Edward Bulwer Lytton Lytton.

The Last of the Barons — Volume 02 online

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The young men entered the Strand, which, thanks to the profits of a
toll-bar, was a passable road for equestrians, studded towards the
river, as we have before observed, with stately and half-fortified
mansions; while on the opposite side, here and there, were straggling
houses of a humbler kind, - the mediaeval villas of merchant and trader
(for, from the earliest period since the Conquest, the Londoners had
delight in such retreats), surrounded with blossoming orchards, [On
all sides, without the suburbs, are the citizens' gardens and
orchards, etc. - FITZSTEPHEN.] and adorned in front with the fleur-de-
lis, emblem of the vain victories of renowned Agincourt. But by far
the greater portion of the road northward stretched, unbuilt upon,
towards a fair chain of fields and meadows, refreshed by many brooks,
"turning water-mills with a pleasant noise." High rose, on the
thoroughfare, the famous Cross, at which "the Judges Itinerant whilome
sate, without London." [Stowe.] There, hallowed and solitary, stood
the inn for the penitent pilgrims, who sought "the murmuring runnels"
of St. Clement's healing well; for in this neighbourhood, even from
the age of the Roman, springs of crystal wave and salubrious virtue
received the homage of credulous disease. Through the gloomy arches
of the Temple Gate and Lud, our horsemen wound their way, and finally
arrived in safety at Marmaduke's hostelrie in the East Chepe. Here
Marmaduke found the decorators of his comely person already assembled.
The simpler yet more manly fashions he had taken from the provinces
were now exchanged for an attire worthy the kinsman of the great
minister of a court unparalleled, since the reign of William the Red
King, for extravagant gorgeousness of dress. His corset was of the
finest cloth, sown with seed pearls; above it the lawn shirt, worn
without collar, partially appeared, fringed with gold; over this was
loosely hung a super-tunic of crimson sarcenet, slashed and pounced
with a profusion of fringes. His velvet cap, turned up at the sides,
extended in a point far over the forehead. His hose - under which
appellation is to be understood what serves us of the modern day both
for stockings and pantaloons - were of white cloth; and his shoes, very
narrow, were curiously carved into chequer work at the instep, and
tied with bobbins of gold thread, turning up like skates at the
extremity, three inches in length. His dagger was suspended by a
slight silver-gilt chain, and his girdle contained a large gipsire, or
pouch, of embossed leather, richly gilt.

And this dress, marvellous as it seemed to the Nevile, the tailor
gravely assured him was far under the mark of the highest fashion, and
that an' the noble youth had been a knight, the shoes would have
stretched at least three inches farther over the natural length of the
feet, the placard have shone with jewels, and the tunic luxuriated in
flowers of damacene. Even as it was, however, Marmaduke felt a
natural diffidence of his habiliments, which cost him a round third of
his whole capital; and no bride ever unveiled herself with more
shamefaced bashfulness than did Marmaduke Nevile experience when he
remounted his horse, and, taking leave of his foster-brother, bent his
way to Warwick Lane, where the earl lodged.

The narrow streets were, however, crowded with equestrians whose dress
eclipsed his own, some bending their way to the Tower, some to the
palaces of the Flete. Carriages there were none, and only twice he
encountered the huge litters, in which some aged prelate or some high-
born dame veiled greatness from the day. But the frequent vistas to
the river gave glimpses of the gay boats and barges that crowded the
Thames, which was then the principal thoroughfare for every class, but
more especially the noble. The ways were fortunately dry and clean
for London, though occasionally deep holes and furrows in the road
menaced perils to the unwary horseman. The streets themselves might
well disappoint in splendour the stranger's eye; for although, viewed
at a distance, ancient London was incalculably more picturesque and
stately than the modern, yet when fairly in its tortuous labyrinths,
it seemed to those who had improved the taste by travel the meanest
and the mirkiest capital of Christendom. The streets were
marvellously narrow, the upper stories, chiefly of wood, projecting
far over the lower, which were formed of mud and plaster. The shops
were pitiful booths, and the 'prentices standing at the entrance bare-
headed and cap in hand, and lining the passages, as the old French
writer avers, comme idoles, [Perlin] kept up an eternal din with their
clamorous invitations, often varied by pert witticisms on some
churlish passenger, or loud vituperations of each other. The whole
ancient family of the London criers were in full bay. Scarcely had
Marmaduke's ears recovered the shock of "Hot peascods, - all hot!" than
they were saluted with "Mackerel!" "Sheep's feet! hot sheep's feet!"
At the smaller taverns stood the inviting vociferaters of "Cock-pie,"
"Ribs of beef, - hot beef!" while, blended with these multi-toned
discords, whined the vielle, or primitive hurdy-gurdy, screamed the
pipe, twanged the harp, from every quarter where the thirsty paused to
drink, or the idler stood to gape. [See Lydgate: London Lyckpenny.]

