The place they had chosen for their conference was secluded from general observation, and their low and heavy speech was concealed from the prying sentinels above by the hoarse and impetuous voice of the retiring waves. Not many paces distant was the inlet to a subterraneous passage, supposed to lead under the deepest foundations of the castle; but its termination was now a mystery, at any rate, to the present occupiers and inhabitants of the place. Many strange and horrible stories were told and believed, of its uses and destination in times past. Being burdened with a bad name—"some uncleansed murder stuck to it"—the place ran little risk of disturbance or intruders. When the tides ran high this outlet was inaccessible, being partly flooded by the sea. From neglect and disuse an accumulation of sand and pebbles, washed by the violence of the waves into the cavity, was deposited there, so that the entrance, which, according to tradition was once wide and sufficiently lofty for a person to walk upright, was now dwindled into a narrow and insignificant-looking hole, scarcely big enough to admit an urchin.
"Thee hasna seen it thysel', then?" said one of the fishermen to his companion.
"Nea; I waur it' hoose man when it cam'; but"—the speaker looked wistfully towards the dark entrance we have named,—"but I'se sure Dick wouldna seay sae if"——
"Dick's a starin' gowk, and a coward too. I'se warrant there waur plenty o' room 'twixt his carcase and the wa'. That I'd bin there i'stead! There shouldn't ha' bin room to cram a herrin' tail atween me an' the ghost's substance. I would ha' hedged him up thus, an' then master ghost, taken aback, says, 'Friend, by yere sweet leave I would pass;' but I make out elbows, and arms this'n, facing till him so. Help! murder!"
This sudden change in the voice and attitude of the speaker, this sudden exhalation of his courage, unfortunately arose from the parties having, in the heat and interest of the discourse, turned their backs to the haunted entrance, and, so intent was Davy in accommodating the action to the valiant tenor of his speech, that it was only on turning round, for the purpose of showing to his companion the way in which he would have disputed a passage with the ghost, that he was aware for the first time of the presence of that terrible thing, and within a very few inches too of his own person. They stayed not for any further exemplification of this theory of ghost-laying, but in an instant were beyond observation, bounding over the beach, nor once looking behind them until safe in their little hut, and the door fastened against the fearful intruder. Davy, being foremost in the race, sat down, followed by his companion George, who, maugre his great apprehensions, could not forbear laughing heartily at the sudden melting away of the big-mouthed valour of this cowardly boaster.
"Praised be our lady of Furness," said the merry taunter, with many interruptions from laughter and want of breath; "thy heels are as glib as thy tongue: for which—oh, oh! I am breathed—blown—dispossessed of my birthright, free quaffing o' the air. Ha, ha! I cannot laugh. Oh! what a mouth didst thou make at old blacksleeves. Gaping so, I wonder he mistook not thy muzzle for one of the vents into his old quarters. A pretty gull thee be'st, to swallow yon black porpoise."
"I tell thee, messmate," returned the other, gravely, "thou hast miss'd thy tack. It waur but a slip, maybe a kin' of a sudden start which took me, as they say, by the nape. I jumped back, I own—a foul accident, by which he took advantage. He comes behind me, thou sees, and with a skip 'at would have seated him upo' the topmost perch o' the castle, he lights whack, thump, fair upo' my shoulders. I ran but to shake the whoreson black slug fro' my carcase. Saints ha' mercy, but his legs waur colder than a wet sheet. I soon unshipp'd my cargo, though—I tumbled him into the sea, made a present of old blacksleeves to the fishes!"
"Thou lying chub," said George, angrily, "did not I watch thee? Why, thou cub, thou cormorant, thou maker of long lies and quick legs, didst not o'ershoot me, ay, by some fathoms? I followed hard i' thy wake, but I see'd nought of all this bull-scuddering of thine. Faith, but thou didst ply thy courses with a wet sail!"
"Go to, Geordie—go to; a juggle, I tell thee; sheer malice of the enemy, fow' an' fause as he be." Here he spat on the floor to show his detestation and contempt; but George, either too ignorant or too idle to reply, took down a dried fluke from the chimney, and warming it on the glowing turf for a few minutes, was soon occupied in disposing of this dainty and favourite repast. Their hut was of the rudest construction. The walls were of boulder stones from the beach, loosely set up with mud and slime, and in several places decidedly deviating from the perpendicular. The roof was thatched with rushes, and shaped like unto a fish's back, having a marvellous big hump in the middle, upon which grew a fair tuft of long lank herbage, while bunches of the biting yellow stone-crop clung in irregular patches of bright green verdure about the extremities. The interior was lighted by a single casement, showing an assemblage of forms the most homely and primitive in their construction. The floor, paved with blue pebbles; the fireplace, a huge hearth-flag merely, on which lay a heap of glowing turf, an iron pot depending from a crook above. The smoke, curling lazily through a raft of fish drying a few feet above the flame, and acquiring the requisite flavour, with considerable difficulty reached a hole in the roof, where the adverse and refractory wind not unfrequently disputed its passage, and drove it down again, to assist the colds and rheums by its stimulating propensities. A broken chair, a three-legged stool, and a table with no greater number of supporters, a truckle-bed, and an accumulation of nets, oars, and broken implements of the like nature, were the usual deposits about the chamber. The two fishermen were partners in their gainful trade, and not having tasted the bliss of conjugal comforts, enjoyed a sort of negative good from the absence of evil, and lived a tolerably quiet and harmonious life in these outskirts of creation.
The few simple and primitive inhabitants of the island had been so bewildered and confounded by the turmoil and disorder consequent upon the invasion of their hitherto peaceful and quiet resting-place, that some half-dozen of them, for the first time in their lives, had quitted their homes; others, secure from their poverty and insignificance, still remained, though much disturbed with wonder and silly surmises, and ready to catch at any stray marvels that fell in their way. The subterraneous and half-concealed passage in the rock, or rather shale, on which the castle stands, always under the ban of some vague and silly apprehension, had been reported of late as manifesting more than equivocal symptoms of supernatural possession. Dick Empson, or long-nebbed Dick, a sort of shrewd, half-witted incarnation, it might be, of the goblin or elfin species, a runner of errands from the abbey of Furness to the castle, and a being whose pranks and propensities to mischief were well known in the neighbourhood, had affirmed, but a few hours before, that he saw a black figure on the previous night issuing from the hole; and that there was no connection or understanding between this ghostly appearance and the present occupiers of the castle, was evident from the mystery and secrecy that attended its movements. This was doubtless the phantom or goblin that, from time immemorial, had been the cause of such sinister dispositions towards the "haunted passage." Davy and his friend had unexpectedly stumbled upon its track, for they had not calculated on its appearance, at any rate before midnight.
In the Castle, Peel, or Pile of Fouldrey, on that night too, there was a mighty disturbance, not unaccompanied with vexation and alarm. It was soon after the first watch. The new-made monarch was asleep in his chamber—an ill-furnished apartment on the second floor of the main tower or keep, looking out by a narrow window towards the sea. The next, or middle chamber, was on a level, and communicating with the first landing, or principal entrance. The latter apartment, in which were the guards and others immediately about the king's person, served the purposes of an ante-room to the presence-chamber.
The room opposite—for there were three divisions on each floor—was subdivided into several parts, and occupied by the Earl of Lincoln and his attendants; the rooms above being devoted to Swartz, Lovel, and Fitzgerald, with their trains. Below were the guard-rooms and offices assigned to the staff, with the war stores and munitions belonging to the expedition.
In the same chamber with the king lay his confessor and chief adviser, one Simon, a wily and ambitious priest, who was the prime agent, if not mover, in this attempt to overturn the reigning power. No other individual was suffered to remain through the night in the king's apartment.
It was about the first watch, as before mentioned, when the guards and attendants were alarmed by loud cries from the royal chamber. They hastened to the door, but it was bolted, and their apprehensions for that time were allayed by the voice of the priest assuring them that the king was safe, but that an ugly dream had awakened him. Lincoln, whom this tumult had quickly brought to the spot, retired grumbling at so unseasonable a disturbance. Scarcely had an hour elapsed ere the cries were repeated. Unsheathing his sword, the proud Earl of Lincoln marched angrily to the door, and swore a loud broad oath that he would see the king or burst open the barrier. With him came others from the rooms overhead, so that the priest was forced, however unwillingly, to open the door, and Lincoln, accompanied by his friends, beheld the young pretender in bed, pale, and with a rueful countenance, still retaining the traces of some deadly horror.
"What hath disturbed your highness? We would fain know the cause of this alarm, and punish, ay punish home, the traitor!" said Lincoln, darting a furious look at the confessor, to whom he bore no good-will.
"Nay, friends, I shall—I shall be well presently. I beseech you be not disturbed. 'Tis a dream,—a vision that hath troubled me. I thought I was in the Tower—in my prison chamber—and the tyrant came and grasped me by the throat. With that I jumped up, and as Heaven is my witness, I saw a dark figure slip through the floor by yon grim buttress, behind which is the private staircase to the summit."
Every eye was turned towards the corner of the chamber near the bed, on the outside of which a winding staircase ran up from below, but they were ignorant of any communication from these stairs into the king's chamber. Lincoln examined the buttress with his sword, and Swartz, the Fleming, with his fingers, but there was no apparent opening or crevice that could betoken any outlet or concealment. The floor was examined, and with the same result; so that they were fain to depart, little doubting that the whole was the effect of some mental disturbance.
With the morning dawn came Sir Thomas Broughton. A grand council was appointed for that day, in which the final arrangement of their plans was to be discussed. A royal banquet was prepared, and the Flemish gunners were to give a specimen of their craft from the battlements.
The forenoon came on chill and squally, with a low scud driving rapidly from the west. A drizzling rain was the result, which increased with the coming tide.
The little island was covered with tents, forming an encampment of no mean extent and appearance.
