Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Twenty-Sixth.

Boundless intemperance

In nature is a tyranny — it hath been

The untimely emptying of many a throne,

And fall of many kings.

MACBETH.

While Colonel Everard retreated in high indignation from the little refection, which Sir Henry Lee had in his good-humour offered, and withdrawn under the circumstances of provocation which we have detailed, the good old knight, scarce recovered from his fit of passion, partook of it with his daughter and guest, and shortly after, recollecting some silvan task, (for, though to little efficient purpose, he still regularly attended to his duties as Ranger,) he called Bevis, and went out, leaving the two young people together.

“Now,” said the amorous Prince to himself, “that Alice is left without her lion, it remains to see whether she is herself of a tigress breed. — So, Sir Bevis has left his charge,” he said loud; “I thought the knights of old, those stern guardians of which he is so fit a representative, were more rigorous in maintaining a vigilant guard.”

“Bevis,” said Alice, “knows that his attendance on me is totally needless; and, moreover, he has other duties to perform, which every true knight prefers to dangling the whole morning by a lady’s sleeve.”

“You speak treason against all true affection,” said the gallant; “a lady’s lightest wish should to a true knight be more binding than aught excepting the summons of his sovereign. I wish, Mistress Alice, you would but intimate your slightest desire to me, and you should see how I have practised obedience.”

“You never brought me word what o’clock it was this morning,” replied the young lady, “and there I sate questioning of the wings of Time, when I should have remembered that gentlemen’s gallantry can be quite as fugitive as Time himself. How do you know what your disobedience may have cost me and others? Pudding and pasty may have been burned to a cinder, for, sir, I practise the old domestic rule of visiting the kitchen; or I may have missed prayers, or I may have been too late for an appointment, simply by the negligence of Master Louis Kerneguy failing to let me know the hour of the day.”

“O,” replied Kerneguy, “I am one of those lovers who cannot endure absence — I must be eternally at the feet of my fair enemy — such, I think, is the title with which romances teach us to grace the fair and cruel to whom we devote our hearts and lives. — Speak for me, good lute,” he added, taking up the instrument, “and show whether I know not my duty.”

He sung, but with more taste than execution, the air of a French rondelai, to which some of the wits or sonnetteers, in his gay and roving train, had adapted English verses.

An hour with thee! — When earliest day

Dapples with gold the eastern grey,

Oh, what, can frame my mind to bear

The toil and turmoil, cark and care.

New griefs, which coming hours unfold,

And sad remembrance of the old? —

One hour with thee!

One hour with thee! — When burning June

Waves his red flag at pitch of noon;

What shall repay the faithful swain,

His labour on the sultry plain,

And more than cave or sheltering bough,

Cool feverish blood, and throbbing brow? —

One hour with thee!

One hour with thee! — When sun is set,

O, what can teach me to forget

The thankless labours of the day;

The hopes, the wishes, flung away:

The increasing wants, and lessening gains,

The master’s pride, who scorns my pains? —

One hour with thee!

“Truly, there is another verse,” said the songster; “but I sing it not to you, Mistress Alice, because some of the prudes of the court liked it not.” “I thank you, Master Louis,” answered the young lady, “both for your discretion in singing what has given me pleasure, and in forbearing what might offend me. Though a country girl, I pretend to be so far of the court mode, as to receive nothing which does not pass current among the better class there.”

“I would,” answered Louis, “that you were so well confirmed in their creed, as to let all pass with you, to which court ladies would give currency.”

“And what would be the consequence?” said Alice, with perfect composure.

“In that case,” said Louis, embarrassed like a general who finds that his preparations for attack do not seem to strike either fear or confusion into the enemy —“in that case you would forgive me, fair Alice, if I spoke to you in a warmer language than that of mere gallantry — if I told you how much my heart was interested in what you consider as idle jesting — if I seriously owned it was in your power to make me the happiest or the most miserable of human beings.”

“Master Kerneguy,” said Alice, with the same unshaken nonchalance, “let us understand each other. I am little acquainted with high-bred manners, and I am unwilling, I tell you plainly, to be accounted a silly country girl, who, either from ignorance or conceit, is startled at every word of gallantry addressed to her by a young man, who, for the present, has nothing better to do than coin and circulate such false compliments. But I must not let this fear of seeming rustic and awkwardly timorous carry me too far; and being ignorant of the exact limits, I will take care to stop within them.”

“I trust, madam,” said Kerneguy, “that however severely you may be disposed to judge of me, your justice will not punish me too severely for an offence, of which your charms are alone the occasion?”

