Sara D. Jenkins.

The Prose Marmion A Tale of the Scottish Border online

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girl's long, fair hair was undone, and down over her slender form fell
the rich golden ringlets. Before them stood Constance de Beverley, a
professed nun of Fontevraud. Lured by the love of Marmion, she had
broken her vow, and fled from the convent. She now stood so beautiful,
so calm, so pale, that but for the heaving breast and heavy breathing,
she might have been a form of wax wrought to the very life.

Her companion in misery was a sorry sight. This wretch, wearing frock
and cowl, was not ashamed to moan, to shrink, to grovel on the floor, to
crouch like a hound, while the accused frail girl waited her doom
without a sound, without a tear.

Well might she grow pale! In the dark wall were two niches narrow and
high. In each was laid a slender meal of roots, bread, and water. Close
to each cell, motionless, stood two haggard monks holding a blazing
torch, and displaying the cement, stones, and implements with which the
culprits were to be immured.

Now the blind old Abbot rose to speak the doom of those to be enclosed
in the new made tombs. Twice he stopped, as the woeful maiden, gathering
her powers, tried to make audible the words which died in murmurs on her
quivering lips. At length, by superhuman effort, she sent the blood,
curdled at her heart, coursing through every vein. Light came to her
eye, color to her cheek, and when the silence was broken, she gathered
strength at every word. It was a strange sight to see resolution so high
in a form so weak, so soft, so fair.

"I speak," she said, "not to implore mercy, for full well I know it
would be vain. Neither do I speak to gain your prayers, for a lingering,
living death within these walls will be a penance fit to cleanse my soul
of every sin. I speak not for myself, but for one whom I have wronged
though he never did me wrong; one who, if living, is now an exile under
the ban of the King. I speak to clear the fair name of Ralph de Wilton,
and to accuse Lord Marmion of Fontenaye, the traitor, to whose false
words of love I listened when I left my veil and convent dear.

"Long, weary days, I bowed my pride, and humbled my honor, to ride as
squire to this false knight, who daily promised me marriage. To be his
slave, hoping to be his wife, I forfeited all peace on earth, all hope
beyond the grave; but when he met the betrothed of Ralph de Wilton, the
Lady Clare, when he learned of her vast wealth and broad lands, when he
saw her face more fair than mine, he foreswore his faith. I, Constance,
was beloved no more. It is an old story, often told.

"The King approved the scheme of Marmion. Vainly de Wilton pleaded his
right to the hand of Clare, and when all fair means were exhausted,
Ralph was accused of treason. By my woman's unworthy hand, at the
command of Marmion, was forged the papers which sealed de Wilton's fate.
The two men fought in mortal combat.

"'Their prayers are prayed,
Their lances in the rest are laid.'

"The result was told by the loud cry, 'Marmion! Marmion! De Wilton to
the block!' Justice seemed dead, for he, ever loyal in love and in
faith, was overthrown by the falsehearted. This packet will prove de
Wilton innocent of treason, how innocent, these letters alone can tell,
and I now give them to the sacred care of the Abbess of St. Hilda. Guard
them with your life, till they rest in the hands of the King."

She paused, gathered voice and strength and proceeded:

"The Lady Clare hated the name of Marmion, mourned her dishonored lover,
and fled to the convent of Whitby. The King, incensed at her action,
declared she should be his favorite's bride even though she were a nun
confessed. Marmion was sent to Scotland and I, cast off, determined to
plan a sure escape for Clare and for myself. This false monk, whom you
are about to condemn with me, promised to carry to Clare the drugs by
means of which she would soon have been the bride of heaven. His
cowardice has undone us both, and I now reveal the story of the crime,
that none may wed with Marmion, that his perfidy may be made known to
the King, who, when he reads these letters, will see his favorite
deserves the headsman's axe. Now, men of death, do your worst. I can
suffer and be still.

"'And come he slow, or come he fast,
It is but death who comes at last.'"

The old Abbot raised his sightless eyes to heaven and said:

"'Sister, let thy sorrows cease;
Sinful brother, part in peace!'"

Up from the direful place of doom, to the light of day and to the fresh
air, passed those who had held this awful trial. Shrieks and groans
followed the winding steps. The peasant who heard the unearthly cries
bowed his head, the hermit told his beads, the brother crossed himself,
even the stag on Cheviot hills bounded to his feet, listened and then
trembling lay down to hide among the mountain ferns.

