Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Nineteenth.

Being skilless in these parts, which, to a stranger,

Unguided and unfriended, often prove

Rough and inhospitable.

TWELFTH NIGHT.

There was a little attempt at preparation, now that the dinner hour was arrived, which showed that, in the opinion of his few but faithful domestics, the good knight had returned in triumph to his home.

The great tankard, exhibiting in bas-relief the figure of Michael subduing the Arch-enemy, was placed on the table, and Joceline and Phoebe dutifully attended; the one behind the chair of Sir Henry, the other to wait upon her young mistress, and both to make out, by formal and regular observance, the want of a more numerous train.

“A health to King Charles!” said the old knight, handing the massive tankard to his daughter; “drink it, my love, though it be rebel ale which they have left us. I will pledge thee; for the toast will excuse the liquor, had Noll himself brewed it.”

The young lady touched the goblet with her lip, and returned it to her father, who took a copious draught.

“I will not say blessing on their hearts,” said he; “though I must own they drank good ale.”

“No wonder, sir; they come lightly by the malt, and need not spare it,” said Joceline.

“Say’st thou?” said the knight; “thou shalt finish the tankard thyself for that very jest’s sake.”

Nor was his follower slow in doing reason to the royal pledge. He bowed, and replaced the tankard, saying, after a triumphant glance at the sculpture, “I had a gibe with that same red-coat about the Saint Michael just now.”

“Red-coat — ha! what red-coat?” said the hasty old man. “Do any of these knaves still lurk about Woodstock? — Quoit him down stairs instantly, Joceline. — Know we not Galloway nags?”

“So please you, he is in some charge here, and will speedily be gone. — It is he — he who had a rencontre with your honour in the wood.”

“Ay, but I paid him off for it in the hall, as you yourself saw. — I was never in better fence in my life, Joceline. That same steward fellow is not so utterly black-hearted a rogue as the most of them, Joceline. He fences well — excellent well. I will have thee try a bout in the hall with him tomorrow, though I think he will be too hard for thee. I know thy strength to an inch.”

He might say this with some truth; for it was Joceline’s fashion, when called on, as sometimes happened, to fence with his patron, just to put forth as much of his strength and skill as obliged the Knight to contend hard for the victory, which, in the long run, he always contrived to yield up to him, like a discreet serving-man.

“And what said this roundheaded steward of our great Saint Michael’s standing cup?”

“Marry, he scoffed at our good saint, and said he was little better than one of the golden calves of Bethel. But I told him he should not talk so, until one of their own roundheaded saints had given the devil as complete a cross-buttock as Saint Michael had given him, as ’tis carved upon the cup there. I trow that made him silent enough. And then he would know whether your honour and Mistress Alice, not to mention old Joan and myself, since it is your honour’s pleasure I should take my bed here, were not afraid to sleep in a house that had been so much disturbed. But I told him we feared no fiends or goblins, having the prayers of the Church read every evening.”

“Joceline,” said Alice, interrupting him, “wert thou mad? You know at what risk to ourselves and the good doctor the performance of that duty takes place.”

“Oh, Mistress Alice,” said Joceline, a little abashed, “you may be sure I spoke not a word of the doctor — No, no — I did not let him into the secret that we had such a reverend chaplain. — I think I know the length of this man’s foot. We have had a jollification or so together. He is hand and glove with me, for as great a fanatic as he is.”

“Trust him not too far,” said the knight. “Nay, I fear thou hast been imprudent already, and that it will be unsafe for the good man to come here after nightfall, as is proposed. These Independents have noses like bloodhounds, and can smell out a loyalist under any disguise.”

“If your honour thinks so,” said Joceline, “I’ll watch for the doctor with good will, and bring him into the Lodge by the old condemned postern, and so up to this apartment; and sure this man Tomkins would never presume to come hither; and the doctor may have a bed in Woodstock Lodge, and he never the wiser; or, if your honour does not think that safe, I can cut his throat for you, and I would not mind it a pin.”

“God forbid!” said the knight. “He is under our roof, and a guest, though not an invited one. — Go, Joceline; it shall be thy penance, for having given thy tongue too much license, to watch for the good doctor, and to take care of his safety while he continues with us. An October night or two in the forest would finish the good man.”

