Out on ye, owls;
Nothing but songs of death?
More than three months had elapsed since the event narrated in the last chapter, and it had been the precursor of others of still greater importance, which will evolve themselves in the course of our narrative. But, profess to present to the reader not a precise detail of circumstances, according to their order and date, but a series of pictures, endeavouring to exhibit the most striking incidents before the eye or imagination of those whom it may concern, we therefore open a new scene, and bring other actors upon the stage.
Along a wasted tract of country, more than twelve miles distant from the Garde Doloureuse, in the heat of a summer noon, which shed a burning lustre on the silent valley, and the blackened ruins of the cottages with which it had been once graced, two travellers walked slowly, whose palmer cloaks, pilgrims’ staves, large slouched hats, with a scallop shell bound on the front of each, above all, the cross, cut in red cloth upon their shoulders, marked them as pilgrims who had accomplished their vow, and had returned from that fatal bourne, from which, in those days, returned so few of the thousands who visited it, whether in the love of enterprise, or in the ardour of devotion.
The pilgrims had passed, that morning, through a scene of devastation similar to, and scarce surpassed in misery by, those which they had often trod during the wars of the Cross. They had seen hamlets which appeared to have suffered all the fury of military execution, the houses being burned to the ground; and in many cases the carcasses of the miserable inhabitants, or rather relics of such objects, were suspended on temporary gibbets, or on the trees, which had been allowed to remain standing, only, it would seem, to serve the convenience of the executioners. Living creatures they saw none, excepting those wild denizens of nature who seemed silently resuming the now wasted district, from which they might have been formerly expelled by the course of civilization. Their ears were no less disagreeably occupied than their eyes. The pensive travellers might indeed hear the screams of the raven, as if lamenting the decay of the carnage on which he had been gorged; and now and then the plaintive howl of some dog, deprived of his home and master; but no sounds which argued either labour or domestication of any kind.
The sable figures, who, with wearied steps, as it appeared, travelled through these scenes of desolation and ravage, seemed assimilated to them in appearance. They spoke not with each other — they looked not to each other — but one, the shorter of the pair, keeping about half a pace in front of his companion, they moved slowly, as priests returning from a sinner’s death-bed, or rather as spectres flitting along the precincts of a church-yard.
At length they reached a grassy mound, on the top of which was placed one of those receptacles for the dead of the ancient British chiefs of distinction, called Kist-vaen, which are composed of upright fragments of granite, so placed as to form a stone coffin, or something bearing that resemblance. The sepulchre had been long violated by the victorious Saxons, either in scorn or in idle curiosity, or because treasures were supposed to be sometimes concealed in such spots. The huge flat stone which had once been the cover of the coffin, if so it might be termed, lay broken in two pieces at some distance from the sepulchre; and, overgrown as the fragments were with grass and lichens, showed plainly that the lid had been removed to its present situation many years before. A stunted and doddered oak still spread its branches over the open and rude mausoleum, as if the Druid’s badge and emblem, shattered and storm-broken, was still bending to offer its protection to the last remnants of their worship.
“This, then, is the Kist-vaen,” said the shorter pilgrim; “and here we must abide tidings of our scout. But what, Philip Guarine, have we to expect as an explanation of the devastation which we have traversed?”
“Some incursion of the Welsh wolves, my lord,” replied Guarine; “and, by Our Lady, here lies a poor Saxon sheep whom they have snapped up.”
The Constable (for he was the pilgrim who had walked foremost) as he heard his squire speak, and saw the corpse of a man amongst the long grass; by which, indeed, it was so hidden, that he himself had passed without notice, what the esquire, in less abstracted mood, had not failed to observe. The leathern doublet of the slain bespoke him an English peasant — the body lay on its face, and the arrow which had caused his death still stuck in his back.
Philip Guarine, with the cool indifference of one accustomed to such scenes, drew the shaft from the man’s back, as composedly as he would have removed it from the body of a deer. With similar indifference the Constable signed to his esquire to give him the arrow — looked at it with indolent curiosity, and then said, “Thou hast forgotten thy old craft, Guarine, when thou callest that a Welsh shaft. Trust me, it flew from a Norman bow; but why it should be found in the body of that English churl, I can ill guess.”
