Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced by Martin Robb (MartinRobb@ieee.org).
Saint George for England
by G. A. Henty
MY DEAR LADS,
You may be told perhaps that there is no good to be obtained from tales of
fighting and bloodshed, - that there is no moral to be drawn from such
histories. Believe it not. War has its lessons as well as Peace. You will
learn from tales like this that determination and enthusiasm can accomplish
marvels, that true courage is generally accompanied by magnanimity and
gentleness, and that if not in itself the very highest of virtues, it is
the parent of almost all the others, since but few of them can be practised
without it. The courage of our forefathers has created the greatest empire
in the world around a small and in itself insignificant island; if this
empire is ever lost, it will be by the cowardice of their descendants.
At no period of her history did England stand so high in the eyes of Europe
as in the time whose events are recorded in this volume. A chivalrous king
and an even more chivalrous prince had infected the whole people with their
martial spirit, and the result was that their armies were for a time
invincible, and the most astonishing successes were gained against numbers
which would appear overwhelming. The victories of Cressy and Poitiers may
be to some extent accounted for by superior generalship and discipline on
the part of the conquerors; but this will not account for the great naval
victory over the Spanish fleet off the coast of Sussex, a victory even more
surprising and won against greater odds than was that gained in the same
waters centuries later over the Spanish Armada. The historical facts of the
story are all drawn from Froissart and other contemporary historians, as
collated and compared by Mr. James in his carefully written history. They
may therefore be relied upon as accurate in every important particular.
G. A. HENTY.
CHAPTER I: A WAYFARER
It was a bitterly cold night in the month of November, 1330. The rain was
pouring heavily, when a woman, with child in her arms, entered the little
village of Southwark. She had evidently come from a distance, for her
dress was travel-stained and muddy. She tottered rather than walked, and
when, upon her arrival at the gateway on the southern side of London
Bridge, she found that the hour was past and the gates closed for the
night, she leant against the wall with a faint groan of exhaustion and
After remaining, as if in doubt, for some time, she feebly made her way
into the village. Here were many houses of entertainment, for travelers
like herself often arrived too late to enter the gates, and had to abide
outside for the night. Moreover, house rent was dear within the walls of
the crowded city, and many, whose business brought them to town, found it
cheaper to take up their abode in the quiet hostels of Southwark rather
than to stay in the more expensive inns within the walls. The lights came
out brightly from many of the casements, with sounds of boisterous songs
and laughter. The woman passed these without a pause. Presently she
stopped before a cottage, from which a feeble light alone showed that it
She knocked at the door. It was opened by a pleasant-faced man of some
thirty years old.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I am a wayfarer," the woman answered feebly. "Canst take me and my child
in for the night?"
"You have made a mistake," the man said; "this is no inn. Further up the
road there are plenty of places where you can find such accommodation as
"I have passed them," the woman said, "but all seemed full of roisterers. I
am wet and weary, and my strength is nigh spent. I can pay thee, good
fellow, and I pray you as a Christian to let me come in and sleep before
your fire for the night. When the gates are open in the morning I will go;
for I have a friend within the city who will, methinks, receive me.
The tone of voice, and the addressing of himself as good fellow, at once
convinced the man that the woman before him was no common wayfarer.
"Come in," he said; "Geoffrey Ward is not a man to shut his doors in a
woman's face on a night like this, nor does he need payment for such small
hospitality. Come hither, Madge!" he shouted; and at his voice a woman
came down from the upper chamber. "Sister," he said; "this is a wayfarer
who needs shelter for the night; she is wet and weary. Do you take her up
to your room and lend her some dry clothing; then make her a cup of warm
posset, which she needs sorely. I will fetch an armful of fresh rushes from
the shed and strew them here: I will sleep in the smithy. Quick, girl," he
said sharply; "she is fainting with cold and fatigue." And as he spoke he
caught the woman as she was about to fall, and laid her gently on the
ground. "She is of better station than she seems," he said to his sister;
"like enough some poor lady whose husband has taken part in the troubles;
but that is no business of ours. Quick, Madge, and get these wet things off
her; she is soaked to the skin. I will go round to the Green Dragon and
will fetch a cup of warm cordial, which I warrant me will put fresh life
So saying, he took down his flat cap from its peg on the wall and went out,
while his sister at once proceeded to remove the drenched garments and to
rub the cold hands of the guest until she recovered consciousness. When
Geoffrey Ward returned, the woman was sitting in a settle by the fireside,
dressed in a warm woolen garment belonging to his sister.
Madge had thrown fresh wood on the fire, which was blazing brightly now.
The woman drank the steaming beverage which her host brought with him. The
colour came faintly again into her cheeks.
"I thank you, indeed," she said, "for your kindness. Had you not taken me
in I think I would have died at your door, for indeed I could go no
further; and though I hold not to life, yet would I fain live until I have
delivered my boy into the hands of those who will be kind to him, and this
will, I trust, be tomorrow."
"Say nought about it," Geoffrey answered; "Madge and I are right glad to
have been of service to you. It would be a poor world indeed if one could
not give a corner of one's fireside to a fellow-creature on such a night as
this, especially when that fellow creature is a woman with a child. Poor
little chap! He looks right well and sturdy, and seems to have taken no
ill from his journey."
"Truly, he is well and sturdy," the mother said, looking at him proudly;
"indeed I have been almost wishing today that he were lighter by a few
pounds, for in truth I am not used to carry him far, and his weight has
sorely tried me. His name is Walter, and I trust," she added, looking at
the powerful figure of her host, "that he will grow up as straight and as
stalwart as yourself." The child, who was about three years old, was indeed
an exceedingly fine little fellow, as he sat, in one scanty garment, in his
mother's lap, gazing with round eyes at the blazing fire; and the smith
thought how pretty a picture the child and mother made. She was a fair,
gentle-looking girl some two-and-twenty years old, and it was easy enough
to see now from her delicate features and soft shapely hands that she had
never been accustomed to toil.
"And now," the smith said, "I will e'en say good night. The hour is late,
and I shall be having the watch coming along to know why I keep a fire so
long after the curfew. Should you be a stranger in the city, I will gladly
act as your guide in the morning to the friends whom you seek, that is,
should they be known to me; but if not, we shall doubtless find them
So saying, the smith retired to his bed of rushes in the smithy, and soon
afterwards the tired visitor, with her baby, lay down on the rushes in
front of the fire, for in those days none of the working or artisan class
used beds, which were not indeed, for centuries afterwards, in usage by the
In the morning Geoffrey Ward found that his guest desired to find one Giles
Fletcher, a maker of bows.
"I know him well," the smith said. "There are many who do a larger
business, and hold their heads higher; but Giles Fletcher is well esteemed
as a good workman, whose wares can be depended upon. It is often said of
him that did he take less pains he would thrive more; but he handles each
bow that he makes as if he loved it, and finishes and polishes each with
his own hand. Therefore he doeth not so much trade as those who are less
particular with their wares, for he hath to charge a high price to be able
to live. But none who have ever bought his bows have regretted the silver
which they cost. Many and many a gross of arrowheads have I sold him, and
he is well-nigh as particular in their make as he is over the spring and
temper of his own bows. Many a friendly wrangle have I had with him over
their weight and finish, and it is not many who find fault with my
handiwork, though I say it myself; and now, madam, I am at your service."
During the night the wayfarer's clothes had been dried. The cloak was of
rough quality, such as might have been used by a peasant woman; but the
rest, though of sombre colour, were of good material and fashion. Seeing
that her kind entertainers would be hurt by the offer of money, the lady
contented herself with thanking Madge warmly, and saying that she hoped to
come across the bridge one day with Dame Fletcher; then, under the guidance
of Geoffrey, who insisted on carrying the boy, she set out from the smith's
cottage. They passed under the outer gate and across the bridge, which
later on was covered with a double line of houses and shops, but was now a
narrow structure. Over the gateway across the river, upon pikes, were a
number of heads and human limbs. The lady shuddered as she looked up.
"It is an ugly sight," the smith said, "and I can see no warrant for such
exposure of the dead. There are the heads of Wallace, of three of Robert
Bruce's brothers, and of many other valiant Scotsmen who fought against the
king's grandfather some twenty years back. But after all they fought for
their country, just as Harold and our ancestors against the Normans under
William, and I think it a foul shame that men who have done no other harm
should be beheaded, still less that their heads and limbs should be stuck
up there gibbering at all passers-by. There are over a score of them, and
every fresh trouble adds to their number; but pardon me," he said suddenly
as a sob from the figure by his side called his attention from the heads on
the top of the gateway, "I am rough and heedless in speech, as my sister
Madge does often tell me, and it may well be that I have said something
which wounded you."
"You meant no ill," the lady replied; "it was my own thoughts and troubles
which drew tears from me; say not more about it, I pray you.
They passed under the gateway, with its ghastly burden, and were soon in
the crowded streets of London. High overhead the houses extended, each
story advancing beyond that below it until the occupiers of the attics
could well-nigh shake hands across. They soon left the more crowded
streets, and turning to the right, after ten minutes walking, the smith
stopped in front of a bowyer shop near Aldgate.
"This is the shop," he said, "and there is Giles Fletcher himself trying
the spring and pull of one of his bows. Here I will leave you, and will one
of these days return to inquire if your health has taken ought of harm by
the rough buffeting of the storm of yester-even."
So saying he handed the child to its mother, and with a wave of the hand
took his leave, not waiting to listen to the renewed thanks which his late
guest endeavoured to give him.
The shop was open in front, a projecting penthouse sheltered it from the
weather; two or three bows lay upon a wide shelf in front, and several
large sheaves of arrows tied together stood by the wall. A powerful man of
some forty years old was standing in the middle of the shop with a bent bow
in his arm, taking aim at a spot in the wall. Through an open door three
men could be seen in an inner workshop cutting and shaping the wood for
bows. The bowyer looked round as his visitor entered the shop, and then,
with a sudden exclamation, lowered the bow.
"Hush, Giles!" the lady exclaimed; "it is I, but name no names; it were
best that none knew me here."
The craftsman closed the door of communication into the inner room. "My
Lady Alice," he exclaimed in a low tone, "you here, and in such a guise?"
"Surely it is I," the lady sighed, "although sometimes I am well-nigh
inclined to ask myself whether it be truly I or not, or whether this be not
all a dreadful dream."
"I had heard but vaguely of your troubles," Giles Fletcher said, "but hoped
that the rumours were false. Ever since the Duke of Kent was executed the
air has been full of rumours. Then came news of the killing of Mortimer and
of the imprisonment of the king's mother, and it was said that many who
were thought to be of her party had been attacked and slain, and I heard -"
and there he stopped.
"You heard rightly, good Giles, it is all true. A week after the slaying of
Mortimer a band of knights and men-at-arms arrived at our castle and
demanded admittance in the king's name. Sir Roland refused, for he had news
that many were taking up arms, but it was useless. The castle was attacked,
and after three days' fighting, was taken. Roland was killed, and I was
cast out with my child. Afterwards they repented that they had let me go,
and searched far and wide for me; but I was hidden in the cottage of a
woodcutter. They were too busy in hunting down others whom they proclaimed
to be enemies of the king, as they had wrongfully said of Roland, who had
but done his duty faithfully to Queen Isabella, and was assuredly no enemy
of her son, although he might well be opposed to the weak and indolent
king, his father. However, when the search relaxed I borrowed the cloak of
the good man's wife and set out for London, whither I have traveled on
foot, believing that you and Bertha would take me in and shelter me in my
"Aye, that will we willingly," Giles said. "Was not Bertha your nurse ? and
to whom should you come if not to her? But will it please you to mount the
stairs, for Bertha will not forgive me if I keep you talking down here.
