Come forth, old man — Thy daughter’s side
Is now the fitting place for thee:
When time hath quell’d the oak’s bold pride,
The youthful tendril yet may hide
The ruins of the parent tree.
When the sermon was ended, the military orator wiped his brow; for, notwithstanding the coolness of the weather, he was heated with the vehemence of his speech and action. He then descended from the pulpit, and spoke a word or two to the corporal who commanded the party of soldiers, who, replying by a sober nod of intelligence, drew his men together, and marched them in order to their quarters in the town.
The preacher himself, as if nothing extraordinary had happened, left the church and sauntered through the streets of Woodstock, with the air of a stranger who was viewing the town, without seeming to observe that he was himself in his turn anxiously surveyed by the citizens, whose furtive yet frequent glances seemed to regard him as something alike suspected and dreadful, yet on no account to be provoked. He heeded them not, but stalked on in the manner affected by the distinguished fanatics of the day; a stiff solemn pace, a severe and at the same time a contemplative look, like that of a man discomposed at the interruptions which earthly objects forced upon him, obliging him by their intrusion to withdraw his thoughts for an instant from celestial things. Innocent pleasures of what kind soever they held in suspicion and contempt, and innocent mirth they abominated. It was, however, a cast of mind that formed men for great and manly actions, as it adopted principle, and that of an unselfish character, for the ruling motive, instead of the gratification of passion. Some of these men were indeed hypocrites, using the cloak of religion only as a covering for their ambition; but many really possessed the devotional character, and the severe republican virtue, which others only affected. By far the greater number hovered between these extremes, felt to a certain extent the power of religion, and complied with the times in affecting a great deal.
The individual, whose pretensions to sanctity, written as they were upon his brow and gait, have given rise to the above digression, reached at length the extremity of the principal street, which terminates upon the park of Woodstock. A battlemented portal of Gothic appearance defended the entrance to the avenue. It was of mixed architecture, but on the whole, though composed of the styles of the different ages when it had received additions, had a striking and imposing effect. An immense gate, composed of rails of hammered iron, with many a flourish and scroll, displaying as its uppermost ornament the ill-fated cipher of C. R., was now decayed, being partly wasted with rust, partly by violence.
The stranger paused, as if uncertain whether he should demand or assay entrance. He looked through the grating down an avenue skirted by majestic oaks, which led onward with a gentle curve, as if into the depths of some ample and ancient forest. The wicket of the large iron gate being left unwittingly open, the soldier was tempted to enter, yet with some hesitation, as he that intrudes upon ground which he conjectures may be prohibited — indeed his manner showed more reverence for the scene than could have been expected from his condition and character. He slackened his stately and consequential pace, and at length stood still, and looked around him.
Not far from the gate, he saw rising from the trees one or two ancient and venerable turrets, bearing each its own vane of rare device glittering in the autumn sun. These indicated the ancient hunting seat, or Lodge, as it was called, which had, since the time of Henry II., been occasionally the residence of the English monarchs, when it pleased them to visit the woods of Oxford, which then so abounded with game, that, according to old Fuller, huntsmen and falconers were nowhere better pleased. The situation which the Lodge occupied was a piece of flat ground, now planted with sycamores, not far from the entrance to that magnificent spot where the spectator first stops to gaze upon Blenheim, to think of Marlborough’s victories, and to applaud or criticise the cumbrous magnificence of Vanburgh’s style.
There, too, paused our military preacher, but with other thoughts, and for other purpose, than to admire the scene around him. It was not long afterwards when he beheld two persons, a male and a female, approaching slowly, and so deeply engaged in their own conversation that they did not raise their eyes to observe that there stood a stranger in the path before them. The soldier took advantage of their state of abstraction, and, desirous at once to watch their motions and avoid their observation, he glided beneath one of the huge trees which skirted the path, and whose boughs, sweeping the ground on every side, ensured him against discovery, unless in case of an actual search.
In the meantime, the gentleman and lady continued to advance, directing their course to a rustic seat, which still enjoyed the sunbeams, and was placed adjacent to the tree where the stranger was concealed.
