“Ignorance and evil, even in full flight, deal terrible backhanded strokes at their pursuers.”— HELPS.
Now I am sorry to say, for the honor of my country, that it was by no means a safe thing in those days to travel from Plymouth to the north of Devon; because, to get to your journey’s end, unless you were minded to make a circuit of many miles, you must needs pass through the territory of a foreign and hostile potentate, who had many times ravaged the dominions, and defeated the forces of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and was named (behind his back at least) the King of the Gubbings. “So now I dare call them,” says Fuller, “secured by distance, which one of more valor durst not do to their face, for fear their fury fall upon him. Yet hitherto have I met with none who could render a reason of their name. We call the shavings of fish (which are little worth) gubbings; and sure it is that they are sensible that the word importeth shame and disgrace.
“As for the suggestion of my worthy and learned friend, Mr. Joseph Maynard, that such as did inhabitare montes gibberosos, were called Gubbings, such will smile at the ingenuity who dissent from the truth of the etymology.
“I have read of an England beyond Wales, but the Gubbings land is a Scythia within England, and they pure heathens therein. It lieth nigh Brent. For in the edge of Dartmoor it is reported that, some two hundred years since, two bad women, being with child, fled thither to hide themselves; to whom certain lewd fellows resorted, and this was their first original. They are a peculiar of their own making, exempt from bishop, archdeacon, and all authority, either ecclesiastical or civil. They live in cots (rather holes than houses) like swine, having all in common, multiplied without marriage into many hundreds. Their language is the dross of the dregs of the vulgar Devonian; and the more learned a man is, the worse he can understand them. During our civil wars no soldiers were quartered upon them, for fear of being quartered amongst them. Their wealth consisteth in other men’s goods; they live by stealing the sheep on the moors; and vain is it for any to search their houses, being a work beneath the pains of any sheriff, and above the power of any constable. Such is their fleetness, they will outrun many horses; vivaciousness, they outlive most men; living in an ignorance of luxury, the extinguisher of life. They hold together like bees; offend one, and all will revenge his quarrel.
“But now I am informed that they begin to be civilized, and tender their children to baptism, and return to be men, yea, Christians again. I hope no CIVIL people amongst us will turn barbarians, now these barbarians begin to be civilized.”7
7 Fuller, p. 398.
With which quip against the Anabaptists of his day, Fuller ends his story; and I leave him to set forth how Amyas, in fear of these same Scythians and heathens, rode out of Plymouth on a right good horse, in his full suit of armor, carrying lance and sword, and over and above two great dags, or horse-pistols; and behind him Salvation Yeo, and five or six north Devon men (who had served with him in Ireland, and were returning on furlough), clad in head-pieces and quilted jerkins, each man with his pike and sword, and Yeo with arquebuse and match, while two sumpter ponies carried the baggage of this formidable troop.
They pushed on as fast as they could, through Tavistock, to reach before nightfall Lydford, where they meant to sleep; but what with buying the horses, and other delays, they had not been able to start before noon; and night fell just as they reached the frontiers of the enemy’s country. A dreary place enough it was, by the wild glare of sunset. A high tableland of heath, banked on the right by the crags and hills of Dartmoor, and sloping away to the south and west toward the foot of the great cone of Brent-Tor, which towered up like an extinct volcano (as some say that it really is), crowned with the tiny church, the votive offering of some Plymouth merchant of old times, who vowed in sore distress to build a church to the Blessed Virgin on the first point of English land which he should see. Far away, down those waste slopes, they could see the tiny threads of blue smoke rising from the dens of the Gubbings; and more than once they called a halt, to examine whether distant furze-bushes and ponies might not be the patrols of an advancing army. It is all very well to laugh at it now, in the nineteenth century, but it was no laughing matter then; as they found before they had gone two miles farther.
On the middle of the down stood a wayside inn; a desolate and villainous-looking lump of lichen-spotted granite, with windows paper-patched, and rotting thatch kept down by stones and straw-banks; and at the back a rambling court-ledge of barns and walls, around which pigs and barefoot children grunted in loving communion of dirt. At the door, rapt apparently in the contemplation of the mountain peaks which glowed rich orange in the last lingering sun-rays, but really watching which way the sheep on the moor were taking, stood the innkeeper, a brawny, sodden-visaged, blear-eyed six feet of brutishness, holding up his hose with one hand, for want of points, and clawing with the other his elf-locks, on which a fair sprinkling of feathers might denote: first, that he was just out of bed, having been out sheep-stealing all the night before; and secondly, that by natural genius he had anticipated the opinion of that great apostle of sluttishness, Fridericus Dedekind, and his faithful disciple Dekker, which last speaks thus to all gulls and grobians: “Consider that as those trees of cobweb lawn, woven by spinners in the fresh May mornings, do dress the curled heads of the mountains, and adorn the swelling bosoms of the valleys; or as those snowy fleeces, which the naked briar steals from the innocent sheep to make himself a warm winter livery, are, to either of them both, an excellent ornament; so make thou account, that to have feathers sticking here and there on thy head will embellish thee, and set thy crown out rarely. None dare upbraid thee, that like a beggar thou hast lain on straw, or like a travelling pedlar upon musty flocks; for those feathers will rise up as witnesses to choke him that says so, and to prove thy bed to have been of the softest down.” Even so did those feathers bear witness that the possessor of Rogues’ Harbor Inn, on Brent-Tor Down, whatever else he lacked, lacked not geese enough to keep him in soft lying.
Presently he spies Amyas and his party coming slowly over the hill, pricks up his ears, and counts them; sees Amyas’s armor; shakes his head and grunts; and then, being a man of few words, utters a sleepy howl —
“Mirooi! — Fushing pooale!”
