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Chapter 30

  • > Approach the chamber, look upon his bed.
  • >
  • > His is the passing of no peaceful ghost,
  • >
  • > Which, as the lark arises to the sky,
  • >
  • > 'Mid morning's sweetest breeze and softest dew,
  • >
  • > Is wing'd to heaven by good men's sighs and tears!—
  • >
  • > Anselm parts otherwise.
  • >
  • > Old Play
  • During the interval of quiet which followed the first success of th_esiegers, while the one party was preparing to pursue their advantage, an_he other to strengthen their means of defence, the Templar and De Bracy hel_rief council together in the hall of the castle.
  • "Where is Front-de-Boeuf?" said the latter, who had superintended the defenc_f the fortress on the other side; "men say he hath been slain."
  • "He lives," said the Templar, coolly, "lives as yet; but had he worn th_ull's head of which he bears the name, and ten plates of iron to fence i_ithal, he must have gone down before yonder fatal axe. Yet a few hours, an_ront-de-Boeuf is with his fathers—a powerful limb lopped off Prince John'_nterprise."
  • "And a brave addition to the kingdom of Satan," said De Bracy; "this comes o_eviling saints and angels, and ordering images of holy things and holy men t_e flung down on the heads of these rascaille yeomen."
  • "Go to—thou art a fool," said the Templar; "thy superstition is upon a leve_ith Front-de-Boeuf's want of faith; neither of you can render a reason fo_our belief or unbelief."
  • "Benedicite, Sir Templar," replied De Bracy, "pray you to keep better rul_ith your tongue when I am the theme of it. By the Mother of Heaven, I am _etter Christian man than thou and thy fellowship; for the 'bruit' goet_hrewdly out, that the most holy Order of the Temple of Zion nurseth not a fe_eretics within its bosom, and that Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is of th_umber."
  • "Care not thou for such reports," said the Templar; "but let us think o_aking good the castle.—How fought these villain yeomen on thy side?"
  • "Like fiends incarnate," said De Bracy. "They swarmed close up to the walls, headed, as I think, by the knave who won the prize at the archery, for I kne_is horn and baldric. And this is old Fitzurse's boasted policy, encouragin_hese malapert knaves to rebel against us! Had I not been armed in proof, th_illain had marked me down seven times with as little remorse as if I had bee_ buck in season. He told every rivet on my armour with a cloth-yard shaft, that rapped against my ribs with as little compunction as if my bones had bee_f iron—But that I wore a shirt of Spanish mail under my plate-coat, I ha_een fairly sped."
  • "But you maintained your post?" said the Templar. "We lost the outwork on ou_art."
  • "That is a shrewd loss," said De Bracy; "the knaves will find cover there t_ssault the castle more closely, and may, if not well watched, gain som_nguarded corner of a tower, or some forgotten window, and so break in upo_s. Our numbers are too few for the defence of every point, and the me_omplain that they can nowhere show themselves, but they are the mark for a_any arrows as a parish-butt on a holyday even. Front-de-Boeuf is dying too, so we shall receive no more aid from his bull's head and brutal strength. Ho_hink you, Sir Brian, were we not better make a virtue of necessity, an_ompound with the rogues by delivering up our prisoners?"
  • "How?" exclaimed the Templar; "deliver up our prisoners, and stand an objec_like of ridicule and execration, as the doughty warriors who dared by _ight-attack to possess themselves of the persons of a party of defenceles_ravellers, yet could not make good a strong castle against a vagabond troo_f outlaws, led by swineherds, jesters, and the very refuse of mankind?—Sham_n thy counsel, Maurice de Bracy!—The ruins of this castle shall bury both m_ody and my shame, ere I consent to such base and dishonourable composition."
  • "Let us to the walls, then," said De Bracy, carelessly; "that man neve_reathed, be he Turk or Templar, who held life at lighter rate than I do. Bu_ trust there is no dishonour in wishing I had here some two scores of m_allant troop of Free Companions? —Oh, my brave lances! if ye knew but ho_ard your captain were this day bested, how soon should I see my banner at th_ead of your clump of spears! And how short while would these rabble villain_tand to endure your encounter!"
  • "Wish for whom thou wilt," said the Templar, "but let us make what defence w_an with the soldiers who remain—They are chiefly Front-de-Boeuf's followers, hated by the English for a thousand acts of insolence and oppression."
  • "The better," said De Bracy; "the rugged slaves will defend themselves to th_ast drop of their blood, ere they encounter the revenge of the peasant_ithout. Let us up and be doing, then, Brian de Bois-Guilbert; and, live o_ie, thou shalt see Maurice de Bracy bear himself this day as a gentleman o_lood and lineage."
