Bidding his grandsire have regard to his seat, Luke leaped a high bank; and, followed by Turpin, began to descend the hill. Peter, however, took care to provide for himself. The descent was so perilous, and the footing so insecure, that he chose rather to trust to such conveyance as nature had furnished him with, than to hazard his neck by any false step of the horse. He contrived, therefore, to slide off from behind, shaping his own course in a more secure direction.
He who has wandered amidst the Alps must have often had occasion to witness the wonderful surefootedness of that mountain pilot, the mule. He must have remarked how, with tenacious hoof, he will claw the rock, and drag himself from one impending fragment to another, with perfect security to his rider; how he will breast the roaring currents of air, and stand unshrinking at the verge of almost unfathomable ravines. But it is not so with the horse: fleet on the plain, careful over rugged ground, he is timid and uncertain on the hill-side, and the risk incurred by Luke and Turpin, in their descent of the almost perpendicular sides of the cliff, was tremendous. Peter watched them in their descent with some admiration, and with much contempt.
"He will break his neck, of a surety," said he; "but what matters it? As well now as hereafter."
So saying, he approached the verge of the precipice, where he could see them more distinctly.
The passage along which Luke rode had never before been traversed by horse's hoof. Cut in the rock, it presented a steep zigzag path amongst the cliffs, without any defence for the foot traveller, except such as was afforded by a casual clinging shrub, and no protection whatever existed for a horseman; the possibility of any one attempting the passage not having, in all probability, entered into the calculation of those who framed it. Added to this, the steps were of such unequal heights, and withal so narrow, that the danger was proportionately increased.
"Ten thousand devils!" cried Turpin, staring downwards, "is this the best road you have got?"
"You will find one more easy," replied Luke, "if you ride for a quarter of a mile down the wood, and then return by the brook side. You will meet me at the priory."
"No," answered the highwayman, boldly; "if you go, I go too. It shall never be said that Dick Turpin was afraid to follow where another would lead. Proceed."
Luke gave his horse the bridle, and the animal slowly and steadily commenced the descent, fixing his fore legs upon the steps, and drawing his hinder limbs carefully after him. Here it was that the lightness and steadiness of Turpin's mare was completely shown. No Alpine mule could have borne its rider with more apparent ease and safety. Turpin encouraged her by hand and word; but she needed it not. The sexton saw them, and, tracking their giddy descent, he became more interested than he anticipated. His attention was suddenly drawn towards Luke.
"He is gone," cried Peter. "He falls—he sinks—my plans are all defeated—the last link is snapped. No," added he, recovering his wonted composure, "his end is not so fated."
Rook had missed his footing. He rolled stumbling down the precipice a few yards. Luke's fate seemed inevitable. His feet were entangled in the stirrup, he could not free himself. A birch tree, growing in a chink of the precipice, arrested his further fall. But for this timely aid all had been over. Here Luke was enabled to extricate himself from the stirrup and to regain his feet; seizing the bridle, he dragged his faulty steed back again to the road.
"You have had a narrow escape, by Jove," said Turpin, who had been thunderstruck with the whole proceeding. "Those big cattle are always clumsy; devilish lucky it's no worse."
It was now comparatively smooth travelling; but they had not as yet reached the valley, and it seemed to be Luke's object to take a circuitous path. This was so evident that Turpin could not help commenting upon it.
Luke evaded the question. "The crag is steep there," said he; "besides, to tell you the truth, I want to surprise them."
"Ho, ho!" laughed Dick. "Surprise them, eh? What a pity the birch tree was in the way; you would have done it properly then. Egad, here's another surprise."
Dick's last exclamation was caused by his having suddenly come upon a wide gully in the rock, through which dashed a headlong torrent, crossed by a single plank.
"You must be mad to have taken this road," cried Turpin, gazing down into the roaring depths in which the waterfall raged, and measuring the distance of the pass with his eye. "So, so, Bess!—Ay, look at it, wench. Curse me, Luke, if I think your horse will do it, and, therefore, turn him loose."
But Dick might as well have bidden the cataract to flow backwards. Luke struck his heels into his horse's sides. The steed galloped to the brink, snorted, and refused the leap.
"I told you so—he can't do it," said Turpin. "Well, if you are obstinate, a wilful man must have his way. Stand aside, while I try it for you." Patting Bess, he put her to a gallop. She cleared the gulf bravely, landing her rider safely upon the opposite rock.
"Now then," cried Turpin, from the other side of the chasm.
Luke again urged his steed. Encouraged by what he had seen, this time the horse sprang across without hesitation. The next instant they were in the valley.
For some time they rode along the banks of the stream in silence. A sound at length caught the quick ears of the highwayman.
"Hist!" cried he; "some one sings. Do you hear it?"
"I do," replied Luke, the blood rushing to his cheeks.
"And could give a guess at the singer, no doubt," said Turpin, with a knowing look. "Was it to hear yon woodlark that you nearly broke your own neck, and put mine in jeopardy?"
"Prithee be silent," whispered Luke.
"I am dumb," replied Turpin; "I like a sweet voice as well as another."
Clear as the note of a bird, yet melancholy as the distant dole of a vesper-bell, arose the sound of that sweet voice from the wood. A fragment of a Spanish gipsy song it warbled: Luke knew it well. Thus ran the romance:
By the Guadalquivir, Ere the sun be flown, By that glorious river Sits a maid alone. Like the sunset splendor Of that current bright, Shone her dark eyes tender As its witching light. Like the ripple flowing, Tinged with purple sheen, Darkly, richly glowing, Is her warm cheek seen. 'Tis the Gitanilla By the stream doth linger, In the hope that eve Will her lover bring her.
See, the sun is sinking; All grows dim, and dies; See, the waves are drinking Glories of the skies. Day's last lustre playeth On that current dark; Yet no speck betrayeth His long looked-for bark. 'Tis the hour of meeting! Nay, the hour is past; Swift the time is fleeting! Fleeteth hope as fast. Still the Gitanilla By the stream doth linger, In the hope that night Will her lover bring her.
The tender trembling of a guitar was heard in accompaniment of the ravishing melodist.
The song ceased.
"Where is the bird?" asked Turpin.
"Move on in silence, and you shall see," said Luke; and keeping upon the turf, so that his horse's tread became inaudible, he presently arrived at a spot where, through the boughs, the object of his investigation could plainly be distinguished, though he himself was concealed from view.
Upon a platform of rock, rising to the height of the trees, nearly perpendicularly from the river's bed, appeared the figure of the gipsy maid. Her footstep rested on the extreme edge of the abrupt cliff, at whose base the water boiled in a deep whirlpool, and the bounding chamois could not have been more lightly poised. One small hand rested upon her guitar, the other pressed her brow. Braided hair, of the jettiest dye and sleekest texture, was twined around her brow in endless twisted folds:
Rowled it was in many a curious fret, Much like a rich and curious coronet, Upon whose arches twenty Cupids lay, And were as tied, or loth to fly away.
And so exuberant was this rarest feminine ornament, that, after encompassing her brow, it was passed behind, and hung down in long thick plaits almost to her feet. Sparkling, as the sunbeams that played upon her dark yet radiant features, were the large, black, Oriental eyes of the maiden, and shaded with lashes long and silken. Hers was a Moorish countenance, in which the magnificence of the eyes eclipses the face, be it ever so beautiful—an effect to be observed in the angelic pictures of Murillo,—and the lovely contour is scarcely noticed in the gaze which those long, languid, luminous orbs attract. Sybil's features were exquisite, yet you looked only at her eyes—they were the loadstars of her countenance. Her costume was singular, and partook, like herself, of other climes. Like the Andalusian dame, her choice of color inclined towards black, as the material of most of her dress was of that sombre hue. A bodice of embroidered velvet restrained her delicate bosom's swell; a rich girdle, from which depended a silver chain, sustaining a short poniard, bound her waist; around her slender throat was twined a costly kerchief; and the rest of her dress was calculated to display her slight, yet faultless, figure to the fullest advantage.
Unconscious that she was the object of regard, she raised her guitar, and essayed to touch the chords. She struck a few notes, and resumed her romance:
Swift that stream flows on, Swift the night is wearing,— Yet she is not gone, Though with heart despairing.
Her song died away. Her hand was needed to brush off the tears that were gathering in her large dark eyes. At once her attitude was changed. The hare could not have started more suddenly from her form. She heard accents well known concluding the melody:
Dips an oar-plash—hark!— Gently on the river; 'Tis her lover's bark. On the Guadalquivir. Hark! a song she hears! Every note she snatches; As the singer nears, Her own name she catches. Now the Gitanilla Stays not by the water, For the midnight hour Hath her lover brought her.
It was her lover's voice. She caught the sound at once, and, starting, as the roe would arouse herself at the hunter's approach, bounded down the crag, and ere he had finished the refrain, was by his side.
Flinging the bridle to Turpin, Luke sprang to her, and caught her in his arms. Disengaging herself from his ardent embrace, Sybil drew back, abashed at the sight of the highwayman.
"Heed him not," said Luke; "it is a friend."
"He is welcome here then," replied Sybil. "But where have you tarried so long, dear Luke?" continued she, as they walked to a little distance from the highwayman. "What hath detained you? The hours have passed wearily since you departed. You bring good news?"
"Good news, my girl; so good, that I falter even in the telling of it. You shall know all anon. And see, our friend yonder grows impatient. Are there any stirring? We must bestow a meal upon him, and that forthwith: he is one of those who brook not much delay."
"I came not to spoil a love meeting," said Turpin, who had good-humoredly witnessed the scene; "but, in sober seriousness, if there is a stray capon to be met with in the land of Egypt, I shall be glad to make his acquaintance. Methinks I scent a stew afar off."
"Follow me," said Sybil; "your wants shall be supplied."
"Stay," said Luke; "there is one other of our party whose coming we must abide."
"He is here," said Sybil, observing the sexton at a distance. "Who is that old man?"
"My grandsire, Peter Bradley."
"Is that Peter Bradley?" asked Sybil.
"Ay, you may well ask whether that old dried-up otomy, who ought to grin in a glass case for folks to stare at, be kith and kin of such a bang-up cove as your fancy man, Luke," said Turpin, laughing—"but i' faith he is."
"Though he is your grandsire, Luke," said Sybil, "I like him not. His glance resembles that of the Evil Eye."
