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CHAPTER XXXII.-1

Sir Walter ScottMar 06, 2020'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Trust me each state must have its policies:

     Kingdoms have edicts, cities have their charters;

     Even the wild outlaw, in his forest-walk,

     Keeps yet some touch of civil discipline;

     For not since Adam wore his verdant apron,

     Hath man with man in social union dwelt,

     But laws were made to draw that union closer.

     —Old Play

The daylight had dawned upon the glades of the oak forest. The green boughs glittered with all their pearls of dew. The hind led her fawn from the covert of high fern to the more open walks of the greenwood, and no huntsman was there to watch or intercept the stately hart, as he paced at the head of the antler’d herd.

The outlaws were all assembled around the Trysting-tree in the Harthill-walk, where they had spent the night in refreshing themselves after the fatigues of the siege, some with wine, some with slumber, many with hearing and recounting the events of the day, and computing the heaps of plunder which their success had placed at the disposal of their Chief.

The spoils were indeed very large; for, notwithstanding that much was consumed, a great deal of plate, rich armour, and splendid clothing, had been secured by the exertions of the dauntless outlaws, who could be appalled by no danger when such rewards were in view. Yet so strict were the laws of their society, that no one ventured to appropriate any part of the booty, which was brought into one common mass, to be at the disposal of their leader.

The place of rendezvous was an aged oak; not however the same to which Locksley had conducted Gurth and Wamba in the earlier part of the story, but one which was the centre of a silvan amphitheatre, within half a mile of the demolished castle of Torquilstone. Here Locksley assumed his seat—a throne of turf erected under the twisted branches of the huge oak, and the silvan followers were gathered around him. He assigned to the Black Knight a seat at his right hand, and to Cedric a place upon his left.

“Pardon my freedom, noble sirs,” he said, “but in these glades I am monarch—they are my kingdom; and these my wild subjects would reck but little of my power, were I, within my own dominions, to yield place to mortal man.—Now, sirs, who hath seen our chaplain? where is our curtal Friar? A mass amongst Christian men best begins a busy morning.”—No one had seen the Clerk of Copmanhurst. “Over gods forbode!” said the outlaw chief, “I trust the jolly priest hath but abidden by the wine-pot a thought too late. Who saw him since the castle was ta’en?”

“I,” quoth the Miller, “marked him busy about the door of a cellar, swearing by each saint in the calendar he would taste the smack of Front-de-Boeuf’s Gascoigne wine.”

“Now, the saints, as many as there be of them,” said the Captain, “forefend, lest he has drunk too deep of the wine-butts, and perished by the fall of the castle!—Away, Miller!—take with you enow of men, seek the place where you last saw him—throw water from the moat on the scorching ruins—I will have them removed stone by stone ere I lose my curtal Friar.”

The numbers who hastened to execute this duty, considering that an interesting division of spoil was about to take place, showed how much the troop had at heart the safety of their spiritual father.

“Meanwhile, let us proceed,” said Locksley; “for when this bold deed shall be sounded abroad, the bands of De Bracy, of Malvoisin, and other allies of Front-de-Boeuf, will be in motion against us, and it were well for our safety that we retreat from the vicinity.—Noble Cedric,” he said, turning to the Saxon, “that spoil is divided into two portions; do thou make choice of that which best suits thee, to recompense thy people who were partakers with us in this adventure.”

“Good yeoman,” said Cedric, “my heart is oppressed with sadness. The noble Athelstane of Coningsburgh is no more—the last sprout of the sainted Confessor! Hopes have perished with him which can never return!—A sparkle hath been quenched by his blood, which no human breath can again rekindle! My people, save the few who are now with me, do but tarry my presence to transport his honoured remains to their last mansion. The Lady Rowena is desirous to return to Rotherwood, and must be escorted by a sufficient force. I should, therefore, ere now, have left this place; and I waited—not to share the booty, for, so help me God and Saint Withold! as neither I nor any of mine will touch the value of a liard,—I waited but to render my thanks to thee and to thy bold yeomen, for the life and honour ye have saved.”

“Nay, but,” said the chief Outlaw, “we did but half the work at most—take of the spoil what may reward your own neighbours and followers.”

“I am rich enough to reward them from mine own wealth,” answered Cedric.

“And some,” said Wamba, “have been wise enough to reward themselves; they do not march off empty-handed altogether. We do not all wear motley.”

