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CHAPTER XL-1

Sir Walter ScottMar 07, 2020'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Shadows avaunt!—Richard’s himself again.

     Richard III

When the Black Knight—for it becomes necessary to resume the train of his adventures—left the Trysting-tree of the generous Outlaw, he held his way straight to a neighbouring religious house, of small extent and revenue, called the Priory of Saint Botolph, to which the wounded Ivanhoe had been removed when the castle was taken, under the guidance of the faithful Gurth, and the magnanimous Wamba. It is unnecessary at present to mention what took place in the interim betwixt Wilfred and his deliverer; suffice it to say, that after long and grave communication, messengers were dispatched by the Prior in several directions, and that on the succeeding morning the Black Knight was about to set forth on his journey, accompanied by the jester Wamba, who attended as his guide.

“We will meet,” he said to Ivanhoe, “at Coningsburgh, the castle of the deceased Athelstane, since there thy father Cedric holds the funeral feast for his noble relation. I would see your Saxon kindred together, Sir Wilfred, and become better acquainted with them than heretofore. Thou also wilt meet me; and it shall be my task to reconcile thee to thy father.”

So saying, he took an affectionate farewell of Ivanhoe, who expressed an anxious desire to attend upon his deliverer. But the Black Knight would not listen to the proposal.

“Rest this day; thou wilt have scarce strength enough to travel on the next. I will have no guide with me but honest Wamba, who can play priest or fool as I shall be most in the humour.”

“And I,” said Wamba, “will attend you with all my heart. I would fain see the feasting at the funeral of Athelstane; for, if it be not full and frequent, he will rise from the dead to rebuke cook, sewer, and cupbearer; and that were a sight worth seeing. Always, Sir Knight, I will trust your valour with making my excuse to my master Cedric, in case mine own wit should fail.”

“And how should my poor valour succeed, Sir Jester, when thy light wit halts?—resolve me that.”

“Wit, Sir Knight,” replied the Jester, “may do much. He is a quick, apprehensive knave, who sees his neighbours blind side, and knows how to keep the lee-gage when his passions are blowing high. But valour is a sturdy fellow, that makes all split. He rows against both wind and tide, and makes way notwithstanding; and, therefore, good Sir Knight, while I take advantage of the fair weather in our noble master’s temper, I will expect you to bestir yourself when it grows rough.”

“Sir Knight of the Fetterlock, since it is your pleasure so to be distinguished,” said Ivanhoe, “I fear me you have chosen a talkative and a troublesome fool to be your guide. But he knows every path and alley in the woods as well as e’er a hunter who frequents them; and the poor knave, as thou hast partly seen, is as faithful as steel.”

“Nay,” said the Knight, “an he have the gift of showing my road, I shall not grumble with him that he desires to make it pleasant.—Fare thee well, kind Wilfred—I charge thee not to attempt to travel till to-morrow at earliest.”

So saying, he extended his hand to Ivanhoe, who pressed it to his lips, took leave of the Prior, mounted his horse, and departed, with Wamba for his companion. Ivanhoe followed them with his eyes, until they were lost in the shades of the surrounding forest, and then returned into the convent.

But shortly after matin-song, he requested to see the Prior. The old man came in haste, and enquired anxiously after the state of his health.

“It is better,” he said, “than my fondest hope could have anticipated; either my wound has been slighter than the effusion of blood led me to suppose, or this balsam hath wrought a wonderful cure upon it. I feel already as if I could bear my corslet; and so much the better, for thoughts pass in my mind which render me unwilling to remain here longer in inactivity.”

“Now, the saints forbid,” said the Prior, “that the son of the Saxon Cedric should leave our convent ere his wounds were healed! It were shame to our profession were we to suffer it.”

“Nor would I desire to leave your hospitable roof, venerable father,” said Ivanhoe, “did I not feel myself able to endure the journey, and compelled to undertake it.”

“And what can have urged you to so sudden a departure?” said the Prior.

“Have you never, holy father,” answered the Knight, “felt an apprehension of approaching evil, for which you in vain attempted to assign a cause?—Have you never found your mind darkened, like the sunny landscape, by the sudden cloud, which augurs a coming tempest?—And thinkest thou not that such impulses are deserving of attention, as being the hints of our guardian spirits, that danger is impending?”

“I may not deny,” said the Prior, crossing himself, “that such things have been, and have been of Heaven; but then such communications have had a visibly useful scope and tendency. But thou, wounded as thou art, what avails it thou shouldst follow the steps of him whom thou couldst not aid, were he to be assaulted?”

“Prior,” said Ivanhoe, “thou dost mistake—I am stout enough to exchange buffets with any who will challenge me to such a traffic—But were it otherwise, may I not aid him were he in danger, by other means than by force of arms? It is but too well known that the Saxons love not the Norman race, and who knows what may be the issue, if he break in upon them when their hearts are irritated by the death of Athelstane, and their heads heated by the carousal in which they will indulge themselves? I hold his entrance among them at such a moment most perilous, and I am resolved to share or avert the danger; which, that I may the better do, I would crave of thee the use of some palfrey whose pace may be softer than that of my ‘destrier’.” 56

56.“Destrier”—war-horse.