And, in fact, the look which Peter fixed upon her was such as the rattlesnake casts upon its victim, and Sybil felt like a poor fluttering bird under the fascination of that venomous reptile. She could not remove her eyes from his, though she trembled as she gazed. We have said that Peter's orbs were like those of the toad. Age had not dimmed their brilliancy. In his harsh features you could only read bitter scorn or withering hate; but in his eyes resided a magnetic influence of attraction or repulsion. Sybil underwent the former feeling in a disagreeable degree. She was drawn to him as by the motion of a whirlpool, and involuntarily clung to her lover.
"It is the Evil Eye, dear Luke."
"Tut, tut, dear Sybil; I tell you it is my grandsire."
"The girl says rightly, however," rejoined Turpin; "Peter has a confounded ugly look about the ogles, and stares enough to put a modest wench out of countenance. Come, come, my old earthworm, crawl along, we have waited for you long enough. Is this the first time you have seen a pretty lass, eh?"
"It is the first time I have seen one so beautiful," said Peter; "and I crave her pardon if my freedom has offended her. I wonder not at your enchantment, grandson Luke, now I behold the object of it. But there is one piece of counsel I would give to this fair maid. The next time she trusts you from her sight, I would advise her to await you at the hill-top, otherwise the chances are shrewdly against your reaching the ground with neck unbroken."
There was something, notwithstanding the satirical manner in which Peter delivered this speech, calculated to make a more favorable impression upon Sybil than his previous conduct had inspired her with; and, having ascertained from Luke to what his speech referred, she extended her hand to him, yet not without a shudder, as it was enclosed in his skinny grasp. It was like the fingers of Venus in the grasp of a skeleton.
"This is a little hand," said Peter, "and I have some skill myself in palmistry. Shall I peruse its lines?"
"Not now, in the devil's name!" said Turpin, stamping impatiently. "We shall have Old Ruffin himself amongst us presently, if Peter Bradley grows gallant."
Leading their horses, the party took their way through the trees. A few minutes' walking brought them in sight of the gipsy encampment, the spot selected for which might be termed the Eden of the valley. It was a small green plain, smooth as a well-shorn lawn, kept ever verdant—save in the spots where the frequent fires had scorched its surface—by the flowing stream that rushed past it, and surrounded by an amphitheatre of wooded hills. Here might be seen the canvas tent with its patches of varied coloring; the rude-fashioned hut of primitive construction; the kettle slung
Between two poles, upon a stick transverse;
the tethered beasts of burden, the horses, asses, dogs, carts, caravans, wains, blocks, and other movables and immovables belonging to the wandering tribe. Glimmering through the trees, at the extremity of the plain, appeared the ivy-mantled walls of Davenham Priory. Though much had gone to decay, enough remained to recall the pristine state of this once majestic pile, and the long, though broken line of Saxon arches, that still marked the cloister wall; the piers that yet supported the dormitory; the enormous horse-shoe arch that spanned the court; and, above all, the great marigold, or circular window, which terminated the chapel, and which, though now despoiled of its painted honors, retained, like the skeleton leaf, its fibrous intricacies entire,—all eloquently spoke of the glories of the past, while they awakened reverence and admiration for the still enduring beauty of the present.
Towards these ruins Sybil conducted the party.
"Do you dwell therein?" asked Peter, pointing towards the priory.
"That is my dwelling," said Sybil.
"It is one I should covet more than a modern mansion," returned the sexton.
"I love those old walls better than any house that was ever fashioned," replied Sybil.
As they entered the Prior's Close, as it was called, several swarthy figures made their appearance from the tents. Many a greeting was bestowed upon Luke, in the wild jargon of the tribe. At length an uncouth dwarfish figure, with a shock head of black hair, hopped towards them. He seemed to acknowledge Luke as his master.
"What ho! Grasshopper," said Luke, "take these horses, and see that they lack neither dressing nor provender."
"And hark ye, Grasshopper," added Turpin; "I give you a special charge about this mare. Neither dress nor feed her till I see both done myself. Just walk her for ten minutes, and if you have a glass of ale in the place, let her sip it."
"Your bidding shall be done," chirped the human insect, as he fluttered away with his charges.
A motley assemblage of tawny-skinned varlets, dark-eyed women and children, whose dusky limbs betrayed their lineage, in strange costume, and of wild deportment, checked the path, muttering welcome upon welcome into the ear of Luke as he passed. As it was evident he was in no mood for converse, Sybil, who seemed to exercise considerable authority over the crew, with a word dispersed them, and they herded back to their respective habitations.
A low door admitted Luke and his companions into what had once been the garden, in which some old moss-encrusted apple and walnut-trees were still standing, bearing a look of antiquity almost as venerable as that of the adjoining fabric.
Another open door gave them entrance to a spacious chamber, formerly the eating-room or refectory of the holy brotherhood, and a goodly room it had been, though now its slender lanceolated windows were stuffed with hay to keep out the air. Large holes told where huge oaken rafters had once crossed the roof, and a yawning aperture marked the place where a cheering fire had formerly blazed. As regarded this latter spot, the good old custom was not, even now, totally abrogated. An iron plate, covered with crackling wood, sustained a ponderous black caldron, the rich steam from which gratefully affected the olfactory organs of the highwayman.
"That augurs well," said he, rubbing his hands.
"Still hungering after the fleshpots of Egypt," said the sexton, with a ghastly smile.
"We will see what that kettle contains," said Luke.
"Handassah—Grace!" exclaimed Sybil, calling.
Her summons was answered by two maidens, habited not unbecomingly, in gipsy gear.
"Bring the best our larder can furnish," said Sybil, "and use despatch. You have appetites to provide for, sharpened by a long ride in the open air."
"And by a night's fasting," said Luke, "and solitary confinement to boot."
"And a night of business," added Turpin—"and plaguy perplexing business into the bargain."
"And the night of a funeral too," doled Peter; "and that funeral a father's. Let us have breakfast speedily, by all means. We have rare appetites."
An old oaken table—it might have been the self-same upon which the holy friars had broken their morning fast—stood in the middle of the room. The ample board soon groaned beneath the weight of the savory caldron, the unctuous contents of which proved to be a couple of dismembered pheasants, an equal proportion of poultry, great gouts of ham, mushrooms, onions, and other piquant condiments, so satisfactory to Dick Turpin, that, upon tasting a mouthful, he absolutely shed tears of delight. The dish was indeed the triumph of gipsy cookery; and so sedulously did Dick apply himself to his mess, and so complete was his abstraction, that he perceived not he was left alone. It was only when about to wash down the last drumstick of the last fowl with a can of excellent ale that he made this discovery.
"What! all gone? And Peter Bradley, too? What the devil does this mean?" mused he. "I must not muddle my brain with any more Pharaoh, though I have feasted like a king of Egypt. That will never do. Caution, Dick, caution. Suppose I shift yon brick from the wall, and place this precious document beneath it. Pshaw! Luke would never play me false. And now for Bess! Bless her black skin! she'll wonder where I've been so long. It's not my way to leave her to shift for herself, though she can do that on a pinch."
Soliloquizing thus, he arose and walked towards the door.
The wiving vine, that round the friendly elm Twines her soft limbs, and weaves a leafy mantle For her supporting lover, dares not venture To mix her humble boughs with the embraces Of the more lofty cedar.
GLAPTHORNE: Albertus Wallenstein.
Beneath a moldering wall, whither they had strayed, to be free from interruption, and upon a carpet of the greenest moss, sat Sybil and her lover.
With eager curiosity she listened to his tale. He recounted all that had befallen him since his departure. He told her of the awful revelations of the tomb; of the ring that, like a talisman, had conjured up a thousand brilliant prospects; of his subsequent perils; his escapes; his rencontre with Lady Rookwood; his visit to his father's body; and his meeting with his brother. All this she heard with a cheek now flushed with expectation, now made pale with apprehension; with palpitating bosom, and suppressed breath. But when taking a softer tone, love, affection, happiness inspired the theme, and Luke sought to paint the bliss that should be theirs in his new estate; when he would throw his fortune into her lap, his titles at her feet, and bid her wear them with him; when, with ennobled hand and unchanged heart, he would fulfil the troth plighted in his outcast days; in lieu of tender, grateful acquiescence, the features of Sybil became overcast, the soft smile faded away, and, as spring sunshine is succeeded by the sudden shower, the light that dwelt in her sunny orbs grew dim with tears.
"Why—why is this, dear Sybil?" said Luke, gazing upon her in astonishment, not unmingled with displeasure. "To what am I to attribute these tears? You do not, surely, regret my good fortune?"
"Not on your own account, dear Luke," returned she, sadly. "The tears I shed were for myself—the first, the only tears that I have ever shed for such cause; and," added she, raising her head like a flower surcharged with moisture, "they shall be the last."
"This is inexplicable, dear Sybil. Why should you lament for yourself, if not for me? Does not the sunshine of prosperity that now shines upon me gild you with the same beam? Did I not even now affirm that the day that saw me enter the hall of my forefathers should dawn upon our espousals?"
"True; but the sun that shines upon you, to me wears a threatening aspect. The day of those espousals will never dawn. You cannot make me the Lady of Rookwood."
"What do I hear?" exclaimed Luke, surprised at this avowal of his mistress, sadly and deliberately delivered. "Not wed you! And wherefore not? Is it the rank I have acquired, or hope to acquire, that displeases you? Speak, that I may waste no further time in thus pursuing the shadows of happiness, while the reality fleets from me."
"And are they shadows; and is this the reality, dear Luke? Question your secret soul, and you will find it otherwise. You could not forego your triumph; it is not likely. You have dwelt too much upon the proud title which will be yours to yield it to another, when it may be won so easily. And, above all, when your mother's reputation, and your own stained name, may be cleared by one word, breathed aloud, would you fail to utter it? No, dear Luke, I read your heart; you would not."
"And if I could not forego this, wherefore is it that you refuse to be a sharer in my triumph? Why will you render my honors valueless when I have acquired them? You love me not."
"Not love you, Luke?"
"Approve it, then."
"I do approve it. Bear witness the sacrifice I am about to make of all my hopes, at the shrine of my idolatry to you. Bear witness the agony of this hour. Bear witness the horror of the avowal, that I never can be yours. As Luke Bradley, I would joyfully—oh, how joyfully!—have been your bride. As Sir Luke Rookwood"—and she shuddered as she pronounced the name—"I never can be so."
