By the Author of Waverley
A HUNTING PARTY—AN ADVENTURE—A DELIVERANCE
A numerous train of yeomen, called in the language of the times retainers, who yearly received a livery coat and a small pension for their attendance on such solemn occasions, appeared in cassocks of blue, bearing upon their arms the cognisance of the house of Boteler, as a badge of their adherence. They were the tallest men of their hands that the neighbouring villages could supply, with every man his good buckler on his shoulder, and a bright burnished broadsword dangling from his leathern belt. On this occasion they acted as rangers for beating up the thickets and rousing the game. These attendants filled up the court of the castle, spacious as it was.
On the green without you might have seen the motley assemblage of peasantry convened by report of the splendid hunting, including most of our old acquaintances from Tewin, as well as the jolly partakers of good cheer at Hob Filcher’s. Gregory the jester, it may well be guessed, had no great mind to exhibit himself in public after his recent disaster; but Oswald the steward, a great formalist in whatever concerned the public exhibition of his master’s household state, had positively enjoined his attendance. ‘What,’ quoth he, ‘shall the house of the brave Lord Boteler, on such a brave day as this, be without a fool? Certes, the good Lord Saint Clere and his fair lady sister might think our housekeeping as niggardly as that of their churlish kinsman at Gay Bowers, who sent his father’s jester to the hospital, sold the poor sot’s bells for hawk-jesses, and made a nightcap of his long-eared bonnet. And, sirrah, let me see thee fool handsomely—speak squibs and crackers, instead of that dry, barren, musty gibing which thou hast used of late; or, by the bones! the porter shall have thee to his lodge, and cob thee with thine own wooden sword till thy skin is as motley as thy doublet.’
To this stern injunction Gregory made no reply, any more than to the courteous offer of old Albert Drawslot, the chief parkkeeper, who proposed to blow vinegar in his nose to sharpen his wit, as he had done that blessed morning to Bragger, the old hound, whose scent was failing. There was, indeed, little time for reply, for the bugles, after a lively flourish, were now silent, and Peretto, with his two attendant minstrels, stepping beneath the windows of the strangers’ apartments, joined in the following roundelay, the deep voices of the rangers and falconers making up a chorus that caused the very battlements to ring again:—
Waken, lords and ladies gay,
On the mountain dawns the day;
All the jolly chase is here,
With hawk and horse, and hunting spear;
Hounds are in their couples yelling,
Hawks are whistling, horns are knelling,
Merrily, merrily, mingle they,
‘Waken, lords and ladies gay.’
Waken, lords and ladies gay,
Waken, lords and ladies gay,
Louder, louder chant the lay,
By the time this lay was finished, Lord Boteler, with his daughter and kinsman, Fitzallen of Harden, and other noble guests, had mounted their palfreys, and the hunt set forward in due order. The huntsmen, having carefully observed the traces of a large stag on the preceding evening, were able, without loss of time, to conduct the company, by the marks which they had made upon the trees, to the side of the thicket in which, by the report of Drawslot, he had harboured all night. The horsemen, spreading themselves along the side of the cover, waited until the keeper entered, leading his ban-dog, a large blood-hound tied in a leam or band, from which he takes his name.
But it befell thus. A hart of the second year, which was in the same cover with the proper object of their pursuit, chanced to be unharboured first, and broke cover very near where the Lady Emma and her brother were stationed. An inexperienced varlet, who was nearer to them, instantly unloosed two tall greyhounds, who sprung after the fugitive with all the fleetness of the north wind. Gregory, restored a little to spirits by the enlivening scene around him, followed, encouraging the hounds with a loud layout, for which he had the hearty curses of the huntsman, as well as of the Baron, who entered into the spirit of the chase with all the juvenile ardour of twenty. ‘May the foul fiend, booted and spurred, ride down his bawling throat with a scythe at his girdle,’ quoth Albert Drawslot; ‘here have I been telling him that all the marks were those of a buck of the first head, and he has hallooed the hounds upon a velvet-headed knobbler! By Saint Hubert, if I break not his pate with my cross-bow, may I never cast off hound more! But to it, my lords and masters! the noble beast is here yet, and, thank the saints, we have enough of hounds.’