Sir Thomas, with a few attendants, after being ferried over the channel which separates the island of Fouldrey from the mainland, was conducted through avenues of tents and armed men. The Flemish soldiers, fierce and almost motionless, looked like an array of grim statues. The Irish levies, in a state of more lax discipline, were collected in merry groups, whiling away the time in thriftless and noisy discourse.
Sir Thomas Broughton, descended from an Anglo-Saxon family of great antiquity, was by virtue of this hereditary and aboriginal descent, of a proud and pompous bearing. Being allied to most of the principal families in these parts, he was won over by solicitation from the Duchess of Burgundy, as one of the confederates in her attempt to restore the line of York to the English crown. Fond of show, and careful as to his own personal appearance, he was clad in a steel coat of great beauty; this ponderous form of defence having been brought to great perfection in the preceding reign. His sword-belt was so disposed that the weapon remained in front, while a dagger was attached to the right hip. Over his armour he wore a scarlet cloak, and as he strode proudly up the avenues to the gate, he looked as though he felt that on his fiat alone depended the very existence of those he beheld. After he had passed the first drawbridge into the outer court or bayle, a band of archers, drawn up in full array, opened their ranks to receive this puissant chieftain. These were the most efficient of the troops, and partly English, having been brought from Ireland by the deputy. They were clad in shirts of chain mail, with wide sleeves, over which was a small vest of red cloth, laced in front. They had tight hose on their legs, and braces on their left arms. Behind them, and on each side, were part of the infantry, consisting of billmen and halberdiers; but the most formidable-looking soldiers were the Flemish gunners, or harquebusiers, so named from the barbarous Latin word arcusbusus, evidently derived from the Italian arcabouza—i.e., a bow with a tube or hole. It was made with a stock and trigger, in imitation of the crossbow. The match, no longer applied by the hand to the touchhole, was fixed into a cock, which was brought down to the pan by the motion of the trigger. This being at the time a recent invention, excited no little curiosity and admiration.
At the inner court, and near the main entrance to the keep, Sir Thomas was received in great state by the Earl of Lincoln, whose high, but easy and pleasant bearing, bespoke him to have been long the inmate and follower of courts, while the stiff attitudes and formal demeanour of Sir Thomas were rendered more apparent by the contrast.
"Welcome, Sir Thomas, to our court in this fair haven. Your presence, like your fidelity, hath a goodly savour in it, being always before and better than our expectation or our fears. How faireth our cousin, and our pretty dames in Furness?"
"My lord, I thank you for your good word. My poor services are repaid tenfold in their acceptance by the king," said Sir Thomas, bending, but with an ill grace, by reason of little use in that excellent art.
"Into our council-chamber, Sir Thomas, where you shall render homage to the king in person."
This council-chamber was none other than the king's bedroom, whither, with great ceremony, Sir Thomas was conducted. In this mimic court there was a marvellous show of ceremony, and a great observance of, and attention to, forms and royal usages—ridiculous enough where a few acres formed the whole of the monarch's territory, and an ugly ill-contrived castle his palace. But his followers behaved as though England's sovereignty were theirs, being well inclined to content themselves with the shadow, having little hold or enjoyment of the substance.
Before a long narrow table, near the bed, and on a high-backed oaken chair, sat the young pretender. He was dressed in a richly-embroidered gown, the sleeves wide, and hanging down from the wrists like lappets. On his head was a low cap surmounted by long waving feathers, and his manners and appearance were not devoid of grace and gentility. He displayed considerable self-possession, and wore his kingly honours with great assurance. He was of a fair and sanguine complexion, pale rather than clear, and his hair clustered in heavy ringlets on his shoulders. A rapid and somewhat uncertain motion of the eye, and his mouth not well closed, showed that although he might have been schooled to the exhibition, and could wear the outward show of firmness and decision, yet in the hour of emergency, and in the day of trial, his fortitude would in all likelihood forsake him.
At his right hand sat the priest in a white cassock and scapulary. A black hood, thrown back upon his shoulders, exhibited the form and disposition of his head to great advantage. His features were large, expressive, and commanding. The fire of a brilliant grey eye was scarcely tempered by his overhanging brows, though at times the spirit seemed to retire behind their grim shadows, to survey more securely and unobservedly the aspect and appearances without.
Swartz, the Flemish general, a blunt military chieftain, was at his side. A black bushy beard, some inches in advance of his honest good-humoured face, was placed in strong contrast with the wary, pale, and somewhat dubious aspect of the priest.
Kildare, the Irish deputy, and Lovel, with several of the senior officers and captains, were assembled round the table.
The room was lofty, lighted by a small pointed window, and contained the luxury of a fireplace, in which lay some blazing embers; a grateful and refreshing sight in that chill and ungenial atmosphere.
The needful ceremonies being gone through, Sir Thomas was honoured with a place at the board near to where it rested against the buttress before mentioned, the priest addressing him as follows:—
"My Lord Abbot of Furness, Sir Thomas, what news of him? Hath he yet signified his adherence to our cause? We hope you bring tidings of such auspicious import."
"He doth yet procrastinate, I hear, until he have news from the court," replied Sir Thomas; "yet I trust his want of zeal and obedience will not hinder our march."
"And the proud nobles of Lancashire, how stand they affected towards our good prospering?"
"Truly, they are, as one may say, neither cold nor hot; but of a moderate temperature, midway, it would seem"——
"Which is an indication of neither zeal nor obedience," said Swartz, suddenly cutting short the tedious verbosity of Sir Thomas's intended harangue. "Open enemies before lukewarm friends!"
"Prithee, general," said the priest, with a placid smile, during which his eyes seemed to shrink within their dim sockets, "be not over-hasty. We cannot reasonably hope that they should flock to our standard almost ere we unfurl it for their gathering."
"Your speech hath a reasonable property in it," replied Sir Thomas, "and, as we may say, savoureth of great judgment, which, being of an excellent nature in itself, doth thereby control and exercise, in its own capacity, the nature and excellence of all others."
This formidable issue of words was delivered with much earnestness of enunciation; but of its use or meaning, probably, the speaker was fully as ignorant as his hearers. Even at the fountain-head his ideas were sufficiently obscure, but when fairly rolling forth from the spring, they sometimes begat such a froth and turbidity in their course, that no reasonable discernment could fathom their depth or bearing.
A short silence was the result, which none, for a while, cared to disturb, lest he should betray his lack of understanding in dark sentences.
"We know your loyalty," said the king, "which hath a sufficient impress on it to pass current without scrutiny. Your example, Sir Thomas, will be of competent weight, without the casting or imposition of vain words into the scale. We acknowledge your ready zeal in our just cause."
"Your highness' grace, my liege," said Lincoln, ere Sir Thomas could gather words for a fitting reply, "doth honey your confections well. Men swallow them without wincing or wry faces."
Sir Thomas would not thus be deprived of his right to a reply; and was just commencing with a suitable attitude for the purpose, when lo! the trenchant knight, who sat on a small stool beside the corner buttress, with a loud cry, suddenly disappeared, and a gaping cavity in the floor sufficiently accounted for the precipitate mode of his departure. Uprising on the ruins of Sir Thomas, started forth a grotesque figure from the chasm, clad in coarse attire, a ludicrous solemnity on his strange and uncouth visage, as, with a shrill and squeaking tone, he cried—
"Ay, ay, masters; but my master will gi'e me a blessing for the finding o' this mouse-nest; and a priest's blessin' is worth a king's curse any time; and so good-morrow, knaves."
"Stay," said Lincoln, seizing the intruder, none other than our light-witted acquaintance, "lang-nebbit Dick," whose prying propensities were notorious, and who had taken upon himself, that morning, the arduous task of exploring the subterraneous passage into which he had seen the mysterious figure insinuate itself. After many perils and impediments, he had come to a flight of steps, ascending which, his progress was interrupted by a trap-door overhead. He soon discovered a wooden bolt, the unloosing of which led to the precipitation of Sir Thomas through the aperture. Dick's light was struck from his hand; escaping himself, however, he left Sir Thomas to his fate, and emerged, as we have seen, into the council-chamber. They were much alarmed by this unexpected disturbance, and, looking down, they beheld a narrow flight of steps, at the bottom of which lay the unfortunate knight, sore bruised by his fall.
"If the abbot catch ye here," said Dick, with a vacant grin, "he'll gi'e every one o' ye a taste o' the gyves, and so pray ye gang awa', and let me gang too. As for that calf beastie, that baas so at the bottom, gi'e me a groat, and I'll gather him up again sune."
Here Dick held out a paw that would not have disgraced the extremities of a bruin for size and colour.
"Holloa, guards," cried Lincoln, "take this knave to the dungeon by the porch, and keep him safe until we have need of him."
The prying vagabond was removed without ceremony, kicking all the way, and bellowing out threats and vengeance against his enemies, while Sir Thomas and his bruises were brought to light.
"'Tis the good hand of Providence that hath revealed to us, through the means of this crack-brained intruder, so dangerous an outlet by which our sovereign's life might have been brought into jeopardy. To show unto us that He works not by might nor by strength, does Heaven employ the feeblest instruments for our ruin or our deliverance." The priest, after this profane speech, resumed his station at the board, whence the king, with a proper and becoming dignity, had not arisen. But the council did not proceed in their deliberations after this interruption. Contenting themselves with devising precautions against another surprise, they separated, hoping that to-morrow would bring them despatches from abroad, for which they began to feel somewhat anxious and impatient.
The sun was now some hours past meridian. The broad sea and the breakers were foaming on. A wide and impetuous phalanx of waves appeared upon the horizon. Gouts of muddy foam were beginning to froth among the blue pebbles on the beach. The tide was rapidly filling the channels, and patches of dark sand were vanishing beneath the waves, when the two fishermen, launching their little boat into a narrow bay between the rocks, prepared for their daily toil.
"Lords o' the court they be," said David, to some inquiry from his more ignorant companion, as he generally affected to consider him. Indeed, with but little wit and less valour, he wished to foist himself upon one possessing both, as a being of extraordinary wisdom and fortitude. And truly, if loud words and big lies could have done this, he would have had no lack either of courage or discretion.
