Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty Second.

Case ye, case ye — on with your vizards.

HENRY IV.

The company whom we had left in Victor Lee’s parlour were about to separate for the night, and had risen to take a formal leave of each other, when a tap was heard at the hall-door. Albert, the vidette of the party, hastened to open it, enjoining, as he left the room, the rest to remain quiet, until he had ascertained the cause of the knocking. When he gained the portal, he called to know who was there, and what they wanted at so late an hour.

“It is only me,” answered a treble voice.

“And what is your name, my little fellow?” said Albert.

“Spitfire, sir,” replied the voice without.

“Spitfire?” said Albert.

“Yes, sir,” replied the voice; “all the world calls me so, and Colonel Everard himself. But my name is Spittal for all that.”

“Colonel Everard? arrive you from him?” demanded young Lee.

“No, sir; I come, sir, from Roger Wildrake, esquire, of Squattlesea-mere, if it like you,” said the boy; “and I have brought a token to Mistress Lee, which I am to give into her own hands, if you would but open the door, sir, and let me in-but I can do nothing with a three-inch board between us.”

“It is some freak of that drunken rakehell,” said Albert, in a low voice, to his sister, who had crept out after him on tiptoe.

“Yet, let us not be hasty in concluding so,” said the young lady; “at this moment the least trifle may be of consequence. — What tokens has Master Wildrake sent me, my little boy?”

“Nay, nothing very valuable neither,” replied the boy; “but he was so anxious you should get it, that he put me out of window as one would chuck out a kitten, that I might not be stopped by the soldiers.”

“Hear you?” said Alice to her brother; “undo the gate, for God’s sake.” Her brother, to whom her feelings of suspicion were now sufficiently communicated, opened the gate in haste, and admitted the boy, whose appearance, not much dissimilar to that of a skinned rabbit in a livery, or a monkey at a fair, would at another time have furnished them with amusement. The urchin messenger entered the hall, making several odd bows, and delivered the woodcock’s feather with much ceremony to the young lady, assuring her it was the prize she had won upon a wager about hawking.

“I prithee, my little man,” said Albert, “was your master drunk or sober, when he sent thee all this way with a feather at this time of night?”

“With reverence, sir,” said the boy, “he was what he calls sober, and what I would call concerned in liquor for any other person.”

“Curse on the drunken coxcomb!” said Albert — “There is a tester for thee, boy, and tell thy master to break his jests on suitable persons, and at fitting times.”

“Stay yet a minute,” exclaimed Alice; “we must not go too fast — this craves wary walking.”

“A feather,” said Albert; “all this work about a feather! Why, Doctor Rochecliffe, who can suck intelligence out of every trifle as a magpie would suck an egg, could make nothing of this.”

“Let us try what we can do without him then,” said Alice. Then addressing herself to the boy — “So there are strangers at your master’s?”

“At Colonel Everard’s, madam, which is the same thing,” said Spitfire.

“And what manner of strangers,” said Alice; “guests, I suppose?”

“Ay, mistress,” said the boy, “a sort of guests that make themselves welcome wherever they come, if they meet not a welcome from their landlord — soldiers, madam.”

“The men that have long been lying at Woodstock,” said Albert.

“No, sir,” said Spitfire, “new comers, with gallant buff-coats and steel breastplates; and their commander — your honour and your ladyship never saw such a man — at least I am sure Bill Spitfire never did.”

“Was he tall or short?” said Albert, now much alarmed.

“Neither one nor other,” said the boy; “stout made, with slouching shoulders; a nose large, and a face one would not like to say No to. He had several officers with him, I saw him but for a moment, but I shall never forget him while I live.”

“You are right,” said Albert Lee to his sister, pulling her to one side, “quite right — the Archfiend himself is upon us!”

“And the feather,” said Alice, whom fear had rendered apprehensive of slight tokens, “means flight — and a woodcock is a bird of passage.”

