Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Eighteenth.

Then are the harpies gone — Yet ere we perch

Where such foul birds have roosted, let us cleanse

The foul obscenity they’ve left behind them.

AGAMEMNON.

The embassy of Wildrake had been successful, chiefly through the mediation of the Episcopal divine, whom we formerly found acting in the character of a chaplain to the family, and whose voice had great influence on many accounts with its master.

A little before high noon, Sir Henry Lee, with his small household, were again in unchallenged possession of their old apartments at the Lodge of Woodstock; and the combined exertions of Joceline Joliffe, of Phoebe, and of old Joan, were employed in putting to rights what the late intruders had left in great disorder.

Sir Henry Lee had, like all persons of quality of that period, a love of order amounting to precision, and felt, like a fine lady whose dress has been disordered in a crowd, insulted and humiliated by the rude confusion into which his household goods had been thrown, and impatient till his mansion was purified from all marks of intrusion. In his anger he uttered more orders than the limited number of his domestics were likely to find time or hands to execute. “The villains have left such sulphureous steams behind them, too,” said the old knight, “as if old Davie Leslie and the whole Scottish army had quartered among them.”

“It may be near as bad,” said Joceline, “for men say, for certain, it was the Devil came down bodily among them, and made them troop off.”

“Then,” said the knight, “is the Prince of Darkness a gentleman, as old Will Shakspeare says. He never interferes with those of his own coat, for the Lees have been here, father and son, these five hundred years, without disquiet; and no sooner came these misbegotten churls, than he plays his own part among them.”

“Well, one thing he and they have left us,” said Joliffe, “which we may thank them for; and that is, such a well-filled larder and buttery as has been seldom seen in Woodstock Lodge this many a day: carcasses of mutton, large rounds of beef, barrels of confectioners’ ware, pipes and runlets of sack, muscadine, ale, and what not. We shall have a royal time on’t through half the winter; and Joan must get to salting and pickling presently.”

“Out, villain!” said the knight; “are we to feed on the fragments of such scum of the earth as these? Cast them forth instantly! Nay,” checking himself, “that were a sin; but give them to the poor, or see them sent to the owners. And, hark ye, I will none of their strong liquors. I would rather drink like a hermit all my life, than seem to pledge such scoundrels as these in their leavings, like a miserable drawer, who drains off the ends of the bottles after the guests have paid their reckoning, and gone off. And, hark ye, I will taste no water from the cistern out of which these slaves have been serving themselves — fetch me down a pitcher from Rosamond’s spring.”

Alice heard this injunction, and well guessing there was enough for the other members of the family to do, she quietly took a small pitcher, and flinging a cloak around her, walked out in person to procure Sir Henry the water which he desired. Meantime, Joceline said, with some hesitation, “that a man still remained, belonging to the party of these strangers, who was directing about the removal of some trunks and mails which belonged to the Commissioners, and who could receive his honour’s commands about the provisions.”

“Let him come hither.” (The dialogue was held in the hall.) “Why do you hesitate and drumble in that manner?”

“Only, sir,” said Joceline, “only perhaps your honour might not wish to see him, being the same who, not long since”—

He paused.

“Sent my rapier a-hawking through the firmament, thou wouldst say? Why, when did I take spleen at a man for standing his ground against me? Roundhead as he is, man, I like him the better of that, not the worse. I hunger and thirst to have another turn with him. I have thought on his passado ever since, and I believe, were it to try again, I know a feat would control it. Fetch him directly.”

Trusty Tomkins was presently ushered in, bearing himself with an iron gravity, which neither the terrors of the preceding night, nor the dignified demeanour of the high-born personage before whom he stood, were able for an instant to overcome.

“How now, good fellow?” said Sir Henry; “I would fain see something more of thy fence, which baffled me the other evening; but truly, I think the light was somewhat too faint for my old eyes. Take a foil, man — I walk here in the hall, as Hamlet says; and ’tis the breathing-time of day with me. Take a foil, then, in thy hand.”

“Since it is your worship’s desire,” said the steward, letting fall his long cloak, and taking the foil in his hand.

“Now,” said the knight, “if your fitness speaks, mine is ready. Methinks the very stepping on this same old pavement hath charmed away the gout which threatened me. Sa — sa — I tread as firm as a game-cock.”

They began the play with great spirit; and whether the old knight really fought more coolly with the blunt than with the sharp weapon, or whether the steward gave him some grains of advantage in this merely sportive encounter, it is certain Sir Henry had the better in the assault. His success put him into excellent humour.

