“I know that Deformed; he has been a vile thief this seven years;
he goes up and down like a gentleman: I remember his name.”
— Much Ado About Nothing.
Amyas slept that night a tired and yet a troubled sleep; and his mother and Frank, as they bent over his pillow, could see that his brain was busy with many dreams.
And no wonder; for over and above all the excitement of the day, the recollection of John Oxenham had taken strange possession of his mind; and all that evening, as he sat in the bay-windowed room where he had seen him last, Amyas was recalling to himself every look and gesture of the lost adventurer, and wondering at himself for so doing, till he retired to sleep, only to renew the fancy in his dreams. At last he found himself, he knew not how, sailing westward ever, up the wake of the setting sun, in chase of a tiny sail which was John Oxenham’s. Upon him was a painful sense that, unless he came up with her in time, something fearful would come to pass; but the ship would not sail. All around floated the sargasso beds, clogging her bows with their long snaky coils of weed; and still he tried to sail, and tried to fancy that he was sailing, till the sun went down and all was utter dark. And then the moon arose, and in a moment John Oxenham’s ship was close aboard; her sails were torn and fluttering; the pitch was streaming from her sides; her bulwarks were rotting to decay. And what was that line of dark objects dangling along the mainyard? — A line of hanged men! And, horror of horrors, from the yard-arm close above him, John Oxenham’s corpse looked down with grave-light eyes, and beckoned and pointed, as if to show him his way, and strove to speak, and could not, and pointed still, not forward, but back along their course. And when Amyas looked back, behold, behind him was the snow range of the Andes glittering in the moon, and he knew that he was in the South Seas once more, and that all America was between him and home. And still the corpse kept pointing back, and back, and looking at him with yearning eyes of agony, and lips which longed to tell some awful secret; till he sprang up, and woke with a shout of terror, and found himself lying in the little coved chamber in dear old Burrough, with the gray autumn morning already stealing in.
Feverish and excited, he tried in vain to sleep again; and after an hour’s tossing, rose and dressed, and started for a bathe on his beloved old pebble ridge. As he passed his mother’s door, he could not help looking in. The dim light of morning showed him the bed; but its pillow had not been pressed that night. His mother, in her long white night-dress, was kneeling at the other end of the chamber at her prie-dieu, absorbed in devotion. Gently he slipped in without a word, and knelt down at her side. She turned, smiled, passed her arm around him, and went on silently with her prayers. Why not? They were for him, and he knew it, and prayed also; and his prayers were for her, and for poor lost John Oxenham, and all his vanished crew.
At last she rose, and standing above him, parted the yellow locks from off his brow, and looked long and lovingly into his face. There was nothing to be spoken, for there was nothing to be concealed between these two souls as clear as glass. Each knew all which the other meant; each knew that its own thoughts were known. At last the mutual gaze was over; she stooped and kissed him on the brow, and was in the act to turn away, as a tear dropped on his forehead. Her little bare feet were peeping out from under her dress. He bent down and kissed them again and again; and then looking up, as if to excuse himself —
“You have such pretty feet, mother!”
Instantly, with a woman’s instinct, she had hidden them. She had been a beauty once, as I said; and though her hair was gray, and her roses had faded long ago, she was beautiful still, in all eyes which saw deeper than the mere outward red and white.
“Your dear father used to say so thirty years ago.”
“And I say so still: you always were beautiful; you are beautiful now.”
“What is that to you, silly boy? Will you play the lover with an old mother? Go and take your walk, and think of younger ladies, if you can find any worthy of you.”
And so the son went forth, and the mother returned to her prayers.
He walked down to the pebble ridge, where the surges of the bay have defeated their own fury, by rolling up in the course of ages a rampart of gray boulder-stones, some two miles long, as cunningly curved, and smoothed, and fitted, as if the work had been done by human hands, which protects from the high tides of spring and autumn a fertile sheet of smooth, alluvial turf. Sniffing the keen salt air like a young sea-dog, he stripped and plunged into the breakers, and dived, and rolled, and tossed about the foam with stalwart arms, till he heard himself hailed from off the shore, and looking up, saw standing on the top of the rampart the tall figure of his cousin Eustace.