What a joy it will be to her to see you again!"
So saying, Giles led the way to the apartment above. There was a scream of
surprise and joy from his wife, and then Giles quietly withdrew downstairs
again, leaving the women to cry in each other's arms.
A few days later Geoffrey Ward entered the shop of Giles Fletcher.
"I have brought you twenty score of arrowheads, Master Giles," he said.
"They have been longer in hand than is usual with me, but I have been
pressed. And how goes it with the lady whom I brought to your door last
"But sadly, Master Ward, very sadly, as I told you when I came across to
thank you again in her name and my own for your kindness to her. She was
but in poor plight after her journey; poor thing, she was little accustomed
to such wet and hardship, and doubtless they took all the more effect
because she was low in spirit and weakened with much grieving. That night
she was taken with a sort of fever, hot and cold by turns, and at times off
her head. Since then she has lain in a high fever and does not know even my
wife; her thoughts ever go back to the storming of the castle, and she
cries aloud and begs them to spare her lord's life. It is pitiful to hear
her. The leech gives but small hope for her life, and in troth, Master
Ward, methinks that God would deal most gently with her were He to take
her. Her heart is already in her husband's grave, for she was ever of a
most loving and faithful nature. Here there would be little comfort for her
- she would fret that her boy would never inherit the lands of his father;
and although she knows well enough that she would be always welcome here,
and that Bertha would serve her as gladly and faithfully as ever she did
when she was her nurse, yet she could not but greatly feel the change. She
was tenderly brought up, being, as I told you last week, the only daughter
of Sir Harold Broome. Her brother, who but a year ago became lord of
Broomecastle at the death of his father, was one of the queen's men, and it
was he, I believe, who brought Sir Roland Somers to that side. He was slain
on the same night as Mortimer, and his lands, like those of Sir Roland,
have been seized by the crown. The child upstairs is by right heir to both
estates, seeing that his uncle died unmarried. They will doubtless be
conferred upon those who have aided the young king in freeing himself from
his mother's domination, for which, indeed, although I lament that Lady
Alice should have suffered so sorely in the doing of it, I blame him not at
all. He is a noble prince and will make us a great king, and the doings of
his mother have been a shame to us all. However, I meddle not in politics.
If the poor lady dies, as methinks is well-nigh certain, Bertha and I will
bring up the boy as our own. I have talked it over with my wife, and so far
she and I are not of one mind. I think it will be best to keep him in
ignorance of his birth and lineage, since the knowledge cannot benefit him,
and will but render him discontented with his lot and make him disinclined
to take to my calling, in which he might otherwise earn a living and rise
to be a respected citizen. But Bertha hath notions. You have not taken a
wife to yourself, Master Geoffrey, or you would know that women oft have
fancies which wander widely from hard facts, and she says she would have
him brought up as a man-at-arms, so that he may do valiant deeds, and win
back some day the title and honour of his family."
Geoffrey Ward laughed. "Trust a woman for being romantic," he said.
"However, Master Fletcher, you need not for the present trouble about the
child's calling, even should its mother die. At any rate, whether he
follows your trade, or whether the blood in his veins leads him to take to
martial deeds, the knowledge of arms may well be of use to him, and I
promise you that such skill as I have I will teach him when he grows old
enough to wield sword and battle-axe. As you know I may, without boasting,
say that he could scarce have a better master, seeing that I have for three
years carried away the prize for the best sword- player at the sports.
Methinks the boy will grow up into a strong and stalwart man, for he is
truly a splendid lad. As to archery, he need not go far to learn it, since
your apprentice, Will Parker, last year won the prize as the best marksman
in the city bounds. Trust me, if his tastes lie that way we will between
us turn him out a rare man-at-arms. But I must stand gossiping no longer;
the rumours that we are likely ere long to have war with France, have
rarely bettered my trade. Since the wars in Scotland men's arms have rusted
somewhat, and my two men are hard at work mending armour and fitting swords
to hilts, and forging pike-heads. You see I am a citizen though I dwell
outside the bounds, because house rent is cheaper and I get my charcoal
without paying the city dues. So I can work somewhat lower than those in
the walls, and I have good custom from many in Kent, who know that my arms
are of as good temper as those turned out by any craftsman in the city."
Giles Fletcher's anticipations as to the result of his guest's illness
turned out to be well founded. The fever abated, but left her prostrate in
strength. For a few weeks she lingered; but she seemed to have little hold
of life, and to care not whether she lived or died. So, gradually she faded
"I know you will take care of my boy as if he were your own, Bertha," she
said one day; "and you and your husband will be far better protectors for
him than I should have been had I lived. Teach him to be honest and true.
It were better, methinks, that he grew up thinking you his father and
mother, for otherwise he may grow discontented with his lot; but this I
leave with you, and you must speak or keep silent according as you see his
disposition and mind. If he is content to settle down to a peaceful life
here, say nought to him which would unsettle his mind; but if Walter turn
out to have an adventurous disposition, then tell him as much as you think
fit of his history, not encouraging him to hope to recover his father's
lands and mine, for that can never be, seeing that before that time can
come they would have been enjoyed for many years by others; but that he may
learn to bear himself bravely and gently as becomes one of good blood."
A few days later Lady Alice breathed her last, and at her own request was
buried quietly and without pomp, as if she had been a child of the bowman,
a plain stone, with the name "Dame Alice Somers", marking the grave.
The boy grew and throve until at fourteen years old there was no stronger
or sturdier lad of his age within the city bounds. Giles had caused him to
be taught to read and write, accomplishments which were common among the
citizens, although they were until long afterwards rare among the warlike
barons. The greater part of his time, however, was spent in sports with
lads of his own age in Moorfields beyond the walls. The war with France was
now raging, and, as was natural, the boys in their games imitated the
doings of their elders, and mimic battles, ofttimes growing into earnest,
were fought between the lads of the different wards. Walter Fletcher, as
he was known among his play-fellows, had by his strength and courage won
for himself the proud position of captain of the boys of the ward of
Geoffrey Ward had kept his word, and had already begun to give the lad
lessons in the use of arms. When not engaged otherwise Walter would, almost
every afternoon, cross London Bridge and would spend hours in the
armourer's forge. Geoffrey's business had grown, for the war had caused a
great demand for arms, and he had now six men working in the forge. As soon
as the boy could handle a light tool Geoffrey allowed him to work, and
although not able to wield the heavy sledge Walter was able to do much of
the finer work. Geoffrey encouraged him in this, as, in the first place,
the use of the tools greatly strengthened the boy's muscles, and gave him
an acquaintance with arms. Moreover, Geoffrey was still a bachelor, and he
thought that the boy, whom he as well as Giles had come to love as a son,
might, should he not take up the trade of war, prefer the occupation of an
armourer to that of a bowmaker, in which case he would take him some day as
his partner in the forge. After work was over and the men had gone away,
Geoffrey would give the lad instructions in the use of the arms at which he
had been at work, and so quick and strong was he that he rapidly acquired
their use, and Geoffrey foresaw that he would one day, should his thoughts
turn that way, prove a mighty man-at-arms.
It was the knowledge which he acquired from Geoffrey which had much to do
with Walter's position among his comrades. The skill and strength which he
had acquired in wielding the hammer, and by practice with the sword
rendered him a formidable opponent with the sticks, which formed the
weapons in the mimic battles, and indeed not a few were the complaints
which were brought before Giles Fletcher of bruises and hurts caused by
"You are too turbulent, Walter," the bowyer said one day when a haberdasher
from the ward of Aldersgate came to complain that his son's head had been
badly cut by a blow with a club from Walter Fletcher. "You are always
getting into trouble, and are becoming the terror of other boys. Why do you
not play more quietly? The feuds between the boys of different wards are
becoming a serious nuisance, and many injuries have been inflicted. I hear
that the matter has been mentioned in the Common Council, and that there is
a talk of issuing an order that no boy not yet apprenticed to a trade shall
be allowed to carry a club, and that any found doing so shall be publicly
"I don't want to be turbulent," Walter said; "but if the Aldersgate boys
will defy us, what are we to do? I don't hit harder than I can help, and if
Jonah Harris would leave his head unguarded I could not help hitting it."
"I tell you it won't do, Walter," Giles said. "You will be getting yourself
into sore trouble. You are growing too masterful altogether, and have none
of the quiet demeanour and peaceful air which becomes an honest citizen. In
another six months you will be apprenticed, and then I hope we shall hear
no more of these doings."
"My father is talking of apprenticing me, Master Geoffrey," Walter said
that evening. "I hope that you will, as you were good enough to promise,
talk with him about apprenticing me to your craft rather than to his. I
should never take to the making of bows, though, indeed, I like well to use
them; and Will Parker, who is teaching me says that I show rare promise;
but it would never be to my taste to stand all day sawing, and smoothing,
and polishing. One bow is to me much like another, though my father holds
that there are rare differences between them; but it is a nobler craft to
work on iron, and next to using arms the most pleasant thing surely is to
make them. One can fancy what good blows the sword will give and what hard
knocks the armour will turn aside; but some day, Master Geoffrey, when I
have served my time, I mean to follow the army. There is always work there
for armourers to do, and sometimes at a pinch they may even get their share
Walter did not venture to say that he would prefer to be a man-at-arms, for
such a sentiment would be deemed as outrageous in the ears of a quiet city
craftsman as would the proposal of the son of such a man nowadays to enlist
as a soldier. The armourer smiled; he knew well enough what was in
Walter's mind. It had cost Geoffrey himself a hard struggle to settle down
to a craft, and deemed it but natural that with the knightly blood flowing
in Walter's veins he should long to distinguish himself in the field. He
said nothing of this, however, but renewed his promise to speak to Giles
Fletcher, deeming that a few years passed in his forge would be the best
preparation which Walter could have for a career as a soldier.
CHAPTER II: THE HUT IN THE MARSHES
A week later a party of knights and court gallants, riding across the
fields without the walls, checked their horses to look at a struggle which
was going on between two parties of boys. One, which was apparently the
most powerful, had driven the other off from a heap of rubbish which had
been carried without the walls. Each party had a flag attached to a stick,
and the boys were armed with clubs such as those carried by the apprentice
boys. Many of them carried mimic shields made of wood, and had stuffed
their flat caps with wool or shavings, the better to protect their heads
from blows. The smaller party had just been driven from the heap, and their
leader was urging them to make another effort to regain it.
"That is a gallant-looking lad, and a sturdy, my Lord de Vaux," a boy of
about ten years of age said. "He bears himself like a young knight, and he
has had some hard knocks, for, see, the blood is streaming down his face.
One would scarcely expect to see these varlets of the city playing so
"The citizens have proved themselves sturdy fighters before now, my
prince," the other said; "they are ever independent, and hold to their
rights even against the king. The contingent which the city sends to the
wars bears itself as well as those of any of the barons."
"See!" the boy interrupted, "they are going to charge again. Their leader
has himself seized the flag and has swung his shield behind him, just as a
knight might do if leading the stormers against a place of strength. Let us
stop till we see the end of it."