Through this Babel Marmaduke at last slowly wound his way, and arrived
before the mighty mansion in which the chief baron of England held his

As he dismounted and resigned his steed to the servitor hired for him
by Alwyn, Marmaduke paused a moment, struck by the disparity, common
as it was to eyes more accustomed to the metropolis, between the
stately edifice and the sordid neighbourhood. He had not noticed this
so much when he had repaired to the earl's house on his first arrival
in London, for his thoughts then had been too much bewildered by the
general bustle and novelty of the scene; but now it seemed to him that
he better comprehended the homage accorded to a great noble in
surveying, at a glance, the immeasurable eminence to which he was
elevated above his fellow-men by wealth and rank.

Far on either side of the wings of the earl's abode stretched, in
numerous deformity, sheds rather than houses, of broken plaster and
crazy timbers. But here and there were open places of public
reception, crowded with the lower followers of the puissant chief; and
the eye rested on many idle groups of sturdy swash-bucklers, some
half-clad in armour, some in rude jerkins of leather, before the doors
of these resorts, - as others, like bees about a hive, swarmed in and
out with a perpetual hum.

The exterior of Warwick House was of a gray but dingy stone, and
presented a half-fortified and formidable appearance. The windows, or
rather loop-holes, towards the street were few, and strongly barred.
The black and massive arch of the gateway yawned between two huge
square towers; and from a yet higher but slender tower on the inner
side, the flag gave the "White Bear and Ragged Staff" to the smoky
air. Still, under the portal as he entered, hung the grate of the
portcullis, and the square court which he saw before him swarmed with
the more immediate retainers of the earl, in scarlet jackets, wrought
with their chieftain's cognizance. A man of gigantic girth and
stature, who officiated as porter, leaning against the wall under the
arch, now emerged from the shadow, and with sufficient civility
demanded the young visitor's name and business. On hearing the
former, he bowed low as he doffed his hat, and conducted Marmaduke
through the first quadrangle. The two sides to the right and left
were devoted to the offices and rooms of retainers, of whom no less
than six hundred, not to speak of the domestic and more orderly
retinue, attested the state of the Last of the English Barons on his
visits to the capital. Far from being then, as now, the object of the
great to thrust all that belongs to the service of the house out of
sight, it was their pride to strike awe into the visitor by the extent
of accommodation afforded to their followers: some seated on benches
of stone ranged along the walls; some grouped in the centre of the
court; some lying at length upon the two oblong patches of what had
been turf, till worn away by frequent feet, - this domestic army filled
the young Nevile with an admiration far greater than the gay satins of
the knights and nobles who had gathered round the lord of Montagu and
Northumberland at the pastime-ground.

This assemblage, however, were evidently under a rude discipline of
their own. They were neither noisy nor drunk. They made way with
surly obeisance as the cavalier passed, and closing on his track like
some horde of wild cattle, gazed after him with earnest silence, and
then turned once more to their indolent whispers with each other.

And now Nevile entered the last side of the quadrangle. The huge
hall, divided from the passage by a screen of stone fretwork, so fine
as to attest the hand of some architect in the reign of Henry III.,
stretched to his right; and so vast, in truth, it was, that though
more than fifty persons were variously engaged therein, their number
was lost in the immense space. Of these, at one end of the longer and
lower table beneath the dais, some squires of good dress and mien were
engaged at chess or dice; others were conferring in the gloomy
embrasures of the casements; some walking to and fro, others gathered
round the shovel-board. At the entrance of this hall the porter left
Marmaduke, after exchanging a whisper with a gentleman whose dress
eclipsed the Nevile's in splendour; and this latter personage, who,
though of high birth, did not disdain to perform the office of
chamberlain, or usher, to the king-like earl, advanced to Marmaduke
with a smile, and said, -

