"'Despardieux'," answered Front-de-Boeuf, "thou hast spoken the very truth — I forgot that the knaves can strip a fat abbot, as well as if they had been born south of yonder salt channel. Was it not he of St Ives whom they tied to an oak-tree, and compelled to sing a mass while they were rifling his mails and his wallets? — No, by our Lady — that jest was played by Gualtier of Middleton, one of our own companions-at-arms. But they were Saxons who robbed the chapel at St Bees of cup, candlestick and chalice, were they not?"
"They were godless men," answered Cedric.
"Ay, and they drank out all the good wine and ale that lay in store for many a secret carousal, when ye pretend ye are but busied with vigils and primes! — Priest, thou art bound to revenge such sacrilege."
"I am indeed bound to vengeance," murmured Cedric; "Saint Withold knows my heart."
Front-de-Boeuf, in the meanwhile, led the way to a postern, where, passing the moat on a single plank, they reached a small barbican, or exterior defence, which communicated with the open field by a well-fortified sallyport.
"Begone, then; and if thou wilt do mine errand, and if thou return hither when it is done, thou shalt see Saxon flesh cheap as ever was hog's in the shambles of Sheffield. And, hark thee, thou seemest to be a jolly confessor — come hither after the onslaught, and thou shalt have as much Malvoisie as would drench thy whole convent."
"Assuredly we shall meet again," answered Cedric.
"Something in hand the whilst," continued the Norman; and, as they parted at the postern door, he thrust into Cedric's reluctant hand a gold byzant, adding, "Remember, I will fly off both cowl and skin, if thou failest in thy purpose."
"And full leave will I give thee to do both," answered Cedric, leaving the postern, and striding forth over the free field with a joyful step, "if, when we meet next, I deserve not better at thine hand." — Turning then back towards the castle, he threw the piece of gold towards the donor, exclaiming at the same time, "False Norman, thy money perish with thee!"
Front-de-Boeuf heard the words imperfectly, but the action was suspicious — "Archers," he called to the warders on the outward battlements, "send me an arrow through yon monk's frock! — yet stay," he said, as his retainers were bending their bows, "it avails not — we must thus far trust him since we have no better shift. I think he dares not betray me — at the worst I can but treat with these Saxon dogs whom I have safe in kennel. — Ho! Giles jailor, let them bring Cedric of Rotherwood before me, and the other churl, his companion — him I mean of Coningsburgh — Athelstane there, or what call they him? Their very names are an encumbrance to a Norman knight's mouth, and have, as it were, a flavour of bacon — Give me a stoup of wine, as jolly Prince John said, that I may wash away the relish — place it in the armoury, and thither lead the prisoners."
His commands were obeyed; and, upon entering that Gothic apartment, hung with many spoils won by his own valour and that of his father, he found a flagon of wine on the massive oaken table, and the two Saxon captives under the guard of four of his dependants. Front-de-Boeuf took a long drought of wine, and then addressed his prisoners; — for the manner in which Wamba drew the cap over his face, the change of dress, the gloomy and broken light, and the Baron's imperfect acquaintance with the features of Cedric, (who avoided his Norman neighbours, and seldom stirred beyond his own domains,) prevented him from discovering that the most important of his captives had made his escape.
"Gallants of England," said Front-de-Boeuf, "how relish ye your entertainment at Torquilstone? — Are ye yet aware what your 'surquedy' and 'outrecuidance' merit, for scoffing at the entertainment of a prince of the House of Anjou? — Have ye forgotten how ye requited the unmerited hospitality of the royal John? By God and St Dennis, an ye pay not the richer ransom, I will hang ye up by the feet from the iron bars of these windows, till the kites and hooded crows have made skeletons of you! — Speak out, ye Saxon dogs — what bid ye for your worthless lives? — How say you, you of Rotherwood?"
"Not a doit I," answered poor Wamba — "and for hanging up by the feet, my brain has been topsy-turvy, they say, ever since the biggin was bound first round my head; so turning me upside down may peradventure restore it again."
"Saint Genevieve!" said Front-de-Boeuf, "what have we got here?"
