Part 2 out of 6
was late in the afternoon now, and many of the citizens' wives and
daughters were abroad. These were dressed for the most part in costly
materials of sober hues, and Dame Matilda noted that a great change had
taken place since she had last been in London, not only in the fashion,
but in the costliness of the material; for with the death of the old king
and the accession of a young one fond of gaiety and rich dresses, the
spirit of extravagance had spread rapidly among all classes. With these
were citizens, of whom the elder ones clung to the older fashions, while
even the young men still displayed a sobriety in their costumes that
contrasted strongly with the brilliancy of several groups of young
courtiers. These sauntered along the streets, passing remarks upon all who
passed, and casting looks of admiration at some of the pretty daughters of
Among all these moved craftsmen and apprentices, the former taking to
their employers work they had finished at home, the latter carrying
messages, hurrying nimbly through the crowd, or exchanging saucy remarks
with each other, for which they were sometimes sharply rebuked by their
elders. From East Chepe the party passed on through Chepe to St. Paul's,
and then having chosen the shop at which they could make their purchases
the ladies entered a trader's booth, while Sir Ralph went in with the two
lads to another hard by.
"What can I serve you with, sir knight?"
"I require two suits for my son and this gentleman, his friend," Sir Ralph
said. "I desire clothes befitting a presentation to the king, and wish
them to be of the fashion, but not extravagantly so."
At the trader's orders his apprentices showed numerous samples, most of
them light and bright in colour.
"I want something more sober in hue," the knight said. "These are well
enough for men with long purses, and who can afford ample provision of
garments, but they would show every spot and stain, and would soon be past
wearing; besides, although doubtless such as are mostly used at Court,
they would be useful for that only, for in the country they would be far
too conspicuous for wear."
Other goods were brought down, and Edgar's eye at once fixed upon a rich
maroon. Sir Ralph took longer before he made his choice for Albert, but
finally fixed upon a somewhat light blue, which well suited the lad's fair
complexion and light golden hair. While they were choosing, the mercer had
sent into his neighbour, a tailor, who now measured them. The goods were
of satin, and both suits were to be made in precisely similar fashion,
namely, a close-fitting tunic reaching down only to the hips. They had
loose hanging sleeves, lined with white silk, which was turned over and
scolloped; the hose, which were of the same colour as the doublets, were
The caps were to match the dresses in colour. They were turned up at the
brim, resembling in shape those still worn in Spain. As the matter was
pressing, the tailor promised that both suits should be ready by the
It took the ladies longer to make their purchases, and it was some time
before they issued out from the mantua makers, when the dame informed her
husband that she had chosen white satin for Aline's bodice, which was to
be tight fitting, in the fashion, and trimmed round the bottom and neck
with white fur, while the skirt was of lilac and of the same material. For
herself, she had chosen a purple robe reaching below the knees, with white
skirt, both being of satin. The caps, which were closely fitting to the
head, were of the same material, and of light yellow for herself and lilac
"We shall have to economize, my lady," Sir Ralph laughed. "'Tis well that
I am too old for foppery."
"That is all very well, Sir Ralph, but you must remember that you had a
new suit the last time you were in London, and have not worn it from then
till now, and I will warrant me that it cost well-nigh as much as Aline's
garments or mine."
While waiting for the ladies, two sword-belts had been bought for the
lads, Edgar's being embroidered with gold thread, Albert's with silver.
"Now, boys, I think that you will do," Sir Ralph said. "You may not be
able to compete with some of those young peacocks of the Court, but you
will make a sufficiently brave show, and need not feel envious of the best
When the shopping was completed they returned to their lodgings. Here they
partook of a meal, after which Sir Ralph went to the Tower, while his wife
and daughter, fatigued by their day's journey, speedily betook themselves
to their beds. The lads sat talking for some time over the events of the
"I fear, Edgar," Albert said, presently, "that from my father choosing for
me so light a coloured suit, instead of a graver hue like that which you
selected, he has hopes that I shall not go into the Church after all."
"Well, why should you, Albert? You are gaining in strength, and I doubt
not that you will yet grow into a strong man. Of course as long as you
were weak and delicate, and, as it seemed, would never be able to bear the
weight of armour, it was but natural that he should regard a life in the
Church as one that was best fitted for you, and that you yourself would be
perfectly willing to follow that profession, but now it is wholly
different; besides, even if at present you may not wish, as I do, to be a
soldier, you may well become a wise councillor, and hold high position at
Court. There are few young nobles, indeed, who have so much education as
you, and surely such a life would be better than burying yourself in a
Albert was silent for some time. "Do you really think, Edgar," he said, at
last, "that I shall be ever able to bear arms with credit? To become a
councillor, one must needs be a courtier, and I am sure that a life at
Court would suit me no better than it would suit you, therefore that
thought I must put aside. My tastes are all for a quiet life in the
country, and you know I could be very happy living at home as I have done
from my childhood. But if I am to be in the world I must bear my part, and
if needs be follow the king to battle, and unless I could do my duty
manfully I would rather follow out the life I thought must be mine, and
enter the Church. I should like, most of all, to be able to be always with
you, Edgar, and to fight by your side. We have long been like brothers. I
know that you will win rank and fame, and though I have no ambition for
myself I should glory in your success, and be well content with your
friendship as my share in it."
"That, you may be sure, you will always have, Albert, and as to your plan,
I see not why you should not carry it out. In war time you and I could
ride together, and in peace you could live at the castle, which is so
close to St. Alwyth that we can ride over and visit each other daily when
I am there, which mayhap would not be very often, for when England and
France are at peace, and there is no trouble between us and Scotland, I
may join some noble leader of free-lances in the service of an Italian or
German prince. Such, when there is peace at home, is the best avenue for
fame and distinction."
"I cannot say yet what I may feel as I gain strength and skill in arms,
but it may be that even there I may be your companion should strength and
health permit it."
"That indeed would be good--so good that I can scarce yet believe that it
can be so, although there is no reason to the contrary. It has for years
been a grief to me to know that our paths lay so far apart, and that the
time must soon be coming when we should be separated, and for ever. It was
with some faint hope that exercise might bring more colour to your cheeks,
and that with strength and skill in arms might come thoughts of another
life than that of the cloister, that I first urged you to let me teach you
the use of arms. That hope has grown gradually since I found how much you
benefited by the exercise, and acquired a strength of arm that I had
hardly hoped for.
"Moreover, Albert, you cannot but be proud of the name your father and
those before him have won by their gallant deeds, but if you went into the
Church it would no longer appear in the roll of the knights of England. It
would be ill indeed that a line of knights, who have so well played their
part on every battle-field since your ancestor came over with the
Conqueror, should become extinct."
"I had never thought of that before, Edgar," Albert said, after a long
pause. "You see, for years I have looked forward to entering the Church as
a matter settled for me by nature. I had no enthusiasm for it, but it
seemed there was no other place for me. Of late, since I have gained
health and strength, I have seen that possibly it might be otherwise. At
first I struggled against the idea and deemed it the suggestion of the
Evil One, but it has grown in spite of me, although I never allowed myself
fully to entertain it, until I saw the joy with which my father perceived
that I was not altogether the weakling that he had deemed me.
"Since then I have thought of it incessantly, but until now have been
unable to come to any decision. On the one hand I should please my father,
and at the same time satisfy the desire that has of late sprung up for a
more stirring life than that of the Church, and should be able to remain
your comrade. On the other hand, I have always regarded the Church as my
vocation, and did not like to go back from it, and moreover, although
stronger than of old, I thought that I might never attain such health and
strength as might render me a worthy knight, and feared that when tried I
should be found wanting. Thus I have wavered, and knew not which way my
inclinations drew me most strongly, but I never thought of what you have
just said, that if I were to enter the Church our line would come to an
end. However, there is no occasion definitely to settle for another year
yet, but I will tell my father to-morrow that if at the end of that time
he deems that I have so far continued to gain in strength that he may
consider me not unworthy to represent our name in the field, I shall be
ready to submit myself to his wishes, while, upon the other hand, should
he think me, as before, better fitted for the Church. I will enter it at
"I am glad, indeed, to hear you say so, Albert. I think that there is no
reason to doubt that you will continue to gain strength, and will prove
worthy of your name."
Accordingly, the next morning Albert asked his father to accompany him
into the garden, and there detailed to him the conversation that he had
had with Edgar, and its result.
"Glad indeed am I, Albert, that this should have come about," the knight
said, laying his hand on the lad's shoulder. "What your friend said to you
has often been in my mind. It was a sore thought, my son. There have ever
been De Courcys on the battle-roll of England since our ancestor fought at
Hastings; and I might well feel grieved at the thought that it might
possibly appear there no more, and the pleasure that you have given me is
more than I can express. I will not allow myself to fear that, now you
have made so fair a start, you will fail to gather fresh strength and
vigour, and I will wager that you will bear our banner as forward in the
fight as those who have gone before you.
"I blame myself deeply that I have misjudged you so long. Had I
encouraged, instead of slighting, you, you might long since have begun to
gain strength, and might early have commenced the exercises that are so
essential to form a good knight. In future, I will do all I can to make up
for lost time. As far as swordsmanship goes, you can have no better
instructor than your friend. I myself will train you in knightly exercises
on horseback--to vault into the saddle and to throw yourself off when a
horse is going at full speed, to use your lance and carry off a ring; but
I will take care not to press you beyond your strength, and not to weary
you with over-long work. My effort will be to increase your store of
strength and not to draw unduly upon it; and I will warrant me that if you
improve as rapidly under my tuition as you have under that of Master
Edgar, before a year is up I shall be able to place you in the train of
some noble knight without a fear that you will prove yourself inferior to
others of your own age."
Going into the house again when the morning meal was served, Sir Ralph
"There is bad news as to the rioters in Kent, lads. Last night I heard
that a message had arrived, saying that they had entered Rochester, broken
open the jail, and released not only those held there for non-payment of
taxes, but malefactors; that they had been joined by the rabble of the
town, had slain several notaries and lawyers, and torn up all parchments,
deeds, and registers; had maltreated some of the clergy, broken open
cellars and drunk the wine, and that from thence they intended to march to
Maidstone and then to Canterbury, raising the country as they went."
"This should at least give us time for preparations, Sir Ralph."
"So I pointed out last night," the knight replied; "but who is to make the
preparations? A proclamation was drawn up by the council, warning all to
return to their homes on pain of punishment, and promising an inquiry into
grievances. It is to be scattered broadcast through Kent and Essex, but it
is likely to have no effect. The men know well enough that they have
rendered themselves liable to punishment, and as they were ready to run
that risk when they first took up arms, it is not likely that they will be
frightened at the threat now when they find none to oppose them, and that
their numbers grow from day to day. Seeing that time is likely to do
little for us, I would rather they had marched straight on to London; they
would then have arrived here in more sober mood; but now that they have
begun to slay and to drink, they will get fiercer and more lawless every
day, and as their numbers increase so will their demands."
Day by day more and more serious news came in. Canterbury was occupied by
the rebels, and they declared their intention of slaying the archbishop,
but he had left before they had arrived. There they committed many
excesses, executed three rich citizens, opened the prisons, killed all
lawyers, and burned all deeds and registers as they had done at Rochester,
and kept the whole place in a state of terror while they remained, which
they did while the stores of wine remained unexhausted.