“There,” said he, “I found your trick — nay, you cheat me not twice the same way. There was a very palpable hit. Why, had I had but light enough the other night — But it skills not speaking of it — Here we leave off. I must not fight, as we unwise cavaliers did with you roundhead rascals, beating you so often that we taught you to beat us at last. And good now, tell me why you are leaving your larder so full here? Do you think I or my family can use broken victuals? What, have you no better employment for your rounds of sequestrated beef than to leave them behind you when you shift your quarters?”

“So please your honour,” said Tomkins, “it may be that you desire not the flesh of beeves, of rams, or of goats. Nevertheless, when you know that the provisions were provided and paid for out of your own rents and stock at Ditchley, sequestrated to the use of the state more than a year since, it may be you will have less scruple to use them for your own behoof.”

“Rest assured that I shall,” said Sir Henry; “and glad you have helped me to a share of mine own. Certainly I was an ass to suspect your masters of subsisting, save at honest men’s expense.”

“And as for the rumps of beeves,” continued Tomkins, with the same solemnity, “there is a rump at Westminster, which will stand us of the army much hacking and hewing yet, ere it is discussed to our mind.”

Sir Henry paused, as if to consider what was the meaning of this innuendo; for he was not a person of very quick apprehension. But having at length caught the meaning of it, he burst into an explosion of louder laughter than Joceline had seen him indulge in for a long while.

“Right, knave,” he said, “I taste thy jest — It is the very moral of the puppet-show. Faustus raised the devil, as the Parliament raised the army, and then, as the devil flies away with Faustus, so will the army fly away with the Parliament, or the rump, as thou call’st it, or sitting part of the so-called Parliament. And then, look you, friend, the very devil of all hath my willing consent to fly away with the army in its turn, from the highest general down to the lowest drum-boy. Nay, never look fierce for the matter; remember there is daylight enough now for a game at sharps.”

Trusty Tomkins appeared to think it best to suppress his displeasure; and observing that the wains were ready to transport the Commissioners’ property to the borough, took a grave leave of Sir Henry Lee.

Meantime the old man continued to pace his recovered hall, rubbing his hands, and evincing greater signs of glee than he had shown since the fatal 30th of January.

“Here we are again in the old frank, Joliffe; well victualled too. How the knave solved my point of conscience! — the dullest of them is a special casuist where the question concerns profit. Look out if there are not some of our own ragged regiment lurking about, to whom a bellyful would be a God-send, Joceline. Then his fence, Joceline, though the fellow foins well, very sufficient well. But thou saw’st how I dealt with him when I had fitting light, Joceline.”

“Ay, and so your honour did,” said Joceline. “You taught him to know the Duke of Norfolk, from Saunders Gardner. I’ll warrant him he will not wish to come under your honour’s thumb again.”

“Why, I am waxing old,” said Sir Henry; “but skill will not rust through age, though sinews must stiffen. But my age is like a lusty winter, as old Will says, frosty but kindly; and what if, old as we are, we live to see better days yet! I promise thee, Joceline, I love this jarring betwixt the rogues of the board and the rogues of the sword. When thieves quarrel, true men have a chance of coming by their own.”

Thus triumphed the old cavalier, in the treble glory of having recovered his dwelling — regained, as he thought, his character as a man of fence, and finally, discovered some prospect of a change of times, in which he was not without hopes that something might turn up for the royal interest.

Meanwhile, Alice, with a prouder and a lighter heart than had danced in her bosom for several days, went forth with a gaiety to which she of late had been a stranger, to contribute her assistance to the regulation and supply of the household, by bringing the fresh water wanted from fair Rosamond’s well.

Perhaps she remembered, that when she was but a girl, her cousin Markham used, among others, to make her perform that duty, as presenting the character of some captive Trojan princess, condemned by her situation to draw the waters from some Grecian spring, for the use of the proud victor. At any rate, she certainly joyed to see her father reinstated in his ancient habitation; and the joy was not the less sincere, that she knew their return to Woodstock had been procured by means of her cousin, and that even in her father’s prejudiced eyes, Everard had been in some degree exculpated of the accusations the old knight had brought against him; and that, if a reconciliation had not yet taken place, the preliminaries had been established on which such a desirable conclusion might easily be founded. It was like the commencement of a bridge; when the foundation is securely laid, and the piers raised above the influence of the torrent, the throwing of the arches may be accomplished in a subsequent season.

