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   Chapter 2 A HUNTING PARTY—AN ADVENTURE—A DELIVERANCE

Waverley, Volume I By Sir Walter Scott Characters: 14752

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


THE next morning the bugles were sounded by daybreak in the court of Lord Boteler's mansion, to call the inhabitants from their slumbers to assist in a splendid chase with which the Baron had resolved to entertain his neighbour Fitzallen and his noble visitor St. Clare. Peter Lanaret, the falconer, was in attendance, with falcons for the knights and teircelets for the ladies, if they should choose to vary their sport from hunting to hawking. Five stout yeomen keepers, with their attendants, called Ragged Robins, all meetly arrayed in Kendal green, with bugles and short hangers by their sides, and quarter-staffs in their hands, led the slow-hounds or brachets by which the deer were to be put up. Ten brace of gallant greyhounds, each of which was fit to pluck down, singly, the tallest red deer, were led in leashes, by as many of Lord Boteler's foresters. The pages, squires, and other attendants of feudal splendour well attired, in their best hunting-gear, upon horseback or foot, according to their rank, with their boar- spears, long bows, and cross-bows, were in seemly waiting.

A numerous train of yeomen, called in the language of the times retainers, who yearly received a livery coat and a small pension for their attendance on such solemn occasions, appeared in cassocks of blue, bearing upon their arms the cognisance of the house of Boteler, as a badge of their adherence. They were the tallest men of their hands that the neighbouring villages could supply, with every man his good buckler on his shoulder, and a bright burnished broadsword dangling from his leathern belt. On this occasion they acted as rangers for beating up the thickets and rousing the game. These attendants filled up the court of the castle, spacious as it was.

On the green without you might have seen the motley assemblage of peasantry convened by report of the splendid hunting, including most of our old acquaintances from Tewin, as well as the jolly partakers of good cheer at Hob Filcher's. Gregory the jester, it may well be guessed, had no great mind to exhibit himself in public after his recent disaster; but Oswald the steward, a great formalist in whatever concerned the public exhibition of his master's household state, had positively enjoined his attendance. 'What,' quoth he,'shall the house of the brave Lord Boteler, on such a brave day as this, be without a fool? Certes, the good Lord Saint Clere and his fair lady sister might think our housekeeping as niggardly as that of their churlish kinsman at Gay Bowers, who sent his father's jester to the hospital, sold the poor sot's bells for hawk-jesses, and made a nightcap of his long-eared bonnet. And, sirrah, let me see thee fool handsomely-speak squibs and crackers, instead of that dry, barren, musty gibing which thou hast used of late; or, by the bones! the porter shall have thee to his lodge, and cob thee with thine own wooden sword till thy skin is as motley as thy doublet.'

To this stern injunction Gregory made no reply, any more than to the courteous offer of old Albert Drawslot, the chief parkkeeper, who proposed to blow vinegar in his nose to sharpen his wit, as he had done that blessed morning to Bragger, the old hound, whose scent was failing. There was, indeed, little time for reply, for the bugles, after a lively flourish, were now silent, and Peretto, with his two attendant minstrels, stepping beneath the windows of the strangers' apartments, joined in the following roundelay, the deep voices of the rangers and falconers making up a chorus that caused the very battlements to ring again:-

Waken, lords and ladies gay,

On the mountain dawns the day;

All the jolly chase is here,

With hawk and horse, and hunting spear;

Hounds are in their couples yelling,

Hawks are whistling, horns are knelling,

Merrily, merrily, mingle they,

'Waken, lords and ladies gay.'

Waken, lords and ladies gay,

The mist has left the mountain grey;

Springlets in the dawn are streaming,

Diamonds on the brake are gleaming,

And foresters have busy been,

To track the buck in thicket green;

Now we come to chant our lay,

'Waken, lords and ladies gay.'

Waken, lords and ladies gay,

To the green-wood haste away;

We can show you where he lies,

Fleet of foot and tall of size;

We can show the marks he made,

When 'gamst the oak his antlers frayed;

You shall see him brought to bay,

'Waken, lords and ladies gay.'

Louder, louder chant the lay,

Waken, lords and ladies gay;

Tell them youth, and mirth, and glee

Run a course as well as we;

Time, stern huntsman! who can baulk,

Stanch as hound and fleet as hawk?

