Oh, sadly shines the morning sun
On leaguer’d castle wall,
When bastion, tower, and battlement,
Seemed nodding to their fall.
True to his resolution, and telling his beads as he went, that he might lose no time, Father Aldrovand began his rounds in the castle so soon as daylight had touched the top of the eastern horizon. A natural instinct led him first to those stalls which, had the fortress been properly victualled for a siege, ought to have been tenanted by cattle; and great was his delight to see more than a score of fat kine and bullocks in the place which had last night been empty! One of them had already been carried to the shambles, and a Fleming or two, who played butchers on the occasion, were dividing the carcass for the cook’s use. The good father had well-nigh cried out, a miracle; but, not to be too precipitate, he limited his transport to a private exclamation in honour of Our Lady of the Garde Doloureuse.
“Who talks of lack of provender? — who speaks of surrender now?” he said. “Here is enough to maintain us till Hugo de Lacy arrives, were he to sail back from Cyprus to our relief. I did purpose to have fasted this morning, as well to save victuals as on a religious score; but the blessings of the saints must not be slighted. — Sir Cook, let me have half a yard or so of broiled beef presently; bid the pantler send me a manchet, and the butler a cup of wine. I will take a running breakfast on the western battlements.” [Footnote: Old Henry Jenkins, in his Recollections of the Abbacies before their dissolution, has preserved the fact that roast-beef was delivered out to the guests not by weight, but by measure.]
At this place, which was rather the weakest point of the Garde Doloureuse, the good father found Wilkin Flammock anxiously superintending the necessary measures of defence. He greeted him courteously, congratulated him on the stock of provisions with which the castle had been supplied during the night, and was inquiring how they had been so happily introduced through the Welsh besiegers, when Wilkin took the first occasion to interrupt him.
“Of all this another time, good father; but I wish at present, and before other discourse, to consult thee on a matter which presses my conscience, and moreover deeply concerns my worldly estate.”
“Speak on, my excellent son,” said the father, conceiving that he should thus gain the key to Wilkin’s real intentions. “Oh, a tender conscience is a jewel! and he that will not listen when it saith, ‘Pour out thy doubts into the ear of the priest,’ shall one day have his own dolorous outcries choked with fire and brimstone. Thou wert ever of a tender conscience, son Wilkin, though thou hast but a rough and borrel bearing.”
“Well, then,” said Wilkin, “you are to know, good father, that I have had some dealings with my neighbour, Jan Vanwelt, concerning my daughter Rose, and that he has paid me certain gilders on condition I will match her to him.”
“Pshaw, pshaw! my good son,” said the disappointed confessor, “this gear can lie over — this is no time for marrying or giving in marriage, when we are all like to be murdered.”
“Nay, but hear me, good father,” said the Fleming, “for this point of conscience concerns the present case more nearly than you wot of. — You must know I have no will to bestow Rose on this same Jan Vanwelt, who is old, and of ill conditions; and I would know of you whether I may, in conscience, refuse him my consent?”
“Truly,” said Father Aldrovand, “Rose is a pretty lass, though somewhat hasty; and I think you may honestly withdraw your consent, always on paying back the gilders you have received.”
“But there lies the pinch, good father,” said the Fleming —“the refunding this money will reduce me to utter poverty. The Welsh have destroyed my substance; and this handful of money is all, God help me! on which I must begin the world again.”
“Nevertheless, son Wilkin,” said Aldrovand, “thou must keep thy word, or pay the forfeit; for what saith the text? Quis habitabit in tabernaculo, quis requiescet in monte sancta? — Who shall ascend to the tabernacle, and dwell in the holy mountain? Is it not answered again, Qui jurat proximo et non decipit? — Go to, my son — break not thy plighted word for a little filthy lucre — better is an empty stomach and an hungry heart with a clear conscience, than a fatted ox with iniquity and wordbreaking. — Sawest thou not our late noble lord, who (may his soul be happy!) chose rather to die in unequal battle, like a true knight, than live a perjured man, though he had but spoken a rash word to a Welshman over a wine flask?”
“Alas! then,” said the Fleming, “this is even what I feared! We must e’en render up the castle, or restore to the Welshman, Jorworth, the cattle, by means of which I had schemed to victual and defend it.”
“How — wherefore — what dost thou mean?” said the monk, in astonishment. “I speak to thee of Rose Flammock, and Jan Van-devil, or whatever you call him, and you reply with talk about cattle and castles, and I wot not what!”
“So please you, holy father, I did but speak in parables. This castle was the daughter I had promised to deliver over — the Welshman is Jan Vanwelt, and the gilders were the cattle he has sent in, as a part-payment beforehand of my guerdon.”
“Parables!” said the monk, colouring with anger at the trick put on him; “what has a boor like thee to do with parables? — But I forgive thee — I forgive thee.”
“I am therefore to yield the castle to the Welshman, or restore him his cattle?” said the impenetrable Dutchman.
“Sooner yield thy soul to Satan!” replied the monk.
“I fear it must be the alternative,” said the Fleming; “for the example of thy honourable lord —”
“The example of an honourable fool”— answered the monk; then presently subjoined, “Our Lady be with her servant! — This Belgic-brained boor makes me forget what I would say.”
