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- The Old English Baron - 2/33 -
"Alas!" said he, "what do we, by living long, but survive all our friends! But pray tell me how he died?"
"I will, sir, to the best of my knowledge. An't please your honour, I heard say, that he attended the King when he went against the Welch rebels, and he left his lady big with child; and so there was a battle fought, and the king got the better of the rebels. There came first a report that none of the officers were killed; but a few days after there came a messenger with an account very different, that several were wounded, and that the Lord Lovel was slain; which sad news overset us all with sorrow, for he was a noble gentleman, a bountiful master, and the delight of all the neighbourhood."
"He was indeed," said Sir Philip, all that is amiable and good; he was my dear and noble friend, and I am inconsolable for his loss. But the unfortunate lady, what became of her?"
"Why, a'nt please your honour, they said she died of grief for the loss of her husband; but her death was kept private for a time, and we did not know it for certain till some weeks afterwards."
"The will of Heaven be obeyed!" said Sir Philip; "but who succeeded to the title and estate?"
"The next heir," said the peasant, "a kinsman of the deceased, Sir Walter Lovel by name."
"I have seen him," said Sir Philip, "formerly; but where was he when these events happened?"
"At the Castle of Lovel, sir; he came there on a visit to the lady, and waited there to receive my Lord, at his return from Wales; when the news of his death arrived, Sir Walter did every thing in his power to comfort her, and some said he was to marry her; but she refused to be comforted, and took it so to heart that she died."
"And does the present Lord Lovel reside at the castle?"
"The Lord Baron Fitz-Owen."
"And how came Sir Walter to leave the seat of his ancestors?"
"Why, sir, he married his sister to this said Lord; and so he sold the Castle to him, and went away, and built himself a house in the north country, as far as Northumberland, I think they call it."
"That is very strange!" said Sir Philip.
"So it is, please your honour; but this is all I know about it."
"I thank you, friend, for your intelligence; I have taken a long journey to no purpose, and have met with nothing but cross accidents. This life is, indeed, a pilgrimage! Pray direct me the nearest way to the next monastery."
"Noble sir," said the peasant, "it is full five miles off, the night is coming on, and the ways are bad; I am but a poor man, and cannot entertain your honour as you are used to; but if you will enter my poor cottage, that, and every thing in it, are at your service."
"My honest friend, I thank you heartily," said Sir Philip; "your kindness and hospitality might shame many of higher birth and breeding; I will accept your kind offer;--but pray let me know the name of my host?"
"John Wyatt, sir; an honest man though a poor one, and a Christian man, though a sinful one."
"Whose cottage is this?"
"It belongs to the Lord Fitz-Owen."
"What family have you?"
"A wife, two sons and a daughter, who will all be proud to wait upon your honour; let me hold your honour's stirrup whilst you alight."
He seconded these words by the proper action, and having assisted his guest to dismount, he conducted him into his house, called his wife to attend him, and then led his horse under a poor shed, that served him as a stable. Sir Philip was fatigued in body and mind, and was glad to repose himself anywhere. The courtesy of his host engaged his attention, and satisfied his wishes. He soon after returned, followed by a youth of about eighteen years.
"Make haste, John," said the father, "and be sure you say neither more nor less than what I have told you."
"I will, father," said the lad; and immediately set off, ran like a buck across the fields, and was out of sight in an instant.
"I hope, friend," said Sir Philip, "you have not sent your son to provide for my entertainment; I am a soldier, used to lodge and fare hard; and, if it were otherwise, your courtesy and kindness would give a relish to the most ordinary food."
"I wish heartily," said Wyatt, "it was in my power to entertain your honour as you ought to be; but, as I cannot do so, I will, when my son returns, acquaint you with the errand I sent him on."
After this they conversed together on common subjects, like fellow-creatures of the same natural form and endowments, though different kinds of education had given a conscious superiority to the one, a conscious inferiority to the other; and the due respect was paid by the latter, without being exacted by the former. In about half an hour young John returned.
"Thou hast made haste," said the father.
"Not more than good speed," quoth the son.
"Tell us, then, how you speed?"
"Shall I tell all that passed?" said John.
"All," said the father; "I don't want to hide any thing."
John stood with his cap in his hand, and thus told his tale--
"I went straight to the castle as fast as I could run; it was my hap to light on young Master Edmund first, so I told him just as you bad me, that a noble gentleman was come a long journey from foreign parts to see the Lord Lovel, his friend; and, having lived abroad many years, he did not know that he was dead, and that the castle was fallen into other hands; that upon hearing these tidings he was much grieved and disappointed, and wanting a night's lodging, to rest himself before he returned to his own home, he was fain to take up with one at our cottage; that my father thought my Lord would be angry with him, if he were not told of the stranger's journey and intentions, especially to let such a man lie at our cottage, where he could neither be lodged nor entertained according to his quality."
Here John stopped, and his father exclaimed--
"A good lad! you did your errand very well; and tell us the answer."
"Master Edmund ordered me some beer, and went to acquaint my Lord of the message; he stayed a while, and then came back to me.-- 'John,' said he, 'tell the noble stranger that the Baron Fitz-Owen greets him well, and desires him to rest assured, that though Lord Lovel is dead, and the castle fallen into other hands, his friends will always find a welcome there; and my lord desires that he will accept of a lodging there, while he remains in this country.' -- So I came away directly, and made haste to deliver my errand."
Sir Philip expressed some dissatisfaction at this mark of old Wyatt's respect.
"I wish," said he, "that you had acquainted me with your intention before you sent to inform the Baron I was here. I choose rather to lodge with you; and I propose to make amends for the trouble I shall give you."
"Pray, sir, don't mention it," said the peasant, "you are as welcome as myself; I hope no offence; the only reason of my sending was, because I am both unable and unworthy to entertain your honour."
"I am sorry," said Sir Philip, "you should think me so dainty; I am a Christian soldier; and him I acknowledge for my Prince and Master, accepted the invitations of the poor, and washed the feet of his disciples. Let us say no more on this head; I am resolved to stay this night in your cottage, tomorrow I will wait on the Baron, and thank him for his hospitable invitation."
"That shall be as your honour pleases, since you will condescend to stay here. John, do you run back and acquaint my Lord of it."
"Not so," said Sir Philip; "it is now almost dark."
"'Tis no matter," said John, "I can go it blindfold."
Sir Philip then gave him a message to the Baron in his own name, acquainting him that he would pay his respects to him in the morning. John flew back the second time, and soon returned with new commendations from the Baron, and that he would expect him on the morrow. Sir Philip gave him an angel of gold, and praised his speed and abilities.
He supped with Wyatt and his family upon new-laid eggs and rashers of bacon, with the highest relish. They praised the Creator for His gifts, and acknowledged they were unworthy of the least of His blessings. They gave the best of their two lofts up to Sir Philip, the rest of the family slept in the other, the old woman and her daughter in the bed, the father and his two sons upon clean straw. Sir Philip's bed was of a better kind, and yet much inferior to his usual accommodations; nevertheless the good knight slept as well in Wyatt's cottage, as he could have done in a palace.
During his sleep, many strange and incoherent dreams arose to his imagination. He thought he received a message from his friend Lord Lovel, to come to him at the castle; that he stood at the gate and
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