When Cedric the Saxon saw his son drop down senseless in the great tournament at Ashby, his first impulse was to order him into the care of his own attendants, but the words choked in his throat. He could not bring himself to acknowledge, in the presence of such an assembly, the son whom he had renounced and disinherited for his allegiance to the Norman king of England, Richard of the Lion Heart. However, he ordered one of the officers of his household, his cupbearer, to convey Ivanhoe to Ashby as soon as the crowd had dispersed. But the man was anticipated in this good office. The crowd dispersed, indeed, but the wounded knight was nowhere to be seen.
It seemed as if the fairies had conveyed Ivanhoe from the spot; and Cedric’s officer might have adopted some such theory to account for his disappearance, had he not suddenly cast his eyes on a person attired like a squire, in whom he recognized the features of his fellow-servant Gurth, who had run away from his master. Anxious about Ivanhoe’s fate, Gurth was searching for him everywhere and, in so doing, he neglected the concealment on which his own safety depended. The cupbearer deemed it his duty to secure Gurth as a fugitive of whose fate his master was to judge. Renewing his inquiries concerning the fate of Ivanhoe, all that the cupbearer could learn was that the knight had been raised by certain well-attired grooms, under the direction of a veiled woman, and placed in a litter, which had immediately transported him out of the press. The officer, on receiving this intelligence, resolved to return to his master, carrying along with him Gurth, the swineherd, as a deserter from Cedric’s service.
The Saxon had been under intense vapprehensions concerning his son; but no sooner was he informed that Ivanhoe was in careful hands than paternal anxiety gave way anew to the feeling of injured pride and resentment at what he termed Wilfred’s vfilial disobedience.
“Let him wander his way,” said Cedric; “let those leech his wounds for whose sake he encountered them. He is fitter to do the juggling tricks of the Norman chivalry than to maintain the fame and honor of his English ancestry with the vglaive and vbrown-bill, the good old weapons of the country.”
The old Saxon now prepared for his return to Rotherwood, with his ward, the Lady Rowena, and his following. It was during the bustle preceding his departure that Cedric, for the first time, cast his eyes upon the deserter Gurth. He was in no very placid humor and wanted but a pretext for wreaking his anger upon some one.
“The vgyves!” he cried. “Dogs and villains, why leave ye this knave unfettered?”
Without daring to remonstrate, the companions of Gurth bound him with a halter, as the readiest cord which occurred. He submitted to the operation without any protest, except that he darted a reproachful look at his master.
“To horse, and forward!” ordered Cedric.
“It is indeed full time,” said the Saxon prince Athelstane, who accompanied Cedric, “for if we ride not faster, the preparations for our supper will be altogether spoiled.”
The travelers, however, used such speed as to reach the convent of Saint Withold’s before the apprehended evil took place. The abbot, himself of ancient Saxon descent, received the noble Saxons with the profuse hospitality of their nation, wherein they indulged to a late hour. They took leave of their reverend host the next morning after they had shared with him a vsumptuous breakfast, which Athelstane particularly appreciated.
The superstitious Saxons, as they left the convent, were inspired with a feeling of coming evil by the behavior of a large, lean black dog, which, sitting upright, howled most piteously when the foremost riders left the gate, and presently afterward, barking wildly and jumping to and fro, seemed bent on attaching itself to the party.
“In my mind,” said Athelstane, “we had better turn back and abide with the abbot until the afternoon. It is unlucky to travel where your path is crossed by a monk, a hare, or a howling dog, until you have eaten your next meal.”
“Away!” said Cedric impatiently; “the day is already too short for our journey. For the dog, I know it to be the cur of the runaway slave Gurth, a useless fugitive like its master.”
So saying and rising at the same time in his stirrups, impatient at the interruption of his journey, he launched his vjavelin at poor Fangs, who, having lost his master, was now rejoicing at his reappearance. The javelin inflicted a wound upon the animal’s shoulder and narrowly missed pinning him to the earth; Fangs fled howling from the presence of the enraged vthane. Gurth’s heart swelled within him, for he felt this attempted slaughter of his faithful beast in a degree much deeper than the harsh treatment he had himself received. Having in vain raised his hand to his eyes, he said to Wamba, the jester, who, seeing his master’s ill humor, had prudently retreated to the rear, “I pray thee, do me the kindness to wipe my eyes with the skirt of thy mantle; the dust offends me, and these bonds will not let me help myself one way or another.”