“You have hit it,” said her brother; “but the time has taken us cruelly short. Give the boy a trifle more — nothing that can excite suspicion, and dismiss him. I must summon Rochecliffe and Joceline.”

He went accordingly, but, unable to find those he sought, he returned with hasty steps to the parlour, where, in his character of Louis, the page was exerting himself to detain the old knight, who, while laughing at the tales he told him, was anxious to go to see what was passing in the hall.

“What is the matter, Albert?” said the old man; “who calls at the Lodge at so undue an hour, and wherefore is the hall-door opened to them? I will not have my rules, and the regulations laid down for keeping this house, broken through, because I am old and poor. Why answer you not? why keep a chattering with Louis Kerneguy, and neither of you all the while minding what I say? — Daughter Alice, have you sense and civility enough to tell me, what or who it is that is admitted here contrary to my general orders?”

“No one, sir,” replied Alice; “a boy brought a message, which I fear is an alarming one.”

“There is only fear, sir,” said Albert, stepping forward, “that whereas we thought to have stayed with you till tomorrow, we must now take farewell of you to-night.”

“Not so, brother,” said Alice, “you must stay and aid the defence here — if you and Master Kerneguy are both missed, the pursuit will be instant, and probably successful; but if you stay, the hiding-places about this house will take some time to search. You can change coats with Kerneguy too.”

“Right, noble wench,” said Albert; “most excellent — yes — Louis, I remain as Kerneguy, you fly as young Master Lee.”

“I cannot see the justice of that,” said Charles.

“Nor I neither,” said the knight, interfering. “Men come and go, lay schemes, and alter them, in my house, without deigning to consult me! And who is Master Kerneguy, or what is he to me, that my son must stay and take the chance of mischief, and this your Scotch page is to escape in his dress? I will have no such contrivance carried into effect, though it were the finest cobweb that was ever woven in Doctor Rochecliffe’s brains. — I wish you no ill, Louis; thou art a lively boy; but I have been somewhat too lightly treated in this, man.”

“I am fully of your opinion, Sir Henry,” replied the person whom he addressed. “You have been, indeed, repaid for your hospitality by want of that confidence, which could never have been so justly reposed. But the moment is come, when I must say, in a word, I am that unfortunate Charles Stewart, whose lot it has been to become the cause of ruin to his best friends, and whose present residence in your family threatens to bring destruction to you, and all around you.”

“Master Louis Kerneguy,” said the knight very angrily, “I will teach you to choose the subjects of your mirth better when you address them to me; and, moreover, very little provocation would make me desire to have an ounce or two of that malapert blood from you.”

“Be still, sir, for God’s sake!” said Albert to his father. “This is indeed THE KING; and such is the danger of his person, that every moment we waste may bring round a fatal catastrophe.”

“Good God!” said the father, clasping his hands together, and about to drop on his knees, “has my earnest wish been accomplished! and is it in such a manner as to make me pray it had never taken place!”

He then attempted to bend his knee to the King — kissed his hand, while large tears trickled from his eyes — then said, “Pardon, my Lord — your Majesty, I mean — permit me to sit in your presence but one instant till my blood beats more freely, and then”—

Charles raised his ancient and faithful subject from the ground; and even in that moment of fear, and anxiety, and danger, insisted on leading him to his seat, upon which he sunk in apparent exhaustion, his head drooping upon his long white beard, and big unconscious tears mingling with its silver hairs. Alice and Albert remained with the King, arguing and urging his instant departure.

“The horses are at the under-keeper’s hut,” said Albert, “and the relays only eighteen or twenty miles off. If the horses can but carry you so far”—

“Will you not rather,” interrupted Alice, “trust to the concealments of this place, so numerous and so well tried — Rochecliffe’s apartments, and the yet farther places of secrecy?”

“Alas!” said Albert, “I know them only by name. My father was sworn to confide them to but one man, and he had chosen Rochecliffe.”

