The presence of soldiers fresh from the scene of action had naturally brought into the hostelry several of the idle gossips of the suburb, and these stood round the table, drinking into their large ears the boasting narratives of the soldiers. At a small table, apart from the revellers, but evidently listening with attention to all the news of the hour, sat a friar, gravely discussing a mighty tankard of huffcap, and ever and anon, as he lifted his head for the purpose of drinking, glancing a wanton eye at one of the tymbesteres.
"But an' you had seen," said a trooper, who was the mouthpiece of his comrades—"an' you had seen the raptrils run when King Edward himself led the charge! Marry, it was like a cat in a rabbit burrow! Easy to see, I trow, that Earl Warwick was not amongst them! His men, at least, fight like devils!"
"But there was one tall fellow," said a soldier, setting down his tankard, "who made a good fight and dour, and, but for me and my comrades, would have cut his way to the king."
"Ay, ay, true; we saved his highness, and ought to have been knighted,—but there's no gratitude nowadays!"
"And who was this doughty warrior?" asked one of the bystanders, who secretly favoured the rebellion.
"Why, it was said that he was Robin of Redesdale,—he who fought my Lord Montagu off York."
"Our Robin!" exclaimed several voices. "Ay, he was ever a brave fellow—poor Robin!"
"'Your Robin,' and 'poor Robin,' varlets!" cried the principal trooper. "Have a care! What do ye mean by your Robin?"
"Marry, sir soldier," quoth a butcher, scratching his head, and in a humble voice, "craving your pardon and the king's, this Master Robin sojourned a short time in this hamlet, and was a kind neighbour, and mighty glib of the tongue. Don't ye mind, neighbours," he added rapidly, eager to change the conversation, "how he made us leave off when we were just about burning Adam Warner, the old nigromancer, in his den yonder? Who else could have done that? But an' we had known Robin had been a rebel to sweet King Edward, we'd have roasted him along with the wizard!"
One of the timbrel-girls, the leader of the choir, her arm round a soldier's neck, looked up at the last speech, and her eye followed the gesture of the butcher, as he pointed through the open lattice to the sombre, ruinous abode of Adam Warner.
"Was that the house ye would have burned?" she asked abruptly.
"Yes; but Robin told us the king would hang those who took on them the king's blessed privilege of burning nigromancers; and, sure enough, old Adam Warner was advanced to be wizard-in-chief to the king's own highness a week or two afterwards."
The friar had made a slight movement at the name of Warner; he now pushed his stool nearer to the principal group, and drew his hood completely over his countenance.
"Yea!" exclaimed the mechanic, whose son had been the innocent cause of the memorable siege to poor Adam's dilapidated fortress, related in the first book of this narrative"—yea; and what did he when there? Did he not devise a horrible engine for the destruction of the poor,—an engine that was to do all the work in England by the devil's help?—so that if a gentleman wanted a coat of mail, or a cloth tunic; if his dame needed a Norwich worsted; if a yeoman lacked a plough or a wagon, or his good wife a pot or a kettle; they were to go, not to the armourer, and the draper, and the tailor, and the weaver, and the wheelwright, and the blacksmith,—but, hey presto! Master Warner set his imps a-churning, and turned ye out mail and tunic, worsted and wagon, kettle and pot, spick and span new, from his brewage of vapour and sea-coal. Oh, have I not heard enough of the sorcerer from my brother, who works in the Chepe for Master Stokton, the mercer!—and Master Stokton was one of the worshipful deputies to whom the old nigromancer had the front to boast his devices."
"It is true," said the friar, suddenly.
"Yes, reverend father, it is true," said the mechanic, doffing his cap, and inclining his swarthy face to this unexpected witness of his veracity. A murmur of wrath and hatred was heard amongst the bystanders. The soldiers indifferently turned to their female companions. There was a brief silence; and, involuntarily, the gossips stretched over the table to catch sight of the house of so demoniac an oppressor of the poor.
"See," said the baker, "the smoke still curls from the rooftop! I heard he had come back. Old Madge, his handmaid, has bought cimnel-cakes of me the last week or so; nothing less than the finest wheat serves him now, I trow. However, right's right, and—"
"Come back!" cried the fierce mechanic; "the owl hath kept close in his roost! An' it were not for the king's favour, I would soon see how the wizard liked to have fire and water brought to bear against himself!"
"Sit down, sweetheart," whispered one of the young tymbesteres to the last speaker—
"Come, kiss me, my darling, Warm kisses I trade for."
"Avaunt!" quoth the mechanic, gruffly, and shaking off the seductive arm of the tymbestere—"avaunt! I have neither liefe nor halfpence for thee and thine. Out on thee!—a child of thy years! a rope's end to thy back were a friend's best kindness!"
The girl's eyes sparkled, she instinctively put her hand to her knife; then turning to a soldier by her side, she said, "Hear you that, and sit still?"
"Thunder and wounds!" growled the soldier thus appealed to, "more respect to the sex, knave; if I don't break thy fool's costard with my sword-hilt, it is only because Red Grisell can take care of herself against twenty such lozels as thou. These honest girls have been to the wars with us; King Edward grudges no man his jolly fere. Speak up for thyself, Grisell! How many tall fellows didst thou put out of their pain after the battle of Losecote?"
"Only five, Hal," replied the cold-eyed girl, and showing her glittering teeth with the grin of a young tigress; "but one was a captain. I shall do better next time; it was my first battle, thou knowest!"
The more timid of the bystanders exchanged a glance of horror, and drew back. The mechanic resumed sullenly,—"I seek no quarrel with lass or lover. I am a plain, blunt man, with a wife and children, who are dear to me; and if I have a grudge to the nigromancer, it is because he glamoured my poor boy Tim. See!"—and he caught up a blue-eyed, handsome boy, who had been clinging to his side, and baring the child's arm, showed it to the spectators; there was a large scar on the limb, and it was shrunk and withered.
"It was my own fault," said the little fellow, deprecatingly. The affectionate father silenced the sufferer with a cuff on the cheek, and resumed: "Ye note, neighbours, the day when the foul wizard took this little one in his arms: well, three weeks afterwards—that very day three weeks—as he was standing like a lamb by the fire, the good wife's caldron seethed over, without reason or rhyme, and scalded his arm till it rivelled up like a leaf in November; and if that is not glamour, why have we laws against witchcraft?"
"True, true!" groaned the chorus.
The boy, who had borne his father's blow without a murmur, now again attempted remonstrance. "The hot water went over the gray cat, too, but Master Warner never bewitched her, daddy."
"He takes his part!—You hear the daff laddy? He takes the old nigromancer's part,—a sure sign of the witchcraft; but I'll leather it out of thee, I will!" and the mechanic again raised his weighty arm. The child did not this time await the blow; he dodged under the butcher's apron, gained the door, and disappeared. "And he teaches our own children to fly in our faces!" said the father, in a kind of whimper. The neighbours sighed in commiseration.
"Oh," he exclaimed in a fiercer tone, grinding his teeth, and shaking his clenched fist towards Adam Warner's melancholy house, "I say again, if the king did not protect the vile sorcerer, I would free the land from his devilries ere his black master could come to his help."
"The king cares not a straw for Master Warner or his inventions, my son," said a rough, loud voice. All turned, and saw the friar standing in the midst of the circle. "Know ye not, my children, that the king sent the wretch neck and crop out of the palace for having bewitched the Earl of Warwick and his grace the Lord Clarence, so that they turned unnaturally against their own kinsman, his highness? But 'Manus malorum suos bonos breaket,'—that is to say, the fists of wicked men only whack their own bones. Ye have all heard tell of Friar Bungey, my children?"
"Ay, ay!" answered two or three in a breath,—"a wizard, it's true, and a mighty one; but he never did harm to the poor; though they do say he made a quaint image of the earl, and—"
"Tut, tut!" interrupted the friar, "all Bungey did was to try to disenchant the Lord Warwick, whom yon miscreant had spellbound. Poor Bungey! he is a friend to the people: and when he found that Master Adam was making a device for their ruin, he spared no toil, I assure ye, to frustrate the iniquity. Oh, how he fasted and watched! Oh, how many a time he fought, tooth and nail, with the devil in person, to get at the infernal invention! for if he had that invention once in his hands, he could turn it to good account, I can promise ye: and give ye rain for the green blade and sun for the ripe sheaf. But the fiend got the better at first; and King Edward, bewitched himself for the moment, would have hanged Friar Bungey for crossing old Adam, if he had not called three times, in a loud voice, 'Presto pepranxenon!' changed himself into a bird, and flown out of the window. As soon as Master Adam Warner found the field clear to himself, he employed his daughter to bewitch the Lord Hastings; he set brother against brother, and made the king and Lord George fall to loggerheads; he stirred up the rebellion; and where he would have stopped the foul fiend only knows, if your friend Friar Bungey, who, though a wizard as you say, is only so for your benefit (and a holy priest into the bargain), had not, by aid of a good spirit, whom he conjured up in the island of Tartary, disenchanted the king, and made him see in a dream what the villanous Warner was devising against his crown and his people,—whereon his highness sent Master Warner and his daughter back to their roost, and, helped by Friar Bungey, beat his enemies out of the kingdom. So, if ye have a mind to save your children from mischief and malice, ye may set to work with good heart, always provided that ye touch not old Adam's iron invention. Woe betide ye, if ye think to destroy that! Bring it safe to Friar Bungey, whom ye will find returned to the palace, and journeyman's wages will be a penny a day higher for the next ten years to come!" With these words the friar threw down his reckoning, and moved majestically to the door.
