Now, ye wild blades, that make loose inns your stage,
To vapour forth the acts of this sad age,
Stout Edgehill fight, the Newberries and the West,
And northern clashes, where you still fought best;
Your strange escapes, your dangers void of fear,
When bullets flew between the head and ear,
Whether you fought by Damme or the Spirit,
Of you I speak.
LEGEND OF CAPTAIN JONES.
Joseph Tomkins and Joliffe the keeper remained for some time in silence, as they stood together looking along the path in which the figures of the Knight of Ditchley and pretty Mistress Alice had disappeared behind the trees. They then gazed on each other in doubt, as men who scarce knew whether they stood on hostile or on friendly terms together, and were at a loss how to open a conversation. They heard the knight’s whistle summon Bevis; but though the good hound turned his head and pricked his ears at the sound, yet he did not obey the call, but continued to snuff around Joseph Tomkins’s cloak.
“Thou art a rare one, I fear me,” said the keeper, looking to his new acquaintance. “I have heard of men who have charms to steal both dogs and deer.”
“Trouble not thyself about my qualities, friend,” said Joseph Tomkins, “but bethink thee of doing thy master’s bidding.”
Joceline did not immediately answer, but at length, as if in sign of truce, stuck the end of his quarterstaff upright in the ground, and leant upon it as he said gruffly — “So, my tough old knight and you were at drawn bilbo, by way of afternoon service, sir preacher — Well for you I came not up till the blades were done jingling, or I had rung even-song upon your pate.”
The Independent smiled grimly as he replied, “Nay, friend, it is well for thyself, for never should sexton have been better paid for the knell he tolled. Nevertheless, why should there be war betwixt us, or my hand be against thine? Thou art but a poor knave, doing thy master’s order, nor have I any desire that my own blood or thine should be shed touching this matter. — Thou art, I understand, to give me peaceful possession of the Palace of Woodstock, so called — though there is now no palace in England, no, nor shall be in the days that come after, until we shall enter the palace of the New Jerusalem, and the reign of the Saints shall commence on earth.”
“Pretty well begun already, friend Tomkins,” said the keeper; “you are little short of being kings already upon the matter as it now stands; and for your Jerusalem I wot not, but Woodstock is a pretty nest-egg to begin with. — Well, will you shog — will you on — will you take sasine and livery? — You heard my orders.”
“Umph — I know not,” said Tomkins. “I must beware of ambuscades, and I am alone here. Moreover, it is the High Thanksgiving appointed by Parliament, and owned to by the army — also the old man and the young woman may want to recover some of their clothes and personal property, and I would not that they were baulked on my account. Wherefore, if thou wilt deliver me possession tomorrow morning, it shall be done in personal presence of my own followers, and of the Presbyterian man the Mayor, so that the transfer may be made before witnesses; whereas, were there none with us but thou to deliver, and I to take possession, the men of Belial might say, Go to, Trusty Tomkins hath been an Edomite — Honest Joe hath been as an Ishmaelite, rising up early and dividing the spoil with them that served the Man — yea, they that wore beards and green Jerkins, as in remembrance of the Man and of his government.”
Joceline fixed his keen dark eyes upon the soldier as he spoke, as if in design to discover whether there was fair play in his mind or not. He then applied his five fingers to scratch a large shock head of hair, as if that operation was necessary to enable him to come to a conclusion. “This is all fair sounding, brother,” said he; “but I tell you plainly there are some silver mugs, and platters, and flagons, and so forth, in yonder house, which have survived the general sweep that sent all our plate to the smelting-pot, to put our knight’s troop on horseback. Now, if thou takest not these off my hand, I may come to trouble, since it may be thought I have minished their numbers. — Whereas, I being as honest a fellow”—
“As ever stole venison,” said Tomkins —“nay, I do owe thee an interruption.”
“Go to, then,” replied the keeper; “if a stag may have come to mischance in my walk, it was no way in the course of dishonesty, but merely to keep my old dame’s pan from rusting; but for silver porringers, tankards, and such like, I would as soon have drunk the melted silver, as stolen the vessel made out of it. So that I would not wish blame or suspicion fell on me in this matter. And, therefore, if you will have the things rendered even now — why so — and if not, hold me blameless.”