Amyas was half-disappointed at his coming; for, love-lorn rascal, he had been dreaming all the way thither of Rose Salterne, and had no wish for a companion who would prevent his dreaming of her all the way back. Nevertheless, not having seen Eustace for three years, it was but civil to scramble out and dress, while his cousin walked up and down upon the turf inside.
Eustace Leigh was the son of a younger brother of Leigh of Burrough, who had more or less cut himself off from his family, and indeed from his countrymen, by remaining a Papist. True, though born a Papist, he had not always been one; for, like many of the gentry, he had become a Protestant under Edward the Sixth, and then a Papist again under Mary. But, to his honor be it said, at that point he had stopped, having too much honesty to turn Protestant a second time, as hundreds did, at Elizabeth’s accession. So a Papist he remained, living out of the way of the world in a great, rambling, dark house, still called “Chapel,” on the Atlantic cliffs, in Moorwinstow parish, not far from Sir Richard Grenville’s house of Stow. The penal laws never troubled him; for, in the first place, they never troubled any one who did not make conspiracy and rebellion an integral doctrine of his religious creed; and next, they seldom troubled even them, unless, fired with the glory of martyrdom, they bullied the long-suffering of Elizabeth and her council into giving them their deserts, and, like poor Father Southwell in after years, insisted on being hanged, whether Burleigh liked or not. Moreover, in such a no-man’s-land and end-of-all-the-earth was that old house at Moorwinstow, that a dozen conspiracies might have been hatched there without any one hearing of it; and Jesuits and seminary priests skulked in and out all the year round, unquestioned though unblest; and found a sort of piquant pleasure, like naughty boys who have crept into the store-closet, in living in mysterious little dens in a lonely turret, and going up through a trap-door to celebrate mass in a secret chamber in the roof, where they were allowed by the powers that were to play as much as they chose at persecuted saints, and preach about hiding in dens and caves of the earth. For once, when the zealous parson of Moorwinstow, having discovered (what everybody knew already) the existence of “mass priests and their idolatry” at Chapel House, made formal complaint thereof to Sir Richard, and called on him, as the nearest justice of the peace, to put in force the act of the fourteenth of Elizabeth, that worthy knight only rated him soundly for a fantastical Puritan, and bade him mind his own business, if he wished not to make the place too hot for him; whereon (for the temporal authorities, happily for the peace of England, kept in those days a somewhat tight hand upon the spiritual ones) the worthy parson subsided — for, after all, Mr. Thomas Leigh paid his tithes regularly enough — and was content, as he expressed it, to bow his head in the house of Rimmon like Naaman of old, by eating Mr. Leigh’s dinners as often as he was invited, and ignoring the vocation of old Father Francis, who sat opposite to him, dressed as a layman, and calling himself the young gentleman’s pedagogue.
But the said birds of ill-omen had a very considerable lien on the conscience of poor Mr. Thomas Leigh, the father of Eustace, in the form of certain lands once belonging to the Abbey of Hartland. He more than half believed that he should be lost for holding those lands; but he did not believe it wholly, and, therefore, he did not give them up; which was the case, as poor Mary Tudor found to her sorrow, with most of her “Catholic” subjects, whose consciences, while they compelled them to return to the only safe fold of Mother Church (extra quam nulla salus), by no means compelled them to disgorge the wealth of which they had plundered that only hope of their salvation. Most of them, however, like poor Tom Leigh, felt the abbey rents burn in their purses; and, as John Bull generally does in a difficulty, compromised the matter by a second folly (as if two wrong things made one right one), and petted foreign priests, and listened, or pretended not to listen, to their plottings and their practisings; and gave up a son here, and a son there, as a sort of a sin-offering and scapegoat, to be carried off to Douay, or Rheims, or Rome, and trained as a seminary priest; in plain English, to be taught the science of villainy, on the motive of superstition. One of such hapless scapegoats, and children who had been cast into the fire to Moloch, was Eustace Leigh, whom his father had sent, giving the fruit of his body for the sin of his soul, to be made a liar of at Rheims.