“Nay, but the holy text which your reverence cited to me even now,” continued the Fleming.
“Go to,” said the monk; “what hast thou to do to presume to think of texts? — knowest thou not the letter of the Scripture slayeth, and that it is the exposition which maketh to live? — Art thou not like one who, coming to a physician, conceals from him half the symptoms of the disease? — I tell thee, thou foolish Fleming, the text speaketh but of promises made unto Christians, and there is in the Rubric a special exception of such as are made to Welshmen.” At this commentary the Fleming grinned so broadly as to show his whole case of broad strong white teeth. Father Aldrovand himself grinned in sympathy, and then proceeded to say — “Come, come, I see how it is. Thou hast studied some small revenge on me for doubting of thy truth; and, in verity, I think thou hast taken it wittily enough. But wherefore didst thou not let me into the secret from the beginning? I promise thee I had foul suspicions of thee.
“What!” said the Fleming, “is it possible I could ever think of involving your reverence in a little matter of deceit? Surely Heaven hath sent me more grace and manners. — Hark, I hear Jorworth’s horn at the gate.”
“He blows like a town swineherd,” said Aldrovand, in disdain.
“It is not your reverence’s pleasure that I should restore the cattle unto them, then?” said Flammock.
“Yes, thus far. Prithee, deliver him straightway over the walls such a tub of boiling water as shall scald the hair from his goatskin cloak. And, hark thee, do thou, in the first place, try the temperature of the kettle with thy forefinger, and that shall be thy penance for the trick thou hast played me.”
The Fleming answered this with another broad grin of intelligence, and they proceeded to the outer gate, to which Jorworth had come alone. Placing himself at the wicket, which, however, he kept carefully barred, and speaking through a small opening, contrived for such purpose, Wilkin Flammock demanded of the Welshman his business.
“To receive rendition of the castle, agreeable to promise,” said Jorworth.
“Ay? and art thou come on such errand alone?” said Wilkin.
“No, truly,” answered Jorworth; “I have some two score of men concealed among yonder bushes.”
“Then thou hadst best lead them away quickly,” answered Wilkin, “before our archers let fly a sheaf of arrows among them.”
“How, villain! Dost thou not mean to keep thy promise?” said the Welshman.
“I gave thee none,” said the Fleming; “I promised but to think on what thou didst say. I have done so, and have communicated with my ghostly father, who will in no respect hear of my listening to thy proposal.”
“And wilt thou,” said Jorworth, “keep the cattle, which I simply sent into the castle on the faith of our agreement?”
“I will excommunicate and deliver him over to Satan,” said the monk, unable to wait the phlegmatic and lingering answer of the Fleming, “if he give horn, hoof, or hair of them, to such an uncircumcised Philistine as thou or thy master.”
“It is well, shorn priest,” answered Jorworth in great anger. “But mark me — reckon not on your frock for ransom. When Gwenwyn hath taken this castle, as it shall not longer shelter such a pair of faithless traitors, I will have you sewed up each into the carcass of one of these kine, for which your penitent has forsworn himself, and lay you where wolf and eagle shall be your only companions.”
“Thou wilt work thy will when it is matched with thy power,” said the sedate Netherlander.
“False Welshman, we defy thee to thy teeth!” answered, in the same breath, the more irascible monk. “I trust to see hounds gnaw thy joints ere that day come that ye talk of so proudly.”
By way of answer to both, Jorworth drew back his arm with his levelled javelin, and shaking the shaft till it acquired a vibratory motion, he hurled it with equal strength and dexterity right against the aperture in the wicket. It whizzed through the opening at which it was aimed, and flew (harmlessly, however) between the heads of the monk and the Fleming; the former of whom started back, while the latter only said, as he looked at the javelin, which stood quivering in the door of the guard-room, “That was well aimed, and happily baulked.”
Jorworth, the instant he had flung his dart, hastened to the ambush which he had prepared, and gave them at once the signal and the example of a rapid retreat down the hill. Father Aldrovand would willingly have followed them with a volley of arrows, but the Fleming observed that ammunition was too precious with them to be wasted on a few runaways. Perhaps the honest man remembered that they had come within the danger of such a salutation, in some measure, on his own assurance. When the noise of the hasty retreat of Jorworth and his followers had died away, there ensued a dead silence, well corresponding with the coolness and calmness of that early hour in the morning.
“This will not last long,” said Wilkin to the monk, in a tone of foreboding seriousness, which found an echo in the good father’s bosom.
“It will not, and it cannot,” answered Aldrovand; “and we must expect a shrewd attack, which I should mind little, but that their numbers are great, ours few; the extent of the walls considerable, and the obstinacy of these Welsh fiends almost equal to their fury. But we will do the best. I will to the Lady Eveline — She must show herself upon the battlements — She is fairer in feature than becometh a man of my order to speak of; and she has withal a breathing of her father’s lofty spirit. The look and the word of such a lady will give a man double strength in the hour of need.”
“It may be,” said the Fleming; “and I will go see that the good breakfast which I have appointed be presently served forth; it will give my Flemings more strength than the sight of the ten thousand virgins — may their help be with us! — were they all arranged on a fair field.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00