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Chapter 17

Ring out the merry bell, the bride approaches,
The blush upon her cheek has shamed the morning,
For that is dawning palely. Grant, good saints,
These clouds betoken nought of evil omen!
OLD PLAY.


The day of the _fiancailles, or espousals, was now approaching;
and it seems that neither the profession of the Abbess, nor her
practice at least, were so rigid as to prevent her selecting the
great parlour of the convent for that holy rite, although
necessarily introducing many male guests within those vestal
precincts, and notwithstanding that the rite itself was the
preliminary to a state which the inmates of the cloister had
renounced for ever.

The Abbess's Norman pride of birth, and the real interest which
she took in her niece's advancement, overcame all scruples; and
the venerable mother might be seen in unwonted bustle, now giving
orders to the gardener for decking the apartment with flowers--now
to her cellaress, her precentrix, and the lay-sisters of the
kitchen, for preparing a splendid banquet, mingling her commands
on these worldly subjects with an occasional ejaculation on their
vanity and worthlessness, and every now and then converting the
busy and anxious looks which she threw upon her preparations into
a solemn turning upward of eyes and folding of hands, as one who
sighed over the mere earthly pomp which she took such trouble in
superintending. At another time the good lady might have been seen
in close consultation with Father Aldrovand, upon the ceremonial,
civil and religious, which was to accompany a solemnity of such
consequence to her family.

Meanwhile the reins of discipline, although relaxed for a season,
were not entirely thrown loose. The outer court of the convent was
indeed for the time opened for the reception of the male sex; but
the younger sisters and novices of the house being carefully
secluded in the more inner apartments of the extensive building,
under the immediate eye of a grim old nun, or, as the conventual
rule designed her, an ancient, sad, and virtuous person, termed
Mistress of the Novices, were not permitted to pollute their eyes
by looking on waving plumes and rustling mantles. A few sisters,
indeed, of the Abbess's own standing, were left at liberty, being
such goods as it was thought could not, in shopman's phrase, take
harm from the air, and which are therefore left lying on the
counter. These antiquated dames went mumping about with much
affected indifference, and a great deal of real curiosity,
endeavouring indirectly to get information concerning names, and
dresses, and decorations, without daring to show such interest in
these vanities as actual questions on the subject might have
implied.

A stout band of the Constable's spearmen guarded the gate of the
nunnery, admitting within the hallowed precinct the few only who
were to be present at the solemnity, with their principal
attendants, and while the former were ushered with all due
ceremony into the apartments dressed out for the occasion, the
attendants, although detained in the outer court, were liberally
supplied with refreshments of the most substantial kind; and had
the amusement, so dear to the menial classes, of examining and
criticising their masters and mistresses, as they passed into the
interior apartments prepared for their reception.

Amongst the domestics who were thus employed were old Raoul the
huntsman and his jolly dame--he gay and glorious, in a new cassock
of green velvet, she gracious and comely, in a kirtle of yellow
silk, fringed with minivair, and that at no mean cost, were
equally busied in beholding the gay spectacle. The most inveterate
wars have their occasional terms of truce; the most bitter and
boisterous weather its hours of warmth and of calmness; and so was
it with the matrimonial horizon of this amiable pair, which,
usually cloudy, had now for brief space cleared up. The splendour
of their new apparel, the mirth of the spectacle around them, with
the aid, perhaps, of a bowl of muscadine quaffed by Raoul, and a
cup of hippocras sipped by his wife, had rendered them rather more
agreeable in each other's eyes than was their wont; good cheer
being in such cases, as oil is to a rusty lock, the means of
making those valves move smoothly and glibly, which otherwise work
not together at all, or by shrieks and groans express their
reluctance to move in union. The pair had stuck themselves into a
kind of niche, three or four steps from the ground, which
contained a small stone bench, whence their curious eyes could
scrutinize with advantage every guest who entered the court.

