Ivanhoe: A Romance by Walter Scott

CHAPTER I

Thus communed these; while to their lowly dome,
The full-fed swine return’d with evening home;
Compell’d, reluctant, to the several sties,
With din obstreperous, and ungrateful cries.
Pope’s Odyssey

In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the
river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering
the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between
Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. The remains of this
extensive wood are still to be seen at the noble seats of Wentworth, of
Warncliffe Park, and around Rotherham. Here haunted of yore the fabulous
Dragon of Wantley; here were fought many of the most desperate battles
during the Civil Wars of the Roses; and here also flourished in ancient
times those bands of gallant outlaws, whose deeds have been rendered so
popular in English song.

Such being our chief scene, the date of our story refers to a period
towards the end of the reign of Richard I., when his return from his
long captivity had become an event rather wished than hoped for by his
despairing subjects, who were in the meantime subjected to every species
of subordinate oppression. The nobles, whose power had become exorbitant
during the reign of Stephen, and whom the prudence of Henry the Second
had scarce reduced to some degree of subjection to the crown, had now
resumed their ancient license in its utmost extent; despising the feeble
interference of the English Council of State, fortifying their castles,
increasing the number of their dependants, reducing all around them to a
state of vassalage, and striving by every means in their power, to place
themselves each at the head of such forces as might enable him to make a
figure in the national convulsions which appeared to be impending.

The situation of the inferior gentry, or Franklins, as they were called,
who, by the law and spirit of the English constitution, were entitled
to hold themselves independent of feudal tyranny, became now unusually
precarious. If, as was most generally the case, they placed themselves
under the protection of any of the petty kings in their vicinity,
accepted of feudal offices in his household, or bound themselves by
mutual treaties of alliance and protection, to support him in his
enterprises, they might indeed purchase temporary repose; but it must
be with the sacrifice of that independence which was so dear to every
English bosom, and at the certain hazard of being involved as a party in
whatever rash expedition the ambition of their protector might lead him
to undertake. On the other hand, such and so multiplied were the means
of vexation and oppression possessed by the great Barons, that they
never wanted the pretext, and seldom the will, to harass and pursue,
even to the very edge of destruction, any of their less powerful
neighbours, who attempted to separate themselves from their authority,
and to trust for their protection, during the dangers of the times, to
their own inoffensive conduct, and to the laws of the land.

A circumstance which greatly tended to enhance the tyranny of the
nobility, and the sufferings of the inferior classes, arose from
the consequences of the Conquest by Duke William of Normandy. Four
generations had not sufficed to blend the hostile blood of the Normans
and Anglo-Saxons, or to unite, by common language and mutual interests,
two hostile races, one of which still felt the elation of triumph, while
the other groaned under all the consequences of defeat. The power had
been completely placed in the hands of the Norman nobility, by the event
of the battle of Hastings, and it had been used, as our histories assure
us, with no moderate hand. The whole race of Saxon princes and nobles
had been extirpated or disinherited, with few or no exceptions; nor were
the numbers great who possessed land in the country of their fathers,
even as proprietors of the second, or of yet inferior classes. The royal
policy had long been to weaken, by every means, legal or illegal, the
strength of a part of the population which was justly considered as
nourishing the most inveterate antipathy to their victor. All the
monarchs of the Norman race had shown the most marked predilection for
their Norman subjects; the laws of the chase, and many others equally
unknown to the milder and more free spirit of the Saxon constitution,
had been fixed upon the necks of the subjugated inhabitants, to add
weight, as it were, to the feudal chains with which they were loaded. At
court, and in the castles of the great nobles, where the pomp and state
of a court was emulated, Norman-French was the only language employed;
in courts of law, the pleadings and judgments were delivered in the same
tongue. In short, French was the language of honour, of chivalry, and
even of justice, while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon
was abandoned to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other. Still,
however, the necessary intercourse between the lords of the soil,
and those oppressed inferior beings by whom that soil was cultivated,
occasioned the gradual formation of a dialect, compounded betwixt
the French and the Anglo-Saxon, in which they could render themselves
mutually intelligible to each other; and from this necessity arose by
degrees the structure of our present English language, in which the
speech of the victors and the vanquished have been so happily blended
together; and which has since been so richly improved by importations
from the classical languages, and from those spoken by the southern
nations of Europe.

This state of things I have thought it necessary to premise for the
information of the general reader, who might be apt to forget, that,
although no great historical events, such as war or insurrection, mark
the existence of the Anglo-Saxons as a separate people subsequent to the
reign of William the Second; yet the great national distinctions betwixt
them and their conquerors, the recollection of what they had formerly
been, and to what they were now reduced, continued down to the reign
of Edward the Third, to keep open the wounds which the Conquest had
inflicted, and to maintain a line of separation betwixt the descendants
of the victor Normans and the vanquished Saxons.

