And yet he thinks,---ha, ha, ha, ha,---he thinks
I am the tool and servant of his will.
Well, let it be; through all the maze of trouble
His plots and base oppression must create,
I'll shape myself a way to higher things,
And who will say 'tis wrong?
Basil, a Tragedy
No spider ever took more pains to repair the shattered meshes of
his web, than did Waldemar Fitzurse to reunite and combine the
scattered members of Prince John's cabal. Few of these were
attached to him from inclination, and none from personal regard.
It was therefore necessary, that Fitzurse should open to them new
prospects of advantage, and remind them of those which they at
present enjoyed. To the young and wild nobles, he held out the
prospect of unpunished license and uncontrolled revelry; to the
ambitious, that of power, and to the covetous, that of increased
wealth and extended domains. The leaders of the mercenaries
received a donation in gold; an argument the most persuasive to
their minds, and without which all others would have proved in
vain. Promises were still more liberally distributed than money
by this active agent; and, in fine, nothing was left undone that
could determine the wavering, or animate the disheartened. The
return of King Richard he spoke of as an event altogether beyond
the reach of probability; yet, when he observed, from the
doubtful looks and uncertain answers which he received, that this
was the apprehension by which the minds of his accomplices were
most haunted, he boldly treated that event, should it really take
place, as one which ought not to alter their political
"If Richard returns," said Fitzurse, "he returns to enrich his
needy and impoverished crusaders at the expense of those who did
not follow him to the Holy Land. He returns to call to a fearful
reckoning, those who, during his absence, have done aught that
can be construed offence or encroachment upon either the laws of
the land or the privileges of the crown. He returns to avenge
upon the Orders of the Temple and the Hospital, the preference
which they showed to Philip of France during the wars in the Holy
Land. He returns, in fine, to punish as a rebel every adherent
of his brother Prince John. Are ye afraid of his power?"
continued the artful confident of that Prince, "we acknowledge
him a strong and valiant knight; but these are not the days of
King Arthur, when a champion could encounter an army. If Richard
indeed comes back, it must be alone,---unfollowed---unfriended.
The bones of his gallant army have whitened the sands of
Palestine. The few of his followers who have returned have
straggled hither like this Wilfred of Ivanhoe, beggared and
broken men.---And what talk ye of Richard's right of birth?" he
proceeded, in answer to those who objected scruples on that head.
"Is Richard's title of primogeniture more decidedly certain than
that of Duke Robert of Normandy, the Conqueror's eldest son? And
yet William the Red, and Henry, his second and third brothers,
were successively preferred to him by the voice of the nation,
Robert had every merit which can be pleaded for Richard; he was a
bold knight, a good leader, generous to his friends and to the
church, and, to crown the whole, a crusader and a conqueror of
the Holy Sepulchre; and yet he died a blind and miserable
prisoner in the Castle of Cardiff, because he opposed himself to
the will of the people, who chose that he should not rule over
them. It is our right," he said, "to choose from the blood royal
the prince who is best qualified to hold the supreme power
---that is," said he, correcting himself, "him whose election
will best promote the interests of the nobility. In personal
qualifications," he added, "it was possible that Prince John
might be inferior to his brother Richard; but when it was
considered that the latter returned with the sword of vengeance
in his hand, while the former held out rewards, immunities,
privileges, wealth, and honours, it could not be doubted which
was the king whom in wisdom the nobility were called on to
These, and many more arguments, some adapted to the peculiar
circumstances of those whom he addressed, had the expected weight
with the nobles of Prince John's faction. Most of them consented
to attend the proposed meeting at York, for the purpose of making
general arrangements for placing the crown upon the head of
It was late at night, when, worn out and exhausted with his
various exertions, however gratified with the result, Fitzurse,
returning to the Castle of Ashby, met with De Bracy, who had
exchanged his banqueting garments for a short green kirtle, with
hose of the same cloth and colour, a leathern cap or head-piece,
a short sword, a horn slung over his shoulder, a long bow in his
hand, and a bundle of arrows stuck in his belt. Had Fitzurse met
this figure in an outer apartment, he would have passed him
without notice, as one of the yeomen of the guard; but finding
him in the inner hall, he looked at him with more attention, and
recognised the Norman knight in the dress of an English yeoman.
"What mummery is this, De Bracy?" said Fitzurse, somewhat
angrily; "is this a time for Christmas gambols and quaint
maskings, when the fate of our master, Prince John, is on the
very verge of decision? Why hast thou not been, like me, among
these heartless cravens, whom the very name of King Richard
terrifies, as it is said to do the children of the Saracens?"
"I have been attending to mine own business," answered De Bracy
calmly, "as you, Fitzurse, have been minding yours."
"I minding mine own business!" echoed Waldemar; "I have been
engaged in that of Prince John, our joint patron."
"As if thou hadst any other reason for that, Waldemar," said De
Bracy, "than the promotion of thine own individual interest?
Come, Fitzurse, we know each other---ambition is thy pursuit,
pleasure is mine, and they become our different ages. Of Prince
John thou thinkest as I do; that he is too weak to be a
determined monarch, too tyrannical to be an easy monarch, too
insolent and presumptuous to be a popular monarch, and too fickle
and timid to be long a monarch of any kind. But he is a monarch
by whom Fitzurse and De Bracy hope to rise and thrive; and
therefore you aid him with your policy, and I with the lances of
my Free Companions."
