Puck of Pook's Hill
Part 2 out of 4
'South?' said Dan suddenly, and put his hand into
'With my own eyes I saw it. Every day and all day long,
though the ship rolled, though the sun and the moon and
the stars were hid, this blind Spirit in the iron knew
whither it would go, and strained to the South. Witta
called it the Wise Iron, because it showed him his way
across the unknowable seas.' Again Sir Richard looked
keenly at the children. 'How think ye? Was it sorcery?'
'Was it anything like this?' Dan fished out his old brass
pocket-compass, that generally lived with his knife and
key-ring. 'The glass has got cracked, but the needle
waggles all right, sir.'
The knight drew a long breath of wonder. 'Yes, yes!
The Wise Iron shook and swung in just this fashion. Now
it is still. Now it points to the South.'
'North,' said Dan.
'Nay, South! There is the South,'said Sir Richard. Then
they both laughed, for naturally when one end of a
straight compass-needle points to the North, the other
must point to the South.
'Te,' said Sir Richard, clicking his tongue. 'There can be
no sorcery if a child carries it. Wherefore does it point
South - or North?'
'Father says that nobody knows,' said Una.
Sir Richard looked relieved. 'Then it may still be magic.
It was magic to us. And so we voyaged. When the wind
served we hoisted sail, and lay all up along the windward
rail, our shields on our backs to break the spray. When it
failed, they rowed with long oars; the Yellow Man sat by
the Wise Iron, and Witta steered. At first I feared the
great white-flowering waves, but as I saw how wisely
Witta led his ship among them I grew bolder. Hugh liked
it well from the first. My skill is not upon the water; and
rocks and whirlpools such as we saw by the West Isles of
France, where an oar caught on a rock and broke, are
much against my stomach. We sailed South across a
stormy sea, where by moonlight, between clouds, we saw
a Flanders ship roll clean over and sink. Again, though
Hugh laboured with Witta all night, I lay under the deck
with the Talking Bird, and cared not whether I lived or
died. There is a sickness of the sea which for three days is
pure death! When we next saw land Witta said it was
Spain, and we stood out to sea. That coast was full of
ships busy in the Duke's war against the Moors, and we
feared to be hanged by the Duke's men or sold into
slavery by the Moors. So we put into a small harbour
which Witta knew. At night men came down with loaded
mules, and Witta exchanged amber out of the North
against little wedges of iron and packets of beads in
earthen pots. The pots he put under the decks, and the
wedges of iron he laid on the bottom of the ship after he
had cast out the stones and shingle which till then had
been our ballast. Wine, too, he bought for lumps of
sweet-smelling grey amber - a little morsel no bigger than
a thumb-nail purchased a cask of wine. But I speak like a
'No, no! Tell us what you had to eat,' cried Dan.
'Meat dried in the sun, and dried fish and ground
beans, Witta took in; and corded frails of a certain sweet,
soft fruit, which the Moors use, which is like paste of figs,
but with thin, long stones. Aha! Dates is the name.
"'Now," said Witta, when the ship was loaded, "I
counsel you strangers to pray to your Gods, for, from
here on, our road is No Man's road." He and his men
killed a black goat for sacrifice on the bows; and the
Yellow Man brought out a small, smiling image of dull-
green stone and burned incense before it. Hugh and I
commended ourselves to God, and Saint Barnabas, and
Our Lady of the Assumption, who was specially dear to
my Lady. We were not young, but I think no shame to say
whenas we drove out of that secret harbour at sunrise
over a still sea, we two rejoiced and sang as did the
knights of old when they followed our great Duke to
England. Yet was our leader an heathen pirate; all our
proud fleet but one galley perilously overloaded; for
guidance we leaned on a pagan sorcerer; and our port
was beyond the world's end. Witta told us that his father
Guthrum had once in his life rowed along the shores of
Africa to a land where naked men sold gold for iron and
beads. There had he bought much gold, and no few
elephants' teeth, and thither by help of the Wise Iron
would Witta go. Witta feared nothing - except to be poor.
"'My father told me," said Witta, "that a great Shoal
runs three days' sail out from that land, and south of the
shoal lies a Forest which grows in the sea. South and east
of the Forest my father came to a place where the men hid
gold in their hair; but all that country, he said, was full of
Devils who lived in trees, and tore folk limb from limb.
How think ye?"
"'Gold or no gold," said Hugh, fingering his sword, "it
is a joyous venture. Have at these Devils of thine, Witta!"
"'Venture!" said Witta sourly. "I am only a poor
sea-thief. I do not set my life adrift on a plank for joy, or
the venture. Once I beach ship again at Stavanger, and
feel the wife's arms round my neck, I'll seek no more
ventures. A ship is heavier care than a wife or cattle."
'He leaped down among the rowers, chiding them for
their little strength and their great stomachs. Yet Witta
was a wolf in fight, and a very fox in cunning.
'We were driven South by a storm, and for three days
and three nights he took the stern-oar, and threddled the
longship through the sea. When it rose beyond measure
he brake a pot of whale's oil upon the water, which
wonderfully smoothed it, and in that anointed patch he
turned her head to the wind and threw out oars at the end
of a rope, to make, he said, an anchor at which we lay
rolling sorely, but dry. This craft his father Guthrum had
shown him. He knew, too, all the Leech-Book of Bald,
who was a wise doctor, and he knew the Ship-Book of
Hlaf the Woman, who robbed Egypt. He knew all the
care of a ship.
'After the storm we saw a mountain whose top was
covered with snow and pierced the clouds. The grasses
under this mountain, boiled and eaten, are a good cure
for soreness of the gums and swelled ankles. We lay there
eight days, till men in skins threw stones at us. When the
heat increased Witta spread a cloth on bent sticks above
the rowers, for the wind failed between the Island of the
Mountain and the shore of Africa, which is east of it. That
shore is sandy, and we rowed along it within three
bowshots. Here we saw whales, and fish in the shape of
shields, but longer than our ship. Some slept, some
opened their mouths at us, and some danced on the hot
waters. The water was hot to the hand, and the sky was
hidden by hot, grey mists, out of which blew a fine dust
that whitened our hair and beards of a morning. Here,
too, were fish that flew in the air like birds. They would
fall on the laps of the rowers, and when we went ashore
we would roast and eat them.'
The knight paused to see if the children doubted him,
but they only nodded and said, 'Go on.'
'The yellow land lay on our left, the grey sea on our
right. Knight though I was, I pulled my oar amongst the
rowers. I caught seaweed and dried it, and stuffed it
between the pots of beads lest they should break. Knighthood
is for the land. At sea, look you, a man is but a
spurless rider on a bridleless horse. I learned to make
strong knots in ropes - yes, and to join two ropes end to
end, so that even Witta could scarcely see where they had
been married. But Hugh had tenfold more sea-cunning
than I. Witta gave him charge of the rowers of the left
side. Thorkild of Borkum, a man with a broken nose, that
wore a Norman steel cap, had the rowers of the right, and
each side rowed and sang against the other. They saw
that no man Was idle. Truly, as Hugh said, and Witta
would laugh at him, a ship is all more care than a Manor.
'How? Thus. There was water to fetch from the shore
when we could find it, as well as wild fruit and grasses,
and sand for scrubbing of the decks and benches to keep
them sweet. Also we hauled the ship out on low islands
and emptied all her gear, even to the iron wedges, and
burned off the weed, that had grown on her, with torches
of rush, and smoked below the decks with rushes
dampened in salt water, as Hlaf the Woman orders in her
Ship-Book. Once when we were thus stripped, and the
ship lay propped on her keel, the bird cried, "Out
swords!" as though she saw an enemy. Witta vowed he
would wring her neck.'
'Poor Polly! Did he?' said Una.
'Nay. She was the ship's bird. She could call all the
rowers by name ... Those were good days - for a
wifeless man - with Witta and his heathen - beyond the
world's end ... After many weeks we came on the great
Shoal which stretched, as Witta's father had said, far out
to sea. We skirted it till we were giddy with the sight and
dizzy with the sound of bars and breakers, and when we
reached land again we found a naked black people dwelling
among woods, who for one wedge of iron loaded us
with fruits and grasses and eggs. Witta scratched his
head at them in sign he would buy gold. They had no
gold, but they understood the sign (all the gold-traders
hide their gold in their thick hair), for they pointed along
the coast. They beat, too, on their chests with their
clenched hands, and that, if we had known it, was an evil sign.'
'What did it mean?' said Dan.
'Patience. Ye shall hear. We followed the coast eastward
sixteen days (counting time by sword-cuts on the
helm-rail) till we came to the Forest in the Sea. Trees grew
there out of mud, arched upon lean and high roots, and
many muddy waterways ran allwhither into darkness,
under the trees. Here we lost the sun. We followed the
winding channels between the trees, and where we
could not row we laid hold of the crusted roots and
hauled ourselves along. The water was foul, and great
glittering flies tormented us. Morning and evening a blue
mist covered the mud, which bred fevers. Four of our
rowers sickened, and were bound to their benches, lest
they should leap overboard and be eaten by the monsters
of the mud. The Yellow Man lay sick beside the Wise
Iron, rolling his head and talking in his own tongue. Only
the Bird throve. She sat on Witta's shoulder and screamed
in that noisome, silent darkness. Yes; I think it was the
silence we most feared.'
