How Eustace Leigh Met the Pope's Legate

“Misguided, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
Thou see’st to be too busy is some danger.”

It is the spring of 1582-3. The gray March skies are curdling hard and high above black mountain peaks. The keen March wind is sweeping harsh and dry across a dreary sheet of bog, still red and yellow with the stains of winter frost. One brown knoll alone breaks the waste, and on it a few leafless wind-clipt oaks stretch their moss-grown arms, like giant hairy spiders, above a desolate pool which crisps and shivers in the biting breeze, while from beside its brink rises a mournful cry, and sweeps down, faint and fitful, amid the howling of the wind.

Along the brink of the bog, picking their road among crumbling rocks and green spongy springs, a company of English soldiers are pushing fast, clad cap-à-pie in helmet and quilted jerkin, with arquebus on shoulder, and pikes trailing behind them; stern steadfast men, who, two years since, were working the guns at Smerwick fort, and have since then seen many a bloody fray, and shall see more before they die. Two captains ride before them on shaggy ponies, the taller in armor, stained and rusted with many a storm and fray, the other in brilliant inlaid cuirass and helmet, gaudy sash and plume, and sword hilt glittering with gold, a quaint contrast enough to the meager garron which carries him and his finery. Beside them, secured by a cord which a pikeman has fastened to his own wrist, trots a bare-legged Irish kerne, whose only clothing is his ragged yellow mantle, and the unkempt “glib” of hair, through which his eyes peer out, right and left, in mingled fear and sullenness. He is the guide of the company, in their hunt after the rebel Baltinglas; and woe to him if he play them false.

“A pleasant country, truly, Captain Raleigh,” says the dingy officer to the gay one. “I wonder how, having once escaped from it to Whitehall, you have the courage to come back and spoil that gay suit with bog- water and mud.”

“A very pleasant country, my friend Amyas; what you say in jest, I say in earnest.”

“Hillo! Our tastes have changed places. I am sick of it already, as you foretold. Would Heaven that I could hear of some adventure Westward-ho! and find these big bones swinging in a hammock once more. Pray what has made you so suddenly in love with bog and rock, that you come back to tramp them with us? I thought you had spied out the nakedness of the land long ago.”

“Bog and rock? Nakedness of the land? What is needed here but prudence and skill, justice and law? This soil, see, is fat enough, if men were here to till it. These rocks—who knows what minerals they may hold? I hear of gold and jewels found already in divers parts; and Daniel, my brother Humphrey’s German assayer, assures me that these rocks are of the very same kind as those which yield the silver in Peru. Tut, man! if her gracious majesty would but bestow on me some few square miles of this same wilderness, in seven years’ time I would make it blossom like the rose, by God’s good help.”

“Humph! I should be more inclined to stay here, then.”

“So you shall, and be my agent, if you will, to get in my mine-rents and my corn-rents, and my fishery- rents, eh? Could you keep accounts, old knight of the bear’s-paw?”

“Well enough for such short reckonings as yours would be, on the profit side at least. No, no—I’d sooner carry lime all my days from Cauldy to Bideford, than pass another twelve-month in the land of Ire, among the children of wrath. There is a curse upon the face of the earth, I believe.”

“There is no curse upon it, save the old one of man’s sin—‘Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to thee.’ But if you root up the thorns and thistles, Amyas, I know no fiend who can prevent your growing wheat instead; and if you till the ground like a man, you plough and barrow away nature’s curse, and other fables of the schoolmen beside,” added he, in that daring fashion which afterwards obtained for him (and never did good Christian less deserve it) the imputation of atheism.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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