"An' I might trust you!" said Tim's father, laying hold of the friar's serge.
"Ye may, ye may!" cried the leader of the tymbesteres, starting up from the lap of her soldier, "for it is Friar Bungey himself!"
A movement of astonishment and terror was universal. "Friar Bungey himself!" repeated the burly impostor. "Right, lassie, right; and he now goes to the palace of the Tower, to mutter good spells in King Edward's ear,—spells to defeat the malignant ones, and to lower the price of beer. Wax wobiscum!"
With that salutation, more benevolent than accurate, the friar vanished from the room; the chief of the tymbesteres leaped lightly on the table, put one foot on the soldier's shoulder, and sprang through the open lattice. She found the friar in the act of mounting a sturdy mule, which had been tied to a post by the door.
"Fie, Graul Skellet! Fie, Graul!" said the conjurer "Respect for my serge. We must not be noted together out of door in the daylight. There's a groat for thee. Vade, execrabilis,—that is, good-day to thee, pretty rogue!"
"A word, friar, a word. Wouldst thou have the old man burned, drowned, or torn piecemeal? He hath a daughter too, who once sought to mar our trade with her gittern; a daughter, then in a kirtle that I would not have nimmed from a hedge, but whom I last saw in sarcenet and lawn, with a great lord for her fere." The tymbestere's eyes shone with malignant envy, as she added, "Graul Skellet loves not to see those who have worn worsted and say walk in sarcenet and lawn. Graul Skellet loves not wenches who have lords for their feres, and yet who shrink from Graul and her sisters as the sound from the leper."
"Fegs," answered the friar, impatiently, "I know naught against the daughter,—a pretty lass, but too high for my kisses. And as for the father, I want not the man's life,—that is, not very specially,—but his model, his mechanical. He may go free, if that can be compassed; if not, why, the model at all risks. Serve me in this."
"And thou wilt teach me the last tricks of the cards, and thy great art of making phantoms glide by on the wall?"
"Bring the model intact, and I will teach thee more, Graul,—the dead man's candle, and the charm of the newt; and I'll give thee, to boot, the Gaul of the parricide that thou hast prayed me so oft for. Hum! thou hast a girl in thy troop who hath a blinking eye that well pleases me; but go now, and obey me. Work before play, and grace before pudding!"
The tymbestere nodded, snapped her fingers in the air, and humming no holy ditty, returned to the house through the doorway.
This short conference betrays to the reader the relations, mutually advantageous, which subsisted between the conjuror and the tymbesteres. Their troop (the mothers, perchance, of the generation we treat of) had been familiar to the friar in his old capacity of mountebank, or tregetour, and in his clerical and courtly elevation, he did not disdain an ancient connection that served him well with the populace; for these grim children of vice seemed present in every place, where pastime was gay, or strife was rampant,—in peace, at the merry-makings and the hostelries; in war, following the camp, and seen, at night, prowling through the battlefields to dispatch the wounded and to rifle the slain: in merrymaking, hostelry, or in camp, they could thus still spread the fame of Friar Bungey, and uphold his repute both for terrible lore and for hearty love of the commons.
Nor was this all; both tymbesteres and conjuror were fortune-tellers by profession. They could interchange the anecdotes each picked up in their different lines. The tymbestere could thus learn the secrets of gentle and courtier, the conjuror those of the artisan and mechanic.
Unconscious of the formidable dispositions of their neighbours, Sibyll and Warner were inhaling the sweet air of the early spring in their little garden. His disgrace had affected the philosopher less than might be supposed. True, that the loss of the king's favour was the deferring indefinitely—perhaps for life—any practical application of his adored theory; and yet, somehow or other, the theory itself consoled him. At the worst, he should find some disciple, some ingenious student, more fortunate than himself, to whom he could bequeath the secret, and who, when Adam was in his grave, would teach the world to revere his name. Meanwhile, his time was his own; he was lord of a home, though ruined and desolate; he was free, with his free thoughts; and therefore, as he paced the narrow garden, his step was lighter, his mind less absent than when parched with feverish fear and hope for the immediate practical success of a principle which was to be tried before the hazardous tribunal of prejudice and ignorance.
"My child," said the sage, "I feel, for the first time for years, the distinction of the seasons. I feel that we are walking in the pleasant spring. Young days come back to me like dreams; and I could almost think thy mother were once more by my side!"
Sibyll pressed her father's hand, and a soft but melancholy sigh stirred her rosy lips. She, too, felt the balm of the young year; yet her father's words broke upon sad and anxious musings. Not to youth as to age, not to loving fancy as to baffled wisdom, has seclusion charms that compensate for the passionate and active world! On coming back to the old house, on glancing round its mildewed walls, comfortless and bare, the neglected, weed-grown garden, Sibyll had shuddered in dismay. Had her ambition fallen again into its old abject state? Were all her hopes to restore her ancestral fortunes, to vindicate her dear father's fame, shrunk into this slough of actual poverty,—the butterfly's wings folded back into the chrysalis shroud of torpor? The vast disparity between herself and Hastings had not struck her so forcibly at the court; here, at home, the very walls proclaimed it. When Edward had dismissed the unwelcome witnesses of his attempted crime, he had given orders that they should be conducted to their house through the most private ways. He naturally desired to create no curious comment upon their departure. Unperceived by their neighbours, Sibyll and her father had gained access by the garden gate. Old Madge received them in dismay; for she had been in the habit of visiting Sibyll weekly at the palace, and had gained, in the old familiarity subsisting, then, between maiden and nurse, some insight into her heart. She had cherished the fondest hopes for the fate of her young mistress; and now, to labour and to penury had the fate returned! The guard who accompanied them, according to Edward's orders, left some pieces of gold, which Adam rejected, but Madge secretly received and judiciously expended. And this was all their wealth. But not of toil nor of penury in themselves thought Sibyll; she thought but of Hastings,—wildly, passionately, trustfully, unceasingly, of the absent Hastings. Oh, he would seek her, he would come, her reverse would but the more endear her to him! Hastings came not. She soon learned the wherefore. War threatened the land,—he was at his post, at the head of armies.
Oh, with what panoply of prayer she sought to shield that beloved breast! And now the old man spoke of the blessed spring, the holiday time of lovers and of love, and the young girl, sighing, said to her mournful heart, "The world hath its sun,—where is mine?"
The peacock strutted up to his poor protectors, and spread his plumes to the gilding beams. And then Sibyll recalled the day when she had walked in that spot with Marmaduke, and he had talked of his youth, ambition, and lusty hopes, while, silent and absorbed, she had thought within herself, "Could the world be open to me as to him,—I too have ambition, and it should find its goal." Now what contrast between the two,—the man enriched and honoured, if to-day in peril or in exile, to-morrow free to march forward still on his career, the world the country to him whose heart was bold and whose name was stainless! and she, the woman, brought back to the prison-home, scorn around her, impotent to avenge, and forbidden to fly! Wherefore?—Sibyll felt her superiority of mind, of thought, of nature,—wherefore the contrast? The success was that of man, the discomfiture that of woman. Woe to the man who precedes his age; but never yet has an age been in which genius and ambition are safe to woman!
The father and the child turned into their house. The day was declining. Adam mounted to his studious chamber, Sibyll sought the solitary servant.
"What tidings, oh, what tidings? The war, you say, is over; the great earl, his sweet daughter, safe upon the seas, but Hastings—ob, Hastings! what of him?"
"My bonnibell, my lady-bird, I have none but good tales to tell thee. I saw and spoke with a soldier who served under Lord Hastings himself; he is unscathed, he is in London. But they say that one of his bands is quartered in the suburb, and that there is a report of a rising in Hertfordshire."
"When will peace come to England and to me!" sighed Sibyll.
CHAPTER IV. THE WORLD'S JUSTICE, AND THE WISDOM OF OUR ANCESTORS.
The night had now commenced, and Sibyll was still listening—or, perhaps, listening not—to the soothing babble of the venerable servant. They were both seated in the little room that adjoined the hall, and their only light came through the door opening on the garden,—a gray, indistinct twilight, relieved by the few earliest stars. The peacock, his head under his wing, roosted on the balustrade, and the song of the nightingale, from amidst one of the neighbouring copses, which studded the ground towards the chase of Marybone, came soft and distant on the serene air. The balm and freshness of spring were felt in the dews, in the skies, in the sweet breath of young herb and leaf; through the calm of ever-watchful nature, it seemed as if you might mark, distinct and visible, minute after minute, the blessed growth of April into May.
Suddenly Madge uttered a cry of alarm, and pointed towards the opposite wall. Sibyll, startled from her revery, looked up, and saw something dusk and dwarf-like perched upon the crumbling eminence. Presently this apparition leaped lightly into the garden, and the alarm of the women was lessened on seeing a young boy creep stealthily over the grass and approach the open door.
"Hey, child!" said Madge, rising. "What wantest thou?"