And a very fair liar he had become. Not that the lad was a bad fellow at heart; but he had been chosen by the harpies at home, on account of his “peculiar vocation;” in plain English, because the wily priests had seen in him certain capacities of vague hysterical fear of the unseen (the religious sentiment, we call it now-a-days), and with them that tendency to be a rogue, which superstitious men always have. He was now a tall, handsome, light-complexioned man, with a huge upright forehead, a very small mouth, and a dry and set expression of face, which was always trying to get free, or rather to seem free, and indulge in smiles and dimples which were proper; for one ought to have Christian love, and if one had love one ought to be cheerful, and when people were cheerful they smiled; and therefore he would smile, and tried to do so; but his charity prepense looked no more alluring than malice prepense would have done; and, had he not been really a handsome fellow, many a woman who raved about his sweetness would have likened his frankness to that of a skeleton dancing in fetters, and his smiles to the grins thereof.
He had returned to England about a month before, in obedience to the proclamation which had been set forth for that purpose (and certainly not before it was needed), that, “whosoever had children, wards, etc., in the parts beyond the seas, should send in their names to the ordinary, and within four months call them home again.” So Eustace was now staying with his father at Chapel, having, nevertheless, his private matters to transact on behalf of the virtuous society by whom he had been brought up; one of which private matters had brought him to Bideford the night before.
So he sat down beside Amyas on the pebbles, and looked at him all over out of the corners of his eyes very gently, as if he did not wish to hurt him, or even the flies on his back; and Amyas faced right round, and looked him full in the face with the heartiest of smiles, and held out a lion’s paw, which Eustace took rapturously, and a great shaking of hands ensued; Amyas gripping with a great round fist, and a quiet quiver thereof, as much as to say, “I AM glad to see you;” and Eustace pinching hard with white, straight fingers, and sawing the air violently up and down, as much as to say, “DON’T YOU SEE how glad I am to see you?” A very different greeting from the former.
“Hold hard, old lad,” said Amyas, “before you break my elbow. And where do you come from?”
“From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it,” said he, with a little smile and nod of mysterious self-importance.
“Like the devil, eh? Well, every man has his pattern. How is my uncle?”
Now, if there was one man on earth above another, of whom Eustace Leigh stood in dread, it was his cousin Amyas. In the first place, he knew Amyas could have killed him with a blow; and there are natures, who, instead of rejoicing in the strength of men of greater prowess than themselves, look at such with irritation, dread, at last, spite; expecting, perhaps, that the stronger will do to them what they feel they might have done in his place. Every one, perhaps, has the same envious, cowardly devil haunting about his heart; but the brave men, though they be very sparrows, kick him out; the cowards keep him, and foster him; and so did poor Eustace Leigh.
Next, he could not help feeling that Amyas despised him. They had not met for three years; but before Amyas went, Eustace never could argue with him, simply because Amyas treated him as beneath argument. No doubt he was often rude and unfair enough; but the whole mass of questions concerning the unseen world, which the priests had stimulated in his cousin’s mind into an unhealthy fungus crop, were to Amyas simply, as he expressed it, “wind and moonshine;” and he treated his cousin as a sort of harmless lunatic, and, as they say in Devon, “half-baked.” And Eustace knew it; and knew, too, that his cousin did him an injustice. “He used to undervalue me,” said he to himself; “let us see whether he does not find me a match for him now.” And then went off into an agony of secret contrition for his self-seeking and his forgetting that “the glory of God, and not his own exaltation,” was the object of his existence.
There, dear readers, Ex pede Herculem; I cannot tire myself or you (especially in this book) with any wire-drawn soul-dissections. I have tried to hint to you two opposite sorts of men — the one trying to be good with all his might and main, according to certain approved methods and rules, which he has got by heart, and like a weak oarsman, feeling and fingering his spiritual muscles over all day, to see if they are growing; the other not even knowing whether he is good or not, but just doing the right thing without thinking about it, as simply as a little child, because the Spirit of God is with him. If you cannot see the great gulf fixed between the two, I trust that you will discover it some day.
But in justice be it said, all this came upon Eustace, not because he was a Romanist, but because he was educated by the Jesuits. Had he been saved from them, he might have lived and died as simple and honest a gentleman as his brothers, who turned out like true Englishmen (as did all the Romish laity) to face the great Armada, and one of whom was fighting at that very minute under St. Leger in Ireland, and as brave and loyal a soldier as those Roman Catholics whose noble blood has stained every Crimean battlefield; but his fate was appointed otherwise; and the Upas-shadow which has blighted the whole Romish Church, blighted him also.
