Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Thirty-Seventh.

Most gracious prince, good Cannyng cried,

Leave vengeance to our God,

And lay the iron rule aside,

Be thine the olive rod.

BALLAD OF SIR CHARLES BAWDIN.

The hour appointed for execution had been long past, and it was about five in the evening when the Protector summoned Pearson to his presence. He went with fear and reluctance, uncertain how he might be received. After remaining about a quarter of an hour, the aide-decamp returned to Victor Lee’s parlour, where he found the old soldier, Zerubbabel Robins, in attendance for his return.

“How is Oliver?” said the old man, anxiously.

“Why, well,” answered Pearson, “and hath asked no questions of the execution, but many concerning the reports we have been able to make regarding the flight of the young Man, and is much moved at thinking he must now be beyond pursuit. Also I gave him certain papers belonging to the malignant Doctor Rochecliffe.”

“Then will I venture upon him,” said the adjutator; “so give me a napkin that I may look like a sewer, and fetch up the food which I directed should be in readiness.”

Two troopers attended accordingly with a ration of beef, such as was distributed to the private soldiers, and dressed after their fashion — a pewter pot of ale, a trencher with salt, black pepper, and a loaf of ammunition bread. “Come with me,” he said to Pearson, “and fear not — Noll loves an innocent jest.” He boldly entered the General’s sleeping apartment, and said aloud, “Arise, thou that art called to be a judge in Israel — let there be no more folding of the hands to sleep. Lo, I come as a sign to thee; wherefore arise, eat, drink, and let thy heart be glad within thee; for thou shalt eat with joy the food of him that laboureth in the trenches, seeing that since thou wert commander over the host, the poor sentinel hath had such provisions as I have now placed for thine own refreshment.”

“Truly, brother Zerubbabel,” said Cromwell, accustomed to such acts of enthusiasm among his followers, “we would wish that it were so; neither is it our desire to sleep soft, nor feed more highly than the meanest that ranks under our banners. Verily, thou hast chosen well for my refreshment, and the smell of the food is savoury in my nostrils.”

He arose from the bed, on which he had lain down half dressed, and wrapping his cloak around him, sate down by the bedside, and partook heartily of the plain food which was prepared for him. While he was eating, Cromwell commanded Pearson to finish his report —“You need not desist for the presence of a worthy soldier, whose spirit is as my spirit.”

“Nay, but,” interrupted Robins, “you are to know that Gilbert Pearson hath not fully executed thy commands, touching a part of those malignants, all of whom should have died at noon.”

“What execution — what malignants?” said Cromwell, laying down his knife and fork.

“Those in the prison here at Woodstock,” answered Zerubbabel, “whom your Excellency commanded should be executed at noon, as taken in the fact of rebellion against the Commonwealth.”

“Wretch!” said Cromwell, starting up and addressing Pearson, “thou hast not touched Mark Everard, in whom there was no guilt, for he was deceived by him who passed between us — neither hast thou put forth thy hand on the pragmatic Presbyterian minister, to have all those of their classes cry sacrilege, and alienate them from us for ever?”

“If your Excellency wish them to live, they live — their life and death are in the power of a word,” said Pearson.

“Enfranchise them; I must gain the Presbyterian interest over to us if I can.”

“Rochecliffe, the arch-plotter,” said Pearson, “I thought to have executed, but”—

“Barbarous man,” said Cromwell, “alike ungrateful and impolitic — wouldst thou have destroyed our decoy-duck? This doctor is but like a well, a shallow one indeed, but something deeper than the springs which discharge their secret tribute into his keeping; then come I with a pump, and suck it all up to the open air. Enlarge him, and let him have money if he wants it. I know his haunts; he can go nowhere but our eye will be upon him. — But you look at each other darkly, as if you had more to say than you durst. I trust you have not done to death Sir Henry Lee?”

