The White Company
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 1 out of 9
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THE WHITE COMPANY
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I. How the Black Sheep came forth from the Fold
II. How Alleyne Edricson came out into the World
III. How Hordle John cozened the Fuller of Lymington
IV. How the Bailiff of Southampton Slew the Two Masterless Men
IV. How a Strange Company Gathered at the "Pied Merlin"
VI. How Samkin Aylward Wagered his Feather-bed
VII. How the Three Comrades Journeyed through the Woodlands
VIII. The Three Friends
IX. How Strange Things Befell in Minstead Wood
X. How Hordle John Found a Man whom he Might Follow
XI. How a Young Shepherd had a Perilous Flock
XII. How Alleyne Learned More than he could Teach
XIII. How the White Company set forth to the Wars
XIV. How Sir Nigel sought for a Wayside Venture
XV. How the Yellow Cog sailed forth from Lepe
XVI. How the Yellow Cog fought the Two Rover Galleys
XVII. How the Yellow Cog crossed the Bar of Gironde
XVIII. How Sir Nigel Loring put a Patch upon his Eye
XIX. How there was Stir at the Abbey of St. Andrew's
XX. How Alleyne Won his Place in an Honorable Guild
XXI. How Agostino Pisano Risked his Head
XXII. How the Bowmen held Wassail at the "Rose de Guienne"
XXIII. How England held the Lists at Bordeaux
XXIV. How a Champion came forth from the East
XXV. How Sir Nigel wrote to Twynham Castle
XXVI. How the Three Comrades Gained a Mighty Treasure
XXVII. How Roger Club-foot was Passed into Paradise
XXVIII. How the Comrades came over the Marches of France
XXIX. How the Blessed Hour of Sight Came to the Lady Tiphaine
XXX. How the Brushwood Men came to the Chateau of Villefranche
XXXI. How Five Men held the Keep of Villefranche
XXXII. How the Company took Counsel Round the Fallen Tree
XXXIII. How the Army made the Passage of Roncesvalles
XXXIV. How the Company Made Sport in the Vale of Pampeluna
XXXV. How Sir Nigel Hawked at an Eagle
XXXVI. How Sir Nigel Took the Patch from his Eye
XXXVII. How the White Company came to be Disbanded
XXXVIII. Of the Home-coming to Hampshire
HOW THE BLACK SHEEP CAME FORTH FROM THE FOLD.
The great bell of Beaulieu was ringing. Far away through the
forest might be heard its musical clangor and swell. Peat-cutters
on Blackdown and fishers upon the Exe heard the distant throbbing
rising and falling upon the sultry summer air. It was a common
sound in those parts--as common as the chatter of the jays and
the booming of the bittern. Yet the fishers and the peasants
raised their heads and looked questions at each other, for the
angelus had already gone and vespers was still far off. Why
should the great bell of Beaulieu toll when the shadows were
neither short nor long?
All round the Abbey the monks were trooping in. Under the long
green-paved avenues of gnarled oaks and of lichened beeches the
white-robed brothers gathered to the sound. From the vine-yard
and the vine-press, from the bouvary or ox-farm, from the marl-pits
and salterns, even from the distant iron-works of Sowley and the
outlying grange of St. Leonard's, they had all turned their steps
homewards. It had been no sudden call. A swift messenger had
the night before sped round to the outlying dependencies of the
Abbey, and had left the summons for every monk to be back in the
cloisters by the third hour after noontide. So urgent a message
had not been issued within the memory of old lay-brother
Athanasius, who had cleaned the Abbey knocker since the year
after the Battle of Bannockburn.
A stranger who knew nothing either of the Abbey or of its immense
resources might have gathered from the appearance of the brothers
some conception of the varied duties which they were called upon
to perform, and of the busy, wide-spread life which centred in
the old monastery. As they swept gravely in by twos and by
threes, with bended heads and muttering lips there were few who
did not bear upon them some signs of their daily toil. Here were
two with wrists and sleeves all spotted with the ruddy grape
juice. There again was a bearded brother with a broad-headed axe
and a bundle of faggots upon his shoulders, while beside him
walked another with the shears under his arm and the white wool
still clinging to his whiter gown. A long, straggling troop
bore spades and mattocks while the two rearmost of all staggered
along under a huge basket o' fresh-caught carp, for the morrow
was Friday, and there were fifty platters to be filled and as
many sturdy trenchermen behind them. Of all the throng there was
scarce one who was not labor-stained and weary, for Abbot
Berghersh was a hard man to himself and to others.
Meanwhile, in the broad and lofty chamber set apart for occasions
of import, the Abbot himself was pacing impatiently backwards and
forwards, with his long white nervous hands clasped in front of
him. His thin, thought-worn features and sunken, haggard cheeks
bespoke one who had indeed beaten down that inner foe whom every
man must face, but had none the less suffered sorely in the
contest. In crushing his passions he had well-nigh crushed
himself. Yet, frail as was his person there gleamed out ever and
anon from under his drooping brows a flash of fierce energy,
which recalled to men's minds that he came of a fighting stock,
and that even now his twin-brother, Sir Bartholomew Berghersh,
was one of the most famous of those stern warriors who had
planted the Cross of St. George before the gates of Paris. With
lips compressed and clouded brow, he strode up and down the oaken
floor, the very genius and impersonation of asceticism, while the
great bell still thundered and clanged above his head. At last
the uproar died away in three last, measured throbs, and ere
their echo had ceased the Abbot struck a small gong which
summoned a lay-brother to his presence.
"Have the brethren come?" he asked, in the Anglo-French dialect
used in religious houses.
"They are here," the other answered, with his eyes cast down and
his hands crossed upon his chest.
"Two and thirty of the seniors and fifteen of the novices, most
holy father. Brother Mark of the Spicarium is sore smitten with
a fever and could not come. He said that--"
"It boots not what he said. Fever or no, he should have come at
my call. His spirit must be chastened, as must that of many more
in this Abbey. You yourself, brother Francis, have twice raised
your voice, so it hath come to my ears, when the reader in the
refectory hath been dealing with the lives of God's most blessed
saints. What hast thou to say?"
The lay-brother stood meek and silent, with his arms still
crossed in front of him.
"One thousand Aves and as many Credos, said standing with arms
outstretched before the shrine of the Virgin, may help thee to
remember that the Creator hath given us two ears and but one
mouth, as a token that there is twice the work for the one as for
the other. Where is the master of the novices?"
"He is without, most holy father."
"Send him hither."
The sandalled feet clattered over the wooden floor, and the
iron-bound door creaked upon its hinges. In a few moments it
opened again to admit a short square monk with a heavy, composed
face and an authoritative manner.
"You have sent for me, holy father?"
"Yes, brother Jerome, I wish that this matter be disposed of with
as little scandal as may be, and yet it is needful that the
example should be a public one." The Abbot spoke in Latin now,
as a language which was more fitted by its age and solemnity to
convey the thoughts of two high dignitaries of the order.
"It would, perchance, be best that the novices be not admitted,"
suggested the master. "This mention of a woman may turn their
minds from their pious meditations to worldly and evil thoughts."
"Woman! woman!" groaned the Abbot. "Well has the holy Chrysostom
termed them _radix malorum_. From Eve downwards, what good hath
come from any of them? Who brings the plaint?"
"It is brother Ambrose."
"A holy and devout young man."
"A light and a pattern to every novice."
"Let the matter be brought to an issue then according to our old-time
monastic habit. Bid the chancellor and the sub-chancellor lead
in the brothers according to age, together with brother John, the
accused, and brother Ambrose, the accuser."
"And the novices?"
"Let them bide in the north alley of the cloisters. Stay! Bid
the sub-chancellor send out to them Thomas the lector to read
unto them from the `Gesta beati Benedicti.' It may save them
from foolish and pernicious babbling."
The Abbot was left to himself once more, and bent his thin gray
face over his illuminated breviary. So he remained while the
senior monks filed slowly and sedately into the chamber seating
themselves upon the long oaken benches which lined the wall on
either side. At the further end, in two high chairs as large as
that of the Abbot, though hardly as elaborately carved, sat the
master of the novices and the chancellor, the latter a broad and
portly priest, with dark mirthful eyes and a thick outgrowth of
crisp black hair all round his tonsured head. Between them stood
a lean, white-faced brother who appeared to be ill at ease,
shifting his feet from side to side and tapping his chin
nervously with the long parchment roll which he held in his hand.
The Abbot, from his point of vantage, looked down on the two long
lines of faces, placid and sun-browned for the most part, with
the large bovine eyes and unlined features which told of their
easy, unchanging existence. Then he turned his eager fiery gaze
upon the pale-faced monk who faced him.
"This plaint is thine, as I learn, brother Ambrose," said he.
"May the holy Benedict, patron of our house, be present this day
and aid us in our findings! How many counts are there?"
"Three, most holy father," the brother answered in a low and
"Have you set them forth according to rule?"
"They are here set down, most holy father, upon a cantle of
"Let the sheep-skin be handed to the chancellor. Bring in
brother John, and let him hear the plaints which have been urged
At this order a lay-brother swung open the door, and two other
lay-brothers entered leading between them a young novice of the
order. He was a man of huge stature, dark-eyed and red-headed,
with a peculiar half-humorous, half-defiant expression upon his
bold, well-marked features. His cowl was thrown back upon his
shoulders, and his gown, unfastened at the top, disclosed a
round, sinewy neck, ruddy and corded like the bark of the fir.
Thick, muscular arms, covered with a reddish down, protruded from
the wide sleeves of his habit, while his white shirt, looped up
upon one side, gave a glimpse of a huge knotty leg, scarred and
torn with the scratches of brambles. With a bow to the Abbot,
which had in it perhaps more pleasantry than reverence, the
novice strode across to the carved prie-dieu which had been set
apart for him, and stood silent and erect with his hand upon the
gold bell which was used in the private orisons of the Abbot's
own household. His dark eyes glanced rapidly over the assembly,
and finally settled with a grim and menacing twinkle upon the
face of his accuser.
The chancellor rose, and having slowly unrolled the
parchment-scroll, proceeded to read it out in a thick and pompous
voice, while a subdued rustle and movement among the brothers
bespoke the interest with which they followed the proceedings.