“Ah, my dearest cousin!” said Eustace, “how disappointed I was this morning at finding I had arrived just a day too late to witness your triumph! But I hastened to your home as soon as I could, and learning from your mother that I should find you here, hurried down to bid you welcome again to Devon.”
“Well, old lad, it does look very natural to see you. I often used to think of you walking the deck o’ nights. Uncle and the girls are all right, then? But is the old pony dead yet? And how’s Dick the smith, and Nancy? Grown a fine maid by now, I warrant. ‘Slid, it seems half a life that I’ve been away.
“And you really thought of your poor cousin? Be sure that he, too, thought of you, and offered up nightly his weak prayers for your safety (doubtless, not without avail) to those saints, to whom would that you —”
“Halt there, coz. If they are half as good fellows as you and I take them for, they’ll help me without asking.”
“They have helped you, Amyas.”
“Maybe; I’d have done as much, I’m sure, for them, if I ‘d been in their place.”
“And do you not feel, then, that you owe a debt of gratitude to them; and, above all, to her, whose intercessions have, I doubt not, availed for your preservation? Her, the star of the sea, the all-compassionate guide of the mariner?”
“Humph!” said Amyas. “Here’s Frank; let him answer.”
And, as he spoke, up came Frank, and after due greetings, sat down beside them on the ridge.
“I say, brother, here’s Eustace trying already to convert me; and telling me that I owe all my luck to the Blessed Virgin’s prayers for me.
“It may be so,” said Frank; “at least you owe it to the prayers of that most pure and peerless virgin by whose commands you sailed; the sweet incense of whose orisons has gone up for you daily, and for whose sake you were preserved from flood and foe, that you might spread the fame and advance the power of the spotless championess of truth, and right, and freedom — Elizabeth, your queen.”
Amyas answered this rhapsody, which would have been then both fashionable and sincere, by a loyal chuckle. Eustace smiled meekly, but answered somewhat venomously nevertheless —
“I, at least, am certain that I speak the truth, when I call my patroness a virgin undefiled.”
Both the brothers’ brows clouded at once. Amyas, as he lay on his back on the pebbles, said quietly to the gulls over his head —“I wonder what the Frenchman whose head I cut off at the Azores, thinks by now about all that.”
“Cut off a Frenchman’s head?” said Frank.
“Yes, faith; and so fleshed my maiden sword. I’ll tell you. It was in some tavern; I and George Drake had gone in, and there sat this Frenchman, with his sword on the table, ready for a quarrel (I found afterwards he was a noted bully), and begins with us loudly enough about this and that; but, after awhile, by the instigation of the devil, what does he vent but a dozen slanders against her majesty’s honor, one atop of the other? I was ashamed to hear them, and I should be more ashamed to repeat them.”
“I have heard enough of such,” said Frank. “They come mostly through lewd rascals about the French ambassador, who have been bred (God help them) among the filthy vices of that Medicean Court in which the Queen of Scots had her schooling; and can only perceive in a virtuous freedom a cloak for licentiousness like their own. Let the curs bark; Honi soit qui mal y pense is our motto, and shall be forever.”
“But I didn’t let the cur bark; for I took him by the ears, to show him out into the street. Whereon he got to his sword, and I to mine; and a very near chance I had of never bathing on the pebble ridge more; for the fellow did not fight with edge and buckler, like a Christian, but had some newfangled French devil’s device of scryming and foining with his point, ha’ing and stamping, and tracing at me, that I expected to be full of eyelet holes ere I could close with him.”
“Thank God that you are safe, then!” said Frank. “I know that play well enough, and dangerous enough it is.”
“Of course you know it; but I didn’t, more’s the pity.”
“Well, I’ll teach it thee, lad, as well as Rowland Yorke himself,
‘Thy fincture, carricade, and sly passata,
Thy stramazon, and resolute stoccata,
Wiping maudritta, closing embrocata,
And all the cant of the honorable fencing mystery.’”
“Rowland Yorke? Who’s he, then?”
“A very roystering rascal, who is making good profit in London just now by teaching this very art of fence; and is as likely to have his mortal thread clipt in a tavern brawl, as thy Frenchman. But how did you escape his pinking iron?”
“How? Had it through my left arm before I could look round; and at that I got mad, and leapt upon him, and caught him by the wrist, and then had a fair side-blow; and, as fortune would have it, off tumbled his head on to the table, and there was an end of his slanders.”