Thus placed, and in their present state of temporary concord,
Raoul with his frosty visage formed no unapt representative of
January, the bitter father of the year; and though Gillian was
past the delicate bloom of youthful May, yet the melting fire of a
full black eye, and the genial glow of a ripe and crimson cheek,
made her a lively type of the fruitful and jovial August. Dame
Gillian used to make it her boast, that she could please every
body with her gossip, when she chose it, from Raymond Berenger
down to Robin the horse-boy; and like a good housewife, who, to
keep her hand in use, will sometimes even condescend to dress a
dish for her husband's sole eating, she now thought proper to
practise her powers of pleasing on old Raoul, fairly conquering,
in her successful sallies of mirth and satire, not only his
cynical temperament towards all human kind, but his peculiar and
special disposition to be testy with his spouse. Her jokes, such
as they were, and the coquetry with which they were enforced, had
such an effect on this Timon of the woods, that he curled up his
cynical nose, displayed his few straggling teeth like a cur about
to bite, broke out into a barking laugh, which was more like the
cry of one of his own hounds--stopped short in the explosion, as
if he had suddenly recollected that it was out of character; yet,
ere he resumed his acrimonious gravity, shot such a glance at
Gillian as made his nut-cracker jaws, pinched eyes, and convolved
nose, bear no small resemblance to one of those fantastic faces
which decorate the upper end of old bass viols.

"Is not this better than laying your dog-leash on your loving
wife, as if she were a brach of the kennel?" said August to
January.

"In troth is it," answered January, in a frost-bitten tone;--"and
so it is also better than doing the brach-tricks which bring the
leash into exercise."

"Humph!" said Gillian, in the tone of one who thought her
husband's proposition might bear being disputed; but instantly
changing the note to that of tender complaint, "Ah! Raoul," she
said, "do you not remember how you once beat me because our late
lord--Our Lady assoilzie him!--took my crimson breast-knot for a
peony rose?"

"Ay, ay," said the huntsman; "I remember our old master would make
such mistakes--Our Lady assoilzie him! as you say--The best hound
will hunt counter."

"And how could you think, dearest Raoul, to let the wife of thy
bosom go so long without a new kirtle?" said his helpmate.

"Why, thou hast got one from our young lady that might serve a
countess," said Raoul, his concord jarred by her touching this
chord--"how many kirtles wouldst thou have?"

"Only two, kind Raoul; just that folk may not count their
children's age by the date of Dame Gillian's last new gown."

"Well, well--it is hard that a man cannot be in good-humour once
and away without being made to pay for it. But thou shalt have a
new kirtle at Michaelmas, when I sell the buck's hides for the
season. The very antlers should bring a good penny this year."

"Ay, ay," said Gillian; "I ever tell thee, husband, the horns
would be worth the hide in a fair market."

Raoul turned briskly round as if a wasp had stung him, and there
is no guessing what his reply might have been to this seemingly
innocent observation, had not a gallant horseman at that instant
entered the court, and, dismounting like the others, gave his
horse to the charge of a squire, or equerry, whose attire blazed
with embroidery.

"By Saint Hubert, a proper horseman, and a _destrier_ for an
earl," said Raoul; "and my Lord Constable's liveries withal--yet I
know not the gallant."

"But I do," said Gillian; "it is Randal de Lacy, the Constable's
kinsman, and as good a man as ever came of the name!"

"Oh! by Saint Hubert, I have heard of him--men say he is a
reveller, and a jangler, and a waster of his goods."

"Men lie now and then," said Gillian dryly.

"And women also," replied Raoul;--"why, methinks he winked on thee
just now."

"That right eye of thine saw never true since our good lord-Saint
Mary rest him!--flung a cup of wine in thy face, for pressing over
boldly into his withdrawing-room."

"I marvel," said Raoul, as if he heard her not, "that yonder
ruffler comes hither. I have heard that he is suspected to have
attempted the Constable's life, and that they have not spoken
together for five years."

