Rosalind. Well, this is the Forest of Arden.
Touchstone. Ay, now am I in Arden; the more fool I. When I was at home I was in a better place; but travellers must be content.
Rosalind. Ay, be so, good Touchstone. Look you, who comes here; a young man and an old, in solemn talk.
As You Like It. Scene IV. Act 2.
As the travellers spoke together, they reached a turn of the path which presented a more extensive prospect than the broken face of the country had yet shown them. A valley, through which flowed a small tributary stream, exhibited the wild, but not unpleasant, features of “a lone vale of green braken;” here and there besprinkled with groups of alder-trees, of hazels, and of copse-oakwood, which had maintained their stations in the recesses of the valley, although they had vanished from the loftier and more exposed sides of the hills. The farm-house or mansion-house, (for, from its size and appearance, it might have been the one or the other,) was a large but low building, and the walls of the out-houses were sufficiently strong to resist any band of casual depredators. There was nothing, however, which could withstand a more powerful force; for, in a country laid waste by war, the farmer was then, as now, obliged to take his chance of the great evils attendant upon that state of things; and his condition, never a very eligible one, was rendered considerably worse by the insecurity attending it. About half a mile farther was seen a Gothic building of very small extent, having a half dismantled chapel, which the minstrel pronounced to be the Abbey of Saint Bride. “The place,” he said, “I understand, is allowed to subsist, as two or three old monks and as many nuns, whom it contains, are permitted by the English to serve God there, and sometimes to give relief to Scottish travellers; and who have accordingly taken assurance with Sir John de Walton, and accepted as their superior a churchman on whom he thinks he can depend. But if these guests happen to reveal any secrets, they are, by some means or other, believed to fly towards the English governor; and therefore, unless your ladyship’s commands be positive, I think we had best not trust ourselves to their hospitality.”
“Of a surety, no,” said the lady, “if thou canst provide me with lodgings where we shall have more prudent hosts.”
At this moment, two human forms were seen to approach the farm-house in a different direction from the travellers, and speaking so high, in a tone apparently of dispute, that the minstrel and his companion could distinguish their voices though the distance was considerable. Having screened his eyes with his hand for some minutes, Bertram at length exclaimed, “By our Lady, it is my old friend, Tom Dickson, sure enough! — What can make him in such bad humour with the lad, who, I think, may be the little wild boy, his son Charles, who used to run about and plait rushes some twenty years ago? It is lucky, however, we have found our friends astir; for I warrant, Tom hath a hearty piece of beef in the pot ere he goes to bed, and he must have changed his wont if an old friend hath not his share; and who knows, had we come later, at what hour they may now find it convenient to drop latch and draw bolt so near a hostile garrison; for if we call things by their right names, such is the proper term for an English garrison in the castle of a Scottish nobleman.”
“Foolish man,” answered the lady, “thou judgest of Sir John de Walton as thou wouldst of some rude boor, to whom the opportunity of doing what he wills is a temptation and license to exercise cruelty and oppression. Now, I could plight you my word, that, setting apart the quarrel of the kingdoms, which, of course, will be fought out in fair battles on both sides, you will find that English and Scottish, within this domain, and within the reach of Sir John de Walton’s influence, live together as that same flock of sheep and goats do with the shepherd’s dog; a foe from whom they fly upon certain occasions, but around whom they nevertheless eagerly gather for protection should a wolf happen to show himself.”
“It is not to your ladyship,” answered Bertram, “that I should venture to state my opinion of such matters; but the young knight, when he is sheathed in armour, is a different being from him who feasts in halls among press of ladies; and he that feeds by another man’s fireside, and when his landlord, of all men in the world, chances to be the Black Douglas, has reason to keep his eyes about him as he makes his meal:— but it were better I looked after our own evening refreshment, than that I stood here gaping and talking about other folk’s matters.” So saying, he called out in a thundering tone of voice, “Dickson! — what ho, Thomas Dickson! — will you not acknowledge an old friend who is much disposed to trust his supper and night’s lodging to your hospitality?”
The Scotchman, attracted by the call, looked first along the banks of the river, then upward to the bare side of the hill, and at length cast his eyes upon the two figures who were descending from it.
