Approach the chamber, look upon his bed. His is the passing of no peaceful ghost, Which, as the lark arises to the sky,
'Mid morning's sweetest breeze and softest dew, Is wing'd to heaven by good men's sighs and tears!--- Anselm parts otherwise.
During the interval of quiet which followed the first success of the besiegers, while the one party was preparing to pursue their advantage, and the other to strengthen their means of defence, the Templar and De Bracy held brief council together in the hall of the castle.
``Where is Front-de-B
``He lives,'' said the Templar, coolly, ``lives as yet; but had he worn the bull's head of which he bears the name, and ten plates of iron to fence it withal, he must have gone down before yonder fatal axe. Yet a few hours, and Front-de-B
``And a brave addition to the kingdom of Satan,'' said De Bracy; ``this comes of reviling saints and angels, and ordering images of holy things and holy men to be flung down on the heads of these rascaille yeomen.''
``Go to---thou art a fool,'' said the Templar;
``thy superstition is upon a level with Front-de-B
``Benedicite, Sir Templar,'' replied De Bracy,
``pray you to keep better rule with your tongue when I am the theme of it. By the Mother of Heaven, I am a better Christian man than thou and thy fellowship; for the bruit goeth shrewdly out, that the most holy Order of the Temple of Zion nurseth not a few heretics within its bosom, and that Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert is of the number.''
``Care not thou for such reports,'' said the Templar;
``but let us think of making good the castle. ---How fought these villain yeomen on thy side?''
``Like fiends incarnate,'' said De Bracy. ``They swanned close up to the walls, headed, as I think, by the knave who won the prize at the archery, for I knew his horn and baldric. And this is old Fitzurse's boasted policy, encouraging these malapert knaves to rebel against us! Had I not been armed in proof, the villain had marked me down seven times with as little remorse as if I had been a buck in season. He told every rivet on my armour with a cloth-yard shaft, that rapped against my ribs with as little compunction as if my bones had been of iron---But that I wore a shirt of Spanish mail under my plate-coat, I had been fairly sped.''
``But you maintained your post?'' said the Templar.
``We lost the outwork on our part.''
``That is a shrewd loss,'' said De Bracy; ``the knaves will find cover there to assault the castle more closely, and may, if not well watched, gain some unguarded corner of a tower, or some forgotten window, and so break in upon us. Our numbers are too few for the defence of every point, and the men complain that they can nowhere show themselves, but they are the mark for as many arrows as a parish-butt on a holyday even. Front-de-B
``How?'' exclaimed the Templar; ``deliver up our prisoners, and stand an object alike of ridicule and execration, as the doughty warriors who dared by a night-attack to possess themselves of the persons of a party of defenceless travellers, yet could not make good a strong castle against a vagabond troop of outlaws, led by swineherds, jesters, and the very refuse of mankind?---Shame on thy counsel, Maurice de Bracy!---The ruins of this castle shall bury both my body and my shame, ere I consent to such base and dishonourable composition.''
``Let us to the walls, then,'' said De Bracy, carelessly;
``that man never breathed, be he Turk or Templar, who held life at lighter rate than I do. But I trust there is no dishonour in wishing I had here some two scores of my gallant troop of Free Companions?---Oh, my brave lances! if ye knew but how hard your captain were this day bested, how soon should I see my banner at the head of your clump of spears! And how short while would these rabble villains stand to endure your encounter!''
``Wish for whom thou wilt,'' said the Templar,
``but let us make what defence we can with the soldiers who remain---They are chiefly Front-de-B
``The better,'' said De Bracy; ``the rugged slaves will defend themselves to the last drop of their blood, ere they encounter the revenge of the peasants without. Let us up and be doing, then, Brian de Bois-Guilbert; and, live or die, thou shalt see Maurice de Bracy bear himself this day as a gentleman of blood and lineage.''