He paused to listen to the comfortable home noises of
'When we had lost count of time among those black
gullies and swashes we heard, as it were, a drum beat far
off, and following it we broke into a broad, brown river
by a hut in a clearing among fields of pumpkins. We
thanked God to see the sun again. The people of the
village gave the good welcome, and Witta scratched his
head at them (for gold), and showed them our iron and
beads. They ran to the bank - we were still in the ship -
and pointed to our swords and bows, for always when
near shore we lay armed. Soon they fetched store of gold
in bars and in dust from their huts, and some great
blackened elephants' teeth. These they piled on the
bank, as though to tempt us, and made signs of dealing
blows in battle, and pointed up to the tree-tops, and to
the forest behind. Their captain or chief sorcerer then
beat on his chest with his fists, and gnashed his teeth.
'Said Thorkild of Borkum: "Do they mean we must
fight for all this gear?" and he half drew sword.
"'Nay," said Hugh. "I think they ask us to league
against some enemy."
"'I like this not," said Witta, of a sudden. "Back into
'So we did, and sat still all, watching the black folk and
the gold they piled on the bank. Again we heard drums
beat in the forest, and the people fled to their huts,
leaving the gold unguarded.
'Then Hugh, at the bows, pointed without speech, and
we saw a great Devil come out of the forest. He shaded
his brows with his hand, and moistened his pink tongue
between his lips - thus.'
'A Devil!' said Dan, delightfully horrified.
'Yea. Taller than a man; covered with reddish hair.
When he had well regarded our ship, he beat on his chest
with his fists till it sounded like rolling drums, and came
to the bank swinging all his body between his long arms,
and gnashed his teeth at us. Hugh loosed arrow, and
pierced him through the throat. He fell roaring, and three
other Devils ran out of the forest and hauled him into a
tall tree out of sight. Anon they cast down the blood-
stained arrow, and lamented together among the leaves.
Witta saw the gold on the bank; he was loath to leave it.
"Sirs," said he (no man had spoken till then), "yonder is
what we have come so far and so painfully to find, laid
out to our very hand. Let us row in while these Devils
bewail themselves, and at least bear off what we may."
'Bold as a wolf, cunning as a fox was Witta! He set four
archers on the fore-deck to shoot the Devils if they should
leap from the tree, which was close to the bank. He
manned ten oars a side, and bade them watch his hand to
row in or back out, and so coaxed he them toward the
bank. But none would set foot ashore, though the gold
was within ten paces. No man is hasty to his hanging!
They whimpered at their oars like beaten hounds, and
Witta bit his fingers for rage.
'Said Hugh of a sudden, "Hark!" At first we thought it
was the buzzing of the glittering flies on the water; but it
grew loud and fierce, so that all men heard.'
'What?' said Dan and Una.
'It was the Sword.' Sir Richard patted the smooth hilt.
'It sang as a Dane sings before battle. "I go," said Hugh,
and he leaped from the bows and fell among the gold. I
was afraid to my four bones' marrow, but for shame's
sake I followed, and Thorkild of Borkum leaped after me.
None other came. "Blame me not," cried Witta behind
us, "I must abide by my ship." We three had no time to
blame or praise. We stooped to the gold and threw it back
over our shoulders, one hand on our swords and one eye
on the tree, which nigh overhung us.
'I know not how the Devils leaped down, or how the
fight began. I heard Hugh cry: "Out! out!" as though he
were at Santlache again; I saw Thorkild's steel cap smitten
off his head by a great hairy hand, and I felt an arrow
from the ship whistle past my ear. They say that till Witta
took his sword to the rowers he could not bring his ship
inshore; and each one of the four archers said afterwards
that he alone had pierced the Devil that fought me. I do
not know. I went to it in my mail-shirt, which saved my
skin. With long-sword and belt-dagger I fought for the
life against a Devil whose very feet were hands, and who
whirled me back and forth like a dead branch. He had me
by the waist, my arms to my side, when an arrow from
the ship pierced him between the shoulders, and he
loosened grip. I passed my sword twice through him,
and he crutched himself away between his long arms,
coughing and moaning. Next, as I remember, I saw
Thorkild of Borkum, bare-headed and smiling, leaping
up and down before a Devil that leaped and gnashed his
teeth. Then Hugh passed, his sword shifted to his left
hand, and I wondered why I had not known that Hugh
was a left-handed man; and thereafter I remembered
nothing till I felt spray on my face, and we were in
sunshine on the open sea. That was twenty days after.'
'What had happened? Did Hugh die?'the children asked.
'Never was such a fight fought by christened man,'
said Sir Richard. 'An arrow from the ship had saved me
from my Devil, and Thorkild of Borkum had given back
before his Devil, till the bowmen on the ship could shoot
it all full of arrows from near by; but Hugh's Devil was
cunning, and had kept behind trees, where no arrow
could reach. Body to body there, by stark strength of
sword and hand, had Hugh slain him, and, dying, the
Thing had clenched his teeth on the sword. Judge what
teeth they were!'
Sir Richard turned the sword again that the children
might see the two great chiselled gouges on either side of
'Those same teeth met in Hugh's right arm and side,'
Sir Richard went on. 'I? Oh, I had no more than a broken
foot and a fever. Thorkild's ear was bitten, but Hugh's
arm and side clean withered away. I saw him where he
lay along, sucking a fruit in his left hand. His flesh was
wasted off his bones, his hair was patched with white,
and his hand was blue-veined like a woman's. He put his
left arm round my neck and whispered, "Take my sword.
It has been thine since Hastings, O my brother, but I can
never hold hilt again." We lay there on the high deck
talking of Santlache, and, I think, of every day since
Santlache, and it came so that we both wept. I was weak,
and he little more than a shadow.
"'Nay - nay," said Witta, at the helm-rail. "Gold is a
good right arm to any man. Look - look at the gold!" He
bade Thorkild show us the gold and the elephants' teeth,
as though we had been children. He had brought away
all the gold on the bank, and twice as much more, that the
people of the village gave him for slaying the Devils.
They worshipped us as Gods, Thorkild told me: it was
one of their old women healed up Hugh's poor arm.'
'How much gold did you get?'asked Dan.
'How can I say? Where we came out with wedges of
iron under the rowers' feet we returned with wedges of
gold hidden beneath planks. There was dust of gold in
packages where we slept and along the side, and cross-
wise under the benches we lashed the blackened
"'I had sooner have my right arm," said Hugh, when
he had seen all.
"'Ahai! That was my fault," said Witta. "I should have
taken ransom and landed you in France when first you
came aboard, ten months ago."
"'It is over-late now," said Hugh, laughing.
'Witta plucked at his long shoulder-lock. "But think!"
said he. "If I had let ye go - which I swear I would never
have done, for I love ye more than brothers - if I had let ye
go, by now ye might have been horribly slain by some
mere Moor in the Duke of Burgundy's war, or ye might
have been murdered by land-thieves, or ye might have
died of the plague at an inn. Think of this and do not
blame me overmuch, Hugh. See! I will only take a half of
"'I blame thee not at all, Witta," said Hugh. "It was a
joyous venture, and we thirty-five here have done what
never men have done. If I live till England, I will build me
a stout keep over Dallington out of my share."
"'I will buy cattle and amber and warm red cloth for the
wife," said Witta, "and I will hold all the land at the head
of Stavanger Fiord. Many will fight for me now. But first
we must turn North, and with this honest treasure
aboard I pray we meet no pirate ships."
'We did not laugh. We were careful. We were afraid
lest we should lose one grain of our gold, for which we
had fought Devils.
"'Where is the Sorcerer?" said I, for Witta was looking
at the Wise Iron in the box, and I could not see the Yellow Man.
"'He has gone to his own country," said he. "He rose
up in the night while we were beating out of that forest in
the mud, and said that he could see it behind the trees.
He leaped out on the mud, and did not answer when we
called; so we called no more. He left the Wise Iron, which
is all that I care for - and see, the Spirit still points
to the South."
'We were troubled for fear that the Wise Iron should
fail us now that its Yellow Man had gone, and when we
saw the Spirit still served us we grew afraid of too strong
winds, and of shoals, and of careless leaping fish, and of
all the people on all the shores where we landed.'
'Why?' said Dan.
'Because of the gold - because of our gold. Gold
changes men altogether. Thorkild of Borkum did not
change. He laughed at Witta for his fears, and at us for
our counselling Witta to furl sail when the ship pitched at all.
"'Better be drowned out of hand," said Thorkild of
Borkum, "than go tied to a deck-load of yellow dust."
'He was a landless man, and had been slave to some
King in the East. He would have beaten out the gold into
deep bands to put round the oars, and round the prow.
'Yet, though he vexed himself for the gold, Witta
waited upon Hugh like a woman, lending him his shoulder
when the ship rolled, and tying of ropes from side to
side that Hugh might hold by them. But for Hugh, he
said - and so did all his men - they would never have won
the gold. I remember Witta made a little, thin gold ring
for our Bird to swing in.
