Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 1 out of 8
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I. THE HOUSE OF LORING
II. HOW THE DEVIL CAME TO WAVERLEY
III. THE YELLOW HORSE OF CROOKSBURY
IV. HOW THE SUMMONER CAME TO THE MANOR HOUSE OF TILFORD
V. HOW NIGEL WAS TRIED BY THE ABBOT OF WAVERLEY
VI. IN WHICH LADY ERMYNTRUDE OPENS THE IRON COFFER
VII. HOW NIGEL WENT MARKETING TO GUILFORD
VIII. HOW THE KING HAWKED ON CROOKSBURY HEATH
IX. HOW NIGEL HELD THE BRIDGE AT TILFORD
X. HOW THE KING GREETED HIS SENESCHAL OF CALAIS
XI. IN THE HALL OF THE KNIGHT OF DUPLIN
XII. HOW NIGEL FOUGHT THE TWISTED MAN OF SHALFORD
XIII. HOW THE COMRADES JOURNEYED DOWN THE OLD, OLD ROAD
XIV. HOW NIGEL CHASED THE RED FERRET
XV. HOW THE RED FERRET CAME TO COSFORD
XVI. HOW THE KING'S COURT FEASTED IN CALAIS CASTLE
XVII. THE SPANIARDS ON THE SEA
XVIII. HOW BLACK SIMON CLAIMED FORFEIT FROM THE KING OF SARK
XIX. HOW A SQUIRE OF ENGLAND MET A SQUIRE OF FRANCE
XX. HOW THE ENGLISH ATTEMPTED THE CASTLE OF LA BROHINIERE
XXI. HOW THE SECOND MESSENGER WENT TO COSFORD
XXII. HOW ROBERT OF BEAUMANOIR CAME TO FLOERMEL
XXIII. HOW THIRTY OF JOSSELIN ENCOUNTERED THIRTY OF FLOERMEL
XXIV. HOW NIGEL WAS CALLED TO HIS MASTER
XXV. HOW THE KING OF FRANCE HELD COUNSEL AT MAUPERTUIS
XXVI. HOW NIGEL FOUND HIS THIRD DEED
XXVII. HOW THE THIRD MESSENGER CAME TO COSFORD
Dame History is so austere a lady that if one, has been so
ill-advised as to take a liberty with her, one should hasten to
make amends by repentance and confession. Events have been
transposed to the extent of some few months in this narrative in
order to preserve the continuity and evenness of the story. I
hope so small a divergence may seem a venial error after so many
centuries. For the rest, it is as accurate as a good deal of
research and hard work could make it.
The matter of diction is always a question of taste and discretion
in a historical reproduction. In the year 1350 the upper classes
still spoke Norman-French, though they were just beginning to
condescend to English. The lower classes spoke the English of the
original Piers Plowman text, which would be considerably more
obscure than their superiors' French if the two were now
reproduced or imitated. The most which the chronicles can do is
to catch the cadence and style of their talk, and to infuse here
and there such a dash of the archaic as may indicate their fashion
I am aware that there are incidents which may strike the modern
reader as brutal and repellent. It is useless, however, to draw
the Twentieth Century and label it the Fourteenth. It was a
sterner age, and men's code of morality, especially in matters of
cruelty, was very different. There is no incident in the text for
which very good warrant may not be given. The fantastic graces of
Chivalry lay upon the surface of life, but beneath it was a
half-savage population, fierce and animal, with little ruth or
mercy. It was a raw, rude England, full of elemental passions,
and redeemed only by elemental virtues. Such I have tried to draw it.
For good or bad, many books have gone to the building of this one.
I look round my study table and I survey those which lie with me
at the moment, before I happily disperse them forever. I see La
Croix's "Middle Ages," Oman's "Art of War," Rietstap's "Armorial
General," De la Borderie's "Histoire de Bretagne," Dame Berner's
"Boke of St. Albans," "The Chronicle of Jocelyn of Brokeland,"
"The Old Road," Hewitt's "Ancient Armour," Coussan's "Heraldry,"
Boutell's "Arms," Browne's "Chaucer's "England," Cust's "Scenes of
the Middle Ages," Husserand's "Wayfaring Life," Ward's "Canterbury
Pilgrims;" Cornish's "Chivalry," Hastings' "British Archer,"
Strutt's "Sports," Johnes Froissart, Hargrove's "Archery,"
Longman's "Edward III," Wright's "Domestic Manners." With these
and many others I have lived for months. If I have been unable to
combine and transfer their effect, the fault is mine.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
"UNDERSHAW," November 30, 1905.
I. THE HOUSE OF LORING
In the month of July of the year 1348, between the feasts of St.
Benedict and of St. Swithin, a strange thing came upon England,
for out of the east there drifted a monstrous cloud, purple and
piled, heavy with evil, climbing slowly up the hushed heaven. In
the shadow of that strange cloud the leaves drooped in the trees,
the birds ceased their calling, and the cattle and the sheep
gathered cowering under the hedges. A gloom fell upon all the
land, and men stood with their eyes upon the strange cloud and a
heaviness upon their hearts. They crept into the churches where
the trembling people were blessed and shriven by the trembling
priests. Outside no bird flew, and there came no rustling from
the woods, nor any of the homely sounds of Nature. All was still,
and nothing moved, save only the great cloud which rolled up and
onward, with fold on fold from the black horizon. To the west was
the light summer sky, to the east this brooding cloud-bank,
creeping ever slowly across, until the last thin blue gleam faded
away and the whole vast sweep of the heavens was one great leaden
Then the rain began to fall. All day it rained, and all the night
and all the week and all the month, until folk had forgotten the
blue heavens and the gleam of the sunshine. It was not heavy, but
it was steady and cold and unceasing, so that the people were
weary of its hissing and its splashing, with the slow drip from
the eaves. Always the same thick evil cloud flowed from east to
west with the rain beneath it. None could see for more than a
bow-shot from their dwellings for the drifting veil of the
rain-storms. Every morning the folk looked upward for a break,
but their eyes rested always upon the same endless cloud, until at
last they ceased to look up, and their hearts despaired of ever
seeing the change. It was raining at Lammas-tide and raining at
the Feast of the Assumption and still raining at Michaelmas. The
crops and the hay, sodden and black, had rotted in the fields, for
they were not worth the garnering. The sheep had died, and the
calves also, so there was little to kill when Martinmas came and
it was time to salt the meat for the winter. They feared a
famine, but it was worse than famine which was in store for them.
For the rain had ceased at last, and a sickly autumn sun shone
upon a land which was soaked and sodden with water. Wet and
rotten leaves reeked and festered under the foul haze which rose
from the woods. The fields were spotted with monstrous fungi of a
size and color never matched before - scarlet and mauve and liver
and black. It was as though the sick earth had burst into foul
pustules; mildew and lichen mottled the walls, and with that
filthy crop Death sprang also from the water-soaked earth. Men
died, and women and children, the baron of the castle, the
franklin on the farm, the monk in the abbey and the villein in his
wattle-and-daub cottage. All breathed the same polluted reek and
all died the same death of corruption. Of those who were stricken
none recovered, and the illness was ever the same - gross boils,
raving, and the black blotches which gave its name to the disease.
All through the winter the dead rotted by the wayside for want of
some one to bury them. In many a village no single man was left
alive. Then at last the spring came with sunshine and health and
lightness and laughter - the greenest, sweetest, tenderest spring
that England had ever known - but only half of England could know
it. The other half had passed away with the great purple cloud.
Yet it was there in that stream of death, in that reek of
corruption, that the brighter and freer England was born. There
in that dark hour the first streak of the new dawn was seen. For
in no way save by a great upheaval and change could the nation
break away from that iron feudal system which held her limbs. But
now it was a new country which came out from that year of death.
The barons were dead in swaths. No high turret nor cunning moat
could keep out that black commoner who struck them down.
Oppressive laws slackened for want of those who could enforce
them, and once slackened could never be enforced again. The
laborer would be a slave no longer. The bondsman snapped his
shackles. There was much to do and few left to do it. Therefore
the few should be freemen, name their own price, and work where
and for whom they would. It was the black death which cleared the
way for that great rising thirty years later which left the
English peasant the freest of his class in Europe.
But there were few so far-sighted that they could see that here,
as ever, good was coming out of evil. At the moment misery and
ruin were brought into every family. The dead cattle, the
ungarnered crops, the untilled lands - every spring of wealth had
dried up at the same moment. Those who were rich became poor; but
those who were poor already, and especially those who were poor
with the burden of gentility upon their shoulders, found
themselves in a perilous state. All through England the smaller
gentry were ruined, for they had no trade save war, and they drew
their living from the work of others. On many a manor-house there
came evil times, and on none more than on the Manor of Tilford,
where for many generations the noble family of the Lorings had
held their home.
There was a time when the Lorings had held the country from the
North Downs to the Lakes of Frensham, and when their grim
castle-keep rising above the green meadows which border the River
Wey had been the strongest fortalice betwixt Guildford Castle in
the east and Winchester in the west. But there came that Barons'
War, in which the King used his Saxon subjects as a whip with
which to scourge his Norman barons, and Castle Loring, like so
many other great strongholds, was swept from the face of the land.
>From that time the Lorings, with estates sadly curtailed, lived in
what had been the dower-house, with enough for splendor.
And then came their lawsuit with Waverley Abbey, and the
Cistercians laid claim to their richest land, with peccary,
turbary and feudal rights over the remainder. It lingered on for
years, this great lawsuit, and when it was finished the men of the
Church and the men of the Law had divided all that was richest of
the estate between them. There was still left the old manor-house
from which with each generation there came a soldier to uphold the
credit of the name and to show the five scarlet roses on the
silver shield where it had always been shown - in the van. There
were twelve bronzes in the little chapel where Matthew the priest
said mass every morning, all of men of the house of Loring. Two
lay with their legs crossed, as being from the Crusades. Six
others rested their feet upon lions, as having died in war. Four
only lay with the effigy of their hounds to show that they had
passed in peace.
Of this famous but impoverished family, doubly impoverished by law
and by pestilence, two members were living in the year of grace
1349 - Lady Ermyntrude Loring and her grandson Nigel. Lady
Ermyntrude's husband had fallen before the Scottish spearsmen at
Stirling, and her son Eustace, Nigel's father, had found a
glorious death nine years before this chronicle opens upon the
poop of a Norman galley at the sea-fight of Sluys. The lonely old
woman, fierce and brooding like the falcon mewed in her chamber,
was soft only toward the lad whom she had brought up. All the
tenderness and love of her nature, so hidden from others that they
could not imagine their existence, were lavished upon him. She
could not bear him away from her, and he, with that respect for
authority which the age demanded, would not go without her
blessing and consent.