“I prefer taking the field to any hiding-hole in England,” said the King. “Could I but find my way to this hut where the horses are, I would try what arguments whip and spur could use to get them to the rendezvous, where I am to meet Sir Thomas Acland and fresh cattle. Come with me, Colonel Lee, and let us run for it. The roundheads have beat us in battle; but if it come to a walk or a race, I think I can show which has the best mettle.”

“But then,” said Albert, “we lose all the time which may otherwise be gained by the defence of this house — leaving none here but my poor father, incapable from his state of doing any thing; and you will be instantly pursued by fresh horses, while ours are unfit for the road. Oh, where is the villain Joceline!”

“What can have become of Doctor Rochecliffe?” said Alice; “he that is so ready with advice; — where can they be gone? Oh, if my father could but rouse himself!”

“Your father is roused,” said Sir Henry, rising and stepping up to them with all the energy of full manhood in his countenance and motions —“I did but gather my thoughts — for when did they fail a Lee when his King needed counsel or aid?” He then began to speak, with the ready and distinct utterance of a general at the head of an army, ordering every motion for attack and defence — unmoved himself, and his own energy compelling obedience, and that cheerful obedience, from all who heard him. “Daughter,” he said, “beat up dame Jellicot — Let Phoebe rise if she were dying, and secure doors and windows.”

“That hath been done regularly since — we have been thus far honoured,” said his daughter, looking at the King —“yet, let them go through the chambers once more.” And Alice retired to give the orders, and presently returned.

The old knight proceeded, in the same decided tone of promptitude and dispatch —“Which is your first stage?”

“Gray’s — Rothebury, by Henley, where Sir Thomas Acland and young Knolles are to have horses in readiness,” said Albert; “but how to get there with our weary cattle?”

“Trust me for that,” said the knight; and proceeding with the same tone of authority —“Your Majesty must instantly to Joceline’s lodge,” he said, “there are your horses and your means of flight. The secret places of this house, well managed, will keep the rebel dogs in play two or three hours good — Rochecliffe is, I fear, kidnapped, and his Independent hath betrayed him — Would I had judged the villain better! I would have struck him through at one of our trials of fence, with an unbated weapon, as Will says. — But for your guide when on horseback, half a bowshot from Joceline’s hut is that of old Martin the verdurer; he is a score of years older than I, but as fresh as an old oak — beat up his quarters, and let him ride with you for death and life. He will guide you to your relay, for no fox that ever earthed in the Chase knows the country so well for seven leagues around.”

“Excellent, my dearest father, excellent,” said Albert; “I had forgot Martin the verdurer.”

“Young men forget all,” answered the knight —“Alas, that the limbs should fail, when the head which can best direct them — is come perhaps to its wisest!”

“But the tired horses,” said the King —“could we not get fresh cattle?”

“Impossible at this time of night,” answered Sir Henry; “but tired horses may do much with care and looking to.” He went hastily to the cabinet which stood in one of the oriel windows, and searched for something in the drawers, pulling out one after another.

“We lose time, father,” said Albert, afraid that the intelligence and energy which the old man displayed had been but a temporary flash of the lamp, which was about to relapse into evening twilight.

“Go to, sir boy,” said his father, sharply; “is it for thee to tax me in this presence! — Know, that were the whole roundheads that are out of hell in present assemblage round Woodstock, I could send away the Royal Hope of England by a way that the wisest of them could never guess. — Alice, my love, ask no questions, but speed to the kitchen, and fetch a slice or two of beef, or better of venison; cut them long, and thin, d’ye mark me”—

“This is wandering of the mind,” said Albert apart to the King. “We do him wrong, and your Majesty harm, to listen to him.”

“I think otherwise,” said Alice, “and I know my father better than you.” So saying, she left the room, to fulfil her father’s orders.

