by Thomas Love Peacock
"Sweet Matilda," said the earl, "did you give your love to
the Earl of Huntingdon, whose lands touch the Ouse and the Trent,
or to Robert Fitz-Ooth, the son of his mother?"
"Neither to the earl nor his earldom," answered Matilda firmly,
"but to Robert Fitz-Ooth and his love."
"That I well knew," said the earl; "and though the ceremony
be incomplete, we are not the less married in the eye
of my only saint, our Lady, who will yet bring us together.
Lord Fitzwater, to your care, for the present, I commit
your daughter.--Nay, sweet Matilda, part we must for a while;
but we will soon meet under brighter skies, and be this the seal
of our faith."
He kissed Matilda's lips, and consigned her to the baron, who glowered
about him with an expression of countenance that showed he was mortally
wroth with somebody; but whatever he thought or felt he kept to himself.
The earl, with a sign to his followers, made a sudden charge
on the soldiers, with the intention of cutting his way through.
The soldiers were prepared for such an occurrence, and a desperate
skirmish succeeded. Some of the women screamed, but none of them fainted;
for fainting was not so much the fashion in those days, when the ladies
breakfasted on brawn and ale at sunrise, as in our more refined age
of green tea and muffins at noon. Matilda seemed disposed to fly again
to her lover, but the baron forced her from the chapel. The earl's
bowmen at the door sent in among the assailants a volley of arrows,
one of which whizzed past the ear of the abbot, who, in mortal fear
of being suddenly translated from a ghostly friar into a friarly ghost,
began to roll out of the chapel as fast as his bulk and his holy robes
would permit, roaring "Sacrilege!" with all his monks at his heels,
who were, like himself, more intent to go at once than to stand upon
the order of their going. The abbot, thus pressed from behind,
and stumbling over his own drapery before, fell suddenly prostrate
in the door-way that connected the chapel with the abbey,
and was instantaneously buried under a pyramid of ghostly carcasses,
that fell over him and each other, and lay a rolling chaos of
animated rotundities, sprawling and bawling in unseemly disarray,
and sending forth the names of all the saints in and out of heaven,
amidst the clashing of swords, the ringing of bucklers, the clattering
of helmets, the twanging of bow-strings, the whizzing of arrows,
the screams of women, the shouts of the warriors, and the vociferations
of the peasantry, who had been assembled to the intended nuptials,
and who, seeing a fair set-to, contrived to pick a quarrel among
themselves on the occasion, and proceeded, with staff and cudgel,
to crack each other's skulls for the good of the king and the earl.
One tall friar alone was untouched by the panic of his brethren,
and stood steadfastly watching the combat with his arms a-kembo,
the colossal emblem of an unarmed neutrality.
At length, through the midst of the internal confusion, the earl,
by the help of his good sword, the staunch valour of his men,
and the blessing of the Virgin, fought his way to the chapel-gate--
his bowmen closed him in--he vaulted into his saddle, clapped spurs to
his horse, rallied his men on the first eminence, and exchanged his sword
for a bow and arrow, with which he did old execution among the pursuers,
who at last thought it most expedient to desist from offensive warfare,
and to retreat into the abbey, where, in the king's name, they broached
a pipe of the best wine, and attached all the venison in the larder,
having first carefully unpacked the tuft of friars, and set the fallen
abbot on his legs.
The friars, it may be well supposed, and such of the king's men
as escaped unhurt from the affray, found their spirits a cup too low,
and kept the flask moving from noon till night. The peaceful brethren,
unused to the tumult of war, had undergone, from fear and discomposure,
an exhaustion of animal spirits that required extraordinary refection.
During the repast, they interrogated Sir Ralph Montfaucon, the leader
of the soldiers, respecting the nature of the earl's offence.
"A complication of offences," replied Sir Ralph, "superinduced on the original
basis of forest-treason. He began with hunting the king's deer, in despite
of all remonstrance; followed it up by contempt of the king's mandates,
and by armed resistance to his power, in defiance of all authority;
and combined with it the resolute withholding of payment of certain moneys
to the abbot of Doncaster, in denial of all law; and has thus made himself the
declared enemy of church and state, and all for being too fond of venison."
And the knight helped himself to half a pasty.
"A heinous offender," said a little round oily friar,
appropriating the portion of pasty which Sir Ralph had left.