The man was elderly, yet seemed bent more by sorrow and infirmity than by the weight of years. He wore a mourning cloak, over a dress of the same melancholy colour, cut in that picturesque form which Vandyck has rendered immortal. But although the dress was handsome, it was put on with a carelessness which showed the mind of the wearer ill at ease. His aged, yet still handsome countenance, had the same air of consequence which distinguished his dress and his gait. A striking part of his appearance was a long white beard, which descended far over the breast of his slashed doublet, and looked singular from its contrast in colour with his habit.
The young lady, by whom this venerable gentleman seemed to be in some degree supported as they walked arm in arm, was a slight and sylphlike form, with a person so delicately made, and so beautiful in countenance, that it seemed the earth on which she walked was too grossly massive a support for a creature so aerial. But mortal beauty must share human sorrows. The eyes of the beautiful being showed tokens of tears; her colour was heightened as she listened to her aged companion; and it was plain, from his melancholy yet displeased look, that the conversation was as distressing to himself as to her. When they sate down on the bench we have mentioned, the gentleman’s discourse could be distinctly overheard by the eavesdropping soldier, but the answers of the young lady reached his ear rather less distinctly.
“It is not to be endured!” said the old man, passionately; “it would stir up a paralytic wretch to start up a soldier. My people have been thinned, I grant you, or have fallen off from me in these times — I owe them no grudge for it, poor knaves; what should they do waiting on me when the pantry has no bread and the buttery no ale? But we have still about us some rugged foresters of the old Woodstock breed — old as myself most of them — what of that? old wood seldom warps in the wetting; — I will hold out the old house, and it will not be the first time that I have held it against ten times the strength that we hear of now.”
“Alas! my dear father!”— said the young lady, in a tone which seemed to intimate his proposal of defence to be altogether desperate.
“And why, alas?” said the gentleman, angrily; “is it because I shut my door against a score or two of these blood-thirsty hypocrites?”
“But their masters can as easily send a regiment or an army, if they will,” replied the lady; “and what good would your present defence do, excepting to exasperate them to your utter destruction?”
“Be it so, Alice,” replied her father; “I have lived my time, and beyond it. I have outlived the kindest and most princelike of masters. What do I do on the earth since the dismal thirtieth of January? The parricide of that day was a signal to all true servants of Charles Stewart to avenge his death, or die as soon after as they could find a worthy opportunity.”
“Do not speak thus, sir,” said Alice Lee; “it does not become your gravity and your worth to throw away that life which may yet be of service to your king and country — it will not and cannot always be thus. England will not long endure the rulers which these bad times have assigned her. In the meanwhile —[here a few words escaped the listener’s ears]— and beware of that impatience, which makes bad worse.”
“Worse?” exclaimed the impatient old man, “What can be worse? Is it not at the worst already? Will not these people expel us from the only shelter we have left — dilapidate what remains of royal property under my charge — make the palace of princes into a den of thieves, and then wipe their mouths and thank God, as if they had done an alms-deed?”
“Still,” said his daughter, “there is hope behind, and I trust the King is ere this out of their reach — We have reason to think well of my brother Albert’s safety.”
“Ay, Albert! there again,” said the old man, in a tone of reproach; “had it not been for thy entreaties I had gone to Worcester myself; but I must needs lie here like a worthless hound when the hunt is up, when who knows what service I might have shown? An old man’s head is sometimes useful when his arm is but little worth. But you and Albert were so desirous that he should go alone — and now, who can say what has become of him?”
“Nay, nay, father,” said Alice, “we have good hope that Albert escaped from that fatal day; young Abney saw him a mile from the field.”
“Young Abney lied, I believe,” said the father, in the same humour of contradiction —“Young Abney’s tongue seems quicker than his hands, but far slower than his horse’s heels when he leaves the roundheads behind him. I would rather Albert’s dead body were laid between Charles and Cromwell, than hear he fled as early as young Abney.”
“My dearest father,” said the young lady, weeping as she spoke, “what can I say to comfort you?”
“Comfort me, say’st thou, girl? I am sick of comfort — an honourable death, with the ruins of Woodstock for my monument, were the only comfort to old Henry Lee. Yes, by the memory of my fathers! I will make good the Lodge against these rebellious robbers.”
