Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 20

The Kiugr call'd down his merry men all,
By one, and by two, and three;
Earl Marshal was wont to be the foremost man,
But the hindmost man was he.
OLD BALLAD.


If the Lady Eveline retired satisfied and pleased from her private
interview with De Lacy, the joy on the part of the Constable rose
to a higher pitch of rapture than he was in the habit of feeling
or expressing; and it was augmented by a visit of the leeches who
attended his nephew, from whom he received a minute and particular
account of his present disorder, with every assurance of a speedy
recovery.

The Constable caused alms to be distributed to the convents and to
the poor, masses to be said, and tapers to be lighted. He visited
the Archbishop, and received from him his full approbation of the
course which he proposed to pursue, with the promise, that out of
the plenary power which he held from the Pope, the Prelate was
willing, in consideration of his instant obedience, to limit his
stay in the Holy Land to the term of three years, to become
current from his leaving Britain, and to include the space
necessary for his return to his native country. Indeed, having
succeeded in the main point, the Archbishop judged it wise to
concede every inferior consideration to a person of the
Constable's rank and character, whose good-will to the proposed
expedition was perhaps as essential to its success as his bodily
presence.

In short, the Constable returned to his pavilion highly satisfied
with the manner in which he had extricated himself from those
difficulties which in the morning seemed almost insuperable; and
when his officers assembled to disrobe him, (for great feudal
lords had their levees and couchees, in imitation of sovereign
princes,) he distributed gratuities amongst them, and jested and
laughed in a much gayer humour than they had ever before
witnessed.

"For thee," he said, turning to Vidal the minstrel, who,
sumptuously dressed, stood to pay his respects among the other
attendants, "I will give thee nought at present; but do thou
remain by my bedside until I am asleep, and I will next morning
reward thy minstrelsy as I like it."

"My lord," said Vidal, "I am already rewarded, both by the honour,
and by the liveries, which better befit a royal minstrel than one
of my mean fame; but assign me a subject, and I will do my best,
not out of greed of future largess, but gratitude for past
favours."

"Gramercy, good fellow," said the Constable. "Guarine," he added,
addressing his squire, "let the watch be posted, and do thou
remain within the tent--stretch thyself on the bear-hide, and
sleep, or listen to the minstrelsy, as thou likest best. Thou
thinkest thyself a judge, I have heard, of such gear."

It was usual, in those insecure times, for some faithful domestic
to sleep at night within the tent of every great baron, that, if
danger arose, he might not be unsupported or unprotected. Guarine
accordingly drew his sword, and, taking it in his hand, stretched
himself on the ground in such a manner, that, on the slightest
alarm, he could spring up, sword in hand. His broad black eyes, in
which sleep contended with a desire to listen to the music, were
fixed on Vidal, who saw them glittering in the reflection of the
silver lamp, like those of a dragon or a basilisk.

After a few preliminary touches on the chords of his rote, the
minstrel requested of the Constable to name the subject on which
he desired the exercise of his powers.

"The truth of woman," answered Hugo de Lacy, as he laid his head
upon his pillow.

After a short prelude, the minstrel obeyed, by singing nearly as
follows:--

"Woman's faith, and woman's trust--
Write the characters in dust;
Stamp them on the running stream,
Print them on the moon's pale best,
And each evanescent letter,
Shall be clearer, firmer, better,
And more permanent, I ween,
Than the thing those letters mean.

I have strain'd the spider's thread
'Gainst the promise of a maid;
I have weigh'd a grain of sand
'Gainst her plight of heart and hand;
I told my true love of the token,
How her faith proved light, and her word was broken
Again her word and truth she plight,
And I believed them again ere night."

"How now, sir knave," said the Constable, raising himself on his
elbow, from what drunken rhymer did you learn that half-witted
satire?"

"From an old, ragged, crossgrained friend of mine, called
Experience," answered Vidal. "I pray Heaven, he may never take
your lordship, or any other worthy man, under his tuition."

"Go to, fellow," said the Constable, in reply; "thou art one of
those wiseacres, I warrant me, that would fain be thought witty,
because thou canst make a jest of those things which wiser men
hold worthy of most worship-the honour of men, and the truth of
women. Dost thou call thyself a minstrel, and hast no tale of
female fidelity?"

"I had right many a one, noble sir, but I laid them aside when I
disused my practice of the jesting part of the Joyous Science.
Nevertheless, if it pleases your nobleness to listen, I can sing
you an established lay upon such a subject."

De Lacy made a sign of acquiescence, and laid himself as if to
slumber; while Vidal began one of those interminable and almost
innumerable adventures concerning that paragon of true lovers,
fair Ysolte; and of the constant and uninterrupted faith and
affection which she displayed in numerous situations of difficulty
and peril, to her paramour, the gallant Sir Tristrem, at the
expense of her less favoured husband, the luckless King Mark of
Cornwall; to whom, as all the world knows, Sir Tristrem was
nephew.

This was not the lay of love and fidelity which De Lacy would have
chosen; but a feeling like shame prevented his interrupting it,
perhaps because he was unwilling to yield to or acknowledge the
unpleasing sensations excited by the tenor of the tale. He soon
fell asleep, or feigned to do so; and the harper, continuing for a
time his monotonous chant, began at length himself to feel the
influence of slumber; his words, and the notes which he continued
to touch upon the harp, were broken and interrupted, and seemed to
escape drowsily from his fingers and voice. At length the sounds
ceased entirely, and the minstrel seemed to have sunk into
profound repose, with his head reclining on his breast, and one
arm dropped down by his side, while the other rested on his harp.
His slumber, however, was not very long, and when he awoke from
it, and cast his eyes around him, reconnoitering, by the light of
the night-lamp, whatever was in the tent, he felt a heavy hand,
which pressed his shoulder as if gently to solicit his attention.
At the same time the voice of the vigilant Philip Guarine
whispered in his ear, "Thine office for the night is ended--depart
to thine own quarters with all the silence thou mayst."

The minstrel wrapt himself in his cloak without reply, though
perhaps not without feeling some resentment at a dismissal so
unceremonious.


Sir Walter Scott