"My lord expects you, sir, and has appointed this time to receive you,
that you may not be held back from his presence by the crowds that
crave audience in the forenoon. Please to follow me!" This said, the
gentleman slowly preceded the visitor, now and then stopping to
exchange a friendly word with the various parties he passed in his
progress; for the urbanity which Warwick possessed himself, his policy
inculcated as a duty on all who served him. A small door at the other
extremity of the hall admitted into an anteroom, in which some half
score pages, the sons of knights and barons, were gathered round an
old warrior, placed at their head as a sort of tutor, to instruct them
in all knightly accomplishments; and beckoning forth one of these
youths from the ring, the earl's chamberlain said, with a profound
reverence, "Will you be pleased, my young lord, to conduct your
cousin, Master Marmaduke Nevile, to the earl's presence?" The young
gentleman eyed Marmaduke with a supercilious glance.

"Marry!" said he, pertly, "if a man born in the North were to feed all
his cousins, he would soon have a tail as long as my uncle, the stout
earl's. Come, sir cousin, this way." And without tarrying even to
give Nevile information of the name and quality of his new-found
relation, - who was no less than Lord Montagu's son, the sole male heir
to the honours of that mighty family, though now learning the
apprenticeship of chivalry amongst his uncle's pages, - the boy passed
before Marmaduke with a saunter, that, had they been in plain
Westmoreland, might have cost him a cuff from the stout hand of the
indignant elder cousin. He raised the tapestry at one end of the
room, and ascending a short flight of broad stairs, knocked gently on
the panels of an arched door sunk deep in the walls.

"Enter!" said a clear, loud voice, and the next moment Marmaduke was
in the presence of the King-maker.

He heard his guide pronounce his name, and saw him smile maliciously
at the momentary embarrassment the young man displayed, as the boy
passed by Marmaduke, and vanished. The Earl of Warwick was seated
near a door that opened upon an inner court, or rather garden, which
gave communication to the river. The chamber was painted in the style
of Henry III., with huge figures representing the battle of Hastings,
or rather, for there were many separate pieces, the conquest of Saxon
England. Over each head, to enlighten the ignorant, the artist had
taken the precaution to insert a label, which told the name and the
subject. The ceiling was groined, vaulted, and emblazoned with the
richest gilding and colours. The chimneypiece (a modern ornament)
rose to the roof, and represented in bold reliefs, gilt and decorated,
the signing of Magna Charta. The floor was strewed thick with dried
rushes and odorous herbs; the furniture was scanty, but rich. The
low-backed chairs, of which there were but four, carved in ebony, had
cushions of velvet with fringes of massive gold; a small cupboard, or
beaufet, covered with carpetz de cuir (carpets of gilt and painted
leather), of great price, held various quaint and curious ornaments of
plate inwrought with precious stones; and beside this - a singular
contrast - on a plain Gothic table lay the helmet, the gauntlets, and
the battle-axe of the master. Warwick himself, seated before a large,
cumbrous desk, was writing, - but slowly and with pain, - and he lifted
his finger as the Nevile approached, in token of his wish to conclude
a task probably little congenial to his tastes. But Marmaduke was
grateful for the moments afforded him to recover his self-possession,
and to examine his kinsman.