"Then, by Heaven! Luke Bradley will I remain. But wherefore—wherefore not as Sir Luke Rookwood?"
"Because," replied Sybil, with reluctance—"because I am no longer your equal. The gipsy's low-born daughter is no mate for Sir Luke Rookwood. Love cannot blind me, dear Luke. It cannot make me other than I am; it cannot exalt me in my own esteem, nor in that of the world, with which you, alas! too soon will mingle, and which will regard even me as—no matter what!—it shall not scorn me as your bride. I will not bring shame and reproach upon you. Oh! if for me, dear Luke, the proud ones of the earth were to treat you with contumely, this heart would break with agony. For myself, I have pride sufficient—perchance too much. Perchance 'tis pride that actuates me now. I know not. But for you I am all weakness. As you were heretofore, I would have been to you the tenderest and truest wife that ever breathed; as you are now——"
"Hear me, Sybil."
"Hear me out, dear Luke. One other motive there is that determines my present conduct, which, were all else surmounted, would in itself suffice. Ask me not what that is. I cannot explain it. For your own sake; I implore you, be satisfied with my refusal."
"What a destiny is mine!" exclaimed Luke, striking his forehead with his clenched hand. "No choice is left me. Either way I destroy my own happiness. On the one hand stands love—on the other, ambition; yet neither will conjoin."
"Pursue, then, ambition," said Sybil, energetically, "if you can hesitate. Forget that I have ever existed; forget you have ever loved; forget that such a passion dwells within the human heart, and you may still be happy, though you are great."
"And do you deem," replied Luke, with frantic impatience, "that I can accomplish this; that I can forget that I have loved you; that I can forget you? Cost what it will, the effort shall be made. Yet by our former love, I charge you tell me what has wrought this change in you! Why do you now refuse me?"
"I have said you are Sir Luke Rookwood," returned Sybil, with painful emotion. "Does that name import nothing?"
"Imports it aught of ill?"
"To me, everything of ill. It is a fated house. Its line are all predestined."
"To what?" demanded Luke.
"To murder!" replied Sybil, with solemn emphasis. "To the murder of their wives. Forgive me, Luke, if I have dared to utter this. Yourself compelled me to it."
Amazement, horror, wrath, kept Luke silent for a few moments. Starting to his feet, he cried:
"And can you suspect me of a crime so foul? Think you, because I shall assume the name, that I shall put on the nature likewise of my race? Do you believe me capable of aught so horrible?"
"Oh, no, I believe it not. I am sure you would not do it. Your soul would reject with horror such a deed. But if Fate should guide your hand, if the avenging spirit of your murdered ancestress should point to the steel, you could not shun it then."
"In Heaven's name! to what do you allude?"
"To a tradition of your house," replied Sybil. "Listen to me, and you shall hear the legend." And with a pathos that produced a thrilling effect upon Luke, she sang the following ballad:
THE LEGEND OF THE LADY OF ROOKWOOD
Grim Ranulph home hath at midnight come, from the long wars of the Roses, And the squire, who waits at his ancient gates, a secret dark discloses; To that varlet's words no response accords his lord, but his visage stern Grows ghastly white in the wan moonlight, and his eyes like the lean wolf's burn.
To his lady's bower, at that lonesome hour, unannounced, is Sir Ranulph gone; Through the dim corridor, through the hidden door, he glides—she is all alone! Full of holy zeal doth his young dame kneel at the meek Madonna's feet, Her hands are pressed on her gentle breast, and upturned is her aspect sweet.
Beats Ranulph's heart with a joyful start, as he looks on her guiltless face; And the raging fire of his jealous ire is subdued by the words of grace; His own name shares her murmured prayers—more freely can he breathe; But ah! that look! Why doth he pluck his poniard from its sheath?
On a footstool thrown, lies a costly gown of saye and of minevere —A mantle fair for the dainty wear of a migniard cavalier,— And on it flung, to a bracelet hung, a picture meets his eye; "By my father's head!" grim Ranulph said, "false wife, thy end draws nigh."
From off its chain hath the fierce knight ta'en that fond and fatal pledge; His dark eyes blaze, no word he says, thrice gleams his dagger's edge! Her blood it drinks, and, as she sinks, his victim hears his cry: "For kiss impure of paramour, adult'ress, dost thou die!"
Silent he stood, with hands embrued in gore, and glance of flame, As thus her plaint, in accents faint, made his ill-fated dame: "Kind Heaven can tell, that all too well, I've loved thee, cruel lord; But now with hate commensurate, assassin, thou'rt abhorred.
"I've loved thee long, through doubt and wrong; I've loved thee and no other; And my love was pure for my paramour, for alas! he was my brother! The Red, Red Rose, on thy banner glows, on his pennon gleams the White, And the bitter feud, that ye both have rued, forbids ye to unite.
"My bower he sought, what time he thought thy jealous vassals slept, Of joy we dreamed, and never deemed that watch those vassals kept; An hour flew by, too speedily!—that picture was his boon: Ah! little thrift to me that gift: he left me all too soon!
"Wo worth the hour! dark fates did lower, when our hands were first united, For my heart's firm truth, 'mid tears and ruth, with death hast thou requited: In prayer sincere, full many a year of my wretched life I've spent; But to hell's control would I give my soul to work thy chastisement!"
These wild words said, low drooped her head, and Ranulph's life-blood froze, For the earth did gape, as an awful shape from out its depths arose: "Thy prayer is heard, Hell hath concurred," cried the fiend, "thy soul is mine! Like fate may dread each dame shall wed with Ranulph or his line!"
Within the tomb to await her doom is that hapless lady sleeping, And another bride by Ranulph's side through the livelong night is weeping. This dame declines—a third repines, and fades, like the rest, away; Her lot she rues, whom a Rookwood woos—cursed is her Wedding Day!
"And this is the legend of my ancestress?" said Luke, as Sybil's strains were ended.
"It is," replied she.
"An idle tale," observed Luke, moodily.
"Not so," answered Sybil. "Has not the curse of blood clung to all your line? Has it not attached to your father—to Sir Reginald—Sir Ralph—Sir Ranulph—to all? Which of them has escaped it? And when I tell you this, dear Luke; when I find you bear the name of this accursed race, can you wonder if I shudder at adding to the list of the victims of that ruthless spirit, and that I tremble for you? I would die for you willingly—but not by your hand. I would not that my blood, which I would now pour out for you as freely as water, should rise up in judgment against you. For myself I have no tears—for you, a thousand. My mother, upon her death-bed, told me I should never be yours. I believed her not, for I was happy then. She said that we never should be united; or, if united——?"
"What, in Heaven's name?"
"That you would be my destroyer. How could I credit her words then? How can I doubt them now, when I find you are a Rookwood? And think not, dear Luke, that I am ruled by selfish fears in this resolution. To renounce you may cost me my life; but the deed will be my own. You may call me superstitious, credulous: I have been nurtured in credulity. It is the faith of my fathers. There are those, methinks, who have an insight into futurity; and such boding words have been spoken, that, be they true or false, I will not risk their fulfilment in my person. I may be credulous; I may be weak; I may be erring; but I am steadfast in this. Bid me perish at your feet, and I will do it. I will not be your Fate. I will not be the wretched instrument of your perdition. I will love, worship, watch, serve, perish for you—but I'll not wed you."
Exhausted by the vehemence of her emotion, she would have sunk upon the ground, had not Luke caught her in his arms. Pressing her to his bosom, he renewed his passionate protestations. Every argument was unavailing. Sybil appeared inflexible.
"You love me as you have ever loved me?" said she, at length.
"A thousand-fold more fervently," replied Luke; "put it to the test."
"How if I dare to do so? Consider well: I may ask too much."
"Name it. If it be not to surrender you, by my mother's body I will obey you."
"I would propose an oath."
"A solemn, binding oath, that; if you wed me not, you will not wed another. Ha! do you start? Have I appalled you?"
"I start? I will take it. Hear me—by——"
"Hold!" exclaimed a voice behind them. "Do not forswear yourself." And immediately afterwards the sexton made his appearance. There was a malignant smile upon his countenance. The lovers started at the ominous interruption.
"Begone!" cried Luke.
"Take not that oath," said Peter, "and I leave you. Remember the counsel I gave you on our way hither."
"What counsel did he give you, Luke?" inquired Sybil, eagerly, of her lover.
"We spoke of you, fond girl," replied Peter. "I cautioned him against the match. I knew not your sentiments, or I had spared myself the trouble. You have judged wisely. Were he to wed you, ill would come of it. But he must wed another."
"MUST!" cried Sybil, her eyes absolutely emitting sparkles of indignation from their night-like depths; and, unsheathing as she spoke the short poniard which she wore at her girdle, she rushed towards Peter, raising her hand to strike.
"Must wed another! And dare you counsel this?"
"Put up your dagger, fair maiden," said Peter, calmly. "Had I been younger, your eyes might have had more terrors for me than your weapon; as it is, I am proof against both. You would not strike an old man like myself, and of your lover's kin?"
Sybil's uplifted hand fell to her side.
"'Tis true," continued the sexton, "I dared to give him this advice; and when you have heard me out, you will not, I am persuaded, think me so unreasonable as, at first, I may appear to be. I have been an unseen listener to your converse; not that I desire to pry into your secrets—far from it; I overheard you by accident. I applaud your resolution; but if you are inclined to sacrifice all for your lover's weal, do not let the work be incomplete. Bind him not by oaths which he will regard as spiders' webs, to be burst through at pleasure. You see, as well as I do, that he is bent on being lord of Rookwood; and, in truth, to an aspiring mind, such a desire is natural, is praiseworthy. It will be pleasant, as well as honorable, to efface the stain cast upon his birth. It will be an act of filial duty in him to restore his mother's good name; and I, her father, laud his anxiety on that score; though, to speak truth, fair maid, I am not so rigid as your nice moralists in my view of human nature, and can allow a latitude to love which their nicer scruples will not admit. It will be a proud thing to triumph over his implacable foe; and this he may accomplish——"
"Without marriage," interrupted Sybil, angrily.