"Why should they be so bitter against lawyers, and why should they destroy
deeds and registers, father?" Albert asked.
"It can be but for one reason, Albert. The great part of them have small
plots of land, an acre or two, or perhaps more, on terms of villeinage,
paying so much in kind or money, and their desire is to destroy all deeds
and documents in order that they may henceforth pay no rent, claiming the
land for themselves, and defying those from whom they hold it to show
their titles as lords of the soil. There must be some shrewd knaves among
them. This Wat the Tyler and the men of the towns can care naught for such
matters; but they suffer those who have an interest in the matter to do as
they choose. They know that their deeds have so far committed them that
they will not dare to draw back, and must follow Wat's leadership
implicitly. You will see erelong that from murdering lawyers they will
take to murdering lords."
"If the council here is taking no steps to summon the knights of the shire
and the feudal lords to hasten hither with their levies and retainers, how
do they think to arrest the course of the ill-doers?" Edgar asked.
"Their opinion is that the king has but to ride out and meet the rebels,
and that they will all, on seeing him, fall on their knees and crave
pardon, whereupon he will promise to redress their grievances, and they
will disperse to their homes. I have no such hope. Is it likely that they
will quietly go home, having once worked themselves up to fight for what
they call their rights, and with the thought of taking vengeance on those
they consider their enemies, and of unlimited drinking and feasting, and,
on the part of some, of rich plunder in London, when they see that there
is no one to prevent their taking this satisfaction? Nothing but force
will avail, and though something might be done that way, it is more
difficult than it looks.
"The knights of the shire could hardly raise their levies, for most of
those who would be called out are already with the mob, and of the others
few would venture to answer to the summons. When they returned they might
find their houses burned and their families slain. You see we know not how
far this fire may spread. We hear that both in Suffolk and Hertfordshire
men are assembling and parties marching away to join those of Essex. In
truth, lads, the thing is far more formidable than I deemed it at first,
for they say that two hundred thousand men will march on London."
"But in the French Jacquerie there were as many as that, Sir Ralph, and
yet they were put down."
"They were so, but only after they had done vast damage. Besides, lad,
your English villein differs from your French serf. An Englishman, of
whatever rank, holds by what he considers his rights, and is ready to
fight for them. Our archers have proved that the commonalty are as brave
as the knights, and though badly armed, this rascaldom may fight sturdily.
The French peasant has no rights, and is a chattel, that his lord may
dispose of as he chooses. As long as they met with no opposition all who
fell into their hands were destroyed, and the castles ravaged and
plundered, the peasants behaving like a pack of mad wolves. Our fellows
are of sterner stuff, and they will have a mind to fight, if it be but to
show that they can fight as well as their betters. Plunder is certainly
not their first object, and it is probable that whatever may be done that
way will be the work of the scum of the towns, who will join them solely
with that object.
"I doubt whether less than five thousand men-at-arms and archers would be
able to show face to such an array as is said to be approaching,
especially as there will be many archers among them who, although not to
compare with those who fought at Poictiers, are yet capable of using their
weapons with effect. I see no prospect of gathering such a force, and the
matter is all the worse, as the rascaldom of London will be with them, and
we shall have these to keep in order, as well as cope with those in the
field. Besides, one must remember that in a matter like this we cannot
fully depend on any force that we may gather. The archers and men-at-arms
would be drawn largely from the same class as the better portion of these
rioters, and would be slack in fighting against them. Certainly, those of
the home counties could not be depended upon, and possibly even in the
garrison of the Tower itself there may be many who cannot be trusted. The
place, if well held, should stand out for months, but I am by no means
sure that it will do so when the time comes. I shall certainly raise my
voice against the king abiding here. He with his friends could ride away
without difficulty, if he leaves before the place is beleaguered."
"I suppose you will take my mother and sister into the Tower, father,
should the mob come hither?"
"That I know not, nor can I say until I see the temper of the garrison
when these rioters approach."
On the day after the new clothes arrived, Sir Ralph took his son and Edgar
to the castle and presented them to the king.
"This is my son, your Majesty, of whom I spoke to you. I am happy to say
that I think he will some day be able to follow you to battle as I
followed the noble prince your father; for he has now resolved, should his
health remain good, to take up the profession of arms."
"I am glad to hear it," the young king said, "for indeed 'tis more suited
to the son of a valiant knight like yourself, Sir Ralph, than that of the
Church, excellent though that may be for those who have inclinations for
it. He seems to me a fair young gentleman, and one whom it would please me
to see often at Court."
"This, your Majesty, is Master Edgar Ormskirk, a young gentleman of good
family, but his father has not, although holding more than a knight's feu,
taken up that rank, his tastes being wholly turned towards learning, he
being a distinguished scholar, having passed through our own university at
Oxford, and those of Padua and Pisa. He is one of my most esteemed
friends. Master Edgar, as I told you, is greatly skilled for his years in
the use of the sword, to which he has long devoted himself with great
ardour. It is to him my son is indebted for having gained health and
strength, together with more skill in the sword than I had ever looked for
from him. I beg to recommend him highly to your Majesty's favour, and can
answer for his worth, as well as for his strength and skill."
"You could have no better recommendation, Master Ormskirk," the young king
said, pleasantly, "and I trust that although your father cares not for
knighthood, you will have an opportunity of gaining that honour for
"I should value it, if won fairly, your Majesty, as the greatest honour I
could gain. It is not that my father holds the honour more lightly than I
do, but I know that 'tis his opinion that if given merely for possession
of land 'tis but an accident of birth, but that if the reward of bravery,
'tis an honour that is of the highest, and one that, were it not that his
thoughts are wholly turned towards scholarship and to discovering the
secrets of nature, he himself would gladly have attained."
"Methinks that he is right," the king said. "In the time when every
landowner held his feu on condition of knightly service rendered whenever
called upon, it was well that he should be called a knight, such being the
term of military command; but now that many are allowed to provide
substitutes, methinks that it is an error to give the title to stay-at-
homes. I shall be glad, young sir, to see you also at Court, though,
methinks," he added, with a smile, "that you have inherited some of your
father's sobriety of nature, and will hold our pleasures at small price."
"I thank your Majesty for your kindness," Edgar said, bowing; "but indeed
I should not presume to judge amusements as frivolous because I myself
might be unused to them; but in truth two years ago I studied at the
convent of St. Alwyth, and my spare time then and most of my time since
has been so occupied by my exercises in arms that I have had but small
opportunity for learning the ways of Courts, but I hope to do so, seeing
that a good knight should bear himself as well at Court as in the field."
"You will have small opportunity now", the king said, rather dolefully.
"Our royal mother is absent, and our talk is all of riots and troubles,
and none seem even to think of pleasure."
After leaving the king Sir Ralph presented his son and Edgar to Sir
Michael de la Pole, who held high office; Robert de Vere, one of the
king's special favourites; and several other young nobles, who all
received them kindly for the sake of Sir Ralph.
"Perhaps, boys, you could hardly have been introduced at Court better than
by myself," the knight said, as they returned to the lodgings. "There are
men much more highly placed, many more influential than I am, but for that
very reason I can be friends with all. The king's mother is always most
courteous to me, because I was the friend of the Black Prince, her
husband; and she has taught her son that, whatever might come, he could
rely upon my fidelity to his person. On the other hand, no one has reason
either to dislike or fear me. I am a simple knight, longing most to be at
home, and at the Court as seldom as may be; besides, I hold myself aloof
from both parties in the state, for you must know that the Court is
composed of two factions.
"The one is that of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, uncle of the king.
He is greatly ambitious; some men even say that he would fain himself be
king, but this I believe not; yet I am sure that he would like to rule in
the name of the king. He has a powerful party, having with him the Duke of
Gloucester, his brother, and other great nobles. On the other hand, he is
ill-liked by the people, and they say at Canterbury the rioters made every
man they met swear to obey the king and commons--by which they meant
themselves--never to accept a king bearing the name of John, and to oppose
Lancaster and Gloucester.
"The king's mother has surrounded him with a number of men who, being for
the most part of obscure birth, have no sympathy with John of Gaunt's
faction, and oppose it in every way.
"Doubtless the majority of these are well fitted for the office that they
hold, but unfortunately there are some amongst them, for the most part
young and with pleasant manners and handsome faces, whom the king makes
his favourites. This again is well-nigh as bad as that John of Gaunt
should have all the power in his own hands, for the people love not king's
favourites, and although the rabble at present talk much of all men being
equal, and rail against the nobles, yet at bottom the English people are
inclined towards those of good birth, and a king's favourite is all the
more detested if he lacks this quality. England, however, would not fare
badly were John of Gaunt its master; he is a great warrior, and well-nigh
equal in bravery to the Black Prince. It is true that he is haughty and
arrogant; but upon the other hand, he is prudent and sagacious, and
although he might rule England harshly, he would rule it wisely.
"However, I hold myself aloof altogether from state matters, and I trust
that you will strive to do so. I would fain see the king take all power
into his own hands as soon as he gets somewhat older; but if he must be
ruled, I would prefer that it was by a great Englishman of royal blood
rather than by favourites, whose only merits are a fair face, a gallant
manner, and a smooth tongue, and who are sure not only to become unpopular
themselves, but to render the king himself unpopular. It is for this
reason that I journey so seldom to London, and desire that you should also
hold yourself aloof from the Court. I could not be here without taking one
side or the other. It cannot be long, however, before the king becomes
impatient of his tutelage by the dukes, and we shall then see how matters
"It will be time enough then for you to frequent the Court, though it were
better even then that you should do as I did, and leave such matters to
those whom it concerns and content yourself with doing service to England
in the field. From my friendship for the Black Prince I, of course, know
John of Gaunt well, and should there be, as seems likely, fierce fighting
in France or in Spain--for, as you know, the duke has a claim to the crown
of Castile--I will cross the water with you and present you to the duke,
and place you in the train of some of his knights, comrades of mine, but
who are still young enough to keep the field, while I shall only take up
arms again in the event of the king leading another great army into
The two friends spent much of their time in wandering about the streets of
London. To them all seemed peaceable and orderly; indeed, they kept in the
main thoroughfares where the better class of citizens were to be seen, and
knew little of those who lived in the lower haunts, issuing out seldom in
the daylight, but making the streets a danger for peaceable folks after
Upon one occasion, however, they took boat at Westminster and were rowed
to Richmond. They had ill-chosen the occasion, knowing nothing of the
hours of the tide, and so returned against it. It was therefore eight
o'clock when they reached the Stairs, and already growing dark. They knew
that orders had been given that the gates were to be closed to all at
eight, lest some of the great bodies of rioters should approach suddenly
and enter the city.
The watermen, wearied by their long row, refused to carry them any
further. There was nothing for it but to walk round the walls and so
return to their lodging. The moon was shining brightly, and it seemed to
them as they started that it would be a pleasant walk. They followed the
Strand, where on the right stood many houses of the nobles, and the great
palace of John of Gaunt at the Savoy, in which, after the battle of
Poictiers, the captive king of France had been lodged.
Turning off to the left some short distance before they reached the city
wall, they held their way round the north side of the city. London had
already overflowed its boundary, and although in some places fields still
stretched up to the foot of the walls, in others, especially where the
roads led from the gates, a large population had established themselves.
These were principally of a poorer class, who not only saved rent from
being outside the boundary of the city, but were free from the somewhat
strict surveillance exercised by its authorities.