The earl was in the lusty vigour of his age. His hair, of the deepest
black, was worn short, as if in disdain of the effeminate fashions of
the day; and fretted bare from the temples by the constant and early
friction of his helmet, gave to a forehead naturally lofty yet more
majestic appearance of expanse and height. His complexion, though
dark and sunburned, glowed with rich health. The beard was closely
shaven, and left in all its remarkable beauty the contour of the oval
face and strong jaw, - strong as if clasped in iron. The features were
marked and aquiline, as was common to those of Norman blood. The form
spare, but of prodigious width and depth of chest, the more apparent
from the fashion of the short surcoat, which was thrown back, and left
in broad expanse a placard, not of holiday velvet and satins, but of
steel polished as a mirror, and inlaid with gold. And now as,
concluding his task, the earl rose and motioned Marmaduke to a stool
by his side, his great stature, which, from the length of his limbs,
was not so observable when he sat, actually startled his guest. Tall
as Marmaduke was himself, the earl towered [The faded portrait of
Richard Nevile, Earl of Warwick, in the Rous Roll, preserved at the
Herald's College, does justice, at least, to the height and majesty of
his stature. The portrait of Edward IV. is the only one in that long
series which at all rivals the stately proportions of the King-maker.]
above him, - with his high, majestic, smooth, unwrinkled forehead, -
like some Paladin of the rhyme of poet or romancer; and, perhaps, not
only in this masculine advantage, but in the rare and harmonious
combination of colossal strength with graceful lightness, a more
splendid union of all the outward qualities we are inclined to give to
the heroes of old never dazzled the eye or impressed the fancy. But
even this effect of mere person was subordinate to that which this
eminent nobleman created - upon his inferiors, at least - by a manner so
void of all arrogance, yet of all condescension, so simple, open,
cordial, and hero-like, that Marmaduke Nevile, peculiarly alive to
external impressions, and subdued and fascinated by the earl's first
word, and that word was "Welcome!" dropped on his knee, and kissing
the hand extended to him, said, "Noble kinsman, in thy service and for
thy sake let me live and die!" Had the young man been prepared by the
subtlest master of courtcraft for this interview, so important to his
fortunes, he could not have advanced a hundredth part so far with the
great earl as he did by that sudden, frank burst of genuine emotion;
for Warwick was extremely sensitive to the admiration he excited, -
vain or proud of it, it matters not which; grateful as a child for
love, and inexorable as a woman for slight or insult: in rude ages,
one sex has often the qualities of the other.

"Thou hast thy father's warm heart and hasty thought, Marmaduke," said
Warwick, raising him; "and now he is gone where, we trust, brave men,
shrived of their sins, look down upon us, who should be thy friend but
Richard Nevile? So - so - yes, let me look at thee. Ha! stout Guy's
honest face, every line of it: but to the girls, perhaps, comelier,
for wanting a scar or two. Never blush, - thou shalt win the scars
yet. So thou hast a letter from thy father?"

"It is here, noble lord."

"And why," said the earl, cutting the silk with his dagger - "why hast
thou so long hung back from presenting it? But I need not ask thee.
These uncivil times have made kith and kin doubt worse of each other
than thy delay did of me. Sir Guy's mark, sure eno'! Brave old man!
I loved him the better for that, like me, the sword was more meet than
the pen for his bold hand." Here Warwick scanned, with some slowness,
the lines dictated by the dead to the priest; and when he had done, he
laid the letter respectfully on his desk, and bowing his head over it,
muttered to himself, - it might be an Ave for the deceased. "Well," he
said, reseating himself, and again motioning Marmaduke to follow his
example, "thy father was, in sooth, to blame for the side he took in
the Wars. What son of the Norman could bow knee or vail plume to that
shadow of a king, Henry of Windsor? And for his bloody wife - she knew
no more of an Englishman's pith and pride than I know of the rhymes
and roundels of old Rene, her father. Guy Nevile - good Guy - many a
day in my boyhood did he teach me how to bear my lance at the crest,
and direct my sword at the mail joints. He was cunning at fence - thy
worshipful father - but I was ever a bad scholar; and my dull arm, to
this day, hopes more from its strength than its craft."

"I have heard it said, noble earl, that the stoutest hand can scarcely
lift your battle-axe."

"Fables! romaunt!" answered the earl, smiling; "there it lies, - go
and lift it."

Marmaduke went to the table, and, though with some difficulty, raised
and swung this formidable weapon.

"By my halidame, well swung, cousin mine! Its use depends not on the
strength, but the practice. Why, look you now, there is the boy
Richard of Gloucester, who comes not up to thy shoulder, and by dint
of custom each day can wield mace or axe with as much ease as a jester
doth his lathesword. Ah, trust me, Marmaduke, the York House is a
princely one; and if we must have a king, we barons, by stout Saint
George, let no meaner race ever furnish our lieges. But to thyself,
Marmaduke - what are thy views and thy wishes?"

"To be one of thy following, noble Warwick."

"I thank and accept thee, young Nevile; but thou hast heard that I am
about to leave England, and in the mean time thy youth would run
danger without a guide." The earl paused a moment, and resumed: "My
brother of Montagu showed thee cold countenance; but a word from me
will win thee his grace and favour. What sayest thou, wilt thou be
one of his gentlemen? If so, I will tell thee the qualities a man
must have, - a discreet tongue, a quick eye, the last fashion in hood
and shoe-bobbins, a perfect seat on thy horse, a light touch for the
gittern, a voice for a love-song, and - "

"I have none of these save the horsemanship, gracious my lord; and if
thou wilt not receive me thyself, I will not burden my Lord of Montagu
and Northumberland."