As if he felt the night colder while he advanced from the more sheltered part of the valley to meet them, the Douglas Dale farmer wrapped closer around him the grey plaid, which, from an early period, has been used by the shepherds of the south of Scotland, and the appearance of which gives a romantic air to the peasantry and middle classes; and which, although less brilliant and gaudy in its colours, is as picturesque in its arrangement as the more military tartan mantle of the Highlands. When they approached near to each other, the lady might observe that this friend of her guide was a stout athletic man, somewhat past the middle of life, and already showing marks of the approach, but none of the infirmities, of age, upon a countenance which had been exposed to many a storm. Sharp eyes, too, and a quick observation, exhibited signs of vigilance, acquired by one who had lived long in a country where he had constant occasion for looking around him with caution. His features were still swollen with displeasure; and the handsome young man who attended him seemed to be discontented, like one who had undergone no gentle marks of his father’s indignation, and who, from the sullen expression which mingled with an appearance of shame on his countenance, seemed at once affected by anger and remorse.
“Do you not remember me, old friend?” said Bertram, as they approached within a distance for communing; “or have the twenty years which have marched over us since we met, carried along with them all remembrance of Bertram, the English minstrel?”
“In troth,” answered the Scot, “it is not for want of plenty of your countrymen to keep you in my remembrance, and I have hardly heard one of them so much as whistle
‘Hey, now the day dawns,’
but it has recalled some note of your blythe rebeck; and yet, such animals are we, that I had forgot the mien of my old friend, and scarcely knew him at a distance. But we have had trouble lately; there are a thousand of your countrymen that keep garrison in the Perilous Castle of Douglas yonder, as well as in other places through the vale, and that is but a woful sight for a true Scotchman — even my own poor house has not escaped the dignity of a garrison of a man-at-arms, besides two or three archer knaves, and one or two slips of mischievous boys called pages, and so forth, who will not let a man say, ‘this is my own,’ by his own fireside. Do not, therefore, think hardly of me, old comrade, if I show you a welcome something colder than you might expect from a friend of other days; for, by Saint Bride of Douglas, I have scarcely anything left to which I can say welcome.”
“Small welcome will serve,” said Bertram. “My son, make thy reverence to thy father’s old friend. Augustine is learning my joyous trade, but he will need some practice ere he can endure its fatigues. If you could give him some little matter of food, and a quiet bed for the night, there’s no fear but that we shall both do well enough; for I dare say, when you travel with my friend Charles there — if that tall youth chance to be my old acquaintance Charles — you will find yourself accommodated when his wants are once well provided for.”
“Nay, the foul fiend take me if I do,” answered the Scottish husbandman. “I know not what the lads of this day are made of — not of the same clay as their fathers, to be sure — not sprung from their heather, which fears neither wind nor rain, but from some delicate plant of a foreign country, which will not thrive unless it be nourished under glass, with a murrain to it. The good Lord of Douglas — I have been his henchman, and can vouch for it — did not in his pagehood desire such food and lodging as, in the present day, will hardly satisfy such a lad as your friend Charles.”
“Nay,” said Bertram, “it is not that my Augustine is over nice; but, for other reasons, I must request of you a bed to himself; he hath of late been unwell.”
“Ay, I understand,” said Dickson, “your son hath had a touch of that illness which terminates so frequently in the black death you English folk die of? We hear much of the havoc it has made to the southward. Comes it hitherward?”
“Well, my father’s house,” continued the farmer, “hath more rooms than one, and your son shall have one well-aired and comfortable; and for supper, ye shall have a part of what is prepared for your countrymen, though I would rather have their room than their company. Since I am bound to feed a score of them, they will not dispute the claim of such a skilful minstrel as thou art to a night’s hospitality. I am ashamed to say that I must do their bidding even in my own house, Well-a-day, if my good lord were in possession of his own, I have heart and hand enough to turn the whole of them out of my house, like — like”——
“To speak plainly,” said Bertram, “like a southern strolling gang from Redesdale, whom I have seen you fling out of your house like a litter of blind puppies, when not one of them looked behind to see who had done him the courtesy until he was half-way to Cairntable.”