[Illustration: THE STUDY, ABBOTSFORD.]



CHAPTER III.


We now return to Lord Marmion, who, led by the Palmer, was hastening on
to Holyrood. When the heights of Lammermoor were reached, noon had long
passed, and at early nightfall, old Gifford's towers lay before them.
Here they had expected hospitality, but the lord of the Castle had gone
to Scotland's camp, where were gathered the noblest and bravest of her
sons. No friendly summons called them to the hall, for in her lord's
absence, the lady refused admittance alike to friend and foe.

On through the hamlet rode the train until it drew rein at the inn. Now
down from their seats sprang the horsemen. The courtyard rang with
jingling spurs, horses were led to the stalls, and the bustling host
gave double the orders that could be obeyed. The building was large, and
though rudely built, its cheerful fire and savory food were most welcome
to the weary men. Soon by the wide chimney's roaring blaze, and in the
place of state, sat Marmion. He watched his followers as they mixed the
brown ale, and enjoyed the bountiful repast. Oft the lordly warrior
mingled in the mirth they made.

"For though, with men of high degree,
The proudest of the proud was he,
Yet, trained in camp, he knew the art
To win the soldier's hardy heart.
Boisterous as March, yet fresh as May,
With open hand and brow as free,
Lover of wine and minstrelsy."

Directly opposite, resting on his staff, stood the Palmer, the thin,
dark visage half seen, half hidden by his hood. Steadily he gazed on
Marmion, who by frown and gesture gave evidence that he could ill bear
so close a scrutiny.

As squire and archer looked at the stern, dark face of the Pilgrim,
their bursts of laughter grew less loud, less frequent, and gradually
their mirth declined. They whispered one to another: "Sawest thou ever
such a face? How pale his cheek! How bright his eye! His heart must be
set only on his soul's salvation."

To chase away the gloom gradually stealing over the company, and to draw
from himself the sullen scowl of the Palmer, Marmion called upon his
favorite squire:

"'Fitz-Eustace, knows't thou not some lay
To speed the lingering night away?'"

The youth made an unhappy choice. He had a rich, mellow voice, and chose
the wild, sad ballad often sung to Marmion by the unfortunate Constance
de Beverley. When all was quiet, quiveringly the notes fell upon the
air:

SONG.

"Where shall the lover rest,
Whom the fates sever
From his true maiden's breast,
Parted forever?
Where early violets die
Under the willow.

"There through the summer day,
Cool streams are laving
There while the tempests sway,
Scarce are boughs waving;
There thy rest shalt thou take,
Never again to awake,
Never, O never!

"Where shall the traitor rove,
He, the deceiver,
Who could win maiden's love,
Win and then leave her?
In the lost battle,
Borne down by the flying,
Where mingles war's rattle
With groans of the dying.

"His warm blood the wolf shall lap,
Ere life be parted.
Shame and dishonor sit
By his grave ever;
Blessing shall hallow it -
Never, O never!"

The melancholy sound ceased. The song was sad, and bitterly it fell on
the false-hearted Marmion. Well he knew that at his request the faithful
but misguided Constance had been taken to Lindisfarne to be punished for
crime committed through her mistaken love for him. As if he already saw
disgrace for himself and death for her, he drew his mantle before his
face, and bent his head upon his hands. Constance de Beverley at that
moment was dying in her cell.

The meanest groom in all the train could scarce have wished to exchange
places with the proud Marmion, could his thoughts have been known.
Controlling himself, and raising his head, he said:

"As you sang, it seemed that I heard a death knell rung in mine ear.
What is the meaning of this weird sound?"

Then for the first time the Palmer broke his silence, and said in reply:
"It foretells the death of a loved friend."

Utterance, for once, failed the haughty Marmion, whose pride heretofore
could scarcely brook a word even from his King. His glance fell, his
brow flushed, for something familiar in the tone or look of the speaker
so struck the false heart that he was speechless.

Before his troubled imagination rose a vision of the lovely Constance,
beautiful and pure as when, trusting his treacherous words, she left the
peaceful walls of her convent. He knew she was now a captive in convent
cell, and the strange words of the Palmer, added to the song of the
squire, had made him unhappy. "Alas!" he thought, "would that I had left
her in purity to live, in holiness to die." Twice he was ready to order,
"To horse," that he might fly to Lindisfarne and command that not one
golden ringlet of her fair head be harmed, and twice he thought, "They
dare not. I gave orders that she should be safe, though not at large."

