The White Company
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 9
this very day, I down on my bones, and I kissed the good brown
earth, as I kiss thee now, ma belle, for it was eight long years
since I had seen it. The very smell of it seemed life to me.
But where are my six rascals? Hola, there! En avant!"
At the order, six men, dressed as common drudges, marched
solemnly into the room, each bearing a huge bundle upon his head.
They formed in military line, while the soldier stood in front of
them with stern eyes, checking off their several packages.
"Number one--a French feather-bed with the two counter-panes of
white sendall," said he.
"Here, worthy sir," answered the first of the bearers, laying a
great package down in the corner.
"Number two--seven ells of red Turkey cloth and nine ells of
cloth of gold. Put it down by the other. Good dame, I prythee
give each of these men a bottrine of wine or a jack of ale.
Three--a full piece of white Genoan velvet with twelve ells of
purple silk. Thou rascal, there is dirt on the hem! Thou hast
brushed it against some wall, coquin!"
"Not I, most worthy sir," cried the carrier, shrinking away from
the fierce eyes of the bowman.
"I say yes, dog! By the three kings! I have seen a man gasp out
his last breath for less. Had you gone through the pain and
unease that I have done to earn these things you would be at more
care. I swear by my ten finger-bones that there is not one of
them that hath not cost its weight in French blood! Four--an
incense-boat, a ewer of silver, a gold buckle and a cope worked
in pearls. I found them, camarades, at the Church of St. Denis
in the harrying of Narbonne, and I took them away with me lest
they fall into the hands of the wicked. Five--a cloak of fur
turned up with minever, a gold goblet with stand and cover, and a
box of rose-colored sugar. See that you lay them together.
Six--a box of monies, three pounds of Limousine gold-work, a pair
of boots, silver tagged, and, lastly, a store of naping linen.
So, the tally is complete! Here is a groat apiece, and you may go."
"Go whither, worthy sir?" asked one of the carriers.
"Whither? To the devil if ye will. What is it to me? Now, ma
belle, to supper. A pair of cold capons, a mortress of brawn, or
what you will, with a flask or two of the right Gascony. I have
crowns in my pouch, my sweet, and I mean to spend them. Bring in
wine while the food is dressing. Buvons my brave lads; you shall
each empty a stoup with me."
Here was an offer which the company in an English inn at that or
any other date are slow to refuse. The flagons were re-gathered
and came back with the white foam dripping over their edges. Two
of the woodmen and three of the laborers drank their portions off
hurriedly and trooped off together, for their homes were distant
and the hour late. The others, however, drew closer, leaving the
place of honor to the right of the gleeman to the free-handed
new-comer. He had thrown off his steel cap and his brigandine,
and had placed them with his sword, his quiver and his painted
long-bow, on the top of his varied heap of plunder in the corner.
Now, with his thick and somewhat bowed legs stretched in front of
the blaze, his green jerkin thrown open, and a great quart pot
held in his corded fist, he looked the picture of comfort and of
good-fellowship. His hard-set face had softened, and the thick
crop of crisp brown curls which had been hidden by his helmet
grew low upon his massive neck. He might have been forty years
of age, though hard toil and harder pleasure had left their grim
marks upon his features. Alleyne had ceased painting his pied
merlin, and sat, brush in hand, staring with open eyes at a type
of man so strange and so unlike any whom he had met. Men had
been good or had been bad in his catalogue, but here was a man
who was fierce one instant and gentle the next, with a curse on
his lips and a smile in his eye. What was to be made of such a
man as that?
It chanced that the soldier looked up and saw the questioning
glance which the young clerk threw upon him. He raised his
flagon and drank to him, with a merry flash of his white teeth.
"A toi, mon garcon," he cried. "Hast surely never seen a
man-at-arms, that thou shouldst stare so?"
"I never have," said Alleyne frankly, "though I have oft heard
talk of their deeds."
"By my hilt!" cried the other, "if you were to cross the narrow
sea you would find them as thick as bees at a tee-hole. Couldst
not shoot a bolt down any street of Bordeaux, I warrant, but you
would pink archer, squire, or knight. There are more
breastplates than gaberdines to be seen, I promise you."
"And where got you all these pretty things?" asked Hordle John,
pointing at the heap in the corner.
"Where there is as much more waiting for any brave lad to pick it
up. Where a good man can always earn a good wage, and where he
need look upon no man as his paymaster, but just reach his hand
out and help himself. Aye, it is a goodly and a proper life.
And here I drink to mine old comrades, and the saints be with
them! Arouse all together, me, enfants, under pain of my
displeasure. To Sir Claude Latour and the White Company!"
"Sir Claude Latour and the White Company!" shouted the
travellers, draining off their goblets.
"Well quaffed, mes braves! It is for me to fill your cups again,
since you have drained them to my dear lads of the white jerkin.
Hola! mon ange, bring wine and ale. How runs the old stave?--
We'll drink all together
To the gray goose feather
And the land where the gray goose flew."
He roared out the catch in a harsh, unmusical voice, and ended
with a shout of laughter. "I trust that I am a better bowman
than a minstrel," said he.
"Methinks I have some remembrance of the lilt," remarked the
gleeman, running his fingers over the strings, "Hoping that it
will give thee no offence, most holy sir"--with a vicious snap at
Alleyne--"and with the kind permit of the company, I will even
venture upon it."
Many a time in the after days Alleyne Edricson seemed to see that
scene, for all that so many which were stranger and more stirring
were soon to crowd upon him. The fat, red-faced gleeman, the
listening group, the archer with upraised finger beating in time
to the music, and the huge sprawling figure of Hordle John, all
thrown into red light and black shadow by the flickering fire in
the centre--memory was to come often lovingly back to it. At the
time he was lost in admiration at the deft way in which the
jongleur disguised the loss of his two missing strings, and the
lusty, hearty fashion in which he trolled out his little ballad
of the outland bowmen, which ran in some such fashion as this:
What of the bow?
The bow was made in England:
Of true wood, of yew wood,
The wood of English bows;
So men who are free
Love the old yew tree
And the land where the yew tree grows.
What of the cord?
The cord was made in England:
A rough cord, a tough cord,
A cord that bowmen love;
So we'll drain our jacks
To the English flax
And the land where the hemp was wove.
What of the shaft?
The shaft was cut in England:
A long shaft, a strong shaft,
Barbed and trim and true;
So we'll drink all together
To the gray goose feather
And the land where the gray goose flew.
What of the men?
The men were bred in England:
The bowman--the yeoman--
The lads of dale and fell
Here's to you--and to you;
To the hearts that are true
And the land where the true hearts dwell.
"Well sung, by my hilt!" shouted the archer in high delight.
"Many a night have I heard that song, both in the old war-time
and after in the days of the White Company, when Black Simon of
Norwich would lead the stave, and four hundred of the best bowmen
that ever drew string would come roaring in upon the chorus. I
have seen old John Hawkwood, the same who has led half the
Company into Italy, stand laughing in his beard as he heard it,
until his plates rattled again. But to get the full smack of it
ye must yourselves be English bowmen, and be far off upon an
Whilst the song had been singing Dame Eliza and the maid had
placed a board across two trestles, and had laid upon it the
knife, the spoon, the salt, the tranchoir of bread, and finally
the smoking dish which held the savory supper. The archer
settled himself to it like one who had known what it was to find
good food scarce; but his tongue still went as merrily as his
"It passes me," he cried, "how all you lusty fellows can bide
scratching your backs at home when there are such doings over the
seas. Look at me--what have I to do? It is but the eye to the
cord, the cord to the shaft, and the shaft to the mark. There is
the whole song of it. It is but what you do yourselves for
pleasure upon a Sunday evening at the parish village butts."
"And the wage?" asked a laborer.
"You see what the wage brings," he answered. "I eat of the best,
and I drink deep. I treat my friend, and I ask no friend to
treat me. I clap a silk gown on my girl's back. Never a
knight's lady shall be better betrimmed and betrinketed. How of
all that, mon garcon? And how of the heap of trifles that you
can see for yourselves in yonder corner? They are from the South
French, every one, upon whom I have been making war. By my hilt!
camarades, I think that I may let my plunder speak for itself."
"It seems indeed to be a goodly service," said the tooth-drawer.
"Tete bleu! yes, indeed. Then there is the chance of a ransom.
Why, look you, in the affair at Brignais some four years back,
when the companies slew James of Bourbon, and put his army to the
sword, there was scarce a man of ours who had not count, baron,
or knight. Peter Karsdale, who was but a common country lout
newly brought over, with the English fleas still hopping under
his doublet, laid his great hands upon the Sieur Amaury de
Chatonville, who owns half Picardy, and had five thousand crowns
out of him, with his horse and harness. 'Tis true that a French
wench took it all off Peter as quick as the Frenchman paid it;
but what then? By the twang of string! it would be a bad thing
if money was not made to be spent; and how better than on
woman--eh, ma belle?"
"It would indeed be a bad thing if we had not our brave archers
to bring wealth and kindly customs into the country," quoth Dame
Eliza, on whom the soldier's free and open ways had made a deep
"A toi, ma cherie!" said he, with his hand over his heart.
"Hola! there is la petite peeping from behind the door. A toi,
aussi, ma petite! Mon Dieu! but the lass has a good color!"
"There is one thing, fair sir," said the Cambridge student in his
piping voice, "which I would fain that you would make more clear.
As I understand it, there was peace made at the town of Bretigny
some six years back between our most gracious monarch and the
King of the French. This being so, it seems most passing strange
that you should talk so loudly of war and of companies when there
is no quarrel between the French and us."
"Meaning that I lie," said the archer, laying down his knife.
"May heaven forfend!" cried the student hastily. "_Magna est
veritas sed rara_, which means in the Latin tongue that archers
are all honorable men. I come to you seeking knowledge, for it
is my trade to learn."
"I fear that you are yet a 'prentice to that trade," quoth the
soldier; "for there is no child over the water but could answer
what you ask. Know then that though there may be peace between
our own provinces and the French, yet within the marches of
France there is always war, for the country is much divided
against itself, and is furthermore harried by bands of flayers,
skinners, Brabacons, tardvenus, and the rest of them. When every
man's grip is on his neighbor's throat, and every five-sous-piece
of a baron is marching with tuck of drum to fight whom he will,
it would be a strange thing if five hundred brave English boys
could not pick up a living. Now that Sir John Hawkwood hath gone
with the East Anglian lads and the Nottingham woodmen into the
service of the Marquis of Montferrat to fight against the Lord of
Milan, there are but ten score of us left, yet I trust that I may
be able to bring some back with me to fill the ranks of the White
Company. By the tooth of Peter! it would be a bad thing if I
could not muster many a Hamptonshire man who would be ready to
strike in under the red flag of St. George, and the more so if
Sir Nigel Loring, of Christchurch, should don hauberk once more
and take the lead of us."
