A vow, a vow — I have a vow in Heaven.
Shall I bring perjury upon my soul?
No, not for Venice.
MERCHANT OF VENICE.
The conclusion of the last chapter contains the tidings with which the minstrel greeted his unhappy master, Hugo de Lacy; not indeed with the same detail of circumstances with which we have been able to invest the narrative, but so as to infer the general and appalling facts, that his betrothed bride, and beloved and trusted kinsman, had leagued together for his dishonour — had raised the banner of rebellion against their lawful sovereign, and, failing in their audacious attempt, had brought the life of one of them, at least, into the most imminent danger, and the fortunes of the House of Lacy, unless some instant remedy could be found, to the very verge of ruin.
Vidal marked the countenance of his master as he spoke, with the same keen observation which the chirurgeon gives to the progress of his dissecting-knife. There was grief on the Constable’s features — deep grief — but without the expression of abasement or prostration which usually accompanies it; anger and shame were there — but they were both of a noble character, seemingly excited by his bride and nephew’s transgressing the laws of allegiance, honour, and virtue, rather than by the disgrace and damage which he himself sustained through their crime.
The minstrel was so much astonished at this change of deportment, from the sensitive acuteness of agony which attended the beginning of his narrative, that he stepped back two paces, and gazing on the Constable with wonder, mixed with admiration, exclaimed, “We have heard of martyrs in. Palestine, but this exceeds them!”
“Wonder not so much, good friend,” said the Constable, patiently; “it is the first blow of the lance or mace which pierces or stuns — those which follow are little felt.” [Footnote: Such an expression is said to have been used by Mandrin, the celebrated smuggler, while in the act of being broken upon the wheel. This dreadful punishment consists in the executioner, with a bar of iron, breaking the shoulder-bones, arms, thigh-bones, and legs of the criminal, taking — his alternate sides. The punishment is concluded by a blow across the breast, called the coup de grace, because it removes the sufferer from his agony. When Mandrin received the second blow over the left shoulder-bone, he laughed. His confessor inquired the reason of demeanour so unbecoming — his situation. “I only lavish at my own folly, my father,” answered Mandrin, “who could suppose that sensibility of pain should continue after the nervous system had been completely deranged by the first blow.]
“Think, my lord,” said Vidal, “all is lost — love, dominion, high office, and bright fame — so late a chief among nobles, now a poor palmer!”
“Wouldst thou make sport with my misery?” said Hugo, sternly; “but even that comes of course behind my back, and why should it not be endured when said to my face? — Know, then, minstrel, and put it in song if you list, that Hugo de Lacy, having lost all he carried to Palestine, and all which he left at home, is still lord of his own mind; and adversity can no more shake him, than the breeze which strips the oak of its leaves can tear up the trunk by the roots.”
“Now, by the tomb of my father,” said the minstrel, rapturously, “this man’s nobleness is too much for my resolve!” and stepping hastily to the Constable, he kneeled on one knee, and caught his hand more freely than the state maintained by men of De Lacy’s rank usually permitted. “Here,” said Vidal, “on this hand — this noble hand — I renounce —” But ere he could utter another word, Hugo de Lacy, who, perhaps, felt the freedom of the action as an intrusion on his fallen condition, pulled back his hand, and bid the minstrel, with as stern frown, arise, and remember that misfortune made not De Lacy a fit personage for a mummery.
Renault Vidal rose rebuked. “I had forgot,” he said, “the distance between an Armorican violer and a high Norman baron. I thought that the same depth of sorrow, the same burst of joy, levelled, for a moment at least, those artificial barriers by which men are divided. But it is well as it is. Live within the limits of your rank, as heretofore within your donjon tower and your fosses, my lord, undisturbed by the sympathy of any mean man like me. I, too, have my duties to discharge.”
“And now to the Garde Doloureuse,” said the baron, turning to Philip Guarine —“God knoweth how well it deserveth the name! — there to learn, with our own eyes and ears, the truth of these woful tidings. Dismount, minstrel, and give me thy palfrey — I would, Guarine, that I had one for thee — as for Vidal, his attendance is less necessary. I will face my foes, or my misfortunes, like a man — that be assured of, violer; and look not so sullen, knave — I will not forget old adherents.”