"Charges brought upon the second Thursday after the Feast of the
Assumption, in the year of our Lord thirteen hundred and sixty-six,
against brother John, formerly known as Hordle John, or John
of Hordle, but now a novice in the holy monastic order of the
Cistercians. Read upon the same day at the Abbey of Beaulieu in
the presence of the most reverend Abbot Berghersh and of the
"The charges against the said brother John are the following,
namely, to wit:
"First, that on the above-mentioned Feast of the Assumption,
small beer having been served to the novices in the proportion of
one quart to each four, the said brother John did drain the pot
at one draught to the detriment of brother Paul, brother Porphyry
and brother Ambrose, who could scarce eat their none-meat of
salted stock-fish on account of their exceeding dryness."
At this solemn indictment the novice raised his hand and twitched
his lip, while even the placid senior brothers glanced across at
each other and coughed to cover their amusement. The Abbot alone
sat gray and immutable, with a drawn face and a brooding eye.
"Item, that having been told by the master of the novices that he
should restrict his food for two days to a single three-pound
loaf of bran and beans, for the greater honoring and glorifying
of St. Monica, mother of the holy Augustine, he was heard by
brother Ambrose and others to say that he wished twenty thousand
devils would fly away with the said Monica, mother of the holy
Augustine, or any other saint who came between a man and his
meat. Item, that upon brother Ambrose reproving him for this
blasphemous wish, he did hold the said brother face downwards
over the piscatorium or fish-pond for a space during which the
said brother was able to repeat a pater and four aves for the
better fortifying of his soul against impending death."
There was a buzz and murmur among the white-frocked brethren at
this grave charge; but the Abbot held up his long quivering hand.
"What then?" said he.
"Item, that between nones and vespers on the feast of James the
Less the said brother John was observed upon the Brockenhurst
road, near the spot which is known as Hatchett's Pond in converse
with a person of the other sex, being a maiden of the name of
Mary Sowley, the daughter of the King's verderer. Item, that
after sundry japes and jokes the said brother John did lift up
the said Mary Sowley and did take, carry, and convey her across a
stream, to the infinite relish of the devil and the exceeding
detriment of his own soul, which scandalous and wilful falling
away was witnessed by three members of our order."
A dead silence throughout the room, with a rolling of heads and
upturning of eyes, bespoke the pious horror of the community.
The Abbot drew his gray brows low over his fiercely questioning
"Who can vouch for this thing?" he asked.
"That can I," answered the accuser. "So too can brother
Porphyry, who was with me, and brother Mark of the Spicarium, who
hath been so much stirred and inwardly troubled by the sight that
he now lies in a fever through it."
"And the woman?" asked the Abbot. "Did she not break into
lamentation and woe that a brother should so demean himself?"
"Nay, she smiled sweetly upon him and thanked him. I can vouch
it and so can brother Porphyry."
"Canst thou?" cried the Abbot, in a high, tempestuous tone.
"Canst thou so? Hast forgotten that the five-and-thirtieth rule
of the order is that in the presence of a woman the face should
be ever averted and the eyes cast down? Hast forgot it, I say?
If your eyes were upon your sandals, how came ye to see this
smile of which ye prate? A week in your cells, false brethren, a
week of rye-bread and lentils, with double lauds and double
matins, may help ye to remembrance of the laws under which ye
At this sudden outflame of wrath the two witnesses sank their
faces on to their chests, and sat as men crushed. The Abbot
turned his angry eyes away from them and bent them upon the
accused, who met his searching gaze with a firm and composed
"What hast thou to say, brother John, upon these weighty things
which are urged against you?"
"Little enough, good father, little enough," said the novice,
speaking English with a broad West Saxon drawl. The brothers,
who were English to a man, pricked up their ears at the sound of
the homely and yet unfamiliar speech; but the Abbot flushed red
with anger, and struck his hand upon the oaken arm of his chair.
"What talk is this?" he cried. "Is this a tongue to be used
within the walls of an old and well-famed monastery? But grace
and learning have ever gone hand in hand, and when one is lost it
is needless to look for the other."
"I know not about that," said brother John. "I know only that
the words come kindly to my mouth, for it was the speech of my
fathers before me. Under your favor, I shall either use it now
or hold my peace."
The Abbot patted his foot and nodded his head, as one who passes
a point but does not forget it.
"For the matter of the ale," continued brother John, "I had come
in hot from the fields and had scarce got the taste of the thing
before mine eye lit upon the bottom of the pot. It may be, too,
that I spoke somewhat shortly concerning the bran and the beans,
the same being poor provender and unfitted for a man of my
inches. It is true also that I did lay my hands upon this
jack-fool of a brother Ambrose, though, as you can see, I did him
little scathe. As regards the maid, too, it is true that I did
heft her over the stream, she having on her hosen and shoon,
whilst I had but my wooden sandals, which could take no hurt from
the water. I should have thought shame upon my manhood, as well
as my monkhood, if I had held back my hand from her." He glanced
around as he spoke with the half-amused look which he had worn
during the whole proceedings.
"There is no need to go further," said the Abbot. "He has
confessed to all. It only remains for me to portion out the
punishment which is due to his evil conduct."
He rose, and the two long lines of brothers followed his example,
looking sideways with scared faces at the angry prelate.
"John of Hordle," he thundered, "you have shown yourself during
the two months of your novitiate to be a recreant monk, and one
who is unworthy to wear the white garb which is the outer symbol
of the spotless spirit. That dress shall therefore be stripped
from thee, and thou shalt be cast into the outer world without
benefit of clerkship, and without lot or part in the graces and
blessings of those who dwell under the care of the Blessed
Benedict. Thou shalt come back neither to Beaulieu nor to any of
the granges of Beaulieu, and thy name shall be struck off the
scrolls of the order."
The sentence appeared a terrible one to the older monks, who had
become so used to the safe and regular life of the Abbey that
they would have been as helpless as children in the outer world.
From their pious oasis they looked dreamily out at the desert of
life, a place full of stormings and strivings--comfortless,
restless, and overshadowed by evil. The young novice, however,
appeared to have other thoughts, for his eyes sparkled and his
smile broadened. It needed but that to add fresh fuel to the
fiery mood of the prelate.
"So much for thy spiritual punishment," he cried. "But it is to
thy grosser feelings that we must turn in such natures as thine,
and as thou art no longer under the shield of holy church there
is the less difficulty. Ho there! lay-brothers--Francis, Naomi,
Joseph--seize him and bind his arms! Drag him forth, and let the
foresters and the porters scourge him from the precincts!"
As these three brothers advanced towards him to carry out the
Abbot's direction, the smile faded from the novice's face, and he
glanced right and left with his fierce brown eyes, like a bull at
a baiting. Then, with a sudden deep-chested shout, he tore up
the heavy oaken prie-dieu and poised it to strike, taking two
steps backward the while, that none might take him at a vantage.
"By the black rood of Waltham!" he roared, "if any knave among
you lays a finger-end upon the edge of my gown, I will crush his
skull like a filbert!" With his thick knotted arms, his
thundering voice, and his bristle of red hair, there was
something so repellent in the man that the three brothers flew
back at the very glare of him; and the two rows of white monks
strained away from him like poplars in a tempest. The Abbot only
sprang forward with shining eyes; but the chancellor and the
master hung upon either arm and wrested him back out of danger's
"He is possessed of a devil!" they shouted. "Run, brother
Ambrose, brother Joachim! Call Hugh of the Mill, and Woodman
Wat, and Raoul with his arbalest and bolts. Tell them that we
are in fear of our lives! Run, run! for the love of the Virgin!"
But the novice was a strategist as well as a man of action.
Springing forward, he hurled his unwieldy weapon at brother
Ambrose, and, as desk and monk clattered on to the floor
together, he sprang through the open door and down the winding
stair. Sleepy old brother Athanasius, at the porter's cell, had
a fleeting vision of twinkling feet and flying skirts; but before
he had time to rub his eyes the recreant had passed the lodge,
and was speeding as fast as his sandals could patter along the
HOW ALLEYNE EDRICSON CAME OUT INTO THE WORLD.
Never had the peaceful atmosphere of the old Cistercian house
been so rudely ruffled. Never had there been insurrection so
sudden, so short, and so successful. Yet the Abbot Berghersh was
a man of too firm a grain to allow one bold outbreak to imperil
the settled order of his great household. In a few hot and
bitter words, he compared their false brother's exit to the
expulsion of our first parents from the garden, and more than
hinted that unless a reformation occurred some others of the
community might find themselves in the same evil and perilous
case. Having thus pointed the moral and reduced his flock to a
fitting state of docility, he dismissed them once more to their
labors and withdrew himself to his own private chamber, there to
seek spiritual aid in the discharge of the duties of his high
The Abbot was still on his knees, when a gentle tapping at the
door of his cell broke in upon his orisons.
Rising in no very good humor at the interruption, he gave the
word to enter; but his look of impatience softened down into a
pleasant and paternal smile as his eyes fell upon his visitor.
He was a thin-faced, yellow-haired youth, rather above the middle
size, comely and well shapen, with straight, lithe figure and
eager, boyish features. His clear, pensive gray eyes, and quick,
delicate expression, spoke of a nature which had unfolded far
from the boisterous joys and sorrows of the world. Yet there was
a set of the mouth and a prominence of the chin which relieved
him of any trace of effeminacy. Impulsive he might be,
enthusiastic, sensitive, with something sympathetic and adaptive
in his disposition; but an observer of nature's tokens would have
confidently pledged himself that there was native firmness and
strength underlying his gentle, monk-bred ways.
The youth was not clad in monastic garb, but in lay attire,
though his jerkin, cloak and hose were all of a sombre hue, as
befitted one who dwelt in sacred precincts. A broad leather
strap hanging from his shoulder supported a scrip or satchel such
as travellers were wont to carry. In one hand he grasped a thick
staff pointed and shod with metal, while in the other he held his
coif or bonnet, which bore in its front a broad pewter medal
stamped with the image of Our Lady of Rocamadour.
"Art ready, then, fair son?" said the Abbot. "This is indeed a
day of comings and of goings. It is strange that in one twelve
hours the Abbey should have cast off its foulest weed and should
now lose what we are fain to look upon as our choicest blossom."
"You speak too kindly, father," the youth answered. "If I had my
will I should never go forth, but should end my days here in
Beaulieu. It hath been my home as far back as my mind can carry
me, and it is a sore thing for me to have to leave it."
