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“Then you will not seek to win her to my love," asked Calverley, impatiently.
“I will tell her," returned the monk, " that a love so devoted, so disinterested, deserves in return an affection as pure: but if, after all this, her heart still prefers the yeoman Holgrave, I will say no more.” And, think you,
I shall endure rejection without an effort ?" "It is now too late! Why, if your happiness rested upon her, did you defer declaring your love till the moment when she had promised to become the wife of another ? Know you not, Thomas Calverley, that even as the rays of the bright sun dissolve the glittering whiteness of the winter snow, just so do kind words and patient love enkindle warm feelings in the bosom of the coldest virgin, and awaken sympathies in her heart that else might for ever unconsciously have slumbered.
“You talk strange language,” replied Calverley, in a voice that had lost all its assumed gentleness. "But remember - I have not sought your sister's love to be 'thus baffled remember! -" Calverley was here interrupted by a quick knocking at the door.
Remember, father John,” he continued, pausing ere he unclosed the door, and speaking rapidly,“ that mine is not the love of a boy- that Thomas Calverley is not one whom it is safe to trifle with — that Margaret is a bondwoman — and that her freedom is in my hands - remember !")
He repeated the last word in a tone of menace, and with a look that seemed to dare the monk to sanction the union of his sister with Holgrave. He opened the door, but, ere he passed through, his eye caught an expression of proud contempt flashing in the dark hazel eyes, and curving in the half-smiling lip of the man he had thus defied;- and prudence whispered, that he had not properly estimated the character of the priest.
It was on a lovely October morning that the travellers returned to Sudley. The whole region of the sky was of so clear and deep a blue, that it seemed as if the pure cold breath of the morning had driven every cloud and vapour far from the skies of merry England. The sun shone brightly upon the yet green meadows, upon the hedges, and upon the trees with their broad branches, and their scanty brown leaves: the birds, rejoicing in the sun light, were singing hymns of grateful melody, as they darted among the branches, or sailed and curved in the blue ether. Our fair Margaret, sympathizing in the gladness of nature, could almost have sung in concert with the feathered choir, as she tripped along with the light step that indicates a cheerful heart. She had just reached that point of the Winchcombe road where the green lane, turning to the left, led directly to her home, when, catching a glimpse of an approaching figure, she raised her eyes and beheld -Calverley.
Whether Calverley's quick glance had caught the marriage ring upon her uncovered finger, or, whether the basket on her arm, together with the circumstance of her being abroad at an hour that used to be devoted to her needle, told him she was no longer a thing to be thought of with hope, or looked on with love, it is difficult to say; but he stood suddenly still, and his cheeks and his lips became pale-almost livid. Margaret turned and walked hastily down the path, her pallid cheek and trembling limbs alone telling that she had recognised Calverley. He stood silently gazing after her, till a winding in the path shut her out from his view. He then walked rapidly on to Winchcombe, entered the first vintner's he came to, and, to the surprise of the host, who knew Master Calverley to be a sober man, called for a meaure of wine, drank it off at a draught, and throwing down the money, de parted as abruptly as he came. In a few minutes after, he entered the room of old Luke, the steward of Sudley Castle.
“ Master Luke,” said he, with an assumed carelessness of manner,
you are rather chary of my lord's wine -- you have not yet offered me the cup of welcome.”
“I ask your pardon, Calverley,” replied the steward," but you so seldom care for wine, that one hardly thinks of offering it to you: here, however, is a cup that will do your heart good.”
Calverley took the cup, and drinking it off with as much zest as if he had not already tasted wine that morning —“ Any news ?" said he, “mas. ter Luke- any news ?”
“Not much, squire. —Stephen Holgrave, indeed, has got married, and, I'll warrant me, there will be a fine to-do about it; for he has married á nief, and you know my lord is very particular about these matters :-he told me, no longer ago than just before he went away this last time, that he would not abate a jot of his due, in the marriages or services of his bondfolk. To be sure the lass is sister of the monk who now shrives the castle, and, as my lord thinks much of Holgrave, it may all blow over.”
“'Who married them ?” asked Calverley, in a stifled voice. “Oh! Father John, to be sure — nobody else —"
“Did he !” said Calverley, in a voice that made the old man start; but, before the astonished steward could reply, he burst from the room. None of the inmates of the castle saw him again during the remainder of that day.
When he appeared before De Boteler the next morning, such a change had twenty hours of mental suffering produced in his countenance, that his lord, struck by the alteration, inquired if he were ill. Calverley said something about a fall that had partly stunned him, but assured De Boteler he was now perfectly well. While he yet spoke, the steward entered, to say that Stephen Holgrave had come to crave his lordship’s pardon for marrying a nief without Icave, and also to pay the merchet.
« Married a nief! has he?" returned De Boteler. “By my faith I thought the kern had too proud a stomach to wed a nief. I thought he had no such love for villeinage. I do not like those intermarriages. Were free maidens so scarce that this Holgrave could not find a wife among them ?”
