Reginald du Bray: An Historic(k) Tale


 
“I could never have forgiven myself for having lifted my hand against the object of your favour: nor could I, beauteous lady, suffer any one to carry away the prize of honour, without striving to contest it with him in the presence of her, whose smiles are praise, and whose applause is glory.” He feared to have said too much, and Matilda was unwilling to understand him. “There is now,” replied she, “a stronger motive than ever, to press you to return with me to my father’s castle: he is accounted no bad judge of knightly merit, and I have heard him praise the powers of the unknown knight.” — “Oh, lady,” rejoined Edmund, “it is impossible. I cannot, I must not accept thy invitation; and powerful must be my reasons, when I would risque every other hazard but the loss of my honour, to see the daughter of Reginald du Bray…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Reginald du Bray made its way to the top of my ‘Gothic timeline’ list, I spent a little time researching its origins. Various sources, including the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) database, asserted that this shortish work began life as volume two of a three-volume novel from 1776, The Rival Friends; or, The Noble Recluse, and was subsequently reissued as a standalone work.

I was sceptical about this at the time, not least because I could find so much more evidence of the existence of Reginald du Bray, in its own right, than I could that of The Rival Friends. But persistence finally paid off: I dug out a couple of other reviews of the original novel, including one from The Monthly Review (reproduced in the Scots Magazine) which makes it clear that Reginald du Bray was indeed a case of the interpolated narrative run mad:
 

 
The other curious thing here is that I can find no reference anywhere to the author of The Rival Friends. The novel itself seems not to have survived, so this time there is no title-page to help me out. It is not until Reginald du Bray: An Historick Tale appears in its own right, during 1779, that we learn of its creator, “A late lord, greatly admired in the literary world.” The implication, clearly, is that after the death of the author, someone else took the step of having Reginald du Bray excised and reprinted. By the time of the second edition (published in England rather than Ireland), the title had become Reginald du Bray: An Historic Tale, and the attribution had been reduced to “A late nobleman”, but no further information about the work’s origins was (or has been) forthcoming.

Having read this short work, we might be inclined to wonder why anyone (author’s friend or publisher) went to the trouble. This snippy summation of Reginald du Bray from The Critical Review proved, alas, all too accurate:
 

 
In fact, I knew I was in trouble with this one from its very first sentence, where instead of just saying “Henry the Third”, it describes him as:

…Henry, the Third of that name, Sovereign over the British Isles…

…and indeed, Reginald du Bray turns out to be a fervent follower of the dictum that you should never use one word where ten will do. It also reuses certain words and phrases to a degree that becomes both funny and tiresome; being particularly addicted to references to the “souls” of its good characters, for example—

His followers were enriched with spoil, and returned laden with the plunder of the enemies of their faith. The soul of Reginald coveted nought but glory.

—this in addition to refusing ever just to use a possessive apostrophe—so always “the soul of Reginald” rather than “Reginald’s soul”.

Meanwhile, there is apparently nothing worse you can call someone than “caitiff”; nor is there any reason to vary your term of abuse.

As these two brief quotes indicate, Reginald du Bray is set during the early 13th century, with the Ninth Crusade and the ascension of Edward I as its back-drop. For a time it seems as if we’re going to get some actual history here, but it turns out that the early part of the novel detailing Reginald’s doings in the Holy Land exists chiefly to introduce the young man who will subsequently become the story’s real hero.

Reginald’s own story is rather clunkily constructed, but we eventually gather that this model nobleman was nearly crushed by the deaths of his only son and his wife, but pulled back from the brink of dying of grief by the ministrations of his daughter, Matilda, and the exhortations of his priest, Father Anselm. (There are various ominous allusions here to Reginald’s possessions and the guardianship of Matilda falling into the hands of his wicked brother which oddly lead to nothing.) Reginald is brought to a state of submission to the will of God, and finally decides to cheer himself up by signing up for a crusade and slaughtering some Muslims.

After four years of this, Reginald is given permission to return to England to nurse his wounds and his shattered constitution. He is accompanied by his retainers—well, by some of them…

…he and his faithful followers, the few that survived the many encounters to which their lord had led them…

Once Reginald is back in England, Reginald du Bray loses interest in history, and becomes merely (in the words of The Monthly Review) “an imitation of ancient romance”; though I dispute their descriptor “tolerable”.

Though we’ve been led to expect Reginald’s brother to emerge as the story’s villain, instead the main plot concerns the machinations of Reginald’s nearest neighbour, “Ardulph, son of Simon de Fitzwalter”, whose constant state of ridiculously exaggerated passion is the source of some sorely needed if inadvertent humour. Reginald and Simon are, or were, old enemies—

He was proud, vindictive, and violent; and this urged him to join the discontented barons, and take up arms against his sovereign. Oft he had tried to seduce Reginald, whose castle was within a small distance of his, from his loyalty; but his fidelity was not to be shaken; and when he joined the standard of his king, he thrice took Simon prisoner, and twice did his heavy ransom contribute to the coffers of Reginald…

When Simon dies, he bequeaths his hatred of the du Brays to his son, Ardulph, who is even more proud, vindictive and violent than his father, but better able to hide it.

Even as he plots for a way to revenge himself upon Reginald, Ardulph hears about “the matchless charms” of Matilda. Disguising himself, he mingles with the crowd of supplicants drawn by Matilda’s regular charity:

An artful tale of distress melted the compassionate heart of Matilda, and she relieved the wants of the pretended mendicant, with unfeigned generosity. His eyes drank large draughts of love from the inexhaustible fountain of her beauty, and he saw, with grief, the time allowed for his stay expired. He hastened homewards in an agony of despair and affliction: his passions were all up in arms, and he determined to possess Matilda or die…

(Yeah, yeah: you could make a drinking-game out of all the times Ardulph threatens to do such-and-such or die…)

Ardulph quickly sees a way of killing two birds with one stone: of destroying Reginald through his daughter. To this end, he sues for peace under a guise of assumed meekness and regret, and becomes a frequent visitor at the castle of the du Brays.

Ardulph has his attractions, but unfortunately for him Matilda’s heart the heart of Matilda is already guarded by a vision of her ideal. Upon Reginald’s return, celebratory feasts are held; and the former crusader is led to speak of his experiences—in particular, when his life was saved by the intervention of a certain young knight:

“When his helmet was struck off in the fight, I saw, with amazement, the face of a youth scarce arrived at manhood: his eyes sparkled with such fire and vivacity, that it was impossible for his foes to endure the fury of his looks; his features were rather beautiful than handsome; and his face bespoke the emotions of his soul, that burned with the desire of glory, and the hope of atchieving a name in arms against the foes of our holy faith. His auburn hair shaded his forehead, and falling in curls over his neck, added a manly grace to his countenance…”

Reginald goes on to describe how the young man avoided his praise and any general recognition, even to the point of keeping his identity a secret:

The soul of Matilda hung upon the words of her father. She longed to thank the hero that rescued him from death: her heart burnt with gratitude, and the lively description of the charms of the young warrior sunk deep in her remembrance…

And since Matilda is a well brought up young lady of the 13th century, that is, her existence is stiflingly narrow and deadly dull, daydreams of the young knight become her solace as she goes about her duties.

Ardulph, meanwhile, though occasionally toying with the thought of honourable marriage as his passion for Matlida grows, finally determines to seek an opportunity to abduct her. This is granted when, in a false state of security engendered by her father’s return, Matilda begins straying further from the castle, wandering in the grounds of Reginald’s estate with only her “damsels” for company and protection.

On one of these excursions, Matilda has an encounter:

The sight of two peasants who rose from the ground at her approach, stopped her. She drew near them. Struck with her appearance, they bent their knees to the ground in humble adoration. So respectful a posture gave her no apprehensions, and she went up to them: they were young, and one of them was particularly handsome…

This pleasant interlude is succeeded by one distinctly unpleasant, as Matilda finds herself confronted by a small band of armed men, one of whom tells her outright that, voluntarily or by force, she must come with them. He has just laid hands upon Matilda when succour arrives—

Matilda scarce believed she was free, so sudden was the change. She turned to behold her deliverer: it was the young peasant. She was dumb with pleasure and astonishment. His eyes had no longer that softness with which they had adored her but just before: they sparkled wild with rage and indignation, and withered the arm that was upraised to strike him. His features were no longer composed in the smiles of peace; fury and revenge were visible in his countenance…

A bloody tussle ensues—

He turned, and saw the danger.— “Base slave, the life I disdained to take before, is now forfeited by thy villainy.” He spoke: his sword, quick as the flash of angry heaven, followed his words. The cloven head of the coward fell asunder, and he dropped lifeless on the earth…

—much to the annoyance of the leader of the abductors, who feels particularly aggrieved at being interfered with by a couple of peasants:

    “Villain,” said he who arrived first, “what brought thee here? or why hast thou opposed these men?”
    “Because,” replied the young peasant, to whom this speech was addressed, “they insulted helpless innocence, and violated the retirement of beauty.”
    “I see,” rejoined the horseman, “thy base arm has accomplished the death of one of them; thy life shall be the forfeit.”
    “I will not avoid the combat,” said the peasant; “let me be armed as thou art, or alight from thy horse, and, if thy valour prevail, let my life atone for his; for be assured I will not shun thy arm.”
    “The advantage fortune has given me over thee I will use to the best of my power,” replied the horseman, drawing his sword, and clapping spurs to his steed at the same instant…

The peasant’s response is both prompt and amusingly prosaic: jumping aside, he whacks the horse across its nose with the flat of his sword, which causes it to buck and run. The other villains take their cue and run away too, leaving Matilda and the peasant to make lengthy speeches (and goo-goo eyes) at one another.

The Suspiciously Superior Peasant is one of the earliest established and most persistent tropes of the sentimental and Gothic novels, varying only in whether a gentleman’s son or occasionally daughter was somehow lost or the victim of a plot, or (more rarely) whether an individual chose to disguise themselves.

This instance of it, however, is particularly stupid, and undermines any claim by Reginald du Bray to being historical fiction rather than a late-18th century sentimental novel in disguise.

In this case the peasant is of course Reginald’s veray parfit gentil knight, masquerading for no reason that makes any sense in the 13th century, i.e. so as not to “presume” upon his saving of Reginald’s life and his rescue of Matilda, and in the hope of making Matilda fall in love with him “for himself”. This absurd imposition of values some five hundred years out of their appropriate time period actually ends up causing Matilda no end of grief, as she is led into what amounts to misbehaviour, with the consequent damaging of her reputation.

The masquerade also gives Ardulph a chance to plant a mole in the household of the man he comes to recognise as his romantic rival, with the result that the person we eventually learn is really Lord Edmund de Clifford is led into a trap that lands him in Ardulph’s dungeons. So, well done, Edmund!

But all this is to anticipate.

The “peasants” slip away in spite of Matilda’s plea that they will allow Reginald to reward them; while the surviving abductors have to face Ardulph, who reacts to their failure in his usual calm and reasonable way:

“Cowards! slaves! base cowards! ye shall feel the weight of my heavy indignation,” replied Ardulph, foaming with rage: “what, two boys! two peasant boys! shame and disgrace attend thee: me too you have involved in ruin: I shall never be admitted to the sight of the peerless Matilda again. The slave who fell, so deservedly fell, will betray me by his garb; it will be known that he belonged to me, and I shall be driven from the presence of the beauteous maid for ever; if I am, thou diest.”

However, Edric, Ardulph’s main man, assures his lord that they removed the body, so there is no evidence of who was behind the attempted abduction.

Around this time, Edward ascends to the throne of England. Across the land, tournaments are held to mark the occasion, with Reginald arranging a particularly splendid event. Ardulph proves himself the supreme knight present, defeating all comers and emerging triumphant over the first two days of the tournament—during which he wears Matilda’s colours without bothering to ask her permission. While this makes everyone else assume a betrothal in the making, Matilda cannot like Ardulph even in his pretended humility, and resents his presumption.

Her secret wishes are fulfilled just as Ardulph is about to announced as the tournament’s champion: he receives a challenge from someone calling himself “the Unknown Knight”, who kicks his butt in the field and then relieves him of Matilda’s colours.

The Unknown Knight is acclaimed by the crowd, and invited by Reginald to become a guest at his castle; which offer is, however, declined—at some length:

“Permit me, noble Reginald,” replied the stranger, “to avoid thy courtesy: reasons of high import, prevent my making myself known to you, and require concealment. My thanks are due to you, for your hospitable invitation; but as I came here unknown, relying on the faith of knighthood, so I hope to depart.” — “Ill would it become me,” replied the baron, “to force you with ungentlemanly discourtesy, to discover yourself, when you wish concealment; I have only to lament that I have not the happiness of being known to so accomplished a knight, or want worth to merit his confidence.” — “No, generous Reginald,” said the stranger, “no; it is from no such cause I desire to be unknown: accuse not yourself of want of worth, nor me with want of discernment to acknowledge it: be assured on the faith of a true knight, I will soon discover myself to you, but it must be in a more private manner.”

(After all this mysterious persiflage, the stupid reasons for Edmund’s concealment are even more exasperating.)

Ardulph takes a moment here to send Edric to follow the Unknown Knight, before revealing that in addition to all his other sterling qualities, he’s a really sore loser:

“You see me, Reginald,” said the furious Ardulph; “you see me covered with shame, confusion, and disgrace; my arms are needless to me now. Shave me, and hide this inglorious head beneath a cowl; the only garb that becomes the recreant Ardulph. Buried is my fame; tarnished is my glory; and sunk forever my name in arms.” — “Be consoled,” said the courteous Reginald; “it was no common arm that overthrew you; the issue of the field is ever doubtful, and there is no man but what is liable to be overcome: great is the glory you have acquired; nor can it be tarnished by one misfortune.” — “It is to me,” replied Ardulph; “to be overcome, to me is death: shame will cloath me; disgrace will attend me: no more must I pretend to cope with men, or enter the lists of honour with the mighty. No, it is fitter for me inglorious, to assume a peasant’s habit and till the earth—Curse on this nerveless arm, that could not defend its master, or obey the dictates of his heart… I never can, I never shall forget this day; this cursed day, that has robbed me of my fame and my happiness. No, Reginald, thanks for thy courtesy; I will retire, and hide my head in solitude, till the memory of my shame is no more. Let the happy seek pleasure; it is mine to shun it. No day like this will ever come again; no day so replete with misery and disgrace to the wretched Ardulph.”

Edric succeeds in tracking the Unknown Knight, aka the Suspiciously Superior Peasant, aka Lord Edmund, to his secluded house. There he inveigles himself into Edmund’s favour, and wins a place in his retinue, by representing himself and his family as victims of Ardulph’s cruelty.

The story Edric tells to Edmund is, of course, a complete lie; a very complete lie; a lie delivered in excruciating detail, and ultimately running to some 12 pages: 12 pages in a “novel” running only 151 pages to start with: a rare case of the interpolated narrative run mad inside the interpolated narrative run mad.

Meanwhile, Matilda is busy convincing herself that the Suspiciously Superior Peasant and the Unknown Knight are one and the same; though it hasn’t yet occurred to her to link these figures with her father’s rescuer. She begins to venture out into the grounds again (chiefly, we are told with a straight face, because, Lord Ardulph was confined to his castle with chagrin, mortification and rage), and spends a lot of time pouring her musings into the ears of her main attendant, Martha.

During these walks, she begins to encounter the peasant, who courts her first via distant love-songs, then via speeches delivered from his knees and with a bowed head. He also confirms two of his identities; though he continues to resist Matilda’s invitations to her father’s castle. His language, however, is such that Matilda cannot go on pretending that she doesn’t understand him. She reproves him, insisting that she cannot listen to such talk without her father’s approbation.

This, bizarrely enough, provokes an Ardulph-like overreaction:

“Then despair, Edmund, despair and eternal woe must be thy portion…”

You see what I mean, don’t you? – about this being an 18th century sentimental novel in poor disguise? Edmund is so determined to create romantic difficulties for himself and Matilda where none exist that he ends nearly getting himself and Reginald killed, and all but hands Matilda over into Ardulph’s power. Yet typically, the author seems blithely unaware that his hero is being a complete (and dangerous) prat.

Edmund’s pertinacity forces Matilda to return to the castle, leaving him, motionless with grief and despair. He then continues to hang around in the grounds, despite the sensible suggestion of his esquire, Alwin (the other “peasant”), that they, you know, go home:

“Why do we remain here?” said he; “the lady is retired, and the shades of night encompass us.” — “It will be always night with Edmund: the sun of beauty is set to me, and darkness and horrors succeed…”

Good God. At least when Ardulph does it, it’s funny.

Alwin finally gets his way, and Edmund mopes at home instead of moping in the garden:

Edmund passed the night in a state of of the greatest inquietude. Many schemes did he revolve in his mind; the only design of them was to see Matilda, and implore her pardon. They were all fruitless, all abortive in the wretched lover’s imagination…

Hey, here’s an idea: I mean, call me crazy, but why don’t you INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO HER FATHER, WHOSE LIFE YOU SAVED!!!!????

Sorry. I don’t know WHAT I could have been thinking. Instead, Edmund starts making all sorts of plans for secret meetings with Matilda, calling upon Edric’s knowledge of Reginald’s castle (he has attended Ardulph there, but of course that’s not the version he gives Edmund).

Edmund starts hanging around under Matilda’s windows, which she notices—causing her to not hang around near her windows:

She concealed her confusion at the sight and avoided going near the window, or giving any signs that she encouraged the pursuit of a man who was unknown to her, and who so obstinately refused to make himself known to her father

Emphasis mine, of course.

This goes on and on as autumn passes into winter, until at last Matilda can’t stand it any more—or his behalf, or her own. Sending Martha out to tell him to go away, Matilda makes this entirely sensible protest, voicing concerns that seem not to have crossed the mind of her self-absorbed lover:

“Surely,” said Matilda, “there is no part of my behaviour, surprised as I was by the sudden interview, that could have given him any encouragement, or inspire him with the hope, that I should approve the boldness of his conduct. Oh, Martha, contrive some method of sending him from thence; there are a thousand eyes that are watchful to find a blemish in the in the unsullied reputation of innocence. Slander will represent him as thus disguised by my appointment, and calumny will stain my unspotted name…”

Martha leads Edmund away from the attending Edric (there for his geographical knowledge, though I like to think that Alwin has dug his heels in) and delivers her message. Of course Edmund goes into fits of despair—and of course, he insists on being dismissed by Matilda in person. Martha finally agrees to try and arrange a meeting, promising to put a signal candle in a certain lower window of the castle the following night, should she succeed.

The signal duly appears; and so fixated is Edmund upon the upcoming meeting, he lets Edric lead him into a trap.

The gloating Ardulph summons his retainers and hangers-on to witness Edmund’s humiliation—he thinks:

The company cast their regards on Edmund, who stood unmoved in the midst of danger, and, with an intrepid look, beheld his foe: indignation and and disdain were visible in his countenance; and his eyes, that hurled defiance, contemptuous defiance to Ardulph, shot flames, that blasted the hopes of his abandoned confederates. Even the haughty soul of Ardulph was humbled before him. He stood in his presence, silent and confused; and the virtuous Edmund did not then less triumph over him, than when he overthrew him on the plain, and tore from him the badge of his ostentatious love for Matilda.

That went well.

Edmund almost goads Ardulph into one-to-one combat, but Edric intervenes. He advises Ardulph to invite Reginald to his castle and to ask him for Matilda’s hand. She, no doubt humiliated by Edmund’s no-show, might be willing; if not, both she and Reginald can be taken by force, with Edmund around to witness the consequences. Ardulph likes this plan, and has Edmund thrown into his dungeon.

This is really the only Gothicky touch in Reginald du Bray, and even here the author is less interested in the horrors of Edmund’s surroundings than in finding further opportunities for people to make speeches.

Edric has read Matilda’s mood correctly: she excoriates herself for agreeing to the secret meeting, assuming that Edmund – despite having begged for the meeting in the first place – is so disgusted with her “lightness” that he has lost all interest in her. (This too is a common and infuriating 18th century touch.)

Reginald, meanwhile, accepts Ardulph’s invitation and arrives at his castle only lightly attended. Things start pleasantly enough but soon go off the rails when Ardulph sues for Matilda’s hand. Reginald is willing enough on his own account, but insists upon Matilda’s consent being asked. Ardulph’s instant gloom raises Reginald’s suspicion; ironically enough, he reproves Ardulph for (as he supposes) already having tried to gain Matilda’s affections behind his, Reginald’s, back: how else could he be so sure of her feelings?—

“I will not answer your reproach,” rejoined Ardulph, “in the manner it deserves; but will avow that I never attempted to gain her affections in any other manner than I could always justify; yet well I know that she has received the addresses of others, and can be kind to some inferior in quality to me, and unworthy her.” — “Ill it befits thee, lord Ardulph, to stain the good fame of my daughter with thy ungenerous imputations; I tell thee, that the mother that bore thee was not more virtuous than my child.” — “It suiteth not the deportment of a virtuous maiden to have midnight-meetings with a man whom she knoweth not, but as he weareth the appearance of a man; such a conduct bespeaketh not a chaste or virtuous mind.” — “‘Tis false,” replied Reginald, whose honour was stung to the quick by the aspersions thrown on his daughter; “’tis false as hell, and the revenge unmanly thou takest for the slight my daughter has shewn thee.” — “I will prove it,” said Ardulph, “nay, prove that she sent for her paramour to meet her.”

And guess what? ARDULPH IS THE ONE IN THE RIGHT HERE, thank you so very bloody much, Lord Edmund “I love creating difficulties and embarrassments” de Clifford.

Yeesh.

Anyway— Reginald is provoked into calling Ardulph a liar to his face. He reacts with his usual level-headedness and sense of proportion, and not only drops any pretence of friendship to Reginald, but reveals it was always pretence, a mask assumed to assist his revenge in his father’s name. He waves away Reginald’s insistence that he stand upon his honour with regard to his own safety as his guest, under the laws of hospitality, and takes Reginald prisoner—telling him that the price of his freedom will be Matilda.

Messengers are sent to give Matilda a slightly skewed version of these events, prompting her to set out to her father’s succour. One of the messengers, primed by Edric, tells Matilda that Edmund has joined forces with Ardulph, and that he is responsible for Reginald’s duress. The sensible Martha rubbishes this idea, but Matilda frets herself into a stew over it.

Meanwhile, Ardulph is finding out that imprisoning Reginald is more difficult than he expected: the old knight and his chief attendant, William, manage to hold off Ardulph’s men on their own (their strength being the strength of ten, etc.), while Ardulph himself stands back and gives a pretty good impression of Melville Cooper’s Sheriff of Nottingham:

…the arm that went to seize him lost its power; for the sword of the warrior severed it from his body. His companions beheld the sight with dismay, and retreated: at a distance they eyed their prey, and feared to meet the fate of their comrade. “Slaves,” said Ardulph, “are you awed by a withered arm? But that I scorn so poor a conquest, I would shew you how little you had to dread.”

Things hang in the balance when an unexpected player tips the scale. Ardulph’s current mistress, Alicia, has heard with dismay his plans regarding Matilda, fearing that in spite of his declared purpose of destroying her, Ardulph will end up falling for her instead. While the stand-off in the hall proceeds, Alicia therefore slips down into the dungeons and releases Edmund. He hurries to the rescue, collecting along the way more of Reginald’s men, who had been kept from him.

As it happens, Edmund on his way in meets Edric on his way out:

He would have fled, but surprise and fear tied his feet. He aimed a blow at him with a trembling random hand. Edmund caught his arm ere it fell; “Die, slave, traiterous, miserable caitiff, die.” He spoke, and snatching Edric’s sword from his nerveless hand, he plunged his own into his breast…

Edmund then confronts Ardulph:

Grief and rage had blanched the roses in his cheeks! his hair stood wild, and matted! part fell, and shading his eyes, seemed to hide the vengeance which they threatened, too dreadful to behold! In his left hand gleamed Edric’s sword: his right brandished his faulchion, yet dropping with the traitor’s blood…

(This seems a tad excessive for twelve hours’ imprisonment, but anyhoo…)

Since I’ve already invoked The Adventures Of Robin Hood, I’ll invoke it again—with Edmund and Ardulph sword-fighting and speechifying all over the hall, until the inevitable happens; putting an end to the sword-fighting, if not the speechifying; though it is Alicia who gets to deliver the eulogy:

“Thou hast slain the noble Ardulph then,” replied the dame; “curse on these hands that released thee from thy captivity, and may the arm wither that was raised against the life of Ardulph. Ho, help! the wretch has slain the lord Ardulph. My screams shall rouse their coward souls to be revenged of thee. Mayest thou find Matilda as averse to thee as she was to Ardulph, and hate thee as much as I do.”

Edmund doesn’t stay to bandy words, but rushes out of the castle to head off Matilda and her retinue. Reginald, however, overhears Alicia’s parting shot and becomes convinced that what Ardulph told him about Matilda was true. He too sets out to find Matilda, but not in a good way…

Matilda herself is soon confronted by Edmund, but not the Edmund she’s used to:

…she beheld him bloody: a sword in his hand, yet stained with slaughter: his looks wild and ghastly. It was too much! it was insupportable! Every distressing, every horrid idea crowded into her find at once. She could only pronounce, “Oh, Edmund, oh, my father,” and fell into a deadly swoon…

Consequently, when Reginald arrives he finds, as he imagines, his daughter lying in her lover’s arms—and never mind that she is barely conscious, that the two of them are in the middle of the road in the middle of the day, and that they’re surrounded by Matilda’s ladies-in-waiting and her priest!—

“Degenerate girl, (said he, seeing them still in the same posture, while Edmund’s back was turned to him.) Is it in the hour of thy father’s danger, that thou comest to meet and indulge thyself with thy paramour? Is it thus, that the daughter of Reginald demeans herself? And is it thus, that the fame of Matilda is to become the talk of common mouths? I had flattered myself with the hopes that thou wouldst not have brought disgrace on thy father’s grey hairs, and have bestowed thy affections on thou knowest not whom: and he, whosoever he be, must be base and unworthy, to have thus attempted to stain the honour of an untainted house; and seek to rob me of the treasure of my declining years: but, old as I am, I will take care of my honour, and that of my family.”

Thankfully, Edmund finally stems this outpouring by showing his face

“Lord Reginald,” said he, “you wrong me; the soul of Edmund is incapable of doing such base acts: ’tis true I love your daughter; I—!” — “Gracious heaven!” cried Reginald, throwing himself off his horse, and embracing the youth: “This, this is he, Matilda; this is he of whom you have heard me speak: this is the gallant knight who rescued thy father from the hands of the infidels. Matilda, embrace the deliverer of thy father…”

Oh. Okay. If you insist. And if isn’t too degenerate.

Yeesh!

Edmund’s explanation of his behaviour comes on the second-last page of Reginald du Bray, at which point the reader is made painfully aware that none of this needed to happen. Be that as it may, neither Reginald nor Matilda seems to find anything untoward in his conduct; or perhaps the former, at least, is distracted from the real issue by the revelation of Edmund’s surname. This is how this it all ends—

—noting that Edmund receives permission to marry Matilda the moment he reveals his name

“De Clifford!” exclaimed Reginald: “he is my old, my approved, my honoured friend. Yes, Edmund, I will now discharge the debt of gratitude, that I have so long owed thee: and will not Matilda help me to pay it?” The lovely maid blushed as her father spoke, and on his repeating the question, replied—

Really. That’s it.

This abrupt conclusion functions to remind us that it was not originally the end of a novel at all, but merely the end of a volume. The Rival Friends; or, The Noble Recluse is, as I have said, a lost work; so I guess we’ll never know whether the story of Reginald, Matilda and Edmund carried on into Volume III, or whether Volume III opened with someone complaining, “This is stupid, don’t you know any other stories…?”

 

4 Comments to “Reginald du Bray: An Historic(k) Tale”

  1. I’m now picturing you striding wild-eyed and matted-haired into the study of A. Late Nobleman with his pen in your left hand and your own in your right, to strike him down for base perfidy.

    • …while uttering, “Die, slave, traiterous, miserable caitiff, die.” 😀

      The only thing saving A. Late Nobleman is that this isn’t any longer. It strikes me it’s quite short even for a volume rather than a book: I’m reading a three-volume novel now where each of them is over 300 pages (and I’m feeling every one).

  2. “Son, I have nothing to pass on to you but the castle, the lands, and a pointless burning hatred of our neighbour.”

    • Pointless but not unjustified. I did have a laugh at the image of Reginald playing catch-and-release with Simon (though I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to).

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