A strapping lass — whose only covering (for country women at work in those days dispensed with the ornament of a gown) is a green bodice and red petticoat, neither of them over ample — brings out his fishing-rod and basket, and the man, having tied up his hose with some ends of string, examines the footlink.
“Don vlies’ gone!”
“May be,” says Mary; “shouldn’t hay’ left mun out to coort. May be old hen’s ate mun off. I see her chocking about a while agone.”
The host receives this intelligence with an oath, and replies by a violent blow at Mary’s head, which she, accustomed to such slight matters, dodges, and then returns the blow with good effect on the shock head.
Whereon mine host, equally accustomed to such slight matters, quietly shambles off, howling as he departs —
Mary runs in, combs her hair, slips a pair of stockings and her best gown over her dirt, and awaits the coming guests, who make a few long faces at the “mucksy sort of a place,” but prefer to spend the night there than to bivouac close to the enemy’s camp.
So the old hen who has swallowed the dun fly is killed, plucked, and roasted, and certain “black Dartmoor mutton” is put on the gridiron, and being compelled to confess the truth by that fiery torment, proclaims itself to all noses as red-deer venison. In the meanwhile Amyas has put his horse and the ponies into a shed, to which he can find neither lock nor key, and therefore returns grumbling, not without fear for his steed’s safety. The baggage is heaped in a corner of the room, and Amyas stretches his legs before a turf fire; while Yeo, who has his notions about the place, posts himself at the door, and the men are seized with a desire to superintend the cooking, probably to be attributed to the fact that Mary is cook.
Presently Yeo comes in again.
“There’s a gentleman just coming up, sir, all alone.”
“Ask him to make one of our party, then, with my compliments.” Yeo goes out, and returns in five minutes.
“Please, sir, he’s gone in back ways, by the court.”
“Well, he has an odd taste, if he makes himself at home here.”
Out goes Yeo again, and comes back once more after five minutes, in high excitement.
“Come out, sir; for goodness’ sake come out. I’ve got him. Safe as a rat in a trap, I have!”
“A Jesuit, sir.”
“I tell you truth, sir. I went round the house, for I didn’t like the looks of him as he came up. I knew he was one of them villains the minute he came up, by the way he turned in his toes, and put down his feet so still and careful, like as if he was afraid of offending God at every step. So I just put my eye between the wall and the dern of the gate, and I saw him come up to the back door and knock, and call ‘Mary!’ quite still, like any Jesuit; and the wench flies out to him ready to eat him; and ‘Go away,’ I heard her say, ‘there’s a dear man;’ and then something about a ‘queer cuffin’ (that’s a justice in these canters’ thieves’ Latin); and with that he takes out a somewhat — I’ll swear it was one of those Popish Agnuses — and gives it her; and she kisses it, and crosses herself, and asks him if that’s the right way, and then puts it into her bosom, and he says, ‘Bless you, my daughter;’ and then I was sure of the dog: and he slips quite still to the stable, and peeps in, and when he sees no one there, in he goes, and out I go, and shut to the door, and back a cart that was there up against it, and call out one of the men to watch the stable, and the girl’s crying like mad.”
“What a fool’s trick, man! How do you know that he is not some honest gentleman, after all?”
“Fool or none, sir; honest gentlemen don’t give maidens Agnuses. I’ve put him in; and if you want him let out again, you must come and do it yourself, for my conscience is against it, sir. If the Lord’s enemies are delivered into my hand, I’m answerable, sir,” went on Yeo as Amyas hurried out with him. “’Tis written, ‘If any let one of them go, his life shall be for the life of him.’”
So Amyas ran out, pulled back the cart grumbling, opened the door, and began a string of apologies to — his cousin Eustace.
Yes, here he was, with such a countenance, half foolish, half venomous, as reynard wears when the last spadeful of earth is thrown back, and he is revealed sitting disconsolately on his tail within a yard of the terriers’ noses.
Neither cousin spoke for a minute or two. At last Amyas —
“Well, cousin hide-and-seek, how long have you added horse-stealing to your other trades?”
“My dear Amyas,” said Eustace, very meekly, “I may surely go into an inn stable without intending to steal what is in it.”
“Of course, old fellow,” said Amyas, mollified, “I was only in jest. But what brings you here? Not prudence, certainly.”
“I am bound to know no prudence save for the Lord’s work.”
“That’s giving away Agnus Deis, and deceiving poor heathen wenches, I suppose,” said Yeo.
Eustace answered pretty roundly —
“Heathens? Yes, truly; you Protestants leave these poor wretches heathens, and then insult and persecute those who, with a devotion unknown to you, labor at the danger of their lives to make them Christians. Mr. Amyas Leigh, you can give me up to be hanged at Exeter, if it shall so please you to disgrace your own family; but from this spot neither you, no, nor all the myrmidons of your queen, shall drive me, while there is a soul here left unsaved.”
“Come out of the stable, at least,” said Amyas; “you don’t want to make the horses Papists, as well as the asses, do you? Come out, man, and go to the devil your own way. I sha’n’t inform against you; and Yeo here will hold his tongue if I tell him, I know.”
“It goes sorely against my conscience, sir; but being that he is your cousin, of course —”
“Of course; and now come in and eat with me; supper’s just ready, and bygones shall be bygones, if you will have them so.”
How much forgiveness Eustace felt in his heart, I know not: but he knew, of course, that he ought to forgive; and to go in and eat with Amyas was to perform an act of forgiveness, and for the best of motives, too, for by it the cause of the Church might be furthered; and acts and motives being correct, what more was needed? So in he went; and yet he never forgot that scar upon his cheek; and Amyas could not look him in the face but Eustace must fancy that his eyes were on the scar, and peep up from under his lids to see if there was any smile of triumph on that honest visage. They talked away over the venison, guardedly enough at first; but as they went on, Amyas’s straightforward kindliness warmed poor Eustace’s frozen heart; and ere they were aware, they found themselves talking over old haunts and old passages of their boyhood — uncles, aunts, and cousins; and Eustace, without any sinister intention, asked Amyas why he was going to Bideford, while Frank and his mother were in London.