“One of them, at least, will not forget you, my lord,” replied the minstrel, with his usual dubious tone of look and emphasis.
But just as the Constable was about to prick forwards, two persons appeared on the path, mounted on one horse, who, hidden by some dwarf-wood, had come very near them without being perceived. They were male and female; and the man, who rode foremost, was such a picture of famine, as the eyes of the pilgrims had scarce witnessed in all the wasted land through which they had travelled. His features, naturally sharp and thin, had disappeared almost entirely among the uncombed gray beard and hairs with which they were overshadowed; and it was but the glimpse of a long nose, that seemed as sharp as the edge of a knife, and the twinkling glimpse of his gray eyes, which gave any intimation of his lineaments. His leg, in the wide old boot which enclosed it, looked like the handle of a mop left by chance in a pail — his arms were about the thickness of riding-rods — and such parts of his person as were not concealed by the tatters of a huntsman’s cassock, seemed rather the appendages of a mummy than a live man.
The female who sat behind this spectre exhibited also some symptoms of extenuation; but being a brave jolly dame naturally, famine had not been able to render her a spectacle so rueful as the anatomy behind which she rode. Dame Gillian’s cheek (for it was the reader’s old acquaintance) had indeed lost the rosy hue of good cheer, and the smoothness of complexion which art and easy living had formerly substituted for the more delicate bloom of youth; her eyes were sunken, and had lost much of their bold and roguish lustre; but she was still in some measure herself, and the remnants of former finery, together with the tight-drawn scarlet hose, though sorely faded, showed still a remnant of coquettish pretension.
So soon as she came within sight of the pilgrims, she began to punch Raoul with the end of her riding-rod. “Try thy new trade, man, since thou art unfit for any other — to the good man — to them — crave their charity.”
“Beg from beggars?” muttered Raoul; “that were hawking at sparrows, dame.”
“It will bring our hand in use though,” said Gillian; and commenced, in a whining tone, “God love you, holy men, who have had the grace to go to the Holy Land, and, what is more, have had the grace to come back again; I pray, bestow some of your alms upon my poor old husband, who is a miserable object, as you see, and upon one who has the bad luck to be his wife — Heaven help me!”
“Peace, woman, and hear what I have to say,” said the Constable, laying his hand upon the bridle of the horse —“I have present occasion for that horse, and ——”
“By the hunting-horn of St. Hubert, but thou gettest him not without blows!” answered the old huntsman “A fine world it is, when palmers turn horse-stealers.”
“Peace, fellow” said the Constable, sternly — “I say I have occasion presently for the service of thy horse. Here be two gold bezants for a day’s use of the brute; it is well worth the fee-simple of him, were he never returned.”
“But the palfrey is an old acquaintance, master,” said Raoul; “and if perchance —”
“Out upon if and perchance both,” said the dame, giving her husband so determined a thrust as well-nigh pushed him out of the saddle. “Off the horse! and thank God and this worthy man for the help he hath sent us in this extremity. What signifies the palfrey, when we have not enough to get food either for the brute or ourselves? not though we would eat grass and corn with him, like King Somebody, whom the good father used to read us to sleep about.”
“A truce with your prating, dame,” said Raoul, offering his assistance to help her from the croupe; but she preferred that of Guarine, who, though advanced in years, retained the advantage of his stout soldierly figure. “I humbly thank your goodness,” said she, as, (having first kissed her,) the squire set her on the ground. “And, pray, sir, are ye come from the Holy Land? — Heard ye any tidings there of him that was Constable of Chester?”
De Lacy, who was engaged in removing the pillion from behind the saddle, stopped short in his task, and said, “Ha, dame! what would you with him?”
“A great deal, good palmer, an I could light on him; for his lands and offices are all to be given, it’s like, to that false thief, his kinsman.”
“What! — to Damian, his nephew?” exclaimed the Constable, in a harsh and hasty tone.