While thus love and repentance strove in the breast of the lord, the
landlord began a weird tale, suggested by the speech of the Palmer. As
Marmion listened, he gathered from the legend that not far from where
they sat, a knight might learn of future weal or woe. He might,
perchance, meet "in the charmed ring" his deadliest foe, in the form of
a spectre, and with it engage in mortal combat. If victorious over this
supernatural antagonist, the omen was victory in all future
undertakings.

"Marmion longed to prove his chance;
In charmed ring to break a lance."

The yeomen had drunk deep; the ale was strong, and at a sign from their
master, all sought rest on the hostel floor before the now dying embers.
For pillow, under each head, was quiver or targe. The flickering fire
threw fitful shadows on the strange group. Marmion and his squires
retired to other quarters. Where the Palmer had disappeared, none knew
or cared.

Alone, folded in his green mantle and nestling in the hay of a waste
loft, lay Fitz-Eustace, the pale moonlight falling upon his youthful
face and form. He was dreaming happy dreams of hawk and hound, of ring
and glove, of lady's eyes, when suddenly he woke. A tall form, half in
the moonbeams, half in the gloom, stood beside him; but before he could
draw his dagger, he recognized the voice of Marmion, who said:

"Fitz-Eustace, rise, and saddle Bevis! I cannot rest. The air must cool
my brow. I fain would ride to view the elfin scene of chivalry of which
we heard to-night. Rouse none from their slumbers, for I would not have
those prating knaves know that I could credit so wild a tale as our
landlord has told."

Softly down the steps they stole. Eustace led forth the steed arrayed
for the ride, and Marmion, armed to meet the elfin foe, sprang into the
saddle. The young squire listened to the resounding hoof-beats as they
grew more and more faint, and wondered as he fell asleep that one held
to be so wary, so wise, so incredulous, should ride forth at midnight to
meet a ghost in mail and plate.

The moon was bright, and as Marmion reached the elfin camp, halting, he
fearlessly blew his bugle. An answer came, so faint and hollow, that it
might have been an echo; but suddenly he saw a distinct form appear, a
mounted champion. The sight of the unexpected foe made to tremble with
horror him who never had feared knight or noble. His hand so shook, he
could scarce couch spear aright. The combat began; the two horsemen ran
their course; and in the third attack Marmion's steed could not resist
the unearthly shock - he fell, and the flower of England's chivalry
rolled in the dust.

High over the head of the fallen foe, the supposed spectre shook his
sword. Full on his face fell the moonlight, a face never to be mistaken.
It was the wraith of Ralph de Wilton, who had been sent by Marmion to
exile and to death. Thrice over his victim did the grim, ghast spectre
shake his blade, but when Marmion, white with terror, prayed for life,
the seeming vision dashed his sword into its sheath, sprang lightly to
his saddle, and vanished as he came. The moon sank from sight, and the
poor, shivering, wretched English knight lay groveling on the plain.
Could it be his mortal enemy had left the grave to strike down a living
foe, and to stare in derisive hatred from a raised visor? Whether dead
or alive, the elfin foe had little reason to spare the life of so
dastardly an enemy!

Sweetly sleeping, or patiently listening, Eustace waited for the return
of his knight, waited till he heard a horse coming, spurred to its
utmost speed. The rider hastily threw the rein to his squire, but spoke
not a word. In the dim light the youth plainly saw that the armor and
the falcon crest on his lord's helmet were covered with clay, that the
knees and sides of the noble charger were in sad plight. It was evident
the beast and his rider had been overthrown. To broken and brief rest
Eustace returned and never did he more gladly welcome the light of day.

"Eustace did ne'er so blithely mark
The first notes of the morning lark."



CHAPTER IV.


"The lark sang shrill, the cock he crew,
And loudly Marmion's bugles blew,
And with their light and lively call,
Brought groom and yeoman to the stall."

Light of heart they came, but soon their mood was changed. Complaint was
heard on every side. One declared his armor had been used, another that
his spear had been taken. Young Blount, Marmion's second squire, found
his steed covered with foam, though the stable boy swore he had left the
beautiful creature well groomed on the previous evening.

While the impatient squire raged and fumed, old Hubert cried:

"Ho, comrades, help! Bevis lies dying in his stall! To our lord this
will bring sorrow indeed. Who will dare tell him of the horse he loved
so well?"