"A hopeful auxiliary," said Fitzurse impatiently; "playing the
fool in the very moment of utter necessity.---What on earth dost
thou purpose by this absurd disguise at a moment so urgent?"
"To get me a wife," answered De Bracy coolly, "after the manner
of the tribe of Benjamin."
"The tribe of Benjamin?" said Fitzurse; "I comprehend thee not."
"Wert thou not in presence yester-even," said De Bracy, "when we
heard the Prior Aymer tell us a tale in reply to the romance
which was sung by the Minstrel?---He told how, long since in
Palestine, a deadly feud arose between the tribe of Benjamin and
the rest of the Israelitish nation; and how they cut to pieces
well-nigh all the chivalry of that tribe; and how they swore by
our blessed Lady, that they would not permit those who remained
to marry in their lineage; and how they became grieved for their
vow, and sent to consult his holiness the Pope how they might be
absolved from it; and how, by the advice of the Holy Father, the
youth of the tribe of Benjamin carried off from a superb
tournament all the ladies who were there present, and thus won
them wives without the consent either of their brides or their
"I have heard the story," said Fitzurse, "though either the Prior
or thou has made some singular alterations in date and
"I tell thee," said De Bracy, "that I mean to purvey me a wife
after the fashion of the tribe of Benjamin; which is as much as
to say, that in this same equipment I will fall upon that herd of
Saxon bullocks, who have this night left the castle, and carry
off from them the lovely Rowena."
"Art thou mad, De Bracy?" said Fitzurse. "Bethink thee that,
though the men be Saxons, they are rich and powerful, and
regarded with the more respect by their countrymen, that wealth
and honour are but the lot of few of Saxon descent."
"And should belong to none," said De Bracy; "the work of the
Conquest should be completed."
"This is no time for it at least," said Fitzurse "the approaching
crisis renders the favour of the multitude indispensable, and
Prince John cannot refuse justice to any one who injures their
"Let him grant it, if he dare," said De Bracy; "he will soon see
the difference betwixt the support of such a lusty lot of spears
as mine, and that of a heartless mob of Saxon churls. Yet I mean
no immediate discovery of myself. Seem I not in this garb as
bold a forester as ever blew horn? The blame of the violence
shall rest with the outlaws of the Yorkshire forests. I have
sure spies on the Saxon's motions---To-night they sleep in the
convent of Saint Wittol, or Withold, or whatever they call that
churl of a Saxon Saint at Burton-on-Trent. Next day's march
brings them within our reach, and, falcon-ways, we swoop on them
at once. Presently after I will appear in mine own shape, play
the courteous knight, rescue the unfortunate and afflicted fair
one from the hands of the rude ravishers, conduct her to
Front-de-Boeuf's Castle, or to Normandy, if it should be
necessary, and produce her not again to her kindred until she be
the bride and dame of Maurice de Bracy."
"A marvellously sage plan," said Fitzurse, "and, as I think, not
entirely of thine own device.---Come, be frank, De Bracy, who
aided thee in the invention? and who is to assist in the
execution? for, as I think, thine own band lies as far off as
"Marry, if thou must needs know," said De Bracy, "it was the
Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert that shaped out the enterprise,
which the adventure of the men of Benjamin suggested to me. He
is to aid me in the onslaught, and he and his followers will
personate the outlaws, from whom my valorous arm is, after
changing my garb, to rescue the lady."
"By my halidome," said Fitzurse, "the plan was worthy of your
united wisdom! and thy prudence, De Bracy, is most especially
manifested in the project of leaving the lady in the hands of thy
worthy confederate. Thou mayst, I think, succeed in taking her
from her Saxon friends, but how thou wilt rescue her afterwards
from the clutches of Bois-Guilbert seems considerably more
doubtful---He is a falcon well accustomed to pounce on a
partridge, and to hold his prey fast."
"He is a Templar," said De Bracy, "and cannot therefore rival me
in my plan of wedding this heiress;---and to attempt aught
dishonourable against the intended bride of De Bracy---By Heaven!
were he a whole Chapter of his Order in his single person, he
dared not do me such an injury!"
"Then since nought that I can say," said Fitzurse, "will put this
folly from thy imagination, (for well I know the obstinacy of thy
disposition,) at least waste as little time as possible---let not
thy folly be lasting as well as untimely."
"I tell thee," answered De Bracy, "that it will be the work of a
few hours, and I shall be at York---at the head of my daring and
valorous fellows, as ready to support any bold design as thy
policy can be to form one.---But I hear my comrades assembling,
and the steeds stamping and neighing in the outer court.
---Farewell.---I go, like a true knight, to win the smiles of
"Like a true knight?" repeated Fitzurse, looking after him; "like
a fool, I should say, or like a child, who will leave the most
serious and needful occupation, to chase the down of the thistle
that drives past him.---But it is with such tools that I must
work;---and for whose advantage?---For that of a Prince as unwise
as he is profligate, and as likely to be an ungrateful master as
he has already proved a rebellious son and an unnatural brother.
---But he---he, too, is but one of the tools with which I labour;
and, proud as he is, should he presume to separate his interest
from mine, this is a secret which he shall soon learn."
The meditations of the statesman were here interrupted by the
voice of the Prince from an interior apartment, calling out,
"Noble Waldemar Fitzurse!" and, with bonnet doffed, the future
Chancellor (for to such high preferment did the wily Norman
aspire) hastened to receive the orders of the future sovereign.