"Didst never see a lord to his shirt?" continued this indomitable boaster.
"Nea, marry, but I've seen 'em to their shifts, for one of 'em couldna loup owre t' stones here without help."
"Help thy silly face, thou be'st hardly company fit for they 'at have seen knowledge, as 't waur, to its verra nakedness. I tell thee I've looked on lords' flesh; an' no more like thine than thee be'st like fish."
"Some of 'em will cudgel thy leesing out o' thee, I hope. Thou could'stna speak truth to save thy neck fro' the rope. Didst get any o' the crumbs at the dinner to-day? for I ken thou throw'd up thy greasy cap, and cried out 'Hurrah for the king.' Thy tongue would ever wag faster at a feast than thy fist at a fray."
"I tell thee, George, 'ware thy gibes an' gallimaufreys. A man can but bear what he can, thee knows; an' so stop thy din. Let me see, I heard as I cam' doon that this same ghost 'at frightened thee sae appeared to the king an' the lords at the feast; an' they waur fain to run for it, as thee did last night, thee knows, for verra fearsomeness, an'"——
Here he looked round, as though fearing a visit of the like nature.
"They say he came an' gobbled up more nor his share; an' he sent the guests a-packing like a bream of short-sized kippers from a creel. We looked for our share of the victuals, but they told me old bl—bl"——Again he hesitated, evidently afraid that some "unsonsy" thing was behind him. His voice sunk down to a tremulous whisper. "They said that old split-feet brought a whole bevy of little devilkins with him that cleared decks in the twinkling of a bowsprit."
"And yet thou durst not say him nay, though thy craw were as empty as my basket. Come, bear a hand, or we shall lose the tide; it is already on the rocks."
The invading fleet were still moored in the harbour, yet the fishermen shot past unheeded by these leviathans of the deep. As they came nearer to the opposite shore, they saw an individual making signals, as though he would be taken across. His monkish garb was a passport to their obedience; and the friar was received on board with great reverence and respect. With a sullen air he demanded, rather than requested, to be conveyed to the castle, which the simple fishermen undertook with great alacrity and good humour. Left to the care of the guards below the ramparts, he was speedily forwarded through ranks of iron men, and the barriers flew open at his presence; an embassage from the abbot of Furness was not to be lightly entreated.
Again was there a summons that the council should assemble, and the chiefs, already risen from the banquet, prepared to give him audience. With a proud and firm step he approached the table; and though, from habit, he repressed the natural feelings and bias of the temper, yet there was an evident expression of hostility against the intruders, accompanied with a glance of unequivocal meaning towards their sovereign.
Simon, rising to receive this ambassador from the abbot, watched his demeanour with a cautious and keen observance, though betraying little of that really intense interest with which his presence was regarded.
"Thrice welcome!" he cried; "we hail your presence as an omen of good import. How fareth my lord abbot, whom we hope to number with our friends in this glorious cause?"
"The abbot of Furness hath no message of that similitude. He doth ask by what right, privity, or pretence, ye appear within his castle or stronghold upon this island? upon whose advice or incitement ye have thus taken possession? and furthermore, under whose authority ye do these things?"
This short address, uttered in a firm voice, and in a tone of menace rather than inquiry, daunted the hearers, who had hoped for a more propitious message from the abbey of Furness. Simon, however, without betraying his chagrin, unhesitatingly replied—
"The right by which we hold this fortress is the will of our king, and our authority is from him."
"I crave your honest regards," returned the monk, looking round with a glance of conscious power and superiority; "this good inheritance is ours, and whosoever disporteth himself here must answer for it to the lord of Furness, whose delegate and representative I am."
Choler was rising in the assembly; but Simon, with that intuitive and inexplicable control which superior minds possess, almost unknowingly, over their associates, quelled the outburst of the flame by a single glance. Another look was directed to the royal pupil at his side, when the latter spoke as follows:—
"Our presence here, it should seem, is a sufficient answer to the questions of our lord abbot. Being lawful heir to the English crown, we might command the allegiance, if not the homage, of your head; but we would rather win with fair entreaty than command our unwilling subjects, and to this end have we sent messengers to the superior of your house, urging his help and submission."
This reply was given with a dignity and an assurance denoting that either he was the individual he personated, or that he had been well schooled in his craft.
A murmur of applause was heard through the assembly, but the monk was unmoved to any show of recognition or even respect. Waiting until he could be heard, the envoy again inquired—
"And who art thou? and by what pretence claimest thou this right?"
"By hereditary descent. Knowest thou Edward, Earl of Warwick, now thy king?"
"I have heard of him," continued the monk in the same dubious and inflexible tone; "but his bodily appearance hath not been vouchsafed unto me."
"See him here!" said the royal claimant, rising with great majesty and condescension. But the churchman neither did homage, nor in any way testified his loyalty to, or apprehension of, so exalted a personage.
"Truly it is a marvellous thing," replied he, "that the Earl of Warwick should so order his appearance, at one and the same time, both in London and at our good fortress here in Fouldrey!" A slight curl of the lip was visible as he spoke.
"The Earl of Warwick," said Simon, "cannot now be abiding where thou sayest, insomuch as the bodily tabernacle, his dwelling in the flesh, is before thee."
"But we have a messenger from thence, even with a writing from the hands of the holy prior of St Alban's, who sendeth us the news, lest we should be beguiled. Father Anselm hath seen the earl, who was brought forth from the Tower by command of the king, being conducted publicly through the principal thoroughfares of the city, that the people should behold, and not in any wise be led astray through the evil reports and machinations of the king's enemies."
Here he paused, folding his arms with a haughty and reserved look; but Simon, no wise disconcerted by this terrible, unexpected, and apparently fatal exposure of their plot, replied with a smile of the most intrepid assurance——
"We knew of this, and were prepared for the wiles of the usurper. Know then, that, through the agency and good offices of that renowned princess, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, the king's escape from the Tower was accomplished; but not by might, nor by human power nor device, but by faith and prayer, was the work wrought out, which holy communion her enemies do maliciously report as the practice of sorcery and the forbidden art. Howbeit the king hath escaped, as thou seest, the fangs of the executioner. Stay, I perceive what thou wouldest urge in reply, but listen for a short space. In order to deter them from pursuit on finding his escape, and with a view likewise to lull them into vain confidence and carnal security, another was left in his place, whom they, of necessity, imagine to be their captive; but it is not a real thing of flesh and blood, though to them it may so appear. When his time shall be accomplished, the form will vanish, to the downfall and confusion of the usurper and the utter overthrow of our enemies."
Here the assembly gave a loud and unanimous token of their exultation by shouts and exclamations of loyalty and obedience.
After a short reverie, the monk replied—
"We know of a surety that the Princess Margaret, as well as her royal brother, Edward the Fourth, did use to practise in forbidden arts; but we must have testimony indisputable to the truth of your claim, ere it be that we render our belief. Surely the power that wrought thy deliverance would not, if need were, leave thee without the means of proving thine identity. How know we that thou art he whom thou hast represented, and not the impostor Simnel, as thine enemies do not scruple openly to affirm?"
"We are not without either the means or the power to prove and to assert our right," said the priest, rising. He drew a phial from his bosom.
"One drop of this precious elixir," continued he, "if it touch the form of yon changeling, will dissolve the charm: on the real person of the king it becomes harmless."
"Truly, 'tis a proof not to be gainsaid; but over-long i' the making, and too far for the fetching," replied the monk scornfully.
"'Tis bootless to attempt the salvation of those who will not believe: nevertheless, they shall perish through their own devices, and be caught in their own snares."
Simon threw a threatening glance at the monk, which he received with a cool and undaunted aspect.
"Verily, your blood be on your own heads," cried Simon, with a loud voice, "and your reward in your right hand. Behold, thou scourner, and tremble; for your destruction cometh as a whirlwind, and he in whom you trust shall be as the stubble which the fire devoureth."
The enthusiast, as he spoke, struck a heavy blow on the floor with his foot, when there came a low rumbling sound like the roar of the wind through some subterraneous abyss, or the distant moan of the sea, driven on by the rushing tempest. The whole assembly stood aghast, save the king and the two disputants.
"Shall I strike once more?"
"Do as seemeth to thee good," said the monk deliberately; "but think not to intimidate me with thy fooleries."
"Then beware. I obey, but it is with awe and reluctance."
It is said that Simon's heart failed him as he gave the blow, or the effects would have been more terrific. But the castle shook as with an earthquake; even the incredulous monk looked amazed and confounded.
"Shall I repeat the stroke?" said Simon, when the disturbance had in some measure subsided. "But remember, I will not answer for the result. Only in cases of the greatest difficulty and trial it was that the duchess made me resort to so dangerous a resource."
Most of his hearers besought him to desist. Simon yielded at once to their entreaties, and the uplifted foot fell softly on the floor. Soft and noiseless though it was, yet they saw a lurid mist roll upward; and a form, apparently of gigantic size, was faintly visible in the dark vapour, as it swept slowly through the apartment. Even Simon and his royal pupil showed symptoms of agitation and alarm.
The assembly was suddenly dissolved. The proud ambassador of a prouder prelate was astonished and bewildered, and hastily took his leave to report these occurrences to his master.
The whole of these proceedings, in all probability, were but the artful contrivance of an ambitious priest; and yet, connected as they were with a female whose well-known predilection for the occult sciences, and herself no mean adept therein, they assumed in those ages of credulity and superstition more the character of miraculous events than as happening in the common course and established order of nature. The alarm of the king, too, evidently at the appearance of the figure, caused some to say that it was the arch-enemy himself to whom these conspirators had sold themselves.
In the meantime, Dick, having been delivered over to the tormentors, was transferred to the prison or dungeon by the porch. He bore his mishap with wondrous fortitude and equanimity. Many a strange inquiry and silly speech did he make as he heard the sound of footsteps pass the door, through which a few chinks admitted a doubtful glimmer into his cell.