Fitz-Eustace, who knew of the midnight ride, of the condition of horse
and rider on their return, offered to bear the unwelcome message.
Marmion, sitting plunged in deep thought, received the tidings unmoved,
gave little attention, passed the matter as if it were a mere accident
and ordered the clarions sound "To horse."

Young Blount was less easily dealt with. He declared he would pay no fee
for food or care. Man or demon, he said, had ridden his steed all night
and left him in sorry condition for the day's journey. Marmion gave the
signal to set forth, and led by the calm, gloomy Palmer, they journeyed
all the morning.

Who can picture the thoughts of Palmer and of knight? Could one have
looked beneath the Palmer's cowl there might have been seen a smile
almost sardonic playing upon his features. In passing Blount's horse the
pious man's thin brown hand stole from beneath the long gown and
lovingly caressed the animal, while were muttered the words, "Noble,
noble beast!"

On rode the train through the lovely country, over the smooth
greensward, and under the vaulted screen of branches.

"'A pleasant path,' Fitz-Eustace said,
'Such as where errant-knights might see
Adventures of high chivalry;
Might meet some damsel flying fast,
With hair unbound, and looks aghast;
And smooth and level course were here,
In her defence to break a spear."

He spoke to cheer Lord Marmion's mind, but spoke in vain, for no reply
was given.

Suddenly distant trumpets were heard in prolonged notes over hill and
dale. Each ready archer seized his bow, and Marmion ordered all to spur
on to more open ground. Scarce a furlong had they ridden, when, from an
opposite woodland, they saw approaching a gallant train.

First on prancing steeds came the trumpeters,
"With scarlet mantle, azure vest;
Each at his trump a banner wore,
Which Scotland's royal scutcheon bore:
Heralds and pursuivants, by name
Bute, Islay, Marchmount, Rothsay, came,
In painted tabards, proudly showing
Gules argent, or, and azure glowing,
Attendant on a king-at-arms,
Whose hand the armorial truncheon held,
That feudal strife had often quelled,
When wildest its alarms."

The king-at-arms was of grave, wise, and manly appearance, as became him
who bore a king's welcome, but his expression was keen, sly, and
penetrating.

"On milk-white palfrey forth he paced;
His cap of maintenance was graced
With the proud heron-plume.
From his steed's shoulder, loin, and breast,
Silk housings swept the ground,
With Scotland's arms, device, and crest,
Embroidered round and round.
The double treasure might you see,
First by Achaius borne,
The thistle and the fleur-de-lis,
And gallant unicorn.
So bright the King's amorial coat,
That scarce the dazzled eye could note.
In living colors, blazoned brave,
The Lion, which his title gave;
A train, which well beseemed his state,
But all unarmed, around him wait.
Sir David Lindesay of the Mount,
Lord Lion, King-at-arms!"

Marmion sprang from his horse, and as soon as their mutual greetings had
been made, Sir David delivered his message:

"As King-at-arms, I have been sent by James's command to meet you, Lord
Marmion, and to provide fit lodging, until the King himself shall find
time to see the famed, the honored Lord of Fontenaye, the flower of
English chivalry."

Though angry at this reception, Marmion disguised his feelings. The
Palmer, seeing his place as guide taken by the King's messenger, begged
to be permitted to leave the service. But orders had been strictly given
that no one following Marmion should be permitted to separate from the
English band. They therefore set forth together and at length halted
before a noble castle on the side of the valley of the Tyne. It was
Crichtoun Hall, near the city of Edinburgh, and was a lodging meet for
one of highest rank. Tower after tower rose to view, each built in a
different age and each displaying a different style of architecture.

"A mighty mass that could oppose,
When deadliest hatred fired its foes."

Through the gate rode the English ambassador, but met by none of the
rank and file usual on such occasions. Only women, old men, and children
occupied the castle. The sorrowing mistress of the hall gave welcome,
and a stripling of twelve years offered his best service. Every man that
could draw a sword had marched that morning to conquer or to die on
Flodden Field. Long would the lady look in vain to see her husband and
his gallant band return.

Here Marmion and his men rested for two days, attended as became a
King's guest, yet practically a prisoner. This was by the royal command.
James did not choose that English eyes should look upon Scotland's
gathering forces until they were ready to march against the foe. When
Marmion was moody Lindesay's wit cheered; policies of war and of peace
were discussed, and the lore of Rome and Greece was reviewed.