“They are welcome,” said Locksley; “our laws bind none but ourselves.”

“But, thou, my poor knave,” said Cedric, turning about and embracing his Jester, “how shall I reward thee, who feared not to give thy body to chains and death instead of mine!—All forsook me, when the poor fool was faithful!”

A tear stood in the eye of the rough Thane as he spoke—a mark of feeling which even the death of Athelstane had not extracted; but there was something in the half-instinctive attachment of his clown, that waked his nature more keenly than even grief itself.

“Nay,” said the Jester, extricating himself from master’s caress, “if you pay my service with the water of your eye, the Jester must weep for company, and then what becomes of his vocation?—But, uncle, if you would indeed pleasure me, I pray you to pardon my playfellow Gurth, who stole a week from your service to bestow it on your son.”

“Pardon him!” exclaimed Cedric; “I will both pardon and reward him.—Kneel down, Gurth.”—The swineherd was in an instant at his master’s feet—“THEOW and ESNE 40 art thou no longer,” said Cedric touching him with a wand; “FOLKFREE and SACLESS 41 art thou in town and from town, in the forest as in the field. A hide of land I give to thee in my steads of Walbrugham, from me and mine to thee and thine aye and for ever; and God’s malison on his head who this gainsays!”

40.Thrall and bondsman.

41. A lawful freeman.

No longer a serf, but a freeman and a landholder, Gurth sprung upon his feet, and twice bounded aloft to almost his own height from the ground. “A smith and a file,” he cried, “to do away the collar from the neck of a freeman!—Noble master! doubled is my strength by your gift, and doubly will I fight for you!—There is a free spirit in my breast—I am a man changed to myself and all around.—Ha, Fangs!” he continued,—for that faithful cur, seeing his master thus transported, began to jump upon him, to express his sympathy,—“knowest thou thy master still?”

“Ay,” said Wamba, “Fangs and I still know thee, Gurth, though we must needs abide by the collar; it is only thou art likely to forget both us and thyself.”

“I shall forget myself indeed ere I forget thee, true comrade,” said Gurth; “and were freedom fit for thee, Wamba, the master would not let thee want it.”

“Nay,” said Wamba, “never think I envy thee, brother Gurth; the serf sits by the hall-fire when the freeman must forth to the field of battle—And what saith Oldhelm of Malmsbury—Better a fool at a feast than a wise man at a fray.”

The tramp of horses was now heard, and the Lady Rowena appeared, surrounded by several riders, and a much stronger party of footmen, who joyfully shook their pikes and clashed their brown-bills for joy of her freedom. She herself, richly attired, and mounted on a dark chestnut palfrey, had recovered all the dignity of her manner, and only an unwonted degree of paleness showed the sufferings she had undergone. Her lovely brow, though sorrowful, bore on it a cast of reviving hope for the future, as well as of grateful thankfulness for the past deliverance—She knew that Ivanhoe was safe, and she knew that Athelstane was dead. The former assurance filled her with the most sincere delight; and if she did not absolutely rejoice at the latter, she might be pardoned for feeling the full advantage of being freed from further persecution on the only subject in which she had ever been contradicted by her guardian Cedric.

As Rowena bent her steed towards Locksley’s seat, that bold yeoman, with all his followers, rose to receive her, as if by a general instinct of courtesy. The blood rose to her cheeks, as, courteously waving her hand, and bending so low that her beautiful and loose tresses were for an instant mixed with the flowing mane of her palfrey, she expressed in few but apt words her obligations and her gratitude to Locksley and her other deliverers.—“God bless you, brave men,” she concluded, “God and Our Lady bless you and requite you for gallantly perilling yourselves in the cause of the oppressed!—If any of you should hunger, remember Rowena has food—if you should thirst, she has many a butt of wine and brown ale—and if the Normans drive ye from these walks, Rowena has forests of her own, where her gallant deliverers may range at full freedom, and never ranger ask whose arrow hath struck down the deer.”

“Thanks, gentle lady,” said Locksley; “thanks from my company and myself. But, to have saved you requites itself. We who walk the greenwood do many a wild deed, and the Lady Rowena’s deliverance may be received as an atonement.”

Again bowing from her palfrey, Rowena turned to depart; but pausing a moment, while Cedric, who was to attend her, was also taking his leave, she found herself unexpectedly close by the prisoner De Bracy. He stood under a tree in deep meditation, his arms crossed upon his breast, and Rowena was in hopes she might pass him unobserved. He looked up, however, and, when aware of her presence, a deep flush of shame suffused his handsome countenance. He stood a moment most irresolute; then, stepping forward, took her palfrey by the rein, and bent his knee before her.