Think of this and rise with day,

Gentle lords and ladies gay.

By the time this lay was finished, Lord Boteler, with his daughter and kinsman, Fitzallen of Harden, and other noble guests, had mounted their palfreys, and the hunt set forward in due order. The huntsmen, having carefully observed the traces of a large stag on the preceding evening, were able, without loss of time, to conduct the company, by the marks which they had made upon the trees, to the side of the thicket in which, by the report of Drawslot, he had harboured all night. The horsemen, spreading themselves along the side of the cover, waited until the keeper entered, leading his ban-dog, a large blood-hound tied in a learn or band, from which he takes his name.

But it befell thus. A hart of the second year, which was in the same cover with the proper object of their pursuit, chanced to be unharboured first, and broke cover very near where the Lady Emma and her brother were stationed. An inexperienced varlet, who was nearer to them, instantly unloosed two tall greyhounds, who sprung after the fugitive with all the fleetness of the north wind. Gregory, restored a little to spirits by the enlivening scene around him, followed, encouraging the hounds with a loud layout, for which he had the hearty curses of the huntsman, as well as of the Baron, who entered into the spirit of the chase with all the juvenile ardour of twenty. 'May the foul fiend, booted and spurred, ride down his bawling throat with a scythe at his girdle,' quoth Albert Drawslot; 'here have I been telling him that all the marks were those of a buck of the first head, and he has hallooed the hounds upon a velvet-headed knobbler! By Saint Hubert, if I break not his pate with my cross-bow, may I never cast off hound more! But to it, my lords and masters! the noble beast is here yet, and, thank the saints, we have enough of hounds.'

The cover being now thoroughly beat by the attendants, the stag was compelled to abandon it and trust to his speed for his safety. Three greyhounds were slipped upon him, whom he threw out, after running a couple of miles, by entering an extensive furzy brake, which extended along the side of a hill. The horsemen soon came up, and casting off a sufficient number of slow-hounds, sent them with the prickers into the cover, in order to drive the game from his strength. This object being accomplished, afforded another severe chase of several miles, in a direction almost circular, during which the poor animal tried every wile to get rid of his persecutors. He crossed and traversed all such dusty paths as were likely to retain the least scent of his footsteps; he laid himself close to the gro

und, drawing his feet under his belly, and clapping his nose close to the earth, lest he should be betrayed to the hounds by his breath and hoofs. When all was in vain, and he found the hounds coming fast in upon him, his own strength failing, his mouth embossed with foam, and the tears dropping from his eyes, he turned in despair upon his pursuers, who then stood at gaze, making an hideous clamour, and awaiting their two-footed auxiliaries. Of these, it chanced that the Lady Eleanor, taking more pleasure in the sport than Matilda, and being a less burden to her palfrey than the Lord Boteler, was the first who arrived at the spot, and taking a cross-bow from an attendant, discharged a bolt at the stag. When the infuriated animal felt himself wounded, he pushed frantically towards her from whom he had received the shaft, and Lady Eleanor might have had occasion to repent of her enterprise, had not young Fitzallen, who had kept near her during the whole day, at that instant galloped briskly in, and, ere the stag could change his object of assault, despatched him with his short hunting-sword.

Albert Drawslot, who had just come up in terror for the young lady's safety, broke out into loud encomiums upon Fitzallen's strength and gallantry. 'By 'r Lady,' said he, taking off his cap and wiping his sun-burnt face with his sleeve, 'well struck, and in good time! But now, boys, doff your bonnets and sound the mort.'

The sportsmen then sounded a treble mort, and set up a general whoop, which, mingled with the yelping of the dogs, made the welkin ring again. The huntsman then offered his knife to Lord Boteler, that he might take the say of the deer, but the Baron courteously insisted upon Fitzallen going through that ceremony. The Lady Matilda was now come up, with most of the attendants; and the interest of the chase being ended, it excited some surprise that neither Saint Clere nor his sister made their appearance. The Lord Boteler commanded the horns again to sound the recheat, in hopes to call in the stragglers, and said to Fitzallen, 'Methinks Saint Clere so distinguished for service in war, should have been more forward in the chase.'