They were just crossing the road leading north from Aldersgate when they
heard a scream and a clashing of swords a short distance away.
"Come, Albert, some evil deed is being done!" Edgar exclaimed, and,
drawing his sword, ran at the top of his speed in the direction of the
sound, accompanied by Albert. They soon arrived at the top of a street
leading off the main road. A short distance down it a number of men were
engaged in conflict; two of these, hearing the footsteps, turned round,
and with a savage oath, seeing that the new-comers were but lads, fell
upon them, thinking to cut them down without difficulty. Their over-
confidence proved their ruin. Edgar caught the descending blow on his
sword, close up to the hilt, and as his opponent raised his arm to repeat
the stroke, ran him through the body.
"Do you want help, Albert?" Edgar cried, as the man fell.
"No, I think that I can manage him," Albert said, quietly, and a moment
later slashed his opponent deeply across the cheek. The fellow turned and
took to his heels, roaring lustily. One of the other men, who was stooping
over a prostrate figure, with his dagger raised, paused for a moment to
look round on hearing the howl of his comrade, and as he did so Edgar's
sword fell on his wrist with such force that hand and dagger both fell to
the ground. The remaining ruffian, who was roughly endeavouring to stifle
the shrieks of a young girl, seeing himself alone with two adversaries,
also darted off and plunged into a narrow alley a few yards away.
Edgar paid no more attention to them, but exclaimed to the girl: "Cease
your cries, I pray you, maiden, and help me to see what has happened to
your companion. I trust that he is unharmed, and that we have arrived in
time to prevent those villains from carrying out their intentions." He
stooped over the fallen man. "Are you hurt badly, sir?" he asked. The
answer was an effort on the part of the person he addressed to rise.
"I am hurt, but I think not sorely." He was unable for the moment to rise,
for the man whom Edgar last struck lay across him. Edgar at once hauled
the moaning wretch off him, and held out his hand to the other, who
grasped it with more heartiness than he had expected, and rose without
difficulty to his feet.
"Where is my daughter?" he exclaimed.
[Illustration: "IN A MOMENT EDGAR'S SWORD FELL ON THE RUFFIAN'S WRIST."]
"She is here and unhurt, I trust," Albert replied. "The villain released
her and ran off, and I saw her figure sway, and ran forward just in time
to save her from falling. I think she has but swooned."
"Thanks be to the saints!" the stranger exclaimed. "Gentlemen, I cannot
thank you at present for the service that you have rendered me, but of
that I will speak later. Know you any place where you can take my child?"
"We are strangers, sir; but there should surely be some hostelry near
where travellers could put up outside the walls."
The noise of the combat had aroused some of the neighbours, and on inquiry
Edgar ascertained that there was an inn but a short distance away.
"Let me carry the maid, Albert. Her weight would be naught to me."
Albert gladly relinquished his charge, whose dead weight hanging on his
arms was already trying him. Edgar raised her across his shoulder.
"Albert," he said, "I know you have a piece of thin cord in your pocket. I
pray you twist it round that man's arm as hard as you can pull it, and
fasten it tightly. I have shorn off his hand, and he would very speedily
bleed to death. If you staunch the wound he may last till his comrades
come back, as they doubtless will after we have left; they will carry him
away and maybe save his life. He is a villainous ruffian, no doubt, but
'tis enough for me that I have one death on my hands to-night."
"He is dead already," Albert said, as he leant over the man and placed his
hand on his heart. "He must have been wounded by the traveller before we
"Well, it cannot be helped," Edgar replied, as he walked on with his
"Did you see aught, kind sirs," their companion said, "of a servitor with
"Nothing whatever," Albert answered, "though methought I heard horses'
hoofs going down the road as we ran along; but I paid small attention to
them, thinking only of arriving in time to save someone from being
"I believe that he was in league with the robbers," the man said. "But,"
and his voice faltered, "give me your arm, I pray you. My wound is deeper
than I thought, and my head swims."
Albert with difficulty assisted the man to the entrance of the hostelry,
for at each step he leant more heavily upon him. The door was shut, but
the light from the casement showed that those within had not yet retired
to bed. Edgar struck on the door loudly with the handle of his dagger.
"Who is it that knocks?"
"Gentlemen, with a wounded man, who, with his daughter, have been beset by
knaves within a hundred yards of your door."
Some bolts were undrawn after some little delay, and a man appeared,
having a sword in his hand, with two servitors behind him similarly armed.
"We are quiet people, my host," Edgar said. "Stand not on questioning.
Suffice that there is a wounded man who is spent from loss of blood, and a
young maid who has swooned from terror."
There was a tone of command in Edgar's voice, and the host, seeing that he
had to do with persons of quality, murmured excuses on the ground that the
neighbourhood was a rough one.
"You need hardly have told us that," Edgar said. "Our plight speaks for
itself. Call your wife, I pray you, or female servants; they will know
what to do to bring the young maid to herself. But tell her to let the
girl know as soon as she opens her eyes that her father is alive, and is,
I trust, not seriously wounded."
The landlord called, and a buxom woman came out from a room behind. Her
husband hastily told her what was required.
"Carry her in here, sir, I pray you," the woman said. "I will speedily
bring her round."
Edgar followed her into the room that she had left, which was a kitchen,
and laid her down on a settle. Two maids who were standing there uttered
exclamations of surprise and pity as the girl was carried in.
"Hold your tongues, wenches, and do not make a noise! Margaret, fetch me
cold water, and do you, Elizabeth, help me to unlace the young lady's
bodice," for the light in the kitchen enabled her to see at once that the
girl was well dressed.
As soon as Edgar had laid her down, he hurried out of the kitchen, moving
his arm uneasily as he did so, having discovered to his surprise that the
weight of an insensible girl, though but some fourteen years old, was much
more than he had dreamt of. In a parlour in front he found Albert and the
landlord cutting off the doublet of the wounded man, so as to get at his
shoulder, where a great patch of blood showed the location of the wound.
He was some forty years old; his dress was quiet but of good quality, and
Edgar judged him to be a London trader. His face was very white, but he
was perfectly sensible. One of the servitors ran in with a cup of wine.
The wounded man was able to lift it to his lips and to empty it at a
"That is better!" he murmured, and then he did not speak again until the
landlord, with considerable skill, bandaged up the shoulder.
"You have had a narrow escape," he said. "There is a sword-thrust just
below your collar-bone. An inch or two lower and it would have gone hard
with you; a little more to the left and it would have pierced your
"It was a dagger wound," the man said. "I was knocked down by a blow from
a sword which fell full on my head, but luckily I had iron hoops in my
cap. One man knelt upon me, and endeavoured to strike me through the
throat. I fought so hard that one of his comrades came to his assistance,
and I thought that the end had come, when he sprung suddenly up. The other
attempted more furiously than before to finish me, but striking almost
blindly he twice missed me altogether, and the third time, by a sudden
twist, I took a blow on my shoulder that would otherwise have pierced my
throat. When he raised his dagger again something flashed. I saw his hand
with the dagger he held in it drop off, and then the man himself fell on
me, and I was like to be stifled with his weight, when my preserver hauled
him off me."
"It were best not to talk further," the landlord said. "I have rooms
fortunately vacant, and it were well that you retired at once."
"I will do that as soon as you have given me something to eat, landlord.
Anything will do, but I am grievously hungry."
"I have a cold capon in the house," the landlord said.
"You will have to cater for three, for doubtless these gentlemen need
supper as much as I do."
"I thank you, sir, but we are very late already, and our friends will have
become alarmed; therefore, with your leave, we will, as soon as we hear
that your daughter has recovered, go on our way."
"That I can tell you at once," the landlady said, entering. "Your daughter
has recovered, sir, and would come to you, but I begged her to wait until
my husband had done dressing your wound."
"Then we will say good-night, sir. We will call to-morrow morning to see
how you are getting on," and without waiting for further words, they at
once went out and continued their way at a brisk pace.
"Let me congratulate you, Albert," Edgar said, warmly. "In good faith no
old soldier could have been cooler than you were. You spoke as quietly as
if it were a lesson that you had to finish before starting for home,
instead of a villainous cut-throat to put an end to. What did you to him?"
"I but laid his cheek open, Edgar, and that at once let out his blood and
his courage, and he ran off bellowing like a bull. He knew naught of
swordsmanship, as I felt directly our blades crossed. I knew that I had
but to guard a sweeping blow or two, and that I should then find an
opening; but you of course did much better, for you killed two of the
"I did it hastily and with scarce a thought," Edgar said. "My eye caught
the flash of the dagger, and I knew that if the man was to be saved at all
there was not a moment to lose; I therefore parried the first blow he
dealt me, and ran him through with my return. Then I had just time to chop
the other villain's hand off as he was about to repeat his stroke. The
ruffian you wounded caused the other to look round and pause for a moment.
Had it been otherwise the traveller would have been a dead man before I
had time to strike. I wonder who the wounded man is? He looked like a
London trader. I wonder how he got into so sore a plight? But, doubtless,
we shall hear in the morning."
The episode had taken only a few minutes, but it was nigh half-past nine
before they reached home.
"What freak is this?" Sir Ralph said, angrily, when they entered. "Your
mother has been anxious about you for the last two hours, and I myself was
beginning to think that some ill must have befallen you. Why, what has
happened to you, Albert, there is blood on your doublet?"
"'Tis not my own, sir," the lad said, quietly. "I regret that we are so
late, but it was scarcely our fault. You told us that we could take boat
at Westminster and row to Richmond. This we did, but the tide was against
us coming back, and though the men rowed hard, the Abbey bell was striking
eight as we landed at Westminster; therefore, knowing that the city gates
would be shut, we had to make a tour round the walls."
"Then, as you say, Albert, you were not to blame in the matter. But what
about the blood with which, as I see, Edgar is even more deeply stained
than you are? Have you been in a brawl?"
"We have, sir; but here, I am sure, you will not blame us when you know
the circumstances. As we crossed the road running from Aldersgate Street
to the north we heard screams and the clashing of swords; deeming, and as
it turned out rightly, that some traveller like ourselves was being
attacked by cut-throats, we ran on, and presently came up to the spot
where four ruffians were attacking a single man who had with him a young
girl, whose screams had first called our attention, Edgar ran one through
the body, smote off the hand of another who was endeavouring to stab the
fallen traveller, and the other ran away."
"And what was your share of it?" his father asked, sternly.
"His share was an excellent one, Sir Ralph," Edgar said. "Two of the
ruffians ran at us as we came up. One, who attacked me, was but a poor
swordsman, and I ran him through at the first thrust. I then paused a
moment to ask Albert if he required aid, and he answered, as quietly as he
is now speaking, 'No, I think that I can manage him.' I had no time to say
more, for I saw that a moment's delay would endanger the life of the
traveller. Just as I reached him I heard a yell of pain, and knew that
Albert had done his work. That howl saved the traveller's life. The man
who was kneeling on him looked round for a moment before delivering his
blow, which gave me time to smite him across the wrist. The blood you see
was caused by dragging him off the traveller."