“So perish all her enemies!” said Frank; and Eustace, who had been trying not to listen, rose and said —
“I trust that you do not number me among them?”
“As you speak, I do, coz,” said Frank. “But for your own sake, let me advise you to put faith in the true report of those who have daily experience of their mistress’s excellent virtue, as they have of the sun’s shining, and of the earth’s bringing forth fruit, and not in the tattle of a few cowardly back-stair rogues, who wish to curry favor with the Guises. Come, we will say no more. Walk round with us by Appledore, and then home to breakfast.”
But Eustace declined, having immediate business, he said, in Northam town, and then in Bideford; and so left them to lounge for another half-hour on the beach, and then walk across the smooth sheet of turf to the little white fishing village, which stands some two miles above the bar, at the meeting of the Torridge and the Taw.
Now it came to pass, that Eustace Leigh, as we have seen, told his cousins that he was going to Northam: but he did not tell them that his point was really the same as their own, namely, Appledore; and, therefore, after having satisfied his conscience by going as far as the very nearest house in Northam village, he struck away sharp to the left across the fields, repeating I know not what to the Blessed Virgin all the way; whereby he went several miles out of his road; and also, as is the wont of crooked spirits, Jesuits especially (as three centuries sufficiently testify), only outwitted himself. For his cousins going merrily, like honest men, along the straight road across the turf, arrived in Appledore, opposite the little “Mariner’s Rest” Inn, just in time to see what Eustace had taken so much trouble to hide from them, namely, four of Mr. Thomas Leigh’s horses standing at the door, held by his groom, saddles and mail-bags on back, and mounting three of them, Eustace Leigh and two strange gentlemen.
“There’s one lie already this morning,” growled Amyas; “he told us he was going to Northam.”
“And we do not know that he has not been there,” blandly suggested Frank.
“Why, you are as bad a Jesuit as he, to help him out with such a fetch.”
“He may have changed his mind.”
“Bless your pure imagination, my sweet boy,” said Amyas, laying his great hand on Frank’s head, and mimicking his mother’s manner. “I say, dear Frank, let’s step into this shop and buy a penny-worth of whipcord.”
“What do you want with whipcord, man?”
“To spin my top, to be sure.”
“Top? how long hast had a top?”
“I’ll buy one, then, and save my conscience; but the upshot of this sport I must see. Why may not I have an excuse ready made as well as Master Eustace?”
So saying, he pulled Frank into the little shop, unobserved by the party at the inn-door.
“What strange cattle has he been importing now? Look at that three-legged fellow, trying to get aloft on the wrong side. How he claws at his horse’s ribs, like a cat scratching an elder stem!”
The three-legged man was a tall, meek-looking person, who had bedizened himself with gorgeous garments, a great feather, and a sword so long and broad, that it differed little in size from the very thin and stiff shanks between which it wandered uncomfortably.
“Young David in Saul’s weapons,” said Frank. “He had better not go in them, for he certainly has not proved them.”
“Look, if his third leg is not turned into a tail! Why does not some one in charity haul in half-a-yard of his belt for him?”
It was too true; the sword, after being kicked out three or four times from its uncomfortable post between his legs, had returned unconquered; and the hilt getting a little too far back by reason of the too great length of the belt, the weapon took up its post triumphantly behind, standing out point in air, a tail confest, amid the tittering of the ostlers, and the cheers of the sailors.
At last the poor man, by dint of a chair, was mounted safely, while his fellow-stranger, a burly, coarse-looking man, equally gay, and rather more handy, made so fierce a rush at his saddle, that, like “vaulting ambition who o’erleaps his selle,” he “fell on t’other side:” or would have fallen, had he not been brought up short by the shoulders of the ostler at his off-stirrup. In which shock off came hat and feather.
“Pardie, the bulldog-faced one is a fighting man. Dost see, Frank? he has had his head broken.”
“That scar came not, my son, but by a pair of most Catholic and apostolic scissors. My gentle buzzard, that is a priest’s tonsure.”
“Hang the dog! O, that the sailors may but see it, and put him over the quay head. I’ve a half mind to go and do it myself.”
