George MacDonald.

St. George and St. Michael (Volume 1) online

. (page 3 of 14)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldSt. George and St. Michael (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

sufficiently advanced for the safety of those
reported to possess them. In her turn, how-
ever, she ran a risk somewhat less than ordi-
nary from the fact that her boy was a domestic
in the family of one whose eldest son, the heir
to the earldom, lay under a similar suspicion ;
for not a few of the household were far from
satisfied that lord Herbert's known occupa-
tions in the Yellow Tower were not principally
ostensible, and that he and his man had nothing
to do with the black art, or some other of the
many regions of occult science in which the

A Chapter of Fools. 45

ambition after unlawful power may hopefully
exercise itself.

Upon occasion of a family fete, merriment
was in those days carried further, on the part
of both masters and servants, than in the
greatly altered relations and conditions of the
present day would be desirable, or, indeed,
possible. In this Instance, the fun broke out
In the arranging of a mock marriage between
Thomas Rees, commonly called Tom Fool, and
a young girl who served under the cook. Half
the jest lay in the contrast between the long
face of the bridegroom, both congenitally and
wilfully miserable, and that of the bride, broad
as a harvest moon, and rosy almost to purple.
The bridegroom never smiled, and spoke with
his jaws rather than his lips ; while the bride
seldom uttered a syllable without grinning from
ear to ear, and displaying a marvellous appoint-
ment of huge and brilliant teeth. Entering
solemnly into the joke, Tom expressed himself
willing to marry the girl, but represented, as
an Insurmountable difficulty, that he had no
clothes for the occasion. Thereupon the earl,
drawing from his pocket his bunch of keys,
directed him to go and take what he liked

4-6 SL George and St. Michael.

from his wardrobe. Now the earl was a man
of large circumference, and the fool as lank in
person as in countenance.

Tom took the keys and was some time gone,
during which many conjectures were hazarded
as to the style in which he would choose to
appear. When he re-entered the great hall,
where the company was assembled, the roar
of laughter which followed his appearance made
the glass of its great cupola ring again. For
not merely was he dressed in the earl's beaver
hat and satin cloak, splendid with plush and
gold and silver lace, but he had indued a
corresponding suit of his clothes as well, even
to his silk stockings, garters, and roses, and
with the help of many pillows and other such
farcing, so filled the garments which otherwise
had hung upon him like a shawl from a peg,
and made of himself such a ' sweet creature
of bombast' that, with ludicrous unlikeness of
countenance, he bore in figure no distant re-
semblance to the earl himself

Meantime lady Elizabeth had been busy
with the scullery-maid, whom she had attired
in a splendid brocade of her grandmother's,
with all suitable belongings of ruff, high collar,

A Chapte}' of Fools. 47

and lace wings, such as Queen Elizabeth is
represented with in Oliver's portrait. Upon
her appearance, a few minutes after Tom's, the
laughter broke out afresh, in redoubled peals,
and the merriment was at its height, when
the warder of one of the gates entered and
whispered in his master's ear the arrival of
the bumpkins, and their mission announced,
he informed his lordship, with all the import-
ance and dignity they knew how to assume.
The earl burst into a fresh laugh. But pre-
sently it quavered a little and ceased, while
over the amusement still beaming on his
countenance gathered a slight shade of anxiety,
for who could tell what tempest such a mere
whirling of straws might not forerun ?

A few words of the warder's had reached
Tom where he stood a little aside, his solemn
countenance radiating disapproval of the tumul-
tuous folly around him. He took three strides
towards the earl.

' Wherein lieth the new jest ? ' he asked, with

' A set of country louts, my lord,' answered
the earl, ' are at the gate, affirming the right of
search in this your lordship's house of Raglan.'

48 S^. George and St. Michael.

' For what ? '
' Arms, my lord/

* And wherefore ? On what ground ? '

* On the ground that your lordship is a vile
recusant^ — a papist, and therefore a traitor, no
doubt, although they use not the word,' said
the earl.

' I shall be round with them,' said Tom,
embracing the assumed proportions in front of
him, and turning to the door.

