“Valiant knight,” said Locksley to the Black Champion, “without whose good heart and mighty arm our enterprise must altogether have failed, will it please you to take from that mass of spoil whatever may best serve to pleasure you, and to remind you of this my Trysting-tree?”
“I accept the offer,” said the Knight, “as frankly as it is given; and I ask permission to dispose of Sir Maurice de Bracy at my own pleasure.”
“He is thine already,” said Locksley, “and well for him! else the tyrant had graced the highest bough of this oak, with as many of his Free-Companions as we could gather, hanging thick as acorns around him.—But he is thy prisoner, and he is safe, though he had slain my father.”
“De Bracy,” said the Knight, “thou art free—depart. He whose prisoner thou art scorns to take mean revenge for what is past. But beware of the future, lest a worse thing befall thee.—Maurice de Bracy, I say BEWARE!”
De Bracy bowed low and in silence, and was about to withdraw, when the yeomen burst at once into a shout of execration and derision. The proud knight instantly stopped, turned back, folded his arms, drew up his form to its full height, and exclaimed, “Peace, ye yelping curs! who open upon a cry which ye followed not when the stag was at bay—De Bracy scorns your censure as he would disdain your applause. To your brakes and caves, ye outlawed thieves! and be silent when aught knightly or noble is but spoken within a league of your fox-earths.”
This ill-timed defiance might have procured for De Bracy a volley of arrows, but for the hasty and imperative interference of the outlaw Chief. Meanwhile the knight caught a horse by the rein, for several which had been taken in the stables of Front-de-Boeuf stood accoutred around, and were a valuable part of the booty. He threw himself upon the saddle, and galloped off through the wood.
When the bustle occasioned by this incident was somewhat composed, the chief Outlaw took from his neck the rich horn and baldric which he had recently gained at the strife of archery near Ashby.
“Noble knight.” he said to him of the Fetterlock, “if you disdain not to grace by your acceptance a bugle which an English yeoman has once worn, this I will pray you to keep as a memorial of your gallant bearing—and if ye have aught to do, and, as happeneth oft to a gallant knight, ye chance to be hard bested in any forest between Trent and Tees, wind three mots 42 upon the horn thus, ‘Wa-sa-hoa!’ and it may well chance ye shall find helpers and rescue.”
42.The notes upon the bugle were anciently called mots, and are distinguished in the old treatises on hunting, not by musical characters, but by written words.
He then gave breath to the bugle, and winded once and again the call which he described, until the knight had caught the notes.
“Gramercy for the gift, bold yeoman,” said the Knight; “and better help than thine and thy rangers would I never seek, were it at my utmost need.” And then in his turn he winded the call till all the greenwood rang.
“Well blown and clearly,” said the yeoman; “beshrew me an thou knowest not as much of woodcraft as of war!—thou hast been a striker of deer in thy day, I warrant.—Comrades, mark these three mots—it is the call of the Knight of the Fetterlock; and he who hears it, and hastens not to serve him at his need, I will have him scourged out of our band with his own bowstring.”
“Long live our leader!” shouted the yeomen, “and long live the Black Knight of the Fetterlock!—May he soon use our service, to prove how readily it will be paid.”
Locksley now proceeded to the distribution of the spoil, which he performed with the most laudable impartiality. A tenth part of the whole was set apart for the church, and for pious uses; a portion was next allotted to a sort of public treasury; a part was assigned to the widows and children of those who had fallen, or to be expended in masses for the souls of such as had left no surviving family. The rest was divided amongst the outlaws, according to their rank and merit, and the judgment of the Chief, on all such doubtful questions as occurred, was delivered with great shrewdness, and received with absolute submission. The Black Knight was not a little surprised to find that men, in a state so lawless, were nevertheless among themselves so regularly and equitably governed, and all that he observed added to his opinion of the justice and judgment of their leader.
When each had taken his own proportion of the booty, and while the treasurer, accompanied by four tall yeomen, was transporting that belonging to the state to some place of concealment or of security, the portion devoted to the church still remained unappropriated.
“I would,” said the leader, “we could hear tidings of our joyous chaplain—he was never wont to be absent when meat was to be blessed, or spoil to be parted; and it is his duty to take care of these the tithes of our successful enterprise. It may be the office has helped to cover some of his canonical irregularities. Also, I have a holy brother of his a prisoner at no great distance, and I would fain have the Friar to help me to deal with him in due sort—I greatly misdoubt the safety of the bluff priest.”
“I were right sorry for that,” said the Knight of the Fetterlock, “for I stand indebted to him for the joyous hospitality of a merry night in his cell. Let us to the ruins of the castle; it may be we shall there learn some tidings of him.”