"Hist, gammer, hist! Ah, the young mistress? That's well. Hist! I say again." The boy entered the room. "I'm in time to save you. In half an hour your house will be broken into, perhaps burned. The boys are clapping their hands now at the thoughts of the bonfire. Father and all the neighbours are getting ready. Hark! hark! No, it is only the wind! The tymbesteres are to give note. When you hear their bells tinkle, the mob will meet. Run for your lives, you and the old man, and don't ever say it was poor Tim who told you this, for Father would beat me to death. Ye can still get through the garden into the fields. Quick!"
"I will go to the master," exclaimed Madge, hurrying from the room.
The child caught Sibyll's cold hand through the dark. "And I say, mistress, if his worship is a wizard, don't let him punish Father and Mother, or poor Tim, or his little sister; though Tim was once naughty, and hooted Master Warner. Many, many, many a time and oft have I seen that kind, mild face in my sleep, just as when it bent over me, while I kicked and screamed, and the poor gentleman said, 'Thinkest thou I would harm thee?' But he'll forgive me now, will he not? And when I turned the seething water over myself, and they said it was all along of the wizard, my heart pained more than the arm. But they whip me, and groan out that the devil is in me, if I don't say that the kettle upset of itself! Oh, those tymbesteres! Mistress, did you ever see them? They fright me. If you could hear how they set on all the neighbours! And their laugh—it makes the hair stand on end! But you will get away, and thank Tim too? Oh, I shall laugh then, when they find the old house empty!"
"May our dear Lord bless thee—bless thee, child," sobbed Sibyll, clasping the boy in her arms, and kissing him, while her tears bathed his cheeks.
A light gleamed on the threshold; Madge, holding a candle, appeared with Warner, his hat and cloak thrown on in haste. "What is this?" said the poor scholar. "Can it be true? Is mankind so cruel? What have I done, woe is me! what have I done to deserve this?"
"Come, dear father, quick," said Sibyll, drying her tears, and wakened by the presence of the old man into energy and courage. "But put thy hand on this boy's head, and bless him; for it is he who has, haply, saved us."
The boy trembled a moment as the long-bearded face turned towards him, but when he caught and recognized those meek, sweet eyes, his superstition vanished, and it was but a holy and grateful awe that thrilled his young blood, as the old man placed both withered hands over his yellow hair, and murmured,—
"God shield thy youth! God make thy manhood worthy! God give thee children in thine old age with hearts like thine!" Scarcely had the prayer ceased when the clash of timbrels, with their jingling bells, was heard in the street. Once, twice, again, and a fierce yell closed in chorus,—caught up and echoed from corner to corner, from house to house.
"Run! run!" cried the boy, turning white with terror.
"But the Eureka—my hope—my mind's child!" exclaimed Adam, suddenly, and halting at the door.
"Eh, eh!" said Madge, pushing him forward. "It is too heavy to move; thou couldst not lift it. Think of thine own flesh and blood, of thy daughter, of her dead mother! Save her life, if thou carest not for thine own!"
"Go, Sibyll, go, and thou, Madge; I will stay. What matters my life,—it is but the servant of a thought! Perish master, perish slave!"
"Father, unless you come with me, I stir not. Fly or perish, your fate is mine! Another minute—Oh, Heaven of mercy, that roar again! We are both lost!"
"Go, sir, go; they care not for your iron,—iron cannot feel. They will not touch that! Have not your daughter's life upon your soul!"
"Sibyll, Sibyll, forgive me! Come!" said Warner, conscience-stricken at the appeal.
Madge and the boy ran forwards; the old woman unbarred the garden-gate; Sibyll and her father went forth; the fields stretched before them calm and solitary; the boy leaped up, kissed Sibyll's pale cheek, and then bounded across the grass, and vanished.
"Loiter not, Madge. Come!" cried Sibyll.
"Nay," said the old woman, shrinking back, "they bear no grudge to me; I am too old to do aught but burthen ye. I will stay, and perchance save the house and the chattels, and poor master's deft contrivance. Whist! thou knowest his heart would break if none were by to guard it."
With that the faithful servant thrust the broad pieces that yet remained of the king's gift into the gipsire Sibyll wore at her girdle, and then closed and rebarred the door before they could detain her.
"It is base to leave her," said the scholar-gentleman.
The noble Sibyll could not refute her father. Afar they heard the tramping of feet; suddenly, a dark red light shot up into the blue air, a light from the flame of many torches.
"The wizard, the wizard! Death to the wizard, who would starve the poor!" yelled forth, and was echoed by a stern hurrah.
Adam stood motionless, Sibyll by his side.
"The wizard and his daughter!" shrieked a sharp single voice, the voice of Graul the tymbestere.
Adam turned. "Fly, my child,—they now threaten thee. Come, come, come!" and, taking her by the hand, he hurried her across the fields, skirting the hedge, their shadows dodging, irregular and quaint, on the starlit sward. The father had lost all thought, all care but for the daughter's life. They paused at last, out of breath and exhausted: the sounds at the distance were lulled and hushed. They looked towards the direction of the home they had abandoned, expecting to see the flames destined to consume it reddening the sky; but all was dark,—or, rather, no light save the holy stars and the rising moon offended the majestic heaven.
"They cannot harm the poor old woman; she hath no lore. On her gray hairs has fallen not the curse of men's hate!" said Warner.
"Right, Father! when they found us flown, doubtless the cruel ones dispersed. But they may search yet for thee. Lean on me, I am strong and young. Another effort, and we gain the safe coverts of the Chase."
While yet the last word hung on her lips, they saw, on the path they had left, the burst of torch-light, and heard the mob hounding on their track. But the thick copses, with their pale green just budding into life, were at hand. On they fled. The deer started from amidst the entangled fern, but stood and gazed at them without fear; the playful hares in the green alleys ceased not their nightly sports at the harmless footsteps; and when at last, in the dense thicket, they sunk down on the mossy roots of a giant oak, the nightingales overhead chanted as if in melancholy welcome. They were saved!
But in their home, fierce fires glared amidst the tossing torch-light; the crowd, baffled by the strength of the door, scaled the wall, broke through the lattice-work of the hall window, and streaming through room after room, roared forth, "Death to the wizard!" Amidst the sordid dresses of the men, the soiled and faded tinsel of the tymbesteres gleamed and sparkled. It was a scene the she-fiends revelled in,—dear are outrage and malice, and the excitement of turbulent passions, and the savage voices of frantic men, and the thirst of blood to those everlasting furies of a mob, under whatever name we know them, in whatever time they taint with their presence,—women in whom womanhood is blasted!
Door after door was burst open with cries of disappointed rage; at last they ascended the turret-stairs, they found a small door barred and locked. Tim's father, a huge axe in his brawny arm, shivered the panels; the crowd rushed in, and there, seated amongst a strange and motley litter, they found the devoted Madge. The poor old woman had collected into this place, as the stronghold of the mansion, whatever portable articles seemed to her most precious, either from value or association. Sibyll's gittern (Marmaduke's gift) lay amidst a lumber of tools and implements; a faded robe of her dead mother's, treasured by Madge and Sibyll both, as a relic of holy love; a few platters and cups of pewter, the pride of old Madge's heart to keep bright and clean; odds and ends of old hangings; a battered silver brooch (a love-gift to Madge herself when she was young),—these, and suchlike scraps of finery, hoards inestimable to the household memory and affection, lay confusedly heaped around the huge grim model, before which, mute and tranquil, sat the brave old woman.
The crowd halted, and stared round in superstitious terror and dumb marvel.
The leader of the tymbesteres sprang forward.
"Where is thy master, old hag, and where the bonny maid who glamours lords, and despises us bold lasses?"
"Alack! master and the damsel have gone hours ago! I am alone in the house; what's your will?"
"The crone looks parlous witchlike!" said Tim's father; crossing himself, and somewhat retreating from her gray, unquiet eyes. And, indeed, poor Madge, with her wrinkled face, bony form, and high cap, corresponded far more with the vulgar notions of a dabbler in the black art than did Adam Warner, with his comely countenance and noble mien.
"So she doth, indeed, and verily," said a hump-backed tinker; "if we were to try a dip in the horsepool yonder it could do no harm."
"Away with her, away!" cried several voices at that humane suggestion.
"Nay, nay," quoth the baker, "she is a douce creature after all, and hath dealt with me many years. I don't care what becomes of the wizard,—every one knows," he added with pride, "that I was one of the first to set fire to his house when Robin gainsayed it! but right's right—burn the master, not the drudge!"
This intercession might have prevailed, but unhappily, at that moment Graul Skellet, who had secured two stout fellows to accomplish the object so desired by Friar Bungey, laid hands on the model, and, at her shrill command, the men advanced and dislodged it from its place. At the same tine the other tymbesteres, caught by the sight of things pleasing to their wonted tastes, threw themselves, one upon the faded robe Sibyll's mother had worn in her chaste and happy youth; another, upon poor Madge's silver brooch; a third, upon the gittern.