"True," returned Peter; "yet not maintain it. May win it, but not wear it. You have said truly, the house of Rookwood is a fated house; and it hath been said likewise, that if he wed not one of his own kindred—that if Rook mate not with Rook, his possessions shall pass away from his hands. Listen to this prophetic quatrain:
When the stray Rook shall perch on the topmost bough, There shall be clamor and screeching, I trow; But of right to, and rule of the ancient nest, The Rook that with Rook mates shall hold him possest.
You hear what these quaint rhymes say. Luke is, doubtless, the stray rook, and a fledgeling hath flown hither from a distant country. He must take her to his mate, or relinquish her and 'the ancient nest' to his brother. For my own part, I disregard such sayings. I have little faith in prophecy and divination. I know not what Eleanor Mowbray, for so she is called, can have to do with the tenure of the estates of Rookwood. But if Luke Rookwood, after he has lorded it for awhile in splendor, be cast forth again in rags and wretchedness, let him not blame his grandsire for his own want of caution."
"Luke, I implore you, tell me," said Sybil, who had listened, horror-stricken, to the sexton, shuddering, as it were, beneath the chilly influence of his malevolent glance, "is this true? Does your fate depend upon Eleanor Mowbray? Who is she? What has she to do with Rookwood? Have you seen her? Do you love her?"
"I have never seen her," replied Luke.
"Thank Heaven for that!" cried Sybil. "Then you love her not?"
"How were that possible?" returned Luke. "Do I not say I have not seen her?"
"Who is she, then?"
"This old man tells me she is my cousin. She is betrothed to my brother Ranulph."
"How?" ejaculated Sybil. "And would you snatch his betrothed from your brother's arms? Would you do him this grievous wrong? Is it not enough that you must wrest from him that which he has long deemed his own? And if he has falsely deemed it so, it will not make his loss the less bitter. If you do thus wrong your brother, do not look for happiness; do not look for respect; for neither will be your portion. Even this stony-hearted old man shrinks aghast at such a deed. His snake-like eyes are buried on the ground. See, I have moved even him."
And in truth Peter did appear, for an instant, strangely moved.
"'Tis nothing," returned he, mastering his emotion by a strong effort. "What is all this to me? I never had a brother. I never had aught—wife, child, or relative, that loved me. And I love not the world, nor the things of the world, nor those that inhabit the world. But I know what sways the world and its inhabitants; and that is, SELF! AND SELF-INTEREST! Let Luke reflect on this. The key to Rookwood is Eleanor Mowbray. The hand that grasps hers, grasps those lands; thus saith the prophecy."
"It is a lying prophecy."
"It was uttered by one of your race."
"By Barbara Lovel," said Peter, with a sneer of triumph.
"Heed him not," exclaimed Luke, as Sybil recoiled at this intelligence. "I am yours."
"Not mine! not mine!" shrieked she; "but, oh! not hers!"
"Whither go you?" cried Luke, as Sybil, half bewildered, tore herself from him.
"To Barbara Lovel."
"I will go with you."
"No! let me go alone. I have much to ask her; yet tarry not with this old man, dear Luke, or close your ears to his crafty talk. Avoid him. Oh, I am sick at heart. Follow me not; I implore you, follow me not."
And with distracted air she darted amongst the mouldering cloisters, leaving Luke stupefied with anguish and surprise. The sexton maintained a stern and stoical composure.
"She is a woman, after all," muttered he; "all her high-flown resolves melt like snow in the sunshine at the thought of a rival. I congratulate you, grandson Luke; you are free from your fetters."
"Free!" echoed Luke. "Quit my sight; I loathe to look upon you. You have broken the truest heart that ever beat in woman's bosom."
"Tut, tut," returned Peter; "it is not broken yet. Wait till we hear what old Barbara has got to say; and, meanwhile, we must arrange with Dick Turpin the price of that certificate. The knave knows its value well. Come, be a man. This is worse than womanish."
And at length he succeeded, half by force and half by persuasion, in dragging Luke away with him.
Los Gitanos son encantadores, adivinos, magos, chyromanticos, que dicen por las rayas de las manos lo Futuro, que ellos llaman Buenaventura, y generalmente son dados a toda supersticion.
DOCTOR SANCHO DE MONCADA. Discurso sobre Espulsion de los Gitanos.
Like a dove escaped from the talons of the falcon, Sybil fled from the clutches of the sexton. Her brain was in a whirl, her blood on fire. She had no distinct perception of external objects; no definite notion of what she herself was about to do, and glided more like a flitting spirit than a living woman along the ruined ambulatory. Her hair had fallen in disorder over her face. She stayed not to adjust it, but tossed aside the blinding locks with frantic impatience. She felt as one may feel who tries to strain his nerves, shattered by illness, to the endurance of some dreadful, yet necessary pain.
Sybil loved her granddame, old Barbara; but it was with a love tempered by fear. Barbara was not a person to inspire esteem or to claim affection. She was regarded by the wild tribe which she ruled as their queen-elect, with some such feeling of inexplicable awe as is entertained by the African slave for the Obeah woman. They acknowledged her power, unhesitatingly obeyed her commands, and shrank with terror from her anathema, which was indeed seldom pronounced; but when uttered, was considered as doom. Her tribe she looked upon as her flock, and stretched her maternal hand over all, ready alike to cherish or chastise; and having already survived a generation, that which succeeded, having from infancy imbibed a superstitious veneration for the "cunning woman," as she was called, the sentiment could never be wholly effaced. Winding her way, she knew not how, through roofless halls, over disjointed fragments of fallen pillars, Sybil reached a flight of steps. A door, studded with iron nails, stayed her progress; it was an old, strong oaken frame, surmounted by a Gothic arch, in the keystone of which leered one of those grotesque demoniacal faces with which the fathers of the church delighted to adorn their shrines. Sybil looked up—her glance encountered the fantastical visage. It recalled the features of the sexton, and seemed to mock her—to revile her. Her fortitude at once deserted her. Her fingers were upon the handle of the door. She hesitated: she even drew back, with the intention of departing, for she felt then that she dared not face Barbara. It was too late—she had moved the handle. A deep voice from within called to her by name. She dared not disobey that call—she entered.
The room in which Sybil found herself was the only entire apartment now existing in the priory. It had survived the ravages of time; it had escaped the devastation of man, whose ravages outstrip those of time. Octagonal, lofty, yet narrow, you saw at once that it formed the interior of a turret. It was lighted by a small oriel window, commanding a lovely view of the scenery around, and paneled with oak, richly wrought in ribs and groins; and from overhead depended a molded ceiling of honeycomb plaster-work. This room had something, even now, in the days of its desecration, of monastic beauty about it. Where the odor of sanctity had breathed forth, the fumes of idolatry prevailed; but imagination, ever on the wing, flew back to that period—and a tradition to that effect warranted the supposition—when, perchance, it had been the sanctuary and the privacy of the prior's self.
Wrapped in a cloak composed of the skins of various animals, upon a low pallet, covered with stained scarlet cloth, sat Barbara. Around her head was coiffed, in folds like those of an Asiatic turban, a rich, though faded shawl, and her waist was encircled with the magic zodiacal zone—proper to the sorceress—the Mago Cineo of the Cingara—whence the name Zingaro, according to Moncada—which Barbara had brought from Spain. From her ears depended long golden drops, of curious antique fashioning; and upon her withered fingers, which looked like a coil of lizards, were hooped a multitude of silver rings, of the purest and simplest manufacture. They seemed almost of massive unwrought metal. Her skin was yellow as the body of a toad; corrugated as its back. She might have been steeped in saffron from her finger tips, the nails of which were of the same hue, to such portions of her neck as were visible, and which was puckered up like the throat of a turtle. To look at her, one might have thought the embalmer had experimented her art upon herself. So dead, so bloodless, so blackened seemed the flesh, where flesh remained, leather could scarce be tougher than her skin. She seemed like an animated mummy. A frame so tanned, appeared calculated to endure for ages; and, perhaps, might have done so. But, alas! the soul cannot be embalmed. No oil can re-illumine that precious lamp! And that Barbara's vital spark was fast waning, was evident from her heavy, blood-shot eyes, once of a swimming black, and lengthy as a witch's, which were now sinister and sunken.
The atmosphere of the room was as strongly impregnated as a museum with volatile odors, emitted from the stores of drugs with which the shelves were loaded, as well as from various stuffed specimens of birds and wild animals. Barbara's only living companion was a monstrous owl, which, perched over the old gipsy's head, hissed a token of recognition as Sybil advanced. From a hook, placed in the plaster roof, was suspended a globe of crystal glass, about the size and shape of a large gourd, filled with a pure pellucid liquid, in which a small snake, the Egyptian aspic, described perpetual gyrations.
Dim were the eyes of Barbara, yet not altogether sightless. The troubled demeanor of her grandchild struck her as she entered. She felt the hot drops upon her hand as Sybil stooped to kiss it; she heard her vainly-stifled sobs.
"What ails you, child?" said Barbara, in a voice that rattled in her throat, and hollow as the articulation of a phantom. "Have you heard tidings of Luke Bradley? Has any ill befallen him? I said you would either hear of him or see him this morning. He is not returned, I see. What have you heard?"
"He is returned," replied Sybil, faintly; "and no ill hath happened to him."
"He is returned, and you are here," echoed Barbara. "No ill hath happened to him, thou sayest—am I to understand there is—to you?"
Sybil answered not. She could not answer.
"I see, I see," said Barbara, more gently, her head and hand shaking with paralytic affection: "a quarrel, a lover's quarrel. Old as I am, I have not forgotten my feelings as a girl. What woman ever does, if she be woman? and you, like your poor mother, are a true-hearted wench. She loved her husband, as a husband should be loved, Sybil; and though she loved me well, she loved him better, as was right. Ah! it was a bitter day when she left me for Spain; for though, to one of our wandering race, all countries are alike, yet the soil of our birth is dear to us, and the presence of our kindred dearer. Well, well, I will not think of that. She is gone. Nay, take it not so to heart, wench. Luke has a hasty temper. 'Tis not the first time I have told you so. He will not bear rebuke, and you have questioned him too shrewdly touching his absence. Is it not so? Heed it not. Trust me, you will have him seek your forgiveness ere the shadows shorten 'neath the noontide sun."
"Alas! alas!" said Sybil, sadly, "this is no lover's quarrel, which may, at once, be forgotten and forgiven—would it were so!"