Ere the earl had time to conceive his intent,
he had hurried from the hall, followed by fresh
shouts of laughter. For he had forgotten to
stuff himself behind, and when the company
caught sight of his back as he strode out, the
tenuity of the foundation for such a ' huge hill
of flesh ' was absurd as Falstaff's ha'p'orth of
bread to the ' Intolerable deal of sack.'

But the next moment the earl had caught
the intended joke, and although a trifle con-
cerned about the affair, was of too mirth-loving
a nature to Interfere with Tom's project, the
result of which would doubtless be highly satis-
factory — at least to those not primarily con-
cerned. He Instantly called for silence, and
explained to the assembly what he believed

A Chapter of Fools, 49

to be Tom Fool's intent, and as there was
nothing to be seen from the hall, the windows
of which were at a great height from the floor,
and Tom's scheme would be fatally imperilled
by the visible presence of spectators, from some
at least of whom gravity of demeanour could
not be expected, gave hasty instructions to
several of his sons and daughters to disperse
the company to upper windows having a view
of one or the other court, for no one could tell
where the fool's humour might find its principal
arena. The next moment, in the plain dress
of rough brownish cloth, which he always wore
except upon state occasions, he followed the
fool to the gate, where he found him talking
through the wicket-grating to the rustics, who,
having passed drawbridge and portcullises, of
which neither the former had been raised nor
the latter lowered for many years, now stood
on the other side of the gate demanding
admittance. In the parley, Tom Fool was
imitating his master's voice and every one of
the peculiarities of his speech to perfection,
addressing them with extreme courtesy, as if
he took them for gentlemen of no ordinary con-
sideration, — a point in his conception of his


50 SL George and St. Michael.

part which he never forgot throughout the
whole business. To the dismay of his master
he was even more than admitting, almost boast-
ing, that there was an enormous quantity of
weapons in the castle — sufficient at least to arm
ten thousand horsemen ! — a prodigious state-
ment, for, at the utterrriost, there was not more
than the tenth part of that amount — still a some-
what larger provision no doubt than the intruders
had expected to find ! The pseudo-earl went
on to say that the armoury consisted of one
strong room only, the door of which was so
cunningly concealed and secured that no one
but himself knew where it was, or if found
could open it. But such he said was his
respect to the will of the most august parlia-
ment, that he would himself conduct them to
the said armoury, and deliver over upon the
spot into their safe custody the whole mass of
weapons to carry away with them. And there-
upon he proceeded to open the gate.

By this time the door of the neighbouring
guard - room was crowded with the heads of
eager listeners, but the presence of the earl kept
them quiet, and at a sign from him they drew
back ere the men entered. The earl himself

A Chapter of Fools, 5 1

took a position where he would be covered by
the opening wicket.

Tom received them into bodily presence
with the notification that, having suspected
their object, he had sent all his people out of
the way, in order to avoid the least danger
of a broil. Bowing to them with the utmost
politeness as they entered, he requested them
to step forward into the court while he closed
the wicket behind them, but took the opportunity
of whispering to one of the men just inside the
door of the guardhouse, who, the moment Tom
had led the rustics away, approached the earl,
and told him what he had said.

' What can the rascal mean ? ' said the earl
to himself ; but he told the man to carry the
fool's message exactly as he had received it,
and quietly followed Tom and his companions,
some of whom, conceiving fresh importance
from the overstrained politeness with which
they had been received, were now attempting
a transformation of their usual loundering gait
into a martial stride, with the result of a foolish
strut, very unlike the dignified progress of the
sham earl, whose weak back roused in them
no suspicion, and who had taken care they



5 2 SL Geo7^ge and St. Michael.

should not see his face. Across the paved
court, and through the hall to the inner court,
Tom led them, and the earl followed.

The twilight was following. The hall was
empty of life, and filled with a sombre dusk,
echoing to every step as they passed through
it. They did not see the flash of eyes and
glimmer of smiles from the minstrel's gallery,
and the solitude, size, and gloom had, even on
their dull natures, a palpable influence. The
whole castle seemed deserted as they followed
the false earl across the second court — ^with
the true one stealing after them like a knave
— little imagining that bright eyes were watch-
ing them from the curtains of every window
like stars from the clear spaces and cloudy
edges of heaven. To the north-west corner
of the court he led them, and through a
sculptured doorway up the straight wide ascent
of stone called the grand staircase. At the
top he turned to the right, along a dim corridor,
from which he entered a suite of bedrooms
and dressing-rooms, over whose black floors
he led the trampling hob-nailed shoes without
pity either for their polish or the labour of the
housemaids in restoring it.