'Three months we rowed and sailed and went ashore
for fruits or to clean the ship. When we saw wild horsemen,
riding among sand-dunes, flourishing spears, we
knew we were on the Moors' coast, and stood over north
to Spain; and a strong south-west wind bore us in ten
days to a coast of high red rocks, where we heard a
hunting-horn blow among the yellow gorse and knew it
"'Now find ye Pevensey yourselves," said Witta. "I
love not these narrow ship-filled seas."
'He set the dried, salted head of the Devil, which Hugh
had killed, high on our prow, and all boats fled from us.
Yet, for our gold's sake, we were more afraid than they.
We crept along the coast by night till we came to the chalk
cliffs, and so east to Pevensey. Witta would not come
ashore with us, though Hugh promised him wine at
Dallington enough to swim in. He was on fire to see his
wife, and ran into the Marsh after sunset, and there he
left us and our share of gold, and backed out on the same
tide. He made no promise; he swore no oath; he looked
for no thanks; but to Hugh, an armless man, and to me,
an old cripple whom he could have flung into the sea, he
passed over wedge upon wedge, packet upon packet of
gold and dust of gold, and only ceased when we would
take no more. As he stooped from the rail to bid us
farewell he stripped off his right-arm bracelets and put
them all on Hugh's left, and he kissed Hugh on the
cheek. I think when Thorkild of Borkum bade the rowers
give way we were near weeping. It is true that Witta was
an heathen and a pirate; true it is he held us by force
many months in his ship, but I loved that bow-legged,
blue-eyed man for his great boldness, his cunning, his
skill, and, beyond all, for his simplicity.'
'Did he get home all right?' said Dan.
'I never knew. We saw him hoist sail under the moon-
track and stand away. I have prayed that he found his
wife and the children.'
'And what did you do?'
'We waited on the Marsh till the day. Then I sat by the
gold, all tied in an old sail, while Hugh went to Pevensey,
and De Aquila sent us horses.'
Sir Richard crossed hands on his sword-hilt, and stared
down stream through the soft warm shadows.
'A whole shipload of gold!' said Una, looking at the
little Golden Hind. 'But I'm glad I didn't see the Devils.'
'I don't believe they were Devils,'Dan whispered back.
'Eh?' said Sir Richard. 'Witta's father warned him they
were unquestionable Devils. One must believe one's
father, and not one's children. What were my Devils, then?'
Dan flushed all over. 'I - I only thought,' he stammered;
'I've got a book called The Gorilla Hunters - it's a
continuation of Coral Island, sir - and it says there that the
gorillas (they're big monkeys, you know) were always
chewing iron up.'
'Not always,' said Una. 'Only twice.' They had been
reading The Gorilla Hunters in the orchard.
'Well, anyhow, they always drummed on their chests,
like Sir Richard's did, before they went for people. And
they built houses in trees, too.'
'Ha!' Sir Richard opened his eyes. 'Houses like flat
nests did our Devils make, where their imps lay and
looked at us. I did not see them (I was sick after the fight),
but Witta told me, and, lo, ye know it also? Wonderful!
Were our Devils only nest-building apes? Is there no
sorcery left in the world?'
'I don't know,' answered Dan, uncomfortably. 'I've
seen a man take rabbits out of a hat, and he told us we
could see how he did it, if we watched hard. And we did.'
'But we didn't,' said Una, sighing. 'Oh! there's Puck!'
The little fellow, brown and smiling, peered between
two stems of an ash, nodded, and slid down the bank
into the cool beside them.
'No sorcery, Sir Richard?' he laughed, and blew on a
full dandelion head he had picked.
'They tell me that Witta's Wise Iron was a toy. The boy
carries such an iron with him. They tell me our Devils
were apes, called gorillas!' said Sir Richard, indignantly.
'That is the sorcery of books,' said Puck. 'I warned thee
they were wise children. All people can be wise by
reading of books.'
'But are the books true?' Sir Richard frowned. 'I like not
all this reading and writing.'
'Ye-es,' said Puck, holding the naked dandelion head
at arm's length. 'But if we hang all fellows who write
falsely, why did De Aquila not begin with Gilbert the
Clerk? He was false enough.'
'Poor false Gilbert. Yet, in his fashion, he was bold,'
said Sir Richard.
'What did he do?' said Dan.
'He wrote,' said Sir Richard. 'Is the tale meet for
children, think you?' He looked at Puck; but 'Tell us! Tell
us!' cried Dan and Una together.
There's no wind along these seas,
Out oars for Stavanger!
Forward all for Stavanger!
So we must wake the white-ash breeze,
Let fall for Stavanger!
A long pull for Stavanger!
Oh, hear the benches creak and strain!
(A long pull for Stavanger!)
She thinks she smells the Northland rain!
(A long pull for Stavanger!)
She thinks she smells the Northland snow,
And she's as glad as we to go.
She thinks she smells the Northland rime,
And the dear dark nights of winter-time.
Her very bolts are sick for shore,
And we - we want it ten times more!
So all you Gods that love brave men,
Send us a three-reef gale again!
Send us a gale, and watch us come,
With close-cropped canvas slashing home!
But - there's no wind in all these seas.
A long pull for Stavanger!
So we must wake the white-ash breeze,
A long pull for Stavanger!
OLD MEN AT PEVENSEY
'It has naught to do with apes or Devils,'Sir Richard went
on, in an undertone. 'It concerns De Aquila, than whom
there was never bolder nor craftier, nor more hardy
knight born. And remember he was an old, old man at
'When?' said Dan.
'When we came back from sailing with Witta.'
'What did you do with your gold?' said Dan.
'Have patience. Link by link is chain-mail made. I will
tell all in its place. We bore the gold to Pevensey on
horseback - three loads of it - and then up to the north
chamber, above the Great Hall of Pevensey Castle, where
De Aquila lay in winter. He sat on his bed like a little
white falcon, turning his head swiftly from one to the
other as we told our tale. Jehan the Crab, an old sour
man-at-arms, guarded the stairway, but De Aquila bade
him wait at the stair-foot, and let down both leather
curtains over the door. It was jehan whom De Aquila had
sent to us with the horses, and only Jehan had loaded the
gold. When our story was told, De Aquila gave us the
news of England, for we were as men waked from a
year-long sleep. The Red King was dead - slain (ye
remember?) the day we set sail - and Henry, his younger
brother, had made himself King of England over the head
of Robert of Normandy. This was the very thing that the
Red King had done to Robert when our Great William
died. Then Robert of Normandy, mad, as De Aquila said,
at twice missing of this kingdom, had sent an army
against England, which army had been well beaten back
to their ships at Portsmouth. A little earlier, and Witta's
ship would have rowed through them.
"'And now," said De Aquila, "half the great Barons of
the North and West are out against the King between
Salisbury and Shrewsbury, and half the other half wait
to see which way the game shall go. They say Henry
is overly English for their stomachs, because he hath
married an English wife and she hath coaxed him to give
back their old laws to our Saxons. (Better ride a horse on
the bit he knows, I say!) But that is only a cloak to their
falsehood." He cracked his finger on the table, where
the wine was spilt, and thus he spoke:
"'William crammed us Norman barons full of good
English acres after Santlache. I had my share too," he
said, and clapped Hugh on the shoulder; "but I warned
him - I warned him before Odo rebelled - that he should
have bidden the Barons give up their lands and lordships
in Normandy if they would be English lords. Now they
are all but princes both in England and Normandy -
trencher-fed hounds, with a foot in one trough and both
eyes on the other! Robert of Normandy has sent them
word that if they do not fight for him in England he will
sack and harry out their lands in Normandy. Therefore
Clare has risen, FitzOsborne has risen, Montgomery has
risen - whom our First William made an English Earl.
Even D'Arcy is out with his men, whose father I remember -
a little hedge-sparrow knight near by Caen. If Henry
wins, the Barons can still flee to Normandy, where
Robert will welcome them. If Henry loses, Robert, he
says, will give them more lands in England. Oh, a pest - a
pest on Normandy, for she will be our England's curse
this many a long year!"
"'Amen," said Hugh. "But will the war come our
ways, think you?"
"'Not from the North," said De Aquila. "But the sea is
always open. If the Barons gain the upper hand Robert
will send another army into England for sure, and this
time I think he will land here - where his father, the
Conqueror, landed. Ye have brought your pigs to a pretty
market! Half England alight, and gold enough on the
ground" - he stamped on the bars beneath the table - "to
set every sword in Christendom fighting."
"'What is to do?" said Hugh. "I have no keep at
Dallington; and if we buried it, whom could we trust?"
"'Me," said De Aquila. "Pevensey walls are strong. No
man but jehan, who is my dog, knows what is between
them." He drew a curtain by the shot-window and
showed us the shaft of a well in the thickness of the wall.
"'I made it for a drinking-well," he said, "but we found
salt water, and it rises and falls with the tide. Hark!" We
heard the water whistle and blow at the bottom. "Will it
serve?" said he.
"'Needs must," said Hugh. "Our lives are in thy
hands." So we lowered all the gold down except one
small chest of it by De Aquila's bed, which we kept as
much for his delight in its weight and colour as for any of
'In the morning, ere we rode to our Manors, he said: "I
do not say farewell; because ye will return and bide here.