“Surely,” said the worthy churchman; “you shall have mine own ambling jennet, and I would it ambled as easy for your sake as that of the Abbot of Saint Albans. Yet this will I say for Malkin, for so I call her, that unless you were to borrow a ride on the juggler’s steed that paces a hornpipe amongst the eggs, you could not go a journey on a creature so gentle and smooth-paced. I have composed many a homily on her back, to the edification of my brethren of the convent, and many poor Christian souls.”

“I pray you, reverend father,” said Ivanhoe, “let Malkin be got ready instantly, and bid Gurth attend me with mine arms.”

“Nay, but fair sir,” said the Prior, “I pray you to remember that Malkin hath as little skill in arms as her master, and that I warrant not her enduring the sight or weight of your full panoply. O, Malkin, I promise you, is a beast of judgment, and will contend against any undue weight—I did but borrow the ‘Fructus Temporum’ from the priest of Saint Bees, and I promise you she would not stir from the gate until I had exchanged the huge volume for my little breviary.”

“Trust me, holy father,” said Ivanhoe, “I will not distress her with too much weight; and if she calls a combat with me, it is odds but she has the worst.”

This reply was made while Gurth was buckling on the Knight’s heels a pair of large gilded spurs, capable of convincing any restive horse that his best safety lay in being conformable to the will of his rider.

The deep and sharp rowels with which Ivanhoe’s heels were now armed, began to make the worthy Prior repent of his courtesy, and ejaculate,—“Nay, but fair sir, now I bethink me, my Malkin abideth not the spur—Better it were that you tarry for the mare of our manciple down at the Grange, which may be had in little more than an hour, and cannot but be tractable, in respect that she draweth much of our winter fire-wood, and eateth no corn.”

“I thank you, reverend father, but will abide by your first offer, as I see Malkin is already led forth to the gate. Gurth shall carry mine armour; and for the rest, rely on it, that as I will not overload Malkin’s back, she shall not overcome my patience. And now, farewell!”

Ivanhoe now descended the stairs more hastily and easily than his wound promised, and threw himself upon the jennet, eager to escape the importunity of the Prior, who stuck as closely to his side as his age and fatness would permit, now singing the praises of Malkin, now recommending caution to the Knight in managing her.

“She is at the most dangerous period for maidens as well as mares,” said the old man, laughing at his own jest, “being barely in her fifteenth year.”

Ivanhoe, who had other web to weave than to stand canvassing a palfrey’s paces with its owner, lent but a deaf ear to the Prior’s grave advices and facetious jests, and having leapt on his mare, and commanded his squire (for such Gurth now called himself) to keep close by his side, he followed the track of the Black Knight into the forest, while the Prior stood at the gate of the convent looking after him, and ejaculating,—“Saint Mary! how prompt and fiery be these men of war! I would I had not trusted Malkin to his keeping, for, crippled as I am with the cold rheum, I am undone if aught but good befalls her. And yet,” said he, recollecting himself, “as I would not spare my own old and disabled limbs in the good cause of Old England, so Malkin must e’en run her hazard on the same venture; and it may be they will think our poor house worthy of some munificent guerdon—or, it may be, they will send the old Prior a pacing nag. And if they do none of these, as great men will forget little men’s service, truly I shall hold me well repaid in having done that which is right. And it is now well-nigh the fitting time to summon the brethren to breakfast in the refectory—Ah! I doubt they obey that call more cheerily than the bells for primes and matins.”

So the Prior of Saint Botolph’s hobbled back again into the refectory, to preside over the stockfish and ale, which was just serving out for the friars’ breakfast. Busy and important, he sat him down at the table, and many a dark word he threw out, of benefits to be expected to the convent, and high deeds of service done by himself, which, at another season, would have attracted observation. But as the stockfish was highly salted, and the ale reasonably powerful, the jaws of the brethren were too anxiously employed to admit of their making much use of their ears; nor do we read of any of the fraternity, who was tempted to speculate upon the mysterious hints of their Superior, except Father Diggory, who was severely afflicted by the toothache, so that he could only eat on one side of his jaws.

In the meantime, the Black Champion and his guide were pacing at their leisure through the recesses of the forest; the good Knight whiles humming to himself the lay of some enamoured troubadour, sometimes encouraging by questions the prating disposition of his attendant, so that their dialogue formed a whimsical mixture of song and jest, of which we would fain give our readers some idea. You are then to imagine this Knight, such as we have already described him, strong of person, tall, broad-shouldered, and large of bone, mounted on his mighty black charger, which seemed made on purpose to bear his weight, so easily he paced forward under it, having the visor of his helmet raised, in order to admit freedom of breath, yet keeping the beaver, or under part, closed, so that his features could be but imperfectly distinguished. But his ruddy embrowned cheek-bones could be plainly seen, and the large and bright blue eyes, that flashed from under the dark shade of the raised visor; and the whole gesture and look of the champion expressed careless gaiety and fearless confidence—a mind which was unapt to apprehend danger, and prompt to defy it when most imminent—yet with whom danger was a familiar thought, as with one whose trade was war and adventure.

