Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Fourth.

Yon path of greensward

Winds round by sparry grot and gay pavilion;

There is no flint to gall thy tender foot,

There’s ready shelter from each breeze, or shower. —

But duty guides not that way — see her stand,

With wand entwined with amaranth, near yon cliffs.

Oft where she leads thy blood must mark thy footsteps,

Oft where she leads thy head must bear the storm.

And thy shrunk form endure heat, cold, and hunger;

But she will guide thee up to noble heights,

Which he who gains seems native of the sky,

While earthly things lie stretch’d beneath his feet,

Diminish’d, shrunk, and valueless —

ANONYMOUS.

The reader cannot have forgotten that after his scuffle with the commonwealth soldier, Sir Henry Lee, with his daughter Alice, had departed to take refuge in the hut of the stout keeper Joceline Joliffe. They walked slow, as before, for the old knight was at once oppressed by perceiving these last vestiges of royalty fall into the hands of republicans, and by the recollection of his recent defeat. At times he paused, and, with his arms folded on his bosom, recalled all the circumstances attending his expulsion from a house so long his home. It seemed to him that, like the champions of romance of whom he had sometimes read, he himself was retiring from the post which it was his duty to guard, defeated by a Paynim knight, for whom the adventure had been reserved by fate. Alice had her own painful subjects of recollection, nor had the tenor of her last conversation with her father been so pleasant as to make her anxious to renew it until his temper should be more composed; for with an excellent disposition, and much love to his daughter, age and misfortunes, which of late came thicker and thicker, had given to the good knight’s passions a wayward irritability unknown to his better days. His daughter, and one or two attached servants, who still followed his decayed fortunes, soothed his frailty as much as possible, and pitied him even while they suffered under its effects.

It was a long time ere he spoke, and then he referred to an incident already noticed. “It is strange,” he said, “that Bevis should have followed Joceline and that fellow rather than me.”

“Assure yourself, sir,” replied Alice, “that his sagacity saw in this man a stranger, whom he thought himself obliged to watch circumspectly, and therefore he remained with Joceline.”

“Not so, Alice,” answered Sir Henry; “he leaves me because my fortunes have fled from me. There is a feeling in nature, affecting even the instinct, as it is called, of dumb animals, which teaches them to fly from misfortune. The very deer there will butt a sick or wounded buck from the herd; hurt a dog, and the whole kennel will fall on him and worry him; fishes devour their own kind when they are wounded with a spear; cut a crow’s wing, or break its leg, the others will buffet it to death.”

“That may be true of the more irrational kinds of animals among each other,” said Alice, “for their whole life is well nigh a warfare; but the dog leaves his own race to attach himself to ours; forsakes, for his master, the company, food, and pleasure of his own kind; and surely the fidelity of such a devoted and voluntary servant as Bevis hath been in particular, ought not to be lightly suspected.”

“I am not angry with the dog, Alice; I am only sorry,” replied her father. “I have read, in faithful chronicles, that when Richard II. and Henry of Bolingbroke were at Berkeley Castle, a dog of the same kind deserted the King, whom he had always attended upon, and attached himself to Henry, whom he then saw for the first time. Richard foretold, from the desertion of his favourite, his approaching deposition. The dog was afterwards kept at Woodstock, and Bevis is said to be of his breed, which was heedfully kept up. What I might foretell of mischief from his desertion, I cannot guess, but my mind assures me it bodes no good.”

There was a distant rustling among the withered leaves, a bouncing or galloping sound on the path, and the favourite dog instantly joined his master.

“Come into court, old knave,” said Alice, cheerfully, “and defend thy character, which is wellnigh endangered by this absence.” But the dog only paid her courtesy by gamboling around them, and instantly plunged back again, as fast as he could scamper.

“How now, knave?” said the knight; “thou art too well trained, surely, to take up the chase without orders.” A minute more showed them Phoebe Mayflower approaching, her light pace so little impeded by the burden which she bore, that she joined her master and young mistress just as they arrived at the keeper’s hut, which was the boundary of their journey. Bevis, who had shot a-head to pay his compliments to Sir Henry his master, had returned again to his immediate duty, the escorting Phoebe and her cargo of provisions. The whole party stood presently assembled before the door of the keeper’s hut.