"I seay—hears to me, lad?" shouted he to a gruff Fleming, as he passed to and fro before the entrance to his prison-house; but the guard heeded him not. Dick listened; then, repeating his demand, muttered certain conventional expressions, not over-nice either in their form or application. He then began to sing, performing a series of cantabile movements in the most ludicrous manner possible; sometimes chanting a Miserere or an Ave, then breaking into some wild northern ballad or roundelay of unintelligible import. It was in the midst of a cadence which he was terminating with great earnestness and effect that the first deep rumble, the result of Simon's appeal to the truth and justice of their cause, interrupted Dick's vocal dispositions for a while; but when the second concussion took place, shaking the very stones in their sockets and the hard floor under his feet, Dick ran whooping and bellowing round his den as though he had been possessed, laughing, amid the wild uproar, like some demon sporting fearlessly in the fierce turmoil of the troubled elements. The sentinel ran, terrified, from the door, and the whole camp and garrison were flying to arms, in fear and consternation. Dick, drumming with his fist, found the door yield to his efforts, and he marched forth without let or molestation. His besetting sin was curiosity, which oftentimes led him into difficulties and mishaps. Though just now a prisoner, and escaping by means little less than miraculous, yet, instead of making the best use of this opportunity for escape, he commenced a sort of prying adventure on his own account—a temptation he could not resist—by walking, or rather shuffling, into the guard-room, where his own peculiar crab-like sinuosities were particularly available. A number of soldiers were jabbering some unintelligible jargon, too much occupied with their own clamour to notice Dick's proceedings.
Through a confused jumble of warlike implements, intermingled with camp-kettles and cooking utensils, some steaming with savoury preparations for the evening's repast, and others nearly ready for the service, Dick insinuated himself, until he came to a little door in the corner, the entrance to a staircase communicating with the leads above. Through this door marched the incorrigible intruder—the sentry from the summit having just issued therefrom, fearful lest the castle should tumble about his ears. Dick's course was therefore unimpeded; and after sundry gyrations and stoppages, now and then, to peep through the loopholes, he emerged into broad daylight on the roof of the tower. Here he paused for some time, entranced with the sudden change he beheld. The bustle and animation around and below him; the vessels, with their brave and gallant equipments, anchored in the bay;—all this amused Dick vastly for a while. But the most heart-ravishing delights end ultimately in satiety and disgust, greater, and probably more keenly felt, the more they have been relished and enjoyed. Dick began to feel listless and tired with his day's work. He laid his head upon a groove or niche in the battlements, and fell fast asleep. It seems the sentinel did not return; for Dick remained undisturbed, and when he awoke it was completely dark, save that there was a wan gleam from a dull watery moon, just dipping into a stratum of dark clouds over the sea. His ideas, not over-lucid in broad daylight, would necessarily be still more hazy and obscure in his present situation. Unable to extricate them, he rubbed his eyes and made faces; yawned and groped about for his usual dormitory, in a little cell behind the kitchen at the abbey. But the vision of the moon—which, by reason of the confined glen wherein the abbey was built, rarely blessed the sight of a night-watcher—was a wondrous and puzzling appearance. He had some confused recollection that he had mounted a flight of steps, and that, by contrary motion, descending would be the next consequent movement. To this end he diligently sought an opening, and, naturally enough, took the first that presented itself. Creeping round the angle of a turret, he came to a flight of steps, which he descended. It was not long ere he perceived a faint light through an aperture or chink in the wall. He pressed against the side cautiously, when the wall itself appeared to give way, and he entered, through a narrow door, into a large room, lighted by a few turf embers, that flickered dimly on the hearth. A tester bed was near him, whose grim shadow concealed the objects under its huge canopy. It was the king's chamber; but so softly and cautiously was the entrance effected that Dick's footsteps did not awake him. He was heard, nevertheless, by the priest Simon, who, being concealed by the curtains on the other side, was not seen by the intruder. Dick stood still, on being addressed in a low and suppressed voice as follows:—
"Thou art early, Maurice; but thy despatches are ready. They are on the chair at thy right hand. Thou hast had thy instructions. Be speedy and discreet. On the third day, ere sunset, we look for thy return."
Dick put out his hand and laid hold of a sealed packet, which he took with becoming gravity, and luckily in silence.
"The same password, 'Warwick,' will convey thee hence; a boat is in waiting, and so God speed," said the priest.
Dick returned by the way he came, and descending the turret staircase, found a sentry standing at the outlet into the guard-chamber. It was dark, and Dick's person was not recognised. With a sort of blundering instinct he gave the word and passed on. This magic sound conveyed him safely through bars, bolts, and all other impediments. The drawbridge was lowered, and Dick, in a little time, found himself again upon the beach, where a boat was waiting to carry him to the opposite shore.
"Who goes there?" inquired a gruff voice from the skiff.
"Why Dick—Warwick," cried the blundering knave, nigh mistaking his cue.
"Hang thee," said the ferryman, "what art' ganging o' this gait for? If I'd ken'd it waur thee 'at I'd orders to lie by in shore for, thou might ha' waited a wee for aught 'at I'd ha' brought."
"Hush!" said Dick, full of importance from his newly-acquired diplomatic functions; "I'm message to the king yonder."
"Ill betides him that has need o' thee," said the boatman, surlily;—"come, jump in. They'd need of a hawk, marry, to catch a buzzard."
Just as Dick was preparing to step in, a low, slight-made figure passed by whom the boatman immediately challenged.
"Warwick!" said he, and would have passed on.
"Nay, nay," said Dick; "I'm Warwick, ma lad; there's no twa on us; they gied me that name i' the castle yon, just now. I'se butter'd if thou shall ha't too." Dick was a powerful fellow, and he collared the other in a twinkling. "Thou'rt a rogue, I tell thee, an' about no good; an' I've orders from the governor yonder to tak' thee. Bear a hand, boatie, and in wi' him. There—there."
Spite of his struggles and imprecations, the stranger was impounded in the boat, and Dick soon forced him to be quiet. They pushed off, and in a short time gained the other shore. Here Dick, with that almost instinctive sagacity which sometimes accompanies a disturbed state of the intellects, would not allow his prisoner either to go back to the island or remain in the boatman's custody, but secured him to his own person, setting off at a brisk pace towards the abbey. In vain the stranger told him that he had business of great moment at the castle; that he was a page of the court, and on the eve of a secret mission from the priest, who was now waiting for him with the despatches. Dick resolved, with his usual cunning it seems, to conceal his possession of these documents, and, at the same time, to prevent the real messenger from revealing the deception by his appearance at the castle.
It was past midnight; yet the abbot and several of the brethren were still assembled in close council. The importance of the events that were unfolding, and in which their own line of conduct was to be firmly marked out and adhered to, necessarily involving much deliberation and discussion, had kept them beyond their usual hour of retirement.
A bell rung at the outer gate, and shortly afterwards one of the brotherhood in waiting announced that two men were without, craving audience, and that one of them, when asked his name, answered "Warwick."
"Ah!" said the bewildered abbot, with a sudden gleam of wonder and gladness on his countenance—"does he come hither? then is our deliverance nearer than we hoped for, even from the special favour and interference of Heaven. Admit them instantly."
But in a little while the messenger came back in great dudgeon to say that the knave who had demanded admittance with such a peremptory message was none other than Dick Empson, the errand boy to the abbey. "What can possess him," continued the monk, "I greatly marvel; for he still persists in demanding audience, saying that he is 'Warwick.' He refers to some message from the castle with which he is charged, but he refuses to deliver it save into the hands of the reverend abbot himself. Furthermore, he has brought a prisoner, he sayeth, and will have him taken into safe custody."
"Why, bring him hither," said the abbot; "there's little harm can come by it. He has a shrewd and quick apprehension at times, under that silly mask, which I have thought he wears but for purposes of knavery and concealment."
The monk folded his hands and retired. Returning, he was followed by Dick, who assumed a very grave and solemn demeanour before this august and reverend assembly.
"Why art thou abroad in these evil times, and at such improper hours too? To the meanest of our servants it is not permitted. Speak. Thine errand?"
The abbot looked towards the offender with an air of displeasure; but Dick, hitching up his hosen with prodigious fervour, gave a loud and expressive grunt.
"Dick is a fool," said he; "but he ne'er begged benison of an abbot, a bone from a starved dog, or a tithe-pig from a parson."
"What is the message wherewith thou hast presumed upon our audience?"
"If ye rear your back to a door, see to it that it be greatly tyned, or ye may get a broken head for trust."
"And is this thy message, sirrah? Hark ye, let this fool be put i' the stocks, and well whipped."
"And who'll be the fule body then?" said Dick, leering. "I ken ye be readier wi' a taste o' the gyves than oatmeal bannocks; an' sae I'se gang awa' to my mither."
"Thou shalt go to the whipping-post first."
"Haud off," shouted Dick, who flung aside the person that would have seized him with the most consummate ease, at the same time placing himself in the attitude of defence; "haud off, as ye are true men," said he; "I'm cousin to the king, and I charge ye with high treason!"
"Enough," said the abbot; "we may pity his infirmity; but let him be sent to the mill for punishment. Now to business, which I fear me hath suffered by this untimely interruption."
"Happen you'll let me be one of the guests," said the incorrigible Dick, thrusting himself forward, even to the abbot's chair, which so discomposed his reverence that he cried in a loud and authoritative tone—
"Will none of ye rid me of this pestilence? By the beard of St Cuthbert, I will dispose of him, and that presently!"