The Jester wore his usual fantastic habit, but late accidents had led him to adopt a good cutting falchion, instead of his wooden sword, with a targe to match it; of both which weapons he had, notwithstanding his profession, shown himself a skilful master during the storming of Torquilstone. Indeed, the infirmity of Wamba’s brain consisted chiefly in a kind of impatient irritability, which suffered him not long to remain quiet in any posture, or adhere to any certain train of ideas, although he was for a few minutes alert enough in performing any immediate task, or in apprehending any immediate topic. On horseback, therefore, he was perpetually swinging himself backwards and forwards, now on the horse’s ears, then anon on the very rump of the animal,—now hanging both his legs on one side, and now sitting with his face to the tail, moping, mowing, and making a thousand apish gestures, until his palfrey took his freaks so much to heart, as fairly to lay him at his length on the green grass—an incident which greatly amused the Knight, but compelled his companion to ride more steadily thereafter.

At the point of their journey at which we take them up, this joyous pair were engaged in singing a virelai, as it was called, in which the clown bore a mellow burden, to the better instructed Knight of the Fetterlock. And thus run the ditty:—

Anna-Marie, love, up is the sun,

     Anna-Marie, love, morn is begun,

     Mists are dispersing, love, birds singing free,

     Up in the morning, love, Anna-Marie.

     Anna-Marie, love, up in the morn,

     The hunter is winding blithe sounds on his horn,

     The echo rings merry from rock and from tree,

     ‘Tis time to arouse thee, love, Anna-Marie.

Wamba.

     O Tybalt, love, Tybalt, awake me not yet,

     Around my soft pillow while softer dreams flit,

    For what are the joys that in waking we prove,

     Compared with these visions, O, Tybalt, my love?

     Let the birds to the rise of the mist carol shrill,

     Let the hunter blow out his loud horn on the hill,

     Softer sounds, softer pleasures, in slumber I prove,—

     But think not I dreamt of thee, Tybalt, my love.

“A dainty song,” said Wamba, when they had finished their carol, “and I swear by my bauble, a pretty moral!—I used to sing it with Gurth, once my playfellow, and now, by the grace of God and his master, no less than a freemen; and we once came by the cudgel for being so entranced by the melody, that we lay in bed two hours after sunrise, singing the ditty betwixt sleeping and waking—my bones ache at thinking of the tune ever since. Nevertheless, I have played the part of Anna-Marie, to please you, fair sir.”

The Jester next struck into another carol, a sort of comic ditty, to which the Knight, catching up the tune, replied in the like manner.

Knight and Wamba.

     There came three merry men from south, west, and north,

     Ever more sing the roundelay;

     To win the Widow of Wycombe forth,

     And where was the widow might say them nay?

 

     The first was a knight, and from Tynedale he came,

     Ever more sing the roundelay;

     And his fathers, God save us, were men of great fame,

     And where was the widow might say him nay?

 

     Of his father the laird, of his uncle the squire,

     He boasted in rhyme and in roundelay;

     She bade him go bask by his sea-coal fire,

   For she was the widow would say him nay.

Wamba.

     The next that came forth, swore by blood and by nails,

     Merrily sing the roundelay;

     Hur’s a gentleman, God wot, and hur’s lineage was of Wales,

     And where was the widow might say him nay?

 

     Sir David ap Morgan ap Griffith ap Hugh

     Ap Tudor ap Rhice, quoth his roundelay

     She said that one widow for so many was too few,

     And she bade the Welshman wend his way.

 

     But then next came a yeoman, a yeoman of Kent,

     Jollily singing his roundelay;

     He spoke to the widow of living and rent,

     And where was the widow could say him nay?

Both.

     So the knight and the squire were both left in the mire,

     There for to sing their roundelay;

     For a yeoman of Kent, with his yearly rent,

     There never was a widow could say him nay.

“I would, Wamba,” said the knight, “that our host of the Trysting-tree, or the jolly Friar, his chaplain, heard this thy ditty in praise of our bluff yeoman.”

“So would not I,” said Wamba—“but for the horn that hangs at your baldric.”

“Ay,” said the Knight,—“this is a pledge of Locksley’s goodwill, though I am not like to need it. Three mots on this bugle will, I am assured, bring round, at our need, a jolly band of yonder honest yeomen.”

“I would say, Heaven forefend,” said the Jester, “were it not that that fair gift is a pledge they would let us pass peaceably.”

“Why, what meanest thou?” said the Knight; “thinkest thou that but for this pledge of fellowship they would assault us?”

“Nay, for me I say nothing,” said Wamba; “for green trees have ears as well as stone walls. But canst thou construe me this, Sir Knight—When is thy wine-pitcher and thy purse better empty than full?”

 

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