“My dear Amyas,” said Frank, laying two fingers on his arm, “these men, whosoever they are, are the guests of our uncle, and therefore the guests of our family. Ham gained little by publishing Noah’s shame; neither shall we, by publishing our uncle’s.”
“Murrain on you, old Franky, you never let a man speak his mind, and shame the devil.”
“I have lived long enough in courts, old Amyas, without a murrain on you, to have found out, first, that it is not so easy to shame the devil; and secondly, that it is better to outwit him; and the only way to do that, sweet chuck, is very often not to speak your mind at all. We will go down and visit them at Chapel in a day or two, and see if we cannot serve these reynards as the badger did the fox, when he found him in his hole, and could not get him out by evil savors.”
“Stuck a sweet nosegay in the door, which turned reynard’s stomach at once; and so overcame evil with good.”
“Well, thou art too good for this world, that’s certain; so we will go home to breakfast. Those rogues are out of sight by now.”
Nevertheless, Amyas was not proof against the temptation of going over to the inn-door, and asking who were the gentlemen who went with Mr. Leigh.
“Gentlemen of Wales,” said the ostler, “who came last night in a pinnace from Milford-haven, and their names, Mr. Morgan Evans and Mr. Evan Morgans.”
“Mr. Judas Iscariot and Mr. Iscariot Judas,” said Amyas between his teeth, and then observed aloud, that the Welsh gentlemen seemed rather poor horsemen.
“So I said to Mr. Leigh’s groom, your worship. But he says that those parts be so uncommon rough and mountainous, that the poor gentlemen, you see, being enforced to hunt on foot, have no such opportunities as young gentlemen hereabout, like your worship; whom God preserve, and send a virtuous lady, and one worthy of you.”
“Thou hast a villainously glib tongue, fellow!” said Amyas, who was thoroughly out of humor; “and a sneaking down visage too, when I come to look at you. I doubt but you are a Papist too, I do!”
“Well, sir! and what if I am! I trust I don’t break the queen’s laws by that. If I don’t attend Northam church, I pay my month’s shilling for the use of the poor, as the act directs; and beyond that, neither you nor any man dare demand of me.”
“Dare! act directs! You rascally lawyer, you! and whence does an ostler like you get your shilling to pay withal? Answer me.” The examinate found it so difficult to answer the question, that he suddenly became afflicted with deafness.
“Do you hear?” roared Amyas, catching at him with his lion’s paw.
“Yes, missus; anon, anon, missus!” quoth he to an imaginary landlady inside, and twisting under Amyas’s hand like an eel, vanished into the house, while Frank got the hot-headed youth away.
“What a plague is one to do, then? That fellow was a Papist spy!”
“Of course he was!” said Frank.
“Then, what is one to do, if the whole country is full of them?”
“Not to make fools of ourselves about them, and so leave them to make fools of themselves.”
“That’s all very fine: but — well, I shall remember the villain’s face if I see him again.”
“There is no harm in that,” said Frank.
“Glad you think so.”
“Don’t quarrel with me, Amyas, the first day.”
“Quarrel with thee, my darling old fellow! I had sooner kiss the dust off thy feet, if I were worthy of it. So now away home; my inside cries cupboard.”
In the meanwhile Messrs. Evans and Morgans were riding away, as fast as the rough by-lanes would let them, along the fresh coast of the bay, steering carefully clear of Northam town on the one hand, and on the other, of Portledge, where dwelt that most Protestant justice of the peace, Mr. Coffin. And it was well for them that neither Amyas Leigh, nor indeed any other loyal Englishman, was by when they entered, as they shortly did, the lonely woods which stretch along the southern wall of the bay. For there Eustace Leigh pulled up short; and both he and his groom, leaping from their horses, knelt down humbly in the wet grass, and implored the blessing of the two valiant gentlemen of Wales, who, having graciously bestowed it with three fingers apiece, became thenceforth no longer Morgan Evans and Evan Morgans, Welshmen and gentlemen; but Father Parsons and Father Gampian, Jesuits, and gentlemen in no sense in which that word is applied in this book.
After a few minutes, the party were again in motion, ambling steadily and cautiously along the high table-land, towards Moorwinstow in the west; while beneath them on the right, at the mouth of rich-wooded glens, opened vistas of the bright blue bay, and beyond it the sandhills of Braunton, and the ragged rocks of Morte; while far away to the north and west the lonely isle of Lundy hung like a soft gray cloud.
