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Chapter 34

  • > KING JOHN.—I'll tell thee what, my friend,
  • >
  • > He is a very serpent in my way;
  • >
  • > And wheresoe'er this foot of mine doth tread,
  • >
  • > He lies before me.—Dost thou understand me?
  • >
  • > King John
  • There was brave feasting in the Castle of York, to which Prince John ha_nvited those nobles, prelates, and leaders, by whose assistance he hoped t_arry through his ambitious projects upon his brother's throne. Waldema_itzurse, his able and politic agent, was at secret work among them, temperin_ll to that pitch of courage which was necessary in making an open declaratio_f their purpose. But their enterprise was delayed by the absence of more tha_ne main limb of the confederacy. The stubborn and daring, though bruta_ourage of Front-de-Boeuf; the buoyant spirits and bold bearing of De Bracy; the sagacity, martial experience, and renowned valour of Brian de Bois- Guilbert, were important to the success of their conspiracy; and, whil_ursing in secret their unnecessary and unmeaning absence, neither John no_is adviser dared to proceed without them. Isaac the Jew also seemed to hav_anished, and with him the hope of certain sums of money, making up th_ubsidy for which Prince John had contracted with that Israelite and hi_rethren. This deficiency was likely to prove perilous in an emergency s_ritical.
  • It was on the morning after the fall of Torquilstone, that a confused repor_egan to spread abroad in the city of York, that De Bracy and Bois-Guilbert, with their confederate Front-de-Boeuf, had been taken or slain. Waldema_rought the rumour to Prince John, announcing, that he feared its truth th_ore that they had set out with a small attendance, for the purpose o_ommitting an assault on the Saxon Cedric and his attendants. At another tim_he Prince would have treated this deed of violence as a good jest; but now, that it interfered with and impeded his own plans, he exclaimed against th_erpetrators, and spoke of the broken laws, and the infringement of publi_rder and of private property, in a tone which might have become King Alfred.
  • "The unprincipled marauders," he said—"were I ever to become monarch o_ngland, I would hang such transgressors over the drawbridges of their ow_astles."
  • "But to become monarch of England," said his Ahithophel coolly, "it i_ecessary not only that your Grace should endure the transgressions of thes_nprincipled marauders, but that you should afford them your protection, notwithstanding your laudable zeal for the laws they are in the habit o_nfringing. We shall be finely helped, if the churl Saxons should hav_ealized your Grace's vision, of converting feudal drawbridges into gibbets; and yonder bold-spirited Cedric seemeth one to whom such an imagination migh_ccur. Your Grace is well aware, it will be dangerous to stir without Front- de-Boeuf, De Bracy, and the Templar; and yet we have gone too far to reced_ith safety."
  • Prince John struck his forehead with impatience, and then began to stride u_nd down the apartment.
  • "The villains," he said, "the base treacherous villains, to desert me at thi_inch!"
  • "Nay, say rather the feather-pated giddy madmen," said Waldemar, "who must b_oying with follies when such business was in hand."
  • "What is to be done?" said the Prince, stopping short before Waldemar.
  • "I know nothing which can be done," answered his counsellor, "save that whic_ have already taken order for.—I came not to bewail this evil chance wit_our Grace, until I had done my best to remedy it."
  • "Thou art ever my better angel, Waldemar," said the Prince; "and when I hav_uch a chancellor to advise withal, the reign of John will be renowned in ou_nnals.—What hast thou commanded?"
  • "I have ordered Louis Winkelbrand, De Bracy's lieutenant, to cause his trumpe_ound to horse, and to display his banner, and to set presently forth toward_he castle of Front-de-Boeuf, to do what yet may be done for the succour o_ur friends."
  • Prince John's face flushed with the pride of a spoilt child, who has undergon_hat it conceives to be an insult. "By the face of God!" he said, "Waldema_itzurse, much hast thou taken upon thee! and over malapert thou wert to caus_rumpet to blow, or banner to be raised, in a town where ourselves were i_resence, without our express command."
  • "I crave your Grace's pardon," said Fitzurse, internally cursing the idl_anity of his patron; "but when time pressed, and even the loss of minute_ight be fatal, I judged it best to take this much burden upon me, in a matte_f such importance to your Grace's interest."
  • "Thou art pardoned, Fitzurse," said the prince, gravely; "thy purpose hat_toned for thy hasty rashness.—But whom have we here?—De Bracy himself, by th_ood!—and in strange guise doth he come before us."
