The Betrothed, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Ninth

“Oh, night of wo,” she said, and wept,

“Oh, night foreboding sorrow!

“Oh, night of wo,” she said and wept,

“But more I dread the morrow!”

SIR GILBERT ELLIOT.

The fatigue which had exhausted Flammock and the monk, was unfelt by the two anxious maidens, who remained with their eyes bent, now upon the dim landscape, now on the stars by which it was lighted, as if they could have read there the events which the morrow was to bring forth. It was a placid and melancholy scene. Tree and field, and hill and plain, lay before them in doubtful light, while at greater distance, their eye could with difficulty trace one or two places where the river, hidden in general by banks and trees, spread its more expanded bosom to the stars, and the pale crescent. All was still, excepting the solemn rush of the waters, and now and then the shrill tinkle of a harp, which, heard from more than a mile’s distance through the midnight silence, announced that some of the Welshmen still protracted their most beloved amusement. The wild notes, partially heard, seemed like the voice of some passing spirit; and, connected as they were with ideas of fierce and unrelenting hostility, thrilled on Eveline’s ear, as if prophetic of war and wo, captivity and death. The only other sounds which disturbed the extreme stillness of the night, were the occasional step of a sentinel upon his post, or the hooting of the owls, which seemed to wail the approaching downfall of the moonlight turrets, in which they had established their ancient habitations.

The calmness of all around seemed to press like a weight on the bosom of the unhappy Eveline, and brought to her mind a deeper sense of present grief, and keener apprehension of future horrors, than had reigned there during the bustle, blood, and confusion of the preceding day. She rose up — she sat down — she moved to and fro on the platform — she remained fixed like a statue to a single spot, as if she were trying by variety of posture to divert her internal sense of fear and sorrow.

At length, looking at the monk and the Fleming as they slept soundly under the shade of the battlement, she could no longer forbear breaking silence. “Men are happy,” she said, “my beloved Rose; their anxious thoughts are either diverted by toilsome exertion, or drowned in the insensibility which follows it. They may encounter wounds and death, but it is we who feel in the spirit a more keen anguish than the body knows, and in the gnawing sense of present ill and fear of future misery, suffer a living death, more cruel than that which ends our woes at once.”

“Do not be thus downcast, my noble lady,” said Rose; “be rather what you were yesterday, caring for the wounded, for the aged, for every one but yourself — exposing even your dear life among the showers of the Welsh arrows, when doing so could give courage to others; while I— shame on me — could but tremble, sob, and weep, and needed all the little wit I have to prevent my shouting with the wild cries of the Welsh, or screaming and groaning with those of our friends who fell around me.”

“Alas! Rose,” answered her mistress, “you may at pleasure indulge your fears to the verge of distraction itself — you have a father to fight and watch for you. Mine — my kind, noble, and honoured parent, lies dead on yonder field, and all which remains for me is to act as may best become his memory. But this moment is at least mine, to think upon and to mourn for him.”

So saying, and overpowered by the long-repressed burst of filial sorrow, she sunk down on the banquette which ran along the inside of the embattled parapet of the platform, and murmuring to herself, “He is gone for ever!” abandoned herself to the extremity of grief. One hand grasped unconsciously the weapon which she held, and served, at the same time, to prop her forehead, while the tears, by which she was now for the first time relieved, flowed in torrents from her eyes, and her sobs seemed so convulsive, that Rose almost feared her heart was bursting. Her affection and sympathy dictated at once the kindest course which Eveline’s condition permitted. Without attempting to control the torrent of grief in its full current, she gently sat her down beside the mourner, and possessing herself of the hand which had sunk motionless by her side, she alternately pressed it to her lips, her bosom, and her brow — now covered it with kisses, now bedewed it with tears, and amid these tokens of the most devoted and humble sympathy, waited a more composed moment to offer her little stock of consolation in such deep silence and stillness, that, as the pale light fell upon the two beautiful young women, it seemed rather to show a group of statuary, the work of some eminent sculptor, than beings whose eyes still wept, and whose hearts still throbbed. At a little distance, the gleaming corslet of the Fleming, and the dark garments of Father Aldrovand, as they lay prostrate on the stone steps, might represent the bodies of those for whom the principal figures were mourning.