So it came about that Nigel, with his lion heart and with the
blood of a hundred soldiers thrilling in his veins, still at the
age of two and twenty, wasted the weary days reclaiming his hawks
with leash and lure or training the alans and spaniels who shared
with the family the big earthen-floored hall of the manor-house.
Day by day the aged Lady Ermyntrude had seen him wax in strength
and in manhood, small of stature, it is true, but with muscles of
steel - and a soul of fire. From all parts, from the warden of
Guildford Castle, from the tilt-yard of Farnham, tales of his
prowess were brought back to her, of his daring as a rider, of his
debonair courage, of his skill with all weapons; but still she,
who had both husband and son torn from her by a bloody death,
could not bear that this, the last of the Lorings, the final bud
of so famous an old tree, should share the same fate. With a
weary heart, but with a smiling face, he bore with his uneventful
days, while she would ever put off the evil time until the harvest
was better, until the monks of Waverley should give up what they
had taken, until his uncle should die and leave money for his
outfit, or any other excuse with which she could hold him to her
And indeed, there was need for a man at Tilford, for the strife
betwixt the Abbey and the manor-house had never been appeased, and
still on one pretext or another the monks would clip off yet one
more slice of their neighbor's land. Over the winding river,
across the green meadows, rose the short square tower and the high
gray walls of the grim Abbey, with its bell tolling by day and
night, a voice of menace and of dread to the little household.
It is in the heart of the great Cistercian monastery that this
chronicle of old days must take its start, as we trace the feud
betwixt the monks and the house of Loring, with those events to
which it gave birth, ending with the coming of Chandos, the
strange spear-running of Tilford Bridge and the deeds with which
Nigel won fame in the wars. Elsewhere, in the chronicle of the
White Company, it has been set forth what manner of man was Nigel
Loring. Those who love him may read herein those things which
went to his making. Let us go back together and gaze upon this
green stage of England, the scenery, hill, plain and river even as
now, the actors in much our very selves, in much also so changed
in thought and act that they might be dwellers in another world to
II. HOW THE DEVIL CAME TO WAVERLEY
The day was the first of May, which was the Festival of the
Blessed Apostles Philip and James. The year was the 1,349th from
>From tierce to sext, and then again from sext to nones, Abbot John
of the House of Waverley had been seated in his study while he
conducted the many high duties of his office. All around for many
a mile on every side stretched the fertile and flourishing estate
of which he was the master. In the center lay the broad Abbey
buildings, with church and cloisters, hospitium, chapter-house and
frater-house, all buzzing with a busy life. Through the open
window came the low hum of the voices of the brethren as they
walked in pious converse in the ambulatory below. From across the
cloister there rolled the distant rise and fall of a Gregorian
chant, where the precentor was hard at work upon the choir, while
down in the chapter-house sounded the strident voice of Brother
Peter, expounding the rule of Saint Bernard to the novices.
Abbot John rose to stretch his cramped limbs. He looked out at
the greensward of the cloister, and at the graceful line of open
Gothic arches which skirted a covered walk for the brethren
within. Two and two in their black-and-white garb with slow step
and heads inclined, they paced round and round. Several of the
more studious had brought their illuminating work from the
scriptorium, and sat in the warm sunshine with their little
platters of pigments and packets of gold-leaf before them, their
shoulders rounded and their faces sunk low over the white sheets
of vellum. There too was the copper-worker with his burin and
graver. Learning and art were not traditions with the Cistercians
as with the parent Order of the Benedictines, and yet the library
of Waverley was well filled both with precious books and with
But the true glory of the Cistercian lay in his outdoor work, and
so ever and anon there passed through the cloister some sunburned
monk, soiled mattock or shovel in hand, with his gown looped to
his knee, fresh from the fields or the garden. The lush green
water-meadows speckled with the heavy-fleeced sheep, the acres of
corn-land reclaimed from heather and bracken, the vineyards on the
southern slope of Crooksbury Hill, the rows of Hankley fish-ponds,
the Frensham marshes drained and sown with vegetables, the
spacious pigeon-cotes, all circled the great Abbey round with the
visible labors of the Order.
The Abbot's full and florid face shone with a quiet content as he
looked out at his huge but well-ordered household. Like every
head of a prosperous Abbey, Abbot John, the fourth of the name,
was a man of various accomplishments. Through his own chosen
instruments he had to minister a great estate and to keep order
and decorum among a large body of men living a celibate life. He
was a rigid disciplinarian toward all beneath him, a supple
diplomatist to all above. He held high debate with neighboring
abbots and lords, with bishops, with papal legates, and even on
occasion with the King's majesty himself. Many were the subjects
with which he must be conversant. Questions of doctrine,
questions of building, points of forestry, of agriculture, of
drainage, of feudal law, all came to the Abbot for settlement. He
held the scales of justice in all the Abbey banlieue which
stretched over many a mile of Hampshire and of Surrey. To the
monks his displeasure might mean fasting, exile to some sterner
community, or even imprisonment in chains. Over the layman also
he could hold any punishment save only corporeal death, instead of
which he had in hand the far more dreadful weapon of spiritual
Such were the powers of the Abbot, and it is no wonder that there
were masterful lines in the ruddy features of Abbot John, or that
the brethren, glancing up, should put on an even meeker carriage
and more demure expression as they saw the watchful face in the
window above them.
A knock at the door of his studio recalled the Abbot to his
immediate duties, and he returned to his desk. Already he had
spoken with his cellarer and prior, almoner, chaplain and lector,
but now in the tall and gaunt monk who obeyed his summons to enter
he recognized the most important and also the most importunate of
his agents, Brother Samuel the sacrist, whose office,
corresponding to that of the layman's bailiff, placed the material
interests of the monastery and its dealings with the outer world
entirely under his control, subject only to the check of the
Abbot. Brother Samuel was a gnarled and stringy old monk whose
stern and sharp-featured face reflected no light from above but
only that sordid workaday world toward which it was forever
turned. A huge book of accounts was tucked under one of his arms,
while a great bunch of keys hung from the other hand, a badge of
his office, and also on occasion of impatience a weapon of
offense, as many a scarred head among rustics and lay brothers
The Abbot sighed wearily, for he suffered much at the hands of his
strenuous agent. "Well, Brother Samuel, what is your will?" he
"Holy father, I have to report that I have sold the wool to Master
Baldwin of Winchester at two shillings a bale more than it fetched
last year, for the murrain among the sheep has raised the price."
"You have done well, brother."
"I have also to tell you that I have distrained Wat the warrener
from his cottage, for his Christmas rent is still unpaid, nor the
hen-rents of last year."
"He has a wife and four children, brother." He was a good, easy
man, the Abbot, though liable to be overborne by his sterner
"It is true, holy father; but if I should pass him, then how am I
to ask the rent of the foresters of Puttenham, or the hinds in the
village? Such a thing spreads from house to house, and where then
is the wealth of Waverley?"
"What else, Brother Samuel?"
"There is the matter of the fish-ponds."
The Abbot's face brightened. It was a subject upon which he was
an authority. If the rule of his Order had robbed him of the
softer joys of life, he had the keener, zest for those which
"How have the char prospered, brother?"
"They have done well, holy father, but the carp have died in the
"Carp prosper only upon a gravel bottom. They must be put in also
in their due proportion, three milters to one spawner, brother
sacrist, and the spot must be free from wind, stony and sandy, an
ell deep, with willows and grass upon the banks. Mud for tench,
brother, gravel for carp."
The sacrist leaned forward with the face of one who bears tidings
of woe. "There are pike in the Abbot's pond," said he.
"Pike!" cried the Abbot in horror. "As well shut up a wolf in our
sheepfold. How came a pike in the pond? There were no pike last
year, and a pike does not fall with the rain nor rise in the
springs. The pond must be drained, or we shall spend next Lent
upon stockfish, and have the brethren down with the great sickness
ere Easter Sunday has come to absolve us from our abstinence."
"The pond shall be drained, holy father; I have already ordered
it. Then we shall plant pot-herbs on the mud bottom, and after we
have gathered them in, return the fish and water once more from
the lower pond, so that they may fatten among the rich stubble."
"Good!" cried the Abbot. "I would have three fish-stews in every
well-ordered house - one dry for herbs, one shallow for the fry
and the yearlings, and one deep for the breeders and the
tablefish. But still, I have not heard you say how the pike came
in the Abbot's pond."
A spasm of anger passed over the fierce face of the sacrist, and
his keys rattled as his bony hand clasped them more tightly.
"Young Nigel Loring!" said he. "He swore that he would do us
scathe, and in this way he has done it."
"How know you this?"
"Six weeks ago he was seen day by day fishing for pike at the
great Lake of Frensham. Twice at night he has been met with a
bundle of straw under his arm on the Hankley Down. Well, I wot
that the straw was wet and that a live pike lay within it."
The Abbot shook his head. "I have heard much of this youth's wild
ways; but now indeed he has passed all bounds if what you say be
truth. It was bad enough when it was said that he slew the King's
deer in Woolmer Chase, or broke the head of Hobbs the chapman, so
that he lay for seven days betwixt life and death in our
infirmary, saved only by Brother Peter's skill in the pharmacies
of herbs; but to put pike in the Abbot's pond-why should he play
such a devil's prank?"
"Because he hates the House of Waverley, holy father; because he
swears that we hold his father's land."
"In which there is surely some truth."
"But, holy father, we hold no more than the law has allowed."
"True, brother, and yet between ourselves, we may admit that the
heavier purse may weigh down the scales of Justice. When I have
passed the old house and have seen that aged woman with her
ruddled cheeks and her baleful eyes look the curses she dare not
speak, I have many a time wished that we had other neighbors."
"That we can soon bring about, holy father. Indeed, it is of it
that I wished to speak to you. Surely it is not hard for us to
drive them from the country-side. There are thirty years' claims
of escuage unsettled, and there is Sergeant Wilkins, the lawyer of
Guildford, whom I will warrant to draw up such arrears of dues and
rents and issues of hidage and fodder-corn that these folk, who
are as beggarly as they are proud, will have to sell the roof-tree
over them ere they can meet them. Within three days I will have
them at our mercy."
"They are an ancient family and of good repute. I would not treat
them too harshly, brother."
"Bethink you of the pike in the carp pond!"