  • It was indeed De Bracy—"bloody with spurring, fiery red with speed." Hi_rmour bore all the marks of the late obstinate fray, being broken, defaced, and stained with blood in many places, and covered with clay and dust from th_rest to the spur. Undoing his helmet, he placed it on the table, and stood _oment as if to collect himself before be told his news.
  • "De Bracy," said Prince John, "what means this?—Speak, I charge thee!—Are th_axons in rebellion?"
  • "Speak, De Bracy," said Fitzurse, almost in the same moment with his master,
  • "thou wert wont to be a man—Where is the Templar? —where Front-de-Boeuf?"
  • "The Templar is fled," said De Bracy; "Front-de-Boeuf you will never see more.
  • He has found a red grave among the blazing rafters of his own castle and _lone am escaped to tell you."
  • "Cold news," said Waldemar, "to us, though you speak of fire an_onflagration."
  • "The worst news is not yet said," answered De Bracy; and, coming up to Princ_ohn, he uttered in a low and emphatic tone —"Richard is in England—I hav_een and spoken with him."
  • Prince John turned pale, tottered, and caught at the back of an oaken bench t_upport himself—much like to a man who receives an arrow in his bosom.
  • "Thou ravest, De Bracy," said Fitzurse, "it cannot be."
  • "It is as true as truth itself," said De Bracy; "I was his prisoner, and spok_ith him."
  • "With Richard Plantagenet, sayest thou?" continued Fitzurse.
  • "With Richard Plantagenet," replied De Bracy, "with Richard Coeur-de-Lion—wit_ichard of England."
  • "And thou wert his prisoner?" said Waldemar; "he is then at the head of _ower?"
  • "No—only a few outlawed yeomen were around him, and to these his person i_nknown. I heard him say he was about to depart from them. He joined them onl_o assist at the storming of Torquilstone."
  • "Ay," said Fitzurse, "such is indeed the fashion of Richard —a true knight- errant he, and will wander in wild adventure, trusting the prowess of hi_ingle arm, like any Sir Guy or Sir Bevis, while the weighty affairs of hi_ingdom slumber, and his own safety is endangered.—What dost thou propose t_o De Bracy?"
  • "I?—I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—_ill lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks t_he bustling times, a man of action will always find employment. And thou, Waldemar, wilt thou take lance and shield, and lay down thy policies, and wen_long with me, and share the fate which God sends us?"
  • "I am too old, Maurice, and I have a daughter," answered Waldemar.
  • "Give her to me, Fitzurse, and I will maintain her as fits her rank, with th_elp of lance and stirrup," said De Bracy.
  • "Not so," answered Fitzurse; "I will take sanctuary in this church of Sain_eter—the Archbishop is my sworn brother."
  • During this discourse, Prince John had gradually awakened from the stupor int_hich he had been thrown by the unexpected intelligence, and had bee_ttentive to the conversation which passed betwixt his followers. "They fal_ff from me," he said to himself, "they hold no more by me than a withere_eaf by the bough when a breeze blows on it?—Hell and fiends! can I shape n_eans for myself when I am deserted by these cravens?"—He paused, and ther_as an expression of diabolical passion in the constrained laugh with which h_t length broke in on their conversation.
  • "Ha, ha, ha! my good lords, by the light of Our Lady's brow, I held ye sag_en, bold men, ready-witted men; yet ye throw down wealth, honour, pleasure, all that our noble game promised you, at the moment it might be won by on_old cast!"
  • "I understand you not," said De Bracy. "As soon as Richard's return is blow_broad, he will be at the head of an army, and all is then over with us. _ould counsel you, my lord, either to fly to France or take the protection o_he Queen Mother."
  • "I seek no safety for myself," said Prince John, haughtily; "that I coul_ecure by a word spoken to my brother. But although you, De Bracy, and you, Waldemar Fitzurse, are so ready to abandon me, I should not greatly delight t_ee your heads blackening on Clifford's gate yonder. Thinkest thou, Waldemar, that the wily Archbishop will not suffer thee to be taken from the very horn_f the altar, would it make his peace with King Richard? And forgettest thou, De Bracy, that Robert Estoteville lies betwixt thee and Hull with all hi_orces, and that the Earl of Essex is gathering his followers? If we ha_eason to fear these levies even before Richard's return, trowest thou ther_s any doubt now which party their leaders will take? Trust me, Estotevill_lone has strength enough to drive all thy Free Lances into th_umber."—Waldemar Fitzurse and De Bracy looked in each other's faces wit_lank dismay.—"There is but one road to safety," continued the Prince, and hi_row grew black as midnight; "this object of our terror journeys alone—He mus_e met withal."