The sun was setting upon one of the rich grassy glades of that forest,
which we have mentioned in the beginning of the chapter. Hundreds of
broad-headed, short-stemmed, wide-branched oaks, which had witnessed
perhaps the stately march of the Roman soldiery, flung their gnarled
arms over a thick carpet of the most delicious green sward; in some
places they were intermingled with beeches, hollies, and copsewood of
various descriptions, so closely as totally to intercept the level beams
of the sinking sun; in others they receded from each other, forming
those long sweeping vistas, in the intricacy of which the eye delights
to lose itself, while imagination considers them as the paths to yet
wilder scenes of silvan solitude. Here the red rays of the sun shot a
broken and discoloured light, that partially hung upon the shattered
boughs and mossy trunks of the trees, and there they illuminated in
brilliant patches the portions of turf to which they made their way. A
considerable open space, in the midst of this glade, seemed formerly to
have been dedicated to the rites of Druidical superstition; for, on
the summit of a hillock, so regular as to seem artificial, there still
remained part of a circle of rough unhewn stones, of large dimensions.
Seven stood upright; the rest had been dislodged from their places,
probably by the zeal of some convert to Christianity, and lay, some
prostrate near their former site, and others on the side of the hill.
One large stone only had found its way to the bottom, and in stopping
the course of a small brook, which glided smoothly round the foot of
the eminence, gave, by its opposition, a feeble voice of murmur to the
placid and elsewhere silent streamlet.

The human figures which completed this landscape, were in number two,
partaking, in their dress and appearance, of that wild and rustic
character, which belonged to the woodlands of the West-Riding of
Yorkshire at that early period. The eldest of these men had a
stern, savage, and wild aspect. His garment was of the simplest form
imaginable, being a close jacket with sleeves, composed of the tanned
skin of some animal, on which the hair had been originally left, but
which had been worn off in so many places, that it would have been
difficult to distinguish from the patches that remained, to what
creature the fur had belonged. This primeval vestment reached from
the throat to the knees, and served at once all the usual purposes
of body-clothing; there was no wider opening at the collar, than
was necessary to admit the passage of the head, from which it may be
inferred, that it was put on by slipping it over the head and shoulders,
in the manner of a modern shirt, or ancient hauberk. Sandals, bound
with thongs made of boars’ hide, protected the feet, and a roll of thin
leather was twined artificially round the legs, and, ascending above the
calf, left the knees bare, like those of a Scottish Highlander. To make
the jacket sit yet more close to the body, it was gathered at the middle
by a broad leathern belt, secured by a brass buckle; to one side of
which was attached a sort of scrip, and to the other a ram’s horn,
accoutred with a mouthpiece, for the purpose of blowing. In the same
belt was stuck one of those long, broad, sharp-pointed, and two-edged
knives, with a buck’s-horn handle, which were fabricated in the
neighbourhood, and bore even at this early period the name of a
Sheffield whittle. The man had no covering upon his head, which was
only defended by his own thick hair, matted and twisted together, and
scorched by the influence of the sun into a rusty dark-red colour,
forming a contrast with the overgrown beard upon his cheeks, which was
rather of a yellow or amber hue. One part of his dress only remains, but
it is too remarkable to be suppressed; it was a brass ring, resembling a
dog’s collar, but without any opening, and soldered fast round his neck,
so loose as to form no impediment to his breathing, yet so tight as to
be incapable of being removed, excepting by the use of the file. On this
singular gorget was engraved, in Saxon characters, an inscription of the
following purport:–“Gurth, the son of Beowulph, is the born thrall of
Cedric of Rotherwood.”

Beside the swine-herd, for such was Gurth’s occupation, was seated, upon
one of the fallen Druidical monuments, a person about ten years younger
in appearance, and whose dress, though resembling his companion’s in
form, was of better materials, and of a more fantastic appearance. His
jacket had been stained of a bright purple hue, upon which there had
been some attempt to paint grotesque ornaments in different colours. To
the jacket he added a short cloak, which scarcely reached half way down
his thigh; it was of crimson cloth, though a good deal soiled, lined
with bright yellow; and as he could transfer it from one shoulder to the
other, or at his pleasure draw it all around him, its width, contrasted
with its want of longitude, formed a fantastic piece of drapery. He had
thin silver bracelets upon his arms, and on his neck a collar of the
same metal bearing the inscription, “Wamba, the son of Witless, is the
thrall of Cedric of Rotherwood.” This personage had the same sort of
sandals with his companion, but instead of the roll of leather thong,
his legs were cased in a sort of gaiters, of which one was red and the
other yellow. He was provided also with a cap, having around it more
than one bell, about the size of those attached to hawks, which jingled
as he turned his head to one side or other; and as he seldom remained a
minute in the same posture, the sound might be considered as incessant.
Around the edge of this cap was a stiff bandeau of leather, cut at the
top into open work, resembling a coronet, while a prolonged bag arose
from within it, and fell down on one shoulder like an old-fashioned
nightcap, or a jelly-bag, or the head-gear of a modern hussar. It was to
this part of the cap that the bells were attached; which circumstance,
as well as the shape of his head-dress, and his own half-crazed,
half-cunning expression of countenance, sufficiently pointed him out as
belonging to the race of domestic clowns or jesters, maintained in the
houses of the wealthy, to help away the tedium of those lingering
hours which they were obliged to spend within doors. He bore, like
his companion, a scrip, attached to his belt, but had neither horn nor
knife, being probably considered as belonging to a class whom it is
esteemed dangerous to intrust with edge-tools. In place of these, he
was equipped with a sword of lath, resembling that with which Harlequin
operates his wonders upon the modern stage.

