> Well, let it be; through all the maze of trouble
> His plots and base oppression must create,
> I'll shape myself a way to higher things,
> And who will say 'tis wrong?
> Basil, a Tragedy
No spider ever took more pains to repair the shattered meshes of his web, tha_id Waldemar Fitzurse to reunite and combine the scattered members of Princ_ohn's cabal. Few of these were attached to him from inclination, and non_rom personal regard. It was therefore necessary, that Fitzurse should open t_hem new prospects of advantage, and remind them of those which they a_resent enjoyed. To the young and wild nobles, he held out the prospect o_npunished license and uncontrolled revelry; to the ambitious, that of power, and to the covetous, that of increased wealth and extended domains. Th_eaders of the mercenaries received a donation in gold; an argument the mos_ersuasive to their minds, and without which all others would have proved i_ain. Promises were still more liberally distributed than money by this activ_gent; and, in fine, nothing was left undone that could determine th_avering, or animate the disheartened. The return of King Richard he spoke o_s an event altogether beyond the reach of probability; yet, when he observed, from the doubtful looks and uncertain answers which he received, that this wa_he apprehension by which the minds of his accomplices were most haunted, h_oldly treated that event, should it really take place, as one which ought no_o alter their political calculations.
"If Richard returns," said Fitzurse, "he returns to enrich his needy an_mpoverished crusaders at the expense of those who did not follow him to th_oly Land. He returns to call to a fearful reckoning, those who, during hi_bsence, have done aught that can be construed offence or encroachment upo_ither the laws of the land or the privileges of the crown. He returns t_venge upon the Orders of the Temple and the Hospital, the preference whic_hey showed to Philip of France during the wars in the Holy Land. He returns, in fine, to punish as a rebel every adherent of his brother Prince John. Ar_e afraid of his power?" continued the artful confident of that Prince, "w_cknowledge him a strong and valiant knight; but these are not the days o_ing Arthur, when a champion could encounter an army. If Richard indeed come_ack, it must be alone,—unfollowed—unfriended. The bones of his gallant arm_ave whitened the sands of Palestine. The few of his followers who hav_eturned have straggled hither like this Wilfred of Ivanhoe, beggared an_roken men.—And what talk ye of Richard's right of birth?" he proceeded, i_nswer to those who objected scruples on that head. "Is Richard's title o_rimogeniture more decidedly certain than that of Duke Robert of Normandy, th_onqueror's eldest son? And yet William the Red, and Henry, his second an_hird brothers, were successively preferred to him by the voice of the nation, Robert had every merit which can be pleaded for Richard; he was a bold knight, a good leader, generous to his friends and to the church, and, to crown th_hole, a crusader and a conqueror of the Holy Sepulchre; and yet he died _lind and miserable prisoner in the Castle of Cardiff, because he oppose_imself to the will of the people, who chose that he should not rule ove_hem. It is our right," he said, "to choose from the blood royal the princ_ho is best qualified to hold the supreme power —that is," said he, correctin_imself, "him whose election will best promote the interests of the nobility.
In personal qualifications," he added, "it was possible that Prince John migh_e inferior to his brother Richard; but when it was considered that the latte_eturned with the sword of vengeance in his hand, while the former held ou_ewards, immunities, privileges, wealth, and honours, it could not be doubte_hich was the king whom in wisdom the nobility were called on to support."
These, and many more arguments, some adapted to the peculiar circumstances o_hose whom he addressed, had the expected weight with the nobles of Princ_ohn's faction. Most of them consented to attend the proposed meeting at York, for the purpose of making general arrangements for placing the crown upon th_ead of Prince John.
It was late at night, when, worn out and exhausted with his various exertions, however gratified with the result, Fitzurse, returning to the Castle of Ashby, met with De Bracy, who had exchanged his banqueting garments for a short gree_ittle, with hose of the same cloth and colour, a leathern cap or head-piece, a short sword, a horn slung over his shoulder, a long bow in his hand, and _undle of arrows stuck in his belt. Had Fitzurse met this figure in an oute_partment, he would have passed him without notice, as one of the yeomen o_he guard; but finding him in the inner hall, he looked at him with mor_ttention, and recognised the Norman knight in the dress of an English yeoman.
"What mummery is this, De Bracy?" said Fitzurse, somewhat angrily; "is this _ime for Christmas gambols and quaint maskings, when the fate of our master, Prince John, is on the very verge of decision? Why hast thou not been, lik_e, among these heartless cravens, whom the very name of King Richar_errifies, as it is said to do the children of the Saracens?"
"I have been attending to mine own business," answered De Bracy calmly, "a_ou, Fitzurse, have been minding yours."
"I minding mine own business!" echoed Waldemar; "I have been engaged in tha_f Prince John, our joint patron."
"As if thou hadst any other reason for that, Waldemar," said De Bracy, "tha_he promotion of thine own individual interest? Come, Fitzurse, we know eac_ther—ambition is thy pursuit, pleasure is mine, and they become our differen_ges. Of Prince John thou thinkest as I do; that he is too weak to be _etermined monarch, too tyrannical to be an easy monarch, too insolent an_resumptuous to be a popular monarch, and too fickle and timid to be long _onarch of any kind. But he is a monarch by whom Fitzurse and De Bracy hope t_ise and thrive; and therefore you aid him with your policy, and I with th_ances of my Free Companions."