“He’s more like to finish our October than our October is to finish him,” said the keeper; and withdrew under the encouraging smile of his patron.

He whistled Bevis along with him to share in his watch; and having received exact information where the clergyman was most likely to be found, assured his master that he would give the most pointed attention to his safety. When the attendants had withdrawn, having previously removed the remains of the meal, the old knight, leaning back in his chair, encouraged pleasanter visions than had of late passed through his imagination, until by degrees he was surprised by actual slumber; while his daughter, not venturing to move but on tiptoe, took some needle-work, and bringing it close by the old man’s side, employed her fingers on this task, bending her eyes from time to time on her parent, with the affectionate zeal, if not the effective power, of a guardian angel. At length, as the light faded away, and night came on, she was about to order candles to be brought. But, remembering how indifferent a couch Joceline’s cottage had afforded, she could not think of interrupting the first sound and refreshing sleep which her father had enjoyed, in all probability, for the last two nights and days.

She herself had no other amusement, as she sat facing one of the great oriel windows, the same by which Wildrake had on a former occasion looked in upon Tomkins and Joceline while at their compotations, than watching the clouds, which a lazy wind sometimes chased from the broad disk of the harvest-moon, sometimes permitted to accumulate, and exclude her brightness. There is, I know not why, something peculiarly pleasing to the imagination, in contemplating the Queen of Night, when she is wading, as the expression is, among the vapours which she has not power to dispel, and which on their side are unable entirely to quench her lustre. It is the striking image of patient virtue, calmly pursuing her path through good report and bad report, having that excellence in herself which ought to command all admiration, but bedimmed in the eyes of the world, by suffering, by misfortune, by calumny.

As some such reflections, perhaps, were passing through Alice’s imagination, she became sensible, to her surprise and alarm, that some one had clambered up upon the window, and was looking into the room. The idea of supernatural fear did not in the slightest degree agitate Alice. She was too much accustomed to the place and situation; for folk do not see spectres in the scenes with which they have been familiar from infancy. But danger from maurauders in a disturbed country was a more formidable subject of apprehension, and the thought armed Alice, who was naturally high spirited, with such desperate courage, that she snatched a pistol from the wall, on which some fire-arms hung, and while she screamed to her father to awake, had the presence of mind to present it at the intruder. She did so the more readily, because she imagined she recognised in the visage, which she partially saw, the features of the woman whom she had met with at Rosamond’s Well, and which had appeared to her peculiarly harsh and suspicious. Her father at the same time seized his sword and came forward, while the person at the window, alarmed at these demonstrations, and endeavouring to descend, missed footing, as had Cavaliero Wildrake before, and went down to the earth with no small noise. Nor was the reception on the bosom of our common mother either soft or safe; for, by a most terrific bark and growl, they heard that Bevis had come up and seized on the party, ere he or she could gain their feet.

“Hold fast, but worry not,” said the old knight. —“Alice, thou art the queen of wenches! Stand fast here till I run down and secure the rascal.”

“For God’s sake, no, my dearest father!” Alice exclaimed; “Joceline will be up immediately — Hark! — I hear him.”

There was indeed a bustle below, and more than one light danced to and fro in confusion, while those who bore them called to each other, yet suppressing their voices as they spoke, as men who would only be heard by those they addressed. The individual who had fallen under the power of Bevis was most impatient in his situation, and called with least precaution —“Here, Lee — Forester — take the dog off, else I must shoot him.”

“If thou dost,” said Sir Henry, from the window, “I blow thy brains out on the spot. Thieves, Joceline, thieves! come up and secure this ruffian. — Bevis, hold on!”

“Back, Bevis; down, sir!” cried Joceline. “I am coming, I am coming, Sir Henry — Saint Michael, I shall go distracted!”

A terrible thought suddenly occurred to Alice; could Joceline have become unfaithful, that he was calling Bevis off the villain, instead of encouraging the trusty dog to secure him? Her father, meantime, moved perhaps by some suspicion of the same kind, hastily stepped aside out of the moonlight, and pulled Alice close to him, so as to be invisible from without, yet so placed as to hear what should pass. The scuffle between Bevis and his prisoner seemed to be ended by Joceline’s interference, and there was close whispering for an instant, as of people in consultation.