“Ay, truly,” said Tomkins; “and who is to hold me blameless, if they should see cause to think any thing minished? Not the right worshipful Commissioners, to whom the property of the estate is as their own; therefore, as thou say’st, we must walk warily in the matter. To lock up the house and leave it, were but the work of simple ones. What say’st thou to spend the night there, and then nothing can be touched without the knowledge of us both?”
“Why, concerning that,” answered the keeper, “I should be at my hut to make matters somewhat conformable for the old knight and Mistress Alice, for my old dame Joan is something dunny, and will scarce know how to manage — and yet — to speak the truth, by the mass I would rather not see Sir Henry to-night, since what has happened today hath roused his spleen, and it is a peradventure he may have met something at the hut which will scarce tend to cool it.”
“It is a pity,” said Tomkins, “that being a gentleman of such grave and goodly presence, he should be such a malignant cavalier, and that he should, like the rest of that generation of vipers, have clothed himself with curses as with a garment.”
“Which is as much as to say, the tough old knight hath a habit of swearing,” said the keeper, grinning at a pun, which has been repeated since his time; “but who can help it? it comes of use and wont. Were you now, in your bodily self, to light suddenly on a Maypole, with all the blithe morris-dancers prancing around it to the merry pipe and tabor, with bells jingling, ribands fluttering, lads frisking and laughing, lasses leaping till you might see where the scarlet garter fastened the light blue hose, I think some feeling, resembling either natural sociality, or old use and wont, would get the better, friend, even of thy gravity, and thou wouldst fling thy cuckoldy steeple-hat one way, and that blood-thirsty long sword another, and trip, like the noodles of Hogs-Norton, when the pigs play on the organ.”
The Independent turned fiercely round on the keeper, and replied, “How now, Mr. Green Jerkin? what language is this to one whose hand is at the plough? I advise thee to put curb on thy tongue, lest thy ribs pay the forfeit.”
“Nay, do not take the high tone with me, brother” answered Joceline; “remember thou hast not the old knight of sixty-five to deal with, but a fellow as bitter and prompt as thyself — it may be a little more so — younger, at all events — and prithee, why shouldst thou take such umbrage at a Maypole? I would thou hadst known one Phil Hazeldine of these parts — He was the best morris-dancer betwixt Oxford and Burford.”
“The more shame to him,” answered the Independent; “and I trust he has seen the error of his ways, and made himself (as, if a man of action, he easily might) fit for better company than wood-hunters, deer-stealers, Maid Marions, swash-bucklers, deboshed revellers, bloody brawlers, maskers, and mummers, lewd men and light women, fools and fiddlers, and carnal self-pleasers of every description.”
“Well,” replied the keeper, “you are out of breath in time; for here we stand before the famous Maypole of Woodstock.”
They paused in an open space of meadow-land, beautifully skirted by large oaks and sycamores, one of which, as king of the forest, stood a little detached from the rest, as if scorning the vicinity of any rival. It was scathed and gnarled in the branches, but the immense trunk still showed to what gigantic size the monarch of the forest can attain in the groves of merry England.
“That is called the King’s Oak,” said Joceline; “the oldest men of Woodstock know not how old it is; they say Henry used to sit under it with fair Rosamond, and see the lasses dance, and the lads of the village run races, and wrestle for belts or bonnets.”
“I nothing doubt it, friend,” said Tomkins; “a tyrant and a harlot were fitting patron and patroness for such vanities.”
“Thou mayst say thy say, friend,” replied the keeper, “so thou lettest me say mine. There stands the Maypole, as thou seest, half a flight-shot from the King’s Oak, in the midst of the meadow. The King gave ten shillings from the customs of Woodstock to make a new one yearly, besides a tree fitted for the purpose out of the forest. Now it is warped, and withered, and twisted, like a wasted brier-rod. The green, too, used to be close-shaved, and rolled till it was smooth as a velvet mantle — now it is rough and overgrown.”
“Well, well, friend Joceline,” said the Independent, “but where was the edification of all this? — what use of doctrine could be derived from a pipe and tabor? or was there ever aught like wisdom in a bagpipe?”