“Yet be ruled, dearest father,” said the maiden, “and submit to that which we cannot gainsay. My uncle Everard”—
Here the old man caught at her unfinished words. “Thy uncle Everard, wench! — Well, get on. — What of thy precious and loving uncle Everard?”
“Nothing, sir,” she said, “if the subject displeases you.”
“Displeases me?” he replied, “why should it displease me? or if it did, why shouldst thou, or any one, affect to care about it? What is it that hath happened of late years — what is it can be thought to happen that astrologer can guess at, which can give pleasure to us?”
“Fate,” she replied, “may have in store the joyful restoration of our banished Prince.”
“Too late for my time, Alice,” said the knight; “if there be such a white page in the heavenly book, it will not be turned until long after my day. — But I see thou wouldst escape me. — In a word, what of thy uncle Everard?”
“Nay, sir,” said Alice, “God knows I would rather be silent for ever, than speak what might, as you would take it, add to your present distemperature.”
“Distemperature!” said her father; “Oh, thou art a sweet lipped physician, and wouldst, I warrant me, drop nought but sweet balm, and honey, and oil, on my distemperature — if that is the phrase for an old man’s ailment, when he is wellnigh heart-broken. — Once more, what of thy uncle Everard?”
His last words were uttered in a high and peevish tone of voice; and Alice Lee answered her father in a trembling and submissive tone.
“I only meant to say, sir, that I am well assured that my uncle Everard, when we quit this place”—
“That is to say, when we are kicked out of it by crop-eared canting villains like himself. — But on with thy bountiful uncle — what will he do? — will he give us the remains of his worshipful and economical housekeeping, the fragments of a thrice-sacked capon twice a-week, and a plentiful fast on the other five days? — Will he give us beds beside his half-starved nags, and put them under a short allowance of straw, that his sister’s husband — that I should have called my deceased angel by such a name! — and his sister’s daughter, may not sleep on the stones? Or will he send us a noble each, with a warning to make it last, for he had never known the ready-penny so hard to come by? Or what else will your uncle Everard do for us? Get us a furlough to beg? Why, I can do that without him.”
“You misconstrue him much,” answered Alice, with more spirit than she had hitherto displayed; “and would you but question your own heart, you would acknowledge — I speak with reverence — that your tongue utters what your better judgment would disown. My uncle Everard is neither a miser nor a hypocrite — neither so fond of the goods of this world that he would not supply our distresses amply, nor so wedded to fanatical opinions as to exclude charity for other sects beside his own.”
“Ay, ay, the Church of England is a sect with him, I doubt not, and perhaps with thee too, Alice,” said the knight. “What is a Muggletonian, or a Ranter, or a Brownist, but a sectary? and thy phrase places them all, with Jack Presbyter himself, on the same footing with our learned prelates and religious clergy! Such is the cant of the day thou livest in, and why shouldst thou not talk like one of the wise virgins and psalm-singing sisters, since, though thou hast a profane old cavalier for a father, thou art own niece to pious uncle Everard?”
“If you speak thus, my dear father,” said Alice, “what can I answer you? Hear me but one patient word, and I shall have discharged my uncle Everard’s commission.”
“Oh, it is a commission, then? Surely, I suspected so much from the beginning — nay, have some sharp guess touching the ambassador also. — Come, madam, the mediator, do your errand, and you shall have no reason to complain of my patience.”
“Then, sir,” replied his daughter, “my uncle Everard desires you would be courteous to the commissioners, who come here to sequestrate the parks and the property; or, at least, heedfully to abstain from giving them obstacle or opposition: it can, he says, do no good, even on your own principles, and it will give a pretext for proceeding against you as one in the worst degree of malignity, which he thinks may otherwise be prevented. Nay, he has good hope, that if you follow his counsel, the committee may, through the interest he possesses, be inclined to remove the sequestration of your estate on a moderate line. Thus says my uncle; and having communicated his advice, I have no occasion to urge your patience with farther argument.”
