With sheep and shaggy goats the porkers bled,
And the proud steer was on the marble spread;
With fire prepared, they deal the morsels round,
Wine rosy bright the brimming goblets crown'd.
* * * * *
Disposed apart, Ulysses shares the treat;
A trivet table and ignobler seat,
The Prince assigns---
Odyssey, Book XXI
The Prior Aymer had taken the opportunity afforded him, of
changing his riding robe for one of yet more costly materials,
over which he wore a cope curiously embroidered. Besides the
massive golden signet ring, which marked his ecclesiastical
dignity, his fingers, though contrary to the canon, were loaded
with precious gems; his sandals were of the finest leather which
was imported from Spain; his beard trimmed to as small dimensions
as his order would possibly permit, and his shaven crown
concealed by a scarlet cap richly embroidered.
The appearance of the Knight Templar was also changed; and,
though less studiously bedecked with ornament, his dress was as
rich, and his appearance far more commanding, than that of his
companion. He had exchanged his shirt of mail for an under tunic
of dark purple silk, garnished with furs, over which flowed his
long robe of spotless white, in ample folds. The eight-pointed
cross of his order was cut on the shoulder of his mantle in black
velvet. The high cap no longer invested his brows, which were
only shaded by short and thick curled hair of a raven blackness,
corresponding to his unusually swart complexion. Nothing could
be more gracefully majestic than his step and manner, had they
not been marked by a predominant air of haughtiness, easily
acquired by the exercise of unresisted authority.
These two dignified persons were followed by their respective
attendants, and at a more humble distance by their guide, whose
figure had nothing more remarkable than it derived from the usual
weeds of a pilgrim. A cloak or mantle of coarse black serge,
enveloped his whole body. It was in shape something like the
cloak of a modern hussar, having similar flaps for covering the
arms, and was called a "Sclaveyn", or "Sclavonian". Coarse
sandals, bound with thongs, on his bare feet; a broad and shadowy
hat, with cockle-shells stitched on its brim, and a long staff
shod with iron, to the upper end of which was attached a branch
of palm, completed the palmer's attire. He followed modestly the
last of the train which entered the hall, and, observing that the
lower table scarce afforded room sufficient for the domestics of
Cedric and the retinue of his guests, he withdrew to a settle
placed beside and almost under one of the large chimneys, and
seemed to employ himself in drying his garments, until the
retreat of some one should make room at the board, or the
hospitality of the steward should supply him with refreshments in
the place he had chosen apart.
Cedric rose to receive his guests with an air of dignified
hospitality, and, descending from the dais, or elevated part of
his hall, made three steps towards them, and then awaited their
"I grieve," he said, "reverend Prior, that my vow binds me to
advance no farther upon this floor of my fathers, even to receive
such guests as you, and this valiant Knight of the Holy Temple.
But my steward has expounded to you the cause of my seeming
discourtesy. Let me also pray, that you will excuse my speaking
to you in my native language, and that you will reply in the same
if your knowledge of it permits; if not, I sufficiently
understand Norman to follow your meaning."
"Vows," said the Abbot, "must be unloosed, worthy Franklin, or
permit me rather to say, worthy Thane, though the title is
antiquated. Vows are the knots which tie us to Heaven---they are
the cords which bind the sacrifice to the horns of the altar,
---and are therefore,---as I said before,---to be unloosened and
discharged, unless our holy Mother Church shall pronounce the
contrary. And respecting language, I willingly hold
communication in that spoken by my respected grandmother, Hilda
of Middleham, who died in odour of sanctity, little short, if we
may presume to say so, of her glorious namesake, the blessed
Saint Hilda of Whitby, God be gracious to her soul!"
When the Prior had ceased what he meant as a conciliatory
harangue, his companion said briefly and emphatically, "I speak
ever French, the language of King Richard and his nobles; but I
understand English sufficiently to communicate with the natives
of the country."
Cedric darted at the speaker one of those hasty and impatient
glances, which comparisons between the two rival nations seldom
failed to call forth; but, recollecting the duties of
hospitality, he suppressed further show of resentment, and,
motioning with his hand, caused his guests to assume two seats a
little lower than his own, but placed close beside him, and gave
a signal that the evening meal should be placed upon the board.
While the attendants hastened to obey Cedric's commands, his eye
distinguished Gurth the swineherd, who, with his companion Wamba,
had just entered the hall. "Send these loitering knaves up
hither," said the Saxon, impatiently. And when the culprits came
before the dais,---"How comes it, villains! that you have
loitered abroad so late as this? Hast thou brought home thy
charge, sirrah Gurth, or hast thou left them to robbers and
"The herd is safe, so please ye," said Gurth.
"But it does not please me, thou knave," said Cedric, "that I
should be made to suppose otherwise for two hours, and sit here
devising vengeance against my neighbours for wrongs they have not
done me. I tell thee, shackles and the prison-house shall punish
the next offence of this kind."