A Chapter of Fools, 53

In this way he reached the stair In the bell-
tower, ascending which he brought them into
a narrow dark passage ending again in a down-
ward stair, at the foot of which they found
themselves In the long picture-gallery, having
entered it in the recess of one of Its large
windows. At the other end of the gallery he
crossed Into the dining-room, then through an
ante-chamber entered the drawing-room, where
the ladles, apprised of their approach, kept
still behind curtains and high chairs, until they
had passed through, on their way to cross the
archway of the main entrance, and through
the library gain the region of household
economy and cookery. Thither I will not
drag my reader after them. Indeed the earl,
who had been dogging them like a Fate, ever
emerging on their track but never beheld, had
already began to pay his part of the penalty
of the joke In fatigue, for he was not only
unwieldy In person, but far from robust, being
very subject to gout. He owed his good
spirits to a noble nature, and not to animal
well-being. When they crossed from the
picture-gallery to the dining-room, he went
down the stair between, and Into the oak-

54 '5'/. George and St. Michael,

parlour adjoining the great hall. There he
threw himself into an easy chair which always
stood for him in the great bay window, looking
over the moat to the huge keep of the castle,
and commanding through its western light the
stone bridge which crossed it. There he lay
back at his ease, and, instructed by the
message Tom had committed to the serjeant
of the guard,, waited the result.

As for his double, he went stalking on in
front of his victims, never turning to show his
face ; he knew they would follow, were it but
for the fear of being left alone. Close behind
him they kept, scarce daring to whisper from
growing awe of the vast place. The fumes of
the beer had by this time evaporated, and the
heavy obscurity which pervaded the whole
building enhanced their growing apprehensions.
On and on the fool led them, up and down,
going and returning, but ever in new tracks,
for the marvellous old place was interminably
burrowed with connecting passages and com-
munications of every sort — some of them the
merest ducts which had to be all but crept
through, and which would have certainly
arrested the progress of the earl had he fol-

A Chapter of Fools. 55

lowed so far : no one about the place under-
stood its ' crenkles ' so well as Tom. For the
greater part of an hour he led them thus, until,
having been on their legs the whole day, they
were thoroughly wearied as well as awe-struck.
At length, in a gloomy chamber, where one
could not see the face of another, the pseudo-
earl turned full upon them, and said in his most
solemn tones : —

' Arrived thus far, my masters, it is borne in
upon me with rebuke, that before undertaking
to guide you to the armoury, I should have
acquainted you with the strange fact that at
times I am myself unable to find the place of
which we are in search ; and I begin to fear it
is so now, and that we are at this moment the
sport of a certain member of my family of whom
it may be your worships have heard things not
more strange than true. Against his machina-
tions I am powerless. All that is left us is to
go to him and entreat him to unsay his spells.'

A coftfused murmur of objections arose.

' Then your worships will remain here while
I go to the Yellow Tower, and come to you
again ? ' said the mock earl, making as if he
would leave them.

56 Sf. George and St. Michael,

But they crowded round him with earnest
refusals to be abandoned ; for in their very
souls they felt the fact that they were upon
enchanted ground — and in the dark.

' Then follow me,' he said, and conducted
them into the open air of the inner court,
almost opposite the archway in its buildings
leading to the stone bridge, whose gothic struc-
ture bestrid the moat of the keep.