The doubtful fate of her only brother might have clouded even this momentary gleam of sunshine; but Alice had been bred up during the close and frequent contest of civil war, and had acquired the habit of hoping in behalf of those dear to her, until hope was lost. In the present case, all reports seemed to assure her of her brother’s safety.

Besides these causes for gaiety, Alice Lee had the pleasing feeling that she was restored to the habitation and the haunts of her childhood, from which she had not departed without much pain, the more felt, perhaps, because suppressed, in order to avoid irritating her father’s sense of his misfortune. Finally, she enjoyed for the instant the gleam of self-satisfaction by which we see the young and well-disposed so often animated, when they can be, in common phrase, helpful to those whom they love, and perform at the moment of need some of those little domestic tasks, which age receives with so much pleasure from the dutiful hands of youth. So that, altogether, as she hasted through the remains and vestiges of a wilderness already mentioned, and from thence about a bow-shot into the Park, to bring a pitcher of water from Rosamond’s spring, Alice Lee, her features enlivened and her complexion a little raised by the exercise, had, for the moment, regained the gay and brilliant vivacity of expression which had been the characteristic of her beauty in her earlier and happier days.

This fountain of old memory had been once adorned with architectural ornaments in the style of the sixteenth century, chiefly relating to ancient mythology. All these were now wasted and overthrown, and existed only as moss-covered ruins, while the living spring continued to furnish its daily treasures, unrivalled in purity, though the quantity was small, gushing out amid disjointed stones, and bubbling through fragments of ancient sculpture.

With a light step and laughing brow the young Lady of Lee was approaching, the fountain usually so solitary, when she paused on beholding some one seated beside it. She proceeded, however, with confidence, though with a step something less gay, when she observed that the person was a female; some menial perhaps from the town, whom a fanciful mistress occasionally dispatched for the water of a spring, supposed to be peculiarly pure, or some aged woman, who made a little trade by carrying it to the better sort of families, and selling it for a trifle. There was no cause, therefore, for apprehension.

Yet the terrors of the times were so great, that Alice did not see a stranger even of her own sex without some apprehension. Denaturalized women had as usual followed the camps of both armies during the Civil War; who, on the one side with open profligacy and profanity, on the other with the fraudful tone of fanaticism or hypocrisy, exercised nearly in like degree their talents, for murder or plunder. But it was broad daylight, the distance from the Lodge was but trifling, and though a little alarmed at seeing a stranger where she expected deep solitude, the daughter of the haughty old Knight had too much of the lion about her, to fear without some determined and decided cause.

Alice walked, therefore, gravely on toward the fount, and composed her looks as she took a hasty glance of the female who was seated there, and addressed herself to her task of filling her pitcher.

The woman, whose presence had surprised and somewhat startled Alice Lee, was a person of the lower rank, whose red cloak, russet kirtle, handkerchief trimmed with Coventry blue, and a coarse steeple hat, could not indicate at best any thing higher than the wife of a small farmer, or, perhaps, the helpmate of a bailiff or hind. It was well if she proved nothing worse. Her clothes, indeed, were of good materials; but, what the female eye discerns with half a glance, they were indifferently adjusted and put on. This looked as if they did not belong to the person by whom they were worn, but were articles of which she had become the mistress by some accident, if not by some successful robbery. Her size, too, as did not escape Alice, even in the short perusal she afforded the stranger, was unusual; her features swarthy and singularly harsh, and her manner altogether unpropitious. The young lady almost wished, as she stooped to fill her pitcher, that she had rather turned back, and sent Joceline on the errand; but repentance was too late now, and she had only to disguise as well as she could her unpleasant feelings.

“The blessings of this bright day to one as bright as it is,” said the stranger, with no unfriendly, though a harsh voice.

“I thank you,” said Alice in reply; and continued to fill her pitcher busily, by assistance of an iron bowl which remained still chained to one of the stones beside the fountain.

“Perhaps, my pretty maiden, if you would accept my help, your work would be sooner done,” said the stranger.

“I thank you,” said Alice; “but had I needed assistance, I could have brought those with me who had rendered it.”

“I do not doubt of that, my pretty maiden,” answered the female; “there are too many lads in Woodstock with eyes in their heads — No doubt you could have brought with you any one of them who looked on you, if you had listed.”

Alice replied not a syllable, for she did not like the freedom used by the speaker, and was desirous to break off the conversation.