With a shout of "Aldgate! Aldgate!" the leader of the assailants dashed
forward, followed by his comrades, and with a rush reached the top of the
"Well done!" the young prince exclaimed, clapping his hands. "See how he
lays about him with that club of his. There, he has knocked down the
leader of the defenders as if his club had been a battle-axe. Well done,
young sir, well done! But his followers waver. The others are too strong
for them. Stand, you cowards, rally round your leader!" and in his
enthusiasm the young prince urged his horse forward to the scene of
But the assailants were mastered; few of them could gain the top of the
heap, and those who did so were beaten back from it by the defenders. Heavy
blows were exchanged, and blood flowed freely from many of their heads and
faces, for in those days boys thought less than they do now of hard knocks,
and manliness and courage were considered the first of virtues. Their
leader, however, still stood his ground on the crest, though hardly pressed
on all sides, and used his club both to strike and parry with a skill which
aroused the warmest admiration on the part of the prince. In vain his
followers attempted to come to his rescue; each time they struggled up the
heap they were beaten back again by those on the crest.
"Yield thee prisoner," the assailants of their leader shouted, and the
prince in his excitement echoed the cry. The lad, however, heard or heeded
them not. He still kept his flag aloft in his left hand. With a sudden
spring he struck down one of his opponents, plucked up their flag from the
ground, and then fought his way back through his foes to the edge of the
battleground; then a heavy blow struck him on the temple, and, still
holding the flags, he rolled senseless to the foot of the heap. The
defenders with shouts of triumph were rushing down when the prince urged
his horse forward.
"Cease!" he said authoritatively. "Enough has been done, my young masters,
and the sport is becoming a broil."
Hitherto the lads, absorbed in their strife, had paid but little heed to
the party of onlookers; but at the word they at once arrested their arms,
and, baring their heads, stood still in confusion.
"No harm is done," the prince said, "though your sport is of the roughest;
but I fear that your leader is hurt, he moves not; lift his head from the
ground." The boy was indeed still insensible. "My lords," the prince said
to the knights who had now ridden up, "I fear that this boy is badly hurt;
he is a gallant lad, and has the spirit of a true knight in him, citizen's
son though he be. My Lord de Vaux, will you bid your squire ride at full
speed to the Tower and tell Master Roger, the leech, to come here with all
haste, and to bring such nostrums as may be needful for restoring the boy
The Tower was but half a mile distant, but before Master Roger arrived
Walter had already recovered consciousness, and was just sitting up when
the leech hurried up to the spot.
"You have arrived too late, Master Roger," the prince said; "but I doubt
not that a dose of cordials may yet be of use, for he is still dazed, and
the blow he got would have cracked his skull had it been a thin one."
The leech poured some cordial from a vial into a small silver cup and held
it to the boy's lips. It was potent and nigh took his breath away; but when
he had drunk it he struggled to his feet, looking ashamed and confused when
he saw himself the centre of attention of so many knights of the court.
"What is thy name, good lad?" the prince asked.
"I am known as Walter Fletcher."
"You are a brave lad," the prince said, "and if you bear you as well as a
man as you did but now, I would wish no better to ride beside me in the day
of battle. Should the time ever come when you tire of the peaceable life
of a citizen and wish to take service in the wars, go to the Tower and ask
boldly for the Prince of Wales, and I will enroll you among my own
men-at-arms, and I promise you that you shall have your share of fighting
as stark as that of the assault of yon heap. Now, my lords, let us ride on;
I crave your pardon for having so long detained you."
Walter was some days before he could again cross London Bridge to inform
his friend Geoffrey of the honour which had befallen him of being addressed
by the Prince of Wales. During the interval he was forced to lie abed, and
he was soundly rated by Master Giles for again getting into mischief.
Geoffrey was far more sympathetic, and said "Well, Walter, although I would
not that Gaffer Giles heard me say so, I think you have had a piece of rare
good fortune. It may be that you may never have cause to recall the young
prince's promise to him; but should you some day decide to embrace the
calling of arms, you could wish for nothing better than to ride behind the
Prince of Wales. He is, by all accounts, of a most noble and generous
disposition, and is said, young as he is, to be already highly skilled in
arms. Men say that he will be a wise king and a gallant captain, such a one
as a brave soldier might be proud to follow; and as the king will be sure
to give him plenty of opportunities of distinguishing himself, those who
ride with him may be certain of a chance of doing valorous deeds. I will go
across the bridge tomorrow, and will have a talk with Master Fletcher. The
sooner you are apprenticed, the sooner you will be out of your time; and
since Madge married eight years since I have been lonely in the house and
shall be glad to have you with me."
Geoffrey Ward found his friend more ready to accede to his request, that
Walter should be apprenticed to him, than he had expected. The bowyer,
indeed, was a quiet man, and the high spirits and somewhat turbulent
disposition of his young charge gave him so much uneasiness, that he was
not sorry the responsibility of keeping him in order should be undertaken
by Geoffrey. Moreover, he could not but agree with the argument, that the
promise of the Prince of Wales offered a more favourable opportunity for
Walter to enter upon the career of arms and so, perhaps, someday to win his
way back to rank and honours than could have been looked for. Therefore, on
the following week Walter was indentured to the armourer, and, as was usual
at the time, left his abode in Aldgate and took up his residence with his
master. He threw himself with his whole heart into the work, and by the
time he was fifteen was on the way to become a skilful craftsman. His frame
and muscles developed with labour, and he was now able to swing all save
the very heaviest hammers in the shop. He had never abated in his practice
at arms, and every day when work was over, he and his master had a long
bout together with cudgel or quarterstaff, sword or axe; Walter of course
used light weapons, but so quick was he with them that Geoffrey Ward
acknowledged that he needed to put out all his skill to hold his own with
his pupil. But it was not alone with Geoffrey that Walter had an
opportunity of learning the use of arms. Whenever a soldier, returned from
the wars, came to have a weapon repaired by the armourer, he would be sure
of an invitation to come in in the evening and take a stoup of ale, and
tell of the battles and sieges he had gone through, and in the course of
the evening would be asked to have a bout of arms with the young
apprentice, whom Geoffrey represented as being eager to learn how to use
the sword as well as how to make it.
Thus Walter became accustomed to different styles of fighting, but found
that very few, indeed, of their visitors were nearly so well skilled with
their arms as his master. Some of the soldiers were mortified at finding
themselves unable to hold their own with a boy; others would take their
reverses in good part and would come again, bringing with them some comrade
known to be particularly skilled with his weapons, to try the temper of the
armourer's apprentice. At the age of fifteen Walter had won the prize at
the sports, both for the best cudgel play and the best sword-and-buckler
play among the apprentices, to the great disgust of many who had almost
reached the age of manhood and were just out of their time.
On Sundays Walter always spent the day with Giles Fletcher and his wife,
going to mass with them and walking in the fields, where, after service,
the citizens much congregated. Since Walter had gone to work he had taken
no part in the fights and frolics of his former comrades; he was in fact,
far too tired at the end of his day's work to have any desire to do aught
but to sit and listen to the tales of the wars, of the many old soldiers
who pervaded the country. Some of these men were disabled by wounds or
long service, but the greater portion were idle scamps, who cared not for
the hard blows and sufferings of a campaign, liking better to hang about
taverns drinking, at the expense of those to whom they related fabulous
tales of the gallant actions they had performed. Many, too, wandered over
the country, sometimes in twos or threes, sometimes in large bands, robbing
and often murdering travelers or attacking lonely houses. When in one part
or another their ill deeds became too notorious, the sheriffs would call
out a posse of men and they would be hunted down like wild beasts. It was
not, however, easy to catch them, for great tracts of forests still covered
a large portion of the country and afforded them shelter.
In the country round London these pests were very numerous, for here, more
than anywhere else, was there a chance of plunder. The swamps on the south
side of the river had an especially evil reputation. From Southwark to
Putney stretches a marshy country over which, at high tides, the river
frequently flowed. Here and there were wretched huts, difficult of access
and affording good hiding- places for those pursued by justice, since
searchers could be seen approaching a long way off, and escape could be
made by paths across the swamp known only to the dwellers there, and where
heavily-armed men dared not follow. Further south, in the wild country
round Westerham, where miles of heath and forest stretched away in all
directions, was another noted place where the robber vagrants mustered
thickly, and the Sheriff of Kent had much trouble with them.
The laws in those days were extremely severe, and death was the penalty of
those caught plundering. The extreme severity of the laws, however,
operated in favour of its breakers, since the sympathy of the people who
had little to lose was with them, and unless caught red-handed in the act
they could generally escape, since none save those who had themselves been
robbed would say aught that would place the pursuers on their traces, or
give testimony which would cost the life of a fellow-creature. The citizens
of London were loud in their complaints against the discharged soldiers,
for it was upon them that the loss mainly fell, and it was on their
petitions to the king that the sheriffs of Middlesex and Hertford, Essex,
Surrey, and Kent, were generally stirred up to put down the ill-doers.
Sometimes these hunts were conducted in a wholesale way, and the whole
posse of a county would be called out. Then all found within its limits
who had not land or visible occupation were collected. Any against whom
charges could be brought home were hung without more ado, and the rest were
put on board ship and sent across the sea to the army. Sometimes, when
they found the country becoming too hot for them, these men would take
service with some knight or noble going to the war, anxious to take with
him as strong a following as might be, and not too particular as to the
character of his soldiers.
Walter, being of an adventurous spirit, was sometimes wont of a summer
evening, when his work was done, to wander across the marshes, taking with
him his bow and arrows, and often bringing home a wild duck or two which he
shot in the pools. More than once surly men had accosted him, and had
threatened to knock him on the head if they again found him wandering that
way; but Walter laughed at their threats, and seeing, that though but an
apprentice lad, he might be able to send an arrow as straight to the mark
as another, they were content to leave him alone.
One day when he was well-nigh in the heart of the swamp of Lambeth he saw a
figure making his way across. The hour was already late and the night was
falling, and the appearance of the man was so different from that of the
usual denizens of the swamp that Walter wondered what business there might
be. Scarcely knowing why he did so, Walter threw himself down among some
low brushwood and watched the approaching figure. When he came near he
recognized the face, and saw, to his surprise, that it was a knight who had
but the day before stopped at the armourer's shop to have two rivets put in
his hauberk. He had particularly noticed him because of the arrogant manner
in which he spoke. Walter had himself put in the rivets, and had thought,
as he buckled on the armour again, how unpleasant a countenance was that of
its wearer. He was a tall and powerful man, and would have been handsome
had not his eyes been too closely set together; his nose was narrow, and
the expression of his face reminded Walter of a hawk. He had now laid aside
his helmet, and his figure was covered with a long cloak.
"He is up to no good," Walter said to himself, "for what dealings could a
knight honestly have with the ruffians who haunt these swamps. It is
assuredly no business of mine, but it may lead to an adventure, and I have
had no real fun since I left Aldgate. I will follow and see if I can get to
the bottom of the mystery."
When he came close to the spot where Walter was lying the knight paused and
looked round as if uncertain of his way. For four or five minutes he stood
still, and then gave a shout of "Humphrey" at the top of his voice. It was
answered by a distant "Hallo!" and looking in the direction from which the
answer had come, Walter saw a figure appear above some bushes some four
hundred yards distant. The knight at once directed his steps in that
direction, and Walter crept cautiously after him.
"A pest upon these swamps and quagmires," the knight said angrily as he
neared the other. "Why didst not meet me and show me the way through, as
"I thought that as you had come once you would be able to find your way
hither again," the man said. "Had I thought that you would have missed it I
would have come ten times as far, rather than have had my name shouted all
over the country. However, there is no one to hear, did you shout thrice as
loud, so no harm is done."
"I thought I saw a figure a short time since," the knight said.
The man looked round in all directions.
"I see none," he said, "and you may have been mistaken, for the light is
waning fast. It were ill for anyone I caught prying about here. But come
in, sir knight; my hovel is not what your lordship is accustomed to, but we
may as well talk there as here beneath the sky."
The two men disappeared from Walter's sight. The latter in much surprise
crept forward, but until he reached the spot where he had last seen the
speakers he was unable to account for their disappearance. Then he saw that
the spot, although apparently a mere clump of bushes no higher than the
surrounding country, was really an elevated hummock of ground. Anyone might
have passed close to the bushes without suspecting that aught lay among
them. In the centre, however, the ground had been cut away, and a low
doorway, almost hidden by the bushes, gave access into a half subterranean
hut; the roof was formed of an old boat turned bottom upwards, and this had
been covered with brown turf. It was an excellent place of concealment, as
searchers might have passed within a foot of the bushes without suspecting
that aught lay concealed within them.
"A clever hiding place," Walter thought to himself. "No wonder the posse
search these swamps in vain. This is the lowest and wettest part of the
swamp, and would be but lightly searched, for none would suspect that there
was a human habitation among these brown ditches and stagnant pools."
To his disappointment the lad could hear nothing of the conversation which
was going on within the hut. The murmur of voices came to his ear, but no
words were audible; however, he remained patiently, thinking that perhaps
as they came out a word might be said which would give him a clue to the
object of the mysterious interview between a knight and one who was
evidently a fugitive from justice.
His patience was rewarded. In the half hour which he waited the night had
fallen, and a thick fog which was rising over the swamps rendered it
difficult to discern anything at the distance of a few paces.
"You are quite sure that you can manage it?" a voice said as the two men
issued from the hut.
"There is no difficulty in managing it," the other replied, "if the boat is
punctual to the hour named. It will be getting dusk then, and if one boat
runs into another no one need be surprised. Such accidents will happen."
"They will be here just before nightfall," the other said, "and you will
know the boat by the white mantle the lady will wear. The reward will be
fifty pieces of gold, of which you have received ten as earnest. You can
trust me, and if the job be well done I shall take no count of the earnest
"You may consider it as good as done," the other replied. "If the boat is
there the matter is settled. Now I will lead you back across the swamps. I
would not give much for your life if you tried to find the way alone. Who
would have thought when you got me off from being hung, after that little
affair at Bruges, that I should be able to make myself useful to your
"You may be sure," the knight replied, "that it was just because I foresaw
that you might be useful that I opened the doors of your cell that night.
It is always handy in times like these to be able to lay one's hand on a
man whom you can hang if you choose to open your mouth."
"Did it not strike you, sir knight, that it might enter my mind that it
would be very advisable for me to free myself from one who stands towards
me in that relation?"
"Certainly it did," the knight replied; "but as I happen to be able to make
it for your interest to serve me, that matter did not trouble me. I knew
better than to bring money into this swamp of yours, when I might be
attacked by half a dozen ruffians like yourself; and I took the precaution
of informing Peter, the captain of my men-at-arms, of the spot to which I
was going, bidding him, in case I came not back, to set a hue and cry on
foot and hunt down all who might be found here, with the especial
description of your worthy self."
Walter could hear no more; he had taken off his shoes and followed them at
a distance, and their voices still acted as a guide to him through the
swamp. But he feared to keep too close, as, although the darkness would
conceal his figure, he might at any moment tread in a pool or ditch, and so
betray his presence. Putting his foot each time to the ground with the
greatest caution, he moved quietly after them. They spoke little more, but
their heavy footsteps on the swampy ground were a sufficient guidance for
him. At last these ceased suddenly. A few words were spoken, and then he
heard returning steps. He drew aside a few feet and crouched down, saw a
dim figure pass through the mist, and then resumed his way. The ground was
firmer now, and, replacing his shoes, he walked briskly on. As he neared
the higher ground along which the road ran he heard two horsemen galloping
away in the distance. He now turned his face east, and after an hour's
walking he reached the armourer's.
"Why, Walter, you are late," the smith said. "The men are in bed this hour
or more, and I myself can scarce keep awake. Where hast thou been, my
"I have been in the swamps and lost my way," Walter replied.
"It is a bad neighbourhood, lad, and worse are the people who live there.
If I had my way the whole posse should be called out, and the marshes
searched from end to end, and all found there should be knocked on head and
thrown into their own ditches. There would be no fear of any honest man
coming to his end thereby; but now to bed, lad. You can tell me all about
it tomorrow; but we have a rare day's work before us, and the fire must be
alight at daybreak."
On his way back Walter had debated with himself whether to inform his
master of what had happened. He was, however, bent upon having an adventure
on his own account, and it was a serious thing in those days for an
apprentice lad to bring an accusation against a noble. The city would not
indeed allow even an apprentice to be overridden, and although Geoffrey
Ward's forge stood beyond the city walls it was yet within the liberties,
the city allowing its craftsmen to open shops just outside the gates, and
to enjoy the same privileges as if dwelling actually within the walls.
On the following afternoon Walter asked leave to cease work an hour earlier
than usual, as he wished to go across into the city. The armourer was
surprised, since this was the first time that such a thing had happened
since the lad had worked for him.
"What are you up to, Walter? - some mischief, I will be bound. Go, lad; you
have worked so steadily that you have well earned more than an hour's
holiday should you want it."
Walter crossed the bridge, and seeking out four or five of his old
companions, begged them to bring their bows and clubs and rejoin him at the
stairs by London Bridge. To their laughing inquiries whether he meant to go
a-shooting of fish, he told them to ask no questions until they joined him.
As soon as work was over the boys gathered at the steps, where Walter had
already engaged a boat. There were some mocking inquiries from the
watermen standing about as to where they were going shooting. Walter
answered with some light chaff, and, two of the party taking oars, they
started up the river.
"Now I will tell you what we are bent on," Walter said. "From some words I
overheard I believe that some of the ruffians over in the marshes are this
evening going to make an attack upon a boat with a lady in it coming down
the river. We will be on the spot, and can give them a reception such as
they do not expect."
"Do you know who the lady is, Walter?"
"I have not the least idea. I only caught a few words, and may be wrong;
still, it will do no harm should I be mistaken."
The tide was running down strongly, for there had been a good deal of rain
during the preceding week, and all night it had poured heavily. It was fine
now, but the stream was running down thick and turbid, and it needed all
the boys' efforts to force the wherry against it. They rowed by turns; all
were fairly expert at the exercise, for in those days the Thames was at
once the great highway and playground of London. To the wharves below the
bridge ships brought the rich merchandise of Italy and the Low Countries;
while from above, the grain, needed for the wants of the great city was
floated down in barges from the west.
Passing the Temple, the boys rowed along by the green banks and fields as
far as Westminster, which at that time was almost a rival of the city, for
here were the abbey and great monastery; here were the king's palace and
court, and the houses of many of his nobles. Then they went along by the
low shores of Millbank, keeping a sharp lookout for boats going down with
the stream. It was already getting dark, for Walter had not allowed for the
strength of the stream, and he was full of anxiety lest he should arrive
CHAPTER III: A THWARTED PLOT
A boat was rowing rapidly down the stream. It had passed the village of
Chelsea, and the men were doing their best to reach their destination at
Westminster before nightfall. Two men were rowing; in the stern sat a lady
with a girl about eleven years old. A woman, evidently a servant, sat
beside the lady, while behind, steering the boat, was an elderly retainer.
"It is getting dark," the lady said; "I would that my cousin James had not
detained us so long at Richmond, and then after all he was unable to
accompany us. I like not being out on the river so late."
"No, indeed, my lady," the woman replied; "I have heard tell lately much of
the doings of the river pirates. They say that boats are often picked up
stove in and broken, and that none know what had become of their occupants,
and that bodies, gashed and hewn, are often found floating in the river.
"How horrible," the girl said; "your tale makes me shiver, Martha; I would
you had said nothing about it till we were on land again.
"Do not be afraid, Edith," the lady said cheerfully; "we shall soon be safe
There were now only two or three boats to be seen on the river. They were
nearing the end of their journey now, and the great pile of the Abbey could
be seen through the darkness. A boat with several men in it was seen rowing
across the river towards the Lambeth side. It was awkwardly managed.
"Look out!" the steersman of the boat coming down stream shouted; "you will
run into us if you don't mind."
An order was given in the other boat, the men strained to their oars, and
in an instant the boat ran with a crash into the side of the other, cutting
it down to the water's edge. For a minute there was a wild scene of
confusion; the women shrieked, the watermen shouted, and, thinking that it
was an accident, strove, as the boat sank from under them, to climb into
that which had run them down. They were speedily undeceived. One was sunk
by a heavy blow with an oar, the other was stabbed with a dagger, while the
assailants struck fiercely at the old man and the women.
At this moment, however, a third boat made its appearance on the scene, its
occupants uttering loud shouts. As they rowed towards the spot their
approach was heralded by a shower of arrows. Two of the ruffians were
struck - one fell over mortally wounded, the other sank down into the boat.
"Row, men, row," their leader shouted, "or we shall all be taken."
Again seizing their oars, the rowers started at full speed towards the
Lambeth shore. The arrows of their pursuers still fell among them, two more
of their number being wounded before they reached the opposite shore. The
pursuit was not continued, the newcomers ceasing to row at the spot where
the catastrophe had taken place. Walter stood up in the boat and looked
round. A floating oar, a stretcher, and a sheepskin which had served as a
cushion, alone floated.
Suddenly there was a choking cry heard a few yards down stream, and Walter
leapt into the river. A few strokes took him to the side of the girl, and
he found, on throwing his arm round her, that she was still clasped in her
mother's arms. Seizing them both, Walter shouted to his comrades. They had
already turned the boat's head, and in a minute were alongside.
It was a difficult task to get the mother and child on board, as the girl
refused to loose her hold. It was, however, accomplished, and the child sat
still and quiet by Walter's side, while his comrades endeavoured to stanch
the blood which was flowing from a severe wound in her mother's head. When
they had bound it up they rubbed her hands, and by the time they had
reached the steps at Westminster the lady opened her eyes. For a moment she
looked bewildered, and then, on glancing round, she gave a low cry of
delight at seeing her child sitting by Walter's side.
On reaching the steps the boys handed her over to the care of the watermen
there, who soon procured a litter and carried her, she being still too weak
to walk, to the dwelling of the Earl of Talbot, where she said she was
expected. The apprentices rowed back to London Bridge, elated at the
success of their enterprise, but regretting much that they had arrived too
late to hinder the outrage, or to prevent the escape of its perpetrators.
Walter on his return home related the whole circumstance to his master.
"I would you had told me, Walter," the latter said, "since we might have
taken precautions which would have prevented this foul deed from taking
place. However, I can understand your wanting to accomplish the adventure
without my aid; but we must think now what had best be said and done. As
the lady belongs to the court, there is sure to be a fine pother about the
matter, and you and all who were there will be examined touching your share
of the adventure, and how you came to be upon the spot. The others will, of
course, say that they were there under your direction; and we had best
think how much of your story you had better tell."
"Why should I not tell it all?" Walter asked indignantly.
"You should never tell a lie, Walter; but in days like these it is safer
sometimes not to tell more than is necessary. It is a good rule in life, my
boy, to make no more enemies than may be needful. This knight, who is
doubtless a great villain, has maybe powerful friends, and it is as well,
if it can be avoided, that you should not embroil yourself with these.
Many a man has been knocked on head or stabbed on a dark night, because he
could not keep his tongue from wagging. 'Least said, the sooner mended,'
is a good proverb; but I will think it over tonight, and tell you in the
When they met again in the workshop the armourer said: "Clean yourself up
after breakfast, Walter, and put on your best clothes. I will go with you
before the mayor, and then you shall tell him your story. There is sure to
be a stir about it before the day is done. As we walk thither we can settle
how much of your story it is good to tell."
On their way over the bridge Geoffrey told Walter that he thought he had
better tell the whole story exactly as it had occurred, concealing only the
fact that he had recognized the knight's face. "You had best too," he said,
"mention nought about the white cloak. If we can catch the man of the hut
in the swamp, likely enough the rack will wring from him the name of his
employer, and in that case, if you are brought up as a witness against him
you will of course say that you recognize his face; but 'tis better that
the accusation should not come from you. No great weight would be given to
the word of a 'prentice boy as against that of a noble. It is as bad for
earthen pots to knock against brass ones, as it is for a yeoman in a
leathern jerkin to stand up against a knight in full armour.
"But unless the lady knows her enemy she may fall again into his snares.
"I have thought of that," Geoffrey said, "and we will take measures to
"But how can we prevent it?" Walter asked, surprised.
"We must find out who this knight may be, which should, methinks, not be
difficult. Then we will send to him a message that his share in this
night's work is known to several, and that if any harm should ever again be
attempted against the lady or her daughter, he shall be denounced before
King Edward himself as the author of the wrong. I trust, however, that we
may capture the man of the swamp, and that the truth may be wrung from
By this time they had arrived at the Guildhall, and making their way into
the court, Geoffrey demanded private speech with the Lord Mayor.
"Can you not say in open court what is you business?" the Lord Mayor asked.
"I fear that if I did it would defeat the ends of justice."
Retiring with the chief magistrate into an inner room, Geoffrey desired
Walter to tell his story. This he did, ending by saying that he regretted
much that he had not at once told his master what he had heard; but that,
although he deemed evil was intended, he did not know that murder was
meant, and thought it but concerned the carrying off of some damsel, and
that this he had intended, by the aid of his comrades, to prevent.
"You have done well, Master Walter, since that be your name," the
magistrate said. "That you might have done better is true, for had you
acted otherwise you might have prevented murder from being done. Still, one
cannot expect old heads upon young shoulders. Give me the names of those
who were with you, for I shall doubtless receive a message from Westminster
this morning to know if I have heard aught of the affair. In the meantime
we must take steps to secure these pirates of the marsh. The ground is
across the river, and lies out of my jurisdiction."
"It is for that reason," Geoffrey said, "that I wished that the story
should be told to you privately, since the men concerned might well have
sent a friend to the court to hear if aught was said which might endanger
"I will give you a letter to a magistrate of Surrey, and he will despatch
some constables under your guidance to catch these rascals. I fear there
have been many murders performed by them lately besides that in question,
and you will be doing a good service to the citizens by aiding in the
capture of these men.
"I will go willingly," the smith assented.
The Lord Mayor said, after a moment's thought. "It will be quicker; I will
tell the justice that if he will come to the meeting of the roads on
Kennington Common, at seven this evening, you will be there with your
apprentice to act as a guide."
"I will," the armourer said, "and will bring with me two or three of my men
who are used to hard blows, for, to tell you the truth, I have no great
belief in the valour of constables, and we may meet with a stout
"So be it," the Lord Mayor said; "and luck be with you, for these men are
the scourges of the river."
That evening the armourer shut up his shop sooner than usual, and
accompanied by Walter and four of his workmen, and all carrying stout oaken
cudgels, with hand- axes in their girdles, started along the lonely road to
Kennington. Half an hour after their arrival the magistrate, with ten men,
rode up. He was well pleased at the sight of the reinforcement which
awaited him, for the river pirates might be expected to make a desperate
resistance. Geoffrey advised a halt for a time until it should be well-nigh
dark, as the marauders might have spies set to give notice should strangers
enter the marsh.
They started before it was quite dark, as Walter doubted whether he should
be able to lead them straight to the hut after the night had completely
fallen. He felt, however, tolerably sure of his locality, for he had
noticed that two trees grew on the edge of the swamp just at the spot where
he had left it. He had no difficulty in finding these, and at once led the
way. The horses of the magistrate and his followers were left in charge of
three of their number.
"You are sure you are going right?" the magistrate said to Walter. "The
marsh seems to stretch everywhere, and we might well fall into a quagmire,
which would swallow us all up.
"I am sure of my way," Walter answered; "and see, yonder clump of bushes,
which you can just observe above the marsh, a quarter of a mile away, is
the spot where the house of their leader is situated."
With strict injunctions that not a word was to be spoken until the bush was
surrounded, and that all were to step noiselessly and with caution, the
party moved forward. It was now nearly dark, and as they approached the hut
sounds of laughter and revelry were heard.
"They are celebrating their success in a carouse," Geoffrey said. "We shall
catch them nicely in a trap."
When they came close, a man who was sitting just at the low mouth of the
hut suddenly sprang to his feet and shouted, "Who goes there?" He had
apparently been placed as sentry, but had joined in the potations going on
inside, and had forgotten to look round from time to time to see that none
At his challenge the whole party rushed forward, and as they reached the
hut the men from within came scrambling out, sword in hand. For two or
three minutes there was a sharp fight, and had the constables been alone
they would have been defeated, for they were outnumbered and the pirates
The heavy clubs of the armourers decided the fight. One or two of the band
alone succeeded in breaking through, the rest were knocked down and bound;
not, however, until several severe wounds had been inflicted on their
When the fray was over, it was found that nine prisoners had been captured.
Some of these were stunned by the blows which the smiths had dealt them,
and two or three were badly wounded; all were more or less injured in the
struggle. When they recovered their senses they were made to get on their
feet, and with their hands tied securely behind them were marched between a
double line of their captors off the marsh.
"Thanks for your services," the justice said when they had gained the place
where they had left their horses. "Nine of my men shall tie each one of
these rascals to their stirrups by halters round their necks, and we will
give them a smart run into Richmond, where we will lodge them in the jail.
Tomorrow is Sunday; on Monday they will be brought before me, and I shall
want the evidence of Master Walter Fletcher and of those who were in the
boat with him as to what took place on the river. Methinks the evidence on
that score, and the resistance which they offered to us this evening, will
be sufficient to put a halter round their necks; but from what I have heard
by the letter which the Lord Mayor sent me, there are others higher in rank
concerned in the affair; doubtless we shall find means to make these
Accordingly, at the justice's orders, halters were placed round the necks
of the prisoners, the other ends being attached to the saddles, and the
party set off at a pace which taxed to the utmost the strength of the
wounded men. Geoffrey and his party returned in high spirits to Southwark.
On the Monday Walter went over to Richmond, accompanied by the armourers
and by the lads who had been in the boat with him. The nine ruffians,
strongly guarded, were brought up in the justice room. Walter first gave
his evidence, and related how he had overheard a portion of the
conversation, which led him to believe that an attack would be made upon
the boat coming down the river.
"Can you identify either of the prisoners as being the man whom you saw at
the door of the hut?"
"No," Walter said. "When I first saw him I was too far off to make out his
face. When he left the hut it was dark."
"Should you know the other man, the one who was addressed as sir knight, if
you saw him again?"
"I should," Walter replied. He then gave an account of the attack upon the
boat, but said that in the suddenness of the affair and the growing
darkness he noticed none of the figures distinctly enough to recognize them
again. Two or three of the other apprentices gave similar testimony as to
A gentleman then presented himself, and gave his name as Sir William de
Hertford. He said that he had come at the request of the Lady Alice Vernon,
who was still suffering from the effects of the wound and immersion. She
had requested him to say that at some future occasion she would appear to
testify, but that in the confusion and suddenness of the attack she had
noticed no faces in the boat which assailed them, and could identify none
concerned in the affair.
The justice who had headed the attack on the hut then gave his evidence as
to that affair, the armourer also relating the incidents of the conflict.
"The prisoners will be committed for trial," the justice said. "At present
there is no actual proof that any of them were concerned in this murderous
outrage beyond the fact that they were taken in the place where it was
planned. The suspicion is strong that some at least were engaged in it.
Upon the persons of all of them were valuable daggers, chains, and other
ornaments, which could not have been come by honestly, and I doubt not that
they form part of the gang which has so long been a terror to peaceful
travelers alike by the road and river, and it may be that some who have
been robbed will be able to identify the articles taken upon them. They
are committed for trial: firstly, as having been concerned in the attack
upon Dame Alice Vernon; secondly, as being notorious ill-livers and
robbers; thirdly, as having resisted lawful arrest by the king's officers.
The greatest criminal in the affair is not at present before me, but it may
be that from such information as Dame Vernon may be able to furnish, and
from such confessions as justice will be able to wring from the prisoners,
he will at the trial stand beside his fellows."
Walter returned to town with his companions. On reaching the armourer's
they found a retainer of the Earl of Talbot awaiting them, with the message
that the Lady Alice Vernon wished the attendance of Walter Fletcher, whose
name she had learned from the Lord Mayor as that of the lad to whom she and
her daughter owed their lives, at noon on the following day, at the
residence of the Earl of Talbot.
"That is the worst of an adventure," Walter said crossly, after the
retainer had departed. "One can't have a bit of excitement without being
sent for, and thanked, and stared at. I would rather fight the best
swordsman in the city than have to go down to the mansion of Earl Talbot
with my cap in my hand."
Geoffrey laughed. "You must indeed have your cap in your hand, Walter; but
you need not bear yourself in that spirit. The 'prentice of a London
citizen may have just as much honest pride and independence as the proudest
earl at Westminster; but carry not independence too far. Remember that if
you yourself had received a great service you would be hurt if the donor
refused to receive your thanks; and it would be churlish indeed were you to
put on sullen looks, or to refuse to accept any present which the lady
whose life you have saved may make you. It is strange, indeed, that it
should be Dame Vernon, whose husband, Sir Jasper Vernon, received the fiefs
of Westerham and Hyde."
"Why should it be curious that it is she?" Walter asked.
"Oh!" Geoffrey said, rather confusedly. "I was not thinking - that is - I
mean that it is curious because Bertha Fletcher was for years a dependant
on the family of Sir Roland Somers, who was killed in the troubles when the
king took the reins of government in his hands, and his lands, being
forfeit, were given to Sir Jasper Vernon, who aided the king in that
"I wish you would tell me about that," Walter said. "How was it that there
was any trouble as to King Edward having kingly authority?"
"It happened in this way," Geoffrey said. "King Edward II, his father, was
a weak prince, governed wholly by favourites, and unable to hold in check
the turbulent barons. His queen, Isabella of France, sister of the French
king, a haughty and ambitious woman, determined to snatch the reins of
power from the indolent hands of her husband, and after a visit to her
brother she returned with an army from Hainault in order to dethrone him.
She was accompanied by her eldest son, and after a short struggle the king
was dethroned. He had but few friends, and men thought that under the young
Edward, who had already given promise of virtue and wisdom, some order
might be introduced into the realm. He was crowned Edward III, thus, at the
early age of fifteen, usurping the throne of his father. The real power,
however, remained with Isabella, who was president of the council of
regency, and who, in her turn, was governed by her favourite Mortimer.
England soon found that the change which had been made was far from
beneficial. The government was by turns weak and oppressive. The employment
of foreign troops was regarded with the greatest hostility by the people,
and the insolence of Mortimer alienated the great barons. Finally, the
murder of the dethroned king excited throughout the kingdom a feeling of
horror and loathing against the queen.