The outward appearance of these two men formed scarce a stronger
contrast than their look and demeanour. That of the serf, or bondsman,
was sad and sullen; his aspect was bent on the ground with an appearance
of deep dejection, which might be almost construed into apathy, had
not the fire which occasionally sparkled in his red eye manifested that
there slumbered, under the appearance of sullen despondency, a sense of
oppression, and a disposition to resistance. The looks of Wamba, on
the other hand, indicated, as usual with his class, a sort of vacant
curiosity, and fidgetty impatience of any posture of repose, together
with the utmost self-satisfaction respecting his own situation, and the
appearance which he made. The dialogue which they maintained between
them, was carried on in Anglo-Saxon, which, as we said before, was
universally spoken by the inferior classes, excepting the Norman
soldiers, and the immediate personal dependants of the great feudal
nobles. But to give their conversation in the original would convey but
little information to the modern reader, for whose benefit we beg to
offer the following translation:

“The curse of St Withold upon these infernal porkers!” said the
swine-herd, after blowing his horn obstreperously, to collect together
the scattered herd of swine, which, answering his call with notes
equally melodious, made, however, no haste to remove themselves from the
luxurious banquet of beech-mast and acorns on which they had fattened,
or to forsake the marshy banks of the rivulet, where several of them,
half plunged in mud, lay stretched at their ease, altogether regardless
of the voice of their keeper. “The curse of St Withold upon them and
upon me!” said Gurth; “if the two-legged wolf snap not up some of them
ere nightfall, I am no true man. Here, Fangs! Fangs!” he ejaculated at
the top of his voice to a ragged wolfish-looking dog, a sort of lurcher,
half mastiff, half greyhound, which ran limping about as if with the
purpose of seconding his master in collecting the refractory grunters;
but which, in fact, from misapprehension of the swine-herd’s signals,
ignorance of his own duty, or malice prepense, only drove them hither
and thither, and increased the evil which he seemed to design to remedy.
“A devil draw the teeth of him,” said Gurth, “and the mother of mischief
confound the Ranger of the forest, that cuts the foreclaws off our dogs,
and makes them unfit for their trade! [8] Wamba, up and help me an thou
be’st a man; take a turn round the back o’ the hill to gain the wind
on them; and when thous’t got the weather-gage, thou mayst drive them
before thee as gently as so many innocent lambs.”

“Truly,” said Wamba, without stirring from the spot, “I have consulted
my legs upon this matter, and they are altogether of opinion, that
to carry my gay garments through these sloughs, would be an act of
unfriendship to my sovereign person and royal wardrobe; wherefore,
Gurth, I advise thee to call off Fangs, and leave the herd to their
destiny, which, whether they meet with bands of travelling soldiers,
or of outlaws, or of wandering pilgrims, can be little else than to
be converted into Normans before morning, to thy no small ease and
comfort.”

“The swine turned Normans to my comfort!” quoth Gurth; “expound that
to me, Wamba, for my brain is too dull, and my mind too vexed, to read
riddles.”

“Why, how call you those grunting brutes running about on their four
legs?” demanded Wamba.

“Swine, fool, swine,” said the herd, “every fool knows that.”

“And swine is good Saxon,” said the Jester; “but how call you the sow
when she is flayed, and drawn, and quartered, and hung up by the heels,
like a traitor?”

“Pork,” answered the swine-herd.

“I am very glad every fool knows that too,” said Wamba, “and pork, I
think, is good Norman-French; and so when the brute lives, and is in
the charge of a Saxon slave, she goes by her Saxon name; but becomes a
Norman, and is called pork, when she is carried to the Castle-hall to
feast among the nobles; what dost thou think of this, friend Gurth, ha?”

“It is but too true doctrine, friend Wamba, however it got into thy
fool’s pate.”

“Nay, I can tell you more,” said Wamba, in the same tone; “there is old
Alderman Ox continues to hold his Saxon epithet, while he is under the
charge of serfs and bondsmen such as thou, but becomes Beef, a fiery
French gallant, when he arrives before the worshipful jaws that are
destined to consume him. Mynheer Calf, too, becomes Monsieur de Veau
in the like manner; he is Saxon when he requires tendance, and takes a
Norman name when he becomes matter of enjoyment.”

“By St Dunstan,” answered Gurth, “thou speakest but sad truths; little
is left to us but the air we breathe, and that appears to have been
reserved with much hesitation, solely for the purpose of enabling us to
endure the tasks they lay upon our shoulders. The finest and the fattest
is for their board; the loveliest is for their couch; the best and
bravest supply their foreign masters with soldiers, and whiten distant
lands with their bones, leaving few here who have either will or the
power to protect the unfortunate Saxon. God’s blessing on our master
Cedric, he hath done the work of a man in standing in the gap; but
Reginald Front-de-Boeuf is coming down to this country in person, and we
shall soon see how little Cedric’s trouble will avail him.–Here, here,”
he exclaimed again, raising his voice, “So ho! so ho! well done, Fangs!
thou hast them all before thee now, and bring’st them on bravely, lad.”