“It is well thou dost not, Alice,” answered Sir Henry Lee, in a tone of suppressed anger; “for, by the blessed Rood, thou hast well nigh led me into the heresy of thinking thee no daughter of mine. — Ah! my beloved companion, who art now far from the sorrows and cares of this weary world, couldst thou have thought that the daughter thou didst clasp to thy bosom, would, like the wicked wife of Job, become a temptress to her father in the hour of affliction, and recommend to him to make his conscience truckle to his interest, and to beg back at the bloody hands of his master’s and perhaps his son’s murderers, a wretched remnant of the royal property he has been robbed of! — Why, wench, if I must beg, think’st thou I will sue to those who have made me a mendicant? No. I will never show my grey beard, worn in sorrow for my sovereign’s death, to move the compassion of some proud sequestrator, who perhaps was one of the parricides. No. If Henry Lee must sue for food, it shall be of some sound loyalist like himself, who, having but half a loaf remaining, will not nevertheless refuse to share it with him. For his daughter, she may wander her own way, which leads her to a refuge with her wealthy roundhead kinsfolk; but let her no more call him father, whose honest indigence she has refused to share!”
“You do me injustice, sir,” answered the young lady, with a voice animated yet faltering, “cruel injustice. God knows, your way is my way, though it lead to ruin and beggary; and while you tread it, my arm shall support you while you will accept an aid so feeble.”
“Thou word’st me, girl,” answered the old cavalier, “thou word’st me, as Will Shakspeare says — thou speakest of lending me thy arm; but thy secret thought is thyself to hang upon Markham Everard’s.”
“My father, my father,” answered Alice, in a tone of deep grief, “what can thus have altered your clear judgment and kindly heart! — Accursed be these civil commotions; not only do they destroy men’s bodies, but they pervert their souls; and the brave, the noble, the generous, become suspicious, harsh, and mean! Why upbraid me with Markham Everard? Have I seen or spoke to him since you forbid him my company, with terms less kind — I will speak it truly — than was due even to the relationship betwixt you? Why think I would sacrifice to that young man my duty to you? Know, that were I capable of such criminal weakness, Markham Everard were the first to despise me for it.”
She put her handkerchief to her eyes, but she could not hide her sobs, nor conceal the distress they intimated. The old man was moved.
“I cannot tell,” he said, “what to think of it. Thou seem’st sincere, and wert ever a good and kindly daughter — how thou hast let that rebel youth creep into thy heart I wot not; perhaps it is a punishment on me, who thought the loyalty of my house was like undefiled ermine. Yet here is a damned spot, and on the fairest gem of all — my own dear Alice. But do not weep — we have enough to vex us. Where is it that Shakspeare hath it:—
Give even way unto my rough affairs:
Put you not on the temper of the times,
Nor be, like them, to Percy troublesome.’”
“I am glad,” answered the young lady, “to hear you quote your favourite again, sir. Our little jars are ever wellnigh ended when Shakspeare comes in play.”
“His book was the closet-companion of my blessed master,” said Sir Henry Lee; “after the Bible, (with reverence for naming them together,) he felt more comfort in it than in any other; and as I have shared his disease, why, it is natural I should take his medicine. Albeit, I pretend not to my master’s art in explaining the dark passages; for I am but a rude man, and rustically brought up to arms and hunting.”
“You have seen Shakspeare yourself, sir?” said the young lady.
“Silly wench,” replied the knight, “he died when I was a mere child — thou hast heard me say so twenty times; but thou wouldst lead the old man away from the tender subject. Well, though I am not blind, I can shut my eyes and follow. Ben Jonson I knew, and could tell thee many a tale of our meetings at the Mermaid, where, if there was much wine, there was much wit also. We did not sit blowing tobacco in each other’s faces, and turning up the whites of our eyes as we turned up the bottom of the wine-pot. Old Ben adopted me as one of his sons in the muses. I have shown you, have I not, the verses, ‘To my much beloved son, the worshipful Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, Knight and Baronet?’”
“I do not remember them at present, sir,” replied Alice.
“I fear ye lie, wench,” said her father; “but no matter — thou canst not get any more fooling out of me just now. The Evil Spirit hath left Saul for the present. We are now to think what is to be done about leaving Woodstock — or defending it?”
“My dearest father,” said Alice, “can you still nourish a moment’s hope of making good the place?”
