Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twelfth.

Three form a College — an you give us four,

Let him bring his share with him.

BRAUMONT AND FLETCHER.

Mr. Bletson arose and paid his respects to Colonel Everard, with the ease and courtesy of a gentleman of the time; though on every account grieved at his intrusion, as a religious man who held his free-thinking principles in detestation, and would effectually prevent his conversion of Harrison, and even of Desborough, if any thing could be moulded out of such a clod, to the worship of the Animus Mundi. Moreover, Bletson knew Everard to be a man of steady probity, and by no means disposed to close with a scheme on which he had successfully sounded the other two, and which was calculated to assure the Commissioners of some little private indemnification for the trouble they were to give themselves in the public business. The philosopher was yet less pleased, when he saw the magistrate the pastor who had met him in his flight of the preceding evening, when he had been seen, parma non bene relicta, with cloak and doublet left behind him.

The presence of Colonel Everard was as unpleasing to Desborough as to Bletson: but the former having no philosophy in him, nor an idea that it was possible for any man to resist helping himself out of untold money, was chiefly embarrassed by the thought, that the plunder which they might be able to achieve out of their trust, might, by this unwelcome addition to their number, be divided into four parts instead of three; and this reflection added to the natural awkwardness with which he grumbled forth a sort of welcome, addressed to Everard.

As for Harrison, he remained like one on higher thoughts intent; his posture unmoved, his eyes fixed on the ceiling as before, and in no way indicating the least consciousness that the company had been more than doubled around him.

Meantime, Everard took his place at the table, as a man who assumed his own right, and pointed to his companions to sit down nearer the foot of the board. Wildrake so far misunderstood his signals, as to sit down above the Mayor; but rallying his recollection at a look from his patron, he rose and took his place lower, whistling, however, as he went, a sound at which the company stared, as at a freedom highly unbecoming. To complete his indecorum, he seized upon a pipe, and filling it from a large tobacco-box, was soon immersed in a cloud of his own raising; from which a hand shortly after emerged, seized on the black-jack of ale, withdrew it within the vapoury sanctuary, and, after a potential draught, replaced it upon the table, its owner beginning to renew the cloud which his intermitted exercise of the tube had almost allowed to subside.

Nobody made any observation on his conduct, out of respect, probably, to Colonel Everard, who bit his lip, but continued silent; aware that censure might extract some escapade more unequivocally characteristic of a cavalier, from his refractory companion. As silence seemed awkward, and the others made no advances to break it, beyond the ordinary salutation, Colonel Everard at length said, “I presume, gentlemen, that you are somewhat surprised at my arrival here, and thus intruding myself into your meeting?”

“Why the dickens should we be surprised, Colonel?” said Desborough; “we know his Excellency, my brother-inlaw Noll’s — I mean my Lord Cromwell’s way, of overquartering his men in the towns he marches through. Thou hast obtained a share in our commission?”

“And in that,” said Bletson, smiling and bowing, “the Lord-General has given us the most acceptable colleague that could have been added to our number. No doubt your authority for joining with us must be under warrant of the Council of State?”

“Of that, gentlemen,” said the Colonel, “I will presently advise you.”— He took out his warrant accordingly, and was about to communicate the contents; but observing that there were three or four half-empty flasks upon the table, that Desborough looked more stupid than usual, and that the philosopher’s eyes were reeling in his head, notwithstanding the temperance of Bletson’s usual habits, he concluded that they had been fortifying themselves against the horrors of the haunted mansion, by laying in a store of what is called Dutch courage, and therefore prudently resolved to postpone his more important business with them till the cooler hour of morning. He, therefore, instead of presenting the General’s warrant superseding their commission, contented himself with replying — “My business has, of course, some reference to your proceedings here. But here is — excuse my curiosity — a reverend gentleman,” pointing to Holdenough, “who has told me that you are so strangely embarrassed here, as to require both the civil and spiritual authority to enable you to keep possession of Woodstock.”

“Before we go into that matter,” said Bletson, blushing up to the eyes at the recollection of his own fears, so manifestly displayed, yet so inconsistent with his principles, “I should like to know who this other stranger is, who has come with the worthy magistrate, and the no less worthy Presbyterian?”

“Meaning me?” said Wildrake, laying his pipe aside; “Gadzooks, the time hath been that I could have answered the question with a better title; but at present I am only his honour’s poor clerk, or secretary, whichever is the current phrase.”