“You may ask better scholars that,” said Joceline; “but methinks men cannot be always grave, and with the hat over their brow. A young maiden will laugh as a tender flower will blow — ay, and a lad will like her the better for it; just as the same blithe Spring that makes the young birds whistle, bids the blithe fawns skip. There have come worse days since the jolly old times have gone by:— I tell thee, that in the holydays which you, Mr. Longsword, have put down, I have seen this greensward alive with merry maidens and manly fellows. The good old rector himself thought it was no sin to come for a while and look on, and his goodly cassock and scarf kept us all in good order, and taught us to limit our mirth within the bounds of discretion. We might, it may be, crack a broad jest, or pledge a friendly cup a turn too often, but it was in mirth and good neighbour-hood — Ay, and if there was a bout at single-stick, or a bellyful of boxing, it was all for love and kindness; and better a few dry blows in drink, than the bloody doings we have had in sober earnest, since the presbyter’s cap got above the bishop’s mitre, and we exchanged our goodly rectors and learned doctors, whose sermons were all bolstered up with as much Greek and Latin as might have confounded the devil himself, for weavers and cobblers, and such other pulpit volunteers, as — as we heard this morning — It will out.”
“Well, friend,” said the Independent, with patience scarcely to have been expected, “I quarrel not with thee for nauseating my doctrine. If thine ear is so much tickled with tabor tunes and morris tripping, truly it is not likely thou shouldst find pleasant savour in more wholesome and sober food. But let us to the Lodge, that we may go about our business there before the sun sets.”
“Troth, and that may be advisable for more reasons than one,” said the keeper; “for there have been tales about the Lodge which have made men afeard to harbour there after nightfall.”
“Were not yon old knight, and yonder damsel his daughter, wont to dwell there?” said the Independent. “My information said so.”
“Ay, truly did they,” said Joceline; “and while they kept a jolly house-hold, all went well enough; for nothing banishes fear like good ale. But after the best of our men went to the wars, and were slain at Naseby fight, they who were left found the Lodge more lonesome, and the old knight has been much deserted of his servants:— marry, it might be, that he has lacked silver of late to pay groom and lackey.”
“A potential reason for the diminution of a household,” said the soldier.
“Right, sir, even so,” replied the keeper. “They spoke of steps in the great gallery, heard by dead of the night, and voices that whispered at noon, in the matted chambers; and the servants pretended that these things scared them away; but, in my poor judgment, when Martinmas and Whitsuntide came round without a penny-fee, the old blue-bottles of serving-men began to think of creeping elsewhere before the frost chilled them. — No devil so frightful as that which dances in the pocket where there is no cross to keep him out.”
“You were reduced, then, to a petty household?” said the Independent.
“Ay, marry, were we,” said Joceline; “but we kept some half-score together, what with blue-bottles in the Lodge, what with green caterpillars of the chase, like him who is yours to command; we stuck together till we found a call to take a morning’s ride somewhere or other.”
“To the town of Worcester,” said the soldier, “where you were crushed like vermin and palmer worms, as you are.”
“You may say your pleasure,” replied the keeper; “I’ll never contradict a man who has got my head under his belt. Our backs are at the wall, or you would not be here.”
“Nay, friend,” said the Independent, “thou riskest nothing by thy freedom and trust in me. I can be bon camarado to a good soldier, although I have striven with him even to the going down of the sun. — But here we are in front of the Lodge.”
They stood accordingly in front of the old Gothic building, irregularly constructed, and at different times, as the humour of the English monarchs led them to taste the pleasures of Woodstock Chase, and to make such improvements for their own accommodation as the increasing luxury of each age required. The oldest part of the structure had been named by tradition Fair Rosamond’s Tower; it was a small turret of great height, with narrow windows, and walls of massive thickness. The Tower had no opening to the ground, or means of descending, a great part of the lower portion being solid mason-work. It was traditionally said to have been accessible only by a sort of small drawbridge, which might be dropped at pleasure from a little portal near the summit of the turret, to the battlements of another tower of the same construction, but twenty feet lower, and containing only a winding staircase, called in Woodstock Love’s Ladder; because it is said, that by ascending this staircase to the top of the tower, and then making use of the drawbridge, Henry obtained access to the chamber of his paramour.
This tradition had been keenly impugned by Dr. Rochecliffe, the former rector of Woodstock, who insisted, that what was called Rosamond’s Tower, was merely an interior keep, or citadel, to which the lord or warden of the castle might retreat, when other points of safety failed him; and either protract his defence, or, at the worst, stipulate for reasonable terms of surrender. The people of Woodstock, jealous of their ancient traditions, did not relish this new mode of explaining them away; and it is even said, that the Mayor, whom we have already introduced, became Presbyterian, in revenge of the doubts cast by the rector upon this important subject, rather choosing to give up the Liturgy than his fixed belief in Rosamond’s Tower, and Love’s Ladder.
