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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. I - 5/27 -
in her favour from having once heard Dorothy speak friendlily to her, expressed his great annoyance that she should have been so insulted on his father's premises, received his apologies with dignity and good faith. He dragged the dog back, rechained him, and was in the act of administering sound and righteous chastisement to the cow-boy, when Stopchase staggered, tumbled off the cart, and falling upon his head, lay motionless. Richard hurried to him, and finding his neck twisted and his head bent to one side, concluded he was killed. The woman who had accompanied him from the field stood for a moment uttering loud cries, then, suddenly bethinking herself, sped after the witch. Richard was soon satisfied he could do nothing for him.
Presently the woman came running back, followed at a more leisurely pace by Goody Rees, whose countenance was grave, and, even to the twitch about her mouth, inscrutable. She walked up to where the man lay, looked at him for a moment or two as if considering his case, then sat down on the ground beside him, and requested Richard to move him so that his head should lie on her lap. This done, she laid hold of it, with a hand on each ear, and pulled at his neck, at the same time turning his head in the right direction. There came a snap, and the neck was straight. She then began to stroke it with gentle yet firm hand. In a few moments he began to breathe. As soon as she saw his chest move, she called for a wisp of hay, and having shaped it a little, drew herself from under his head, substituting the hay. Then rising without a word she walked from the yard. Stopchase lay for a while, gradually coming to himself, then scrambled all at once to his feet, and staggered to his pitchfork, which lay where it had fallen. 'It is of the mercy of the Lord that I fell not upon the prongs of the pitchfork,' he said, as he slowly stooped and lifted it. He had no notion that he had lain more than a few seconds; and of the return of Goody Rees and her ministrations he knew nothing; while such an awe of herself and her influences had she left behind her, that neither the woman nor the cow-boy ventured to allude to her, and even Richard, influenced partly, no doubt, by late reading, was more inclined to think than speak about her. For the man himself, little knowing how close death had come to him, but inwardly reproached because of his passionate outbreak, he firmly believed that he had had a narrow escape from the net of the great fowler, whose decoy the old woman was, commissioned not only to cause his bodily death, but to work in him first such a frame of mind as should render his soul the lawful prey of the enemy.
A CHAPTER OF FOOLS.
The same afternoon, as it happened, a little company of rustics, who had just issued from the low hatch-door of the village inn, stood for a moment under the sign of the Crown and Mitre, which swung huskily creaking from the bough of an ancient thorn tree, then passed on to the road, and took their way together.
'Hope you then,' said one of them, as continuing their previous conversation, 'that we shall escape unhurt? It is a parlous business. Not as one of us is afeard as I knows on. But the old earl, he do have a most unregenerate temper, and you had better look to't, my masters.'
'I tell thee, master Upstill, it's not the old earl as I'm afeard on, but the young lord. For thou knows as well as ere a one it be not without cause that men do call him a wizard, for a wizard he be, and that of the worst sort.'
'We shall be out again afore sundown, shannot we?' said another. 'That I trust.'
'Up to the which hour the High Court of Parliament assembled will have power to protect its own--eh, John Croning?'
'Nay, that I cannot tell. It be a parlous job, and for mine own part, whether for the love I bear to the truth, or the hatred I cherish toward the scarlet Antichrist, with her seven tails--'
'Tush, tush, John! Seven heads, man, and ten horns. Those are the numbers master Flowerdew read.'
'Nay, I know not for your horns; but for the rest I say seven tails. Did not honest master Flowerdew set forth unto us last meeting that the scarlet woman sat upon seven hills--eh? Have with you there, master Sycamore!'
'Well, for the sake of sound argument, I grant you. But we ha'got to do with no heads nor no tails, neither--save and except as you may say the sting is in the tail; and then, or I greatly mistake, it's not seven times seven as will serve to count the stings, come of the tails what may.'
'Very true,' said another; 'it be the stings and not the tails we want news of. But think you his lordship will yield them up without gainsaying to us the messengers of the High Parliament now assembled?'