“‘Fore George, my lively blade, thou art a frank fellow of thy tattle,” said Desborough. “There is my secretary Tomkins, whom men sillily enough call Fibbet, and the honourable Lieutenant-General Harrison’s secretary Bibbet, who are now at supper below stairs, that durst not for their ears speak a phrase above their breath in the presence of their betters, unless to answer a question.”

“Yes, Colonel Everard,” said the philosopher, with his quiet smile, glad, apparently, to divert the conversation from the topic of last night’s alarm, and recollections which humbled his self-love and self-satisfaction — “yes; and when Master Fibbet and Master Bibbet do speak, their affirmations are as much in a common mould of mutual attestation, as their names would accord in the verses of a poet. If Master Fibbet happens to tell a fiction, Master Bibbet swears it as truth. If Master Bibbet chances to have gotten drunk in the fear of the Lord, Master Fibbet swears he is sober. I have called my own secretary Gibbet, though his name chances to be only Gibeon, a worthy Israelite at your service, but as pure a youth as ever picked a lamb-bone at Paschal. But I call him Gibbet, merely to make up the holy trefoil with another rhyme. This squire of thine, Colonel Everard, looks as if he might be worthy to be coupled with the rest of the fraternity.”

“Not I, truly,” said the cavalier; “I’ll be coupled with no Jew that was ever whelped, and no Jewess neither.”

“Scorn not for that, young man,” said the philosopher; “the Jews are, in point of religion, the elder brethren, you know.”

“The Jews older than the Christians?” said Desborough, “‘fore George, they will have thee before the General Assembly, Bletson, if thou venturest to say so.”

Wildrake laughed without ceremony at the gross ignorance of Desborough, and was joined by a sniggling response from behind the cupboard, which, when inquired into, proved to be produced by the serving-men. These worthies, timorous as their betters, when they were supposed to have left the room, had only withdrawn to their present place of concealment.

“How now, ye rogues,” said Bletson, angrily; “do you not know your duty better?”

“We beg your worthy honour’s pardon,” said one of the men, “but we dared not go down stairs without a light.”

“A light, ye cowardly poltroons?” said the philosopher; “what — to show which of you looks palest when a rat squeaks? — but take a candlestick and begone, you cowardly villains! the devils you are so much afraid of must be but paltry kites, if they hawk at such bats as you are.”

The servants, without replying, took up one of the candlesticks, and prepared to retreat, Trusty Tomkins at the head of the troop, when suddenly, as they arrived at the door of the parlour, which had been left half open, it was shut violently. The three terrified domestics tumbled back into the middle of the room, as if a shot had been discharged in their face, and all who were at the table started to their feet.

Colonel Everard was incapable of a moment’s fear, even if any thing frightful had been seen; but he remained stationary, to see what his companions would do, and to get at the bottom, if possible, of the cause of their alarm upon an occasion so trifling. The philosopher seemed to think that he was the person chiefly concerned to show manhood on the occasion.

He walked to the door accordingly, murmuring at the cowardice of the servants; but at such a snail’s pace, that it seemed he would most willingly have been anticipated by any one whom his reproaches had roused to exertion. “Cowardly blockheads!” he said at last, seizing hold of the handle of the door, but without turning it effectually round — “dare you not open a door?”—(still fumbling with the lock)—“dare you not go down a stair-case without a light? Here, bring me the candle, you cowardly villains! — By Heaven, something sighs on the outside!”

As he spoke, he let go the handle of the parlour door, and stepped back a pace or two into the apartment, with cheeks as pale as the band he wore.

Deus adjutor meus!” said the Presbyterian clergyman, rising from his seat. “Give place, sir,” addressing Bletson; “it would seem I know more of this matter than thou, and I bless Heaven I am armed for the conflict.”

Bold as a grenadier about to mount a breach, yet with the same belief in the existence of a great danger to be encountered, as well as the same reliance in the goodness of his cause, the worthy man stepped before the philosophical Bletson, and taking a light from a sconce in one hand, quietly opened the door with the other, and standing in the threshold, said, “Here is nothing!”

“And who expected to see any thing,” said Bletson, “excepting those terrified oafs, who take fright at every puff of wind that whistles through the passages of this old dungeon?”

“Mark you, Master Tomkins,” said one of the waiting-men in a whisper to the steward — “See how boldly the minister pressed forward before all of them. Ah! Master Tomkins, our parson is the real commissioned officer of the church — your lay-preachers are no better than a parcel of club-men and volunteers.”

