Of Bryan Bowntance, the Host of the Garter—Of the Duke of Shoreditch—Of the Bold Words uttered by Mark Fytton, the Butcher, and how he was cast into the Vault of the Curfew Tower.
Turning off on the right, the earl and his companion continued to descend the hill until they came in sight of the Garter—a snug little hostel, situated immediately beneath the Curfew Tower.
Before the porch were grouped the earl’s attendants, most of whom had dismounted, and were holding their steeds by the bridles. At this juncture the door of the hostel opened, and a fat jolly-looking personage, with a bald head and bushy grey beard, and clad in a brown serge doublet, and hose to match, issued forth, bearing a foaming jug of ale and a horn cup. His appearance was welcomed by a joyful shout from the attendants.
“Come, my masters!” he cried, filling the horn, “here is a cup of stout Windsor ale in which to drink the health of our jolly monarch, bluff King Hal; and there’s no harm, I trust, in calling him so.”
“Marry, is there not, mine host;” cried the foremost attendant. “I spoke of him as such in his own hearing not long ago, and he laughed at me in right merry sort. I love the royal bully, and will drink his health gladly, and Mistress Anne Boleyn’s to boot.”
And he emptied the horn.
“They tell me Mistress Anne Boleyn is coming to Windsor with the king and the knights-companions to-morrow—is it so?” asked the host, again filling the horn, and handing it to another attendant.
The person addressed nodded, but he was too much engrossed by the horn to speak.
“Then there will be rare doings in the castle,” chuckled the host; “and many a lusty pot will be drained at the Garter. Alack-a-day! how times are changed since I, Bryan Bowntance, first stepped into my father’s shoes, and became host of the Garter. It was in 1501—twenty-eight years ago—when King Henry the Seventh, of blessed memory, ruled the land, and when his elder son, Prince Arthur, was alive likewise. In that year the young prince espoused Catherine of Arragon, our present queen, and soon afterwards died; whereupon the old king, not liking—for he loved his treasure better than his own flesh—to part with her dowry, gave her to his second son, Henry, our gracious sovereign, whom God preserve! Folks said then the match wouldn’t come to good; and now we find they spoke the truth, for it is likely to end in a divorce.”
“Not so loud, mine host!” cried the foremost attendant; “here comes our young master, the Earl of Surrey.”
“Well, I care not,” replied the host bluffly. “I’ve spoken no treason. I love my king; and if he wishes to have a divorce, I hope his holiness the Pope will grant him one, that’s all.”
As he said this, a loud noise was heard within the hostel, and a man was suddenly and so forcibly driven forth, that he almost knocked down Bryan Bowntance, who was rushing in to see what was the matter. The person thus ejected, who was a powerfully-built young man, in a leathern doublet, with his muscular arms bared to the shoulder, turned his rage upon the host, and seized him by the throat with a grip that threatened him with strangulation. Indeed, but for the intervention of the earl’s attendants, who rushed to his assistance, such might have been his fate. As soon as he was liberated, Bryan cried in a voice of mingled rage and surprise to his assailant, “Why, what’s the matter, Mark Fytton?—are you gone mad, or do you mistake me for a sheep or a bullock, that you attack me in this fashion? My strong ale must have got into your addle pate with a vengeance.
“The knave has been speaking treason of the king’s highness,” said the tall man, whose doublet and hose of the finest green cloth, as well as the how and quiverful of arrows at his back, proclaimed him an archer—“and therefore we turned him out!”
“And you did well, Captain Barlow,” cried the host.
“Call me rather the Duke of Shoreditch,” rejoined the tall archer; “for since his majesty conferred the title upon me, though it were but in jest, when I won this silver bugle, I shall ever claim it. I am always designated by my neighbours in Shoreditch as his grace; and I require the same attention at your hands. To-morrow I shall have my comrades, the Marquises of Clerkenwell, Islington, Hogsden, Pancras, and Paddington, with me, and then you will see the gallant figure we shall cut.”
“I crave your grace’s pardon for my want of respect,” replied the host. “I am not ignorant of the distinction conferred upon you at the last match at the castle butts by the king. But to the matter in hand. What treason hath Mark Fytton, the butcher, been talking?”
“I care not to repeat his words, mine host,” replied the duke; “but he hath spoken in unbecoming terms of his highness and Mistress Anne Boleyn.”
“He means not what he says,” rejoined the host. “He is a loyal subject of the king; but he is apt to get quarrelsome over his cups.”
“Well said, honest Bryan,” cried the duke; “you have one quality of a good landlord—that of a peacemaker. Give the knave a cup of ale, and let him wash down his foul words in a health to the king, wishing him a speedy divorce and a new queen, and he shall then sit among us again.”
“I do not desire to sit with you, you self-dubbed duke,” rejoined Mark; “but if you will doff your fine jerkin, and stand up with me on the green, I will give you cause to remember laying hands on me.”
“Well challenged, bold butcher!” cried one of Surrey’s attendants. “You shall be made a duke yourself.”
“Or a cardinal,” cried Mark. “I should not be the first of my brethren who has met with such preferment.”
“He derides the Church in the person of Cardinal Wolsey!” cried the duke. “He is a blasphemer as well as traitor.”
“Drink the king’s health in a full cup, Mark,” interposed the host, anxious to set matters aright, “and keep your mischievous tongue between your teeth.”
“Beshrew me if I drink the king’s health, or that of his minion, Anne Boleyn!” cried Mark boldly. “But I will tell you what I will drink. I will drink the health of King Henry’s lawful consort, Catherine of Arragon; and I will add to it a wish that the Pope may forge her marriage chains to her royal husband faster than ever.”