The cover being now thoroughly beat by the attendants, the stag was compelled to abandon it and trust to his speed for his safety. Three greyhounds were slipped upon him, whom he threw out, after running a couple of miles, by entering an extensive furzy brake, which extended along the side of a hill. The horsemen soon came up, and casting off a sufficient number of slow-hounds, sent them with the prickers into the cover, in order to drive the game from his strength. This object being accomplished, afforded another severe chase of several miles, in a direction almost circular, during which the poor animal tried every wile to get rid of his persecutors. He crossed and traversed all such dusty paths as were likely to retain the least scent of his footsteps; he laid himself close to the ground, drawing his feet under his belly, and clapping his nose close to the earth, lest he should be betrayed to the hounds by his breath and hoofs. When all was in vain, and he found the hounds coming fast in upon him, his own strength failing, his mouth embossed with foam, and the tears dropping from his eyes, he turned in despair upon his pursuers, who then stood at gaze, making an hideous clamour, and awaiting their two-footed auxiliaries. Of these, it chanced that the Lady Eleanor, taking more pleasure in the sport than Matilda, and being a less burden to her palfrey than the Lord Boteler, was the first who arrived at the spot, and taking a cross-bow from an attendant, discharged a bolt at the stag. When the infuriated animal felt himself wounded, he pushed frantically towards her from whom he had received the shaft, and Lady Eleanor might have had occasion to repent of her enterprise, had not young Fitzallen, who had kept near her during the whole day, at that instant galloped briskly in, and, ere the stag could change his object of assault, despatched him with his short hunting-sword.
Albert Drawslot, who had just come up in terror for the young lady’s safety, broke out into loud encomiums upon Fitzallen’s strength and gallantry. ‘By ‘r Lady,’ said he, taking off his cap and wiping his sun-burnt face with his sleeve, ‘well struck, and in good time! But now, boys, doff your bonnets and sound the mort.’
The sportsmen then sounded a treble mort, and set up a general whoop, which, mingled with the yelping of the dogs, made the welkin ring again. The huntsman then offered his knife to Lord Boteler, that he might take the say of the deer, but the Baron courteously insisted upon Fitzallen going through that ceremony. The Lady Matilda was now come up, with most of the attendants; and the interest of the chase being ended, it excited some surprise that neither Saint Clere nor his sister made their appearance. The Lord Boteler commanded the horns again to sound the recheat, in hopes to call in the stragglers, and said to Fitzallen, ‘Methinks Saint Clere so distinguished for service in war, should have been more forward in the chase.’
‘I trow,’ said Peter Lanaret, ‘I know the reason of the noble lord’s absence; for, when that mooncalf Gregory hallooed the dogs upon the knobbler, and galloped like a green hilding, as he is, after them, I saw the Lady Emma’s palfrey follow apace after that varlet, who should be thrashed for overrunning, and I think her noble brother has followed her, lest she should come to harm. But here, by the rood, is Gregory to answer for himself.’
At this moment Gregory entered the circle which had been formed round the deer, out of breath, and his face covered with blood. He kept for some time uttering inarticulate cries of ‘Harrow!’ and ‘Wellaway!’ and other exclamations of distress and terror, pointing all the while to a thicket at some distance from the spot where the deer had been killed.
‘By my honour,’ said the Baron, ‘I would gladly know who has dared to array the poor knave thus; and I trust he should dearly abye his outrecuidance, were he the best, save one, in England.’
Gregory, who had now found more breath, cried, ‘Help, an ye be men! Save Lady Emma and her brother, whom they are murdering in Brokenhurst thicket.’
This put all in motion. Lord Boteler hastily commanded a small party of his men to abide for the defence of the ladies, while he himself, Fitzallen, and the rest made what speed they could towards the thicket, guided by Gregory, who for that purpose was mounted behind Fabian. Pushing through a narrow path, the first object they encountered was a man of small stature lying on the ground, mastered and almost strangled by two dogs, which were instantly recognised to be those that had accompanied Gregory. A little farther was an open space, where lay three bodies of dead or wounded men; beside these was Lady Emma, apparently lifeless, her brother and a young forester bending over and endeavouring to recover her. By employing the usual remedies, this was soon accomplished; while Lord Boteler, astonished at such a scene, anxiously inquired at Saint Clere the meaning of what he saw, and whether more danger was to be expected.