Gurth, knowing his master's irritable temper, attempted no
exculpation; but the Jester, who could presume upon Cedric's
tolerance, by virtue of his privileges as a fool, replied for
them both; "In troth, uncle Cedric, you are neither wise nor
"'How, sir?" said his master; "you shall to the porter's lodge,
and taste of the discipline there, if you give your foolery such
"First let your wisdom tell me," said Wamba, "is it just and
reasonable to punish one person for the fault of another?"
"Certainly not, fool," answered Cedric.
"Then why should you shackle poor Gurth, uncle, for the fault of
his dog Fangs? for I dare be sworn we lost not a minute by the
way, when we had got our herd together, which Fangs did not
manage until we heard the vesper-bell."
"Then hang up Fangs," said Cedric, turning hastily towards the
swineherd, "if the fault is his, and get thee another dog."
"Under favour, uncle," said the Jester, "that were still somewhat
on the bow-hand of fair justice; for it was no fault of Fangs
that he was lame and could not gather the herd, but the fault of
those that struck off two of his fore-claws, an operation for
which, if the poor fellow had been consulted, he would scarce
have given his voice."
"And who dared to lame an animal which belonged to my bondsman?"
said the Saxon, kindling in wrath.
"Marry, that did old Hubert," said Wamba, "Sir Philip de
Malvoisin's keeper of the chase. He caught Fangs strolling in
the forest, and said he chased the deer contrary to his master's
right, as warden of the walk."
"The foul fiend take Malvoisin," answered the Saxon, "and his
keeper both! I will teach them that the wood was disforested in
terms of the great Forest Charter. But enough of this. Go to,
knave, go to thy place---and thou, Gurth, get thee another dog,
and should the keeper dare to touch it, I will mar his archery;
the curse of a coward on my head, if I strike not off the
forefinger of his right hand!---he shall draw bowstring no more.
---I crave your pardon, my worthy guests. I am beset here with
neighbours that match your infidels, Sir Knight, in Holy Land.
But your homely fare is before you; feed, and let welcome make
amends for hard fare."
The feast, however, which was spread upon the board, needed no
apologies from the lord of the mansion. Swine's flesh, dressed
in several modes, appeared on the lower part of the board, as
also that of fowls, deer, goats, and hares, and various kinds of
fish, together with huge loaves and cakes of bread, and sundry
confections made of fruits and honey. The smaller sorts of
wild-fowl, of which there was abundance, were not served up in
platters, but brought in upon small wooden spits or broaches, and
offered by the pages and domestics who bore them, to each guest
in succession, who cut from them such a portion as he pleased.
Beside each person of rank was placed a goblet of silver; the
lower board was accommodated with large drinking horns.
When the repast was about to commence, the major-domo, or
steward, suddenly raising his wand, said aloud,---"Forbear!
---Place for the Lady Rowena."
A side-door at the upper end of the hall now opened behind the
banquet table, and Rowena, followed by four female attendants,
entered the apartment. Cedric, though surprised, and perhaps not
altogether agreeably so, at his ward appearing in public on this
occasion, hastened to meet her, and to conduct her, with
respectful ceremony, to the elevated seat at his own right hand,
appropriated to the lady of the mansion. All stood up to receive
her; and, replying to their courtesy by a mute gesture of
salutation, she moved gracefully forward to assume her place at
the board. Ere she had time to do so, the Templar whispered to
the Prior, "I shall wear no collar of gold of yours at the
tournament. The Chian wine is your own."
"Said I not so?" answered the Prior; "but check your raptures,
the Franklin observes you."
Unheeding this remonstrance, and accustomed only to act upon the
immediate impulse of his own wishes, Brian de Bois-Guilbert kept
his eyes riveted on the Saxon beauty, more striking perhaps to
his imagination, because differing widely from those of the
Formed in the best proportions of her sex, Rowena was tall in
stature, yet not so much so as to attract observation on account
of superior height. Her complexion was exquisitely fair, but the
noble cast of her head and features prevented the insipidity
which sometimes attaches to fair beauties. Her clear blue eye,
which sat enshrined beneath a graceful eyebrow of brown
sufficiently marked to give expression to the forehead, seemed
capable to kindle as well as melt, to command as well as to
beseech. If mildness were the more natural expression of such a
combination of features, it was plain, that in the present
instance, the exercise of habitual superiority, and the reception
of general homage, had given to the Saxon lady a loftier
character, which mingled with and qualified that bestowed by
nature. Her profuse hair, of a colour betwixt brown and flaxen,
was arranged in a fanciful and graceful manner in numerous
ringlets, to form which art had probably aided nature. These
locks were braided with gems, and, being worn at full length,
intimated the noble birth and free-born condition of the maiden.