“Follow me those who list,” said Master Holdenough, “or go before me those who choose, I will walk through the habitable places of this house before I leave it, and satisfy myself whether Satan hath really mingled himself among these dreary dens of ancient wickedness, or whether, like the wicked of whom holy David speaketh, we are afraid, and flee when no one pursueth.”

Harrison, who had heard these words, sprung from his seat, and drawing his sword, exclaimed, “Were there as many fiends in the house as there are hairs on my head, upon this cause I will charge them up to their very trenches!”

So saying, he brandished his weapon, and pressed to the head of the column, where he moved side by side with the minister. The Mayor of Woodstock next joined the body, thinking himself safer perhaps in the company of his pastor; and the whole train moved forward in close order, accompanied by the servants bearing lights, to search the Lodge for some cause of that panic with which they seemed to be suddenly seized.

“Nay, take me with you, my friends,” said Colonel Everard, who had looked on in surprise, and was now about to follow the party, when Bletson laid hold on his cloak, and begged him to remain.

“You see, my good Colonel,” he said, affecting a courage which his shaking voice belied, “here are only you and I and honest Desborough left behind in garrison, while all the others are absent on a sally. We must not hazard the whole troops in one sortie — that were unmilitary — Ha, ha, ha!”

“In the name of Heaven, what means all this?” said Everard. “I heard a foolish tale about apparitions as I came this way, and now I find you all half mad with fear, and cannot get a word of sense among so many of you. Fie, Colonel Desborough — fie, Master Bletson — try to compose yourselves, and let me know, in Heaven’s name, the cause of all this disturbance. One would be apt to think your brains were turned.”

“And so mine well may,” said Desborough, “ay, and overturned too, since my bed last night was turned upside down, and I was placed for ten minutes heels uppermost, and head downmost, like a bullock going to be shod.”

“What means this nonsense, Master Bletson? — Desborough must have had the nightmare.”

“No, faith, Colonel; the goblins, or whatever else they were, had been favourable to honest Desborough, for they reposed the whole of his person on that part of his body which — Hark, did you not hear something? — is the central point of gravity, namely, his head.”

“Did you see any thing to alarm you?” said the Colonel.

“Nothing,” said Bletson; “but we heard hellish noises, as all our people did; and I, believing little of ghosts and apparitions, concluded the cavaliers were taking us at advantage; so, remembering Rainsborough’s fate, I e’en jumped the window, and ran to Woodstock, to call the soldiers to the rescue of Harrison and Desborough.”

“And did you not first go to see what the danger was?”

“Ah, my good friend, you forget that I laid down my commission at the time of the self-denying ordinance. It would have been quite inconsistent with my duty as a Parliament-man to be brawling amidst a set of ruffians, without any military authority. No — when the Parliament commanded me to sheath my sword, Colonel, I have too much veneration for their authority to be found again with it drawn in my hand.”

“But the Parliament,” said Desborough, hastily, “did not command you to use your heels when your hands could have saved a man from choking. Odds dickens! you might have stopped when you saw my bed canted heels uppermost, and me half stifled in the bed-clothes — you might, I say, have stopped and lent a hand to put it to rights, instead of jumping out of the window, like a new-shorn sheep, so soon as you had run across my room.”

“Nay, worshipful Master Desborough,” said Bletson, winking at Everard, to show that he was playing on his thick-sculled colleague, “how could I tell your particular mode of reposing? — there are many tastes — I have known men who slept by choice on a slope or angle of forty-five.”

“Yes, but did ever a man sleep standing on his head, except by miracle?” said Desborough.

“Now, as to miracles”— said the philosopher, confident in the presence of Everard, besides that an opportunity of scoffing at religion really in some degree diverted his fear —“I leave these out of the question, seeing that the evidence on such subjects seems as little qualified to carry conviction as a horse-hair to land a leviathan.”

A loud clap of thunder, or a noise as formidable, rang through the Lodge as the scoffer had ended, which struck him pale and motionless, and made Desborough throw himself on his knees, and repeat exclamations and prayers in much admired confusion.

“There must be contrivance here,” exclaimed Everard; and snatching one of the candles from a sconce, he rushed out of the apartment, little heeding the entreaties of the philosopher, who, in the extremity of his distress, conjured him by the Animus Mundi to remain to the assistance of a distressed philosopher endangered by witches, and a Parliament-man assaulted by ruffians. As for Desborough, he only gaped like a clown in a pantomime; and, doubtful whether to follow or stop, his natural indolence prevailed, and he sat still.