“Hear me out, sir, if you please,” resumed Alice. “I have listened to you when you spoke en berger — nay, my complaisance has been so great, as to answer you en bergère — for I do not think any thing except ridicule can come of dialogues between Lindor and Jeanneton; and the principal fault of the style is its extreme and tiresome silliness and affectation. But when you begin to kneel, offer to take my hand, and speak with a more serious tone, I must remind you of our real characters. I am the daughter of Sir Henry Lee, sir; you are, or profess to be, Master Louis Kerneguy, my brother’s page, and a fugitive for shelter under my father’s roof, who incurs danger by the harbour he affords you, and whose household, therefore, ought not to be disturbed by your unpleasing importunities.”

“I would to Heaven, fair Alice,” said the King, “that your objections to the suit which I am urging, not in jest, but most seriously, as that on which my happiness depends, rested only on the low and precarious station of Louis Kerneguy! — Alice, thou hast the soul of thy family, and must needs love honour. I am no more the needy Scottish page, whom I have, for my own purposes, personated, than I am the awkward lout, whose manners I adopted on the first night of our acquaintance. This hand, poor as I seem, can confer a coronet.”

“Keep it,” said Alice, “for some more ambitious damsel, my lord — for such I conclude is your title, if this romance be true — I would not accept your hand, could you confer a duchy.”

“In one sense, lovely Alice, you have neither overrated my power nor my affection. It is your King — it is Charles Stewart who speaks to you! — he can confer duchies, and if beauty can merit them, it is that of Alice Lee. Nay, nay — rise — do not kneel — it is for your sovereign to kneel to thee, Alice, to whom he is a thousand times more devoted than the wanderer Louis dared venture to profess himself. My Alice has, I know, been trained up in those principles of love and obedience to her sovereign, that she cannot, in conscience or in mercy, inflict on him such a wound as would be implied in the rejection of his suit.”

In spite of all Charles’s attempts to prevent her, Alice had persevered in kneeling on one knee, until she had touched with her lip the hand with which he attempted to raise her. But this salutation ended, she stood upright, with her arms folded on her bosom — her looks humble, but composed, keen, and watchful, and so possessed of herself, so little flattered by the communication which the King had supposed would have been overpowering, that he scarce knew in what terms next to urge his solicitation.

“Thou art silent — thou art silent,” he said, “my pretty Alice. Has the King no more influence with thee than the poor Scottish page?”

“In one sense, every influence,” said Alice; “for he commands my best thoughts, my best wishes, my earnest prayers, my devoted loyalty, which, as the men of the House of Lee have been ever ready to testify with the sword, so are the women bound to seal, if necessary, with their blood. But beyond the duties of a true and devoted subject, the King is even less to Alice Lee than poor Louis Kerneguy. The Page could have tendered an honourable union — the Monarch can but offer a contaminated coronet.”

“You mistake, Alice — you mistake,” said the King, eagerly. “Sit down and let me speak to you — sit down — What is’t you fear?”

“I fear nothing, my liege,” answered Alice. “What can I fear from the King of Britain — I, the daughter of his loyal subject, and under my father’s roof? But I remember the distance betwixt us; and though I might trifle and jest with mine equal, to my King I must only appear in the dutiful posture of a subject, unless where his safety may seem to require that I do not acknowledge his dignity.”

Charles, though young, being no novice in such scenes, was surprised to encounter resistance of a kind which had not been opposed to him in similar pursuits, even in cases where he had been unsuccessful. There was neither anger, nor injured pride, nor disorder, nor disdain, real or affected, in the manners and conduct of Alice. She stood, as it seemed, calmly prepared to argue on the subject, which is generally decided by passion — showed no inclination to escape from the apartment, but appeared determined to hear with patience the suit of the lover — while her countenance and manner intimated that she had this complaisance only in deference to the commands of the King.

“She is ambitious,” thought Charles; “it is by dazzling her love of glory, not by mere passionate entreaties, that I must hope to be successful. — I pray you be seated, my fair Alice,” he said; “the lover entreats — the King commands you.”

“The King,” said Alice, “may permit the relaxation of the ceremonies due to royalty, but he cannot abrogate the subject’s duty, even by express command. I stand here while it is your Majesty’s pleasure to address — a patient listener, as in duty bound.”