"All this feeling, however, was confined to her, Edward, who was but a
puppet in her hands, being regarded with affection and pity. Soon after his
succession the young king was married to our queen, Philippa of Hainault,
who is as good as she is beautiful, and who is loved from one end of the
kingdom to the other. I can tell you, the city was a sight to see when she
entered with the king. Such pageants and rejoicing were never known. They
were so young, he not yet sixteen, and she but fourteen, and yet to bear on
their shoulders the weight of the state. A braver looking lad and a fairer
girl mine eyes never looked on. It was soon after this that the events
arose which led to the war with France, but this is too long a tale for me
to tell you now. The Prince of Wales was born on the 15th of June, 1330,
two years after the royal marriage.
"So far the king had acquiesced quietly in the authority of his mother, but
he now paid a visit to France, and doubtless the barons around him there
took advantage of his absence from her tutelage to shake her influence over
his mind; and at the same time a rising took place at home against her
authority. This was suppressed, and the Earl of Kent, the king's uncle, was
arrested and executed by Isabella. This act of severity against his uncle,
no doubt, hastened the prince's determination to shake off the authority of
his haughty mother and to assume the reins of government himself. The
matter, however, was not easy to accomplish. Mortimer having the whole of
the royal revenue at his disposal, had attached to himself by ties of
interest a large number of barons, and had in his pay nearly two hundred
knights and a large body of men-at-arms. Thus it was no easy matter to
arrest him. It was determined that the deed should be done at the meeting
of the parliament at Nottingham. Here Mortimer appeared with Isabella in
royal pomp. They took their abode at the castle, while the king and other
members of the royal family were obliged to content themselves with an
inferior place of residence.
"The gates of the castle were locked at sunset, and the keys brought by the
constable, Sir William Eland, and handed to the queen herself. This knight
was a loyal and gallant gentleman, and regarded Mortimer with no affection,
and when he received the king's commands to assist the barons charged to
arrest him he at once agreed to do so. He was aware of the existence of a
subterranean communication leading from the interior of the castle to the
outer country, and by this, on the night of the 19th of October, 1330, he
led nine resolute knights - the Lords Montague, Suffolk, Stafford, Molins,
and Clinton, with three brothers of the name of Bohun, and Sir John Nevil -
into the heart of the castle. Mortimer was found surrounded by a number of
his friends. On the sudden entry of the knights known to be hostile to
Mortimer his friends drew their swords, and a short but desperate fight
took place. Many were wounded, and Sir Hugh Turpleton and Richard Monmouth
were slain. Mortimer was carried to London, and was tried and condemned by
parliament, and executed for felony and treason. Several of his followers
were executed, and others were attacked in their strongholds and killed;
among these was Sir Roland Somers.
"Queen Isabella was confined in Castle Risings where she still remains a
prisoner. Such, Walter, were the troubles which occurred when King Edward
first took up the reins of power in this realm; and now, let's to supper,
for I can tell you that my walk to Kingston has given me a marvellous
appetite. We have three or four hours' work yet before we go to bed, for
that Milan harness was promised for the morrow, and the repairs are too
delicate for me to entrust it to the men. It is good to assist the law, but
this work of attending as a witness makes a grievous break in the time of a
busy man. It is a pity, Walter, that your mind is so set on soldiering,
for you would have made a marvellous good craftsman. However, I reckon that
after you have seen a few years of fighting in France, and have got some of
your wild blood let out, you will be glad enough to settle down here with
me; as you know, our profits are good, and work plentiful; and did I choose
I might hold mine head higher than I do among the citizens; and you, if you
join me, may well aspire to a place in the common council, aye, and even to
an alderman's gown, in which case I may yet be addressing you the very
worshipful my Lord Mayor."
"Pooh!" Walter laughed; "a fig for your lord Mayors! I would a thousand
times rather be a simple squire in the following of our young prince."
CHAPTER IV: A KNIGHT'S CHAIN
The following morning Walter put on the sober russet dress which he wore on
Sundays and holidays, for gay colours were not allowed to the apprentices,
and set out for Westminster. Although he endeavoured to assume an air of
carelessness and ease as he approached the dwelling of Earl Talbot, he was
very far from feeling comfortable, and wished in his heart that his master
had accompanied him on his errand. Half a dozen men-at-arms were standing
on the steps of the mansion, who looked with haughty surprise at the young
"Dame Alice Vernon has sent to express her desire to have speech with me,"
he said quietly, "and I would fain know if she can receive me."
"Here, Dikon," one of the men cried to another within the hall. "This is
the lad you were sent to fetch yesterday. I wondered much who the city
apprentice was, who with such an assured air, marched up to the door; but
if what thou sayest be true, that he saved the life of Dame Vernon and her
little daughter, he must be a brave lad, and would be more in place among
men and soldiers than in serving wares behind the counter of a fat city
"I serve behind no counter," Walter said indignantly. "I am an armourer,
and mayhap can use arms as well as make them."
There was a laugh among the men at the boy's sturdy self-assertion, and
then the man named Dikon said: "Come along, lad. I will take you to Dame
Vernon at once. She is expecting you; and, my faith, it would not be safe
to leave you standing here long, for I see you would shortly be engaged in
splitting the weasands of my comrades."
There was another roar of laughter from the men, and Walter, somewhat
abashed, followed his conductor into the house. Leading him through the
hall and along several corridors, whose spaciousness and splendour quite
overpowered the young apprentice, he handed him over to a waiting woman,
who ushered him into an apartment where Dame Vernon was reclining on a
couch. Her little daughter was sitting upon a low stool beside her, and
upon seeing Walter she leapt to her feet, clapping her hands.
"Oh! mother, this is the boy that rescued us out of the river."
The lady looked with some surprise at the lad. She had but a faint
remembrance of the events which occurred between the time when she received
a blow from the sword of one of her assailants and that when she found
herself on a couch in the abode of her kinsman; and when she had been told
that she had been saved by a city apprentice she had pictured to herself a
lad of a very different kind to him who now stood before her.
Walter was now nearly sixteen years old. His frame was very powerful and
firmly knit. His dark brown hair was cut short, but, being somewhat longer
than was ordinary with the apprentices, fell with a slight wave back on his
forehead. His bearing was respectful, and at the same time independent.
There was none of that confusion which might be expected on the part of a
lad from the city in the presence of a lady of rank. His dark, heavy
eyebrows, resolute mouth, and square chin gave an expression of sternness
to his face, which was belied by the merry expression of his eyes and the
bright smile when he was spoken to.
"I have to thank you, young sir," she said, holding out her hand, which
Walter, after the custom of the time, raised to his lips, bending upon one
knee as he did so, "for the lives of myself and my daughter, which would
surely have been lost had you not jumped over to save us.
"I am glad that I arrived in time to be of aid," Walter said frankly; "but
indeed I am rather to be blamed than praised, for had I, when I heard the
plotting against the safety of the boat, told my master of it, as I should
have done, instead of taking the adventure upon mine own shoulders,
doubtless a boat would have been sent up in time to prevent the attack from
taking place. Therefore, instead of being praised for having arrived a
little too late, I should be rated for not having come there in time."
Dame Vernon smiled.
"Although you may continue to insist that you are to blame, this does not
alter the fact that you have saved our lives. Is there any way in which I
can be useful to you? Are you discontent with your state? For, in truth,
you look as if Nature had intended you for a gallant soldier rather than a
city craftsman. Earl Talbot, who is my uncle, would, I am sure, receive
you into his following should you so choose it, and I would gladly pay for
the cancelling of your indentures."
"I thank you, indeed, lady, for your kind offices," Walter said earnestly;
"for the present I am well content to remain at my craft, which is that of
an armourer, until, at any rate, I have gained such manly strength and
vigour as would fit me for a man-at-arms, and my good master, Geoffrey
Ward, will, without payment received, let me go when I ask that grace of
"Edith, go and look from the window at the boats passing along the river;
and now," she went on, as the girl had obeyed her orders, "I would fain ask
you more about the interview you overhead in the marshes. Sir William de
Hertford told me of the evidence that you had given before the justice. It
is passing strange that he who incited the other to the deed should have
been by him termed 'Sir Knight'. Maybe it was merely a nickname among his
"Before I speak, lady," Walter said quietly, "I would fain know whether you
wish to be assured of the truth. Sometimes, they say, it is wiser to
remain in ignorance; at other times forewarned is forearmed. Frankly, I did
not tell all I know before the court, deeming that peradventure you might
wish to see me, and that I could then tell the whole to your private ear,
should you wish to know it, and you could then bid me either keep silence
or proclaim all I knew when the trial of these evil-doers comes on."
"You seem to me to be wise beyond your years, young sir," the lady said.
"The wisdom is not mine, lady, but my master's. I took counsel with him,
and acted as he advised me.
"I would fain know all," the lady said. "I have already strange suspicions
of one from whom assuredly I looked not for such evil designs. It will
grieve me to be convinced that the suspicions are well founded; but it will
be better to know the truth than to remain in a state of doubt."
"The person then was a knight, for I had seen him before when he came in
knightly harness into my master's shop to have two rivets put into his
hauberk. I liked not his face then, and should have remembered it
anywhere. I knew him at once when I saw him. He was a dark faced knight,
handsome, and yet with features which reminded me of a hawk."
Dame Vernon gave a little exclamation, which assured the lad that she
recognized the description.
"You may partly know, lady, whether it is he whom you suppose, for he said
that he would detain your boat so that it should not come along until dark,
and, moreover, he told them that they would know the boat since you would
be wrapt in a white mantle."
The lady sat for some time with her face hidden in her hands.
"It is as I feared," she said at last, "and it grieves me to the heart to
think that one who, although not so nearly related in blood, I regarded as
a brother, should have betrayed me to death. My mind is troubled indeed,
and I know not what course I shall take, whether to reveal this dreadful
secret or to conceal it."
"I may say, madam," Walter said earnestly, "that should you wish the matter
to remain a secret, you may rely upon it that I will tell no more at the
trial than I revealed yesterday; but I would remind you that there is a
danger that the leader of yon ruffians, who is probably alone acquainted
with the name of his employer, may, under the influence of the torture,
"That fear is for the present past, since a messenger arrived from Kingston
but a few minutes since, saying that yester-even, under the threat of
torture, the prisoners had pointed out the one among their number who was
their chief. This morning, however, it was found that the warder who had
charge of them had been bribed; he was missing from his post, and the door
of the cell wherein the principal villain had been immured, apart from the
others, was opened, and he had escaped."
"Then," Walter said, "it is now open to you to speak or be silent as you
will. You will pardon my forwardness if I say that my master, in talking
the matter over with me, suggested that this evil knight might be scared
from attempting any future enterprise against you were he informed that it
was known to several persons that he was the author of this outrage, and
that if any further attempts were at any time made against you, the proofs
of his crime would be laid before the king."
"Thanks, good lad," the lady said, "for your suggestion. Should I decide
to keep the matter secret, I will myself send him a message to that effect,
in such guise that he would not know whence it comes. And now, I would fain
reward you for what you have done for us; and," she went on, seeing a flush
suddenly mount upon the lad's face, as he made a half step backwards,
"before I saw you, had thought of offering you a purse of gold, which,
although it would but poorly reward your services, would yet have proved
useful to you when the time came for you to start as a craftsman on your
own account; but now that I have seen you, I feel that although there are
few who think themselves demeaned by accepting gifts of money in reward for
services, you would rather my gratitude took some other form. It can only
do that of offering you such good services that I can render with Earl
Talbot, should you ever choose the profession of arms; and in the meantime,
as a memento of the lives you have saved, you will, I am sure, not refuse
this chain," and she took a very handsome one of gold from her neck; "the
more so since it was the gift of her majesty, our gracious queen to myself.