“Gurth,” said the Jester, “I know thou thinkest me a fool, or thou
wouldst not be so rash in putting thy head into my mouth. One word to
Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, or Philip de Malvoisin, that thou hast
spoken treason against the Norman,–and thou art but a cast-away
swineherd,–thou wouldst waver on one of these trees as a terror to all
evil speakers against dignities.”

“Dog, thou wouldst not betray me,” said Gurth, “after having led me on
to speak so much at disadvantage?”

“Betray thee!” answered the Jester; “no, that were the trick of a wise
man; a fool cannot half so well help himself–but soft, whom have we
here?” he said, listening to the trampling of several horses which
became then audible.

“Never mind whom,” answered Gurth, who had now got his herd before him,
and, with the aid of Fangs, was driving them down one of the long dim
vistas which we have endeavoured to describe.

“Nay, but I must see the riders,” answered Wamba; “perhaps they are come
from Fairy-land with a message from King Oberon.”

“A murrain take thee,” rejoined the swine-herd; “wilt thou talk of such
things, while a terrible storm of thunder and lightning is raging within
a few miles of us? Hark, how the thunder rumbles! and for summer rain,
I never saw such broad downright flat drops fall out of the clouds; the
oaks, too, notwithstanding the calm weather, sob and creak with their
great boughs as if announcing a tempest. Thou canst play the rational if
thou wilt; credit me for once, and let us home ere the storm begins to
rage, for the night will be fearful.”

Wamba seemed to feel the force of this appeal, and accompanied his
companion, who began his journey after catching up a long quarter-staff
which lay upon the grass beside him. This second Eumaeus strode hastily
down the forest glade, driving before him, with the assistance of Fangs,
the whole herd of his inharmonious charge.

CHAPTER II

A Monk there was, a fayre for the maistrie,
An outrider that loved venerie;
A manly man, to be an Abbot able,
Full many a daintie horse had he in stable:
And whan he rode, men might his bridle hear
Gingeling in a whistling wind as clear,
And eke as loud, as doth the chapell bell,
There as this lord was keeper of the cell.
–Chaucer.

Notwithstanding the occasional exhortation and chiding of his companion,
the noise of the horsemen’s feet continuing to approach, Wamba could
not be prevented from lingering occasionally on the road, upon every
pretence which occurred; now catching from the hazel a cluster of
half-ripe nuts, and now turning his head to leer after a cottage maiden
who crossed their path. The horsemen, therefore, soon overtook them on
the road.

Their numbers amounted to ten men, of whom the two who rode foremost
seemed to be persons of considerable importance, and the others
their attendants. It was not difficult to ascertain the condition and
character of one of these personages. He was obviously an ecclesiastic
of high rank; his dress was that of a Cistercian Monk, but composed of
materials much finer than those which the rule of that order admitted.
His mantle and hood were of the best Flanders cloth, and fell in ample,
and not ungraceful folds, around a handsome, though somewhat corpulent
person. His countenance bore as little the marks of self-denial, as his
habit indicated contempt of worldly splendour. His features might have
been called good, had there not lurked under the pent-house of his eye,
that sly epicurean twinkle which indicates the cautious voluptuary.
In other respects, his profession and situation had taught him a ready
command over his countenance, which he could contract at pleasure into
solemnity, although its natural expression was that of good-humoured
social indulgence. In defiance of conventual rules, and the edicts of
popes and councils, the sleeves of this dignitary were lined and turned
up with rich furs, his mantle secured at the throat with a golden
clasp, and the whole dress proper to his order as much refined upon and
ornamented, as that of a quaker beauty of the present day, who, while
she retains the garb and costume of her sect continues to give to its
simplicity, by the choice of materials and the mode of disposing them,
a certain air of coquettish attraction, savouring but too much of the
vanities of the world.

This worthy churchman rode upon a well-fed ambling mule, whose furniture
was highly decorated, and whose bridle, according to the fashion of the
day, was ornamented with silver bells. In his seat he had nothing of the
awkwardness of the convent, but displayed the easy and habitual grace of
a well-trained horseman. Indeed, it seemed that so humble a conveyance
as a mule, in however good case, and however well broken to a pleasant
and accommodating amble, was only used by the gallant monk for
travelling on the road. A lay brother, one of those who followed in the
train, had, for his use on other occasions, one of the most handsome
Spanish jennets ever bred at Andalusia, which merchants used at that
time to import, with great trouble and risk, for the use of persons of
wealth and distinction. The saddle and housings of this superb palfrey
were covered by a long foot-cloth, which reached nearly to the ground,
and on which were richly embroidered, mitres, crosses, and other
ecclesiastical emblems. Another lay brother led a sumpter mule, loaded
probably with his superior’s baggage; and two monks of his own order,
of inferior station, rode together in the rear, laughing and conversing
with each other, without taking much notice of the other members of the
cavalcade.