"By our lady!" Sir Ralph exclaimed, "but you have begun well, lads. That
you would do so, Edgar, was a matter beyond doubt, but that Albert should
stand up so well and so coolly in his first fight surprises me indeed. I
had no doubt of your courage, lad. 'Tis rare indeed for one of good blood
to lack courage, but had you been nervous and flurried the first time you
were called upon to play the part of a man, it would have seemed to me but
natural; now it gladdens me indeed to know that even in your first essay
you should have thus shown that you possess nerve and coolness as well as
courage. Anyone can rush into a fight and deal blows right and left, but
it is far more rare to find one who, in his very first trial at arms, can
keep his head clear, and be able to reply to a question, as Edgar says you
did, in a calm and even voice. Now, tell me, who was this man to whose aid
you arrived just at the nick of time?"
"He looked like a London trader, father, and was some forty years old; but
it was hard to tell, for by the time we got him to the hostelry he was
well-nigh spent and scarce able to crawl along, even with my help."
"He was wounded, then?"
"Stabbed with a dagger, father, just under the collar-bone. He must have
made a stout resistance, for we heard the clashing of swords for some time
as we ran, and when he was struck down he struggled so hard that in spite
of the efforts of two of his assailants they failed to slay him. As soon
as his wounds were bandaged we left him to the care of the landlord, and
hurried off without thinking to ask his name, or of giving him ours, but
we promised to return to see him to-morrow morning."
"And what became of the daughter?"
"She swooned, sir, when all was over, and Edgar carried her to the
"'Tis good. You have both entered well upon the profession of arms, and
have achieved an adventure worthy of knights. Now to bed. Your mother
retired long ago, but I know that she will not sleep until she has heard
of your safe return and of this adventure that you have gone through."
Highly gratified at the knight's commendation, the lads went up to their
"Putting aside the saving of life," Albert said, "I am right glad that we
have gone through this adventure. 'Tis true that I had decided upon
yielding to my father's wishes and taking up the career of arms, but I had
grievous doubts as to whether I should not shame myself and him in my
first encounter. I thought of that as I ran forward with you, but as soon
as the ruffian advanced against me, I felt with joy that my hand was as
steady as when I stood opposite you. It was a good cause in which I was to
fight, and as soon as our swords crossed I felt how different it was to
standing up against you, and that the ruffian knew little of sword-play.
Twice I saw an opening for a straight thrust, but I had no desire to kill
him, and waited until I could slash him across the face, and it needed but
a few passes before I saw the opportunity."
When Dame Agatha came down in the morning she tenderly kissed Albert.
"My boy," she said, "I never said aught at the time, when it seemed that
you were never like to grow strong enough to lay lance in rest or wield
battle-axe, to show you that I regretted that you were not able to follow
the profession of arms, as those of your race have ever done. I felt that
it was hard enough for you, and therefore tried my best to reconcile you
to the thought of becoming a priest; but now that all that has changed,
and you have shown that you will be a brave and gallant knight, I can tell
you that it gives me as great a joy as it does your father. The Church is
a high and holy profession, but at present, as the preaching of Wickliffe
has made manifest to all--although I do not hold with all he says, and
deem that he carries it too far--I feel that until many of these abuses
are rectified 'tis not a profession that I should, had I the choice, wish
my son to enter. I am glad, Albert, too, that your sword should have been
drawn for the first time on behalf of persons attacked by cut-throats, and
in saving life. God bless you, my boy, and give you strength ever so to
draw it in defence of the oppressed, and for the honour of your country."
Aline was exuberant in her pleasure. She was fondly attached to her
brother, and that he would be lost to her as a priest had been a source of
sorrow ever since she had been old enough to understand that it would be
As soon as the morning meal was over, the two lads started for the scene
of the previous evening's fight. The road from Aldersgate, with cars
rolling in with loads of flour and other provisions, and with many
travellers and foot passengers of all sorts passing along, presented a
very different appearance to that which it had worn on the evening before.
People were going in and out of the hostelries for their morning draught
of ale, and all looked bright and cheerful. The day was fine, and the air
brisk. On entering, the landlord at once came up to them.
"Your friend is in the room where we dressed his wounds, sirs. He is doing
well, and methinks will make a good cure. His daughter is with him. They
have but lately risen, and are breaking their fast. He will be glad to see
you, and was mightily vexed last night that we let you leave without
asking your names."
"He was not in a condition for talking last night, what with the loss of
blood and the smart of his wound and the suddenness of the affray. 'Tis
not strange that he should not have thought of it; and indeed we ourselves
did not ask his name, for we were pressed for time, and had to hurry
It was evident, indeed, as they entered, that things were going well with
the wounded man, who was talking merrily to his daughter.
"Ah, sirs," he said, rising at once to his feet, "glad indeed am I that
you have come, and that I can now thank you for the great service you
rendered last night to myself and my daughter. First let me know to whom I
am indebted for our lives?"
"This gentleman," Edgar said, "is Albert, son of Sir Ralph De Courcy. My
name is Edgar Ormskirk. I pray you, speak not of gratitude. We are glad,
indeed, to have been able to render service to you and to your daughter.
We hope some day to become knights, and it is a real pleasure to us to
have been able to draw a sword in earnest for the first time, in so good a
cause. But, indeed, there is little occasion for glorification, seeing
that the fellows were but rough cut-throats, more accustomed, I fancy, to
the use of the dagger than of the sword."
"Do not belittle the action, Master Ormskirk," the other said,
courteously. "It was a brave deed, for, if I may say so, you are but
little more than boys, to pit yourselves against four rascals of this
kind. There are few in your place would have ventured upon it. The
landlord tells me that two dead bodies were found this morning, and they
are those of well-known cut-throats and law-breakers, who would have long
since been brought to justice, had it not been that there was no means of
proving they were responsible for the many murders that have been
committed during the last few months on peaceful travellers and others. A
search has already been made of their haunts, and as it is found that two
others who generally consorted with them are missing, and as much blood
was found in the hovel they occupied, no doubt one of them was severely
"His cheek was laid open by my friend," Edgar said. "He could have slain
him had he so chosen, but being as yet unused to strife and gentler
hearted than I am, he contented himself by slashing his face."
"And did the other two fall to your sword, Mr. Ormskirk?"
"Yes; I saw that you were in sore peril, and so ran one through at the
first thrust; and then seeing that my friend was well able to hold his
own, came on to your aid. Before I reached you, Albert had struck his
blow, and the howl that the villain gave did more towards the saving of
your life than my sword, for your assailant paused in the very act of
striking to see what had befallen his comrade, and therefore gave me time
to deliver a blow on his wrist."
"As yet, gentlemen, you do not know my name. I am Robert Gaiton, and
belong to the Guild of Mercers. I carry on trade with Venice and Genoa in
silk and Eastern goods. This is my daughter Ursula."
The friends bowed, and the girl made a deep reverence. "Ah, sirs," she
said, "I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your succour. When you came
running up it appeared to me that Heaven had sent two angels to help us,
when it seemed that naught could save our lives."
"It was your scream, even more than the clashing of swords, that brought
us to your aid, Madame Ursula."
"Ursula, without the madame," her father said. "She is the daughter of a
plain citizen, and all unused to titles, save from my apprentice boys."
"I cannot think why the ruffian who held her," Edgar said, "did not stop
her screams with a dagger-thrust. He must have been of a much milder sort
than his comrades."
"It may have been that," the trader said, "but it seems to me more likely
that they intended to carry her off and hold her to ransom. I dare say
that you are surprised at my being abroad with my daughter so late, but I
believe now that it was a preconcerted plot. It was but ten days before I
left London, three weeks since, that I hired a new man. He had papers
which showed that he came from Chelmsford, was an honest fellow, and
accustomed to the care of horses. I doubt not his credentials were stolen.
However, I engaged him, seeing that he appeared just the man I wanted. We
journeyed down to Norwich without adventure. There I settled my business
with some traders whom I supply with goods, and then journeyed back,
stopping always at towns and always before nightfall, as I had a
considerable amount of money in my saddle-bags.
"All went well until we started for town yesterday morning. I was detained
somewhat late on business, and then instead of finding the horses ready as
I had ordered, it was nigh half an hour before they were brought round. We
had not ridden very far when my horse fell dead lame, and I had to mount
my servant's horse and let him lead the other, and it took us two hours to
go five miles into St. Albans. As we went, I thought that, putting the
first delay with the horse falling lame, this might be a plot to keep me
from reaching London before the gates were shut, and while the horse's
shoe was being taken off I slipped the bags of gold into my pouch, and
going into the hostelry to get refreshments for Ursula and myself, I
handed them to the host, and begged him to hold them for me until I sent
for them. I further asked him to give me other bags of the same size, for
I doubted not that my servant was in alliance with these thieves. He had
doubtless observed me take the bags out, and I was the more confirmed in
my suspicions as I noticed how he watched me when I mounted again.
"'What ailed the horse?' I asked the farrier.
"'Either the horse has picked up a nail on the road, master, or belike
some knave has driven one in.'
"Then we rode on. I still hoped to pass the gates before they were closed,
but the horse went lamely, and we were three miles away when I heard the
city bells strike the hour. Still I hoped that they might open the gate
for me when I gave my name, which is indifferently well known in the city,
but the men at the gate were ignorant of it, and said that without an
order from the lord mayor or one of the sheriffs they could open the gate
to no man, for that since the country troubles had began, the orders were
most strict. It happened that I had not been out through Aldersgate for
two years past, but I had heard that an hostelry had been built for the
accommodation of travellers who had arrived too late to pass the gates, or
others who preferred to sojourn outside the walls. I knew not its
position, and asking my knave where it was he said that he knew not.
"We then rode back. Presently I saw two men standing at the corner of that
street where we were attacked. I said to them, 'Where is the King's Head
hostelry?' ''Tis but a house or two down here,' one of them said. 'The
stables are a short way along this road. My comrade will show your man the
way.' 'We may as well alight here, Ursula,' I said. It had been a long
ride for her, and she was tired with sitting so long on the pillion behind
me. ''Tis but three houses down; we may as well walk that distance.
Reuben, do you bring round the valises when you have seen the horses
stabled and attended to.' I jumped down and lifted Ursula off the horse,
and went down the street. I had gone but a short distance when I saw that
the locality was scarcely one where a man of sense would build a hostelry.
