« PoprzedniaDalej »
“ Yes, sir, in a pleasing tone of voice, but somewhat fanciful in the articulation, and like one who is speaking to an audience as from a bar or a pulpit, more than in the voice of ordinary men on ordinary matters. He desired to see Major-General Harrison.”
“ He did !—and you,” said Everard, infected by the spirit of the time, which, as is well known, leaned to credulity upon all matters of supernatural agency,—“ what did
you do ?”
“I went up to the parlour, and related that such a person enquired for him. He started when I told him, and eagerly desired to know the man's dress; but no sooner did I mention his dress, and the jewel in his ear, than he said, “Begone! tell him I will not admit him to speech of me. Say that I defy him, and will make my defiance good at the great battle in the valley of Armageddon, when the voice of the angel shall call all fowls which fly under the face of heaven to feed on the flesh of the captain and the soldier, the war-horse and his rider. Say to the Evil One, I have power to appeal our conflict even till that day, and that in the front of that fearful day he will again meet with Harrison. I went back with this answer to the stranger, and his face was writhed into such a deadly frown as a mere human brow hath seldom worn. Return to him,' he said, and say it is my hour, and that if he come not instantly down to speak with me, I will mount the stairs to him. Say that I COMMAND him to descend, by the token, that, on the field of Naseby, he did not the work negligently.”
“ I have heard,” whispered Wildrake—who felt more and more strongly the contagion of superstition—“that these words were blasphemously used by Harrison when he shot my poor friend Dick.”
“ What happened next?” said Everard. “ See that thou speakest the truth.”
“ As gospel unexpounded by a steeple-man,” said the Independent; “yet truly it is but little I have to say. I saw my master come down, with a blank, yet resolved air ; and when he entered the hall and saw the stranger, he made a pause. The other waved on him as if to follow, and walked out at the portal. My worthy patron seemed as if he were about to follow, yet again paused, when this visitant, be he man or fiend, re-entered, and said, Obey thy doom.
* By pathless march by greenwood tree,
I conjure thee by the last words I spoke
In the very last pangs of the deadly stroke.' So saying, he stalked out, and my master followed him into the wood.—I followed also at a distance. But when I came up, my master was alone, and bearing himself as you now behold him.”
“ Thou hast had a wonderful memory, friend,” said the Colonel, coldly, “ to remember these rhymes in a single recitation—there seems something of practice in all this.”
“A single recitation, my honoured sir?” exclaimed the Independent—“ alack, the rhyme is seldom out of my poor master's mouth, when, as sometimes haps, he is less triumphant in his wrestles with Satan. But it was the first time I ever heard it uttered by another; and, to say truth, he ever seems to repeat it unwillingly, as a child after his pedagogue, and as it was not indited by his own head, as the Psalmist saith.”
“ It is singular,” said Everard ;—“I have heard and read that the spirits of the slaughtered have strange power over the slayer ; but I am astonished to have it insisted upon that there may be truth in such tales. Roger Wildrake—what art thou afraid of, man ?-why dost thou shift thy place thus ?”
" Fear? it is not fear—it is hate, deadly hate.-I see the murderer of poor Dick before me, and—see, he throws himself into a posture of fence-Sa-sa-say'st thou, brood of a butcher's mastiff? thou shalt not want an antagonist.”
Ere any one could stop him, Wildrake threw aside his cloak, drew his sword, and almost with a single bound cleared the distance betwixt him and Harrison, and crossed swords with the latter, as he stood brandishing his weapon, as if in immediate expectation of an assailant. Accordingly, the Republican General was not for an instant taken at unawares, but the moment the swords clashed, he shouted, 6. Ha! I feel thee now, thou hast come in body at last.— Welcome! welcome !—the sword of the Lord and of Gideon !”