“Are you offended, my pretty mistress?” said the stranger; “that was far from my purpose. — I will put my question otherwise. — Are the good dames of Woodstock so careless of their pretty daughters as to let the flower of them all wander about the wild chase without a mother, or a somebody to prevent the fox from running away with the lamb? — that carelessness, methinks, shows small kindness.”

“Content yourself, good woman, I am not far from protection and assistance,” said Alice, who liked less and less the effrontery of her new acquaintance.

“Alas! my pretty maiden,” said the stranger, patting with her large and hard hand the head which Alice had kept bended down towards the water which she was laving, “it would be difficult to hear such a pipe as yours at the town of Woodstock, scream as loud as you would.”

Alice shook the woman’s hand angrily off, took up her pitcher, though not above half full, and as she saw the stranger rise at the same time, said, not without fear doubtless, but with a natural feeling of resentment and dignity, “I have no reason to make my cries heard as far as Woodstock; were there occasion for my crying for help at all, it is nearer at hand.”

She spoke not without a warrant; for, at the moment, broke through the bushes, and stood by her side, the noble hound Bevis; fixing on the stranger his eyes that glanced fire, raising every hair on his gallant mane as upright as the bristles of a wild boar when hard pressed, grinning till a case of teeth, which would have matched those of any wolf in Russia, were displayed in full array, and, without either barking or springing, seeming, by his low determined growl, to await but the signal for dashing at the female, whom he plainly considered as a suspicious person.

But the stranger was undaunted. “My pretty maiden,” she said, “you have indeed a formidable guardian there, where cockneys or bumpkins are concerned; but we who have been at the wars know spells for taming such furious dragons; and therefore let not your four-footed protector go loose on me, for he is a noble animal, and nothing but self-defence would induce me to do him injury.” So saying, she drew a pistol from her bosom, and cocked it — pointing it towards the dog, as if apprehensive that he would spring upon her.

“Hold, woman, hold!” said Alice Lee; “the dog will not do you harm. — Down, Bevis, couch down. — And ere you attempt to hurt him, know he is the favourite hound of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, the keeper of Woodstock Park, who would severely revenge any injury offered to him.”

“And you, pretty one, are the old knight’s house-keeper, doubtless? I have often heard the Lees have good taste.”

“I am his daughter, good woman.”

“His daughter! — I was blind — but yet it is true, nothing less perfect could answer the description which all the world has given of Mistress Alice Lee. I trust that my folly has given my young mistress no offence, and that she will allow me, in token of reconciliation, to fill her pitcher, and carry it as far as she will permit.”

“As you will, good mother; but I am about to return instantly to the Lodge, to which, in these times, I cannot admit strangers. You can follow me no farther than the verge of the wilderness, and I am already too long from home: I will send some one to meet and relieve you of the pitcher.” So saying, she turned her back, with a feeling of terror which she could hardly account for, and began to walk quickly towards the Lodge, thinking thus to get rid of her troublesome acquaintance.

But she reckoned without her host; for in a moment her new companion was by her side, not running, indeed, but walking with prodigious long unwomanly strides, which soon brought her up with the hurried and timid steps of the frightened maiden. But her manner was more respectful than formerly, though her voice sounded remarkably harsh and disagreeable, and her whole appearance suggested an undefined, yet irresistible feeling of apprehension.

“Pardon a stranger, lovely Mistress Alice,” said her persecutor, “that was not capable of distinguishing between a lady of your high quality and a peasant wench, and who spoke to you with a degree of freedom, ill-befitting your rank, certainly, and condition, and which, I fear, has given you offence.”

“No offence whatever,” replied Alice; “but, good woman, I am near home, and can excuse your farther company. — You are unknown to me.”

“But it follows not,” said the stranger, “that your fortunes may not be known to me, fair Mistress Alice. Look on my swarthy brow — England breeds none such — and in the lands from which I come, the sun which blackens our complexion, pours, to make amends, rays of knowledge into our brains, which are denied to those of your lukewarm climate. Let me look upon your pretty hand — (attempting to possess herself of it,)— and I promise you, you shall hear what will please you.”

“I hear what does not please me,” said Alice, with dignity; “you must carry your tricks of fortune-telling and palmistry to the women of the village. — We of the gentry hold them to be either imposture or unlawful knowledge.”

“Yet you would fain hear of a certain Colonel, I warrant you, whom certain unhappy circumstances have separated from his family; you would give better than silver if I could assure you that you would see him in a day or two — ay, perhaps, sooner.”