``To the walls!'' answered the Templar; and they both ascended the battlements to do all that skill could dictate, and manhood accomplish, in defence of the place. They readily agreed that the point of greatest danger was that opposite to the outwork of which the assailants had possessed themselves. The castle, indeed, was divided from that barbican by the moat, and it was impossible that the besiegers could assail the postern-door, with which the outwork corresponded, without surmounting that obstacle; but it was the opinion both of the Templar and De Bracy, that the besiegers, if governed by the same policy their leader had already displayed, would endeavour, by a formidable assault, to draw the chief part of the defenders' observation to this point, and take measures to avail themselves of every negligence which might take place in the defence elsewhere. To guard against such an evil, their numbers only permitted the knights to place sentinels from space to space along the walls in communication with each other, who might give the alarm whenever danger was threatened. Meanwhile, they agreed that De Bracy should command the defence at the postern, and the Templar should keep with him a score of men or thereabouts as a body of reserve, ready to hasten to any other point which might be suddenly threatened. The loss of the barbican had also this unfortunate effect, that, notwithstanding the superior height of the castle walls, the besieged could not see from them, with the same precision as before, the operations of the enemy; for some straggling underwood approached so near the sallyport of the outwork, that the assailants might introduce into it whatever force they thought proper, not only under cover, but even without the knowledge of the defenders. Utterly uncertain, therefore, upon what point the storm was to burst, De Bracy and his companion were under the necessity of providing against every possible contingency, and their followers, however brave, experienced the anxious dejection of mind incident to men enclosed by enemies, who possessed the power of choosing their time and mode of attack.
Meanwhile, the lord of the beleaguered and endangered castle lay upon a bed of bodily pain and mental agony. He had not the usual resource of bigots in that superstitious period, most of whom were wont to atone for the crimes they were guilty of by liberality to the church, stupefying by this means their terrors by the idea of atonement and forgiveness; and although the refuge which success thus purchased, was no more like to the peace of mind which follows on sincere repentance, than the turbid stupefaction procured by opium resembles healthy and natural slumbers, it was still a state of mind preferable to the agonies of awakened remorse. But among the vices of Front-de-B
But the moment had now arrived when earth and all his treasures were gliding from before his eyes, and when the savage Baron's heart, though hard as a nether millstone, became appalled as he gazed forward into the waste darkness of futurity. The fever of his body aided the impatience and agony of his mind, and his death-bed exhibited a mixture of the newly awakened feelings of horror, combating with the fixed and inveterate obstinacy of his disposition; ---a fearful state of mind, only to be equalled in those tremendous regions, where there are complaints without hope, remorse without repentance, a dreadful sense of present agony, and a presentiment that it cannot cease or be diminished!
``Where be these dog-priests now,'' growled the Baron, ``who set such price on their ghostly mummery? ---where be all those unshod Carmelites, for whom old Front-de-B
``Lives Reginald Front-de-B
The evil conscience and the shaken nerves of Front-de-B
``I am thine evil angel, Reginald Front-de-B
``Let me behold thee then in thy bodily shape, if thou best indeed a fiend,'' replied the dying knight; ``think not that I will blench from thee. ---By the eternal dungeon, could I but grapple with these horrors that hover round me, as I have done with mortal dangers, heaven or hell should never say that I shrunk from the conflict!''
``Think on thy sins, Reginald Front-de-B
``Be thou fiend, priest, or devil,'' replied Front-de-B
``thou liest in thy throat!---Not I stirred John to rebellion---not I alone---there were fifty knights and barons, the flower of the midland counties---better men never laid lance in rest---And must I answer for the fault done by fifty?---False fiend, I defy thee! Depart, and haunt my couch no more---let me die in peace if thou be mortal--- if thou be a demon, thy time is not yet come.''
``In peace thou shalt =not= die,'' repeated the voice; ``even in death shalt thou think on thy murders ---on the groans which this castle has echoed--- on the blood that is engrained in its floors!''