Seizing him by the shoulder, the abbot would have thrust him forth, but Dick slipped dexterously aside. Taking out the packet, he broke open the seals, and immediately began to tumble about the contents, seating himself at the same time in the vacant chair of the abbot, with great solemnity, and an air of marvellous profundity in his demeanour. It was the work of a few moments only; a pause of silent astonishment ensued, when the abbot's eye, catching, from their appearance, something of the nature of the documents, he started forward with great eagerness and surprise. He snatched them from the hands of their crack-brained possessor, and soon all other matters were forgotten. The abbot in breathless haste ran through the contents. The assembly was all eye and ear, and some were absolutely paralysed with wonder. There was not an indifferent observer but Dick, who, with a chuckling laugh, rubbed his hands, and fidgeted about in the chair with a look of almost infantile delight.
"I've done it brawly, ha'n't I? Dick wi' the lang neb! an' I'll hae two messes o' parritch an' sour milk, an' a barley-cake; I'm waesome hungry i' the waum here."
The abbot was too deeply involved in the subject before him to heed a craving appetite. Dick's stomach, however, was not to be silenced by diplomatic food; not having tasted anything for a considerable time, his wants immediately assumed the language of inquiry.
"Old dad, ha' ye any bones to pick? I'd like to have a lick at the trencher."
The abbot made signals that he should not be disturbed; but Dick was not to be put off or convinced by such unsubstantial arguments, and they were fain to rid themselves from further annoyance by ordering him into the kitchen, where he was speedily absorbed in devouring a pan of browis, left there for morning use—the breakfast of the labourers about the abbey.
During this interval matters of the deepest importance were discussed, the contents of the packet having furnished abundant materials for deliberation. When the bearer was effectually replenished, he was led into the council-chamber again, where the abbot, in a tone of deep and serious thought, thus addressed him:—
"Who gave thee these despatches? It is plain they were not meant for our eyes; but Heaven, by the weakest instrument, often works the mightiest and most important events. Where and how came they into thy keeping?"
Dick looked cunningly round the apartment ere he replied, surveying the floor, the walls, and the ceiling; even the groinings of the roof did not escape a minute and accurate examination; whether to give time for the contriving of a suitable reply, or merely to gratify his own peevish humour, is of little consequence that we should inquire. After a long and anxious silence on the part of his auditors, he replied—
"I told ye when ye spiered afore." Another pause. The abbot was fearful that Dick's ideas, if not carefully handled, might get so entangled and confused that he would be unable to give any intelligible account of the matter. He therefore addressed him coaxingly as follows—
"Nay, nay, Dickon, thou hast not; answer me now, and thou shalt have the fat from the roast to-morrow, and a sop to season it withal."
Dick leered again at this prospective dainty, as he replied—
"I tou'd ye, and ye heeded not, belike; and who's the fool now? Come, I'll set you my riddle again. If ye set your back to a door, see that it be tyned, or ye may get a broken head, and then"——
Here he paused, and looked round with a vacant eye; but they wisely forbore to interrupt the current of his ideas, hoping that ere long they might trickle into the right channel.
"There was a big room, and a bed in it," he continued, "and a priest, which the fule body has cheated. A fule's wit is worth more nor a wise man's folly."
A vague apprehension of the truth crossed the abbot's mind. Being now on the right scent, he no longer forbore to follow up the chase, but endeavoured to hasten the development by a gentle stimulating of his pace in the required direction.
"The priest yonder at the castle gave it thee?" said the abbot carelessly.
"Well, and if he did," replied Dick sharply, "he didna ken I was a-peeping into his chamber, as I've done many an unlucky time here in the abbey, and gotten a good licking for my pains."
"To whom was it sent?"
"Ask the bairn yon', that I ha' brought by th' scut o' th' neck. He woudna come bout tugging for."
"Was he the messenger?" asked Roger, the abbot's secretary and prime agent.
"Help thine ignorant face, father!—I was peeping about, you see, in the dark. The priest thought it waur the laddy yonder, a-comin' for his bag; so he gied it me, and tou'd me to carry it safe, but forgot to grease my pate forbye wi' the direction. I ken'd ye could read aught at the abbey here, and so ye may e'en run wi' it to the right owner for yere pains."
The cunning knave glossed over his treachery with this excuse; for he evidently knew better, and had a notion that he should serve his masters by this piece of diplomatic craft.
"Thou mayest depart, and ere morrow we will give thee a largess for thy dexterity."
Dick did not care to be long a-snuffing the chill air of the vaults and passages after his dismissal, but in a warm cell near the kitchen fire he was soon wrapped in the delights of oblivion. Such, however, was the importance of the documents he had so strangely intercepted, that a messenger was immediately despatched to London with a packet for the Privy Council.
The same morning, with the early dawn, the abbot and his secretary were together in the cloisters. It was a fitting place and opportunity either for intrigue or devotion, and many a masterstroke of church policy has issued from those dim and sepulchral arches in "the Glen of the deadly Nightshade."
"Craft is needful, yea laudable," said the abbot, "when we would cope with worldly adversaries, unless we could work miracles for our deliverance. But since in these degenerate ages of the church they have, I fear me, ceased, we must e'en employ the means that Heaven has put into our hands: and if I mistake not, this envoy of ours will be a skilful craftsman for the purpose. Under that garb of silly speech there's a cunning and a wary spirit. Thou didst note well his ready-witted contrivance last night."
"Yea, and the skill too with which he compassed his expedients, and the ingenuity that prevented the disclosure of his treachery, in arresting the real messenger, and thus keeping them in the dark at the castle yonder until we have had time to countervail their plots. Could he be made to play his part according to our instructions, an agent like him were worth having. Besides he knows every chink and cranny about the castle, so that he could jump on them unawares."
"I am not much given to implicit credence in supernatural devices," said the abbot, "or visible manifestations of the arch-enemy; yet have our chronicles not scrupled to give their testimony to the truth of such appearances; and it is, moreover, plain, from the papers we have read, that the conspirators themselves believe in the existence of some supernatural presence amongst them, by which they are holpen."
He drew a billet from his bosom:—"I have kept this writing alone, as thou knowest," continued the abbot, "for our guidance. Listen again to the confessions of yonder rebellious and it may be credulous priest:—
"We are sure of success. The noble Margaret hath, by her wondrous art, together with the exercise of prayer and fasting, fenced us about as with a triple barrier, that no earthly might shall overcome. A power attends us that will magnify our cause, and lay our foes prostrate. 'Tis a mystery even to us, but a being appears unexpectedly at times, and by his counsels we are guided. We know not whence he comes, nor whither he goes; but his path is with us, and his presence, though generally invisible, not without terror, even to ourselves."
"'Tis a strange delusion this, if it be one; for it is plain they have been ably counselled. Whilst they retain the castle their position may be reckoned as impregnable. It is a powerful support, on which they have placed the lever of their rebellion."
"And in what way purpose you to entice them from it? Methinks it were in vain to make the attempt, if guarded and counselled by supernatural advisers."
"I believe in no such improbabilities. Listen. We have heard, as thou knowest, that a strange figure, muffled in close garments, steals forth, at times, by the southern cliff into the passage there, under the foundations. This, doubtless, will be the emissary referred to in the despatch. 'Tis of a surety some person about the camp, concealed, in all likelihood, even from the leaders themselves; but employed by yonder ambitious restless woman, to control and direct their operations by a pretendedly miraculous and supernatural influence. It is the way in which the vulgar and the superstitious are most easily led. Fanaticism is a powerful engine wherewith to combine and wield the scattered energies of the multitude. Besides, their plans are well laid, as we have seen by the despatches, and many and powerful are the helps by which they hope to accomplish their designs. Should they succeed, our destruction is certain. Yet could we draw them forth from our fortress, we might look to the issue undisturbed. The king will then dispose of them, and few will dare to interrupt us in the quiet possession of our privileges."
"How purpose you to entice them forth?" again inquired the secretary.
"If properly tutored, our messenger from the kitchen, Dick Empson, will doubtless be a fitting agent for this deed. He must be well furnished with means and appliances against discovery."
"Leave him to my care. I can work with untoward tools, and make them useful too upon occasion."
"The prisoner, whom he so craftily seized and brought hither, is yet safe in the dungeon?"
"He is, my lord."
"There he must lie, at any rate, until our plans be accomplished."
"We know not yet unto whom these communications were to have been conveyed."
"No; but doubtless, from their tenor, to some person of great note. It may have been to one even about the person of royalty itself, for this treason hath deep root, and its branches are widely spread throughout the land."
"Shall we put him to the question?"
"Nay, let present difficulties be brought to issue first; afterwards we shall be able to inquire, and with more certainty, as to the line of examination we should pursue."
The speakers separated, one to communicate with Dick Empson, and prepare him for the important functions he would have to perform; the other to his lodgings, where he might ruminate undisturbed on the events then about to transpire, and of which he hoped, finally, to reap the advantage.
It was past midnight, and the flickering embers threw a doubtful and uncertain gleam, at intervals, through the royal chamber, as it was then called, in the Castle of Fouldrey. All around was so still that the tramp of the sentry sounded like the tread of an armed host; sounds being magnified to a degree almost terrific, in the absence of others by which their intensity may be compared. Even the dash of the waves below the walls was heard in the deep and awful stillness of that portentous night.
Simon started from the pallet whereon he lay, beside the couch of his master, at times looking wildly round, as though just rousing from some unquiet slumber, expecting, yet fearful of alarm. He lay down again with a deep sigh, muttering an Ave or a Paternoster as he closed his eyes. Again he raised his head, and a dark figure stood before him.
"What wouldest thou?" inquired he, with great awe and reverence.
"Ye must depart!" said a voice, deep and sepulchral.
"Depart!" repeated the priest, with an expression of doubt and alarm.
"Yes," said the mysterious figure; "wherefore dost thou inquire?"
"Our only resting-place, our point of support, our sustenance and our refuge! Are we to leave this, and buffet with the winds and waves of misfortune, without a haven or a hiding-place? Surely"——
"I have said it, and to-morrow ye must depart!"
"Whither?" inquired the priest; his opinion evidently controlled by the belief that a being of a superior nature was before him.
"Beyond the Abbey of Furness. Choose a fitting place for your encampment, and there abide until I come."