After a deep agony of many minutes, it seemed that the sorrows of Eveline were assuming a more composed character; her convulsive sobs were changed for long, low, profound sighs, and the course of her tears, though they still flowed, was milder and less violent. Her kind attendant, availing herself of these gentler symptoms, tried softly to win the spear from her lady’s grasp. “Let me be sentinel for a while.” she said, “my sweet lady — I will at least scream louder than you, if any danger should approach.” She ventured to kiss her cheek, and throw her arms around Eveline’s neck while she spoke; but a mute caress, which expressed her sense of the faithful girl’s kind intentions to minister if possible to her repose, was the only answer returned. They remained for many minutes silent in the same posture — Eveline, like an upright and tender poplar — Rose, who encircled her lady in her arms, like the woodbine which twines around it.

At length Rose suddenly felt her young mistress shiver in her embrace, and then Eveline’s hand grasped her arm rigidly as she whispered, “Do you hear nothing?”

“No — nothing but the hooting of the owl,” answered Rose, timorously.

“I heard a distant sound,” said Eveline — “I thought I heard it — hark, it comes again! — Look from the battlements, Rose, while I awaken the priest and thy father.”

“Dearest lady,” said Rose, “I dare not — what can this sound be that is heard by one only? — You are deceived by the rush of the river.”

“I would not alarm the castle unnecessarily,” said Eveline, pausing, “or even break your father’s needful slumbers, by a fancy of mine — But hark — I hear it again — distinct amidst the intermitting sounds of the rushing water — a low tremulous sound, mingled with a tinkling like smiths or armourers at work upon their anvils.”

Rose had by this time sprung up on the banquette, and flinging back her rich tresses of fair hair, had applied her hand behind her ear to collect the distant sound. “I hear it,” she cried, “and it increases — Awake them, for Heaven’s sake, and without a moment’s delay!”

Eveline accordingly stirred the sleepers with the reversed end of the lance, and as they started to their feet in haste, she whispered in a hasty but cautious voice, “To arms — the Welsh are upon us!” “What — where?” said Wilkin Flammock — “where be they?”

“Listen, and you will hear them arming,” she replied.

“The noise is but in thine own fancy, lady,” said the Fleming, whose organs were of the same heavy character with his form and his disposition. “I would I had not gone to sleep at all, since I was to be awakened so soon.”

“Nay, but listen, good Flammock-the sound of armour comes from the north-east.”

“The Welsh lie not in that quarter, lady,” said Wilkin; “and besides, they wear no armour.”

“I hear it — I hear it!” said Father Aldrovand, who had been listening for some time. “All praise to St. Benedict! — Our Lady of the Garde Doloureuse has been gracious to her servants as ever! — It is the tramp of horses — it is the clash of armour — the chivalry of the Marches are coming to our relief-Kyrie Eleison!”

“I hear something too,” said Flammock — “something like the hollow sound of the great sea, when it burst into my neighbour Klinkerman’s warehouse, and rolled his pots and pans against each other. But it were an evil mistake, father, to take foes for friends — we were best rouse the people.”

“Tush!” said the priest, “talk to me of pots and kettles? — Was I, squire of the body to Count Stephen Mauleverer for twenty years, and do I not know the tramp of a war-horse, or the clash of a mail-coat? — But call the men to the walls at any rate, and have me the best drawn up at the base-court — we may help them by a sally.”

“That will not be rashly undertaken with my consent,” murmured the Fleming; “but to the wall if you will, and 111 good time. But keep your Normans and English silent, Sir Priest, else their unruly and noisy joy will awaken the Welsh camp, and prepare them for their unwelcome visitors.”

The monk laid his finger on his lip in sign of obedience, and they parted in opposite directions, each to rouse the defenders of the castle, who were soon heard drawing from all quarters to their posts upon the walls, with hearts in a very different mood from that in which they had descended from them. The utmost caution being used to prevent noise, the manning of the walls was accomplished in silence, and the garrison awaited in, breathless expectation the success of the forces who were rapidly advancing to their relief.

The character of the sounds which now loudly awakened the silence of this eventful night, could no longer be mistaken. They were distinguishable from the rushing of a mighty river, or from the muttering sound of distant thunder, by the sharp and angry notes which the clashing of the rider’s arms mingled with the deep bass of the horses’ rapid tread. From the long continuance of the sounds, their loudness, and the extent of horizon from which they seemed to come, all in the castle were satisfied that the approaching relief consisted of several very strong bodies of horse. [Footnote: Even the sharp and angry clang made by the iron scabbards of modern cavalry ringing against the steel-tipp’d saddles and stirrup, betrays their approach from a distance. The clash of the armour of knights, armed cap-a-pie, must have been much more easily discernible.] At once this mighty sound ceased, as if the earth on which they trod had either devoured the armed squadrons or had become incapable of resounding to their tramp. The defenders of the Garde Doloureuse concluded that their friends had made a sudden halt, to give their horses breath, examine the leaguer of the enemy, and settle the order of attack upon them. The pause, however was but momentary.