For Raglan Castle had this peculiarity, that
its keep was surrounded by a moat of its own,
separating it from the rest of the castle, so that,
save by bridge, no one within any more than
without the walls could reach it. On to the
bridge Tom led the way, followed by his dupes
— now full in the view of the earl where he sat
in his parlour window. When they had reached
the centre of it, however, and glancing up at
the awful bulk of stone towering above them,
its walls strangely dented and furrowed, so as,
to such as they, might well suggest frightful
means to wicked ends, they stood stock-still,
refusing to go a step further ; while their chief
speaker, Upstill, emboldened by anger, fear,
and the meek behaviour of the supposed earl,
broke out in a torrent of arrogance, wherein his

A Chapter of Fools. 5 7

intention was to brandish the terrors of the
High ParHament over the heads of his lord-
ship of Worcester and all recusants. He had
not got far, however, before a shrill whistle
pierced the air, and the next instant arose a
chaos of horrible, appalling, and harrowing
noises, ' such a roaring,' in the words of their
own report of the matter to the reverend
master Flowerdew, ' as if the mouth of hell
had been wide open, and all the devils conjured
up ' — doubtless they meant by the arts of the
wizard whose dwelling was that same tower of
fearful fame before which they now stood. The
skin -contracting chill of terror uplifted their
hair. The mystery that enveloped the origin
of the sounds gave them an unearthliness which
froze the very fountains of their life, and ren-
dered them incapable even of motion. They
stared at each other with a ghastly observance,
which descried no comfort, only like images of
horror. * Man's hand is not able to taste ' how
long they might have thus stood, nor * his
tongue to conceive ' what the consequences
might have been, had not a more healthy terror
presently supervened. Across the tumult of
sounds, like a fiercer flash through the flames

58 5/. George and St. Michael.

of [a furnace, shot a hideous, long-drawn yell,
and the same instant came a man running at
full speed through the archway from the court,
casting terror-stricken glances behind him, and
shouting with a voice half-choked to a shriek —

* Look to yourselves, my masters ; the lions
are got loose ! '

All the world knew that ever since King
James had set the fashion by taking so much
pleasure in the lions at the Tower, strange
beasts had been kept in the castle of Raglan.

The new terror broke the spell of the old,
and the parliamentary commissioners fled. But
which was the way from the castle ? which the
path to the lions' den ? In an agony of hor-
rible dread, they rushed hither and thither
about the court, where now the white horse,
as steady as marble, should be when first they
crossed it, was, to their excited vision, prancing
wildly about the great basin from whose
charmed circle he could not break, foaming, at
the mouth, and casting huge water-jets from
his nostrils into the perturbed air ; while from
the surface of the moat a great column of
water shot up nearly as high as the citadel,
whose return into the moat was like a tempest,

A Chapter of Fools. 59

and with all the elemental tumult was mingled
the howling of wild beasts. The doors of
the hall and the gates to the bowling green
being shut, the poor wretches could not find
their way out of the court, but ran from door to
door like madmen, only to find all closed
against them. From every window around
the court — ^from the apartments of the waiting
gentlewomen, from the picture-gallery, from the
officers' rooms, eager and merry eyes looked
down on the spot, themselves unseen and un-
suspected, for all voices were hushed, and for
anything the bumpkins heard or saw they
might have been In a place deserted of men,
and possessed only by evil spirits, whose
pranks were now tormenting them. At last
UpstUl, who had fallen on the bridge at his first
start, and had ever since been rushing about
with a limp and a leap alternated, managed to
open the door of the hall, and Its eastern door
having been left open, shot across and Into the
outer court, where he made for the gate, fol-
lowed at varied distance by the rest of the
routed commissioners of search, as each had
discovered the way his forerunner fied. With
trembling hands Upstill raised the latch of the

6o SL Georo'e and St. Michael.


wicket, and to his ^ delight found it unlocked.
He darted through, passed the twin portcullises,
and was presently thundering over the draw-
bridge, which, trembling under his heavy steps,
seemed on the point of rising to heave him
back Into the jaws of the lion, or, worse still,
the clutches of the enchanter. Not one looked
behind him, not even when, having passed
through^ the white stone gate, also purposely
left open for their escape, and rattled down the
multitude of steps that told how deep was the
moat they had just crossed, where the last of
them nearly broke his neck by rolling almost
from top to bottom, they reached the outermost,
the brick gate, and so left the awful region of
enchantment and feline fury commingled. Not
until the castle was out of sight, and their
leader had sunk senseless on the turf by the
roadside, did they dare a backward look. The
moment he came to himself they started again
for home, at what poor speed they could make,
and reached the Crown and Mitre in sad
plight, where, however, they found some com-
pensation in the pleasure of setting forth their
adventures — with the heroic manner in which,
although vanquished by the irresistible force of