'I trow,' said Peter Lanaret, 'I know the reason of the noble lord's absence; for, when that mooncalf Gregory hallooed the dogs upon the knobbler, and galloped like a green hilding, as he is, after them, I saw the Lady Emma's palfrey follow apace after that varlet, who should be thrashed for overrunning, and I think her noble brother has followed her, lest she should come to harm. But here, by the rood, is Gregory to answer for himself.'

At this moment Gregory entered the circle which had been formed round the deer, out of breath, and his face covered with blood. He kept for some time uttering inarticulate cries of 'Harrow!' and 'Wellaway!' and other exclamations of distress and terror, pointing all the while to a thicket at some distance from the spot where the deer had been killed.

'By my honour,' said the Baron, 'I would gladly know who has dared to array the poor knave thus; and I trust he should dearly abye his outrecuidance, were he the best, save one, in England.'

Gregory, who had now found more breath, cried, 'Help, an ye be men! Save Lady Emma and her brother, whom they are murdering in Brokenhurst thicket.'

This put all in motion. Lord Boteler hastily commanded a small party of his men to abide for the defence of the ladies, while he himself, Fitzallen, and the rest made what speed they could towards the thicket, guided by Gregory, who for that purpose was mounted behind Fabian. Pushing through a narrow path, the first object they encountered was a man of small stature lying on the ground, mastered and almost strangled by two dogs, which were instantly recognised to be those that had accompanied Gregory. A little farther was an open space, where lay three bodies of dead or wounded men; beside these was Lady Emma, apparently lifeless, her brother and a young forester bending over and endeavouring to recover her. By employing the usual remedies, this was soon accomplished; while Lord Boteler, astonished at such a scene, anxiously inquired at Saint Clere the meaning of what he saw, and whether more danger was to be expected.

'For the present I trust not,' said the young warrior, who they now observed was slightly wounded; 'but I pray you, of your nobleness, let the woods here be searched; for we were assaulted by four of these base assassins, and I see three only on the sward.'

The attendants now brought forwaid the person whom they had rescued from the dogs, and Henry, with disgust, shame, and astonishment, recognised his kinsman, Gaston Saint Clere. This discovery he communicated in a whisper to Lord Boteler, who commanded the prisoner to be conveyed to Queenhoo-Hall, and closely guarded; meanwhile he anxiously inquired of young Saint Clere about his wound.

'A scratch, a trifle!' cried Henry. 'I am in less haste to bind it than to introduce to you one without whose aid that of the leech would have come too late. Where is he? where is my brave deliverer?'

'Here, most noble lord,' said Gregory, sliding from his palfrey and stepping forward, 'ready to receive the guerdon which your bounty would heap on him.'

'Truly, friend Gregory,' answered the young warrior,'thou shalt not be forgotten, for thou didst run speedily, and roar manfully for aid, without which, I think verily, we had not received it. But the brave forester, who came to my rescue when these three ruffians had nigh overpowered me, where is he?'

Every one looked around, but though all had seen him on entering the thicket, he was not now to be found. They could only conjecture that he had retired during the confusion occasioned by the detention of Gaston.

'Seek not for him,' said the Lady Emma, who had now in some degree recovered her composure, 'he will not be found of mortal, unless at his own season.'

The Baron, convinced from this answer that her terror had for the time somewhat disturbed her reason, forbore to question her; and Matilda and Eleanor, to whom a message had been despatched with the result of this strange adventure, arriving, they took the Lady Emma between them, and all in a body returned to the castle.

The distance was, however, considerable, and before reaching it they had another alarm. The prickers, who rode foremost in the troop, halted and announced to the Lord Boteler, that they perceived advancing towards them a body of armed men. The followers of the Baron were numerous, but they were arrayed for the chase, not for battle, and it was with great pleasure that he discerned, on the pennon of the advancing body of men-at-arms, instead of the cognisance of Gaston, as he had some reason to expect, the friendly bearings of Fitzosborne of Diggswell, the same young lord who was present at the May-games with Fitzallen of Harden. The knight himself advanced, sheathed in armour, and, without raising his visor, informed Lord Boteler that, having heard of a base attempt made upon a part of his train by ruffianly assassins, he had mounted and armed a small party of his retainers to escort them to Queenhoo-Hall. Having received and accepted an invitation to attend them thither, they prosecuted their journey in confidence and security, and arrived safe at home without any further accident.

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