“No. Yet the man,” replied Pearson, “is a confirmed malignant, and”—

“Ay, but he is also a noble relic of the ancient English Gentleman,” said the General. “I would I knew how to win the favour of that race. But we, Pearson, whose royal robes are the armour which we wear on our bodies, and whose leading staves are our sceptres, are too newly set up to draw the respect of the proud malignants, who cannot brook to submit to less than royal lineage. Yet what can they see in the longest kingly line in Europe, save that it runs back to a successful soldier? I grudge that one man should be honoured and followed, because he is the descendant of a victorious commander, while less honour and allegiance is paid to another, who, in personal qualities, and in success, might emulate the founder of his rival’s dynasty. Well, Sir Henry Lee lives, and shall live for me. His son, indeed, hath deserved the death which he has doubtless sustained.”

“My lord,” stammered Pearson, “since your Excellency has found I am right in suspending your order in so many instances, I trust you will not blame me in this also — I thought it best to await more special orders.”

“Thou art in a mighty merciful humour this morning, Pearson,” said Cromwell, not entirely satisfied.

“If your Excellency please, the halter is ready, and so is the provost-marshal.”

“Nay, if such a bloody fellow as thou hast spared him, it would ill become me to destroy him,” said the General. “But then, here is among Rochecliffe’s papers the engagement of twenty desperadoes to take us off — some example ought to be made.”

“My lord,” said Zerubbabel, “consider now how often this young man, Albert Lee, hath been near you, nay, probably, quite close to your Excellency, in these dark passages which he knew, and we did not. Had he been of an assassin’s nature, it would have cost him but a pistol-shot, and the light of Israel was extinguished. Nay, in the unavoidable confusion which must have ensued, the sentinels quitting their posts, he might have had a fair chance of escape.”

“Enough Zerubbabel; he lives,” said the General. “He shall remain in custody for some time, however, and be then banished from England. The other two are safe, of course; for you would not dream of considering such paltry fellows as fit victims for my revenge.”

“One fellow, the under-keeper, called Joliffe, deserves death, however,” said Pearson, “since he has frankly admitted that he slew honest Joseph Tomkins.”

“He deserves a reward for saving us a labour,” said Cromwell; “that Tomkins was a most double-hearted villain. I have found evidence among these papers here, that if we had lost the fight at Worcester, we should have had reason to regret that we had ever trusted Master Tomkins — it was only our success which anticipated his treachery — write us down debtor, not creditor, to Joceline, an you call him so, and to his quarter-staff.”

“There remains the sacrilegious and graceless cavalier who attempted your Excellency’s life last night,” said Pearson.

“Nay,” said the General, “that were stooping too low for revenge. His sword had no more power than had he thrusted with a tobacco-pipe. Eagles stoop not at mallards, or wild-drakes either.”

“Yet, sir,” said Pearson, “the fellow should be punished as a libeller. The quantity of foul and pestilential abuse which we found in his pockets makes me loth he should go altogether free — Please to look at them, sir.”

“A most vile hand,” said Oliver, as he looked at a sheet or two of our friend Wildrake’s poetical miscellanies —“The very handwriting seems to be drunk, and the very poetry not sober — What have we here?

‘When I was a young lad,

My fortune was bad —

If e’er I do well, ’tis a wonder’—

Why, what trash is this? — and then again —

‘Now a plague on the poll

Of old politic Noll!

We will drink till we bring

In triumph back the King.’

In truth, if it could be done that way, this poet would be a stout champion. Give the poor knave five pieces, Pearson, and bid him go sell his ballads. If he come within twenty miles of our person, though, we will have him flogged till the blood runs down to his heels.”

“There remains only one sentenced person,” said Pearson, “a noble wolf-hound, finer than any your Excellency saw in Ireland. He belongs to the old knight Sir Henry Lee. Should your Excellency not desire to keep the fine creature yourself, might I presume to beg that I might have leave?”

“No, Pearson,” said Cromwell; “the old man, so faithful himself, shall not be deprived of his faithful dog — I would I had any creature, were it but a dog, that followed me because it loved me, not for what it could make of me.”

“Your Excellency is unjust to your faithful soldiers,” said Zerubbabel, bluntly, “who follow you like dogs, fight for you like dogs, and have the grave of a dog on the spot where they happen to fall.”

“How now, old grumbler,” said the General, “what means this change of note?”

“Corporal Humgudgeon’s remains are left to moulder under the ruins of yonder tower, and Tomkins is thrust into a hole in a thicket like a beast.”