“To tell you the truth, I cannot rest till I have heard the whole story about poor Rose Salterne.”
“What about her?” cried Eustace.
“Do you not know?”
“How should I know anything here? For heaven’s sake, what has happened?”
Amyas told him, wondering at his eagerness, for he had never had the least suspicion of Eustace’s love.
Eustace shrieked aloud.
“Fool, fool that I have been! Caught in my own trap! Villain, villain that he is! After all he promised me at Lundy!”
And springing up, Eustace stamped up and down the room, gnashing his teeth, tossing his head from side to side, and clutching with outstretched hands at the empty air, with the horrible gesture (Heaven grant that no reader has ever witnessed it!) of that despair which still seeks blindly for the object which it knows is lost forever.
Amyas sat thunderstruck. His first impulse was to ask, “Lundy? What knew you of him? What had he or you to do at Lundy?” but pity conquered curiosity.
“Oh, Eustace! And you then loved her too?”
“Don’t speak to me! Loved her? Yes, sir, and had as good a right to love her as any one of your precious Brotherhood of the Rose. Don’t speak to me, I say, or I shall do you a mischief!”
So Eustace knew of the brotherhood too! Amyas longed to ask him how; but what use in that? If he knew it, he knew it; and what harm? So he only answered:
“My good cousin, why be wroth with me? If you really love her, now is the time to take counsel with me how best we shall —”
Eustace did not let him finish his sentence. Conscious that he had betrayed himself upon more points than one, he stopped short in his walk, suddenly collected himself by one great effort, and eyed Amyas from underneath his brows with the old down look.
“How best we shall do what, my valiant cousin?” said he, in a meaning and half-scornful voice. “What does your most chivalrous Brotherhood of the Rose purpose in such a case?”
Amyas, a little nettled, stood on his guard in return, and answered bluntly —
“What the Brotherhood of the Rose will do, I can’t yet say. What it ought to do, I have a pretty sure guess.”
“So have I. To hunt her down as you would an outlaw, because forsooth she has dared to love a Catholic; to murder her lover in her arms, and drag her home again stained with his blood, to be forced by threats and persecution to renounce that Church into whose maternal bosom she has doubtless long since found rest and holiness!”
“If she has found holiness, it matters little to me where she has found it, Master Eustace, but that is the very point that I should be glad to know for certain.”
“And you will go and discover for yourself?”
“Have you no wish to discover it also?”
“And if I had, what would that be to you?”
“Only,” said Amyas, trying hard to keep his temper, “that, if we had the same purpose, we might sail in the same ship.”
“You intend to sail, then?”
“I mean simply, that we might work together.”
“Our paths lie on very different roads, sir!”
“I am afraid you never spoke a truer word, sir. In the meanwhile, ere we part, be so kind as to tell me what you meant by saying that you had met this Spaniard at Lundy?”
“I shall refuse to answer that.”
“You will please to recollect, Eustace, that however good friends we have been for the last half-hour, you are in my power. I have a right to know the bottom of this matter; and, by heaven, I will know it.”
“In your power? See that you are not in mine! Remember, sir, that you are within a — within a few miles, at least, of those who will obey me, their Catholic benefactor, but who owe no allegiance to those Protestant authorities who have left them to the lot of the beasts which perish.”
Amyas was very angry. He wanted but little more to make him catch Eustace by the shoulders, shake the life out of him, and deliver him into the tender guardianship of Yeo; but he knew that to take him at all was to bring certain death on him, and disgrace on the family; and remembering Frank’s conduct on that memorable night at Clovelly, he kept himself down.
“Take me,” said Eustace, “if you will, sir. You, who complain of us that we keep no faith with heretics, will perhaps recollect that you asked me into this room as your guest, and that in your good faith I trusted when I entered it.”
The argument was a worthless one in law; for Eustace had been a prisoner before he was a guest, and Amyas was guilty of something very like misprision of treason in not handing him over to the nearest justice. However, all he did was, to go to the door, open it, and bowing to his cousin, bid him walk out and go to the devil, since he seemed to have set his mind on ending his days in the company of that personage.
Whereon Eustace vanished.
“Pooh!” said Amyas to himself, “I can find out enough, and too much, I fear, without the help of such crooked vermin. I must see Cary; I must see Salterne; and I suppose, if I am ready to do my duty, I shall learn somehow what it is. Now to sleep; tomorrow up and away to what God sends.”
“Come in hither, men,” shouted he down the passage, “and sleep here. Haven’t you had enough of this villainous sour cider?”
The men came in yawning, and settled themselves to sleep on the floor.
No one knew; he had gone out to say his prayers, and had not returned.
“Never mind,” said Amyas, who suspected some plot on the old man’s part. “He’ll take care of himself, I’ll warrant him.”
“No fear of that, sir;” and the four tars were soon snoring in concert round the fire, while Amyas laid himself on the settle, with his saddle for a pillow.
It was about midnight, when Amyas leaped to his feet, or rather fell upon his back, upsetting saddle, settle, and finally, table, under the notion that ten thousand flying dragons were bursting in the window close to his ear, with howls most fierce and fell. The flying dragons past, however, being only a flock of terror-stricken geese, which flew flapping and screaming round the corner of the house; but the noise which had startled them did not pass; and another minute made it evident that a sharp fight was going on in the courtyard, and that Yeo was hallooing lustily for help.
