Rebecca and Rowena; a romance upon romance, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter IV.

Ivanhoe Redivivus.

I trust nobody will suppose, from the events described in the last chapter, that our friend Ivanhoe is really dead. Because we have given him an epitaph or two and a monument, are these any reasons that he should be really gone out of the world? No: as in the pantomime, when we see Clown and Pantaloon lay out Harlequin and cry over him, we are always sure that Master Harlequin will be up at the next minute alert and shining in his glistening coat; and, after giving a box on the ears to the pair of them, will be taking a dance with Columbine, or leaping gayly through the clock-face, or into the three-pair-of-stairs’ window:— so Sir Wilfrid, the Harlequin of our Christmas piece, may be run through a little, or may make believe to be dead, but will assuredly rise up again when he is wanted, and show himself at the right moment.

The suspicious-looking characters from whom Wamba ran away were no cut-throats and plunderers, as the poor knave imagined, but no other than Ivanhoe’s friend, the hermit, and a reverend brother of his, who visited the scene of the late battle in order to see if any Christians still survived there, whom they might shrive and get ready for heaven, or to whom they might possibly offer the benefit of their skill as leeches. Both were prodigiously learned in the healing art; and had about them those precious elixirs which so often occur in romances, and with which patients are so miraculously restored. Abruptly dropping his master’s head from his lap as he fled, poor Wamba caused the knight’s pate to fall with rather a heavy thump to the ground, and if the knave had but stayed a minute longer, he would have heard Sir Wilfrid utter a deep groan. But though the fool heard him not, the holy hermits did; and to recognize the gallant Wilfrid, to withdraw the enormous dagger still sticking out of his back, to wash the wound with a portion of the precious elixir, and to pour a little of it down his throat, was with the excellent hermits the work of an instant: which remedies being applied, one of the good men took the knight by the heels and the other by the head, and bore him daintily from the castle to their hermitage in a neighboring rock. As for the Count of Chalus, and the remainder of the slain, the hermits were too much occupied with Ivanhoe’s case to mind them, and did not, it appears, give them any elixir: so that, if they are really dead, they must stay on the rampart stark and cold; or if otherwise, when the scene closes upon them as it does now, they may get up, shake themselves, go to the slips and drink a pot of porter, or change their stage-clothes and go home to supper. My dear readers, you may settle the matter among yourselves as you like. If you wish to kill the characters really off, let them be dead, and have done with them: but, entre nous, I don’t believe they are any more dead than you or I are, and sometimes doubt whether there is a single syllable of truth in this whole story.

Well, Ivanhoe was taken to the hermits’ cell, and there doctored by the holy fathers for his hurts; which were of such a severe and dangerous order, that he was under medical treatment for a very considerable time. When he woke up from his delirium, and asked how long he had been ill, fancy his astonishment when he heard that he had been in the fever for six years! He thought the reverend fathers were joking at first, but their profession forbade them from that sort of levity; and besides, he could not possibly have got well any sooner, because the story would have been sadly put out had he appeared earlier. And it proves how good the fathers were to him, and how very nearly that scoundrel of a Roger de Backbite’s dagger had finished him, that he did not get well under this great length of time; during the whole of which the fathers tended him without ever thinking of a fee. I know of a kind physician in this town who does as much sometimes; but I won’t do him the ill service of mentioning his name here.

Ivanhoe, being now quickly pronounced well, trimmed his beard, which by this time hung down considerably below his knees, and calling for his suit of chain-armor, which before had fitted his elegant person as tight as wax, now put it on, and it bagged and hung so loosely about him, that even the good friars laughed at his absurd appearance. It was impossible that he should go about the country in such a garb as that: the very boys would laugh at him: so the friars gave him one of their old gowns, in which he disguised himself, and after taking an affectionate farewell of his friends, set forth on his return to his native country. As he went along, he learned that Richard was dead, that John reigned, that Prince Arthur had been poisoned, and was of course made acquainted with various other facts of public importance recorded in Pinnock’s Catechism and the Historic Page.