The rest of the Lodge was of considerable extent, and of different ages; comprehending a nest of little courts, surrounded by buildings which corresponded with each other, sometimes within-doors, sometimes by crossing the courts, and frequently in both ways. The different heights of the buildings announced that they could only be connected by the usual variety of staircases, which exercised the limbs of our ancestors in the sixteenth and earlier centuries, and seem sometimes to have been contrived for no other purpose.
The varied and multiplied fronts of this irregular building were, as Dr. Rochecliffe was wont to say, an absolute banquet to the architectural antiquary, as they certainly contained specimens of every style which existed, from the pure Norman of Henry of Anjou, down to the composite, half Gothic half classical architecture of Elizabeth and her successor. Accordingly, the rector was himself as much enamoured of Woodstock as ever was Henry of Fair Rosamond; and as his intimacy with Sir Henry Lee permitted him entrance at all times to the Royal Lodge, he used to spend whole days in wandering about the antique apartments, examining, measuring, studying, and finding out excellent reasons for architectural peculiarities, which probably only owed their existence to the freakish fancy of a Gothic artist. But the old antiquary had been expelled from his living by the intolerance and troubles of the times, and his successor, Nehemiah Holdenough, would have considered an elaborate investigation of the profane sculpture and architecture of blinded and blood-thirsty Papists, together with the history of the dissolute amours of old Norman monarchs, as little better than a bowing down before the calves of Bethel, and a drinking of the cup of abominations. — We return to the course of our story.
“There is,” said the Independent Tomkins, after he had carefully perused the front of the building, “many a rare monument of olden wickedness about this miscalled Royal Lodge; verily, I shall rejoice much to see the same destroyed, yea, burned to ashes, and the ashes thrown into the brook Kedron, or any other brook, that the land may be cleansed from the memory thereof, neither remember the iniquity with which their fathers have sinned.”
The keeper heard him with secret indignation, and began to consider with himself, whether, as they stood but one to one, and without chance of speedy interference, he was not called upon, by his official duty, to castigate the rebel who used language so defamatory. But he fortunately recollected, that the strife must be a doubtful one — that the advantage of arms was against him — and that, in especial, even if he should succeed in the combat, it would be at the risk of severe retaliation. It must be owned, too, that there was something about the Independent so dark and mysterious, so grim and grave, that the more open spirit of the keeper felt oppressed, and, if not overawed, at least kept in doubt concerning him; and he thought it wisest, as well as safest, for his master and himself, to avoid all subjects of dispute, and know better with whom he was dealing, before he made either friend or enemy of him.
The great gate of the Lodge was strongly bolted, but the wicket opened on Joceline’s raising the latch. There was a short passage of ten feet, which had been formerly closed by a portcullis at the inner end, while three loopholes opened on either side, through which any daring intruder might be annoyed, who, having surprised the first gate, must be thus exposed to a severe fire before he could force the second. But the machinery of the portcullis was damaged, and it now remained a fixture, brandishing its jaw, well furnished with iron fangs, but incapable of dropping it across the path of invasion.
The way, therefore, lay open to the great hall or outer vestibule of the Lodge. One end of this long and dusky apartment was entirely occupied by a gallery, which had in ancient times served to accommodate the musicians and minstrels. There was a clumsy staircase at either side of it, composed of entire logs of a foot square; and in each angle of the ascent was placed, by way of sentinel, the figure of a Norman foot-soldier, having an open casque on his head, which displayed features as stern as the painter’s genius could devise. Their arms were buff-jackets, or shirts of mail, round bucklers, with spikes in the centre, and buskins which adorned and defended the feet and ankles, but left the knees bare. These wooden warders held great swords, or maces, in their hands, like military guards on duty. Many an empty hook and brace, along the walls of the gloomy apartment, marked the spots from which arms, long preserved as trophies, had been, in the pressure of the wars, once more taken down, to do service in the field, like veterans whom extremity of danger recalls to battle. On other rusty fastenings were still displayed the hunting trophies of the monarchs to whom the Lodge belonged, and of the silvan knights to whose care it had been from time to time confided.