Out turned the men, sword in hand, burst the back door open, stumbling over pails and pitchers, and into the courtyard, where Yeo, his back against the stable-door, was holding his own manfully with sword and buckler against a dozen men.
Dire and manifold was the screaming; geese screamed, chickens screamed, pigs screamed, donkeys screamed, Mary screamed from an upper window; and to complete the chorus, a flock of plovers, attracted by the noise, wheeled round and round overhead, and added their screams also to that Dutch concert.
The screaming went on, but the fight ceased; for, as Amyas rushed into the yard, the whole party of ruffians took to their heels, and vanished over a low hedge at the other end of the yard.
“Are you hurt, Yeo?”
“Not a scratch, thank Heaven! But I’ve got two of them, the ringleaders, I have. One of them’s against the wall. Your horse did for t’other.”
The wounded man was lifted up; a huge ruffian, nearly as big as Amyas himself. Yeo’s sword had passed through his body. He groaned and choked for breath.
“Carry him indoors. Where is the other?”
“Dead as a herring, in the straw. Have a care, men, have a care how you go in! the horses are near mad!”
However, the man was brought out after a while. With him all was over. They could feel neither pulse nor breath.
“Carry him in too, poor wretch. And now, Yeo, what is the meaning of all this?”
Yeo’s story was soon told. He could not get out of his Puritan head the notion (quite unfounded, of course) that Eustace had meant to steal the horses. He had seen the inn-keeper sneak off at their approach; and expecting some night-attack, he had taken up his lodging for the night in the stable.
As he expected, an attempt was made. The door was opened (how, he could not guess, for he had fastened it inside), and two fellows came in, and began to loose the beasts. Yeo’s account was, that he seized the big fellow, who drew a knife on him, and broke loose; the horses, terrified at the scuffle, kicked right and left; one man fell, and the other ran out, calling for help, with Yeo at his heels; “Whereon,” said Yeo, “seeing a dozen more on me with clubs and bows, I thought best to shorten the number while I could, ran the rascal through, and stood on my ward; and only just in time I was, what’s more; there’s two arrows in the house wall, and two or three more in my buckler, which I caught up as I went out, for I had hung it close by the door, you see, sir, to be all ready in case,” said the cunning old Philistine-slayer, as they went in after the wounded man.
But hardly had they stumbled through the low doorway into the back-kitchen when a fresh hubbub arose inside — more shouts for help. Amyas ran forward breaking his head against the doorway, and beheld, as soon as he could see for the flashes in his eyes, an old acquaintance, held on each side by a sturdy sailor.
With one arm in the sleeve of his doublet, and the other in a not over spotless shirt; holding up his hose with one hand, and with the other a candle, whereby he had lighted himself to his own confusion; foaming with rage, stood Mr. Evan Morgans, alias Father Parsons, looking, between his confused habiliments and his fiery visage (as Yeo told him to his face), “the very moral of a half-plucked turkey-cock.” And behind him, dressed, stood Eustace Leigh.
“We found the maid letting these here two out by the front door,” said one of the captors.
“Well, Mr. Parsons,” said Amyas; “and what are you about here? A pretty nest of thieves and Jesuits we seem to have routed out this evening.”
“About my calling, sir,” said Parsons, stoutly. “By your leave, I shall prepare this my wounded lamb for that account to which your man’s cruelty has untimely sent him.”
The wounded man, who lay upon the floor, heard Parsons’ voice, and moaned for the “Patrico.”
“You see, sir,” said he, pompously, “the sheep know their shepherd’s voice.”
“The wolves you mean, you hypocritical scoundrel!” said Amyas, who could not contain his disgust. “Let the fellow truss up his points, lads, and do his work. After all, the man is dying.”
“The requisite matters, sir, are not at hand,” said Parsons, unabashed.
“Eustace, go and fetch his matters for him; you seem to be in all his plots.”
Eustace went silently and sullenly.
“What’s that fresh noise at the back, now?”
“The maid, sir, a wailing over her uncle; the fellow that we saw sneak away when we came up. It was him the horse killed.”
It was true. The wretched host had slipped off on their approach, simply to call the neighboring outlaws to the spoil; and he had been filled with the fruit of his own devices.
“His blood be on his own head,” said Amyas.
“I question, sir,” said Yeo, in a low voice, “whether some of it will not be on the heads of those proud prelates who go clothed in purple and fine linen, instead of going forth to convert such as he, and then wonder how these Jesuits get hold of them. If they give place to the devil in their sheepfolds, sure he’ll come in and lodge there. Look, sir, there’s a sight in a gospel land!”
And, indeed, the sight was curious enough. For Parsons was kneeling by the side of the dying man, listening earnestly to the confession which the man sobbed out in his gibberish, between the spasms of his wounded chest. Now and then Parsons shook his head; and when Eustace returned with the holy wafer, and the oil for extreme unction, he asked him, in a low voice, “Ballard, interpret for me.”
And Eustace knelt down on the other side of the sufferer, and interpreted his thieves’ dialect into Latin; and the dying man held a hand of each, and turned first to one and then to the other stupid eyes — not without affection, though, and gratitude.
“I can’t stand this mummery any longer,” said Yeo. “Here’s a soul perishing before my eyes, and it’s on my conscience to speak a word in season.”
“Silence!” whispered Amyas, holding him back by the arm; “he knows them, and he don’t know you; they are the first who ever spoke to him as if he had a soul to be saved, and first come, first served; you can do no good. See, the man’s face is brightening already.”
“But, sir, ’tis a false peace.”
“At all events he is confessing his sins, Yeo; and if that’s not good for him, and you, and me, what is?”
“Yea, Amen! sir; but this is not to the right person.”
“How do you know his words will not go to the right person, after all, though he may not send them there? By heaven! the man is dead!”