But these subjects did not interest him near so much as his own private affairs; and I can fancy that his legs trembled under him, and his pilgrim’s staff shook with emotion, as at length, after many perils, he came in sight of his paternal mansion of Rotherwood, and saw once more the chimneys smoking, the shadows of the oaks over the grass in the sunset, and the rooks winging over the trees. He heard the supper gong sounding: he knew his way to the door well enough; he entered the familiar hall with a benedicite, and without any more words took his place.

***

You might have thought for a moment that the gray friar trembled and his shrunken cheek looked deadly pale; but he recovered himself presently: nor could you see his pallor for the cowl which covered his face.

A little boy was playing on Athelstane’s knee; Rowena smiling and patting the Saxon Thane fondly on his broad bullhead, filled him a huge cup of spiced wine from a golden jug. He drained a quart of the liquor, and, turning round, addressed the friar:—

“And so, gray frere, thou sawest good King Richard fall at Chalus by the bolt of that felon bowman?”

“We did, an it please you. The brothers of our house attended the good King in his last moments: in truth, he made a Christian ending!”

“And didst thou see the archer flayed alive? It must have been rare sport,” roared Athelstane, laughing hugely at the joke. “How the fellow must have howled!”

“My love!” said Rowena, interposing tenderly, and putting a pretty white finger on his lip.

“I would have liked to see it too,” cried the boy.

“That’s my own little Cedric, and so thou shalt. And, friar, didst see my poor kinsman Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe? They say he fought well at Chalus!”

“My sweet lord,” again interposed Rowena, “mention him not.”

“Why? Because thou and he were so tender in days of yore — when you could not bear my plain face, being all in love with his pale one?”

“Those times are past now, dear Athelstane,” said his affectionate wife, looking up to the ceiling.

“Marry, thou never couldst forgive him the Jewess, Rowena.”

“The odious hussy! don’t mention the name of the unbelieving creature,” exclaimed the lady.

“Well, well, poor Wil was a good lad — a thought melancholy and milksop though. Why, a pint of sack fuddled his poor brains.”

“Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe was a good lance,” said the friar. “I have heard there was none better in Christendom. He lay in our convent after his wounds, and it was there we tended him till he died. He was buried in our north cloister.”

“And there’s an end of him,” said Athelstane. “But come, this is dismal talk. Where’s Wamba the Jester? Let us have a song. Stir up, Wamba, and don’t lie like a dog in the fire! Sing us a song, thou crack-brained jester, and leave off whimpering for bygones. Tush, man! There be many good fellows left in this world.”

“There be buzzards in eagles’ nests,” Wamba said, who was lying stretched before the fire, sharing the hearth with the Thane’s dogs. “There be dead men alive, and live men dead. There be merry songs and dismal songs. Marry, and the merriest are the saddest sometimes. I will leave off motley and wear black, gossip Athelstane. I will turn howler at funerals, and then, perhaps, I shall be merry. Motley is fit for mutes, and black for fools. Give me some drink, gossip, for my voice is as cracked as my brain.”

“Drink and sing, thou beast, and cease prating,” the Thane said.

And Wamba, touching his rebeck wildly, sat up in the chimney-side and curled his lean shanks together and began:—

“LOVE AT TWO SCORE.

“Ho! pretty page, with dimpled chin,
That never has known the barber’s shear,
All your aim is woman to win —
This is the way that boys begin —
Wait till you’ve come to forty year!

“Curly gold locks cover foolish brains,
Billing and cooing is all your cheer,
Sighing and singing of midnight strains
Under Bonnybells’ window-panes.
Wait till you’ve come to forty year!

“Forty times over let Michaelmas pass,
Grizzling hair the brain doth clear;
Then you know a boy is an ass,
Then you know the worth of a lass,
Once you have come to forty year.

“Pledge me round, I bid ye declare,
All good fellows whose beards are gray:
Did not the fairest of the fair
Common grow, and wearisome, ere
Ever a month was passed away?

“The reddest lips that ever have kissed,
The brightest eyes that ever have shone,
May pray and whisper and we not list,
Or look away and never be missed,
Ere yet ever a month was gone.

“Gillian’s dead, Heaven rest her bier,
How I loved her twenty years syne!
Marian’s married, but I sit here,
Alive and merry at forty year,
Dipping my nose in the Gascon wine.”