When on the landing-place of the stairs, Everard paused a moment to consider which was the best course to take. He heard the voices of men talking fast and loud, like people who wish to drown their fears, in the lower story; and aware that nothing could be discovered by those whose inquiries were conducted in a manner so noisy, he resolved to proceed in a different direction, and examine the second floor, which he had now gained.

He had known every corner, both of the inhabited and uninhabited part of the mansion, and availed himself of the candle to traverse two or three intricate passages, which he was afraid he might not remember with sufficient accuracy. This movement conveyed him to a sort of oeil-deboeuf, an octagon vestibule, or small hall, from which various rooms opened. Amongst these doors, Everard selected that which led to a very long, narrow, and dilapidated gallery, built in the time of Henry VIII., and which, running along the whole south-west side of the building, communicated at different points with the rest of the mansion. This he thought was likely to be the post occupied by those who proposed to act the sprites upon the occasion; especially as its length and shape gave him some idea that it was a spot where the bold thunder might in many ways be imitated.

Determined to ascertain the truth if possible, he placed his light on a table in the vestibule, and applied himself to open the door into the gallery. At this point he found himself strongly opposed either by a bolt drawn, or, as he rather conceived, by somebody from within resisting his attempt. He was induced to believe the latter, because the resistance slackened and was renewed, like that of human strength, instead of presenting the permanent opposition of an inanimate obstacle. Though Everard was a strong and active young man, he exhausted his strength in the vain attempt to open the door; and having paused to take breath, was about to renew his efforts with foot and shoulder, and to call at the same time for assistance, when to his surprise, on again attempting the door more gently, in order to ascertain if possible where the strength of the opposing obstacle was situated, he found it gave way to a very slight impulse, some impediment fell broken to the ground, and the door flew wide open. The gust of wind, occasioned by the sudden opening of the door, blew out the candle, and Everard was left in darkness, save where the moonshine, which the long side-row of latticed windows dimmed, could imperfectly force its way into the gallery, which lay in ghostly length before him.

The melancholy and doubtful twilight was increased by a quantity of creeping plants on the outside, which, since all had been neglected in these ancient halls, now completely overgrown, had in some instances greatly diminished, and in others almost quite choked up, the space of the lattices, extending between the heavy stone shaftwork which divided the windows, both lengthways and across. On the other side there were no windows at all, and the gallery had been once hung round with paintings, chiefly portraits, by which that side of the apartment had been adorned. Most of the pictures had been removed, yet the empty frames of some, and the tattered remnants of others, were still visible along the extent of the waste gallery; the look of which was so desolate, and it appeared so well adapted for mischief, supposing there were enemies near him, that Everard could not help pausing at the entrance, and recommending himself to God, ere, drawing his sword, he advanced into the apartment, treading as lightly as possible, and keeping in the shadow as much as he could.

Markham Everard was by no means superstitious, but he had the usual credulity of the times; and though he did not yield easily to tales of supernatural visitations, yet he could not help thinking he was in the very situation, where, if such things were ever permitted, they might be expected to take place, while his own stealthy and ill-assured pace, his drawn weapon, and extended arms, being the very attitude and action of doubt and suspicion, tended to increase in his mind the gloomy feelings of which they are the usual indications, and with which they are constantly associated. Under such unpleasant impressions, and conscious of the neighbourhood of something unfriendly, Colonel Everard had already advanced about half along the gallery, when he heard some one sigh very near him, and a low soft voice pronounce his name.

“Here I am,” he replied, while his heart beat thick and short. “Who calls on Markham Everard?”

Another sigh was the only answer.

“Speak,” said the Colonel, “whoever or whatsoever you are, and tell with what intent and purpose you are lurking in these apartments?”

“With a better intent than yours,” returned the soft voice.

“Than mine!” answered Everard in great surprise. “Who are you that dare judge of my intents?”

“What, or who are you, Markham Everard, who wander by moonlight through these deserted halls of royalty, where none should be but those who mourn their downfall, or are sworn to avenge it?”

“It is — and yet it cannot be,” said Everard; “yet it is, and must be. Alice Lee, the devil or you speaks. Answer me, I conjure you! — speak openly — on what dangerous scheme are you engaged? where is your father? why are you here? — wherefore do you run so deadly a venture? — Speak, I conjure you, Alice Lee!”