‘For the present I trust not,’ said the young warrior, who they now observed was slightly wounded; ‘but I pray you, of your nobleness, let the woods here be searched; for we were assaulted by four of these base assassins, and I see three only on the sward.’
The attendants now brought forwaid the person whom they had rescued from the dogs, and Henry, with disgust, shame, and astonishment, recognised his kinsman, Gaston Saint Clere. This discovery he communicated in a whisper to Lord Boteler, who commanded the prisoner to be conveyed to Queenhoo-Hall, and closely guarded; meanwhile he anxiously inquired of young Saint Clere about his wound.
‘A scratch, a trifle!’ cried Henry. ‘I am in less haste to bind it than to introduce to you one without whose aid that of the leech would have come too late. Where is he? where is my brave deliverer?’
‘Here, most noble lord,’ said Gregory, sliding from his palfrey and stepping forward, ‘ready to receive the guerdon which your bounty would heap on him.’
‘Truly, friend Gregory,’ answered the young warrior, ‘thou shalt not be forgotten, for thou didst run speedily, and roar manfully for aid, without which, I think verily, we had not received it. But the brave forester, who came to my rescue when these three ruffians had nigh overpowered me, where is he?’
Every one looked around, but though all had seen him on entering the thicket, he was not now to be found. They could only conjecture that he had retired during the confusion occasioned by the detention of Gaston.
‘Seek not for him,’ said the Lady Emma, who had now in some degree recovered her composure, ‘he will not be found of mortal, unless at his own season.’
The Baron, convinced from this answer that her terror had for the time somewhat disturbed her reason, forbore to question her; and Matilda and Eleanor, to whom a message had been despatched with the result of this strange adventure, arriving, they took the Lady Emma between them, and all in a body returned to the castle.
The distance was, however, considerable, and before reaching it they had another alarm. The prickers, who rode foremost in the troop, halted and announced to the Lord Boteler, that they perceived advancing towards them a body of armed men. The followers of the Baron were numerous, but they were arrayed for the chase, not for battle, and it was with great pleasure that he discerned, on the pennon of the advancing body of men-at-arms, instead of the cognisance of Gaston, as he had some reason to expect, the friendly bearings of Fitzosborne of Diggswell, the same young lord who was present at the May-games with Fitzallen of Harden. The knight himself advanced, sheathed in armour, and, without raising his visor, informed Lord Boteler that, having heard of a base attempt made upon a part of his train by ruffianly assassins, he had mounted and armed a small party of his retainers to escort them to Queenhoo-Hall. Having received and accepted an invitation to attend them thither, they prosecuted their journey in confidence and security, and arrived safe at home without any further accident.
INVESTIGATION OF THE ADVENTURE OF THE HUNTING—A DISCOVERY—GREGORY’S MANHOOD—PATE OF GASTON SAINT CLERE—CONCLUSION
SO SOON as they arrived at the princely mansion of Boteler, the Lady Emma craved permission to retire to her chamber, that she might compose her spirits after the terror she had undergone. Henry Saint Clere, in a few words, proceeded to explain the adventure to the curious audience. ‘I had no sooner seen my sister’s palfrey, in spite of her endeavours to the contrary, entering with spirit into the chase set on foot by the worshipful Gregory, than I rode after to give her assistance. So long was the chase that, when the greyhounds pulled down the knobbler, we were out of hearing of your bugles; and having rewarded and coupled the dogs, I gave them to be led by the jester, and we wandered in quest of our company, whom it would seem the sport had led in a different direction. At length, passing through the thicket where you found us, I was surprised by a cross-bow bolt whizzing past mine head. I drew my sword and rushed into the thicket, but was instantly assailed by two ruffians, while other two made towards my sister and Gregory. The poor knave fled, crying for help, pursued by my false kinsman, now your prisoner; and the designs of the other on my poor Emma (murderous no doubt) were prevented by the sudden apparition of a brave woodsman, who, after a short encounter, stretched the miscreant at his feet and came to my assistance. I was already slightly wounded, and nearly overlaid with odds. The combat lasted some time, for the caitiffs were both well armed, strong, and desperate; at length, however, we had each mastered our antagonist, when your retinue, my Lord Boteler, arrived to my relief. So ends my story; but, by my knighthood, I would give an earl’s ransom for an opportunity of thanking the gallant forester by whose aid I live to tell it.’