“I know not, wench,” replied Sir Henry; “I would fain have a parting blow with them, ’tis certain — and who knows where a blessing may alight? But then, my poor knaves that must take part with me in so hopeless a quarrel — that thought hampers me I confess.”
“Oh, let it do so, sir,” replied Alice; “there are soldiers in the town, and there are three regiments at Oxford!”
“Ah, poor Oxford!” exclaimed Sir Henry, whose vacillating state of mind was turned by a word to any new subject that was suggested — “Seat of learning and loyalty! these rude soldiers are unfit inmates for thy learned halls and poetical bowers; but thy pure and brilliant lamp shall defy the foul breath of a thousand churls, were they to blow at it like Boreas. The burning bush shall not be consumed, even by the heat of this persecution.”
“True, sir,” said Alice, “and it may not be useless to recollect, that any stirring of the royalists at this unpropitious moment will make them deal yet more harshly with the University, which they consider as being at the bottom of every thing which moves for the King in these parts.”
“It is true, wench,” replied the knight; “and small cause would make the villains sequestrate the poor remains which the civil wars have left to the colleges. That, and the risk of my poor fellows — Well! thou hast disarmed me, girl. I will be as patient and calm as a martyr.”
“Pray God you keep your word, sir!” replied his daughter; “but you are ever so much moved at the sight of any of these men, that”—
“Would you make a child of me, Alice?” said Sir Henry. “Why, know you not that I can look upon a viper, or a toad, or a bunch of engendering adders, without any worse feeling than a little disgust? and though a roundhead, and especially a red-coat, are in my opinion more poisonous than vipers, more loathsome than toads, more hateful than knotted adders, yet can I overcome my nature so far, that should one of them appear at this moment, thyself should see how civilly I would entreat him.”
As he spoke, the military preacher abandoned his leafy screen, and stalking forward, stood unexpectedly before the old cavalier, who stared at him, as if he had thought his expressions had actually raised a devil.
“Who art thou?” at length said Sir Henry, in a raised and angry voice, while his daughter clung to his arm in terror, little confident that her father’s pacific resolutions would abide the shock of this unwelcome apparition.
“I am, one,” replied the soldier, “who neither fear nor shame to call myself a poor day-labourer in the great work of England — umph! — Ay, a simple and sincere upholder of the good old cause.”
“And what the devil do you seek here?” said the old knight, fiercely.
“The welcome due to the steward of the Lords Commissioners,” answered the soldier.
“Welcome art thou as salt would be to sore eyes,” said the cavalier; “but who be your Commissioners, man?”
The soldier with little courtesy held out a scroll, which Sir Henry took from him betwixt his finger and thumb, as if it were a letter from a pest-house; and held it at as much distance from his eyes, as his purpose of reading it would permit. He then read aloud, and as he named the parties one by one, he added a short commentary on each name, addressed, indeed, to Alice, but in such a tone that showed he cared not for its being heard by the soldier.
“Desborough — the ploughman Desborough — as grovelling a clown as is in England — a fellow that would be best at home like an ancient Scythian, under the tilt of a waggon — d — n him. Harrison — a bloody-minded, ranting enthusiast, who read the Bible to such purpose, that he never lacked a text to justify a murder — d — n him too. Bletson — a true-blue Commonwealth’s man, one of Harrison’s Rota Club, with his noddle full of new fangled notions about government, the clearest object of which is to establish the tail upon the head; a fellow who leaves you the statutes and law of old England, to prate of Rome and Greece — sees the Areopagus in Westminster-Hall, and takes old Noll for a Roman consul — Adad, he is like to prove a dictator amongst them instead. Never mind — d — n Bletson too.”
“Friend,” said the soldier, “I would willingly be civil, but it consists not with my duty to hear these godly men, in whose service I am, spoken of after this irreverent and unbecoming fashion. And albeit I know that you malignants think you have a right to make free with that damnation, which you seem to use as your own portion, yet it is superfluous to invoke it against others, who have better hopes in their thoughts, and better words in their mouths.”
“Thou art but a canting varlet,” replied the knight; “and yet thou art right in some sense — for it is superfluous to curse men who already are damned as black as the smoke of hell itself.”
“I prithee forbear,” continued the soldier, “for manners’ sake, if not for conscience — grisly oaths suit ill with grey beards.”