“Some runaway serf, I would warrant — some mongrel cur, who had joined the Welsh pack of hounds,” answered the esquire.
“It may be so,” said the Constable; “but I rather augur some civil war among the Lords Marchers themselves. The Welsh, indeed, sweep the villages, and leave nothing behind them but blood and ashes, but here even castles seem to have been stormed and taken. May God send us good news of the Garde Doloureuse!”
“Amen!” replied his squire; “but if Renault Vidal brings it, ’twill be the first time he has proved a bird of good omen.”
“Philip,” said the Constable, “I have already told thee thou art a jealous-pated fool. How many times has Vidal shown his faith in doubt — his address in difficulty-his courage in battle-his patience under suffering?”
“It may be all very true, my lord,” replied Guarine; “yet — but what avails to speak? — I own he has done you sometimes good service; but loath were I that your life or honour were at the mercy of Renault Vidal.”
“In the name of all the saints, thou peevish and suspicious fool, what is it thou canst found upon to his prejudice?”
“Nothing, my lord,” replied Guarine, “but instinctive suspicion and aversion. The child that, for the first time, sees a snake, knows nothing of its evil properties, yet he will not chase it and take it up as he would a butterfly. Such is my dislike of Vidal — I cannot help it. I could pardon the man his malicious and gloomy sidelong looks, when he thinks no one observes him; but his sneering laugh I cannot forgive — it is like the beast we heard of in Judea, who laughs, they say, before he tears and destroys.”
“Philip,” said De Lacy, “I am sorry for thee — sorry, from my soul, to see such a predominating and causeless jealousy occupy the brain of a gallant old soldier. Here, in this last misfortune, to recall no more ancient proofs of his fidelity, could he mean otherwise than well with us, when, thrown by shipwreck upon the coast of Wales, we would have been doomed to instant death, had the Cymri recognized in me the Constable of Chester, and in thee his trusty esquire, the executioner of his commands against the Welsh in so many instances?”
“I acknowledge,” said Philip Guarine, “death had surely been our fortune, had not that man’s ingenuity represented us as pilgrims, and, under that character, acted as our interpreter — and in that character he entirely precluded us from getting information from any one respecting the state of things here, which it behoved your lordship much to know, and which I must needs say looks gloomy and suspicious enough.”
“Still art thou a fool, Guarine,” said the Constable; “for, look you, had Vidal meant ill by us, why should he not have betrayed us to the Welsh, or suffered us, by showing such knowledge as thou and I may have of their gibberish, to betray ourselves?’
“Well, my lord,” said Guarine, “I may be silenced, but not satisfied. All the fair words he can speak — all the fine tunes he can play — Renault Vidal will be to my eyes ever a dark and suspicious man, with features always ready to mould themselves into the fittest form to attract confidence; with a tongue framed to utter the most flattering and agreeable words at one time, and at another to play shrewd plainness or blunt honesty; and an eye which, when he thinks himself unobserved, contradicts every assumed expression of features, every protestation of honesty, and every word of courtesy or cordiality to which his tongue has given utterance. But I speak not more on the subject; only I am an old mastiff, of the true breed — I love my master, but cannot endure some of those whom he favours; and yonder, as I judge, comes Vidal, to give us such an account of our situation as it shall please him.”
A horseman was indeed seen advancing in the path towards the Kist-vaen, with a hasty pace; and his dress, in which something of the Eastern fashion was manifest, with the fantastic attire usually worn by men of his profession, made the Constable aware that the minstrel, of whom they were speaking, was rapidly approaching them.
Although Hugo de Lacy rendered this attendant no more than what in justice he supposed his services demanded, when he vindicated him from the suspicions thrown out by Guarine, yet at the bottom of his heart he had sometimes shared those suspicions, and was often angry at himself, as a just and honest man, for censuring, on the slight testimony of looks, and sometimes casual expressions, a fidelity which seemed to be proved by many acts of zeal and integrity.