At the nether end of the hall, a huge, heavy, stone-wrought chimney-piece projected itself ten feet from the wall, adorned with many a cipher, and many a scutcheon of the Royal House of England. In its present state, it yawned like the arched mouth of a funeral vault, or perhaps might be compared to the crater of an extinguished volcano. But the sable complexion of the massive stone-work, and all around it, showed that the time had been when it sent its huge fires blazing up the huge chimney, besides puffing many a volume of smoke over the heads of the jovial guests, whose royalty or nobility did not render them sensitive enough to quarrel with such slight inconvenience. On these occasions, it was the tradition of the house, that two cart-loads of wood was the regular allowance for the fire between noon and curfew, and the andirons, or dogs, as they were termed, constructed for retaining the blazing firewood on the hearth, were wrought in the shape of lions of such gigantic size as might well warrant the legend. There were long seats of stone within the chimney, where, in despite of the tremendous heat, monarchs were sometimes said to have taken their station, and amused themselves with broiling the umbles, or dowsels, of the deer, upon the glowing embers, with their own royal hands, when happy the courtier who was invited to taste the royal cookery. Tradition was here also ready with her record, to show what merry gibes, such as might be exchanged between prince and peer, had flown about at the jolly banquet which followed the Michaelmas hunt. She could tell, too, exactly, where King Stephen sat when he darned his own princely hose, and knew most of the odd tricks he had put upon little Winkin, the tailor of Woodstock.
Most of this rude revelry belonged to the Plantagenet times. When the house of Tudor ascended to the throne, they were more chary of their royal presence, and feasted in halls and chambers far within, abandoning the outmost hall to the yeomen of the guard, who mounted their watch there, and passed away the night with wassail and mirth, exchanged sometimes for frightful tales of apparitions and sorceries, which made some of those grow pale, in whose ears the trumpet of a French foeman would have sounded as jollily as a summons to the woodland chase.
Joceline pointed out the peculiarities of the place to his gloomy companion more briefly than we have detailed them to the reader. The Independent seemed to listen with some interest at first, but, flinging it suddenly aside, he said in a solemn tone, “Perish, Babylon, as thy master Nebuchadnezzar hath perished! He is a wanderer, and thou shalt be a waste place — yea, and a wilderness — yea, a desert of salt, in which there shall be thirst and famine.”
“There is like to be enough of both to-night,” said Joceline, “unless the good knight’s larder be somewhat fuller than it is wont.”
“We must care for the creature-comforts,” said the Independent, “but in due season, when our duties are done. Whither lead these entrances?”
“That to the right,” replied the keeper, “leads to what are called, the state-apartments, not used since the year sixteen hundred and thirty-nine, when his blessed Majesty”—
“How, sir!” interrupted the Independent, in a voice of thunder, “dost thou speak of Charles Stewart as blessing, or blessed? — beware the proclamation to that effect.”
“I meant no harm,” answered the keeper, suppressing his disposition to make a harsher reply. “My business is with bolts and bucks, not with titles and state affairs. But yet, whatever may have happed since, that poor King was followed with blessings enough from Woodstock, for he left a glove full of broad pieces for the poor of the place”—
“Peace, friend,” said the Independent; “I will think thee else one of those besotted and blinded Papists, who hold, that bestowing of alms is an atonement and washing away of the wrongs and oppressions which have been wrought by the almsgiver. Thou sayest, then, these were the apartments of Charles Stewart?”
“And of his father, James, before him, and Elizabeth, before him, and bluff King Henry, who builded that wing, before them all.”
“And there, I suppose, the knight and his daughter dwelt?”
“No,” replied Joceline; “Sir Henry Lee had too much reverence for — for things which are now thought worth no reverence at all — Besides, the state-rooms are unaired, and in indifferent order, since of late years. The Knight Ranger’s apartment lies by that passage to the left.”
“And whither goes yonder stair, which seems both to lead upwards and downwards?”
“Upwards,” replied the keeper, “it leads to many apartments, used for various purposes, of sleeping, and other accommodation. Downwards, to the kitchen, offices, and vaults of the castle, which, at this time of the evening, you cannot see without lights.”
“We will to the apartments of your knight, then,” said the Independent. “Is there fitting accommodation there?”
“Such as has served a person of condition, whose lodging is now worse appointed,” answered the honest keeper, his bile rising so fast that he added, in a muttering and inaudible tone, “so it may well serve a crop-eared knave like thee.”
He acted as the usher, however, and led on towards the ranger’s apartments.
