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“ Thou wrongest thine own hospitality, noble Thane,” replied the other, collecting his spirits, and making an effort to be polite.
Womạnly indeed should I be, if I were not used to harder fare than this ! My father, the forester,--that is, I mean, my father, the Baron,”—and again Reginald looked confused, and paused, and was silent.
“ Cheer thee, noble Reginald,” said his host; “ thou art wearied with thy journey, and thy wits wander.” « Perchance," said the fair Elfrida,“ Sir Reginald hath lost them on the way!” The menials echoed applause, and Reginald looked yet more foolish than before. " Thou dost belie thy character strangely," continued the old man ; “ fame hath told us that, in the whole shire, there is not a jollier boon-companion, nor a truer lover of the cup.” “ It is true that Sir Reginald d'Arennes hath had that reputation," replied the Norman, “and his best friends have judged that he would do well to put it away." holy Confessor," cried Leofwyn, “ not upon his wedding-day! Out upon the idea! What, ho! Osric, fill up for Sir Reginald. Pledge me, gallant Knight. The health of thy bride-of Elfrida!”
“ I will do thee reason,” said Reginald, raising the cup to his lips ; but, at the mention of the name of Elfrida, some of the vassals burst into such a clamorous fit of laughter that he set it down in astonishment.
Leofwyn remarked his surprise, and endeavoured to dispel it. “ Thou seest, good son, that there is a kind of pageant toward, at which these boors are marvellously pleased ; but be not the less inclined to join in our banquet. We wait but for the arrival of my son Lothaire, and all disguise shall be stript off.”
56 Disguise !” cried the guest, dropping the cup, and starting from his seat, a murrain on the tell-tale! How didst thou learn”. Nay, my son," said the Saxon, as if endeavouring to retract an unguarded expression, " we are all somewhat disguised-in liquor.”
Reginald resumed his seat, and, in a short time, began to drink most valorously, as if striving to drown in the rich pigment some unpleasant suspicions. By degrees, his head, which was evidently weaker than the one fame had attributed to Reginald d'Arennes, began to be overpowered by the frequent potations which were forced upon him by his host; and wbile Leofwyn, and his retainers, and even the modest Elfrida, were immensely amused by his aukward situation, the hapless bridegroom showed the effects of Saxon hospitality in rhapsodical and unintelligible exclamations.
“ Of a truth, good Thane, thy drink is marvellous good! marvellous good is thy drink! better have not I tasted since we rifled old Ambrose, the hermit of Torney-low! Very rich was the old rogue; he had store of gold and of silver, and an admirable cellar withal. Right merry we were and jovial ; and, for the hoary man, we made him sit by the board, and chaunt a merry stave. That did I; for truly my fellow thief had some quirks of conscience. Health to the old man! May bis bags and his cellar be replenished before next Whitsuntide! What care I for abbot and friar, mitre and cowl ! I roam through glade and greenwood, over hill, and rock, and stream, free as the hawk, free as the passing wind. Marry, I had forgot how I have linked myself to a wife! Kiss me, fair Elfrida! I love thee very much, Elfrida; but thou knowest, when war calleth us away, we soldiers leave ye like a whistle. How dost thou, old father-in-law, how dost thou? Of a verity, thy face is as black as a November cloud, and that spear by thy side is wondrous sharp: it is well I have a Milan corselet. Mark ye my Milan corselet, father and bride! The zecchins that were paid for it! It hath not born blow yet. Certainly I like not blows; but the lace of my helmet is snapped in twain. Thy son, most noble Leofwyn, could explain unto thee the manner of it. Surely it was a mighty blow, and a perilous, given with a strong arm and a right good will. Launcelot shook like an aspen leaf. Howbeit, noble Saxon, thy drink is marvellous good; it maketh a man valorous, and doth as it were put to flight the whimsies, and the visions, and the phantasies of the brain. Fill up, valiant Leofwyn! plague on them that flinch! Mine harness is much soiled for a wedding-garment, but I shall wear a new doublet tomorrow: a blight upon the brambles in the coppice! How now, good father-in-law, why dost thou not speak! thy face is as round as the bowl, and as silent as the roasted crab that is floating within it. Fill up! off with care! Shall I not be merry, when steel, and nobility, and a wife, are put upon my shoulders ? ”
“ My Lord groweth complimentary," said Elfrida, hardly able to speak for laughter. “ I do feel afraid that the air of Kennet-hold, and the drink it affords, have somewhat unsettled his brains !