It was so. The dark catalogue of brutal deeds had been gasped out; but ere the words of absolution could follow, the head had fallen back, and all was over.
“Confession in extremis is sufficient,” said Parsons to Eustace (“Ballard,” as Parsons called him, to Amyas’s surprise), as he rose. “As for the rest, the intention will be accepted instead of the act.”
“The Lord have mercy on his soul!” said Eustace.
“His soul is lost before our very eyes,” said Yeo.
“Mind your own business,” said Amyas.
“Humph; but I’ll tell you, sir, what our business is, if you’ll step aside with me. I find that poor fellow that lies dead is none other than the leader of the Gubbings; the king of them, as they dare to call him.”
“Well, what of that?”
“Mark my words, sir, if we have not a hundred stout rogues upon us before two hours are out; forgive us they never will; and if we get off with our lives, which I don’t much expect, we shall leave our horses behind; for we can hold the house, sir, well enough till morning, but the courtyard we can’t, that’s certain!”
“We had better march at once, then.”
“Think, sir; if they catch us up — as they are sure to do, knowing the country better than we — how will our shot stand their arrows?”
“True, old wisdom; we must keep the road; and we must keep together; and so be a mark for them, while they will be behind every rock and bank; and two or three flights of arrows will do our business for us. Humph! stay, I have a plan.” And stepping forward he spoke —
“Eustace, you will be so kind as to go back to your lambs; and tell them, that if they meddle with us cruel wolves again to-night, we are ready and willing to fight to the death, and have plenty of shot and powder at their service. Father Parsons, you will be so kind as to accompany us; it is but fitting that the shepherd should be hostage for his sheep.”
“If you carry me off this spot, sir, you carry my corpse only,” said Parsons. “I may as well die here as be hanged elsewhere, like my martyred brother Campian.”
“If you take him, you must take me too,” said Eustace.
“What if we won’t?”
“How will you gain by that? you can only leave me here. You cannot make me go to the Gubbings, if I do not choose.”
Amyas uttered sotto voce an anathema on Jesuits, Gubbings, and things in general. He was in a great hurry to get to Bideford, and he feared that this business would delay him, as it was, a day or two. He wanted to hang Parsons, he did not want to hang Eustace; and Eustace, he knew, was well aware of that latter fact, and played his game accordingly; but time ran on, and he had to answer sulkily enough:
“Well then; if you, Eustace, will go and give my message to your converts, I will promise to set Mr. Parsons free again before we come to Lydford town; and I advise you, if you have any regard for his life, to see that your eloquence be persuasive enough; for as sure as I am an Englishman, and he none, if the Gubbings attack us, the first bullet that I shall fire at them will have gone through his scoundrelly brains.”
Parsons still kicked.
“Very well, then, my merry men all. Tie this gentleman’s hands behind his back, get the horses out, and we’ll right away up into Dartmoor, find a good high tor, stand our ground there till morning, and then carry him into Okehampton to the nearest justice. If he chooses to delay me in my journey, it is fair that I should make him pay for it.”
Whereon Parsons gave in, and being fast tied by his arm to Amyas’s saddle, trudged alongside his horse for several weary miles, while Yeo walked by his side, like a friar by a condemned criminal; and in order to keep up his spirits, told him the woful end of Nicholas Saunders the Legate, and how he was found starved to death in a bog.
“And if you wish, sir, to follow in his blessed steps, which I heartily hope you will do, you have only to go over that big cow-backed hill there on your right hand, and down again the other side to Crawmere pool, and there you’ll find as pretty a bog to die in as ever Jesuit needed; and your ghost may sit there on a grass tummock, and tell your beads without any one asking for you till the day of judgment; and much good may it do you!”
At which imagination Yeo was actually heard, for the first and last time in this history, to laugh most heartily.
His ho-ho’s had scarcely died away when they saw shining under the moon the old tower of Lydford castle.
“Cast the fellow off now,” said Amyas.
“Ay, ay, sir!” and Yeo and Simon Evans stopped behind, and did not come up for ten minutes after.
“What have you been about so long?”
“Why, sir,” said Evans, “you see the man had a very fair pair of hose on, and a bran-new kersey doublet, very warm-lined; and so, thinking it a pity good clothes should be wasted on such noxious trade, we’ve just brought them along with us.”
“Spoiling the Egyptians,” said Yeo as comment.
“And what have you done with the man?”
“Hove him over the bank, sir; he pitched into a big furze-bush, and for aught I know, there he’ll bide.”
“You rascal, have you killed him?
“Never fear, sir,” said Yeo, in his cool fashion. “A Jesuit has as many lives as a cat, and, I believe, rides broomsticks post, like a witch. He would be at Lydford now before us, if his master Satan had any business for him there.”
Leaving on their left Lydford and its ill-omened castle (which, a century after, was one of the principal scenes of Judge Jeffreys’s cruelty), Amyas and his party trudged on through the mire toward Okehampton till sunrise; and ere the vapors had lifted from the mountain tops, they were descending the long slopes from Sourton down, while Yestor and Amicombe slept steep and black beneath their misty pall; and roaring far below unseen,
“Ockment leapt from crag and cloud
Down her cataracts, laughing loud.”
The voice of the stream recalled these words to Amyas’s mind. The nymph of Torridge had spoken them upon the day of his triumph. He recollected, too, his vexation on that day at not seeing Rose Salterne. Why, he had never seen her since. Never seen her now for six years and more! Of her ripened beauty he knew only by hearsay; she was still to him the lovely fifteen years’ girl for whose sake he had smitten the Barnstaple draper over the quay. What a chain of petty accidents had kept them from meeting, though so often within a mile of each other! “And what a lucky one!” said practical old Amyas to himself. “If I had seen her as she is now, I might have loved her as Frank does — poor Frank! what will he say? What does he say, for he must know it already? And what ought I to say — to do rather, for talking is no use on this side the grave, nor on the other either, I expect!” And then he asked himself whether his old oath meant nothing or something; whether it was a mere tavern frolic, or a sacred duty. And he held, the more that he looked at it, that it meant the latter.
