Woodstock, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Seventh.

Determined at length to dispatch his packet to the General without delay, Colonel Everard approached the door of the apartment, in which, as was evident from the heavy breathing within, the prisoner Wildrake enjoyed a deep slumber, under the influence of liquor at once and of fatigue. In turning the key, the bolt, which was rather rusty, made a resistance so noisy, as partly to attract the sleeper’s attention, though not to awake him. Everard stood by his bedside, as he heard him mutter, “Is it morning already, jailor? — Why, you dog, an you had but a cast of humanity in you, you would qualify your vile news with a cup of sack; — hanging is sorry work, my masters — and sorrow’s dry.”

“Up, Wildrake — up, thou ill-omened dreamer,” said his friend, shaking him by the collar.

“Hands off!” answered the sleeper. —“I can climb a ladder without help, I trow.”— He then sate up in the bed, and opening his eyes, stared around him, and exclaimed, “Zounds! Mark, is it only thou? I thought it was all over with me — fetters were struck from my legs — rope drawn round my gullet — irons knocked off my hands — hempen cravat tucked on — all ready for a dance in the open element upon slight footing.”

“Truce with thy folly, Wildrake; sure the devil of drink, to whom thou hast, I think, sold thyself”—

“For a hogshead of sack,” interrupted Wildrake; “the bargain was made in a cellar in the Vintry.”

“I am as mad as thou art, to trust any thing to thee,” said Markham; “I scarce believe thou hast thy senses yet.”

“What should ail me?” said Wildrake —“I trust I have not tasted liquor in my sleep, saving that I dreamed of drinking small-beer with Old Noll, of his own brewing. But do not look so glum, man — I am the same Roger Wildrake that I ever was; as wild as a mallard, but as true as a game-cock. I am thine own chum, man — bound to thee by thy kind deeds — devinctus beneficio — there is Latin for it; and where is the thing thou wilt charge me with, that I wilt not, or dare not execute, were it to pick the devil’s teeth with my rapier, after he had breakfasted upon round-heads?”

“You will drive me mad,” said Everard. —“When I am about to intrust all I have most valuable on earth to your management, your conduct and language are those of a mere Bedlamite. Last night I made allowance for thy drunken fury; but who can endure thy morning madness? — it is unsafe for thyself and me, Wildrake — it is unkind — I might say ungrateful.”

“Nay, do not say that, my friend,” said the cavalier, with some show of feeling; “and do not judge of me with a severity that cannot apply to such as I am. We who have lost our all in these sad jars, who are compelled to shift for our living, not from day to day, but from meal to meal — we whose only hiding place is the jail, whose prospect of final repose is the gallows — what canst thou expect from us, but to bear such a lot with a light heart, since we should break down under it with a heavy one?”

This was spoken in a tone of feeling which found a responding string in Everard’s bosom. He took his friend’s hand, and pressed it kindly.

“Nay, if I seemed harsh to thee, Wildrake, I profess it was for thine own sake more than mine. I know thou hast at the bottom of thy levity, as deep a principle of honour and feeling as ever governed a human heart. But thou art thoughtless — thou art rash — and I protest to thee, that wert thou to betray thyself in this matter, in which I trust thee, the evil consequences to myself would not afflict me more than the thought of putting thee into such danger.”

“Nay, if you take it on that tone, Mark,” said the cavalier, making an effort to laugh, evidently that he might conceal a tendency to a different emotion, “thou wilt make children of us both — babes and sucklings, by the hilt of this bilbo. — Come, trust me; I can be cautious when time requires it — no man ever saw me drink when an alert was expected — and not one poor pint of wine will I taste until I have managed this matter for thee. Well, I am thy secretary — clerk — I had forgot — and carry thy dispatches to Cromwell, taking good heed not to be surprised or choused out of my lump of loyalty, (striking his finger on the packet,) and I am to deliver it to the most loyal hands to which it is most humbly addressed — Adzooks, Mark, think of it a moment longer — Surely thou wilt not carry thy perverseness so far as to strike in with this bloody-minded rebel? — Bid me give him three inches of my dudgeon-dagger, and I will do it much more willingly than present him with thy packet.”