“Know then, simple girl,” said the King, “that in accepting my proffered affection and protection, you break through no law either of virtue or morality. Those who are born to royalty are deprived of many of the comforts of private life — chiefly that which is, perhaps, the dearest and most precious, the power of choosing their own mates for life. Their formal weddings are guided upon principles of political expedience only, and those to whom they are wedded are frequently, in temper, person, and disposition, the most unlikely to make them happy. Society has commiseration, therefore, towards us, and binds our unwilling and often unhappy wedlocks with chains of a lighter and more easy character than those which fetter other men, whose marriage ties, as more voluntarily assumed, ought, in proportion, to be more strictly binding. And therefore, ever since the time that old Henry built these walls, priests and prelates, as well as nobles and statesmen, have been accustomed to see a fair Rosamond rule the heart of an affectionate monarch, and console him for the few hours of constraint and state which he must bestow upon some angry and jealous Eleanor. To such a connection the world attaches no blame; they rush to the festival to admire the beauty of the lovely Esther, while the imperious Vashti is left to queen it in solitude; they throng the palace to ask her protection, whose influence is more in the state an hundred times than that of the proud consort; her offspring rank with the nobles of the land, and vindicate by their courage, like the celebrated Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, their descent from royalty and from love. From such connections our richest ranks of nobles are recruited; and the mother lives, in the greatness of her posterity honoured and blest, as she died lamented and wept in the arms of love and friendship.”

“Did Rosamond so die, my lord?” said Alice. “Our records say she was poisoned by the injured Queen — poisoned, without time allowed to call to God for the pardon of her many faults. Did her memory so live? I have heard that, when the Bishop purified the church at Godstowe, her monument was broken open by his orders, and her bones thrown out into unconsecrated ground.”

“Those were rude old days, sweet Alice,” answered Charles; “queens are not now so jealous, nor bishops so rigorous. And know, besides, that in the lands to which I would lead the loveliest of her sex, other laws obtain, which remove from such ties even the slightest show of scandal. There is a mode of matrimony, which, fulfilling all the rites of the Church, leaves no stain on the conscience; yet investing the bride with none of the privileges peculiar to her husband’s condition, infringes not upon the duties which the King owes to his subjects. So that Alice Lee may, in all respects, become the real and lawful wife of Charles Stewart, except that their private union gives her no title to be Queen of England.”

“My ambition,” said Alice, “will be sufficiently gratified to see Charles king, without aiming to share either his dignity in public, or his wealth and regal luxury in private.”

“I understand thee, Alice,” said the King, hurt but not displeased. “You ridicule me, being a fugitive, for speaking like a king. It is a habit, I admit, which I have learned, and of which even misfortune cannot cure me. But my case is not so desperate as you may suppose. My friends are still many in these kingdoms; my allies abroad are bound, by regard to their own interest, to espouse my cause. I have hopes given me from Spain, from France, and from other nations; and I have confidence that my father’s blood has not been poured forth in vain, nor is doomed to dry up without due vengeance. My trust is in Him from whom princes derive their title, and, think what thou wilt of my present condition, I have perfect confidence that I shall one day sit on the throne of England.”

“May God grant it!” said Alice; “and that he may grant it, noble Prince, deign to consider — whether you now pursue a conduct likely to conciliate his favour. Think of the course you recommend to a motherless maiden, who has no better defence against your sophistry, than what a sense of morality, together with the natural feeling of female dignity inspires. Whether the death of her father, which would be the consequence of her imprudence; — whether the despair of her brother, whose life has been so often in peril to save that of your Majesty; — whether the dishonour of the roof which has sheltered you, will read well in your annals, or are events likely to propitiate God, whose controversy with your House has been but too visible, or recover the affections of the people of England, in whose eyes such actions are an abomination, I leave to your own royal mind to consider.”

Charles paused, struck with a turn to the conversation which placed his own interests more in collision with the gratification of his present passion than he had supposed.

“If your Majesty,” said Alice, curtsying deeply, “has no farther commands for my attendance, may I be permitted to withdraw?”

“Stay yet a little, strange and impracticable girl,” said the King; “and answer me but one question:— Is it the lowness of my present fortunes that makes my suit contemptible?”

“I have nothing to conceal, my liege,” she said, “and my answer shall be as plain and direct as the question you have asked. If I could have been moved to an act of ignominious, insane, and ungrateful folly, it could only arise from my being blinded by that passion, which I believe is pleaded as an excuse for folly and for crime much more often than it has a real existence. I must, in short, have been in love, as it is called — and that might have been — with my equal, but surely never with my sovereign, whether such only in title, or in possession of his kingdom.”

“Yet loyalty was ever the pride, almost the ruling passion, of your family, Alice,” said the King.

“And could I reconcile that loyalty,” said Alice, “with indulging my sovereign, by permitting him to prosecute a suit dishonourable to himself as to me? Ought I, as a faithful subject, to join him in a folly, which might throw yet another stumbling-block in the path to his restoration, and could only serve to diminish his security, even if he were seated upon his throne?”

“At this rate,” said Charles, discontentedly, “I had better have retained my character of the page, than assumed that of a sovereign, which it seems is still more irreconcilable with my wishes.”

“My candour shall go still farther,” said Alice. “I could have felt as little for Louis Kerneguy as for the heir of Britain; for such love as I have to bestow, (and it is not such as I read of in romance, or hear poured forth in song,) has been already conferred on another object. This gives your Majesty pain — I am sorry for it — but the wholesomest medicines are often bitter.”

“Yes,” answered the King, with some asperity, “and physicians are reasonable enough to expect their patients to swallow them, as if they were honeycomb. It is true, then, that whispered tale of the cousin Colonel, and the daughter of the loyal Lee has set her heart upon a rebellious fanatic?”

“My love was given ere I knew what these words fanatic and rebel meant. I recalled it not, for I am satisfied, that amidst the great distractions which divide the kingdom, the person to whom you allude has chosen his part, erroneously, perhaps, but conscientiously — he, therefore, has still the highest place in my affection and esteem. More he cannot have, and will not ask, until some happy turn shall reconcile these public differences, and my father be once more reconciled to him. Devoutly do I pray that such an event may occur by your Majesty’s speedy and unanimous restoration!”

“You have found out a reason,” said the King, pettishly, “to make me detest the thought of such a change — nor have you, Alice, any sincere interest to pray for it. On the contrary, do you not see that your lover, walking side by side with Cromwell, may, or rather must, share his power? nay, if Lambert does not anticipate him, he may trip up Oliver’s heels, and reign in his stead. And think you not he will find means to overcome the pride of the loyal Lees, and achieve an union, for which things are better prepared than that which Cromwell is said to meditate betwixt one of his brats and the no less loyal heir of Fauconberg?”

“Your Majesty,” said Alice, “has found a way at length to avenge yourself — if what I have said deserves vengeance.”

“I could point out a yet shorter road to your union,” said Charles, without minding her distress, or perhaps enjoying the pleasure of retaliation. “Suppose that you sent your Colonel word that there was one Charles Stewart here, who had come to disturb the Saints in their peaceful government, which they had acquired by prayer and preaching, pike and gun — and suppose he had the art to bring down a half-score of troopers, quite enough, as times go, to decide the fate of this heir of royalty — think you not the possession of such a prize as this might obtain from the Rumpers, or from Cromwell, such a reward as might overcome your father’s objections to a roundhead’s alliance, and place the fair Alice and her cousin Colonel in full possession of their wishes?”

“My liege,” said Alice, her cheeks glowing, and her eyes sparkling — for she too had her share of the hereditary temperament of her family — “this passes my patience. I have heard, without expressing anger, the most ignominious persuasions addressed to myself, and I have vindicated myself for refusing to be the paramour of a fugitive Prince, as if I had been excusing myself from accepting a share of an actual crown. But do you think I can hear all who are dear to me slandered without emotion or reply? I will not, sir; and were you seated with all the terrors of your father’s Star-chamber around you, you should hear me defend the absent and the innocent. Of my father I will say nothing, but that if he is now without wealth — without state, almost without a sheltering home and needful food — it is because he spent all in the service of the King. He needed not to commit any act of treachery or villany to obtain wealth — he had an ample competence in his own possessions. For Markham Everard — he knows no such thing as selfishness — he would not, for broad England, had she the treasures of Peru in her bosom, and a paradise on her surface, do a deed that would disgrace his own name, or injure the feelings of another — Kings, my liege, may take a lesson from him. My liege, for the present I take my leave.”

“Alice, Alice — stay!” exclaimed the King. “She is gone. — This must be virtue — real, disinterested, overawing virtue — or there is no such thing on earth. Yet Wilmot and Villiers will not believe a word of it, but add the tale to the other wonders of Woodstock. ’Tis a rare wench! and I profess, to use the Colonel’s obtestation, that I know not whether to forgive and be friends with her, or study a dire revenge. If it were not for that accursed cousin — that puritan Colonel — I could forgive every thing else to so noble a wench. But a roundheaded rebel preferred to me — the preference avowed to my face, and justified with the assertion, that a king might take a lesson from him — it is gall and wormwood. If the old man had not come up this morning as he did, the King should have taken or given a lesson, and a severe one. It was a mad rencontre to venture upon with my rank and responsibility — and yet this wench has made me so angry with her, and so envious of him, that if an opportunity offered, I should scarce be able to forbear him. — Ha! whom have we here?”

The interjection at the conclusion of this royal soliloquy, was occasioned by the unexpected entrance of another personage of the drama.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/woodstock/chapter26.html

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