“ Beautiful Elfrida,” said the bridegroom,“ true it is that the brains of Sir Reginald had a terrible knock this day, and thy brother knows whence it came; but we will forget these quarrelsome topics, and give up the evening to merriment. My brains are as firm as thine own. Marry, the wine is marvellous good !” He was sinking gradually into intoxication.
“ I marvel wherefore Lothaire delayeth his coming,” said Leofwyn.
Truly,” replied Elfrida,“ it were well to conclude the farce without him. I am weary of this mummery."
“ Mar-vel-lous good !" repeated the Norman, and closed his eyes.
“ Girl," said Leofwyn, “ thou speakest foolishly: until my son's return we will keep up the disguise.”
Disguise !” cried Reginald, recovering some little sense of what was going forward. « Who talked of disguise ? was it thou, most rustic Leofwyn, or thou, most black-browed Elfrida ? Who talked of disguise? I care not. If I am not”—
A loud and piercing shriek interrupted the speaker. You might have thought all the maidens of the shire had conspired to deafen the ears of the Saxon proprietor. A door was suddenly flung open, and a warder, with terror and consternation pictured on every limb and feature, rushed up to the dais, and, bending his head as if to receive the chastisement which his negligence would call down, exclạimed, “ the Lady Elfrida hath been taken away from the Castle!”
It were difficult to describe minutely the astonishment which pervaded the hall. Vassals and menials of every degree snatched their arms and fled from the apartment.
Nothing was heard but inquiries, and weeping, and imprecations. Nothing was known but that the lady had been within the last few minutes carried off by a strange knight mounted on a swift bay horse, and attended by one follower. It was supposed that he must have entered and departed by swimming the moat, which as it was now midnight was an attempt by no means impracticable. He had been seen by a peasant who was returning from an adjacent forest; his lovely prize was thrown across a led palfrey, and appeared to be in a swoon.
All was confusion. The retainers of Leofwyn ran to and fro in all directions but the right one. Armour resounded with a dismal clang, as it was hastily thrown over the shoulders of the domestics; torches were flinging their red glare in every direction; the voices of the pursuers were repeated by frequent echoes, as they shouted and called to one another through the darkness. In the meantime the chief personages in the hall were in a situation partaking strongly of the ludicrous. The black-eyed damsel, who had figured throughout the banquet as the daughter of Leofwyn, had cried out, as the warder had delivered his news, mistress, my poor mistress !" and fainted upon her throne. The bridegroom had been in some measure roused from his intoxication, but was still unable to collect his ideas, so as to form any idea of the origin or meaning of the tumult. Leofwyn appeared to be in a state of mental stupefaction. In spite of the foibles of the old man's character, he was doatingly fond of his daughter ; and the news of her loss, coming in the midst of revelry, seemed to have withered him like a thunderbolt. He sat still, looking on the confusion with a vacant gaze, and inquiring from time to time, “Is my daughter well? How fares it with the Lady Elfrida ? Doth she not come to her old father?” These three personages therefore remained quietly upon their seats, while every one around them was in commotion ; like the bronzed images in modern halls, that hold their candelabras so calmly, while the guests are all in the bustle of departure.
Things remained in this disagreeable position for some minutes, when the blowing of a horn, and a loud talking and shouting without announced that something had taken place. Presently, accompanied by a crowd of peasants half accoutred for the pursuit, Lothaire entered the hall. Leofwyn raised his head, and being in some measure recalled to his recollection by the sight of his son, repeated his inquiry, “is my daughter well ?"