  • "Not by me," said De Bracy, hastily; "I was his prisoner, and he took me t_ercy. I will not harm a feather in his crest."
  • "Who spoke of harming him?" said Prince John, with a hardened laugh; "th_nave will say next that I meant he should slay him! —No—a prison were better; and whether in Britain or Austria, what matters it?—Things will be but as the_ere when we commenced our enterprise—It was founded on the hope that Richar_ould remain a captive in Germany—Our uncle Robert lived and died in th_astle of Cardiffe."
  • "Ay, but," said Waldemar, "your sire Henry sate more firm in his seat tha_our Grace can. I say the best prison is that which is made by the sexton—n_ungeon like a church-vault! I have said my say."
  • "Prison or tomb," said De Bracy, "I wash my hands of the whole matter."
  • "Villain!" said Prince John, "thou wouldst not bewray our counsel?"
  • "Counsel was never bewrayed by me," said De Bracy, haughtily, "nor must th_ame of villain be coupled with mine!"
  • "Peace, Sir Knight!" said Waldemar; "and you, good my lord, forgive th_cruples of valiant De Bracy; I trust I shall soon remove them."
  • "That passes your eloquence, Fitzurse," replied the Knight.
  • "Why, good Sir Maurice," rejoined the wily politician, "start not aside like _cared steed, without, at least, considering the object of your terror.—Thi_ichard—but a day since, and it would have been thy dearest wish to have me_im hand to hand in the ranks of battle—a hundred times I have heard thee wis_t."
  • "Ay," said De Bracy, "but that was as thou sayest, hand to hand, and in th_anks of battle! Thou never heardest me breathe a thought of assaulting hi_lone, and in a forest."
  • "Thou art no good knight if thou dost scruple at it," said Waldemar. "Was i_n battle that Lancelot de Lac and Sir Tristram won renown? or was it not b_ncountering gigantic knights under the shade of deep and unknown forests?"
  • "Ay, but I promise you," said De Bracy, "that neither Tristram nor Lancelo_ould have been match, hand to hand, for Richard Plantagenet, and I think i_as not their wont to take odds against a single man."
  • "Thou art mad, De Bracy—what is it we propose to thee, a hired and retaine_aptain of Free Companions, whose swords are purchased for Prince John'_ervice? Thou art apprized of our enemy, and then thou scruplest, though th_atron's fortunes, those of thy comrades, thine own, and the life and honou_f every one amongst us, be at stake!"
  • "I tell you," said De Bracy, sullenly, "that he gave me my life. True, he sen_e from his presence, and refused my homage—so far I owe him neither favou_or allegiance—but I will not lift hand against him."
  • "It needs not—send Louis Winkelbrand and a score of thy lances."
  • "Ye have sufficient ruffians of your own," said De Bracy; "not one of min_hall budge on such an errand."
  • "Art thou so obstinate, De Bracy?" said Prince John; "and wilt thou forsak_e, after so many protestations of zeal for my service?"
  • "I mean it not," said De Bracy; "I will abide by you in aught that becomes _night, whether in the lists or in the camp; but this highway practice come_ot within my vow."
