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"Letters came last night
To a dear friend,
That tell black tidings.
Post you to London, and you'll find it so:
I speak no more than every one doth know."
K. Richard II. act m. sc. iv.
IERE was little Robin in the Pleasaunce, a curvetting on his pony. Now would he run a tilt at a quintain Sir Thomas had erected: now, triumphing, jeer at the lifeless block. Anon, with a slash and a skirr, would he wend over the crisp gravel, to where his watchful mother stayed, guarding him from harm. And little Tom, he rode a cock-horse, whose mane and tail were It rung with knacks that made a merry noise as he careered. Thorough the knots and flower-beds, the pretty fair-haired boy was prancing; now close about the old folks' path, his ruddy cheeks and clear blue eyes laughingly asking, A more peaceful Scene. 313
"Is't not well done? Doth not my hobby go?" And presently crashing into crocusses and snowdrops, with a switch the Knight had pilled for him, as if they had been mortal enemies of Plantagenet; but Nelly, pouting that she might not play thus rudely, hung by her mother's kirtle.
The grandfather was telling cheerfully of olden times; yet his eye and his heart were in the present and the future of those dear ones, all—thank God, about him! He spake of his own father, who departed some fifty years agone, and of his mother, whom he scarce remembered—of old Sir Ralf, and of the fair lady who died when Bess was born. Then of his school-days he had some stories, and of his ripe manhood. How he had lived temperately, and thus had grown old without weakness. How in his youth he had served God, who had never ceased to bless him. And, touching on those afflictions he had met, he said, with humble thanks, that the heart was made better; bearing its troubles patiently.
Now William and Helen drew nigh, that they might learn some of the traditions of the house. Oh! how such things he lost for ever, when age cometh on not kind and frosty, but damp and rheumy!
There had been much peace in Sir Thomas's day: sor which, though a keen soldier, he was wont to praise God. "For," quoth he, "peace is the best conquest; for then both parts nobly are subdued, and neither party loser." Again, "War," said he, "is like an ill-sheathed knife; eVer most ready to cut his master." Yet had the Knight gained his spurs in a well-fought field in Holland. Then had he served in Ireland.
Was it a sad mischance brought his memory to this point, or was it that foreboding Angel which whispers as of things now happening afar or coming on us presently? It carried his mind to that sad tale, how poor Earl Walter had been persecuted and forsaken by enemies and pretended friends; and what unfair usage he had gotten at the hands of some who had since gone to render an account of that transaction. And Dame Elizabeth said, "Thomas, heart—God, it may be, gave them repentance or ever they came to their end!" "Grant it, dearest!" quoth he; "grant it!" And then he recalled how the Devereux had been shortlived; and how his friend had bid some warn his son against thirty-six, which was the ultimate span of their house. And the Knight was sad awhile. Then he
Of Robert Devereux. 315
fell a talking of Earl Robert, his wilful childhood, his dauntless youth, his fretful age. Yet of what a kindly nature was he—so noble-hearted, generous, free! How he remembered him of his father's temper in something, while in others he had the very opposite humours; being carried away betimes by an ungovernable passion, though he held himself for patient; having strong angers upon him, fittingly; using an overbearing spirit, domineering over his equals—" which," said Sir Thomas reflectingly, "none will forgive nor forget. God keep him from quarrels with those state factions! He had been better ruled by my Lord Treasurer Burghley than by these. Would he"
And now, as they drew nigh the house, it growing dusk and the evening settling in raw and chilly; one cometh galloping wild like over the new lawn. Twas an injury William must look to. 'Tis a sorrel beast. Shortly he knoweth the man. 'Tis 'Zekiel! at the croft pale his horse drops. The rapid doubled pantings of the poor brute end with a violent contraction and a start. A few lines reveal all that had been passing: explain the so long silence!
Sir Thomas staggers. They place him on his old seat in the porch. Dame Elizabeth rests his head upon her comfortable bosom, pressing his brow with her hand.
William passeth on hurriedly. One taketh the children aside. Helen runs for a cordial.
The loving wife feels her husband's hand, now hanging cold and listless by his side. The fingers be twitching nervously. She looseth his ruff, chafeth his temples, drabbles fresh water in his face, holdeth a casket of pungent herbs to his nose, kisseth him tenderly, earnestly!
Already day is sinking behind the leafless forest. The whole sky westward and away to the north is lurid, as Sir Thomas, with a heavy sigh, opens his eyes. He did not speak, but quietly gazed round on each and all the familiar objects of that dear home, his sight following the wild pidgeons—upwards.
And Dame Elizabeth held his wrists, feeling the blood pass slow—very slow: but full—very full! And she mused awhile; looking on that red sun now colouring even her husband's pale cold cheek. "Is this the image of the end?" she whispered to herself, " On earth as it is in Heaven!"
And now William cometh forth armed for the journey. There was no need to ask whither wilt, or what the errand.