The Abbot hardened his heart at the thought. "It was indeed a
devil's deed - when we had but newly stocked it with char and with
carp. Well, well, the law is the law, and if you can use it to
hurt, it is still lawful to do so Have these claims been
"Deacon the bailiff with his two varlets went down to the Hall
yesternight on the matter of the escuage, and came screaming back
with this young hothead raging at their heels. He is small and
slight, yet he has the strength of many men in the hour of his
wrath. The bailiff swears that he will go no more, save with half
a score of archers to uphold him."
The Abbot was red with anger at this new offense. "I will teach
him that the servants of Holy Church, even though we of the rule
of Saint Bernard be the lowliest and humblest of her children, can
still defend their own against the froward and the violent! Go,
cite this man before the Abbey court. Let him appear in the
chapter-house after tierce to-morrow."
But the wary sacrist shook his head: "Nay, holy father, the times
are not yet ripe. Give me three days, I pray you, that my case
against him may be complete. Bear in mind that the father and the
grandfather of this unruly squire were both famous men of their
day and the foremost knights in the King's own service, living in
high honor and dying in their knightly duty. The Lady Ermyntrude
Loring was first lady to the King's mother. Roger FitzAlan of
Farnham and Sir Hugh Walcott of Guildford Castle were each old
comrades-in-arms of Nigel's father, and sib to him on the distaff
side. Already there has been talk that we have dealt harshly with
them. Therefore, my rede is that we be wise and wary and wait
until his cup be indeed full."
The Abbot had opened his mouth to reply, when the consultation was
interrupted by a most unwonted buzz of, excitement from among the
monks in the cloister below. Questions and answers in excited
voices sounded from one side of the ambulatory to the other.
Sacrist and Abbot were gazing at each other in amazement at such a
breach of the discipline and decorum of their well-trained flock,
when there came a swift step upon the stair, and a white-faced
brother flung open the door and rushed into the room.
"Father Abbot!" he cried. "Alas, alas! Brother John is dead, and
the holy subprior is dead, and the Devil is loose in the five-
III. THE YELLOW HORSE OF CROOKSBURY
In those simple times there was a great wonder and mystery in
life. Man walked in fear and solemnity, with Heaven very close
above his head, and Hell below his very feet. God's visible hand
was everywhere, in the rainbow and the comet, in the thunder and
the wind. The Devil too raged openly upon the earth; he skulked
behind the hedge-rows in the gloaming; he laughed loudly in the
night-time; he clawed the dying sinner, pounced on the unbaptized
babe, and twisted the limbs of the epileptic. A foul fiend slunk
ever by a man's side and whispered villainies in his ear, while
above him there hovered an angel of grace who pointed to the steep
and narrow track. How could one doubt these things, when Pope and
priest and scholar and King were all united in believing them,
with no single voice of question in the whole wide world?
Every book read, every picture seen, every tale heard from nurse
or mother, all taught the same lesson. And as a man traveled
through the world his faith would grow the firmer, for go where he
would there were the endless shrines of the saints, each with its
holy relic in the center, and around it the tradition of incessant
miracles, with stacks of deserted crutches and silver votive
hearts to prove them. At every turn he was made to feel how thin
was the veil, and how easily rent, which screened him from the
awful denizens of the unseen world.
Hence the wild announcement of the frightened monk seemed terrible
rather than incredible to those whom he addressed. The Abbot's
ruddy face paled for a moment, it is true, but he plucked the
crucifix from his desk and rose valiantly to his feet.
"Lead me to him!" said he. "Show me the foul fiend who dares to
lay his grip upon brethren of the holy house of Saint Bernard!
Run down to my chaplain, brother! Bid him bring the exorcist with
him, and also the blessed box of relics, and the bones of Saint
James from under the altar! With these and a contrite and humble
heart we may show front to all the powers of darkness."
But the sacrist was of a more critical turn of mind. He clutched
the monk's arm with a grip which left its five purple spots for
many a day to come.
"Is this the way to enter the Abbot's own chamber, without knock
or reverence, or so much as a `Pax vobiscum'?" said he sternly.
"You were wont to be our gentlest novice, of lowly carriage in
chapter, devout in psalmody and strict in the cloister. Pull your
wits together and answer me straightly. In what form has the foul
fiend appeared, and how has he done this grievous scathe to our
brethren? Have you seen him with your own eyes, or do you repeat
from hearsay? Speak, man, or you stand on the penance-stool in
the chapter-house this very hour!"
Thus adjured, the frightened monk grew calmer in his bearing,
though his white lips and his startled eyes, with the gasping of
his breath, told of his inward tremors.
"If it please you, holy father, and you, reverend sacrist, it came
about in this way. James the subprior, and Brother John and I had
spent our day from sext onward on Hankley, cutting bracken for the
cow-houses. We were coming back over the five-virgate field, and
the holy subprior was telling us a saintly tale from the life of
Saint Gregory, when there came a sudden sound like a rushing
torrent, and the foul fiend sprang over the high wall which skirts
the water-meadow and rushed upon us with the speed of the wind.
The lay brother he struck to the ground and trampled into the
mire. Then, seizing the good subprior in his teeth, he rushed
round the field, swinging him as though he were a fardel of old
"Amazed at such a sight, I stood without movement and had said a
credo and three aves, when the Devil dropped the subprior and
sprang upon me. With the help of Saint Bernard I clambered over
the wall, but not before his teeth had found my leg, and he had
torn away the whole back skirt of my gown." As he spoke he turned
and gave corroboration to his story by the hanging ruins of his
long trailing garment.
"In what shape then did Satan appear?" the Abbot demanded.
"As a great yellow horse, holy father - a monster horse, with eyes
of fire and the teeth of a griffin."
"A yellow horse!" The sacrist glared at the scared monk. "You
foolish brother! How will you behave when you have indeed to face
the King of Terrors himself if you can be so frightened by the
sight of a yellow horse? It is the horse of Franklin Aylward, my
father, which has been distrained by us because he owes the Abbey
fifty good shillings and can never hope to pay it. Such a horse,
they say, is not to be found betwixt this and the King's stables
at Windsor, for his sire was a Spanish destrier, and his dam an
Arab mare of the very breed which Saladin, whose soul now reeks in
Hell, kept for his own use, and even it has been said under the
shelter of his own tent. I took him in discharge of the debt, and
I ordered the varlets who had haltered him to leave him alone in
the water-meadow, for I have heard that the beast has indeed a
most evil spirit, and has killed more men than one."
"It was an ill day for Waverley that you brought such a monster
within its bounds," said the Abbot. "If the subprior and Brother
John be indeed dead, then it would seem that if the horse be not
the Devil he is at least the Devil's instrument."
"Horse or Devil, holy father, I heard him shout with joy as he
trampled upon Brother John, and had you seen him tossing the
subprior as a dog shakes a rat you would perchance have felt even
as I did."
"Come then," cried the Abbot, "let us see with our own eyes what
evil has been done."
And the three monks hurried down the stair which led to the
They had no sooner descended than their more pressing fears were
set at rest, for at that very moment, limping, disheveled and
mud-stained, the two sufferers were being led in amid a crowd of
sympathizing brethren. Shouts and cries from outside showed,
however, that some further drama was in progress, and both Abbot
and sacrist hastened onward as fast as the dignity of their office
would permit, until they had passed the gates and gained the wall
of the meadow. Looking over it, a remarkable sight presented
itself to their eyes.
Fetlock deep in the lush grass there stood a magnificent horse,
such a horse as a sculptor or a soldier might thrill to see. His
color was a light chestnut, with mane and tail of a more tawny
tint. Seventeen hands high, with a barrel and haunches which
bespoke tremendous strength, he fined down to the most delicate
lines of dainty breed in neck and crest and shoulder. He was
indeed a glorious sight as he stood there, his beautiful body
leaning back from his wide-spread and propped fore legs, his head
craned high, his ears erect, his mane bristling, his red nostrils
opening and shutting with wrath, and his flashing eyes turning
from side to side in haughty menace and defiance.
Scattered round in a respectful circle, six of the Abbey lay
servants and foresters, each holding a halter, were creeping
toward him. Every now and then, with a beautiful toss and swerve
and plunge, the great creature would turn upon one of his would-be
captors, and with outstretched head, flying mane and flashing
teeth, would chase him screaming to the safety of the wall, while
the others would close swiftly in behind and cast their ropes in
the hope of catching neck or leg, but only in their, turn to be
chased to the nearest refuge.
Had two of these ropes settled upon the horse, and had their
throwers found some purchase of stump or boulder by which they
could hold them, then the man's brain might have won its wonted
victory over swiftness and strength. But the brains were
themselves at fault which imagined that one such rope would serve
any purpose save to endanger the thrower.
Yet so it was, and what might have been foreseen occurred at the
very moment of the arrival of the monks. The horse, having chased
one of his enemies to the wall, remained so long snorting his
contempt over the coping that the others were able to creep upon
him from behind. Several ropes were flung, and one noose settled
over the proud crest and lost itself in the waving mane. In an
instant the creature had turned and the men were flying for their
lives; but he who had cast the rope lingered, uncertain what use
to make of his own success. That moment of doubt was fatal. With
a yell of dismay, the man saw the great creature rear above him.
Then with a crash the fore feet fell upon him and dashed him to
the ground. He rose screaming, was hurled over once more, and lay
a quivering, bleeding heap, while the savage horse, the most cruel
and terrible in its anger of all creatures on earth, bit and shook
and trampled the writhing body.
A loud wail of horror rose from the lines of tonsured heads which
skirted the high wall - a wail which suddenly died away into a
long hushed silence, broken at last by a rapturous cry of
thanksgiving and of joy.
On the road which led to the old dark manor-house upon the side of
the hill a youth had been riding. His mount was a sorry one, a
weedy, shambling, long-haired colt, and his patched tunic of faded
purple with stained leather belt presented no very smart
appearance; yet in the bearing of the man, in the poise of his
head, in his easy graceful carriage, and in the bold glance of his
large blue eyes, there was that stamp of distinction and of breed
which would have given him a place of his own in any assembly. He
was of small stature, but his frame was singularly elegant and
graceful. His face, though tanned with the weather, was delicate
in features and most eager and alert in expression. A thick
fringe of crisp yellow curls broke from under the dark flat cap
which he was wearing, and a short golden beard hid the outline of
his strong square chin. One white osprey feather thrust through a
gold brooch in the front of his cap gave a touch of grace to his
somber garb. This and other points of his attire, the short
hanging mantle, the leather-sheathed hunting-knife, the cross belt
which sustained a brazen horn, the soft doe-skin boots and the
prick spurs, would all disclose themselves to an observer; but at
the first glance the brown face set in gold and the dancing light
of the quick, reckless, laughing eyes, were the one strong memory
Such was the youth who, cracking his whip joyously, and followed
by half a score of dogs, cantered on his rude pony down the
Tilford Lane, and thence it was that with a smile of amused
contempt upon his face he observed the comedy in the field and the
impotent efforts of the servants of Waverley.