“A foolish wish,” cried Bryan. “Why, Mark, you are clean crazed!”
“It is the king who is crazed, not me!” cried Mark. “He would sacrifice his rightful consort to his unlawful passion; and you, base hirelings, support the tyrant in his wrongful conduct!”
“Saints protect us!” exclaimed Bryan. “Why, this is flat treason. Mark, I can no longer uphold you.”
“Not if you do not desire to share his prison, mine host,” cried the Duke of Shoreditch. “You have all heard him call the king a tyrant. Seize him, my masters!”
“Let them lay hands upon me if they dare!” cried the butcher resolutely. “I have felled an ox with a blow of my fist before this, and I promise you I will show them no better treatment.”
Awed by Mark’s determined manner, the bystanders kept aloof.
“I command you, in the king’s name, to seize him!” roared Shoreditch. “If he offers resistance he will assuredly be hanged.”
“No one shall touch me!” cried Mark fiercely.
“That remains to be seen,” said the foremost of the Earl of Surrey’s attendants. “Yield, fellow!”
“Never!” replied Mark; “and I warn you to keep off.”
The attendant, however, advanced; but before he could lay hands on the butcher he received a blow from his ox-like fist that sent him reeling backwards for several paces, and finally stretched him at full length upon the ground. His companions drew their swords, and would have instantly fallen upon the sturdy offender, if Morgan Fenwolf, who, with the Earl of Surrey, was standing among the spectators, had not rushed forward, and, closing with Mark before the latter could strike a blow, grappled with him, and held him fast till he was secured, and his arms tied behind him.
“And so it is you, Morgan Fenwolf, who have served me this ill turn, eh?” cried the butcher, regarding him fiercely. “I now believe all I have heard of you.”
“What have you heard of him?” asked Surrey, advancing.
“That he has dealings with the fiend—with Herne the Hunter,” replied Mark. “If I am hanged for a traitor, he ought to be burnt for a wizard.”
“Heed not what the villain says, my good fellow,” said the Duke of Shoreditch; “you have captured him bravely, and I will take care your conduct is duly reported to his majesty. To the castle with him! To the castle! He will lodge to-night in the deepest dungeon of yon fortification,” pointing to the Curfew Tower above them, “there to await the king’s judgment; and to-morrow night it will be well for him if he is not swinging from the gibbet near the bridge. Bring him along.”
And followed by Morgan Fenwolf and the others, with the prisoner, he strode up the hill.
Long before this Captain Bouchier had issued from the hostel and joined the earl, and they walked together after the crowd. In a few minutes the Duke of Shoreditch reached Henry the Eighth’s Gate, where he shouted to a sentinel, and told him what had occurred. After some delay a wicket in the gate was opened, and the chief persons of the party were allowed to pass through it with the prisoner, who was assigned to the custody of a couple of arquebusiers.
By this time an officer had arrived, and it was agreed, at the suggestion of the Duke of Shoreditch, to take the offender to the Curfew Tower. Accordingly they crossed the lower ward, and passing beneath an archway near the semicircular range of habitations allotted to the petty canons, traversed the space before the west end of Saint George’s Chapel, and descending a short flight of stone steps at the left, and threading a narrow passage, presently arrived at the arched entrance in the Curfew, whose hoary walls shone brightly in the moonlight.
They had to knock for some time against the stout oak door before any notice was taken of the summons. At length an old man, who acted as bellringer, thrust his head out of one of the narrow pointed windows above, and demanded their business. Satisfied with the reply, he descended, and, opening the door, admitted them into a lofty chamber, the roof of which was composed of stout planks, crossed by heavy oaken rafters, and supported by beams of the same material. On the left a steep ladder-like flight of wooden steps led to an upper room, and from a hole in the roof descended a bell-rope, which was fastened to one of the beams, showing the use to which the chamber was put.
Some further consultation was now held among the party as to the propriety of leaving the prisoner in this chamber under the guard of the arquebusiers, but it was at last decided against doing so, and the old bellringer being called upon for the keys of the dungeon beneath, he speedily produced them. They then went forth, and descending a flight of stone steps on the left, came to a low strong door, which they unlocked, and obtained admission to a large octangular chamber with a vaulted roof, and deep embrasures terminated by narrow loopholes. The light of a lamp carried by the bellringer showed the dreary extent of the vault, and the enormous thickness of its walls.
“A night’s solitary confinement in this place will be of infinite service to our prisoner,” said the Duke of Shoreditch, gazing around. “I’ll be sworn he is ready to bite off the foolish tongue that has brought him to such a pass.”
The butcher made no reply, but being released by the arquebusiers, sat down upon a bench that constituted the sole furniture of the vault.
“Shall I leave him the lamp?” asked the bellringer; “he may beguile the time by reading the names of former prisoners scratched on the walls and in the embrasures.”
“No; he shall not even have that miserable satisfaction,” returned the Duke of Shoreditch. “He shall be left in the darkness to his own bad and bitter thoughts.”
With this the party withdrew, and the door was fastened upon the prisoner. An arquebusier was stationed at the foot of the steps; and the Earl of Surrey and Captain Bouchier having fully satisfied their curiosity, shaped their course towards the castle gate. On their way thither the earl looked about for Morgan Fenwolf, but could nowhere discern him. He then passed through the wicket with Bouchier, and proceeding to the Garter, they mounted their steeds, and galloped off towards Datchet, and thence to Staines and Hampton Court.