This suite opened by a short passage from the hall, secured at time of need by two oaken doors, which could be fastened by large bars of the same, that were drawn out of the wall, and entered into square holes, contrived for their reception on the other side of the portal. At the end of this passage, a small ante-room received them, into which opened the sitting apartment of the good knight — which, in the style of the time, might have been termed a fair summer parlour — lighted by two oriel windows, so placed as to command each of them a separate avenue, leading distant and deep into the forest. The principal ornament of the apartment, besides two or three family portraits of less interest, was a tall full-length picture, that hung above the chimney-piece, which, like that in the hall, was of heavy stone-work, ornamented with carved scutcheons, emblazoned with various devices. The portrait was that of a man about fifty years of age, in complete plate armour, and painted in the harsh and dry manner of Holbein — probably, indeed, the work of that artist, as the dates corresponded. The formal and marked angles, points and projections of the armour, were a good subject for the harsh pencil of that early school. The face of the knight was, from the fading of the colours, pale and dim, like that of some being from the other world, yet the lines expressed forcibly pride and exultation.
He pointed with his leading-staff, or truncheon, to the background, where, in such perspective as the artist possessed, were depicted the remains of a burning church, or monastery, and four or five soldiers, in red cassocks, bearing away in triumph what seemed a brazen font or laver. Above their heads might be traced in scroll, “Lee Victor sic voluit.” Right opposite to the picture, hung, in a niche in the wall, a complete set of tilting armour, the black and gold colours, and ornaments of which exactly corresponded with those exhibited in the portrait.
The picture was one of those which, from something marked in the features and expression, attract the observation even of those who are ignorant of art. The Independent looked at it until a smile passed transiently over his clouded brow. Whether he smiled to see the grim old cavalier employed in desecrating a religious house —(an occupation much conforming to the practice of his own sect)— whether he smiled in contempt of the old painter’s harsh and dry mode of working — or whether the sight of this remarkable portrait revived some other ideas, the under-keeper could not decide.
The smile passed away in an instant, as the soldier looked to the oriel windows. The recesses within them were raised a step or two from the wall. In one was placed a walnut-tree reading-desk, and a huge stuffed arm-chair, covered with Spanish leather. A little cabinet stood beside, with some of its shuttles and drawers open, displaying hawks-bells, dog-whistles, instruments for trimming falcons’ feathers, bridle-bits of various constructions, and other trifles connected with silvan sport.
The other little recess was differently furnished. There lay some articles of needle-work on a small table, besides a lute, with a book having some airs written down in it, and a frame for working embroidery. Some tapestry was displayed around the recess, with more attention to ornament than was visible in the rest of the apartment; the arrangement of a few bow-pots, with such flowers as the fading season afforded, showed also the superintendence of female taste.
Tomkins cast an eye of careless regard upon these subjects of female occupation, then stepped into the farther window, and began to turn the leaves of a folio, which lay open on the reading-desk, apparently with some interest. Joceline, who had determined to watch his motions without interfering with them, was standing at some distance in dejected silence, when a door behind the tapestry suddenly opened, and a pretty village maid tripped out with a napkin in her hand, as if she had been about some household duty.
“How now, Sir Impudence?” she said to Joceline in a smart tone; “what do you here prowling about the apartments when the master is not at home?”
But instead of the answer which perhaps she expected, Joceline Joliffe cast a mournful glance towards the soldier in the oriel window, as if to make what he said fully intelligible, and replied with a dejected appearance and voice, “Alack, my pretty Phoebe, there come those here that have more right or might than any of us, and will use little ceremony in coming when they will, and staying while they please.”
He darted another glance at Tomkins, who still seemed busy with the book before him, then sidled close to the astonished girl, who had continued looking alternately at the keeper and at the stranger, as if she had been unable to understand the words of the first, or to comprehend the meaning of the second being present.
“Go,” whispered Joliffe, approaching his mouth so near her cheek, that his breath waved the curls of her hair; “go, my dearest Phoebe, trip it as fast as a fawn down to my lodge — I will soon be there, and”—
“Your lodge, indeed” said Phoebe; “you are very bold, for a poor kill-buck that never frightened any thing before save a dun deer — Your lodge, indeed! — I am like to go there, I think.” “Hush, hush! Phoebe — here is no time for jesting. Down to my hut, I say, like a deer, for the knight and Mrs. Alice are both there, and I fear will not return hither again. — All’s naught, girl — and our evil days are come at last with a vengeance — we are fairly at bay and fairly hunted down.”