These various attacks roused up all the spirit and wrath of the old woman: her cries of distress as she darted from one to the other, striking to the right and left with her feeble arms, her form trembling with passion, were at once ludicrous and piteous; and these were responded to by the shrill exclamations of the fierce tymbesteres, as they retorted scratch for scratch, and blow for blow. The spectators grew animated by the sight of actual outrage and resistance; the humpbacked tinker, whose unwholesome fancy one of the aggrieved tymbesteres had mightily warmed, hastened to the relief of his virago; and rendered furious by finding ten nails fastened suddenly on his face, he struck down the poor creature by a blow that stunned her, seized her in his arms,—for deformed and weakly as the tinker was, the old woman, now sense and spirit were gone, was as light as skin and bone could be,—and followed by half a score of his comrades, whooping and laughing, bore her down the stairs. Tim's father, who, whether from parental affection, or, as is more probable, from the jealous hatred and prejudice of ignorant industry, was bent upon Adam's destruction, hallooed on some of his fierce fellows into the garden, tracked the footsteps of the fugitives by the trampled grass, and bounded over the wall in fruitless chase. But on went the more giddy of the mob, rather in sport than in cruelty, with a chorus of drunken apprentices and riotous boys, to the spot where the humpbacked tinker had dragged his passive burden. The foul green pond near Master Sancroft's hostel reflected the glare of torches; six of the tymbesteres, leaping and wheeling, with doggerel song and discordant music, gave the signal for the ordeal of the witch,—
"Lake or river, dyke or ditch, Water never drowns the witch. Witch or wizard would ye know? Sink or swim, is ay or no. Lift her, swing her, once and twice, Lift her, swing her o'er the brim,— Lille—lera—twice and thrice Ha! ha! mother, sink or swim!"
And while the last line was chanted, amidst the full jollity of laughter and clamour and clattering timbrels, there was a splash in the sullen water; the green slough on the surface parted with an oozing gurgle, and then came a dead silence.
"A murrain on the hag! she does not even struggle!" said, at last, the hump-backed tinker.
"No,—no! she cares not for water. Try fire! Out with her! out!" cried Red Grisell.
"Aroint her! she is sullen!" said the tinker, as his lean fingers clutched up the dead body, and let it fall upon the margin. "Dead!" said the baker, shuddering; "we have done wrong,—I told ye so! She dealt with me many a year. Poor Madge! Right's right. She was no witch!"
"But that was the only way to try it," said the humpbacked tinker; "and if she was not a witch, why did she look like one? I cannot abide ugly folks!"
The bystanders shook their heads. But whatever their remorse, it was diverted by a double sound: first, a loud hurrah from some of the mob who had loitered for pillage, and who now emerged from Adam's house, following two men, who, preceded by the terrible Graul, dancing before them, and tossing aloft her timbrel, bore in triumph the captured Eureka; and, secondly, the blast of a clarion at the distance, while up the street marched—horse and foot, with pike and banner—a goodly troop. The Lord Hastings in person led a royal force, by a night march, against a fresh outbreak of the rebels, not ten miles from the city, under Sir Geoffrey Gates, who had been lately arrested by the Lord Howard at Southampton, escaped, collected a disorderly body of such restless men as are always disposed to take part in civil commotion, and now menaced London itself. At the sound of the clarion the valiant mob dispersed in all directions, for even at that day mobs had an instinct of terror at the approach of the military, and a quick reaction from outrage to the fear of retaliation.
But, at the sound of martial music, the tymbesteres silenced their own instruments, and instead of flying, they darted through the crowd, each to seek the other, and unite as for counsel. Graul, pointing to Mr. Sancroft's hostelry, whispered the bearers of the Eureka to seek refuge there for the present, and to bear their trophy with the dawn to Friar Bungey at the Tower; and then, gliding nimbly through the fugitive rioters, sprang into the centre of the circle formed by her companions.
"Ye scent the coming battle?" said the arch-tymbestere.
"Ay, ay, ay!" answered the sisterhood.
"But we have gone miles since noon,—I am faint and weary!" said one amongst them.
Red Grisell, the youngest of the band, struck her comrade on the cheek—"Faint and weary, ronion, with blood and booty in the wind!"
The tymbesteres smiled grimly on their young sister; but the leader whispered "Hush!" and they stood for a second or two with outstretched throats, with dilated nostrils, with pent breath, listening to the clarion and the hoofs and the rattling armour, the human vultures foretasting their feast of carnage; then, obedient to a sign from their chieftainess, they crept lightly and rapidly into the mouth of a neighbouring alley, where they cowered by the squalid huts, concealed. The troop passed on,—a gallant and serried band, horse and foot, about fifteen hundred men. As they filed up the thoroughfare, and the tramp of the last soldiers fell hollow on the starlit ground, the tymbesteres stole from their retreat, and, at the distance of some few hundred yards, followed the procession, with long, silent, stealthy strides,—as the meaner beasts, in the instinct of hungry cunning, follow the lion for the garbage of his prey.
CHAPTER V. THE FUGITIVES ARE CAPTURED—THE TYMBESTERES REAPPEAR—MOONLIGHT ON THE REVEL OF THE LIVING—MOONLIGHT ON THE SLUMBER OF THE DEAD.
The father and child made their resting-place under the giant oak. They knew not whither to fly for refuge; the day and the night had become the same to them,—the night menaced with robbers, the day with the mob. If return to their home was forbidden, where in the wide world a shelter for the would-be world-improver? Yet they despaired not, their hearts failed them not. The majestic splendour of the night, as it deepened in its solemn calm; as the shadows of the windless trees fell larger and sharper upon the silvery earth; as the skies grew mellower and more luminous in the strengthening starlight, inspired them with the serenity of faith,—for night, to the earnest soul, opens the Bible of the universe, and on the leaves of Heaven is written, "God is everywhere."
Their hands were clasped each in each, their pale faces were upturned; they spoke not, neither were they conscious that they prayed, but their silence was thought, and the thought was worship.
Amidst the grief and solitude of the pure, there comes, at times, a strange and rapt serenity,—a sleep-awake,—over which the instinct of life beyond the grave glides like a noiseless dream; and ever that heaven that the soul yearns for is coloured by the fancies of the fond human heart, each fashioning the above from the desires unsatisfied below.
"There," thought the musing maiden, "cruelty and strife shall cease; there, vanish the harsh differences of life; there, those whom we have loved and lost are found, and through the Son, who tasted of mortal sorrow, we are raised to the home of the Eternal Father!"
"And there," thought the aspiring sage, "the mind, dungeoned and chained below, rushes free into the realms of space; there, from every mystery falls the veil; there, the Omniscient smiles on those who, through the darkness of life, have fed that lamp, the soul; there, Thought, but the seed on earth, bursts into the flower and ripens to the fruit!"
And on the several hope of both maid and sage the eyes of the angel stars smiled with a common promise.
At last, insensibly, and while still musing, so that slumber but continued the revery into visions, father and daughter slept.
The night passed away; the dawn came slow and gray; the antlers of the deer stirred above the fern; the song of the nightingale was hushed; and just as the morning star waned back, while the reddening east announced the sun, and labour and trouble resumed their realm of day, a fierce band halted before those sleeping forms.
These men had been Lancastrian soldiers, and, reduced to plunder for a living, had, under Sir Geoffrey Gates, formed the most stalwart part of the wild, disorderly force whom Hilyard and Coniers had led to Olney. They had heard of the new outbreak, headed by their ancient captain, Sir Geoffrey (who was supposed to have been instigated to his revolt by the gold and promises of the Lancastrian chiefs), and were on their way to join the rebels; but as war for them was but the name for booty, they felt the wonted instinct of the robber, when they caught sight of the old man and the fair maid.
Both Adam and his daughter wore, unhappily, the dresses in which they had left the court, and Sibyll's especially was that which seemed to betoken a certain rank and station.
"Awake, rouse ye!" said the captain of the band, roughly shaking the arm which encircled Sibyll's slender waist. Adam started, opened his eyes, and saw himself begirt by figures in rusty armour, with savage faces peering under their steel sallets.
"How came you hither? Yon oak drops strange acorns," quoth the chief.
"Valiant sir," replied Adam, still seated, and drawing his gown instinctively over Sibyll's face, which nestled on his bosom, in slumber so deep and heavy, that the gruff voice had not broken it, "valiant sir! we are forlorn and houseless, an old man and a simple girl. Some evil-minded persons invaded our home; we fled in the night, and—"
"Invaded your house! ha, it is clear," said the chief. "We know the rest."
At this moment Sibyll woke, and starting to her feet in astonishment and terror at the sight on which her eyes opened, her extreme beauty made a sensible effect upon the bravoes.
"Do not be daunted, young demoiselle," said the captain, with an air almost respectful; "it is necessary thou and Sir John should follow us, but we will treat you well, and consult later on the ransom ye will pay us. Jock, discharge the young sumpter mule; put its load on the black one. We have no better equipment for thee, lady; but the first haquenee we find shall replace the mule, and meanwhile my knaves will heap their cloaks for a pillion."
"But what mean you?—you mistake us!" exclaimed Sibyll. "We are poor; we cannot ransom ourselves."
"Poor!—tut!" said the captain, pointing significantly to the costly robe of the maiden—"moreover his worship's wealth is well known. Mount in haste,—we are pressed." And without heeding the expostulations of Sibyll and the poor scholar, the rebel put his troop into motion, and marched himself at their head, with his lieutenant.
Sibyll found the subalterns sterner than their chief; for as Warner offered to resist, one of them lifted his gisarme, with a frightful oath, and Sibyll was the first to persuade her father to submit. She mildly, however, rejected the mule, and the two captives walked together in the midst of the troop.
"Pardie!" said the lieutenant, "I see little help to Sir Geoffrey in these recruits, captain!"