"He comes on my young lady's invitation, and that I know full
well," said Dame Gillian; "and he is less like to do the Constable
wrong than to have wrong at his hand, poor gentleman, as indeed he
has had enough of that already."

"And who told thee so?" said Raoul, bitterly.

"No matter, it was one who knew all about it very well," said the
dame, who began to fear that, in displaying her triumph of
superior information, she had been rather over-communicative.

"It must have been the devil, or Randal himself" said Raoul, "for
no other mouth is large enough for such a lie.--But hark ye, Dame
Gillian, who is he that presses forward next, like a man that
scarce sees how he goes?"

"Even your angel of grace, my young Squire Damian" said Dame
Gillian.

"It is impossible!" answered Raoul--"call me blind if thou wilt;--
but I have never seen man so changed in a few weeks--and his
attire is flung on him so wildly as if he wore a horse-cloth round
him instead of a mantle--What can ail the youth?--he has made a
dead pause at the door, as if he saw something on the threshold
that debarred his entrance--Saint Hubert, but he looks as if he
were elf-stricken!"

"You ever thought him such a treasure!" said Gillian; "and now
look at him as he stands by the side of a real gentleman, how he
stares and trembles as if he were distraught."

"I will speak to him," said Raoul, forgetting his lameness, and
springing from his elevated station--"I will speak to him; and if
he be unwell, I have my lancets and fleams to bleed man as well as
brute."

"And a fit physician for such a patient," muttered Gillian,--"a
dog-leech for a dreamy madman, that neither knows his own disease
nor the way to cure it."

Meanwhile the old huntsman made his way towards the entrance,
before which Damian remained standing, in apparent uncertainty
whether he should enter or not, regardless of the crowd around,
and at the same time attracting their attention by the singularity
of his deportment.

Raoul had a private regard for Damiah; for which, perhaps, it was
a chief reason, that of late his wife had been in the habit of
speaking of him in a tone more disrespectful than she usually
applied to handsome young men. Besides, he understood the youth
was a second Sir Tristrem in silvan sports by wood and river, and
there needed no more to fetter Raoul's soul to him with bands of
steel. He saw with great concern his conduct attract general
notice, mixed with some ridicule.

"He stands," said the town-jester, who had crowded into the gay
throng, "before the gate, like Balaam's ass in the Mystery, when
the animal sees so much more than can be seen by any one else."

A cut from Raoul's ready leash rewarded the felicity of this
application, and sent the fool howling off to seek a more
favourable audience, for his pleasantry. At the same time Raoul
pressed up to Damian, and with an earnestness very different from
his usual dry causticity of manner, begged him for God's sake not
to make himself the general spectacle, by standing there as if the
devil sat on the doorway, but either to enter, or, what might be
as becoming, to retire, and make himself more fit in apparel for
attending on a solemnity so nearly concerning his house.

"And what ails my apparel, old man?" said Damian, turning sternly
on the huntsman, as one who has been hastily and uncivilly roused
from a reverie.

"Only, with respect to your valour," answered the huntsman, "men
do not usually put old mantles over new doublets; and methinks,
with submission, that of yours neither accords with your dress,
nor is fitted for this noble presence."

"Thou art a fool!" answered Damian, "and as green in wit as gray
in years. Know you not that in these days the young and old
consort together--contract together--wed together? and should we
take more care to make our apparel consistent than our actions?"

"For God's sake, my lord," said Raoul, "forbear these wild and
dangerous words! they may be heard by other ears than mine, and
construed by worse interpreters. There may be here those who will
pretend to track mischief from light words, as I would find a buck
from his frayings. Your cheek is pale, my lord, your eye is blood-
shot; for Heaven's sake, retire!"

"I will not retire," said Damian, with yet more distemperature of
manner, "till I have seen the Lady Eveline."

"For the sake of all the saints," ejaculated Raoul, "not now!--You
will do my lady incredible injury by forcing yourself into her
presence in this condition."