Calverley slightly coloured as De Boteler spoke ; he knew his lord was no admirer of people stepping in the least out of their way, and it seemed probable it was to him he alluded, when he expressed his dislike of unequal marriages.
“Why, my lord,” said Luke, in reply to De Boteler's interrogatory, " there is hardly a free maiden in the parish that would not have been glad of Stephen; but, though I have never seen her, I am told this wife of his is the comeliest damsel between this and Winchcombe: and, besides, she is not like a common nief- and then, my lord, she is the sister of the good monk John.”
Father John's sister, is she ?” asked the baron. Why then my good esquire here has more to do with the matter than I — but however, Luke, go tell Holgrave I cannot attend to him now.- Why, Calverley,” continued De Boteler, when the steward had withdrawn, " is not this the maiden you spoke to me about ? Do not turn so pale, man, but answer me."
“Yes, my lord,” replied Calverley. “ And did this Holgrave dare to wed a nief of mine! — when I had ready disposed of her freedom and her hand ?" 'Yes, my lord.”
“ By my faith, the knave is bold to thwart me thus."
My lord,” said Calverley; " the evening before you left the castle for London, I went to the maiden's cottage to ask her hand; Holgrave immediately came in, and I then distinctly told him that your lordship had given me the maiden's freedom, and also had consented that I should wed her, and yet ; you see what regard he has paid to your will!*
“ Yes, this is the gratitude of these base-born vassals, but, Calverley, what
priest presumed to wed them ?” " The monk John."
“ What! the wife's brother! He who has attended the chapel since the death of the late good father ?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“ By heaven! they seem all conspiring to set my will at naught !- he, at least, should have better known what was due to the lord of this castle."
" The monk,” replied Calverley, “ was not ignorant of my lord's will: and it vexes mé, not on my own account, for it was merely a passing fancy; but it vexes me, that this proud, stubborn priest, while he is eating of your bread, and drinking of your cup, should, in the teeth of your commands, do that which I could swear no other priest would have dared to do; it ili becomes hiin to preach obedience, who
" True, true, I will see to him — he shall answer for what he has done -- but now Calverley, tell me honestly, for you are not wont to be familiar even with your fellows — tell me what you saw in this maiden that could make you wish to rival Stephen Holgrave ?"
“ Her beauty, my lord.”
My lord, I have seldom looked upon one so fair. In my judgment she was the loveliest I ever saw in these parts."
"Say you so !" returned De Boteler. “ I should like to see this boasted beauty, only if it were to convince me of your taste in these matters. Cal verley, order one of the varlets to go to Holgrave, and desire him to come to the castle directly — and, mind you, he brings his wife with him.”
Calverley could scarcely repress a smile of exultation as the baron delivered this command, but composing his countenance to its general calm expression, he bowed to De Boteler, and immediately withdrew.
Holgrave, when the henchman delivered the baron's command, hesitated, and looked angrily to Margaret.
“What ails thee, my son,” asked Edith. “Is she not thy wife?-- and can the baron break asunder the bonds that bind ye? - or dost thou fear that Margaret's face may please him — and that he would strive to take from the man who saved his life in the battle, the wife of his bosom! Shame! shame!”
“ No, no, mother,” returned Holgrave, musing; "yet I would rather she should not go to the castle -- I have seen more of the baron than you: and, besides, this Calverley
Holgrave, however, considering it better not to irritate the baron by a refusal, at length consented that Margaret should accompany him, and they quitted the cottage together.
“Come hither, Holgrave,” said De Boteler, as Holgrave entered. “Is this your wife ?”
“Yes, my lord,” replied the yeoman, with an humble reverence. “Look up, pretty one,” said De Boteler to Margaret! -“Now, by my faith, Holgrave, I commend your choice. I wonder not that such a prize was contended for. Margaret, - I believe that is your name? Look up! and tell me in what secret place you grew into such beauty ?”
Margaret raised her bright blue eyes, that had been as yet hidden by the long dark lashes, and the downcast lids; but, meeting the bold fixed gaze
of the baron, they were instantly withdrawn, and the deep blush of one unaccustomed to the eyes of strangers suffused her cheek and brow, and even her neck.
“Were you reared on this barony, Margaret ?" resumed the baron.
“Yes, my lord,” answered Margaret, modestly, raising her eyes : “my mother was a freeman's daughter; my father was a bondman on this land: they died when I was but a child; and Edith Holgrave reared me till I grew up a girl and could work for myself -- and then
“You thought you could not do better than wed her son through gratitude. That was well -and so this good squire of ours could not expect to find much favour in your eyes. But, do you not know, you should not have wedded without my consent ?”
“My lord,” answered Holgrave; "I beg your pardon; but I thought your lordship would n't think much of the marriage, as your lordship was not at the castle, and I did not know when you would return. Here is the merchet, my lord, and I hope you will forgive me for not awaiting your return."
"I suppose I must, for there is no helping it now; and by my faith, it is well you did not let me see that pretty face before you were wedded — but take back the merchet,” he continued, waving back with his hand the money which Holgrave was presenting. Keep it. An orphan bride seldom comes rich; and here a trifle to add to it, as a token that De Boteler prizes beauty - even though it be that of a bondwoman!” As he spoke, he held a broad piece of gold towards Holgrave.