"A hopeful auxiliary," said Fitzurse impatiently; "playing the fool in th_ery moment of utter necessity.—What on earth dost thou purpose by this absur_isguise at a moment so urgent?"
"To get me a wife," answered De Bracy coolly, "after the manner of the trib_f Benjamin."
"The tribe of Benjamin?" said Fitzurse; "I comprehend thee not."
"Wert thou not in presence yester-even," said De Bracy, "when we heard th_rior Aymer tell us a tale in reply to the romance which was sung by th_instrel?—He told how, long since in Palestine, a deadly feud arose betwee_he tribe of Benjamin and the rest of the Israelitish nation; and how they cu_o pieces well-nigh all the chivalry of that tribe; and how they swore by ou_lessed Lady, that they would not permit those who remained to marry in thei_ineage; and how they became grieved for their vow, and sent to consult hi_oliness the Pope how they might be absolved from it; and how, by the advic_f the Holy Father, the youth of the tribe of Benjamin carried off from _uperb tournament all the ladies who were there present, and thus won the_ives without the consent either of their brides or their brides' families."
"I have heard the story," said Fitzurse, "though either the Prior or thou ha_ade some singular alterations in date and circumstances."
"I tell thee," said De Bracy, "that I mean to purvey me a wife after th_ashion of the tribe of Benjamin; which is as much as to say, that in thi_ame equipment I will fall upon that herd of Saxon bullocks, who have thi_ight left the castle, and carry off from them the lovely Rowena."
"Art thou mad, De Bracy?" said Fitzurse. "Bethink thee that, though the men b_axons, they are rich and powerful, and regarded with the more respect b_heir countrymen, that wealth and honour are but the lot of few of Saxo_escent."
"And should belong to none," said De Bracy; "the work of the Conquest shoul_e completed."
"This is no time for it at least," said Fitzurse "the approaching crisi_enders the favour of the multitude indispensable, and Prince John canno_efuse justice to any one who injures their favourites."
"Let him grant it, if he dare," said De Bracy; "he will soon see th_ifference betwixt the support of such a lusty lot of spears as mine, and tha_f a heartless mob of Saxon churls. Yet I mean no immediate discovery o_yself. Seem I not in this garb as bold a forester as ever blew horn? Th_lame of the violence shall rest with the outlaws of the Yorkshire forests. _ave sure spies on the Saxon's motions—To-night they sleep in the convent o_aint Wittol, or Withold, or whatever they call that churl of a Saxon Saint a_urton-on-Trent. Next day's march brings them within our reach, and, falcon- ways, we swoop on them at once. Presently after I will appear in mine ow_hape, play the courteous knight, rescue the unfortunate and afflicted fai_ne from the hands of the rude ravishers, conduct her to Front-de-Boeuf'_astle, or to Normandy, if it should be necessary, and produce her not agai_o her kindred until she be the bride and dame of Maurice de Bracy."
"A marvellously sage plan," said Fitzurse, "and, as I think, not entirely o_hine own device.—Come, be frank, De Bracy, who aided thee in the invention?
and who is to assist in the execution? for, as I think, thine own band lies a_ar of as York."
"Marry, if thou must needs know," said De Bracy, "it was the Templar Brian d_ois-Guilbert that shaped out the enterprise, which the adventure of the me_f Benjamin suggested to me. He is to aid me in the onslaught, and he and hi_ollowers will personate the outlaws, from whom my valorous arm is, afte_hanging my garb, to rescue the lady."
"By my halidome," said Fitzurse, "the plan was worthy of your united wisdom!
and thy prudence, De Bracy, is most especially manifested in the project o_eaving the lady in the hands of thy worthy confederate. Thou mayst, I think, succeed in taking her from her Saxon friends, but how thou wilt rescue he_fterwards from the clutches of Bois-Guilbert seems considerably mor_oubtful—He is a falcon well accustomed to pounce on a partridge, and to hol_is prey fast."
"He is a Templar," said De Bracy, "and cannot therefore rival me in my plan o_edding this heiress;—and to attempt aught dishonourable against the intende_ride of De Bracy—By Heaven! were he a whole Chapter of his Order in hi_ingle person, he dared not do me such an injury!"
"Then since nought that I can say," said Fitzurse, "will put this folly fro_hy imagination, (for well I know the obstinacy of thy disposition,) at leas_aste as little time as possible—let not thy folly be lasting as well a_ntimely."
"I tell thee," answered De Bracy, "that it will be the work of a few hours, and I shall be at York—at the head of my daring and valorous fellows, as read_o support any bold design as thy policy can be to form one.—But I hear m_omrades assembling, and the steeds stamping and neighing in the outer court.
—Farewell.—I go, like a true knight, to win the smiles of beauty."
"Like a true knight?" repeated Fitzurse, looking after him; "like a fool, _hould say, or like a child, who will leave the most serious and needfu_ccupation, to chase the down of the thistle that drives past him.—But it i_ith such tools that I must work;—and for whose advantage?—For that of _rince as unwise as he is profligate, and as likely to be an ungrateful maste_s he has already proved a rebellious son and an unnatural brother. —Bu_e—he, too, is but one of the tools with which I labour; and, proud as he is, should he presume to separate his interest from mine, this is a secret whic_e shall soon learn."
The meditations of the statesman were here interrupted by the voice of th_rince from an interior apartment, calling out, "Noble Waldemar Fitzurse!"
and, with bonnet doffed, the future Chancellor (for to such high prefermen_id the wily Norman aspire) hastened to receive the orders of the futur_overeign.