"'Which is the house?' I asked, sharply. 'The very next door,' the man
said. I had stupidly forgotten the suspicions that had been roused at the
commencement of the day, and I stepped on. 'This is no hostelry,' I said,
when I got to the house. In reply he gave a short whistle, and three
fellows, who had been hiding in the shadow of a doorway opposite, ran out,
sword in hand. Seeing that I had been trapped, I pushed Ursula into the
doorway and stood on my guard. For a short time I kept them at bay, Ursula
screaming wildly the while. Then two of them rushed together at me. One
struck down my guard, and then smote me on the head, and with such force,
that, although the steel lining to my bonnet saved me from being killed,
it brought me to the ground. Then, as I told you, one of the fellows threw
himself upon me and tried to stab me, but, although confused with the
blow, I had still my senses, and struggled with him fiercely, grasping his
"Then the second one came to his aid, and with a blow from the pommel of
his sword numbed my hand, and forced me to quit my hold. Then the other
made three stabs at me, a third wounded me slightly, and together they
would have finished me had you not come up. My horses were found on the
road this morning, with the valises cut open. It must have been a rare
disappointment to the rascals, for, save a suit of mine and some garments
of my daughter's, there was naught in them. I should like to have seen the
villain's face when he opened the money bags and found the trick that I
had played him. He had best never show his face in London, for if I catch
him he will dance at the end of a rope. And now, sirs, with your
permission, I will repair to my home, for my wound smarts sorely, and I
must have it dressed by a leech, who will pour in some unguents to allay
the pain. My wife, too, will be growing anxious, for I had written to her
that we should return last night, and it is not often that I do not keep
tryst. I pray you, gentlemen, do me the honour of calling at my house to-
morrow at noon and partaking of a meal with us. I shall, of course, as
soon as the leech gives me permission, wait upon Sir Ralph De Courcy to
thank him for the service you have rendered me. I pray you to give me his
The invitation was cordially accepted, and, having given him directions by
which their lodgings could be found, the two friends took their leave and
A CITY MERCHANT
"Assuredly it is well that you should go," Sir Ralph said, when his son had
repeated the conversation they had had with the trader. "I know not the
name, for indeed I know scarce one among the citizens; but if he trades
with Venice and Genoa direct he must be a man of repute and standing. It
is always well to make friends; and some of these city traders could buy
up a score of us poor knights. They are not men who make a display of
wealth, and by their attire you cannot tell one from another, but upon
grand occasions, such as the accession or marriage of a monarch, they can
make a brave show, and can spend sums upon masques and feastings that
would well-nigh pay a king's ransom. After a great victory they will set
the public conduits running with wine, and every varlet in the city can
sit down at banquets prepared for them and eat and drink his fill. It is
useful to have friends among such men. They are as proud in their way as
are the greatest of our nobles, and they have more than once boldly
withstood the will of our kings, and have ever got the best of the
"What shall we put on, sir," Albert asked his father the next morning,
"for this visit to Master Gaiton?"
"You had better put on your best suits," the knight said; "it will show
that you have respect for him as a citizen, and indeed the dresses are far
less showy than many of those I see worn by some of the young nobles in
"And what is the young lady like?" Aline asked her brother.
"Methinks she is something like you, Aline, and is about the same age and
height; her tresses are somewhat darker than yours; methinks she is
somewhat graver and more staid than you are, as I suppose befits a maiden
of the city."
"I don't think that you could judge much about that, Albert," his mother
said, "seeing that, naturally, the poor girl was grievously shaken by the
events of the evening before, and would, moreover, say but little when her
father was conversing with two strangers. What thought you of her, Edgar?"
"I scarce noticed her, my lady, for I was talking with her father, and so
far as I remember she did not open her lips after being introduced to us.
I did not notice the resemblance to your daughter that Albert speaks of,
but she seemed to me a fair young maid, who looked not, I own, so heavy as
she felt when I carried her."
"That is very uncourteous, Master Edgar," Dame Agatha laughed; "a good
knight should hold the weight of a lady to be as light as that of a down
"Then I fear that I shall never be a true knight," Edgar said, with a
smile. "I have heard tales of knights carrying damsels across their
shoulder and outstripping the pursuit of caitiffs, from whom she had
escaped. I indeed had believed them, but assuredly either those tales are
false or I have but a small share of the strength of which I believed
myself to be possessed; for, in truth, my arm and shoulder ached by the
time I reached the hostelry more than it has ever done after an hour's
practice with the mace."
"Well, stand not talking," Sir Ralph said; "it is time for you to change
your suits, for these London citizens are, I have heard, precise as to
their time, and the merchant would deem it a slight did you not arrive a
few minutes before the stroke of the hour."
As soon as they came into Chepe they asked a citizen if he could direct
them to the house of Master Robert Gaiton.
"That can I," he said, "and so methinks could every boy and man in the
city. Turn to the right; his house stands in a courtyard facing the
Guildhall, and is indeed next door to the hall in the left-hand corner."
The house was a large one, each storey, as usual, projecting over the one
below it. Some apprentices were just putting up the shutters to the shop,
for at noon most of the booths were closed, as at that hour there were no
customers, and the assistants and apprentices all took their meal
together. There was a private entrance to the house, and Edgar knocked at
the door with the hilt of his dagger. A minute later a serving-man opened
"Is Master Robert Gaiton within?" Albert asked. "He is, we believe,
"I have his orders to conduct you upstairs, sirs."
The staircase was broad and handsome, and, to the lads' surprise, was
covered with an Eastern carpet. At the top of the stairs the merchant
himself was awaiting them.
"Welcome to my house, gentlemen," he said; "the house that would have been
the abode of mourning and woe to-day, had it not been for your bravery."
The merchant was dressed in very different attire to that in which he had
travelled. He wore a doublet of brown satin, and hose of the same material
and colour; on his shoulders was a robe of Genoa velvet with a collar, and
trimming down the front of brown fur, such as the boys had never before
seen. Over his neck was a heavy gold chain, which they judged to be a sign
of office. The landing was large and square, with richly carved oak
panelling, and, like the stairs, it was carpeted with a thick Eastern rug.
Taking their hands, he led them through an open door into a large
withdrawing-room. Its walls were panelled in a similar manner to those of
the landing, but the carpet was deeper and richer. Several splendid
armoires or cabinets similarly carved stood against the walls, and in
these were gold and silver cups exquisitely chased, salt-cellars, and
other silver ware.
The chairs were all in harmony with the room, the seats being of green
embossed velvet, and curtains of the same material and hue, with an edging
of gold embroidery, hung at the windows. But the lads' eyes could not take
in all these matters at once, being fixed upon the lady who rose from her
chair to meet them. She was some thirty-five years old, and of singular
sweetness of face. There was but little about her of the stiffness that
they had expected to find in the wife of a London citizen. She was dressed
in a loose robe of purple silk, with costly lace at the neck and sleeves.
By her side stood Ursula, who was dressed, as became her age, in lighter
colours, which, in cut and material, resembled those of Aline's new
"Dear sirs," she said, as her husband presented the visitors to her, "with
what words can I thank you for the service that you have rendered me. But
for you I should have been widowed and childless to-day!"
"It was but a chance, Mistress Gaiton," Edgar said. "We saw a stranger in
danger of his life from cut-throats, and as honest men should do, we went
to his succour. We are glad, indeed, to have been able to render your
husband such service, but it was only such an action as a soldier performs
when he strikes in to rescue a comrade surrounded by the enemy, or carries
off a wounded man who may be altogether a stranger to him."
"That may be true from your point of view," the merchant said, "but just
as the man-at-arms rescued from a circle of foes, or the wounded man
carried off the field would assuredly feel gratitude to him who has saved
him, so do we feel gratitude to you, and naught that you can say will
lessen our feeling towards you both. And now let us to the table."
He opened a door leading into another apartment. Edgar glanced at Albert,
and as he saw the latter was looking at Ursula, he offered his hand to
Dame Gaiton. Albert, with a little start, did the same to the girl. The
merchant held aside the hangings of the door and then followed them into
the room where the table was laid. It was similar to the room they had
left, save that the floor was polished instead of being carpeted. The
table was laid with a damask cloth of snowy whiteness and of a fineness of
quality such as neither of the lads had ever seen before. The napkins were
of similar make. A great silver ornament in the shape of a Venetian galley
stood in the centre of the table, flanked by two vases of the same metal
filled with flowers. The plates were of oriental porcelain, a contrast
indeed to the rough earthenware in general use; the spoons were of gold.
The meats were carved at a side table, and cut into such pieces that there
was little occasion for the use of the dagger-shaped knives placed for the
use of each. Forks were unknown in Europe until nearly three centuries
later, the food being carried to the mouth by the aid of a piece of bread,
just as it is still eaten in the East, the spoon being only used for soups
and sweetmeats. Two servitors, attired in doublets of red and green cloth,
waited. The wine was poured into goblets of Venetian glass; and after
several meats had been served round, the lads were surprised at fresh
plates being handed to them for the sweetmeats. Before these were put upon
the table, a gold bowl with perfumed water was handed round, and all
dipped their fingers in this, wiping them on their napkins.
"Truly, Mistress Gaiton," Albert said, courteously, "it seems to me that
instead of coming to Court we country folk should come to the city to
learn how to live. All this is as strange to me as if I had gone to some
far land, by the side of whose people we were as barbarians."
"My husband has been frequently in Italy," she replied, "and he is much
enamoured of their mode of life, which he says is strangely in advance of
ours. Most of what you see here he has either brought with him thence, or
had it sent over to him, or it has been made here from drawings prepared
for him for the purpose. The carving of the wood-work is a copy of that in
a palace at Genoa; the furniture came by sea from Venice; the gold and
silver work is English, for although my husband says that the Italians are
great masters in such work and in advance of our own, he holds that
English gold and silversmiths can turn out work equal to all but the very
best, and he therefore thinks it but right to give employment to London
craftsmen. The drapery is far in advance of anything that can be made
here; as to the hangings and carpets, although brought from Genoa or
Florence, they are all from Eastern looms."
"'Tis strange," the merchant added, "how far we are in most things behind
the Continent--in all matters save fighting, and, I may say, the condition
of the common people. Look at our garments. Save in the matter of coarse
fabrics, nigh everything comes from abroad. The finest cloths come from
Flanders; the silks, satins, and velvets from Italy. Our gold work is made
from Italian models; our finest arms come from Milan and Spain; our best
brass work from Italy. Maybe some day we shall make all these things for
ourselves. Then, too, our people--not only those of the lowest class--are
more rude and boorish in their manners; they drink more heavily, and eat
more coarsely. An English banquet is plentiful, I own, but it lacks the
elegance and luxury of one abroad, and save in the matter of joints, there
is no comparison between the cooking. Except in the weaving of the
roughest linen, we are incomparably behind Flanders, France, or Italy, and
although I have striven somewhat to bring my surroundings up to the level
of the civilization abroad, the house is but as a hovel compared with the
palaces of the Venetian and Genoese merchants, or the rich traders of
Flanders and Paris."
"Truly, these must be magnificent indeed," Edgar said, "if they so far
surpass yours. I have never even thought of anything so comfortable and
handsome as your rooms. I say naught of those in my father's house, for he
is a scholar, and so that he can work in peace among his books and in his
laboratory he cares naught for aught else; but it is the same in other
houses that I have visited; they seem bare and cheerless by the side of
yours. I have always heard that the houses of the merchants of London were
far more comfortable than the castles of great nobles, but I hardly
conceived how great the difference was."
"They are built for different purposes," the merchant said. "The castles
are designed wholly with an eye to defence. All is of stone, since that
will not burn; the windows are mere slits, designed to shoot from, rather
than to give light. We traders, upon the other hand, have not to spend our
money on bands of armed retainers. We have our city walls, and each man is
a soldier if needs be. Then our intercourse with foreign merchants and our
visits to the Continent show us what others are doing, and how vastly
their houses are ahead of ours in point of luxury and equipment. We have
no show to keep up; and, at any rate, when we go abroad it is neither our
custom nor that of the Flemish merchants to vie with the nobility in
splendour of apparel or the multitude of retainers and followers. Thus,
you see, we can afford to have our homes comfortable."
"May I ask, Master Gaiton, if your robe and chain are badges of office?"
"Yes; I have the honour of being an alderman."