And with the back of his hand he struck Cedric's cap from the head of the Jester, and throwing open his collar, discovered the fatal badge of servitude, the silver collar round his neck.
"Giles — Clement — dogs and varlets!" exclaimed the furious Norman, "what have you brought me here?"
"I think I can tell you," said De Bracy, who just entered the apartment. "This is Cedric's clown, who fought so manful a skirmish with Isaac of York about a question of precedence."
"I shall settle it for them both," replied Front-de-Boeuf; "they shall hang on the same gallows, unless his master and this boar of Coningsburgh will pay well for their lives. Their wealth is the least they can surrender; they must also carry off with them the swarms that are besetting the castle, subscribe a surrender of their pretended immunities, and live under us as serfs and vassals; too happy if, in the new world that is about to begin, we leave them the breath of their nostrils. — Go," said he to two of his attendants, "fetch me the right Cedric hither, and I pardon your error for once; the rather that you but mistook a fool for a Saxon franklin."
"Ay, but," said Wamba, "your chivalrous excellency will find there are more fools than franklins among us."
"What means the knave?" said Front-de-Boeuf, looking towards his followers, who, lingering and loath, faltered forth their belief, that if this were not Cedric who was there in presence, they knew not what was become of him.
"Saints of Heaven!" exclaimed De Bracy, "he must have escaped in the monk's garments!"
"Fiends of hell!" echoed Front-de-Boeuf, "it was then the boar of Rotherwood whom I ushered to the postern, and dismissed with my own hands! — And thou," he said to Wamba, "whose folly could overreach the wisdom of idiots yet more gross than thyself — I will give thee holy orders — I will shave thy crown for thee! — Here, let them tear the scalp from his head, and then pitch him headlong from the battlements — Thy trade is to jest, canst thou jest now?"
"You deal with me better than your word, noble knight," whimpered forth poor Wamba, whose habits of buffoonery were not to be overcome even by the immediate prospect of death; "if you give me the red cap you propose, out of a simple monk you will make a cardinal."
"The poor wretch," said De Bracy, "is resolved to die in his vocation. — Front-de-Boeuf, you shall not slay him. Give him to me to make sport for my Free Companions. — How sayst thou, knave? Wilt thou take heart of grace, and go to the wars with me?"
"Ay, with my master's leave," said Wamba; "for, look you, I must not slip collar" (and he touched that which he wore) "without his permission."
"Oh, a Norman saw will soon cut a Saxon collar." said De Bracy.
"Ay, noble sir," said Wamba, "and thence goes the proverb — 'Norman saw on English oak,
On English neck a Norman yoke;
Norman spoon in English dish,
And England ruled as Normans wish;
Blithe world to England never will be more,
Till England's rid of all the four.'"
"Thou dost well, De Bracy," said Front-de-Boeuf, "to stand there listening to a fool's jargon, when destruction is gaping for us! Seest thou not we are overreached, and that our proposed mode of communicating with our friends without has been disconcerted by this same motley gentleman thou art so fond to brother? What views have we to expect but instant storm?"
"To the battlements then," said De Bracy; "when didst thou ever see me the graver for the thoughts of battle? Call the Templar yonder, and let him fight but half so well for his life as he has done for his Order — Make thou to the walls thyself with thy huge body — Let me do my poor endeavour in my own way, and I tell thee the Saxon outlaws may as well attempt to scale the clouds, as the castle of Torquilstone; or, if you will treat with the banditti, why not employ the mediation of this worthy franklin, who seems in such deep contemplation of the wine-flagon? — Here, Saxon," he continued, addressing Athelstane, and handing the cup to him, "rinse thy throat with that noble liquor, and rouse up thy soul to say what thou wilt do for thy liberty."
"What a man of mould may," answered Athelstane, "providing it be what a man of manhood ought. — Dismiss me free, with my companions, and I will pay a ransom of a thousand marks."
"And wilt moreover assure us the retreat of that scum of mankind who are swarming around the castle, contrary to God's peace and the king's?" said Front-de-Boeuf.