Not for love nor for sorrow, but to be with the gold. Have
a care," he said, laughing, "lest I use it to make myself
Pope. Trust me not, but return!"'
Sir Richard paused and smiled sadly.
'In seven days, then, we returned from our Manors -
from the Manors which had been ours.'
'And were the children quite well?' said Una.
'My sons were young. Land and governance belong by
right to young men.' Sir Richard was talking to himself.
'It would have broken their hearts if we had taken back
our Manors. They made us great welcome, but we could
see - Hugh and I could see - that our day was done. I was
a cripple and he a one-armed man. No!' He shook his
head. 'And therefore' - he raised his voice - 'we rode
back to Pevensey.'
'I'm sorry,' said Una, for the knight seemed very sorrowful.
'Little maid, it all passed long ago. They were young;
we were old. We let them rule the Manors. "Aha!" cried
De Aquila from his shot-window, when we dismounted.
"Back again to earth, old foxes?" but when we were in his
chamber above the Hall he puts his arms about us and
says, "Welcome, ghosts! Welcome, poor ghosts!"
Thus it fell out that we were rich beyond belief, and
lonely. And lonely!'
'What did you do?' said Dan.
'We watched for Robert of Normandy,' said the knight.
'De Aquila was like Witta. He suffered no idleness. In fair
weather we would ride along between Bexlei on the one
side, to Cuckmere on the other - sometimes with hawk,
sometimes with hound (there are stout hares both on the
Marsh and the Downland), but always with an eye to the
sea, for fear of fleets from Normandy. In foul weather he
would walk on the top of his tower, frowning against the
rain - peering here and pointing there. It always vexed
him to think how Witta's ship had come and gone
without his knowledge. When the wind ceased and ships
anchored, to the wharf's edge he would go and, leaning
on his sword among the stinking fish, would call to the
mariners for their news from France. His other eye he
kept landward for word of Henry's war against the Barons.
'Many brought him news - jongleurs, harpers, pedlars,
sutlers, priests and the like; and, though he was
secret enough in small things, yet, if their news misliked
him, then, regarding neither time nor place nor people,
he would curse our King Henry for a fool or a babe. I have
heard him cry aloud by the fishing boats: "If I were King
of England I would do thus and thus"; and when I rode
out to see that the warning-beacons were laid and dry, he
hath often called to me from the shot-window: "Look
to it, Richard! Do not copy our blind King, but see
with thine own eyes and feel with thine own hands."
I do not think he knew any sort of fear. And so
we lived at Pevensey, in the little chamber above the Hall.
'One foul night came word that a messenger of the
King waited below. We were chilled after a long riding in
the fog towards Bexlei, which is an easy place for ships to
land. De Aquila sent word the man might either eat with
us or wait till we had fed. Anon jehan, at the stair-head,
cried that he had called for horse, and was gone. "Pest on
him!" said De Aquila. "I have more to do than to shiver in
the Great Hall for every gadling the King sends. Left he
"'None," said Jehan, "except" - he had been with De
Aquila at Santlache - "except he said that if an old dog
could not learn new tricks it was time to sweep out the kennel."
"'Oho!" said De Aquila, rubbing his nose, "to whom
did he say that?"
"'To his beard, chiefly, but some to his horse's flank as
he was girthing up. I followed him out," said jehan the Crab.
"'What was his shield-mark?"
"'Gold horseshoes on black," said the Crab.
"'That is one of Fulke's men," said De Aquila.'
Puck broke in very gently, 'Gold horseshoes on black is
not the Fulkes' shield. The Fulkes' arms are -'
The knight waved one hand statelily.
'Thou knowest that evil man's true name,' he replied,
'but I have chosen to call him Fulke because I promised
him I would not tell the story of his wickedness so
that any man might guess it. I have changed all the
names in my tale. His children's children may be still alive.'
'True - true,' said Puck, smiling softly. 'It is knightly to
keep faith - even after a thousand years.'
Sir Richard bowed a little and went on:
"'Gold horseshoes on black?" said De Aquila. "I had
heard Fulke had joined the Barons/ but if this is true our
King must be of the upper hand. No matter, all Fulkes are
faithless. Still, I would not have sent the man away empty."
"'He fed," said jehan. "Gilbert the Clerk fetched him
meat and wine from the kitchens. He ate at Gilbert's table."
'This Gilbert was a clerk from Battle Abbey, who kept
the accounts of the Manor of Pevensey. He was tall and
pale-coloured, and carried those new-fashioned beads
for counting of prayers. They were large brown nuts or
seeds, and hanging from his girdle with his pen and
ink-horn they clashed when he walked. His place was in
the great fireplace. There was his table of accounts, and
there he lay o' nights. He feared the hounds in the Hall
that came nosing after bones or to sleep on the warm
ashes, and would slash at them with his beads - like a
woman. When De Aquila sat in Hall to do justice, take
fines, or grant lands, Gilbert would so write it in the
Manor-roll. But it was none of his work to feed our
guests, or to let them depart without his lord's knowledge.
'Said De Aquila, after jehan was gone down the stair:
"Hugh, hast thou ever told my Gilbert thou canst read
"'No," said Hugh. "He is no friend to me, or to Odo
my hound either."
"'No matter," said De Aquila. "Let him never know thou canst
tell one letter from its fellow, and" - there he yerked us in the
ribs with his scabbard - "watch him, both of ye. There be devils
in Africa, as I have heard, but by the Saints, there be greater
devils in Pevensey!" And that was all he would say.
'It chanced, some small while afterwards, a Norman
man-at-arms would wed a Saxon wench of the Manor,
and Gilbert (we had watched him well since De Aquila
spoke) doubted whether her folk were free or slave. Since
De Aquila would give them a field of good land, if she
were free, the matter came up at the justice in Great Hall
before De Aquila. First the wench's father spoke; then
her mother; then all together, till the Hall rang and the
hounds bayed. De Aquila held up his hands. "Write her
free," he called to Gilbert by the fireplace. "A' God's
name write her free, before she deafens me! Yes, yes," he
said to the wench that was on her knees at him; "thou art
Cerdic's sister, and own cousin to the Lady of Mercia, if
thou wilt be silent. In fifty years there will be neither
Norman nor Saxon, but all English," said he, "and these
are the men that do our work!" He clapped the man-at-arms
that was Jehan's nephew on the shoulder, and
kissed the wench, and fretted with his feet among the
rushes to show it was finished. (The Great Hall is always
bitter cold.) I stood at his side; Hugh was behind Gilbert
in the fireplace making to play with wise rough Odo. He
signed to De Aquila, who bade Gilbert measure the new
field for the new couple. Out then runs our Gilbert
between man and maid, his beads clashing at his waist,
and the Hall being empty, we three sit by the fire.
'Said Hugh, leaning down to the hearthstones, "I saw
this stone move under Gilbert's foot when Odo snuffed
at it. Look!" De Aquila digged in the ashes with his
sword; the stone tilted; beneath it lay a parchment folden,
and the writing atop was: "Words spoken against
the King by our Lord of Pevensey - the second part."
'Here was set out (Hugh read it us whispering) every
jest De Aquila had made to us touching the King; every
time he had called out to me from the shot-window, and
every time he had said what he would do if he were King
of England. Yes, day by day had his daily speech, which
he never stinted, been set down by Gilbert, tricked out
and twisted from its true meaning, yet withal so cunningly
that none could deny who knew him that De Aquila
had in some sort spoken those words. Ye see?'
Dan and Una nodded.
'Yes,' said Una gravely. 'It isn't what you say so much.
It's what you mean when you say it. Like calling Dan a
beast in fun. Only grown-ups don't always understand.'
"'He hath done this day by day before our very face?"
said De Aquila.
"'Nay, hour by hour," said Hugh. "When De Aquila
spoke even now, in the Hall, of Saxons and Normans, I
saw Gilbert write on a parchment, which he kept beside
the Manor-roll, that De Aquila said soon there would be
no Normans left in England if his men-at-arms did their
work aright. "
"'Bones of the Saints!" said De Aquila. "What avail is
honour or a sword against a pen? Where did Gilbert hide
that writing? He shall eat it."
"'In his breast when he ran out," said Hugh. "Which
made me look to see where he kept his finished stuff.
When Odo scratched at this stone here, I saw his face
change. So I was sure."
"'He is bold," said De Aquila. "Do him justice. In his
own fashion, my Gilbert is bold."
"'Overbold," said Hugh. "Hearken here," and he
read: "Upon the Feast of St Agatha, our Lord of Pevensey,
lying in his upper chamber, being clothed in his
second fur gown reversed with rabbit -"
"'Pest on him! He is not my tire-woman!" said
De Aquila, and Hugh and I laughed.
"'Reversed with rabbit, seeing a fog over the marshes,
did wake Sir Richard Dalyngridge, his drunken cup-
mate" (here they laughed at me) "and said, 'Peer out, old
fox, for God is on the Duke of Normandy's side."'
"'So did I. It was a black fog. Robert could have landed
ten thousand men, and we none the wiser. Does he tell
how we were out all day riding the Marsh, and how I near
perished in a quicksand, and coughed like a sick ewe for
ten days after?" cried De Aquila.