While they thus spoke, a loud shout among the yeomen announced the arrival of him for whom they feared, as they learned from the stentorian voice of the Friar himself, long before they saw his burly person.
“Make room, my merry-men!” he exclaimed; “room for your godly father and his prisoner—Cry welcome once more.—I come, noble leader, like an eagle with my prey in my clutch.”—And making his way through the ring, amidst the laughter of all around, he appeared in majestic triumph, his huge partisan in one hand, and in the other a halter, one end of which was fastened to the neck of the unfortunate Isaac of York, who, bent down by sorrow and terror, was dragged on by the victorious priest, who shouted aloud, “Where is Allan-a-Dale, to chronicle me in a ballad, or if it were but a lay?—By Saint Hermangild, the jingling crowder is ever out of the way where there is an apt theme for exalting valour!”
“Curtal Priest,” said the Captain, “thou hast been at a wet mass this morning, as early as it is. In the name of Saint Nicholas, whom hast thou got here?”
“A captive to my sword and to my lance, noble Captain,” replied the Clerk of Copmanhurst; “to my bow and to my halberd, I should rather say; and yet I have redeemed him by my divinity from a worse captivity. Speak, Jew—have I not ransomed thee from Sathanas?—have I not taught thee thy ‘credo’, thy ‘pater’, and thine ‘Ave Maria’?—Did I not spend the whole night in drinking to thee, and in expounding of mysteries?”
“For the love of God!” ejaculated the poor Jew, “will no one take me out of the keeping of this mad—I mean this holy man?”
“How’s this, Jew?” said the Friar, with a menacing aspect; “dost thou recant, Jew?—Bethink thee, if thou dost relapse into thine infidelity, though thou are not so tender as a suckling pig—I would I had one to break my fast upon—thou art not too tough to be roasted! Be conformable, Isaac, and repeat the words after me. ‘Ave Maria’!—”
“Nay, we will have no profanation, mad Priest,” said Locksley; “let us rather hear where you found this prisoner of thine.”
“By Saint Dunstan,” said the Friar, “I found him where I sought for better ware! I did step into the cellarage to see what might be rescued there; for though a cup of burnt wine, with spice, be an evening’s drought for an emperor, it were waste, methought, to let so much good liquor be mulled at once; and I had caught up one runlet of sack, and was coming to call more aid among these lazy knaves, who are ever to seek when a good deed is to be done, when I was avised of a strong door—Aha! thought I, here is the choicest juice of all in this secret crypt; and the knave butler, being disturbed in his vocation, hath left the key in the door—In therefore I went, and found just nought besides a commodity of rusted chains and this dog of a Jew, who presently rendered himself my prisoner, rescue or no rescue. I did but refresh myself after the fatigue of the action, with the unbeliever, with one humming cup of sack, and was proceeding to lead forth my captive, when, crash after crash, as with wild thunder-dint and levin-fire, down toppled the masonry of an outer tower, (marry beshrew their hands that built it not the firmer!) and blocked up the passage. The roar of one falling tower followed another—I gave up thought of life; and deeming it a dishonour to one of my profession to pass out of this world in company with a Jew, I heaved up my halberd to beat his brains out; but I took pity on his grey hairs, and judged it better to lay down the partisan, and take up my spiritual weapon for his conversion. And truly, by the blessing of Saint Dunstan, the seed has been sown in good soil; only that, with speaking to him of mysteries through the whole night, and being in a manner fasting, (for the few droughts of sack which I sharpened my wits with were not worth marking,) my head is well-nigh dizzied, I trow.—But I was clean exhausted.—Gilbert and Wibbald know in what state they found me—quite and clean exhausted.”
“We can bear witness,” said Gilbert; “for when we had cleared away the ruin, and by Saint Dunstan’s help lighted upon the dungeon stair, we found the runlet of sack half empty, the Jew half dead, and the Friar more than half—exhausted, as he calls it.”
“Ye be knaves! ye lie!” retorted the offended Friar; “it was you and your gormandizing companions that drank up the sack, and called it your morning draught—I am a pagan, an I kept it not for the Captain’s own throat. But what recks it? The Jew is converted, and understands all I have told him, very nearly, if not altogether, as well as myself.”
“Jew,” said the Captain, “is this true? hast thou renounced thine unbelief?”
“May I so find mercy in your eyes,” said the Jew, “as I know not one word which the reverend prelate spake to me all this fearful night. Alas! I was so distraught with agony, and fear, and grief, that had our holy father Abraham come to preach to me, he had found but a deaf listener.”