“Nay, that is truth, if the devil spoke it,” said the knight; “and I thank Heaven I can follow good counsel, though old Nick gives it. And so, friend, touching these same Commissioners, bear them this message; that Sir Henry Lee is keeper of Woodstock Park, with right of waif and stray, vert and venison, as complete as any of them have to their estate — that is, if they possess any estate but what they have gained by plundering honest men. Nevertheless, he will give place to those who have made their might their right, and will not expose the lives of good and true men, where the odds are so much against them. And he protests that he makes this surrender, neither as acknowledging of these so termed Commissioners, nor as for his own individual part fearing their force, but purely to avoid the loss of English blood, of which so much hath been spilt in these late times.”
“It is well spoken,” said the steward of the Commissioners; “and therefore, I pray you, let us walk together into the house, that thou may’st deliver up unto me the vessels, and gold and silver ornaments, belonging unto the Egyptian Pharaoh, who committed them to thy keeping.”
“What vessels?” exclaimed the fiery old knight; “and belonging to whom? Unbaptized dog, speak civil of the Martyr in my presence, or I will do a deed misbecoming of me on that caitiff corpse of thine!”— And shaking his daughter from his right arm, the old man laid his hand on his rapier.
His antagonist, on the contrary, kept his temper completely, and waving his hand to add impression to his speech, he said, with a calmness which aggravated Sir Henry’s wrath, “Nay, good friend, I prithee be still, and brawl not — it becomes not grey hairs and feeble arms to rail and rant like drunkards. Put me not to use the carnal weapon in mine own defence, but listen to the voice of reason. See’st thou not that the Lord hath decided this great controversy in favour of us and ours, against thee and thine? Wherefore, render up thy stewardship peacefully, and deliver up to me the chattels of the Man, Charles Stewart.”
“Patience is a good nag, but she will bolt,” said the knight, unable longer to rein in his wrath. He plucked his sheathed rapier from his side, struck the soldier a severe blow with it, and instantly drawing it, and throwing the scabbard over the trees, placed himself in a posture of defence, with his sword’s point within half a yard of the steward’s body. The latter stepped back with activity, threw his long cloak from his shoulders, and drawing his long tuck, stood upon his guard. The swords clashed smartly together, while Alice, in her terror, screamed wildly for assistance. But the combat was of short duration. The old cavalier had attacked a man as cunning of fence as he himself, or a little more so, and possessing all the strength and activity of which time had deprived Sir Henry, and the calmness which the other had lost in his passion. They had scarce exchanged three passes ere the sword of the knight flew up in the air, as if it had gone in search of the scabbard; and burning with shame and anger, Sir Henry stood disarmed, at the mercy of his antagonist. The republican showed no purpose of abusing his victory; nor did he, either during the combat, or after the victory was won, in any respect alter the sour and grave composure which reigned upon his countenance — a combat of life and death seemed to him a thing as familiar, and as little to be feared, as an ordinary bout with foils.
“Thou art delivered into my hands,” he said, “and by the law of arms I might smite thee under the fifth rib, even as Asahel was struck dead by Abner, the son of Ner, as he followed the chase on the hill of Ammah, that lieth before Giah, in the way of the wilderness of Gibeon; but far be it from me to spill thy remaining drops of blood. True it is, thou art the captive of my sword and of my spear; nevertheless, seeing that there may be a turning from thy evil ways, and a returning to those which are good, if the Lord enlarge thy date for repentance and amendment, wherefore should it be shortened by a poor sinful mortal, who is, speaking truly, but thy fellow-worm.”
Sir Henry Lee remained still confused, and unable to answer, when there arrived a fourth person, whom the cries of Alice had summoned to the spot. This was Joceline Joliffe, one of the under-keepers of the walk, who, seeing how matters stood, brandished his quarterstaff, a weapon from which he never parted, and having made it describe the figure of eight in a flourish through the air, would have brought it down with a vengeance upon the head of the steward, had not Sir Henry interposed.
“We must trail bats now, Joceline — our time of shouldering them is past. It skills not striving against the stream — the devil rules the roast, and makes our slaves our tutors.”
