Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-First.

“Were my son William here but now,

He wadna fail the pledge.”

Wi’ that in at the door there ran

A ghastly-looking page —

“I saw them, master, O! I saw,

Beneath the thornie brae,

Of black-mail’d warriors many a rank;

‘Revenge!’ he cried, ‘and gae.’”

HENRY MACKENZIE.

The little party at the Lodge were assembled at supper, at the early hour of eight o’clock. Sir Henry Lee, neglecting the food that was placed on the table, stood by a lamp on the chimney-piece, and read a letter with mournful attention.

“Does my son write to you more particularly than to me, Doctor Rochecliffe?” said the knight. “He only says here, that he will return probably this night; and that Master Kerneguy must be ready to set off with him instantly. What can this haste mean? Have you heard of any new search after our suffering party? I wish they would permit me to enjoy my son’s company in quiet but for a day.”

“The quiet which depends on the wicked ceasing from troubling,” said Dr. Rochecliffe, “is connected, not by days and hours, but by minutes. Their glut of blood at Worcester had satiated them for a moment, but their appetite, I fancy, has revived.”

“You have news, then, to that purpose?” said Sir Henry.

“Your son,” replied the Doctor, “wrote to me by the same messenger: he seldom fails to do so, being aware of what importance it is that I should know every thing that passes. Means of escape are provided on the coast, and Master Kerneguy must be ready to start with your son the instant he appears.”

“It is strange,” said the knight; “for forty years I have dwelt in this house, man and boy, and the point only was how to make the day pass over our heads; for if I did not scheme out some hunting match or hawking, or the like, I might have sat here on my arm-chair, as undisturbed as a sleeping dormouse, from one end of the year to the other; and now I am more like a hare on her form, that dare not sleep unless with her eyes open, and scuds off when the wind rustles among the fern.”

“It is strange,” said Alice, looking at Dr. Rochecliffe, “that the roundhead steward has told you nothing of this. He is usually communicative enough of the motions of his party; and I saw you close together this morning.”

“I must be closer with him this evening,” said the Doctor gloomily; “but he will not blab.”

“I wish you may not trust him too much,” said Alice in reply. —“To me, that man’s face, with all its shrewdness, evinces such a dark expression, that methinks I read treason in his very eye.”

“Be assured, that matter is looked to,” answered the Doctor, in the same ominous tone as before. No one replied, and there was a chilling and anxious feeling of apprehension which seemed to sink down on the company at once, like those sensations which make such constitutions as are particularly subject to the electrical influence, conscious of an approaching thunder-storm.

The disguised Monarch, apprised that day to be prepared on short notice to quit his temporary asylum, felt his own share of the gloom which involved the little society. But he was the first also to shake it off, as what neither suited his character nor his situation. Gaiety was the leading distinction of the former, and presence of mind, not depression of spirits, was required by the latter.

“We make the hour heavier,” he said, “by being melancholy about it. Had you not better join me, Mistress Alice, in Patrick Carey’s jovial farewell? — Ah, you do not know Pat Carey — a younger brother of Lord Falkland’s?”

“A brother of the immortal Lord Falkland’s, and write songs!” said the Doctor.

“Oh, Doctor, the Muses take tithe as well as the Church,” said Charles, “and have their share in every family of distinction. You do not know the words, Mistress Alice, but you can aid me, notwithstanding, in the burden at least —

‘Come, now that we’re parting, and ’tis one to ten

If the towers of sweet Woodstock I e’er see agen,

Let us e’en have a frolic, and drink like tall men,

While the goblet goes merrily round.’”

The song arose, but not with spirit. It was one of those efforts at forced mirth, by which, above all other modes of expressing it, the absence of real cheerfulness is most distinctly animated. Charles stopt the song, and upbraided the choristers.

“You sing, my dear Mistress Alice, as if you were chanting one of the seven penitential psalms; and you, good Doctor, as if you recited the funeral service.”

The Doctor rose hastily from the table, and turned to the window; for the expression connected singularly with the task which he was that evening to discharge. Charles looked at him with some surprise; for the peril in which he lived, made him watchful of the slightest motions of those around him — then turned to Sir Henry, and said, “My honoured host, can you tell any reason for this moody fit, which has so strangely crept upon us all?”

“Not I, my dear Louis,” replied the knight; “I have no skill in these nice quillets of philosophy. I could as soon undertake to tell you the reason why Bevis turns round three times before he lies down. I can only say for myself, that if age and sorrow and uncertainty be enough to break a jovial spirit, or at least to bend it now and then, I have my share of them all; so that I, for one, cannot say that I am sad merely because I am not merry. I have but too good cause for sadness. I would I saw my son, were it but for a minute.”