Suddenly, however, as the comedy turned swiftly to black tragedy,
this passive spectator leaped into quick strenuous life. With a
spring he was off his pony, and with another he was over the stone
wall and flying swiftly across the field. Looking up from his
victim, the great yellow horse saw this other enemy approach, and
spurning the prostrate, but still writhing body with its heels,
dashed at the newcomer.
But this time there was no hasty flight, no rapturous pursuit to
the wall. The little man braced himself straight, flung up his
metal-headed whip, and met the horse with a crashing blow upon the
head, repeated again and again with every attack. In vain the
horse reared and tried to overthrow its enemy with swooping
shoulders and pawing hoofs. Cool, swift and alert, the man sprang
swiftly aside from under the very shadow of death, and then again
came the swish and thud of the unerring blow from the heavy
The horse drew off, glared with wonder and fury at this masterful
man, and then trotted round in a circle, with mane bristling, tail
streaming and ears on end, snorting in its rage and pain. The
man, hardly deigning to glance at his fell neighbor, passed on to
the wounded forester, raised him in his arms with a strength which
could not have been expected in so slight a body, and carried him,
groaning, to the wall, where a dozen hands were outstretched to
help him over. Then, at his leisure, the young man also climbed
the wall, smiling back with cool contempt at the yellow horse,
which had come raging after him once more.
As he sprang down, a dozen monks surrounded him to thank him or to
praise him; but he would have turned sullenly away without a word
had he not been stopped by Abbot John in person.
"Nay, Squire Loring," said he, "if you be a bad friend to our
Abbey, yet we must needs own that you have played the part of a
good Christian this day, for if there is breath left in our
servant's body it is to you next to our blessed patron Saint
Bernard that we owe it."
"By Saint Paul! I owe you no good-will, Abbot John," said the
young man. "The shadow of your Abbey has ever fallen across the
house of Loring. As to any small deed that I may have done this
day, I ask no thanks for it. It is not for you nor for your house
that I have done it, but only because it was my pleasure so to
The Abbot flushed at the bold words, and bit his lip with
It was the sacrist, however, who answered: "It would be more
fitting and more gracious," said he, "if you were to speak to the
holy Father Abbot in a manner suited to his high rank and to the
respect which is due to a Prince of the Church."
The youth turned his bold blue eyes upon the monk, and his
sunburned face darkened with anger. "Were it not for the gown
upon your back, and for your silvering hair, I would answer you in
another fashion," said he. "You are the lean wolf which growls
ever at our door, greedy for the little which hath been left to
us. Say and do what you will with me, but by Saint Paul! if I
find that Dame Ermyntrude is baited by your ravenous pack I will
beat them off with this whip from the little patch which still
remains of all the acres of my fathers."
"Have a care, Nigel Loring, have a care!" cried the Abbot, with
finger upraised. "Have you no fears of the law of England? "
"A just law I fear and obey."
"Have you no respect for Holy Church?"
"I respect all that is holy in her. I do not respect those who
grind the poor or steal their neighbor's land."
"Rash man, many a one has been blighted by her ban for less than
you have now said! And yet it is not for us to judge you harshly
this day. You are young and hot words come easily to your lips.
How fares the forester?"
"His hurt is grievous, Father Abbot, but he will live," said a
brother, looking up from the prostrate form. " With a
blood-letting and an electuary, I will warrant him sound within a
"Then bear him to the hospital. And now, brother, about this
terrible beast who still gazes and snorts at us over the top of
the wall as though his thoughts of Holy Church were as uncouth as
those of Squire Nigel himself, what are we to do with him?"
"Here is Franklin Aylward," said one of the brethren. "The horse
was his, and doubtless he will take it back to his farm."
But the stout red-faced farmer shook his head at the proposal.
"Not I, in faith!" said he. "The beast hath chased me twice round
the paddock; it has nigh slain my boy Samkin. He would never be
happy till he had ridden it, nor has he ever been happy since.
There is not a hind in my employ who will enter his stall. Ill
fare the day that ever I took the beast from the Castle stud at
Guildford, where they could do nothing with it and no rider could
be found bold enough to mount it! When the sacrist here took it
for a fifty-shilling debt he made his own bargain and must abide
by it. He comes no more to the Crooksbury farm."
"And he stays no more here," said the Abbot. "Brother sacrist,
you have raised the Devil, and it is for you to lay it again."
"That I will most readily," cried the sacrist. "The pittance-
master can stop the fifty shillings from my very own weekly dole,
and so the Abbey be none the poorer. In the meantime here is Wat
with his arbalist and a bolt in his girdle. Let him drive it to
the head through this cursed creature, for his hide and his hoofs
are of more value than his wicked self."
A hard brown old woodman who had been shooting vermin in the Abbey
groves stepped forward with a grin of pleasure. After a lifetime
of stoats and foxes, this was indeed a noble quarry which was to
fall before him. Fitting a bolt on the nut of his taut crossbow,
he had raised it to his shoulder and leveled it at the fierce,
proud, disheveled head which tossed in savage freedom at the other
side of the wall. His finger was crooked on the spring, when a
blow from a whip struck the bow upward and the bolt flew harmless
over the Abbey orchard, while the woodman shrank abashed from
Nigel Loring's angry eyes.
"Keep your bolts for your weasels!" said he. "Would you take life
from a creature whose only fault is that its spirit is so high
that it has met none yet who dare control it? You would slay such
a horse as a king might be proud to mount, and all because a
country franklin, or a monk, or a monk's varlet, has not the wit
nor the hands to master him?"
The sacrist turned swiftly on the Squire. "The Abbey owes you an
offering for this day's work, however rude your words may be,"
said he. "If you think so much of the horse, you may desire to
own it. If I am to pay for it, then with the holy Abbot's
permission it is in my gift and I bestow it freely upon you."
The Abbot plucked at his subordinate's sleeve. "Bethink you,
brother sacrist," he whispered, "shall we not have this man's
blood upon our heads?"
"His pride is as stubborn as the horse's, holy father," the
sacrist answered, his gaunt fact breaking into a malicious smile.
"Man or beast, one will break the other and the world will be the
better for it. If you forbid me - "
"Nay, brother, you have bought the horse, and you may have the
bestowal of it."
"Then I give it - hide and hoofs, tail and temper - to Nigel
Loring, and may it be as sweet and as gentle to him as he hath
been to the Abbot of Waverley!"
The sacrist spoke aloud amid the tittering of the monks, for the
man concerned was out of earshot. At the first words which had
shown him the turn which affairs had taken he had run swiftly to
the spot where he had left his pony. From its mouth he removed
the bit and the stout bridle which held it. Then leaving the
creature to nibble the grass by the wayside he sped back whence he
"I take your gift, monk," said he, "though I know well why it is
that you give it. Yet I thank you, for there are two things upon
earth for which I have ever yearned, and which my thin purse could
never buy. The one is a noble horse, such a horse as my father's
son should have betwixt his thighs, and here is the one of all
others which I would have chosen, since some small deed is to be
done in the winning of him, and some honorable advancement to be
gained. How is the horse called?"
"Its name," said the franklin, "is Pommers. I warn you, young
sir, that none may ride him, for many have tried, and the luckiest
is he who has only a staved rib to show for it."
"I thank you for your rede," said Nigel, "and now I see that this
is indeed a horse which I would journey far to meet. I am your
man, Pommers, and you are my horse, and this night you shall own
it or I will never need horse again. My spirit against thine, and
God hold thy spirit high, Pommers, so that the greater be the
adventure, and the more hope of honor gained!"
While he spoke the young Squire had climbed on to the top of the
wall and stood there balanced, the very image of grace and spirit
and gallantry, his bridle hanging from one hand and his whip
grasped in the other. With a fierce snort, the horse made for him
instantly, and his white teeth flashed as he snapped; but again a
heavy blow from the loaded whip caused him to swerve, and even at
the instant of the swerve, measuring the distance with steady
eyes, and bending his supple body for the spring, Nigel bounded
into the air and fell with his legs astride the broad back of the
yellow horse. For a minute, with neither saddle nor stirrups to
help him, and the beast ramping and rearing like a mad thing
beneath him, he was hard pressed to hold his own. His legs were
like two bands of steel welded on to the swelling arches of the
great horse's ribs, and his left hand was buried deep in the tawny
Never had the dull round of the lives of the gentle brethren of
Waverley been broken by so fiery a scene. Springing to right and
swooping to left, now with its tangled wicked head betwixt its
forefeet, and now pawing eight feet high in the air, with scarlet,
furious nostrils and maddened eyes, the yellow horse was a thing
of terror and of beauty. But the lithe figure on his back,
bending like a reed in the wind to every movement, firm below,
pliant above, with calm inexorable face, and eyes which danced and
gleamed with the joy of contest, still held its masterful place
for all that the fiery heart and the iron muscles of the great
beast could do.
Once a long drone of dismay rose from the monks, as rearing higher
and higher yet a last mad effort sent the creature toppling over
backward upon its rider. But, swift and cool, he had writhed from
under it ere it fell, spurned it with his foot as it rolled upon
the earth, and then seizing its mane as it rose swung himself
lightly on to its back once more. Even the grim sacrist could not
but join the cheer, as Pommers, amazed to find the rider still
upon his back, plunged and curveted down the field.
But the wild horse only swelled into a greater fury. In the
sullen gloom of its untamed heart there rose the furious resolve
to dash the life from this clinging rider, even if it meant
destruction to beast and man. With red, blazing eyes it looked
round for death. On three sides the five-virgate field was
bounded by a high wall, broken only at one spot by a heavy
four-foot wooden gate. But on the fourth side was a low gray
building, one of the granges of the Abbey, presenting a long flank
unbroken by door or window. The horse stretched itself into a
gallop, and headed straight for that craggy thirty-foot wall. He
would break in red ruin at the base of it if he could but dash
forever the life of this man, who claimed mastery over that which
had never found its master yet.
The great haunches gathered under it, the eager hoofs drummed the
grass, as faster and still more fast the frantic horse bore
himself and his rider toward the wall. Would Nigel spring off?
To do so would be to bend his will to that of the beast beneath
him. There was a better way than that. Cool, quick and decided,
the man swiftly passed both whip and bridle into the left hand
which still held the mane. Then with the right he slipped his
short mantle from his shoulders and lying forward along the
creature's strenuous, rippling back he cast the flapping cloth
over the horse's eyes.