"What is it, then?" asked Barbara; and without waiting Sybil's answer, she continued, with vehemence, "has he wronged you? Tell me, girl, in what way? Speak, that I may avenge you, if your wrong requires revenge. Are you blood of mine, and think I will not do this for you, girl? None of the blood of Barbara Lovel were ever unrevenged. When Richard Cooper stabbed my first-born, Francis, he fled to Flanders to escape my wrath. But he did not escape it. I pursued him thither. I hunted him out; drove him back to his own country, and brought him to the gallows. It took a power of gold. What matter? Revenge is dearer than gold. And as it was with Richard Cooper, so it shall be with Luke Bradley. I will catch him, though he run. I will trip him, though he leap. I will reach him, though he flee afar. I will drag him hither by the hair of his head," added she, with a livid smile, and clutching at the air with her hands, as if in the act of pulling some one towards her. "He shall wed you within the hour, if you will have it, or if your honor need that it should be so. My power is not departed from me. My people are yet at my command. I am still their queen, and woe to him that offendeth me!"
"Mother! mother!" cried Sybil, affrighted at the storm she had unwittingly aroused, "he has not injured me. 'Tis I alone who am to blame, not Luke."
"You speak in mysteries," said Barbara.
"Sir Piers Rookwood is dead."
"Dead!" echoed Barbara, letting fall her hazel rod. "Sir Piers dead!"
"And Luke Bradley——"
"Is his successor."
"Who told you that?" asked Barbara, with increased astonishment.
"Luke himself. All is disclosed." And Sybil hastily recounted Luke's adventures. "He is now Sir Luke Rookwood."
"This is news, in truth," said Barbara; "yet not news to weep for. You should rejoice, not lament. Well, well, I foresaw it. I shall live to see all accomplished; to see my Agatha's child ennobled; to see her wedded; ay, to see her well wedded."
"I can endow you, and I will do it. You shall bring your husband not alone beauty, you shall bring him wealth."
"My Agatha's daughter shall be Lady Rookwood."
"Never! It cannot be."
"What cannot be?"
"The match you now propose."
"What mean you, silly wench? Ha! I perceive the meaning of those tears. The truth flashes upon me. He has discarded you."
"No, by the Heaven of Heavens, he is still the same—unaltered in affection."
"If so, your tears are out of place."
"Mother, it is not fitting that I, a gipsy born, should wed with him."
"Not fitting! Ha! and you my child! Not fitting! Get up, or I will spurn you. Not fitting! This from you to me! I tell you it is fitting; you shall have a dower as ample as that of any lady in the land. Not fitting! Do you say so, because you think that he derives himself from a proud and ancient line—ancient and proud—ha, ha! I tell you, girl, that for his one ancestor I can number twenty; for the years in which his lineage hath flourished, my race can boast centuries, and was a people—a kingdom!—ere the land in which he dwells was known. What! if, by the curse of Heaven, we were driven forth, the curse of hell rests upon his house."
"I know it," said Sybil; "a dreadful curse, which, if I wed him, will alight on me."
"No; not on you; you shall avoid that curse. I know a means to satisfy the avenger. Leave that to me."
"I dare not, as it never can be; yet, tell me—you saw the body of Luke's ill-fated mother. Was she poisoned? Nay, you may speak. Sir Piers's death releases you from your oath. How died she?"
"By strangulation," said the old gipsy, raising her palsied hand to her throat.
"Oh!" cried Sybil, gasping with horror. "Was there a ring upon her finger when you embalmed the body?"
"A ring—a wedding-ring! The finger was crookened. Listen, girl, I could have told Luke the secret of his birth long ago, but the oath imposed by Sir Piers sealed fast my lips. His mother was wedded to Sir Piers; his mother was murdered by Sir Piers. Luke was entrusted to my care by his father. I have brought him up with you. I have affianced you together; and I shall live to see you united. He is now Sir Luke. He is your husband."
"Do not deceive yourself, mother," said Sybil, with a fearful earnestness. "He is not yet Sir Luke Rookwood; would he had no claim to be so! The fortune that has hitherto been so propitious may yet desert him. Bethink you of a prophecy you uttered."
"A prophecy? Ha!"
And with slow enunciation Sybil pronounced the mystic words which she had heard repeated by the sexton.
As she spoke, a gloom, like that of a thunder-cloud, began to gather over the brow of the old gipsy. The orbs of her sunken eyes expanded, and wrath supplied her frame with vigor. She arose.
"Who told you that?" cried Barbara.
"Luke's grandsire, Peter Bradley."
"How learnt he it?" said Barbara. "It was to one who hath long been in his grave I told it; so long ago, it had passed from my memory. 'Tis strange! old Sir Reginald had a brother, I know. But there is no other of the house."
"There is a cousin, Eleanor Mowbray."
"Ha! I see; a daughter of that Eleanor Rookwood who fled from her father's roof. Fool, fool. Am I caught in my own toils? Those words were words of truth and power, and compel the future and 'the will be' as with chains of brass. They must be fulfilled, yet not by Ranulph. He shall never wed Eleanor."
"Whom then shall she wed?"
"His elder brother."
"Mother!" shrieked Sybil. "Do you say so? Oh! recall your words."
"I may not; it is spoken. Luke shall wed her."
"Oh God, support me!" exclaimed Sybil.
"Silly wench, be firm. It must be as I say. He shall wed her—yet shall he wed her not. The nuptial torch shall be quenched as soon as lighted; the curse of the avenger shall fall—yet not on thee."
"Mother," said Sybil, "if sin must fall upon some innocent head, let it be on mine—not upon hers. I love him, I would gladly die for him. She is young—unoffending—perhaps happy. Oh! do not let her perish."
"Peace, I say!" cried Barbara, "and mark me. This is your birthday. Eighteen summers have flown over your young head—eighty winters have sown their snows on mine. You have yet to learn. Years have brought wrinkles—they have brought wisdom likewise. To struggle with Fate, I tell you, is to wrestle with Omnipotence. We may foresee, but not avert our destiny. What will be, shall be. This is your eighteenth birthday, Sybil: it is a day of fate to you; in it occurs your planetary hour—an hour of good or ill, according to your actions. I have cast your horoscope. I have watched your natal star; it is under the baleful influence of Scorpion, and fiery Saturn sheds his lurid glance upon it. Let me see your hand. The line of life is drawn out distinct and clear—it runs—ha! what means that intersection? Beware—beware, my Sybil. Act as I tell you, and you are safe. I will make another trial, by the crystal bowl. Attend."
Muttering some strange words, sounding like a spell, Barbara, with the bifurcate hazel staff which she used as a divining-rod, described a circle upon the floor. Within this circle she drew other lines, from angle to angle, forming seven triangles, the bases of which constituted the sides of a septilateral figure. This figure she studied intently for a few moments. She then raised her wand and touched the owl with it. The bird unfolded its wings, and arose in flight; then slowly circled round the pendulous globe. Each time it drew nearer, until at length it touched the glassy bowl with its flapping pinions.
"Enough!" ejaculated Barbara. And at another motion from her rod the bird stayed its flight and returned to its perch.
Barbara arose. She struck the globe with her staff. The pure lymph became instantly tinged with crimson, as if blood had been commingled with it. The little serpent could be seen within, coiled up and knotted, as in the struggles of death.
"Again I say, beware!" ejaculated Barbara, solemnly. "This is ominous of ill."
Sybil had sunk, from faintness, on the pallet. A knock was heard at the door.
"Who is without?" cried Barbara.
"'Tis I, Balthazar," replied a voice.
"Thou mayest enter," answered Barbara; and an old man with a long beard, white as snow, reaching to his girdle, and a costume which might be said to resemble the raiment of a Jewish high priest, made his appearance. This venerable personage was no other than the patrico, or hierophant of the Canting Crew.
"I come to tell you that there are strangers—ladies—within the priory," said the patrico, gravely. "I have searched for you in vain," continued he, addressing Sybil; "the younger of them seems to need your assistance."
"Whence come they?" exclaimed Barbara.
"They have ridden, I understand, from Rookwood," answered the patrico. "They were on their way to Davenham, when they were prevented."
"From Rookwood?" echoed Sybil. "Their names—did you hear their names?"
"Mowbray is the name of both; they are a mother and a daughter; the younger is called——"
"Eleanor?" asked Sybil, with an acute foreboding of calamity.
"Eleanor is the name, assuredly," replied the patrico, somewhat surprised. "I heard the elder, whom I guess to be her mother, so address her."
"Gracious God! She here!" exclaimed Sybil.
"Here! Eleanor Mowbray here," cried Barbara; "within my power. Not a moment is to be lost. Balthazar, hasten round the tents—not a man must leave his place—above all, Luke Bradley. See that these Mowbrays are detained within the abbey. Let the bell be sounded. Quick, quick; leave this wench to me; she is not well. I have much to do. Away with thee, man, and let me know when thou hast done it." And as Balthazar departed on his mission, with a glance of triumph in her eyes, Barbara exclaimed, "Soh, no sooner hath the thought possessed me, than the means of accomplishment appear. It shall be done at once. I will tie the knot. I will untie, and then retie it. This weak wench must be nerved to the task," added she, regarding the senseless form of Sybil. "Here is that will stimulate her," opening the cupboard, and taking a small phial; "this will fortify her; and this," continued she, with a ghastly smile, laying her hand upon another vessel, "this shall remove her rival when all is fulfilled; this liquid shall constrain her lover to be her titled, landed husband. Ha, ha!"
Beggar. Concert, sir! we have musicians, too, among us. True, merry beggars, indeed, that, being within the reach of the lash for singing libellous songs at London, were fain to fly into one cover, and here they sing all our poets' ditties. They can sing anything, most tunably, sir, but psalms. What they may do hereafter, under a triple tree, is much expected; but they live very civilly and genteelly among us.
Spring. But what is here—that solemn old fellow, that neither speaks of himself, or any for him?
Beggar. O, sir, the rarest man of all: he is a prophet. See how he holds up his prognosticating nose. He is divining now.
Spring. How, a prophet?
Beggar. Yes, sir; a cunning man, and a fortune-teller; a very ancient stroller all the world over, and has travelled with gipsies: and is a patrico.
The Merry Beggars.