The British, so alert at surprising their enemies, were themselves, on many occasions, liable to surprise. Their men were undisciplined, and sometimes negligent of the patient duties of the sentinel; and, besides, their foragers and flying parties, who scoured the country during the preceding day, had brought back tidings which had lulled them into fatal security. Their camp had been therefore carelessly guarded, and confident in the smallness of the garrison, they had altogether neglected the important military duty of establishing patrols and outposts at a proper distance from their main body. Thus the cavalry of the Lords Marchers, notwithstanding the noise which accompanied their advance, had approached very near the British camp without exciting the least alarm. But while they were arranging their forces into separate columns, in order to commence the assault, a loud and increasing clamour among the Welsh announced that they were at length aware of their danger. The shrill and discordant cries by which they endeavoured to assemble their men, each under the banner of his chief, resounded from their leaguer. But these rallying shouts were soon converted into screams, and clamours of horror and dismay, when the thundering charge of the barbed horses and heavily armed cavalry of the Anglo-Normans surprised their undefended camp.

Yet not even under circumstances so adverse did the descendants of the ancient Britons renounce their defence, or forfeit their old hereditary privilege, to be called the bravest of mankind. Their cries of defiance and resistance were heard resounding above the groans of the wounded, the shouts of the triumphant assailants, and the universal tumult of the night-battle. It was not until the morning light began to peep forth, that the slaughter or dispersion of Gwenwyn’s forces was complete, and that the “earthquake voice of victory” arose in uncontrolled and unmingled energy of exultation.

Then the besieged, if they could be still so termed, looking from their towers over the expanded country beneath, witnessed nothing but one widespread scene of desultory flight and unrelaxed pursuit. That the Welsh had been permitted to encamp in fancied security upon the hither side of the river, now rendered their discomfiture more dreadfully fatal. The single pass by which they could cross to the other side was soon completely choked by fugitives, on whose rear raged the swords of the victorious Normans. Many threw themselves into the river, upon the precarious chance of gaining the farther side, and, except a few, who were uncommonly strong, skilful, and active, perished among the rocks and in the currents; others, more fortunate, escaped by fords, with which they had accidentally been made acquainted; many dispersed, or, in small bands, fled in reckless despair towards the castle, as if the fortress, which had beat them off when victorious, could be a place of refuge to them in their present forlorn condition; while others roamed wildly over the plain, seeking only escape from immediate and instant danger, without knowing whither they ran.

The Normans, meanwhile, divided into small parties, followed and slaughtered them at pleasure; while, as a rallying point for the victors, the banner of Hugo de Lacy streamed from a small mount, on which Gwenwyn had lately pitched his own, and surrounded by a competent force, both of infantry and horsemen, which the experienced Baron permitted on no account to wander far from it.

The rest, as we have already said, followed the chase with shouts of exultation and of vengeance, ringing around the battlements, which resounded with the cries, “Ha, Saint Edward! — Ha, Saint Dennis! — Strike — slay — no quarter to the Welsh wolves — think on Raymond Berenger!”

The soldiers on the walls joined in these vengeful and victorious clamours, and discharged several sheaves of arrows upon such fugitives, as, in their extremity, approached too near the castle. They would fain have sallied to give more active assistance in the work of destruction; but the communication being now open with the Constable of Chester’s forces, Wilkin Flammock considered himself and the garrison to be under the orders of that renowned chief, and refused to listen to the eager admonitions of Father Aldrovand, who would, notwithstanding his sacerdotal character, have willingly himself taken charge of the sally which he proposed.

At length, the scene of slaughter seemed at an end. The retreat was blown on many a bugle, and knights halted on the plain to collect their personal followers, muster them under their proper pennon, and then march them slowly back to the great standard of their leader, around which the main body were again to be assembled, like the clouds which gather around the evening sun — a fanciful simile, which might yet be drawn farther, in respect of the level rays of strong lurid light which shot from those dark battalions, as the beams were flung back from their polished armour.

The plain was in this manner soon cleared of the horsemen, and remained occupied only by the dead bodies of the slaughtered Welshmen. The bands who had followed the pursuit to a greater distance were also now seen returning, driving before them, or dragging after them, dejected and unhappy captives, to whom they had given quarter when their thirst of blood was satiated.

It was then that, desirous to attract the attention of his liberators, Wilkin Flammock commanded all the banners of the castle to be displayed, under a general shout of acclamation from those who had fought under them. It was answered by a universal cry of joy from De Lacy’s army, which rung so wide, as might even yet have startled such of the Welsh fugitives, as, far distant from this disastrous field of flight, might have ventured to halt for a moment’s repose.