"Do you think so!" said Damian, the remark seeming to operate as a
sedative which enabled him to collect his scattered thoughts.--"Do
you really think so?--I thought that to have looked upon her once
more--but no--you are in the right, old man."

He turned from the door as if to withdraw, but ere he could
accomplish his purpose, he turned yet more pale than before,
staggered, and fell on the pavement ere Raoul could afford him his
support, useless as that might have proved. Those who raised him
were surprised to observe that his garments were soiled with
blood, and that the stains upon his cloak, which had been
criticised by Raoul, were of the same complexion. A grave-looking
personage, wrapped in a sad-coloured mantle, came forth from the
crowd.

"I knew how it would be," he said; "I made venesection this
morning, and commanded repose and sleep according to the aphorisms
of Hippocrates; but if young gentlemen will neglect the ordinance
of their physician, medicine will avenge herself. It is impossible
that my bandage or ligature, knit by these fingers, should have
started, but to avenge the neglect of the precepts of art."

"What means this prate?" said the voice of the Constable, before
which all others were silent. He had been summoned forth just as
the rite of espousal or betrothing was concluded, on the confusion
occasioned by Damian's situation, and now sternly commanded the
physician to replace the bandages which had slipped from his
nephew's arm, himself assisting in the task of supporting the
patient, with the anxious and deeply agitated feelings of one who
saw a near and justly valued relative--as yet, the heir of his
fame and family--stretched before him in a condition so dangerous.

But the griefs of the powerful and the fortunate are often mingled
with impatience of interrupted prosperity. "What means this?" he
demanded sternly of the leech. "I sent you this morning to attend
my nephew on the first tidings of his illness, and commanded that
he should make no attempt to be present on this day's solemnity,
yet I find him in this state, and in this place."

"So please your lordship," replied the leech, with a conscious
self-importance, which even the presence of the Constable could
not subdue--_"Curatio est canonica, non coacta;_ which
signifieth, my lord, that the physician acteth his cure by rules
of art and science--by advice and prescription, but not by force
or violence upon the patient, who cannot be at all benefited
unless he be voluntarily amenable to the orders of his medicum."

"Tell me not of your jargon," said De Lacy; "if my nephew was
lightheaded enough to attempt to come hither in the heat of a
delirious distemper, you should have had sense to prevent him, had
it been by actual force."

"It may be," said, Randal de Lacy, joining the crowd, who,
forgetting the cause which had brought them together, were now
assembled about Damian, "that more powerful was the magnet which
drew our kinsman hither, than aught the leech could do to withhold
him."

The Constable, still busied about his nephew, looked up as Randal
spoke, and, when he was done, asked, with formal coldness of
manner, "Ha, fair kinsman, of what magnet do you speak?"

"Surely of your nephew's love and regard to your lordship,"
answered Randal, "which, not to mention his respect for the lady
Eveline, must have compelled him hither, if his limbs were able to
bear him.--And here the bride comes, I think, in charity, to thank
him for his zeal."

"What unhappy case is this?" said the Lady Eveline, pressing
forward, much disordered with the intelligence of Damian's danger,
which had been suddenly conveyed to her. "Is there nothing in
which my poor service may avail?"

"Nothing, lady," said the Constable, rising from beside his
nephew, and taking her hand; "your kindness is here mistimed. This
motley assembly, this unseeming confusion, become not your
presence."

"Unless it could be helpful, my lord," said Eveline, eagerly. "It
is your nephew who is in danger--my deliverer--one of my
deliverers, I would say."

"He is fitly attended by his chirurgeon," said the Constable,
leading back his reluctant bride to the convent, while the medical
attendant triumphantly exclaimed,

"Well judgeth my Lord Constable, to withdraw his noble Lady from
the host of petticoated empirics, who, like so many Amazons, break
in upon and derange the regular course of physical practice, with
their petulant prognostics, their rash recipes, their mithridate,
their febrifuges, their amulets, and their charms. Well speaketh
the Ethnic poet,

'Non audet, nisi qua didicit, dare quod medicorum est;
Promittunt medici--tractant fabrilia fabri,'"

As he repeated these lines with much emphasis, the doctor
permitted his patient's arm to drop from his hand, that he might
aid the cadence with a flourish of his own. "There," said he to
the spectators, "is what none of you understand--no, by Saint
Luke, nor the Constable himself."

