KING JOHN.---I'll tell thee what, my friend,
He is a very serpent in my way;
And wheresoe'er this foot of mine doth tread,
He lies before me.---Dost thou understand me?
There was brave feasting in the Castle of York, to which Prince
John had invited those nobles, prelates, and leaders, by whose
assistance he hoped to carry through his ambitious projects upon
his brother's throne. Waldemar Fitzurse, his able and politic
agent, was at secret work among them, tempering all to that pitch
of courage which was necessary in making an open declaration of
their purpose. But their enterprise was delayed by the absence
of more than one main limb of the confederacy. The stubborn and
daring, though brutal courage of Front-de-Boeuf; the buoyant
spirits and bold bearing of De Bracy; the sagacity, martial
experience, and renowned valour of Brian de Bois-Guilbert, were
important to the success of their conspiracy; and, while cursing
in secret their unnecessary and unmeaning absence, neither John
nor his adviser dared to proceed without them. Isaac the Jew
also seemed to have vanished, and with him the hope of certain
sums of money, making up the subsidy for which Prince John had
contracted with that Israelite and his brethren. This deficiency
was likely to prove perilous in an emergency so critical.
It was on the morning after the fall of Torquilstone, that a
confused report began to spread abroad in the city of York, that
De Bracy and Bois-Guilbert, with their confederate
Front-de-Boeuf, had been taken or slain. Waldemar brought the
rumour to Prince John, announcing, that he feared its truth the
more that they had set out with a small attendance, for the
purpose of committing an assault on the Saxon Cedric and his
attendants. At another time the Prince would have treated this
deed of violence as a good jest; but now, that it interfered with
and impeded his own plans, he exclaimed against the perpetrators,
and spoke of the broken laws, and the infringement of public
order and of private property, in a tone which might have become
"The unprincipled marauders," he said---"were I ever to become
monarch of England, I would hang such transgressors over the
drawbridges of their own castles."
"But to become monarch of England," said his Ahithophel coolly,
"it is necessary not only that your Grace should endure the
transgressions of these unprincipled marauders, but that you
should afford them your protection, notwithstanding your laudable
zeal for the laws they are in the habit of infringing. We shall
be finely helped, if the churl Saxons should have realized your
Grace's vision, of converting feudal drawbridges into gibbets;
and yonder bold-spirited Cedric seemeth one to whom such an
imagination might occur. Your Grace is well aware, it will be
dangerous to stir without Front-de-Boeuf, De Bracy, and the
Templar; and yet we have gone too far to recede with safety."
Prince John struck his forehead with impatience, and then began
to stride up and down the apartment.
"The villains," he said, "the base treacherous villains, to
desert me at this pinch!"
"Nay, say rather the feather-pated giddy madmen," said Waldemar,
"who must be toying with follies when such business was in hand."
"What is to be done?" said the Prince, stopping short before
"I know nothing which can be done," answered his counsellor,
"save that which I have already taken order for.---I came not to
bewail this evil chance with your Grace, until I had done my best
to remedy it."
"Thou art ever my better angel, Waldemar," said the Prince; "and
when I have such a chancellor to advise withal, the reign of John
will be renowned in our annals.---What hast thou commanded?"
"I have ordered Louis Winkelbrand, De Bracy's lieutenant, to
cause his trumpet sound to horse, and to display his banner, and
to set presently forth towards the castle of Front-de-Boeuf, to
do what yet may be done for the succour of our friends."
Prince John's face flushed with the pride of a spoilt child, who
has undergone what it conceives to be an insult. "By the face of
God!" he said, "Waldemar Fitzurse, much hast thou taken upon
thee! and over malapert thou wert to cause trumpet to blow, or
banner to be raised, in a town where ourselves were in presence,
without our express command."
"I crave your Grace's pardon," said Fitzurse, internally cursing
the idle vanity of his patron; "but when time pressed, and even
the loss of minutes might be fatal, I judged it best to take this
much burden upon me, in a matter of such importance to your
"Thou art pardoned, Fitzurse," said the prince, gravely; "thy
purpose hath atoned for thy hasty rashness.---But whom have we
here?---De Bracy himself, by the rood!---and in strange guise
doth he come before us."
It was indeed De Bracy---"bloody with spurring, fiery red with
speed." His armour bore all the marks of the late obstinate
fray, being broken, defaced, and stained with blood in many
places, and covered with clay and dust from the crest to the
spur. Undoing his helmet, he placed it on the table, and stood a
moment as if to collect himself before he told his news.
