Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-First.

Groom. Hail, noble prince!

King Richard. Thanks, noble peer;

The cheapest of us is a groat too dear.

RICHARD II

Albert and his page were ushered by Joceline to what was called the Spanish Chamber, a huge old scrambling bedroom, rather in a dilapidated condition, but furnished with a large standing-bed for the master, and a truckle-bed for the domestic, as was common at a much later period in old English houses, where the gentleman often required the assistance of a groom of the chambers to help him to bed, if the hospitality had been exuberant. The walls were covered with hangings of cordovan leather, stamped with gold, and representing fights between the Spaniards and Moriscoes, bull-feasts, and other sports peculiar to the Peninsula, from which it took its name of the Spanish Chamber. These hangings were in some places entirely torn down, in others defaced and hanging in tatters. But Albert stopped not to make observations, anxious, it seemed, to get Joceline out of the room; which he achieved by hastily answering his offers of fresh fuel, and more liquor, in the negative, and returning, with equal conciseness, the under-keeper’s good wishes for the evening. He at length retired, somewhat unwillingly, and as if he thought that his young master might have bestowed a few more words upon a faithful old retainer after so long absence.

Joliffe was no sooner gone, than, before a single word was spoken between Albert Lee and his page, the former hastened to the door, examined lock, latch, and bolt, and made them fast, with the most scrupulous attention. He superadded to these precautions that of a long screw-bolt, which he brought out of his pocket, and which he screwed on to the staple in such a manner as to render it impossible to withdraw it, or open the door, unless by breaking it down. The page held a light to him during the operation, which his master went through with much exactness and dexterity. But when Albert arose from his knee, on which he had rested during the accomplishment of this task, the manner of the companions was on the sudden entirely changed towards each other. The honourable Master Kerneguy, from a cubbish lout of a raw Scotsman, seemed to have acquired at once all the grace and ease of motion and manner, which could be given by an acquaintance of the earliest and most familiar kind with the best company of the time.

He gave the light he held to Albert, with the easy indifference of a superior, who rather graces than troubles his dependent by giving him some slight service to perform. Albert, with the greatest appearance of deference, assumed in his turn the character of torch-bearer, and lighted his page across the chamber, without turning his back upon him as he did so. He then set the light on the table by the bedside, and approaching the young man with deep reverence, received from him the soiled green jacket, with the same profound respect as if he had been a first lord of the bedchamber, or other officer of the household of the highest distinction, disrobing his Sovereign of the Mantle of the Garter. The person to whom this ceremony was addressed endured it for a minute or two with profound gravity, and then bursting out a-laughing, exclaimed to Albert, “What a devil means all this formality? — thou complimentest with these miserable rags as if they were silks and sables, and with poor Louis Kerneguy as if he were the King of Great Britain!”

“And if your Majesty’s commands, and the circumstances of the time, have made me for a moment seem to forget that you are my sovereign, surely I may be permitted to render my homage as such while you are in your own royal palace of Woodstock?”

“Truly,” replied the disguised Monarch, “the sovereign and the palace are not ill matched; — these tattered hangings and my ragged jerkin suit each other admirably. — This Woodstock! — this the bower where the royal Norman revelled with the fair Rosamond Clifford! — Why, it is a place of assignation for owls.” Then, suddenly recollecting himself, with his natural courtesy, he added, as if fearing he might have hurt Albert’s feelings —“But the more obscure and retired, it is the fitter for our purpose, Lee; and if it does seem to be a roost for owls, as there is no denying, why we know it has nevertheless brought up eagles.”

He threw himself as he spoke upon a chair, and indolently, but gracefully, received the kind offices, of Albert, who undid the coarse buttonings of the leathern gamashes which defended his legs, and spoke to him the whilst:—“What a fine specimen of the olden time is your father, Sir Henry! It is strange I should not have seen him before; — but I heard my father often speak of him as being among the flower of our real old English gentry. By the mode in which he began to school me, I can guess you had a tight taskmaster of him, Albert — I warrant you never wore hat in his presence, eh?”

“I never cocked it at least in his presence, please your Majesty, as I have seen some youngsters do,” answered Albert; “indeed if I had, it must have been a stout beaver to have saved me from a broken head.”

“Oh, I doubt it not,” replied the king; “a fine old gentleman — but with that, methinks, in his countenance, that assures you he would not hate the child in sparing the rod. — Hark ye, Albert — Suppose the same glorious Restoration come round — which, if drinking to its arrival can hasten it, should not be far distant — for in that particular our adherents never neglect their duty, suppose it come, therefore, and that thy father, as must be of course, becomes an Earl and one of the Privy Council, oddsfish, man, I shall be as much afraid of him as ever was my grandfather Henri Quatre of old Sully. — Imagine there were such a trinket now about the Court as the Fair Rosamond, or La Belle Gabrielle, what a work there would be of pages, and grooms of the chamber, to get the pretty rogue clandestinely shuffled out by the backstairs, like a prohibited commodity, when the step of the Earl of Woodstock was heard in the antechamber!”