"But he knows how to whip in a hound that babbles when he should
be busy," said Raoul; and, silenced by this hint, the chirurgeon
betook himself to his proper duty, of superintending the removal
of young Damian to an apartment in the neighbouring street, where
the symptoms of his disorder seemed rather to increase than
diminish, and speedily required all the skill and attention which
the leech could bestow.

The subscription of the contract of marriage had, as already
noticed, been just concluded, when the company assembled on the
occasion were interrupted by the news of Damian's illness. When
the Constable led his bride from the court-yard into the apartment
where the company was assembled, there was discomposure and
uneasiness on the countenance of both; and it was not a little
increased by the bride pulling her hand hastily from the hold of
the bridegroom, on observing that the latter was stained with
recent blood, and had in truth left the same stamp upon her own.
With a faint exclamation she showed the marks to Rose, saying at
the same time, "What bodes this?--Is this the revenge of the
Bloody-finger already commencing?"

"It bodes nothing, my dearest lady," said Rose--"it is our fears
that are prophets, not those trifles which we take for augury. For
God's sake, speak to my lord! He is surprised at your agitation."

"Let him ask me the cause himself," said Eveline; "fitter it
should be told at his bidding, than be offered by me unasked."

The Constable, while his bride stood thus conversing with her
maiden, had also observed, that in his anxiety to assist his
nephew, he had transferred part of his blood from his own hands to
Eveline's dress. He came forward to apologize for what at such a
moment seemed almost ominous. "Fair lady," said he, "the blood of
a true De Lacy can never bode aught but peace and happiness to
you."

Eveline seemed as if she would have answered, but could not
immediately find words. The faithful Rose, at the risk of
incurring the censure of being over forward, hastened to reply to
the compliment. "Every damsel is bound to believe what you say, my
noble lord," was her answer, "knowing how readily that blood hath
ever flowed for protecting the distressed, and so lately for our
own relief."

"It is well spoken, little one," answered the Constable; "and the
Lady Eveline is happy in a maiden who so well knows how to speak
when it is her own pleasure to be silent.--Come, lady," he added,
"let us hope this mishap of my kinsman is but like a sacrifice to
fortune, which permits not the brightest hour to pass without some
intervening shadow. Damian, I trust, will speedily recover; and be
we mindful that the blood-drops which alarm you have been drawn by
a friendly steel, and are symptoms rather of recovery than of
illness.--Come, dearest lady, your silence discourages our
friends, and wakes in them doubts whether we be sincere in the
welcome due to them. Let me be your sewer," he said; and, taking a
silver ewer and napkin from the standing cupboard, which was
loaded with plate, he presented them on his knee to his bride.

Exerting herself to shake off the alarm into which she had been
thrown by some supposed coincidence of the present accident with
the apparition at Baldringham, Eveline, entering into her
betrothed husband's humour, was about to raise him from the
ground, when she was interrupted by the arrival of a hasty
messenger, who, coming into the room without ceremony, informed
the Constable that his nephew was so extremely ill, that if he
hoped to see him alive, it would be necessary he should come to
his lodgings instantly.

The Constable started up, made a brief adieu to Eveline and to the
guests, who, dismayed at this new and disastrous intelligence,
were preparing to disperse themselves, when, as he advanced
towards the door, he was met by a Paritor, or Summoner of the
Ecclesiastical Court, whose official dress had procured him
unobstructed entrance into the precincts of the abbey.

_"Deus vobiscum,"_ said the paritor; "I would know which of
this fair company is the Constable of Chester?"

"I am he," answered the elder De Lacy; "but if thy business be not
the more hasty, I cannot now speak with thee--I am bound on
matters of life and death."