"Ah, you would indeed be in luck then," quoth a woodman; "for it
is said that, setting aside the prince, and mayhap good old Sir
John Chandos, there was not in the whole army a man of such tried
"It is sooth, every word of it," the archer answered. "I have
seen him with these two eyes in a stricken field, and never did
man carry himself better. Mon Dieu! yes, ye would not credit it
to look at him, or to hearken to his soft voice, but from the
sailing from Orwell down to the foray to Paris, and that is clear
twenty years, there was not a skirmish, onfall, sally, bushment,
escalado or battle, but Sir Nigel was in the heart of it. I go
now to Christchurch with a letter to him from Sir Claude Latour
to ask him if he will take the place of Sir John Hawkwood; and
there is the more chance that he will if I bring one or two
likely men at my heels. What say you, woodman: wilt leave the
bucks to loose a shaft at a nobler mark?"
The forester shook his head. "I have wife and child at Emery
Down," quoth he; "I would not leave them for such a venture."
"You, then, young sir?" asked the archer.
"Nay, I am a man of peace," said Alleyne Edricson. "Besides, I
have other work to do."
"Peste!" growled the soldier, striking his flagon on the board
until the dishes danced again. "What, in the name of the devil,
hath come over the folk? Why sit ye all moping by the fireside,
like crows round a dead horse, when there is man's work to be
done within a few short leagues of ye? Out upon you all, as a
set of laggards and hang-backs! By my hilt I believe that the
men of England are all in France already, and that what is left
behind are in sooth the women dressed up in their paltocks and
"Archer," quoth Hordle John, "you have lied more than once and
more than twice; for which, and also because I see much in you to
dislike, I am sorely tempted to lay you upon your back."
"By my hilt! then, I have found a man at last!" shouted the
bowman. "And, 'fore God, you are a better man than I take you
for if you can lay me on my back, mon garcon. I have won the ram
more times than there are toes to my feet, and for seven long
years I have found no man in the Company who could make my jerkin
"We have had enough bobance and boasting," said Hordle John,
rising and throwing off his doublet. "I will show you that there
are better men left in England than ever went thieving to
"Pasques Dieu!" cried the archer, loosening his jerkin, and
eyeing his foeman over with the keen glance of one who is a judge
of manhood. "I have only once before seen such a body of a man.
By your leave, my red-headed friend, I should be right sorry to
exchange buffets with you; and I will allow that there is no man
in the Company who would pull against you on a rope; so let that
be a salve to your pride. On the other hand I should judge that
you have led a life of ease for some months back, and that my
muscle is harder than your own. I am ready to wager upon myself
against you if you are not afeard."
"Afeard, thou lurden!" growled big John. "I never saw the face
yet of the man that I was afeard of. Come out, and we shall see
who is the better man."
"But the wager?"
"I have nought to wager. Come out for the love and the lust of
"Nought to wager!" cried the soldier. "Why, you have that which
I covet above all things. It is that big body of thine that I am
after. See, now, mon garcon. I have a French feather-bed there,
which I have been at pains to keep these years back. I had it at
the sacking of Issodun, and the King himself hath not such a bed.
If you throw me, it is thine; but, if I throw you, then you are
under a vow to take bow and bill and hie with me to France, there
to serve in the White Company as long as we be enrolled."
"A fair wager!" cried all the travellers, moving back their
benches and trestles, so as to give fair field for the wrestlers.
"Then you may bid farewell to your bed, soldier," said Hordle
"Nay; I shall keep the bed, and I shall have you to France in
spite of your teeth, and you shall live to thank me for it. How
shall it be, then, mon enfant? Collar and elbow, or close-lock,
or catch how you can?"
"To the devil with your tricks," said John, opening and shutting
his great red hands. "Stand forth, and let me clip thee."
"Shalt clip me as best you can then," quoth the archer, moving
out into the open space, and keeping a most wary eye upon his
opponent. He had thrown off his green jerkin, and his chest was
covered only by a pink silk jupon, or undershirt, cut low in the
neck and sleeveless. Hordle John was stripped from his waist
upwards, and his huge body, with his great muscles swelling out
like the gnarled roots of an oak, towered high above the soldier.
The other, however, though near a foot shorter, was a man of
great strength; and there was a gloss upon his white skin which
was wanting in the heavier limbs of the renegade monk. He was
quick on his feet, too, and skilled at the game; so that it was
clear, from the poise of head and shine of eye, that he counted
the chances to be in his favor. It would have been hard that
night, through the whole length of England, to set up a finer
pair in face of each other.
Big John stood waiting in the centre with a sullen, menacing eye,
and his red hair in a bristle, while the archer paced lightly and
swiftly to the right and the left with crooked knee and hands
advanced. Then with a sudden dash, so swift and fierce that the
eye could scarce follow it, he flew in upon his man and locked
his leg round him. It was a grip that, between men of equal
strength, would mean a fall; but Hordle John tore him off from
him as he might a rat, and hurled him across the room, so that
his head cracked up against the wooden wall.
"Ma foi!" cried the bowman, passing his fingers through his
curls, "you were not far from the feather-bed then, mon gar. A
little more and this good hostel would have a new window."
Nothing daunted, he approached his man once more, but this time
with more caution than before. With a quick feint he threw the
other off his guard, and then, bounding upon him, threw his legs
round his waist and his arms round his bull-neck, in the hope of
bearing him to the ground with the sudden shock. With a bellow
of rage, Hordle John squeezed him limp in his huge arms; and
then, picking him up, cast him down upon the floor with a force
which might well have splintered a bone or two, had not the
archer with the most perfect coolness clung to the other's
forearms to break his fall. As it was, he dropped upon his feet
and kept his balance, though it sent a jar through his frame
which set every joint a-creaking. He bounded back from his
perilous foeman; but the other, heated by the bout, rushed madly
after him, and so gave the practised wrestler the very vantage
for which he had planned. As big John flung himself upon him,
the archer ducked under the great red hands that clutched for
him, and, catching his man round the thighs, hurled him over his
shoulder--helped as much by his own mad rush as by the trained
strength of the heave. To Alleyne's eye, it was as if John had
taken unto himself wings and flown. As he hurtled through the
air, with giant limbs revolving, the lad's heart was in his
mouth; for surely no man ever yet had such a fall and came
scathless out of it. In truth, hardy as the man was, his neck
had been assuredly broken had he not pitched head first on the
very midriff of the drunken artist, who was slumbering so
peacefully in the corner, all unaware of these stirring doings.
The luckless limner, thus suddenly brought out from his dreams,
sat up with a piercing yell, while Hordle John bounded back into
the circle almost as rapidly as he had left it.
"One more fall, by all the saints!" he cried, throwing out his
"Not I," quoth the archer, pulling on his clothes, "I have come
well out of the business. I would sooner wrestle with the great
bear of Navarre."
"It was a trick," cried John.
"Aye was it. By my ten finger-bones! it is a trick that will add
a proper man to the ranks of the Company."
"Oh, for that," said the other, "I count it not a fly; for I had
promised myself a good hour ago that I should go with thee, since
the life seems to be a goodly and proper one. Yet I would fain
have had the feather-bed."
"I doubt it not, mon ami," quoth the archer, going back to his
tankard. "Here is to thee, lad, and may we be good comrades to
each other! But, hola! what is it that ails our friend of the
The unfortunate limner had been sitting up rubbing himself
ruefully and staring about with a vacant gaze, which showed that
he knew neither where he was nor what had occurred to him.
Suddenly, however, a flash of intelligence had come over his
sodden features, and he rose and staggered for the door. "'Ware
the ale!" he said in a hoarse whisper, shaking a warning finger
at the company. "Oh, holy Virgin, 'ware the ale!" and slapping
his hands to his injury, he flitted off into the darkness, amid a
shout of laughter, in which the vanquished joined as merrily as
the victor. The remaining forester and the two laborers were
also ready for the road, and the rest of the company turned to
the blankets which Dame Eliza and the maid had laid out for them
upon the floor. Alleyne, weary with the unwonted excitements of
the day, was soon in a deep slumber broken only by fleeting
visions of twittering legs, cursing beggars, black robbers, and
the many strange folk whom he had met at the "Pied Merlin."
HOW THE THREE COMRADES JOURNEYED THROUGH THE WOODLANDS.
At early dawn the country inn was all alive, for it was rare
indeed that an hour of daylight would be wasted at a time when
lighting was so scarce and dear. Indeed, early as it was when
Dame Eliza began to stir, it seemed that others could be earlier
still, for the door was ajar, and the learned student of
Cambridge had taken himself off, with a mind which was too intent
upon the high things of antiquity to stoop to consider the
four-pence which he owed for bed and board. It was the shrill
out-cry of the landlady when she found her loss, and the clucking
of the hens, which had streamed in through the open door, that
first broke in upon the slumbers of the tired wayfarers.
Once afoot, it was not long before the company began to disperse.
A sleek mule with red trappings was brought round from some
neighboring shed for the physician, and he ambled away with much
dignity upon his road to Southampton. The tooth-drawer and the
gleeman called for a cup of small ale apiece, and started off
together for Ringwood fair, the old jongleur looking very yellow
in the eye and swollen in the face after his overnight potations.
The archer, however, who had drunk more than any man in the room,
was as merry as a grig, and having kissed the matron and chased
the maid up the ladder once more, he went out to the brook, and
came back with the water dripping from his face and hair.
"Hola! my man of peace," he cried to Alleyne, "whither are you
bent this morning?"
"To Minstead," quoth he. "My brother Simon Edricson is socman
there, and I go to bide with him for a while. I prythee, let me
have my score, good dame."
"Score, indeed!" cried she, standing with upraised hands in front
of the panel on which Alleyne had worked the night before. "Say,
rather what it is that I owe to thee, good youth. Aye, this is
indeed a pied merlin, and with a leveret under its claws, as I am
a living woman. By the rood of Waltham! but thy touch is deft
"And see the red eye of it!" cried the maid.
"Aye, and the open beak."
"And the ruffled wing," added Hordle John.
"By my hilt!" cried the archer, "it is the very bird itself."
The young clerk flushed with pleasure at this chorus of praise,
rude and indiscriminate indeed, and yet so much heartier and less
grudging than any which he had ever heard from the critical
brother Jerome, or the short-spoken Abbot. There was, it would
seem, great kindness as well as great wickedness in this world,
of which he had heard so little that was good. His hostess would
hear nothing of his paying either for bed or for board, while the
archer and Hordle John placed a hand upon either shoulder and led
him off to the board, where some smoking fish, a dish of spinach,
and a jug of milk were laid out for their breakfast.