“I am glad to see your Majesty so — merry after your fatiguing journey.”

“The fatigue was nothing, man,” said Charles; “a kind welcome and a good meal made amends for all that. But they must have suspected thee of bringing a wolf from the braes of Badenoch along with you, instead of a two-legged being, with no more than the usual allowance of mortal stowage for provisions. I was really ashamed of my appetite; but thou knowest I had eat nothing for twenty-four hours, save the raw egg you stole for me from the old woman’s hen-roost — I tell thee, I blushed to show myself so ravenous before that high-bred and respectable old gentleman your father, and the very pretty girl your sister — or cousin, is she?”

“She is my sister,” said Albert Lee, dryly, and added, in the same breath, “Your Majesty’s appetite suited well enough with the character of a raw northern lad. — Would your Majesty now please to retire to rest?”

“Not for a minute or two,” said the King, retaining his seat. “Why, man, I have scarce had my tongue unchained today; and to talk with that northern twang, and besides, the fatigue of being obliged to speak every word in character — Gad, it’s like walking as the galley-slaves do on the Continent, with a twenty-four pound shot chained to their legs — they may drag it along, but they cannot move with comfort. And, by the way, thou art slack in paying me my well-deserved tribute of compliment on my counterfeiting. — Did I not play Louis Kerneguy as round as a ring?”

“If your Majesty asks my serious opinion, perhaps I may be forgiven if I say your dialect was somewhat too coarse for a Scottish youth of high birth, and your behaviour perhaps a little too churlish. I thought too — though I pretend not to be skilful — that some of your Scottish sounded as if it were not genuine.”

“Not genuine? — there is no pleasing thee, Albert. — Why, who should speak genuine Scottish but myself? — Was I not their King for a matter of ten months? and if I did not get knowledge of their language, I wonder what else I got by it. Did not east country, and south country, and west country, and Highlands, caw, croak, and shriek about me, as the deep guttural, the broad drawl, and the high sharp yelp predominated by turns? — Oddsfish, man, have I not been speeched at by their orators, addressed by their senators, rebuked by their kirkmen? Have I not sate on the cutty-stool, mon, [again assuming the northern dialect,] and thought it grace of worthy Mrs John Gillespie, that I was permitted to do penance in my own privy chamber, instead of the face of the congregation? and wilt thou tell me, after all, that I cannot speak Scotch enough to baffle an Oxon Knight and his family?”

“May it please your Majesty — I begun by saying I was no judge of the Scottish language.”

“Pshaw — it is mere envy; just so you said at Norton’s, that I was too courteous and civil for a young page — now you think me too rude.”

“And there is a medium, if one could find it,” said Albert, defending his opinion in the same tone in which the King attacked him; “so this morning, when you were in the woman’s dress, you raised your petticoats rather unbecomingly high, as you waded through the first little stream; and when I told you of it, to mend the matter, you draggled through the next without raising them at all.”

“O, the devil take the woman’s dress!” said Charles; “I hope I shall never be driven to that disguise again. Why, my ugly face was enough to put gowns, caps, and kirtles, out of fashion for ever — the very dogs fled from me — Had I passed any hamlet that had but five huts in it, I could not have escaped the cucking-stool. — I was a libel on womankind. These leathern conveniences are none of the gayest, but they are propria quae maribus; and right glad am I to be repossessed of them. I can tell you too, my friend, I shall resume all my masculine privileges with my proper habiliments; and as you say I have been too coarse to-night, I will behave myself like a courtier to Mistress Alice tomorrow. I made a sort of acquaintance with her already, when I seemed to be of the same sex with herself, and found out there are other Colonels in the wind besides you, Colonel Albert Lee.”

“May it please your Majesty,” said Albert — and then stopped short, from the difficulty of finding words to express the unpleasant nature of his feelings. They could not escape Charles; but he proceeded without scruple. “I pique myself on seeing as far into the hearts of young ladies as most folk, though God knows they are sometimes too deep for the wisest of us. But I mentioned to your sister in my character of fortune-teller — thinking, poor simple man, that a country girl must have no one but her brother to dream about — that she was anxious about a certain Colonel. I had hit the theme, but not the person; for I alluded to you, Albert; and I presume the blush was too deep ever to be given to a brother. So up she got, and away she flew from me like a lap-wing. I can excuse her — for, looking at myself in the well, I think if I had met such a creature as I seemed, I should have called fire and fagot against it. — Now, what think you, Albert — who can this Colonel be, that more than rivals you in your sister’s affection?”