"Hot and quick! No! John of Montagu would not suit thee, nor thou
him. But how to provide for thee till my return I know not."

"Dare I not hope, then, to make one of your embassage, noble earl?"

Warwick bent his brows, and looked at him in surprise. "Of our
embassage! Why, thou art haughty, indeed! Nay, and so a soldier's
son and a Nevile should be! I blame thee not; but I could not make
thee one of my train, without creating a hundred enemies - to me (but
that's nothing) and to thee, which were much. Knowest thou not that
there is scarce a gentleman of my train below the state of a peer's
son, and that I have made, by refusals, malcontents eno', as it is? -
Yet, bold! there is my learned brother, the Archbishop of York.
Knowest thou Latin and the schools?"

"'Fore Heaven, my lord," said the Nevile, bluntly, "I see already I
had best go back to green Westmoreland, for I am as unfit for his
grace the archbishop as I am for my Lord Montagu."

"Well, then," said the earl, dryly, "since thou hast not yet station
enough for my train, nor glosing for Northumberland, nor wit and lere
for the archbishop, I suppose, my poor youth, I must e'en make you
only a gentleman about the king! It is not a post so sure of quick
rising and full gipsires as one about myself or my brethren, but it
will be less envied, and is good for thy first essay. How goes the
clock? Oh, here is Nick Alwyn's new horologe. He tells me that the
English will soon rival the Dutch in these baubles. [Clockwork
appears to have been introduced into England in the reign of Edward
III., when three Dutch horologers were invited over from Delft. They
must soon have passed into common use, for Chaucer thus familiarly
speaks of them: - "Full sickerer was his crowing in his loge
Than is a clock or any abbey orloge."]
The more the pity! - our red-faced yeomen, alas, are fast sinking into
lank-jawed mechanics! We shall find the king in his garden within the
next half-hour. Thou shalt attend me."

Marmaduke expressed, with more feeling than eloquence, the thanks he
owed for an offer that, he was about to say, exceeded his hopes; but
he had already, since his departure from Westmoreland, acquired
sufficient wit to think twice of his words. And so eagerly, at that
time, did the youth of the nobility contend for the honour of posts
about the person of Warwick, and even of his brothers, and so strong
was the belief that the earl's power to make or to mar fortune was
all-paramount in England, that even a place in the king's household
was considered an inferior appointment to that which made Warwick the
immediate patron and protector. This was more especially the case
amongst the more haughty and ancient gentry since the favour shown by
Edward to the relations of his wife, and his own indifference to the
rank and birth of his associates. Warwick had therefore spoken with
truth when he expressed a comparative pity for the youth, whom he
could not better provide for than by a place about the court of his

The earl then drew from Marmaduke some account of his early training,
his dependence on his brother, his adventures at the archery-ground,
his misadventure with the robbers, and even his sojourn with Warner, -
though Marmaduke was discreetly silent as to the very existence of
Sibyll. The earl, in the mean while, walked to and fro the chamber
with a light, careless stride, every moment pausing to laugh at the
frank simplicity of his kinsman, or to throw in some shrewd remark,
which he cast purposely in the rough Westmoreland dialect; for no man
ever attains to the popularity that rejoiced or accursed the Earl of
Warwick, without a tendency to broad and familiar humour, without a
certain commonplace of character in its shallower and more every-day
properties. This charm - always great in the great - Warwick possessed
to perfection; and in him - such was his native and unaffected majesty
of bearing, and such the splendour that surrounded his name - it never
seemed coarse or unfamiliar, but "everything he did became him best."
Marmaduke had just brought his narrative to a conclusion, when, after
a slight tap at the door, which Warwick did not hear, two fair young
forms bounded joyously in, and not seeing the stranger, threw
themselves upon Warwick's breast with the caressing familiarity of

"Ah, Father," said the elder of these two girls, as Warwick's hand
smoothed her hair fondly, "you promised you would take us in your
barge to see the sports on the river, and now it will be too late."

"Make your peace with your young cousins here," said the earl, turning

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Online LibraryEdward Bulwer Lytton LyttonThe Last of the Barons — Volume 02 → online text (page 1 of 3)