“Who taught thee that merry lay, Wamba, thou son of Witless?” roared Athelstane, clattering his cup on the table and shouting the chorus.

“It was a good and holy hermit, sir, the pious clerk of Copmanhurst, that you wot of, who played many a prank with us in the days that we knew King Richard. Ah, noble sir, that was a jovial time and a good priest.”

“They say the holy priest is sure of the next bishopric, my love,” said Rowena. “His Majesty hath taken him into much favor. My Lord of Huntingdon looked very well at the last ball; but I never could see any beauty in the Countess — a freckled, blowsy thing, whom they used to call Maid Marian: though, for the matter of that, what between her flirtations with Major Littlejohn and Captain Scarlett, really —”

“Jealous again — haw! haw!” laughed Athelstane.

“I am above jealousy, and scorn it,” Rowena answered, drawing herself up very majestically.

“Well, well, Wamba’s was a good song,” Athelstane said.

“Nay, a wicked song,” said Rowena, turning up her eyes as usual. “What! rail at woman’s love? Prefer a filthy wine cup to a true wife? Woman’s love is eternal, my Athelstane. He who questions it would be a blasphemer were he not a fool. The well-born and well-nurtured gentlewoman loves once and once only.”

“I pray you, madam, pardon me, I— I am not well,” said the gray friar, rising abruptly from his settle, and tottering down the steps of the dais. Wamba sprung after him, his bells jingling as he rose, and casting his arms around the apparently fainting man, he led him away into the court. “There be dead men alive and live men dead,” whispered he. “There be coffins to laugh at and marriages to cry over. Said I not sooth, holy friar?” And when they had got out into the solitary court, which was deserted by all the followers of the Thane, who were mingling in the drunken revelry in the hall, Wamba, seeing that none were by, knelt down, and kissing the friar’s garment, said, “I knew thee, I knew thee, my lord and my liege!”

“Get up,” said Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, scarcely able to articulate: “only fools are faithful.”

And he passed on, and into the little chapel where his father lay buried. All night long the friar spent there: and Wamba the Jester lay outside watching as mute as the saint over the porch.

When the morning came, Wumba was gone; and the knave being in the habit of wandering hither and thither as he chose, little notice was taken of his absence by a master and mistress who had not much sense of humor. As for Sir Wilfrid, a gentleman of his delicacy of feelings could not be expected to remain in a house where things so naturally disagreeable to him were occurring, and he quitted Rotherwood incontinently, after paying a dutiful visit to the tomb where his old father, Cedric, was buried; and hastened on to York, at which city he made himself known to the family attorney, a most respectable man, in whose hands his ready money was deposited, and took up a sum sufficient to fit himself out with credit, and a handsome retinue, as became a knight of consideration. But he changed his name, wore a wig and spectacles, and disguised himself entirely, so that it was impossible his friends or the public should know him, and thus metamorphosed, went about whithersoever his fancy led him. He was present at a public ball at York, which the lord mayor gave, danced Sir Roger de Coverley in the very same set with Rowena —(who was disgusted that Maid Marian took precedence of her)— he saw little Athelstane overeat himself at the supper and pledge his big father in a cup of sack; he met the Reverend Mr. Tuck at a missionary meeting, where he seconded a resolution proposed by that eminent divine; — in fine, he saw a score of his old acquaintances, none of whom recognized in him the warrior of Palestine and Templestowe. Having a large fortune and nothing to do, he went about this country performing charities, slaying robbers, rescuing the distressed, and achieving noble feats of arms. Dragons and giants existed in his day no more, or be sure he would have had a fling at them: for the truth is, Sir Wilfrid of Ivanhoe was somewhat sick of the life which the hermits of Chalus had restored to him, and felt himself so friendless and solitary that he would not have been sorry to come to an end of it. Ah, my dear friends and intelligent British public, are there not others who are melancholy under a mask of gayety, and who, in the midst of crowds, are lonely? Liston was a most melancholy man; Grimaldi had feelings; and there are others I wot of:— but psha! — let us have the next chapter.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/rebecca/chapter4.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07