But what could he do? He had nothing on earth but his sword, so he could not travel to find her. After all, she might not be gone far. Perhaps not gone at all. It might be a mistake, an exaggerated scandal. He would hope so. And yet it was evident that there had been some passages between her and Don Guzman. Eustace’s mysterious words about the promise at Lundy proved that. The villain! He had felt all along that he was a villain; but just the one to win a woman’s heart, too. Frank had been away — all the Brotherhood away. What a fool he had been, to turn the wolf loose into the sheepfold! And yet who would have dreamed of it? . . .
“At all events,” said Amyas, trying to comfort himself, “I need not complain. I have lost nothing. I stood no more chance of her against Frank than I should have stood against the Don. So there is no use for me to cry about the matter.” And he tried to hum a tune concerning the general frailty of women, but nevertheless, like Sir Hugh, felt that “he had a great disposition to cry.”
He never had expected to win her, and yet it seemed bitter to know that she was lost to him forever. It was not so easy for a heart of his make to toss away the image of a first love; and all the less easy because that image was stained and ruined.
“Curses on the man who had done that deed! I will yet have his heart’s blood somehow, if I go round the world again to find him. If there’s no law for it on earth, there’s law in heaven, or I’m much mistaken.”
With which determination he rode into the ugly, dirty, and stupid town of Okehampton, with which fallen man (by some strange perversity) has chosen to defile one of the loveliest sites in the pleasant land of Devon. And heartily did Amyas abuse the old town that day; for he was detained there, as he expected, full three hours, while the Justice Shallow of the place was sent for from his farm (whither he had gone at sunrise, after the early-rising fashion of those days) to take Yeo’s deposition concerning last night’s affray. Moreover, when Shallow came, he refused to take the depositions, because they ought to have been made before a brother Shallow at Lydford; and in the wrangling which ensued, was very near finding out what Amyas (fearing fresh loss of time and worse evils beside) had commanded to be concealed, namely, the presence of Jesuits in that Moorland Utopia. Then, in broadest Devon —
“And do you call this Christian conduct, sir, to set a quiet man like me upon they Gubbings, as if I was going to risk my precious life — no, nor ever a constable to Okehampton neither? Let Lydfor’ men mind Lydfor’ roogs, and by Lydfor’ law if they will, hang first and try after; but as for me, I’ve rade my Bible, and ‘He that meddleth with strife is like him that taketh a dog by the ears.’ So if you choose to sit down and ate your breakfast with me, well and good: but depositions I’ll have none. If your man is enquired for, you’ll be answerable for his appearing, in course; but I expect mortally” (with a wink), “you wain’t hear much more of the matter from any hand. ‘Leave well alone is a good rule, but leave ill alone is a better.’— So we says round about here; and so you’ll say, captain, when you be so old as I.”
So Amyas sat down and ate his breakfast, and went on afterwards a long and weary day’s journey, till he saw at last beneath him the broad shining river, and the long bridge, and the white houses piled up the hill-side; and beyond, over Raleigh downs, the dear old tower of Northam Church.
Alas! Northam was altogether a desert to him then; and Bideford, as it turned out, hardly less so. For when he rode up to Sir Richard’s door, he found that the good knight was still in Ireland, and Lady Grenville at Stow. Whereupon he rode back again down the High Street to that same bow-windowed Ship Tavern where the Brotherhood of the Rose made their vow, and settled himself in the very room where they had supped.
“Ah! Mr. Leigh — Captain Leigh now, I beg pardon,” quoth mine host. “Bideford is an empty place now-a-days, and nothing stirring, sir. What with Sir Richard to Ireland, and Sir John to London, and all the young gentlemen to the wars, there’s no one to buy good liquor, and no one to court the young ladies, neither. Sack, sir? I hope so. I haven’t brewed a gallon of it this fortnight, if you’ll believe me; ale, sir, and aqua vitae, and such low-bred trade, is all I draw now-a-days. Try a pint of sherry, sir, now, to give you an appetite. You mind my sherry of old? Jane! Sherry and sugar, quick, while I pull off the captain’s boots.”
Amyas sat weary and sad, while the innkeeper chattered on.
“Ah, sir! two or three like you would set the young ladies all alive again. By-the-by, there’s been strange doings among them since you were here last. You mind Mistress Salterne!”
“For God’s sake, don’t let us have that story, man! I heard enough of it at Plymouth!” said Amyas, in so disturbed a tone that mine host looked up, and said to himself —
“Ah, poor young gentleman, he’s one of the hard-hit ones.”
“How is the old man?” asked Amyas, after a pause.
“Bears it well enough, sir; but a changed man. Never speaks to a soul, if he can help it. Some folk say he’s not right in his head; or turned miser, or somewhat, and takes naught but bread and water, and sits up all night in the room as was hers, turning over her garments. Heaven knows what’s on his mind — they do say he was over hard on her, and that drove her to it. All I know is, he has never been in here for a drop of liquor (and he came as regular every evening as the town clock, sir) since she went, except a ten days ago, and then he met young Mr. Cary at the door, and I heard him ask Mr. Cary when you would be home, sir.”
“Put on my boots again. I’ll go and see him.”
“Bless you, sir! What, without your sack?”
“Drink it yourself, man.”
“But you wouldn’t go out again this time o’ night on an empty stomach, now?”