Wamba did him the service he required, and they rode side by side for some time, during which Gurth maintained a moody silence. At length he could repress his feelings no longer.
“Friend Wamba,” said he, “of all those who are fools enough to serve Cedric, thou alone hast sufficient dexterity to make thy folly acceptable to him. Go to him, therefore, and tell him that neither for love nor fear will Gurth serve him longer. He may strike the head from me—he may scourge me—he may load me with irons—but henceforth he shall never compel me either to love or obey him. Go to him and tell him that Gurth renounces his service.”
“Assuredly,” replied Wamba, “fool as I am, I will not do your fool’s errand. Cedric hath another javelin stuck into his girdle, and thou knowest he doth not always miss his mark.”
“I care not,” returned Gurth, “how soon he makes a mark of me. Yesterday he left Wilfred, my young master, in his blood. To-day he has striven to kill the only other living creature that ever showed me kindness. By Saint Edward, Saint Dunstan, Saint Withold, and every other saint, I will never forgive him!”
At noon, upon the motion of Athelstane, the travelers paused in a woodland shade by a fountain to repose their horses and partake of some provisions with which the hospitable abbot had loaded a vsumpter mule. Their repast was a pretty long one; and the interruption made it impossible for them to hope to reach Rotherwood without traveling all night, a conviction which induced them to proceed on their way at a more hasty pace than they had hitherto used.
The travelers had now reached the verge of the wooded country and were about to plunge into its recesses, held dangerous at that time from the number of outlaws whom oppression and poverty had driven to despair and who occupied the forests in such large bands as could easily bid defiance to the feeble police of the period. From these rovers, however, Cedric and Athelstane accounted themselves secure, as they had in attendance ten servants, besides Wamba and Gurth, whose aid could not be counted upon, the one being a jester and the other a captive. It may be added that in traveling thus late through the forest, Cedric and Athelstane relied on their descent and character as well as their courage. The outlaws were chiefly peasants and vyeomen of Saxon descent, and were generally supposed to respect the persons and property of their countrymen.
Before long, as the travelers journeyed on their way, they were alarmed by repeated cries for assistance; and when they rode up to the place whence the cries came, they were surprised to find a horse-litter placed on the ground. Beside it sat a very beautiful young woman richly dressed in the Jewish fashion, while an old man, whose yellow cap proclaimed him to belong to the same nation, walked up and down with gestures of the deepest despair and wrung his hands.
When he began to come to himself out of his agony of terror, the old man, named Isaac of York, explained that he had hired a bodyguard of six men at Ashby, together with mules for carrying the litter of a sick friend. This party had undertaken to escort him to Doncaster. They had come thus far in safety; but having received information from a wood-cutter that a strong band of outlaws was lying in wait in the woods before them, Isaac’s vmercenaries had not only taken to flight, but had carried off the horses which bore the litter and left the Jew and his daughter without the means either of defense or of retreat. Isaac ended by imploring the Saxons to let him travel with them. Cedric and Athelstane were somewhat in doubt as to what to do, but the matter was settled by Rowena’s intervention.
“The man is old and feeble,” she said to Cedric, “the maiden young and beautiful, their friend sick and in peril of his life. We cannot leave them in this extremity. Let the men unload two of the sumpter-mules and put the baggage behind two of the vserfs. The mules may transport the litter, and we have led-horses for the old man and his daughter.”
Cedric readily assented to what was proposed, and the change of baggage was hastily achieved; for the single word “outlaws” rendered every one sufficiently alert, and the approach of twilight made the sound yet more impressive. Amid the bustle, Gurth was taken from horseback, in the course of which removal he prevailed upon the jester to slack the cord with which his arms were bound. It was so negligently refastened, perhaps intentionally, on the part of Wamba, that Gurth found no difficulty in freeing his arms altogether, and then, gliding into the thicket, he made his escape from the party.