In better times, a substantial stone habitation, fit for the yeoman-keeper of a royal walk, had adorned this place. A fair spring gushed out near the spot, and once traversed yards and courts, attached to well-built and convenient kennels and mews. But in some of the skirmishes which were common during the civil wars, this little silvan dwelling had been attacked and defended, stormed and burnt. A neighbouring squire, of the Parliament side of the question, took advantage of Sir Henry Lee’s absence, who was then in Charles’s camp, and of the decay of the royal cause, and had, without scruple, carried off the hewn stones, and such building materials as the fire left unconsumed, and repaired his own manor-house with them. The yeoman-keeper, therefore, our friend Joceline, had constructed, for his own accommodation, and that of the old woman he called his dame, a wattled hut, such as his own labour, with that of a neighbour or two, had erected in the course of a few days. The walls were plastered with clay, white-washed, and covered with vines and other creeping plants; the roof was neatly thatched, and the whole, though merely a hut, had, by the neat-handed Joliffe, been so arranged as not to disgrace the condition of the dweller.

The knight advanced to the entrance; but the ingenuity of the architect, for want of a better lock to the door, which itself was but of wattles curiously twisted, had contrived a mode of securing the latch on the inside with a pin, which prevented it from rising; and in this manner it was at present fastened. Conceiving that this was some precaution of Joliffe’s old housekeeper, of whose deafness they were all aware, Sir Henry raised his voice to demand admittance, but in vain. Irritated at this delay, he pressed the door at once with foot and hand, in a way which the frail barrier was unable to resist; it gave way accordingly, and the knight thus forcibly entered the kitchen, or outward apartment, of his servant. In the midst of the floor, and with a posture which indicated embarrassment, stood a youthful stranger, in a riding-suit.

“This may be my last act of authority here,” said the knight, seizing the stranger by the collar, “but I am still Ranger of Woodstock for this night at least — Who, or what art thou?”

The stranger dropped the riding-mantle in which his face was muffled, and at the same time fell on one knee.

“Your poor kinsman, Markham Everard,” he said, “who came hither for your sake, although he fears you will scarce make him welcome for his own.”

Sir Henry started back, but recovered himself in an instant, as one who recollected that he had a part of dignity to perform. He stood erect, therefore, and replied, with considerable assumption of stately ceremony:

“Fair kinsman, it pleases me that you are come to Woodstock upon the very first night that, for many years which have passed, is likely to promise you a worthy or a welcome reception.”

“Now God grant it be so, that I rightly hear and duly understand you,” said the young man; while Alice, though she was silent, kept her looks fixed on her father’s face, as if desirous to know whether his meaning was kind towards his nephew, which her knowledge of his character inclined her greatly to doubt.

The knight meanwhile darted a sardonic look, first on his nephew, then on his daughter, and proceeded —“I need not, I presume, inform Mr. Markham Everard, that it cannot be our purpose to entertain him, or even to offer him a seat in this poor hut.”

“I will attend you most willingly to the Lodge,” said the young gentleman. “I had, indeed, judged you were already there for the evening, and feared to intrude upon you. But if you would permit me, my dearest uncle, to escort my kinswoman and you back to the Lodge, believe me, amongst all which you have so often done of good and kind, you never conferred benefit that will be so dearly prized.”

“You mistake me greatly, Mr. Markham Everard,” replied the knight. “It is not our purpose to return to the Lodge to-night, nor, by Our Lady, tomorrow neither. I meant but to intimate to you in all courtesy, that at Woodstock Lodge you will find those for whom you are fitting society, and who, doubtless, will afford you a willing welcome; which I, sir, in this my present retreat, do not presume to offer to a person of your consequence.”

“For Heaven’s sake,” said the young man, turning to Alice, “tell me how I am to understand language so misterious.”

Alice, to prevent his increasing the restrained anger of her father, compelled herself to answer, though it was with difficulty, “We are expelled from the Lodge by soldiers.”

“Expelled — by soldiers!” exclaimed Everard, in surprise —“there is no legal warrant for this.”

“None at all,” answered the knight, in the same tone of cutting irony which he had all along used, “and yet as lawful a warrant, as for aught that has been wrought in England this twelvemonth and more. You are, I think, or were, an Inns-of-Court-man — marry, sir, your enjoyment of your profession is like that lease which a prodigal wishes to have of a wealthy widow. You have already survived the law which you studied, and its expiry doubtless has not been without a legacy — some decent pickings, some merciful increases, as the phrase goes. You have deserved it two ways — you wore buff and bandalier, as well as wielded pen and ink — I have not heard if you held forth too.”

“Think of me and speak of me as harshly as you will, sir,” said Everard, submissively. “I have but in this evil time, guided myself by my conscience, and my father’s commands.”