"Life brings many a cross," said the Abbot gently. "Who is
without them? Your going forth is a grief to us as well as to
yourself. But there is no help. I had given my foreword and
sacred promise to your father, Edric the Franklin, that at the
age of twenty you should be sent out into the world to see for
yourself how you liked the savor of it. Seat thee upon the
settle, Alleyne, for you may need rest ere long."
The youth sat down as directed, but reluctantly and with
diffidence. The Abbot stood by the narrow window, and his long
black shadow fell slantwise across the rush-strewn floor.
"Twenty years ago," he said, "your father, the Franklin of
Minstead, died, leaving to the Abbey three hides of rich land in
the hundred of Malwood, and leaving to us also his infant son on
condition that we should rear him until he came to man's estate.
This he did partly because your mother was dead, and partly
because your elder brother, now Socman of Minstead, had already
given sign of that fierce and rude nature which would make him no
fit companion for you. It was his desire and request, however,
that you should not remain in the cloisters, but should at a ripe
age return into the world."
"But, father," interrupted the young man "it is surely true that
I am already advanced several degrees in clerkship?"
"Yes, fair son, but not so far as to bar you from the garb you
now wear or the life which you must now lead. You have been
"But have sworn no vow of constancy or chastity?"
"Then you are free to follow a worldly life. But let me hear,
ere you start, what gifts you take away with you from Beaulieu?
Some I already know. There is the playing of the citole and the
rebeck. Our choir will be dumb without you. You carve too?"
The youth's pale face flushed with the pride of the skilled
workman. "Yes, holy father," he answered. "Thanks to good
brother Bartholomew, I carve in wood and in ivory, and can do
something also in silver and in bronze. From brother Francis I
have learned to paint on vellum, on glass, and on metal, with a
knowledge of those pigments and essences which can preserve the
color against damp or a biting air. Brother Luke hath given me
some skill in damask work, and in the enamelling of shrines,
tabernacles, diptychs and triptychs. For the rest, I know a
little of the making of covers, the cutting of precious stones,
and the fashioning of instruments."
"A goodly list, truly," cried the superior with a smile. "What
clerk of Cambrig or of Oxenford could say as much? But of thy
reading--hast not so much to show there, I fear?"
"No, father, it hath been slight enough. Yet, thanks to our good
chancellor, I am not wholly unlettered. I have read Ockham,
Bradwardine, and other of the schoolmen, together with the
learned Duns Scotus and the book of the holy Aquinas."
"But of the things of this world, what have you gathered from
your reading? From this high window you may catch a glimpse over
the wooden point and the smoke of Bucklershard of the mouth of
the Exe, and the shining sea. Now, I pray you Alleyne, if a man
were to take a ship and spread sail across yonder waters, where
might he hope to arrive?"
The youth pondered, and drew a plan amongst the rushes with the
point of his staff. "Holy father," said he, "he would come upon
those parts of France which are held by the King's Majesty. But
if he trended to the south he might reach Spain and the Barbary
States. To his north would be Flanders and the country of the
Eastlanders and of the Muscovites."
"True. And how if, after reaching the King's possessions, he
still journeyed on to the eastward?"
"He would then come upon that part of France which is still in
dispute, and he might hope to reach the famous city of Avignon,
where dwells our blessed father, the prop of Christendom."
"Then he would pass through the land of the Almains and the great
Roman Empire, and so to the country of the Huns and of the
Lithuanian pagans, beyond which lies the great city of
Constantine and the kingdom of the unclean followers of Mahmoud."
"And beyond that, fair son?"
"Beyond that is Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and the great river
which hath its source in the Garden of Eden."
"Nay, good father, I cannot tell. Methinks the end of the world
is not far from there."
"Then we can still find something to teach thee, Alleyne," said
the Abbot complaisantly. "Know that many strange nations lie
betwixt there and the end of the world. There is the country of
the Amazons, and the country of the dwarfs, and the country of
the fair but evil women who slay with beholding, like the
basilisk. Beyond that again is the kingdom of Prester John and
of the great Cham. These things I know for very sooth, for I had
them from that pious Christian and valiant knight, Sir John de
Mandeville, who stopped twice at Beaulieu on his way to and from
Southampton, and discoursed to us concerning what he had seen
from the reader's desk in the refectory, until there was many a
good brother who got neither bit nor sup, so stricken were they
by his strange tales."
"I would fain know, father," asked the young man, "what there may
be at the end of the world?"
"There are some things," replied the Abbot gravely, "into which
it was never intended that we should inquire. But you have a
long road before you. Whither will you first turn?"
"To my brother's at Minstead. If he be indeed an ungodly and
violent man, there is the more need that I should seek him out
and see whether I cannot turn him to better ways."
The Abbot shook his head. "The Socman of Minstead hath earned an
evil name over the country side," he said. "If you must go to
him, see at least that he doth not turn you from the narrow path
upon which you have learned to tread. But you are in God's
keeping, and Godward should you ever look in danger and in
trouble. Above all, shun the snares of women, for they are ever
set for the foolish feet of the young. Kneel down, my child, and
take an old man's blessing."
Alleyne Edricson bent his head while the Abbot poured out his
heartfelt supplication that Heaven would watch over this young
soul, now going forth into the darkness and danger of the world.
It was no mere form for either of them. To them the outside life
of mankind did indeed seem to be one of violence and of sin,
beset with physical and still more with spiritual danger.
Heaven, too, was very near to them in those days. God's direct
agency was to be seen in the thunder and the rainbow, the
whirlwind and the lightning. To the believer, clouds of angels
and confessors, and martyrs, armies of the sainted and the
saved, were ever stooping over their struggling brethren upon
earth, raising, encouraging, and supporting them. It was then
with a lighter heart and a stouter courage that the young man
turned from the Abbot's room, while the latter, following him to
the stair-head, finally commended him to the protection of the
holy Julian, patron of travellers.
Underneath, in the porch of the Abbey, the monks had gathered to
give him a last God-speed. Many had brought some parting token
by which he should remember them. There was brother Bartholomew
with a crucifix of rare carved ivory, and brother Luke with a
white-backed psalter adorned with golden bees, and brother
Francis with the "Slaying of the Innocents" most daintily set
forth upon vellum. All these were duly packed away deep in the
traveller's scrip, and above them old pippin-faced brother
Athanasius had placed a parcel of simnel bread and rammel cheese,
with a small flask of the famous blue-sealed Abbey wine. So,
amid hand-shakings and laughings and blessings, Alleyne Edricson
turned his back upon Beaulieu.
At the turn of the road he stopped and gazed back. There was the
wide-spread building which he knew so well, the Abbot's house,
the long church, the cloisters with their line of arches, all
bathed and mellowed in the evening sun. There too was the broad
sweep of the river Exe, the old stone well, the canopied niche of
the Virgin, and in the centre of all the cluster of white-robed
figures who waved their hands to him. A sudden mist swam up
before the young man's eyes, and he turned away upon his journey
with a heavy heart and a choking throat.
HOW HORDLE JOHN COZENED THE FULLER OF LYMINGTON.
It is not, however, in the nature of things that a lad of twenty,
with young life glowing in his veins and all the wide world
before him, should spend his first hours of freedom in mourning
for what he had left. Long ere Alleyne was out of sound of the
Beaulieu bells he was striding sturdily along, swinging his staff
and whistling as merrily as the birds in the thicket. It was an
evening to raise a man's heart. The sun shining slantwise
through the trees threw delicate traceries across the road, with
bars of golden light between. Away in the distance before and
behind, the green boughs, now turning in places to a coppery
redness, shot their broad arches across the track. The still
summer air was heavy with the resinous smell of the great forest.
Here and there a tawny brook prattled out from among the
underwood and lost itself again in the ferns and brambles upon
the further side. Save the dull piping of insects and the sough
of the leaves, there was silence everywhere--the sweet restful
silence of nature.
And yet there was no want of life--the whole wide wood was full
of it. Now it was a lithe, furtive stoat which shot across the
path upon some fell errand of its own; then it was a wild cat
which squatted upon the outlying branch of an oak and peeped at
the traveller with a yellow and dubious eye. Once it was a wild
sow which scuttled out of the bracken, with two young sounders at
her heels, and once a lordly red staggard walked daintily out
from among the tree trunks, and looked around him with the
fearless gaze of one who lived under the King's own high
protection. Alleyne gave his staff a merry flourish, however,
and the red deer bethought him that the King was far off, so
streaked away from whence he came.
The youth had now journeyed considerably beyond the furthest
domains of the Abbey. He was the more surprised therefore when,
on coming round a turn in the path, he perceived a man clad in
the familiar garb of the order, and seated in a clump of heather
by the roadside. Alleyne had known every brother well, but this
was a face which was new to him--a face which was very red and
puffed, working this way and that, as though the man were sore
perplexed in his mind. Once he shook both hands furiously in the
air, and twice he sprang from his seat and hurried down the road.
When he rose, however, Alleyne observed that his robe was much
too long and loose for him in every direction, trailing upon the
ground and bagging about his ankles, so that even with trussed-up
skirts he could make little progress. He ran once, but the long
gown clogged him so that he slowed down into a shambling walk,
and finally plumped into the heather once more.
"Young friend," said he, when Alleyne was abreast of him, "I fear
from thy garb that thou canst know little of the Abbey of
"Then you are in error, friend," the clerk answered, "for I have
spent all my days within its walls."
"Hast so indeed?" cried he. "Then perhaps canst tell me the name
of a great loathly lump of a brother wi' freckled face an' a hand
like a spade. His eyes were black an' his hair was red an' his
voice like the parish bull. I trow that there cannot be two
alike in the same cloisters."
"That surely can be no other than brother John," said Alleyne.
"I trust he has done you no wrong, that you should be so hot
"Wrong, quotha?" cried the other, jumping out of the heather.
"Wrong! why he hath stolen every plack of clothing off my back,
if that be a wrong, and hath left me here in this sorry frock of
white falding, so that I have shame to go back to my wife, lest
she think that I have donned her old kirtle. Harrow and alas
that ever I should have met him!"
"But how came this?" asked the young clerk, who could scarce keep
from laughter at the sight of the hot little man so swathed in
the great white cloak.
"It came in this way," he said, sitting down once more: "I was
passing this way, hoping to reach Lymington ere nightfall when I
came on this red-headed knave seated even where we are sitting
now. I uncovered and louted as I passed thinking that he might
be a holy man at his orisons, but he called to me and asked me if
I had heard speak of the new indulgence in favor of the
Cistercians. `Not I,' I answered. `Then the worse for thy
soul!' said he; and with that he broke into a long tale how that
on account of the virtues of the Abbot Berghersh it had been
decreed by the Pope that whoever should wear the habit of a monk
of Beaulieu for as long as he might say the seven psalms of David
should be assured of the kingdom of Heaven. When I heard this I
prayed him on my knees that he would give me the use of his gown,
which after many contentions he at last agreed to do, on my
paying him three marks towards the regilding of the image of
Laurence the martyr. Having stripped his robe, I had no choice
but to let him have the wearing of my good leathern jerkin and
hose, for, as he said, it was chilling to the blood and unseemly
to the eye to stand frockless whilst I made my orisons. He had
scarce got them on, and it was a sore labor, seeing that my
inches will scarce match my girth--he had scarce got them on, I
say, and I not yet at the end of the second psalm, when he bade
me do honor to my new dress, and with that set off down the road
as fast as feet would carry him. For myself, I could no more run
than if I had been sown in a sack; so here I sit, and here I am
like to sit, before I set eyes upon my clothes again."
"Nay, friend, take it not so sadly," said Alleyne, clapping the
disconsolate one upon the shoulder. "Canst change thy robe for a
jerkin once more at the Abbey, unless perchance you have a friend
near at hand."
"That have I," he answered, "and close; but I care not to go nigh
him in this plight, for his wife hath a gibing tongue, and will
spread the tale until I could not show my face in any market from
Fordingbridge to Southampton. But if you, fair sir, out of your
kind charity would be pleased to go a matter of two bow-shots out
of your way, you would do me such a service as I could scarce
"With all my heart," said Alleyne readily.
"Then take this pathway on the left, I pray thee, and then the
deer-track which passes on the right. You will then see under a
great beech-tree the hut of a charcoal-burner. Give him my name,
good sir, the name of Peter the fuller, of Lymington, and ask him
for a change of raiment, that I may pursue my journey without
delay. There are reasons why he would be loth to refuse me."
Alleyne started off along the path indicated, and soon found the
log-hut where the burner dwelt. He was away faggot-cutting in
the forest, but his wife, a ruddy bustling dame, found the
needful garments and tied them into a bundle. While she busied
herself in finding and folding them, Alleyne Edricson stood by
the open door looking in at her with much interest and some
distrust, for he had never been so nigh to a woman before. She
had round red arms, a dress of some sober woollen stuff, and a
brass brooch the size of a cheese-cake stuck in the front of it.
"Peter the fuller!" she kept repeating. "Marry come up! if I
were Peter the fuller's wife I would teach him better than to
give his clothes to the first knave who asks for them. But he
was always a poor, fond, silly creature, was Peter, though we are
beholden to him for helping to bury our second son Wat, who was a
'prentice to him at Lymington in the year of the Black Death.
But who are you, young sir?"
"I am a clerk on my road from Beaulieu to Minstead."
"Aye, indeed! Hast been brought up at the Abbey then. I could
read it from thy reddened cheek and downcast eye. Hast learned
from the monks, I trow, to fear a woman as thou wouldst a
lazar-house. Out upon them! that they should dishonor their own
mothers by such teaching. A pretty world it would be with all
the women out of it."
"Heaven forfend that such a thing should come to pass!" said
"Amen and amen! But thou art a pretty lad, and the prettier for
thy modest ways. It is easy to see from thy cheek that thou hast
not spent thy days in the rain and the heat and the wind, as my
poor Wat hath been forced to do."
"I have indeed seen little of life, good dame."
"Wilt find nothing in it to pay for the loss of thy own
freshness. Here are the clothes, and Peter can leave them when
next he comes this way. Holy Virgin! see the dust upon thy
doublet! It were easy to see that there is no woman to tend to
thee. So!--that is better. Now buss me, boy."
Alleyne stooped and kissed her, for the kiss was the common
salutation of the age, and, as Erasmus long afterwards remarked,
more used in England than in any other country. Yet it sent the
blood to his temples again, and he wondered, as he turned away,
what the Abbot Berghersh would have answered to so frank an
invitation. He was still tingling from this new experience when
he came out upon the high-road and saw a sight which drove all
other thoughts from his mind.
Some way down from where he had left him the unfortunate Peter
was stamping and raving tenfold worse than before. Now, however,
instead of the great white cloak, he had no clothes on at all,
save a short woollen shirt and a pair of leather shoes. Far down
the road a long-legged figure was running, with a bundle under
one arm and the other hand to his side, like a man who laughs
until he is sore.
"See him!" yelled Peter. "Look to him! You shall be my witness.
He shall see Winchester jail for this. See where he goes with my
cloak under his arm!"
"Who then?" cried Alleyne.
"Who but that cursed brother John. He hath not left me clothes
enough to make a gallybagger. The double thief hath cozened me
out of my gown."
"Stay though, my friend, it was his gown," objected Alleyne.
"It boots not. He hath them all--gown, jerkin, hosen and all.
Gramercy to him that he left me the shirt and the shoon. I doubt
not that he will be back for them anon."
"But how came this?" asked Alleyne, open-eyed with astonishment.
"Are those the clothes? For dear charity's sake give them to me.
Not the Pope himself shall have these from me, though he sent the
whole college of cardinals to ask it. How came it? Why, you had
scarce gone ere this loathly John came running back again, and,
when I oped mouth to reproach him, he asked me whether it was
indeed likely that a man of prayer would leave his own godly
raiment in order to take a layman's jerkin. He had, he said, but
gone for a while that I might be the freer for my devotions. On
this I plucked off the gown, and he with much show of haste did
begin to undo his points; but when I threw his frock down he
clipped it up and ran off all untrussed, leaving me in this sorry
plight. He laughed so the while, like a great croaking frog,
that I might have caught him had my breath not been as short as
his legs were long."
The young man listened to this tale of wrong with all the
seriousness that he could maintain; but at the sight of the pursy
red-faced man and the dignity with which he bore him, the
laughter came so thick upon him that he had to lean up against a
tree-trunk. The fuller looked sadly and gravely at him; but
finding that he still laughed, he bowed with much mock politeness
and stalked onwards in his borrowed clothes. Alleyne watched him
until he was small in the distance, and then, wiping the tears
from his eyes, he set off briskly once more upon his journey.
HOW THE BAILIFF OF SOUTHAMPTON SLEW THE TWO MASTERLESS MEN.
The road along which he travelled was scarce as populous as most
other roads in the kingdom, and far less so than those which lie
between the larger towns. Yet from time to time Alleyne met
other wayfarers, and more than once was overtaken by strings of
pack mules and horsemen journeying in the same direction as
himself. Once a begging friar came limping along in a brown
habit, imploring in a most dolorous voice to give him a single
groat to buy bread wherewith to save himself from impending
death. Alleyne passed him swiftly by, for he had learned from
the monks to have no love for the wandering friars, and, besides,
there was a great half-gnawed mutton bone sticking out of his
pouch to prove him a liar. Swiftly as he went, however, he could
not escape the curse of the four blessed evangelists which the
mendicant howled behind him. So dreadful are his execrations
that the frightened lad thrust his fingers into his ear-holes,
and ran until the fellow was but a brown smirch upon the yellow
Further on, at the edge of the woodland, he came upon a chapman
and his wife, who sat upon a fallen tree. He had put his pack
down as a table, and the two of them were devouring a great
pasty, and washing it down with some drink from a stone jar. The
chapman broke a rough jest as he passed, and the woman called
shrilly to Alleyne to come and join them, on which the man,
turning suddenly from mirth to wrath, began to belabor her with
his cudgel. Alleyne hastened on, lest he make more mischief, and
his heart was heavy as lead within him. Look where he would, he
seemed to see nothing but injustice and violence and the
hardness of man to man.
But even as he brooded sadly over it and pined for the sweet
peace of the Abbey, he came on an open space dotted with holly
bushes, where was the strangest sight that he had yet chanced
upon. Near to the pathway lay a long clump of greenery, and from
behind this there stuck straight up into the air four human legs
clad in parti-colored hosen, yellow and black. Strangest of all
was when a brisk tune struck suddenly up and the four legs began
to kick and twitter in time to the music. Walking on tiptoe
round the bushes, he stood in amazement to see two men bounding
about on their heads, while they played, the one a viol and the
other a pipe, as merrily and as truly as though they were seated
in a choir. Alleyne crossed himself as he gazed at this
unnatural sight, and could scarce hold his ground with a steady
face, when the two dancers, catching sight of him, came bouncing
in his direction. A spear's length from him, they each threw a
somersault into the air, and came down upon their feet with
smirking faces and their hands over their hearts.
"A guerdon--a guerdon, my knight of the staring eyes!" cried one.
"A gift, my prince!" shouted the other. "Any trifle will serve--a
purse of gold, or even a jewelled goblet."
Alleyne thought of what he had read of demoniac possession--the
jumpings, the twitchings, the wild talk. It was in his mind to
repeat over the exorcism proper to such attacks; but the two
burst out a-laughing at his scared face, and turning on to their
heads once more, clapped their heels in derision.
"Hast never seen tumblers before?" asked the elder, a black-browed,
swarthy man, as brown and supple as a hazel twig. "Why shrink
from us, then, as though we were the spawn of the Evil One?"
"Why shrink, my honey-bird? Why so afeard, my sweet cinnamon?"
exclaimed the other, a loose-jointed lanky youth with a dancing,
"Truly, sirs, it is a new sight to me," the clerk answered.
"When I saw your four legs above the bush I could scarce credit
my own eyes. Why is it that you do this thing?"
"A dry question to answer," cried the younger, coming back on to
his feet. "A most husky question, my fair bird! But how? A
flask, a flask!--by all that is wonderful!" He shot out his hand
as he spoke, and plucking Alleyne's bottle out of his scrip, he
deftly knocked the neck off, and poured the half of it down his
throat. The rest he handed to his comrade, who drank the wine,
and then, to the clerk's increasing amazement, made a show of
swallowing the bottle, with such skill that Alleyne seemed to see
it vanish down his throat. A moment later, however, he flung it
over his head, and caught it bottom downwards upon the calf of
his left leg.
"We thank you for the wine, kind sir," said he, "and for the
ready courtesy wherewith you offered it. Touching your question,
we may tell you that we are strollers and jugglers, who, having
performed with much applause at Winchester fair, are now on our
way to the great Michaelmas market at Ringwood. As our art is a
very fine and delicate one, however, we cannot let a day go by
without exercising ourselves in it, to which end we choose some
quiet and sheltered spot where we may break our journey. Here
you find us; and we cannot wonder that you, who are new to
tumbling, should be astounded, since many great barons, earls,
marshals and knight, who have wandered as far as the Holy Land,
are of one mind in saying that they have never seen a more noble
or gracious performance. If you will be pleased to sit upon that
stump, we will now continue our exercise."
Alleyne sat down willingly as directed with two great bundles on
either side of him which contained the strollers' dresses--doublets
of flame-colored silk and girdles of leather, spangled with brass
and tin. The jugglers were on their heads once more, bounding
about with rigid necks, playing the while in perfect time and
tune. It chanced that out of one of the bundles there stuck the
end of what the clerk saw to be a cittern, so drawing it forth,
he tuned it up and twanged a harmony to the merry lilt which the
dancers played. On that they dropped their own instruments, and
putting their hands to the ground they hopped about faster and
faster, ever shouting to him to play more briskly, until at last
for very weariness all three had to stop.
"Well played, sweet poppet!" cried the younger. "Hast a rare
touch on the strings."
"How knew you the tune?" asked the other.
"I knew it not. I did but follow the notes I heard."
Both opened their eyes at this, and stared at Alleyne with as
much amazement as he had shown at them.
"You have a fine trick of ear then," said one. "We have long
wished to meet such a man. Wilt join us and jog on to Ringwood?
Thy duties shall be light, and thou shalt have two-pence a day
and meat for supper every night."
"With as much beer as you can put away," said the other "and a
flask of Gascon wine on Sabbaths."
"Nay, it may not be. I have other work to do. I have tarried
with you over long," quoth Alleyne, and resolutely set forth upon
his journey once more. They ran behind him some little way,
offering him first fourpence and then sixpence a day, but he only
smiled and shook his head, until at last they fell away from him.
Looking back, he saw that the smaller had mounted on the
younger's shoulders, and that they stood so, some ten feet high,
waving their adieus to him. He waved back to them, and then
hastened on, the lighter of heart for having fallen in with these
strange men of pleasure.
Alleyne had gone no great distance for all the many small
passages that had befallen him. Yet to him, used as he was to a
life of such quiet that the failure of a brewing or the altering
of an anthem had seemed to be of the deepest import, the quick
changing play of the lights and shadows of life was strangely
startling and interesting. A gulf seemed to divide this brisk
uncertain existence from the old steady round of work and of
prayer which he had left behind him. The few hours that had
passed since he saw the Abbey tower stretched out in his memory
until they outgrew whole months of the stagnant life of the
cloister. As he walked and munched the soft bread from his
scrip, it seemed strange to him to feel that it was still warm
from the ovens of Beaulieu.
When he passed Penerley, where were three cottages and a barn, he
reached the edge of the tree country, and found the great barren
heath of Blackdown stretching in front of him, all pink with
heather and bronzed with the fading ferns. On the left the woods
were still thick, but the road edged away from them and wound
over the open. The sun lay low in the west upon a purple cloud,
whence it threw a mild, chastening light over the wild moorland
and glittered on the fringe of forest turning the withered leaves
into flakes of dead gold, the brighter for the black depths
behind them. To the seeing eye decay is as fair as growth, and
death as life. The thought stole into Alleyne's heart as he
looked upon the autumnal country side and marvelled at its
beauty. He had little time to dwell upon it however, for there
were still six good miles between him and the nearest inn. He
sat down by the roadside to partake of his bread and cheese, and
then with a lighter scrip he hastened upon his way.
There appeared to be more wayfarers on the down than in the
forest. First he passed two Dominicans in their long black
dresses, who swept by him with downcast looks and pattering lips,
without so much as a glance at him. Then there came a gray
friar, or minorite, with a good paunch upon him, walking slowly
and looking about him with the air of a man who was at peace with
himself and with all men. He stopped Alleyne to ask him whether
it was not true that there was a hostel somewhere in those parts
which was especially famous for the stewing of eels. The clerk
having made answer that he had heard the eels of Sowley well
spoken of, the friar sucked in his lips and hurried forward.
Close at his heels came three laborers walking abreast, with
spade and mattock over their shoulders. They sang some rude
chorus right tunefully as they walked, but their English was so
coarse and rough that to the ears of a cloister-bred man it
sounded like a foreign and barbarous tongue. One of them carried
a young bittern which they had caught upon the moor, and they
offered it to Alleyne for a silver groat. Very glad he was to
get safely past them, for, with their bristling red beards and
their fierce blue eyes, they were uneasy men to bargain with upon
a lonely moor.
Yet it is not always the burliest and the wildest who are the
most to be dreaded. The workers looked hungrily at him, and then
jogged onwards upon their way in slow, lumbering Saxon style. A
worse man to deal with was a wooden-legged cripple who came
hobbling down the path, so weak and so old to all appearance that
a child need not stand in fear of him. Yet when Alleyne had
passed him, of a sudden, out of pure devilment, he screamed out a
curse at him, and sent a jagged flint stone hurtling past his
ear. So horrid was the causeless rage of the crooked creature,
that the clerk came over a cold thrill, and took to his heels
until he was out of shot from stone or word. It seemed to him
that in this country of England there was no protection for a man
save that which lay in the strength of his own arm and the speed
of his own foot. In the cloisters he had heard vague talk of the
law--the mighty law which was higher than prelate or baron, yet
no sign could he see of it. What was the benefit of a law
written fair upon parchment, he wondered, if there were no
officers to enforce it. As it fell out, however, he had that
very evening, ere the sun had set, a chance of seeing how stern
was the grip of the English law when it did happen to seize the
A mile or so out upon the moor the road takes a very sudden dip
into a hollow, with a peat-colored stream running swiftly down
the centre of it. To the right of this stood, and stands to this
day, an ancient barrow, or burying mound, covered deeply in a
bristle of heather and bracken. Alleyne was plodding down the
slope upon one side, when he saw an old dame coming towards him
upon the other, limping with weariness and leaning heavily upon a
stick. When she reached the edge of the stream she stood
helpless, looking to right and to left for some ford. Where the
path ran down a great stone had been fixed in the centre of the
brook, but it was too far from the bank for her aged and
uncertain feet. Twice she thrust forward at it, and twice she
drew back, until at last, giving up in despair, she sat herself
down by the brink and wrung her hands wearily. There she still
sat when Alleyne reached the crossing.
"Come, mother," quoth he, "it is not so very perilous a passage."
"Alas! good youth," she answered, "I have a humor in the eyes,
and though I can see that there is a stone there I can by no
means be sure as to where it lies."
"That is easily amended," said he cheerily, and picking her
lightly up, for she was much worn with time, he passed across
with her. He could not but observe, however, that as he placed
her down her knees seemed to fail her, and she could scarcely
prop herself up with her staff.
"You are weak, mother," said he. "Hast journeyed far, I wot."
"From Wiltshire, friend," said she, in a quavering voice; "three
days have I been on the road. I go to my son, who is one of the
King's regarders at Brockenhurst. He has ever said that he would
care for me in mine old age."
"And rightly too, mother, since you cared for him in his youth.
But when have you broken fast?"
"At Lyndenhurst; but alas! my money is at an end, and I could but
get a dish of bran-porridge from the nunnery. Yet I trust that I
may be able to reach Brockenhurst to-night, where I may have all
that heart can desire; for oh! sir, but my son is a fine man,
with a kindly heart of his own, and it is as good as food to me
to think that he should have a doublet of Lincoln green to his
back and be the King's own paid man."
"It is a long road yet to Brockenhurst," said Alleyne; "but here
is such bread and cheese as I have left, and here, too, is a
penny which may help you to supper. May God be with you!"
"May God be with you, young man!" she cried. "May He make your
heart as glad as you have made mine!" She turned away, still
mumbling blessings, and Alleyne saw her short figure and her long
shadow stumbling slowly up the slope.
He was moving away himself, when his eyes lit upon a strange
sight, and one which sent a tingling through his skin. Out of
the tangled scrub on the old overgrown barrow two human faces
were looking out at him; the sinking sun glimmered full upon
them, showing up every line and feature. The one was an oldish
man with a thin beard, a crooked nose, and a broad red smudge
from a birth-mark over his temple; the other was a negro, a thing
rarely met in England at that day, and rarer still in the quiet
southland parts. Alleyne had read of such folk, but had never
seen one before, and could scarce take his eyes from the fellow's
broad pouting lip and shining teeth. Even as he gazed, however,
the two came writhing out from among the heather, and came down
towards him with such a guilty, slinking carriage, that the clerk
felt that there was no good in them, and hastened onwards upon
He had not gained the crown of the slope, when he heard a sudden
scuffle behind him and a feeble voice bleating for help. Looking
round, there was the old dame down upon the roadway, with her red
whimple flying on the breeze, while the two rogues, black and
white, stooped over her, wresting away from her the penny and
such other poor trifles as were worth the taking. At the sight
of her thin limbs struggling in weak resistance, such a glow of
fierce anger passed over Alleyne as set his head in a whirl.
Dropping his scrip, he bounded over the stream once more, and
made for the two villains, with his staff whirled over his
shoulder and his gray eyes blazing with fury.
The robbers, however, were not disposed to leave their victim
until they had worked their wicked will upon her. The black man,
with the woman's crimson scarf tied round his swarthy head, stood
forward in the centre of the path, with a long dull-colored knife
in his hand, while the other, waving a ragged cudgel, cursed at
Alleyne and dared him to come on. His blood was fairly aflame,
however, and he needed no such challenge. Dashing at the black
man, he smote at him with such good will that the other let his
knife tinkle into the roadway, and hopped howling to a safer
distance. The second rogue, however, made of sterner stuff,
rushed in upon the clerk, and clipped him round the waist with a
grip like a bear, shouting the while to his comrade to come round
and stab him in the back. At this the negro took heart of
grace, and picking up his dagger again he came stealing with
prowling step and murderous eye, while the two swayed backwards
and forwards, staggering this way and that. In the very midst of
the scuffle, however, whilst Alleyne braced himself to feel the
cold blade between his shoulders, there came a sudden scurry of
hoofs, and the black man yelled with terror and ran for his life
through the heather. The man with the birth-mark, too, struggled
to break away, and Alleyne heard his teeth chatter and felt his
limbs grow limp to his hand. At this sign of coming aid the
clerk held on the tighter, and at last was able to pin his man
down and glanced behind him to see where all the noise was coming
Down the slanting road there was riding a big, burly man, clad in
a tunic of purple velvet and driving a great black horse as hard
as it could gallop. He leaned well over its neck as he rode, and
made a heaving with his shoulders at every bound as though he
were lifting the steed instead of it carrying him. In the rapid
glance Alleyne saw that he had white doeskin gloves, a curling
white feather in his flat velvet cap, and a broad gold,
embroidered baldric across his bosom. Behind him rode six
others, two and two, clad in sober brown jerkins, with the long
yellow staves of their bows thrusting out from behind their right
shoulders. Down the hill they thundered, over the brook and up
to the scene of the contest.
"Here is one!" said the leader, springing down from his reeking
horse, and seizing the white rogue by the edge of his jerkin.
"This is one of them. I know him by that devil's touch upon his
brow. Where are your cords, Peterkin? So! Bind him hand and
foot. His last hour has come. And you, young man, who may you
"I am a clerk, sir, travelling from Beaulieu."
"A clerk!" cried the other. "Art from Oxenford or from
Cambridge? Hast thou a letter from the chancellor of thy college
giving thee a permit to beg? Let me see thy letter." He had a
stern, square face, with bushy side whiskers and a very
"I am from Beaulieu Abbey, and I have no need to beg," said
Alleyne, who was all of a tremble now that the ruffle was over.
"The better for thee," the other answered. "Dost know who I am?"
"No, sir, I do not."
"I am the law!"--nodding his head solemnly. "I am the law of
England and the mouthpiece of his most gracious and royal
majesty, Edward the Third."
Alleyne louted low to the King's representative. "Truly you came
in good time, honored sir," said he. "A moment later and they
would have slain me."
"But there should be another one," cried the man in the purple
coat. "There should be a black man. A shipman with St.
Anthony's fire, and a black man who had served him as cook--those
are the pair that we are in chase of."
"The black man fled over to that side," said Alleyne, pointing
towards the barrow.
"He could not have gone far, sir bailiff," cried one of the
archers, unslinging his bow. "He is in hiding somewhere, for he
knew well, black paynim as he is, that our horses' four legs
could outstrip his two."
"Then we shall have him," said the other. "It shall never be
said, whilst I am bailiff of Southampton, that any waster,
riever, draw-latch or murtherer came scathless away from me and
my posse. Leave that rogue lying. Now stretch out in line, my
merry ones, with arrow on string, and I shall show you such sport
as only the King can give. You on the left, Howett, and Thomas
of Redbridge upon the right. So! Beat high and low among the
heather, and a pot of wine to the lucky marksman."
As it chanced, however, the searchers had not far to seek. The
negro had burrowed down into his hiding-place upon the barrow,
where he might have lain snug enough, had it not been for the red
gear upon his head. As he raised himself to look over the
bracken at his enemies, the staring color caught the eye of the
bailiff, who broke into a long screeching whoop and spurred
forward sword in hand. Seeing himself discovered, the man rushed
out from his hiding-place, and bounded at the top of his speed
down the line of archers, keeping a good hundred paces to the
front of them. The two who were on either side of Alleyne bent
their bows as calmly as though they were shooting at the popinjay
at the village fair.
"Seven yards windage, Hal," said one, whose hair was streaked
"Five," replied the other, letting loose his string. Alleyne
gave a gulp in his throat, for the yellow streak seemed to pass
through the man; but he still ran forward.
"Seven, you jack-fool," growled the first speaker, and his bow
twanged like a harp-string. The black man sprang high up into
the air, and shot out both his arms and his legs, coming down all
a-sprawl among the heather. "Right under the blade bone!" quoth
the archer, sauntering forward for his arrow.
"The old hound is the best when all is said," quoth the bailiff
of Southampton, as they made back for the roadway. "That means a
quart of the best malmsey in Southampton this very night, Matthew
Atwood. Art sure that he is dead?"
"Dead as Pontius Pilate, worshipful sir."
"It is well. Now, as to the other knave. There are trees and to
spare over yonder, but we have scarce leisure to make for them.
Draw thy sword, Thomas of Redbridge, and hew me his head from his
"A boon, gracious sir, a boon!" cried the condemned man.
"What then?" asked the bailiff.
"I will confess to my crime. It was indeed I and the black cook,
both from the ship `La Rose de Gloire,' of Southampton, who did
set upon the Flanders merchant and rob him of his spicery and his
mercery, for which, as we well know, you hold a warrant against
"There is little merit in this confession," quoth the bailiff
sternly. "Thou hast done evil within my bailiwick, and must
"But, sir," urged Alleyne, who was white to the lips at these
bloody doings, "he hath not yet come to trial."
"Young clerk," said the bailiff, "you speak of that of which you
know nothing. It is true that he hath not come to trial, but the
trial hath come to him. He hath fled the law and is beyond its
pale. Touch not that which is no concern of thine. But what is
this boon, rogue, which you would crave?"
"I have in my shoe, most worshipful sir, a strip of wood which
belonged once to the bark wherein the blessed Paul was dashed up
against the island of Melita. I bought it for two rose nobles
from a shipman who came from the Levant. The boon I crave is
that you will place it in my hands and let me die still grasping
it. In this manner, not only shall my own eternal salvation be
secured, but thine also, for I shall never cease to intercede for
At the command of the bailiff they plucked off the fellow's shoe,
and there sure enough at the side of the instep, wrapped in a
piece of fine sendall, lay a long, dark splinter of wood. The
archers doffed caps at the sight of it, and the bailiff crossed
himself devoutly as he handed it to the robber.
"If it should chance," he said, "that through the surpassing
merits of the blessed Paul your sin-stained soul should gain a
way into paradise, I trust that you will not forget that
intercession which you have promised. Bear in mind too, that it
is Herward the bailiff for whom you pray, and not Herward the
sheriff, who is my uncle's son. Now, Thomas, I pray you
dispatch, for we have a long ride before us and sun has already
Alleyne gazed upon the scene--the portly velvet-clad official, the
knot of hard-faced archers with their hands to the bridles of
their horses, the thief with his arms trussed back and his
doublet turned down upon his shoulders. By the side of the track
the old dame was standing, fastening her red whimple once more
round her head. Even as he looked one of the archers drew his
sword with a sharp whirr of steel and stept up to the lost man.
The clerk hurried away in horror; but, ere he had gone many
paces, he heard a sudden, sullen thump, with a choking,
whistling sound at the end of it. A minute later the bailiff and
four of his men rode past him on their journey back to
Southampton, the other two having been chosen as grave-diggers.
As they passed Alleyne saw that one of the men was wiping his
sword-blade upon the mane of his horse. A deadly sickness came
over him at the sight, and sitting down by the wayside he burst
out weeping, with his nerves all in a jangle. It was a terrible
world thought he, and it was hard to know which were the most to
be dreaded, the knaves or the men of the law.
HOW A STRANGE COMPANY GATHERED AT THE "PIED MERLIN."
The night had already fallen, and the moon was shining between
the rifts of ragged, drifting clouds, before Alleyne Edricson,
footsore and weary from the unwonted exercise, found himself in
front of the forest inn which stood upon the outskirts of
Lyndhurst. The building was long and low, standing back a little
from the road, with two flambeaux blazing on either side of the
door as a welcome to the traveller. From one window there thrust
forth a long pole with a bunch of greenery tied to the end of
it--a sign that liquor was to be sold within. As Alleyne walked
up to it he perceived that it was rudely fashioned out of beams
of wood, with twinkling lights all over where the glow from
within shone through the chinks. The roof was poor and thatched;
but in strange contrast to it there ran all along under the eaves
a line of wooden shields, most gorgeously painted with chevron,
bend, and saltire, and every heraldic device. By the door a
horse stood tethered, the ruddy glow beating strongly upon his
brown head and patient eyes, while his body stood back in the
Alleyne stood still in the roadway for a few minutes reflecting
upon what he should do. It was, he knew, only a few miles
further to Minstead, where his brother dwelt. On the other hand,
he had never seen this brother since childhood, and the reports
which had come to his ears concerning him were seldom to his
advantage. By all accounts he was a hard and a bitter man.
It might be an evil start to come to his door so late and claim
the shelter of his roof. Better to sleep here at this inn, and
then travel on to Minstead in the morning. If his brother would
take him in, well and good.
He would bide with him for a time and do what he might to serve
him. If, on the other hand, he should have hardened his heart
against him, he could only go on his way and do the best he might
by his skill as a craftsman and a scrivener. At the end of a
year he would be free to return to the cloisters, for such had
been his father's bequest. A monkish upbringing, one year in the
world after the age of twenty, and then a free selection one way
or the other--it was a strange course which had been marked out
for him. Such as it was, however, he had no choice but to follow
it, and if he were to begin by making a friend of his brother he
had best wait until morning before he knocked at his dwelling.
The rude plank door was ajar, but as Alleyne approached it there
came from within such a gust of rough laughter and clatter of
tongues that he stood irresolute upon the threshold. Summoning
courage, however, and reflecting that it was a public dwelling,
in which he had as much right as any other man, he pushed it open
and stepped into the common room.
Though it was an autumn evening and somewhat warm, a huge fire of
heaped billets of wood crackled and sparkled in a broad, open
grate, some of the smoke escaping up a rude chimney, but the
greater part rolling out into the room, so that the air was thick
with it, and a man coming from without could scarce catch his
breath. On this fire a great cauldron bubbled and simmered,
giving forth a rich and promising smell. Seated round it were a
dozen or so folk, of all ages and conditions, who set up such a
shout as Alleyne entered that he stood peering at them through
the smoke, uncertain what this riotous greeting might portend.
"A rouse! A rouse!" cried one rough looking fellow in a tattered
jerkin. "One more round of mead or ale and the score to the last
"'Tis the law of the `Pied Merlin,'" shouted another. "Ho
there, Dame Eliza! Here is fresh custom come to the house, and
not a drain for the company."
"I will take your orders, gentles; I will assuredly take your
orders," the landlady answered, bustling in with her hands full
of leathern drinking-cups. "What is it that you drink, then?
Beer for the lads of the forest, mead for the gleeman, strong
waters for the tinker, and wine for the rest. It is an old
custom of the house, young sir. It has been the use at the `Pied
Merlin' this many a year back that the company should drink to
the health of the last comer. Is it your pleasure to humor it?"
"Why, good dame," said Alleyne, "I would not offend the customs
of your house, but it is only sooth when I say that my purse is a
thin one. As far as two pence will go, however, I shall be right
glad to do my part."
"Plainly said and bravely spoken, my suckling friar," roared a
deep voice, and a heavy hand fell upon Alleyne's shoulder.
Looking up, he saw beside him his former cloister companion the
renegade monk, Hordle John.
"By the thorn of Glastonbury! ill days are coming upon Beaulieu,"
said he. "Here they have got rid in one day of the only two men
within their walls--for I have had mine eyes upon thee,
youngster, and I know that for all thy baby-face there is the
making of a man in thee. Then there is the Abbot, too. I am no
friend of his, nor he of mine; but he has warm blood in his
veins. He is the only man left among them. The others, what are
"They are holy men," Alleyne answered gravely.
"Holy men? Holy cabbages! Holy bean-pods! What do they do but
live and suck in sustenance and grow fat? If that be holiness, I
could show you hogs in this forest who are fit to head the
calendar. Think you it was for such a life that this good arm
was fixed upon my shoulder, or that head placed upon your neck?
There is work in the world, man, and it is not by hiding behind
stone walls that we shall do it."
"Why, then, did you join the brothers?" asked Alleyne.
"A fair enough question; but it is as fairly answered. I joined
them because Margery Alspaye, of Bolder, married Crooked Thomas
of Ringwood, and left a certain John of Hordle in the cold, for
that he was a ranting, roving blade who was not to be trusted in
wedlock. That was why, being fond and hot-headed, I left the
world; and that is why, having had time to take thought, I am
right glad to find myself back in it once more. Ill betide the
day that ever I took off my yeoman's jerkin to put on the white
Whilst he was speaking the landlady came in again, bearing a
broad platter, upon which stood all the beakers and flagons
charged to the brim with the brown ale or the ruby wine. Behind
her came a maid with a high pile of wooden plates, and a great
sheaf of spoons, one of which she handed round to each of the
travellers. Two of the company, who were dressed in the
weather-stained green doublet of foresters, lifted the big pot
off the fire, and a third, with a huge pewter ladle, served out a
portion of steaming collops to each guest. Alleyne bore his
share and his ale-mug away with him to a retired trestle in the
corner, where he could sup in peace and watch the strange scene,
which was so different to those silent and well-ordered meals to
which he was accustomed.
The room was not unlike a stable. The low ceiling, smoke-blackened
and dingy, was pierced by several square trap-doors with rough-hewn
ladders leading up to them. The walls of bare unpainted planks
were studded here and there with great wooden pins, placed at
irregular intervals and heights, from which hung over-tunics,
wallets, whips, bridles, and saddles. Over the fireplace were
suspended six or seven shields of wood, with coats-of-arms rudely
daubed upon them, which showed by their varying degrees of
smokiness and dirt that they had been placed there at different
periods. There was no furniture, save a single long dresser
covered with coarse crockery, and a number of wooden benches and
trestles, the legs of which sank deeply into the soft clay floor,
while the only light, save that of the fire, was furnished by
three torches stuck in sockets on the wall, which flickered and
crackled, giving forth a strong resinous odor. All this was
novel and strange to the cloister-bred youth; but most
interesting of all was the motley circle of guests who sat eating
their collops round the blaze. They were a humble group of
wayfarers, such as might have been found that night in any inn
through the length and breadth of England; but to him they
represented that vague world against which he had been so
frequently and so earnestly warned. It did not seem to him from
what he could see of it to be such a very wicked place after all.
Three or four of the men round the fire were evidently
underkeepers and verderers from the forest, sunburned and
bearded, with the quick restless eye and lithe movements of the
deer among which they lived. Close to the corner of the chimney
sat a middle-aged gleeman, clad in a faded garb of Norwich cloth,
the tunic of which was so outgrown that it did not fasten at the
neck and at the waist. His face was swollen and coarse, and his
watery protruding eyes spoke of a life which never wandered very
far from the wine-pot. A gilt harp, blotched with many stains
and with two of its strings missing, was tucked under one of his
arms, while with the other he scooped greedily at his platter.
Next to him sat two other men of about the same age, one with a
trimming of fur to his coat, which gave him a dignity which was
evidently dearer to him than his comfort, for he still drew it
round him in spite of the hot glare of the faggots. The other,
clad in a dirty russet suit with a long sweeping doublet, had a
cunning, foxy face with keen, twinkling eyes and a peaky beard.
Next to him sat Hordle John, and beside him three other rough
unkempt fellows with tangled beards and matted hair--free laborers
from the adjoining farms, where small patches of freehold
property had been suffered to remain scattered about in the heart
of the royal demesne. The company was completed by a peasant in
a rude dress of undyed sheepskin, with the old-fashioned
galligaskins about his legs, and a gayly dressed young man with
striped cloak jagged at the edges and parti-colored hosen, who
looked about him with high disdain upon his face, and held a blue
smelling-flask to his nose with one hand, while he brandished a
busy spoon with the other. In the corner a very fat man was
lying all a-sprawl upon a truss, snoring stertorously, and
evidently in the last stage of drunkenness.
"That is Wat the limner," quoth the landlady, sitting down beside
Alleyne, and pointing with the ladle to the sleeping man. "That
is he who paints the signs and the tokens. Alack and alas that
ever I should have been fool enough to trust him! Now, young man,
what manner of a bird would you suppose a pied merlin to be--that
being the proper sign of my hostel?"
"Why," said Alleyne, "a merlin is a bird of the same form as an
eagle or a falcon. I can well remember that learned brother
Bartholomew, who is deep in all the secrets of nature, pointed
one out to me as we walked together near Vinney Ridge."
"A falcon or an eagle, quotha? And pied, that is of two several
colors. So any man would say except this barrel of lies. He
came to me, look you, saying that if I would furnish him with a
gallon of ale, wherewith to strengthen himself as he worked, and
also the pigments and a board, he would paint for me a noble pied
merlin which I might hang along with the blazonry over my door.
I, poor simple fool, gave him the ale and all that he craved,
leaving him alone too, because he said that a man's mind must be
left untroubled when he had great work to do. When I came back
the gallon jar was empty, and he lay as you see him, with the
board in front of him with this sorry device." She raised up a
panel which was leaning against the wall, and showed a rude
painting of a scraggy and angular fowl, with very long legs and a
"Was that," she asked, "like the bird which thou hast seen?"
Alleyne shook his head, smiling.
"No, nor any other bird that ever wagged a feather. It is most
like a plucked pullet which has died of the spotted fever. And
scarlet too! What would the gentles Sir Nicholas Boarhunte, or
Sir Bernard Brocas, of Roche Court, say if they saw such a
thing--or, perhaps, even the King's own Majesty himself, who
often has ridden past this way, and who loves his falcons as he
loves his sons? It would be the downfall of my house."
"The matter is not past mending," said Alleyne. "I pray you,
good dame, to give me those three pigment-pots and the brush, and
I shall try whether I cannot better this painting."
Dame Eliza looked doubtfully at him, as though fearing some other
stratagem, but, as he made no demand for ale, she finally brought
the paints, and watched him as he smeared on his background,
talking the while about the folk round the fire.
"The four forest lads must be jogging soon," she said. "They
bide at Emery Down, a mile or more from here. Yeomen prickers
they are, who tend to the King's hunt. The gleeman is called
Floyting Will. He comes from the north country, but for many
years he hath gone the round of the forest from Southampton to
Christchurch. He drinks much and pays little but it would make
your ribs crackle to hear him sing the `Jest of Hendy Tobias.'
Mayhap he will sing it when the ale has warmed him."
"Who are those next to him?" asked Alleyne, much interested.
"He of the fur mantle has a wise and reverent face."
"He is a seller of pills and salves, very learned in humors, and
rheums, and fluxes, and all manner of ailments. He wears, as you
perceive, the vernicle of Sainted Luke, the first physician, upon
his sleeve. May good St. Thomas of Kent grant that it may be
long before either I or mine need his help! He is here to-night
for herbergage, as are the others except the foresters. His
neighbor is a tooth-drawer. That bag at his girdle is full of
the teeth that he drew at Winchester fair. I warrant that there
are more sound ones than sorry, for he is quick at his work and a
trifle dim in the eye. The lusty man next him with the red head
I have not seen before. The four on this side are all workers,
three of them in the service of the bailiff of Sir Baldwin
Redvers, and the other, he with the sheepskin, is, as I hear, a
villein from the midlands who hath run from his master. His year
and day are well-nigh up, when he will be a free man."
"And the other?" asked Alleyne in a whisper. "He is surely some
very great man, for he looks as though he scorned those who were
The landlady looked at him in a motherly way and shook her head.
"You have had no great truck with the world," she said, "or you
would have learned that it is the small men and not the great who
hold their noses in the air. Look at those shields upon my wall
and under my eaves. Each of them is the device of some noble
lord or gallant knight who hath slept under my roof at one time
or another. Yet milder men or easier to please I have never
seen: eating my bacon and drinking my wine with a merry face, and
paying my score with some courteous word or jest which was dearer
to me than my profit. Those are the true gentles. But your
chapman or your bearward will swear that there is a lime in the
wine, and water in the ale, and fling off at the last with a
curse instead of a blessing. This youth is a scholar from
Cambrig, where men are wont to be blown out by a little
knowledge, and lose the use of their hands in learning the laws
of the Romans. But I must away to lay down the beds. So may the
saints keep you and prosper you in your undertaking!"
Thus left to himself, Alleyne drew his panel of wood where the
light of one of the torches would strike full upon it, and worked
away with all the pleasure of the trained craftsman, listening
the while to the talk which went on round the fire. The peasant
in the sheepskins, who had sat glum and silent all evening, had
been so heated by his flagon of ale that he was talking loudly
and angrily with clenched hands and flashing eyes.