His departure was hardly noticed in the apprehension of the moment. The path upon which the party traveled was now so narrow as not to admit, with any sort of convenience, above two riders abreast, and began to descend into a dingle, traversed by a brook, the banks of which were broken, swampy, and overgrown with dwarf willows. Cedric and Athelstane, who were at the head of their vretinue, saw the risk of being attacked in this pass, but neither knew anything else to do than hasten through the defile as fast as possible. Advancing, therefore, without much order, they had just crossed the brook with a part of their followers, when they were assailed, in front, flank, and rear at once, by a band of armed men. The shout of a “White dragon! Saint George for merry England!” the war cry of the Saxons, was heard on every side, and on every side enemies appeared with a rapidity of advance and attack which seemed to multiply their numbers.
Both the Saxon chiefs were made prisoners at the same moment. Cedric, the instant an enemy appeared, launched at him his javelin, which, taking better effect than that which he had hurled at Fangs, nailed the man against an oak-tree that happened to be close behind him. Thus far successful, Cedric spurred his horse against a second, drawing his sword and striking with such inconsiderate fury that his weapon encountered a thick branch which hung over him, and he was disarmed by the violence of his own blow. He was instantly made prisoner and pulled from his horse by two or three of the vbanditti who crowded around him. Athelstane shared his captivity, his bridle having been seized and he himself forcibly dismounted long before he could draw his sword.
The attendants, embarrassed with baggage and surprised and terrified at the fate of their master, fell an easy prey to the assailants; while the Lady Rowena and the Jew and his daughter experienced the same misfortune.
Of all the train none escaped but Wamba, who showed upon the occasion much more courage than those who pretended to greater sense. He possessed himself of a sword belonging to one of the domestics, who was just drawing it, laid it about him like a lion, drove back several who approached him, and made a brave though ineffectual effort to succor his master. Finding himself overpowered, the jester threw himself from his horse, plunged into a thicket, and, favored by the general confusion, escaped from the scene of action.
Suddenly a voice very near him called out in a low and cautious tone, “Wamba!” and, at the same time, a dog which he recognized as Fangs jumped up and fawned upon him. “Gurth!” answered Wamba with the same caution, and the swineherd immediately stood before him.
“What is the matter?” he asked. “What mean these cries and that clashing of swords?”
“Only a trick of the times,” answered Wamba. “They are all prisoners.”
“Who are prisoners?”
“My lord, and my lady, and Athelstane, and the others.”
“In the name of God,” demanded Gurth, “how came they prisoners? and to whom?”
“They are prisoners to green vcassocks and black vvizors,” answered Wamba. “They all lie tumbled about on the green, like the crab-apples that you shake down to your swine. And I would laugh at it,” added the honest jester, “if I could for weeping.”
He shed tears of unfeigned sorrow.
Gurth’s countenance kindled. “Wamba,” he said, “thou hast a weapon and thy heart was ever stronger than thy brain. We are only two, but a sudden attack from men of resolution might do much. Follow me!”
“Whither, and for what purpose?” asked the jester.
“To rescue Cedric.”
“But you renounced his service just now.”
“That,” said Gurth, “was while he was fortunate. Follow me.”
As the jester was about to obey, a third person suddenly made his appearance and commanded them both to halt. From his dress and arms Wamba would have conjectured him to be one of the outlaws who had just assailed his master; but, besides that he wore no mask, the glittering baldric across his shoulders, with the rich bugle horn which it supported, as well as the calm and commanding expression of his voice and manner, made the jester recognize the archer who had won the prize at the tournament and who was known as Locksley.
“What is the meaning of all this?” the man demanded. “Who are they that rifle and ransom and make prisoners in these forests?”
“You may look at their cassocks close by,” replied Wamba, “and see whether they be thy children’s coats or no, for they are as like thine own as one green pea-pod is like another.”
“I will learn that presently,” returned Locksley: “and I charge ye, on peril of your lives, not to stir from this place where ye stand until I have returned. Obey me, and it shall be the better for you and your masters. Yet stay; I must render myself as like these men as possible.”
So saying, he drew a vvizard from his pouch, and, repeating his charges to them to stand fast, went to reconnoitre.
“Shall we stay, Gurth?” asked Wamba; “or shall we give him vleg-bail? In my foolish mind, he had all the equipage of a thief too much in readiness to be himself a true man.”
“Let him be the devil,” said Gurth, “an he will. We can be no worse for waiting his return. If he belongs to that party, he must already have given them the alarm, and it will avail us nothing either to fight or fly.”
The yeoman returned in the course of a few minutes.