"It doth appear to my weak and unassisted sense," said the priest, in great agony of spirit, arising from his doubt and unbelief, "that it were the very utmost of madness and folly to give up this strong and almost impregnable position for one where our little army may be outflanked, and even surrounded by superior strength and numbers."
"Disobey, and thy life, and all that are with thee, shall be cut off!"
"And to-morrow! Ere we have news from our partisans in the south? Maurice will be here the third day at the latest."
"I have said it," replied the figure, peremptorily; when suddenly, and, as it were, formed immediately at his side, appeared another figure, similar to the first, assuming nearly the same attitude and manner, save that the latter looked something taller and more majestic.
"St Mary's grace and the abbot's, there 's twa of us!" cried the first figure, no less a personage than Dick Empson, who had been daring enough to adopt this disguise, according to the instructions he had received at the abbey. He uttered the words in a tone of thrilling and horrible apprehension, like the last shriek of the victim writhing in the fangs of his destroyer.
The terrible apparition cried out to his surreptitious representative—"Nay, miscreant; but one. This thou shalt know, and feel too. Fool and impostor, thy last hour is come!"
As he spake he seized on the miserable wretch in their presence, swinging him round by the waist like an infant, and bore him off, up the turret stairs, to the summit. Ere he disappeared he uttered this terrible denunciation—
"Your ruin is at hand. Flee! This fool hath betrayed ye, and I return no more!"
Darting up the staircase, the shrieks of Dick Empson were heard, as if rapidly ascending to the summit. A wilder and more desperate struggle—then a heavy plunge, and the waters closed over their prey!
Dick's body was cast up by the waves, but the terrible unknown did not return; nor was he ever seen or heard of again, save, it is said, that when the priest received his death-wound, soon afterwards, on the field of battle, this awful form appeared to rise up before him, and with scoff and taunt upbraided him as the cause of his own ruin, and the downfall of his hopes.
The next day, from whatever cause, the troops began to move from their post. Ere the second evening, they had completely evacuated the castle and the island, which the wary Abbot of Furness soon turned to his own advantage, occupying the place with some of his armed vassals. The rebels, proved to be such by their ill success, took up a tolerably advantageous position upon Swartz Moor, in the neighbourhood of Ulverstone, where, waiting in vain for the expected reinforcements, they found themselves obliged to move forward, or be utterly without the means either of subsistence or defence. Sir Thomas Broughton, and a few more of little note, accompanied them to Stokeford, near Newark, where, engaging the king's forces on the 6th of June 1487, they maintained an obstinate and bloody engagement, disputed with more bravery than could have been expected from the inequality of their forces. The leaders were resolved to conquer or to perish, and their troops were animated with the same resolution. The Flemings, too, being veteran and experienced soldiers, kept the event long doubtful; and even the Irish, though ill-armed and almost defenceless, showed themselves not deficient in spirit and bravery. The king's victory was purchased with great loss, but was entirely decisive. Lincoln, Swartz, and, according to some accounts, Sir Thomas Broughton, perished on the field of battle, with four thousand of their followers. As Lovel was never more heard of, he was supposed to have undergone the same fate. Simnel, apart from his followers, was too contemptible to be an object either of apprehension or resentment on the part of the king. He was pardoned, and, it is said, made a scullion in the royal kitchen, from which menial office he was afterwards advanced to the rank of falconer.
Thus ended this strange rebellion, which only served to seat Henry more securely on his throne, extinguishing, finally, the intrigues and anticipations of the house of York.
A LEGEND OF BEWSEY.
"Yestreen I dreamed a doleful dream, I fear there will be sorrow! I dreamed I pu'd the heather green With my true love on Yarrow.
"She kissed his cheek, she kaimed his hair, She searched his wounds all thorough, She kissed them till her lips grew red, On the dowie howms of Yarrow."
Warrington is described by Camden as remarkable for its lords, surnamed Butler, or Boteler, of Bewsey. This name was derived from their office, Robert le Pincerna having discharged the duties of that station under Ranulph, Earl of Chester, in 1158, hence taking the surname. Almeric Butler, his descendant, having married Beatrice, daughter and co-heir of Matthew Villiers, Lord of Warrington, became possessed of the barony.
A MS. in the Bodleian Library gives the following statement, which, though manifestly incorrect in respect of names and particulars, may yet be relied on with regard to the main facts, corroborated by tradition, which still preserves the memory of this horrible event.
"Sir John Butler, Knt., was slaine in his bedde by the procurement of the Lord Standley, Sir Piers Leigh and Mister William Savage joining with him in that action (corrupting his servants), his porter setting a light in a window to give knowledge upon the water that was about his house at Bewsey (where your way to ... comes). They came over the moate in lether boats, and so to his chamber, where one of his servants, named Houlcrofte, was slaine, being his chamberlaine; the other basely betrayed his master;—they payed him a great reward, and so coming away with him, they hanged him at a tree in Bewsey Parke;—after this Sir John Butler's lady prosecuted those that slew her husband, and ... L20 for that suite, but, being married to Lord Grey, he made her suite voyd, for which reason she parted from her husband and came into Lancashire, saying, If my lord will not let me have my will of my husband's enemies, yet shall my body be buried by him; and she caused a tomb of alabaster to be made, where she lyeth on the ... hand of her husband, Sir John Butler.
It is further stated in the MS. that the occasion of this murder was because of a request from Earl Derby that Sir John would make one of the train which followed him on his going to meet King Henry VII., and which request was discourteously refused.
The following extract from Froissart may not be deemed uninteresting, as a record of one of our Lancashire worthies, Sir John Butler of Bewsey, relating how he was rescued from the hands of those who sought his life at the siege of Hennebon:—
"The Lord Lewis of Spain came one day into the tent of Lord Charles of Blois, where were numbers of the French nobility, and requested of him a boon for all the services done to him, and as a recompense for them the Lord Charles promised to grant whatever he should ask, as he held himself under many obligations to him. Upon which the Lord Lewis desired that the two prisoners, Sir John Boteler and Sir Mw. Trelawney, who were in prison of the Castle of Faouet, might be sent for, and delivered up to him, to do with them as should please him best.
"'This is the boon I ask, for they have discomfited, pursued, and wounded me; have also slain the Lord Alphonso, my nephew, and I have no other way to be revenged on them than to have them beheaded in sight of their friends who are shut up in Hennebon.'
"The Lord Charles was much amazed at this request, and replied, 'I will certainly give you the prisoners since you have asked for them; but you will be very cruel, and much to blame, if you put to death two such valiant men; and our enemies will have an equal right to do the same to any of our friends whom they may capture, for we are not clear what may happen to any one of us every day. I therefore entreat, dear sir and sweet cousin, that you would be better advised.'
"Lord Lewis said that if he did not keep his promise he would quit the army, and never serve or love him as long as he lived.
"When the Lord Charles saw that he must comply, he sent off messengers to the Castle of Faouet, who returned with the two prisoners, and carried them to the tent of Lord Charles.
"Neither tears nor entreaties could prevail on Lord Lewis to desist from his purpose of having them beheaded after dinner, so much was he enraged against them.
"All the conversation, and everything that passed between the Lord Charles and Lord Lewis, relative to these two prisoners, was told to Sir Walter Manny and Sir Amauri de Clisson, by friends and spies, who represented the danger in which the two knights were. They bethought themselves what was best to be done, but after considering schemes, could fix on none. At last Sir Walter said, 'Gentlemen, it would do us great honour if we could rescue these two knights. If we should adventure it and should fail, King Edward would himself be obliged to us, and all wise men who may hear of it in times to come will thank us, and say we had done our duty. I will tell you my plan, and you are able to undertake it, for I think we are bound to risk our lives in endeavouring to save those of two such gallant knights. I propose, therefore, if it be agreeable to you, that we arm immediately, and form ourselves into two divisions,—one shall set off, as soon after dinner as possible, by this gate, and draw up near the ditch, to skirmish with and alarm the enemy, who, you may believe, will soon muster to that part, and, if you please, you, Sir Amauri de Clisson, shall have the command of it, and shall take with you 1000 good archers to make those that may come to you retreat back again, and 300 men-at-arms. I will have with me 100 of my companions, and 500 archers, and will sally out at the postern on the opposite side, privately, and coming behind them will fall upon their camp, which we shall find unguarded. I will take with me those who are acquainted with the road to Lord Charles's tent, where the two prisoners are, and will make for that part of the camp. I can assure you that I and my companions will do everything in our power to bring back in safety these two knights, if it please God.'
"This proposal was agreeable to all, and they directly separated to arm and prepare themselves. About an hour after dinner Sir Amauri and his party set off; and having had the principal gate of Hennebon opened for them, which led to the road that went straight to the army of Lord Charles, they rushed forward, making great cries and noise, to the tents and huts, which they cut down, and killed all that came in their way. The enemy was much alarmed, and putting themselves in motion, got armed as quickly as possible, and advanced towards the English and Bretons, who received them very warmly. The skirmish was sharp, and many on each side were slain.
"When Sir Amauri perceived that almost the whole of the army was in motion and drawn out, he retreated very handsomely, fighting all the time, to the barriers of the town, when he suddenly halted: then the archers, who had been posted on each side of the ditch beforehand, made such good use of their bows that the engagement was very hot, and all the army of the enemy ran thither except the servants.
"During this time Sir Walter Manny, with his company, issued out privily by the postern, and, making a circuit, came upon the rear of the enemy's camp. They were not perceived by any one, for all were gone to the skirmish upon the ditch. Sir Walter made straight for the tent of Lord Charles, where he found the two knights, Sir John Boteler and Sir Mw. Trelawney, whom he immediately mounted on two coursers which he had ordered to be brought for them, and retiring as fast as possible, entered Hennebon by the same way as he sallied forth. The Countess of Montfort came to see them, and received them with great joy."—Froissart, by Col. Johnes, vol. ii. p. 9.