“She whom you call on is at the distance of miles from this spot. What if her Genius speaks when she is absent? — what if the soul of an ancestress of hers and yours were now addressing you? — what if”—

“Nay,” answered Everard, “but what if the dearest of human beings has caught a touch of her father’s enthusiasm? — what if she is exposing her person to danger, her reputation to scandal, by traversing in disguise and darkness a house filled with armed men? Speak to me, my fair cousin, in your own person. I am furnished with powers to protect my uncle, Sir Henry — to protect you too, dearest Alice, even against the consequences of this visionary and wild attempt. Speak — I see where you are, and, with all my respect, I cannot submit to be thus practised upon. Trust me — trust your cousin Markham with your hand, and believe that he will die or place you in honourable safety.”

As he spoke, he exercised his eyes as keenly as possible to detect where the speaker stood; and it seemed to him, that about three yards from him there was a shadowy form, of which he could not discern even the outline, placed as it was within the deep and prolonged shadow thrown by a space of wall intervening betwixt two windows, upon that side of the room from which the light was admitted. He endeavoured to calculate, as well as he could, the distance betwixt himself and the object which he watched, under the impression, that if, by even using a slight degree of compulsion, he could detach his beloved Alice from the confederacy into which he supposed her father’s zeal for the cause of royalty had engaged her, he would be rendering them both the most essential favour. He could not indeed but conclude, that however successfully the plot which he conceived to be in agitation had proceeded against the timid Bletson, the stupid Desborough, and the crazy Harrison, there was little doubt that at length their artifices must necessarily bring shame and danger on those engaged in it.

It must also be remembered, that Everard’s affection to his cousin, although of the most respectful and devoted character, partook less of the distant veneration which a lover of those days entertained for the lady whom he worshipped with humble diffidence, than of the fond and familiar feelings which a brother entertains towards a younger sister, whom he thinks himself entitled to guide, advise, and even in some degree to control. So kindly and intimate had been their intercourse, that he had little more hesitation in endeavouring to arrest her progress in the dangerous course in which she seemed to be engaged, even at the risk of giving her momentary offence, than he would have had in snatching her from a torrent or conflagration, at the chance of hurting her by the violence of his grasp. All this passed through his mind in the course of a single minute; and he resolved at all events to detain her on the spot, and compel, if possible, an explanation from her.

With this purpose, Everard again conjured his cousin, in the name of Heaven, to give up this idle and dangerous mummery; and lending an accurate ear to her answer, endeavoured from the sound to calculate as nearly as possible the distance between them.

“I am not she for whom you take me,” said the voice; “and dearer regards than aught connected with her life or death, bid me warn you to keep aloof, and leave this place.”

“Not till I have convinced you of your childish folly,” said the Colonel, springing forward, and endeavouring to catch hold of her who spoke to him. But no female form was within his grasp. On the contrary, he was met by a shock which could come from no woman’s arm, and which was rude enough to stretch him on his back on the floor. At the same time he felt the point of a sword at his throat, and his hands so completely mastered, that not the slightest defence remained to him.

“A cry for assistance,” said a voice near him, but not that which he had hitherto heard, “will be stifled in your blood! — No harm is meant you — be wise and be silent.”

The fear of death, which Everard had often braved in the field of battle, became more intense as he felt himself in the hands of unknown assassins, and totally devoid of all means of defence. The sharp point of the sword pricked his bare throat, and the foot of him who held it was upon his breast. He felt as if a single thrust would put an end to life, and all the feverish joys and sorrows which agitate us so strangely, and from which we are yet so reluctant to part. Large drops of perspiration stood upon his forehead — his heart throbbed, as if it would burst from its confinement in the bosom — he experienced the agony which fear imposes on the brave man, acute in proportion to that which pain inflicts when it subdues the robust and healthy.

“Cousin Alice,”— he attempted to speak, and the sword’s point pressed his throat yet more closely — “Cousin, let me not be murdered in a manner so fearful!”

“I tell you,” replied the voice, “that you speak to one who is not here; but your life is not aimed at, provided you swear on your faith as a Christian, and your honour as a gentleman, that you will conceal what has happened, whether from the people below, or from any other person. On this condition you may rise; and if you seek her, you will find Alice Lee at Joceline’s cottage, in the forest.”

“Since I may not help myself otherwise,” said Everard, “I swear, as I have a sense of religion and honour, I will say nothing of this violence, nor make any search after those who are concerned in it.”

“For that we care nothing,” said the voice. “Thou hast an example how well thou mayst catch mischief on thy own part; but we are in case to defy thee. Rise, and begone!”