“Ay,” answered the Scotchman, drawing himself up at least six inches taller than before; “then I had a house of my own, and a cause and an arm to keep it. Now I am — what signifies it what I am? — the noblest lord in Scotland is little better.”
“Truly, friend,” said Bertram, “now you view this matter in a rational light. I do not say that the wisest, the richest, or the strongest man in this world has any right to tyrannize over his neighbour, because he is the more weak, ignorant, and the poorer; but yet if he does enter into such a controversy, he must submit to the course of nature, and that will always give the advantage in the tide of battle to wealth, strength, and health.”
“With permission, however,” answered Dickson, “the weaker party, if he use his facilities to the utmost, may, in the long run, obtain revenge upon the author of his sufferings, which would be at least compensation for his temporary submission; and he acts simply as a man, and most foolishly as a Scotchman, whether he sustain these wrongs with the insensibility of an idiot, or whether he endeavour to revenge them before Heaven’s appointed time has arrived. — But if I talk thus I shall scare you, as I have scared some of your countrymen, from accepting a meal of meat and a night’s lodging, in a house where you might be called with the morning to a bloody settlement of a national quarrel.”
“Never mind,” said Bertram, “we have been known to each other of old; and I am no more afraid of meeting unkindness in your house, than you expect me to come here for the purpose of adding to the injuries of which you complain.”
“So be it,” said Dickson; “and you, my old friend, are as welcome to my abode as when it never held any guest, save of my own inviting. — And you, my young friend, Master Augustine, shall be looked after as well as if you came with a gay brow and a light cheek, such as best becomes the gay science.”
“But wherefore, may I ask,” said Bertram, “so much displeased but now at my young friend Charles?”
The youth answered before his father had time to speak. “My father, good sir, may put what show upon it he will, but shrewd and wise men wax weak in the brain these troublous times. He saw two or three wolves seize upon three of our choicest wethers; and because I shouted to give the alarm to the English garrison, he was angry as if he could have murdered me —— just for saving the sheep from the jaws that would have devoured them.”
“This is a strange account of thee, old friend,” said Bertram. “Dost thou connive with the wolves in robbing thine own fold?”
“Why, let it pass, if thou lovest me,” answered the countryman; “Charles could tell thee something nearer the truth if he had a mind; but for the present let it pass.”
The minstrel, perceiving that the Scotchman was fretted and embarrassed with the subject, pressed it no farther.
At this moment, in crossing the threshold of Thomas Dickson’s house, they were greeted with sounds from two English soldiers within. “Quiet, Anthony,” said one voice — “quiet, man! — for the sake of common sense, if not common manners; — Robin Hood himself never sat down to his board ere the roast was ready.”
“Ready!” quoth another rough voice; “It is roasting to rags, and small had been the knave Dickson’s share, even of these rags, had it not been the express orders of the worshipful Sir John de Walton, that the soldiers who lie at outposts should afford to the inmates such provisions as are not necessary for their own subsistence.”
“Hush, Anthony — hush, for shame!” replied his fellow-soldier, “if ever I heard our host’s step, I heard it this instant; so give over thy grumbling, since our captain, as we all know, hath prohibited, under strict penalties, all quarrels between his followers and the people of the country.”
“I am sure,” replied Anthony, “that I have ministered occasion to none; but I would I were equally certain of the good meaning of this sullen-browed Thomas Dickson towards the English soldiers, for I seldom go to bed in this dungeon of a house, but I expect my throat will gape as wide as a thirsty oyster before I awaken. Here he comes, however,” added Anthony, sinking his sharp tones as he spoke; “and I hope to be excommunicated if he has not brought with him that mad animal, his son Charles, and two other strangers, hungry enough, I’ll be sworn, to eat up the whole supper, if they do us no other injury.”
“Shame of thyself, Anthony,” repeated his comrade; “a good archer thou as ever wore Kendal green, and yet affect to be frightened for two tired travellers, and alarmed for the inroad their hunger may make on the night’s meal. There are four or five of us here — we have our bows and our bills within reach, and scorn to be chased from our supper, or cheated out of our share of it by a dozen Scotchmen, whether stationary or strollers. How say’st thou?” he added, turning to Dickson —“How say ye, quartermaster? it is no secret, that by the directions given to our post, we must enquire into the occupations of such guests as you may receive besides ourselves, your unwilling inmates; you are as ready for supper, I warrant, as supper is for you, and I will only delay you and my friend Anthony — who becomes dreadfully impatient, until you answer two or three questions which you wot of.”