“All is quiet now,” said one voice; “I will up and prepare the way for you.” And immediately a form presented itself on the outside of the window, pushed open the lattice, and sprung into the parlour. But almost ere his step was upon the floor, certainly before he had obtained any secure footing, the old knight, who stood ready with his rapier drawn, made a desperate pass, which bore the intruder to the ground. Joceline, who clambered up next with a dark lantern in his hand, uttered a dreadful exclamation, when he saw what had happened, crying out, “Lord in heaven, he has slain his own son!”

“No, no — I tell you no,” said the fallen young man, who was indeed young Albert Lee, the only son of the old knight; “I am not hurt. No noise, on your lives; get lights instantly.” At the same time, he started from the floor as quickly as he could, under the embarrassment of a cloak and doublet skewered as it were together by the rapier of the old knight, whose pass, most fortunately, had been diverted from the body of Albert by the interruption of his cloak, the blade passing right across his back, piercing the clothes, while the hilt coming against his side with the whole force of the lunge, had borne him to the ground.

Joceline all the while enjoined silence to every one, under the strictest conjurations. “Silence, as you would long live on earth — silence, as ye would have a place in heaven; be but silent for a few minutes — all our lives depend on it.”

Meantime he procured lights with inexpressible dispatch, and they then beheld that Sir Henry, on hearing the fatal words, had sunk back on one of the large chairs, without either motion, colour, or sign of life.

“Oh, brother, how could you come in this manner?” said Alice.

“Ask no questions — Good God! for what am I reserved!” He gazed on his father as he spoke, who, with clay-cold features rigidly fixed, and his arms extended in the most absolute helplessness, looked rather the image of death upon a monument, than a being in whom existence was only suspended. “Was my life spared,” said Albert, raising his hands with a wild gesture to heaven, “only to witness such a sight as this!”

“We suffer what Heaven permits, young man; we endure our lives while Heaven continues them. Let me approach.” The same clergyman who had read the prayers at Joceline’s hut now came forward. “Get water,” he said, “instantly.” And the helpful hand and light foot of Alice, with the ready-witted tenderness which never stagnates in vain lamentations while there is any room for hope, provided with incredible celerity all that the clergyman called for.

“It is but a swoon,” he said, on feeling Sir Henry’s palm; “a swoon produced from the instant and unexpected shock. Rouse thee up, Albert; I promise thee it will be nothing save a syncope — A cup, my dearest Alice, and a ribbon or a bandage. I must take some blood — some aromatics, too, if they can be had, my good Alice.”

But while Alice procured the cup and bandage, stripped her father’s sleeve, and seemed by intuition even to anticipate every direction of the reverend doctor, her brother, hearing no word, and seeing no sign of comfort, stood with both hands clasped and elevated into the air, a monument of speechless despair. Every feature in his face seemed to express the thought, “Here lies my father’s corpse, and it is I whose rashness has slain him!”

But when a few drops of blood began to follow the lancet — at first falling singly, and then trickling in a freer stream — when, in consequence of the application of cold water to the temples, and aromatics to the nostrils, the old man sighed feebly, and made an effort to move his limbs, Albert Lee changed his posture, at once to throw himself at the feet of the clergyman, and kiss, if he would have permitted him, his shoes and the hem of his raiment.

“Rise, foolish youth,” said the good man, with a reproving tone; “must it be always thus with you? Kneel to Heaven, not to the feeblest of its agents. You have been saved once again from great danger; would you deserve Heaven’s bounty, remember you have been preserved for other purposes than you now think on. Begone, you and Joceline — you have a duty to discharge; and be assured it will go better with your father’s recovery that he see you not for a few minutes. Down — down to the wilderness, and bring in your attendant.”

“Thanks, thanks, a thousand thanks,” answered Albert Lee; and, springing through the lattice, he disappeared as unexpectedly as he had entered. At the same time Joceline followed him, and by the same road.