"I should not be surprised to learn, mon camarade," said the
soldier, as he heaped a slice of fish upon Alleyne's tranchoir of
bread, "that you could read written things, since you are so
ready with your brushes and pigments."
"It would be shame to the good brothers of Beaulieu if I could
not," he answered, "seeing that I have been their clerk this ten
The bowman looked at him with great respect. "Think of that!"
said he. "And you with not a hair to your face, and a skin like
a girl. I can shoot three hundred and fifty paces with my little
popper there, and four hundred and twenty with the great war-bow;
yet I can make nothing of this, nor read my own name if you were
to set `Sam Aylward' up against me. In the whole Company there
was only one man who could read, and he fell down a well at the
taking of Ventadour, which proves what the thing is not suited to
a soldier, though most needful to a clerk."
"I can make some show at it," said big John; "though I was scarce
long enough among the monks to catch the whole trick of it.
"Here, then, is something to try upon," quoth the archer, pulling
a square of parchment from the inside of his tunic. It was tied
securely with a broad band of purple silk, and firmly sealed at
either end with a large red seal. John pored long and earnestly
over the inscription upon the back, with his brows bent as one
who bears up against great mental strain.
"Not having read much of late," he said, "I am loth to say too
much about what this may be. Some might say one thing and some
another, just as one bowman loves the yew, and a second will not
shoot save with the ash. To me, by the length and the look of
it, I should judge this to be a verse from one of the Psalms."
The bowman shook his head. "It is scarce likely," he said, "that
Sir Claude Latour should send me all the way across seas with
nought more weighty than a psalm-verse. You have clean overshot
the butts this time, mon camarade. Give it to the little one. I
will wager my feather-bed that he makes more sense of it."
"Why, it is written in the French tongue," said Alleyne, "and in
a right clerkly hand. This is how it runs: `A le moult puissant
et moult honorable chevalier, Sir Nigel Loring de Christchurch,
de son tres fidele ami Sir Claude Latour, capitaine de la
Compagnie blanche, chatelain de Biscar, grand seigneur de
Montchateau, vavaseur de le renomme Gaston, Comte de Foix, tenant
les droits de la haute justice, de la milieu, et de la basse.'
Which signifies in our speech: `To the very powerful and very
honorable knight, Sir Nigel Loring of Christchurch, from his very
faithful friend Sir Claude Latour, captain of the White Company,
chatelain of Biscar, grand lord of Montchateau and vassal to the
renowned Gaston, Count of Foix, who holds the rights of the high
justice, the middle and the low.'"
"Look at that now!" cried the bowman in triumph. "That is just
what he would have said."
"I can see now that it is even so," said John, examining the
parchment again. "Though I scarce understand this high, middle
"By my hilt! you would understand it if you were Jacques
Bonhomme. The low justice means that you may fleece him, and the
middle that you may torture him, and the high that you may slay
him. That is about the truth of it. But this is the letter
which I am to take; and since the platter is clean it is time
that we trussed up and were afoot. You come with me, mon gros
Jean; and as to you, little one, where did you say that you
"Ah, yes. I know this forest country well, though I was born
myself in the Hundred of Easebourne, in the Rape of Chichester,
hard by the village of Midhurst. Yet I have not a word to say
against the Hampton men, for there are no better comrades or
truer archers in the whole Company than some who learned to loose
the string in these very parts. We shall travel round with you
to Minstead lad, seeing that it is little out of our way."
"I am ready," said Alleyne, right pleased at the thought of such
company upon the road.
"So am not I. I must store my plunder at this inn, since the
hostess is an honest woman. Hola! ma cherie, I wish to leave
with you my gold-work, my velvet, my silk, my feather bed, my
incense-boat, my ewer, my naping linen, and all the rest of it.
I take only the money in a linen bag, and the box of rose colored
sugar which is a gift from my captain to the Lady Loring. Wilt
guard my treasure for me?"
"It shall be put in the safest loft, good archer. Come when you
may, you shall find it ready for you."
"Now, there is a true friend!" cried the bowman, taking her hand.
"There is a bonne amie! English land and English women, say I,
and French wine and French plunder. I shall be back anon, mon
ange. I am a lonely man, my sweeting, and I must settle some day
when the wars are over and done. Mayhap you and I----Ah,
mechante, mechante! There is la petite peeping from behind the
door. Now, John, the sun is over the trees; you must be brisker
than this when the bugleman blows `Bows and Bills.'"
"I have been waiting this time back," said Hordle John gruffly.
"Then we must be off. Adieu, ma vie! The two livres shall
settle the score and buy some ribbons against the next kermesse.
Do not forget Sam Aylward, for his heart shall ever be thine
alone--and thine, ma petite! So, marchons, and may St. Julian
grant us as good quarters elsewhere!"
The sun had risen over Ashurst and Denny woods, and was shining
brightly, though the eastern wind had a sharp flavor to it, and
the leaves were flickering thickly from the trees. In the High
Street of Lyndhurst the wayfarers had to pick their way, for the
little town was crowded with the guardsmen, grooms, and yeomen
prickers who were attached to the King's hunt. The King himself
was staying at Castle Malwood, but several of his suite had been
compelled to seek such quarters as they might find in the wooden
or wattle-and-daub cottages of the village. Here and there a
small escutcheon, peeping from a glassless window, marked the
night's lodging of knight or baron. These coats-of-arms could be
read, where a scroll would be meaningless, and the bowman, like
most men of his age, was well versed in the common symbols of
"There is the Saracen's head of Sir Bernard Brocas," quoth he.
"I saw him last at the ruffle at Poictiers some ten years back,
when he bore himself like a man. He is the master of the King's
horse, and can sing a right jovial stave, though in that he
cannot come nigh to Sir John Chandos, who is first at the board
or in the saddle. Three martlets on a field azure, that must be
one of the Luttrells. By the crescent upon it, it should be the
second son of old Sir Hugh, who had a bolt through his ankle at
the intaking of Romorantin, he having rushed into the fray ere
his squire had time to clasp his solleret to his greave. There
too is the hackle which is the old device of the De Brays. I
have served under Sir Thomas de Bray, who was as jolly as a pie,
and a lusty swordsman until he got too fat for his harness."
So the archer gossiped as the three wayfarers threaded their way
among the stamping horses, the busy grooms, and the knots of
pages and squires who disputed over the merits of their masters'
horses and deer-hounds. As they passed the old church, which
stood upon a mound at the left-hand side of the village street
the door was flung open, and a stream of worshippers wound down
the sloping path, coming from the morning mass, all chattering
like a cloud of jays. Alleyne bent knee and doffed hat at the
sight of the open door; but ere he had finished an ave his
comrades were out of sight round the curve of the path, and he
had to run to overtake them."
"What!" he said, "not one word of prayer before God's own open
house? How can ye hope for His blessing upon the day?"
"My friend," said Hordle John, "I have prayed so much during the
last two months, not only during the day, but at matins, lauds,
and the like, when I could scarce keep my head upon my shoulders
for nodding, that I feel that I have somewhat over-prayed
"How can a man have too much religion?" cried Alleyne earnestly.
"It is the one thing that availeth. A man is but a beast as he
lives from day to day, eating and drinking, breathing and
sleeping. It is only when he raises himself, and concerns
himself with the immortal spirit within him, that he becomes in
very truth a man. Bethink ye how sad a thing it would be that
the blood of the Redeemer should be spilled to no purpose."
"Bless the lad, if he doth not blush like any girl, and yet
preach like the whole College of Cardinals," cried the archer.
"In truth I blush that any one so weak and so unworthy as I
should try to teach another that which he finds it so passing
hard to follow himself."
"Prettily said, mon garcon. Touching that same slaying of the
Redeemer, it was a bad business. A good padre in France read to
us from a scroll the whole truth of the matter. The soldiers
came upon him in the garden. In truth, these Apostles of His may
have been holy men, but they were of no great account as
men-at-arms. There was one, indeed, Sir Peter, who smote out
like a true man; but, unless he is belied, he did but clip a
varlet's ear, which was no very knightly deed. By these ten
finger-bones! had I been there with Black Simon of Norwich, and
but one score picked men of the Company, we had held them in
play. Could we do no more, we had at least filled the false
knight, Sir Judas, so full of English arrows that he would curse
the day that ever he came on such an errand."
The young clerk smiled at his companion's earnestness. "Had He
wished help," he said, "He could have summoned legions of
archangels from heaven, so what need had He of your poor bow and
arrow? Besides, bethink you of His own words--that those who
live by the sword shall perish by the sword."
"And how could man die better?" asked the archer. "If I had my
wish, it would be to fall so--not, mark you, in any mere skirmish
of the Company, but in a stricken field, with the great lion
banner waving over us and the red oriflamme in front, amid the
shouting of my fellows and the twanging of the strings. But let
it be sword, lance, or bolt that strikes me down: for I should
think it shame to die from an iron ball from the fire-crake or
bombard or any such unsoldierly weapon, which is only fitted to
scare babes with its foolish noise and smoke."
"I have heard much even in the quiet cloisters of these new and
dreadful engines," quoth Alleyne. "It is said, though I can
scarce bring myself to believe it, that they will send a ball
twice as far as a bowman can shoot his shaft, and with such force
as to break through armor of proof."
"True enough, my lad. But while the armorer is thrusting in his
devil's-dust, and dropping his ball, and lighting his flambeau, I
can very easily loose six shafts, or eight maybe, so he hath no
great vantage after all. Yet I will not deny that at the
intaking of a town it is well to have good store of bombards. I
am told that at Calais they made dints in the wall that a man
might put his head into. But surely, comrades, some one who is
grievously hurt hath passed along this road before us."
All along the woodland track there did indeed run a scattered
straggling trail of blood-marks, sometimes in single drops, and
in other places in broad, ruddy gouts, smudged over the dead
leaves or crimsoning the white flint stones.
"It must be a stricken deer," said John.