Fortune seemed for once disposed to gratify the old man; for Albert Lee entered at that moment. He was dressed in a riding suit, and appeared to have travelled hard. He cast his eye hastily around as he entered. It rested for a second on that of the disguised Prince, and, satisfied with the glance which he received in lieu, he hastened, after the fashion of the olden day, to kneel down to his father, and request his blessing.

“It is thine, my boy,” said the old man; a tear springing to his eyes as he laid his hand on the long locks, which distinguished the young cavalier’s rank and principles, and which, usually combed and curled with some care, now hung wild and dishevelled about his shoulders. They remained an instant in this posture, when the old man suddenly started from it, as if ashamed of the emotion which he had expressed before so many witnesses, and passing the back of his hand hastily across his eyes, bid Albert get up and mind his supper, “since I dare say you have ridden fast and far since you last baited — and we’ll send round a cup to his health, if Doctor Rochecliffe and the company pleases — Joceline, thou knave, skink about — thou look’st as if thou hadst seen a ghost.”

“Joceline,” said Alice, “is sick for sympathy — one of the stags ran at Phoebe Mayflower today, and she was fain to have Joceline’s assistance to drive the creature off — the girl has been in fits since she came home.”

“Silly slut,” said the old knight —“She a woodman’s daughter! — But, Joceline, if the deer gets dangerous, you must send a broad arrow through him.”

“It will not need, Sir Henry,” said Joceline, speaking with great difficulty of utterance —“he is quiet enough now — he will not offend in that sort again.”

“See it be so,” replied the knight; “remember Mistress Alice often walks in the Chase. And now, fill round, and fill too, a cup to thyself to overred thy fear, as mad Will has it. Tush, man, Phoebe will do well enough — she only screamed and ran, that thou might’st have the pleasure to help her. Mind what thou dost, and do not go spilling the wine after that fashion. — Come, here is a health to our wanderer, who has come to us again.”

“None will pledge it more willingly than I,” said the disguised Prince, unconsciously assuming an importance which the character he personated scarce warranted; but Sir Henry, who had become fond of the supposed page, with all his peculiarities, imposed only a moderate rebuke upon his petulance. “Thou art a merry, good-humoured youth, Louis,” he said, “but it is a world to see how the forwardness of the present generation hath gone beyond the gravity and reverence which in my youth was so regularly observed towards those of higher rank and station — I dared no more have given my own tongue the rein, when there was a doctor of divinity in company, than I would have dared to have spoken in church in service time.”

“True, sir,” said Albert, hastily interfering; “but Master Kerneguy had the better right to speak at present, that I have been absent on his business as well as my own, have seen several of his friends, and bring him important intelligence.”

Charles was about to rise and beckon Albert aside, naturally impatient to know what news he had procured, or what scheme of safe escape was now decreed for him. But Dr. Rochecliffe twitched his cloak, as a hint to him to sit still, and not show any extraordinary motive for anxiety, since, in case of a sudden discovery of his real quality, the violence of Sir Henry Lee’s feelings might have been likely to attract too much attention.

Charles, therefore, only replied, as to the knight’s stricture, that he had a particular title to be sudden and unceremonious in expressing his thanks to Colonel Lee — that gratitude was apt to be unmannerly — finally, that he was much obliged to Sir Henry for his admonition; and that quit Woodstock when he would, “he was sure to leave it a better man than he came there.”

His speech was of course ostensibly directed towards the father; but a glance at Alice assured her that she had her full share in the compliment.

“I fear,” he concluded, addressing Albert, “that you come to tell us our stay here must be very short.”

“A few hours only,” said Albert —“just enough for needful rest for ourselves and our horses. I have procured two which are good and tried. But Doctor Rochecliffe broke faith with me. I expected to have met some one down at Joceline’s hut, where I left the horses; and finding no person, I was delayed an hour in littering them down myself, that they might be ready for tomorrow’s work — for we must be off before day.”

“I— I— intended to have sent Tomkins — but — but”— hesitated the Doctor, “I”—

“The roundheaded rascal was drunk, or out of the way, I presume,” said Albert. “I am glad of it — you may easily trust him too far.”

“Hitherto he has been faithful,” said the Doctor, “and I scarce think he will fail me now. But Joceline will go down and have the horses in readiness in the morning.”

Joceline’s countenance was usually that of alacrity itself on a case extraordinary. Now, however, he seemed to hesitate.

“You will go with me a little way, Doctor?” he said, as he edged himself closely to Rochecliffe.

“How? puppy, fool, and blockhead,” said the knight, “wouldst thou ask Doctor Rochecliffe to bear thee company at this hour? — Out, hound! — get down to the kennel yonder instantly, or I will break the knave’s pate of thee.”

Joceline looked with an eye of agony at the divine, as if entreating him to interfere in his behalf; but just as he was about to speak, a most melancholy howling arose at the hall-door, and a dog was heard scratching for admittance.