"De Bracy," said Prince John, "what means this?---Speak, I
charge thee!---Are the Saxons in rebellion?"
"Speak, De Bracy," said Fitzurse, almost in the same moment with
his master, "thou wert wont to be a man---Where is the Templar?
"The Templar is fled," said De Bracy; "Front-de-Boeuf you will
never see more. He has found a red grave among the blazing
rafters of his own castle and I alone am escaped to tell you."
"Cold news," said Waldemar, "to us, though you speak of fire and
"The worst news is not yet said," answered De Bracy; and, coming
up to Prince John, he uttered in a low and emphatic tone
---"Richard is in England---I have seen and spoken with him."
Prince John turned pale, tottered, and caught at the back of an
oaken bench to support himself---much like to a man who receives
an arrow in his bosom.
"Thou ravest, De Bracy," said Fitzurse, "it cannot be."
"It is as true as truth itself," said De Bracy; "I was his
prisoner, and spoke with him."
"With Richard Plantagenet, sayest thou?" continued Fitzurse.
"With Richard Plantagenet," replied De Bracy, "with Richard
Coeur-de-Lion---with Richard of England."
"And thou wert his prisoner?" said Waldemar; "he is then at the
head of a power?"
"No---only a few outlawed yeomen were around him, and to these
his person is unknown. I heard him say he was about to depart
from them. He joined them only to assist at the storming of
"Ay," said Fitzurse, "such is indeed the fashion of Richard
---a true knight-errant he, and will wander in wild adventure,
trusting the prowess of his single arm, like any Sir Guy or Sir
Bevis, while the weighty affairs of his kingdom slumber, and his
own safety is endangered.---What dost thou propose to do De
"I?---I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he
refused them---I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and
embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of
action will always find employment. And thou, Waldemar, wilt
thou take lance and shield, and lay down thy policies, and wend
along with me, and share the fate which God sends us?"
"I am too old, Maurice, and I have a daughter," answered
"Give her to me, Fitzurse, and I will maintain her as fits her
rank, with the help of lance and stirrup," said De Bracy.
"Not so," answered Fitzurse; "I will take sanctuary in this
church of Saint Peter---the Archbishop is my sworn brother."
During this discourse, Prince John had gradually awakened from
the stupor into which he had been thrown by the unexpected
intelligence, and had been attentive to the conversation which
passed betwixt his followers. "They fall off from me," he said
to himself, "they hold no more by me than a withered leaf by the
bough when a breeze blows on it! --- Hell and fiends! can I shape
no means for myself when I am deserted by these cravens?"---He
paused, and there was an expression of diabolical passion in the
constrained laugh with which he at length broke in on their
"Ha, ha, ha! my good lords, by the light of Our Lady's brow, I
held ye sage men, bold men, ready-witted men; yet ye throw down
wealth, honour, pleasure, all that our noble game promised you,
at the moment it might be won by one bold cast!"
"I understand you not," said De Bracy. "As soon as Richard's
return is blown abroad, he will be at the head of an army, and
all is then over with us. I would counsel you, my lord, either
to fly to France or take the protection of the Queen Mother."
"I seek no safety for myself," said Prince John, haughtily; "that
I could secure by a word spoken to my brother. But although you,
De Bracy, and you, Waldemar Fitzurse, are so ready to abandon me,
I should not greatly delight to see your heads blackening on
Clifford's gate yonder. Thinkest thou, Waldemar, that the wily
Archbishop will not suffer thee to be taken from the very horns
of the altar, would it make his peace with King Richard? And
forgettest thou, De Bracy, that Robert Estoteville lies betwixt
thee and Hull with all his forces, and that the Earl of Essex is
gathering his followers? If we had reason to fear these levies
even before Richard's return, trowest thou there is any doubt now
which party their leaders will take? Trust me, Estoteville alone
has strength enough to drive all thy Free Lances into the
Humber."---Waldemar Fitzurse and De Bracy looked in each other's
faces with blank dismay.---"There is but one road to safety,"
continued the Prince, and his brow grew black as midnight; "this
object of our terror journeys alone---He must be met withal."
"Not by me," said De Bracy, hastily; "I was his prisoner, and he
took me to mercy. I will not harm a feather in his crest."
"Who spoke of harming him?" said Prince John, with a hardened
laugh; "the knave will say next that I meant he should slay him!
---No---a prison were better; and whether in Britain or Austria,
what matters it?---Things will be but as they were when we
commenced our enterprise---It was founded on the hope that
Richard would remain a captive in Germany---Our uncle Robert
lived and died in the castle of Cardiffe."