When Vidal approached and dismounted to make his obeisance, his master hasted to speak to him in words of favour, as if conscious he had been partly sharing Guarine’s unjust judgment upon him, by even listening to it. “Welcome, my trusty Vidal,” he said; “thou hast been the raven that fed us on the mountains of Wales, be now the dove that brings us good tidings from the Marches. — Thou art silent. What mean these downcast looks — that embarrassed carriage — that cap plucked down o’er thine eyes? — In God’s name, man, speak! — Fear not for me — I can bear worse than tongue of man may tell. Thou hast seen me in the wars of Palestine, when my brave followers fell, man by man, around me, and when I was left well-nigh alone — and did I blench then? — Thou hast seen me when the ship’s keel lay grating on the rock, and the billows flew in foam over her deck — did I blench then? — No — nor will I now.”
“Boast not,” said the minstrel, looking fixedly upon the Constable, as the former assumed the port and countenance of one who sets Fortune and her utmost malice at defiance —“boast not, lest thy bands be made strong.” There was a pause of a minute, during which the group formed at this instant a singular picture.
Afraid to ask, yet ashamed to seem to fear the ill tidings which impended, the Constable confronted his messenger with person erect, arms folded, and brow expanded with resolution: while the minstrel, carried beyond his usual and guarded apathy by the interest of the moment, bent on his master a keen fixed glance, as if to observe whether his courage was real or assumed.
Philip Guarine, on the other hand, to whom Heaven, in assigning him a rough exterior, had denied neither sense nor observation, kept his eye in turn, firmly fixed on Vidal, as if endeavouring to determine what was the character of that deep interest which gleamed in the minstrel’s looks apparently, and was unable to ascertain whether it was that of a faithful domestic sympathetically agitated by the bad news with which he was about to afflict his master, or that of an executioner standing with his knife suspended over his victim, deferring his blow until he should discover where it would be most sensibly felt. In Guarine’s mind, prejudiced, perhaps, by the previous opinion he had entertained, the latter sentiment so decidedly predominated, that he longed to raise his staff, and strike down to the earth the servant, who seemed thus to enjoy the protracted sufferings of their common master.
At length a convulsive movement crossed the brow of the Constable, and Guarine, when he beheld a sardonic smile begin to curl Vidal’s lip, could keep silence no longer. “Vidal,” he said, “thou art a —”
“A bearer of bad tidings,” said Vidal, interrupting him, “therefore subject to the misconstruction of every fool who cannot distinguish between the author of harm, and him who unwillingly reports it.”
“To what purpose this delay?” said the Constable. “Come, Sir Minstrel, I will spare you a pang — Eveline has forsaken and forgotten me?” The minstrel assented by a low inclination.
Hugo de Lacy paced a short turn before the stone monument, endeavouring to conquer the deep emotion which he felt. “I forgive her,” he said. “Forgive, did I say — Alas! I have nothing to forgive. She used but the right I left in her hand — yes — our date of engagement was out — she had heard of my losses — my defeats — the destruction of my hopes — the expenditure of my wealth; and has taken the first opportunity which strict law afforded to break off her engagement with one bankrupt in fortune and fame. Many a maiden would have done — perhaps in prudence should have done — this; — but that woman’s name should not have been Eveline Berenger.”
He leaned on his esquire’s arm, and for an instant laid his head on his shoulder with a depth of emotion which Guarine had never before seen him betray, and which, in awkward kindness, he could only attempt to console, by bidding his master “be of good courage — he had lost but a woman.”
“This is no selfish emotion, Philip,” said the Constable, resuming self-command. “I grieve less that she has left me, than that she has misjudged me — that she has treated me as the pawnbroker does his wretched creditor, who arrests the pledge as the very moment elapses within which it might have been relieved. Did she then think that I in my turn would have been a creditor so rigid? — that I, who, since I knew her, scarce deemed myself worthy of her when I had wealth and fame, should insist on her sharing my diminished and degraded fortunes? How little she ever knew me, or how selfish must she have supposed my misfortunes to have made me! But be it so — she is gone, and may she be happy. The thought that she disturbed me shall pass from my mind; and I will think she has done that which I myself, as her best friend, must in honour have advised.”
