushes them, from one part, fix in swarms upon another, and drive him to despair by their numbers, and the boldness and multiplicity of their attacks. The postern being of course a principal point of attack, Father Aldrovand, whose anxiety would not permit him to be absent from the walls, and who, indeed, where decency would permit, took an occasional share in the active defence of the place, hasted thither, as the point chiefly in danger.

Here he found the Fleming, like a second Ajax, grim with dust and blood, working with his own hands the great engine which he had lately helped to erect, and at the same time giving heedful eye to all the exigencies around.

“How thinkest thou of this day’s work?” said the monk in a whisper.

“What skills it talking of it, father?” replied Flammock; “thou art no soldier, and I have no time for words.”

“Nay, take thy breath,” said the monk, tucking up the sleeves of his frock; “I will try to help thee the whilst — although, our Lady pity me, I know nothing of these strange devices — not even the names. But our rule commands us to labour; there can be no harm therefore, in turning this winch — or in placing this steel-headed piece of wood opposite to the chord, (suiting his actions to his words,) nor see I aught uncanonical in adjusting the lever thus, or in touching the spring.”

The large bolt whizzed through the air as he spoke, and was so successfully aimed, that it struck down a Welsh chief of eminence, to which Gwenwyn himself was in the act of giving some important charge.

“Well driven, trebuchet — well flown, quarrel!” cried the monk, unable to contain his delight, and giving in his triumph, the true technical names to the engine, and the javelin which it discharged.

“And well aimed, monk,” added Wilkin Flammock; “I think thou knowest more than is in thy breviary.”

“Care not thou for that,” said the father; “and now that thou seest I can work an engine, and that the Welsh knaves seem something low in stomach, what think’st thou of our estate?”

“Well enough — for a bad one — if we may hope for speedy succour; but men’s bodies are of flesh, not of iron, and we may be at last wearied out by numbers. Only one soldier to four yards of wall, is a fearful odds; and the villains are aware of it, and keep us to sharp work.”

The renewal of the assault here broke off their conversation, nor did the active enemy permit them to enjoy much repose until sunset; for, alarming them with repeated menaces of attack upon different points, besides making two or three formidable and furious assaults, they left them scarce time to breathe, or to take a moment’s refreshment. Yet the Welsh paid a severe price for their temerity; for, while nothing could exceed the bravery with which their men repeatedly advanced to the attack, those which were made latest in the day had less of animated desperation than their first onset; and it is probable, that the sense of having sustained great loss, and apprehension of its effects on the spirits of his people, made nightfall, and the interruption of the contest, as acceptable to Gwenwyn as to the exhausted garrison of the Garde Doloureuse.

But in the camp or leaguer of the Welsh there was glee and triumph, for the loss of the past day was forgotten in recollection of the signal victory which had preceded this siege; and the dispirited garrison could hear from their walls the laugh and the song, the sound of harping and gaiety, which triumphed by anticipation over their surrender.

The sun was for some time sunk, the twilight deepened, and night closed with a blue and cloudless sky, in which the thousand spangles that deck the firmament received double brilliancy from some slight touch of frost, although the paler planet, their mistress, was but in her first quarter. The necessities of the garrison were considerably aggravated by that of keeping a very strong and watchful guard, ill according with the weakness of their numbers, at a time which appeared favourable to any sudden nocturnal alarm; and, so urgent was this duty, that those who had been more slightly wounded on the preceding day, were obliged to take their share in it, notwithstanding their hurts. The monk and Fleming, who now perfectly understood each other, went in company around the walls at midnight, exhorting the warders to be watchful, and examining with their own eyes the state of the fortress. It was in the course of these rounds, and as they were ascending an elevated platform by a range of narrow and uneven steps, something galling to the monk’s tread, that they perceived on the summit to which they were ascending, instead of the black corslet of the Flemish sentinel who had been placed there, two white forms, the appearance of which struck Wilkin Flammock with more dismay than he had shown during any of the doubtful events of the preceding day’s fight.

“Father,” he said, “betake yourself to your tools — es spuckt — there are hobgoblins here.”