“Will the Lady Rowena deign to cast an eye—on a captive knight—on a dishonoured soldier?”

“Sir Knight,” answered Rowena, “in enterprises such as yours, the real dishonour lies not in failure, but in success.”

“Conquest, lady, should soften the heart,” answered De Bracy; “let me but know that the Lady Rowena forgives the violence occasioned by an ill-fated passion, and she shall soon learn that De Bracy knows how to serve her in nobler ways.”

“I forgive you, Sir Knight,” said Rowena, “as a Christian.”

“That means,” said Wamba, “that she does not forgive him at all.”

“But I can never forgive the misery and desolation your madness has occasioned,” continued Rowena.

“Unloose your hold on the lady’s rein,” said Cedric, coming up. “By the bright sun above us, but it were shame, I would pin thee to the earth with my javelin—but be well assured, thou shalt smart, Maurice de Bracy, for thy share in this foul deed.”

“He threatens safely who threatens a prisoner,” said De Bracy; “but when had a Saxon any touch of courtesy?”

Then retiring two steps backward, he permitted the lady to move on.

Cedric, ere they departed, expressed his peculiar gratitude to the Black Champion, and earnestly entreated him to accompany him to Rotherwood.

“I know,” he said, “that ye errant knights desire to carry your fortunes on the point of your lance, and reck not of land or goods; but war is a changeful mistress, and a home is sometimes desirable even to the champion whose trade is wandering. Thou hast earned one in the halls of Rotherwood, noble knight. Cedric has wealth enough to repair the injuries of fortune, and all he has is his deliverer’s—Come, therefore, to Rotherwood, not as a guest, but as a son or brother.”

“Cedric has already made me rich,” said the Knight,—“he has taught me the value of Saxon virtue. To Rotherwood will I come, brave Saxon, and that speedily; but, as now, pressing matters of moment detain me from your halls. Peradventure when I come hither, I will ask such a boon as will put even thy generosity to the test.”

“It is granted ere spoken out,” said Cedric, striking his ready hand into the gauntleted palm of the Black Knight,—“it is granted already, were it to affect half my fortune.”

“Gage not thy promise so lightly,” said the Knight of the Fetterlock; “yet well I hope to gain the boon I shall ask. Meanwhile, adieu.”

“I have but to say,” added the Saxon, “that, during the funeral rites of the noble Athelstane, I shall be an inhabitant of the halls of his castle of Coningsburgh—They will be open to all who choose to partake of the funeral banqueting; and, I speak in name of the noble Edith, mother of the fallen prince, they will never be shut against him who laboured so bravely, though unsuccessfully, to save Athelstane from Norman chains and Norman steel.”

“Ay, ay,” said Wamba, who had resumed his attendance on his master, “rare feeding there will be—pity that the noble Athelstane cannot banquet at his own funeral.—But he,” continued the Jester, lifting up his eyes gravely, “is supping in Paradise, and doubtless does honour to the cheer.”

“Peace, and move on,” said Cedric, his anger at this untimely jest being checked by the recollection of Wamba’s recent services. Rowena waved a graceful adieu to him of the Fetterlock—the Saxon bade God speed him, and on they moved through a wide glade of the forest.

They had scarce departed, ere a sudden procession moved from under the greenwood branches, swept slowly round the silvan amphitheatre, and took the same direction with Rowena and her followers. The priests of a neighbouring convent, in expectation of the ample donation, or “soul-scat”, which Cedric had propined, attended upon the car in which the body of Athelstane was laid, and sang hymns as it was sadly and slowly borne on the shoulders of his vassals to his castle of Coningsburgh, to be there deposited in the grave of Hengist, from whom the deceased derived his long descent. Many of his vassals had assembled at the news of his death, and followed the bier with all the external marks, at least, of dejection and sorrow. Again the outlaws arose, and paid the same rude and spontaneous homage to death, which they had so lately rendered to beauty—the slow chant and mournful step of the priests brought back to their remembrance such of their comrades as had fallen in the yesterday’s array. But such recollections dwell not long with those who lead a life of danger and enterprise, and ere the sound of the death-hymn had died on the wind, the outlaws were again busied in the distribution of their spoil.

 

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