“Bend-the-Bow,” answered Dickson, “thou art a civil fellow; and although it is something hard to be constrained to give an account of one’s friends, because they chance to quarter in one’s own house for a night or two, yet I must submit to the times, and make no vain opposition. You may mark down in your breviary there, that upon the fourteenth day before Palm Sunday, Thomas Dickson brought to his house of Hazelside, in which you hold garrison, by orders from the English governor, Sir John de Walton, two strangers, to whom the said Thomas Dickson had promised refreshment, and a bed for the evening, if it be lawful at this time and place.”
“But what are they, these strangers?” said Anthony, somewhat sharply.
“A fine world the while,” murmured Thomas Dickson, “that an honest man should be forced to answer the questions of every paltry companion!”— But he mitigated his voice and proceeded. “The eldest of my guests is Bertram, an ancient English minstrel, who is bound on his own errand to the Castle of Douglas, and will communicate what he has to say of news to Sir John de Walton himself. I have known him for twenty years, and never heard any thing of him save that he was good man and true. The younger stranger is his son, a lad recovering from the English disorder, which has been raging far and wide in Westmoreland and Cumberland.”
“Tell me,” said Bend-the-Bow, “this same Bertram — was he not about a year since in the service of some noble lady in our own country?”
“I have heard so,” answered Dickson.
“We shall, in that case, I think, incur little danger,” replied Bend-the-Bow, “by allowing this old man and his son to proceed on their journey to the castle.”
“You are my elder and my better,” answered Anthony; “but I may remind you that it is not so clearly our duty to give free passage, into a garrison of a thousand men of all ranks, to a youth who has been so lately attacked by a contagious disorder; and I question if our commander would not rather hear that the Black Douglas, with a hundred devils as black as himself, since such is his colour, had taken possession of the outposts of Hazelside with sword and battle-axe, than that one person suffering under this fell sickness had entered peaceably, and by the open wicket of the castle.”
“There is something in what thou sayest, Anthony,” replied his comrade; “and considering that our governor, since he has undertaken the troublesome job of keeping a castle which is esteemed so much more dangerous than any other within Scotland, has become one of the most cautious and jealous men in the world, we had better, I think, inform him of the circumstance, and take his commands how the stripling is to be dealt with.”
“Content am I,” said the archer; “and first, methinks, I would just, in order to show that we know what belongs to such a case, ask the stripling a few questions, as how long he has been ill, by what physicians he has been attended, when he was cured, and how his cure is certified, &e.”
“True, brother,” said Bend-the-Bow. “Thou hearest, minstrel, we would ask thy son some questions — What has become of him? — he was in this apartment but now.”
“So please you,” answered Bertram, “he did but pass through the apartment. Mr. Thomas Dickson, at my entreaty, as well as in respectful reverence to your honour’s health, carried him through the room without tarriance, judging his own bed-chamber the fittest place for a young man recovering from a severe illness, and after a day of no small fatigue.”
“Well,” answered the elder archer, “though it is uncommon for men who, like us, live by bow-string and quiver, to meddle with interrogations and examinations; yet, as the case stands, we must make some enquiries of your son, ere we permit him to set forth to the Castle of Douglas, where you say his errand leads him.”
“Rather my errand, noble sir,” said the minstrel, “than that of the young man himself.”
“If such be the case,” answered Bend-the-Bow, “we may sufficiently do our duty by sending yourself, with the first grey light of dawn, to the castle, and letting your son remain in bed, which I warrant is the fittest place for him, until we shall receive Sir John de Walton’s commands whether he is to be brought onward or not.”
“And we may as well,” said Anthony, “since we are to have this man’s company at supper, make him acquainted with the rules of the out-garrison stationed here for the time.” So saying, he pulled a scroll from his leathern pouch, and said, “Minstrel, canst thou read?”
“It becomes my calling,” said the minstrel.