The second night, as they walked by the fading light on the battlements
of Crichtoun Castle, Lindesay carelessly remarked that the journey of
Marmion, the toil of travel, might as well have been spared, for no
power on earth or from heaven could dissuade James from war. A holy
messenger sent by divine command had appeared in spirit, and vainly
counselled the King against the impending conflict.

More closely questioned, Sir David told the following tale:

"When the King was but a lad, a thoughtless prince, traitors had set the
boy in the army hostile to his royal father. The King, seeing his own
banner displayed against him, and his son in the opposing faction, lost
courage, fled from the field, and in fleeing fell and was slain. After
the battle, James returned to Stirling Castle, seized with deep remorse.
Ever after, he inflicted upon himself most severe penance.

"While engaged one day in self-imposed penitential devotions, there
appeared to him, in the chapel of Linlithgow, a vision. At the time,
around him in their stalls, sat the Knights of the Thistle, chanters
sung, and bells tolled. The monarch in sackcloth, and wearing the
painful iron belt which constantly reminded him of his father's death,
was kneeling in prayer, when there appeared the loved disciple, John,
who in these words warned the King against warfare:

"'Sir King, to warn thee not to war -
Woe waits on thine array;
James Stuart, doubly warn'd, beware,
God keep thee as he may!'

"When the King raised his head, the monitor had vanished.

"'The Marshal and myself had cast
To stop him as he outward pass'd;
But, lighter than the whirlwind's blast,
He vanish'd from our eyes,
Like sunbeam on the billow cast
That glances but, and dies.'"

While telling the strange story, Sir David had not marked in the dim
twilight the pallor that had overspread the countenance of Marmion, who,
after a pause, said:

"Three days ago, I had judged your tale a myth, but since crossing the
Tweed, I have seen that which makes me credit the miracle you relate."

He hesitated, and evidently wished his remark unmade, but pressed by the
strong impulse that prompts man to reveal a secret to some listening
ear, he told of the midnight ride and the tilt with the elfin knight at
Gifford's Court. The same sly expression crept over the face of the
King-at-arms as he asked, "Where lodged the Palmer on that fateful
night?"

Here their conversation was interrupted. By the King's command, each
train on the following day was to proceed by its own way to Scotland's
camp, near Edinburgh. Early they set out for the moor surrounding the
city, where lay the Scotch hosts.

From the crown of Blackford, Marmion gazed on the martial scene. It was
a Kingdom's vast array. Thousands on thousands of pavilions, white as
snow, dotted the upland, dale, and down, and checkered the heath between
town and forest. The relics of the old oaks softened the glaring white
with a background of restful green.

From north, from south, from east, from west, had gathered Scotland's
warriors. All between the ages of sixteen and sixty, from king to
vassal, stood ready to fight for the beloved land. Marmion heard the
mingled hum of myriads of voices float up the mountain side. He saw the
shifting lines, and marked the flashing of shield and lance. Nor did he
mark less that in the air,

"A thousand streamers flaunted fair,
Various in shape, device and hue,
Green, sanguine, purple, red, and blue,
Broad, narrow, swallow-tailed, and square,
Scroll, pennon, pensil, bandrol, there
O'er the pavilions flew.
Highest and midmost, was descried
The royal banner floating wide;
The staff, a pine-tree, strong and straight,
Pitch'd deeply in a massive stone,
Yet bent beneath the standard's weight
Whene'er the western wind unroll'd,
With toil, the huge and cumbrous fold,
And gave to view the dazzling field,
Where, in proud Scotland's royal shield,
The ruddy lion ramped in gold.

"Lord Marmion view'd the landscape bright, -
He viewed it with a chief's delight, -
Until within him burn'd his heart,
As on the battle-day;
Such glance did falcon never dart,
When stooping on his prey.
'Oh! well, Lord Lion, hast thou said,
Thy King from warfare to dissuade
Were but a vain essay;
For, by St. George, were that host mine,
Nor power infernal, nor divine,
Should once to peace my soul incline,
Till I had dimmed their armor's shine
In glorious battle-fray!'"

A bard near at hand replied:

"'Tis better to sit still, than rise, perchance to fall."


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Online LibrarySara D. JenkinsThe Prose Marmion A Tale of the Scottish Border → online text (page 2 of 4)