The Butlers continued to occupy Bewsey till the year 1603, when Edward Butler sold this estate to the Irelands of Hale. It then passed from the Irelands to the Athertons, and is now enjoyed by Thomas Powis, Lord Lilford, of Lilford, Northamptonshire, in virtue of the marriage of his father, in the year 1797, with Henrietta Maria, daughter and heiress of Robert Vernon Atherton, of Atherton Hall, Esq.—Vide Baines's Lancashire.
Oh listen to my roundelay, Oh listen a while to me, And I'll tell ye of a deadly feud That fell out in the north countrie.
The summer leaves were fresh and green When Earl Derby forth would ride; For King Henry and his company To Lathom briskly hied.
A bridge he had builded fair and strong, With wondrous cost and pain, O'er Mersey's stream, by Warrington, For to meet that royal train.
And lord, and knight, and baron bold, That dwelt in this fair countrie, With the Derby train a-riding were, Save Sir John of proud Bewsey.
"Now foul befa' that scornfu' knight," Cried Stanley in his pride; "For he hath my just and honest suit Discourteously denied:
"Such hatred of our high estate, This traitor sore shall rue; I'll be avenged, or this good sword Shall rot the scabbard through!"
He swore a furious oath, I trow, And clenched his iron hand, As he rode forth to meet his son, The monarch of merry England.
* * * * *
The summer leaves were over and gone, But the ivy and yew were green, When to Bewsey hall came a jovial crew On the merry Christmas e'en.
It was mirth and feasting in hall and bower On that blessed and holy tide, But ere the morning light arose, There was darkness on all their pride!
Dark wonne the night, and the revellers gay From the laughing halls are gone; The clock from the turret, old and grey, With solemn tongue tolled one.
The blast was moaning down the glen, Through the pitch-like gloom it came, Like a spirit borne upon demon wings To the pit of gnawing flame!
But Sir John was at rest, with his lady love, In a pleasant sleep they lay; Nor felt the sooning, shuddering wind Round the grim, wide welkin play.
Their little babe, unconscious now, Lay slumbering hard by; And he smiled as the loud, loud tempest rocked His cradle wondrously.
There comes a gleam on the billowy moat Like a death-light on its wave, It streams from the ivied lattice, where Sits a grim false-hearted knave.
He saw it on the soft white snow, And across the moat it passed: "'Tis well," said that false and grim porter, And a fearsome look he cast.
A look he cast so wild and grim, And he uttered a deadly vow; "For thy dool and thy doom this light shall be, Thy foes are hastening now!
"Sleep on, sleep on, thou art weary, Sir John; Thy last sleep shall it be: Sleep on, sleep on, with thy next good sleep Thou shalt rest eternally!"
The traitor watched the waters dance, In the taper's treacherous gleam; And they hissed, and they rose, by the tempest tossed Through that pale and lonely beam.
What hideous thing comes swift and dark Athwart that flickering wave? A spectre boat there seems to glide, With many an uplift glaive.
The bolts are unslid by that grim porter, And a gladsome man was he, When three foemen fierce strode up the stair, All trim and cautiously.
"Now who be ye," cried the chamberlain, "That come with stealth and staur?" "We come to bid thy lord good den, So open to us the door."
"Ere I will open to thieves like ye, My limbs ye shall hew and hack. Awake, Sir John! awake and flee; These blood-hounds are on thy track!"
"We'll stop thy crowing, pretty bird! Now flutter thy wings again:" With that they laid him a ghastly corpse, And the red blood ran amain.
"Oh help!" the lady shrieked aloud; "Arise, Sir John, and flee; Oh heard you not yon cry of pain Like some mortal agony?"
"I hear it not," Sir John replied, For his sleep was wondrous strong; "But see yon flashing weapons, sure To foemen they belong!"
The knight from his bed leaped forth to flee, But they've pierced his body through; And with wicked hands, and weapons keen, Him piteously they slew!
But that porter grim, strict watch he kept, Beside the stair sate he; When lo! comes tripping down a page, With a basket defterly.
"Now whither away, thou little page, Now whither away so fast?" "They have slain Sir John," said the little page, "And his head in this wicker cast."
"And whither goest thou with that grisly head?" Cried the grim porter again, "To Warrington Bridge they bade me run, And set it up amain."
"There may it hang," cried that loathly knave, "And grin till its teeth be dry; While every day with jeer and taunt Will I mock it till I die!"
The porter opened the wicket straight, And the messenger went his way, For he little guessed of the head that now In that basket of wicker lay.
"We've killed the bird, but where's the egg?" Then cried those ruffians three. "Where is thy child?" The lady moaned, But never a word spake she.
But, swift as an arrow, to his bed The lady in terror sprung; When, oh! a sorrowful dame was she, And her hands she madly wrung.
"The babe is gone! Oh, spare my child, And strike my heart in twain!" To those ruthless men the lady knelt, But her piteous suit was vain.
"Traitor!" they cried to that grim porter, "Whom hast thou suffered forth? If thou to us art false, good lack, Thy life is little worth!"
"There's nought gone forth from this wicket yet," Said that grim and grisly knave, "But a little foot-page, with his master's head, That ye to his charges gave."
"Thou liest, thou grim and fause traitor!" Cried out those murderers three; "The head is on his carcase yet, As thou mayest plainly see!"
When the lady heard this angry speech, Her heart waxed wondrous fain; For she knew the page was a trusty child, And her babe in his arms had lain.
"Where is the gowd?" said that grim porter, "The gowd ye sware unto me?" "We'll give thee all thine hire," said they; "We play not false like thee!"
They counted down the red, red gold, And the porter laughed outright: "Now we have paid thy service well, For thy master's blood this night;
"For thy master's blood thou hast betrayed, We've paid thee thy desire; But for thy treachery unto us, Thou hast not had thine hire."
They've ta'en a cord, both stiff and strong, And they sought a goodly tree; And from its boughs the traitor swung;— So hang all knaves like he!
But the lady found her pretty babe;— Ere the morning light was nigh, To the hermit's cell that little page Had borne him craftily.
And the mass was said, and the requiem sung, And the priests, with book and stole, The body bore to its cold still bed, "Gramercy on his soul!"
 "Thomas, first Earl of Derby, as a compliment to his royal relative, Henry VII., on his visit to Lathom and Knowsley in 1496, built the bridge at Warrington; and by this munificent act conferred a benefit upon the two palatine counties, the value of which it is not easy to estimate."—Baines's Lancashire.
 The Butlers, it is conjectured, were patrons of the priory of the hermit friars of St Augustine, founded before 1379, near the bridge. In 32 Henry VIII., this institution was dissolved, and its possessions were granted to the great monastic grantee, Thomas Holcroft.—Vide Tanner's Not. Mon. About forty years ago the remains of a gateway of the priory stood on Friar's Green, and some years after that period a stone coffin was dug up near the same place.
"I had most need of blessing, and amen Stuck in my throat."
We have been unable to identify the spot where the occurrence took place, the subject of the following ballad. It is in all likelihood one of those wild and monkish legends that may be fitted or applied to any situation, according to the whim of the narrator. Many such legends, though the number is lessening daily, are still preserved, and an amusing volume might be made of these unappropriated wanderers that possess neither a local habitation nor a name.
The chase was done—the feast was begun, When the baron sat proudly by; And the revelry rode on the clamouring wind, That swept through the hurtling sky.
No lordly guest that feast had blessed, No solemn prayer was said; But with ravenous hands, unthankfully, They brake their daily bread.
The chase was done—the feast was begun, When a palmer sat in that hall; Yet his pale dim eye from its rest ne'er rose, To gaze on that festival!
The crackling blaze on his wan cheek plays, And athwart his gloomy brow; While his hands are spread to the rising flame, And his feet to the embers' glow.
For the blast was chill, o'er the mist-covered hill, And the palmer's limbs were old; And weary the way his feet had trod, Since the matin-bell had tolled.
The baron spake—"This morsel take, And yon pilgrim greet from me; Tell him we may not forget to share The joys of our revelry!"
Then thus began that holy man, As he lowly bent his knee— "I may not taste of the meat unblessed; I would 'twere so with thee."
"Then mumble thy charm o'er the embers warm," That baron proud replied; "No boon from my hand shalt thou receive, Nor foaming cup from my side."
The palmer bowed, the giddy crowd, With mirth and unseemly jest, His meekness taunt, when he answered not, The gibe of each courtly guest.
The minstrel sang, the clarions rang, And the baron sat proudly there, And louder the revelry rode on the wind, That swept through the hurtling air.
"What tidings for me from the east countrie? What news from the Paynim land?" As the baron spake, his goblet bright He raised in his outstretched hand.
"There's tidings for thee from the east countrie," The pilgrim straight replied; "A mighty chief, at a mighty feast, There sat in all his pride."
"'Twas wondrous well;—and what befell This chief at his lordly feast?" "A goblet was filled with the red grape's blood, And he pledged each rising guest."
"'Tis gladsome news;—but did they refuse The pledge they loved so well?" "Oh no; for each cup mantling forth to the brim, Did the harp and the clarion tell."
"And where didst thou such tidings know?" "A pilgrim told it me: And he sat on the hearth at this unblessed feast, Where he shared not the revelry,
"For ere was quaffed each sparkling draught, Or the foam from the ruby wine, He dashed the cup from that baron's lip, As now I do from thine!"
And the palmer passed by, as each goblet on high Was waved at their chief's command, But ere the cup had touched his lip, It was dashed from his lifted hand!
"A boon from thee, on my bended knee," The palmer boldly cried; "Seize first with speed yon traitor page Who bore the cup to thy side."
And the page they have bound on the cold, cold ground, And his treason he hath confessed; He had poisoned the cup with one subtle drop, Which he drew from his crimson vest.
And the palmer grey his treachery Had watched, when all beside In the feast were gaily revelling, Nor danger there espied.
