Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

RIGHT in the shadow of the wooded hills that fringed the border of the Kentish Weald, stood the ancient castle of Bever-so ancient, that, before the thirteen hundredth year of Grace, it had begun to show signs of decay; crevices bare of mortar gave rare holding ground for moss and wallflower, and the coigns where wind and weather beat sharpest had already mouldered.

Moreover, it had the evil chance to be sacked and burned in two Civil Wars. After the first of these disasters it was partly restored; but in the second, mining-powder helped fire and battering train, and the work was so thoroughly done, that scarce a semblance of the dwelling was left amongst uncouth heaps of rent, blackened stone. No wonder, that Dynevor, coming to his own again, should turn aside from the unlucky site, and choose to build a more modest mansion on the nearest hill-spur, where he found a fairer prospect and healthier air. Long after that, the country-folk came to the spot, as to a quarry, for such rade repairs as needed not fresh mason-work; and the ruins

that were left crumbled fast under their dank shroud of ivy and lichen, till at last the sward closed smoothly over all. Fifty years ago, a careless wayfarer might have passed by, without ever noticing the low broad mounds swelling over the foundations of flanking tower, barbican, and keep, and the faint irregular hollow that traces the circuit of the castle-ditch. Nevertheless, the husbandman guesses that there is masonry enough, not a cubit below the sod, to turn the edge of the stoutest plough-share: and the antiquary-witting well that with this spot neither Briton, Roman, nor Anglo-Saxon has had aught to do-cares not to delve in soil barren of treasure-trove in clay, metal, or bone. So the old pasturage remains unbroken; neither is it likely that for many a year the South Down wethers will be troubled in their enjoyment of the short, sweet herbage on which they thrive so marvellously.

But it was a fair castle enough in its day-over-large, in truth, for the demesnes which were its appanage; and these had been greatly narrowed early in the fourteenth century by the grant of lands made by Sir Giles Dynevor to the Cistercian Abbey of Haultvaux.

The causes of which munificence, and other matters pertaining to this tale, shall now be set forth.

Men of a certain mould must needs leave their mark on their time, even if they achieve therein no great dignity or honour; and the cool, crafty schemer is most dangerous in an age where rapine by the strong hand prevails, and the mass have neither patience to wait, nor providence to plan. Such an one was Giles Dynevor. Violent, sensual, and rapacious by nature-he kept anger, lust, and covetousness in fetters, till it was safe or profitable to let them loose; and, though his favourite sin was avarice, he would scatter gold broadcast without murmur or regret, if thereby he hoped to compass some end worthy the cost. He was possessed by that thorough-going ambition which is not devoid of simple unselfish grandeur, insomuch that it aims rather at the advancement of posterity than at profit, private and personal, for oftentimes the schemer can no more hope to reap the ripe fruit of his policy than the planter of an acorn could hope to sit under the full shadow of the oak. Nevertheless, he throve not after the measure of his merits; and, when long past middle age, his advancement would have fallen far short of his desires, had they been tenfold more moderate. Nor would the causes of this ill-fortune be hard to find; though Dynevor, with all his subtlety, perceived them not. The very qualities that might reasonably have made him powerful, made him

both misliked and mistrusted. The rude barons and unlettered knights, that were his fellows, felt that there was one in the midst of them whose thoughts were not as their thoughts, and shrank from the quiet, taciturn, clerkly plotter as they would have shrunk from an intruder of alien blood. Few cared openly to avoid his company, much less to provoke his enmity; but none cared to court his friendship; and many would have been well pleased to thwart his purpose, even though it clashed not with their own.

To this dislike, covert or avowed, there was one singular exception. Ivo Malpas and Giles Dynevor had been not neighbours alone, but sworn companions, from boyhood upwards. They had followed the chase through the same woods; had caroused at the same table when the hunting was done; and, if all the tales were true, had wrought more evil deeds in common than need be recorded here.

In public quarrel, or in private feud, these two had ever espoused the same cause; and their vassals fought, naturally, side by side, when the battle was set in array. Once, in the Scots wars, when Malpas had blundered into an ambush, like a wild bull into the toils, Dynevor had ridden in gallantly to the rescue, and brought off his brother-in-arms scathless, at the cost of a shrewd lance-thrust in his own side; for the Black Douglas, though overmatched, gave ground slowly and sullenly, turning, every now and then, to gore.

In all this close companionship, it would have been strange indeed had the weaker nature not been enslaved by the stronger; and Ivo Malpas was noted for witlessness, in a witless age. Moreover, he was given to strong drinks, to an extent rare among the Normans, who despised drunkenness as a vice of a conquered people. As time passed on, the subjection grow more complete, till at last Ivo was no more a free agent than if he had been born a villein on the fief of Bever. Two solitary virtues, honesty and courage, abode with him still; but, in despite of these, he would have turned his hand to any work, howsoever base or cruel, had his comrade so willed it.