"Ay, but," said Waldemar, "your sire Henry sate more firm in his
seat than your Grace can. I say the best prison is that which is
made by the sexton---no dungeon like a church-vault! I have said
"Prison or tomb," said De Bracy, "I wash my hands of the whole
"Villain!" said Prince John, "thou wouldst not bewray our
"Counsel was never bewrayed by me," said De Bracy, haughtily,
"nor must the name of villain be coupled with mine!"
"Peace, Sir Knight!" said Waldemar; "and you, good my lord,
forgive the scruples of valiant De Bracy; I trust I shall soon
"That passes your eloquence, Fitzurse," replied the Knight.
"Why, good Sir Maurice," rejoined the wily politician, "start not
aside like a scared steed, without, at least, considering the
object of your terror.---This Richard---but a day since, and it
would have been thy dearest wish to have met him hand to hand in
the ranks of battle---a hundred times I have heard thee wish it."
"Ay," said De Bracy, "but that was as thou sayest, hand to hand,
and in the ranks of battle! Thou never heardest me breathe a
thought of assaulting him alone, and in a forest."
"Thou art no good knight if thou dost scruple at it," said
Waldemar. "Was it in battle that Lancelot de Lac and Sir
Tristram won renown? or was it not by encountering gigantic
knights under the shade of deep and unknown forests?"
"Ay, but I promise you," said De Bracy, "that neither Tristram
nor Lancelot would have been match, hand to hand, for Richard
Plantagenet, and I think it was not their wont to take odds
against a single man."
"Thou art mad, De Bracy---what is it we propose to thee, a hired
and retained captain of Free Companions, whose swords are
purchased for Prince John's service? Thou art apprized of our
enemy, and then thou scruplest, though thy patron's fortunes,
those of thy comrades, thine own, and the life and honour of
every one amongst us, be at stake!"
"I tell you," said De Bracy, sullenly, "that he gave me my life.
True, he sent me from his presence, and refused my homage---so
far I owe him neither favour nor allegiance---but I will not lift
hand against him."
"It needs not---send Louis Winkelbrand and a score of thy
"Ye have sufficient ruffians of your own," said De Bracy; "not
one of mine shall budge on such an errand."
"Art thou so obstinate, De Bracy?" said Prince John; "and wilt
thou forsake me, after so many protestations of zeal for my
"I mean it not," said De Bracy; "I will abide by you in aught
that becomes a knight, whether in the lists or in the camp; but
this highway practice comes not within my vow."
"Come hither, Waldemar," said Prince John. "An unhappy prince am
I. My father, King Henry, had faithful servants---He had but to
say that he was plagued with a factious priest, and the blood of
Thomas-a-Becket, saint though he was, stained the steps of his
own altar.---Tracy, Morville, Brito *
* Reginald Fitzurse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville,
and Richard Brito, were the gentlemen of Henry the
Second's household, who, instigated by some passionate
expressions of their sovereign, slew the celebrated
loyal and daring subjects, your names, your spirit, are extinct!
and although Reginald Fitzurse hath left a son, he hath fallen
off from his father's fidelity and courage."
"He has fallen off from neither," said Waldemar Fitzurse; "and
since it may not better be, I will take on me the conduct of
this perilous enterprise. Dearly, however, did my father
purchase the praise of a zealous friend; and yet did his proof of
loyalty to Henry fall far short of what I am about to afford; for
rather would I assail a whole calendar of saints, than put spear
in rest against Coeur-de-Lion.---De Bracy, to thee I must trust
to keep up the spirits of the doubtful, and to guard Prince
John's person. If you receive such news as I trust to send you,
our enterprise will no longer wear a doubtful aspect.---Page," he
said, "hie to my lodgings, and tell my armourer to be there in
readiness; and bid Stephen Wetheral, Broad Thoresby, and the
Three Spears of Spyinghow, come to me instantly; and let the
scout-master, Hugh Bardon, attend me also.---Adieu, my Prince,
till better times." Thus speaking, he left the apartment. "He
goes to make my brother prisoner," said Prince John to De Bracy,
"with as little touch of compunction, as if it but concerned the
liberty of a Saxon franklin. I trust he will observe our orders,
and use our dear Richard's person with all due respect."
De Bracy only answered by a smile.
"By the light of Our Lady's brow," said Prince John, "our orders
to him were most precise---though it may be you heard them not,
as we stood together in the oriel window---Most clear and
positive was our charge that Richard's safety should be cared
for, and woe to Waldemar's head if he transgress it!"