"Fool!" said the chief, disdainfully, "if the rebellion fail, these prisoners may save our necks. Will Somers last night was to break into the house of Sir John Bourchier, for arms and moneys, of which the knight hath a goodly store. Be sure, Sir John slinked off in the siege, and this is he and his daughter. Thou knowest he is one of the greatest knights, and the richest, whom the Yorkists boast of; and we may name our own price for his ransom."
"But where lodge them while we go to the battle?"
"Ned Porpustone hath a hostelry not far from the camp, and Ned is a good Lancastrian, and a man to be trusted."
"We have not searched the prisoners," said the lieutenant; "they may have some gold in their pouches."
"Marry, when Will Somers storms a hive, little time does he leave to the bees to fly away with much money. Nathless, thou mayest search the old knight, but civilly, and with gentle excuses."
"And the damsel?"
"Nay! that were unmannerly, and the milder our conduct, the larger the ransom,—when we have great folks to deal with."
The lieutenant accordingly fell back to search Adam's gipsire, which contained only a book and a file, and then rejoined his captain, without offering molestation to Sibyll.
The mistake made by the bravo was at least so far not wholly unfortunate that the notion of the high quality of the captives—for Sir John Bourchier was indeed a person of considerable station and importance (a notion favoured by the noble appearance of the scholar and the delicate and highborn air of Sibyll)—procured for them all the respect compatible with the circumstances. They had not gone far before they entered a village, through which the ruffians marched with the most perfect impunity; for it was a strange feature in those civil wars that the mass of the population, except in the northern districts, remained perfectly supine and neutral. And as the little band halted at a small inn to drink, the gossips of the village collected round them, with the same kind of indolent, careless curiosity which is now evinced in some hamlet at the halt of a stage-coach. Here the captain learned, however, some intelligence important to his objects,—namely, the night march of the troop under Lord Hastings, and the probability that the conflict was already begun. "If so," muttered the rebel, "we can see how the tide turns, before we endanger ourselves; and at the worst, our prisoners will bring something of prize-money."
While thus soliloquizing, he spied one of those cumbrous vehicles of the day called whirlicotes [Whirlicotes were in use from a very early period, but only among the great, till, in the reign of Richard II., his queen, Anne, introduced side-saddles, when the whirlicote fell out of fashion, but might be found at different hostelries on the main roads for the accommodation of the infirm or aged.] standing in the yard of the hostelry; and seizing upon it, vi et armis, in spite of all the cries and protestations of the unhappy landlord, he ordered his captives to enter, and recommenced his march.
As the band proceeded farther on their way, they were joined by fresh troops of the same class as themselves, and they pushed on gayly, till, about the hour of eight, they halted before the hostelry the captain had spoken of. It stood a little out of the high road, not very far from the village of Hadley, and the heath or chase of Gladsmore, on which was fought, some time afterwards, the battle of Barnet. It was a house of good aspect, and considerable size, for it was much frequented by all caravanserais and travellers from the North to the metropolis. The landlord, at heart a stanch Lancastrian, who had served in the French wars, and contrived, no one knew how, to save moneys in the course of an adventurous life, gave to his hostelry the appellation and sign of the Talbot, in memory of the old hero of that name; and, hiring a tract of land, joined the occupation of a farmer to the dignity of a host. The house, which was built round a spacious quadrangle, represented the double character of its owner, one side being occupied by barns and a considerable range of stabling, while cows, oxen, and ragged colts grouped amicably together in a space railed off in the centre of the yard. At another side ran a large wooden staircase, with an open gallery, propped on wooden columns, conducting to numerous chambers, after the fashion of the Tabard in Southwark, immortalized by Chaucer. Over the archway, on entrance, ran a labyrinth of sleeping lofts for foot passengers and muleteers; and the side facing the entrance was nearly occupied by a vast kitchen, the common hall, and the bar, with the private parlour of the host, and two or three chambers in the second story. The whirlicote jolted and rattled into the yard. Sibyll and her father were assisted out of the vehicle, and, after a few words interchanged with the host, conducted by Master Porpustone himself up the spacious stairs into a chamber, well furnished and fresh littered, with repeated assurances of safety, provided they maintained silence, and attempted no escape.
"Ye are in time," said Ned Porpustone to the captain. "Lord Hastings made proclamation at daybreak that he gave the rebels two hours to disperse."
"Pest! I like not those proclamations. And the fellows stood their ground?"
"No; for Sir Geoffrey, like a wise soldier, mended the ground by retreating a mile to the left, and placing the wood between the Yorkists and himself. Hastings, by this, must have remarshalled his men. But to pass the wood is slow work, and Sir Geoffrey's crossbows are no doubt doing damage in the covert. Come in, while your fellows snatch a morsel without; five minutes are not thrown away on filling their bellies."
"Thanks, Ned, thou art a good fellow; and if all else fail, why, Sir John's ransom shall pay the reckoning. Any news of bold Robin?"
"Ay, he has 'scaped with a whole skin, and gone back to the North," answered the host, leading the way to his parlour, where a flask of strong wine and some cold meat awaited his guest. "If Sir Geoffrey Gates can beat off the York troopers, tell him, from me, not to venture to London, but to fall back into the marshes. He will be welcome there, I foreguess; for every northman is either for Warwick or for Lancaster, and the two must unite now, I trow."
"But Warwick is flown!" quoth the captain.
"Tush! he has only flown as the falcon flies when he has a heron to fight with,—wheeling and soaring. Woe to the heron when the falcon swoops! But you drink not!"
"No; I must keep the head cool to-day; for Hastings is a perilous captain. Thy fist, friend! If I fall, I leave you Sir John and his girl to wipe off old scores; if we beat off the Yorkists I vow to Our Lady of Walsingham an image of wax of the weight of myself." The marauder then started up, and strode to his men, who were snatching a hasty meal on the space before the hostel. He paused a moment or so, while his host whispered,—
"Hastings was here before daybreak: but his men only got the sour beer; yours fight upon huffcap."
"Up, men! to your pikes! Dress to the right!" thundered the captain, with a sufficient pause between each sentence. "The York lozels have starved on stale beer,—shall they beat huffcap and Lancaster? Frisk and fresh-up with the Antelope banner [The antelope was one of the Lancastrian badges. The special cognizance of Henry VI. was two feathers in saltire.], and long live Henry the Sixth!"
The sound of the shout that answered this harangue shook the thin walls of the chamber in which the prisoners were confined, and they heard with joy the departing tramp of the soldiers. In a short time, Master Porpustone himself, a corpulent, burly fellow, with a face by no means unprepossessing, mounted to the chamber, accompanied by a comely housekeeper, linked to him, as scandal said, by ties less irksome than Hymen's, and both bearing ample provisions, with rich pigment and lucid clary [clary was wine clarified], which they spread with great formality on an oak table before their involuntary guest.
"Eat, your worship, eat!" cried mine host, heartily. "Eat, lady-bird,—nothing like eating to kill time and banish care. Fortune of war, Sir John,—fortune of war, never be daunted! Up to-day, down to-morrow. Come what may—York or Lancaster—still a rich man always falls on his legs. Five hundred or so to the captain; a noble or two, out of pure generosity, to Ned Porpustone (I scorn extortion), and you and the fair young dame may breakfast at home to-morrow, unless the captain or his favourite lieutenant is taken prisoner; and then, you see, they will buy off their necks by letting you out of the bag. Eat, I say,—eat!"
"Verily," said Adam, seating himself solemnly, and preparing to obey, "I confess I'm a hungered, and the pasty hath a savoury odour; but I pray thee to tell me why I am called Sir John. Adam is my baptismal name."
"Ha! ha! good—very good, your honour—to be sure, and your father's name before you. We are all sons of Adam, and every son, I trow, has a just right and a lawful to his father's name."
With that, followed by the housekeeper, the honest landlord, chuckling heartily, rolled his goodly bulk from the chamber, which he carefully locked.
"Comprehendest thou yet, Sibyll?"
"Yes, dear sir and father, they mistake us for fugitives of mark and importance; and when they discover their error, no doubt we shall go free. Courage, dear father!"
"Me seemeth," quoth Adam, almost merrily, as the good man filled his cup from the wine flagon, "me seemeth that, if the mistake could continue, it would be no weighty misfortune; ha! ha!" He stopped abruptly in the unwonted laughter, put down the cup; his face fell. "Ah, Heaven forgive me!—and the poor Eureka and faithful Madge!"
"Oh, Father! fear not; we are not without protection. Lord Hastings is returned to London,—we will seek him; he will make our cruel neighbours respect thee. And Madge—poor Madge!—will be so happy at our return, for they could not harm her,—a woman, old and alone; no, no, man is not fierce enough for that."
"Let us so pray; but thou eatest not, child."
"Anon, Father, anon; I am sick and weary. But, nay—nay, I am better now,—better. Smile again, Father. I am hungered, too; yes, indeed and in sooth, yes. Ah, sweet Saint Mary, give me life and strength, and hope and patience, for his dear sake!"