The result was but too successful, for it nearly brought about the
downfall of the rider. When those red eyes straining for death
were suddenly shrouded in unexpected darkness the amazed horse
propped on its forefeet and came to so dead a stop that Nigel was
shot forward on to its neck and hardly held himself by his
hair-entwined hand. Ere he had slid back into position the moment
of danger had passed, for the horse, its purpose all blurred in
its mind by this strange thing which had befallen, wheeled round
once more, trembling in every fiber, and tossing its petulant head
until at last the mantle had been slipped from its eyes and the
chilling darkness had melted into the homely circle of sunlit
grass once more.
But what was this new outrage which had been inflicted upon it?
What was this defiling bar of iron which was locked hard against
its mouth? What were these straps which galled the tossing neck,
this band which spanned its chest? In those instants of stillness
ere the mantle had been plucked away Nigel had lain forward, had
slipped the snaffle between the champing teeth, and had deftly
Blind, frantic fury surged in the yellow horse's heart once more
at this new degradation, this badge of serfdom and infamy. His
spirit rose high and menacing at the touch. He loathed this
place, these people, all and everything which threatened his
freedom. He would have done with them forever; he would see them
no more. Let him away to the uttermost parts of the earth, to the
great plains where freedom is. Anywhere over the far horizon
where he could get away from the defiling bit and the insufferable
mastery of man.
He turned with a rush, and one magnificent deer-like bound carried
him over the four-foot gate. Nigel's hat had flown off, and his
yellow curls streamed behind him as he rose and fell in the leap.
They were in the water-meadow now, and the rippling stream twenty
feet wide gleamed in front of them running down to the main
current of the Wey. The yellow horse gathered his haunches under
him and flew over like an arrow. He took off from behind a
boulder and cleared a furze-bush on the farther side. Two stones
still mark the leap from hoof-mark to hoof-mark, and they are
eleven good paces apart. Under the hanging branch of the great
oak-tree on the farther side (that Quercus Tilfordiensis ordiensis
is still shown as the bound of the Abby's immediate precincts) the
great horse passed. He had hoped to sweep off his rider, but
Nigel sank low on the heaving back with his face buried in the
flying mane. The rough bough rasped him rudely, but never shook
his spirit nor his grip. Rearing, plunging and struggling,
Pommers broke through the sapling grove and was out on the broad
stretch of Hankley Down.
And now came such a ride as still lingers in the gossip of the
lowly country folk and forms the rude jingle of that old Surrey
ballad, now nearly forgotten, save for the refrain:
The Doe that sped on Hinde Head,
The Kestril on the winde,
And Nigel on the Yellow Horse
Can leave the world behinde.
Before them lay a rolling ocean of dark heather, knee-deep,
swelling in billow on billow up to the clear-cut hill before them.
Above stretched one unbroken arch of peaceful blue, with a sun
which was sinking down toward the Hampshire hills. Through the
deep heather, down the gullies, over the watercourses, up the
broken slopes, Pommers flew, his great heart bursting with rage,
and every fiber quivering at the indignities which he had endured.
And still, do what he would, the man clung fast to his heaving
sides and to his flying mane, silent, motionless, inexorable,
letting him do what he would, but fixed as Fate upon his purpose.
Over Hankley Down, through Thursley Marsh, with the reeds up to
his mud-splashed withers, onward up the long slope of the Headland
of the Hinds, down by the Nutcombe Gorge, slipping, blundering,
bounding, but never slackening his fearful speed, on went the
great yellow horse. The villagers of Shottermill heard the wild
clatter of hoofs, but ere they could swing the ox-hide curtains of
their cottage doors horse and rider were lost amid the high
bracken of the Haslemere Valley. On he went, and on, tossing the
miles behind his flying hoofs. No marsh-land could clog him, no
hill could hold him back. Up the slope of Linchmere and the long
ascent of Fernhurst he thundered as on the level, and it was not
until he had flown down the incline of Henley Hill, and the gray
castle tower of Midhurst rose over the coppice in front, that at
last the eager outstretched neck sank a little on the breast, and
the breath came quick and fast. Look where he would in woodland
and on down, his straining eyes could catch no sign of those
plains of freedom which he sought.
And yet another outrage! It was bad that this creature should
still cling so tight upon his back, but now he would even go to
the intolerable length of checking him and guiding him on the way
that he would have him go. There was a sharp pluck at his mouth,
and his head was turned north once more. As well go that way as
another, but the man was mad indeed if he thought that such a
horse as Pommers was at the end of his spirit or his strength. He
would soon show him that he was unconquered, if it strained his
sinews or broke his heart to do so. Back then he flew up the
long, long ascent. Would he ever get to the end of it? Yet he
would not own that he could go no farther while the man still kept
his grip. He was white with foam and caked with mud. His eyes
were gorged with blood, his mouth open and gasping, his nostrils
expanded, his coat stark and reeking. On he flew down the long
Sunday Hill until he reached the deep Kingsley Marsh at the
bottom. No, it was too much! Flesh and blood could go no
farther. As he struggled out from the reedy slime with the heavy
black mud still clinging to his fetlocks, he at last eased down
with sobbing breath and slowed the tumultuous gallop to a canter.
Oh, crowning infamy! Was there no limit to these degradations?
He was no longer even to choose his own pace. Since he had chosen
to gallop so far at his own will he must now gallop farther still
at the will of another. A spur struck home on either flank. A
stinging whip-lash fell across his shoulder. He bounded his own
height in the air at the pain and the shame of it. Then,
forgetting his weary limbs, forgetting his panting, reeking sides,
forgetting everything save this intolerable insult and the burning
spirit within, he plunged off once more upon his furious gallop.
He was out on the heather slopes again and heading for Weydown
Common. On he flew and on. But again his brain failed him and
again his limbs trembled beneath him, and yet again he strove to
ease his pace, only to be driven onward by the cruel spur and the
falling lash. He was blind and giddy with fatigue.
He saw no longer where he placed his feet, he cared no longer
whither he went, but his one mad longing was to get away from this
dreadful thing, this torture which clung to him and would not let
him go. Through Thursley village he passed, his eyes straining in
his agony, his heart bursting within him, and he had won his way
to the crest of Thursley Down, still stung forward by stab and
blow, when his spirit weakened, his giant strength ebbed out of
him, and with one deep sob of agony the yellow horse sank among
the heather. So sudden was the fall that Nigel flew forward over
his shoulder, and beast and man lay prostrate and gasping while
the last red rim of the sun sank behind Butser and the first stars
gleamed in a violet sky.
The young Squire was the first to recover, and kneeling by the
panting, overwrought horse he passed his hand gently over the
tangled mane and down the foam-flecked face. The red eye rolled
up at him; but it was wonder not hatred, a prayer and not a
threat, which he could read in it. As he stroked the reeking
muzzle, the horse whinnied gently and thrust his nose into the
hollow of his hand. It was enough. It was the end of the
contest, the acceptance of new conditions by a chivalrous foe from
a chivalrous victor.
"You are my horse, Pommers," Nigel whispered, and he laid his
cheek against the craning head. "I know you, Pommers, and you
know me, and with the help of Saint Paul we shall teach some other
folk to know us both. Now let us walk together as far as this
moorland pond, for indeed I wot not whether it is you or I who
need the water most."
And so it was that some belated monks of Waverley passing homeward
from the outer farms saw a strange sight which they carried on
with them so that it reached that very night the ears both of
sacrist and of Abbot. For, as they passed through Tilford they
had seen horse and man walking side by side and head by head up
the manor-house lane. And when they had raised their lanterns on
the pair it was none other than the young Squire himself who was
leading home, as a shepherd leads a lamb, the fearsome yellow
horse of Crooksbury.
IV. HOW THE SUMMONER CAME TO THE MANOR HOUSE OF TILFORD
By the date of this chronicle the ascetic sternness of the old
Norman castles had been humanized and refined so that the new
dwellings of the nobility, if less imposing in appearance, were
much more comfortable as places of residence. A gentle race had
built their houses rather for peace than for war. He who compares
the savage bareness of Pevensey or Guildford with the piled
grandeur of Bodmin or Windsor cannot fail to understand the change
in manners which they represent.
The earlier castles had a set purpose, for they were built that
the invaders might hold down the country; but when the Conquest
was once firmly established a castle had lost its meaning save as
a refuge from justice or as a center for civil strife. On the
marches of Wales and of Scotland the castle might continue to be a
bulwark to the kingdom, and there still grew and flourished; but
in all other places they were rather a menace to the King's
majesty, and as such were discouraged and destroyed. By the reign
of the third Edward the greater part of the old fighting castles
had been converted into dwelling-houses or had been ruined in the
civil wars, and left where their grim gray bones are still
littered upon the brows of our hills. The new buildings were
either great country-houses, capable of defense, but mainly
residential, or they were manor-houses with no military
significance at all.
Such was the Tilford Manor-house where the last survivors of the
old and magnificent house of Loring still struggled hard to keep a
footing and to hold off the monks and the lawyers from the few
acres which were left to them. The mansion was a two-storied one,
framed in heavy beams of wood, the interstices filled with rude
blocks of stone. An outside staircase led up to several
sleeping-rooms above. Below there were only two apartments, the
smaller of which was the bower of the aged Lady Ermyntrude. The
other was the hall, a very large room, which served as the living
room of the family and as the common dining-room of themselves and
of their little group of servants and retainers. The dwellings of
these servants, the kitchens, the offices and the stables were all
represented by a row of penthouses and sheds behind the main
building. Here lived Charles the page, Peter the old falconer,
Red Swire who had followed Nigel's grandfather to the Scottish
wars, Weathercote the broken minstrel, John the cook, and other
survivors of more prosperous days, who still clung to the old
house as the barnacles to some wrecked and stranded vessel.
One evening about a week after the breaking of the yellow horse,
Nigel and his grandmother sat on either side of the large empty
fireplace in this spacious apartment. The supper had been
removed, and so had the trestle tables upon which it had been
served, so that the room seemed bare and empty. The stone floor
was strewed with a thick layer of green rushes, which was swept
out every Saturday and carried with it all the dirt and debris of
the week. Several dogs were now crouched among these rushes,
gnawing and cracking the bones which had been thrown from the
table. A long wooden buffet loaded with plates and dishes filled
one end of the room, but there was little other furniture save
some benches against the walls, two dorseret chairs, one small
table littered with chessmen, and a great iron coffer. In one
corner was a high wickerwork stand, and on it two stately falcons
were perched, silent and motionless, save for an occasional
twinkle of their fierce yellow eyes.
But if the actual fittings of the room would have appeared scanty
to one who had lived in a more luxurious age, he would have been
surprised on looking up to see the multitude of objects which were
suspended above his head. Over the fireplace were the
coats-of-arms of a number of houses allied by blood or by marriage
to the Lorings. The two cresset-lights which flared upon each
side gleamed upon the blue lion of the Percies, the red birds of
de Valence, the black engrailed cross of de Mohun, the silver star
of de Vere, and the ruddy bars of FitzAlan, all grouped round the
famous red roses on the silver shield which the Lorings had borne
to glory upon many a bloody field. Then from side to side the
room was spanned by heavy oaken beams from which a great number of
objects were hanging. There were mail-shirts of obsolete pattern,
several shields, one or two rusted and battered helmets,
bowstaves, lances, otter-spears, harness, fishing-rods, and other
implements of war or of the chase, while higher still amid the
black shadows of the peaked roof could be seen rows of hams,
flitches of bacon, salted geese, and those other forms of
preserved meat which played so great a part in the housekeeping of
the Middle Ages.
Dame Ermyntrude Loring, daughter, wife, and mother of warriors,
was herself a formidable figure. Tall and gaunt, with hard craggy
features and intolerant dark eyes, even her snow-white hair and
stooping back could not entirely remove the sense of fear which
she inspired in those around her. Her thoughts and memories went
back to harsher times, and she looked upon the England around her
as a degenerate and effeminate land which had fallen away from the
old standard of knightly courtesy and valor.
The rising power of the people, the growing wealth of the Church,
the increasing luxury in life and manners, and the gentler tone of
the age were all equally abhorrent to her, so that the dread of
her fierce face, and even of the heavy oak staff with which she
supported her failing limbs, was widespread through all the
Yet if she was feared she was also respected, for in days when
books were few and readers scarce, a long memory and a ready
tongue were of the more value; and where, save from Dame
Ermyntrude, could the young unlettered Squires of Surrey and
Hampshire hear of their grandfathers and their battles, or learn
that lore of heraldry and chivalry which she handed down from a
ruder but a more martial age? Poor as she was, there was no one
in Surrey whose guidance would be more readily sought upon a
question of precedence or of conduct than the Dame Ermyntrude
She sat now with bowed back by the empty fireplace, and looked
across at Nigel with all the harsh lines of her old ruddled face
softening into love and pride. The young Squire was busy cutting
bird-bolts for his crossbow, and whistling softly as he worked.
Suddenly he looked up and caught the dark eyes which were fixed
upon him. He leaned forward and patted the bony hand.
"What hath pleased you, dear dame? I read pleasure in your eyes."
"I have heard to-day, Nigel, how you came to win that great
war-horse which stamps in our stable."
"Nay, dame; I had told you that the monks had given it to me."
"You said so, fair son, but never a word more. Yet the horse
which you brought home was a very different horse I wot, to that
which was given you. Why did you not tell me?"
"I should think it shame to talk of such a thing."
"So would your father before you, and his father no less. They
would sit silent among the knights when the wine went round and
listen to every man's deeds; but if perchance there was anyone who
spoke louder than the rest and seemed to be eager for honor, then
afterwards your father would pluck him softly by the sleeve and
whisper in his ear to learn if there was any small vow of which he
could relieve him, or if he would deign to perform some noble deed
of arms upon his person. And if the man were a braggart and would
go no further, your father would be silent and none would know it.
But if he bore himself well, your father would spread his fame far
and wide, but never make mention of himself."
Nigel looked at the old woman with shining eyes. "I love to hear
you speak of him," said he. "I pray you to tell me once more of
the manner of his death."
"He died as he had lived, a very courtly gentleman. It was at the
great sea-battle upon the Norman coast, and your father was in
command of the after-guard in the King's own ship. Now the French
had taken a great English ship the year before when they came over
and held the narrow seas and burned the town of Southampton.
This ship was the Christopher, and they placed it in the front of
their battle; but the English closed upon it and stormed over its
side, and slew all who were upon it.
"But your father and Sir Lorredan of Genoa, who commanded the
Christopher, fought upon the high poop, so that all the fleet
stopped to watch it, and the King himself cried aloud at the
sight, for Sir Lorredan was a famous man-at-arms and bore himself
very stoutly that day, and many a knight envied your father that
he should have chanced upon so excellent a person. But your
father bore him back and struck him such a blow with a mace that
he turned the helmet half round on his head, so that he could no
longer see through the eye holes, and Sir Lorredan threw down his
sword and gave himself to ransom. But your father took him by the
helmet and twisted it until he had it straight upon his head.
Then, when he could see once again, he handed him his sword, and
prayed him that he would rest himself and then continue, for it
was great profit and joy to see any gentleman carry himself so
well. So they sat together and rested by the rail of the poop;
but even as they raised their hands again your father was struck
by a stone from a mangonel and so died."
"And this Sir Lorredan," cried Nigel, "he died also, as I
"I fear that he was slain by the archers, for they loved your
father, and they do not see these things with our eyes."
"It was a pity," said Nigel; "for it is clear that he was a good
knight and bore himself very bravely."
"Time was, when I was young, when commoners dared not have laid
their grimy hands upon such a man. Men of gentle blood and
coat-armor made war upon each other, and the others, spearmen or
archers, could scramble amongst themselves. But now all are of a
level, and only here and there one like yourself, fair son, who
reminds me of the men who are gone."
Nigel leaned forward and took her hands in his. "What I am you
have made me," said he.
"It is true, Nigel. I have indeed watched over you as the
gardener watches his most precious blossom, for in you alone are
all the hopes of our ancient house, and soon - very soon - you
will be alone."
"Nay, dear lady, say not that."
"I am very old, Nigel, and I feel the shadow closing in upon me.
My heart yearns to go, for all whom I have known and loved have
gone before me. And you - it will be a blessed day for you, since
I have held you back from that world into which your brave spirit
longs to plunge."
"Nay, nay, I have been happy here with you at Tilford."
"We are very poor, Nigel. I do not know where we may find the
money to fit you for the wars. Yet we have good friends. There
is Sir John Chandos, who has won such credit in the French wars
and who rides ever by the King's bridle-arm. He was your father's
friend and they were Squires together. If I sent you to court
with a message to him he would do what he could."
Nigel's fair face flushed. "Nay, Dame Ermyntrude, I must find my
own gear, even as I have found my own horse, for I had rather ride
into battle in this tunic than owe my suit to another."
"I feared that you would say so, Nigel; but indeed I know not how
else we may get the money," said the old woman sadly. "It was
different in the days of my father. I can remember that a suit of
mail was but a small matter in those days, for in every English
town such things could be made. But year by year since men have
come to take more care of their bodies, there have been added a
plate of proof here and a cunning joint there, and all must be
from Toledo or Milan, so that a knight must have much metal in his
purse ere he puts any on his limbs."
Nigel looked up wistfully at the old armor which was slung on the
beams above him. "The ash spear is good," said he, "and so is the
oaken shield with facings of steel. Sir Roger FitzAlan handled
them and said that he had never seen better. But the armor - "
Lady Ermyntrude shook her old head and laughed. "You have your
father's great soul, Nigel, but you have not his mighty breadth of
shoulder and length of limb. There was not in all the King's
great host a taller or a stronger man. His harness would be
little use to you. No, fair son, I rede you that when the time
comes you sell this crumbling house and the few acres which are
still left, and so go forth to the wars in the hope that with your
own right hand you will plant the fortunes of a new house of
A shadow of anger passed over Nigel's fresh young face. "I know
not if we may hold off these monks and their lawyers much longer.
This very day there came a man from Guildford with claims from the
Abbey extending back before my father's death."
"Where are they, fair son?"
"They are flapping on the furze-bushes of Hankley, for I sent his
papers and parchments down wind as fast as ever falcon flew." `
"Nay! you were mad to do that, Nigel. And the man, where is he?"
"Red Swire and old George the archer threw him into the Thursley
"Alas! I fear me such things cannot be done in these days, though
my father or my husband would have sent the rascal back to
Guildford without his ears. But the Church and the Law are too
strong now for us who are of gentler blood. Trouble will come of
it, Nigel, for the Abbot of Waverley is not one who will hold back
the shield of the Church from those who are her servants."
"The Abbot would not hurt us. It is that gray lean wolf of a
sacrist who hungers for our land. Let him do his worst. I fear
"He has such an engine at his back, Nigel, that even the bravest
must fear him. The ban which blasts a man's soul is in the
keeping of his church, and what have we to place against it? I
pray you to speak him fair, Nigel."
"Nay, dear lady, it is both my duty and my pleasure to do what you
bid me; but I would die ere I ask as a favor that which we can
claim as a right. Never can I cast my eyes from yonder window
that I do not see the swelling down-lands and the rich meadows,
glade and dingle, copse and wood, which have been ours since
Norman-William gave them to that Loring who bore his shield at
Senlac. Now, by trick and fraud, they have passed away from us,
and many a franklin is a richer man than I; but never shall it be
said that I saved the rest by bending my neck to their yoke. Let
them do their worst, and let me endure it or fight it as best I
The old lady sighed and shook her head. "You speak as a Loring
should, and yet I fear that some great trouble will befall us.
But let us talk no more of such matters, since we cannot mend
them. Where is your citole, Nigel? Will you not play and sing to
The gentleman of those days could scarce read and write; but he
spoke in two languages, played at least one musical instrument as
a matter of course, and possessed a number of other
accomplishments, from the imping of hawk's feathers, to the
mystery of venery, with knowledge of every beast and bird, its
time of grace and when it was seasonable. As far as physical
feats went, to vault barebacked upon a horse, to hit a running
hare with a crossbow-bolt, or to climb the angle of a castle
courtyard, were feats which had come by nature to the young
Squire; but it was very different with music, which had called for
many a weary hour of irksome work. Now at last he could master
the strings, but both his ear and his voice were not of the best,
so that it was well perhaps that there was so small and so
unprejudiced an audience to the Norman-French chanson, which he
sang in a high reedy voice with great earnestness of feeling, but
with many a slip and quaver, waving his yellow head in cadence to
A sword! A sword! Ah, give me a sword!
For the world is all to win.
Though the way be hard and the door be barred,
The strong man enters in.
If Chance and Fate still hold the gate,
Give me the iron key,
And turret high my plume shall fly,
Or you may weep for me!
A horse! A horse! Ah, give me a horse!
To bear me out afar,
Where blackest need and grimmest deed
And sweetest perils are.
Hold thou my ways from glutted days
Where poisoned leisure lies,
And point the path of tears and wrath
Which mounts to high emprise!