“Go to,” replied Everard, “this is beyond our bargain. If you will help me it is well; if not, let me lose no time in debating with thee, since I think every moment an age till the packet is in the General’s possession. It is the only way left me to obtain some protection, and a place of refuge for my uncle and his daughter.”

“That being the case,” said the cavalier, “I will not spare the spur. My nag up yonder at the town will be ready for the road in a trice, and thou mayst reckon on my being with Old Noll — thy General, I mean — in as short time as man and horse may consume betwixt Woodstock and Windsor, where I think I shall for the present find thy friend keeping possession where he has slain.”

“Hush, not a word of that. Since we parted last night, I have shaped thee a path which will suit thee better than to assume the decency of language and of outward manner, of which thou hast so little. I have acquainted the General that thou hast been by bad example and bad education”—

“Which is to be interpreted by contraries, I hope,” said Wildrake; “for sure I have been as well born and bred up as any lad of Leicestershire might desire.”

“Now, I prithee, hush — thou hast, I say, by bad example become at one time a malignant, and mixed in the party of the late King. But seeing what things were wrought in the nation by the General, thou hast come to a clearness touching his calling to be a great implement in the settlement of these distracted kingdoms. This account of thee will not only lead him to pass over some of thy eccentricities, should they break out in spite of thee, but will also give thee an interest with him as being more especially attached to his own person.”

“Doubtless,” said Wildrake, “as every fisher loves best the trouts that are of his own tickling.”

“It is likely, I think, he will send thee hither with letters to me,” said the Colonel, “enabling me to put a stop to the proceedings of these sequestrators, and to give poor old Sir Henry Lee permission to linger out his days among the oaks he loves to look upon. I have made this my request to General Cromwell, and I think my father’s friendship and my own may stretch so far on his regard without risk of cracking, especially standing matters as they now do — thou dost understand?”

“Entirely well,” said the cavalier; “stretch, quotha! — I would rather stretch a rope than hold commerce with the old King-killing ruffian. But I have said I will be guided by thee, Markham, and rat me but I will.”

“Be cautious, then,” said Everard, “mark well what he does and says — more especially what he does; for Oliver is one of those whose mind is better known by his actions than by his words; and stay — I warrant thee thou wert setting off without a cross in thy purse?”

“Too true, Mark,” said Wildrake; “the last noble melted last night among yonder blackguard troopers of yours.”

“Well, Roger,” replied the Colonel, “that is easily mended.” So saying, he slipped his purse into his friend’s hand. “But art thou not an inconsiderate weather-brained fellow, to set forth as thou wert about to do, without any thing to bear thy charges; what couldst thou have done?”

“Faith, I never thought of that; I must have cried Stand, I suppose, to the first pursy townsman or greasy grazier that I met o’ the heath — it is many a good fellow’s shift in these bad times.”

“Go to,” said Everard; “be cautious — use none of your loose acquaintance — rule your tongue — beware of the wine-pot — for there is little danger if thou couldst only but keep thyself sober — Be moderate in speech, and forbear oaths or vaunting.”

“In short, metamorphose myself into such a prig as thou art, Mark — Well,” said Wildrake, “so far as outside will go, I think I can make a Hope-on-High-Bomby 1 as well as thou canst. Ah! those were merry days when we saw Mills present Bomby at the Fortune playhouse, Mark, ere I had lost my laced cloak and the jewel in my ear, or thou hadst gotten the wrinkle on thy brow, and the puritanic twist of thy mustache!”

“They were like most worldly pleasures, Wildrake,” replied Everard, “sweet in the mouth and bitter in digestion. — But away with thee; and when thou bring’st back my answer, thou wilt find me either here or at Saint George’s Inn, at the little borough. — Good luck to thee — Be but cautious how thou bearest thyself.”

The Colonel remained in deep meditation. —“I think,” he said, “I have not pledged myself too far to the General. A breach between him and the Parliament seems inevitable, and would throw England back into civil war, of which all men are wearied. He may dislike my messenger — yet that I do not greatly fear. He knows I would choose such as I can myself depend on, and hath dealt enough with the stricter sort to be aware that there are among them, as well as elsewhere, men who can hide two faces under one hood.”

1 A puritanic character in one of Beaumont and Fletcher’s plays.


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