  • "To the walls!" answered the Templar; and they both ascended the battlement_o do all that skill could dictate, and manhood accomplish, in defence of th_lace. They readily agreed that the point of greatest danger was that opposit_o the outwork of which the assailants had possessed themselves. The castle, indeed, was divided from that barbican by the moat, and it was impossible tha_he besiegers could assail the postern-door, with which the outwor_orresponded, without surmounting that obstacle; but it was the opinion bot_f the Templar and De Bracy, that the besiegers, if governed by the sam_olicy their leader had already displayed, would endeavour, by a formidabl_ssault, to draw the chief part of the defenders' observation to this point, and take measures to avail themselves of every negligence which might tak_lace in the defence elsewhere. To guard against such an evil, their number_nly permitted the knights to place sentinels from space to space along th_alls in communication with each other, who might give the alarm wheneve_anger was threatened. Meanwhile, they agreed that De Bracy should command th_efence at the postern, and the Templar should keep with him a score of men o_hereabouts as a body of reserve, ready to hasten to any other point whic_ight be suddenly threatened. The loss of the barbican had also thi_nfortunate effect, that, notwithstanding the superior height of the castl_alls, the besieged could not see from them, with the same precision a_efore, the operations of the enemy; for some straggling underwood approache_o near the sallyport of the outwork, that the assailants might introduce int_t whatever force they thought proper, not only under cover, but even withou_he knowledge of the defenders. Utterly uncertain, therefore, upon what poin_he storm was to burst, De Bracy and his companion were under the necessity o_roviding against every possible contingency, and their followers, howeve_rave, experienced the anxious dejection of mind incident to men enclosed b_nemies, who possessed the power of choosing their time and mode of attack.
  • Meanwhile, the lord of the beleaguered and endangered castle lay upon a bed o_odily pain and mental agony. He had not the usual resource of bigots in tha_uperstitious period, most of whom were wont to atone for the crimes they wer_uilty of by liberality to the church, stupefying by this means their terror_y the idea of atonement and forgiveness; and although the refuge whic_uccess thus purchased, was no more like to the peace of mind which follows o_incere repentance, than the turbid stupefaction procured by opium resemble_ealthy and natural slumbers, it was still a state of mind preferable to th_gonies of awakened remorse. But among the vices of Front-de-Boeuf, a hard an_riping man, avarice was predominant; and he preferred setting church an_hurchmen at defiance, to purchasing from them pardon and absolution at th_rice of treasure and of manors. Nor did the Templar, an infidel of anothe_tamp, justly characterise his associate, when he said Front-de-Boeuf coul_ssign no cause for his unbelief and contempt for the established faith; fo_he Baron would have alleged that the Church sold her wares too dear, that th_piritual freedom which she put up to sale was only to be bought like that o_he chief captain of Jerusalem, "with a great sum," and Front-de-Boeu_referred denying the virtue of the medicine, to paying the expense of th_hysician.
  • But the moment had now arrived when earth and all his treasures were glidin_rom before his eyes, and when the savage Baron's heart, though hard as _ether millstone, became appalled as he gazed forward into the waste darknes_f futurity. The fever of his body aided the impatience and agony of his mind, and his death-bed exhibited a mixture of the newly awakened feelings o_orror, combating with the fixed and inveterate obstinacy of hi_isposition;—a fearful state of mind, only to be equalled in those tremendou_egions, where there are complaints without hope, remorse without repentance, a dreadful sense of present agony, and a presentiment that it cannot cease o_e diminished!
  • "Where be these dog-priests now," growled the Baron, "who set such price o_heir ghostly mummery?—where be all those unshod Carmelites, for whom ol_ront-de-Boeuf founded the convent of St Anne, robbing his heir of many a fai_ood of meadow, and many a fat field and close—where be the greedy hound_ow?—Swilling, I warrant me, at the ale, or playing their juggling tricks a_he bedside of some miserly churl.—Me, the heir of their founder —me, who_heir foundation binds them to pray for—me —ungrateful villains as the_re!—they suffer to die like the houseless dog on yonder common, unshriven an_nhouseled!—Tell the Templar to come hither—he is a priest, and may d_omething —But no!—as well confess myself to the devil as to Brian de Bois- Guilbert, who recks neither of heaven nor of hell.—I have heard old men tal_f prayer—prayer by their own voice—Such need not to court or to bribe th_alse priest—But I—I dare not!"
  • "Lives Reginald Front-de-Boeuf," said a broken and shrill voice close by hi_edside, "to say there is that which he dares not!"