It may be that Giles Dynevor liked the poor, faithful sot, as much as it was in his nature to like any living being not of his own blood. Yet, had it served his ends, he would scarcely have scrupled to mix for the other such a posset as should have made hi slumbers last till the judgment day. Through long years, Dynevor had kept one purpose steadily in view; and matters had not yet come to the point where Ivo's death could profit any one.

That purpose was-the alliance of their several houses.

For many roods their lands marched together; but, at a certain angle where the boundary stream trended eastward, the fief of Dynevor ended, whilst that of Malpas stretched its fertile length a full league beyond his neighbour's landmark. Sir Giles could scarce remember the time, when he first cast covetous eyes on the broad inheritance that seemed to dwarf, by contrast, his own domain. Certainly, before boyhood ended, he had sworn to attach it to himself by fair means or foul. For a while, the course of events seemed to run strangely in unison with his design.

After the birth of one son his own marriage-bed was barren; and, of four born to Ivo Malpas, one daughter only remained, some years younger than Dynevor's heir. True it was, that at the death of its lord without issue, the fief of Tyringham would revert to its suzerain. But, for years to come, the crown must needs be worn by a driveller, or an infant; and Sir Giles had faith enough in his own sagacity and knowledge of court tides, not to fear the result. The husband of Malpas' only daughter, being of suitable degree, might reasonably ask for the renewal of her father's seisin; and, by the time it was wanted, there should be gold enough in the family coffers to secure the intercession of any favourite by glutting his greed. So, let Ivo only live till the night of the day that should make their houses one. Afterwards

At this stage in his musings Sir Giles' cruel face would harden and darken. Of a surety he did not reckon on his friend's enjoying great length of days.

Before Edith Malpas was well into her teens, she was solemnly betrothed to Simon Dynevor; and the plighting, by proxy, of hand and glove was celebrated at Tyringham by a mighty carouse, whence the lord of the castle was borne senseless to his couch; whilst the other contracting party walked slowly and steadily to his chamber, where he sat pondering late into the night.

The affianced pair grew up through boyhood and girlhood, meeting very seldom. Neither did this rare intercourse ripen their liking. The damsel was anything but pleasant to look upon; being, in truth, somewhat deformed in shape, and afflicted almost from her birth with fits of the falling-sickness. Of these defects, when he sent his son a-wooing, Sir Giles made account of no more than, in choosing a war-horse, he would have objected to a coarse neck or heavy crest, where all other points were perfect. In bare justice to him it should be averred, that he would not have been a whit more delicate had the case been his

own. The broad lands of Tyringham must needs be taken with an encumbrance; and he would as lief have laid the burden on his own shoulders as on those of his heir. But Dame Alice Dynevor cared for her body's health no less than for her soul's; and showed no signs of presently quitting the world whose sins she was ever bewailing. So, since better might not be, he prepared to sacrifice his firstborn calmly-if not complacently-as many fathers, Pagan, Hebrew, and Christian, have done before and since his time.

Now, though all the surface looked placid and prosperous enough, there was an undercurrent fraught with danger and wreck to these politic plans. Though he inherited not his sire's ruthless strength of will, there was in Simon Dynevor a slow sullen obstinacy, prompting him to run counter to the bidding of any authority whatsoever, so long as he risked not open revolt. Having no ambition, and but a moderate share of avarice, he held that the fief of Bever might well suffice his needs, as it had hitherto sufficed his father's; and cared not to pay with his body for the acquirement of wealth and power that he wist not how to use, or for possible advancement to baron's degree.

He had conceived an aversion for his child-betrothed from the first moment he heard her shrill, querulous voice, and set eyes on her white, pain-stricken face and mis-shaped figure. As the days drew on, this deepened into somewhat nearly akin to loathing; and the unseen fetter galled him more and more sorely. When he was of age to ride in his father's train to distant jousts, or other congresses of knights and barons, it was strange to see how his mood would change and lighten when once fairly out of sight of the watch-tower of Tyringham, which was a landmark for leagues around. By the time they reached their journey's end, Simon was ready to join in revel or mischief with as keen a relish as the maddest esquire of them all; albeit there was ever a certain feverishness in his mirth. When they turned bridle again, the cloud settled down faster than it had lifted; and there passed in over the drawbridge of Bever the same sullen, silent youth that had ridden forth a week agone.

When the lords of the Western Marches rose up in revolt, Dynevor went not forth with Lancaster and his compeers. Further, he prevailed on Malpas to bide quietly at home. Not without difficulty-for that brainless knight could never hear of brawl or battle, without coveting his share in blows and plunder. During their brief success, Sir Giles never once repented himself of his caution, neither did he deign to answer his comrade's repeated grumblings. But, after the disaster at

« ZurückWeiter »