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other suites of apartments, diverged. The corporal respectfully promised all obedience to his orders. The serving-men being called, appeared also in double force. Everard demanded to know whether the Commissioners had gone to bed, or whether he could get speech with them?
“ They are in their bedroom, forsooth,” replied one of the fellows; “but I think they be not yet undressed.”
“What !” said Everard, “are Colonel Desborough and Master Bletson both in the same sleeping apartment ?”
“ Their honours have so chosen it,” said the man; “ and their honours' secretaries remain upon guard all night.”
“ It is the fashion to double guards all over the house,” said Wildrake. “ Had I a glimpse of a tolerably good-looking house-maid now, I should know how to fall into the fashion.”
“ Peace, fool!” said Everard—“And where are the Mayor and Master Holdenough ?”
“ The Mayor is returned to the borough on horseback, behind the trooper, who goes to Oxford for the reinforcement; and the man of the steeple-house hath quartered himself in the chamber which Colonel Desborough had last night, being that in which he is most likely to meet the your honour understands. The Lord pity us, we are a harassed family !"
“And where be General Harrison's knaves,” said Tomkins, “that they do not marshal him to his apartment ?"
“ Here-here-here, Master Tomkins,” said three fellows, pressing forward, with the same consternation on their faces which seemed to pervade tẠe whole inhabitants of Woodstock.
“ Away with you, then," said Tomkins ;—“speak not to his worship-you see he is not in the humour.”
“ Indeed,” observed Colonel Everard, “ he looks singularly wan—his features seem writhen as by a palsy stroke; and though he was talking so fast while we came along, he hath not opened his mouth since we came to the light.”
“ It is his manner after such visitations," said Tomkins.—“ Give his honour your arms, Zedekiah and Jonathan, to lead him off-I will follow instantly.-You, Nicodemus, tarry to wait upon me—it is not well walking alone in this mansion.”
“ Master Tomkins,” said Everard, “ I have heard of you often as a sharp, intelligent man-tell me fairly, are you in earnest afraid of any thing supernatural haunting this house ?”
“ I would be loth to run the chance, sir,” said Tomkins very gravely ; " by looking on my worshipful master, you may form a guess how the living look after they have spoken with the dead.” He bowed low, and took his leave. Everard proceeded to the chamber which the two remaining Commissioners had, for comfort's sake, chosen to inhabit in company. They were preparing for bed as he went into their apartment. Both started as the door opened—both rejoiced when they saw it was only Everard who entered.
Hark ye hither,” said Bletson, pulling him aside, “sawest thou ever ass equal to Desborough?—the fellow is as big as an ox, and as timorous as a sheep. He has insisted on my sleeping here, to protect him. Shall we have a merry night on 't, ha ? We will, if thou wilt take the third bed, which was prepared for Harrison ; but he is gone out, like a mooncalf, to look for the valley of Armageddon in the Park of Woodstock.”
“ General Harrison has returned with me but now," said Everard.
“Nay but, as I shall live, he comes not into our apartment,” said Desborough, overhearing his answer. “ No man that has been supping, for aught I know, with the Devil
, has a right to sleep among Christian folk.”
“ I am sorry
“ He does not propose so," said Everard; "he sleeps, as I understand, apart, and alone.”
“Not quite alone, I dare say,” said Desborough ; “for Harrison hath a sort of attraction for goblins—they fly round him like moths about a candle: But, I prithee, good Everard, do thou stay with us. I know not how it is, but although thou hast not thy religion always in thy mouth, nor speakest many hard words about it, like Harrison -nor makest long preachments, like a certain most honourable relation of mine who shall be nameless, yet somehow I feel myself safer in thy company than with any of them. As for this Bletson, he is such a mere blasphemer, that I fear the Devil will carry
him away ere morning."
“ Did you ever hear such a paltry coward ?” said Bletson, apart to Everard. tarry, however, mine honoured Colonel -I know your zeal to assist the distressed, and you see Desborough is in that predicament, that he will require near him more than one good example to prevent him thinking of ghosts and fiends."