“Friend Gurth,” he said, “I have mingled among yon men and have learned to whom they belong, and whither they are bound. There is, I think, no chance that they will proceed to any actual violence against their prisoners. For three men to attack them at this moment were little else than madness; for they are good men of war and have, as such, placed sentinels to give the alarm when any one approaches. But I trust soon to gather such a force as may act in defiance of all their precautions. You are both servants, and, as I think, faithful servants of Cedric the Saxon, the friend of the rights of Englishmen. He shall not want English hands to help him in this extremity. Come then with me, until I gather more aid.”
So saying, he walked through the wood at a great pace, followed by the jester and the swineherd. The three men proceeded with occasional converse but, for the most part, in silence for about three hours. Finally they arrived at a small opening in the forest, in the center of which grew an oak-tree of enormous magnitude, throwing its twisted branches in every direction. Beneath this tree four or five yeomen lay stretched on the ground, while another, as sentinel, walked to and fro in the moonlight.
Upon hearing the sound of feet approaching, the watch instantly gave the alarm, and the sleepers as suddenly started up and bent their bows. Six arrows placed on the string were pointed toward the quarter from which the travelers approached, when their guide, being recognized, was welcomed with every token of respect and attachment.
“Where is the miller?” was Locksley’s first question.
“On the road toward Rotherham.”
“With how many?” demanded the leader, for such he seemed to be.
“With six men, and good hope of booty, if it please Saint Nicholas.”
“Devoutly spoken,” said Locksley. “And where is Allan-a-Dale?”
“Walked up toward the vWatling Street, to watch for the Prior of Jorvaulx.”
“That is well thought on also,” replied the captain. “And where is the friar?”
“In his cell.”
“Thither will I go,” said Locksley. “Disperse and seek your companions. Collect what force you can, for there’s game afoot that must be hunted hard and will turn to bay. Meet me here at daybreak. And stay,” he added; “I have forgotten what is most necessary of the whole. Two of you take the road quickly toward Torquilstone, the castle of vFront-de-Boeuf. A set of gallants, who have been vmasquerading in such guise as our own, are carrying a band of prisoners thither. Watch them closely, for, even if they reach the castle before we collect our force, our honor is concerned to punish them, and we will find means to do so. Keep a good watch on them, therefore, and despatch one of your comrades to bring the news of the yeomen thereabouts.”
The men promised obedience and departed on their several errands. Meanwhile, their leader and his two companions, who now looked upon him with great respect as well as some fear, pursued their way to the chapel where dwelt the friar mentioned by Locksley. Presently they reached a little moonlit glade, in front of which stood an ancient and ruinous chapel and beside it a rude hermitage of stone half-covered with ivy vines.
The sounds which proceeded at that moment from the latter place were anything but churchly. In fact, the hermit and another voice were performing at the full extent of very powerful lungs an old drinking-song, of which this was the burden:
Come, trowl the brown bowl to me, Bully boy, bully boy; Come trowl the brown bowl to me: Ho! jolly Jenkin, I spy a knave drinking; Come trowl the brown bowl to me.
“Now, that is not ill sung,” said Wamba, who had thrown in a few of his own flourishes to help out the chorus. “But who, in the saint’s name, ever expected to have heard such a jolly chant come from a hermit’s cell at midnight?”
“Marry, that should I,” said Gurth, “for the jolly Clerk of Copmanhurst is a known man and kills half the deer that are stolen in this walk. Men say that the deer-keeper has complained of him and that he will be stripped of his vcowl and vcope altogether if he keep not better order.”
While they were thus speaking, Locksley’s loud and repeated knocks had at length disturbed the vanchorite and his guest, who was a knight of singularly powerful build and open, handsome face, and in black armor.
“By my beads,” said the hermit, “here come other guests. I would not for my cowl that they found us in this goodly exercise. All men have enemies, sir knight; and there be those malignant enough to construe the hospitable refreshment I have been offering to you, a weary traveler, into drinking and gluttony, vices alike alien to my profession and my disposition.”
“Base vcalumniators!” replied the knight. “I would I had the chastising of them. Nevertheless, holy clerk, it is true that all have their enemies; and there be those in this very land whom I would rather speak to through the bars of my helmet than bare-faced.”
“Get thine iron pot on thy head, then, sir knight,” said the hermit, “while I remove these pewter flagons.”