“What ails Bevis next?” said the old knight. “I think this must be All-Fools-day, and that every thing around me is going mad!”

The same sound startled Albert and Charles from a private conference in which they had engaged, and Albert ran to the hall-door to examine personally into the cause of the noise.

“It is no alarm,” said the old knight to Kerneguy, “for in such cases the dog’s bark is short, sharp, and furious. These long howls are said to be ominous. It was even so that Bevis’s grandsire bayed the whole livelong night on which my poor father died. If it comes now as a presage, God send it regard the old and useless, not the young, and those who may yet serve King and country!”

The dog had pushed past Colonel Lee, who stood a little while at the hall-door to listen if there were any thing stirring without, while Bevis advanced into the room where the company were assembled, bearing something in his mouth, and exhibiting, in an unusual degree, that sense of duty and interest which a dog seems to show when he thinks he has the charge of something important. He entered therefore, drooping his long tail, slouching his head and ears, and walking with the stately yet melancholy dignity of a war-horse at his master’s funeral. In this manner he paced through the room, went straight up to Joceline, who had been regarding him with astonishment, and uttering a short and melancholy howl, laid at his feet the object which he bore in his mouth. Joceline stooped, and took from the floor a man’s glove, of the fashion worn by the troopers, having something like the old-fashioned gauntleted projections of thick leather arising from the wrist, which go half way up to the elbow, and secure the arm against a cut with a sword. But Joceline had no sooner looked at what in itself was so common an object, than he dropped it from his hand, staggered backward, uttered a groan, and nearly fell to the ground.

“Now, the coward’s curse be upon thee for an idiot!” said the knight, who had picked up the glove, and was looking at it —“thou shouldst be sent back to school, and flogged till the craven’s blood was switched out of thee — What dost thou look at but a glove, thou base poltroon, and a very dirty glove, too? Stay, here is writing — Joseph Tomkins? Why, that is the roundheaded fellow — I wish he hath not come to some mischief, for this is not dirt on the cheveron, but blood. Bevis may have bit the fellow, and yet the dog seemed to love him well too, or the stag may have hurt him. Out, Joceline, instantly, and see where he is — wind your bugle.”

“I cannot go,” said Joliffe, “unless”— and again he looked piteously at Dr. Rochecliffe, who saw no time was to be lost in appeasing the ranger’s terrors, as his ministry was most needful in the present circumstances. —“Get spade and mattock,” he whispered to him, “and a dark lantern, and meet me in the Wilderness.”

Joceline left the room; and the Doctor, before following him, had a few words of explanation with Colonel Lee. His own spirit, far from being dismayed on the occasion, rather rose higher, like one whose natural element was intrigue and danger. “Here hath been wild work,” he said, “since you parted. Tomkins was rude to the wench Phoebe — Joceline and he had a brawl together, and Tomkins is lying dead in the thicket, not far from Rosamond’s Well. It will be necessary that Joceline and I go directly to bury the body; for besides that some one might stumble upon it, and raise an alarm, this fellow Joceline will never be fit for any active purpose till it is under ground. Though as stout as a lion, the under-keeper has his own weak side, and is more afraid of a dead body than a living one. When do you propose to start tomorrow?”

“By daybreak, or earlier,” said Colonel Lee; “but we will meet again. A vessel is provided, and I have relays in more places than one — we go off from the coast of Sussex; and I am to get a letter at — — acquainting me precisely with the spot.”

“Wherefore not go off instantly?” said the Doctor.

“The horses would fail us,” replied Albert; “they have been hard ridden today.”

“Adieu,” said Rochecliffe, “I must to my task — Do you take rest and repose for yours. To conceal a slaughtered body, and convey on the same night a king from danger and captivity, are two feats which have fallen to few folks save myself; but let me not, while putting on my harness, boast myself as if I were taking it off after a victory.” So saying he left the apartment, and, muffling himself in his cloak, went out into what was called the Wilderness.

The weather was a raw frost. The mists lay in partial wreaths upon the lower grounds; but the night, considering that the heavenly bodies were in a great measure hidden by the haze, was not extremely dark. Dr. Rochecliffe could not, however, distinguish the under-keeper until he had hemmed once or twice, when Joceline answered the signal by showing a glimpse of light from the dark lantern which he carried. Guided by this intimation of his presence, the divine found him leaning against a buttress which had once supported a terrace, now ruinous. He had a pickaxe and shovel, together with a deer’s hide hanging over his shoulder.

“What do you want with the hide, Joceline,” said Dr. Rochecliffe, “that you lumber it about with you on such an errand?”