"'No," said Hugh. "But here is the prayer of Gilbert
himself to his master Fulke."
"'Ah," said De Aquila. "Well I knew it was Fulke.
What is the price of my blood?"
"'Gilbert prayeth that when our Lord of Pevensey is
stripped of his lands on this evidence which Gilbert hath,
with fear and pains, collected -"
"'Fear and pains is a true word," said De Aquila, and
sucked in his cheeks. "But how excellent a weapon is a
pen! I must learn it."
"'He prays that Fulke will advance him from his
present service to that honour in the Church which Fulke
promised him. And lest Fulke should forget, he has
written below, 'To be Sacristan of Battle'."
'At this De Aquila whistled. "A man who can plot
against one lord can plot against another. When I am
stripped of my lands Fulke will whip off my Gilbert's
foolish head. None the less Battle needs a new Sacristan.
They tell me the Abbot Henry keeps no sort of rule there."
"'Let the Abbot wait," said Hugh. "It is our heads and
our lands that are in danger. This parchment is the
second part of the tale. The first has gone to Fulke, and so
to the King, who will hold us traitors."
"Assuredly," said De Aquila. "Fulke's man took the
first part that evening when Gilbert fed him, and our
King is so beset by his brother and his Barons (small
blame, too!) that he is mad with mistrust. Fulke has his
ear, and pours poison into it. Presently the King gives
him my land and yours. This is old," and he leaned back
"'And thou wilt surrender Pevensey without word or
blow?" said Hugh. "We Saxons will fight your King then.
I will go warn my nephew at Dallington. Give me a horse!"
"'Give thee a toy and a rattle," said De Aquila. "Put
back the parchment, and rake over the ashes. If Fulke is
given my Pevensey, which is England's gate, what will
he do with it? He is Norman at heart, and his heart is in
Normandy, where he can kill peasants at his pleasure.
He will open England's gate to our sleepy Robert, as Odo
and Mortain tried to do, and then there will be another
landing and another Santlache. Therefore I cannot give
"'Good," said we two.
"'Ah, but wait! If my King be made, on Gilbert's
evidence, to mistrust me, he will send his men against
me here, and while we fight, England's gate is left
unguarded. Who will be the first to come through thereby?
Even Robert of Normandy. Therefore I cannot fight my
King." He nursed his sword - thus.
"'This is saying and unsaying like a Norman," said
Hugh. "What of our Manors?"
"'I do not think for myself," said De Aquila, "nor for
our King, nor for your lands. I think for England, for
whom neither King nor Baron thinks. I am not Norman,
Sir Richard, nor Saxon, Sir Hugh. English am I."
"'Saxon, Norman or English," said Hugh, "our lives
are thine, however the game goes. When do we hang Gilbert?"
"'Never," said De Aquila. "Who knows, he may yet be
Sacristan of Battle, for, to do him justice, he is a good
writer. Dead men make dumb witnesses. Wait."
"'But the King may give Pevensey to Fulke. And our
Manors go with it," said I. "Shall we tell our sons?"
"'No. The King will not wake up a hornets' nest in the
South till he has smoked out the bees in the North. He
may hold me a traitor; but at least he sees I am not
fighting against him; and every day that I lie still is so
much gain to him while he fights the Barons. If he were
wise he would wait till that war were over before he made
new enemies. But I think Fulke will play upon him to
send for me, and if I do not obey the summons, that will,
to Henry's mind, be proof of my treason. But mere talk,
such as Gilbert sends, is no proof nowadays. We Barons
follow the Church, and, like Anselm, we speak what we
please. Let us go about our day's dealings, and say
naught to Gilbert."
"'Then we do nothing?" said Hugh.
"'We wait," said De Aquila. "I am old, but still I find
that the most grievous work I know."
'And so we found it, but in the end De Aquila was right.
'A little later in the year, armed men rode over the hill,
the Golden Horseshoes flying behind the King's banner.
Said De Aquila, at the window of our chamber: "How did
I tell you? Here comes Fulke himself to spy out his new
lands which our King hath promised him if he can bring
proof of my treason."
"'How dost thou know?" said Hugh.
"'Because that is what I would do if I were Fulke, but I
should have brought more men. My roan horse to your
old shoes," said he, "Fulke brings me the King's Summons
to leave Pevensey and join the war." He sucked in
his cheeks and drummed on the edge of the well-shaft,
where the water sounded all hollow.
"'Shall we go?" said I.
"'Go! At this time of year? Stark madness," said he.
"Take me from Pevensey to fisk and flyte through fern
and forest, and in three days Robert's keels would be
lying on Pevensey mud with ten thousand men! Who
would stop them - Fulke?"
'The horns blew without, and anon Fulke cried the
King's Summons at the great door, that De Aquila with
all men and horse should join the King's camp
"'How did I tell you?" said De Aquila. "There are
twenty Barons 'twixt here and Salisbury could give King
Henry good land service, but he has been worked upon
by Fulke to send South and call me - me! - off the Gate of
England, when his enemies stand about to batter it in.
See that Fulke's men lie in the big south barn," said he.
"Give them drink, and when Fulke has eaten we will
drink in my chamber. The Great Hall is too cold for old bones."
'As soon as he was off-horse Fulke went to the chapel
with Gilbert to give thanks for his safe coming, and when
he had eaten - he was a fat man, and rolled his eyes
greedily at our good roast Sussex wheat-ears - we led him
to the little upper chamber, whither Gilbert had already
gone with the Manor-roll. I remember when Fulke heard
the tide blow and whistle in the shaft he leaped back, and
his long down-turned stirrup-shoes caught in the rushes
and he stumbled, so that Jehan behind him found it easy
to knock his head against the wall.'
'Did you know it was going to happen?' said Dan.
'Assuredly,' said Sir Richard, with a sweet smile. 'I put
my foot on his sword and plucked away his dagger, but
he knew not whether it was day or night for awhile. He
lay rolling his eyes and bubbling with his mouth, and
jehan roped him like a calf. He was cased all in that
newfangled armour which we call lizard-mail. Not rings
like my hauberk here'- Sir Richard tapped his chest -but
little pieces of dagger-proof steel overlapping on stout
leather. We stripped it off (no need to spoil good harness
by wetting it), and in the neck-piece De Aquila found the
same folden piece of parchment which we had put back
under the hearth-stone.
'At this Gilbert would have run out. I laid my hand on
his shoulder. It sufficed. He fell to trembling and praying
on his beads.
"'Gilbert," said De Aquila, "here be more notable
sayings and doings of our Lord of Pevensey for thee to
write down. Take pen and ink-horn, Gilbert. We cannot
all be Sacristans of Battle."
'Said Fulke from the floor, "Ye have bound a King's
messenger. Pevensey shall burn for this."
"'Maybe. I have seen it besieged once," said
De Aquila, "but heart up, Fulke. I promise thee that thou
shalt be hanged in the middle of the flames at the end of
that siege, if I have to share my last loaf with thee; and
that is more than Odo would have done when we starved
out him and Mortain."
'Then Fulke sat up and looked long and cunningly at De Aquila.
"'By the Saints," said he, "why didst thou not say thou
wast on the Duke Robert's side at the first?"
"'Am I?" said De Aquila.
'Fulke laughed and said, "No man who serves King
Henry dare do this much to his messenger. When didst
thou come over to the Duke? Let me up and we can
smooth it out together." And he smiled and becked and winked.
"'Yes, we will smooth it out," said De Aquila. He
nodded to me, and jehan and I heaved up Fulke - he
was a heavy man - and lowered him into the shaft by a
rope, not so as to stand on our gold, but dangling by
his shoulders a little above. It was turn of ebb, and the
water came to his knees. He said nothing, but shivered somewhat.
'Then jehan of a sudden beat down Gilbert's wrist with
his sheathed dagger. "Stop!" he said. "He swallows his beads."
"'Poison, belike," said De Aquila. "It is good for men
who know too much. I have carried it these thirty years.
'Then Gilbert wept and howled. De Aquila ran the
beads through his fingers. The last one - I have said they
were large nuts - opened in two halves on a pin, and there
was a small folded parchment within. On it was written:
"The Old Dog goes to Salisbury to be beaten. I have his Kennel.
"'This is worse than poison," said De Aquila very
softly, and sucked in his cheeks. Then Gilbert grovelled
in the rushes, and told us all he knew. The letter, as we
guessed, was from Fulke to the Duke (and not the first
that had passed between them); Fulke had given it to
Gilbert in the chapel, and Gilbert thought to have taken it
by morning to a certain fishing boat at the wharf, which
trafficked between Pevensey and the French shore. Gilbert
was a false fellow, but he found time between his
quakings and shakings to swear that the master of the
boat knew nothing of the matter.
"'He hath called me shaved-head," said Gilbert, "and he hath
thrown haddock-guts at me; but for all that, he is no traitor."
"'I will have no clerk of mine mishandled or miscalled,"
said De Aquila. "That seaman shall be whipped
at his own mast. Write me first a letter, and thou shalt
bear it, with the order for the whipping, tomorrow to the boat."