A heart! A heart! Ah, give me a heart
To rise to circumstance!
Serene and high and bold to try
The hazard of the chance,
With strength to wait, but fixed as fate
To plan and dare and do,
The peer of all, and only thrall,
Sweet lady mine, to you!
It may have been that the sentiment went for more than the music,
or it may have been the nicety of her own ears had been dulled by
age, but old Dame Ermyntrude clapped her lean hands together and
cried out in shrill applause.
"Weathercote has indeed had an apt pupil!" she said. "I pray you
that you will sing again."
"Nay, dear dame, it is turn and turn betwixt you and me. I beg
that you will recite a romance, you who know them all. For all
the years that I have listened I have never yet come to the end of
them, and I dare swear that there are more in your head than in
all the great books which they showed me at Guildford Castle. I
would fain hear `Doon of Mayence,' or `The Song of Roland,' or
So the old dame broke into a long poem, slow and dull in the
inception, but quickening as the interest grew, until with darting
hands and glowing face she poured forth the verses which told of
the emptiness of sordid life, the beauty of heroic death, the high
sacredness of love and the bondage of honor. Nigel, with set,
still features and brooding eyes, drank in the fiery words, until
at last they died upon the old woman's lips and she sank back
weary in her chair.
Nigel stooped over her and kissed her brow. "Your words will ever
be as a star upon my path," said he. Then, carrying over the
small table and the chessmen, he proposed that they should play
their usual game before they sought their rooms for the night.
But a sudden and rude interruption broke in upon their gentle
contest. A dog pricked its ears and barked. The others ran
growling to the door. And then there came a sharp clash of arms,
a dull heavy blow as from a club or sword-pommel, and a deep voice
from without summoned them to open in the King's name. The old
dame and Nigel had both sprung to their feet, their table
overturned and their chessmen scattered among the rushes. Nigel's
hand had sought his crossbow, but the Lady Ermyntrude grasped his
"Nay, fair son! Have you not heard that it is in the King's
name?" said she. "Down, Talbot! Down, Bayard! ! Open the door
and let his messenger in!"
Nigel undid the bolt, and the heavy wooden door swung outward upon
its hinges. The light from the flaring cressets beat upon steel
caps and fierce bearded faces, with the glimmer of drawn swords
and the yellow gleam of bowstaves. A dozen armed archers forced
their way into the room. At their head were the gaunt sacrist of
Waverley and a stout elderly man clad in a red velvet doublet and
breeches much stained and mottled with mud and clay. He bore a
great sheet of parchment with a fringe of dangling seals, which he
held aloft as he entered.
"I call on Nigel Loring!" he cried. "I, the officer of the King's
law and the lay summoner of Waverley, call upon the man named
"I am he."
"Yes, it is he!" cried the sacrist. "Archers, do as you were
In an instant the band threw themselves upon him like the hounds
on a stag. Desperately Nigel strove to gain his sword which lay
upon the iron coffer. With the convulsive strength which comes
from the spirit rather than from the body, he bore them all in
that direction, but the sacrist snatched the weapon from its
place, and the rest dragged the writhing Squire to the ground and
swathed him in a cord.
"Hold him fast, good archers! Keep a stout grip on him!" cried
the summoner. "I pray you, one of you, prick off these great dogs
which snarl at my heels. Stand off, I say, in the name of the
King! Watkin, come betwixt me and these creatures who have as
little regard for the law as their master."
One of the archers kicked off the faithful dogs. But there were
others of the household who were equally ready to show their teeth
in defense of the old house of Loring. From the door which led to
their quarters there emerged the pitiful muster of Nigel's
threadbare retainers. There was a time when ten knights, forty
men-at-arms and two hundred archers would march behind the scarlet
roses. Now at this last rally when the young head of the house
lay bound in his own hall, there mustered at his call the page
Charles with a cudgel, John the cook with his longest spit, Red
Swire the aged man-at-arms with a formidable ax swung over his
snowy head, and Weathercote the minstrel with a boar-spear. Yet
this motley array was fired with the spirit of the house, and
under the lead of the fierce old soldier they would certainly have
flung themselves upon the ready swords of the archers, had the
Lady Ermyntrude not swept between them:
"Stand back, Swire!" she cried. "Back, Weathercote Charles, put a
leash on Talbot, and hold Bayard back!" Her black eyes blazed
upon the invaders until they shrank from that baleful gaze. "Who
are you, you rascal robbers, who dare to misuse the King's name
and to lay hands upon one whose smallest drop of blood has more
worth than all your thrall and caitiff bodies?"
"Nay, not so fast, dame, not so fast, I pray you!" cried the stout
summoner, whose face had resumed its natural color, now that he
had a woman to deal with. "There is a law of England, mark you,
and there are those who serve and uphold it, who are the true men
and the King's own lieges. Such a one am I. Then again, there
are those who take such as me and transfer, carry or convey us
into a bog or morass. Such a one is this graceless old man with
the ax, whom I have seen already this day. There are also those
who tear, destroy or scatter the papers of the law, of which this
young man is the chief. Therefore, I would rede you, dame, not to
rail against us, but to understand that we are the King's men on
the King's own service."
"What then is your errand in this house at this hour of the
The summoner cleared his throat pompously, and turning his
parchment to the light of the cressets he read out a long document
in Norman-French, couched in such a style and such a language that
the most involved and foolish of our forms were simplicity itself
compared to those by which the men of the long gown made a mystery
of that which of all things on earth should be the plainest and
the most simple. Despair fell cold upon Nigel's heart and
blanched the face of the old dame as they listened to the dread
catalogue of claims and suits and issues, questions of peccary and
turbary, of house-bote and fire-bote, which ended by a demand for
all the lands, hereditaments, tenements, messuages and curtilages,
which made up their worldly all.
Nigel, still bound, had been placed with his back against the iron
coffer, whence he heard with dry lips and moist brow this doom of
his house. Now he broke in on the recital with a vehemence which
made the summoner jump:
"You shall rue what you have done this night!" he cried. "Poor as
we are, we have our friends who will not see us wronged, and I
will plead my cause before the King's own majesty at Windsor, that
he, who saw the father die, may know what things are done in his
royal name against the son. But these matters are to be settled
in course of law in the King's courts, and how will you excuse
yourself for this assault upon my house and person?"
"Nay, that is another matter," said the sacrist. "The question of
debt may indeed be an affair of a civil court. But it is a crime
against the law and an act of the Devil, which comes within the
jurisdiction of the Abbey Court of Waverley when you dare to lay
hands upon the summoner or his papers."
"Indeed, he speaks truth," cried the official. "I know no blacker
"Therefore," said the stern monk, "it is the order of the holy
father Abbot that you sleep this night in the Abbey cell, and that
to-morrow you be brought before him at the court held in the
chapter-house so that you receive the fit punishment for this and
the many other violent and froward deeds which you have wrought
upon the servants of Holy Church. Enough is now said, worthy
master summoner. Archers, remove your prisoner!"
As Nigel was lifted up by four stout archers, the Dame Ermyntrude
would have rushed to his aid, but the sacrist thrust her back.
"Stand off, proud woman! Let the law take its course, and learn
to humble your heart before the power of Holy Church. Has your
life not taught its lesson, you, whose horn was exalted among the
highest and will soon not have a roof above your gray hairs?
Stand back, I say, lest I lay a curse upon you!"
The old dame flamed suddenly into white wrath as she stood before
the angry monk: "Listen to me while I lay a curse upon you and
yours!" she cried as she raised her shriveled arms and blighted
him with her flashing eyes
"As you have done to the house of Loring, so may God do to you,
until your power is swept from the land of England, and of your
great Abbey of Waverley there is nothing left but a pile of gray
stones in a green meadow! I see it! I see it! With my old eyes
I see it! From scullion to Abbot and from cellar to tower, may
Waverley and all within it droop and wither from this night on!"
The monk, hard as he was, quailed before the frantic figure and
the bitter, burning words. Already the summoner and the archers
with their prisoner were clear of the house. He turned and with a
clang he shut the heavy door behind him.
V. HOW NIGEL WAS TRIED BY THE ABBOT OF WAVERLEY
The law of the Middle Ages, shrouded as it was in old
Norman-French dialect, and abounding in uncouth and
incomprehensible terms, in deodands and heriots, in infang and
outfang, was a fearsome weapon in the hands of those who knew how
to use it. It was not for nothing that the first act of the rebel
commoners was to hew off the head of the Lord Chancellor. In an
age when few knew how to read or to write, these mystic phrases
and intricate forms, with the parchments and seals which were
their outward expression, struck cold terror into hearts which
were steeled against mere physical danger.
Even young Nigel Loring's blithe and elastic spirit was chilled as
he lay that night in the penal cell of Waverley and pondered over
the absolute ruin which threatened his house from a source against
which all his courage was of no avail. As well take up sword and
shield to defend himself against the black death, as against this
blight of Holy Church. He was powerless in the grip of the Abbey.
Already they had shorn off a field here and a grove there, and now
in one sweep they would take in the rest, and where then was the
home of the Lorings, and where should Lady Ermyntrude lay her aged
head, or his old retainers, broken and spent, eke out the balance
of their days? He shivered as he thought of it.
It was very well for him to threaten to carry the matter before
the King, but it was years since royal Edward had heard the name
of Loring, and Nigel knew that the memory of princes was a short
one. Besides, the Church was the ruling power in the palace as
well as in the cottage, and it was only for very good cause that a
King could be expected to cross the purposes of so high a prelate
as the Abbot of Waverley, as long as they came within the scope of
the law. Where then was he to look for help? With the simple and
practical piety of the age, he prayed for the aid of his own
particular saints: of Saint Paul, whose adventures by land and
sea; had always endeared him; of Saint George, who had gained much
honorable advancement from the Dragon; and of Saint Thomas, who
was a gentleman of coat-armor, who would understand and help a
person of gentle blood. Then, much comforted by his naive orisons
he enjoyed the sleep of youth and health until the entrance of the
lay brother with the bread and small beer, which served as
breakfast, in the morning.