‘Fear not,’ said Lord Boteler, ‘he shall be found, if this or the four adjacent counties hold him. And now Lord Fitzosborne will be pleased to doff the armour he has so kindly assumed for our sakes, and we will all bowne ourselves for the banquet.’
When the hour of dinner approached, the Lady Matilda and her cousin visited the chamber of the fair Darcy. They found her in a composed but melancholy postmire. She turned the discourse upon the misfortunes of her life, and hinted, that having recovered her brother, and seeing him look forward to the society of one who would amply repay to him the loss of hers, she had thoughts of dedicating her remaining life to Heaven, by whose providential interference it had been so often preserved.
Matilda coloured deeply at something in this speech, and her cousin inveighed loudly against Emma’s resolution. ‘Ah, my dear lady Eleanor,’ replied she, ‘I have to-day witnessed what I cannot but judge a supernatural visitation, and to what end can it call me but to give myself to the altar? That peasant who guided me to Baddow through the Park of Danbury, the same who appeared before me at different times and in different forms during that eventful journey—that youth, whose features are imprinted on my memory, is the very individual forester who this day rescued us in the forest. I cannot be mistaken; and, connecting these marvellous appearances with the spectre which I saw while at Gay Bowers, I cannot resist the conviction that Heaven has permitted my guardian angel to assume mortal shape for my relief and protection.’
The fair cousins, after exchanging looks which implied a fear that her mind was wandering, answered her in soothing terms, and finally prevailed upon her to accompany them to the banqueting-hall. Here the first person they encountered was the Baron Fitzosborne of Diggswell, now divested of his armour, at the sight of whom the Lady Emma changed colour, and exclaiming, ‘It is the same!’ sunk senseless into the arms of Matilda.
‘She is bewildered by the terrors of the day,’ said Eleanor; ‘and we have done ill in obliging her to descend.’
‘And I,’ said Fitzosborne, ‘have done madly in presenting before her one whose presence must recall moments the most alarming in her life.’
While the ladies supported Emma from the hall, Lord Boteler and Saint Clere requested an explanation from Fitzosborne of the words he had used.
‘Trust me, gentle lords,’ said the Baron of Diggswell, ‘ye shall have what ye demand when I learn that Lady Emma Darcy has not suffered from my imprudence.’
At this moment Lady Matilda, returning, said that her fair friend, on her recovery, had calmly and deliberately insisted that she had seen Fitzosborne before, in the most dangerous crisis of her life.
‘I dread,’ said she, ‘her disordered mind connects all that her eye beholds with the terrible passages that she has witnessed.’
‘Nay,’ said Fitzosborne, ‘if noble Saint Clere can pardon the unauthorized interest which, with the purest and most honourable intentions, I have taken in his sister’s fate, it is easy for me to explain this mysterious impression.’
He proceeded to say that, happening to be in the hostelry called the Griffin, near Baddow, while upon a journey in that country, he had met with the old nurse of the Lady Emma Darcy, who, being just expelled from Gay Bowers, was in the height of her grief and indignation, and made loud and public proclamation of Lady Emma’s wrongs. From the description she gave of the beauty of her foster- child, as well as from the spirit of chivalry, Fitzosborne became interested in her fate. This interest was deeply enhanced when, by a bribe to old Gaunt the Reve, he procured a view of the Lady Emma as she walked near the castle of Gay Bowers. The aged churl refused to give him access to the castle; yet dropped some hints as if he thought the lady in danger, and wished she were well out of it. His master, he said, had heard she had a brother in life, and since that deprived him of all chance of gaining her domains by purchase, he—in short, Gaunt wished they were safely separated. ‘If any injury,’ quoth he, ‘should happen to the damsel here, it were ill for us all. I tried by an innocent stratagem to frighten her from the castle, by introducing a figure through a trap-door, and warning her, as if by a voice from the dead, to retreat from thence; but the giglet is wilful, and is running upon her fate.’