“Fill my men’s stomachs for them, and never mind mine. It’s market-day, is it not? Send out, and see whether Mr. Cary is still in town;” and Amyas strode out, and along the quay to Bridgeland Street, and knocked at Mr. Salterne’s door.
Salterne himself opened it, with his usual stern courtesy.
“I saw you coming up the street, sir. I have been expecting this honor from you for some time past. I dreamt of you only last night, and many a night before that too. Welcome, sir, into a lonely house. I trust the good knight your general is well.”
“The good knight my general is with God who made him, Mr. Salterne.”
“Foundered at sea on our way home; and the Delight lost too.”
“Humph!” growled Salterne, after a minute’s silence. “I had a venture in her. I suppose it’s gone. No matter — I can afford it, sir, and more, I trust. And he was three years younger than I! And Draper Heard was buried yesterday, five years younger. — How is it that every one can die, except me? Come in, sir, come in; I have forgotten my manners.”
And he led Amyas into his parlor, and called to the apprentices to run one way, and to the cook to run another.
“You must not trouble yourself to get me supper, indeed.”
“I must though, sir, and the best of wine too; and old Salterne had a good tap of Alicant in old time, old time, old time, sir! and you must drink it now, whether he does or not!” and out he bustled.
Amyas sat still, wondering what was coming next, and puzzled at the sudden hilarity of the man, as well as his hospitality, so different from what the innkeeper had led him to expect.
In a minute more one of the apprentices came in to lay the cloth, and Amyas questioned him about his master.
“Thank the Lord that you are come, sir,” said the lad.
“Because there’ll be a chance of us poor fellows getting a little broken meat. We’m half-starved this three months — bread and dripping, bread and dripping, oh dear, sir! And now he’s sent out to the inn for chickens, and game, and salads, and all that money can buy, and down in the cellar haling out the best of wine.”— And the lad smacked his lips audibly at the thought.
“Is he out of his mind?”
“I can’t tell; he saith as how he must save mun’s money now-a-days; for he’ve a got a great venture on hand: but what a be he tell’th no man. They call’th mun ‘bread and dripping’ now, sir, all town over,” said the prentice, confidentially, to Amyas.
“They do, do they, sirrah! Then they will call me bread and no dripping tomorrow!” and old Salterne, entering from behind, made a dash at the poor fellow’s ears: but luckily thought better of it, having a couple of bottles in each hand.
“My dear sir,” said Amyas, “you don’t mean us to drink all that wine?”
“Why not, sir?” answered Salterne, in a grim, half-sneering tone, thrusting out his square-grizzled beard and chin. “Why not, sir? why should I not make merry when I have the honor of a noble captain in my house? one who has sailed the seas, sir, and cut Spaniards’ throats; and may cut them again too; eh, sir? Boy, where’s the kettle and the sugar?”
“What on earth is the man at?” quoth Amyas to himself —“flattering me, or laughing at me?”
“Yes,” he ran on, half to himself, in a deliberate tone, evidently intending to hint more than he said, as he began brewing the sack — in plain English, hot negus; “Yes, bread and dripping for those who can’t fight Spaniards; but the best that money can buy for those who can. I heard of you at Smerwick, sir — Yes, bread and dripping for me too — I can’t fight Spaniards: but for such as you. Look here, sir; I should like to feed a crew of such up, as you’d feed a main of fighting-cocks, and then start them with a pair of Sheffield spurs a-piece — you’ve a good one there to your side, sir: but don’t you think a man might carry two now, and fight as they say those Chineses do, a sword to each hand? You could kill more that way, Captain Leigh, I reckon?”
Amyas half laughed.
“One will do, Mr. Salterne, if one is quick enough with it.”
“Humph! — Ah — No use being in a hurry. I haven’t been in a hurry. No — I waited for you; and here you are and welcome, sir! Here comes supper, a light matter, sir, you see. A capon and a brace of partridges. I had no time to feast you as you deserve.”
And so he ran on all supper-time, hardly allowing Amyas to get a word in edge-ways; but heaping him with coarse flattery, and urging him to drink, till after the cloth was drawn, and the two left alone, he grew so outrageous that Amyas was forced to take him to task good-humoredly.
“Now, my dear sir, you have feasted me royally, and better far than I deserve, but why will you go about to make me drunk twice over, first with vainglory and then with wine?”
Salterne looked at him a while fixedly, and then, sticking out his chin —“Because, Captain Leigh, I am a man who has all his life tried the crooked road first, and found the straight one the safer after all.”
“Eh, sir? That is a strange speech for one who bears the character of the most upright man in Bideford.”
“Humph. So I thought myself once, sir; and well I have proved it. But I’ll be plain with you, sir. You’ve heard how — how I’ve fared since you saw me last?”
Amyas nodded his head.
“I thought so. Shame rides post. Now then, Captain Leigh, listen to me. I, being a plain man and a burgher, and one that never drew iron in my life except to mend a pen, ask you, being a gentleman and a captain and a man of honor, with a weapon to your side, and harness to your back — what would you do in my place?”
“Humph!” said Amyas, “that would very much depend on whether ‘my place’ was my own fault or not.”
“And what if it were, sir? What if all that the charitable folks of Bideford —(Heaven reward them for their tender mercies!)— have been telling you in the last hour be true, sir — true! and yet not half the truth?”
Amyas gave a start.
“Ah, you shrink from me! Of course a man is too righteous to forgive those who repent, though God is not.”
“God knows, sir —”
“Yes, sir, God does know — all; and you shall know a little — as much as I can tell — or you understand. Come upstairs with me, sir, as you’ll drink no more; I have a liking for you. I have watched you from your boyhood, and I can trust you, and I’ll show you what I never showed to mortal man but one.”