So saying, his countenance, to the surprise of his attendants, resumed its usual firm composure.
“I give you joy,” said the esquire, in a whisper to the minstrel; “your evil news have wounded less deeply than, doubtless, you believed was possible.”
“Alas!” replied the minstrel, “I have others and worse behind.” This answer was made in an equivocal tone of voice, corresponding to the peculiarity of his manner, and like that seeming emotion of a deep but very doubtful character.
“Eveline Berenger is then married,” said the Constable; “and, let me make a wild guess — she has not abandoned the family, though she has forsaken the individual — she is still a Lacy? ha? — Dolt that thou art, wilt thou not understand me? She is married to Damian de Lacy — to my nephew?”
The effort with which the Constable gave breath to this supposition formed a strange contrast to the constrained smile to which he compelled his features while he uttered it. With such a smile a man about to drink poison might name a health, as he put the fatal beverage to his lips. “No, my lord — not married,” answered the minstrel, with an emphasis on the word, which the Constable knew how to interpret.
“No, no,” he replied quickly, “not married, perhaps, but engaged-troth-plighted. Wherefore not? The date of her old alliance was out, why not enter into a new engagement?”
“The Lady Eveline and Sir Damian de Lacy are not affianced that I know of,” answered his attendant.
This reply drove De Lacy’s patience to extremity.
“Dog! dost thou trifle with me?” he exclaimed: “Vile wire-pincher, thou torturest me! Speak the worst at once, or I will presently make thee minstrel to the household of Satan.”
Calm and collected did the minstrel reply — “The Lady Eveline and Sir Damian are neither married nor affianced, my lord. They have loved and lived together — par amours.”
“Dog, and son of a dog,” said De Lacy, “thou liest!” And, seizing the minstrel by the breast, the exasperated baron shook him with his whole strength. But great as that strength was, it was unable to stagger Vidal, a practised wrestler, in the firm posture which he had assumed, any more than his master’s wrath could disturb the composure of the minstrel’s bearing.
“Confess thou hast lied,” said the Constable, releasing him, after having effected by his violence no greater degree of agitation than the exertion of human force produces upon the Rocking Stones of the Druids, which may be shaken, indeed, but not displaced.
“Were a lie to buy my own life, yea, the lives of all my tribe,” said the minstrel, “I would not tell one. But truth itself is ever termed falsehood when it counteracts the train of our passions.”
“Hear him, Philip Guarine, hear him!” exclaimed the Constable, turning hastily to his squire: “He tells me of my disgrace — of the dishonour of my house — of the depravity of those whom I have loved the best in the world — he tells me of it with a calm look, an eye composed, an unfaltering tongue. — Is this — can it be natural? Is De Lacy sunk so low, that his dishonour shall be told by a common strolling minstrel, as calmly as if it were a theme for a vain ballad? Perhaps thou wilt make it one, ha!” as he concluded, darting a furious glance at the minstrel.
“Perhaps I might, my lord,” replied the minstrel, “were it not that I must record therein the disgrace of Renault Vidal, who served a lord without either patience to bear insults and wrongs, or spirit to revenge them on the authors of his shame.”
“Thou art right, thou art right, good fellow,” said the Constable, hastily; “it is vengeance now alone which is left us — And yet upon whom?”
As he spoke he walked shortly and hastily to and fro; and, becoming suddenly silent, stood still and wrung his hands with deep emotion.
“I told thee,” said the minstrel to Guarine, “that my muse would find a tender part at last. Dost thou remember the bull-fight we saw in Spain? A thousand little darts perplexed and annoyed the noble animal, ere he received the last deadly thrust from the lance of the Moorish Cavalier.”
“Man, or fiend, be which thou wilt,” replied Guarine, “that can thus drink in with pleasure, and contemplate at your ease, the misery of another, I bid thee beware of me! Utter thy cold-blooded taunts in some other ear; for if my tongue be blunt, I wear a sword that is sharp enough.”
“Thou hast seen me amongst swords,” answered the minstrel, “and knowest how little terror they have for such as I am.” Yet as he spoke he drew off from the esquire. He had, in fact, only addressed him in that sort of fulness of heart, which would have vented itself in soliloquy if alone, and now poured itself out on the nearest auditor, without the speaker being entirely conscious of the sentiments which his speech excited.