But they were not destined to reach their point as peaceably as they could have wished. For just as they got opposite Clovelly dike, the huge old Roman encampment which stands about midway in their journey, they heard a halloo from the valley below, answered by a fainter one far ahead. At which, like a couple of rogues (as indeed they were), Father Campian and Father Parsons looked at each other, and then both stared round at the wild, desolate, open pasture (for the country was then all unenclosed), and the great dark furze-grown banks above their heads; and Campian remarked gently to Parsons, that this was a very dreary spot, and likely enough for robbers.
“A likelier spot for us, Father,” said Eustace, punning. “The old Romans knew what they were about when they put their legions up aloft here to overlook land and sea for miles away; and we may thank them some day for their leavings. The banks are all sound; there is plenty of good water inside; and” (added he in Latin), “in case our Spanish friends — you understand?”
“Pauca verba, my son!” said Campian: but as he spoke, up from the ditch close beside him, as if rising out of the earth, burst through the furze-bushes an armed cavalier.
“Pardon, gentlemen!” shouted he, as the Jesuit and his horse recoiled against the groom. “Stand, for your lives!”
“Mater caelorum!” moaned Campian; while Parsons, who, as all the world knows, was a blustering bully enough (at least with his tongue), asked: What a murrain right had he to stop honest folks on the queen’s highway? confirming the same with a mighty oath, which he set down as peccatum veniale, on account of the sudden necessity; nay, indeed fraus pia, as proper to support the character of that valiant gentleman of Wales, Mr. Evan Morgans. But the horseman, taking no notice of his hint, dashed across the nose of Eustace Leigh’s horse, with a “Hillo, old lad! where ridest so early?” and peering down for a moment into the ruts of the narrow track-way, struck spurs into his horse, shouting, “A fresh slot! right away for Hartland! Forward, gentlemen all! follow, follow, follow!”
“Who is this roysterer?” asked Parsons, loftily.
“Will Cary, of Clovelly; an awful heretic: and here come more behind.”
And as he spoke four or five more mounted gallants plunged in and out of the great dikes, and thundered on behind the party; whose horses, quite understanding what game was up, burst into full gallop, neighing and squealing; and in another minute the hapless Jesuits were hurling along over moor and moss after a “hart of grease.”
Parsons, who, though a vulgar bully, was no coward, supported the character of Mr. Evan Morgans well enough; and he would have really enjoyed himself, had he not been in agonies of fear lest those precious saddle-bags in front of him should break from their lashings, and rolling to the earth, expose to the hoofs of heretic horses, perhaps to the gaze of heretic eyes, such a cargo of bulls, dispensations, secret correspondences, seditious tracts, and so forth, that at the very thought of their being seen, his head felt loose upon his shoulders. But the future martyr behind him, Mr. Morgan Evans, gave himself up at once to abject despair, and as he bumped and rolled along, sought vainly for comfort in professional ejaculations in the Latin tongue.
“Mater intemerata! Eripe me e — Ugh! I am down! Adhaesit pavimento venter! — No! I am not! El dilectum tuum e potestate canis — Ah! Audisti me inter cornua unicornium! Put this, too, down in-ugh! — thy account in favor of my poor — oh, sharpness of this saddle! Oh, whither, barbarous islanders!”
Now riding on his quarter, not in the rough track-way like a cockney, but through the soft heather like a sportsman, was a very gallant knight whom we all know well by this time, Richard Grenville by name; who had made Mr. Cary and the rest his guests the night before, and then ridden out with them at five o’clock that morning, after the wholesome early ways of the time, to rouse a well-known stag in the glens at Buckish, by help of Mr. Coffin’s hounds from Portledge. Who being as good a Latiner as Campian’s self, and overhearing both the scraps of psalm and the “barbarous islanders,” pushed his horse alongside of Mr. Eustace Leigh, and at the first check said, with two low bows towards the two strangers —
“I hope Mr. Leigh will do me the honor of introducing me to his guests. I should be sorry, and Mr. Cary also, that any gentle strangers should become neighbors of ours, even for a day, without our knowing who they are who honor our western Thule with a visit; and showing them ourselves all due requital for the compliment of their presence.”