The foot, the sword’s-point, were withdrawn, and Everard was about to start up hastily, when the voice, in the same softness of tone which distinguished it at first, said, “No haste — cold and bare steel is yet around thee. Now — now — now —(the words dying away as at a distance)— thou art free. Be secret and be safe.”

Markham Everard arose, and, in rising, embarrassed his feet with his own sword, which he had dropped when springing forward, as he supposed, to lay hold of his fair cousin. He snatched it up in haste, and as his hand clasped the hilt, his courage, which had given way under the apprehension of instant death, began to return; he considered, with almost his usual composure, what was to be done next. Deeply affronted at the disgrace which he had sustained, he questioned for an instant whether he ought to keep his extorted promise, or should not rather summon assistance, and make haste to discover and seize those who had been recently engaged in such violence on his person. But these persons, be they who they would, had had his life in their power — he had pledged his word in ransom of it — and what was more, he could not divest himself of the idea that his beloved Alice was a confidant, at least, if not an actor, in the confederacy which had thus baffled him. This prepossession determined his conduct; for, though angry at supposing she must have been accessory to his personal ill-treatment, he could not in any event think of an instant search through the mansion, which might have compromised her safety, or that of his uncle. “But I will to the hut,” he said —“I will instantly to the hut, ascertain her share in this wild and dangerous confederacy, and snatch her from ruin, if it be possible.”

As, under the influence of the resolution which he had formed, Everard groped his way through the gallery and regained the vestibule, he heard his name called by the well-known voice of Wildrake. “What — ho! — holloa! — Colonel Everard — Mark Everard — it is dark as the devil’s mouth — speak — where are you? — The witches are keeping their hellish sabbath here, as I think. — Where are you?”

“Here, here!” answered Everard. “Cease your bawling. Turn to the left, and you will meet me.”

Guided by his voice, Wildrake soon appeared, with a light in one hand, and his drawn sword in the other. “Where have you been?” he said —“What has detained you? — Here are Bletson and the brute Desborough terrified out of their lives, and Harrison raving mad, because the devil will not be civil enough to rise to fight him in single duello.”

“Saw or heard you nothing as you came along?” said Everard.

“Nothing,” said his friend, “excepting that when I first entered this cursed ruinous labyrinth, the light was struck out of my hand, as if by a switch, which obliged me to return for another.”

“I must come by a horse instantly, Wildrake, and another for thyself, if it be possible.”

“We can take two of those belonging to the troopers,” answered Wildrake. “But for what purpose should we run away, like rats, at this time in the evening? — Is the house falling?”

“I cannot answer you,” said the Colonel, pushing forward into a room where there were some remains of furniture.

Here the cavalier took a more strict view of his person, and exclaimed in wonder, “What the devil have you been fighting with, Markham, that has bedizened you after this sorry fashion?”

“Fighting!” exclaimed Everard.

“Yes,” replied his trusty attendant. “I say fighting. Look at yourself in the mirror.”

He did, and saw he was covered with dust and blood. The latter proceeded from a scratch which he had received in the throat, as he struggled to extricate himself. With unaffected alarm, Wildrake undid his friend’s collar, and with eager haste proceeded to examine the wound, his hands trembling, and his eyes glistening with apprehension for his benefactor’s life. When, in spite of Everard’s opposition, he had examined the hurt, and found it trifling, he resumed the natural wildness of his character, perhaps the more readily that he had felt shame in departing from it, into one which expressed more of feeling than he would be thought to possess.

“If that be the devil’s work, Mark,” said he, “the foul fiend’s claws are not nigh so formidable as they are represented; but no one shall say that your blood has been shed unrevenged, while Roger Wildrake was by your side. Where left you this same imp? I will back to the field of fight, confront him with my rapier, and were his nails tenpenny nails, and his teeth as long as those of a harrow, he shall render me reason for the injury he has done you.”

“Madness — madness!” exclaimed Everard; “I had this trifling hurt by a fall — a basin and towel will wipe it away. Meanwhile, if you will ever do me kindness, get the troop-horses — command them for the service of the public, in the name of his Excellency the General. I will but wash, and join you in an instant before the gate.”

“Well, I will serve you, Everard, as a mute serves the Grand Signior, without knowing why or wherefore. But will you go without seeing these people below?”

“Without seeing any one,” said Everard; “lose no time, for God’s sake.”

He found out the non-commissioned officer, and demanded the horses in a tone of authority, to which the corporal yielded undisputed obedience, as one well aware of Colonel Everard’s military rank and consequence. So all was in a minute or two ready for the expedition.

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