“Not so, my lord,” said Holgrave, suffering the coin to remain between De Boteler's fingers. -"Not so, my lord. I take back the merchet with many thanks, but I crave your pardon for not taking your gold. I have no need of gold - I did not wed Margaret for dower- and with your lordship’s leave I pray you excuse my taking it.”.
" As you please, unthankful kern,” replied the baron, haughtily: “De Boteler forces his gifts upon no one - here,” he continued, throwing the piece to an attendant, who stood behind his chair- you will not refuse it.” He then turned round to the table, and commenced a game at cards, without further noticing Holgrave. The yeoman stood a few minutes awaiting the baron's pleasure, but perceiving he did not heed him, presently took Margaret's hand, and making a low obeisance, retired. When the game was finished, De Boteler threw down the cards.
‘Calverley,” said he, “think you that this Margaret loves her husband ?" A slight shade passed over Calverley's cheek as he answered, “I
should hardly think so, my lord. She is - her temper is very gentle - Holgrave is passionate, and rude, and — » " It is a pity she should be the wife of such a carle”. mused his lord.
That afternoon De Boteler, throwing a plain dark cloak over his rich dress, left the castle, took the path that led to Holgrave's abode, and raising the latch, entered the cottage.
Margaret was sitting near the window at needlework, and Edith, in her high-backed arm-chair, was knitting in the chimney-corner. Margaret, blushing deeply, started from her seat as her eyes so unexpectedly encountered those of the baron.
“Keep your seat, pretty dame,” said De Boteler. " That is a stout silk. For whom are you working these bright colours ?"
“It is a stole for my brother, the monk, my lord,” replied Margaret in a tremulous voice.
“Your work is so beautiful,” returned De Boteler, looking at the silk, “that I wish you could find time to embroider a tabard for me." 'My lord,
replied Edith, rising from her seat, and stepping forward a few paces, Margaret Holgrave has little leisure from attending to the
household of her husband. There are abundance of skilful sempstresses ; and surely the Baron de Boteler would not require this young woman to neglect the duty she has taken upon herself.”
De Boteler looked at Edith an instant with a frown, as if about to answer fiercely; but after a moment he inquired calmly,
“Does your son find his farm answer, dame ?" “Yes, my lord, with many thanks to the donor. Stephen has all he can wish for in this farm."
“That is well,” returned De Boteler ; and then, after a momentary but earnest gaze at Margaret, he turned away and left the cottage.
Holgrave entered soon after the baron's departure. Margaret strove to meet him with a smile ; but is was not the sunny glow, that usually greeted his return. He detected the effort; nay, as he bent down to kiss her cheek, he saw that she trembled.
“What ails you, Margaret ?" inquired he tenderly. “ You are not well?"
“O yes,” replied Margaret. “I am perfectly well, but I have been a little frightened.” "By, whom? Calverley ?"
No; his master.” “ The baron! Surely, Margaret.
“Oh! Stephen,” said Margaret, alarmed at the sudden fierceness his countenance assumed. “Indeed he said no barm. Did he, mother ?”
“No,” replied Edith, “and if he had, Stephen, your wife knew how to answer him as befitting a virtuous woman.”
“It was well,” replied Holgrave; “I am a freeman, and may go where I list, and not King Edward himself shall insult a freeman's wife! - but do not weep, Margaret._I am not angered with you.”
That evening De Boteler spoke little during supper, and while drinking the second cup after the repast, he desired the page who stood behind his chair, to order the monk John to attend him directly. Father John presently appeared, and approaching the foot of the table, made a low obeisance, and then with his hands crossed on his bosom, and with eyes cast down, awaited till De Boteler should address him. De Boteler looked for a moment earnestly at the monk, ere in a stern voice he said:
“Father John, know you not why I have sent for you ?"
“ Await my pleasure !” replied the Baron scornfully. “Did you consider my pleasure, monk, when you presumed to set at naught my prerogatives ?”
My lord," answered the monk, still mildly, though in a firmer tone than he had before spoken ; “My Lord de Boteler, servants must obey their masters."
"Hypocrite !" interrupted the baron, in a voice that resounded through the hall. “ Did you consider the obedience due to a master when you presumed to dispose of a bondwoman of mine, without my sanction nay, even in direct opposition to my will ? Answer me. Did
you consider the order of dependence then ?"
“Baron of Sudley,” replied the monk, in a voice which, though scarcely elevated above the ordinary pitch of colloquial discourse, was nevertheless in that clear distinct tone which is heard at a considerable distance "Baron of Sudley, I am no hypocrite, neither have I forgotten to render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s. if I pronounced the nuptial benediction over a bondwoman and a freeman without your lordship having consented, it was because you had first violated the trust reposed in you. You are a master to command obedience, but only in things that are not sinful ; yet would you sinfully have compelled a maiden to swear at the boly altar