'At this Gilbert would have kissed De Aquila's hand -
he had not hoped to live until the morning - and when he
trembled less he wrote a letter as from Fulke to the Duke,
saying that the Kennel, which signified Pevensey, was shut, and
that the Old Dog (which was De Aquila) sat outside it, and,
moreover, that all had been betrayed.
"'Write to any man that all is betrayed," said
De Aquila, "and even the Pope himself would sleep
uneasily. Eh, Jehan? If one told thee all was betrayed, what
wouldst thou do?"
"'I would run away," said Jehan. "it might be true."
"'Well said," quoth De Aquila. "Write, Gilbert, that
Montgomery, the great Earl, hath made his peace with
the King, and that little D'Arcy, whom I hate, hath been
hanged by the heels. We will give Robert full measure to
chew upon. Write also that Fulke himself is sick to death
of a dropsy."
"'Nay!" cried Fulke, hanging in the well-shaft.
"Drown me out of hand, but do not make a jest of me."
"'Jest? I?" said De Aquila. "I am but fighting for life
and lands with a pen, as thou hast shown me, Fulke."
'Then Fulke groaned, for he was cold, and, "Let me
confess," said he.
"'Now, this is right neighbourly," said De Aquila,
leaning over the shaft. "Thou hast read my sayings and
doings - or at least the first part of them - and thou art
minded to repay me with thy own doings and sayings. Take
pen and inkhorn, Gilbert. Here is work that will not irk thee."
"'Let my men go without hurt, and I will confess my
treason against the King," said Fulke.
"'Now, why has he grown so tender of his men of a
sudden?" said Hugh to me; for Fulke had no name for
mercy to his men. Plunder he gave them, but pity, none.
"'Te! Te!" said De Aquila. "Thy treason was all confessed
long ago by Gilbert. It would be enough to hang
"'Nay; but spare my men," said Fulke; and we heard
him splash like a fish in a pond, for the tide was rising.
"'All in good time," said De Aquila. "The night is
young; the wine is old; and we need only the merry tale.
Begin the story of thy life since when thou wast a lad at
Tours. Tell it nimbly!"
"'Ye shame me to my soul," said Fulke.
"'Then I have done what neither King nor Duke could
do," said De Aquila. "But begin, and forget nothing."
"'Send thy man away," said Fulke.
"'That much can I do," said De Aquila. 'But, remember,
I am like the Danes' King. I cannot turn the tide."
"'How long will it rise?" said Fulke, and splashed anew.
"'For three hours," said De Aquila. "Time to tell all thy
good deeds. Begin, and, Gilbert, - I have heard thou art
somewhat careless - do not twist his words from his true
'So - fear of death in the dark being upon him - Fulke
began, and Gilbert, not knowing what his fate might be,
wrote it word by word. I have heard many tales, but
never heard I aught to match the tale of Fulke his
black life, as Fulke told it hollowly, hanging in the shaft.'
'Was it bad?' said Dan, awestruck.
'Beyond belief,' Sir Richard answered. 'None the less,
there was that in it which forced even Gilbert to laugh.
We three laughed till we ached. At one place his teeth so
chattered that we could not well hear, and we reached
him down a cup of wine. Then he warmed to it, and
smoothly set out all his shifts, malices, and treacheries,
his extreme boldnesses (he was desperate bold); his
retreats, shufflings, and counterfeitings (he was also
inconceivably a coward); his lack of gear and honour; his
despair at their loss; his remedies, and well-coloured
contrivances. Yes, he waved the filthy rags of his life
before us, as though they had been some proud banner.
When he ceased, we saw by torches that the tide stood at
the corners of his mouth, and he breathed strongly
through his nose.
'We had him out, and rubbed him; we wrapped him in
a cloak, and gave him wine, and we leaned and looked
upon him, the while he drank. He was shivering,
'Of a sudden we heard jehan at the stairway wake, but
a boy pushed past him, and stood before us, the Hall-
rushes in his hair, all slubbered with sleep. "My father!
My father! I dreamed of treachery," he cried, and babbled thickly.
"'There is no treachery here," said Fulke. "Go!" and
the boy turned, even then not fully awake, and jehan led
him by the hand to the Great Hall.
"'Thy only son!" said De Aquila. "Why didst thou
bring the child here?"
"'He is my heir. I dared not trust him to my brother,"
said Fulke, and now he was ashamed. De Aquila said
nothing, but sat weighing a wine-cup in his two hands -
thus. Anon, Fulke touched him on the knee.
"'Let the boy escape to Normandy," said he, "and do
with me at thy pleasure. Yea, hang me tomorrow, with
my letter to Robert round my neck, but let the boy go."
"'Be still," said De Aquila. "I think for England."
'So we waited what our Lord of Pevensey should
devise; and the sweat ran down Fulke's forehead.
'At last said De Aquila: "I am too old to judge, or to
trust any man. I do not covet thy lands, as thou hast
coveted mine; and whether thou art any better or any
worse than any other black Angevin thief, it is for thy
King to find out. Therefore, go back to thy King, Fulke."
"'And thou wilt say nothing of what has passed?" said Fulke.
"'Why should I? Thy son will stay with me. If the King
calls me again to leave Pevensey, which I must guard
against England's enemies; if the King sends his men
against me for a traitor; or if I hear that the King in his bed
thinks any evil of me or my two knights, thy son will be
hanged from out this window, Fulke."'
'But it hadn't anything to do with his son,' cried Una, startled.
'How could we have hanged Fulke?' said Sir Richard.
'We needed him to make our peace with the King. He
would have betrayed half England for the boy's sake. Of
that we were sure.'
'I don't understand,' said Una. 'But I think it was
'So did not Fulke. He was well pleased.'
'What? Because his son was going to be killed?'
'Nay. Because De Aquila had shown him how he might
save the boy's life and his own lands and honours. "I will
do it, " he said. "I swear I will do it. I will tell the King thou
art no traitor, but the most excellent, valiant, and perfect
of us all. Yes, I will save thee."
'De Aquila looked still into the bottom of the cup,
rolling the wine-dregs to and fro.
"'Ay," he said. "If I had a son, I would, I think, save
him. But do not by any means tell me how thou wilt go
"'Nay, nay," said Fulke, nodding his bald head wisely.
"That is my secret. But rest at ease, De Aquila, no hair
of thy head nor rood of thy land shall be forfeited," and
he smiled like one planning great good deeds.
"'And henceforward," said De Aquila, "I counsel thee
to serve one master - not two."
"'What?" said Fulke. "Can I work no more honest
trading between the two sides these troublous times?"
"'Serve Robert or the King - England or Normandy,"
said De Aquila. "I care not which it is, but make thy
choice here and now."
"'The King, then," said Fulke, "for I see he is better
served than Robert. Shall I swear it?"
"'No need," said De Aquila, and he laid his hand on
the parchments which Gilbert had written. "It shall be
some part of my Gilbert's penance to copy out the
savoury tale of thy life, till we have made ten, twenty, an
hundred, maybe, copies. How many cattle, think you,
would the Bishop of Tours give for that tale? Or thy
brother? Or the Monks of Blois? Minstrels will turn it into
songs which thy own Saxon serfs shall sing behind their
plough-stilts, and men-at-arms riding through thy Norman
towns. From here to Rome, Fulke, men will make
very merry over that tale, and how Fulke told it, hanging
in a well, like a drowned puppy. This shall be thy
punishment, if ever I find thee double-dealing with thy
King any more. Meantime, the parchments stay here
with thy son. Him I will return to thee when thou hast
made my peace with the King. The parchments never."
'Fulke hid his face and groaned.
"'Bones of the Saints!" said De Aquila, laughing. "The
pen cuts deep. I could never have fetched that grunt out
of thee with any sword."
"'But so long as I do not anger thee, my tale will be
secret?" said Fulke.
"'Just so long. Does that comfort thee, Fulke?" said De Aquila.
"'What other comfort have ye left me?" he said, and of
a sudden he wept hopelessly like a child, dropping his
face on his knees.'
'Poor Fulke,' said Una.
'I pitied him also,' said Sir Richard.
"'After the spur, corn," said De Aquila, and he threw
Fulke three wedges of gold that he had taken from our
little chest by the bedplace.
"'If I had known this," said Fulke, catching his breath,
"I would never have lifted hand against Pevensey. Only
lack of this yellow stuff has made me so unlucky in my dealings."
'It was dawn then, and they stirred in the Great Hall
below. We sent down Fulke's mail to be scoured, and
when he rode away at noon under his own and the King's
banner, very splendid and stately did he show. He
smoothed his long beard, and called his son to his stirrup
and kissed him. De Aquila rode with him as far as the
New Mill landward. We thought the night had been all a dream.'
'But did he make it right with the King?' Dan asked.
'About your not being traitors, I mean.'
Sir Richard smiled. 'The King sent no second summons
to Pevensey, nor did he ask why De Aquila had not
obeyed the first. Yes, that was Fulke's work. I know not
how he did it, but it was well and swiftly done.'
'Then you didn't do anything to his son?' said Una.