Alice, whose fears for her father were now something abated, upon this new movement among the persons of the scene, could not resist appealing to her venerable assistant. “Good doctor, answer me but one question. Was my brother Albert here just now, or have I dreamed all that has happened for these ten minutes past? Methinks, but for your presence, I could suppose the whole had passed in my sleep; that horrible thrust — that death-like, corpse-like old man — that soldier in mute despair; I must indeed have dreamed.”

“If you have dreamed, my sweet Alice,” said the doctor, “I wish every sick-nurse had your property, since you have been attending to our patient better during your sleep than most of these old dormice can do when they are most awake. But your dream came through the gate of horn, my pretty darling, which you must remind me to explain to you at leisure. Albert has really been here, and will be here again.”

“Albert!” repeated Sir Henry, “who names my son?”

“It is I, my kind patron,” said the doctor; “permit me to bind up your arm.”

“My wound? — with all my heart, doctor,” said Sir Henry, raising himself, and gathering his recollection by degrees. “I knew of old thou wert body-curer as well as soul-curer, and served my regiment for surgeon as well as chaplain. — But where is the rascal I killed? — I never made a fairer stramaçon in my life. The shell of my rapier struck against his ribs. So, dead he must be, or my right hand has forgot its cunning.”

“Nobody was slain,” said the doctor; “we must thank God for that, since there were none but friends to slay. Here is a good cloak and doublet, though, wounded in a fashion which will require some skill in tailor-craft to cure. But I was your last antagonist, and took a little blood from you, merely to prepare you for the pleasure and surprise of seeing your son, who, though hunted pretty close, as you may believe, hath made his way from Worcester hither, where, with Joceline’s assistance, we will care well enough for his safety. It was even for this reason that I pressed you to accept of your nephew’s proposal to return to the old Lodge, where a hundred men might be concealed, though a thousand were making search to discover them. Never such a place for hide-and-seek, as I shall make good when I can find means to publish my Wonders of Woodstock.”

“But, my son — my dear son,” said the knight, “shall I not then instantly see him! and wherefore did you not forewarn me of this joyful event?”

“Because I was uncertain of his motions,” said the doctor, “and rather thought he was bound for the sea-side, and that it would be best to tell you of his fate when he was safe on board, and in full sail for France. We had appointed to let you know all when I came hither to-night to join you. But there is a red-coat in the house whom we care not to trust farther than we could not help. We dared not, therefore, venture in by the hall; and so, prowling round the building, Albert informed us, that an old prank of his, when a boy, consisted of entering by this window. A lad who was with us would needs make the experiment, as there seemed to be no light in the chamber, and the moonlight without made us liable to be detected. His foot slipped, and our friend Bevis came upon us.”

“In good truth, you acted simply,” said Sir Henry, “to attack a garrison without a summons. But all this is nothing to my son, Albert — where is he? — Let me see him.”

“But, Sir Henry, wait,” said the doctor, “till your restored strength”—

“A plague of my restored strength, man!” answered the knight, as his old spirit began to awaken within him. —“Dost not remember, that I lay on Edgehill-field all night, bleeding like a bullock from five several wounds, and wore my armour within six weeks? and you talk to me of the few drops of blood that follow such a scratch as a cat’s claw might have made!”

“Nay, if you feel so courageous,” said the doctor, “I will fetch your son — he is not far distant.”

So saying, he left the apartment, making a sign to Alice to remain, in case any symptoms of her father’s weakness should return.

It was fortunate, perhaps, that Sir Henry never seemed to recollect the precise nature of the alarm, which had at once, and effectually as the shock of the thunderbolt, for the moment suspended his faculties. Something he said more than once of being certain he had done mischief with that stramaçon, as he called it; but his mind did not recur to that danger, as having been incurred by his son. Alice, glad to see that her father appeared to have forgotten a circumstance so fearful, (as men often forget the blow, or other sudden cause, which has thrown them into a swoon,) readily excused herself from throwing much light on the matter, by pleading the general confusion. And in a few minutes, Albert cut off all farther enquiry, by entering the room, followed by the doctor, and throwing himself alternately into the arms of his father and of his sister.

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