“O, and you talk of conscience,” said the old knight, “I must have mine eye upon you, as Hamlet says. Never yet did Puritan cheat so grossly as when he was appealing to his conscience; and as for thy father”—

He was about to proceed in a tone of the same invective, when the young man interrupted him, by saying, in a firm tone, “Sir Henry Lee, you have ever been thought noble — Say of me what you will, but speak not of my father what the ear of a son should not endure, and which yet his arm cannot resent. To do me such wrong is to insult an unarmed man, or to beat a captive.”

Sir Henry paused, as if struck by the remark. “Thou hast spoken truth in that, Mark, wert thou the blackest Puritan whom hell ever vomited, to distract an unhappy country.”

“Be that as you will to think it,” replied Everard; “but let me not leave you to the shelter of this wretched hovel. The night is drawing to storm — let me but conduct you to the Lodge, and expel those intruders, who can, as yet at least, have no warrant for what they do. I will not linger a moment behind them, save just to deliver my father’s message. — Grant me but this much, for the love you once bore me!”

“Yes, Mark,” answered his uncle, firmly, but sorrowfully, “thou speakest truth — I did love thee once. The bright-haired boy whom I taught to ride, to shoot, to hunt — whose hours of happiness were spent with me, wherever those of graver labours were employed — I did love that boy — ay, and I am weak enough to love even the memory of what he was. — But he is gone, Mark — he is gone; and in his room I only behold an avowed and determined rebel to his religion and to his king — a rebel more detestable on account of his success, the more infamous through the plundered wealth with which he hopes to gild his villany. — But I am poor, thou think’st, and should hold my peace, lest men say, ‘Speak, sirrah, when you should.’— Know, however, that, indigent and plundered as I am, I feel myself dishonoured in holding even but this much talk with the tool of usurping rebels. — Go to the Lodge, if thou wilt — yonder lies the way — but think not that, to regain my dwelling there, or all the wealth I ever possessed in my wealthiest days, I would accompany thee three steps on the greensward. If I must be thy companion, it shall be only when thy red-coats have tied my hands behind me, and bound my legs beneath my horse’s belly. Thou mayst be my fellow traveller then, I grant thee, if thou wilt, but not sooner.”

Alice, who suffered cruelly during this dialogue, and was well aware that farther argument would only kindle the knight’s resentment still more highly, ventured at last, in her anxiety, to make a sign to her cousin to break off the interview, and to retire, since her father commanded his absence in a manner so peremptory. Unhappily, she was observed by Sir Henry, who, concluding that what he saw was evidence of a private understanding betwixt the cousins, his wrath acquired new fuel, and it required the utmost exertion of self-command, and recollection of all that was due to his own dignity, to enable him to veil his real fury under the same ironical manner which he had adopted at the beginning of this angry interview.

“If thou art afraid,” he said, “to trace our forest glades by night, respected stranger, to whom I am perhaps bound to do honour as my successor in the charge of these walks, here seems to be a modest damsel, who will be most willing to wait on thee, and be thy bow-bearer. — Only, for her mother’s sake, let there pass some slight form of marriage between you — Ye need no license or priest in these happy days, but may be buckled like beggars in a ditch, with a hedge for a church-roof, and a tinker for a priest. I crave pardon of you for making such an officious and simple request — perhaps you are a ranter — or one of the family of Love, or hold marriage rites as unnecessary, as Knipperdoling, or Jack of Leyden?”

“For mercy’s sake, forbear such dreadful jesting, my father! and do you, Markham, begone, in God’s name, and leave us to our fate — your presence makes my father rave.”

“Jesting!” said Sir Henry, “I was never more serious — Raving! — I was never more composed — I could never brook that falsehood should approach me — I would no more bear by my side a dishonoured daughter than a dishonoured sword; and this unhappy day hath shown that both can fail.”

“Sir Henry,” said young Everard, “load not your soul with a heavy crime, which be assured you do, in treating your daughter thus unjustly. It is long now since you denied her to me, when we were poor and you were powerful. I acquiesced in your prohibition of all suit and intercourse. God knoweth what I suffered — but I acquiesced. Neither is it to renew my suit that I now come hither, and have, I do acknowledge, sought speech of her — not for her own sake only, but for yours also. Destruction hovers over you, ready to close her pinions to stoop, and her talons to clutch — Yes, sir, look contemptuous as you will, such is the case; and it is to protect both you and her that I am here.”

“You refuse then my free gift,” said Sir Henry Lee; “or perhaps you think it loaded with too hard conditions?”