“It has nothing to do with mine, though,” answered the archer, “and therefore do thou read these regulations aloud; for since I do not comprehend these characters by sight, I lose no chance of having them read over to me as often as I can, that I may fix their sense in my memory. So beware that thou readest the words letter for letter as they are set down; for thou dost so at thy peril, Sir Minstrel, if thou readest not like a true man.”
“On my minstrel word,” said Bertram, and began to read excessively slow; for he wished to gain a little time for consideration, which he foresaw would be necessary to prevent his being separated from his mistress, which was likely to occasion her much anxiety and distress. He therefore began thus:—”‘Outpost at Hazelside, the steading of Goodman Thomas Dickson’— Ay, Thomas, and is thy house so called?”
“It is the ancient name of the steading,” said the Scot, “being surrounded by a hazel-shaw, or thicket.”
“Hold your chattering tongue, minstrel,” said Anthony, “and proceed, as you value your ears, which you seem disposed to make less use of.”
“‘His garrison’” proceeded the minstrel, reading, “‘consists of a lance with its furniture.’ What, then, a lance, in other words, a belted knight, commands this party?”
“’Tis no concern of thine,” said the archer.
“But it is,” answered the minstrel; “we have a right to be examined by the highest person in presence.”
“I will show thee, thou rascal,” said the archer, starting up, “that I am lance enough for thee to reply to, and I will break thy head if thou say’st a word more.”
“Take care, brother Anthony,” said his comrade, “we are to use travellers courteously — and, with your leave, those travellers best who come from our native land.”
“It is even so stated here,” said the minstrel, and he proceeded to read:—”‘The watch at this outpost of Hazelside shall stop and examine all travellers passing by the said station, suffering such to pass onward to the town of Douglas or to Douglas Castle, always interrogating them with civility, and detaining and turning them back if there arise matter of suspicion; but conducting themselves in all matters civilly and courteously to the people of the country, and to those who travel in it.’ You see, most excellent and valiant archer,” added the commentator Bertram, “that courtesy and civility are, above all, recommended to your worship in your conduct towards the inhabitants, and those passengers who, like us, may chance to fall under your rules in such matters.”
Hazelside Place, the fief granted to Thomas Dickson by William the Hardy, seventh Lord Douglas, is still pointed out about two miles to the southwest of the Castle Dangerous. Dickson was sixty years of age at the time when Lord James first appeared in Douglasdale. His heirs kept possession of the fief for centuries; and some respectable gentlemen’s families in Lanarkshire still trace themselves to this ancestor. — From Notes by Mr. Haddow.
“I am not to be told at this time of day,” said the archer, “how to conduct myself in the discharge of my duties. Let me advise you, Sir Minstrel, to be frank and open in your answers to our enquiries, and you shall have no reason to complain.”
“I hope at all events,” said the minstrel, “to have your favour for my son, who is a delicate stripling, and not accustomed to play his part among the crew which inhabit this wild world.”
“Well,” continued the elder and more civil of the two archers, “if thy son be a novice in this terrestrial navigation, I warrant that thou, my friend, from thy look and manner of speech, hast enough of skill to use thy compass. To comfort thee, although thou must thyself answer the questions of our governor or deputy-governor, in order that he may see there is no offence in thee, I think there may be permission granted for thy son’s residing here in the convent hard by, (where the nuns, by the way, are as old as the monks, and have nearly as long beards, so thou mayst be easy about thy son’s morals,) until thou hast done thy business at Douglas Castle, and art ready to resume thy journey.”
“If such permission,” said the minstrel, “can be obtained, I should be better pleased to leave him at the abbey, and go myself, in the first place, to take the directions of your commanding officer.”
“Certainly,” answered the archer, “that will be the safest and best way; and with a piece or two of money, thou mayst secure the protection of the abbot.”
“Thou say’st well,” answered the minstrel; “I have known life, I have known every stile, gap, pathway, and pass of this wilderness of ours for some thirty years; and he that cannot steer his course fairly through it like an able seaman, after having served such an apprenticeship, can hardly ever be taught, were a century to be given him to learn it in.”
“Since thou art so expert a mariner,” answered the archer Anthony, “thou hast, I warrant me, met in thy wanderings a potation called a morning’s draught, which they who are conducted by others, where they themselves lack experience, are used to bestow upon those who undertake the task of guide upon such an occasion?”