The stirring events which had within the last few weeks diversified the quiet life of the scholar had somewhat roused him from his wonted abstraction, and made the actual world a more sensible and living thing than it had hitherto seemed to his mind; but now, his repast ended, the quiet of the place (for the inn was silent and almost deserted) with the fumes of the wine—a luxury he rarely tasted—operated soothingly upon his thought and fancy, and plunged him into those reveries, so dear alike to poet and mathematician. To the thinker the most trifling external object often suggests ideas, which, like Homer's chain, extend, link after link; from earth to heaven. The sunny motes, that in a glancing column came through the lattice, called Warner from the real day,—the day of strife and blood, with thousands hard by driving each other to the Hades,—and led his scheming fancy into the ideal and abstract day,—the theory of light itself; and the theory suggested mechanism, and mechanism called up the memory of his oracle, old Roger Bacon; and that memory revived the great friar's hints in the Opus magnus,—hints which outlined the grand invention of the telescope; and so, as over some dismal precipice a bird swings itself to and fro upon the airy bough, the schoolman's mind played with its quivering fancy, and folded its calm wings above the verge of terror.
Occupied with her own dreams, Sibyll respected those of her father; and so in silence, not altogether mournful, the morning and the noon passed, and the sun was sloping westward, when a confused sound below called Sibyll's gaze to the lattice, which looked over the balustrade of the staircase into the vast yard. She saw several armed men, their harness hewed and battered, quaffing ale or wine in haste, and heard one of them say to the landlord,—
"All is lost! Sir Geoffrey Gates still holds out, but it is butcher work. The troops of Lord Hastings gather round him as a net round the fish!"
Hastings!—that name!—he was at hand! he was near! they would be saved! Sibyll's heart beat loudly.
"And the captain?" asked Porpustone.
"Alive, when I last saw him; but we must be off. In another hour all will be hurry and skurry, flight and chase." At this moment from one of the barns there emerged, one by one, the female vultures of the battle. The tymbesteres, who had tramped all night to the spot, had slept off their fatigue during the day, and appeared on the scene as the neighbouring strife waxed low, and the dead and dying began to cumber the gory ground. Graul Skellet, tossing up her timbrel, darted to the fugitives and grinned a ghastly grin when she heard the news,—for the tymbesteres were all loyal to a king who loved women, and who had a wink and a jest for every tramping wench! The troopers tarried not, however, for further converse, but, having satisfied their thirst, hurried and clattered from the yard. At the sight of the ominous tymbesteres Sibyll had drawn back, without daring to close the lattice she had opened; and the women, seating themselves on a bench, began sleeking their long hair and smoothing their garments from the scraps of straw and litter which betokened the nature of their resting-place.
"Ho, girls!" said the fat landlord, "ye will pay me for board and bed, I trust, by a show of your craft. I have two right worshipful lodgers up yonder, whose lattice looks on the yard, and whom ye may serve to divert."
Sibyll trembled, and crept to her father's side.
"And," continued the landlord, "if they like the clash of your musicals, it may bring ye a groat or so, to help ye on your journey. By the way, whither wend ye, wenches?"
"To a bonny, jolly fair," answered the sinister voice of Graul,—
"Where a mighty SHOWMAN dyes The greenery into red; Where, presto! at the word Lies his Fool without a head; Where he gathers in the crowd To the trumpet and the drum, With a jingle and a tinkle, Graul's merry lasses come!"
As the two closing lines were caught by the rest of the tymbesteres, striking their timbrels, the crew formed themselves into a semicircle, and commenced their dance. Their movements, though wanton and fantastic, were not without a certain wild grace; and the address with which, from time to time, they cast up their instruments and caught them in descending, joined to the surprising agility with which, in the evolutions of the dance, one seemed now to chase, now to fly from, the other, darting to and fro through the ranks of her companions, winding and wheeling,—the chain now seemingly broken in disorder, now united link to link, as the whole force of the instruments clashed in chorus,—made an exhibition inexpressibly attractive to the vulgar.
The tymbesteres, however, as may well be supposed, failed to draw Sibyll or Warner to the window; and they exchanged glances of spite and disappointment.
"Marry," quoth the landlord, after a hearty laugh at the diversion, "I do wrong to be so gay, when so many good friends perhaps are lying stark and cold. But what then? Life is short,—laugh while we can!"
"Hist!" whispered his housekeeper; "art wode, Ned? Wouldst thou have it discovered that thou hast such quality birds in the cage—noble Yorkists—at the very time when Lord Hastings himself may be riding this way after the victory?"
"Always right, Meg,—and I'm an ass!" answered the host, in the same undertone. "But my good nature will be the death of me some day. Poor gentlefolks, they must be unked dull, yonder!"
"If the Yorkists come hither,—which we shall soon know by the scouts,—we must shift Sir John and the damsel to the back of the house, over thy tap-room."
"Manage it as thou wilt, Meg; but thou seest they keep quiet and snug. Ho, ho, ho! that tall tymbestere is supple enough to make an owl hold his sides with laughing. Ah! hollo, there, tymbesteres, ribaudes, tramps, the devil's chickens,—down, down!"
The host was too late in his order. With a sudden spring, Graul, who had long fixed her eye on the open lattice of the prisoners, had wreathed herself round one of the pillars that supported the stairs, swung lightly over the balustrade; and with a faint shriek the startled Sibyll beheld the tymbestere's hard, fierce eyes, glaring upon her through the lattice, as her long arm extended the timbrel for largess. But no sooner had Sibyll raised her face than she was recognized.
"Ho, the wizard and the wizard's daughter! Ho, the girl who glamours lords, and wears sarcenet and lawn! Ho, the nigromancer who starves the poor!"
At the sound of their leader's cry, up sprang, up climbed the hellish sisters! One after the other, they darted through the lattice into the chamber.
"The ronions! the foul fiend has distraught them!" groaned the landlord, motionless with astonishment; but the more active Meg, calling to the varlets and scullions, whom the tymbesteres had collected in the yard, to follow her, bounded up the stairs, unlocked the door, and arrived in time to throw herself between the captives and the harpies, whom Sibyll's rich super-tunic and Adam's costly gown had inflamed into all the rage of appropriation.
"What mean ye, wretches?" cried the bold Meg, purple with anger. "Do ye come for this into honest folk's hostelries, to rob their guests in broad day—noble guests—guests of mark! Oh, Sir John! Sir John! what will ye think of us?"
"Oh, Sir John! Sir John!" groaned the landlord, who had now moved his slow bulk into the room. "They shall be scourged, Sir John! They shall be put in the stocks, they shall be brent with hot iron, they—"
"Ha, ha!" interrupted the terrible Graul, "guests of mark! noble guests, trow ye! Adam Warner, the wizard, and his daughter, whom we drove last night from their den, as many a time, sisters, and many, we have driven the rats from charnel and cave."
"Wizard! Adam! Blood of my life!" stammered the landlord, "is his name Adam after all?"
"My name is Adam Warner," said the old man, with dignity, "no wizard—a humble scholar, and a poor gentleman, who has injured no one. Wherefore, women—if women ye are—would ye injure mine and me?"
"Faugh, wizard!" returned Graul, folding her arms. "Didst thou not send thy spawn, yonder, to spoil our mart with her gittern? Hast thou not taught her the spells to win love from the noble and young? Ho, how daintily the young witch robes herself! Ho, laces and satins, and we shiver with the cold, and parch with the heat—and—doff thy tunic, minion!"
And Graul's fierce gripe was on the robe, when the landlord interposed his huge arm, and held her at bay.
"Softly, my sucking dove, softly! Clear the room and be off!"
"Look to thyself, man. If thou harbourest a wizard against law,—a wizard whom King Edward hath given up to the people,—look to thy barns,—they shall burn; look to thy cattle,—they shall rot; look to thy secrets,—they shall be told. Lancastrian, thou shalt hang! We go! we go! We have friends amongst the mailed men of York. We go,—we will return! Woe to thee, if thou harbourest the wizard and the succuba!"
With that Graul moved slowly to the door. Host and housekeeper, varlet, groom, and scullion made way for her in terror; and still, as she moved, she kept her eyes on Sibyll, till her sisters, following in successive file, shut out the hideous aspect: and Meg, ordering away her gaping train, closed the door.
The host and the housekeeper then gazed gravely at each other. Sibyll lay in her father's arms breathing hard and convulsively. The old man's face bent over her in silence. Meg drew aside her master. "You must rid the house at once of these folks. I have heard talk of yon tymbesteres; they are awsome in spite and malice. Every man to himself!"
"But the poor old gentleman, so mild, and the maid, so winsome!"
The last remark did not over-please the comely Meg. She advanced at once to Adam, and said shortly,—
"Master, whether wizard or not is no affair of a poor landlord, whose house is open to all; but ye have had food and wine,—please to pay the reckoning, and God speed ye; ye are free to depart."
"We can pay you, mistress!" exclaimed Sibyll, springing up. "We have moneys yet. Here, here!" and she took from her gipsire the broad pieces which poor Madge's precaution had placed therein, and which the bravoes had fortunately spared.
The sight of the gold somewhat softened the housewife. "Lord Hastings is known to us," continued Sibyll, perceiving the impression she had made; "suffer us to rest here till he pass this way, and ye will find yourselves repaid for the kindness."
"By my troth," said the landlord, "ye are most welcome to all my poor house containeth; and as for these tymbesteres, I value them not a straw. No one can say Ned Porpustone is an ill man or inhospitable. Whoever can pay reasonably is sure of good wine and civility at the Talbot."