'For mine own part,' said John Croning, 'though I fear it come of the old Adam yet left in me, I do count it a sorrowful thing that the earl should be such a vile recusant. He never fails with a friendly word, or it may be a jest--a foolish jest--but honest, for any one gentle or simple he may meet. More than once has he boarded me in that fashion. What do you think he said to me, now, one day as I was a mowin' of the grass in the court, close by the white horse that spout up the water high as a house from his nose-drills? Says he to me--for he come down the grand staircase, and steps out and spies me at the work with my old scythe, and come across to me, and says he, "Why, Thomas," says he, not knowin' of my name, "Why, Thomas," says he, "you look like old Time himself a mowing of us all down," says he. "For sure, my lord," says I, "your lordship reads it aright, for all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man is as the flower of the field." He look humble at that, for, great man as he be, his earthly tabernacle, though more than sizeable, is but a frail one, and that he do know. And says he, "Where did you read that, Thomas?" "I am not a larned man, please your lordship," says I, "and I cannot honestly say I read it nowheres, but I heerd the words from a book your lordship have had news of: they do call it the Holy Bible. But they tell me that they of your lordship's persuasion like it not." "You are very much mistaken there, Thomas," says he. "I read my Bible most days, only not the English Bible, which is full of errors, but the Latin, which is all as God gave it," says he. And thereby I had not where to answer withal.'
'I fear you proved a poor champion of the truth, master Croning.'
'Confess now, Cast-down Upstill, had he not both sun and wind of me--standing, so to say, on his own hearth-stone? Had it not been so, I could have called hard names with the best of you, though that is by rights the gift of the preachers of the truth. See how the good master Flowerdew excelleth therein, sprinkling them abroad from the watering-pot of the gospel. Verily, when my mind is too feeble to grasp his argument, my memory lays fast hold upon the hard names, and while I hold by them, I have it all in a nutshell.'
Fortified occasionally by a pottle of ale, and keeping their spirits constantly stirred by much talking, they had been all day occupied in searching the Catholic houses of the neighbourhood for arms. What authority they had for it never came to be clearly understood. Plainly they believed themselves possessed of all that was needful, or such men would never have dared it. As it was, they prosecuted it with such a bold front, that not until they were gone did it occur to some, who had yielded what arms they possessed, to question whether they had done wisely in acknowledging such fellows as parliamentary officials without demanding their warrant. Their day's gleanings up to this point--of swords and pikes, guns and pistols, they had left in charge of the host of the inn whence they had just issued, and were now bent on crowning their day's triumph with a supreme act of daring--the renown of which they enlarged in their own imaginations, while undermining the courage needful for its performance, by enhancing its terrors as they went.
At length two lofty hexagonal towers appeared, and the consciousness that the final test of their resolution drew nigh took immediate form in a fluttering at the heart, which, however, gave no outward sign but that of silence; and indeed they were still too full of the importance of unaccustomed authority to fear any contempt for it on the part of others.
It happened that at this moment Raglan Castle was full of merry-making upon occasion of the marriage of one of lady Herbert's waiting-gentlewomen to an officer of the household; and in these festivities the earl of Worcester and all his guests were taking a part.
Among the numerous members of the household was one who, from being a turnspit, had risen, chiefly in virtue of an immovably lugubrious expression of countenance, to be the earl's fool. From this peculiarity his fellow-servants had given him the nickname of The Hangman; but the man himself had chosen the role of a puritan parson, as affording the best ground-work for the display of a humour suitable to the expression of countenance with which his mother had endowed him. That mother was Goody Rees, concerning whom, as already hinted, strange things were whispered. In the earlier part of his career the fool had not unfrequently found his mother's reputation a sufficient shelter from persecution; and indeed there might have been reason to suppose that it was for her son's sake she encouraged her own evil repute, a distinction involving considerable risk, seeing the time had not yet arrived when the disbelief in such powers was sufficiently advanced for the safety of those reported to possess them. In her turn, however, she ran a risk somewhat less than ordinary from the fact that her boy was a domestic in the family of one whose eldest son, the heir to the earldom, lay under a similar suspicion; for not a few of the household were far from satisfied that lord Herbert's known occupations in the Yellow Tower were not principally ostensible, and that he and his man had nothing to do with the black art, or some other of the many regions of occult science in which the ambition after unlawful power may hopefully exercise itself.
Upon occasion of a family fete, merriment was in those days carried further, on the part of both masters and servants, than in the greatly altered relations and conditions of the present day would be desirable, or, indeed, possible. In this instance, the fun broke out in the arranging of a mock marriage between Thomas Rees, commonly called Tom Fool, and a young girl who served under the cook. Half
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