``Thou canst not shake me by thy petty malice,'' answered Front-de-B
``No, foul parricide!'' replied the voice; ``think of thy father!---think of his death!---think of his banquet-room flooded with his gore, and that poured forth by the hand of a son!''
``Ha!'' answered the Baron, after a long pause,
``an thou knowest that, thou art indeed the author of evil, and as omniscient as the monks call thee! ---That secret I deemed locked in my own breast, and in that of one besides---the temptress, the partaker of my guilt.---Go, leave me, fiend! and seek the Saxon witch Ulrica, who alone could tell thee what she and I alone witnessed.---Go, I say, to her, who washed the wounds, and straighted the corpse, and gave to the slain man the outward show of one parted in time and in the course of nature---Go to her, she was my temptress, the foul provoker, the more foul rewarder, of the deed---let her, as well as I, taste of the tortures which anticipate hell!''
``She already tastes them,'' said Ulrica, stepping before the couch of Front-de-B
``Vile murderous hag!'' replied Front-de-B
``detestable screech-owl! it is then thou who art come to exult over the ruins thou hast assisted to lay low?''
``Ay, Reginald Front-de-B
``it is Ulrica!---it is the daughter of the murdered Torquil Wolfganger!---it is the sister of his slaughtered sons!---it is she who demands of thee, and of thy father's house, father and kindred, name and fame---all that she has lost by the name of Front-de-B
``Detestable fury!'' exclaimed Front-de-B
``that moment shalt thou never witness---Ho! Giles, Clement, and Eustace! Saint Maur, and Stephen! seize this damned witch, and hurl her from the battlements headlong---she has betrayed us to the Saxon!---Ho! Saint Maur! Clement! false-hearted, knaves, where tarry ye?''
``Call on them again, valiant Baron,'' said the hag, with a smile of grisly mockery; ``summon thy vassals around thee, doom them that loiter to the scourge and the dungeon---But know, mighty chief,'' she continued, suddenly changing her tone, ``thou shalt have neither answer, nor aid, nor obedience at their hands.---Listen to these horrid sounds,'' for the din of the recommenced assault and defence now rung fearfully loud from the battlements of the castle; ``in that war-cry is the downfall of thy house---The blood-cemented fabric of Front-de-B
``Gods and fiends!'' exclaimed the wounded knight; ``O, for one moment's strength, to drag myself to the m
``Think not of it, valiant warrior!'' replied she;
``thou shalt die no soldier's death, but perish like the fox in his den, when the peasants have set fire to the cover around it.''
``Hateful hag! thou liest!'' exclaimed Front-de-B
``my followers bear them bravely---my walls are strong and high---my comrades in arms fear not a whole host of Saxons, were they headed by Hengist and Horsa!---The war-cry of the Templar and of the Free Companions rises high over the conflict! And by mine honour, when we kindle the blazing beacon, for joy of our defence, it shall consume thee, body and bones; and I shall live to hear thou art gone from earthly fires to those of that hell, which never sent forth an incarnate fiend more utterly diabolical!''
``Hold thy belief,'' replied Ulrica, ``till the proof reach thee---But, no!'' she said, interrupting herself, ``thou shalt know, even now, the doom, which all thy power, strength, and courage, is unable to avoid, though it is prepared for thee by this feeble band. Markest thou the smouldering and suffocating vapour which already eddies in sable folds through the chamber?---Didst thou think it was but the darkening of thy bursting eyes---the difficulty of thy cumbered breathing?---No! Front-de-B
``Woman!'' he exclaimed with fury, ``thou hast not set fire to it?---By heaven, thou hast, and the castle is in flames!''
``They are fast rising at least,'' said Ulrica, with frightful composure; ``and a signal shall soon wave to warn the besiegers to press hard upon those who would extinguish them.---Farewell, Front-de-B
So saying, she left the apartment; and Front-de-B
But it were impious to trace any farther the picture of the blasphemer and parricide's deathbed.Next