“I know nothing of what you speak, good woman; if you want alms, there is a piece of silver — it is all I have in my purse.”

“It were pity that I should take it,” said the female; “and yet give it me — for the princess in the fairy tale must ever deserve, by her generosity, the bounty of the benevolent fairy, before she is rewarded by her protection.”

“Take it — take it — give me my pitcher,” said Alice, “and begone — yonder comes one of my father’s servants. — What, ho! — Joceline — Joceline!”

The old fortune-teller hastily dropped something into the pitcher as she restored it to Alice Lee, and, plying her long limbs, disappeared speedily under cover of the wood.

Bevis turned, and barked, and showed some inclination to harass the retreat of this suspicious person, yet, as if uncertain, ran towards Joliffe, and fawned on him, as to demand his advice and encouragement. Joceline pacified the animal, and, coming up to his young lady, asked her, with surprise, what was the matter, and whether she had been frightened? Alice made light of her alarm, for which, indeed, she could not have assigned any very competent reason, for the manners of the woman, though bold and intrusive, were not menacing. She only said she had met a fortune-teller by Rosamond’s Well, and had had some difficulty in shaking her off.

“Ah, the gipsy thief,” said Joceline, “how well she scented there was food in the pantry! — they have noses like ravens, these strollers. Look you, Mistress Alice, you shall not see a raven or a carrion-crow in all the blue sky for a mile round you; but let a sheep drop suddenly down on the green-sward, and before the poor creature’s dead you shall see a dozen of such guests croaking, as if inviting each other to the banquet. — Just so it is with these sturdy beggars. You will see few enough of them when there’s nothing to give, but when hough’s in the pot, they will have share on’t.”

“You are so proud of your fresh supply of provender,” said Alice, “that you suspect all of a design on’t. I do not think this woman will venture near your kitchen, Joceline.”

“It will be best for her health,” said Joceline, “lest I give her a ducking for digestion. — But give me the pitcher, Mistress Alice — meeter I bear it than you. — How now? what jingles at the bottom? have you lifted the pebbles as well as the water?”

“I think the woman dropped something into the pitcher,” said Alice.

“Nay, we must look to that, for it is like to be a charm, and we have enough of the devil’s ware about Woodstock already — we will not spare for the water — I can run back and fill the pitcher.” He poured out the water upon the grass, and at the bottom of the pitcher was found a gold ring, in which was set a ruby, apparently of some value.

“Nay, if this be not enchantment, I know not what is,” said Joceline. “Truly, Mistress Alice, I think you had better throw away this gimcrack. Such gifts from such hands are a kind of press-money which the devil uses for enlisting his regiment of witches; and if they take but so much as a bean from him, they become his bond-slaves for life — Ay, you look at the gew-gaw, but tomorrow you will find a lead ring, and a common pebble in its stead.”

“Nay, Joceline, I think it will be better to find out that dark-complexioned woman, and return to her what seems of some value. So, cause enquiry to be made, and be sure you return her ring. It seems too valuable to be destroyed.”

“Umph! that is always the way with women,” murmured Joceline. “You will never get the best of them, but she is willing to save a bit of finery. — Well, Mistress Alice, I trust that you are too young and too pretty to be enlisted in a regiment of witches.”

“I shall not be afraid of it till you turn conjuror,” said Alice; “so hasten to the well, where you are like still to find the woman, and let her know that Alice Lee desires none of her gifts, any more than she did of her society.”

So saying, the young lady pursued her way to the Lodge, while Joceline went down to Rosamond’s Well to execute her commission. But the fortune-teller, or whoever she might be, was nowhere to be found; neither, finding that to be the case, did Joceline give himself much trouble in tracking her farther.

“If this ring, which I dare say the jade stole somewhere,” said the underkeeper to himself, “be worth a few nobles, it is better in honest hands than in that of vagabonds. My master has a right to all waifs and strays, and certainly such a ring, in possession of a gipsy, must be a waif. So I shall confiscate it without scruple, and apply the produce to the support of Sir Henry’s household, which is like to be poor enough. Thank Heaven, my military experience has taught me how to carry hooks at my finger-ends — that is trooper’s law. Yet, hang it, after all, I had best take it to Mark Everard and ask his advice — I hold him now to be your learned counsellor in law where Mistress Alice’s affairs are concerned, and my learned Doctor, who shall be nameless, for such as concern Church and State and Sir Henry Lee. — And I’ll give them leave to give mine umbles to the kites and ravens if they find me conferring my confidence where it is not safe.”

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