A golden chain, to which was attached a small reliquary of the
same metal, hung round her neck. She wore bracelets on her arms,
which were bare. Her dress was an under-gown and kirtle of pale
sea-green silk, over which hung a long loose robe, which reached
to the ground, having very wide sleeves, which came down,
however, very little below the elbow. This robe was crimson, and
manufactured out of the very finest wool. A veil of silk,
interwoven with gold, was attached to the upper part of it, which
could be, at the wearer's pleasure, either drawn over the face
and bosom after the Spanish fashion, or disposed as a sort of
drapery round the shoulders.
When Rowena perceived the Knight Templar's eyes bent on her with
an ardour, that, compared with the dark caverns under which they
moved, gave them the effect of lighted charcoal, she drew with
dignity the veil around her face, as an intimation that the
determined freedom of his glance was disagreeable. Cedric saw
the motion and its cause. "Sir Templar," said he, "the cheeks of
our Saxon maidens have seen too little of the sun to enable them
to bear the fixed glance of a crusader."
"If I have offended," replied Sir Brian, "I crave your pardon,
--that is, I crave the Lady Rowena's pardon,---for my humility
will carry me no lower."
"The Lady Rowena," said the Prior, "has punished us all, in
chastising the boldness of my friend. Let me hope she will be
less cruel to the splendid train which are to meet at the
"Our going thither," said Cedric, "is uncertain. I love not
these vanities, which were unknown to my fathers when England was
"Let us hope, nevertheless," said the Prior, "our company may
determine you to travel thitherward; when the roads are so
unsafe, the escort of Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is not to be
"Sir Prior," answered the Saxon, "wheresoever I have travelled in
this land, I have hitherto found myself, with the assistance of
my good sword and faithful followers, in no respect needful of
other aid. At present, if we indeed journey to
Ashby-de-la-Zouche, we do so with my noble neighbour and
countryman Athelstane of Coningsburgh, and with such a train as
would set outlaws and feudal enemies at defiance.---I drink to
you, Sir Prior, in this cup of wine, which I trust your taste
will approve, and I thank you for your courtesy. Should you be
so rigid in adhering to monastic rule," he added, "as to prefer
your acid preparation of milk, I hope you will not strain
courtesy to do me reason."
"Nay," said the Priest, laughing, "it is only in our abbey that
we confine ourselves to the 'lac dulce' or the 'lac acidum'
either. Conversing with, the world, we use the world's fashions,
and therefore I answer your pledge in this honest wine, and leave
the weaker liquor to my lay-brother."
"And I," said the Templar, filling his goblet, "drink wassail to
the fair Rowena; for since her namesake introduced the word into
England, has never been one more worthy of such a tribute. By
my faith, I could pardon the unhappy Vortigern, had he half the
cause that we now witness, for making shipwreck of his honour and
"I will spare your courtesy, Sir Knight," said Rowena with
dignity, and without unveiling herself; "or rather I will tax it
so far as to require of you the latest news from Palestine, a
theme more agreeable to our English ears than the compliments
which your French breeding teaches."
"I have little of importance to say, lady," answered Sir Brian de
Bois-Guilbert, "excepting the confirmed tidings of a truce with
He was interrupted by Wamba, who had taken his appropriated seat
upon a chair, the back of which was decorated with two ass's
ears, and which was placed about two steps behind that of his
master, who, from time to time, supplied him with victuals from
his own trencher; a favour, however, which the Jester shared with
the favourite dogs, of whom, as we have already noticed, there
were several in attendance. Here sat Wamba, with a small table
before him, his heels tucked up against the bar of the chair, his
cheeks sucked up so as to make his jaws resemble a pair of
nut-crackers, and his eyes half-shut, yet watching with alertness
every opportunity to exercise his licensed foolery.
"These truces with the infidels," he exclaimed, without caring
how suddenly he interrupted the stately Templar, "make an old man
"Go to, knave, how so?" said Cedric, his features prepared to
receive favourably the expected jest.
"Because," answered Wamba, "I remember three of them in my day,
each of which was to endure for the course of fifty years; so
that, by computation, I must be at least a hundred and fifty
"I will warrant you against dying of old age, however," said the
Templar, who now recognised his friend of the forest; "I will
assure you from all deaths but a violent one, if you give such
directions to wayfarers, as you did this night to the Prior and
"How, sirrah!" said Cedric, "misdirect travellers? We must have
you whipt; you are at least as much rogue as fool."
"I pray thee, uncle," answered the Jester, "let my folly, for
once, protect my roguery. I did but make a mistake between my
right hand and my left; and he might have pardoned a greater, who
took a fool for his counsellor and guide."
Conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of the porter's
page, who announced that there was a stranger at the gate,
imploring admittance and hospitality,
"Admit him," said Cedric, "be he who or what he may;---a night
like that which roars without, compels even wild animals to herd
with tame, and to seek the protection of man, their mortal foe,
rather than perish by the elements. Let his wants be ministered
to with all care---look to it, Oswald."
And the steward left the banqueting hall to see the commands of
his patron obeyed.