Few minutes had elapsed before the Constable of Chester had regained the calm external semblance with which, until this last dreadful wound, he had borne all the inflictions of fortune. He turned towards his followers, and addressed the minstrel with his usual calmness, “Thou art right, good fellow,” he said, “in what thou saidst to me but now, and I forgive thee the taunt which accompanied thy good counsel. Speak out, in God’s name! and speak to one prepared to endure the evil which God hath sent him. Certes, a good knight is best known in battle, and a Christian in the time of trouble and adversity.”
The tone in which the Constable spoke, seemed to produce a corresponding effect upon the deportment of his followers. The minstrel dropped at once the cynical and audacious tone in which he had hitherto seemed to tamper with the passions of his master; and in language simple and respectful, and which even approached to sympathy, informed him of the evil news which he had collected during his absence. It was indeed disastrous.
The refusal of the Lady Eveline Berengor to admit Monthermer and his forces into her castle, had of course given circulation and credence to all the calumnies which had been circulated to her prejudice, and that of Damian de Lacy; and there were many who, for various causes, were interested in spreading and supporting these slanders. A large force had been sent into the country to subdue the insurgent peasants; and the knights and nobles despatched for that purpose, failed not to avenge to the utter-most, upon the wretched plebeians, the noble blood which they had spilled during their temporary triumph.
The followers of the unfortunate Wenlock were infected with the same persuasion. Blamed by many for a hasty and cowardly surrender of a post which might have been defended, they endeavoured to vindicate themselves by alleging the hostile demonstrations of De Lacy’s cavalry as the sole cause of their premature submission.
These rumours, supported by such interested testimony, spread wide and far through the land; and, joined to the undeniable fact that Damian had sought refuge in the strong castle of Garde Doloureuse, which was now defending itself against the royal arms, animated the numerous enemies of the house of De Lacy, and drove its vassals and friends almost to despair, as men reduced either to disown their feudal allegiance, or renounce that still more sacred fealty which they owed to their sovereign.
At this crisis they received intelligence that the wise and active monarch by whom the sceptre of England was then swayed, was moving towards that part of England, at the head of a large body of soldiers, for the purpose at once of pressing the siege of the Garde Doloureuse, and completing the suppression of the insurrection of the peasantry, which Guy Monthermer had nearly accomplished.
In this emergency, and when the friends and dependents of the House of Lacy scarcely knew which hand to turn to, Randal, the Constable’s kinsman, and, after Damian, his heir, suddenly appeared amongst them, with a royal commission to raise and command such followers of the family as might not desire to be involved in the supposed treason of the Constable’s delegate. In troublesome times, men’s vices are forgotten, provided they display activity, courage, and prudence, the virtues then most required; and the appearance of Randal, who was by no means deficient in any of these attributes, was received as a good omen by the followers of his cousin. They quickly gathered around him, surrendered to the royal mandate such strongholds as they possessed, and, to vindicate themselves from any participation in the alleged crimes of Damian, they distinguished themselves, under Randal’s command, against such scattered bodies of peasantry as still kept the field, or lurked in the mountains and passes; and conducted themselves with such severity after success, as made the troops even of Monthermer appear gentle and clement in comparison with those of De Lacy. Finally, with the banner of his ancient house displayed, and five hundred good men assembled under it, Randal appeared before the Garde Poloureuse, and joined Henry’s camp there.
The castle was already hardly pressed, and the few defenders, disabled by wounds, watching, and privation, had now the additional discouragement to see displayed against their walls the only banner in England under which they had hoped forces might be mustered for their aid.
The high-spirited entreaties of Eveline, unbent by adversity and want, gradually lost effect on the defenders of the castle; and proposals for surrender were urged and discussed by a tumultuary council, into which not only the inferior officers, but many of the common men, had thrust themselves, as in a period of such general distress as unlooses all the bonds of discipline, and leaves each man at liberty to speak and act for himself. To their surprise, in the midst of their discussions, Damian de Lacy, arisen from the sick-bed to which he had been so long confined, appeared among them, pale and feeble, his cheek tinged with the ghastly look which is left by long illness — he leaned on his page Amelot. “Gentlemen,” he said, “and soldiers — yet why should I call you either? — Gentlemen are ever ready to die in behalf of a lady — soldiers hold life in scorn compared to their honour.”
