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CHAP. LXXVII.-THE KING OF ENGLAND IS ENAMOURED WITH THE COUNTESS OF SALISBURY

THAT same day that the Scots had decamped from before the castle of Wark, king Edward, and his whole army, arrived there about mid-day, and took upp their position on the ground which the Scots had occupied. When he found that they were returned home he was much enraged; for he had come there with so much speed, that both his men and horses were sadly fatigued. He ordered his men to take up their quarters where they were, as he wished to go to the castle to see the noble dame within, whom, he had never seen since her marriage. Everyone made up his lodgings as he pleased; and the king, as soon as he was disarmed, taking ten or twelve knights with him, went to the castle, to salute the countess of Salisbury, and to examine what damage the attacks of the Scots had done, and the manner in which those within had defended themselves. The moment the countess heard of the king's approach, she ordered all the gates to be thrown open, and went to meet him, most richly dressed; insomuch, that no one could look at her but with wonder, and came near the king, she made her reverence to the ground, and gave him her thanks for coming to her assistance, and then conducted him into the castle, to entertain and honour him, as she was very capable of doing. Everyone was delighted with her: the king could not take his eyes off her, as he thought he had never before seen so beautiful or sprightly a lady; so that a spark of fine love struck upon his heart, which lasted a long time, for he did not believe that the whole world produced any other lady so worthy of being beloved. Thus they entered the castle, hand in hand: the lady led him first into the hall, then to his chamber which was richly furnished, as belonging to so fine a lady. The king kept his eyes so continually upon her, that the gentle dame was quite abashed. After he had sufficiently examined his apartment, he retired to a window, and leaning on it, fell into a profound reverie. The countess went to entertain the other knights and squires, ordered dinner to be made ready, the tables to be set, and the hall ornamented and dressed out. When she had given all the orders to her servants she thought necessary, she returned, with a cheerful countenance, to the king, who continued musing, and said to him, "Dear Sir, what are you musing on? So much meditating is not proper for you, saving your grace: you ought rather to be in high spirits, for having driven your enemies before you, without their having had the courage to wait for you, and should leave the trouble of thinking to others." The king replied, "Oh, dear lady, you must know, that since I have entered this castle, an idea has struck my mind that I was not aware of; so that it behoves me to reflect upon it. I am uncertain what may be the event, for I cannot withdraw my whole attention from it." "Dear Sir," replied the lady, "you ought to be of good cheer, and feast with your friends, to give them more pleasure, and leave off thinking and meditating; for God has been very bountiful to you in all your undertakings, and showed you so much favour, that you are the most feared and renowned prince in Christendom. If the king of Scotland have vexed you by doing harm to your kingdom, you can, at your pleasure, make yourself amends at his expense, as you have done before: therefore come, if you please, into the hall to your knights, for dinner will soon be ready."

"Oh, dear lady," said the king, "other things touch my heart, and lie there, than what you think of; for, in truth, the elegant carriage, the perfections and beauties which I have seen you possess, have very much surprised me, and have so deeply impressed my heart, that my happiness depends on meeting, a return from you to my flame, which no denial can ever extinguish."

"Sweet Sir," replied the countess, do not amuse yourself in laughing at, or tempting me; for I cannot believe you mean what you have just said, or that so noble and gallant a prince as you are would ever think to dishonour me or my husband, who is so valiant a knight, who has served you faithfully, and who, on your account, now lies in prison. Certainly, Sir, this would not add to your glory; nor would you be the better for it. Such a thought has never once entered my mind, and I trust in God it never will, for any man living: and, if I were so culpable, it is you who ought to blame me, and have my body punished, through strict justice."

The virtuous lady then quitted the king, who was quite astonished, and went to the hall to hasten the dinner. She afterwards returned to the king, attended by the knights, and said to him, "Sir, come to the hall; your knights are waiting for you, to wash their hands, for they, as well as yourself, have too long fasted." The king left his room, and came to the hall; where, after he had washed his hands, he seated himself, with his knights, at the dinner as did the lady also; but the king ate very little, and was the whole time pensive, casting his eyes, whenever he had an opportunity, towards the countess. Such behaviour surprised his friends; for they were not accustomed to it, and had never seen the like before. They imagined, therefore, that it was by reason of the Scots having escaped from him. The king remained at the castle the whole day, without knowing what to do with himself. Sometimes he remonstrated with himself, that honour and loyalty forbade him to admit such treason and falsehood into his heart, as to wish to dishonour so virtuous a lady, and so gallant a knight as her husband was, and who had ever so faithfully served him. At other times, his passion was so strong, that his honour and loyalty were not thought of. Thus did he pass that day, and a sleepless night, in debating this matter in his own mind. At daybreak he arose, drew out his whole army, decamped, and followed the Scots, to chase them out of his kingdom. Upon taking leave of the countess, he said, "My dear lady, God preserve you until I return; and I entreat that you will think well of what I have said, and have the goodness to give me a different answer." "Dear Sir," replied the countess, "God, of his infinite goodness, preserve you, and drive from your heart such villanous thoughts; for I am, and always shall be, ready to serve you, consistently with my own honour, and with yours." The king left her quite surprised, and went with his army after the Scots, following them almost as far as Berwick, and took up his quarters four leagues distant from the forest of Jedworth, where, and in the neighbouring woods, king David and all his people were. He remained there for three days, to see if the Scots would venture out to fight with him. During that time there were many skirmishes; many killed and taken prisoners on both sides. Sir William Douglas, who bore for arms argent on a chef azure, was always among the foremost in these attacks. He performed many gallant exploits, and was a great annoyance to the English.

 

 
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