In consequence of some few words which the sexton let fall in the presence of the attendants, during breakfast, more perhaps by design than accident, it was speedily rumored throughout the camp that the redoubted Richard Turpin was for the time its inmate. This intelligence produced some such sensation as is experienced by the inhabitants of a petty town on the sudden arrival of a prince of the blood, a commander-in-chief, or other illustrious and distinguished personage, whose fame has been vaunted abroad amongst his fellowmen by Rumor, "and her thousand tongues;" and who, like our highwayman, has rendered himself sufficiently notorious to be an object of admiration and emulation amongst his contemporaries.
All started up at the news. The upright man, the chief of the crew, arose from his chair, donned his gown of state, a very ancient brocade dressing-gown, filched, most probably, from the wardrobe of some strolling player, grasped his baton of office, a stout oaken truncheon, and sallied forth. The ruffler, who found his representative in a very magnificently equipped, and by no means ill-favored knave, whose chin was decorated with a beard as lengthy and as black as Sultan Mahmoud's, together with the dexterous hooker, issued forth from the hovel which they termed their boozing ken, eager to catch a glimpse of the prince of the high-tobygloaks. The limping palliard tore the bandages from his mock wounds, shouldered his crutch, and trudged hastily after them. The whip-jack unbuckled his strap, threw away his timber leg, and "leapt exulting, like the bounding roe." "With such a sail in sight," he said, "he must heave to, like the rest." The dummerar, whose tongue had been cut out by the Algerines, suddenly found the use of it, and made the welkin ring with his shouts. Wonderful were the miracles Dick's advent wrought. The lame became suddenly active, the blind saw, the dumb spoke; nay, if truth must be told, absolutely gave utterance to "most vernacular execrations." Morts, autem morts, walking morts, dells, doxies, kinching morts, and their coes, with all the shades and grades of the Canting Crew, were assembled. There were, to use the words of Brome—
——Stark, errant, downright beggars. Ay, Without equivocation, statute beggars, Couchant and passant, guardant, rampant beggars; Current and vagrant, stockant, whippant beggars!
Each sunburnt varlet started from his shed; each dusky dame, with her brown, half-naked urchins, followed at his heels; each "ripe young maiden, with the glossy eye," lingered but to sleek her raven tresses, and to arrange her straw bonnet, and then overtook the others; each wrinkled beldame hobbled as quickly after as her stiffened joints would permit; while the ancient patrico, the priest of the crew—who joined the couples together by the hedge-side, "with the nice custom of dead horse between"—brought up the rear; all bent on one grand object, that of having a peep at the "foremost man of all this prigging world!"
Dick Turpin, at the period of which we treat, was in the zenith of his reputation. His deeds were full blown; his exploits were in every man's mouth; and a heavy price was set upon his head. That he should show himself thus openly, where he might be so easily betrayed, excited no little surprise among the craftiest of the crew, and augured an excess of temerity on his part. Rash daring was the main feature of Turpin's character. Like our great Nelson, he knew fear only by name; and when he thus trusted himself in the hands of strangers, confident in himself and in his own resources, he felt perfectly easy as to the result. He relied also in the continuance of his good fortune, which had as yet never deserted him. Possessed of the belief that his hour was not yet come, he cared little or nothing for any risk he might incur; and though he might, undoubtedly, have some presentiment of the probable termination of his career, he never suffered it to militate against his present enjoyment, which proved that he was no despicable philosopher.
Turpin was the ultimus Romanorum, the last of a race, which—we were almost about to say we regret—is now altogether extinct. Several successors he had, it is true, but no name worthy to be recorded after his own. With him expired the chivalrous spirit which animated successively the bosoms of so many knights of the road; with him died away that passionate love of enterprise, that high spirit of devotion to the fair sex, which was first breathed upon the highway by the gay, gallant Claude Du-Val, the Bayard of the road—Le filou sans peur et sans reproche—but which was extinguished at last by the cord that tied the heroic Turpin to the remorseless tree. It were a subject well worthy of inquiry, to trace this decline and fall of the empire of the tobymen to its remoter causes; to ascertain the why and the wherefore, that with so many half-pay captains; so many poor curates; so many lieutenants, of both services, without hopes of promotion; so many penny-a-liners, and fashionable novelists; so many damned dramatists, and damning critics; so many Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviewers; so many detrimental brothers, and younger sons; when there are horses to be hired, pistols to be borrowed, purses to be taken, and mails are as plentiful as partridges—it were worth serious investigation, we repeat, to ascertain why, with the best material imaginable for a new race of highwaymen, we have none, not even an amateur. Why do not some of these choice spirits quit the salons of Pall-Mall, and take to the road? the air of the heath is more bracing and wholesome, we should conceive, than that of any "hell" whatever, and the chances of success incomparably greater. We throw out this hint, without a doubt of seeing it followed up. Probably the solution of our inquiry may be, that the supply is greater than the demand; that, in the present state of things, embryo highwaymen may be more abundant than purses; and then, have we not the horse-patrol? With such an admirably-organized system of conservation, it is vain to anticipate a change. The highwaymen, we fear, like their Irish brothers, the Rapparees, went out with the Tories. They were averse to reform, and eschewed emancipation.
Lest any one should think we have overrated the pleasures of the highwayman's existence, they shall hear what "the right villainous" Jack Hall, a celebrated tobyman of his day, has got to say on the subject. "His life—the highwayman's—has, generally, the most mirth and the least care in it of any man's breathing, and all he deals for is clear profit: he has that point of good conscience, that he always sells as he buys, a good pennyworth, which is something rare, since he trades with so small a stock. The fence and he are like the devil and the doctor, they live by one another; and, like traitors, 'tis best to keep each other's counsel. He has this point of honesty, that he never robs the house he frequents"—Turpin had the same scruples respecting the Hall of Rookwood in Sir Piers's lifetime—; "and perhaps pays his debts better than some others, for he holds it below the dignity of his employment to commit so ungenteel a crime as insolvency, and loves to pay nobly. He has another quality, not much amiss, that he takes no more than he has occasion for"—Jack, we think, was a little mistaken here—; "which he verifies this way: he craves no more while that lasts. He is a less nuisance in a commonwealth than a miser, because the money he engrosses all circulates again, which the other hoards as though 'twere only to be found again at the day of judgment. He is the tithe-pig of his family, which the gallows, instead of the parson, claims as its due. He has reason enough to be bold in his undertakings, for, though all the world threaten him, he stands in fear of but one man in it, and that's the hangman; and with him, too, he is generally in fee: however, I cannot affirm he is so valiant that he dares look any man in the face, for in that point he is now and then, a little modest. Newgate may be said to be his country-house, where he frequently lives so many months in the year; and he is not so much concerned to be carried thither for a small matter, if 'twere only for the benefit of renewing his acquaintance there. He holds a petit larceny as light as a nun does auricular confession, though the priest has a more compassionate character than the hangman. Every man in this community is esteemed according to his particular quality, of which there are several degrees, though it is contrary often to public government; for here a man shall be valued purely for his merit, and rise by it too, though it be but to a halter, in which there is a great deal of glory in dying like a hero, and making a decent figure in the cart to the last two staves of the fifty-first psalm."
This, we repeat, is the plain statement of a practical man, and again we throw out the hint for adoption. All we regret is, that we are now degenerated from the grand tobyman to the cracksman and the sneak, about whom there are no redeeming features. How much lower the next generation of thieves will dive it boots not to conjecture:
AEtas parentum pejor avis tulit, Nos nequiores; mox daturos, Progeniem vitiosiorem.
"Cervantes laughed Spain's chivalry away," sang Byron; and if Gay did not extinguish the failing flame of our night errantry—unlike the "Robbers" of Schiller, which is said to have inflamed the Saxon youth with an irrepressible mania for brigandage—, the "Beggar's Opera" helped not to fan the dying fire. That laugh was fatal, as laughs generally are. Macheath gave the highwayman his coup de grace.
The last of this race—for we must persist in maintaining that he was the last—, Turpin, like the setting sun, threw up some parting rays of glory, and tinged the far highways with a luster that may yet be traced like a cloud of dust raised by his horse's retreating heels. Unequalled in the command of his steed, the most singular feat that the whole race of the annals of horsemanship has to record, and of which we may have more to say hereafter, was achieved by him. So perfect was his jockeyship, so clever his management of the animal he mounted, so intimately acquainted was he with every cross-road in the neighborhood of the metropolis—a book of which he constructed, and carried constantly about his person—, as well as with many other parts of England, particularly the counties of Chester, York, and Lancaster, that he outstripped every pursuer, and baffled all attempts at capture. His reckless daring, his restless rapidity—for so suddenly did he change his ground, and renew his attacks in other quarters, that he seemed to be endowed with ubiquity,—his bravery, his resolution, and, above all, his generosity, won for him a high reputation amongst his compatriots, and even elicited applauses from those upon whom he levied his contributions.
Beyond dispute, he ruled as master of the road. His hands were, as yet, unstained with blood; he was ever prompt to check the disposition to outrage, and to prevent, as much as lay in his power, the commission of violence by his associates. Of late, since he had possessed himself of his favorite mare, Black Bess, his robberies had been perpetrated with a suddenness of succession, and at distances so apparently impracticable, that the idea of all having been executed by one man, was rejected as an impossibility; and the only way of reconciling the description of the horse and rider, which tallied in each instance, was the supposition that these attacks were performed by confederates similarly mounted and similarly accoutred.
There was, in all this, as much of the "famae sacra fames" as of the "auri;" of the hungering after distinction, as well as of the appetite of gain. Enamored of his vocation, Turpin delighted to hear himself designated as the Flying Highwayman; and it was with rapturous triumph that he found his single-handed feats attributed to a band of marauders. But this state of things could not long endure; his secret was blown; the vigilance of the police was aroused; he was tracked to his haunts; and, after a number of hairbreadth 'scapes, which he only effected by miracle, or by the aid of his wonder-working mare, he reluctantly quitted the heathy hills of Bagshot, the Pampas plains of Hounslow—over which like an archetype of the galloping Sir Francis Head, he had so often scoured,—the gorsy commons of Highgate, Hampstead, and Finchley, the marshy fields of Battersea, almost all of which he had been known to visit in a single night, and leaving these beaten tracks to the occupation of younger and less practised hands, he bequeathed to them, at the same time, his own reversionary interest in the gibbets thereupon erected, and betook himself to the country.