“Part them, part them,” cried Everard, as he and Tomkins, at first astonished at the suddenness of the affray, hastened to interfere. Everard, seizing on the cavalier, drew him forcibly backwards, and Tomkins contrived, with risk and difficulty, to master Harrison's sword, while the General exclaimed, “ Ha ! two to one-two to one !--thus fight demons." Wildrake, on his side, swore a dreadful oath, and added, “ Markham, you have cancelled every obligation I owed you—they are all out of sight-gone, d-n me!”
“You have indeed acquitted these obligations rarely," said Everard. " Who knows how this affair shall be explained and answered ?”
“I will answer it with my life,” said Wildrake.
“Good now, be silent,” said Tomkins, “and let me manage. It shall be so ordered that the good General shall never know that he hath encountered with a mortal man ; only let that man of Moab put his sword into the scabbard's rest, and be still.”
“ Wildrake, let me entreat thee to sheathe thy sword,” said Everard, “else, on my life, thou must turn it against me.”
“No, 'fore George, not so mad as that neither, but I'll have another day with him.”
“ Thou, another day !” exclaimed Harrison, whose eye had still remained fixed on the spot where he found such palpable resistance. “Yes, I know thee well; day by day, week by week, thou makest the same idle request, for thou knowest that my
heart quivers at thy voice. But my hand trembles not when opposed to thine—the spirit is willing to the combat, if the flesh be weak when opposed to that which is not of the flesh.”
“Now, peace all, for Heaven's sake,”-said the steward Tomkins; then added, addressing his master, “ there is no one here, if it please your Excellence, but Tomkins and the worthy Colonel Everard.”
General Harrison, as sometimes happens in cases of partial insanity, (that is, supposing his to have been a case of mental delusion,) though firmly and entirely persuaded of the truth of his own visions, yet was not willing to speak on the subject to those who, he knew, would regard them as imaginary. Upon this occasion, he assumed the appearance of perfect ease and composure, after the violent agitation he had just manifested, in a manner which showed how anxious he was to disguise his real feelings from Everard, whom he considerd as unlikely to participate them.
He saluted the Colonel with profound ceremony, and talked of the fineness of the evening, which had summoned him forth of the Lodge, to take a turn in the Park, and enjoy the favourable weather. He then took Everard by the arm, and walked back with him towards the Lodge, Wildrake and Tomkins following close behind and leading the horses. Everard, desirous to gain some light on these mysterious incidents, endeavoured to come on the subject more than once, by a mode of interrogation, which Harrison (for madmen are very often unwilling to enter on the subject of their mental delusion) parried with some skill, or addressed himself for aid to his steward Tomkins, who was in the habit of being voucher for his master upon all occasions, which led to Desborough's ingenious nickname of Fibbet.
“ And wherefore had you your sword drawn, my worthy general,” said Everard, “when you were only on an evening walk of pleasure ?”
" Truly, excellent Colonel, these are times when men must watch with their loins girded, and their lights burning, and their weapons drawn. The day draweth nigh, believe me or not as you will, that men must watch lest they be found naked and unarmed, when the seven trumpets shall sound, Boot and saddle; and the pipes of Jezer shall strike up, Horse and away."
“ True, good General; but methought I saw you making passes, even now, as if you were fighting,” said Everard.
“ I am of a strange fantasy, friend Everard,” answered Harrison ; “and when I walk alone, and happen, as but now, to have my weapon drawn, I sometimes, for exercise sake, will practise a thrust against such a tree as that. It is a silly pride men have in the use of weapons. I have been accounted a master of fence, and have fought prizes when I was unregenerated, and before I was called to do my part in the great work, entering as a trooper into our victorious General's first regiment of horse.”
“But methought," said Everard, “I heard a weapon clash with yours?” “ How ? a weapon
my sword ?-How could that be, Tomkins ?” “ Truly, sir,” said Tomkins, “ it must have been a bough of the tree; they have them of all kinds here, and your honour may have pushed against one of them, which the Brazilians call iron-wood, a block of which, being struck with a hammer, saith Purchas in his Pilgrimage, ringeth like an anvil.”