"I take all Christian people to witness that I have discharged my
duty," said the paritor, putting into the hand of the Constable a
slip of parchment.

"How is this, fellow?" said the Constable, in great indignation--
"for whom or what does your master the Archbishop take me, that he
deals with me in this uncourteous fashion, citing me to compear
before him more like a delinquent than a friend or a nobleman?"

"My gracious lord," answered the paritor, haughtily, "is
accountable to no one but our Holy Father the Pope, for the
exercise of the power which is intrusted to him by the canons of
the Church. Your lordship's answer to my citation?"

"Is the Archbishop present in this city?" said the Constable,
after a moment's reflection--"I knew not of his purpose to travel
hither, still less of his purpose to exercise authority within
these bounds."

"My gracious lord the Archbishop," said the paritor, "is but now
arrived in this city, of which he is metropolitan; and, besides,
by his apostolical commission, a legate _a latere_ hath
plenary jurisdiction throughout all England, as those may find
(whatsoever be their degree) who may dare to disobey his summons."

"Hark thee, fellow," said the Constable, regarding the paritor
with a grim and angry countenance, "were it not for certain
respects, which I promise thee thy tawny hood hath little to do
with, thou wert better have swallowed thy citation, seal and all,
than delivered it to me with the addition of such saucy terms. Go
hence, and tell your master I will see him within the space of an
hour, during which time I am delayed by the necessity of attending
a sick relation."

The paritor left the apartment with more humility in his manner
than when he had entered, and left the assembled guests to look
upon each other in silence and dismay.

The reader cannot fail to remember how severely the yoke of the
Roman supremacy pressed both on the clergy and laity of England
during the reign of Henry II. Even the attempt of that wise and
courageous monarch to make a stand for the independence of his
throne in the memorable case of Thomas a Becket, had such an
unhappy issue, that, like a suppressed rebellion, it was found to
add new strength to the domination of the Church. Since the
submission of the king in that ill-fated struggle, the voice of
Rome had double potency whenever it was heard, and the boldest
peers of England held it more wise to submit to her imperious
dictates, than to provoke a spiritual censure which had so many
secular consequences. Hence the slight and scornful manner in
which the Constable was treated by the prelate Baldwin struck a
chill of astonishment into the assembly of friends whom he had
collected to witness his espousals; and as he glanced his haughty
eye around, he saw that many who would have stood by him through
life and death in any other quarrel, had it even been with his
sovereign, were turning pale at the very thought of a collision
with the Church. Embarrassed, and at the same time incensed at
their timidity, the Constable hasted to dismiss them, with the
general assurance that all would be well--that his nephew's
indisposition was a trifling complaint, exaggerated by a conceited
physician, and by his own want of care--and that the message of
the Archbishop, so unceremoniously delivered, was but the
consequence of their mutual and friendly familiarity, which
induced them sometimes, for the jest's sake, to reverse or neglect
the ordinary forms of intercourse.--"If I wanted to speak with the
prelate Baldwin on express business and in haste, such is the
humility and indifference to form of that worthy pillar of the
Church, that I should not fear offence," said the Constable, "did
I send the meanest horseboy in my troop to ask an audience of
him."

So he spoke--but there was something in his countenance which
contradicted his words; and his friends and relations retired from
the splendid and joyful ceremony of his espousals as from a
funeral feast, with anxious thoughts and with downcast eyes.

Randal was the only person, who, having attentively watched the
whole progress of the affair during the evening, ventured to
approach his cousin as he left the house, and asked him, "in the
name of their reunited friendship, whether he had nothing to
command him?" assuring him, with a look more expressive than his
words, that he would not find him cold in his service.

"I have nought which can exercise your zeal, fair cousin," replied
the Constable, with the air of one who partly questioned the
speaker's sincerity; and the parting reverence with which he
accompanied his words, left Randal no pretext for continuing his
attendance, as he seemed to have designed.


Sir Walter Scott