With these and many similar protestations and assurances, which were less heartily re-echoed by the housewife, the landlord begged to conduct them to an apartment not so liable to molestation; and after having led them down the principal stairs, through the bar, and thence up a narrow flight of steps, deposited them in a chamber at the back of the house, and lighted a sconce therein, for it was now near the twilight. He then insisted on seeing after their evening meal, and vanished with his assistant. The worthy pair were now of the same mind; for guests known to Lord Hastings it was worth braving the threats of the tymbesteres; especially since Lord Hastings, it seems, had just beaten the Lancastrians.
But alas! while the active Meg was busy on the hippocras, and the worthy landlord was inspecting the savoury operations of the kitchen, a vast uproar was heard without. A troop of disorderly Yorkist soldiers, who had been employed in dispersing the flying rebels, rushed helter-skelter into the house, and poured into the kitchen, bearing with them the detested tymbesteres, who had encountered them on their way. Among these soldiers were those who had congregated at Master Sancroft's the day before, and they were well prepared to support the cause of their griesly paramours. Lord Hastings himself had retired for the night to a farmhouse nearer the field of battle than the hostel; and as in those days discipline was lax enough after a victory, the soldiers had a right to license. Master Porpustone found himself completely at the mercy of these brawling customers, the more rude and disorderly from the remembrance of the sour beer in the morning, and Graul Skellet's assurances that Master Porpustone was a malignant Lancastrian. They laid hands on all the provisions in the house, tore the meats from the spit, devouring them half raw; set the casks running over the floors; and while they swilled and swore, and filled the place with the uproar of a hell broke loose, Graul Skellet, whom the lust for the rich garments of Sibyll still fired and stung, led her followers up the stairs towards the deserted chamber. Mine host perceived, but did not dare openly to resist the foray; but as he was really a good-natured knave, and as, moreover, he feared ill consequences might ensue if any friends of Lord Hastings were spoiled, outraged,—nay, peradventure murdered,—in his house, he resolved, at all events, to assist the escape of his guests. Seeing the ground thus clear of the tymbesteres, he therefore stole from the riotous scene, crept up the back stairs, gained the chamber to which he had so happily removed his persecuted lodgers, and making them, in a few words, sensible that he was no longer able to protect them, and that the tymbesteres were now returned with an armed force to back their malice, conducted them safely to a wide casement only some three or four feet from the soil of the solitary garden, and bade them escape and save themselves.
"The farm," he whispered, "where they say my Lord Hastings is quartered is scarcely a mile and a half away; pass the garden wicket, leave Gladsmore Chase to the left hand, take the path to the right, through the wood, and you will see its roof among the apple-blossoms. Our Lady protect you, and say a word to my lord on behalf of poor Ned."
Scarce had he seen his guests descend into the garden before he heard the yell of the tymbesteres, in the opposite part of the house, as they ran from room to room after their prey. He hastened to regain the kitchen; and presently the tymbesteres, breathless and panting, rushed in, and demanded their victims.
"Marry," quoth the landlord, with the self-possession of a cunning old soldier-"think ye I cumbered my house with such cattle after pretty lasses like you had given me the inkling of what they were? No wizard shall fly away with the sign of the Talbot, if I can help it. They skulked off I can promise ye, and did not even mount a couple of broomsticks which I handsomely offered for their ride up to London."
"Thunder and bombards!" cried a trooper, already half-drunk, and seizing Graul in his iron arms, "put the conjuror out of thine head now, and buss me, Graul, buss me!"
Then the riot became hideous; the soldiers, following their comrade's example, embraced the grim glee-women, tearing and hauling them to and fro, one from the other, round and round, dancing, hallooing, chanting, howling, by the blaze of a mighty fire,—many a rough face and hard hand smeared with blood still wet, communicating the stain to the cheeks and garb of those foul feres, and the whole revel becoming so unutterably horrible and ghastly, that even the veteran landlord fled from the spot, trembling and crossing himself. And so, streaming athwart the lattice, and silvering over that fearful merry-making, rose the moon.
But when fatigue and drunkenness had done their work, and the soldiers fell one over the other upon the floor, the tables, the benches, into the heavy sleep of riot, Graul suddenly rose from amidst the huddled bodies, and then, silently as ghouls from a burial-ground, her sisters emerged also from their resting-places beside the sleepers. The dying light of the fire contended but feebly with the livid rays of the moon, and played fantastically over the gleaming robes of the tymbesteres. They stood erect for a moment, listening, Graul with her finger on her lips; then they glided to the door, opened and reclosed it, darted across the yard, scaring the beasts that slept there; the watch-dog barked, but drew back, bristling, and showing his fangs, as Red Grisell, undaunted, pointed her knife, and Graul flung him a red peace-sop of meat. They launched themselves through the open entrance, gained the space beyond, and scoured away to the battlefield.
Meanwhile, Sibyll and her father were still under the canopy of heaven, they had scarcely passed the garden and entered the fields, when they saw horsemen riding to and fro in all directions. Sir Geoffrey Gates, the rebel leader, had escaped; the reward of three hundred marks was set on his head, and the riders were in search of the fugitive. The human form itself had become a terror to the hunted outcasts; they crept under a thick hedge till the horsemen had disappeared, and then resumed their way. They gained the wood; but there again they halted at the sound of voices, and withdrew themselves under covert of some entangled and trampled bushes. This time it was but a party of peasants, whom curiosity had led to see the field of battle, and who were now returning home. Peasants and soldiers both were human, and therefore to be shunned by those whom the age itself put out of the pale of law. At last the party also left the path free; and now it was full night. They pursued their way, they cleared the wood; before them lay the field of battle; and a deeper silence seemed to fall over the world! The first stars had risen, but not yet the moon. The gleam of armour from prostrate bodies, which it had mailed in vain, reflected the quiet rays; here and there flickered watchfires, where sentinels were set, but they were scattered and remote. The outcasts paused and shuddered, but there seemed no holier way for their feet; and the roof of the farmer's homestead slept on the opposite side of the field, amidst white orchard blossoms, whitened still more by the stars. They went on, hand in hand,—the dead, after all, were less terrible than the living. Sometimes a stern, upturned face, distorted by the last violent agony, the eyes unclosed and glazed, encountered them with its stony stare; but the weapon was powerless in the stiff hand, the menace and the insult came not from the hueless lips; persecution reposed, at last, in the lap of slaughter. They had gone midway through the field, when they heard from a spot where the corpses lay thickest piled, a faint voice calling upon God for pardon; and, suddenly, it was answered by a tone of fiercer agony,—that did not pray, but curse.
By a common impulse, the gentle wanderers moved silently to the spot.
The sufferer in prayer was a youth scarcely passed from boyhood: his helm had been cloven, his head was bare, and his long light hair, clotted with gore, fell over his shoulders. Beside him lay a strong-built, powerful form, which writhed in torture, pierced under the arm by a Yorkist arrow, and the shaft still projecting from the wound,—and the man's curse answered the boy's prayer.
"Peace to thy parting soul, brother!" said Warner, bending over the man.
"Poor sufferer!" said Sibyll to the boy; "cheer thee, we will send succour; thou mayest live yet!"
"Water! water!—hell and torture!—water, I say!" groaned the man; "one drop of water!"
It was the captain of the maurauders who had captured the wanderers.
"Thine arm! lift me! move me! That evil man scares my soul from heaven!" gasped the boy.
And Adam preached penitence to the one that cursed, and Sibyll knelt down and prayed with the one that prayed. And up rose the moon!
Lord Hastings sat with his victorious captains—over mead, morat, and wine—in the humble hall of the farm.
"So," said he, "we have crushed the last embers of the rebellion! This Sir Geoffrey Gates is a restless and resolute spirit; pity he escapes again for further mischief. But the House of Nevile, that overshadowed the rising race, hath fallen at last,—a waisall, brave sirs, to the new men!"
The door was thrown open, and an old soldier entered abruptly.
"My lord! my lord! Oh, my poor son! he cannot be found! The women, who ever follow the march of soldiers, will be on the ground to despatch the wounded, that they may rifle the corpses! O God! if my son, my boy, my only son—"
"I wist not, my brave Mervil, that thou hadst a son in our bands; yet I know each man by name and sight. Courage! Our wounded have been removed, and sentries are placed to guard the field."
"Sentries! O my lord, knowest thou not that they wink at the crime that plunders the dead? Moreover, these corpse-riflers creep stealthily and unseen, as the red earth-worms, to the carcass. Give me some few of thy men, give me warrant to search the field! My son, my boy—not sixteen summers—and his mother!"
The man stopped, and sobbed.
"Willingly!" said the gentle Hastings, "willingly! And woe to the sentries if it be as thou sayest! I will go myself and see! Torches there—what ho!—the good captain careth even for his dead!—Thy son! I marvel I knew him not! Whom served he under?"
"My lord! my lord! pardon him! He is but a boy—they misled him! he fought for the rebels. He crossed my path to-day, my arm was raised; we knew each other, and he fled from his father's sword! Just as the strife was ended I saw him again, I saw him fall!—Oh, mercy, mercy! do not let him perish of his wounds or by the rifler's knife, even though a rebel!"