"Sir Humphrey Tennant of Ashby may till his own fields for me,"
he cried. "The castle has thrown its shadow upon the cottage
over long. For three hundred years my folk have swinked and
sweated, day in and day out, to keep the wine on the lord's table
and the harness on the lord's back. Let him take off his plates
and delve himself, if delving must be done."
"A proper spirit, my fair son!" said one of the free laborers.
"I would that all men were of thy way of thinking."
"He would have sold me with his acres," the other cried, in a
voice which was hoarse with passion. "`The man, the woman and
their litter'--so ran the words of the dotard bailiff. Never a
bullock on the farm was sold more lightly. Ha! he may wake some
black night to find the flames licking about his ears--for fire
is a good friend to the poor man, and I have seen a smoking heap
of ashes where over night there stood just such another
castlewick as Ashby."
"This is a lad of mettle!" shouted another of the laborers. He
dares to give tongue to what all men think. Are we not all from
Adam's loins, all with flesh and blood, and with the same mouth
that must needs have food and drink? Where all this difference
then between the ermine cloak and the leathern tunic, if what
they cover is the same?"
"Aye, Jenkin," said another, "our foeman is under the stole and
the vestment as much as under the helmet and plate of proof. We
have as much to fear from the tonsure as from the hauberk.
Strike at the noble and the priest shrieks, strike at priest and
the noble lays his hand upon glaive. They are twin thieves who
live upon our labor."
"It would take a clever man to live upon thy labor, Hugh,"
remarked one of the foresters, "seeing that the half of thy time
is spent in swilling mead at the `Pied Merlin.'"
"Better that than stealing the deer that thou art placed to
guard, like some folk I know."
"If you dare open that swine's mouth against me," shouted the
woodman, "I'll crop your ears for you before the hangman has the
doing of it, thou long-jawed lackbrain."
"Nay, gentles, gentles!" cried Dame Eliza, in a singsong heedless
voice, which showed that such bickerings were nightly things
among her guests. "No brawling or brabbling, gentles! Take heed
to the good name of the house."
"Besides, if it comes to the cropping of ears, there are other
folk who may say their say," quoth the third laborer. "We are
all freemen, and I trow that a yeoman's cudgel is as good as a
forester's knife. By St. Anselm! it would be an evil day if we
had to bend to our master's servants as well as to our masters."
"No man is my master save the King," the woodman answered. "Who
is there, save a false traitor, who would refuse to serve the
"I know not about the English king," said the man Jenkin. "What
sort of English king is it who cannot lay his tongue to a word of
English? You mind last year when he came down to Malwood, with
his inner marshal and his outer marshal, his justiciar, his
seneschal, and his four and twenty guardsmen. One noontide I was
by Franklin Swinton's gate, when up he rides with a yeoman
pricker at his heels. `Ouvre,' he cried, `ouvre,' or some such
word, making signs for me to open the gate; and then `Merci,' as
though he were adrad of me. And you talk of an English king?"
"I do not marvel at it," cried the Cambrig scholar, speaking in
the high drawling voice which was common among his class. "It is
not a tongue for men of sweet birth and delicate upbringing. It
is a foul, snorting, snarling manner of speech. For myself, I
swear by the learned Polycarp that I have most ease with Hebrew,
and after that perchance with Arabian."
"I will not hear a word said against old King Ned," cried Hordle
John in a voice like a bull. "What if he is fond of a bright eye
and a saucy face. I know one of his subjects who could match him
at that. If he cannot speak like an Englishman I trow that he
can fight like an Englishman, and he was hammering at the gates
of Paris while ale-house topers were grutching and grumbling at
This loud speech, coming from a man of so formidable an
appearance, somewhat daunted the disloyal party, and they fell
into a sullen silence, which enabled Alleyne to hear something of
the talk which was going on in the further corner between the
physician, the tooth-drawer and the gleeman.
"A raw rat," the man of drugs was saying, "that is what it is
ever my use to order for the plague--a raw rat with its paunch
"Might it not be broiled, most learned sir?" asked the tooth-drawer.
"A raw rat sounds a most sorry and cheerless dish."
"Not to be eaten," cried the physician, in high disdain. "Why
should any man eat such a thing?"
"Why indeed?" asked the gleeman, taking a long drain at his
"It is to be placed on the sore or swelling. For the rat, mark
you, being a foul-living creature, hath a natural drawing or
affinity for all foul things, so that the noxious humors pass
from the man into the unclean beast."
"Would that cure the black death, master?" asked Jenkin.
"Aye, truly would it, my fair son."
"Then I am right glad that there were none who knew of it. The
black death is the best friend that ever the common folk had in
"How that then?" asked Hordle John.
"Why, friend, it is easy to see that you have not worked with
your hands or you would not need to ask. When half the folk in
the country were dead it was then that the other half could pick
and choose who they would work for, and for what wage. That is
why I say that the murrain was the best friend that the borel
folk ever had."
"True, Jenkin," said another workman; "but it is not all good
that is brought by it either. We well know that through it
corn-land has been turned into pasture, so that flocks of sheep
with perchance a single shepherd wander now where once a hundred
men had work and wage."
"There is no great harm in that," remarked the tooth-drawer, "for
the sheep give many folk their living. There is not only the
herd, but the shearer and brander, and then the dresser, the
curer, the dyer, the fuller, the webster, the merchant, and a
score of others."
"If it come to that." said one of the foresters, "the tough meat
of them will wear folks teeth out, and there is a trade for the
man who can draw them."
A general laugh followed this sally at the dentist's expense, in
the midst of which the gleeman placed his battered harp upon his
knee, and began to pick out a melody upon the frayed strings.
"Elbow room for Floyting Will!" cried the woodmen. "Twang us a
"Aye, aye, the `Lasses of Lancaster,'" one suggested.
"Or `St. Simeon and the Devil.'"
"Or the `Jest of Hendy Tobias.'"
To all these suggestions the jongleur made no response, but sat
with his eye fixed abstractedly upon the ceiling, as one who
calls words to his mind. Then, with a sudden sweep across the
strings, he broke out into a song so gross and so foul that ere
he had finished a verse the pure-minded lad sprang to his feet
with the blood tingling in his face.
"How can you sing such things?" he cried. "You, too, an old man
who should be an example to others."
The wayfarers all gazed in the utmost astonishment at the
"By the holy Dicon of Hampole! our silent clerk has found his
tongue," said one of the woodmen. "What is amiss with the song
then? How has it offended your babyship?"
"A milder and better mannered song hath never been heard within
these walls," cried another. "What sort of talk is this for a
"Shall it be a litany, my good clerk?" shouted a third; "or would
a hymn be good enough to serve?"
The jongleur had put down his harp in high dudgeon. "Am I to be
preached to by a child?" he cried, staring across at Alleyne with
an inflamed and angry countenance. "Is a hairless infant to
raise his tongue against me, when I have sung in every fair from
Tweed to Trent, and have twice been named aloud by the High Court
of the Minstrels at Beverley? I shall sing no more to-night."
"Nay, but you will so," said one of the laborers. "Hi, Dame
Eliza, bring a stoup of your best to Will to clear his throat.
Go forward with thy song, and if our girl-faced clerk does not
love it he can take to the road and go whence he came."
"Nay, but not too last," broke in Hordle John. "There are two
words in this matter. It may be that my little comrade has been
over quick in reproof, he having gone early into the cloisters
and seen little of the rough ways and words of the world. Yet
there is truth in what he says, for, as you know well, the song
was not of the cleanest. I shall stand by him, therefore, and he
shall neither be put out on the road, nor shall his ears be
"Indeed, your high and mighty grace," sneered one of the yeomen,
"have you in sooth so ordained?"
"By the Virgin!" said a second, "I think that you may both chance
to find yourselves upon the road before long."
"And so belabored as to be scarce able to crawl along it," cried
"Nay, I shall go! I shall go!" said Alleyne hurriedly, as Hordle
John began to slowly roll up his sleeve, and bare an arm like a
leg of mutton. "I would not have you brawl about me."
"Hush! lad," he whispered, "I count them not a fly. They may
find they have more tow on their distaff than they know how to
spin. Stand thou clear and give me space."
Both the foresters and the laborers had risen from their bench,
and Dame Eliza and the travelling doctor had flung themselves
between the two parties with soft words and soothing gestures,
when the door of the "Pied Merlin" was flung violently open, and
the attention of the company was drawn from their own quarrel to
the new-comer who had burst so unceremoniously upon them.
HOW SAMKIN AYLWARD WAGERED HIS FEATHER-BED.
He was a middle-sized man, of most massive and robust build, with
an arching chest and extraordinary breadth of shoulder. His
shaven face was as brown as a hazel-nut, tanned and dried by the
weather, with harsh, well-marked features, which were not
improved by a long white scar which stretched from the corner of
his left nostril to the angle of the jaw. His eyes were bright
and searching, with something of menace and of authority in their
quick glitter, and his mouth was firm-set and hard, as befitted
one who was wont to set his face against danger. A straight
sword by his side and a painted long-bow jutting over his
shoulder proclaimed his profession, while his scarred brigandine
of chain-mail and his dinted steel cap showed that he was no
holiday soldier, but one who was even now fresh from the wars. A
white surcoat with the lion of St. George in red upon the centre
covered his broad breast, while a sprig of new-plucked broom at
the side of his head-gear gave a touch of gayety and grace to his
grim, war-worn equipment.
"Ha!" he cried, blinking like an owl in the sudden glare. "Good
even to you, comrades! Hola! a woman, by my soul!" and in an
instant he had clipped Dame Eliza round the waist and was kissing
her violently. His eye happening to wander upon the maid,
however, he instantly abandoned the mistress and danced off after
the other, who scurried in confusion up one of the ladders, and
dropped the heavy trap-door upon her pursuer. He then turned
back and saluted the landlady once more with the utmost relish
"La petite is frightened," said he. "Ah, c'est l'amour, l'amour!
Curse this trick of French, which will stick to my throat. I
must wash it out with some good English ale. By my hilt!
camarades, there is no drop of French blood in my body, and I am
a true English bowman, Samkin Aylward by name; and I tell you,
mes amis, that it warms my very heart-roots to set my feet on the
dear old land once more. When I came off the galley at Hythe,
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