“Out upon him! out upon him!” exclaimed some of the soldiers, interrupting him; “he would have us, who are innocent, die the death of traitors, and be hanged in our armour over the walls, rather than part with his leman.”
“Peace, irreverent slave!” said Damian, in a voice like thunder, “or my last blow shall be a mean one, aimed against such a caitiff as thou art. — And you,” he continued, addressing the rest — “you, who are shrinking from the toils of your profession, because if you persist in a course of honour, death may close them a few years sooner than it needs must — you, who are scared like children at the sight of a death’s-head, do not suppose that Damian de Lacy would desire to shelter himself at the expense of those lives which you hold so dear. Make your bargain with King Henry. Deliver me up to his justice, or his severity; or, if you like it better, strike my head from my body, and hurl it, as a peace-offering, from the walls of the castle. To God, in his good time, will I trust for the clearance of mine honour. In a word, surrender me, dead or alive, or open the gates and permit me to surrender myself. Only, as ye are men, since I may not say better of ye, care at least for the safety of your mistress, and make such terms as may secure HER safety, and save yourselves from the dishonour of being held cowardly and perjured caitiffs in your graves.”
“Methinks the youth speaks well and reasonably,” said William Flammock. “Let us e’en make a grace of surrendering his body up to the King, and assure thereby such terms as we can for ourselves and the lady, ere the last morsel of our provision is consumed.”
“I would hardly have proposed this measure,” said, or rather mumbled, Father Aldrovand, who had recently lost four of his front teeth by a stone from a sling — “yet, being so generously offered by the party principally concerned, I hold with the learned scholiast, Volenti non fit injuria.”
“Priest and Fleming,” said the old banner-man, Ralph Genvil, “I see how the wind stirreth you; but you deceive yourselves if you think to make our young master, Sir Damian, a scape-goat for your light lady. — Nay, never frown nor fume, Sir Damian; if you know not your safest course, we know it for you. — Followers of De Lacy, throw yourselves on your horses, and two men on one, if it be necessary — we will take this stubborn boy in the midst of us, and the dainty squire Amelot shall be prisoner too, if he trouble us with his peevish opposition. Then, let us make a fair sally upon the siegers. Those who can cut their way through will shift well enough; those who fall, will be provided for.”
A shout from the troopers of Lacy’s band approved this proposal. Whilst the followers of Berenger expostulated in loud and angry tone, Eveline, summoned by the tumult, in vain endeavoured to appease it; and the anger and entreaties of Damian were equally lost on his followers. To each and either the answer was the same.
“Have you no care of it — Because you love par amours, is it reasonable you should throw away your life and ours?” So exclaimed Genvil to De Lacy; and in softer language, but with equal obstinacy, the followers of Raymond Berenger refused on the present occasion to listen, to the commands or prayers of his daughter.
Wilkin Flammock had retreated from the tumult, when he saw the turn which matters had taken. He left the castle by a sally-port, of which he had been intrusted with the key, and proceeded without observation or opposition to the royal camp, where he requested access to the Sovereign. This was easily obtained, and Wilkin speedily found himself in the presence of King Henry. The monarch was in his royal pavilion, attended by two of his sons, Richard and John, who afterwards swayed the sceptre of England with very different auspices.
“How now? — What art thou?” was the royal question.
“An honest man, from the castle of the Garde Doloureuse.”
“Thou may’st be honest,” replied the Sovereign, “but thou comest from a nest of traitors.”
“Such as they are, my lord, it is my purpose to put them at your royal disposal; for they have no longer the wisdom to guide themselves, and lack alike prudence to hold out, and grace to submit. But I would first know of your grace to what terms you will admit the defenders of yonder garrison?”
“To such as kings give to traitors,” said Henry, sternly —“sharp knives and tough cords.”