“Thou liest, Jew, and thou knowest thou dost.” said the Friar; “I will remind thee of but one word of our conference—thou didst promise to give all thy substance to our holy Order.”
“So help me the Promise, fair sirs,” said Isaac, even more alarmed than before, “as no such sounds ever crossed my lips! Alas! I am an aged beggar’d man—I fear me a childless—have ruth on me, and let me go!”
“Nay,” said the Friar, “if thou dost retract vows made in favour of holy Church, thou must do penance.”
Accordingly, he raised his halberd, and would have laid the staff of it lustily on the Jew’s shoulders, had not the Black Knight stopped the blow, and thereby transferred the Holy Clerk’s resentment to himself.
“By Saint Thomas of Kent,” said he, “an I buckle to my gear, I will teach thee, sir lazy lover, to mell with thine own matters, maugre thine iron case there!”
“Nay, be not wroth with me,” said the Knight; “thou knowest I am thy sworn friend and comrade.”
“I know no such thing,” answered the Friar; “and defy thee for a meddling coxcomb!”
“Nay, but,” said the Knight, who seemed to take a pleasure in provoking his quondam host, “hast thou forgotten how, that for my sake (for I say nothing of the temptation of the flagon and the pasty) thou didst break thy vow of fast and vigil?”
“Truly, friend,” said the Friar, clenching his huge fist, “I will bestow a buffet on thee.”
“I accept of no such presents,” said the Knight; “I am content to take thy cuff 421 as a loan, but I will repay thee with usury as deep as ever thy prisoner there exacted in his traffic.”
421. Note H. Richard Coeur-de-Lion.
“I will prove that presently,” said the Friar.
“Hola!” cried the Captain, “what art thou after, mad Friar? brawling beneath our Trysting-tree?”
“No brawling,” said the Knight, “it is but a friendly interchange of courtesy.—Friar, strike an thou darest—I will stand thy blow, if thou wilt stand mine.”
“Thou hast the advantage with that iron pot on thy head,” said the churchman; “but have at thee—Down thou goest, an thou wert Goliath of Gath in his brazen helmet.”
The Friar bared his brawny arm up to the elbow, and putting his full strength to the blow, gave the Knight a buffet that might have felled an ox. But his adversary stood firm as a rock. A loud shout was uttered by all the yeomen around; for the Clerk’s cuff was proverbial amongst them, and there were few who, in jest or earnest, had not had the occasion to know its vigour.
“Now, Priest,” said, the Knight, pulling off his gauntlet, “if I had vantage on my head, I will have none on my hand—stand fast as a true man.”
“’Genam meam dedi vapulatori’—I have given my cheek to the smiter,” said the Priest; “an thou canst stir me from the spot, fellow, I will freely bestow on thee the Jew’s ransom.”
So spoke the burly Priest, assuming, on his part, high defiance. But who may resist his fate? The buffet of the Knight was given with such strength and good-will, that the Friar rolled head over heels upon the plain, to the great amazement of all the spectators. But he arose neither angry nor crestfallen.
“Brother,” said he to the Knight, “thou shouldst have used thy strength with more discretion. I had mumbled but a lame mass an thou hadst broken my jaw, for the piper plays ill that wants the nether chops. Nevertheless, there is my hand, in friendly witness, that I will exchange no more cuffs with thee, having been a loser by the barter. End now all unkindness. Let us put the Jew to ransom, since the leopard will not change his spots, and a Jew he will continue to be.”
“The Priest,” said Clement, “is not half so confident of the Jew’s conversion, since he received that buffet on the ear.”
“Go to, knave, what pratest thou of conversions?—what, is there no respect?—all masters and no men?—I tell thee, fellow, I was somewhat totty when I received the good knight’s blow, or I had kept my ground under it. But an thou gibest more of it, thou shalt learn I can give as well as take.”
“Peace all!” said the Captain. “And thou, Jew, think of thy ransom; thou needest not to be told that thy race are held to be accursed in all Christian communities, and trust me that we cannot endure thy presence among us. Think, therefore, of an offer, while I examine a prisoner of another cast.”
“Were many of Front-de-Boeuf’s men taken?” demanded the Black Knight.
“None of note enough to be put to ransom,” answered the Captain; “a set of hilding fellows there were, whom we dismissed to find them a new master—enough had been done for revenge and profit; the bunch of them were not worth a cardecu. The prisoner I speak of is better booty—a jolly monk riding to visit his leman, an I may judge by his horse-gear and wearing apparel.—Here cometh the worthy prelate, as pert as a pyet.” And, between two yeomen, was brought before the silvan throne of the outlaw Chief, our old friend, Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx.