The Red Tavern

The Red Tavern

C. R. Macauley
C. R. Macauley

Author: Macauley, C. R. (Charles Raymond), 1871-1934
Historical fiction
Great Britain — History — Henry VII
1485-1509 — Fiction
The Red Tavern


  Prologue 1
I. A Warrant upon Douglas 18
II. On the Way to Castle Yewe 32
III. Of a Night in the Red Tavern 44
IV. The Incident of the Wolf-hound 59
V. The Incident of the Cutting of Saffron Velvet 81
VI. The Pavilion of Purple and Black 94
VII. Of the Awakening of Sir Richard 104
VIII. Of a Quarrel and a Challenge 117
IX. Of an Ambuscade, a Duel, and an Escape 133
X. Of a Night in a Shepherd’s Hut, and a Surprise in the Morning 147
XI. Of How Sir Richard Came to Castle Yewe 165
XII. Of the Delivery of the King’s Warrant 187
XIII. Of the Incident of the Cobbler’s Feast 205
XIV. Of a Series of Remarkable Duels, and De Claverlok’s Peril 217
XV. Of the Gallery of the Griffin’s Heads 229
XVI. Of the Return of Lord Douglas, and the Council of Jackdaws 250
XVII. Of a Joust with Bull Bengough, and the Incident of the Knight in Black 267
XVIII. Of Sir Richard’s Meeting with the Foot-boys, and His Return to the Red Tavern 285
XIX. Of the Rescue of the Maiden 300
XX. Of How Sir Richard Came to the Shepherd’s Hut, and the Return Of Tyrrell 320
XXI. Of How Sir Richard Listened to a Story in the Forest 335
XXII. Of How Once More the Young Knight Journeyed Southward 343
XXIII. Of a Vision in the Forest of Lammermuir 358
XXIV. Of How Sir Richard Played the King in His Little Kingdom 369
XXV. Of the End of the Red Tavern and Its Fitting Epitaph 382
XXVI. Of How a Fledgling Dropped from the Conspirator’s Nest 397



S-s-st, there, good gossip, wake up, I pray thee! Hearest thou not voices yonder in our lordship’s tent? Methinks I can see between the trees the glimmer of his council-candle. Even now he doth plan the attack, whilst this cursed cross-bow is playing the very devil of a traitor! The stubborn latch balks at speeding the string. Come​—​come, wake thee, Jock! Spare me thy deft hand to its mending, or the first peep o’ day will discover me impotent to fly a bolt against our crook-back enemy beyond the brook.”

“Crook-back cross-bow​—​i’ th’ s-s-string​—​—” muttered the one addressed with drowsy incoherence.

“I tell thee, Jock, wake up!” the first speaker persisted. “Listen, I say! Dost hear the hum of voices in brave Richmond’s tent? Fix me this damned cross-bow! Eftsoons it will come daydawn, man!”

“Daydawn, sayst thou?” returned the other, starting into broad wakefulness and arising to a sitting posture. “Why, Dickon, thou canst scarce glimpse thy five fingers before thine eyes; and the stars shine as merrily in the vault as ever they did yestereve. What’s the noise i’ the wood?” he added, sinking sleepily back upon his bent elbow.

“‘Tis the sound of the rolling wheels of the crakys of war. Mark how the blazing links of those who attend upon them weave fantastic shadows amidst the trees. There! the cross-bow hath repented of its waywardness and mended itself. ‘Tis said of these shooting-cylinders in yon wood that they can hurl a leaden slug of two score times the weight of a caliver billet.”

“Marry, Dickon,” the other said, “and that be not the least part of the weight of my nether stocks from lying knee-deep in this foul morass, thou mayst dub me a shove-groat sword and buckler man. Where thinkest thou,” he added, “that King Richard hath gathered his forces?”

“I’ll lay thee a round wager, friend Belwiggar, that the morning light will find him across the brook,” replied Dickon, disposing his huge body for further rest upon the top of his cross-bow.

“I would it were not so,” observed Belwiggar, yawning. “For here are we with our bonnetful of men at the very tail of the triangle. ‘Twill be fight or die, comrade, and tyrant Richard deal with the hindermost.” Whereupon the speaker clambered to a higher point of ground and prepared to resume his interrupted sleep.

Scenes and dialogues similar to the one here presented were being enacted in every corner of the field. Especially did a spirit of disquiet and apprehensive concern pervade that part of it so aptly termed by Belwiggar “the tail of the triangle.” All along the borders of the morass, the banks of the creek, and within the dense forest were to be heard anxious whisperings, mingled plentifully with muttered oaths and threats of dire vengeance against a bitterly hated monarch; and despite the earliness of the hour, within the leader’s tent the activities of a day destined to be so heavily fraught with historical significance had already been inaugurated.

The interior of this pavilion was of a considerable amplitude; and, in keeping with the manner of the period, was fitted out with every necessary, together with not a few of the luxuries, of the toilet of a prince of the royal house. Beside the couch with its silken covers and damask canopies, whereupon the Earl of Richmond was reclining, was a massive, carven table. Upon it stood a richly chased silver tankard bearing a profusion of crimson roses. Within their center, singularly enough, a pure white flower reared its beautiful head, the which served admirably to enhance the royal splendor of its compeers.

Round about the plush-carpeted floor were seated John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, Henry’s chief of archery; Sir James Blunt, sometime captain of the Castle of Hammes, in Picardy (the same who had connived at Oxford’s escape from that fortress); Sir Walter Herbert, and Sir Richard Rohan, Richmond’s boyhood companion, squire, and chief of horse. All were armed at proof and full accoutered for the coming battle.

The last named, though but a youth of nineteen years, would without doubt have arrested attention above any in the distinguished party. The red crest of his helmet nodded quite two inches above that of his tallest compatriot; his features were uncommonly trim and perfect in the ensemble; and his every gesture abounded in that intuitive and careless grace appertaining to exuberant health and spirits and a well disciplined physical strength. As though to complete a picture already approaching perfection, from beneath the rim of his head-piece a lock of hair had escaped and shone golden in the mellow light of the wax tapers guttering in silver sconces above his plume.

“Knowest thou not, Sir Richard,” said Henry, bending above the roses and inhaling their refreshing fragrance, “who sped to us these graceful messengers?”

“I beseech thee, your grace,” warned Oxford, “to observe some measure of caution when breathing in their odors. ‘Tis not impossible that a deadly poison is lurking within their fair petals. It sits plain upon my memory how poor Burgondy expired after the smelling of a nosegay.”

“For the matter of that,” spoke up the fair young knight, “had they been laden with a secret poison I had not lived to bear them within my lord’s pavilion; for I sniffed of them a score of times whilst riding hither.”

“Then, certes, we are double safe,” laughed Henry, “for their sweet perfume, Sir Richard, hath filtered to our nostrils through thy good body. But what like, say you, was the messenger by whom they were bestowed?”

“It ill beseems me to say that I know not,” the young knight replied, “but such is the truth, my lord. I had but finished relieving the guard at the further side of the wood when I heard a sound as of galloping hoofs along the road from Market Bosworth way. Approaching, the rider halted his steed where no ray of light from our blazing links could reach to raise the veil of his identity. Then, calling my name, he laid the flowers within my arms. ‘For Henry, our noble liege,’ he quickly whispered, and rattled off down the highroad ere I could return word of thanks.”

“Saw you no cognizance upon his sleeve or upon the trappings of his horse?” queried Blunt.

“Methought there was a rayed sun emblazoned on his arm,” the young knight answered. “Though, in truth, my lord, ’twas all done so quickly I may not swear ’twas surely so.”

“A Yorkist gift, by the rood! Marry, and this be true, my friends, it is a good omen indeed,” observed the Earl of Oxford, rising and going to the table. For quite a space he leaned above it, gazing fixedly upon the flowers, as though in the hope that they themselves might unravel the mystery their presence had aroused. “But this,” he added presently, indicating the solitary white bloom, “doth sore defeat my understanding. Wherefore, prithee, mingle the white with the red?”

“Methinks I have the solution of that enigma,” spoke up Herbert, whose form was merged in shadow, and who, until then, had taken no part in the discourse. “I would crave his lordship’s indulgence, however, before adventuring my lame conjecture.”

“Surely we would have thy answer to the riddle, Sir Walter,” said Henry, yawning sleepily. “My mind doth refuse to probe its baffling depths.”

“An I mistake me not,” Herbert resumed, “my lord of Oxford in the very profession of his perplexity hath reached a good half way to the answer. Methinks ’tis meant to typify the peaceful mingling of the white rose with the red.”

“Why​—​body o’ God, I see it now!” Henry exclaimed. “But first, by force of arms, the red must overwhelm the white.”

“Nay​—​not so, and your lordship, please,” interjected Blunt. “But rather, let us hope, a mingling through the milder expedient of marriage.”

“Ah! Princess Elizabeth!” cried Henry, assuming a sitting posture upon the edge of his couch. “Sir Walter, thou hast given us a fair answer and earned a guerdon for thy keen wit. But enough of soft speech, my noble knights. And now, sirs, to the sterner business of the day! My Lord of Oxford, where say’st thou camp Stanley’s forces?”

“At a point equally distant from thine, most gracious liege, and those of the infamous Richard. He desires thee to understand that his beloved son’s head hangs upon his dissembling devotion for yet a few hours to the murderous hunchback’s cause.”

“Aye​—​I know. We may depend upon him and his three thousand horse, think you?”

“With absolute certainty, my lord.”

“‘Tis well,” observed Henry, laying aside his feathered cap and stooping to allow his young squire to adjust a steel helmet to his shoulder-guards. “Then do thou, my lord of Oxford,” he resumed, “have thy archers well in hand and ready against the first show of dawn. The sun, standing in our enemy’s eyes, should much confuse their aim. Bend thy every energy toward staying their advance with a cloud of well directed bolts. My good Captain Blunt, let our basilisks in the wood fling their leaden hail above the heads of our kneeling archers. Sir Walter Herbert, let thy mounted troop to the right and left be ready for the final charge. And you, Sir Richard, faithful friend, bear upon my right hand till the battle’s done. Do thou each, noble gentlemen, take one of these roses and entwine it with thy helmet’s crest. What, ho, guards! strip me this tent and bestow it with the camp litter behind the wood. Now, thy brave hands, noble sirs; and God smile upon our cause.”

Into the dense vapors arising from the morass, which, in the gray light of daybreak, were rapidly changing to a pearly mist, the leaders then dispersed upon their several missions.

The droning of subdued conversation, the clanking of swords and steel gear, the twanging of bow-strings undergoing preliminary trial, and the tinkling of pewter flagons discharging their liquid cheer into parched throats could be heard over all the field. Each armed host was alert and ready, awaiting with tense drawn nerves the flaming signal in the eastern sky.

From afar off a cock crowed a cheery welcome to approaching day.

“I would the blessed light would discover me an eye-hole across the brook,” one of the burly archers was saying. “I’d flick me a bolt into its yawning center for God and a better king.”

“Yea​—​truly. And any king, my friend, would be a better king,” another answered. “I would I could but fasten my aim upon the elfish-marked monster himself. ‘Twould be a mark worth finding, i’ faith.”

“My lord of Oxford is a brave and clever captain, lad. Were it not for these leather guards our bow-strings would have been no whit more useful than frayed rope’s ends with this cursed damp. As ’tis, they’re fit to send a quiverful of white-hot billets into as many traitorous gizzards. I, too, would that one of them might make its home within the green midric of Richard himself.”

“Hast heard the latest from the hunchback’s camp?” another whispered.

“Nay. What is ‘t?”

“‘Tis said by the outposts along the slough that there were heard wild shriekings in King Richard’s tent during the night.”

“Ah! the foul fiends bidding him to their black abode. Mark you, Jock, once he gets there he’ll have the whole dismal brood hanged, drawn, and quartered before the year’s end.”

“‘Twould be his first gracious deed then, I give thee warrant.”

From an opposite point of the compass a second cock crowed; and then another and another. The day at last was dawning; the mist lifting, dispersing. Slowly it thinned away, as though one after another of a myriad of gauzy curtains was being raised from between the opposing armies.

When eyes could penetrate from line to line hostilities began. A pallid, ghost-like form, grotesquely exaggerated, would emerge from the fog. Then would be heard a sharp cry, a groan, a horrible rattling in an expiring throat, a flinging aloft of a pair of arms, and a sinking of the spectral figure into the black mire above which it seemed to have been floating.

These emerging shadows multiplied from one into a score; from a score into a hundred; from a hundred into a thousand. There was no crash of sudden onset and meeting. Rather there was that which resembled a gentle crescendo of death. A blending together of two armed forces with the melting of the fog. It was as though a peaceful entity had gently risen to yield place to a warlike one.

By now, the din and crash were become incessant. Wading hip deep in the reddening waters of the brook and in the crimsoning black mire of the morass, the men of the opposed armies met and battled, hand to hand.

From the wood belched flashes of fire. Heavy smoke clouds rolled away among the leaves. The thunder of primitive artillery reverberated across the meadow, mingling its sound of a new kind of warfare with that of the decadent.

Wherever a crescendo occurs, a diminuendo is commonly indicated. The augmenting of Richmond’s desperately battling forces by those of Stanley marked the climax of the crescendo. The downfall of Richard the Third before the sturdy lance of Richmond, the beginning of the diminuendo; the fitting finale to the whole.

Wild of eye, disheveled, his charger struck away from beneath him, King Richard faced his mortal foe. Dauntless to the last gasping breath, he made one frenzied, vain effort to rally his scattering army.

“A horse! a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” he shrieked aloud; and then, dying, pitched forward into the dust.

The Battle of Bosworth Field was with the history of things past.

“His kingdom for a horse, quotha!” shouted Stanley. “His kingdom? Bah! What is his kingdom now, honest gentles?” he added, leaping from his blood-slavered stallion and contemptuously spurning with his steel-booted foot the pitiful remains of the dead monarch. “What is his kingdom now?” Sir William repeated, looking inquiringly about him. “Why, somewhat above three cubits of unwashed dirt. A full cubit less, by the rood, than any man of us here shall inherit.”

“Body o’ God! an he had him a barb now, my lord of Stanley, whither, thinkest thou, would he be riding?” shouted someone out of the circle of mailed warriors that was exultingly closing in around the limp, misshapen figure huddled upon the ground.

“Whither else but to the foul fiend!” returned Stanley, smiling grimly up into the speaker’s face. “‘Tis an easy riddle thou hast set me, a’Beckitt. But he’ll need him no barb to fleet him his black soul into the burning lake, I’m thinking.”

“An Crookback sink not a treacherous dagger within the back of old Charon before he’s ferried him across the Styx, I am wide of my guess,” interrupted a third.

“Or strike off and pole the three heads of Cerberus when he does get over,” suggested another.

“Look you yonder at the redoubtable Cheyney,” again spoke Stanley, pointing toward a gigantic body, sprawled limply, face downward, over the top of a tangled clump of copsewood. “Him, good gentles, I saw totter and go down before this lump of bent clay like unto a lightning-riven oak. I’ faith, much doth it marvel me at the furious strength that kept its abode within this crooked carcase.”

Upon an ebon-black stallion, and apart from the men hovering, vulturelike, above Richard’s body, sat the Earl of Richmond, the fortunate young leader beneath whose lance the tyrant king had fallen. By reason of a natural eminence of heaped earth and stone he was raised well above the field, the whole of which he could command by a simple turning of hi

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