A Chapter of Fools. 6 1

enchantment, they had yet brought off their
forces without the loss of a single man. Their
story spread over the country, enlarged and
embellished at every fresh stage in its progress.
When the tale reached mother Rees, it filled
her with fresh awe of the great magician, the
renowned lord Herbert. She little thought
the whole affair was a jest of her own son's.
Firmly believing in all kinds of magic and
witchcraft, but as innocent of conscious dealing
with the powers of ill as the whitest-winged
angel betwixt earth's garret and heaven's
threshold, she owed her evil repute amongst
her neighbours to a rare therapeutic faculty, ac-
companied by a keen sympathetic Instinct, which
greatly sharpened her powers of observation in
the quest after what was amiss ; while her touch
was so delicate, so informed with present mind,
and came therefore into such rappo7^t with any
living organism, the secret of whose suffering It
sought to discover, that sprained muscles, dis-
located joints, and broken bones seemed at its
soft approach to re-arrange their disturbed
parts, and yield to the power of her composing
will as to a re-ordering harmony. Add to this,
that she understood more of the virtues of some

62 SL George and St. Michael.

herbs than any doctor In the parish, which, in
the condition of general practice at the time, is
not perhaps to say much, and that she firmly
believed in the might of certain charms, and
occasionally used them — and I have given
reason enough why, while regarded by all with
disapprobation — she should be by many both
courted and feared. For her own part she had
a leaning to the puritans, chiefly from respect to
the memory of a good-hearted, weak, but in-
tellectually gifted, and, therefore, admired
husband ; but the ridicule of her yet more
gifted son had a good deal shaken this predi-
lection, so that she now spent what powers of
discrimination and choice she possessed solely
upon persons, heedless of principles in them-
selves, and regarding them only in their vital
results. Hence, it was a matter of absolute
indifference to her which of the parties now
dividing the country was in the right, or which
should lose, which win, provided no personal
evil befel the men or women for whom she
cherished a preference. Like many another,
she was hardly aware of the jurisdiction of
conscience, save in respect of immediate per-
sonal relations.



ROM the time when the conversation
recorded had in some measure dis-
pelled the fog between them, Roger
and Richard Hey wood drew rapidly
nearer to each other. The father had been but
waiting until his son should begin to ask him
questions, for watchfulness of himself and others
had taught him how useless information is to
those who have not first desired it, how poor in
influence, how soon forgotten ; and now that
the fitting condition had presented itself, he was
ready : with less of reserve than in the relation
between them was common amongst the puritans,
he began to pour his very soul into that of his
son. All his influence went with that party
which, holding that the natural flow of the

64 S^. George and St. Michael.

reformation of the church from popery had
stagnated In episcopacy, consisted chiefly of
those who, in demanding the overthrow of
that form of church government, sought to
substitute for It what they called presby-
terlanlsm ; but Mr. Hey wood belonged to
another division of It which, although less
influential at present, was destined to come
by and by to the front. In the strength of the
conviction that to stop with presbyterianism
was merely to change the name of the swamp
— a party whose distinctive and animating spirit
was the love of freedom, which indeed, degene-
rating Into a passion among Its inferior members,
broke out, upon occasion, In the wildest vagaries
of speech and doctrine, but on the other hand
justified itself in its leaders, chief amongst whom
were Milton and Cromwell, Inasmuch as they
accorded to the consciences of others the free-
dom they demanded for their own — the love of
liberty with them not meaning merely the love
of enjoying freedom, but that respect for the
thing itself which renders a man Incapable of
violating it In another.

Roger Hey wood was, In fact, already a
pupil of Milton, whose anonymous pamphlet

Animadversions. 65

of ' Reformation touching Church DiscipHne *
had already reached him, and opened with him
the way for all his following works.

Richard, with whom my story has really to
do, but for the understanding of whom it is
necessary that the character and mental position
of his father should in some measure be set
forth, proved an apt pupil, and was soon pos-
sessed with such a passion for justice and
liberty, as embodied in the political doctrines
now presented for his acceptance, that it was
impossible for him to understand how any

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldSt. George and St. Michael (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 14)