Finding Gaunt, although covetous and communicative, too faithful a servant to his wicked master to take any active steps against his commands, Fitzosborne applied himself to old Ursely, whom he found more tractable. Through her he learned the dreadful plot Gaston had laid to rid himself of his kinswoman, and resolved to effect her deliverance. But aware of the delicacy of Emma’s situation, he charged Ursely to conceal from her the interest he took in her distress, resolving to watch over her in disguise until he saw her in a place of safety. Hence the appearance he made before her in various dresses during her journey, in the course of which he was never far distant; and he had always four stout yeomen within hearing of his bugle, had assistance been necessary. When she was placed in safety at the lodge, it was Fitzosborne’s intention to have prevailed upon his sisters to visit and take her under their protection; but he found them absent from Diggswell, having gone to attend an aged relation who lay dangerously ill in a distant county. They did not return until the day before the May-games; and the other events followed too rapidly to permit Fitzosborne to lay any plan for introducing them to Lady Emma Darcy. On the day of the chase he resolved to preserve his romantic disguise, and attend the Lady Emma as a forester, partly to have the pleasure of being near her and partly to judge whether, according to an idle report in the country, she favoured his friend and comrade Fitzallen of Marden. This last motive, it may easily be believed, he did not declare to the company. After the skirmish with the ruffians, he waited till the Baron and the hunters arrived, and then, still doubting the farther designs of Gaston, hastened to his castle to arm the band which had escorted them to Queenhoo-Hall.
Fitzosborne’s story being finished, he received the thanks of all the company, particularly of Saint Clere, who felt deeply the respectful delicacy with which he had conducted himself towards his sister. The lady was carefully informed of her obligations to him; and it is left to the well-judging reader whether even the raillery of Lady Eleanor made her regret that Heaven had only employed natural means for her security, and that the guardian angel was converted into a handsome, gallant, and enamoured knight.
The joy of the company in the hall extended itself to the buttery, where Gregory the jester narrated such feats of arms done by himself in the fray of the morning as might have shamed Bevis and Guy of Warwick. He was, according to his narrative, singled out for destruction by the gigantic Baron himself, while he abandoned to meaner hands the destruction of Saint Clere and Fitzosborne.
‘But certes,’ said he, ‘the foul paynim met his match; for, ever as he foined at me with his brand, I parried his blows with my bauble, and, closing with him upon the third veny, threw him to the ground, and made him cry recreant to an unarmed man.’
‘Tush, man,’ said Drawslot, ‘thou forgettest thy best auxiliaries, the good greyhounds, Help and Holdfast! I warrant thee, that when the hump-backed Baron caught thee by the cowl, which he hath almost torn off, thou hadst been in a fair plight had they not remembered an old friend, and come in to the rescue. Why, man, I found them fastened on him myself; and there was odd staving and stickling to make them “ware haunch!” Their mouths were full of the flex, for I pulled a piece of the garment from their jaws. I warrant thee, that when they brought him to ground thou fledst like a frighted pricket.’
‘And as for Gregory’s gigantic paynim,’ said Fabian, ‘why, he lies yonder in the guard-room, the very size, shape, and colour of a spider in a yew-hedge.’
‘It is false!’ said Gregory. ‘Colbrand the Dane was a dwarf to him.’
‘It is as true,’ returned Fabian, ‘as that the Tasker is to be married on Tuesday to pretty Margery. Gregory, thy sheet hath brought them between a pair of blankets.’
‘I care no more for such a gillflirt,’ said the jester, ‘than I do for thy leasings. Marry, thou hop-o’-my-thumb, happy wouldst thou be could thy head reach the captive Baron’s girdle.’