  • The evil conscience and the shaken nerves of Front-de-Boeuf heard, in thi_trange interruption to his soliloquy, the voice of one of those demons, who, as the superstition of the times believed, beset the beds of dying men t_istract their thoughts, and turn them from the meditations which concerne_heir eternal welfare. He shuddered and drew himself together; but, instantl_ummoning up his wonted resolution, he exclaimed, "Who is there? —what ar_hou, that darest to echo my words in a tone like that of the night- raven?—Come before my couch that I may see thee."
  • "I am thine evil angel, Reginald Front-de-Boeuf," replied the voice.
  • "Let me behold thee then in thy bodily shape, if thou best indeed a fiend,"
  • replied the dying knight; "think not that I will blench from thee.—By th_ternal dungeon, could I but grapple with these horrors that hover round me, as I have done with mortal dangers, heaven or hell should never say that _hrunk from the conflict!"
  • "Think on thy sins, Reginald Front-de-Boeuf," said the almost unearthly voice,
  • "on rebellion, on rapine, on murder!—Who stirred up the licentious John to wa_gainst his grey-headed father—against his generous brother?"
  • "Be thou fiend, priest, or devil," replied Front-de-Boeuf, "thou liest in th_hroat!—Not I stirred John to rebellion—not I alone—there were fifty knight_nd barons, the flower of the midland counties—better men never laid lance i_est—And must I answer for the fault done by fifty?—False fiend, I defy thee!
  • Depart, and haunt my couch no more—let me die in peace if thou be mortal—i_hou be a demon, thy time is not yet come."
  • "In peace thou shalt NOT die," repeated the voice; "even in death shalt tho_hink on thy murders—on the groans which this castle has echoed— on the bloo_hat is engrained in its floors!"
  • "Thou canst not shake me by thy petty malice," answered Front-de-Boeuf, with _hastly and constrained laugh. "The infidel Jew—it was merit with heaven t_eal with him as I did, else wherefore are men canonized who dip their hand_n the blood of Saracens?—The Saxon porkers, whom I have slain, they were th_oes of my country, and of my lineage, and of my liege lord. —Ho! ho! tho_eest there is no crevice in my coat of plate —Art thou fled?—art tho_ilenced?"
  • "No, foul parricide!" replied the voice; "think of thy father! —think of hi_eath!—think of his banquet-room flooded with his gore, and that poured fort_y the hand of a son!"
  • "Ha!" answered the Baron, after a long pause, "an thou knowest that, thou ar_ndeed the author of evil, and as omniscient as the monks call thee!—Tha_ecret I deemed locked in my own breast, and in that of one besides—th_emptress, the partaker of my guilt.—Go, leave me, fiend! and seek the Saxo_itch Ulrica, who alone could tell thee what she and I alone witnessed. —Go, _ay, to her, who washed the wounds, and straighted the corpse, and gave to th_lain man the outward show of one parted in time and in the course o_ature—Go to her, she was my temptress, the foul provoker, the more fou_ewarder, of the deed —let her, as well as I, taste of the tortures whic_nticipate hell!"
  • "She already tastes them," said Ulrica, stepping before the couch of Front-de- Boeuf; "she hath long drunken of this cup, and its bitterness is now sweetene_o see that thou dost partake it. —Grind not thy teeth, Front-de-Boeuf—rol_ot thine eyes —clench not thine hand, nor shake it at me with that gesture o_enace!—The hand which, like that of thy renowned ancestor who gained th_ame, could have broken with one stroke the skull of a mountain-bull, is no_nnerved and powerless as mine own!"
  • "Vile murderous hag!" replied Front-de-Boeuf; "detestable screech-owl! it i_hen thou who art come to exult over the ruins thou hast assisted to lay low?"
  • "Ay, Reginald Front-de-Boeuf," answered she, "it is Ulrica!—it is the daughte_f the murdered Torquil Wolfganger!—it is the sister of his slaughtere_ons!—it is she who demands of thee, and of thy father's house, father an_indred, name and fame —all that she has lost by the name of Front-de- Boeuf!—Think of my wrongs, Front-de-Boeuf, and answer me if I speak not truth.
  • Thou hast been my evil angel, and I will be thine—I will dog thee till th_ery instant of dissolution!"
  • "Detestable fury!" exclaimed Front-de-Boeuf, "that moment shalt thou neve_itness—Ho! Giles, Clement, and Eustace! Saint Maur, and Stephen! seize thi_amned witch, and hurl her from the battlements headlong—she has betrayed u_o the Saxon!—Ho! Saint Maur! Clement! false-hearted, knaves, where tarry ye?"
  • "Call on them again, valiant Baron," said the hag, with a smile of grisl_ockery; "summon thy vassals around thee, doom them that loiter to the scourg_nd the dungeon—But know, mighty chief," she continued, suddenly changing he_one, "thou shalt have neither answer, nor aid, nor obedience at their hands.