"Nay, I am woodman enough to see that no deer hath passed this
way this morning; and yet the blood is fresh. But hark to the
They stood listening all three with sidelong heads. Through the
silence of the great forest there came a swishing, whistling
sound, mingled with the most dolorous groans, and the voice of a
man raised in a high quavering kind of song. The comrades
hurried onwards eagerly, and topping the brow of a small rising
they saw upon the other side the source from which these strange
A tall man, much stooped in the shoulders, was walking slowly
with bended head and clasped hands in the centre of the path. He
was dressed from head to foot in a long white linen cloth, and a
high white cap with a red cross printed upon it. His gown was
turned back from his shoulders, and the flesh there was a sight
to make a man wince, for it was all beaten to a pulp, and the
blood was soaking into his gown and trickling down upon the
ground. Behind him walked a smaller man with his hair touched
with gray, who was clad in the same white garb. He intoned a
long whining rhyme in the French tongue, and at the end of every
line he raised a thick cord, all jagged with pellets of lead, and
smote his companion across the shoulders until the blood spurted
again. Even as the three wayfarers stared, however, there was a
sudden change, for the smaller man, having finished his song,
loosened his own gown and handed the scourge to the other, who
took up the stave once more and lashed his companion with all the
strength of his bare and sinewy arm. So, alternately beating and
beaten, they made their dolorous way through the beautiful woods
and under the amber arches of the fading beech-trees, where the
calm strength and majesty of Nature might serve to rebuke the
foolish energies and misspent strivings of mankind.
Such a spectacle was new to Hordle John or to Alleyne Edricson;
but the archer treated it lightly, as a common matter enough.
"These are the Beating Friars, otherwise called the Flagellants,"
quoth he. "I marvel that ye should have come upon none of them
before, for across the water they are as common as gallybaggers.
I have heard that there are no English among them, but that they
are from France, Italy and Bohemia. En avant, camarades! that we
may have speech with them."
As they came up to them, Alleyne could hear the doleful dirge
which the beater was chanting, bringing down his heavy whip at
the end of each line, while the groans of the sufferer formed a
sort of dismal chorus. It was in old French, and ran somewhat in
Or avant, entre nous tous freres
Battons nos charognes bien fort
En remembrant la grant misere
De Dieu et sa piteuse mort
Qui fut pris en la gent amere
Et vendus et trais a tort
Et bastu sa chair, vierge et dere
Au nom de ce battons plus fort.
Then at the end of the verse the scourge changed hands and the
chanting began anew.
"Truly, holy fathers," said the archer in French as they came
abreast of them, "you have beaten enough for to-day. The road is
all spotted like a shambles at Martinmas. Why should ye
mishandle yourselves thus?"
"C'est pour vos peches--pour vos peches," they droned, looking at
the travellers with sad lack-lustre eyes, and then bent to their
bloody work once more without heed to the prayers and persuasions
which were addressed to them. Finding all remonstrance useless,
the three comrades hastened on their way, leaving these strange
travellers to their dreary task.
"Mort Dieu!" cried the bowman, "there is a bucketful or more of
my blood over in France, but it was all spilled in hot fight, and
I should think twice before I drew it drop by drop as these
friars are doing. By my hilt! our young one here is as white as
a Picardy cheese. What is amiss then, mon cher?"
"It is nothing," Alleyne answered. "My life has been too quiet,
I am not used to such sights."
"Ma foi!" the other cried, "I have never yet seen a man who was
so stout of speech and yet so weak of heart."
"Not so, friend," quoth big John; "it is not weakness of heart
for I know the lad well. His heart is as good as thine or mine
but he hath more in his pate than ever you will carry under that
tin pot of thine, and as a consequence he can see farther into
things, so that they weigh upon him more."
"Surely to any man it is a sad sight," said Alleyne, "to see
these holy men, who have done no sin themselves, suffering so for
the sins of others. Saints are they, if in this age any may
merit so high a name."
"I count them not a fly," cried Hordle John; "for who is the
better for all their whipping and yowling? They are like other
friars, I trow, when all is done. Let them leave their backs
alone, and beat the pride out of their hearts."
"By the three kings! there is sooth in what you say," remarked
the archer. "Besides, methinks if I were le bon Dieu, it would
bring me little joy to see a poor devil cutting the flesh off his
bones; and I should think that he had but a small opinion of me,
that he should hope to please me by such provost-marshal work.
No, by my hilt! I should look with a more loving eye upon a jolly
archer who never harmed a fallen foe and never feared a hale
"Doubtless you mean no sin," said Alleyne. "If your words are
wild, it is not for me to judge them. Can you not see that there
are other foes in this world besides Frenchmen, and as much glory
to be gained in conquering them? Would it not be a proud day for
knight or squire if he could overthrow seven adversaries in the
lists? Yet here are we in the lists of life, and there come the
seven black champions against us Sir Pride, Sir Covetousness, Sir
Lust, Sir Anger, Sir Gluttony, Sir Envy, and Sir Sloth. Let a
man lay those seven low, and he shall have the prize of the day,
from the hands of the fairest queen of beauty, even from the
Virgin-Mother herself. It is for this that these men mortify
their flesh, and to set us an example, who would pamper
ourselves overmuch. I say again that they are God's own saints,
and I bow my head to them."
"And so you shall, mon petit," replied the archer. "I have not
heard a man speak better since old Dom Bertrand died, who was at
one time chaplain to the White Company. He was a very valiant
man, but at the battle of Brignais he was spitted through the
body by a Hainault man-at-arms. For this we had an
excommunication read against the man, when next we saw our holy
father at Avignon; but as we had not his name, and knew nothing
of him, save that he rode a dapple-gray roussin, I have feared
sometimes that the blight may have settled upon the wrong man."
"Your Company has been, then, to bow knee before our holy father,
the Pope Urban, the prop and centre of Christendom?" asked
Alleyne, much interested. "Perchance you have yourself set eyes
upon his august face?"
"Twice I saw him," said the archer. "He was a lean little rat of
a man, with a scab on his chin. The first time we had five
thousand crowns out of him, though he made much ado about it.
The second time we asked ten thousand, but it was three days
before we could come to terms, and I am of opinion myself that we
might have done better by plundering the palace. His chamberlain
and cardinals came forth, as I remember, to ask whether we would
take seven thousand crowns with his blessing and a plenary
absolution, or the ten thousand with his solemn ban by bell, book
and candle. We were all of one mind that it was best to have the
ten thousand with the curse; but in some way they prevailed upon
Sir John, so that we were blest and shriven against our will.
Perchance it is as well, for the Company were in need of it about
The pious Alleyne was deeply shocked by this reminiscence.
Involuntarily he glanced up and around to see if there were any
trace of those opportune levin-flashes and thunderbolts which, in
the "Acta Sanctorum," were wont so often to cut short the loose
talk of the scoffer. The autumn sun streamed down as brightly as
ever, and the peaceful red path still wound in front of them
through the rustling, yellow-tinted forest, Nature seemed to be
too busy with her own concerns to heed the dignity of an outraged
pontiff. Yet he felt a sense of weight and reproach within his
breast, as though he had sinned himself in giving ear to such
words. The teachings of twenty years cried out against such
license. It was not until he had thrown himself down before one
of the many wayside crosses, and had prayed from his heart both
for the archer and for himself, that the dark cloud rolled back
again from his spirit.
THE THREE FRIENDS.
His companions had passed on whilst he was at his orisons; but
his young blood and the fresh morning air both invited him to a
scamper. His staff in one hand and his scrip in the other, with
springy step and floating locks, he raced along the forest path,
as active and as graceful as a young deer. He had not far to go,
however; for, on turning a corner, he came on a roadside cottage
with a wooden fence-work around it, where stood big John and
Aylward the bowman, staring at something within. As he came up
with them, he saw that two little lads, the one about nine years
of age and the other somewhat older, were standing on the plot in
front of the cottage, each holding out a round stick in their
left hands, with their arms stiff and straight from the shoulder,
as silent and still as two small statues. They were pretty,
blue-eyed, yellow-haired lads, well made and sturdy, with bronzed
skins, which spoke of a woodland life.
"Here are young chips from an old bow stave!" cried the soldier
in great delight. "This is the proper way to raise children. By
my hilt! I could not have trained them better had I the ordering
of it myself."
"What is it then?" asked Hordle John. "They stand very stiff,
and I trust that they have not been struck so."
"Nay, they are training their left arms, that they may have a
steady grasp of the bow. So my own father trained me, and six
days a week I held out his walking-staff till my arm was heavy as
lead. Hola, mes enfants! how long will you hold out?"
"Until the sun is over the great lime-tree, good master," the
"What would ye be, then? Woodmen? Verderers?"
"Nay, soldiers," they cried both together.
"By the beard of my father! but ye are whelps of the true breed.
Why so keen, then, to be soldiers?"
"That we may fight the Scots," they answered. "Daddy will send
us to fight the Scots."
"And why the Scots, my pretty lads? We have seen French and
Spanish galleys no further away than Southampton, but I doubt
that it will be some time before the Scots find their way to
"Our business is with the Scots," quoth the elder; "for it was
the Scots who cut off daddy's string fingers and his thumbs."
"Aye, lads, it was that," said a deep voice from behind Alleyne's
shoulder. Looking round, the wayfarers saw a gaunt, big-boned
man, with sunken cheeks and a sallow face, who had come up behind
them. He held up his two hands as he spoke, and showed that the
thumbs and two first fingers had been torn away from each of
"Ma foi, camarade!" cried Aylward. "Who hath served thee in so
shameful a fashion?"
"It is easy to see, friend, that you were born far from the
marches of Scotland," quoth the stranger, with a bitter smile.
"North of Humber there is no man who would not know the handiwork
of Devil Douglas, the black Lord James."
"And how fell you into his hands?" asked John.
"I am a man of the north country, from the town of Beverley and
the wapentake of Holderness," he answered. "There was a day
when, from Trent to Tweed, there was no better marksman than
Robin Heathcot. Yet, as you see, he hath left me, as he hath
left many another poor border archer, with no grip for bill or
bow. Yet the king hath given me a living here in the southlands,
and please God these two lads of mine will pay off a debt that
hath been owing over long. What is the price of daddy's thumbs,
"Twenty Scottish lives," they answered together.
"And for the fingers?"
"Half a score."
"When they can bend my war-bow, and bring down a squirrel at a
hundred paces, I send them to take service under Johnny Copeland,
the Lord of the Marches and Governor of Carlisle. By my soul! I
would give the rest of my fingers to see the Douglas within
arrow-flight of them."
"May you live to see it," quoth the bowman. "And hark ye, mes
enfants, take an old soldier's rede and lay your bodies to the
bow, drawing from hip and thigh as much as from arm. Learn also,
I pray you, to shoot with a dropping shaft; for though a bowman
may at times be called upon to shoot straight and fast, yet it is
more often that he has to do with a town-guard behind a wall, or
an arbalestier with his mantlet raised when you cannot hope to do
him scathe unless your shaft fall straight upon him from the
clouds. I have not drawn string for two weeks, but I may be able
to show ye how such shots should be made." He loosened his
long-bow, slung his quiver round to the front, and then glanced
keenly round for a fitting mark. There was a yellow and withered
stump some way off, seen under the drooping branches of a lofty
oak. The archer measured the distance with his eye; and then,
drawing three shafts, he shot them off with such speed that the
first had not reached the mark ere the last was on the string.