'The boy? Oh, he was an imp! He turned the keep
doors out of dortoirs while we had him. He sang foul
songs, learned in the Barons' camps - poor fool; he set the
hounds fighting in Hall; he lit the rushes to drive out, as
he said, the fleas; he drew his dagger on jehan, who
threw him down the stairway for it; and he rode his horse
through crops and among sheep. But when we had
beaten him, and showed him wolf and deer, he followed
us old men like a young, eager hound, and called us
"uncle". His father came the summer's end to take him
away, but the boy had no lust to go, because of the
otter-hunting, and he stayed on till the fox-hunting. I
gave him a bittern's claw to bring him good luck at
shooting. An imp, if ever there was!'
'And what happened to Gilbert?' said Dan.
'Not even a whipping. De Aquila said he would sooner
a clerk, however false, that knew the Manor-roll than a
fool, however true, that must be taught his work afresh.
Moreover, after that night I think Gilbert loved as much
as he feared De Aquila. At least he would not leave us -
not even when Vivian, the King's Clerk, would have
made him Sacristan of Battle Abbey. A false fellow, but,
in his fashion, bold.'
'Did Robert ever land in Pevensey after all?' Dan went on.
'We guarded the coast too well while Henry was
fighting his Barons; and three or four years later, when
England had peace, Henry crossed to Normandy and
showed his brother some work at Tenchebrai that cured
Robert of fighting. Many of Henry's men sailed from
Pevensey to that war. Fulke came, I remember, and we all
four lay in the little chamber once again, and drank
together. De Aquila was right. One should not judge
men. Fulke was merry. Yes, always merry - with a catch
in his breath.'
'And what did you do afterwards?' said Una.
'We talked together of times past. That is all men can
do when they grow old, little maid.'
The bell for tea rang faintly across the meadows. Dan
lay in the bows of the Golden Hind; Una in the stern, the
book of verses open in her lap, was reading from 'The
'Again, in the mist and shadow of sleep,
He saw his native land.'
'I don't know when you began that,' said Dan, sleepily.
On the middle thwart of the boat, beside Una's sun-
bonnet, lay an Oak leaf, an Ash leaf, and a Thorn leaf,
that must have dropped down from the trees above; and
the brook giggled as though it had just seen some joke.
The Runes on Weland's Sword
A Smith makes me
To betray my Man
In my first fight.
To gather Gold
At the world's end
I am sent.
The Gold I gather
Comes into England
Out of deep Water.
Like a shining Fish
Then it descends
Into deep Water.
It is not given
For goods or gear,
But for The Thing.
The Gold I gather
A King covets
For an ill use.
The Gold I gather
Is drawn up
Out of deep Water.
Like a shining Fish
Then it descends
Into deep Water.
It is not given
For goods or gear,
But for The Thing.
A CENTURION OF THE THIRTIETH
Cities and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time's eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die.
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth
The Cities rise again.
This season's Daffodil,
She never hears
What change, what chance, what chill,
Cut down last year's:
But with bold countenance,
And knowledge small,
Esteems her seven days' continuance
To be perpetual.
So Time that is o'er-kind
To all that be,
Ordains us e'en as blind,
As bold as she:
That in our very death,
And burial sure,
Shadow to shadow, well persuaded, saith,
'See how our works endure!'
Dan had come to grief over his Latin, and was kept in; so
Una went alone to Far Wood. Dan's big catapult and the
lead bullets that Hobden had made for him were hidden
in an old hollow beech-stub on the west of the wood.
They had named the place out of the verse in Lays of
From lordly Volaterrae,
Where scowls the far-famed hold
Piled by the hands of giants
For Godlike Kings of old.
They were the 'Godlike Kings', and when old Hobden
piled some comfortable brushwood between the big wooden
knees of Volaterrae, they called him 'Hands of Giants'.
Una slipped through their private gap in the fence, and
sat still awhile, scowling as scowlily and lordlily as she
knew how; for Volaterrae is an important watch-tower
that juts out of Far Wood just as Far Wood juts out of the
hillside. Pook's Hill lay below her and all the turns of the
brook as it wanders out of the Willingford Woods, between
hop-gardens, to old Hobden's cottage at the
Forge. The sou'-west wind (there is always a wind by
Volaterrae) blew from the bare ridge where Cherry Clack
Now wind prowling through woods sounds like exciting
things going to happen, and that is why on blowy
days you stand up in Volaterrae and shout bits of the Lays
to suit its noises.
Una took Dan's catapult from its secret place, and
made ready to meet Lars Porsena's army stealing
through the wind-whitened aspens by the brook. A gust
boomed up the valley, and Una chanted sorrowfully:
'Verbenna down to Ostia
Hath wasted all the plain:
Astur hath stormed Janiculum,
And the stout guards are slain.'
But the wind, not charging fair to the wood, started
aside and shook a single oak in Gleason's pasture. Here it
made itself all small and crouched among the grasses,
waving the tips of them as a cat waves the tip of her tail
before she springs.
'Now welcome - welcome, Sextus,' sang Una, loading
the catapult -
'Now welcome to thy home!
Why dost thou stay, and turn away?
Here lies the road to Rome.'
She fired into the face of the lull, to wake up the
cowardly wind, and heard a grunt from behind a thorn in
'Oh, my Winkie!' she said aloud, and that was something
she had picked up from Dan. 'I b'lieve I've tickled
up a Gleason cow.'
'You little painted beast!' a voice cried. 'I'll teach you to
sling your masters!'
She looked down most cautiously, and saw a young
man covered with hoopy bronze armour all glowing
among the late broom. But what Una admired beyond all
was his great bronze helmet with a red horse-tail that
flicked in the wind. She could hear the long hairs rasp on
his shimmery shoulder-plates.
'What does the Faun mean,' he said, half aloud to
himself, 'by telling me that the Painted People have
changed?' He caught sight of Una's yellow head. 'Have
you seen a painted lead-slinger?' he called.
'No-o,' said Una. 'But if you've seen a bullet -'
'Seen?' cried the man. 'It passed within a hair's- breadth
of my ear.'
'Well, that was me. I'm most awfully sorry.'
'Didn't the Faun tell you I was coming?' He smiled.
'Not if you mean Puck. I thought you were a Gleason
cow. I - I didn't know you were a - a - What are you?'
He laughed outright, showing a set of splendid teeth.
His face and eyes were dark, and his eyebrows met above
his big nose in one bushy black bar.
'They call me Parnesius. I have been a Centurion of the
Seventh Cohort of the Thirtieth Legion - the Ulpia Victrix.
Did you sling that bullet?'
'I did. I was using Dan's catapult,' said Una.
'Catapults!' said he. 'I ought to know something about
them. Show me!'
He leaped the rough fence with a rattle of spear, shield,
and armour, and hoisted himself into Volaterrae as
quickly as a shadow.
'A sling on a forked stick. I understand!' he cried, and
pulled at the elastic. 'But what wonderful beast yields
this stretching leather?'
'It's laccy - elastic. You put the bullet into that loop,
and then you pull hard.'
The man pulled, and hit himself square on his thumbnail.
'Each to his own weapon,' he said gravely, handing it
back. 'I am better with the bigger machine, little maiden.
But it's a pretty toy. A wolf would laugh at it. Aren't you
afraid of wolves?'
'There aren't any,' said Una.
'Never believe it! A wolf's like a Winged Hat. He comes
when he isn't expected. Don't they hunt wolves here?'
'We don't hunt,'said Una, remembering what she had
heard from grown-ups. 'We preserve - pheasants. Do
you know them?'
'I ought to,' said the young man, smiling again, and he
imitated the cry of the cock-pheasant so perfectly that a
bird answered out of the wood.
'What a big painted clucking fool is a pheasant!' he
said. 'Just like some Romans.'
'But you're a Roman yourself, aren't you?' said Una.
'Ye-es and no. I'm one of a good few thousands who
have never seen Rome except in a picture. My people
have lived at Vectis for generations. Vectis - that island
West yonder that you can see from so far in clear weather.'
'Do you mean the Isle of Wight? It lifts up just before
rain, and you see it from the Downs.'
'Very likely. Our villa's on the south edge of the Island,
by the Broken Cliffs. Most of it is three hundred years
old, but the cow-stables, where our first ancestor lived,
must be a hundred years older. Oh, quite that, because
the founder of our family had his land given him by
Agricola at the Settlement. It's not a bad little place for its
size. In springtime violets grow down to the very beach.
I've gathered sea-weeds for myself and violets for my
Mother many a time with our old nurse.'
'Was your nurse a - a Romaness too?'
'No, a Numidian. Gods be good to her! A dear, fat,
brown thing with a tongue like a cowbell. She was a free
woman. By the way, are you free, maiden?'
'Oh, quite,' said Una. 'At least, till tea-time; and in
summer our governess doesn't say much if we're late.'
The young man laughed again - a proper
'I see,' said he. 'That accounts for your being in the
wood. We hid among the cliffs.'
'Did you have a governess, then?'
'Did we not? A Greek, too. She had a way of clutching
her dress when she hunted us among the gorse-bushes
that made us laugh. Then she'd say she'd get us
whipped. She never did, though, bless her! Aglaia was a
thorough sportswoman, for all her learning.'