“True, true,” said Cromwell, “they shall be removed to the churchyard, and every soldier shall attend with cockades of sea-green and blue ribbon — Every one of the non-commissioned officers and adjutators shall have a mourning-scarf; we ourselves will lead the procession, and there shall be a proper dole of wine, burnt brandy, and rosemary. See that it is done, Pearson. After the funeral, Woodstock shall be dismantled and destroyed, that its recesses may not again afford shelter to rebels and malignants.”

The commands of the General were punctually obeyed, and when the other prisoners were dismissed, Albert Lee remained for some time in custody. He went abroad after his liberation, entered in King Charles’s Guards, where he was promoted by that monarch. But his fate, as we shall see hereafter, only allowed him a short though bright career.

We return to the liberation of the other prisoners from Woodstock. The two divines, completely reconciled to each other, retreated arm in arm to the parsonage-house, formerly the residence of Dr. Rochecliffe, but which he now visited as the guest of his successor, Nehemiah Holdenough. The Presbyterian had no sooner installed his friend under his roof, than he urged upon him an offer to partake it, and the income annexed to it, as his own. Dr. Rochecliffe was much affected, but wisely rejected the generous offer, considering the difference of their tenets on Church government, which each entertained as religiously as his creed. Another debate, though a light one, on the subject of the office of Bishops in the Primitive Church, confirmed him in his resolution. They parted the next day, and their friendship remained undisturbed by controversy till Mr. Holdenough’s death, in 1658; a harmony which might be in some degree owing to their never meeting again after their imprisonment. Dr. Rochecliffe was restored to his living after the Restoration, and ascended from thence to high clerical preferment.

The inferior personages of the grand jail-delivery at Woodstock Lodge, easily found themselves temporary accommodations in the town among old acquaintance; but no one ventured to entertain the old knight, understood to be so much under the displeasure of the ruling powers; and even the innkeeper of the George, who had been one of his tenants, scarce dared to admit him to the common privileges of a traveller, who has food and lodging for his money. Everard attended him unrequested, unpermitted, but also unforbidden. The heart of the old man had been turned once more towards him when he learned how he had behaved at the memorable rencontre at the King’s Oak, and saw that he was an object of the enmity, rather than the favour, of Cromwell. But there was another secret feeling which tended to reconcile him to his nephew — the consciousness that Everard shared with him the deep anxiety which he experienced on account of his daughter, who had not yet returned from her doubtful and perilous expedition. He felt that he himself would perhaps be unable to discover where Alice had taken refuge during the late events, or to obtain her deliverance if she was taken into custody. He wished Everard to offer him his service in making a search for her, but shame prevented his preferring the request; and Everard, who could not suspect the altered state of his uncle’s mind, was afraid to make the proposal of assistance, or even to name the name of Alice.

The sun had already set — they sat looking each other in the face in silence, when the trampling of horses was heard — there was knocking at the door — there was a light step on the stair, and Alice, the subject of their anxiety, stood before them. She threw herself joyfully into her father’s arms, who glanced his eye needfully round the room, as he said in a whisper, “Is all safe?”

“Safe and out of danger, as I trust,” replied Alice —“I have a token for you.”

Her eye then rested on Everard — she blushed, was embarrassed, and silent.

“You need not fear your Presbyterian cousin,” said the knight, with a good-humoured smile, “he has himself proved a confessor at least for loyalty, and ran the risk of being a martyr.”

She pulled from her bosom the royal rescript, written on a small and soiled piece of paper, and tied round with a worsted thread instead of a seal. Such as it was, Sir Henry ere he opened it pressed the little packet with oriental veneration to his lips, to his heart, to his forehead; and it was not before a tear had dropt on it that he found courage to open and read the billet. It was in these words:—

“LOYAL OUR MUCH ESTEEMED FRIEND, AND OUR TRUSTY SUBJECT,

“It having become known to us that a purpose of marriage has been entertained betwixt Mrs. Alice Lee, your only daughter, and Markham Everard, Esq. of Eversly Chase, her kinsman, and by affiancy your nephew: And being assured that this match would be highly agreeable to you, had it not been for certain respects to our service, which induced you to refuse your consent thereto — We do therefore acquaint you, that, far from our affairs suffering by such an alliance, we do exhort, and so far as we may, require you to consent to the same, as you would wish to do us good pleasure, and greatly to advance our affairs. Leaving to you, nevertheless, as becometh a Christian King, the full exercise of your own discretion concerning other obstacles to such an alliance, which may exist, independent of those connected with our service. Witness our hand, together with our thankful recollections of your good services to our late Royal Father as well as ourselves, C. R.”