Each arrow passed high over the oak; and, of the three, two stuck
fair into the stump; while the third, caught in some wandering
puff of wind, was driven a foot or two to one side.
"Good!" cried the north countryman. "Hearken to him lads! He is
a master bowman. Your dad says amen to every word he says."
"By my hilt!" said Aylward, "if I am to preach on bowmanship, the
whole long day would scarce give me time for my sermon. We have
marksmen in the Company who will notch with a shaft every
crevice and joint of a man-at-arm's harness, from the clasp of
his bassinet to the hinge of his greave. But, with your favor,
friend, I must gather my arrows again, for while a shaft costs a
penny a poor man can scarce leave them sticking in wayside
stumps. We must, then, on our road again, and I hope from my
heart that you may train these two young goshawks here until they
are ready for a cast even at such a quarry as you speak of."
Leaving the thumbless archer and his brood, the wayfarers struck
through the scattered huts of Emery Down, and out on to the broad
rolling heath covered deep in ferns and in heather, where droves
of the half-wild black forest pigs were rooting about amongst the
hillocks. The woods about this point fall away to the left and
the right, while the road curves upwards and the wind sweeps
keenly over the swelling uplands. The broad strips of bracken
glowed red and yellow against the black peaty soil, and a queenly
doe who grazed among them turned her white front and her great
questioning eyes towards the wayfarers. Alleyne gazed in
admiration at the supple beauty of the creature; but the archer's
fingers played with his quiver, and his eyes glistened with the
fell instinct which urges a man to slaughter.
"Tete Dieu!" he growled, "were this France, or even Guienne, we
should have a fresh haunch for our none-meat. Law or no law, I
have a mind to loose a bolt at her."
"I would break your stave across my knee first," cried John,
laying his great hand upon the bow. "What! man, I am
forest-born, and I know what comes of it. In our own township of
Hordle two have lost their eyes and one his skin for this very
thing. On my troth, I felt no great love when I first saw you,
but since then I have conceived over much regard for you to wish
to see the verderer's flayer at work upon you."
"It is my trade to risk my skin," growled the archer; but none
the less he thrust his quiver over his hip again and turned his
face for the west.
As they advanced, the path still tended upwards, running from
heath into copses of holly and yew, and so back into heath again.
It was joyful to hear the merry whistle of blackbirds as they
darted from one clump of greenery to the other. Now and again a
peaty amber colored stream rippled across their way, with ferny
over-grown banks, where the blue kingfisher flitted busily from
side to side, or the gray and pensive heron, swollen with trout
and dignity, stood ankle-deep among the sedges. Chattering jays
and loud wood-pigeons flapped thickly overhead, while ever and
anon the measured tapping of Nature's carpenter, the great green
woodpecker, sounded from each wayside grove. On either side, as
the path mounted, the long sweep of country broadened and
expanded, sloping down on the one side through yellow forest and
brown moor to the distant smoke of Lymington and the blue misty
channel which lay alongside the sky-line, while to the north the
woods rolled away, grove topping grove, to where in the furthest
distance the white spire of Salisbury stood out hard and clear
against the cloudless sky. To Alleyne whose days had been spent
in the low-lying coastland, the eager upland air and the wide
free country-side gave a sense of life and of the joy of living
which made his young blood tingle in his veins. Even the heavy
John was not unmoved by the beauty of their road, while the
bowman whistled lustily or sang snatches of French love songs in
a voice which might have scared the most stout-hearted maiden
that ever hearkened to serenade.
"I have a liking for that north countryman," he remarked
presently. "He hath good power of hatred. Couldst see by his
cheek and eye that he is as bitter as verjuice. I warm to a man
who hath some gall in his liver."
"Ah me!" sighed Alleyne. "Would it not be better if he had some
love in his heart?"
"I would not say nay to that. By my hilt! I shall never be said
to be traitor to the little king. Let a man love the sex.
Pasques Dieu! they are made to be loved, les petites, from
whimple down to shoe-string! I am right glad, mon garcon, to see
that the good monks have trained thee so wisely and so well."
"Nay, I meant not worldly love, but rather that his heart should
soften towards those who have wronged him."
The archer shook his head. "A man should love those of his own
breed," said he. "But it is not nature that an English-born man
should love a Scot or a Frenchman. Ma foi! you have not seen a
drove of Nithsdale raiders on their Galloway nags, or you would
not speak of loving them. I would as soon take Beelzebub himself
to my arms. I fear, mon gar., that they have taught thee but
badly at Beaulieu, for surely a bishop knows more of what is
right and what is ill than an abbot can do, and I myself with
these very eyes saw the Bishop of Lincoln hew into a Scottish
hobeler with a battle-axe, which was a passing strange way of
showing him that he loved him."
Alleyne scarce saw his way to argue in the face of so decided an
opinion on the part of a high dignitary of the Church. "You have
borne arms against the Scots, then?" he asked.
"Why, man, I first loosed string in battle when I was but a lad,
younger by two years than you, at Neville's Cross, under the Lord
Mowbray. Later, I served under the Warden of Berwick, that very
John Copeland of whom our friend spake, the same who held the
King of Scots to ransom. Ma foi! it is rough soldiering, and a
good school for one who would learn to be hardy and war-wise."
"I have heard that the Scots are good men of war," said Hordle
"For axemen and for spearmen I have not seen their match," the
archer answered. "They can travel, too, with bag of meal and
gridiron slung to their sword-belt, so that it is ill to follow
them. There are scant crops and few beeves in the borderland,
where a man must reap his grain with sickle in one fist and brown
bill in the other. On the other hand, they are the sorriest
archers that I have ever seen, and cannot so much as aim with the
arbalest, to say nought of the long-bow. Again, they are mostly
poor folk, even the nobles among them, so that there are few who
can buy as good a brigandine of chain-mail as that which I am
wearing, and it is ill for them to stand up against our own
knights, who carry the price of five Scotch farms upon their
chest and shoulders. Man for man, with equal weapons, they are
as worthy and valiant men as could be found in the whole of
"And the French?" asked Alleyne, to whom the archer's light
gossip had all the relish that the words of the man of action
have for the recluse.
"The French are also very worthy men. We have had great good
fortune in France, and it hath led to much bobance and camp-fire
talk, but I have ever noticed that those who know the most have
the least to say about it. I have seen Frenchmen fight both in
open field, in the intaking and the defending of towns or
castlewicks, in escalados, camisades, night forays, bushments,
sallies, outfalls, and knightly spear-runnings. Their knights
and squires, lad, are every whit as good as ours, and I could
pick out a score of those who ride behind Du Guesclin who would
hold the lists with sharpened lances against the best men in the
army of England. On the other hand, their common folk are so
crushed down with gabelle, and poll-tax, and every manner of
cursed tallage, that the spirit has passed right out of them. It
is a fool's plan to teach a man to be a cur in peace, and think
that he will be a lion in war. Fleece them like sheep and sheep
they will remain. If the nobles had not conquered the poor folk
it is like enough that we should not have conquered the nobles."
"But they must be sorry folk to bow down to the rich in such a
fashion," said big John. "I am but a poor commoner of England
myself, and yet I know something of charters, liberties
franchises, usages, privileges, customs, and the like. If these
be broken, then all men know that it is time to buy arrow-heads."
"Aye, but the men of the law are strong in France as well as the
men of war. By my hilt! I hold that a man has more to fear there
from the ink-pot of the one than from the iron of the other.
There is ever some cursed sheepskin in their strong boxes to
prove that the rich man should be richer and the poor man poorer.
It would scarce pass in England, but they are quiet folk over the
"And what other nations have you seen in your travels, good sir?"
asked Alleyne Edricson. His young mind hungered for plain facts
of life, after the long course of speculation and of mysticism on
which he had been trained.
"I have seen the low countryman in arms, and I have nought to say
against him. Heavy and slow is he by nature, and is not to be brought
into battle for the sake of a lady's eyelash or the twang of a
minstrel's string, like the hotter blood of the south. But ma foi!
lay hand on his wool-bales, or trifle with his velvet of Bruges, and
out buzzes every stout burgher, like bees from the tee-hole, ready to
lay on as though it were his one business in life. By our lady! they
have shown the French at Courtrai and elsewhere that they are as deft
in wielding steel as in welding it."
"And the men of Spain?"
"They too are very hardy soldiers, the more so as for many
hundred years they have had to fight hard against the cursed
followers of the black Mahound, who have pressed upon them from
the south, and still, as I understand, hold the fairer half of
the country. I had a turn with them upon the sea when they came
over to Winchelsea and the good queen with her ladies sat upon
the cliffs looking down at us, as if it had been joust or
tourney. By my hilt! it was a sight that was worth the seeing,
for all that was best in England was out on the water that day.
We went forth in little ships and came back in great galleys--for
of fifty tall ships of Spain, over two score flew the Cross of
St. George ere the sun had set. But now, youngster, I have
answered you freely, and I trow it is time what you answered me.
Let things be plat and plain between us. I am a man who shoots
straight at his mark. You saw the things I had with me at yonder
hostel: name which you will, save only the box of rose-colored
sugar which I take to the Lady Loring, and you shall have it if
you will but come with me to France."
"Nay," said Alleyne, "I would gladly come with ye to France or
where else ye will, just to list to your talk, and because ye are
the only two friends that I have in the whole wide world outside
of the cloisters; but, indeed, it may not be, for my duty is
towards my brother, seeing that father and mother are dead, and
he my elder. Besides, when ye talk of taking me to France, ye do
not conceive how useless I should be to you, seeing that neither
by training nor by nature am I fitted for the wars, and there
seems to be nought but strife in those parts."
"That comes from my fool's talk," cried the archer; "for being a
man of no learning myself, my tongue turns to blades and targets,
even as my hand does. Know then that for every parchment in
England there are twenty in France. For every statue, cut gem,
shrine, carven screen, or what else might please the eye of a
learned clerk, there are a good hundred to our one. At the
spoiling of Carcasonne I have seen chambers stored with writing,
though not one man in our Company could read them. Again, in
Arles and Nimes, and other towns that I could name, there are the
great arches and fortalices still standing which were built of
old by giant men who came from the south. Can I not see by your
brightened eye how you would love to look upon these things?
Come then with me, and, by these ten finger-bones! there is not
one of them which you shall not see."
"I should indeed love to look upon them," Alleyne answered; "but
I have come from Beaulieu for a purpose, and I must be true to my
service, even as thou art true to thine."