She will, I am sure, acquit me of parting with her gift when I tell her
that I transferred it to one who had saved the lives of myself and my
daughter, and who was too proud to accept other acknowledgment."
Colouring deeply, and with tears in his eyes at the kindness and thoughtful
consideration of the lady, Walter knelt on one knee before her, and she
placed round his neck the long gold chain which she had been wearing.
"It is a knight's chain," the lady said, smiling, "and was part of the
spoil gained by King Edward from the French. Maybe," she added kindly, "it
will be worn by a knight again. Stranger things have happened, you
Walter flushed again with pleasure.
"Maybe, lady," he said modestly, "even apprentices have their dreams, and
men- at-arms may always hope, by deeds of valour, to attain a knight's
spurs even though they may not be of noble blood or have served as page and
squire to a baron; but whether as a 'prentice or soldier, I hope I shall
never do discredit to your gift."
"Edith, come here," Dame Vernon said, "I have done talking now. And what
are you going to give this brave knight of ours who saved us from
The girl looked thoughtfully at Walter. "I don't think you would care for
presents," she said; "and you look as if a sword or a horse would suit you
better than a girl's gift. And yet I should like to give you something,
such as ladies give their knights who have done brave deeds for them. It
must be something quite my own, and you must take it as a keepsake. What
shall it be, mamma?"
"Give him the bracelet which your cousin gave you last week," her mother
said; "I would rather that you did not keep it, and I know you are not very
fond of him."
"I can't bear him," the girl said earnestly, "and I wish he would not kiss
me; he always looks as if he were going to bite, and I will gladly give his
bracelet to this brave boy."
"Very well, Edith, fetch the bracelet from that coffer in the corner."
The girl went to the coffer and brought out the little bracelet, then she
"You must go down on your knee," she said; "true knights always do that to
receive their lady's gifts. Now hold out your hand. There," she went on in
a pretty imperious way, "take this gage as a reward of your valour, and act
ever as a true knight in the service of your lady."
Bending down she dropt a kiss upon Walter's glowing cheek, and then, half
frightened at her own temerity, ran back to her mother's side.
"And now," Dame Vernon went on, "will you thank your five comrades for
their service in the matter, and give them each two gold pieces to spend as
"He is a noble lad," Dame Vernon had said to herself when Walter had taken
his leave. "Would he had been the son of one of the nobles of the court! It
might have been then, if he distinguished himself in war, as he would
surely do, that the king might have assigned Edith to him. As her lord and
guardian he is certain to give her hand as a reward for valour in the
field, and it may well be to a man with whom she would be less happy than
with this 'prentice lad; but there, I need not be troubling myself about a
matter which is five or six years distant yet. Still the thought that Edith
is a ward of the crown, and that her hand must go where the king wills,
often troubles me. However, I have a good friend in the queen, who will, I
know, exert what influence she has in getting me a good husband for my
child. But even for myself I have some fears, since the king hinted, when
last he saw me, that it was time I looked out for another mate, for that
the vassal of Westerham and Hyde needed a lord to lead them in the field.
However, I hope that my answer that they were always at his service under
the leading of my cousin James will suffice for him. Now, what am I to do
in that matter? Who would have thought that he so coveted my lands that he
would have slain me and Edith to possess himself of them? His own lands a
thrice as broad as mine, though men say that he has dipped deeply into them
and owes much money to the Jews. He is powerful and has many friends, and
although Earl Talbot would stand by me, yet the unsupported word of an
apprentice boy were but poor evidence on which to charge a powerful baron
of such a crime as this. It were best, methinks, to say nought about it,
but to bury the thought in my own heart. Nevertheless, I will not fail to
take the precaution which the lad advised, and to let Sir James know that
there are some who have knowledge of his handiwork. I hear he crosses the
seas tomorrow to join the army, and it may be long ere he return. I shall
have plenty of time to consider how I had best shape my conduct towards him
on his return; but assuredly he shall never be friendly with me again, or
frighten Edith with his kisses."
"Well, Walter, has it been such a dreadful business as you expected?" the
armourer asked the lad when he re-entered the shop. "The great folks have
not eaten you at any rate."
"It has not been dreadful," Walter replied with a smile, "though I own that
it was not pleasant when I first arrived at the great mansion; but the lady
put me quite at my ease, and she talked to me for some time, and finally
she bestowed on me this chain, which our lady, the queen, had herself given
"It is a knight's chain and a heavy one," Geoffrey said, examining it, "of
Genoese work, I reckon, and worth a large sum. It will buy you harness when
you go to the wars."
"I would rather fight in the thickest melee in a cloth doublet," Walter
said indignantly, "than part with a single link of it."
"I did but jest, Walter," Geoffrey said laughing; "but as you will not sell
it, and you cannot wear it, you had best give it me to put aside in my
strong coffer until you get of knightly rank."
"Lady Vernon said," the lad replied, "that she hoped one day it might again
belong to a knight; and if I live," he added firmly, "it shall."
"Oh! she has been putting these ideas into your head; nice notions truly
for a London apprentice! I shall be laying a complaint before the lord
mayor against Dame Vernon, for unsettling the mind of my apprentice, and
setting him above his work. And the little lady, what said she? Did she
give you her colours and bid you wear them at a tourney?"
Walter coloured hotly.
"Ah! I have touched you," laughed the armourer; "come now, out with the
truth. My lad," he added more gravely, "there is no shame in it; you know
that I have always encouraged your wishes to be a soldier, and have done my
best to render you as good a one as any who draws sword 'neath the king's
banner, and assuredly I would not have taken all these pains with you did I
think that you were always to wear an iron cap and trail a pike. I too,
lad, hope some day to see you a valiant knight, and have reasons that you
wot not of, for my belief that it will be so. No man rises to rank and fame
any the less quickly because he thinks that bright eyes will grow brighter
at his success."
"But, Geoffrey, you are talking surely at random. The Lady Edith Vernon is
but a child; a very beautiful child," he added reverently, "and such that
when she grows up, the bravest knight in England might be proud to win.
What folly for me, the son of a city bowyer, and as yet but an apprentice,
to raise mine eyes so high!"
"The higher one looks the higher one goes," the armourer said
sententiously. "You aspire some day to become a knight, you may well
aspire also to win the hand of Mistress Edith Vernon. She is five years
younger than yourself, and you will be twenty-two when she is seventeen.
You have time to make your way yet, and I tell you, though why it matters
not, that I would rather you set your heart on winning Mistress Edith
Vernon than any other heiress of broad lands in merry England. You have
saved her life, and so have made the first step and a long one. Be ever
brave, gentle, and honourable, and, I tell you, you need not despair; and
now, lad, we have already lost too much time in talking; let us to our
That evening Walter recalled to Geoffrey his promise to tell him the causes
which had involved England in so long and bloody a war with France.
"It is a tangled skein," Geoffrey said, "and you must follow me carefully.
First, with a piece of chalk I will draw upon the wall the pedigree of the
royal line of France from Phillip downwards, and then you will see how it
is that our King Edward and Phillip of Valois came to be rival claimants to
the throne of France.
"Now, you see that our King Edward is nephew of Charles le Bel, the last
King of France, while Phillip of Valois is only nephew of Phillip le Bel,
the father of Charles. Edward is consequently in the direct line, and had
Isabella been a man instead of a woman his right to the throne would be
unquestionable. In France, however, there is a law called the 'Salic' law,
which excludes females from the throne; but it is maintained by many
learned in the law, that although a female is held to be incompetent to
reign because from her sex she cannot lead her armies to battle, yet she no
ways forfeits otherwise her rights, and that her son is therefore the heir
to the throne. If this contention, which is held by all English jurists,
and by many in France also, be well founded, Edward is the rightful King of
France. Phillip of Valois contends that the 'Salic law' not only bars a
female from ascending the throne, but also destroys all her rights, and
that the succession goes not to her sons but to the next heir male; in
which case, of course, Phillip is rightful king. It is not for me to say
which view is the right one, but certainly the great majority of those who
have been consulted have decided that, according to ancient law and usage,
the right lies with Edward. But in these matters 'right is not always
might.' Had Isabella married a French noble instead of an English king it
is probable that her son's claim to the throne would have been allowed
without dispute, but her son is King of England, and the French nobles
prefer being ruled by one of themselves to becoming united with England
under one king.
"At the time of the death of the last king, Edward was still but a boy
under the tuition of his mother, Phillip was a man, and upon the spot,
therefore he was able to win support by presence and promises, and so it
came that the peers of France declared Phillip of Valois to be their
rightful monarch. Here in England, at parliament held at Northampton, the
rights of Edward were discussed and asserted, and the Bishops of Worcester
and Coventry were despatched to Paris to protest against the validity of
Phillip's nomination. As, however, the country was not in a position to
enforce the claim of their young king by arms, Phillip became firmly seated
as King of France, and having shown great energy in at once marching
against and repressing the people of Flanders, who were in a state of
rebellion against their count, one of the feudatories of the French crown,
the nobles were well satisfied with their choice, and no question as to his
right was ever henceforth raised in France. As soon as the rebellion in
Flanders was crushed, Phillip summoned the King of England to do homage for
Aquitaine, Ponthieu and Montreuil, fiefs held absolutely from the crown of
France. Such a proceeding placed Edward and his council in a great
embarrassment. In case of a refusal the whole of the possessions of the
crown in France might be declared forfeited and be seized, while England
was in no condition to defend them; on the other hand, the fact of doing
homage to Phillip of Valois would be a sort of recognition of his right to
the throne he had assumed. Had Edward then held the reins of power in his
hands, there can be little doubt that he would at once have refused, and
would have called out the whole strength of England to enforce his claim.
The influence of Isabella and Mortimer was, however, all powerful, and it
was agreed that Edward should do homage as a public act, making a private
reservation in secret to his own councillors, taking exception to the right
"Edward crossed to France and journeyed to Amiens, where Phillip with a
brilliant court awaited him, and on the appointed day they appeared
together in the cathedral. Here Edward, under certain protestations, did
homage for his French estates, leaving certain terms and questions open for
the consideration of his council. For some time the matter remained in this
shape; but honest men cannot but admit that King Edward did, by his action
at the time, acknowledge Phillip to be King of France, and that he became
his vassal for his estates there; but, as has happened scores of times
before, and will no doubt happen scores of times again, vassals, when they
become powerful enough, throw off their allegiance to their feudal
superiors, and so the time came to King Edward.
"After the death of Mortimer and the imprisonment of Isabella, the king
gave rein to his taste for military sports. Tournaments were held at
Dartford and other places, one in Westcheape. What a sight was that, to be
sure! For three days the king, with fourteen of his knights, held the list
against all comers, and in the sight of the citizens and the ladies of the
court, jousted with knights who came hither from all parts of Europe. I was
there each day and the sight was a grand one, though England was well-nigh
thrown into mourning by an accident which took place. The gallery in which
the queen and her attendants were viewing the sports had been badly
erected, and in the height of the contests it gave way. The queen and her
ladies were in great peril, being thrown from a considerable height, and a
number of persons were severely injured. The king, who was furious at the
danger to which the queen had been exposed, would have hung upon the spot
the master workman whose negligence had caused the accident, but the queen
went on her knees before him and begged his life of the king. The love of
Edward for warlike exercises caused England to be regarded as the most
chivalrous court in Europe, and the frequent tournaments aroused to the
utmost the spirits of the people and prepared them for the war with France.