The companion of the church dignitary was a man past forty, thin,
strong, tall, and muscular; an athletic figure, which long fatigue and
constant exercise seemed to have left none of the softer part of the
human form, having reduced the whole to brawn, bones, and sinews, which
had sustained a thousand toils, and were ready to dare a thousand more.
His head was covered with a scarlet cap, faced with fur–of that kind
which the French call “mortier”, from its resemblance to the shape of an
inverted mortar. His countenance was therefore fully displayed, and its
expression was calculated to impress a degree of awe, if not of
fear, upon strangers. High features, naturally strong and powerfully
expressive, had been burnt almost into Negro blackness by constant
exposure to the tropical sun, and might, in their ordinary state, be
said to slumber after the storm of passion had passed away; but the
projection of the veins of the forehead, the readiness with which the
upper lip and its thick black moustaches quivered upon the slightest
emotion, plainly intimated that the tempest might be again and easily
awakened. His keen, piercing, dark eyes, told in every glance a history
of difficulties subdued, and dangers dared, and seemed to challenge
opposition to his wishes, for the pleasure of sweeping it from his road
by a determined exertion of courage and of will; a deep scar on his brow
gave additional sternness to his countenance, and a sinister expression
to one of his eyes, which had been slightly injured on the same
occasion, and of which the vision, though perfect, was in a slight and
partial degree distorted.

The upper dress of this personage resembled that of his companion in
shape, being a long monastic mantle; but the colour, being scarlet,
showed that he did not belong to any of the four regular orders of
monks. On the right shoulder of the mantle there was cut, in white
cloth, a cross of a peculiar form. This upper robe concealed what at
first view seemed rather inconsistent with its form, a shirt, namely, of
linked mail, with sleeves and gloves of the same, curiously plaited and
interwoven, as flexible to the body as those which are now wrought in
the stocking-loom, out of less obdurate materials. The fore-part of his
thighs, where the folds of his mantle permitted them to be seen, were
also covered with linked mail; the knees and feet were defended by
splints, or thin plates of steel, ingeniously jointed upon each
other; and mail hose, reaching from the ankle to the knee, effectually
protected the legs, and completed the rider’s defensive armour. In
his girdle he wore a long and double-edged dagger, which was the only
offensive weapon about his person.

He rode, not a mule, like his companion, but a strong hackney for the
road, to save his gallant war-horse, which a squire led behind, fully
accoutred for battle, with a chamfron or plaited head-piece upon his
head, having a short spike projecting from the front. On one side of the
saddle hung a short battle-axe, richly inlaid with Damascene carving;
on the other the rider’s plumed head-piece and hood of mail, with a long
two-handed sword, used by the chivalry of the period. A second squire
held aloft his master’s lance, from the extremity of which fluttered a
small banderole, or streamer, bearing a cross of the same form with that
embroidered upon his cloak. He also carried his small triangular
shield, broad enough at the top to protect the breast, and from thence
diminishing to a point. It was covered with a scarlet cloth, which
prevented the device from being seen.

These two squires were followed by two attendants, whose dark visages,
white turbans, and the Oriental form of their garments, showed them to
be natives of some distant Eastern country. [9]

The whole appearance of this warrior and his retinue was wild and
outlandish; the dress of his squires was gorgeous, and his Eastern
attendants wore silver collars round their throats, and bracelets of the
same metal upon their swarthy arms and legs, of which the former were
naked from the elbow, and the latter from mid-leg to ankle. Silk and
embroidery distinguished their dresses, and marked the wealth and
importance of their master; forming, at the same time, a striking
contrast with the martial simplicity of his own attire. They were armed
with crooked sabres, having the hilt and baldric inlaid with gold, and
matched with Turkish daggers of yet more costly workmanship. Each of
them bore at his saddle-bow a bundle of darts or javelins, about four
feet in length, having sharp steel heads, a weapon much in use among
the Saracens, and of which the memory is yet preserved in the martial
exercise called “El Jerrid”, still practised in the Eastern countries.

The steeds of these attendants were in appearance as foreign as their
riders. They were of Saracen origin, and consequently of Arabian
descent; and their fine slender limbs, small fetlocks, thin manes, and
easy springy motion, formed a marked contrast with the large-jointed,
heavy horses, of which the race was cultivated in Flanders and in
Normandy, for mounting the men-at-arms of the period in all the panoply
of plate and mail; and which, placed by the side of those Eastern
coursers, might have passed for a personification of substance and of
shadow.

The singular appearance of this cavalcade not only attracted the
curiosity of Wamba, but excited even that of his less volatile
companion. The monk he instantly knew to be the Prior of Jorvaulx
Abbey, well known for many miles around as a lover of the chase, of
the banquet, and, if fame did him not wrong, of other worldly pleasures
still more inconsistent with his monastic vows.