The good father had not learned as a priest to defy the spiritual host, whom, as a soldier, he had dreaded more than any mortal enemy; but he began to recite, with chattering teeth, the exorcism of the church, “Conjuro vos omnes, spiritus maligni, magni, atque parvi,“— when he was interrupted by the voice of Eveline, who called out, “Is it you, Father Aldrovand?”

Much lightened at heart by finding they had no ghost to deal with, Wilkin Flammock and the priest advanced hastily to the platform, where they found the lady with her faithful Rose, the former with a half-pike in her hand, like a sentinel on duty.

“How is this, daughter?” said the monk; “how came you here, and thus armed? and where is the sentinel — the lazy Flemish hound, that should have kept the post?”

“May he not be a lazy hound, yet not a Flemish one, father?” said Rose, who was ever awakened by anything which seemed a reflection upon her country; “methinks I have heard of such curs of English breed.”

“Go to, Rose, you are too malapert for a young maiden,” said her father. “Once more, where is Peterkin Vorst, who should have kept this post?”

“Let him not be blamed for my fault,” said Eveline, pointing to a place where the Flemish sentinel lay in the shade of the battlement fast asleep —“He was overcome with toil — had fought hard through the day, and when I saw him asleep as I came hither, like a wandering spirit that cannot take slumber or repose, I would not disturb the rest which I envied. As he had fought for me, I might, I thought, watch an hour for him; so I took his weapon with the purpose of remaining here till some one should come to relieve him.”

“I will relieve the schelm, with a vengeance!” said Wilkin Flammock, and saluted the slumbering and prostrate warder with two kicks, which made his corslet clatter. The man started to his feet in no small alarm, which he would have communicated to the next sentinels and to the whole garrison, by crying out that the Welsh were upon the walls, had not the monk covered his broad mouth with his hand just as the roar was issuing forth. —“Peace, and get thee down to the under bayley,” said he; —“thou deservest death, by all the policies of war — but, look ye, varlet, and see who has saved your worthless neck, by watching while you were dreaming of swine’s flesh and beer-pots.”

The Fleming, although as yet but half awake, was sufficiently conscious of his situation, to sneak off without reply, after two or three awkward congees, as well to Eveline as to those by whom his repose had been so unceremoniously interrupted.

“He deserves to be tied neck and heel, the houndsfoot,” said Wilkin. “But what would you have, lady? My countrymen cannot live without rest or sleep.” So saying, he gave a yawn so wide, as if he had proposed to swallow one of the turrets at an angle of the platform on which he stood, as if it had only garnished a Christmas pasty.

“True, good Wilkin,” said Eveline; “and do you therefore take some rest, and trust to my watchfulness, at least till the guards are relieved. I cannot sleep if I would, and I would not if I could.”

“Thanks, lady,” said Flammock; “and in truth, as this is a centrical place, and the rounds must pass in an hour at farthest, I will e’en close my eyes for such a space, for the lids feel as heavy as flood-gates.”

“Oh, father, father!” exclaimed Rose, alive to her sire’s unceremonious neglect of decorum —“think where you are, and in whose presence!”

“Ay, ay, good Flammock,” said the monk, “remember the presence of a noble Norman maiden is no place for folding of cloaks and donning of night-caps.”

“Let him alone, father,” said Eveline, who in another moment might have smiled at the readiness with which Wilkin Flammock folded himself in his huge cloak, extended his substantial form on the stone bench, and gave the most decided tokens of profound repose, long ere the monk had done speaking. —“Forms and fashions of respect,” she continued, “are for times of ease and nicety; — when in danger, the soldier’s bedchamber is wherever he can find leisure for an hour’s sleep — his eating-hall, wherever he can obtain food. Sit thou down by Rose and me, good father, and tell us of some holy lesson which may pass away these hours of weariness and calamity.”

The father obeyed; but however willing to afford consolation, his ingenuity and theological skill suggested nothing better than a recitation of the penitentiary psalms, in which task he continued until fatigue became too powerful for him also, when he committed the same breach of decorum for which he had upbraided Wilkin Flammock, and fell fast asleep in the midst of his devotions.

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