“Nay, my gracious lord, you must be kinder than that amounts to, if the castle is to be rendered by my means; else will your cords and knives have only my poor body to work upon, and you will be as far as ever from the inside of the Garde Doloureuse.”
The King looked at him fixedly. “Thou knowest,” he said, “the law of arms. Here, provost-marshal, stands a traitor, and yonder stands a tree.”
“And here is a throat,” said the stout-hearted Fleming, unbuttoning the collar of his doublet.
“By mine honour,” said Prince Richard, “a sturdy and faithful yeoman! It were better send such fellows their dinners, and then buffet it out with them for the castle, than to starve them as the beggarly Frenchmen famish their hounds.”
“Peace, Richard,” said his father; “thy wit is over green, and thy blood over hot, to make thee my counsellor here. — And you, knave, speak you some reasonable terms, and we will not be over strict with thee.”
“First, then,” said the Fleming, “I stipulate full and free pardon for life, limb, body, and goods, to me, Wilkin Flammock, and my daughter Rose.”
“A true Fleming,” said Prince John; “he takes care of himself in the first instance.”
“His request,” said the King, “is reasonable. What next?”
“Safety in life, honour, and land, for the demoiselle Eveline Berenger.”
“How, sir knave!” said the King, angrily, “is it for such as thou to dictate to our judgment or clemency in the case of a noble Norman Lady? Confine thy mediation to such as thyself; or rather render us this castle without farther delay; and be assured thy doing so will be of more service to the traitors within, than weeks more of resistance, which must and shall be bootless.”
The Fleming stood silent, unwilling to surrender without some specific terms, yet half convinced, from the situation in which he had left the garrison of the Garde Doloureuse, that his admitting the King’s forces would be, perhaps, the best he could do for Lady Eveline.
“I like thy fidelity, fellow,” said the King, whose acute eye perceived the struggle in the Fleming’s bosom; “but carry not thy stubbornness too far. Have we not said we will be gracious to yonder offenders, as far as our royal duty will permit?”
“And, royal father,” said Prince John, interposing, “I pray you let me have the grace to take first possession, of the Garde Doloureuse, and the wardship or forfeiture of the offending lady.”
“I pray you also, my royal father, to grant John’s boon,” said his brother Richard, in a tone of mockery. “Consider, royal father, it is the first desire he hath shown to approach the barriers of the castle, though we have attacked them forty times at least. Marry, crossbow and mangonel were busy on the former occasions, and it is like they will be silent now.”
“Peace, Richard,” said the King; “your words, aimed at thy brother’s honour, pierce my heart. — John, thou hast thy boon as concerns the castle; for the unhappy young lady, we will take her in our own charge. — Fleming, how many men wilt thou undertake to admit?”
Ere Flammock could answer, a squire approached Prince Richard, and whispered in his ear, yet so as to be heard by all present, “We have discovered that some internal disturbance, or other cause unknown, has withdrawn many of the warders from the castle walls, and that a sudden attack might —”
“Dost thou hear that, John?” exclaimed Richard. “Ladders, man — get ladders, and to the wall. How I should delight to see thee on the highest round — thy knees shaking — thy hands grasping convulsively, like those of one in an ague fit — all air around thee, save a baton or two of wood — the moat below — half-a-dozen pikes at thy throat —”
“Peace, Richard, for shame, if not for charity!” said his father, in a tone of anger, mingled with grief. “And thou, John, get ready for the assault.”
“As soon as I have put on my armour, father,” answered the Prince; and withdrew slowly, with a visage so blank as to promise no speed in his preparations.
His brother laughed as he retired, and said to his squire, “It were no bad jest, Alberick, to carry the place ere John can change his silk doublet for a steel one.”
So saying, he hastily withdrew, and his father exclaimed in paternal distress, “Out, alas! as much too hot as his brother is too cold; but it is the manlier fault. — Gloucester,” said he to that celebrated earl, “take sufficient strength, and follow Prince Richard to guard and sustain him. If any one can rule him, it must be a knight of thy established fame. Alas, alas! for what sin have I deserved the affliction of these cruel family feuds!”
“Be comforted, my lord,” said the chancellor, who was also in attendance.