But of the events of that war I will tell you some other night. It is time
now for us to betake us to our beds."
CHAPTER V: THE CITY GAMES
The next evening the armourer, at Walter's request, continued his
"Soon after the tournament we began to fight again with Scotland. For some
years we had had peace with that country, and under the regency a marriage
was made between David, King of Scotland, son of Robert the Bruce, and the
Princess Joan, sister to our king, and a four years' truce was agreed
"But why should we always be fighting with Scotland?" Walter asked.
"That is more than I can tell you, Walter. We were peaceful enough with
them until the days of Edward I; but he set up some claim to the throne of
Scotland, the rights of which neither I nor anyone else, so far as I know,
have ever been able to make out. The fact was he was strong, and thought
that he could conquer Scotland. The quarrels between her nobles - most of
them were allied by blood with our own and held possessions in both
kingdoms - gave Edward an excuse to interfere. Scotland was conquered
easily enough, but it was a hard task to hold it. Sir William Wallace kept
the country in a turmoil for many years, being joined by all the common
people. He inflicted one heavy defeat upon us at Stirling, but receiving
no support from the nobles he was defeated at Falkirk, and some years
afterwards was captured and executed here. His head you may see any day
over London Bridge. As he fought only for his country and had ever refused
allegiance to our king, it seems to me that his fate was a cruel one. Then
when all appeared quiet, Robert Bruce raised Scotland again, and was
crowned king. There was war for many years, but at last, at Bannockburn he
inflicted such a defeat upon us as we have never had before. After that
there were skirmishes and excursions, but Edward II was a weak prince, and
it seemed that the marriage of David and the Princess Joan would bring
about a permanent peace between the two countries; but it was not to be
"Many of the English nobles held claims by marriage or grants upon lands in
Scotland. They had, of course, been driven from these when the English were
turned out by Bruce. By the terms of the marriage treaty in 1328 it was
agreed that they should be reinstated. It was a foolish clause, because it
was plain that the King of Scotland could not take these lands again from
the Scotch nobles who had possession of them, many of them being well-nigh
as powerful as himself. At this time Edward Baliol, son of the great rival
of Robert Bruce, was in England. He still claimed the throne of Scotland as
his right. Round him gathered a number of the English nobles who claimed
lands in Scotland. The king offered no hindrance to the gathering of this
force, for I doubt not that he was glad to see dissension in Scotland,
which might give him some such pretext for interference as that which
Edward I had seized to possess himself of that country. At first Baliol was
successful, and was crowned at Scone, but he was presently defeated and
driven out of Scotland. The Scots now made an eruption across the frontier
as a retaliation for Edward's having permitted Baliol to gather a force
here for his war against Bruce. King Edward was on the point of starting
for Ireland, and he at once hastened north. He defeated the Scots at
Halidon Hill, captured Berwick, and placed Baliol upon the throne. Bruce
fled to France, where he was supported and encouraged by the French
"The ill feeling between Edward and Phillip of Valois had gone on
increasing ever since the former had been compelled to take the oath of
allegiance to the latter, but outwardly the guise of friendship was kept
up, and negotiations went on between the two courts for a marriage between
the little Prince of Wales and Joanna, daughter of the French king."
"The aid which Phillip gave to Bruce increased the bad feeling, and Edward
retaliated for Phillip's patronage of Bruce by receiving with the greatest
honour and courtesy Robert of Artois, a great feudatory of France, who had
been banished by King Phillip. For a time, although both countries were
preparing for war, peace was not broken, as Edward's hands were full in
Scotland, where Baliol having bestowed immense possessions upon the English
nobles who had assisted him, the country again rose in favour of Bruce.
During the three years that followed King Edward was obliged several times
to go to Scotland to support Baliol, who held the crown as his feudal
vassal. He was always successful in the field, but directly his army
recrossed the frontier the Scotch rose again. In 1330 a new crusade was
preached, and in October of that year King Phillip solemnly received the
cross and collected an immense army nominally for the recovery of
Jerusalem. Whether his intentions were honest or not I cannot say, but
certainly King Edward considered that Phillip's real aim in creating so
great an army was to attack England. Whether this was so or not would need
a wiser head than mine, Walter, to tell. Certainly Phillip of Valois
invited Edward to cooperate with him in the crusade. The king in reply
stated his belief that the preparations were intended for war in Europe
rather than in Asia; but that if the King of France would agree to conclude
a firm league of amity between the two countries, to restore the castles
and towns of Aquitaine, whose surrender had been frequently promised but
never carried out, and would bind himself by oath to give no assistance,
direct or indirect, to Scotland, he would join him in his war for the
delivery of the Holy Land."
"I must say that King Edward's demands were reasonable, for it was clear
that he could not march away from England with his whole force and leave
Baliol unsupported against the assaults of his Scotch enemies, aided by
France. Phillip was willing to accede to the first two conditions; but in
regard to the third positively declined treating until David Bruce should
be restored to the throne of his father. Now, had the French king openly
supported Bruce from the first, none could have said that his conduct in
befriending a dethroned monarch was aught but noble and generous; but he
had all along answered Edward's complaints of the aid afforded by Frenchmen
to the Bruce by denials that he himself supported him; and this declaration
in his favour now certainly seemed to show that he had at last determined
openly to throw off the veil, and that his great army was really collected
against England. Robert of Artois craftily seized a moment when the king's
indignation against Phillip was at the highest. At a great banquet held by
King Edward, at which all his warlike nobles were present, Robert entered,
preceded by two noble maidens carrying a heron, which, as you know, Walter,
is considered the most cowardly of birds. Then in loud tones he called upon
the knights present each to swear on the bird to perform some deed of
chivalrous daring. First he presented it to King Edward himself, giving him
to understand that he regarded him but as little braver than the heron for
resigning without a blow the fair heritage of France."
"The moment was well chosen, for Edward was smarting under the answer he
had just received from Phillip. He at once rose and took an oath to enter
France in arms; to wait there a month in order to give Phillip time to
offer him battle, and to accept the combat, even should the French
outnumber him ten to one. Every knight present followed the example of the
king, and so the war with France, which had been for years a mere question
of time, was at last suddenly decided upon. You yourself, Walter, can
remember the preparations which were made throughout England: men were
enrolled and arms prepared. We armourers were busy night and day, and every
man felt that his own honour, as well as that of the country, was concerned
in winning for King Edward the heritage of which he had been unlawfully
robbed by the King of France."
"On the 17th of March, 1337, at the parliament at Westminster, the king
created the little prince, then seven years of age, Duke of Cornwall; and
the prince immediately, in exercise of his new dignity, bestowed upon
twenty of the most distinguished aspirants the honour of knighthood.
Immense supplies were voted by the parliaments held at Nottingham,
Westminster, and Northamton. Half the wool shorn in the summer following
was granted to the king, with a variety of other taxes, customs, and
duties. The revenues of all the foreign priories in England, a hundred and
ten in number, were appropriated to the crown. Provisions of bacon, wheat,
and oats were granted, and the king pawned his own jewels, and even the
crown itself, to hire soldiers, and purchase him allies on the Continent.
So great did the scarcity of money become in the country that all goods
fell to less than half their value. Thus a vast army was raised, and with
this King Edward prepared to try his strength with France."
"Phillip on his part was making great preparations. While Edward had
purchased the assistance of many of the German nobles Phillip raised large
armaments in the maritime states of Italy. Spain also contributed a number
of naval adventurers, and squadrons were fitted out by his vassals on the
sea coasts of Normandy, Brittany, and Picardy. King Edward had crossed
over into Belgium, and after vast delays in consequence of the slowness of
the German allies, at last prepared to enter France at the end of
September, 1339. Such, my lad, is the story, as far as I know, of the
beginning of that war with France which is now raging, and whose events you
know as well as I do, seeing that they are all of late occurrence. So far,
although the English have had the best of it, and have sorely mauled the
French both in the north and south, we have not gained any such advantages
as would lead to a belief that there is any likelihood of an early
termination, or that King Edward will succeed for a long time in winning
back his inheritance of the throne of France."
"There is no doubt that the war weighs heavily upon the people at large.
The taxes are doubled, and the drain of men is heavy. We armourers, of
course, have a busy time of it, and all trades which have to do with the
furnishing of an army flourish exceedingly. Moreover, men of mettle and
valour have an opportunity of showing what they are composed of, and
England rings with the tales of martial deeds. There are some, Walter, who
think that peace is the greatest of blessings, and in some ways, lad, they
are no doubt right; but there are many compensations in war. It brings out
the noble qualities; it raises men to think that valour and fortitude and
endurance and honour are qualities which are something above the mere
huckstering desire for getting money, and for ignoble ease and comfort.
Some day it may be that the world will change, and that war may become a
thing of the past; but to my mind, boy, I doubt whether men will be any
happier or better for it. The priests, no doubt, would tell you otherwise;
but then you see I am an armourer, and so perhaps am hardly a fair judge on
the matter, seeing that without wars my craft would come to an end."
Walter remained in thought for some time. "It seems to me, Master Geoffrey,
that while wars may suit strong and courageous men, women would rejoice
were such things to be at an end."
"Women suffer most from wars, no doubt," Geoffrey said, "and yet do you
mark that they are more stirred by deeds of valour and chivalry than are we
men; that they are ever ready to bestow their love upon those who have won
honour and glory in war, even although the next battle may leave them
widows. This has been always somewhat of a marvel to me; but I suppose that
it is human nature, and that admiration for deeds of valour and bravery is
ingrained in the heart of man, and will continue until such times come that
the desire for wealth, which is ever on the increase, has so seized all men
that they will look with distaste upon everything which can interfere with
the making of money, and will regard the man who amasses gold by trading as
a higher type than he who does valiant deeds in battle."
"Surely that can never be," Walter said indignantly.
"There is no saying," the armourer answered; "at any rate, Walter, it will
matter little to you or to me, for many generations must pass before such a
state of things can come about."
Two days later Walter, who had been across into the city, returned in a
state of excitement.
"What do you think, Geoffrey? The king, with the Prince of Wales and all
his court, are coming to the games next month. They say that the king
himself will adjudge the prizes; and there is to be a grand assault-at-arms
between ten of the 'prentices with a captain, and an equal number of sons
of nobles and knights."
"That will be rare," Geoffrey Ward exclaimed; "but there will be some
broken limbs, and maybe worse. These assaults-at-arms seldom end without
two or three being killed. However, you youngsters will not hit as hard as
trained knights; and if the armour be good, no great damage should be
"Do you think that I shall be one of the ten?" Walter asked anxiously.
"Just as if you did not know you would," Geoffrey replied, laughing. "Did
you not win the prize for swordplay last year? And twelve months have
added much to the strength of your arm, to say nothing of your skill with
weapons. If you win this year again - and it will be strange if you do not
- you are like enough to be chosen captain. You will have tough fighting, I
can tell you, for all these young aspirants to knighthood will do their
best to show themselves off before the king and queen. The fight is not to
take place on horseback, I hope; for if so, it will be settled as soon as
"No, it is to be on foot; and the king himself is to give orders as to the
"You had best get out that helmet and coat of mail of yours," Geoffrey
said, "I warrant me that there will be none of finer make or of truer metal
in the tourney, seeing that I made them specially for you. They are light,
and yet strong enough to withstand a blow from the strongest arm. I tried
them hard, and will warrant them proof, but you had best see to the rivets
and fastenings. They had a rough handling last year, and you have not worn
them since. There are some other pieces that I must put in hand at once,
seeing that in such a melee you must be covered from head to foot."