After a journey of more or less success, our adventurer found himself at Rookwood, whither he had been invited after a grand field-day by its hospitable and by no means inquisitive owner. Breach of faith and good fellowship formed no part of Turpin's character; he had his lights as well as his shades; and as long as Sir Piers lived, his purse and coffers would have been free from molestation, except, "so far," Dick said, "as a cog or two of dice went. My dice, you know, are longs for odd and even, a bale of bar'd cinque deuces," a pattern of which he always carried with him; beyond this, excepting a take-in at a steeple chase, Rookwood church being the mark, a "do" at a leap, or some such trifle, to which the most scrupulous could not raise an objection, Dick was all fair and above-board. But when poor Sir Piers had "put on his wooden surtout," to use Dick's own expressive metaphor, his conscientious scruples evaporated into thin air. Lady Rookwood was nothing to him; there was excellent booty to be appropriated—
The wise convey it call.
He began to look about for hands; and having accidentally encountered his old comrades, Rust and Wilder, they were let into the business, which was imperfectly accomplished in the manner heretofore described.
To return from this digression. When Turpin presented himself at the threshold of the door, on his way to inquire after his mare, to his astonishment he found it closely invested. A cheering shout from the tawny throng, succeeded by a general clapping of hands, and attended by a buzzing susurration of applause, such as welcomes the entrance of a popular actor upon the stage, greeted the appearance of the highwayman. At the first sight of the crowd he was a little startled, and involuntarily sought for his pistols. But the demonstrations of admiration were too unequivocal to be for a moment mistaken; his hand was drawn from his pocket to raise his hat from his brow.
Thunders of applause.
Turpin's external man, we have before said, was singularly prepossessing. It was especially so in the eyes of the sex—fair we certainly cannot say upon the present occasion—, amongst whom not a single dissentient voice was to be heard. All concurred in thinking him a fine fellow; could plainly read his high courage in his bearing; his good breeding in his debonnaire deportment; and his manly beauty in his extravagant red whiskers. Dick saw the effect that he produced. He was at home in a moment. Your true highwayman has ever a passion for effect. This does not desert him at the gallows; it rises superior to death itself, and has been known to influence the manner of his dangling from the gibbet! To hear some one cry, "There goes a proper handsome man," saith our previously quoted authority, Jack Hall, "somewhat ameliorates the terrible thoughts of the meagre tyrant death; and to go in a dirty shirt were enough to save the hangman a labor, and make a man die with grief and shame at being in that deplorable condition." With a gracious smile of condescension, like a popular orator—with a look of blarney like that of O'Connell, and of assurance like that of Hume—he surveyed the male portion of the spectators, tipped a knowing wink at the prettiest brunettes he could select, and finally cut a sort of fling with his well-booted legs, that brought down another appeal of rapturous applause.
"A rank scamp!" cried the upright man; and this exclamation, however equivocal it may sound, was intended, on his part, to be highly complimentary.
"I believe ye," returned the ruffler, stroking his chin—"one may see that he's no half swell by the care with which he cultivates the best gifts of nature, his whiskers. He's a rank nib."
"Togged out to the ruffian, no doubt," said the palliard, who was incomparably the shabbiest rascal in the corps. "Though a needy mizzler mysel, I likes to see a cove vot's vel dressed. Jist twig his swell kickseys and pipes; if they ain't the thing, I'm done. Lame Harry can't dance better nor he—no, nor Jerry Juniper neither."
"I'm dumb founded," roared the dummerar, "if he can't patter romany as vel as the best on us! He looks like a rum 'un."
"And a rum 'un he be, take my word for it," returned the whip-jack, or sham sailor. "Look at his rigging—see how he flashes his sticks—those are the tools to rake a three-decker. He's as clever a craft as I've seen this many a day, or I'm no judge."
The women were equally enchanted—equally eloquent in the expression of their admiration.
"What ogles!" cried a mort.
"What pins!" said an autem mort, or married woman.
"Sharp as needles," said a dark-eyed dell, who had encountered one of the free and frolicsome glances which our highwayman distributed so liberally among the petticoats.
It was at this crisis Dick took off his hat. Caesar betrayed his baldness.
"A thousand pities!" cried the men, compassionating his thinly covered skull, and twisting their own ringlets, glossy and luxuriant, though unconscious of Macassar. "A thousand pities that so fine a fellow should have a sconce like a cocoanut!"
"But then his red whiskers," rejoined the women, tired of the uniformity of thick black heads of hair; "what a warmth of coloring they impart to his face; and then only look how beautifully bushy they make his cheeks appear!"
La Fosseuse and the court of the Queen of Navarre were not more smitten with the Sieur de Croix's jolly pair of whiskers.
The hawk's eye of Turpin ranged over the whole assemblage. Amidst that throng of dark faces there was not one familiar to him.
Before him stood the upright man, Zoroaster—so was he called—, a sturdy, stalwart rogue, whose superior strength and stature—as has not unfrequently been the case in the infancy of governments that have risen to more importance than is likely to be the case with that of Lesser Egypt—had been the means of his elevation to his present dignified position. Zoroaster literally fought his way upwards, and had at first to maintain his situation by the strong arm; but he now was enabled to repose upon his hard-won laurels, to smoke "the calumet of peace," and quaff his tipple with impunity. For one of gipsy blood, he presented an unusually jovial, liquor-loving countenance: his eye was mirthful; his lip moist, as if from oft potations; his cheek mellow as an Orleans plum, which fruit, in color and texture, it mightily resembled. Strange to say, also, for one of that lithe race, his person was heavy and hebetudinous; the consequence, no doubt, of habitual intemperance. Like Cribb, he waxed obese upon the championship. There was a kind of mock state in his carriage, as he placed himself before Turpin, and with his left hand twisted up the tail of his dressing-gown, while the right thrust his truncheon into his hip, which was infinitely diverting to the highwayman.
Turpin's attention, however, was chiefly directed towards his neighbor, the ruffler, in whom he recognized a famous impostor of the day, with whose history he was sufficiently well acquainted to be able at once to identify the individual. We have before stated, that a magnificent coal-black beard decorated the chin of this worthy; but this was not all—his costume was in perfect keeping with his beard, and consisted of a very theatrical-looking tunic, upon the breast of which was embroidered, in golden wire, the Maltese cross; while over his shoulders were thrown the folds of an ample cloak of Tyrian hue. To his side was girt a long and doughty sword, which he termed, in his knightly phrase, Excalibur; and upon his profuse hair rested a hat as broad in the brim as a Spanish sombrero.
Exaggerated as this description may appear, we can assure our readers that it is not overdrawn; and that a counterpart of the sketch we have given of the ruffler certainly "strutted his hour" upon the stage of human life, and that the very ancient and discriminating city of Canterbury—to which be all honor—was his theatre of action. His history is so far curious, that it exemplifies, more strongly than a thousand discourses could do, how prone we are to be governed by appearances, and how easily we may be made the dupes of a plausible impostor. Be it remembered, however, that we treat of the eighteenth century, before the march of intellect had commenced; we are much too knowing to be similarly practised upon in these enlightened times. But we will let the knight of Malta, for such was the title assumed by the ruffler, tell his own story in his own way hereafter; contenting ourselves with the moral precepts we have already deduced from it.
Next to the knight of Malta stood the whip-jack, habited in his sailor gear—striped shirt and dirty canvas trousers; and adjoining him was the palliard, a loathsome tatterdemalion, his dress one heap of rags, and his discolored skin one mass of artificial leprosy and imposthumes.
As Turpin's eye shifted from one to another of these figures, he chanced upon an individual who had been long endeavoring to arrest his attention. This personage was completely in the background. All that Dick could discern of him was a brown curly head of hair, carelessly arranged in the modern mode; a handsome, impudent, sun-freckled face, with one eye closed, and the other occupied by a broken bottle-neck, through which, as a substitute for a lorgnette, the individual reconnoitered him. A cocked hat was placed in a very degagee manner under his arm, and he held an ebony cane in his hand, very much in the style of a "fassionable," as the French have it, of the present day. This glimpse was sufficient to satisfy Turpin. He recognized in this whimsical personage an acquaintance.
Jerry Juniper was what the classical Captain Grose would designate a "gentleman with three outs," and, although he was not entirely without wit, nor, his associates avouched, without money, nor, certainly, in his own opinion, had that been asked, without manners; yet was he assuredly without shoes, without stockings, without shirt. This latter deficiency was made up by a voluminous cravat, tied with proportionately large bows. A jaunty pair of yellow breeches, somewhat faded; a waistcoat of silver brocade, richly embroidered, somewhat tarnished and lack-lustre; a murrey-colored velvet coat, somewhat chafed, completed the costume of this beggar Brummell, this mendicant macaroni!
Jerry Juniper was a character well known at the time, as a constant frequenter of all races, fairs, regattas, ship-launches, bull-baits, and prize-fights, all of which he attended, and to which he transported himself with an expedition little less remarkable than that of Turpin. You met him at Epsom, at Ascot, at Newmarket, at Doncaster, at the Roodee of Chester, at the Curragh of Kildare. The most remote as well as the most adjacent meeting attracted him. The cock-pit was his constant haunt, and in more senses than one was he a leg. No opera-dancer could be more agile, more nimble; scarcely, indeed, more graceful, than was Jerry, with his shoeless and stockingless feet; and the manner in which he executed a pirouette, or a pas, before a line of carriages, seldom failed to procure him "golden opinions from all sorts of dames." With the ladies, it must be owned, Jerry was rather upon too easy terms; but then, perhaps, the ladies were upon too easy terms with Jerry; and if a bright-eyed fair one condescended to jest with him, what marvel if he should sometimes slightly transgress the laws of decorum. These aberrations, however, were trifling; altogether he was so well known, and knew everybody else so well, that he seldom committed himself; and, singular to say, could on occasions even be serious. In addition to his other faculties, no one cut a sly joke, or trolled a merry ditty, better than Jerry. His peculiarities, in short, were on the pleasant side, and he was a general favorite in consequence.