“Speak not of comfort to a father, whose sons are at discord with each other, and agree only in their disobedience to him!”
Thus spoke Henry the Second, than whom no wiser, or, generally speaking, more fortunate monarch ever sat upon the throne of England; yet whose life is a striking illustration, how family dissensions can tarnish the most brilliant lot to which Heaven permits humanity to aspire; and how little gratified ambition, extended power, and the highest reputation in war and in peace, can do towards curing the wounds of domestic affliction.
The sudden and fiery attack of Richard, who hastened to the escalade at the head of a score of followers, collected at random, had the complete effect of surprise; and having surmounted the walls with their ladders, before the contending parties within were almost aware of the assault, the assailants burst open the gates, and admitted Gloucester, who had hastily followed with a strong body of men-at-arms. The garrison, in their state of surprise, confusion, and disunion, offered but little resistance, and would have been put to the sword, and the place plundered, had not Henry himself entered it, and by his personal exertions and authority, restrained the excesses of the dissolute soldiery.
The King conducted himself, considering the times and the provocation, with laudable moderation. He contented himself with disarming and dismissing the common soldiers, giving them some trifle to carry them out of the country, lest want should lead them to form themselves into bands of robbers. The officers were more severely treated, being for the greater part thrown into dungeons, to abide the course of the law. In particular, imprisonment was the lot of Damian de Lacy, against whom, believing the various charges with which he was loaded, Henry was so highly incensed, that he purposed to make him an example to all false knights and disloyal subjects. To the Lady Eveline Berenger he assigned her own apartment as a prison, in which she was honourably attended by Rose and Alice, but guarded with the utmost strictness. It was generally reported that her demesnes would be declared a forfeiture to the crown, and bestowed, at least in part, upon Randal de Lacy, who had done good service during the siege. Her person, it was thought, was destined to the seclusion of some distant French nunnery, where she might at leisure repent her of her follies and her rashness.
Father Aldrovand was delivered up to the discipline of the convent, long experience having very effectually taught Henry the imprudence of infringing on the privileges of the church; although, when the King first beheld him with a rusty corslet clasped over his frock, he with difficulty repressed the desire to cause him to hanged over the battlements, to preach to the ravens.
With Wilkin Flammock, Henry held much conference, particularly on his subject of manufactures and commerce; on which the sound-headed, though blunt-spoken Fleming, was well qualified to instruct an intelligent monarch. “Thy intentions,” he said, “shall not be forgotten, good fellow, though they have been anticipated by the headlong valour of my son Richard, which has cost some poor caitiffs their lives — Richard loves not to sheathe a bloodless weapon. But thou and thy countrymen shall return to thy mills yonder, with a full pardon for past offences, so that you meddle no more with such treasonable matters.”
“And our privileges and duties, my liege?” said Flammock. “Your Majesty knows well we are vassals to the lord of this castle, and must follow him in battle.”
“It shall no longer be so,” said Henry; “I will form a community of Flemings here, and thou, Flammock, shalt be Mayor, that thou may’st not plead feudal obedience for a relapse into treason.”
“Treason, my liege!” said Flammock, longing, yet scarce venturing, to ‘interpose a word in behalf of Lady Eveline, for whom, despite the constitutional coolness of his temperament, he really felt much interest —“I would that your Grace but justly knew how many threads went to that woof.”
“Peace, sirrah! — meddle with your loom,” said Henry; “and if we deign to speak to thee concerning the mechanical arts which thou dost profess, take it for no warrant to intrude farther on our privacy.”
The Fleming retired, rebuked, and in silence; and the fate of the unhappy prisoners remained in the King’s bosom. He himself took up his lodging in the castle of the Garde Doloureuse, as a convenient station for sending abroad parties to suppress and extinguish all the embers of rebellion; and so active was Randal de Lacy on these occasions, that he appeared daily to rise in the King’s grace, and was gratified with considerable grants out of the domains of Berenger and Lacy, which the King seemed already to treat as forfeited property. Most men considered this growing favour of Randal as a perilous omen, both far the life of young De Lacy, and for the fate of the unfortunate Eveline.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00