“Why, look you, Doctor,” he answered, “it is as well to tell you all about it. The man and I— he there — you know whom I mean — had many years since a quarrel about this deer. For though we were great friends, and Philip was sometimes allowed by my master’s permission to help me in mine office, yet I knew, for all that, Philip Hazeldine was sometimes a trespasser. The deer-stealers were very bold at that time, it being just before the breaking out of the war, when men were becoming unsettled — And so it chanced, that one day, in the Chase, I found two fellows, with their faces blacked and shirts over their clothes, carrying as prime a buck between them as any was in the park. I was upon them in the instant — one escaped, but I got hold of the other fellow, and who should it prove to be but trusty Phil Hazeldine! Well, I don’t know whether it was right or wrong, but he was my old friend and pot-companion, and I took his word for amendment in future; and he helped me to hang up the deer on a tree, and I came back with a horse to carry him to the Lodge, and tell the knight the story, all but Phil’s name. But the rogues had been too clever for me; for they had flayed and dressed the deer, and quartered him, and carried him off, and left the hide and horns, with a chime, saying —

‘The haunch to thee,

The breast to me,

The hide and the horns for the keeper’s fee.’

And this I knew for one of Phil’s mad pranks, that he would play in those days with any lad in the country. But I was so nettled that I made the deer’s hide be curried and dressed by a tanner, and swore that it should be his winding-sheet or mine; and though I had long repented my rash oath, yet now, Doctor, you see what it is come to — though I forgot it, the devil did not.”

“It was a very wrong thing to make a vow so sinful,” said Rochecliffe; “but it would have been greatly worse had you endeavoured to keep it. Therefore, I bid you cheer up,” said the good divine; “for in this unhappy case, I could not have wished, after what I have heard from Phoebe and yourself, that you should have kept your hand still, though I may regret that the blow has proved fatal. Nevertheless, thou hast done even that which was done by the great and inspired legislator, when he beheld an Egyptian tyrannizing over a Hebrew, saving that, in the case present, it was a female, when, says the Septuagint, Percussum Egyptium abscondit sabulo; the meaning whereof I will explain to you another time. Wherefore, I exhort you not to grieve beyond measure; for although this circumstance is unhappy in time and place, yet, from what Phoebe hath informed me of yonder wretch’s opinions, it is much to be regretted that his brains had not been beaten out in his cradle, rather than that he had grown up to be one of those Grindlestonians, or Muggletonians, in whom is the perfection of every foul and blasphemous heresy, united with such an universal practice of hypocritical assentation as would deceive their master, even Satan himself.”

“Nevertheless, sir,” said the forester, “I hope you will bestow some of the service of the Church on this poor man, as it was his last wish, naming you, sir, at the same time; and unless this were done, I should scarce dare to walk out in the dark again for my whole life.”

“Thou art a silly fellow; but if,” continued the Doctor, “he named me as he departed, and desired the last rites of the Church, there was, it may be, a turning from evil and a seeking to good even in his last moments; and if Heaven granted him grace to form a prayer so fitting, wherefore should man refuse it? All I fear is the briefness of time.”

“Nay, your reverence may cut the service somewhat short,” said Joceline; “assuredly he does not deserve the whole of it; only if something were not to be done, I believe I should flee the country. They were his last words; and methinks he sent Bevis with his glove to put me in mind of them.”

“Out, fool! Do you think,” said the Doctor, “dead men send gauntlets to the living, like knights in a romance; or, if so, would they choose dogs to carry their challenges? I tell thee, fool, the cause was natural enough. Bevis, questing about, found the body, and brought the glove to you to intimate where it was lying, and to require assistance; for such is the high instinct of these animals towards one in peril.”

“Nay, if you think so, Doctor,” said Joceline —“and, doubtless, I must say, Bevis took an interest in the man — if indeed it was not something worse in the shape of Bevis, for methought his eyes looked wild and fiery, as if he would have spoken.”

As he talked thus, Joceline rather hung back, and, in doing so, displeased the Doctor, who exclaimed, “Come along, thou lazy laggard! Art thou a soldier, and a brave one, and so much afraid of a dead man? Thou hast killed men in battle and in chase, I warrant thee.”

“Ay, but their backs were to me,” said Joceline. “I never saw one of them cast back his head, and glare at me as yonder fellow did, his eye retaining a glance of hatred, mixed with terror and reproach, till it became fixed like a jelly. And were you not with me, and my master’s concerns, and something else, very deeply at stake, I promise you I would not again look at him for all Woodstock.”

“You must, though,” said the Doctor, suddenly pausing, “for here is the place where he lies. Come hither deep into the copse; take care of stumbling — Here is a place just fitting, and we will draw the briars over the grave afterwards.”

As the Doctor thus issued his directions, he assisted also in the execution of them; and while his attendant laboured to dig a shallow and mishapen grave, a task which the state of the soil, perplexed with roots, and hardened by the influence of the frost, rendered very difficult, the divine read a few passages out of the funeral service, partly in order to appease the superstitious terrors of Joceline, and partly because he held it matter of conscience not to deny the Church’s rites to one who had requested their aid in extremity.

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