I cannot oblige you, gentlemen,” said Everard ; “ but I have settled my mind to sleep in Victor Lee's apartment, so I wish you good night; and, if you would repose without disturbance, I would advise that you commend yourselves, during the watches of the night, to Him unto whom night is even as mid-day. I had intended to have spoke with you this evening on the subject of my being here; but I will defer the conference till to-morrow, when, I think, I will be able to show you excellent reasons for leaving Woodstock.”
“We have seen plenty such already,” said Desborough; “ for one, I came here to serve the estate, with some moderate advantage doubtless to myself for my
trouble; but if I am set upon my head again to-night, as I was the night before, I would not stay longer to gain a king's crown; for I am sure my neck would be unfitted to bear the weight of it."
“ Good night,” exclaimed Everard ; and was about to go, when Bletson again pressed close, and whispered to him, “Hark thee, Colonel-you know my friendship for thee-I do implore thee to leave the door of thy apartment open, that if thou meetest with any disturbance, I may hear thee call, and be with thee upon the very instant. Do this, dear Everard, my fears for thee will keep me awake else; for I know that, notwithstanding your excellent sense, you entertain some of those superstitious ideas which we suck in with our mother's milk, and which constitute the ground of our fears in situations like the present; therefore leave thy door open, if you love me, that you may have ready assistance from me in case of need."
My master,” said Wildrake, “ trusts, first, in his Bible, sir, and then in his good sword. He has no idea that the Devil can be bafiled by the charm of two men lying in one room, still less that the foul fiend can be argued out of existence by the Nullifidians of the Rota.”
Everard seized his imprudent friend by the collar, and dragged him off as he was speaking, keeping fast hold of him till they were both in the chamber of Victor Lee, where they had slept on a former occasion. Even then he continued to hold Wildrake, until the servant had arranged the lights, and was dismissed from the room ;
then letting him go, addressed him with the upbraiding question, “ Art thou not a prudent and sagacious person, who in times like these seek'st every opportunity to argue yourself into a broil, or embroil yourself in an argument? Out on you !"
“ Ay, out on me indeed," said the cavalier out on me for a poor tame-spirited creature, that submits to be bandied about in this manner, by a man who is neither better born nor better bred than myself. I tell thee, Mark, you make an unfair use of your advantages over me. Why will you not let me go from you, and live and die after my own fashion ?"
“ Because, before we had been a week separate, I should hear of your dying after the
fashion of a dog. Come, my good friend, what madness was it in thee to fall foul on Harrison, and then to enter into useless argument with Bletson ?"
Why, we are in the Devil's house, I think, and I would willingly give the landlord his due wherever I travel. To have sent him Harrison, or Bletson now, just as a lunch to stop his appetite, till Crom"-
“ Hush! stone walls have ears,” said Everard, looking around him. “ Here stands thy night-drink. Look to thy arms, for we must be as careful as if the Avenger of Blood were behind us. Yonder is thy bed—and I, as thou seest, have one prepared in the parlour. The door only divides us.”
" Which I will leave open, in case thou shouldst holla for assistance, as yonder Nullifidian hath it—But how hast thou got all this so well put in order, good patron ?”
“ I gave the steward Tomkins notice of my purpose to sleep here.”
“ A strange fellow that,” said Wildrake, “and, as I judge, has taken measure of every one's foot—all seems to pass through his hands.”
“ He is, I have understood,” replied Everard, “ one of the men formed by the times -has a ready gift of preaching and expounding, which keeps him in high terms with the Independents; and recommends himself to the more moderate people by his intelligence and activity."
“ Has his sincerity ever been doubted ?” said Wildrake.
“ Never, that I heard of,” said the Colonel ; “ on the contrary, he has been familiarly called Honest Joe, and Trusty Tomkins. For my part, I believe his sincerity has always kept pace with his interest.—But come, finish thy cup, and to bed.—What, all emptied at one draught!"
“ Adszookers, yes—my vow forbids me to make two on't; but, never fear—the nightcap will only warm my brain, not clog it. So, man or devil, give me notice if are disturbed, and rely on me in a twinkling.” So saying, the cavalier retreated into his separate apartment, and Colonel Everard, taking off the most cumbrous part of his dress, lay down in his hose and doublet, and composed himself to rest.