Yet so loose were the ideas of the times respecting the conduct of the
clergy, whether secular or regular, that the Prior Aymer maintained a
fair character in the neighbourhood of his abbey. His free and jovial
temper, and the readiness with which he granted absolution from all
ordinary delinquencies, rendered him a favourite among the nobility and
principal gentry, to several of whom he was allied by birth, being of
a distinguished Norman family. The ladies, in particular, were not
disposed to scan too nicely the morals of a man who was a professed
admirer of their sex, and who possessed many means of dispelling the
ennui which was too apt to intrude upon the halls and bowers of an
ancient feudal castle. The Prior mingled in the sports of the field with
more than due eagerness, and was allowed to possess the best-trained
hawks, and the fleetest greyhounds in the North Riding; circumstances
which strongly recommended him to the youthful gentry. With the old,
he had another part to play, which, when needful, he could sustain
with great decorum. His knowledge of books, however superficial, was
sufficient to impress upon their ignorance respect for his supposed
learning; and the gravity of his deportment and language, with the high
tone which he exerted in setting forth the authority of the church
and of the priesthood, impressed them no less with an opinion of his
sanctity. Even the common people, the severest critics of the conduct of
their betters, had commiseration with the follies of Prior Aymer. He
was generous; and charity, as it is well known, covereth a multitude
of sins, in another sense than that in which it is said to do so in
Scripture. The revenues of the monastery, of which a large part was at
his disposal, while they gave him the means of supplying his own very
considerable expenses, afforded also those largesses which he bestowed
among the peasantry, and with which he frequently relieved the
distresses of the oppressed. If Prior Aymer rode hard in the chase, or
remained long at the banquet,–if Prior Aymer was seen, at the early
peep of dawn, to enter the postern of the abbey, as he glided home
from some rendezvous which had occupied the hours of darkness, men
only shrugged up their shoulders, and reconciled themselves to his
irregularities, by recollecting that the same were practised by many
of his brethren who had no redeeming qualities whatsoever to atone for
them. Prior Aymer, therefore, and his character, were well known to
our Saxon serfs, who made their rude obeisance, and received his
“benedicite, mes filz,” in return.

But the singular appearance of his companion and his attendants,
arrested their attention and excited their wonder, and they could
scarcely attend to the Prior of Jorvaulx’ question, when he demanded if
they knew of any place of harbourage in the vicinity; so much were they
surprised at the half monastic, half military appearance of the swarthy
stranger, and at the uncouth dress and arms of his Eastern attendants.
It is probable, too, that the language in which the benediction was
conferred, and the information asked, sounded ungracious, though not
probably unintelligible, in the ears of the Saxon peasants.

“I asked you, my children,” said the Prior, raising his voice, and using
the lingua Franca, or mixed language, in which the Norman and Saxon
races conversed with each other, “if there be in this neighbourhood any
good man, who, for the love of God, and devotion to Mother Church,
will give two of her humblest servants, with their train, a night’s
hospitality and refreshment?”

This he spoke with a tone of conscious importance, which formed a strong
contrast to the modest terms which he thought it proper to employ.

“Two of the humblest servants of Mother Church!” repeated Wamba to
himself,–but, fool as he was, taking care not to make his observation
audible; “I should like to see her seneschals, her chief butlers, and
other principal domestics!”

After this internal commentary on the Prior’s speech, he raised his
eyes, and replied to the question which had been put.

“If the reverend fathers,” he said, “loved good cheer and soft lodging,
few miles of riding would carry them to the Priory of Brinxworth, where
their quality could not but secure them the most honourable reception;
or if they preferred spending a penitential evening, they might turn
down yonder wild glade, which would bring them to the hermitage of
Copmanhurst, where a pious anchoret would make them sharers for the
night of the shelter of his roof and the benefit of his prayers.”

The Prior shook his head at both proposals.

“Mine honest friend,” said he, “if the jangling of thy bells had not
dizzied thine understanding, thou mightst know “Clericus clericum non
decimat”; that is to say, we churchmen do not exhaust each other’s
hospitality, but rather require that of the laity, giving them thus
an opportunity to serve God in honouring and relieving his appointed
servants.”

“It is true,” replied Wamba, “that I, being but an ass, am,
nevertheless, honoured to hear the bells as well as your reverence’s
mule; notwithstanding, I did conceive that the charity of Mother Church
and her servants might be said, with other charity, to begin at home.”

“A truce to thine insolence, fellow,” said the armed rider, breaking in
on his prattle with a high and stern voice, “and tell us, if thou canst,
the road to–How call’d you your Franklin, Prior Aymer?”

“Cedric,” answered the Prior; “Cedric the Saxon.–Tell me, good fellow,
are we near his dwelling, and can you show us the road?”

“The road will be uneasy to find,” answered Gurth, who broke silence for
the first time, “and the family of Cedric retire early to rest.”

“Tush, tell not me, fellow,” said the military rider; “’tis easy for
them to arise and supply the wants of travellers such as we are, who
will not stoop to beg the hospitality which we have a right to command.”

“I know not,” said Gurth, sullenly, “if I should show the way to my
master’s house, to those who demand as a right, the shelter which most
are fain to ask as a favour.”

“Do you dispute with me, slave!” said the soldier; and, setting spurs
to his horse, he caused him make a demivolte across the path, raising at
the same time the riding rod which he held in his hand, with a purpose
of chastising what he considered as the insolence of the peasant.

Gurth darted at him a savage and revengeful scowl, and with a fierce,
yet hesitating motion, laid his hand on the haft of his knife; but the
interference of Prior Aymer, who pushed his mule betwixt his companion
and the swineherd, prevented the meditated violence.

“Nay, by St Mary, brother Brian, you must not think you are now in
Palestine, predominating over heathen Turks and infidel Saracens; we
islanders love not blows, save those of holy Church, who chasteneth whom
she loveth.–Tell me, good fellow,” said he to Wamba, and seconded his
speech by a small piece of silver coin, “the way to Cedric the Saxon’s;
you cannot be ignorant of it, and it is your duty to direct the wanderer
even when his character is less sanctified than ours.”