"Bethink you again, mon ami," quoth Aylward, "that you might do
much good yonder, since there are three hundred men in the
Company, and none who has ever a word of grace for them, and yet
the Virgin knows that there was never a set of men who were in
more need of it. Sickerly the one duty may balance the other.
Your brother hath done without you this many a year, and, as I
gather, he hath never walked as far as Beaulieu to see you during
all that time, so he cannot be in any great need of you."
"Besides," said John, "the Socman of Minstead is a by-word
through the forest, from Bramshaw Hill to Holmesley Walk. He is
a drunken, brawling, perilous churl, as you may find to your
"The more reason that I should strive to mend him," quoth
Alleyne. "There is no need to urge me, friends, for my own
wishes would draw me to France, and it would be a joy to me if I
could go with you. But indeed and indeed it cannot be, so here I
take my leave of you, for yonder square tower amongst the trees
upon the right must surely be the church of Minstead, and I may
reach it by this path through the woods."
"Well, God be with thee, lad!" cried the archer, pressing Alleyne
to his heart. "I am quick to love, and quick to hate and 'fore
God I am loth to part."
"Would it not be well," said John, "that we should wait here, and
see what manner of greeting you have from your brother. You may
prove to be as welcome as the king's purveyor to the village
"Nay, nay," he answered; "ye must not bide for me, for where I go
"Yet it may be as well that you should know whither we go," said
the archer. "We shall now journey south through the woods until
we come out upon the Christchurch road, and so onwards, hoping
to-night to reach the castle of Sir William Montacute, Earl of
Salisbury, of which Sir Nigel Loring is constable. There we
shall bide, and it is like enough that for a month or more you
may find us there, ere we are ready for our viage back to
It was hard indeed for Alleyne to break away from these two new
but hearty friends, and so strong was the combat between his
conscience and his inclinations that he dared not look round,
lest his resolution should slip away from him. It was not until
he was deep among the tree trunks that he cast a glance
backwards, when he found that he could still see them through the
branches on the road above him. The archer was standing with
folded arms, his bow jutting from over his shoulder, and the sun
gleaming brightly upon his head-piece and the links of his
chain-mail. Beside him stood his giant recruit, still clad in
the home-spun and ill-fitting garments of the fuller of
Lymington, with arms and legs shooting out of his scanty garb.
Even as Alleyne watched them they turned upon their heels and
plodded off together upon their way.
HOW STRANGE THINGS BEFELL IN MINSTEAD WOOD.
The path which the young clerk had now to follow lay through a
magnificent forest of the very heaviest timber, where the giant
bowls of oak and of beech formed long aisles in every direction,
shooting up their huge branches to build the majestic arches of
Nature's own cathedral. Beneath lay a broad carpet of the
softest and greenest moss, flecked over with fallen leaves, but
yielding pleasantly to the foot of the traveller. The track
which guided him was one so seldom used that in places it lost
itself entirely among the grass, to reappear as a reddish rut
between the distant tree trunks. It was very still here in the
heart of the woodlands. The gentle rustle of the branches and
the distant cooing of pigeons were the only sounds which broke in
upon the silence, save that once Alleyne heard afar off a merry
call upon a hunting bugle and the shrill yapping of the hounds.
It was not without some emotion that he looked upon the scene
around him, for, in spite of his secluded life, he knew enough of
the ancient greatness of his own family to be aware that the time
had been when they had held undisputed and paramount sway over
all that tract of country. His father could trace his pure Saxon
lineage back to that Godfrey Malf who had held the manors of
Bisterne and of Minstead at the time when the Norman first set
mailed foot upon English soil. The afforestation of the
district, however, and its conversion into a royal demesne had
clipped off a large section of his estate, while other parts had
been confiscated as a punishment for his supposed complicity in
an abortive Saxon rising. The fate of the ancestor had been
typical of that of his descendants. During three hundred years
their domains had gradually contracted, sometimes through royal
or feudal encroachment, and sometimes through such gifts to the
Church as that with which Alleyne's father had opened the doors
of Beaulieu Abbey to his younger son. The importance of the
family had thus dwindled, but they still retained the old Saxon
manor-house, with a couple of farms and a grove large enough to
afford pannage to a hundred pigs--"sylva de centum porcis," as
the old family parchments describe it. Above all, the owner of
the soil could still hold his head high as the veritable Socman
of Minstead--that is, as holding the land in free socage, with
no feudal superior, and answerable to no man lower than the king.
Knowing this, Alleyne felt some little glow of worldly pride as
he looked for the first time upon the land with which so many
generations of his ancestors had been associated. He pushed on
the quicker, twirling his staff merrily, and looking out at every
turn of the path for some sign of the old Saxon residence. He
was suddenly arrested, however, by the appearance of a wild-looking
fellow armed with a club, who sprang out from behind a tree and
barred his passage. He was a rough, powerful peasant, with cap
and tunic of untanned sheepskin, leather breeches, and
galligaskins round legs and feet.
"Stand!" he shouted, raising his heavy cudgel to enforce the
order. "Who are you who walk so freely through the wood?
Whither would you go, and what is your errand?"
"Why should I answer your questions, my friend?" said Alleyne,
standing on his guard.
"Because your tongue may save your pate. But where have I looked
upon your face before?"
"No longer ago than last night at the `Pied Merlin,'" the clerk
answered, recognizing the escaped serf who had been so outspoken
as to his wrongs.
"By the Virgin! yes. You were the little clerk who sat so mum in
the corner, and then cried fy on the gleeman. What hast in the
"Naught of any price."
"How can I tell that, clerk? Let me see."
"Fool! I could pull you limb from limb like a pullet. What
would you have? Hast forgot that we are alone far from all men?
How can your clerkship help you? Wouldst lose scrip and life
"I will part with neither without fight."
"A fight, quotha? A fight betwixt spurred cock and new hatched
chicken! Thy fighting days may soon be over."
"Hadst asked me in the name of charity I would have given
freely," cried Alleyne. "As it stands, not one farthing shall
you have with my free will, and when I see my brother, the
Socman of Minstead, he will raise hue and cry from vill to vill,
from hundred to hundred, until you are taken as a common robber
and a scourge to the country."
The outlaw sank his club. "The Socman's brother!" he gasped.
"Now, by the keys of Peter! I had rather that hand withered and
tongue was palsied ere I had struck or miscalled you. If you are
the Socman's brother you are one of the right side, I warrant,
for all your clerkly dress."
"His brother I am," said Alleyne. "But if I were not, is that
reason why you should molest me on the king's ground?"
"I give not the pip of an apple for king or for noble," cried the
serf passionately. "Ill have I had from them, and ill I shall
repay them. I am a good friend to my friends, and, by the
Virgin! an evil foeman to my foes."
"And therefore the worst of foemen to thyself," said Alleyne.
"But I pray you, since you seem to know him, to point out to me
the shortest path to my brother's house."
The serf was about to reply, when the clear ringing call of a
bugle burst from the wood close behind them, and Alleyne caught
sight for an instant of the dun side and white breast of a lordly
stag glancing swiftly betwixt the distant tree trunks. A minute
later came the shaggy deer-hounds, a dozen or fourteen of them,
running on a hot scent, with nose to earth and tail in air. As
they streamed past the silent forest around broke suddenly into
loud life, with galloping of hoofs, crackling of brushwood, and
the short, sharp cries of the hunters. Close behind the pack
rode a fourrier and a yeoman-pricker, whooping on the laggards
and encouraging the leaders, in the shrill half-French jargon
which was the language of venery and woodcraft. Alleyne was
still gazing after them, listening to the loud "Hyke-a-Bayard!
Hyke-a-Pomers! Hyke-a-Lebryt!" with which they called upon their
favorite hounds, when a group of horsemen crashed out through the
underwood at the very spot where the serf and he were standing.
The one who led was a man between fifty and sixty years of age,
war-worn and weather-beaten, with a broad, thoughtful forehead
and eyes which shone brightly from under his fierce and overhung
brows. His beard, streaked thickly with gray, bristled forward
from his chin, and spoke of a passionate nature, while the long,
finely cut face and firm mouth marked the leader of men. His
figure was erect and soldierly, and he rode his horse with the
careless grace of a man whose life had been spent in the saddle.
In common garb, his masterful face and flashing eye would have
marked him as one who was born to rule; but now, with his silken
tunic powdered with golden fleurs-de-lis, his velvet mantle lined
with the royal minever, and the lions of England stamped in
silver upon his harness, none could fail to recognize the noble
Edward, most warlike and powerful of all the long line of
fighting monarchs who had ruled the Anglo-Norman race. Alleyne
doffed hat and bowed head at the sight of him, but the serf
folded his hands and leaned them upon his cudgel, looking with
little love at the knot of nobles and knights-in-waiting who rode
behind the king.
"Ha!" cried Edward, reining up for an instant his powerful black
steed. "Le cerf est passe? Non? Ici, Brocas; tu parles Anglais."
"The deer, clowns?" said a hard-visaged, swarthy-faced man, who
rode at the king's elbow. "If ye have headed it back it is as
much as your ears are worth."
"It passed by the blighted beech there," said Alleyne, pointing,
"and the hounds were hard at its heels."
"It is well," cried Edward, still speaking in French: for, though
he could understand English, he had never learned to express
himself in so barbarous and unpolished a tongue. "By my faith,
sirs," he continued, half turning in his saddle to address his
escort, "unless my woodcraft is sadly at fault, it is a stag of
six tines and the finest that we have roused this journey. A
golden St. Hubert to the man who is the first to sound the mort."
He shook his bridle as he spoke, and thundered away, his knights
lying low upon their horses and galloping as hard as whip and
spur would drive them, in the hope of winning the king's prize.
Away they drove down the long green glade--bay horses, black and
gray, riders clad in every shade of velvet, fur, or silk, with
glint of brazen horn and flash of knife and spear. One only
lingered, the black-browed Baron Brocas, who, making a gambade
which brought him within arm-sweep of the serf, slashed him
across the face with his riding-whip. "Doff, dog, doff," he
hissed, "when a monarch deigns to lower his eyes to such as
you!"--then spurred through the underwood and was gone, with a
gleam of steel shoes and flutter of dead leaves.
The villein took the cruel blow without wince or cry, as one to
whom stripes are a birthright and an inheritance. His eyes
flashed, however, and he shook his bony hand with a fierce wild
gesture after the retreating figure.
"Black hound of Gascony," he muttered, "evil the day that you and
those like you set foot in free England! I know thy kennel of
Rochecourt. The night will come when I may do to thee and thine
what you and your class have wrought upon mine and me. May God
smite me if I fail to smite thee, thou French robber, with thy
wife and thy child and all that is under thy castle roof!"