"Say where didst thou the treason know?" The troubled chieftain cried; "I had blessed thy bread, I had blessed thy bowl," The hoary man replied.
"And the blessing was given—the boon from heaven; Or this night from thy lordly bed Thy spirit had passed with the shuddering blast, With the loud, shrill shriek of the dead!
"Oh! never taste the meat unblessed; Remember the palmer grey; Though he wander afar from thy castle gate, Yet forget not thy feast to-day."
And the pilgrim is gone from that gate alone, When prayer and vow were said; And the blessing thenceforth from that house was heard Ere they broke their daily bread.
THE DULE UPO' DUN.
"Wae, wae is me, on soul an' body, Old Hornie has lifted his paw, man; An' the carle will come, an' gallop me hame, An' I maun gae pipe in his ha', man!"
For the tradition upon which the following tale is founded, the author is indebted to The Kaleidoscope, an interesting weekly miscellany, published by Messrs Smith and Son at Liverpool.
Barely three miles from Clitheroe, as you enter a small village on the right of the high road to Gisburne, stands a public-house, having for its sign the title of our story. On it is depicted his Satanic majesty, curiously mounted upon a scraggy dun horse, without saddle, bridle, of any sort of equipments whatsoever—the terrified steed being off and away at full gallop from the door, where a small hilarious tailor, with shears and measures, appears to view the departure of him of the cloven foot with anything but grief or disapprobation.
The house itself is one of those ancient, gabled, black and white edifices, now fast disappearing under the giant march of improvement, which tramples down alike the palace and the cottage, the peasant's hut and the patrician's dwelling. Many windows, of little lozenge-shaped panes set in lead, might be seen here in all the various stages of renovation and decay: some stuffed with clouts, parti-coloured and various; others, where the work of devastation had been more complete, were wholly darkened by brick-bats, coble-stones, and many other ingenious substitutes and expedients to keep out the weather.
But our tale hath a particular bearing to other and more terrific days—"the olden time," so fruitful in marvels and extravagances—the very poetry of the black art; when Satan communed visibly and audibly with the children of men—thanks to the invokers of relics and the tellers of beads—and was so familiar and reasonable withal, as to argue and persuade men touching the propriety of submitting themselves to him, as rational and intelligent creatures; and even was silly enough, at times, to suffer himself to be outwitted by the greater sagacity and address of his intended victims. For proof, we cite the following veracious narrative, which bears within it every internal mark of truth, and matter for grave and serious reflection.
"Little Mike," or more properly Michael Waddington, was a merry tailor of some note in his day, who formerly, that is to say, some eight or nine score years ago—dwelt in this very tenement, where he followed his profession, except when enticed by the smell of good liquor to the village alehouse—the detriment, and even ruin, of many a goodly piece of raiment, which at times he clipped and shaped in such wise as redounded but little to the credit of either wearer or artificer. Mike was more alive to a merry troll and graceless story, in the kitchen of mine host "at the inn," than to the detail of his own shopboard, with the implements of his craft about him, making and mending the oddly assorted adjuncts of the village churls. Such was his liking for pastime and good company that the greater part of his earnings went through the tapster's melting pot; and grieved are we, as veritable chroniclers, to state that it was not until even credit failed him, that he settled to work for another supply of the elixir vitae—the pabulum of his being. It may be supposed that matters went on but indifferently at home, where want and poverty had left indelible traces of their presence. Matty Waddington, his spouse, would have had hard work to make both ends meet had she not been able to scrape together a few pence and broken victuals by selling firewood, and helping her neighbours with any extra work that was going forward. Yet, in general, she bore all her troubles and privations with great patience and good humour—at any rate in the presence of her husband, who, though an idler and a spendthrift, was, to say the truth, not viciously disposed towards her, like many beastly sots, but, on the contrary, he usually behaved with great deference and kindness to his unfortunate helpmate in all things but that of yielding to his besetting sin; having an unquenchable thirst for good liquor, which all his resolutions and vows of amendment could not withstand.
One evening the little hero of our story was at his usual pastime in the public-house, but his "cup was run low," and his credit still lower. In fact, both cash and credit were finished; his liquor was within a short pull from the bottom; and he sat ruminating on the doleful emergencies to which he was subject, and the horrible spectres that would assail him on the morrow, in the shape of sundry riven doublets and hose, beside rents and repairs innumerable, which had been accumulating for some weeks, to the no small inconvenience and exposure of their owners and former occupiers.
"I wish I were the squire's footman, or e'en his errand-boy, and could get a sup of good liquor without riving and tuggin' for't," thought he aloud. Scarce were the words uttered, when there came a mighty civil stranger into the company, consisting of village professors of the arts, such as the barber, the blacksmith, and the bell-ringer, together with our knight of the iron thimble. The new-comer was dressed in a respectable suit of black; a wig of the same colour adorned his wide and ample head, which was again surmounted by a peaked hat, having a band and buckle above its brim, and a black rose in front. He looked an elderly and well-ordered gentleman, mighty spruce, and full of courtesy; and his cane was black as ebony, with a yellow knob that glittered like gold. He had a huge beaked nose, and a little black ferrety eye, which almost pierced what it gazed upon. Every one made way for the stranger, who sat down, not in the full glare of the fire to be sure, but rather on one side, so that he might have a distinct view of the company, without being himself subject to any scrutinising observances.
"Pleasant night abroad," said the new-comer.
"Pleasanter within though," responded every thought.
"It's moonlight, I reckon," said Mike, who was just meditating over his last draught, and his consequent departure from this bibacious paradise.
"Nay, friend," said the black gentleman, "but the stars shine out rarely; and the snow lies so bright and crisp like, ye may see everything afore ye as plain as Pendle. Landlord, bring me a cup of the best; and put a little on the fire to warm, with some sugar, for it's as cold as a raw turnip to one's stomach."
"Humph!" said mine host, testily; "it's a good-for-nothin' belly that'll not warm cold ale."
"It's good-for-nothin' ale, Giles, thee means, that'll not warm a cowd belly," said one of the wits of the party, a jolly young blacksmith, an especial favourite amongst the lasses and good fellows of the neighbourhood.
"Nay, the dickens!" said another; "Giles Chatburn's ale would warm the seat of old cloven-foot himsel';" and with that there were roars of laughing, in which, however, the stranger did not participate. Mike wondered that so good a joke should not have its due effect upon him; and many other notable things were said and done which we have neither space nor inclination to record, but the stranger still maintained his grave and unaccountable demeanour. Mike ever and anon cast a glance towards him, and he always observed that the stranger's eye was fixed upon his own. A dark, bright, burning eye, such as made the recreant tailor immediately look aside, for he could not endure its brightness.
Mike began to grow restless and uncomfortable. He changed his place, but the glance of the stranger followed him. It was like the gaze of a portrait, which, in whatever situation the beholder may be placed, is always turned towards him. It may readily be supposed that Michael Waddington, though not averse to being looked at in the ordinary way, did not relish this continued and searching sort of disposition on the part of the gentleman in black. Several times he was on the point of speaking, but his heart always failed him as the word reached his lip.
His liquor was now done, but he was not loth to depart as beforetime; for at any rate, he should be quit of the annoyance he had so long endured. He arose with less regret assuredly than usual; and just as he was passing the doorway he cast a look round over his shoulder, and beheld the same fixed, unflinching eye gazing on him. He jumped hastily over the threshold, and was immediately on his road home. He had not been gone more than a few minutes when he heard a sharp footstep on the crisp snow behind him. Turning round, he saw the dark tall peak of the stranger's hat, looking tenfold darker, almost preternaturally black, on the white background, as he approached. Mike felt his hair bristling through terror. His knees, usually bent somewhat inwards, now fairly smote together, so that he could not accelerate his pace, and the stranger was quickly at his side.
"Thou art travelling homewards, I trow," said he of the black peak. Mike made some barely intelligible reply. "I know it," returned the other. "But why art thou leaving so soon?"
"My money's done, an' credit too, for that matter," tardily replied the tailor.
"And whose fault's that?" returned his companion. "Thou mayest have riches, and everything else, if thou wilt be advised by me."
Mike stared, as well he might, at the dark figure by his side. The idea of wealth without labour was perfectly new to him, and he ventured to ask how this very desirable object might be accomplished.
"Listen. Thou art a poor miserable wretch, and canst hardly earn a livelihood with all thy toil. Is't not a pleasant thing and a desirable, however procured, to obtain wealth at will, and every happiness and delight that man can enjoy?"
Michael's thirsty lips watered at the prospect, notwithstanding his dread of the black gentleman at his elbow.
"I was once poor and wretched as thou. But I grew wiser, and—unlimited wealth is now at my command."
There was an awful pause; the stranger apparently wishful to know the effect of this mysterious communication. The liquorish tailor listened greedily, expecting to hear of the means whereby his condition would be so wonderfully amended.
"Hast thou never heard of those who have been helped by the powers of darkness to"——
"Save us, merci"——
"Hold!" said the peremptory stranger, seizing Mike rudely by the wrist. "Another such outcry, and I will leave thee to thy seams and patches; to starve, or linger on, as best thou mayst."
Michael promised obedience, and his companion continued—
"There is no such great harm or wickedness in it as people suppose. Quite an ordinary sort of proceeding, I assure thee; and such an one as thou mayst accomplish in a few minutes, with little trouble or inconvenience."
"Tell me the wondrous secret," said Michael eagerly, who, in the glowing prospect thus opened out to him, felt all fear of his companion giving way.
"Well, then; thou mayst say two aves, the creed, and thy paternoster backwards thrice, and call upon the invisible demon to appear, when he will tell thee what thou shalt do."
Michael felt a strange thrill come over him at these fearful words. He looked at his companion, but saw not anything more notable than the high-peaked hat, and the huge beaked nose, as before. By this time they were close upon his own threshold, and Michael was just debating within himself upon the propriety of asking his companion to enter, when his deliberations were cut short by the other saying he had business of importance a little farther; and with that he bade him good night.