'But what lessons did you do - when - when you
'Ancient history, the Classics, arithmetic and so on,'he
answered. 'My sister and I were thickheads, but my two
brothers (I'm the middle one) liked those things, and, of
course, Mother was clever enough for any six. She was
nearly as tall as I am, and she looked like the new statue
on the Western Road - the Demeter of the Baskets, you
know. And funny! Roma Dea! How Mother could make
'Little jokes and sayings that every family has. Don't
'I know we have, but I didn't know other people had
them too,' said Una. 'Tell me about all your family, please.'
'Good families are very much alike. Mother would sit
spinning of evenings while Aglaia read in her corner, and
Father did accounts, and we four romped about the
passages. When our noise grew too loud the Pater would
say, "Less tumult! Less tumult! Have you never heard of
a Father's right over his children? He can slay them, my
loves - slay them dead, and the Gods highly approve of
the action!" Then Mother would prim up her dear mouth
over the wheel and answer: "H'm! I'm afraid there can't
be much of the Roman Father about you!" Then the Pater
would roll up his accounts, and say, "I'll show you!" and
then - then, he'd be worse than any of us!'
'Fathers can - if they like,' said Una, her eyes dancing.
'Didn't I say all good families are very much the same?'
'What did you do in summer?' said Una. 'Play about, like us?'
'Yes, and we visited our friends. There are no wolves in
Vectis. We had many friends, and as many ponies as we wished.'
'It must have been lovely,' said Una. 'I hope it lasted for ever.'
'Not quite, little maid. When I was about sixteen or
seventeen, the Father felt gouty, and we all went to the Waters.'
'At Aquae Sulis. Every one goes there. You ought to
get your Father to take you some day.'
'But where? I don't know,' said Una.
The young man looked astonished for a moment.
'Aquae Sulis,' he repeated. 'The best baths in Britain. just
as good, I'm told, as Rome. All the old gluttons sit in hot
water, and talk scandal and politics. And the Generals
come through the streets with their guards behind them;
and the magistrates come in their chairs with their stiff
guards behind them; and you meet fortune-tellers, and
goldsmiths, and merchants, and philosophers, and
feather-sellers, and ultra-Roman Britons, and ultra-
British Romans, and tame tribesmen pretending to be
civilised, and Jew lecturers, and - oh, everybody interesting.
We young people, of course, took no interest in
politics. We had not the gout. There were many of our
age like us. We did not find life sad.
'But while we were enjoying ourselves without thinking,
my sister met the son of a magistrate in the West -
and a year afterwards she was married to him. My young
brother, who was always interested in plants and roots,
met the First Doctor of a Legion from the City of the
Legions, and he decided that he would be an Army
doctor. I do not think it is a profession for a well-born
man, but then - I'm not my brother. He went to Rome to
study medicine, and now he's First Doctor of a Legion in
Egypt - at Antinoe, I think, but I have not heard from him
for some time.
'My eldest brother came across a Greek philosopher,
and told my Father that he intended to settle down on the
estate as a farmer and a philosopher. You see,' - the
young man's eyes twinkled - 'his philosopher was a
'I thought philosophers were bald,' said Una.
'Not all. She was very pretty. I don't blame him.
Nothing could have suited me better than my eldest
brother's doing this, for I was only too keen to join the
Army. I had always feared I should have to stay at home
and look after the estate while my brother took this.'
He rapped on his great glistening shield that never
seemed to be in his way.
'So we were well contented - we young people - and
we rode back to Clausentum along the Wood Road very
quietly. But when we reached home, Aglaia, our governess,
saw what had come to us. I remember her at the
door, the torch over her head, watching us climb the
cliff-path from the boat. "Aie! Aie!" she said. "Children
you went away. Men and a woman you return!" Then
she kissed Mother, and Mother wept. Thus our visit to
the Waters settled our fates for each of us, maiden.'
He rose to his feet and listened, leaning on the shield-rim.
'I think that's Dan - my brother,' said Una.
'Yes; and the Faun is with him,'he replied, as Dan with
Puck stumbled through the copse.
'We should have come sooner,' Puck called, 'but
the beauties of your native tongue, O Parnesius, have
enthralled this young citizen.'
Parnesius looked bewildered, even when
'Dan said the plural of "dominus" was "dominoes",
and when Miss Blake said it wasn't he said he supposed it
was "backgammon", and so he had to write it out twice -
for cheek, you know.'
Dan had climbed into Volaterrae, hot and panting.
'I've run nearly all the way,'he gasped, 'and then Puck
met me. How do you do, sir?'
'I am in good health,' Parnesius answered. 'See! I have
tried to bend the bow of Ulysses, but -' He held up his thumb.
'I'm sorry. You must have pulled off too soon,' said
Dan. 'But Puck said you were telling Una a story.'
'Continue, O Parnesius,' said Puck, who had perched
himself on a dead branch above them. 'I will be chorus.
Has he puzzled you much, Una?'
'Not a bit, except - I didn't know where Ak- Ak
something was,' she answered.
'Oh, Aquae Sulis. That's Bath, where the buns come
from. Let the hero tell his own tale.'
Parnesius pretended to thrust his spear at Puck's legs,
but Puck reached down, caught at the horse-tail plume,
and pulled off the tall helmet.
'Thanks, jester,' said Parnesius, shaking his curly dark
head. 'That is cooler. Now hang it up for me .
'I was telling your sister how I joined the Army,' he
said to Dan.
'Did you have to pass an Exam?' Dan asked eagerly.
'No. I went to my Father, and said I should like to enter
the Dacian Horse (I had seen some at Aquae Sulis); but he
said I had better begin service in a regular Legion from
Rome. Now, like many of our youngsters, I was not too
fond of anything Roman. The Roman-born officers and
magistrates looked down on us British-born as though
we were barbarians. I told my Father so.
"'I know they do," he said; "but remember, after all,
we are the people of the Old Stock, and our duty is to
"'To which Empire?" I asked. "We split the Eagle
before I was born."
"'What thieves' talk is that?" said my Father. He hated slang.
"'Well, sir," I said, "we've one Emperor in Rome, and I
don't know how many Emperors the outlying Provinces
have set up from time to time. Which am I to follow?"
"'Gratian," said he. "At least he's a sportsman."
"'He's all that," I said. "Hasn't he turned himself into a
"'Where did you hear of it?" said the Pater.
"'At Aquae Sulis," I said. It was perfectly true. This
precious Emperor Gratian of ours had a bodyguard of
fur-cloaked Scythians, and he was so crazy about them
that he dressed like them. In Rome of all places in the
world! It was as bad as if my own Father had painted
"'No matter for the clothes," said the Pater. "They are
only the fringe of the trouble. It began before your time or
mine. Rome has forsaken her Gods, and must be
punished. The great war with the Painted People broke
out in the very year the temples of our Gods were
destroyed. We beat the Painted People in the very year
our temples were rebuilt. Go back further still." He
went back to the time of Diocletian; and to listen to him
you would have thought Eternal Rome herself was on
the edge of destruction, just because a few people had
become a little large-minded.
'I knew nothing about it. Aglaia never taught us the
history of our own country. She was so full of her ancient Greeks.
"'There is no hope for Rome," said the Pater, at last.
"She has forsaken her Gods, but if the Gods forgive us
here, we may save Britain. To do that, we must keep the
Painted People back. Therefore, I tell you, Parnesius, as a
Father, that if your heart is set on service, your place is
among men on the Wall - and not with women among
'What Wall?' asked Dan and Una at once.
'Father meant the one we call Hadrian's Wall. I'll tell
you about it later. It was built long ago, across North
Britain, to keep out the Painted People - Picts, you call
them. Father had fought in the great Pict War that lasted
more than twenty years, and he knew what fighting
meant. Theodosius, one of our great Generals, had
chased the little beasts back far into the North before I
was born. Down at Vectis, of course, we never troubled
our heads about them. But when my Father spoke as he
did, I kissed his hand, and waited for orders. We British-
born Romans know what is due to our parents.'
'If I kissed my Father's hand, he'd laugh,' said Dan.
'Customs change; but if you do not obey your Father,
the Gods remember it. You may be quite sure of that.
'After our talk, seeing I was in earnest, the Pater sent
me over to Clausentum to learn my foot-drill in a barrack
full of foreign Auxiliaries - as unwashed and unshaved a
mob of mixed barbarians as ever scrubbed a breastplate.
It was your stick in their stomachs and your shield in their
faces to push them into any sort of formation. When I had
learned my work the Instructor gave me a handful - and
they were a handful! - of Gauls and Iberians to polish up
till they were sent to their stations up-country. I did my
best, and one night a villa in the suburbs caught fire, and I
had my handful out and at work before any of the other
troops. I noticed a quiet-looking man on the lawn, leaning
on a stick. He watched us passing buckets from the
pond, and at last he said to me: "Who are you?"
"'A probationer, waiting for a command," I answered.
I didn't know who he was from Deucalion!
"'Born in Britain?" he said.
"'Yes, if you were born in Spain," I said, for he
neighed his words like an Iberian mule.
"'And what might you call yourself when you are at
home?" he said, laughing.
"'That depends," I answered; "sometimes one thing
and sometimes another. But now I'm busy."
'He said no more till we had saved the family Gods
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