"Homo sum!" quoth the noble chief; "I am a man; and, even in these bloody times, Nature commands when she speaks in a father's voice! Mervil, I marked thee to-day! Thou art a brave fellow. I meant thee advancement; I give thee, instead, thy son's pardon, if he lives; ten Masses if he died as a soldier's son should die, no matter under what flag,—antelope or lion, pierced manfully in the breast, his feet to the foe! Come, I will search with thee!"
The boy yielded up his soul while Sibyll prayed, and her sweet voice soothed the last pang; and the man ceased to curse while Adam spoke of God's power and mercy, and his breath ebbed, gasp upon gasp, away. While thus detained, the wanderers saw not pale, fleeting figures, that had glided to the ground, and moved, gleaming, irregular, and rapid, as marsh-fed vapours, from heap to heap of the slain. With a loud, wild cry, the robber Lancastrian half sprung to his feet, in the paroxysm of the last struggle, and then fell on his face, a corpse!
The cry reached the tymbesteres, and Graul rose from a body from which she had extracted a few coins smeared with blood, and darted to the spot; and so, as Adam raised his face from contemplating the dead, whose last moments he had sought to soothe, the Alecto of the battlefield stood before him, her knife bare in her gory arm. Red Grisell, who had just left (with a spurn of wrath—for the pouch was empty) the corpse of a soldier, round whose neck she had twined her hot clasp the day before, sprang towards Sibyll; the rest of the sisterhood flocked to the place, and laughed in glee as they beheld their unexpected prey. The danger was horrible and imminent; no pity was seen in those savage eyes. The wanderers prepared for death—when, suddenly, torches flashed over the ground. A cry was heard, "See, the riflers of the dead!" Armed men bounded forward, and the startled wretches uttered a shrill, unearthly scream, and fled from the spot, leaping over the carcasses, and doubling and winding, till they had vanished into the darkness of the wood.
"Provost!" said a commanding voice, "hang me up those sentinels at day-break!"
"My son! my boy! speak, Hal,—speak to me. He is here, he is found!" exclaimed the old soldier, kneeling beside the corpse at Sibyll's feet.
"My lord! my beloved! my Hastings!" And Sibyll fell insensible before the chief.
CHAPTER VI. THE SUBTLE CRAFT OF RICHARD OF GLOUCESTER.
It was some weeks after the defeat of Sir Geoffrey Gates, and Edward was at Shene, with his gay court. Reclined at length within a pavilion placed before a cool fountain, in the royal gardens, and surrounded by his favourites, the king listened indolently to the music of his minstrels, and sleeked the plumage of his favourite falcon, perched upon his wrist. And scarcely would it have been possible to recognize in that lazy voluptuary the dauntless soldier, before whose lance, as deer before the hound, had so lately fled, at bloody Erpingham, the chivalry of the Lancastrian Rose; but remote from the pavilion, and in one of the deserted bowling alleys, Prince Richard and Lord Montagu walked apart, in earnest conversation. The last of these noble personages had remained inactive during these disturbances, and Edward had not seemed to entertain any suspicion of his participation in the anger and revenge of Warwick. The king took from him, it is true, the lands and earldom of Northumberland, and restored them to the Percy, but he had accompanied this act with gracious excuses, alleging the necessity of conciliating the head of an illustrious House, which had formally entered into allegiance to the dynasty of York, and bestowed upon his early favourite, in compensation, the dignity of marquis. [Montagu said bitterly of this new dignity, "He takes from me the Earldom and domains of Northumberland, and makes me a Marquis, with a pie's nest to maintain it withal."—STOWE: Edward IV.—Warkworth Chronicle.] The politic king, in thus depriving Montagu of the wealth and the retainers of the Percy, reduced him, as a younger brother, to a comparative poverty and insignificance, which left him dependent on Edward's favour, and deprived him, as he thought, of the power of active mischief; at the same time more than ever he insisted on Montagu's society, and summoning his attendance at the court, kept his movements in watchful surveillance.
"Nay, my lord," said Richard, pursuing with much unction the conversation he had commenced, "you wrong me much, Holy Paul be my witness, if you doubt the deep sorrow I feel at the unhappy events which have led to the severance of my kinsmen! England seems to me to have lost its smile in losing the glory of Earl Warwick's presence, and Clarence is my brother, and was my friend; and thou knowest, Montagu, thou knowest, how dear to my heart was the hope to win for my wife and lady the gentle Anne."
"Prince," said Montagu, abruptly, "though the pride of Warwick and the honour of our House may have forbidden the public revelation of the cause which fired my brother to rebellion, thou, at least, art privy to a secret—"
"Cease!" exclaimed Richard, in great emotion, probably sincere, for his face grew livid, and its muscles were nervously convulsed. "I would not have that remembrance stirred from its dark repose. I would fain forget a brother's hasty frenzy, in the belief of his lasting penitence." He paused and turned his face, gasped for breath, and resumed: "The cause justified the father; it had justified me in the father's cause, had Warwick listened to my suit, and given me the right to deem insult to his daughter injury to myself."
"And if, my prince," returned Montagu, looking round him, and in a subdued whisper, "if yet the hand of Lady Anne were pledged to you?"
"Tempt me not, tempt me not!" cried the prince, crossing himself. Montagu continued,—
"Our cause, I mean Lord Warwick's cause, is not lost, as the king deems it."
"Proceed," said Richard, casting down his eyes, while his countenance settled back into its thoughtful calm.
"I mean," renewed Montagu, "that in my brother's flight, his retainers were taken by surprise. In vain the king would confiscate his lands,—he cannot confiscate men's hearts. If Warwick to-morrow set his armed heel upon the soil, trowest thou, sagacious and clear-judging prince, that the strife which would follow would be but another field of Losecote? [The battle of Erpingham, so popularly called, in contempt of the rebel lions runaways.] Thou hast heard of the honours with which King Louis has received the earl. Will that king grudge him ships and moneys? And meanwhile, thinkest thou that his favourers sleep?"
"But if he land, Montagu," said Richard, who seemed to listen with an attention that awoke all the hopes of Montagu, coveting so powerful an ally—"if he land, and make open war on Edward—we must say the word boldly—what intent can he proclaim? It is not enough to say King Edward shall not reign; the earl must say also what king England should elect!"
"Prince," answered Montagu, "before I reply to that question, vouchsafe to hear my own hearty desire and wish. Though the king has deeply wronged my brother, though he has despoiled me of the lands, which were, peradventure, not too large a reward for twenty victories in his cause, and restored them to the House that ever ranked amongst the strongholds of his Lancastrian foe, yet often when I am most resentful, the memory of my royal seigneur's past love and kindness comes over me,—above all, the thought of the solemn contract between his daughter and my son; and I feel (now the first heat of natural anger at an insult offered to my niece is somewhat cooled) that if Warwick did land, I could almost forget my brother for my king."
"Almost!" repeated Richard, smiling.
"I am plain with your Highness, and say but what I feel. I would even now fain trust that, by your mediation, the king may be persuaded to make such concessions and excuses as in truth would not misbeseem him, to the father of Lady Anne, and his own kinsman; and that yet, ere it be too late, I may be spared the bitter choice between the ties of blood and my allegiance to the king."
"But failing this hope (which I devoutly share),—and Edward, it must be owned, could scarcely trust to a letter,—still less to a messenger, the confession of a crime,—failing this, and your brother land, and I side with him for love of Anne, pledged to me as a bride,—what king would he ask England to elect?"
"The Duke of Clarence loves you dearly, Lord Richard," replied Montagu. "Knowest thou not how often he hath said, 'By sweet Saint George, if Gloucester would join me, I would make Edward know we were all one man's sons, who should be more preferred and promoted than strangers of his wife's blood?'" [Hall.]
Richard's countenance for a moment evinced disappointment; but he said dryly: "Then Warwick would propose that Clarence should be king?—and the great barons and the honest burghers and the sturdy yeomen would, you think, not stand aghast at the manifesto which declares, not that the dynasty of York is corrupt and faulty, but that the younger son should depose the elder,—that younger son, mark me! not only unknown in war and green in council, but gay, giddy, vacillating; not subtle of wit and resolute of deed, as he who so aspires should be!—Montagu, a vain dream!"—Richard paused and then resumed, in a low tone, as to himself, "Oh, not so—not so are kings cozened from their thrones! a pretext must blind men,—say they are illegitimate, say they are too young, too feeble, too anything, glide into their place, and then, not war—not war. You slay them not,—they disappear!" The duke's face, as he muttered, took a sinister and a dark expression, his eyes seemed to gaze on space. Suddenly recovering himself as from a revery, he turned, with his wonted sleek and gracious aspect, to the startled Montagu, and said, "I was but quoting from Italian history, good my lord,—wise lore, but terrible and murderous. Return we to the point. Thou seest Clarence could not reign, and as well," added the prince, with a slight sigh,—"as well or better (for, without vanity, I have more of a king's mettle in me), might I—even I—aspire to my brother's crown!" Here he paused, and glanced rapidly and keenly at the marquis; but whether or not in these words he had sought to sound Montagu, and that glance sufficed to show him it were bootless or dangerous to speak more plainly, he resumed with an altered voice, "Enough of this: Warwick will discover the idleness of such design; and if he land, his trumpets must ring to a more kindling measure. John Montagu, thinkest thou that Margaret of Anjou and the Lancastrians will not rather win thy brother to their side? There is the true danger to Edward,—none elsewhere."