“I understand you, sir,” quoth the minstrel; “and although money, or drink-geld, as the Fleming calls it, is rather a scarce commodity in the purse of one of my calling, yet according to my feeble ability, thou shalt have no cause to complain that thine eyes or those of thy comrades have been damaged by a Scottish mist, while we can find an English coin to pay for the good liquor which would wash them clear.”
“Content,” said the archer; “we now understand each other; and if difficulties arise on the road, thou shalt not want the countenance of Anthony to sail triumphantly through them. But thou hadst better let thy son know soon of the early visit to the abbot tomorrow, for thou mayst guess that we cannot and dare not delay our departure for the convent a minute after the eastern sky is ruddy; and, with other infirmities, young men often are prone to laziness and a love of ease.”
“Thou shalt have no reason to think so,” answered the minstrel; “not the lark himself, when waked by the first ray peeping over the black cloud, springs more lightly to the sky, than will my Augustine answer the same brilliant summons. And now we understand each other, I would only further pray you to forbear light talk while my son is in your company — a boy of innocent life, and timid in conversation.”
“Nay, jolly minstrel,” said the elder archer, “thou givest us here too gross an example of Satan reproving sin. If thou hast followed thy craft for twenty years, as thou pretendest, thy son, having kept thee company since childhood, must by this time be fit to open a school to teach even devils the practice of the seven deadly sins, of which none know the theory if those of the gay science are lacking.”
“Truly, comrade, thou speakest well,” answered Bertram, “and I acknowledge that we minstrels are too much to blame in this matter. Nevertheless, in good sooth, the fault is not one of which I myself am particularly guilty; on the contrary, I think that he who would wish to have his own hair honoured when time has strewed it with silver, should so rein his mirth when in the presence of the young, as may show in what respect he holds innocence. I will, therefore, with your permission, speak a word to Augustine, that tomorrow we must be on foot early.”
“Do so, my friend,” said the English soldier; “and do the same the more speedily that our poor supper is still awaiting until thou art ready to partake of it.”
“To which, I promise thee,” said Bertram, “I am disposed to entertain, no delay.”
“Follow me, then,” said Dickson, “and I will show thee where this young bird of thine has his nest.”
Their host accordingly tripped up the wooden stair, and tapped at a door, which he thus indicated was that of his younger guest.
“Your father,” continued he, as the door opened, “would speak with you, Master Augustine.”
“Excuse me, my host,” answered Augustine, “the truth is, that this room being directly above your eating-chamber, and the flooring not in the best possible repair, I have been compelled to the unhandsome practice of eavesdropping, and not a word has escaped me that passed concerning my proposed residence at the abbey, our journey tomorrow, and the somewhat early hour at which I must shake off sloth, and, according to thy expression, fly down from the roost.”
“And how dost thou relish,” said Dickson, “being left with the Abbot of Saint Bride’s little flock here.”
“Why, well,” said the youth, “if the abbot is a man of respectability becoming his vocation, and not one of those swaggering churchmen, who stretch out the sword, and bear themselves like rank soldiers in these troublous times.”
“For that, young master,” said Dickson, “if you let him put his hand deep enough into your purse, he will hardly quarrel with any thing.” “Then I will leave him to my father,” replied Augustine, “who will not grudge him any thing he asks in reason.”
“In that case,” replied the Scotchman, “you may trust to our abbot for good accommodation — and so both sides are pleased.”
“It is well, my son,” said Bertram, who now joined in the conversation; “and that thou mayst be ready for early travelling, I shall presently get our host to send thee some food, after partaking of which thou shouldst go to bed and sleep off the fatigue of today, since tomorrow will bring work for itself.”
“And as for thy engagement to these honest archers,” answered Augustine, “I hope you will be able to do what will give pleasure to our guides, if they are disposed to be civil and true men.”
“God bless thee, my child!” answered Bertram; “thou knowest already what would drag after thy beck all the English archers that were ever on this side of the Solway. There is no fear of a grey goose shaft, if you sing a reveillez like to that which chimed even now from that silken nest of dainty young goldfinches.”