“Shame, shame on you, Sir Henry;” said Everard, waxing warm in his turn; “have your political prejudices so utterly warped every feeling of a father, that you can speak with bitter mockery and scorn of what concerns your own daughter’s honour? — Hold up your head, fair Alice, and tell your father he has forgotten nature in his fantastic spirit of loyalty. — Know, Sir Henry, that though I would prefer your daughter’s hand to every blessing which Heaven could bestow on me, I would not accept it — my conscience would not permit me to do so, when I knew it must withdraw her from her duty to you.”

“Your conscience is over-scrupulous, young man; — carry it to some dissenting rabbi, and he who takes all that comes to net, will teach thee it is sinning against our mercies to refuse any good thing that is freely offered to us.”

“When it is freely offered, and kindly offered — not when the offer is made in irony and insult — Fare thee well, Alice — if aught could make me desire to profit by thy father’s wild wish to cast thee from him in a moment of unworthy suspicion, it would be that while indulging in such sentiments, Sir Henry Lee is tyrannically oppressing the creature, who of all others is most dependent on his kindness — who of all others will most feel his severity, and whom, of all others, he is most bound to cherish and support.”

“Do not fear for me, Mr. Everard,” exclaimed Alice, aroused from her timidity by a dread of the consequences not unlikely to ensue, where civil war sets relations, as well as fellow-citizens, in opposition to each other. —“Oh, begone, I conjure you, begone! Nothing stands betwixt me and my father’s kindness, but these unhappy family divisions — but your ill-timed presence here — for Heaven’s sake, leave us!”

“So, mistress!” answered the hot old cavalier, “you play lady paramount already; and who but you! — you would dictate to our train, I warrant, like Goneril and Regan! But I tell thee, no man shall leave my house — and, humble as it is, this is now my house — while he has aught to say to me that is to be spoken, as this young man now speaks, with a bent brow and a lofty tone. — Speak out, sir, and say your worst!”

“Fear not my temper, Mrs. Alice,” said Everard, with equal firmness and placidity of manner; “and you, Sir Henry, do not think that if I speak firmly, I mean therefore to speak in anger, or officiously. You have taxed me with much, and, were I guided by the wild spirit of romantic chivalry, much which, even from so near a relative, I ought not, as being by birth, and in the world’s estimation, a gentleman, to pass over without reply. Is it your pleasure to give me patient hearing?”

“If you stand on your defence,” answered the stout old knight, “God forbid that you should not challenge a patient hearing — ay, though your pleading were two parts disloyalty and one blasphemy — Only, be brief — this has already lasted but too long.”

“I will, Sir Henry,” replied the young man; “yet it is hard to crowd into a few sentences, the defence of a life which, though short, has been a busy one — too busy, your indignant gesture would assert. But I deny it; I have drawn my sword neither hastily, nor without due consideration, for a people whose rights have been trampled on, and whose consciences have been oppressed — Frown not, sir — such is not your view of the contest, but such is mine. For my religious principles, at which you have scoffed, believe me, that though they depend not on set forms, they are no less sincere than your own, and thus far purer — excuse the word — that they are unmingled with the blood-thirsty dictates of a barbarous age, which you and others have called the code of chivalrous honour. Not my own natural disposition, but the better doctrine which my creed has taught, enables me to bear your harsh revilings without answering in a similar tone of wrath and reproach. You may carry insult to extremity against me at your pleasure — not on account of our relationship alone, but because I am bound in charity to endure it. This, Sir Henry, is much from one of our house. But, with forbearance far more than this requires, I can refuse at your hands the gift, which, most of all things under heaven, I should desire to obtain, because duty calls upon her to sustain and comfort you, and because it were sin to permit you, in your blindness, to spurn your comforter from your side. — Farewell, sir — not in anger, but in pity — We may meet in a better time, when your heart and your principles shall master the unhappy prejudices by which they are now overclouded. — Farewell — farewell, Alice!”

The last words were repeated twice, and in a tone of feeling and passionate grief, which differed utterly from the steady and almost severe tone in which he had addressed Sir Henry Lee. He turned and left the hut so soon as he had uttered these last words; and, as if ashamed of the tenderness which had mingled with his accents, the young commonwealth’s-man turned and walked sternly and resolvedly forth into the moonlight, which now was spreading its broad light and autumnal shadows over the woodland.