“Lord, how you startle me, sir!” said Gillian; then continued, turning to Philip Guarine, “Your friend is a hasty man, belike.”;
“It is the fault of the sun he has lived under so long,” said the squire; “but look you answer his questions truly, and he will make it the better for you.”
Gillian instantly took the hint. “Was it Damian de Lacy you asked after? — Alas I poor young gentleman! no offices or lands for him — more likely to have a gallows-cast, poor lad — and all for nought, as I am a true dame. Damian! — no, no, it is not Damian, or damson neither — but Randal Lacy, that must rule the roast, and have all the old man’s lands, and livings, and lordships.”
“What?” said the Constable —“before they know whether the old man. is dead or no?-Methinks that were against law and reason both.”
“Ay, but Randal Lacy has brought about less likely matters. Look you, he hath sworn to the King that they have true tidings of the Constable’s death — ay, and let him alone to make them soothfast enough, if the Constable were once within his danger.”
“Indeed!” said the Constable. “But you are forging tales on a noble gentleman. Come, come, dame, you say this because you like not Randal Lacy.”
“Like him not! — And what reason have I to like him, I trow?” answered Gillian. “Is it because he seduced my simplicity to let him into the castle of the Garde Doloureuse-ay, oftener than once or twice either,-when he was disguised as a pedlar, and told him all the secrets of the family, and how the boy Damian, and the girl Eveline, were dying of love with each other, but had not courage to say a word of it, for fear of the Constable, though he were a thousand miles off?-You seem concerned, worthy sir — may I offer your reverend worship a trifling sup from my bottle, which is sovereign for tremor cordis, and fits of the spleen?”
“No, no,” ejaculated De Lacy —“I was but grieved with the shooting of an old wound. But, dame, I warrant me this Damian and Eveline, as you call them, became better, closer friends, in time?”
“They? — not they indeed, poor simpletons!” answered the dame; “they wanted some wise counsellor to go between and advise them. For, look you, sir, if old Hugo be dead, as is most like, it were more natural that his bride and his nephew should inherit his lands, than this same Randal who is but a distant kinsman, and a foresworn caitiff to boot. — Would you think it, reverend pilgrim, after the mountains of gold he promised me? — when the castle was taken, and he saw I could serve him no more, he called me old beldame, and spoke of the beadle and the cucking-stool. — Yes, reverend sir, old beldame and cucking-stool were his best words, when he knew I had no one to take my part, save old Raoul, who cannot take his own. But if grim old Hugh bring back his weatherbeaten carcass from Palestine, and have but half the devil in him which he had when he was fool enough to go away, Saint Mary, but I will do his kinsman’s office to him!”
There was a pause when she had done speaking.
“Thou say’st,” at length exclaimed the Constable, “that Damian de Lacy and Eveline love each other, yet are unconscious of guilt or falsehood, or ingratitude to me — I would say, to their relative in Palestine!”
“Love, sir! — in troth and so it is — they do love each other,” said Gillian; “but it is like angels — or like lambs — or like fools, if you will; for they would never so much as have spoken together, but for a prank of that same Randal Lacy’s.”
“How!” demanded the Constable —“a prank of Randal’s? — What motive had he that these two should meet?”
“Nay, their meeting was none of his seeking; but he had formed a plan to carry off the Lady Eveline himself, for he was a wild rover, this same Randal; and so he came disguised as a merchant of falcons, and trained out my old stupid Raoul, and the Lady Eveline, and all of us, as if to have an hour’s mirth in hawking at the heron. But he had a band of Welsh kites in readiness to pounce upon us; and but for the sudden making in of Damian to our rescue, it is undescribable to think what might have come of us; and Damian being hurt in the onslaught, was carried to the Garde Doloureuse in mere necessity; and but to save his life, it is my belief my lady would never have asked him to cross the drawbridge, even if he had offered.”
“Woman,” said the Constable, “think what thou say’st! If thou hast done evil in these matters heretofore, as I suspect from thine own story, think not to put it right by a train of new falsehoods, merely from spite at missing thy reward.”