  • "Come hither, Waldemar," said Prince John. "An unhappy prince am I. My father, King Henry, had faithful servants—He had but to say that he was plagued with _actious priest, and the blood of Thomas-a-Becket, saint though he was, stained the steps of his own altar.—Tracy, Morville, Brito[[42]](footnotes.xml#footnote_42) loyal and daring subjects, your names, your spirit, are extinct! and although Reginald Fitzurse hath left a son, h_ath fallen off from his father's fidelity and courage." "He has fallen of_rom neither," said Waldemar Fitzurse; "and since it may not better be, I wil_ake on me the conduct of this perilous enterprise. Dearly, however, did m_ather purchase the praise of a zealous friend; and yet did his proof o_oyalty to Henry fall far short of what I am about to afford; for rather woul_ assail a whole calendar of saints, than put spear in rest against Coeur-de- Lion.—De Bracy, to thee I must trust to keep up the spirits of the doubtful, and to guard Prince John's person. If you receive such news as I trust to sen_ou, our enterprise will no longer wear a doubtful aspect.—Page," he said,
  • "hie to my lodgings, and tell my armourer to be there in readiness; and bi_tephen Wetheral, Broad Thoresby, and the Three Spears of Spyinghow, come t_e instantly; and let the scout-master, Hugh Bardon, attend me also.—Adieu, m_rince, till better times." Thus speaking, he left the apartment. "He goes t_ake my brother prisoner," said Prince John to De Bracy, "with as little touc_f compunction, as if it but concerned the liberty of a Saxon franklin. _rust he will observe our orders, and use our dear Richard's person with al_ue respect." De Bracy only answered by a smile. "By the light of Our Lady'_row," said Prince John, "our orders to him were most precise—though it may b_ou heard them not, as we stood together in the oriel window—Most clear an_ositive was our charge that Richard's safety should be cared for, and woe t_aldemar's head if he transgress it!" "I had better pass to his lodgings,"
  • said De Bracy, "and make him fully aware of your Grace's pleasure; for, as i_uite escaped my ear, it may not perchance have reached that of Waldemar."
  • "Nay, nay," said Prince John, impatiently, "I promise thee he heard me; and, besides, I have farther occupation for thee. Maurice, come hither; let me lea_n thy shoulder." They walked a turn through the hall in this familia_osture, and Prince John, with an air of the most confidential intimacy, proceeded to say, "What thinkest thou of this Waldemar Fitzurse, my D_racy?—He trusts to be our Chancellor. Surely we will pause ere we give a_ffice so high to one who shows evidently how little he reverences our blood, by his so readily undertaking this enterprise against Richard. Thou dos_hink, I warrant, that thou hast lost somewhat of our regard, by thy boldl_eclining this unpleasing task—But no, Maurice! I rather honour thee for th_irtuous constancy. There are things most necessary to be done, th_erpetrator of which we neither love nor honour; and there may be refusals t_erve us, which shall rather exalt in our estimation those who deny ou_equest. The arrest of my unfortunate brother forms no such good title to th_igh office of Chancellor, as thy chivalrous and courageous denial establishe_n thee to the truncheon of High Marshal. Think of this, De Bracy, and begon_o thy charge." "Fickle tyrant!" muttered De Bracy, as he left the presence o_he Prince; "evil luck have they who trust thee. Thy Chancellor, indeed!—H_ho hath the keeping of thy conscience shall have an easy charge, I trow. Bu_igh Marshal of England! that," he said, extending his arm, as if to grasp th_aton of office, and assuming a loftier stride along the antechamber, "that i_ndeed a prize worth playing for!" De Bracy had no sooner left the apartmen_han Prince John summoned an attendant. "Bid Hugh Bardon, our scout-master, come hither, as soon as he shall have spoken with Waldemar Fitzurse." Th_cout-master arrived after a brief delay, during which John traversed th_partment with, unequal and disordered steps. "Bardon," said he, "what di_aldemar desire of thee?" "Two resolute men, well acquainted with thes_orthern wilds, and skilful in tracking the tread of man and horse." "And tho_ast fitted him?" "Let your grace never trust me else," answered the master o_he spies. "One is from Hexamshire; he is wont to trace the Tynedale an_eviotdale thieves, as a bloodhound follows the slot of a hurt deer. The othe_s Yorkshire bred, and has twanged his bowstring right oft in merry Sherwood; he knows each glade and dingle, copse and high-wood, betwixt this an_ichmond." "'Tis well," said the Prince.—"Goes Waldemar forth with them?"
  • "Instantly," said Bardon. "With what attendance?" asked John, carelessly.
  • "Broad Thoresby goes with him, and Wetheral, whom they call, for his cruelty, Stephen Steel-heart; and three northern men-at-arms that belonged to Ralp_iddleton's gang—they are called the Spears of Spyinghow." "'Tis well," sai_rince John; then added, after a moment's pause, "Bardon, it imports ou_ervice that thou keep a strict watch on Maurice De Bracy—so that he shall no_bserve it, however—And let us know of his motions from time to time —wit_hom he converses, what he proposeth. Fail not in this, as thou wilt b_nswerable." Hugh Bardon bowed, and retired. "If Maurice betrays me," sai_rince John—"if he betrays me, as his bearing leads me to fear, I will hav_is head, were Richard thundering at the gates of York."