And, taking up a candle, he led the way upstairs, while Amyas followed wondering.
He stopped at a door, and unlocked it.
“There, come in. Those shutters have not been opened since she —” and the old man was silent.
Amyas looked round the room. It was a low wainscoted room, such as one sees in old houses: everything was in the most perfect neatness. The snow-white sheets on the bed were turned down as if ready for an occupant. There were books arranged on the shelves, fresh flowers on the table; the dressing-table had all its woman’s mundus of pins, and rings, and brushes; even the dressing-gown lay over the chair-back. Everything was evidently just as it had been left.
“This was her room, sir,” whispered the old man.
Amyas nodded silently, and half drew back.
“You need not be modest about entering it now, sir,” whispered he, with a sort of sneer. “There has been no frail flesh and blood in it for many a day.”
“I sweep it out myself every morning, and keep all tidy. See here!” and he pulled open a drawer. “Here are all her gowns, and there are her hoods; and there — I know ’em all by heart now, and the place of every one. And there, sir —”
And he opened a cupboard, where lay in rows all Rose’s dolls, and the worn-out playthings of her childhood.
“That’s the pleasantest place of all in the room to me,” said he, whispering still, “for it minds me of when — and maybe, she may become a little child once more, sir; it’s written in the Scripture, you know —”
“Amen!” said Amyas, who felt, to his own wonder, a big tear stealing down each cheek.
“And now,” he whispered, “one thing more. Look here!”— and pulling out a key, he unlocked a chest, and lifted up tray after tray of necklaces and jewels, furs, lawns, cloth of gold. “Look there! Two thousand pound won’t buy that chest. Twenty years have I been getting those things together. That’s the cream of many a Levant voyage, and East Indian voyage, and West Indian voyage. My Lady Bath can’t match those pearls in her grand house at Tawstock; I got ’em from a Genoese, though, and paid for ’em. Look at that embroidered lawn! There’s not such a piece in London; no, nor in Alexandria, I’ll warrant; nor short of Calicut, where it came from. . . . Look here again, there’s a golden cup! I bought that of one that was out with Pizarro in Peru. And look here, again!”— and the old man gloated over the treasure.
“And whom do you think I kept all these for? These were for her wedding-day — for her wedding-day. For your wedding-day, if you’d been minded, sir! Yes, yours, sir! And yet, I believe, I was so ambitious that I would not have let her marry under an earl, all the while I was pretending to be too proud to throw her at the head of a squire’s son. Ah, well! There was my idol, sir. I made her mad, I pampered her up with gewgaws and vanity; and then, because my idol was just what I had made her, I turned again and rent her.
“And now,” said he, pointing to the open chest, “that was what I meant; and that” (pointing to the empty bed) “was what God meant. Never mind. Come downstairs and finish your wine. I see you don’t care about it all. Why should you! you are not her father, and you may thank God you are not. Go, and be merry while you can, young sir! . . . And yet, all this might have been yours. And — but I don’t suppose you are one to be won by money — but all this may be yours still, and twenty thousand pounds to boot.”
“I want no money, sir, but what I can earn with my own sword.”
“Earn my money, then!”
“What on earth do you want of me!”
“To keep your oath,” said Salterne, clutching his arm, and looking up into his face with searching eyes.
“My oath! How did you know that I had one?”
“Ah! you were well ashamed of it, I suppose, next day! A drunken frolic all about a poor merchant’s daughter! But there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed, nor done in the closet that is not proclaimed on the house-tops.”
“Ashamed of it, sir, I never was: but I have a right to ask how you came to know it?”
“What if a poor fat squinny rogue, a low-born fellow even as I am, whom you had baffled and made a laughing-stock, had come to me in my loneliness and sworn before God that if you honorable gentlemen would not keep your words, he the clown would?”
“And what if I had brought him where I have brought you, and shown him what I have shown you, and, instead of standing as stiff as any Spaniard, as you do, he had thrown himself on his knees by that bedside, and wept and prayed, sir, till he opened my hard heart for the first and last time, and I fell down on my sinful knees and wept and prayed by him?”
“I am not given to weeping, Mr. Salterne,” said Amyas; “and as for praying, I don’t know yet what I have to pray for, on her account: my business is to work. Show me what I can do; and when you have done that, it will be full time to upbraid me with not doing it.”
“You can cut that fellow’s throat.”
“It will take a long arm to reach him.”
“I suppose it is as easy to sail to the Spanish Main as it was to sail round the world.”
“My good sir,” said Amyas, “I have at this moment no more worldly goods than my clothes and my sword, so how to sail to the Spanish Main, I don’t quite see.”
“And do you suppose, sir, that I should hint to you of such a voyage if I meant you to be at the charge of it? No, sir; if you want two thousand pounds, or five, to fit a ship, take it! Take it, sir! I hoarded money for my child: and now I will spend it to avenge her.”
Amyas was silent for a while; the old man still held his arm, still looked up steadfastly and fiercely in his face.
“Bring me home that man’s head, and take ship, prizes — all! Keep the gain, sir, and give me the revenge!”
“Gain? Do you think I need bribing, sir? What kept me silent was the thought of my mother. I dare not go without her leave.”
Salterne made a gesture of impatience.
“I dare not, sir; I must obey my parent, whatever else I do.”
“Humph!” said he. “If others had obeyed theirs as well! — But you are right, Captain Leigh, right. You will prosper, whoever else does not. Now, sir, good-night, if you will let me be the first to say so. My old eyes grow heavy early now-a-days. Perhaps it’s old age, perhaps it’s sorrow.”
So Amyas departed to the inn, and there, to his great joy, found Cary waiting for him, from whom he learnt details, which must be kept for another chapter, and which I shall tell, for convenience’ sake, in my own words and not in his.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56