“In truth, venerable father,” answered the Jester, “the Saracen head of
your right reverend companion has frightened out of mine the way home–I
am not sure I shall get there to-night myself.”

“Tush,” said the Abbot, “thou canst tell us if thou wilt. This reverend
brother has been all his life engaged in fighting among the Saracens
for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre; he is of the order of Knights
Templars, whom you may have heard of; he is half a monk, half a
soldier.”

“If he is but half a monk,” said the Jester, “he should not be wholly
unreasonable with those whom he meets upon the road, even if they should
be in no hurry to answer questions that no way concern them.”

“I forgive thy wit,” replied the Abbot, “on condition thou wilt show me
the way to Cedric’s mansion.”

“Well, then,” answered Wamba, “your reverences must hold on this path
till you come to a sunken cross, of which scarce a cubit’s length
remains above ground; then take the path to the left, for there are
four which meet at Sunken Cross, and I trust your reverences will obtain
shelter before the storm comes on.”

The Abbot thanked his sage adviser; and the cavalcade, setting spurs to
their horses, rode on as men do who wish to reach their inn before the
bursting of a night-storm. As their horses’ hoofs died away, Gurth
said to his companion, “If they follow thy wise direction, the reverend
fathers will hardly reach Rotherwood this night.”

“No,” said the Jester, grinning, “but they may reach Sheffield if they
have good luck, and that is as fit a place for them. I am not so bad a
woodsman as to show the dog where the deer lies, if I have no mind he
should chase him.”

“Thou art right,” said Gurth; “it were ill that Aymer saw the Lady
Rowena; and it were worse, it may be, for Cedric to quarrel, as is most
likely he would, with this military monk. But, like good servants let us
hear and see, and say nothing.”

We return to the riders, who had soon left the bondsmen far behind
them, and who maintained the following conversation in the Norman-French
language, usually employed by the superior classes, with the exception
of the few who were still inclined to boast their Saxon descent.

“What mean these fellows by their capricious insolence?” said the
Templar to the Benedictine, “and why did you prevent me from chastising
it?”

“Marry, brother Brian,” replied the Prior, “touching the one of them, it
were hard for me to render a reason for a fool speaking according to his
folly; and the other churl is of that savage, fierce, intractable race,
some of whom, as I have often told you, are still to be found among the
descendants of the conquered Saxons, and whose supreme pleasure it is
to testify, by all means in their power, their aversion to their
conquerors.”

“I would soon have beat him into courtesy,” observed Brian; “I am
accustomed to deal with such spirits: Our Turkish captives are as fierce
and intractable as Odin himself could have been; yet two months in my
household, under the management of my master of the slaves, has made
them humble, submissive, serviceable, and observant of your will. Marry,
sir, you must be aware of the poison and the dagger; for they use either
with free will when you give them the slightest opportunity.”

“Ay, but,” answered Prior Aymer, “every land has its own manners and
fashions; and, besides that beating this fellow could procure us no
information respecting the road to Cedric’s house, it would have been
sure to have established a quarrel betwixt you and him had we found our
way thither. Remember what I told you: this wealthy franklin is proud,
fierce, jealous, and irritable, a withstander of the nobility, and even
of his neighbors, Reginald Front-de-Boeuf and Philip Malvoisin, who are
no babies to strive with. He stands up sternly for the privileges of
his race, and is so proud of his uninterrupted descend from Hereward, a
renowned champion of the Heptarchy, that he is universally called Cedric
the Saxon; and makes a boast of his belonging to a people from whom
many others endeaver to hide their descent, lest they should encounter a
share of the ‘vae victis,’ or severities imposed upon the vanquished.”

“Prior Aymer,” said the Templar, “you are a man of gallantry, learned
in the study of beauty, and as expert as a troubadour in all matters
concerning the ‘arrets’ of love; but I shall expect much beauty in this
celebrated Rowena to counterbalance the self-denial and forbearance
which I must exert if I am to court the favor of such a seditious churl
as you have described her father Cedric.”

“Cedric is not her father,” replied the Prior, “and is but of remote
relation: she is descended from higher blood than even he pretends to,
and is but distantly connected with him by birth. Her guardian, however,
he is, self-constituted as I believe; but his ward is as dear to him as
if she were his own child. Of her beauty you shall soon be judge; and if
the purity of her complexion, and the majestic, yet soft expression of a
mild blue eye, do not chase from your memory the black-tressed girls of
Palestine, ay, or the houris of old Mahound’s paradise, I am an infidel,
and no true son of the church.”

“Should your boasted beauty,” said the Templar, “be weighed in the
balance and found wanting, you know our wager?”

“My gold collar,” answered the Prior, “against ten butts of Chian
wine;–they are mine as securely as if they were already in the convent
vaults, under the key of old Dennis the cellarer.”

“And I am myself to be judge,” said the Templar, “and am only to be
convicted on my own admission, that I have seen no maiden so beautiful
since Pentecost was a twelvemonth. Ran it not so?–Prior, your collar
is in danger; I will wear it over my gorget in the lists of
Ashby-de-la-Zouche.”