Albert looked surprised. "I thought, sir, that the aldermen were aged
"Not always," the merchant said, with a smile, "though generally that is
the case. The aldermen are chosen by the votes of the Common Council of
each ward, and that choice generally falls upon one whom they deem will
worthily represent them, or upon one who shows the most devotion to the
interests of the ward and city. My father was a prominent citizen before
me, and I early learned from him to take an interest in the affairs of the
city. It chanced that, when on the accession of the young king the Duke of
Lancaster would have infringed some of our rights and privileges, I was
one of the speakers at a meeting of the citizens, and being younger and
perhaps more outspoken than others, I came to be looked upon as one of the
champions of the city, and thus, without any merit of my own, was elected
to represent my ward when a vacancy occurred shortly afterwards."
"My husband scarce does himself justice, Master De Courcy," the trader's
wife said, "for it was not only because of his championship of the city's
rights, but as one of the richest and most enterprising of our merchants,
and because he spends his wealth worthily, giving large gifts to many
charities, and being always foremost in every work for the benefit of the
citizens. Maybe, too, the fact that he was one of the eight citizens who
jousted at the tournament, given at the king's accession, against the
nobles of the Court, and who overthrew his adversary, had also something
to do with his election."
"Nay, nay, wife! these are private affairs that are of little interest to
our guests, and you speak with partiality."
"At any rate, sir," Edgar said, courteously, "the fact that you so bore
yourself in the tournament suffices to explain how it was that you were
able to keep those cut-throats at bay until just before we arrived at the
"We are peaceful men in the city," the merchant said, "but we know that if
we are to maintain our rights, and to give such aid as behoves us to our
king in his foreign wars, we need knowledge as much as others how to bear
arms. Every apprentice as well as every free man throughout the city has
to practise at the butts, and to learn to use sword and dagger. I myself
was naturally well instructed; and as my father was wealthy, there were
always two or three good horses in his stables, and I learned to couch a
lance and sit firm in the saddle. As at Hastings and Poictiers, the
contingent of the city has ever been held to bear itself as well as the
best; and although we do not, like most men, always go about the street
with swords in our belts, we can all use them if needs be. Strangely
enough, it is your trading communities that are most given to fighting.
Look at Venice and Genoa, Milan and Pisa, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges, and
to go further back, Carthage and Tyre. And even among us, look at the men
of Sandwich and Fowey in Cornwall; they are traders, but still more they
are fighters; they are ever harassing the ships of France, and making
raids on the French coast."
"I see that it is as you say," Edgar said, "though I have never thought of
it before. Somehow one comes to think of the citizens of great towns as
being above all things peaceful."
"The difference between them and your knights is, that the latter are
always ready to fight for honour and glory, and often from the pure love
of fighting. We do not want to fight, but are ready to do so for our
rights and perhaps for our interests, but at bottom I believe that there
is little difference between the classes. Perhaps if we understood each
other better we should join more closely together. We are necessary to
each other; we have the honour of England equally at heart. The knights
and nobles do most of our fighting for us, while we, on our part, import
or produce everything they need beyond the common necessities of life;
both of us are interested in checking the undue exercise of kingly
authority; and if they supply the greater part of the force with which we
carry on the war with France, assuredly it is we who find the greater part
of the money for the expenses, while we get no share of the spoils of
"Have you any sisters, Master De Courcy?" the merchant's wife asked,
"I have but one; she is just about the same age as your daughter, and
methinks there is a strong likeness between them. She and my mother are
both here, having been sent for by my father on the news of the troubles
in our neighbourhood."
"In that case, wife," the merchant said, "it were seemly that you and
Ursula accompany me to-morrow when I go to pay my respects to Sir Ralph De
After dinner was over the merchant took his guests into a small room
adjoining that in which they had dined.
"Friends," he said, "we London merchants are accustomed to express our
gratitude not only by words but by deeds. At present, methinks, seeing
that, as you have told me, you have not yet launched out into the world,
there is naught that you need; but this may not be so always, for none can
tell what fortune may befall him. I only say that any service I can
possibly render you at any time, you have but to ask me. I am a rich man,
and, having no son, my daughter is my only heir. Had your estate been
different and your taste turned towards trade, I could have put you in the
way of becoming like myself, foreign merchants; but even in your own
profession of arms I may be of assistance.
"Should you go to the war later on and wish to take a strong following
with you, you have but to come to me and say how much it will cost to arm
and equip them and I will forthwith defray it, and my pleasure in doing so
will be greater than yours in being able to follow the king with a goodly
array of fighting men. One thing, at least, you must permit me to do when
the time comes that you are to make your first essay in arms: it will be
my pleasure and pride to furnish you with horse, arms, and armour. This,
however, is a small matter. What I really wish you to believe is that
under all circumstances--and one cannot say what will happen during the
present troubles--you can rely upon me absolutely."
"We thank you most heartily, sir," Edgar said, "and should the time come
when, as you say, circumstances may occur in which we can take advantage
of your most generous offers, we will do so."
"That is well and loyally said," the merchant replied, "and I shall hold
you to it. You will remember that, by so doing, it will be you who confer
the favour and not I, for my wife and I will always be uneasy in our minds
until we can do something at least towards proving our gratitude for the
service that you have rendered."
A few minutes later, after taking leave of the merchant's wife and
daughter, the two friends left the house.
"Truly we have been royally entertained, Edgar. What luxury and comfort,
and yet everything quiet and in good taste. The apartments of the king
himself are cold and bare in comparison. I felt half inclined to embrace
his offer and to declare that I would fain become a trader like himself."
Edgar laughed, "Who ever heard of such a thing as the son of a valiant
knight going into trade? Why the bare thought of such a thing would make
Sir Ralph's hair stand on end. You would even shock your gentle mother."
"But why should it, Edgar? In Italy the nobles are traders, and no one
thinks it a dishonour. Why should not a peaceful trade be held in as high
esteem as fighting?"
"That I cannot say, Albert," Edgar replied, more seriously; "but whatever
may be the case in Venice, it assuredly is not so here. It may be that
some day when we reach as high a civilization as Genoa and Venice possess,
trade may here be viewed as it is there--as honourable for even those of
the highest birth. Surely commerce requires far more brains and wisdom
than the dealing of blows, and the merchants of Venice can fight as
earnestly as they can trade. Still, no one man can stand against public
opinion, and until trade comes to be generally viewed as being as
honourable a calling as that of war, men of gentle blood will not enter
upon it; and you must remember, Albert, that it is but the exceptions who
can gain such wealth as that of our host to-day, and that had you gone
into the house of one of the many who can only earn a subsistence from it,
you would not have been so entertained. But, of course, you are not
"Not serious in thinking of being a trader, Edgar, though methinks the
life would suit me well; but quite serious in not seeing why knights and
nobles should look down upon traders."
"There I quite agree with you; but as my father said to me, 'You must not
think, Edgar, that you can set yourself up and judge others according to
your own ideas.' We were especially speaking then of the freeing of the
serfs and the bettering of their condition. 'These things,' he said, 'will
come assuredly when the general opinion is ripe for them, but those who
first advocate changes are ever looked upon as dreamers, if not as
seditious and dangerous persons, and to force on a thing before the world
is fit for it is to do harm rather than good. Theoretically, there is as
much to be said for the views of the priest Jack Straw and other
agitators, as for those of Wickcliffe; but their opinions will at first
bring persecution and maybe death to those who hold them. These peasants
will rise in arms, and will, when the affair is over--should they escape
with their lives--find their condition even worse than before; while the
followers of Wickcliffe will have the whole power of the Church against
them, and may suffer persecution and even death, besides being often
viewed with grave disfavour even by their families for taking up with
"No doubt that is so, Edgar, but I wish I lived in days when it were not
deemed necessary that one of gentle blood should be either a fighting man
or a priest."
In the time of Richard II. it was not considered in any way misdemeaning
to receive a present for services rendered--a chain of gold, arms and
armour, and even purses of money were so received with as little
hesitation as were ransoms for prisoners taken in battle. Therefore Sir
Ralph expressed himself as much pleased when he heard of the merchant's
promise to present their military outfit to the two lads, and of his
proffer of other services.
"By St. George," he said, "such good fortune never befell me, although I
have been fighting since my youth. I have, it is true, earned many a heavy
ransom from prisoners taken in battle, but that was a matter of business.
The gold chain I wear was a present from the Black Prince, and I do not
say that I have not received some presents in my time from merchants whose
property I have rescued from marauders, or to whom I have rendered other
service. Still, I know not of any one piece of good fortune that equals
yours, and truly I myself have no small satisfaction in it, for I have
wondered sometimes where the sums would have come from to furnish Albert
with suitable armour and horse, which he must have if he is to ride in the
train of a noble. In truth, I shall be glad to see this merchant of yours,
and maybe his daughter will be a nice companion for Aline, who, not having
her own pursuits here, finds it, methinks, dull. Just at present the Court
has other things to think of besides pleasure."
On the following day the visit was paid, and afforded pleasure to all
parties. The knight was pleased with the manners of the merchant, who,
owing to his visit to Italy, had little of the formal gravity of his
craft, while there was a heartiness and straightforwardness in his speech
that well suited the bluff knight. The ladies were no less pleased with
each other, and Dame Agatha found herself, to her surprise, chatting with
her visitors on terms of equality, and discoursing on dress and fashion,
the doings of the Court and life in the city, as if she had known her for
years. At her mother's suggestion Aline went with Ursula into the garden,
and from time to time their merry laughter could be heard through the open
"I hope that you will allow your daughter to come and see mine sometimes,"
the dame said, as her guest rose to leave. "When at home the girl has her
horse and dogs, her garden, and her household duties to occupy her. Here
she has naught to do save to sit and embroider, and to have a girl friend
would be a great pleasure to her."
"Ursula will be very glad to do so, and I trust that you will allow your
daughter sometimes to come to us. I will always send her back under good
Every day rendered the political situation more serious. The Kentish
rising daily assumed larger proportions, and was swollen by a great number
of the Essex men, who crossed the river and joined them; and one morning
the news came that a hundred thousand men were gathered on Blackheath, the
Kentish men having been joined not only by those of Essex, but by many
from Sussex, Herts, Cambridge, Suffolk, and Norfolk. These were not under
one chief leader, but the men from each locality had their own captain.
These were Wat the Tyler, William Raw, Jack Sheppard, Tom Milner, and Hob
"Things are coming to a pass indeed," Sir Ralph said, angrily, as he
returned from the Tower late one afternoon. "What think you, this rabble
has had the insolence to stop the king's mother, as with her retinue she
was journeying hither. Methought that there was not an Englishman who did
not hold the widow of the Black Prince in honour, and yet the scurvy
knaves stopped her. It is true that they shouted a greeting to her, but
they would not let her pass until she had consented to kiss some of their
unwashed faces. And, in faith, seeing that her life would have been in
danger did she refuse, she was forced to consent to this humiliation.
"By St. George, it makes my blood boil to think of it; and here, while
such things are going on, we are doing naught. Even the city does not call
out its bands, nor is there any preparation made to meet the storm. All
profess to believe that these fellows mean no harm, and will be put off
with a few soft words, forgetful of what happened in France when the
peasants rose, and that these rascals have already put to death some score
of judges, lawyers, and wealthy people. However, when the princess arrived
with the news, even the king's councillors concluded that something must
be clone, and I am to ride, with five other knights, at six to-morrow
morning, to Blackheath, to ask these rascals, in the name of the king,
what it is that they would have, and to promise them that their requests
shall be carefully considered."
At nine the next morning the knight returned.
"What news, Sir Ralph?" Dame Agatha asked, as he entered. "How have you
sped with your mission?"
"In truth, we have not sped at all. The pestilent knaves refused to have
aught to say to us, but bade us return and tell the king that it was with
him that they would have speech, and that it was altogether useless his
sending out others to talk for him; he himself must come. 'Tis past all
bearing. Never did I see such a gathering of ragged rascals; not one of
them, I verily believe, has as much as washed his face since they started
from home. I scarce thought that all England could have turned out such a
gathering. Let me have some bread and wine, and such meat as you have
ready. There is to be a council in half an hour, and I must be there.
There is no saying what advice some of these poor-spirited courtiers may
"What will be your counsel, Sir Ralph?"
"My counsel will be that the king should mount with what knights he may
have, and a couple of score of men-at-arms, and should ride to Oxford,
send out summonses to his nobles to gather there with their vassals, and
then come and talk with these rebels, and in such fashion as they could
best understand. They may have grievances, but this is not the way to urge
them, by gathering in arms, murdering numbers of honourable men, insulting
the king's mother, burning deeds and records, and now demanding that the
king himself should wait on their scurvy majesties. Yet I know that there
will be some of these time-servers round the king who will advise him to
intrust himself to these rascals who have insulted his mother.
"By my faith, were there but a couple of score of my old companions here,
we would don our armour, mount our warhorses, and ride at them. It may be
that we should be slain, but before that came about we would make such
slaughter of them that they would think twice before they took another
step towards London."
"It was as I expected," the knight said, when he returned from the
council. "The majority were in favour of the king yielding to these knaves
and placing himself in their power, but the archbishop of Canterbury, and
Hales the treasurer, and I, withstood them so hotly that the king yielded
to us, but not until I had charged them with treachery, and with wishing
to imperil the king's life for the safety of their own skins. De Vere and
I might have come to blows had it not been for the king's presence."
"Then what was the final decision of the council, Sir Ralph?" his wife
"It was a sort of compromise," the knight said. "One which pleased me not,
but which at any rate will save the king from insult. He will send a
messenger to-day to them saying that he will proceed to-morrow in his
barge to Rotherhithe, and will there hold converse with them. He intends
not to disembark, but to parley with them from the boat, and he will, at
least in that way, be safe from assault. I hear that another great body of
the Essex, Herts, Norfolk, and Suffolk rebels have arrived on the bank
opposite Greenwich, and that it is their purpose, while those of
Blackheath enter the city from Southwark, to march straight hitherwards,
so that we shall be altogether encompassed by them."
"But the citizens will surely never let them cross the bridge?"
"I know not," the knight said, gloomily. "The lord mayor had audience with
the king this morning, and confessed to him that, although he and all the
better class of citizens would gladly oppose the rioters to the last, and
suffer none to enter the walls, that great numbers of the lower class were
in favour of these fellows, and that it might be that they would
altogether get the better of them, and make common cause with the rabble.
Many of these people have been out to Blackheath; some have stayed there
with the mob, while others have brought back news of their doings. Among
the rabble on Blackheath are many hedge priests; notably, I hear, one John
Ball, a pestilent knave, who preaches treason to them, and tells them that
as all men are equal, so all the goods of those of the better class should
be divided among those having nothing, a doctrine which pleases the
The next day, accordingly, the king went down with some of his councillors
to Rotherhithe. A vast crowd lined both banks of the river, and saluted
him with such yells and shouts, that those with him, fearing the people
might put off in boats and attack him, bade the rowers turn the boat's
head and make up the river again; and, fortunately, the tide being just on
the turn, they were thus able to keep their course in the middle of the
river, and so escape any arrows that might otherwise have been shot at
DEATH TO THE FLEMINGS!
That morning Aline had gone early to the city at the invitation of
Mistress Gaiton to spend the day with Ursula, under the escort of her
brother and Edgar. They were to have fetched her before dusk, but early in
the afternoon Richard Gaiton himself brought her back.
"I am sorry to bring your daughter back so early," he said to Dame Agatha,
"but I had news that after the king turned back this morning, the leaders
of the rebels have been haranguing them, telling them that it was clearly
useless to put any trust in promises, or to hope that redress could be
obtained from the king, who was surrounded by evil councillors, and that,
since they would not allow him to trust himself among the people, the
people must take the matter into their own hands. They had remained quiet
long enough; now was the time that they should show their strength. The
rabble shouted loudly, 'Let us to London! Death to the council! Death to
the rich!' and having gathered under their leaders, they started to march
for Southwark. As there is no saying what may come of the matter,
methought that it were best to bring the young lady back again."
"I thank you," Dame Agatha said; "'tis indeed better that we should be
together. This morning my lord was saying that if these knaves marched
upon London, he had decided that we should move into the Tower."
"It were indeed best, madam. There is no saying what may happen when these
fellows become inflamed with wine and begin to taste the sweets of
plunder. We ourselves feel ashamed that we are not in a position to inarch
out with the city force, and to maintain the law against this rabble; but
it is clear to us that the majority are on the other side. They have taken
into their heads that if these fellows gain rights and privileges for
themselves, the city may also gain fresh rights. Many of the serving-men,
the craftsmen, and even the apprentices have friends and relations among
these people, for most of them belong to the counties round London.
"There are others better placed who not only sympathize, as I myself do,
with the natural desire of the country people to be free from serfdom, but
who favour the cause because they think that were all the people free to
carry arms it would check the power both of the king and nobles. So it
comes that the city is divided in itself; and in this strait, when all
should show a front against rebellion, we are powerless to do aught. Even
among those who talk the loudest against the rabble, there are many, I
fear, who send them secret encouragement, and this not because they care
aught for their grievances, but because the people are set against the
Flemings, who are ill-liked by many of the merchants as being rivals in
trade, and who have in their hands the greater portion of the dealings,
both with Flanders and the Low Country; and indeed, though I see that in
the long run we shall benefit greatly by this foreign trade, I quite
perceive that the privileges that our king has given to the Flemings in
order to win their good-will and assistance against France, do for the
present cause disadvantage and harm to many of the traders of London."
"'Tis a troubled time," Dame Agatha said, "and 'tis hard to see what is
for the best. However, in the Tower assuredly we shall be safe."
"I hope so," the merchant said, gravely.
"Surely you cannot doubt it, Master Gaiton?" Dame Agatha said in surprise.
"I hear that the rabble are openly saying that the men-at-arms and archers
will not act against them. It maybe but empty boasting, but there may be
something in it. The men are almost all enlisted from Kent, Sussex, Essex,
and Hertford, and I have heard report that there is sore discontent among
them because their pay is greatly in arrear, owing to the extravagance of
the Court. It were well, perhaps, that you should mention this to Sir
Ralph, and, above all, I pray you to remember, madam, that so long as my
house stands, so long will it be a refuge to which you and yours may
betake yourselves in case of danger here. I say not that it is safer than
elsewhere, for there is no saying against whom the rage of the rabble may
Sir Ralph came home late in the afternoon. He was gloomy and depressed.
"Things are going but badly, wife," he said. "Verily, were it not for the
duty I owe to the king, we would take horse and ride to Kingston, and
there cross the river and journey round so as to avoid these fellows, and
get to our home and wait there and see what comes of this, and should they
attack us, fight to the end. It seems to me that all have lost their
heads--one gives one counsel, and one gives another. Never did I see such
faint hearts. The lord mayor has been with the king. He speaks bravely as
far as he himself and the better class of citizens are concerned, but they
are overborne by the commonalty, who favour the rabble partly because they
hope to gain by the disorder, and partly because the leaders of the rabble
declare that they will slay all the council, and, above all, the Duke of
Lancaster, against whom many in the city, as well as in the country, have
a deep grudge."
"What counsel did you give, husband?"
"I asked the king to give me the command of half the men-at-arms and
archers, and that I would march them through the city across London
Bridge, close the gates there, and defend them alike against the rabble on
the farther side and that of the city until help could be gathered. The
king himself was willing that this should be so, but the council said that
were I to do this, the gatherings from Essex, Hertford, Suffolk, and
Cambridge would march hither and be joined by the rabble of the city, and
so attack the Tower, being all the more furious at what they would deem a
breach of their privileges by my taking possession of the gates; and so
nothing was done. Have you looked out of the windows across the river? If
not, do so."
Lady Agatha crossed the room and gazed out. From several points in
Southwark columns of smoke mingled with flames were ascending.
"What is it, Ralph?"
"It is the rabble, who are plundering Southwark, and, as I hear, have
broke open the prisons of the Marshalsea and King's Bench. The malefactors
there have joined them; and this has been done without a stroke being
smitten in defence. Where are the boys?"
"They went into the city with Aline this morning, and have not returned.
Ah! here they are coming through the gate."
"Well, Albert, what news have you?" Sir Ralph asked his son as they
"The city is in an uproar, father; most of the shops have closed. There
are gatherings in the streets, and though the lord mayor and Robert Gaiton
and many of the better class have been haranguing them, they refuse to
disperse to their homes. Robert Gaiton took us into the Guildhall, where
many of the most worshipful citizens were assembled, discussing the matter
and what is to be done, but they have no force at their command. The
Flemings are in great fear. Some have betaken themselves to the churches,
where they hope that their lives may be respected, but without, as it
seems to me, any good warrant; for, as the rabble at Canterbury did not
respect even the cathedral, it is not likely that they will hold churches
here as sanctuary. Robert Gaiton advised us that if we entered the city
to-morrow we should not show ourselves in our present apparel, for he says
that if the rabble enter, they may fall foul of any whose dresses would
show them to belong to the Court, and he has given us two sober citizen
suits, in which he said we should be able to move about without fear of
"Things have come to a nice pass, indeed," Sir Ralph grumbled, "when the
son of a knight cannot walk with safety in the streets of London. Still,
Gaiton is doubtless right."
"You will not let the boys enter the city surely, Sir Ralph?" Dame Agatha
"I do not say so, dame. The lads are going to be soldiers, and it were
well that they became used to scenes of tumult. Moreover, they may bring
us news of what is doing there that may help us. I have obtained the use
of a chamber in the Tower for you and Aline. My place, of course, will be
by the king's side; and maybe the reports that the boys will bring us of
the doings in the city may be useful. Is it your wish, lads, to go into
"With your permission, sir, we would gladly do so. There will be much to
see, and, it may be, to learn."
"That is so. Above all, take to heart the lesson that it is dangerous to
grant aught to force; and that if the rabble be suffered to become, even
for an hour, the masters, they will soon become as wild beasts. It was so
in France, and it will be so wherever, by the weakness of the authorities,
the mob is allowed to raise its head and to deem itself master of
everything. All this evil has been brought about by the cowardice of the
garrison of Rochester Castle. Had they done their duty they could have
defended the place for weeks against those knaves, even if not strong
enough to have sallied out and defeated them in the open, but the fellows
seem to have inspired everyone with terror; and in faith, whatever
befalls, it will be mainly the fault of those who should at the first
outbreak have gathered themselves together to make a stand against this
unarmed rabble, for it might at that time have been crushed by a single
"I take blame to myself now, that instead of summoning you hither, I did
not hasten home as soon as I heard of the doings at Dartford, gather a
score of my neighbours with their retainers, and give battle to the mob.