Albert, who well knew that the King’s mode of thinking, where the fair sex was concerned, was far more gay than delicate, endeavoured to put a stop to the present topic by a grave answer.

“His sister,” he said, “had been in some measure educated with the son of her maternal uncle, Markham Everard; but as his father and he himself had adopted the cause of the roundheads, the families had in consequence been at variance; and any projects which might have been formerly entertained, were of course long since dismissed on all sides.”

“You are wrong, Albert, you are wrong,” said the King, pitilessly pursuing his jest. “You Colonels, whether you wear blue or orange sashes, are too pretty fellows to be dismissed so easily, when once you have acquired an interest. But Mistress Alice, so pretty, and who wishes the restoration of the King with such a look and accent, as if she were an angel whose prayers must needs bring it down, must not be allowed to retain any thoughts of a canting roundhead — What say you — will you give me leave to take her to task about it? — After all, I am the party most concerned in maintaining true allegiance among my subjects; and if I gain the pretty maiden’s good will, that of the sweetheart’s will soon follow. This was jolly King Edward’s way — Edward the Fourth, you know. The king-making Earl of Warwick — the Cromwell of his day — dethroned him more than once; but he had the hearts of the merry dames of London, and the purses and veins of the cockneys bled freely, till they brought him home again. How say you? — shall I shake off my northern slough, and speak with Alice in my own character, showing what education and manners have done for me, to make the best amends they can for an ugly face?”

“May it please your Majesty,” said Albert, in an altered and embarrassed tone, “I did not expect”—

Here he stopped, not able to find words adequate at the same time to express his sentiments, and respectful enough to the King, while in his father’s house, and under his own protection.

“And what is it that Master Lee does not expect?” said Charles, with marked gravity on his part.

Again Albert attempted a reply, but advanced no farther than, “I would hope, if it please your Majesty”— when he again stopped short, his deep and hereditary respect for his sovereign, and his sense of the hospitality due to his misfortunes, preventing his giving utterance to his irritated feelings.

“And what does Colonel Albert Lee hope?” said Charles, in the same dry and cold manner in which he had before spoken. —“No answer? — Now, I hope that Colonel Lee does not see in a silly jest anything offensive to the honour of his family, since methinks that were an indifferent compliment to his sister, his father, and himself, not to mention Charles Stewart, whom he calls his King; and I expect, that I shall not be so hardly construed, as to be supposed capable of forgetting that Mistress Alice Lee is the daughter of my faithful subject and host, and the sister of my guide and preserver. — Come, come, Albert,” he added, changing at once to his naturally frank and unceremonious manner, “you forget how long I have been abroad where men, women, and children, talk gallantry morning, noon, and night, with no more serious thought than just to pass away the time; and I forget, too, that you are of the old-fashioned English school, a son after Sir Henry’s own heart, and don’t understand raillery upon such subjects. — But I ask your pardon, Albert, sincerely, if I have really hurt you.”

So saying, he extended his hand to Colonel Lee, who, feeling he had been rather too hasty in construing the King’s jest in an unpleasant sense, kissed it with reverence, and attempted an apology.

“Not a word — not a word,” said the good-natured Prince, raising his penitent adherent as he attempted to kneel; “we understand each other. You are somewhat afraid of the gay reputation which I acquired in Scotland; but I assure you, I will be as stupid as you or your cousin Colonel could desire, in presence of Mistress Alice Lee, and only bestow my gallantry, should I have any to throw away, upon the pretty little waiting-maid who attended at supper — unless you should have monopolized her ear for your own benefit, Colonel Albert?”

“It is monopolized, sure enough, though not by me, if it please your Majesty, but by Joceline Joliffe, the under-keeper, whom we must not disoblige, as we have trusted him so far already, and may have occasion to repose even entire confidence in him. I half think he suspects who Louis Kerneguy may in reality be.”

“You are an engrossing set, you wooers of Woodstock,” said the King, laughing. “Now, if I had a fancy, as a Frenchman would not fail to have in such a case, to make pretty speeches to the deaf old woman I saw in the kitchen, as a pisaller, I dare say I should be told that her ear was engrossed for Dr. Rochecliffe’s sole use?”

“I marvel at your Majesty’s good spirits,” said Albert, “that after a day of danger, fatigue, and accidents, you should feel the power of amusing yourself thus.”

“That is to say, the groom of the chambers wishes his Majesty would go to sleep? — Well, one word or two on more serious business, and I have done. — I have been completely directed by you and Rochecliffe — I have changed my disguise from female to male upon the instant, and altered my destination from Hampshire to take shelter here — Do you still hold it the wiser course?”