He was awakened from sleep by a slow and solemn strain of music, which died away as at a distance. He started up, and felt for his arms, which he found close beside him. His temporary bed being without curtains, he could look around him without difficulty ; but as there remained in the chimney only a few red embers of the fire which he had arranged before he went to sleep, it was impossible he could discern any thing. He
re, in spite of his natural courage, that undefined and thrilling species of tremor which attends a sense that danger is near, and an uncertainty concerning its cause and character. Reluctant as he was to yield belief to supernatural occurrences, we have already said he was not absolutely incredulous ; as perhaps, even in this more sceptical age, there are many fewer complete and absolute infidels on this particular than give themselves out for such. Uncertain whether he had not dreamed of these sounds which seemed yet in his ears, he was unwilling to risk the raillery of his friend by summoning him to his assistance. He sat up, therefore, in his bed, not without experiencing that nervous agitation to which brave men as well as cowards are subject; with this difference, that the one sinks under it, like the vine under the hailstorm, and the other collects his energies to shake it off, as the cedar of Lebanon is said to elevate its boughs to disperse the snow which accumulates upon them.
The story of Harrison, in his own absolute despite, and notwithstanding a secret suspicion which he had of trick or connivance, returned on his mind at this dead and solitary hour. Harrison, he remembered, had described the vision by a circumstance of its appearance different from that which his own remark had been calculated to suggest to the mind of the visionary ;—that bloody napkin, always pressed to the side, was then a circumstance present either to his bodily eye, or to that of his agitated imagination. Did, then, the murdered revisit the living haunts of those who had forced
them from the stage with all their sins unaccounted for? And if they did, might not the same permission authorise other visitations of a similar nature, to warn—to instruct —to punish ? Rash are they, was his conclusion, and credulous, who receive as truth every tale of the kind; but no less rash may it be, to limit the power of the Creator over the works which he has made, and to suppose that, by the permission of the Author of Naturē, the laws of Nature may not, in peculiar cases, and for high puposes, be temporarily suspended.
While these thoughts passed through Everard's mind, feelings unknown to him, even when he stood first on the rough and perilous edge of battle, gained ground upon him. He feared he knew not what; and where an open and discernible peril would have drawn out his courage, the absolute uncertainty of his situation increased his sense of the danger. He felt an almost irresistible desire to spring from his bed and heap fuel on the dying embers, expecting by the blaze to see some strange sight in his chamber. He was also strongly tempted to awaken Wildrake; but shame, stronger than fear itself, checked these impulses. What! should it be thought that Markham Everard, held one of the best soldiers who had drawn a sword in this sad war—Markham Everard, who had obtained such distinguished rank in the army of the Parliament, though so young in years, was afraid of remaining by himself in a twilight-room at midnight? It never should be said.
This was, however, no charm for his unpleasant current of thought. There rushed on his mind the various traditions of Victor Lee's chamber, which, though he had often despised them as vague, unauthenticated, and inconsistent rumours, engendered by ancient superstition, and transmitted from generation to generation by loquacious credulity, had something in them, which did not tend to allay the present unpleasant state of his nerves. Then, when he recollected the events of that very afternoon, the weapon pressed against his throat, and the strong arm which threw him backward on the floor—if the remembrance served to contradict the idea of flitting phantoms, and unreal daggers, it certainly induced him to believe, that there was in some part of this extensive mansion a party of cavaliers, or malignants, harboured, who might arise in the night, overpower the guards, and execute upon them all, but on Harrison in particular, as one of the regicide judges, that vengeance, which was so eagerly thirsted for by the attached followers of the slaughtered monarch.