‘By the mass,’ said Peter Lanaret, ‘I will have one peep at this burly gallant’; and, leaving the buttery, he went to the guard-room where Gaston Saint Clere was confined. A man-at-arms, who kept sentinel on the strong studded door of the apartment, said he believed he slept; for that, after raging, stamping, and uttering the most horrid imprecations, he had been of late perfectly still. The falconer gently drew back a sliding board of a foot square towards the top of the door, which covered a hole of the same size, strongly latticed, through which the warder, without opening the door, could look in upon his prisoner. From this aperture he beheld the wretched Gaston suspended by the neck by his own girdle to an iron ring in the side of his prison. He had clambered to it by means of the table on which his food had been placed; and, in the agonies of shame and disappointed malice, had adopted this mode of ridding himself of a wretched life. He was found yet warm, but totally lifeless. A proper account of the manner of his death was drawn up and certified. He was buried that evening in the chapel of the castle, out of respect to his high birth; and the chaplain of Fitzallen of Marden, who said the service upon the occasion, preached the next Sunday an excellent sermon upon the text, ‘Radix malorum est cupiditas,’ which we have here transcribed.——
‘My dear cursed caitiffs, there was once a king, and he wedded a young old queen, and she had a child; and this child was sent to Solomon the Sage, praying he would give it the same blessing which he got from the witch of Endor when she bit him by the heel. Hereof speaks the worthy Doctor Radigundus Potator; why should not mass be said for all the roasted shoe souls served up in the king’s dish on Saturday; for true it is, that Saint Peter asked Father Adam, as they journeyed to Camelot, an high, great, and doubtful question, “Adam, Adam, why eated’st thou the apple without paring?”1
With much goodly gibberish to the same effect; which display of Gregory’s ready wit not only threw the whole company into convulsions of laughter, but made such an impression on Rose, the Potter’s daughter, that it was thought it would be the Jester’s own fault if Jack was long without his Jill. Much pithy matter, concerning the bringing the bride to bed, the loosing the bridegroom’s points, the scramble which ensued for them, and the casting of the stocking, is also omitted from its obscurity.
The following song which has been since borrowed by the worshipful author of the famous ‘History of Fryar Bacon’, has been with difficulty deciphered. It seems to have been sung on occasion of carrying home the bride
To the tune of—’I have been a Fiddler,’ etc,
And did you not hear of a mirth befell
The quintain was set, and the garlands were made,
We met a consort of fiddle-de-dees;
There was ne’er a lad in all the parish
The butler was quick, and the ale he did tap,
The smith of the town his liquor so took,
A posset was made, and the women did sip,
But what our fair readers will chiefly regret is the loss of three declarations of love; the first by Saint Clere to Matilda; which, with the lady’s answer, occupies fifteen closely written pages of manuscript. That of Fitzosborne to Emma is not much shorter; but the amours of Fitzallen and Eleanor, being of a less romantic cast, are closed in three pages only. The three noble couples were married in Queenhoo-Hall upon the same day, being the twentieth Sunday after Easter. There is a prolix account of the marriage-feast, of which we can pick out the names of a few dishes, such as peterel, crane, sturgeon, swan, etc. etc., with a profusion of wild-fowl and venison. We also see that a suitable song was produced by Peretto on the occasion; and that the bishop who blessed the bridal beds which received the happy couples was no niggard of his holy water, bestowing half a gallon upon each of the couches. We regret we cannot give these curiosities to the reader in detail, but we hope to expose the manuscript to abler antiquaries so soon as it shall be framed and glazed by the ingenious artist who rendered that service to Mr. Ireland’s Shakspeare MSS. And so (being unable to lay aside the style to which our pen is habituated), gentle reader, we bid thee heartily farewell.
1. This tirade of gibberish is literally taken or selected from a mock discourse pronounced by a professed jester, which occurs in an ancient manuscript in the Advocates’ Library, the same from which the late ingenious Mr. Weber published the curious comic romance of the Hunting of the Hare. It was introduced in compliance with Mr Strutt’s plan of rendering his tale an illustration of ancient manners. A similar burlesque sermon is pronounced by the fool in Sir David Lindesay’s satire of the Three Estates. The nonsense and vulgar burlesque of that composition illustrate the ground of Sir Andrew Aguecheek’s eulogy on the exploits of the jester in Twelfth Night, who, reserving his sharper jests for Sir Toby, had doubtless enough of the jargon of his calling to captivate the imbecility of his brother knight, who is made to exclaim—‘In sooth, thou wast in very gracious fooling last night, when thou spokest of Pigrogremitus, and of the vapours passing the equinoctials of Quenbus; ’t was very good, i’ faith!’ It is entertaining to find commentators seeking to discover some meaning in the professional jargon of such a passage as this. [back]