“I think so, too,” said Charles —“in Scotland the Presbyterian ministers, when thundering in their pulpits on my own sins and those of my house, took the freedom to call me to my face Jeroboam, or Rehoboam, or some such name, for following the advice of young counsellors — Oddsfish, I will take that of the grey beard for once, for never saw I more sharpness and decision than in the countenance of that noble old man.”

By this time Sir Henry had found what he was seeking. “In this tin box,” he said, “are six balls prepared of the most cordial spices, mixed with medicaments of the choicest and most invigorating quality. Given from hour to hour, wrapt in a covering of good beef or venison, a horse of spirit will not flag for five hours, at the speed of fifteen miles an hour; and, please God, the fourth of the time places your Majesty in safety — what remains may be useful on some future occasion. Martin knows how to administer them; and Albert’s weary cattle shall be ready, if walked gently for ten minutes, in running to devour the way, as old Will says — nay, waste not time in speech, your Majesty does me but too much honour in using what is your own. — Now, see if the coast is clear, Albert, and let his Majesty set off instantly — We will play our parts but ill, if any take the chase after him for these two hours that are between night and day — Change dresses, as you proposed, in yonder sleeping apartment — something may be made of that too.”

“But, good Sir Henry,” said the King, “your zeal overlooks a principal point. I have, indeed, come from the under-keeper’s hut you mention to this place, but it was by daylight, and under guidance — I shall never find my way thither in utter darkness, and without a guide — I fear you must let the Colonel go with me; and I entreat and command, you will put yourself to no trouble or risk to defend the house — only make what delay you can in showing its secret recesses.”

“Rely on me, my royal and liege Sovereign,” said Sir Henry; “but Albert must remain here, and Alice shall guide your Majesty to Joceline’s hut in his stead.”

“Alice!” said Charles, stepping back in surprise —“why, it is dark night — and — and — and —” He glanced his eye towards Alice, who had by this time returned to the apartment, and saw doubt and apprehension in her look; an intimation, that the reserve under which he had placed his disposition for gallantry, since the morning of the proposed duel, had not altogether effaced the recollection of his previous conduct. He hastened to put a strong negative upon a proposal which appeared so much to embarrass her. “It is impossible for me, indeed, Sir Henry, to use Alice’s services — I must walk as if blood-hounds were at my heels.”

“Alice shall trip it,” said the knight, “with any wench in Oxfordshire; and what would your Majesty’s best speed avail, if you know not the way to go?”

“Nay, nay, Sir Henry,” continued the King, “the night is too dark — we stay too long — I will find it myself.”

“Lose no time in exchanging your dress with Albert,” said Sir Henry —“leave me to take care of the rest.”

Charles, still inclined to expostulate, withdrew, however, into the apartment where young Lee and he were to exchange clothes; while Sir Henry said to his daughter, “Get thee a cloak, wench, and put on thy thickest shoes. Thou might’st have ridden Pixie, but he is something spirited, and them art a timid horsewoman, and ever wert so — the only weakness I have known of thee.”

“But, my father,” said Alice, fixing her eyes earnestly on Sir Henry’s face, “must I really go along with the King? might not Phoebe, or dame Jellicot, go with us?”

“No — no — no,” answered Sir Henry; “Phoebe, the silly slut, has, as you well know, been in fits to-night, and I take it, such a walk as you must take is no charm for hysterics — Dame Jellicot hobbles as slow as a broken-winded mare — besides, her deafness, were there occasion to speak to her — No — no — you shall go alone and entitle yourself to have it written on your tomb, ‘Here lies she who saved the King!’— And, hark you, do not think of returning to-night, but stay at the verdurer’s with his niece — the Park and Chase will shortly be filled with our enemies, and whatever chances here you will learn early enough in the morning.”

“And what is it I may then learn?” said Alice —“Alas, who can tell? — O, dearest father, let me stay and share your fate! I will pull off the timorous woman, and fight for the King, if it be necessary. — But — I cannot think of becoming his only attendant in the dark night, and through a road so lonely.”