"I had better pass to his lodgings," said De Bracy, "and make him
fully aware of your Grace's pleasure; for, as it quite escaped my
ear, it may not perchance have reached that of Waldemar."
"Nay, nay," said Prince John, impatiently, "I promise thee he
heard me; and, besides, I have farther occupation for thee.
Maurice, come hither; let me lean on thy shoulder."
They walked a turn through the hall in this familiar posture, and
Prince John, with an air of the most confidential intimacy,
proceeded to say, "What thinkest thou of this Waldemar Fitzurse,
my De Bracy?---He trusts to be our Chancellor. Surely we will
pause ere we give an office so high to one who shows evidently
how little he reverences our blood, by his so readily undertaking
this enterprise against Richard. Thou dost think, I warrant,
that thou hast lost somewhat of our regard, by thy boldly
declining this unpleasing task---But no, Maurice! I rather
honour thee for thy virtuous constancy. There are things most
necessary to be done, the perpetrator of which we neither love
nor honour; and there may be refusals to serve us, which shall
rather exalt in our estimation those who deny our request. The
arrest of my unfortunate brother forms no such good title to the
high office of Chancellor, as thy chivalrous and courageous
denial establishes in thee to the truncheon of High Marshal.
Think of this, De Bracy, and begone to thy charge."
"Fickle tyrant!" muttered De Bracy, as he left the presence of
the Prince; "evil luck have they who trust thee. Thy Chancellor,
indeed!---He who hath the keeping of thy conscience shall have an
easy charge, I trow. But High Marshal of England! that," he
said, extending his arm, as if to grasp the baton of office, and
assuming a loftier stride along the antechamber, "that is indeed
a prize worth playing for!"
De Bracy had no sooner left the apartment than Prince John
summoned an attendant.
"Bid Hugh Bardon, our scout-master, come hither, as soon as he
shall have spoken with Waldemar Fitzurse."
The scout-master arrived after a brief delay, during which John
traversed the apartment with, unequal and disordered steps.
"Bardon," said he, "what did Waldemar desire of thee?"
"Two resolute men, well acquainted with these northern wilds, and
skilful in tracking the tread of man and horse."
"And thou hast fitted him?"
"Let your grace never trust me else," answered the master of the
spies. "One is from Hexamshire; he is wont to trace the Tynedale
and Teviotdale thieves, as a bloodhound follows the slot of a
hurt deer. The other is Yorkshire bred, and has twanged his
bowstring right oft in merry Sherwood; he knows each glade and
dingle, copse and high-wood, betwixt this and Richmond."
"'Tis well," said the Prince.---"Goes Waldemar forth with them?"
"Instantly," said Bardon.
"With what attendance?" asked John, carelessly.
"Broad Thoresby goes with him, and Wetheral, whom they call, for
his cruelty, Stephen Steel-heart; and three northern men-at-arms
that belonged to Ralph Middleton's gang---they are called the
Spears of Spyinghow."
"'Tis well," said Prince John; then added, after a moment's
pause, "Bardon, it imports our service that thou keep a strict
watch on Maurice De Bracy---so that he shall not observe it,
however---And let us know of his motions from time to time
---with whom he converses, what he proposeth. Fail not in this,
as thou wilt be answerable."
Hugh Bardon bowed, and retired.
"If Maurice betrays me," said Prince John---"if he betrays me, as
his bearing leads me to fear, I will have his head, were Richard
thundering at the gates of York."
NOTE TO CHAPTER XXXIII
It is curious to observe, that in every state of society, some
sort of ghostly consolation is provided for the members of the
community, though assembled for purposes diametrically opposite
to religion. A gang of beggars have their Patrico, and the
banditti of the Apennines have among them persons acting as monks
and priests, by whom they are confessed, and who perform mass
before them. Unquestionably, such reverend persons, in such a
society, must accommodate their manners and their morals to the
community in which they live; and if they can occasionally obtain
a degree of reverence for their supposed spiritual gifts, are, on
most occasions, loaded with unmerciful ridicule, as possessing a
character inconsistent with all around them.
Hence the fighting parson in the old play of Sir John Oldcastle,
and the famous friar of Robin Hood's band. Nor were such
characters ideal. There exists a monition of the Bishop of
Durham against irregular churchmen of this class, who associated
themselves with Border robbers, and desecrated the holiest
offices of the priestly function, by celebrating them for the
benefit of thieves, robbers, and murderers, amongst ruins and in
caverns of the earth, without regard to canonical form, and with
torn and dirty attire, and maimed rites, altogether improper for