“Can this be, Joceline?” said the poor girl, turning to the keeper with an expression of fright in her countenance, which she had hitherto averted in rural coquetry.
“As sure, my dearest Phoebe, as”—
The rest of the asseveration was lost in Phoebe’s ear, so closely did the keeper’s lips approach it; and if they approached so very near as to touch her cheek, grief, like impatience, hath its privileges, and poor Phoebe had enough of serious alarm to prevent her from demurring upon such a trifle.
But no trifle was the approach of Joceline’s lips to Phoebe’s pretty though sunburnt cheek, in the estimation of the Independent, who, a little before the object of Joceline’s vigilance, had been more lately in his turn the observer of the keeper’s demeanour, so soon as the interview betwixt Phoebe and him had become so interesting. And when he remarked the closeness of Joceline’s argument, he raised his voice to a pitch of harshness that would have rivalled that of an ungreased and rusty saw, and which at once made Joceline and Phoebe spring six feet apart, each in contrary directions, and if Cupid was of the party, must have sent him out at the window like it wild duck flying from a culverin. Instantly throwing himself into the attitude of a preacher and a reprover of vice, “How now!” he exclaimed, “shameless and impudent as you are! — What — chambering and wantoning in our very presence! — How — would you play your pranks before the steward of the Commissioners of the High Court of Parliament, as ye would in a booth at the fulsome fair, or amidst the trappings and tracings of a profane dancing-school, where the scoundrel minstrels make their ungodly weapons to squeak, ‘Kiss and be kind, the fiddler’s blind?’— But here,” he said, dealing a perilous thump upon the volume —“Here is the King and high priest of those vices and follies! — Here is he, whom men of folly profanely call nature’s miracle! — Here is he, whom princes chose for their cabinet-keeper, and whom maids of honour take for their bed-fellow! — Here is the prime teacher of fine words, foppery and folly — Here!”— (dealing another thump upon the volume — and oh! revered of the Roxburghe, it was the first folio — beloved of the Bannatyne, it was Hemmings and Condel — it was the editio princeps)—“On thee,” he continued —“on thee, William Shakspeare, I charge whate’er of such lawless idleness and immodest folly hath defiled the land since thy day!”
“By the mass, a heavy accusation,” said Joceline, the bold recklessness of whose temper could not be long overawed; “Odds pitlikins, is our master’s old favourite, Will of Stratford, to answer for every buss that has been snatched since James’s time? — a perilous reckoning truly — but I wonder who is sponsible for what lads and lasses did before his day?” “Scoff not,” said the soldier, “lest I, being called thereto by the voice within me, do deal with thee as a scorner. Verily, I say, that since the devil fell from Heaven, he never lacked agents on earth; yet nowhere hath he met with a wizard having such infinite power over men’s souls as this pestilent fellow Shakspeare. Seeks a wife a foul example for adultery, here she shall find it — Would a man know how to train his fellow to be a murderer, here shall he find tutoring — Would a lady marry a heathen negro, she shall have chronicled example for it — Would any one scorn at his Maker, he shall be furnished with a jest in this book — Would he defy his brother in the flesh, he shall be accommodated with a challenge — Would you be drunk, Shakspeare will cheer you with a cup — Would you plunge in sensual pleasures, he will soothe you to indulgence, as with the lascivious sounds of a lute. This, I say, this book is the well-head and source of all those evils which have overrun the land like a torrent, making men scoffers, doubters, deniers, murderers, makebates, and lovers of the wine-pot, haunting unclean places, and sitting long at the evening-wine. Away with him, away with him, men of England! to Tophet with his wicked book, and to the Vale of Hinnom with his accursed bones! Verily but that our march was hasty when we passed Stratford, in the year 1643, with Sir William Waller; but that our march was hasty”—
“Because Prince Rupert was after you with his cavaliers,” muttered the incorrigible Joceline.
“I say,” continued the zealous trooper, raising his voice and extending his arm —“but that our march was by command hasty, and that we turned not aside in our riding, closing our ranks each one upon the other as becomes men of war, I had torn on that day the bones of that preceptor of vice and debauchery from the grave, and given them to the next dunghill. I would have made his memory a scoff and a hissing!”