Truly, it may be so,” said Harrison ; “ for those rulers who are gone, assembled in this their abode of pleasure many strange trees and plants, though they gathered not of the fruit of that tree which beareth twelve manner of fruits, or of those leaves which are for the healing of the nations."
Everard pursued his investigation ; for he was struck with the manner in which Harrison evaded his questions, and the dexterity with which he threw his transcendental and fanatical notions, like a sort of veil, over the darker visions excited by remorse and conscious guilt.
“But,” said he, “if I may trust my eyes and ears, I cannot but still think that you had a real antagonist.-Nay, I am sure I saw a fellow, in a dark-coloured jerkin, retreat through the wood.”
“Did you ?” said Harrison, with a tone of surprise, while his voice faltered in spite of him—“Who could he be ?— Tomkins, did you see the fellow Colonel Everard talks of with the napkin in his hand—the bloody napkin which he always pressed to his side ?”
This last expression, in which Harrison gave a mark different from that which Everard had assigned, but corresponding to Tomkins's original description of the supposed spectre, had more effect on Everard in confirming the steward's story, than anything he had witnessed or heard. The voucher answered the draft upon him as promptly as usual, that he had seen such a fellow glide past them into the thicket-that he dared to say he was some deer-stealer, for he had heard they were become very audacious.
“Look ye there now, Master Everard,” said Harrison, hurrying from the subject“ Is it not time now that we should lay aside our controversies, and join hand in hand to repairing the breaches of our Zion ? Happy and contented were I, my excellent friend, to be a treader of mortar, or a bearer of a hod, upon this occasion, under our great leader, with whom Providence has gone forth in this great national controversy ; and truly, so devoutly do I hold by our excellent and victorious General Oliver, whom Heaven long preserve—that were he to command me, I should not scruple to pluck forth of his high place the man whom they call speaker, even as I lent a poor hand to pluck down the man whom they called King.—Wherefore, as I know your judgment holdeth with mine on this matter, let me urge unto you lovingly, that we may act as brethren, and build up the breaches, and re-establish the bulwarks of our English Zion, whereby we shall be doubtless chosen as pillars and buttresses, under our excellent Lord-General, for supporting and sustaining the same, and endowed with proper revenues and incomes, both spiritual and temporal, to serve as a pedestal, on which we may stand, seeing that otherwise our foundation will be on the loose sand.—Nevertheless,” continued he, his mind again diverging from his views of temporal ambition into his visions of the Fifth Monarchy, “these things are but vanity in respect of the opening of the book which is sealed; for all things approach speedily towards lightning and thundering, and unloosing of the great dragon from the bottomless pit, wherein he is chained.”
With this mingled strain of earthly politics, and fanatical prediction, Harrison so overpowered Colonel Everard, as to leave him no time to urge him farther on the particular circumstances of his nocturnal skirmish, concerning which it is plain he had no desire to be interrogated. They now reached the Lodge of Woodstock.
EFORE the gate of the palace the guards were now doubled. Everard demanded the reason of this from the corporal, whom he found in the hall with his soldiers, sitting or sleeping around a great fire, maintained at the
expense of the carved chairs and benches with fragments of which it was furnished.
“Why, verily," answered the man, “the corps-de-garde, as your worship says, will be harassed to pieces by such duty; nevertheless, fear hath gone abroad among us, and no man will mount guard alone. We have drawn in, however, one or two of our outposts from Banbury and elsewhere, and we are to have a relief from Oxford to-morrow.”
Everard continued minute enquiries concerning the sentinels that were posted within as well as without the Lodge; and found that, as they had been stationed under the eye of Harrison himself, the rules of prudent discipline had been exactly observed in the distribution of the posts. There remained nothing therefore for Colonel Everard to do, but, remembering his own adventure of the evening, to recommend that an additional sentinel should be placed, with a companion, if judged indispensable, in that vestibule, or ante-room, from which the long gallery where he had met with the rencontre, and