  • —Listen to these horrid sounds," for the din of the recommenced assault an_efence now rung fearfully loud from the battlements of the castle; "in tha_ar-cry is the downfall of thy house—The blood-cemented fabric of Front-de- Boeuf's power totters to the foundation, and before the foes he most despised!
  • —The Saxon, Reginald!—the scorned Saxon assails thy walls! —Why liest tho_ere, like a worn-out hind, when the Saxon storms thy place of strength?"
  • "Gods and fiends!" exclaimed the wounded knight; "O, for one moment'_trength, to drag myself to the 'melee', and perish as becomes my name!"
  • "Think not of it, valiant warrior!" replied she; "thou shalt die no soldier'_eath, but perish like the fox in his den, when the peasants have set fire t_he cover around it."
  • "Hateful hag! thou liest!" exclaimed Front-de-Boeuf; "my followers bear the_ravely—my walls are strong and high—my comrades in arms fear not a whole hos_f Saxons, were they headed by Hengist and Horsa!—The war-cry of the Templa_nd of the Free Companions rises high over the conflict! And by mine honour, when we kindle the blazing beacon, for joy of our defence, it shall consum_hee, body and bones; and I shall live to hear thou art gone from earthl_ires to those of that hell, which never sent forth an incarnate fiend mor_tterly diabolical!"
  • "Hold thy belief," replied Ulrica, "till the proof reach thee —But, no!" sh_aid, interrupting herself, "thou shalt know, even now, the doom, which al_hy power, strength, and courage, is unable to avoid, though it is prepare_or thee by this feeble band. Markest thou the smouldering and suffocatin_apour which already eddies in sable folds through the chamber?—Didst tho_hink it was but the darkening of thy bursting eyes—the difficulty of th_umbered breathing?—No! Front-de-Boeuf, there is another cause—Rememberes_hou the magazine of fuel that is stored beneath these apartments?"
  • "Woman!" he exclaimed with fury, "thou hast not set fire to it? —By heaven, thou hast, and the castle is in flames!"
  • "They are fast rising at least," said Ulrica, with frightful composure; "and _ignal shall soon wave to warn the besiegers to press hard upon those wh_ould extinguish them.—Farewell, Front-de-Boeuf!—May Mista, Skogula, an_ernebock, gods of the ancient Saxons—fiends, as the priests now cal_hem—supply the place of comforters at your dying bed, which Ulrica no_elinquishes!—But know, if it will give thee comfort to know it, that Ulric_s bound to the same dark coast with thyself, the companion of thy punishmen_s the companion of thy guilt.—And now, parricide, farewell for ever!—May eac_tone of this vaulted roof find a tongue to echo that title into thine ear!"
  • So saying, she left the apartment; and Front-de-Boeuf could hear the crash o_he ponderous key, as she locked and double-locked the door behind her, thu_utting off the most slender chance of escape. In the extremity of agony h_houted upon his servants and allies—"Stephen and Saint Maur!—Clement an_iles!—I burn here unaided!—To the rescue—to the rescue, brave Bois-Guilbert, valiant De Bracy!—It is Front-de-Boeuf who calls!—It is your master, y_raitor squires!—Your ally —your brother in arms, ye perjured and faithles_nights!—all the curses due to traitors upon your recreant heads, do yo_bandon me to perish thus miserably!—They hear me not—they cannot hear me—m_oice is lost in the din of battle.—The smoke rolls thicker and thicker—th_ire has caught upon the floor below—O, for one drought of the air of heaven, were it to be purchased by instant annihilation!" And in the mad frenzy o_espair, the wretch now shouted with the shouts of the fighters, now muttere_urses on himself, on mankind, and on Heaven itself. —"The red fire flashe_hrough the thick smoke!" he exclaimed; "the demon marches against me unde_he banner of his own element —Foul spirit, avoid!—I go not with thee withou_y comrades —all, all are thine, that garrison these walls—Thinkest tho_ront-de-Boeuf will be singled out to go alone?—No—the infidel Templar—th_icentious De Bracy—Ulrica, the foul murdering strumpet—the men who aided m_nterprises—the dog Saxons and accursed Jews, who are my prisoners—all, al_hall attend me—a goodly fellowship as ever took the downward road —Ha, ha, ha!" and he laughed in his frenzy till the vaulted roof rang again. "Wh_aughed there?" exclaimed Front-de-Boeuf, in altered mood, for the noise o_he conflict did not prevent the echoes of his own mad laughter from returnin_pon his ear —"who laughed there?—Ulrica, was it thou?—Speak, witch, and _orgive thee—for, only thou or the fiend of hell himself could have laughed a_uch a moment. Avaunt—avaunt!———"
  • But it were impious to trace any farther the picture of the blasphemer an_arricide's deathbed.