The Abbey court sat in the chapter-house at the canonical hour of
tierce, which was nine in the forenoon. At all times the function
was a solemn one, even when the culprit might be a villain who was
taken poaching on the Abbey estate, or a chapman who had given
false measure from his biased scales. But now, when a man of
noble birth was to be tried, the whole legal and ecclesiastical
ceremony was carried out with every detail, grotesque or
impressive, which the full ritual prescribed. The distant roll of
church music and the slow tolling of the Abbey bell; the white-
robed brethren, two and two, walked thrice round the hall singing
the "Benedicite" and the "Veni, Creator" before they settled in
their places at the desks on either side. Then in turn each high
officer of the Abbey from below upward, the almoner, the lector,
the chaplain, the subprior and the prior, swept to their wonted
Finally there came the grim sacrist, with demure triumph upon his
downcast features, and at his heels Abbot John himself, slow and
dignified, with pompous walk and solemn, composed face, his
iron-beaded rosary swinging from his waist, his breviary in his
hand, and his lips muttering as he hurried through his office for
the day. He knelt at his high pre-dieu; the brethren, at a signal
from the prior, prostrated themselves upon the floor, and the low
deep voices rolled in prayer, echoed back from the arched and
vaulted roof like the wash of waves from an ocean cavern. Finally
the monks resumed their seats; there entered clerks in seemly
black with pens and parchment; the red-velveted summoner appeared
to tell his tale; Nigel was led in with archers pressing close
around him; and then, with much calling of old French and much
legal incantation and mystery, the court of the Abbey was open for
It was the sacrist who first advanced to the oaken desk reserved
for the witnesses and expounded in hard, dry, mechanical fashion
the many claims which the House, of Waverley had against the
family of Loring. Some generations back in return for money
advanced or for spiritual favor received the Loring of the day had
admitted that his estate had certain feudal duties toward the
Abbey. The sacrist held up the crackling yellow parchment with
swinging leaden seals on which the claim was based. Amid the
obligations was that of escuage, by which the price of a knight's
fee should be paid every year. No such price had been paid, nor
had any service been done. The accumulated years came now to a
greater sum than the fee simple of the estate. There were other
claims also. The sacrist called for his books, and with thin,
eager forefinger he tracked them down: dues for this, and tailage
for that, so many shillings this year, and so many marks that one.
Some of it occurred before Nigel was born; some of it when he was
but a child. The accounts had been checked and certified by the
sergeant of the law.
Nigel listened to the dread recital, and felt like some young stag
who stands at bay with brave pose and heart of fire, but who sees
himself compassed round and knows clearly that there is no escape.
With his bold young face, his steady blue eyes, and the proud
poise of his head, he was a worthy scion of the old house, and the
sun, shining through the high oriel window, and showing up the
stained and threadbare condition of his once rich doublet, seemed
to illuminate the fallen fortunes of his family.
The sacrist had finished his exposition, and the sergeant-at-law
was about to conclude a case which Nigel could in no way
controvert, when help came to him from an unexpected quarter. It
may have been a certain malignity with which the sacrist urged his
suit, it may have been a diplomatic dislike to driving matters to
extremes, or it may have been some genuine impulse of kindliness,
for Abbot John was choleric but easily appeased. Whatever the
cause, the result was that a white plump hand, raised in the air
with a gesture of authority, showed that the case was at an end.
"Our brother sacrist hath done his duty in urging this suit," said
he, "for the worldly wealth of this Abbey is placed in his pious
keeping, and it is to him that we should look if we suffered in
such ways, for we are but the trustees of those who come after us.
But to my keeping has been consigned that which is more precious
still, the inner spirit and high repute of those who follow the
rule of Saint Bernard. Now it has ever been our endeavor, since
first our saintly founder went down into the valley of Clairvaux
and built himself a cell there, that we should set an example to
all men in gentleness and humility. For this reason it is that we
built our houses in lowly places, that we have no tower to our
Abbey churches, and that no finery and no metal, save only iron or
lead, come within our walls. A brother shall eat from a wooden
platter, drink from an iron cup, and light himself from a leaden
sconce. Surely it is not for such an order who await the
exaltation which is promised to the humble, to judge their own
case and so acquire the lands of their neighbor! If our cause be
just, as indeed I believe that it is, then it were better that it
be judged at the King's assizes at Guildford, and so I decree that
the case be now dismissed from the Abbey court so that it can be
Nigel breathed a prayer to the three sturdy saints who had stood
by him so manfully and well in the hour of his need. "Abbot
John," said he, "I never thought that any man of my name would
utter thanks to a Cistercian of Waverley; but by Saint Paul! you
have spoken like a man this day, for it would indeed be to play
with cogged dice if the Abbey's case is to be tried in the Abbey
The eighty white-clad brethren looked with half resentful, half
amused eyes as they listened to this frank address to one who, in
their small lives, seemed to be the direct vice-regent of Heaven.
The archers had stood back from Nigel, as though he was at liberty
to go, when the loud voice of the summoner broke in upon the
"If it please you, holy father Abbot," cried the voice, "this
decision of yours is indeed secundum legem and intra vires so far
as the civil suit is concerned which lies between this person and
the Abbey. That is your affair; but it is I, Joseph the summoner,
who have been grievously and criminally mishandled, my writs,
papers and indentures destroyed, my authority flouted, and my
person dragged through a bog, quagmire or morass, so that my
velvet gabardine and silver badge of office were lost and are, as
I verily believe, in the morass, quagmire or bog aforementioned,
which is the same bog, morass - "
"Enough!" cried the Abbot sternly. "Lay aside this foolish
fashion of speech and say straitly what you desire."
"Holy father, I have been the officer of the King's law no less
than the servant of Holy Church, and I have been let, hindered and
assaulted in the performance of my lawful and proper duties,
whilst my papers, drawn in the King's name, have been shended and
rended and cast to the wind. Therefore, I demand justice upon
this man in the Abbey court, the said assault having been
committed within the banlieue of the Abbey's jurisdiction."
"What have you to say to this, brother sacrist?" asked the Abbot
in some perplexity.
"I would say, father, that it is within our power to deal gently
and charitably with all that concerns ourselves, but that where a
the King's officer is concerned we are wanting in our duty if we
give him less than the protection that he demands. I would remind
you also, holy father, that this is not the first of this man's
violence, but that he has before now beaten our servants, defied
our authority, and put pike in the Abbot's own fish-pond."
The prelate's heavy cheeks flushed with anger as this old
grievance came fresh into his mind. His eyes hardened as he
looked at the prisoner. "Tell me, Squire Nigel, did you indeed
put pike in the pond?"
The young man drew himself proudly up. "Ere I answer such a
question, father Abbot, do you answer one from me, and tell me
what the monks of Waverley have ever done for me that I should
hold my hand when I could injure them?"
A low murmur ran round the room, partly wonder at his frankness,
and partly anger at his boldness.
The Abbot settled down in his seat as one who has made up his
mind. "Let the case of the summoner be laid before me," said he.
"Justice shall be done, and the offender shall be punished, be he
noble or simple. Let the plaint be brought before the court."
The tale of the summoner, though rambling and filled with endless
legal reiteration, was only too clear in its essence. Red Swire,
with his angry face framed in white bristles, was led in, and
confessed to his ill treatment of the official. A second culprit,
a little wiry nut-brown archer from Churt, had aided and abetted
in the deed. Both of them were ready to declare that young Squire
Nigel Loring knew nothing of the matter. But then there was the
awkward incident of the tearing of the writs. Nigel, to whom a
lie was an impossibility, had to admit that with his own hands he
had shredded those august documents. As to an excuse or an
explanation, he was too proud to advance any. A cloud gathered
over the brow of the Abbot, and the sacrist gazed with an ironical
smile at the prisoner, while a solemn hush fell over the
chapterhouse as the case ended and only, judgment remained.
"Squire Nigel," said the Abbot, "it was for you, who are, as all
men know, of ancient lineage in this land, to give a fair example
by which others should set their conduct. Instead of this, your
manor house has ever been a center for the stirring up of strife,
and now not content with your harsh showing toward us, the
Cistercian monks of Waverley, you have even marked your contempt
for the King's law, and through your servants have mishandled the
person of his messenger. For such offenses it is in my power to
call the spiritual terrors of the Church upon your head, and yet I
would not be harsh with you, seeing that you are young, and that
even last week you saved the life of a servant of the Abbey when
in peril. Therefore, it is by temporal and carnal means that I
will use my power to tame your overbold spirit, and to chasten
that headstrong and violent humor which has caused such scandal in
your dealings with our Abbey. Bread and water for six weeks from
now to the Feast of Saint Benedict, with a daily exhortation from
our chaplain, the pious Father Ambrose, may still avail to bend
the stiff neck and to soften the hard heart."
At this ignominious sentence by which the proud heir of the house
of Loring would share the fate of the meanest village poacher, the
hot blood of Nigel rushed to his face, and his eye glanced round
him with a gleam which said more plainly than words that there
could be no tame acceptance of such a doom. Twice he tried to
speak, and twice his anger and his shame held the words in his
"I am no subject of yours, proud Abbot!" he cried at last. "My
house has ever been vavasor to the King. I deny the power of you
and your court to lay sentence upon me. Punish these your own
monks, who whimper at your frown, but do not dare to lay your hand
upon him who fears you not, for he is a free man, and the peer of
any save only the King himself."
The Abbot seemed for an instant taken aback by these bold words,
and by the high and strenuous voice in which they were uttered.
But the sterner sacrist came as ever to stiffen his will. He held
up the old parchment in his hand.
"The Lorings were indeed vavasors to the King," said he; "but here
is the very seal of Eustace Loring which shows that he made
himself vassal to the Abbey and held his land from it."
"Because he was gentle," cried Nigel, "because he had no thought
of trick or guile."
"Nay!" said the summoner. "If my voice may be heard, father
Abbot, upon a point of the law, it is of no weight what the causes
may have been why a deed is subscribed, signed or confirmed, but a
court is concerned only with the terms, articles, covenants and
contracts of the said deed."
"Besides," said the sacrist, "sentence is passed by the Abbey
court, and there is an end of its honor and good name if it be not
"Brother sacrist," said the Abbot angrily, "methinks you show
overmuch zeal in this case, and certes, we are well able to uphold
the dignity and honor of the Abbey court without any rede of
thine. As to you, worthy summoner, you will give your opinion
when we crave for it, and not before, or you may yourself get some
touch of the power of our tribunal. But your case hath been
tried, Squire Loring, and judgment given. I have no more to say."
He motioned with his hand, and an archer laid his grip upon the
shoulder of the prisoner. But that rough plebeian touch woke
every passion of revolt in Nigel's spirit. Of all his high line
of ancestors, was there one who had been subjected to such
ignominy as this? Would they not have preferred death? And
should he be the first to lower their spirit or their traditions?
With a quick, lithe movement, he slipped under the arm of the
archer, and plucked the short, straight sword from the soldier's
side as he did so. The next instant he had wedged himself into
the recess of one of the narrow windows, and there were his pale
set face, his burning eyes, and his ready blade turned upon the
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