“Hold me as in readiness, then,” said the seeming youth, “when you depart tomorrow morning. I am within hearing, I suppose, of the bells of Saint Bride’s chapel, and have no fear, through my sloth, of keeping you or your company waiting.”
“Good night, and God bless thee, my child!” again said the minstrel; “remember that your father sleeps not far distant, and on the slightest alarm will not fail to be with you. I need scarce bid thee recommend thyself, meantime, to the great Being, who is the friend and father of us all.”
The pilgrim thanked his supposed father for his evening blessing, and the visitors withdrew without farther speech at the time, leaving the young lady to those engrossing fears, which, the novelty of her situation, and the native delicacy of her sex being considered, naturally thronged upon her.
The tramp of a horse’s foot was not long after heard at the house of Hazelside, and the rider was welcomed by its garrison with marks of respect. Bertram understood so much as to discover from the conversation of the warders that this late arrival was Aymer de Valence, the knight who commanded the little party, and to the furniture of whose lance, as it was technically called, belonged the archers with whom we have already been acquainted, a man-at-arms or two, a certain proportion of pages or grooms, and, in short, the command and guidance of the garrison at Thomas Dickson’s, while in rank he was Deputy-governor of Douglas Castle.
To prevent all suspicion respecting himself and his companion, as well as the risk of the latter being disturbed, the minstrel thought it proper to present himself to the inspection of this knight, the great authority of the little place. He found him with as little scruple as the archers heretofore, making a supper of the relics of the roast beef.
Before this young knight Bertram underwent an examination, while an old soldier took down in writing such items of information as the examinate thought proper to express in his replies, both with regard to the minutiae of his present journey, his business at Castle Douglas, and his route when that business should be accomplished; a much more minute examination, in a word, than he had hitherto undergone by the archers, or perhaps than was quite agreeable to him, being encumbered with at least the knowledge of one secret, whatever more. Not that this new examinator had any thing stern or severe in his looks or his questions. As to the first, he was mild, gentle, and “meek as a maid,” and possessed exactly of the courteous manners ascribed by our father Chaucer to the pattern of chivalry whom he describes upon his pilgrimage to Canterbury. But with all his gentleness, De Valence showed a great degree of acuteness and accuracy in his queries; and well pleased was Bertram that the young knight did not insist upon seeing his supposed son, although even in that case his ready wit had resolved, like a seaman in a tempest, to sacrifice one part to preserve the rest. He was not, however, driven to this extremity, being treated by Sir Aymer with that degree of courtesy which in that age men of song were in general thought entitled to. The knight kindly and liberally consented to the lad’s remaining in the convent, as a fit and quiet residence for a stripling and an invalid, until Sir John de Walton should express his pleasure on the subject; and Sir Aymer consented to this arrangement the more willingly, as it averted all possible danger of bringing disease into the English garrison.
By the young knight’s order, all in Dickson’s house were despatched earlier to rest than usual; the matin bell of the neighbouring chapel being the signal for their assembly by daybreak. They rendezvoused accordingly, and proceeded to Saint Bride’s, where they heard mass, after which an interview took place between the abbot Jerome and the minstrel, in which the former undertook, with the permission of De Valence, to receive Augustine into his abbey as a guest for a few days, less or more, and for which Bertram promised an acknowledgment in name of alms, which was amply satisfactory.
“So be it,” said Bertram, taking leave of his supposed son; “rely on it I will not tarry a day longer at Douglas Castle than shall suffice for transacting my business there, which is to look after the old books you wot of, and I will speedily return for thee to the Abbey of Saint Bride, to resume in company our journey homeward.”
“O father,” replied the youth, with a smile, “I fear if you get among romances and chronicles, you will be so earnest in your researches, that you will forget poor Augustine and his concerns.”
“Never fear me, Augustine,” said the old man, making the motion of throwing a kiss towards the boy; “thou art good and virtuous, and Heaven will not neglect thee, were thy father unnatural enough to do so. Believe me, all the old songs since Merlin’s day shall not make me forget thee.”
Thus they separated, the minstrel, with the English knight and his retinue, to move towards the castle, and the youth in dutiful attendance on the venerable abbot, who was delighted to find that his guest’s thoughts turned rather upon spiritual things than on the morning repast, of the approach of which he could not help being himself sensible.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54