No sooner did Jerry perceive that he was recognized, than, after kissing his hand, with the air of a petit-maitre, to the highwayman, he strove to edge his way through the crowd. All his efforts were fruitless; and, tired of a situation in the rear rank, so inconsistent, he conceived, with his own importance, he had recourse to an expedient often practised with success in harlequinades, and not unfrequently in real life, where a flying leap is occasionally taken over our heads. He ran back a few yards to give himself an impetus, returned, and, placing his hands upon the shoulders of a stalwart vagabond near to him, threw a summerset upon the broad cap of a palliard, who was so jammed in the midst that he could not have stirred to avoid the shock; thence, without pausing, he vaulted forwards, and dropped lightly upon the ground in front of Zoroaster, and immediately before the highwayman.
Dick laughed immoderately at Jerry's man[oe]uvre. He shook his old chum cordially by the hand, saying, in a whisper, "What the devil brings you here, Jerry?"
"I might retort, and ask you that question, Captain Turpin," replied Jerry, sotto voce. "It is odd to see me here, certainly—quite out of my element—lost amongst this canaille—this Canting Crew—all the fault of a pair of gipsy eyes, bright as a diamond, dark as a sloe. You comprehend—a little affair, ha! Liable to these things. Bring your ear closer, my boy; be upon your guard—keep a sharp look out—there's a devil of a reward upon your head—I won't answer for all those rascals."
"Thank you for the hint, Jerry," replied Dick, in the same tone. "I calculated my chances pretty nicely when I came here. But if I should perceive any symptoms of foul play—any attempt to snitch or nose, amongst this pack of peddlers—I have a friend or two at hand, who won't be silent upon the occasion. Rest assured I shall have my eye upon the gnarling scoundrels. I won't be sold for nothing."
"Trust you for that," returned Juniper, with a wink. "Stay," added he; "a thought strikes me. I have a scheme in petto which may, perhaps, afford you some fun, and will, at all events, insure your safety during your stay."
"What is it?" asked Dick.
"Just amuse yourself with a flirtation for a moment or two with that pretty damsel, who has been casting her ogles at you for the last five minutes without success, while I effect a master-stroke."
And as Turpin, nothing loth, followed his advice, Jerry addressed himself to Zoroaster. After a little conference, accompanied by that worthy and the knight of Malta, the trio stepped forward from the line, and approached Dick, when Juniper, assuming some such attitude as our admirable Jones, the comedian, is wont to display, delivered himself of the following address. Turpin listened with the gravity of one of the distinguished persons alluded to, at the commencement of the present chapter, upon their receiving the freedom of the city at the hands of a mayor and corporation. Thus spoke Jerry:
"Highest of High-Tobymen! rummest of rum Padders, and most scampish of Scampsmen! We, in the name of Barbara, our most tawny queen; in the name of Zoroaster, our Upright Man, Dimber Damber, or Olli Campolli, by all which titles his excellency is distinguished; in our own respective names, as High Pads and Low Pads, Rum Gills and Queer Gills, Patricos, Palliards, Priggers, Whip-Jacks, and Jarkmen, from the Arch Rogue to the Needy Mizzler, fully sensible of the honor you have conferred upon us in gracing Stop-Hole Abbey with your presence; and conceiving that we can in no way evince our sense of your condescension so entirely as by offering you the freedom of our crew, together with the privileges of an Upright Man, which you may be aware are considerable, and by creating you an honorary member of the Vagrant Club, which we have recently established; and in so doing, we would fain express the sentiments of gratification and pride which we experience in enrolling among our members one who has extended the glory of roguery so widely over the land, and who has kicked up such a dust upon the highways of England, as most effectually to blind the natives—one who is in himself a legion—of highwaymen! Awaiting, with respectful deference, the acquiescence of Captain Richard Turpin, we beg to tender him the freedom of our crew."
"Really, gentlemen," said Turpin, who did not exactly see the drift of this harangue, "you do me a vast deal of honor. I am quite at a loss to conceive how I can possibly have merited so much attention at your hands; and, indeed, I feel myself so unworthy——" Here Dick received an expressive wink from Juniper, and therefore thought it prudent to alter his expression. "Could I suppose myself at all deserving of so much distinction," continued the modest speaker, "I should at once accept your very obliging offer; but——"
"None so worthy," said the upright man.
"Can't hear of a refusal," said the knight of Malta.
"Refusal—impossible!" reiterated Juniper.
"No; no refusal," exclaimed a chorus of voices. "Dick Turpin must be one of us. He shall be our dimber damber."
"Well, gentlemen, since you are so pressing," replied Turpin, "even so be it. I will be your dimber damber."
"Bravo! bravo!" cried the mob, not "of gentlemen."
"About it, pals, at once," said the knight of Malta, flourishing Excalibur. "By St. Thomas a Becket, we'll have as fine a scene as I myself ever furnished to the Canterbury lieges."
"About what?" asked Dick.
"Your matriculation," replied Jerry. "There are certain forms to be gone through, with an oath to be taken, merely a trifle. We'll have a jolly booze when all's over. Come bing avast, my merry pals; to the green, to the green: a Turpin! a Turpin! a new brother!"
"A Turpin! a Turpin! a new brother!" echoed the crew.
"I've brought you through," said Jerry, taking advantage of the uproar that ensued to whisper to his chum; "none of them will dare to lift a finger against you now. They are all your friends for life."
"Nevertheless," returned Turpin, "I should be glad to know what has become of Bess."
"If it's your prancer you are wanting," chirped a fluttering creature, whom Turpin recognized as Luke's groom, Grasshopper, "I gave her a fresh loaf and a stoup of stingo, as you bade me, and there she be, under yon tree, as quiet as a lamb."
"I see her," replied Turpin; "just tighten her girths, Grasshopper, and bring her after me, and thou shalt have wherewithal to chirp over thy cups at supper."
Away bounded the elfin dwarf to execute his behest.
A loud shout now rent the skies, and presently afterwards was heard the vile scraping of a fiddle, accompanied by the tattoo of a drum. Approaching Turpin, a host of gipsies elevated the highwayman upon their shoulders, and in this way he was carried to the centre of the green, where the long oaken table, which had once served the Franciscans for refection, was now destined for the stage of the pageant.
Upon this table three drums were placed; and Turpin was requested to seat himself on the central one. A solemn prelude, more unearthly than the incantation in the Freyschuetz, was played by the orchestra of the band, conducted by the Paganini of the place, who elicited the most marvellous notes from his shell. A couple of shawms emitted sepulchral sounds, while the hollow rolling of a drum broke ever and anon upon the ear. The effect was prodigiously fine. During this overture the patrico and the upright man had ascended the rostrum, each taking his place; the former on the right hand of Turpin, the latter upon his left. Below them stood the knight of Malta, with Excalibur drawn in his hand, and gleaming in the sunshine. On the whole, Dick was amused with what he saw, and with the novel situation in which he found himself placed. Around the table were congregated a compact mass of heads; so compact, indeed, that they looked like one creature—an Argus, with each eye upturned upon the highwayman. The idea struck Turpin that the restless mass of parti-colored shreds and patches, of vivid hues and varied tintings, singularly, though accidentally, disposed to produce such an effect, resembled an immense tiger-moth, or it might be a Turkey carpet spread out upon the grass!
The scene was a joyous one. It was a brilliant sunshiny morning. Freshened and purified by the storm of the preceding night, the air breathed a balm upon the nerves and senses of the robber. The wooded hills were glittering in light; the brook was flowing swiftly past the edge of the verdant slope, glancing like a wreathed snake in the sunshine—its "quiet song" lost in the rude harmony of the mummers, as were the thousand twitterings of the rejoicing birds; the rocks bared their bosoms to the sun, or were buried in deep-cast gloom; the shadows of the pillars and arches of the old walls of the priory were projected afar, while the rose-like ramifications of the magnificent marigold window were traced, as if by a pencil, upon the verdant tablet of the sod.
The overture was finished. With the appearance of the principal figures in this strange picture the reader is already familiar. It remains only to give him some idea of the patrico. Imagine, then, an old superannuated goat, reared upon its hind legs, and clad in a white sheet, disposed in folds like those of a simar about its limbs, and you will have some idea of Balthazar, the patrico. This resemblance to the animal before mentioned was rendered the more striking by his huge, hanging, goat-like under lip, his lengthy white beard, and a sort of cap, covering his head, which was ornamented with a pair of horns, such as are to be seen in Michael Angelo's tremendous statue of Moses. Balthazar, besides being the patrico of the tribe, was its principal professor of divination, and had been the long-tried and faithful minister of Barbara Lovel, from whose secret instructions he was supposed to have derived much of his magical skill.
Placing a pair of spectacles upon his "prognosticating nose," and unrolling a vellum skin, upon which strange characters were written, Balthazar, turning to Turpin, thus commenced in a solemn voice:
Thou who wouldst our brother be, Say how we shall enter thee? Name the name that thou wilt bear Ere our livery thou wear?
"I see no reason why I should alter my designation," replied the noviciate; "but as popes change their titles on their creation, there can be no objection to a scampsman following so excellent an example. Let me be known as the Night Hawk."
"The Night Hawk—good," returned the hierophant, proceeding to register the name upon the parchment. "Kneel down," continued he.
After some hesitation, Turpin complied.
"You must repeat the 'salamon,' or oath of our creed, after my dictation," said the patrico; and Turpin, signifying his assent by a nod, Balthazar propounded the following abjuration:
OATH OF THE CANTING CREW
I, Crank-Cuffin, swear to be True to this fraternity; That I will in all obey Rule and order of the lay. Never blow the gab, or squeak; Never snitch to bum or beak; But religiously maintain Authority of those who reign Over Stop-Hole Abbey Green, Be they tawny king, or queen. In their cause alone will fight; Think what they think, wrong or right; Serve them truly, and no other, And be faithful to my brother; Suffer none, from far or near, With their rights to interfere; No strange Abram, ruffler crack, Hooker of another pack, Rogue or rascal, frater, maunderer, Irish toyle, or other wanderer; No dimber damber, angler, dancer, Prig of cackler, prig of prancer; No swigman, swaddler, clapperdudgeon; Cadge-gloak, curtal, or curmudgeon; No whip-jack, palliard, patrico; No jarkman, be he high or low; No dummerar, or romany; No member of "the Family;" No ballad-basket, bouncing buffer, Nor any other, will I suffer; But stall-off now and for ever, All outliers whatsoever: And as I keep to the foregone, So may help me Salamon!