After which, the only thing which poor Eustace could do (especially as it was spoken loud enough for all bystanders), was to introduce in due form Mr. Evan Morgans and Mr. Morgan Evans, who, hearing the name, and, what was worse, seeing the terrible face with its quiet searching eye, felt like a brace of partridge-poults cowering in the stubble, with a hawk hanging ten feet over their heads.
“Gentlemen,” said Sir Richard blandly, cap in hand, “I fear that your mails must have been somewhat in your way in this unexpected gallop. If you will permit my groom, who is behind, to disencumber you of them and carry them to Chapel, you will both confer an honor on me, and be enabled yourselves to see the mort more pleasantly.”
A twinkle of fun, in spite of all his efforts, played about good Sir Richard’s eye as he gave this searching hint. The two Welsh gentlemen stammered out clumsy thanks; and pleading great haste and fatigue from a long journey, contrived to fall to the rear and vanish with their guides, as soon as the slot had been recovered.
“Will!” said Sir Richard, pushing alongside of young Cary.
“May the father of lies fly away with them over the nearest cliff!”
“He will not do that while this Irish trouble is about. Those fellows are come to practise here for Saunders and Desmond.”
“Perhaps they have a consecrated banner in their bag, the scoundrels! Shall I and young Coffin on and stop them? Hard if the honest men may not rob the thieves once in a way.”
“No; give the devil rope, and he will hang himself. Keep thy tongue at home, and thine eyes too, Will.”
“Let Clovelly beach be watched night and day like any mousehole. No one can land round Harty Point with these south-westers. Stop every fellow who has the ghost of an Irish brogue, come he in or go he out, and send him over to me.”
“Some one should guard Bude-haven, sir.”
“Leave that to me. Now then, forward, gentlemen all, or the stag will take the sea at the Abbey.”
And on they crashed down the Hartland glens, through the oak-scrub and the great crown-ferns; and the baying of the slow-hound and the tantaras of the horn died away farther and fainter toward the blue Atlantic, while the conspirators, with lightened hearts, pricked fast across Bursdon upon their evil errand. But Eustace Leigh had other thoughts and other cares than the safety of his father’s two mysterious guests, important as that was in his eyes; for he was one of the many who had drunk in sweet poison (though in his case it could hardly be called sweet) from the magic glances of the Rose of Torridge. He had seen her in the town, and for the first time in his life fallen utterly in love; and now that she had come down close to his father’s house, he looked on her as a lamb fallen unawares into the jaws of the greedy wolf, which he felt himself to be. For Eustace’s love had little or nothing of chivalry, self-sacrifice, or purity in it; those were virtues which were not taught at Rheims. Careful as the Jesuits were over the practical morality of their pupils, this severe restraint had little effect in producing real habits of self-control. What little Eustace had learnt of women from them, was as base and vulgar as the rest of their teaching. What could it be else, if instilled by men educated in the schools of Italy and France, in the age which produced the foul novels of Cinthio and Bandello, and compelled Rabelais in order to escape the rack and stake, to hide the light of his great wisdom, not beneath a bushel, but beneath a dunghill; the age in which the Romish Church had made marriage a legalized tyranny, and the laity, by a natural and pardonable revulsion, had exalted adultery into a virtue and a science? That all love was lust; that all women had their price; that profligacy, though an ecclesiastical sin, was so pardonable, if not necessary, as to be hardly a moral sin, were notions which Eustace must needs have gathered from the hints of his preceptors; for their written works bear to this day fullest and foulest testimony that such was their opinion; and that their conception of the relation of the sexes was really not a whit higher than that of the profligate laity who confessed to them. He longed to marry Rose Salterne, with a wild selfish fury; but only that he might be able to claim her as his own property, and keep all others from her. Of her as a co-equal and ennobling helpmate; as one in whose honor, glory, growth of heart and soul, his own were inextricably wrapt up, he had never dreamed. Marriage would prevent God from being angry with that, with which otherwise He might be angry; and therefore the sanction of the Church was the more “probable and safe” course. But as yet his suit was in very embryo. He could not even tell whether Rose knew of his love; and he wasted miserable hours in maddening thoughts, and tost all night upon his sleepless bed, and rose next morning fierce and pale, to invent fresh excuses for going over to her uncle’s house, and lingering about the fruit which he dared not snatch.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10