So soon as he departed, Alice, who had been during the whole scene in the utmost terror that her father might have been hurried, by his natural heat of temper, from violence of language into violence of action, sunk down upon a settle twisted out of willow boughs, like most of Joceline’s few moveables, and endeavoured to conceal the tears which accompanied the thanks she rendered in broken accents to Heaven, that, notwithstanding the near alliance and relationship of the parties, some fatal deed had not closed an interview so perilous and so angry. Phoebe Mayflower blubbered heartily for company, though she understood but little of what had passed; just, indeed, enough to enable her afterwards to report to some half-dozen particular friends, that her old master, Sir Henry, had been perilous angry, and almost fought with young Master Everard, because he had wellnigh carried away her young mistress. —“And what could he have done better?” said Phoebe, “seeing the old man had nothing left either for Mrs. Alice or himself; and as for Mr. Mark Everard and our young lady, oh! they had spoken such loving things to each other as are not to be found in the history of Argalus and Parthenia, who, as the story-book tells, were the truest pair of lovers in all Arcadia, and Oxfordshire to boot.”

Old Goody Jellycot had popped her scarlet hood into the kitchen more than once while the scene was proceeding; but, as the worthy dame was parcel blind and more than parcel deaf, knowledge was excluded by two principal entrances; and though she comprehended, by a sort of general instinct, that the gentlefolk were at high words, yet why they chose Joceline’s hut for the scene of their dispute was as great a mystery as the subject of the quarrel.

But what was the state of the old cavalier’s mood, thus contradicted, as his most darling principles had been, by the last words of his departing nephew? The truth is, that he was less thoroughly moved than his daughter expected; and in all probability his nephew’s bold defence of his religious and political opinions rather pacified than aggravated his displeasure. Although sufficiently impatient of contradiction, still evasion and subterfuge were more alien to the blunt old Ranger’s nature than manly vindication and direct opposition; and he was wont to say, that he ever loved the buck best who stood boldest at bay. He graced his nephew’s departure, however, with a quotation from Shakspeare, whom, as many others do, he was wont to quote from a sort of habit and respect, as a favourite of his unfortunate master, without having either much real taste for his works, or great skill in applying the passages which he retained on his memory.

“Mark,” he said, “mark this, Alice — the devil can quote Scripture for his purpose. Why, this young fanatic cousin of thine, with no more beard than I have seen on a clown playing Maid Marion on May-day, when the village barber had shaved him in too great a hurry, shall match any bearded Presbyterian or Independent of them all, in laying down his doctrines and his uses, and bethumping us with his texts and his homilies. I would worthy and learned Doctor Rochecliffe had been here, with his battery ready-mounted from the Vulgate, and the Septuagint, and what not — he would have battered the presbyterian spirit out of him with a wanion. However, I am glad the young man is no sneaker; for, were a man of the devil’s opinion in religion, and of Old Noll’s in politics, he were better open on it full cry, than deceive you by hunting counter, or running a false scent. Come — wipe thine eyes — the fray is over, and not like to be stirred again soon, I trust.”

Encouraged by these words, Alice rose, and, bewildered as she was, endeavoured to superintend the arrangements for their meal and their repose in their new habitation. But her tears fell so fast, they marred her counterfeited diligence; and it was well for her that Phoebe, though too ignorant and too simple to comprehend the extent of her distress, could afford her material assistance, in lack of mere sympathy.

With great readiness and address, the damsel set about every thing that was requisite for preparing the supper and the beds; now screaming into Dame Jellycot’s ear, now whispering into her mistress’s, and artfully managing, as if she was merely the agent, under Alice’s orders. When the cold viands were set forth, Sir Henry Lee kindly pressed his daughter to take refreshment, as if to make up, indirectly, for his previous harshness towards her; while he himself, like an experienced campaigner, showed, that neither the mortifications nor brawls of the day, nor the thoughts of what was to come tomorrow, could diminish his appetite for supper, which was his favourite meal. He ate up two-thirds of the capon, and, devoting the first bumper to the happy restoration of Charles, second of the name, he finished a quart of wine; for he belonged to a school accustomed to feed the flame of their loyalty with copious brimmers. He even sang a verse of “The King shall enjoy his own again,” in which Phoebe, half-sobbing, and Dame Jellycot, screaming against time and tune, were contented to lend their aid, to cover Mistress Alice’s silence.

At length the jovial knight betook himself to his rest on the keeper’s straw pallet, in a recess adjoining to the kitchen, and, unaffected by his change of dwelling, slept fast and deep. Alice had less quiet rest in old Goody Jellycot’s wicker couch, in the inner apartment; while the dame and Phoebe slept on a mattress, stuffed with dry leaves, in the same chamber, soundly as those whose daily toil gains their daily bread, and, whom morning calls up only to renew the toils of yesterday.

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