There were comparatively few at that time, and they had not gained
confidence in themselves. And even if we had deemed them too strong to
attack in the field, we might have thrown ourselves into Rochester and
aided the garrison to hold the castle. I have seen troubles in Flanders,
and have learnt how formidable the mob may become when it has once tasted
blood; and it is well that you should both learn that, even when the
commonalty have just grounds for complaint, they must not be allowed to
threaten the security of the realm by armed rebellion.
"Would that the Black Prince were here instead of the Boy King, we should
then have very different measures taken. Even if the king's mother had
spirit and courage, the counsels of those men who surround the king would
be overborne; but she was so alarmed, as she well might be, at her meeting
with the rabble on Blackheath, that the spirit she once had seems to have
quite departed, and she is all in favour of granting them what they will."
Later on Sir Ralph again went to the Tower and shortly returned. "Put on
your cloaks and hoods at once," he said to his wife. "The Essex and
Hertford men have arrived on the north side of the city and may be here in
the morning, and it will be then too late to retire to the Tower. I will
give you a quarter of an hour to pack up your belongings. The men will
carry them for you. As to you, boys, you can safely remain here until
daybreak, then put on your citizen dresses and make your way quietly into
the city, as soon as the gates are open. Put them over your own clothes. I
charge you to take no part in any street fray; but if the better class of
citizens make a stand, throw off your citizen clothes and join them and
strike for the king and country, for assuredly England would be ruined
were the rabble to have their way."
In a quarter of an hour the ladies were ready; and their Court suits and
those of Albert and Edgar had been packed. The men-at-arms took up the
valises, and, followed by them, Sir Ralph, his wife, and daughter made for
In the morning as soon as they knew that the gates would be open the two
boys attired themselves in the citizen suits, and, buckling on their
swords, left the house. As soon as they entered the city they found that
the streets were already filled with people. It was Corpus Christi, at
that time kept as a general holiday, and, regardless of the troubles, many
were flocking out to enjoy a holiday in the country. The boys had debated
whether they should first go to the merchant's, but they agreed not to do
so, as he would probably be in consultation with the authorities, and
would be fully occupied without having them to attend to.
As they advanced farther it was easy to see that there was another element
besides that of the holiday-makers abroad. Bands of men carrying heavy
staves, and many of them with swords at their belts, were hurrying in the
direction of the bridge, and Edgar and Albert took the same direction. The
bridge itself was crowded, partly with holiday-makers and partly with
armed men, while the windows of the houses were occupied by spectators,
who were looking down with evident apprehension at what was about to take
place. Gradually making their way forward the two friends reached the
other end. Here there was a group of citizens on horseback. Among them was
the lord mayor, William Walworth, and many of the aldermen, Robert Gaiton
among them. The mob were shouting, "Open the gates!" The uproar was great,
but on the mayor holding up his hand there was silence.
"Fellow-citizens," he said, "know ye not what has been done by these men
at Southwark? Not content with plundering and ill-treating the
inhabitants, breaking open the cellars and besotting themselves with
liquor, they have opened the doors of the prisons, and have been joined by
the malefactors held there. Assuredly if they enter the city they will
behave in like manner here; therefore the gates cannot be opened."
A man stepped forward from the mob and replied:
"It has always been the custom for the gates to be opened, and for the
citizens to go out to the fields to enjoy themselves on a holiday, and we
will have it so now whether you like it or not."
Then the uproar was renewed, swords and staves were raised menacingly, and
cries raised of "Death to the lord mayor!" "Death to all who would
interfere with our liberties!" The mayor took counsel with those around
him. It was manifestly impossible that some twenty or thirty men could
successfully oppose an infuriated mob, and it was certain that they would
all lose their lives were they to do so, and that without avail.
Accordingly the mayor again held up his hand for silence, and said:
"We cannot oppose your will, seeing that you are many and that we are few;
therefore, if you wish it, we must open the gates, but many of you will
regret ere many days have passed the part that you have taken in this
So saying, he and those with him drew aside. With a shout of triumph the
mob rushed to the gates, removed the bars and opened them, and then poured
out, shouting and cheering, into Southwark.
While the dispute had been going on the two friends had quietly made their
way almost to the front line.
"What had we best do, Edgar?"
"We had best keep quiet," the latter said; "this is but a street broil,
against which your father charged us to take no part. It would not be a
fight, but a massacre. Had these gentlemen been in armour, they might have
sold their lives dearly, and perchance have fought their way through, but
seeing that they have but on their civic gowns they can make no effectual
As soon as the gates were open they stood back in a doorway until the
first rush of the crowd had ceased; then they followed the horsemen across
the bridge again, and took their stand at the end of Gracechurch Street to
see what would follow. In a short time they saw the holiday-makers come
pouring back over the bridge in evident terror, and close on their heels
were a great mob. At their head, on horseback, rode Wat Tyler and three or
four other leaders. Behind them followed a disorderly crowd, brandishing
their weapons. Many of these were drunk, their clothes being stained
deeply by the wine from the casks they had broached. Among them were many
of the men who had been released from prison.
As they poured over the bridge, some broke off from the column and began
to harangue the citizens, saying that these had as much to complain of as
they had, seeing how they were taxed for the extravagancies of the Court
and the expense of foreign wars, and that now was the time for all honest
men to rise against their oppressors. Many of the lower class joined their
ranks. None ventured to enter into dispute with them. Some of the mob were
dressed in ecclesiastical robes which they had taken from the churches.
These as they went shouted blasphemous parodies on the mass. The leaders
evidently had a fixed purpose in their minds, for upon reaching Cheapside
they turned west.
"It is sad to think that these fellows should disgrace the cause for which
they took up arms," Edgar said to his companion. "They had grounds for
complaint when they first rose. I then felt some sympathy for them, but
now they are intoxicated with their success. Look at Wat the Tyler. I
believed he was an honest workman, and, as all said, a clever one. I do
not blame him that in his wrath he slew the man who had insulted his
daughter; but look at him now--he rides as if he were a king. He is puffed
up with his own importance, and looks round upon the citizens as if he
were their lord and master. He has stolen some armour on his way, and
deems that he cuts a knightly figure. Let us go by the quiet streets and
see what is their object."
The whole of the rioters moved down Cheapside by St. Paul's, and then to
the Temple. So far they offered no wrong to anyone. They sallied out
through the gates and continued on their way until they reached the Savoy,
the splendid palace of the Duke of Lancaster, which was said to be the
fairest and most richly furnished of any in the kingdom. With shouts of
triumph they broke into it and scattered through the rooms, smashing the
furniture and destroying everything they could lay hands upon. Some made
for the cellars, where they speedily intoxicated themselves. Loud shouts
were raised that nothing was to be taken. The silver vessels and jewels
were smashed, and then carried down to the Thames and thrown into it.
In a short time flames burst out in several parts of the palace. One man
was noticed by another as he thrust a silver cup into his dress. He was at
once denounced and seized, and was without further ado hurled into the
The fire spread rapidly. The crowd surrounded the palace, shouting,
yelling, and dancing in their triumph over the destruction that they had
wrought. Upwards of thirty of the drunkards were unable to escape, and
were imprisoned in the cellars. Their shouts for help were heard for seven
days, but none came to their assistance, for the ruins of the house had
fallen over them, and they all perished. Thence the crowd went to the
Temple, where they burnt all the houses occupied by lawyers, with all
their books and documents, and then proceeded to the house of the Knights
of St. John, a splendid building but lately erected. This also they fired,
and so great was its extent that it burned for seven days.
The next morning twenty thousand of them marched to Highbury, the great
manor-house of which belonged to the Order of St. John, and this and the
buildings around it were all destroyed by fire.
After seeing the destruction of the Temple, Edgar and Albert went back to
Cheapside. The streets were almost deserted. The better class of citizens
had all shut themselves up in their houses and every door was closed. On
knocking at the door of the mercer the two friends were admitted. The
alderman had just returned from a gathering of the city authorities. They
told him what they had witnessed.
"It passes all bounds," he said, "and yet there is naught that we can do
to put a stop to it. For myself I have counselled that proclamation shall
be made that all honest citizens shall gather, with arms in their hands,
at the Guildhall, and that we should beg the king to give us some
assistance in men-at-arms and archers, and that we should then give battle
to the rabble. But I found few of my opinion. All were thinking of the
safety of their families and goods, and said that were we defeated, as we
well might be, seeing how great are their numbers, they would pillage and
slay as they chose. Whereas, if we give them no pretence for molesting us,
it might be that they would do no harm to private persons, but would
content themselves with carrying out their original designs of obtaining a
charter from the king.
"In faith it is cowardly counsel, and yet, as with the forces from the
north and south there must be fully two hundred thousand rebels, I own
that there is some reason in such advice. If the king with his knights and
nobles and his garrison at the Tower would but sally out and set us an
example, be sure that he would be joined by the law-abiding citizens, but
as he doeth naught in this strait, I see not that peaceful citizens are
called upon to take the whole brunt of it upon their own shoulders.
However, I have little hope that the rioters will content themselves with
destroying palaces and attacking lawyers. What you tell me of the
execution of one of their number, who stole a silver cup, shows that the
bulk of them are at present really desirous only of redress of grievances,
but they will soon pass beyond this. The jail-birds will set an example of
plunder and murder, and unless help comes before long, all London will be
sacked. My men and apprentices are already engaged in carrying down to the
cellars all my richest wares. The approach is by a trap-door, with a great
stone over it in the yard, and it will, I hope, escape their search.
"Of one thing you may be sure, that as soon as the king shows himself, and
it is seen that he is in danger, there will be no hanging back, but we
shall join him with what force we can. I think not that he can have aid
from without, for we hear that the country people have everywhere risen,
and that from Winchester in the south, to Scarborough in the north, they
have taken up arms, and that the nobles are everywhere shut up in their
castles, so they, being cut off from each other, are in no position to
gather a force that could bring aid to the king. You can tell your good
father what I say, and that all depends upon the attitude of the king. If
he comes to us with his knights and men we will join him; if he comes not,
and we learn that he is in danger, we will do what we can, but that must
depend much upon how the rebels comport themselves."
The two lads went to the Tower, but the gates were closed and the
drawbridge pulled up, and they therefore returned to their lodging, where
they passed the night. On the following day they returned into the city;
there the rioters had already began their work. Thirty Flemings, who had
taken refuge in the churches, were dragged from the altar and were
beheaded, thirty-two others were seized in the vintry and also slain. Then
parties broke into all the houses where the Flemings lived, and such as
had not fled in disguise were killed, and their houses pillaged. All
through the day the streets were in an uproar. Every man the rebels met
was seized and questioned.
"Who are you for?" Such as answered "The king and commons" were allowed to
go unmolested, others were killed. The two friends had several narrow
escapes. Fortunately Edgar had learned the watchword at Dartford and
readily replied, and they were allowed to pass on. They were traversing
Bread Street when they heard a scream behind them, and a girl came flying
along, pursued by a large number of the rioters, headed by a man in the
dress of a clerk. She reached the door of a handsome house close to them,
but before she could open it the leader of the party ran up and roughly
seized her. Edgar struck him a buffet on the face which sent him reeling
With shouts of fury the crowd rushed up just as the door opened. Edgar and
Albert stepped back into the doorway, while the girl ran upstairs.
"How, now, my masters," Edgar said as he drew his sword, "is this the way
to secure your rights and liberties, by attacking women in the streets?
Shame on you! Do you call yourselves Englishmen?"