“ She is well !” said Lothaire, “ and I am well! no thanks to my new friend the doughty Sir Richard de Mallory, from whom, to say truth, mine headpiece hath received a most mischievous contusion. Thanks to thee, good steel,” he continued, taking off his helmet, and surveying the deep indenture which appeared on its summit," had not thy temper been true, thy master's head had lain on the couch from which no man lifteth himself up." He was interrupted by a thousand interrogatories, a great proportion of which proceeded from Leofwyn, who had by this time recovered from the effects of his sudden shock, and began to feel great curiosity to know the particulars of the story. “I know but little of the matter," said Lothaire, “
ye see I have been overthrown in no light fashion, (they perceived for the first time that his apparel bore marks of a recent fall) and in truth had it not been for the intervention of my good friend in the ragged doublet, I had hardly lived to tell ye the tale.”
“ Of whom dost thou speak?” said Leofwyn.
“ That is more than I can tell,” replied the young Saxon; “ Not many paces hence did I encounter the valorous Sir Richard, who is now, peace be with him, no longer a man of this world. I had a heavy stroke, as ye may witness ; nevertheless, it was my horse's fault, or I had not been so foiled. I believe another minute would have caught the last breath of Lothaire, but for the help of the aforesaid knight of the ragged doublet; by the sword of Harold! he overthrew that proud Norman as if he were wrestling with a child. I saw not his features, but by his apparel he seemed to be the esquire of thine hopeful son-in-law, Reginald d'Arennes. But ye will see him presently." Lothaire was supported from the hall
, and put under the care of the leech ; for his wound, although he made so light of it in his story, wore a dangerous appearance.
As he retired, another loud acclamation announced the arrival of Elfrida's deliverer. A tall, well-made figure, advanced toward the dais, clad, as Lothaire had intimated, in a short ragged doublet, with a small cap which was quite insufficient to confine the long dark tresses that ,floated luxuriantly down his neck. His arm supported the real Elfrida, whose personal charms amply deserved the encomium which had been lavished upon them in the forest. Animation seemed hardly restored to that beautiful form. Her eyes were half closed and her cheek very pale.
“ Providence be thanked,” cried Leofwyn, " that my child is restored to me!”
Now it has been already hinted that Elfrida was possessed of a disposition somewhat untractable; in fact, loth as I am to speak ought ill of the fair sex, I must confess that the Lady Elfrida partook, in no trifling degree, both of the fantastic whims of her father Leofwyn, and the violent obstinacy of her brother Lothaire. The reader therefore will not be surprised when he hears that the Saxon beauty, bowing respectfully to her father, thus addressed
“ Not to thee, my father, not to thee is thy daughter restored ; in good and in evil, in life and in death, she shall abide with her préserver--with him who hath delivered her from the grasp of the spoiler.”
Thou art mad, my child !” said the old man in astonishment, “ the knight that sued for thee thou didst contemn and reject, and wilt thou now wed with his serving-man?”
Elfrida appeared to recollect the circumstances which bad preceded her capture; the suitor who had solicited her hand; and the deceit which she had conspired to put upon him : she looked up to the dais, and beheld Bertha, her waiting-woman, seated by the side of the Norman guest; she glanced round and met the eye of her preserver turned upon her with an expression of the deepest adoration ; she looked no further, but immediately, addressing her father, said,
“ Why should it not be so, my father? To-day thou bast married thine handmaid to the Knight ;-to-morrow thou shalt marry thy daughter to the Knave.”
Her unknown deliverer, at these words, began to stare about him ; he gazed upon his dress, upon his attendants, upon Elfrida ; and then, with all the embarrassment of a performer who comes forward to play in a pageant without the smallest acquaintance with his part, observed, “ this morning was I a Knight, mounted on a goodly steed, and clad in goodly apparel ; but whether I am now Norman or Saxon, Knight or Knave, by my grandfather's sword—I doubt.”
Leofwyn stared ; his large eyes were dilated into a truly comic expression of astonishment. "Who art thou ?” he cried at last to the bridegroom: “ art thou Reginald d'Arennes ; or must we hang thee for a rogue ! ”