Presently after this greeting had been exchanged, a single rider advanced from the Constable’s army towards the castle, showing, even at a distance, an unusual dexterity of horsemanship and grace of deportment. He arrived at the drawbridge, which was instantly lowered to receive him, whilst Flammock and the monk (for the latter, as far as he could, associated himself with the former in all acts of authority) hastened to receive the envoy of their liberator. They found him just alighted from the raven-coloured horse, which was slightly flecked with blood as well as foam, and still panted with the exertions of the evening; though, answering to the caressing hand of its youthful rider, he arched his neck, shook his steel caparison, and snorted to announce his unabated mettle and unwearied love of combat. The young man’s eagle look bore the same token of unabated vigour, mingled with the signs of recent exertion. His helmet hanging at his saddle-bow, showed a gallant countenance, coloured highly, but not inflamed, which looked out from a rich profusion of short chestnut-curls; and although his armour was of a massive and simple form, he moved under it with such elasticity and ease, that it seemed a graceful attire, not a burden or encumbrance. A furred mantle had not sat on him with more easy grace than the heavy hauberk, which complied with every gesture of his noble form. Yet his countenance was so juvenile, that only the down on the upper lip announced decisively the approach to manhood. The females, who thronged into the court to see the first envoy of their deliverers, could not forbear mixing praises of his beauty with blessings on his valour; and one comely middle-aged dame, in particular, distinguished by the tightness with which her scarlet hose sat on a well-shaped leg and ankle, and by the cleanness of her coif, pressed close up to the young squire, and, more forward than, the rest, doubled the crimson hue of his cheek, by crying aloud, that Our Lady of the Garde Doloureuse had sent them news of their redemption by an angel from the sanctuary; — a speech which, although Father Aldrovand shook his head, was received by her companions with such general acclamation, as greatly embarrassed the young man’s modesty.

“Peace, all of ye!” said Wilkin Flammock —“Know you no respects, you women, or have you never seen a young gentleman before, that you hang on him like flies on a honeycomb? Stand back, I say, and let us hear in peace what are the commands of the noble Lord of Lacy.”

“These,” said the young man, “I can only deliver in the presence of the right noble demoiselle, Eveline Berenger, if I may be thought worthy of such honour.”

“That thou art, noble sir,” said the same forward dame, who had before expressed her admiration so energetically; “I will uphold thee worthy of her presence, and whatever other grace a lady can do thee.”

“Now, hold thy tongue, with a wanion!” said the monk; while in the same breath the Fleming exclaimed, “Beware the cucking-stool, Dame Scant-o’-Grace!” while he conducted the noble youth across the court. “Let my good horse be cared for,” said the cavalier, as he put the bridle into the hand of a menial; and in doing so got rid of some part of his female retinue, who began to pat and praise the steed as much as they had done the rider; and some, in the enthusiasm of their joy, hardly abstained from kissing the stirrups and horse furniture.

But Dame Gillian was not so easily diverted from her own point as were some of her companions. She continued to repeat the word cucking-stool, till the Fleming was out of hearing, and then became more specific in her objurgation. —“And why cucking-stool, I pray, Sir Wilkin Butterfirkin? You are the man would stop an English mouth with a Flemish damask napkin, I trow! Marry quep, my cousin the weaver! And why the cucking-stool, I pray? — because my young lady is comely, and the young squire is a man of mettle, reverence to his beard that is to come yet! Have we not eyes to see, and have we not a mouth and a tongue?”

“In troth, Dame Gillian, they do you wrong who doubt it,” said Eveline’s nurse, who stood by; “but I prithee, keep it shut now, were it but for womanhood.”

“How now, mannerly Mrs. Margery?” replied the incorrigible Gillian; “is your heart so high, because you dandled our young lady on your knee fifteen years since? — Let me tell you, the cat will find its way to the cream, though it was brought up on an abbess’s lap.”

“Home, housewife — home!” exclaimed her husband, the old huntsman, who was weary of this public exhibition of his domestic termagant —“home, or I will give you a taste of my dog lash — Here are both the confessor and Wilkin Flammock wondering at your impudence.”

“Indeed!” replied Gillian; “and are not two fools enough for wonderment, that you must come with your grave pate to make up the number three?”

There was a general laugh at the huntsman’s expense, under cover of which he prudently withdrew his spouse, without attempting to continue the war of tongues, in which she had shown such a decided superiority. This controversy, so light is the change in human spirits, especially among the lower class, awakened bursts of idle mirth among beings, who had so lately been in the jaws of danger, if not of absolute despair.

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