"Forbear!" cried Alleyne. "Mix not God's name with these
unhallowed threats! And yet it was a coward's blow, and one to
stir the blood and loose the tongue of the most peaceful. Let me
find some soothing simples and lay them on the weal to draw the
"Nay, there is but one thing that can draw the sting, and that
the future may bring to me. But, clerk, if you would see your
brother you must on, for there is a meeting to-day, and his merry
men will await him ere the shadows turn from west to east. I
pray you not to hold him back, for it would be an evil thing if
all the stout lads were there and the leader a-missing. I would
come with you, but sooth to say I am stationed here and may not
move. The path over yonder, betwixt the oak and the thorn,
should bring you out into his nether field."
Alleyne lost no time in following the directions of the wild,
masterless man, whom he left among the trees where he had found
him. His heart was the heavier for the encounter, not only
because all bitterness and wrath were abhorrent to his gentle
nature, but also because it disturbed him to hear his brother
spoken of as though he were a chief of outlaws or the leader of a
party against the state. Indeed, of all the things which he had
seen yet in the world to surprise him there was none more strange
than the hate which class appeared to bear to class. The talk of
laborer, woodman and villein in the inn had all pointed to the
wide-spread mutiny, and now his brother's name was spoken as
though he were the very centre of the universal discontent. In
good truth, the commons throughout the length and breadth of the
land were heart-weary of this fine game of chivalry which had
been played so long at their expense. So long as knight and
baron were a strength and a guard to the kingdom they might be
endured, but now, when all men knew that the great battles in
France had been won by English yeomen and Welsh stabbers, warlike
fame, the only fame to which his class had ever aspired, appeared
to have deserted the plate-clad horsemen. The sports of the
lists had done much in days gone by to impress the minds of the
people, but the plumed and unwieldy champion was no longer an
object either of fear or of reverence to men whose fathers and
brothers had shot into the press at Crecy or Poitiers, and seen
the proudest chivalry in the world unable to make head against
the weapons of disciplined peasants. Power had changed hands.
The protector had become the protected, and the whole fabric of
the feudal system was tottering to a fall. Hence the fierce
mutterings of the lower classes and the constant discontent,
breaking out into local tumult and outrage, and culminating some
years later in the great rising of Tyler. What Alleyne saw and
wondered at in Hampshire would have appealed equally to the
traveller in any other English county from the Channel to the
marches of Scotland.
He was following the track, his misgivings increasing with every
step which took him nearer to that home which he had never seen,
when of a sudden the trees began to thin and the sward to spread
out onto a broad, green lawn, where five cows lay in the sunshine
and droves of black swine wandered unchecked. A brown forest
stream swirled down the centre of this clearing, with a rude
bridge flung across it, and on the other side was a second field
sloping up to a long, low-lying wooden house, with thatched roof
and open squares for windows. Alleyne gazed across at it with
flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes--for this, he knew, must be the
home of his fathers. A wreath of blue smoke floated up through a
hole in the thatch, and was the only sign of life in the place,
save a great black hound which lay sleeping chained to the
door-post. In the yellow shimmer of the autumn sunshine it lay
as peacefully and as still as he had oft pictured it to himself
in his dreams.
He was roused, however, from his pleasant reverie by the sound of
voices, and two people emerged from the forest some little way to
his right and moved across the field in the direction of the
bridge. The one was a man with yellow flowing beard and very
long hair of the same tint drooping over his shoulders; his dress
of good Norwich cloth and his assured bearing marked him as a man
of position, while the sombre hue of his clothes and the absence
of all ornament contrasted with the flash and glitter which had
marked the king's retinue. By his side walked a woman, tall and
slight and dark, with lithe, graceful figure and clear-cut,
composed features. Her jet-black hair was gathered back under a
light pink coif, her head poised proudly upon her neck, and her
step long and springy, like that of some wild, tireless woodland
creature. She held her left hand in front of her, covered with a
red velvet glove, and on the wrist a little brown falcon, very
fluffy and bedraggled, which she smoothed and fondled as she
walked. As she came out into the sunshine, Alleyne noticed that
her light gown, slashed with pink, was all stained with earth and
with moss upon one side from shoulder to hem. He stood in the
shadow of an oak staring at her with parted lips, for this woman
seemed to him to be the most beautiful and graceful creature that
mind could conceive of. Such had he imagined the angels, and
such he had tried to paint them in the Beaulieu missals; but here
there was something human, were it only in the battered hawk and
discolored dress, which sent a tingle and thrill through his
nerves such as no dream of radiant and stainless spirit had ever
yet been able to conjure up. Good, quiet, uncomplaining mother
Nature, long slighted and miscalled, still bides her time and
draws to her bosom the most errant of her children.
The two walked swiftly across the meadow to the narrow bridge, he
in front and she a pace or two behind. There they paused, and
stood for a few minutes face to face talking earnestly. Alleyne
had read and had heard of love and of lovers. Such were these,
doubtless--this golden-bearded man and the fair damsel with the
cold, proud face. Why else should they wander together in the
woods, or be so lost in talk by rustic streams? And yet as he
watched, uncertain whether to advance from the cover or to choose
some other path to the house, he soon came to doubt the truth of
this first conjecture. The man stood, tall and square, blocking
the entrance to the bridge, and throwing out his hands as he
spoke in a wild eager fashion, while the deep tones of his stormy
voice rose at times into accents of menace and of anger. She
stood fearlessly in front of him, still stroking her bird; but
twice she threw a swift questioning glance over her shoulder, as
one who is in search of aid. So moved was the young clerk by
these mute appeals, that he came forth from the trees and crossed
the meadow, uncertain what to do, and yet loth to hold back from
one who might need his aid. So intent were they upon each other
that neither took note of his approach; until, when he was close
upon them, the man threw his arm roughly round the damsel's waist
and drew her towards him, she straining her lithe, supple figure
away and striking fiercely at him, while the hooded hawk screamed
with ruffled wings and pecked blindly in its mistress's defence.
Bird and maid, however, had but little chance against their
assailant who, laughing loudly, caught her wrist in one hand
while he drew her towards him with the other.
"The best rose has ever the longest thorns," said he. "Quiet,
little one, or you may do yourself a hurt. Must pay Saxon toll
on Saxon land, my proud Maude, for all your airs and graces."
"You boor!" she hissed. "You base underbred clod! Is this your
care and your hospitality? I would rather wed a branded serf
from my father's fields. Leave go, I say----Ah! good youth,
Heaven has sent you. Make him loose me! By the honor of your
mother, I pray you to stand by me and to make this knave loose
"Stand by you I will, and that blithely." said Alleyne.
"Surely, sir, you should take shame to hold the damsel against
The man turned a face upon him which was lion-like in its
strength and in its wrath. With his tangle of golden hair, his
fierce blue eyes, and his large, well-marked features, he was the
most comely man whom Alleyne had ever seen, and yet there was
something so sinister and so fell in his expression that child or
beast might well have shrunk from him. His brows were drawn, his
cheek flushed, and there was a mad sparkle in his eyes which
spoke of a wild, untamable nature.
"Young fool!" he cried, holding the woman still to his side,
though every line of her shrinking figure spoke her abhorrence.
"Do you keep your spoon in your own broth. I rede you to go on
your way, lest worse befall you. This little wench has come with
me and with me she shall bide."
"Liar!" cried the woman; and, stooping her head, she suddenly bit
fiercely into the broad brown hand which held her. He whipped it
back with an oath, while she tore herself free and slipped behind
Alleyne, cowering up against him like the trembling leveret who
sees the falcon poising for the swoop above him.
"Stand off my land!" the man said fiercely, heedless of the blood
which trickled freely from his fingers. "What have you to do
here? By your dress you should be one of those cursed clerks who
overrun the land like vile rats, poking and prying into other
men's concerns, too caitiff to fight and too lazy to work. By
the rood! if I had my will upon ye, I should nail you upon the
abbey doors, as they hang vermin before their holes. Art neither
man nor woman, young shaveling. Get thee back to thy fellows ere
I lay hands upon you: for your foot is on my land, and I may slay
you as a common draw-latch."
"Is this your land, then?" gasped Alleyne.
"Would you dispute it, dog? Would you wish by trick or quibble
to juggle me out of these last acres? Know, base-born knave,
that you have dared this day to stand in the path of one whose
race have been the advisers of kings and the leaders of hosts,
ere ever this vile crew of Norman robbers came into the land, or
such half-blood hounds as you were let loose to preach that the
thief should have his booty and the honest man should sin if he
strove to win back his own."
"You are the Socman of Minstead?"
"That am I; and the son of Edric the Socman, of the pure blood of
Godfrey the thane, by the only daughter of the house of Aluric,
whose forefathers held the white-horse banner at the fatal fight
where our shield was broken and our sword shivered. I tell you,
clerk, that my folk held this land from Bramshaw Wood to the
Ringwood road; and, by the soul of my father! it will be a
strange thing if I am to be bearded upon the little that is left
of it. Begone, I say, and meddle not with my affair."
"If you leave me now," whispered the woman, "then shame forever
upon your manhood."
"Surely, sir," said Alleyne, speaking in as persuasive and
soothing a way as he could, "if your birth is gentle, there is
the more reason that your manners should be gentle too. I am
well persuaded that you did but jest with this lady, and that you
will now permit her to leave your land either alone or with me as
a guide, if she should need one, through the wood. As to birth,
it does not become me to boast, and there is sooth in what you
say as to the unworthiness of clerks, but it is none the less
true that I am as well born as you."
"Dog!" cried the furious Socman, "there is no man in the south
who can say as much."
"Yet can I," said Alleyne smiling; "for indeed I also am the son
of Edric the Socman, of the pure blood of Godfrey the thane, by
the only daughter of Aluric of Brockenhurst. Surely, dear
brother," he continued, holding out his hand, "you have a warmer
greeting than this for me. There are but two boughs left upon
this old, old Saxon trunk."
His elder brother dashed his hand aside with an oath, while an
expression of malignant hatred passed over his passion-drawn
features. "You are the young cub of Beaulieu, then," said he.
"I might have known it by the sleek face and the slavish manner
too monk-ridden and craven in spirit to answer back a rough word.
Thy father, shaveling, with all his faults, had a man's heart;
and there were few who could look him in the eyes on the day of
his anger. But you! Look there, rat, on yonder field where the
cows graze, and on that other beyond, and on the orchard hard by
the church. Do you know that all these were squeezed out of your
dying father by greedy priests, to pay for your upbringing in the
cloisters? I, the Socman, am shorn of my lands that you may
snivel Latin and eat bread for which you never did hand's turn.