“I have great confidence in Dr. Rochecliffe,” replied Albert, “whose acquaintance with the scattered royalists enables him to gain the most accurate intelligence. His pride in the extent of his correspondence, and the complication of his plots and schemes for your Majesty’s service, is indeed the very food he lives upon; but his sagacity is equal to his vanity. I repose, besides, the utmost faith in Joliffe. Of my father and sister I would say nothing; yet I would not, without reason, extend the knowledge of your Majesty’s person farther than it is indispensably necessary.”

“Is it handsome in me,” said Charles, pausing, “to withhold my full confidence from Sir Henry Lee?”

“Your Majesty heard of his almost death-swoon of last night — what would agitate him most deeply must not be hastily communicated.”

“True; but are we safe from a visit of the red-coats — they have them in Woodstock as well as in Oxford?” said Charles.

“Dr. Rochecliffe says, not unwisely,” answered Lee, “that it is best sitting near the fire when the chimney smokes; and that Woodstock, so lately in possession of the sequestrators, and still in the vicinity of the soldiers, will be less suspected, and more carelessly searched, than more distant corners, which might seem to promise more safety. Besides,” he added, “Rochecliffe is in possession of curious and important news concerning the state of matters at Woodstock, highly favourable to your Majesty’s being concealed in the palace for two or three days, till shipping is provided. The Parliament, or usurping Council of State, had sent down sequestrators, whom their own evil conscience, assisted, perhaps, by the tricks of some daring cavaliers, had frightened out of the Lodge, without much desire to come back again. Then the more formidable usurper, Cromwell, had granted a warrant of possession to Colonel Everard, who had only used it for the purpose of repossessing his uncle in the Lodge, and who kept watch in person at the little borough, to see that Sir Henry was not disturbed.”

“What! Mistress Alice’s Colonel?” said the King —“that sounds alarming; — for grant that he keeps the other fellows at bay, think you not, Master Albert, he will have an hundred errands a-day, to bring him here in person?”

“Dr. Rochecliffe says,” answered Lee, “the treaty between Sir Henry and his nephew binds the latter not to approach the Lodge, unless invited; — indeed, it was not without great difficulty, and strongly arguing the good consequences it might produce to your Majesty’s cause, that my father could be prevailed on to occupy Woodstock at all; but be assured he will be in no hurry to send an invitation to the Colonel.”

“And be you assured that the Colonel will come without waiting for one,” said Charles. “Folk cannot judge rightly where sisters are concerned — they are too familiar with the magnet to judge of its powers of attraction. — Everard will be here, as if drawn by cart-ropes — fetters, not to talk of promises, will not hold him — and then, methinks, we are in some danger.”

“I hope not,” said Albert. “In the first place, I know Markham is a slave to his word: besides, were any chance to bring him here, I think I could pass your Majesty upon him without difficulty, as Louis Kerneguy. Then, although my cousin and I have not been on good terms for these some years, I believe him incapable of betraying your Majesty; and lastly, if I saw the least danger of it, I would, were he ten times the son of my mother’s sister, run my sword through his body, ere he had time to execute his purpose.”

“There is but another question,” said Charles, “and I will release you, Albert:— You seem to think yourself secure from search. It may be so; but, in any other country, this tale of goblins which is flying about would bring down priests and ministers of justice to examine the reality of the story, and mobs of idle people to satisfy their curiosity.”

“Respecting the first, sir, we hope and understand that Colonel Everard’s influence will prevent any immediate enquiry, for the sake of preserving undisturbed the peace of his uncle’s family; and as for any one coming without some sort of authority, the whole neighbours have so much love and fear of my father, and are, besides, so horribly alarmed about the goblins of Woodstock, that fear will silence curiosity.”

“On the whole, then,” said Charles, “the chances of safety seem to be in favour of the plan we have adopted, which is all I can hope for in a condition where absolute safety is out of the question. The Bishop recommended Dr. Rochecliffe as one of the most ingenious, boldest, and most loyal sons of the Church of England; you, Albert Lee, have marked your fidelity by a hundred proofs. To you and your local knowledge I submit myself. — And now, prepare our arms — alive I will not be taken; — yet I will not believe that a son of the King of England, and heir of her throne, could be destined to danger in his own palace, and under the guard of the loyal Lees.”

Albert Lee laid pistols and swords in readiness by the King’s bed and his own; and Charles, after some slight apology, took his place in the larger and better bed, with a sigh of pleasure, as from one who had not lately enjoyed such an indulgence. He bid good night to his faithful attendant, who deposited himself on his truckle; and both monarch and subject were soon fast asleep.

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