“Palmer,” said old Raoul, with his broken-toned voice, cracked by many a hollo, “I am wont to leave the business of tale-bearing to my wife Gillian, who will tongue-pad it with any shrew in Christendom. But thou speak’st like one having some interest in these matters, and therefore I will tell thee plainly, that although this woman has published her own shame in avowing her correspondence with that same Randal Lacy, yet what she has said is true as the gospel; and, were it my last word, I would say that Damian and the Lady Eveline are innocent of all treason and all dishonesty, as is the babe unborn. — But what avails what the like of us say, who are even driven to the very begging for mere support, after having lived at a good house, and in a good lord’s service-blessing be with him!”
“But hark you,” continued the Constable, “are there left no ancient servants of the House, that could speak out as well as you?” “Humph!” answered the huntsman —“men are not willing to babble when Randal Lacy is cracking his thong above their heads. Many are slain, or starved to death — some disposed of — some spirited away. But there are the weaver Flammock and his daughter Rose, who know as much of the matter as we do.”
“What! — Wilkin Flammock the stout Netherlander?” said the Constable; “he and his blunt but true daughter Rose? — I will venture my life on their faith. Where dwell they? — What has been their lot amidst these changes?” “And in God’s name who are you that ask these questions?” said Dame Gillian. “Husband, husband — we have been too free; there is something in that look and that tone which I should remember.”
“Yes, look at me more fixedly,” said the Constable, throwing “back the hood which had hitherto in some degree obscured his features.
“On your knees — on your knees, Raoul!” exclaimed Gillian, dropping on her own at the same time; “it is the Constable himself, and he has heard me call him old Hugh!”
“It is all that is left of him who was the Constable, at least,” replied De Lacy; “and old Hugh willingly forgives your freedom, in consideration of your good news. Where are Flammock and his daughter?”
“Rose is with the Lady Eveline,” said Dame Gillian; “her ladyship, belike, chose her for bower-woman in place of me, although Rose was never fit to attire so much as a Dutch doll.”
“The faithful girl!” said the Constable. “And where is Flammock?”
“Oh, for him, he has pardon and favour from the King,” said Raoul; “and is at his own house, with his rabble of weavers, close beside the Battle-bridge, as they now call the place where your lordship quelled the Welsh.”
“Thither will I then,” said the Constable; “and will then see what welcome King Henry of Anjou has for an old servant. You two must accompany me.”
“My lord,” said Gillian, with hesitation, “you know poor folk are little thanked for interference with great men’s affairs. I trust your lordship will be able to protect us if we speak the truth; and that you will not look back with displeasure on what I did, acting for the best.”
“Peace, dame, with a wanion to ye!” said Raoul. “Will you think of your own old sinful carcass, when you should be saving your sweet young mistress from shame and oppression? — And for thy ill tongue, and worse practices, his lordship knows they are bred in the bone of thee.”
“Peace, good fellow!” said the Constable; “we will not look back on thy wife’s errors, and your fidelity shall be rewarded. — For you, my faithful followers,” he said, turning towards Guarine and Vidal, “when De Lacy shall receive his rights, of which he doubts nothing, his first wish shall be to reward your fidelity.”
“Mine, such as it is, has been and shall be its own reward,” said Vidal. “I will not accept favours from him in prosperity, who, in adversity, refused me his hand — our account stands yet open.”
“Go to, thou art a fool; but thy profession hath a privilege to be humorous,” said the Constable, whose weatherbeaten and homely features looked even handsome, when animated by gratitude to Heaven and benevolence towards mankind. “We will meet,” he said, “at Battle-bridge, an hour before vespers — I shall have much achieved before that time.”
“The space is short,” said his esquire.
“I have won a battle in yet shorter,” replied the Constable.
“In which,” said the minstrel, “many a man has died that thought himself well assured of life and victory.”
“Even so shall my dangerous cousin Randal find his schemes of ambition blighted,” answered the Constable; and rode forwards, accompanied by Raoul and his wife, who had remounted their palfrey, while the minstrel and squire followed a-foot, and, of course, much more slowly.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00