“That is the bitterest thing he has said yet,” observed the keeper. “Poor Will would have liked the hissing worse than all the rest.” “Will the gentleman say any more?” enquired Phoebe in a whisper. “Lack-a-day, he talks brave words, if one knew but what they meant. But it is a mercy our good knight did not see him ruffle the book at that rate — Mercy on us, there would certainly have been bloodshed. — But oh, the father — see how he is twisting his face about! — Is he ill of the colic, think’st thou, Joceline? Or, may I offer him a glass of strong waters?”
“Hark thee hither, wench!” said the keeper, “he is but loading his blunderbuss for another volley; and while he turns up his eyes, and twists about his face, and clenches his fist, and shuffles and tramples with his feet in that fashion, he is bound to take no notice of any thing. I would be sworn to cut his purse, if he had one, from his side, without his feeling it.”
“La! Joceline,” said Phoebe, “and if he abides here in this turn of times, I dare say the gentleman will be easily served.”
“Care not thou about that,” said Joliffe; “but tell me softly and hastily, what is in the pantry?”
“Small housekeeping enough,” said Phoebe; “a cold capon and some comfits, and the great standing venison pasty, with plenty of spice — a manchet or two besides, and that is all.”
“Well, it will serve for a pinch — wrap thy cloak round thy comely body — get a basket and a brace of trenchers and towels, they are heinously impoverished down yonder — carry down the capon and the manchets — the pasty must abide with this same soldier and me, and the pie-crust will serve us for bread.”
“Rarely,” said Phoebe; “I made the paste myself — it is as thick as the walls of Fair Rosamond’s Tower.”
“Which two pairs of jaws would be long in gnawing through, work hard as they might,” said the keeper. “But what liquor is there?”
“Only a bottle of Alicant, and one of sack, with the stone jug of strong waters,” answered Phoebe.
“Put the wine-flasks into thy basket,” said Joceline, “the knight must not lack his evening draught — and down with thee to the hut like a lapwing. There is enough for supper, and tomorrow is a new day. — Ha! by heaven I thought yonder man’s eye watched us — No — he only rolled it round him in a brown study — Deep enough doubtless, as they all are. — But d — n him, he must be bottomless if I cannot sound him before the night’s out. — Hie thee away, Phoebe.”
But Phoebe was a rural coquette, and, aware that Joceline’s situation gave him no advantage of avenging the challenge in a fitting way, she whispered in his ear, “Do you think our knight’s friend, Shakspeare, really found out all these naughty devices the gentleman spoke of?”
Off she darted while she spoke, while Joliffe menaced future vengeance with his finger, as he muttered, “Go thy way, Phoebe Mayflower, the lightest-footed and lightest-hearted wench that ever tripped the sod in Woodstock-park! — After her, Bevis, and bring her safe to our master at the hut.”
The large greyhound arose like a human servitor who had received an order, and followed Phoebe through the hall, first licking her hand to make her sensible of his presence, and then putting himself to a slow trot, so as best to accommodate himself to the light pace of her whom he convoyed, whom Joceline had not extolled for her activity without due reason. While Phoebe and her guardian thread the forest glades, we return to the Lodge.
The Independent now seemed to start as if from a reverie. “Is the young woman gone?” said he.
“Ay, marry is she,” said the keeper; “and if your worship hath farther commands, you must rest contented with male attendance.”
“Commands — umph — I think the damsel might have tarried for another exhortation,” said the soldier —“truly, I profess my mind was much inclined toward her for her edification.”
“Oh, sir,” replied Joliffe, “she will be at church next Sunday, and if your military reverence is pleased again to hold forth amongst us, she will have use of the doctrine with the rest. But young maidens of these parts hear no private homilies. — And what is now your pleasure? Will you look at the other rooms, and at the few plate articles which have been left?”
“Umph — no,” said the Independent —“it wears late, and gets dark — thou hast the means of giving us beds, friend?”
“Better you never slept in,” replied the keeper.
“And wood for a fire, and a light, and some small pittance of creature-comforts for refreshment of the outward man?” continued the soldier.
“Without doubt,” replied the keeper, displaying a prudent anxiety to gratify this important personage.
In a few minutes a great standing candlestick was placed on an oaken table. The mighty venison pasty, adorned with parsley, was placed on the board on a clean napkin; the stone-bottle of strong waters, with a blackjack full of ale, formed comfortable appendages; and to this meal sate down in social manner the soldier, occupying a great elbow-chair, and the keeper, at his invitation, using the more lowly accommodation of a stool, at the opposite side of the table. Thus agreeably employed, our history leaves them for the present.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00