“Win it fairly,” said the Prior, “and wear it as ye will; I will trust
your giving true response, on your word as a knight and as a churchman.
Yet, brother, take my advice, and file your tongue to a little more
courtesy than your habits of predominating over infidel captives
and Eastern bondsmen have accustomed you. Cedric the Saxon, if
offended,–and he is noway slack in taking offence,–is a man who,
without respect to your knighthood, my high office, or the sanctity
of either, would clear his house of us, and send us to lodge with the
larks, though the hour were midnight. And be careful how you look on
Rowena, whom he cherishes with the most jealous care; an he take the
least alarm in that quarter we are but lost men. It is said he banished
his only son from his family for lifting his eyes in the way of
affection towards this beauty, who may be worshipped, it seems, at a
distance, but is not to be approached with other thoughts than such as
we bring to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin.”

“Well, you have said enough,” answered the Templar; “I will for a night
put on the needful restraint, and deport me as meekly as a maiden; but
as for the fear of his expelling us by violence, myself and squires,
with Hamet and Abdalla, will warrant you against that disgrace. Doubt
not that we shall be strong enough to make good our quarters.”

“We must not let it come so far,” answered the Prior; “but here is the
clown’s sunken cross, and the night is so dark that we can hardly see
which of the roads we are to follow. He bid us turn, I think to the
left.”

“To the right,” said Brian, “to the best of my remembrance.”

“To the left, certainly, the left; I remember his pointing with his
wooden sword.”

“Ay, but he held his sword in his left hand, and so pointed across his
body with it,” said the Templar.

Each maintained his opinion with sufficient obstinacy, as is usual in
all such cases; the attendants were appealed to, but they had not been
near enough to hear Wamba’s directions. At length Brian remarked, what
had at first escaped him in the twilight; “Here is some one either
asleep, or lying dead at the foot of this cross–Hugo, stir him with the
butt-end of thy lance.”

This was no sooner done than the figure arose, exclaiming in good
French, “Whosoever thou art, it is discourteous in you to disturb my
thoughts.”

“We did but wish to ask you,” said the Prior, “the road to Rotherwood,
the abode of Cedric the Saxon.”

“I myself am bound thither,” replied the stranger; “and if I had a
horse, I would be your guide, for the way is somewhat intricate, though
perfectly well known to me.”

“Thou shalt have both thanks and reward, my friend,” said the Prior, “if
thou wilt bring us to Cedric’s in safety.”

And he caused one of his attendants to mount his own led horse, and give
that upon which he had hitherto ridden to the stranger, who was to serve
for a guide.

Their conductor pursued an opposite road from that which Wamba had
recommended, for the purpose of misleading them. The path soon led
deeper into the woodland, and crossed more than one brook, the approach
to which was rendered perilous by the marshes through which it flowed;
but the stranger seemed to know, as if by instinct, the soundest ground
and the safest points of passage; and by dint of caution and attention,
brought the party safely into a wilder avenue than any they had yet
seen; and, pointing to a large low irregular building at the upper
extremity, he said to the Prior, “Yonder is Rotherwood, the dwelling of
Cedric the Saxon.”

This was a joyful intimation to Aymer, whose nerves were none of the
strongest, and who had suffered such agitation and alarm in the course
of passing through the dangerous bogs, that he had not yet had the
curiosity to ask his guide a single question. Finding himself now at his
ease and near shelter, his curiosity began to awake, and he demanded of
the guide who and what he was.

“A Palmer, just returned from the Holy Land,” was the answer.

“You had better have tarried there to fight for the recovery of the Holy
Sepulchre,” said the Templar.

“True, Reverend Sir Knight,” answered the Palmer, to whom the appearance
of the Templar seemed perfectly familiar; “but when those who are under
oath to recover the holy city, are found travelling at such a distance
from the scene of their duties, can you wonder that a peaceful peasant
like me should decline the task which they have abandoned?”

The Templar would have made an angry reply, but was interrupted by the
Prior, who again expressed his astonishment, that their guide, after
such long absence, should be so perfectly acquainted with the passes of
the forest.

“I was born a native of these parts,” answered their guide, and as he
made the reply they stood before the mansion of Cedric;–a low irregular
building, containing several court-yards or enclosures, extending over
a considerable space of ground, and which, though its size argued the
inhabitant to be a person of wealth, differed entirely from the tall,
turretted, and castellated buildings in which the Norman nobility
resided, and which had become the universal style of architecture
throughout England.

Rotherwood was not, however, without defences; no habitation, in
that disturbed period, could have been so, without the risk of being
plundered and burnt before the next morning. A deep fosse, or ditch,
was drawn round the whole building, and filled with water from a
neighbouring stream. A double stockade, or palisade, composed of pointed
beams, which the adjacent forest supplied, defended the outer and inner
bank of the trench. There was an entrance from the west through the
outer stockade, which communicated by a drawbridge, with a similar
opening in the interior defences. Some precautions had been taken to
place those entrances under the protection of projecting angles, by
which they might be flanked in case of need by archers or slingers.

Before this entrance the Templar wound his horn loudly; for the rain,
which had long threatened, began now to descend with great violence.