You rob me first, and now you would come preaching and whining,
in search mayhap of another field or two for your priestly
friends. Knave! my dogs shall be set upon you; but, meanwhile,
stand out of my path, and stop me at your peril!" As he spoke he
rushed forward, and, throwing the lad to one side, caught the
woman's wrist. Alleyne, however, as active as a young deer-hound,
sprang to her aid and seized her by the other arm, raising
his iron-shod staff as he did so.
"You may say what you will to me," he said between his clenched
teeth--"it may be no better than I deserve; but, brother or no, I
swear by my hopes of salvation that I will break your arm if you
do not leave hold of the maid."
There was a ring in his voice and a flash in his eyes which
promised that the blow would follow quick at the heels of the
word. For a moment the blood of the long line of hot-headed
thanes was too strong for the soft whisperings of the doctrine of
meekness and mercy. He was conscious of a fierce wild thrill
through his nerves and a throb of mad gladness at his heart, as
his real human self burst for an instant the bonds of custom and
of teaching which had held it so long. The socman sprang back,
looking to left and to right for some stick or stone which might
serve him for weapon; but finding none, he turned and ran at the
top of his speed for the house, blowing the while upon a shrill
"Come!" gasped the woman. "Fly, friend, ere he come back."
"Nay, let him come!" cried Alleyne. "I shall not budge a foot
for him or his dogs."
"Come, come!" she cried, tugging at his arm. "I know the man: he
will kill you. Come, for the Virgin's sake, or for my sake, for
I cannot go and leave you here."
"Come, then," said he; and they ran together to the cover of the
woods. As they gained the edge of the brushwood, Alleyne,
looking back, saw his brother come running out of the house
again, with the sun gleaming upon his hair and his beard. He
held something which flashed in his right hand, and he stooped at
the threshold to unloose the black hound.
"This way!" the woman whispered, in a low eager voice. "Through
the bushes to that forked ash. Do not heed me; I can run as fast
as you, I trow. Now into the stream--right in, over ankles, to
throw the dog off, though I think it is but a common cur, like
its master." As she spoke, she sprang herself into the shallow
stream and ran swiftly up the centre of it, with the brown water
bubbling over her feet and her hand out-stretched toward the
clinging branches of bramble or sapling. Alleyne followed close
at her heels, with his mind in a whirl at this black welcome and
sudden shifting of all his plans and hopes. Yet, grave as were
his thoughts, they would still turn to wonder as he looked at the
twinkling feet of his guide and saw her lithe figure bend this
way and that, dipping under boughs, springing over stones, with a
lightness and ease which made it no small task for him to keep up
with her. At last, when he was almost out of breath, she
suddenly threw herself down upon a mossy bank, between two
holly-bushes, and looked ruefully at her own dripping feet and
"Holy Mary!" said she, "what shall I do? Mother will keep me to
my chamber for a month, and make me work at the tapestry of the
nine bold knights. She promised as much last week, when I fell
into Wilverley bog, and yet she knows that I cannot abide
Alleyne, still standing in the stream, glanced down at the
graceful pink-and-white figure, the curve of raven-black hair,
and the proud, sensitive face which looked up frankly and
confidingly at his own.
"We had best on," he said. "He may yet overtake us."
"Not so. We are well off his land now, nor can he tell in this
great wood which way we have taken. But you--you had him at your
mercy. Why did you not kill him?"
"Kill him! My brother!"
"And why not?"--with a quick gleam of her white teeth. "He would
have killed you. I know him, and I read it in his eyes. Had I
had your staff I would have tried--aye, and done it, too." She
shook her clenched white hand as she spoke, and her lips
"I am already sad in heart for what I have done," said he,
sitting down on the bank, and sinking his face into his hands.
"God help me!--all that is worst in me seemed to come uppermost.
Another instant, and I had smitten him: the son of my own mother,
the man whom I have longed to take to my heart. Alas! that I
should still be so weak."
"Weak!" she exclaimed, raising her black eyebrows. "I do not
think that even my father himself, who is a hard judge of
manhood, would call you that. But it is, as you may think, sir,
a very pleasant thing for me to hear that you are grieved at what
you have done, and I can but rede that we should go back
together, and you should make your peace with the Socman by
handing back your prisoner. It is a sad thing that so small a
thing as a woman should come between two who are of one blood."
Simple Alleyne opened his eyes at this little spurt of feminine
bitterness. "Nay, lady," said he, "that were worst of all. What
man would be so caitiff and thrall as to fail you at your need?
I have turned my brother against me, and now, alas! I appear to
have given you offence also with my clumsy tongue. But, indeed,
lady, I am torn both ways, and can scarce grasp in my mind what
it is that has befallen."
"Nor can I marvel at that," said she, with a little tinkling
laugh. "You came in as the knight does in the jongleur's
romances, between dragon and damsel, with small time for the
asking of questions. Come," she went on, springing to her feet,
and smoothing down her rumpled frock, "let us walk through the
shaw together, and we may come upon Bertrand with the horses. If
poor Troubadour had not cast a shoe, we should not have had this
trouble. Nay, I must have your arm: for, though I speak lightly,
now that all is happily over I am as frightened as my brave
Roland. See how his chest heaves, and his dear feathers all
awry--the little knight who would not have his lady mishandled."
So she prattled on to her hawk, while Alleyne walked by her side,
stealing a glance from time to time at this queenly and wayward
woman. In silence they wandered together over the velvet turf
and on through the broad Minstead woods, where the old
lichen-draped beeches threw their circles of black shadow upon
the sunlit sward.
"You have no wish, then, to hear my story?" said she, at last.
"If it pleases you to tell it me," he answered.
"Oh!" she cried tossing her head, "if it is of so little interest
to you, we had best let it bide."
"Nay," said he eagerly, "I would fain hear it."
"You have a right to know it, if you have lost a brother's favor
through it. And yet----Ah well, you are, as I understand, a
clerk, so I must think of you as one step further in orders, and
make you my father-confessor. Know then that this man has been a
suitor for my hand, less as I think for my own sweet sake than
because he hath ambition and had it on his mind that he might
improve his fortunes by dipping into my father's strong
box--though the Virgin knows that he would have found little
enough therein. My father, however, is a proud man, a gallant
knight and tried soldier of the oldest blood, to whom this man's
churlish birth and low descent----Oh, lackaday! I had forgot that
he was of the same strain as yourself."
"Nay, trouble not for that," said Alleyne, "we are all from good
"Streams may spring from one source, and yet some be clear and
some be foul," quoth she quickly. "But, to be brief over the
matter, my father would have none of his wooing, nor in sooth
would I. On that he swore a vow against us, and as he is known
to be a perilous man, with many outlaws and others at his back,
my father forbade that I should hawk or hunt in any part of the
wood to the north of the Christchurch road. As it chanced,
however, this morning my little Roland here was loosed at a
strong-winged heron, and page Bertrand and I rode on, with no
thoughts but for the sport, until we found ourselves in Minstead
woods. Small harm then, but that my horse Troubadour trod with a
tender foot upon a sharp stick, rearing and throwing me to the
ground. See to my gown, the third that I have befouled within
the week. Woe worth me when Agatha the tire-woman sets eyes upon
"And what then, lady?" asked Alleyne.
"Why, then away ran Troubadour, for belike I spurred him in
falling, and Bertrand rode after him as hard as hoofs could bear
him. When I rose there was the Socman himself by my side, with
the news that I was on his land, but with so many courteous words
besides, and such gallant bearing, that he prevailed upon me to
come to his house for shelter, there to wait until the page
return. By the grace of the Virgin and the help of my patron St.
Magdalen, I stopped short ere I reached his door, though, as you
saw, he strove to hale me up to it. And then--ah-h-h-h!"--she
shivered and chattered like one in an ague-fit.
"What is it?" cried Alleyne, looking about in alarm.
"Nothing, friend, nothing! I was but thinking how I bit into his
hand. Sooner would I bite living toad or poisoned snake. Oh, I
shall loathe my lips forever! But you--how brave you were, and
how quick! How meek for yourself, and how bold for a stranger!
If I were a man, I should wish to do what you have done."
"It was a small thing," he answered, with a tingle of pleasure at
these sweet words of praise. "But you--what will you do?"
"There is a great oak near here, and I think that Bertrand will
bring the horses there, for it is an old hunting-tryst of ours.
Then hey for home, and no more hawking to-day! A twelve-mile
gallop will dry feet and skirt."
"But your father?"
"Not one word shall I tell him. You do not know him; but I can
tell you he is not a man to disobey as I have disobeyed him. He
would avenge me, it is true, but it is not to him that I shall
look for vengeance. Some day, perchance, in joust or in tourney,
knight may wish to wear my colors, and then I shall tell him that
if he does indeed crave my favor there is wrong unredressed, and
the wronger the Socman of Minstead. So my knight shall find a
venture such as bold knights love, and my debt shall be paid, and
my father none the wiser, and one rogue the less in the world.
Say, is not that a brave plan?"
"Nay, lady, it is a thought which is unworthy of you. How can
such as you speak of violence and of vengeance. Are none to be
gentle and kind, none to be piteous and forgiving? Alas! it is a
hard, cruel world, and I would that I had never left my abbey
cell. To hear such words from your lips is as though I heard an
angel of grace preaching the devil's own creed."
She started from him as a young colt who first feels the bit.
"Gramercy for your rede, young sir!" she said, with a little
curtsey. "As I understand your words, you are grieved that you
ever met me, and look upon me as a preaching devil. Why, my
father is a bitter man when he is wroth, but hath never called me
such a name as that. It may be his right and duty, but certes it
is none of thine. So it would be best, since you think so lowly
of me, that you should take this path to the left while I keep on
upon this one; for it is clear that I can be no fit companion for
you." So saying, with downcast lids and a dignity which was
somewhat marred by her bedraggled skirt, she swept off down the
muddy track, leaving Alleyne standing staring ruefully after her.
He waited in vain for some backward glance or sign of relenting,
but she walked on with a rigid neck until her dress was only a
white flutter among the leaves. Then, with a sunken head and a
heavy heart, he plodded wearily down the other path, wroth with
himself for the rude and uncouth tongue which had given offence
where so little was intended.
He had gone some way, lost in doubt and in self-reproach, his
mind all tremulous with a thousand new-found thoughts and fears
and wonderments, when of a sudden there was a light rustle of the
leaves behind him, and, glancing round, there was this graceful,
swift-footed creature, treading in his very shadow, with her
proud head bowed, even as his was--the picture of humility and
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