He struck up a thundering vDe profundis clamavi, under cover of which he removed the apparatus of their banquet, while the knight, laughing heartily and arming himself all the while, assisted his host with his voice from time to time as his mirth permitted.
“What devil’s vmatins are you after at this hour?” demanded a voice from outside.
“Heaven forgive you, sir traveler!” said the hermit, whose own noise prevented him from recognizing accents which were tolerably familiar to him. “Wend on your way, in the name of God and Saint Dunstan, and disturb not the devotions of me and my holy brother.”
“Mad priest,” answered the voice from without; “open to Locksley!”
“All’s safe—all’s right,” said the hermit to his companion.
“But who is he?” asked the Black Knight. “It imports me much to know.”
“Who is he?” answered the hermit. “I tell thee he is a friend.”
“But what friend?” persisted the knight; “for he may be a friend to thee and none of mine.”
“What friend?” replied the hermit; “that now is one of the questions that is more easily asked than answered.”
“Well, open the door,” ordered the knight, “before he beat it from its hinges.”
The hermit speedily unbolted his portal and admitted Locksley, with his two companions.
“Why, hermit,” was the yeoman’s first question as soon as he beheld the knight, “what boon companion hast thou here?”
“A brother of our order,” replied the friar, shaking his head; “we have been at our devotions all night.”
“He is a monk of the church militant,” answered Locksley; “and there be more of them abroad. I tell thee, friar, thou must lay down the vrosary and take up the vquarter-staff; we shall need every one of our merry men, whether clerk or layman. But,” he added, taking a step aside, “art thou mad—to give admittance to a knight thou dost not know? Hast thou forgotten our agreement?”
“Good yeoman,” said the knight, coming forward, “be not wroth with my merry host. He did but afford me the hospitality which I would have compelled from him if he had refused it.”
“Thou compel!” cried the friar. “Wait but till I have changed this gray gown for a green cassock, and if I make not a quarter-staff ring twelve upon thy pate, I am neither true clerk nor good woodsman.”
While he spoke thus he stript off his gown and appeared in a close buckram doublet and lower garment, over which he speedily did on a cassock of green and hose of the same color.
“I pray thee vtruss my points,” he said to Wamba, “and thou shalt have a cup of sack for thy labor.”
“vGramercy for thy sack,” returned Wamba; “but thinkest thou that it is lawful for me to aid you to transmew thyself from a holy hermit into a sinful forester?”
So saying, he accommodated the friar with his assistance in tying the endless number of points, as the laces which attached the hose to the doublet were then termed.
While they were thus employed, Locksley led the knight a little apart and addressed him thus: “Deny it not, sir knight, you are he who played so glorious a part at the tournament at Ashby.”
“And what follows, if you guess truly, good yeoman?”
“For my purpose,” said the yeoman, “thou shouldst be as well a good Englishman as a good knight; for that which I have to speak of concerns, indeed, the duty of every honest man, but is more especially that of a true-born native of England.”
“You can speak to no one,” replied the knight, “to whom England, and the life of every Englishman, can be dearer than to me.”
“I would willingly believe so,” said the woodsman; “and never had this country such need to be supported by those who love her. A band of villains, in the disguise of better men than themselves, have become masters of the persons of a noble Englishman named Cedric the Saxon, together with his ward and his friend, Athelstane of Coningsburgh, and have transported them to a castle in this forest called Torquilstone. I ask of thee, as a good knight and a good Englishman, wilt thou aid in their rescue?”
“I am bound by my vow to do so,” replied the knight; “but I would willingly know who you are who request my assistance in their behalf?”
“I am,” said the forester, “a nameless man; but I am a friend of my country and my country’s friends. Believe, however, that my word, when pledged, is as vinviolate as if I wore golden spurs.”
“I willingly believe it,” returned the knight. “I have been accustomed to study men’s countenances, and I can read in thine honesty and resolution. I will, therefore, ask thee no farther questions but aid thee in setting at freedom these oppressed captives, which done, I trust we shall part better acquainted and well satisfied with each other.”
When the friar was at length ready, Locksley turned to his companions.
“Come on, my masters,” he said; “tarry not to talk. I say, come on: we must collect all our forces, and few enough shall we have if we are to storm the castle of Reginald Front-de-Boeuf.”