Long and steadily did Sir Henry gaze on the letter, so that it might almost seem as if he were getting it by heart. He then placed it carefully in his pocket-book, and asked Alice the account of her adventures the preceding night. They were briefly told. Their midnight walk through the Chase had been speedily and safely accomplished. Nor had the King once made the slightest relapse into the naughty Louis Kerneguy. When she had seen Charles and his attendant set off, she had taken some repose in the cottage where they parted. With the morning came news that Woodstock was occupied by soldiers, so that return thither might have led to danger, suspicion, and enquiry. Alice, therefore, did not attempt it, but went to a house in the neighbourhood, inhabited by a lady of established loyalty, whose husband had been major of Sir Henry Lee’s regiment, and had fallen at the battle of Naseby. Mrs. Aylmer was a sensible woman, and indeed the necessities of the singular times had sharpened every one’s faculties for stratagem and intrigue. She sent a faithful servant to scout about the mansion at Woodstock, who no sooner saw the prisoners dismissed and in safety, and ascertained the knight’s destination for the evening, than he carried the news to his mistress, and by her orders attended Alice on horseback to join her father.

There was seldom, perhaps, an evening meal made in such absolute silence as by this embarrassed party, each occupied with their own thoughts, and at a loss how to fathom those of the others. At length the hour came when Alice felt herself at liberty to retire to repose after a day so fatiguing. Everard handed her to the door of her apartment, and was then himself about to take leave, when, to his surprise, his uncle asked him to return, pointed to a chair, and giving him the King’s letter to read, fixed his looks on him steadily during the perusal; determined that if he could discover aught short of the utmost delight in the reading, the commands of the King himself should be disobeyed, rather than Alice should be sacrificed to one who received not her hand as the greatest blessing earth had to bestow. But the features of Everard indicated joyful hope, even beyond what the father could have anticipated, yet mingled with surprise; and when he raised his eye to the knight’s with timidity and doubt, a smile was on Sir Henry’s countenance as he broke silence. “The King,” he said, “had he no other subject in England, should dispose at will of those of the house of Lee. But methinks the family of Everard have not been so devoted of late to the crown as to comply with a mandate, inviting its heir to marry the daughter of a beggar.”

“The daughter of Sir Henry Lee,” said Everard, kneeling to his uncle, and perforce kissing his hand, “would grace the house of a duke.”

“The girl is well enough,” said the knight proudly; “for myself, my poverty shall neither shame nor encroach on my friends. Some few pieces I have by Doctor Rochecliffe’s kindness, and Joceline and I will strike out something.”

“Nay, my dear uncle, you are richer than you think for,” said Everard. “That part of your estate, which my father redeemed for payment of a moderate composition, is still your own, and held by trustees in your name, myself being one of them. You are only our debtor for an advance of monies, for which, if it will content you, we will count with you like usurers. My father is incapable of profiting by making a bargain on his own account for the estate of a distressed friend; and all this you would have learned long since, but that you would not — I mean, time did not serve for explanation — I mean”—

“You mean I was too hot to hear reason, Mark, and I believe it is very true. But I think we understand each other now. To-morrow I go with my family to Kingston, where is an old house I may still call mine. Come hither at thy leisure, Mark — or thy best speed, as thou wilt — but come with thy father’s consent.”

“With my father in person,” said Everard, “if you will permit.”

“Be that,” answered the knight, “as he and you will — I think Joceline will scarce shut the door in thy face, or Bevis growl as he did after poor Louis Kerneguy. — Nay, no more raptures, but good-night, Mark, good-night; and if thou art not tired with the fatigue of yesterday — why, if you appear here at seven in the morning, I think we must bear with your company on the Kingston road.”

Once more Everard pressed the knight’s hand, caressed Bevis, who received his kindness graciously, and went home to dreams of happiness, which were realized, as far as this motley world permits, within a few months afterwards.

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