“How!” said the knight, raising his voice; “do you bring ceremonious and silly scruples forward, when the King’s safety, nay his life is at stake! By this mark of loyalty,” stroking his grey beard as he spoke, “could I think thou wert other than becomes a daughter of the house of Lee, I would”—

At this moment the King and Albert interrupted him by entering the apartment, having exchanged dresses, and, from their stature, bearing some resemblance to each other, though Charles was evidently a plain, and Lee a handsome young man. Their complexions were different; but the difference could not be immediately noticed, Albert having adopted a black peruque, and darkened his eyebrows.

Albert Lee walked out to the front of the mansion, to give one turn around the Lodge, in order to discover in what direction any enemies might be approaching, that they might judge of the road which it was safest for the royal fugitive to adopt. Meanwhile the King, who was first in entering the apartment, had heard a part of the angry answer which the old knight made to his daughter, and was at no loss to guess the subject of his resentment. He walked up to him with the dignity which he perfectly knew how to assume when he chose it.

“Sir Henry,” he said, “it is our pleasure, nay our command, that you forbear all exertion of paternal authority in this matter. Mistress Alice, I am sure, must have good and strong reasons for what she wishes; and I should never pardon myself were she placed in an unpleasant situation on my account. I am too well acquainted with woods and wildernesses to fear losing my way among my native oaks of Woodstock.”

“Your Majesty shall not incur the danger,” said Alice, her temporary hesitation entirely removed by the calm, clear, and candid manner in which Charles uttered these last words. “You shall run no risk that I can prevent; and the unhappy chances of the times in which I have lived have from experience made the forest as well known to me by night as by day. So, if you scorn not my company, let us away instantly.”

“If your company is given with good-will, I accept it with gratitude,” replied the monarch.

“Willingly,” she said, “most willingly. Let me be one of the first to show that zeal and that confidence, which I trust all England will one day emulously display in behalf of your Majesty.”

She uttered these words with an alacrity of spirit, and made the trifling change of habit with a speed and dexterity, which showed that all her fears were gone, and that her heart was entirely in the mission on which her father had dispatched her.

“All is safe around,” said Albert Lee, showing himself; “you may take which passage you will — the most private is the best.”

Charles went gracefully up to Sir Henry Lee ere his departure, and took him by the hand. —“I am too proud to make professions,” he said, “which I may be too poor ever to realize. But while Charles Stewart lives, he lives the obliged and indebted debtor of Sir Henry Lee.”

“Say not so, please your Majesty, say not so,” exclaimed the old man, struggling with the hysterical sobs which rose to his throat. “He who might claim all, cannot become indebted by accepting some small part.”

“Farewell, good friend, farewell!” said the King; “think of me as a son, a brother to Albert and to Alice, who are, I see, already impatient. Give me a father’s blessing, and let me be gone.”

“The God, through whom kings reign, bless your Majesty,” said Sir Henry, kneeling and turning his reverend face and clasped hands up to Heaven —“The Lord of Hosts bless you, and save your Majesty from your present dangers, and bring you in his own good time to the safe possession of the crown that is your due!”

Charles received this blessing like that of a father, and Alice and he departed on their journey.

As they left the apartment, the old knight let his hands sink gently as he concluded this fervent ejaculation, his head sinking at the same time. His son dared not disturb his meditation, yet feared the strength of his feelings might overcome that of his constitution, and that he might fall into a swoon. At length, he ventured to approach and gradually touch him. The old knight started to his feet, and was at once the same alert, active-minded, forecasting director, which he had shown himself a little before.

“You are right, boy,” he said, “we must be up and doing. They lie, the roundheaded traitors, that call him dissolute and worthless! He hath feelings worthy the son of the blessed Martyr. You saw, even in the extremity of danger, he would have perilled his safety rather than take Alice’s guidance when the silly wench seemed in doubt about going. Profligacy is intensely selfish, and thinks not of the feelings of others. But hast thou drawn bolt and bar after them? I vow I scarce saw when they left the hall.”