At this moment another auxiliary rushed out of the thicket to the knight’s assistance. It was a large wolf-dog, in strength a mastiff, in form and almost in fleetness a greyhound. Bevis was the noblest of the kind which ever pulled down a stag, tawny coloured like a lion, with a black muzzle and black feet, just edged with a line of white round the toes. He was as tractable as he was strong and bold. Just as he was about to rush upon the soldier, the words, “Peace, Bevis!” from Sir Henry, converted the lion into a lamb, and instead of pulling the soldier down, he walked round and round, and snuffed, as if using all his sagacity to discover who the stranger could be, towards whom, though of so questionable an appearance, he was enjoined forbearance. Apparently he was satisfied, for he laid aside his doubtful and threatening demonstrations, lowered his ears, smoothed down his bristles, and wagged his tail.
Sir Henry, who had great respect for the sagacity of his favourite, said in a low voice to Alice, “Bevis is of thy opinion and counsels submission. There is the finger of Heaven in this to punish the pride, ever the fault of our house. — Friend,” he continued, addressing the soldier, “thou hast given the finishing touch to a lesson, which ten years of constant misfortune have been unable fully to teach me. Thou hast distinctly shown me the folly of thinking that a good cause can strengthen a weak arm. God forgive me for the thought, but I could almost turn infidel, and believe that Heaven’s blessing goes ever with the longest sword; but it will not be always thus. God knows his time. — Reach me my Toledo, Joceline, yonder it lies; and the scabbard, see where it hangs on the tree. — Do not pull at my cloak, Alice, and look so miserably frightened; I shall be in no hurry to betake me to bright steel again, I promise thee. — For thee, good fellow, I thank thee, and will make way for thy masters without farther dispute or ceremony. Joceline Joliffe is nearer thy degree than I am, and will make surrender to thee of the Lodge and household stuff. Withhold nothing, Joliffe — let them have all. For me, I will never cross the threshold again — but where to rest for a night? I would trouble no one in Woodstock — hum — ay — it shall be so. Alice and I, Joceline, will go down to thy hut by Rosamond’s well; we will borrow the shelter of thy roof for one night at least; thou wilt give us welcome, wilt thou not? — How now — a clouded brow?”
Joceline certainly looked embarrassed, directed a first glance to Alice, then looked to Heaven, then to earth, and last to the four quarters of the horizon, and then murmured out, “Certainly — without question — might he but run down to put the house in order.”
“Order enough — order enough for those that may soon be glad of clean straw in a barn,” said the knight; “but if thou hast an ill-will to harbour any obnoxious or malignant persons, as the phrase goes, never shame to speak it out, man. ’Tis true, I took thee up when thou wert but a ragged Robin,” (as the keeper’s followers in the New Forest are called in popular language,) “made a keeper of thee, and so forth. What of that? Sailors think no longer of the wind than when it forwards them on the voyage — thy betters turn with the tide, why should not such a poor knave as thou?”
“God pardon your honour for your harsh judgment,” said Joliffe. “The hut is yours, such as it is, and should be were it a King’s palace, as I wish it were even for your honour’s sake, and Mistress Alice’s — only I could wish your honour would condescend to let me step down before, in case any neighbour be there — or — or — just to put matters something into order for Mistress Alice and your honour — just to make things something seemly and shapely.”
“Not a whit necessary,” said the knight, while Alice had much trouble in concealing her agitation. “If thy matters are unseemly, they are fitter for a defeated knight — if they are unshapely, why, the liker to the rest of a world, which is all unshaped. Go thou with that man. — What is thy name, friend?”
“Joseph Tomkins is my name in the flesh,” said the steward. “Men call me Honest Joe, and Trusty Tomkins.”
“If thou hast deserved such names, considering what trade thou hast driven, thou art a jewel indeed,” said the knight; “yet if thou hast not, never blush for the matter, Joseph, for if thou art not in truth honest, thou hast all the better chance to keep the fame of it — the title and the thing itself have long walked separate ways. Farewell to thee — and farewell to fair Woodstock!”
So saying, the old knight turned round, and pulling his daughter’s arm through his own, they walked onward into the forest, in the same manner in which they were introduced to the reader.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00