He endeavoured to console himself on this subject by the number and position of the guards, yet still was dissatisfied with himself for not having taken yet more exact precautions, and for keeping an extorted promise of silence, which might consign so many of his party to the danger of assassination. These thoughts, connected with his military duties, awakened another train of reflections. He bethought himself, that all he could now do, was to visit the sentries, and ascertain that they were awake, alert, on the watch, and so situated, that in time of need they might be ready to support each other.—“ This better befits me,” he thought, “ than to be here like a child, frightening myself with the old woman's legend, which I have laughed at when a boy. What although old Victor Lee was a sacrilegious man, as common report goes, and brewed ale in the font which he brought from the ancient palace of Holyrood, while church and building were in flames? And what although his eldest son was when a child scalded to death in the same vessel ? How many churches have been demolished since his time? How many fonts desecrated ? So many indeed, that were the vengeance of Heaven to visit such aggressions in a supernatural manner, no corner in England, no, not the most petty parish church, but would have its apparition.— Tush, these are idle fancies, unworthy, especially, to be entertained by those educated to believe that sanctity resides in the intention and the act, not in the buildings or fonts, or the form of worship."
As thus he called together the articles of his Calvinistic creed, the bell of the great clock (a token seldom silent in such narratives) tolled three, and was immediately followed by the hoarse call of the sentinels through vault and gallery, up stairs and beneath, challenging and answering each other with the usual watch-word, All's Well. Their voices mingled with the deep boom of the bell, yet ceased before that was silent, and when they had died away, the tingling echo of the prolonged knell was scarcely audible. Ere yet that last distant tingling had finally subsided into silence, it seemed as if it again was awakened; and Everard could hardly judge at first whether a new echo had taken up the falling cadence, or whether some other and separate sound was disturbing anew the silence to which the deep knell had, as its voice ceased, consigned the ancient mansion and the woods around it.
But the doubt was soon cleared up. The musical tones, which had mingled with the dying echoes of the knell, seemed at first to prolong, and afterwards to survive them. A wild strain of melody, beginning at a distance, and growing louder as it advanced, seemed to pass from room to room, from cabinet to gallery, from hall to bower, through the deserted and dishonoured ruins of the ancient residence of so many sovereigns; and, as it approached, no soldier gave alarm, nor did any of the numerous guests of various degrees, who spent an unpleasant and terrified night in that ancient mansion, seem to dare to announce to each other the inexplicable cause of apprehension.
Everard's excited state of mind did not permit him to be so passive. The sounds approached so nigh, that it seemed they were performing, in the very next apartment, a solemn service for the dead, when he gave the alarm, by calling loudly to his trusty attendant and friend Wildrake, who slumbered in the next chamber with only a door betwixt them, and even that ajar.
“ Wildrake-Wildrake !-Up-Up! Dost thou not hear the alarm ?”
There was no answer from Wildrake, though the musical sounds, which now rung through the apartment, as if the performers had actually been within its precincts, would have been sufficient to awaken a sleeping person, even without the shout of his comrade and patron.
“ Alarm !-Roger Wildrake-alarm !” again called Everard, getting out of bed and grasping his weapons—“Get a light, and cry alarm!”
There was no answer. His voice died away as the sound of the music seemed also to die; and the same soft sweet voice, which still to his thinking resembled that of Alice Lee, was heard in his apartment, and, as he thought, at no distance from him.
“ Your comrade will not answer,” said the low soft voice. “ Those only hear the alarm whose consciences feel the call !”
“ Again this mummery !” said Everard. “I am better armed than I was of late ; and but for the sound of that voice, the speaker had bought his trifling dear.”
It was singular, we may observe in passing, that the instant the distinct sounds of the human voice were heard by Everard, all idea of supernatural interference was at an end, and the charm by which he had been formerly fettered appeared to be broken ; so much is the influence of imaginary or superstitious terror dependent (so far as respects strong judgments at least) upon what is vague or ambiguous; and so readily do distinct tones, and express ideas, bring such judgments back to the current of ordinary life. The voice returned answer, as addressing his thoughts as well as his words.
“ We laugh at the weapons thou thinkest should terrify -Over the guardians of Woodstock they have no power. Fire, if thou wilt, and try the effect of thy weapons. But know, it is not our purpose to harm thee—thou art of a falcon breed, and noble in thy disposition, though, unreclaimed and ill-nurtured, thou hauntest with kites and carrion crows. Wing thy flight from hence on the morrow, for if thou tarriest with the bats, owls, vultures and ravens, which have thought to nestle here, thou wilt inevitably share their fate. Away then, that these halls may be swept and garnished for the reception of those who have a better right to inhabit them.”