“I let them out at the little postern,” said the Colonel; “and when I returned, I was afraid I had found you ill.”

“Joy — joy, only joy, Albert — I cannot allow a thought of doubt to cross my breast. God will not desert the descendant of an hundred kings — the rightful heir will not be given up to the ruffians. There was a tear in his eye as he took leave of me — I am sure of it. Wouldst not die for him, boy?”

“If I lay my life down for him to-night,” said Albert, “I would only regret it, because I should not hear of his escape tomorrow.”

“Well, let us to this gear,” said the knight; “think’st thou know’st enough of his manner, clad as thou art in his dress, to induce the women to believe thee to be the page Kerneguy?”

“Umph,” replied Albert, “it is not easy to bear out a personification of the King, when women are in the case. But there is only a very little light below, and I can try.”

“Do so instantly,” said his father; “the knaves will be here presently.” Albert accordingly left the apartment, while the knight continued —“If the women be actually persuaded that Kerneguy be still here, it will add strength to my plot — the beagles will open on a false scent, and the royal stag be safe in cover ere they regain the slot of him. Then to draw them on from hiding-place to hiding-place! Why, the east will be grey before they have sought the half of them! — Yes, I will play at bob-cherry with them, hold the bait to their nose which they are never to gorge upon! I will drag a trail for them which will take them some time to puzzle out. — But at what cost do I do this?” continued the old knight, interrupting his own joyous soliloquy —“Oh, Absalom, Absalom, my son! my son! — But let him go; he can but die as his fathers have died; and in the cause for which they lived. But he comes — Hush! — Albert, hast thou succeeded? hast thou taken royalty upon thee so as to pass current?”

“I have, sir,” replied Albert; “the women will swear that Louis Kerneguy was in the house this very last minute.”

“Right, for they are good and faithful creatures,” said the knight, “and would swear what was for his Majesty’s safety at any rate; yet they will do it with more nature and effect, if they believe they are swearing truth. — How didst thou impress the deceit upon them?”

“By a trifling adoption of the royal manner, sir, not worth mentioning.”

“Out, rogue!” replied the knight. “I fear the King’s character will suffer under your mummery.”

“Umph,” said Albert, muttering what he dared not utter aloud —“were I to follow the example close up, I know whose character would be in the greatest danger.”

“Well, now we must adjust the defence of the outworks, the signals, &c. betwixt us both, and the best way to baffle the enemy for the longest time possible.” He then again had recourse to the secret drawers of his cabinet, and pulled out a piece of parchment, on which was a plan. “This,” said he, “is a scheme of the citadel, as I call it, which may hold out long enough after you have been forced to evacuate the places of retreat you are already acquainted with. The ranger was always sworn to keep this plan secret, save from one person only, in case of sudden death. — Let us sit down and study it together.”

They accordingly adjusted their measures in a manner which will better show itself from what afterwards took place, than were we to state the various schemes which they proposed, and provisions made against events that did not arrive.

At length young Lee, armed and provided with some food and liquor, took leave of his father, and went and shut himself up in Victor Lee’s apartment, from which was an opening to the labyrinth of private apartments, or hiding-places, that had served the associates so well in the fantastic tricks which they had played off at the expense of the Commissioners of the Commonwealth.

“I trust,” said Sir Henry, sitting down by his desk, after having taken a tender farewell of his son, “that Rochecliffe has not blabbed out the secret of the plot to yonder fellow Tomkins, who was not unlikely to prate of it out of school. — But here am I seated — perhaps for the last time, with my Bible on the one hand, and old Will on the other, prepared, thank God, to die as I have lived. — I marvel they come not yet,” he said, after waiting for some time —“I always thought the devil had a smarter spur to give his agents, when they were upon his own special service.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/woodstock/chapter32.html

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